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An Intimate View of Black Hawk
Des Moines Register and Leader
March 10, 1907

Pioneer Iowan Gives Personal Recollections of the Notable Indian Chief.

Elder W.C. Reed of Marion county, who has been a resident of Iowa for seventy-two years, and of Marion county for sixty-one years, has the unique distinction to have been a close friend and neighbor of Black Hawk, when that great warrior chief of the Sac and Fox Indians lived on the banks of Devil's creek, in Lee county. Mr. Reed often visited in Black Hawk's cabin, knew his wife, daughter and one of his two sons; was personally acquainted with Keokuk, Wapello and Hardfish, and saw Black Hawk's remains in their grave three months after interment and before vandals had stolen them for exibition purposes.

So far as can be ascertained, Mr. Reed is the only man now living who knew Black Hawk personally, entertained him in his home, was entertained by him and is personally cognizant of the historic and picturesque closing acts of this most famous chieftain of the once great tribe which dominated the upper Mississippi valley three-quarters of a century ago.

Mr. Reed recently celebrated his ninety-first birthday, and notwithstanding his extreme age and the fact that the wife of sixty-six years' companship (sic) died three years ago, he is still in good health, with a remarkably active brain. In most of the vital particulars Mr. Reed's reminiscences agree with the standard works on the Indians of Wisconsin and Iowa territory -- such, for instance, as Fulton's "Red Men of Iowa." Mr. Reed's story, however, has the added merit of adding little details of conversation, personal appearance and customs of the early settlers which are entirely missing in the works of history. Mr. Reed's story, as taken down in the home which he now occupies within a half mile of the site of his first Marion county home of sixty-one years ago, is as follows: I was born in Polk county, Ill., three miles from Golconda, on Jan. 3, 1816, and came to Iowa on May 25, 1835, at the age of 19. I have lived in this state continuously ever since. Before coming to Iowa I had traveled up and down the Ohio and lower Mississippi rivers considerable, going back and forth to and from New Orleans several times. In 1835 the western fever seized me and I made the journey to the Mississippi river overland, driving three yoke of oxen. We were twenty days on the road.

Crossing the Mississippi river, but three years after the end of the Black Hawk war, and when but few white men were to be found in what is today the state of Iowa, I settled at Fort Madison, about midway between Keokuk and Burlington. There was not much of a settlement there when I arrived. John and Nathaniel Knapp were there when I came, Nathaniel having already brought his family, although John Knapp did not move his family across the river until two or three years later. Nathaniel Knapp and his family occupied the trading cabin which had been erected a few years before that. Then there was John Box, who had moved over from Illinois, andhad erected a shanty; my future father-in-law, Daniel Thompson, who had moved over, in 1834, from what was then known as Commerce, but which later became Nauvoo, the town made famous by the Mormons. Aside from these few families there were some young men and that was all.

There was a larger settlement up at Burlington. I was never down to Keokuk in those days, but I knew that a trading station had been established there and there was quite a little colony. The garrison was then occupied at Montrose, three companies of dragoons being located there when I arrived. These were practically all the white folks in the southeastern part of what is today the state of Iowa. But we had plenty of Indians; Indians all around us, most of them of the Sac and Fox tribe.

I first met Black Hawk in the fall of 1837, five years after the battle of Bad Ax had ended the rebellion and after he had been taken on a tour of the eastern cities, to be impressed by the greatness of the country, after which he told his people that the white folks were as numerous as the leaves of the trees.

I remember very well the second time I ever saw Black Hawk. He was going to Fort Madison from his wick-a-up on Devil creek, about a mile from where my log cabin was. He was going for whiskey.

Later in the day I saw him returning home, and although I knew he had been drinking practically all the day, he was walking as straight as a bee flies. He could drink an awful lot of whisky and never show any effects of it. When he came up opposite my cabin he crossed over and came in, saying he wanted to warm his moccasins. He was dressed peculiarly but rather customarily for him, wearing a fine broadcloth suit and a high silk hat. but he always wore moccasins; he has frequently told me that he could never stand the touch of hard leather on his feet, so he went everwhere in moccasins. It was to warm his moccasins that he stopped to see me that day. After he had been made comfortable my wife gave hiim a half of a mince pie and some coffee and he ate this with relish. When he was through he got ready to go on, after having thanked her for the food and complimenting it by saying "heap good." He said that his squaw would be waiting and watching for him and so he set off. Black Hawk was always a good man to his family.

After that we saw Black Hawk and his family very much. We were neighbors, only a mile distance between my cabin and his wick-a-up. I must say, too, that Black Hawk and his family were good neighbors. We didn't think anything of associating with Indians in those days; there were so many of them, they were as common as white folks today. We were not a bit afraid of them, either; we accepted them as a matter of course and got along fine. The fact that Black Hawk had been a great warrior and had gone on the warpath never bothered us. I don't recollect now that we ever thought much about it. Black Hawk was meek and peaceable in those days when I knew him.

When the government deposed him from being chief, after the war, and put Keokuk in his stead, Black Hawk's spirit was broken. There was no danger from him any more. He became meek and mild, living out his remaining days as quietly as possible.

I can recall very well how the chief looked in those days. He was rather small in stature and very slight when I knew him, not weighing much over 125 pounds. He was bald and kind of dried up or shriveled, as though the sorrows and troubles he had had withered him like an old leaf. Around his own wick-a-up he always wore a blanket and moccasins, but when he went out he usually wore either a uniform or broadcloth suit and silk hat. He always wore moccasins.

