Davenport Daily Republican, Sunday,
September 1, 1901, page 9.
SILENT WITNESS TO A DARK DEED
OF LONG AGO.
Cannon Ball Dug Up on Battle
Island, on the Mississippi, Forty Miles Above Dubuque, Marks
the Spot Where Black Hawk Stood With His Outposts, Displaying
a Flag of Truce Which Was Greeted by the Crew of The Steamer
Warrior With a Volley of Shot and Shell.
An imbedded cannon ball hurled forth from a throat of
steel, sixty-nine years ago this month has just been dug up as
a silent witness in the controversy as to the exact location
of Black Hawk’s last hard battle, or rather as the position
the great chieftain occupied with his outposts, attempting to
display a flag of truce to the steamer Warrior which returned
the request for mercy with a fulisade and cannon fire that
killed 23 of the Red Men.
Silent and grim is this round iron witness, and it not
only locates the disputed spot to a certainty, but it also
tells the tale of a warfare that makes a black page upon the
history of civilization.
It tells a story of almost total extermination of a
tribe whose domain had been juggled away by a few drinks of
fire water and a string of colored glass beads.
Greet Flag of Truce.
ball was dug up on a knoll on Battle Island, 40 miles above
Dubuque, just opposite the pavilion of the Battle Island
Indians had taken up their position on a prominent hill so
that their flag of peace could readily be seen by the whites.
It was August 1, 1832, and the old chieftain, Black
Hawk, had been chased across Illinois and up into Wisconsin,
and time and time again his small band had been refused the
right to surrender.
Repeatedly the white flag had been displayed, and as
Finally Black Hawk and his men had discovered in their
despair, the government steamer, Warrior, coming up the river.
The white flag of peace was made ready. But it only
served to show the white men the location of the savages.
The firing began as soon as the identity of the
chieftain was discovered.
Black Hawk, himself escaped, but his outposts were
slain. The next
day came the memorable battle of Bad Axe, and in the general
slaughter that followed, Black Hawk, his son Seoskuk, and
other chiefs were made prisoners and brought down the river to
A Patriot or an
There is no denying the fact that the advancement of
civilization made necessary the removal of the Sacs and Foxes
from this vicinity.
And neither is the bravery of the young men who
enlisted under the stars and stripes to serve in the Black
Hawk war, to be disputed or denied.
But a bird’s eye view of the Black Hawk war, its causes
and the methods employed in pursuing it, create a wholesome
pity and sympathy for the old chieftain and a tender regard
for the grief and sorrow that promoted his actions.
Black Haw was a savage, and was cruel as savages are
cruel. But he was
not the monster that lapse of time and dim understanding have
painted him. That
he was fighting to retain his land and his villages, should
crown him with the laurels of a patriot instead of branding
him with the mark of an outlaw.
Even outlaws in the present day are allowed the right
to surrender to the authorities.
From the storehouse of tradition comes the statement
that the Sacs and Foxes came from the vicinity of Montreal,
Canada, before the year 1700, and that they had lived in their
villages at or near Rock Island fully 150 years.
The Jews could scarcely have had a greater affection
for Jerusalem than these Indians for their villages.
But the white settlers began to invade the Mississippi
valley and the great villages of the whites grew more numerous
and more populous.
One day a Red Man murdered a white.
The murderer was taken to St. Louis to be tried and
leading members of the tribe were sent from the Rock River
villages to intercede for him.
They did not accomplish their purpose, but returned in
a maudlin state, and not long after notice was served on Black
Hawk that these two representatives of his tribe had signed a
treaty selling off all the lands and villages for a paltry
Denies The Sale.
Naturally Black Hawk refused to leave.
He and his braves pursued the usual course of annual
expeditions to the lead mines and northern hunting grounds,
and when they returned it was to find white settlers in
possession of their villages, and growing crops upon their
land. This went
on for several seasons, and finally Black Hawk gave notice
that the whites must leave.
At a conference on Rock Island, Black Hawk insisted
that “the land had not been sold, as the men who went to Saint
Louis had no authority to sell, having been sent on other
the treaty that these men had signed was read to him, he grew
angry and said, “The white people speak from a paper, but” he
added, striking his hand upon his breast, “the Indian always
speaks from the heart.”
But Black Hawk was driven from his villages and soon
after signed a paper agreeing not to return to the Illinois
side of the river.
Corn and supplies were promised the tribe.
But Black Hawk claim these promises were not made good,
and he afterwards attempted to reoccupy his old villages on
Rock River. This
precipitated what is known as the Black Hawk war.
Famous Men in
There were many brave young men who enlisted to fight
in this war against the famous Indian.
The volunteers were commanded by General Whiteside, and
Abraham Lincoln, afterwards president of the United States,
held the rank of captain in this command and fought throughout
the campaign. The
regular troops were under General Atkinson, colonel of the
Sixth infantry, and famous members of his regiment were
Lieutenant Colonel Zachary Taylor, afterwards president of the
United States, and Lieutenant Jefferson Davis, afterwards
president of the so-called Confederate States of America.
As stated above, the demands of advancing civilization
made it absolutely necessary to drive the Indians from the
vicinity, but nevertheless the manner in which the
overwhelming forces of the whites literally crushed the Red
Men, without giving them the rights they pitifully petitioned
for with the square patch of white, will be something that
historians would rather leave out.
