IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
STORIES OF IOWA
FOR BOYS AND GIRLS
BLACK HAWK AND KEOKUK
When the American traders first came to the Iowa country they found the Sauk and Fox Indians living in villages along the Mississippi River. Lieutenant Pike on his journey up the Mississippi in 1805 found two villages of the Sauks on the east or Illinois side of the river, and two on the west side of the river in what is now Iowa. He also noticed three villages of the Foxes west of the Mississippi. At that time there were about four thousand of these Indians, half of whom were boys and girls.
One of the largest Sauk villages, called Saukenuk, was located a short distance below the present site of Rock Island. Here Black Hawk was born in 1767, and Keokuk about thirteen years later. Neither of these Indians was born a chief, but both became chiefs through their own ability.
At the age of fifteen Black Hawk killed a brave in a battle with the Osage Indians, and two years later he was the leader of a war party. Keokuk, too, at the age of fifteen killed a Sioux warrior, and was admitted to the circle of the braves.
As they grew up Black Hawk and Keokuk became rivals. Black Hawk was about five feet eight inches in height, thin, and wiry. Keokuk was tall and portly. He was fond of wearing good clothes and liked fine horses. Black Hawk became a great warrior, but Keokuk was a better orator.
When five headmen of the Sauks and Foxes returned to Saukenuk from St. Louis in 1804 and said that they had promised to give up their land in Illinois to the white men, Black Hawk was very angry. He said that they had no right to do this without the consent of the tribe.
From this time on Black Hawk was an enemy of the Americans. you have already read how again and again he held attacks on Fort Madison. Black Hawk and his band joined the British army for a time during the War of 1812, but later they returned to Saukenuk.
Keokuk and his followers remained neutral, but Black Hawk continued to help the British. In the spring of 1814 the Americans sent soldiers up the Mississippi from St. Louis to build a fort at Prairie du Chien. Later in the summer, when more soldiers were on their way up the river to this fort, Black Hawk and his band attacked them above Rock Island. Several of the Americans were killed, and the rest hurried back to St. Louis. In the meantime the British captured the fort at Prairie du Chien.
In the fall, Major Zachary Taylor, who later became President Taylor, came up the Mississippi River with more than three hundred soldiers to punish the Indians at Rock Island. But with the help of the British who brought cannon from Prairie du Chien the Indians forced Major Taylor to retreat. This battle was fought on Credit Island which is now a park of the city of Davenport.
When the War of 1812 ended, Black Hawk, it is said, cried like a child. He had cast his lot with the British who had lost. But Keokuk was joyful. He had been friendly to the Americans who had won.
No sooner was the war over than the Americans sent more soldiers up the Mississippi River. This time they built a fort on Rock Island and named it Fort Armstrong. They also built another for at Prairie du Chien which was named Fort Crawford. The Sauks and Foxes did not want a fort at Rock Island. They said that a Good Spirit lived in a cave on the island and that the soldiers would frighten it away.
Soon Americans began to come into the region near the fort. As more settlers came they wanted the land of the Indians. Finally the Sauks and Foxes were ordered to move across the Mississippi into Iowa. Keokuk and his band went peaceably, but Black Hawk and his followers refused to go. More soldiers were sent up the river from St. Louis, and volunteers started toward Saukenuk from different parts of Illinois to expel the Indians. Then Black Hawk and his band slipped across the Mississippi into Iowa. This happened in 1831.
It was too late to plant another crop of beans and corn, and that winter Black Hawk's band suffered for want of food. The old chief, who was now sixty-five, decided to try to regain his former home in Illinois. He was told by a half-breed prophet that other tribes would join him and that the British would help if he would lead an attack against the Americans.
In the spring of 1832, Black Hawk and his warriors went to the camp of Keokuk on the Iowa River to get more braves to join them. He planted a war post and his warriors danced until they were worn out. Then Black Hawk made a speech. He told about the wrongs they had suffered and urged Keokuk and his braves to join them in driving out the whites. Keokuk's braves demanded that they be led on the warpath.
Then Keokuk spoke. He told about the numbers of the whites. In any contest, he said, where their numbers were so unequal, the Indians would fail. But, as their chief, he would lead them to war if they would put all of the women and children and the old people to death before they started. "We dare not take them with us." he said, "for they would hinder us, and we cannot leave them behind to starve."
When Keokuk's warriors heard this they decided to stay at home. Black Hawk was sorry that Keokuk would not help him. He and his followers went on across the Mississippi alone.
In the war which followed many of Black Hawk's warriors were killed. When they tried to recross the Mississippi into Iowa, the white soldiers fired upon them and killed women and children as well as warriors.
Black Hawk himself was captured. He was taken from Fort Crawford to Jefferson Barracks at St. Louis. Then he was taken on a long trip to Washington, where he met President Jackson. He was told that he could go home to Iowa, if he would promise not to make war on the white people, but he was not to be chief. Keokuk was to be the leading chief of the Sauks and Foxes because he had not made war on the whites.
Then Black Hawk was taken to other cities. He was treated very well and given presents. At New York he saw a man go up in a balloon. He thought the man was going to see the Great Spirit.
When Black Hawk was taken back to Rock Island, all the Sauks and Foxes were invited to a meeting, Keokuk, of course, was there. He came at the head of twenty canoes, with an American flag on his own canoe. Major Garland told the Indians that Black Hawk was not free, and they were to obey Keokuk and not Black Hawk. Black Hawk was very sad, but he knew he would have to do what the white officers told him. He had no warriors any more, he said. He wanted to live with his family and be at peace with both whites and Indians.
Black Hawk lived for a few years in a little cabin on the Des Moines River with his wife, his two sons, and a beautiful daughter named Namequa. Mr. Joseph M. Street, the Indian agent, who had charge of the Sauks, and Foxes, was sorry for Black Hawk. He was kind to the old man, who was very poor. Among other things he gave him a cow, and Black Hawk's wife learned to milk; so the family had milk to drink. This was very unusual, for the Indians had not learned to keep cows for milk and butter.
On the fourth of July, 1838, just after Iowa had been made a territory, Black Hawk was invited to Fort Madison. This was a town which had been named for the fort from which Black Hawk had helped to drive the American soldiers. Now the white people were glad to see him.
They knew that he had fought because he thought he was helping his own people. Here Black Hawk made a speech. He told the people he was glad to be friends with them. He told them, too, how he had lived all his life along the Mississippi River and how he loved the home of his people.
Then the old chief went back to his cabin on the Des Moines River. He was now more than seventy years old. His heart was sad, for he knew that his people would soon have to leave Iowa as they had been driven from Illinois.
In October, 1838, Black Hawk became very ill. His wife took good care of him, but he soon died. He was buried near his home. The Indians put his body on top of the ground. It was dressed in a soldier's uniform, which President Jackson had given him. His medals, cane, swords, and other things were placed with the body and blankets were wrapped around it. Then boards were put up over the body and sod was piled over it all. An American flag was placed over the grave.
But the American flag could not protect Black Hawk from the white people. They had taken his land, and after he was dead a white man took his bones from the grave. For a while the sons of Black Hawk tried to get them back, but they were finally burned in a fire at Burlington.
After the Black Hawk War, Keokuk was the principal leader of the Sauks and Foxes. The white men paid him the money promised to the tribes for the land they had given up in Iowa. After Black Hawk's death his followers accused Keokuk of stealing the money due them. Hard Fish was the leader of this group and tried to get the government to pay the money to the warriors. Once Nahseuskuk, the son of Black Hawk, became so angry that he stabbed Keokuk.
In the fall of 1845 Keokuk led his people to Kansas where the government had given them a new home in place of their land in Iowa. There Keokuk died just ten years after Black Hawk's death.
Back to Stories of Iowa Index