Without going exhaustively into the history of the war,
an incident or two might be given showing how the history of
these stirring events has been perverted.
Perkins in the “Annals of the West,” a leading work by
one of the leading Western historians, calls the battles of
Stillman’s Run, one of the memorable battles of the war.
Even at the present day a movement is on foot to erect
a monument on the site of the battlefield. About 25 miles
above Dixon, Illinois.
The account by Perkin’s, after speaking of the troops
at Rock Island says: “Among the troops was a party of
volunteers under Major Stillman, who on the 14th of
May, was out upon a tour of observation, and close in the
neighborhood of the savages.
On that evening having discovered a party of Indians,
the whites galloped forward to attack the savage band, but
were met with so much energy and determination that they took
to their heels in utter consternation.
The whites were 175 in number, and the Indians from
five to six hundred.
Of this party 25 followed the retreating battalion
after night for several miles.
Eleven whites were killed and shockingly mangled, and
Some four or five Indians were known to be killed.
This action was at Stillman’s Run in the eastern part
of Ogle County, about 25 miles above Dixon.”
So much for the story as told by a reputed Historian.
Other side of
But there is another side.
One member of the white party became separated from the
rest just after the Indians had gone by and hid himself in a
ravine until the pursuing Indians had gone by and returned.
He counted them going and coming, and when all had
passed on the return he stole out of the ravine and followed
the train of troops.
He found them in a state of consternation, and telling
tales of being attacked by thousands of Indians.
When he declared that at no time were there more than
25 Indians in the attacking party he barely escaped rough
treatment for his stories.
And yet there is no doubt the fleeing troops believed
their statements were true.
But the man’s statements are not unsupported.
Black Hawk tells a similar tale in his memoirs, but
even they need not be taken as conclusive.
There happened to be in the service of the whites a
scout who had for three years lived as a member of Black
Hawk’s tribe. As
luck would have it this man was captured by the Indians, and
he felt that no mercy would be granted him if recognized.
Black Hawk seemed to pay no attention to him at first,
but finally when unobserved he walked up to the prisoner and
made the brief remark, “Does the White Mole think that Black
When an opportunity came the great chief released the
prisoner, escorted him from the camp and assisted him on his
way. Years later
the scout issued a signed statement of the occurrence, giving
Black Hawk credit for the greatest magnanimity and kindness of
heart, and classing him as one of the greatest braves and most
intellectual Indians of his time.
And yet in Perkin’s perverted history is the statement,
“Black Hawk cannot rank with Pontiac or Tecumseh; he fought
for only revenge, and showed no intellectual power; but he was
a fearless man.”
Were Shot Down.
Hawk claims in his memories that at the Battle of Bad Axe,
which followed the attempt to surrender himself to the crew of
the steamer Warrior, the whites shot down his old men and
defenseless women, while the latter, some with papooses on
their backs, were swimming the Mississippi River.
The statement was undoubtedly induced by the attack
upon the little band that stood under the flag of truce, for
no American soldier, no matter how outlawed may be the game he
was hunting, ever turned a weapon of death upon a woman simply
for the purpose of revenge.
There were volunteers in the fight and it may be that
in the excitement they failed to distinguish between the
warriors and the women.
But the fact remained that the Indians were treated as
Perkins, in his “Annals of the West,” takes the
position that the land in the vicinity of Black Hawk Tower had
never belonged to the Sacs and Foxes, but had been taken by
Nevertheless for 150 years it had been the home of the
Fathers and sons had lived and died there; generations had
come and gone and the associations and environments of the
vicinity meant as much to the Red Men as the associations of a
home in the sanctity of civilization.
Perkins also vents much spite upon the personal
character of the warring chieftain, but again he is wrong, for
the testimony of all those that came into contact with Black
Hawk was to the effect he was exceptional for his personal
qualities. He was
devoted to his home and his family.
He died in 1838 and was buried on the Red Men—fire
water. Never but
once was he seen intoxicated, and that was years after he had
been relegated with the remnants of his band to a strip of
land in Iowa. He
was invited to attend a celebration at Burlington and some of
his hosts undertook to fill him up on bad whiskey and
died in 1836 and was buried on the banks of the Iowa.
But even in death he was not allowed to rest in peace.
His bones were stolen and taken to Burlington where the
skeleton hung in a doctor’s office until a delegation headed
by his son visited the town, and demanded their return.
A skeleton was turned over to them, but there is no
positive evidence that it was the skeleton of Black Hawk, and
thus it will never be known where lies the body of the
fearless chieftain of the Sacs and Foxes.
The Davenport Democrat and Leader, July
20, 1924, page 100.
Chief Blackhawk Weeps, Viewing
Home Near City
When Black Hawk passed down the river during a visit to
Rock Island in the spring of 1833, he wept like a child to see
the site of his old village.
Black Hawk was in his sixty-fifth year—an old man.
There were the rolling prairies of his beautiful
village—the theater of the great exploits of his whole life,
which he was never to visit again.
Expatriated, conquered, thrust down from his high
position, and ignominiously treated, with the sight of boyhood
and manhood’s home in the possession of the stranger-enemy,
and with the prospect of a distant removal, in his old age,
from all that he valued—why should he not have wept?
He died—and among all the famous events of “General
Black Hawk’s History”—there is not one so lustrous as the aged
man weeping as he passed his old home, and the graves of his