While the chief himself was a slight, frail, old man, his son, Nes-se-as-kuk, was as fine a specimen of manhood as I ever saw, with splendid physique, and broad chested, standing five feet, eleven inches high, and weighing fully 190 pounds.

Madam Black Hawk was a very fine looking woman, much lighter in color than most Indians. I always had the idea that she was part French, to judge from her appearance.

Black Hawk had another son, the settlers called him Tom Black Hawk. He was a bad Indian and hated the whites bitterly.

Aside from the old chief, interest in those days in the family centered in the daughter, Nauasia, the prettiest Indian girl I ever saw in my life, a girl of such striking beauty that she would attract attention anywhere. Nauasia was the belle of the settlements those days. The white folks said her name was an Indian corruption of Nancy.

After a year or two of living in Fort Madision a couple of hotels were built, and it was our custom to have frequent balls. Nauasia was the belle every time. Not a young white fellow but would give almost anything he had for the honor of a dance with Nauasia. And what a dancer! She was as spry and agile as a fawn. I never saw a girl lighter on her feet than Nauasia. The young fellows would stand around and look eagerly until they mustered up courage to ask her for a dance, and then everybody envied them. Nauasia was a mighty graceful dancer. She would leap high in the air and whirl around and cut fancy capers until she had beaten every other dancer in the settlement. There was quite a romance in Nauasia's life. Some young fellow came out from New York and fell desperately in love with her. Nauasia loved him, too, and they were to be married. But the young man's folks back east heard of it and ordered him home at once. I suppose they thought she was just a common Indian squaw. But she was not, by any means. And the desertion of her lover pretty near broke Nauasia's heart.

It might be added here that Mr. Reed's story of Black Hawk's daughter differs slightly from the historical accounts, which say the lover was a young man named Walsh, from Baltimore. Walsh and Nauasia were engaged to be married, when Walsh's cousin arrived in Fort Madison, and even after seeing the beautiful girl, told Walsh the folks back east would look at the couple and say, "There goes Walsh and his squaw." The ridicule was too much, and Walsh fled the country.

Continuing, Mr. Reed said: I have several times been a guest in the Black Hawk wick-a-up. It was quite a large wick-a-up, with space for the entire family and one room which was given over entirely to Black Hawk's relics and possessions. I have counted no less than twelve large leather trunks which Black Hawk had after his trip through the east. I never saw into these trunks, but there was good reason for me to believe that they were filled with mementoes of his trip.

The Black Hawks usually spent the winter in Lee county, and just as soon as sugar making was over in the spring they would pull up and go somewhere else. I remember being in the Black Hawk home one time when Madame Black Hawk was making sugar and she gave me a large mould of sugar to take home with me.

As I said before, there was not much thought in those days of the war Black Hawk had headed. He had been defeated and deposed and his spirit had been so broken that he was looked on as a harmless old man.

As to the war itself, the prime cause was the plowing up of the Indian's corn fields and graveyards in their big village up at Rock Island. An Indians' burial ground is sacred to them, and when the whites came in and plowed up their bones and planted corn in their graves they were furious. Then the whites plainly violated the terms of the treaties and took land that wasn't theirs. The war was really forced on the Indians. I never thought they were very much to blame. The war had a disastrous termination. At the battle of Bad Ax, men and women and little children were fired on and brutally murdered. The spirit of the Indians was forever crushed after that.

While Mr. Reed was best acquainted with Black Hawk by reason of having been a near neighbor, he was also familiar with the other noted Indians of the time, notably Keokuk and Wapello. In regard to these chiefs he said:
Keokuk, Wapello and Hardfish were made chiefs of the tribe by the government after Black Hawk had been deposed. I saw them all, Keokuk several times. Keokuk was the only blue-eyed Indian I ever saw. He was a much larger man than Black Hawk, rather fat and pompous. He was nothing much but a gambler and a horse racer. Those were the only things he cared for. He was a hard drinker, but I want to say right here that neither Keokuk or Black Hawk were drunkards.

Keokuk had four wives and Black Hawk only one. When Black Hawk was in Washington he said he had four wives, but he had but the one that I ever heard of. Keokuk was very friendly to the whites, Dr. Isaac Galland, one of the earliest settlers at Montrose, was one of Keokuk's friends. Wapello and General Street, the Indian agent were such great friends that we used to call them David and Jonathan. When Keokuk died he requested that his body be buried right alongside General Street's and this was done.

When Keokkuk became chief in place of Black Hawk the majority of the tribe followed him. But until the day of his death Black Hawk had a large following which was faithful to him and still regarded him as the chief.

Black Hawk was not living at his wick-a-up in Lee county when he died, but higher up, near Iowayville. I had not seen him for several months before his death, but three months after he died I saw his body where it had been placed in a shack or grave at the upper end of the prairie near Iowayville, in Davis county. The body had been placed in the shack or pen which was about 18X15 feet in size. At his side was placed the cane which Henry Clay had given him. A number of his relics were also placed near him. Outside the pen was a post, about fifteen feet high, on which was painted in red paint the pictures of the animals Black Hawk had killed in his lifetime.

Three months after the burial I went to the pen and lifting up a board at the corner looked in, saw the chief, the cane and the things that were buried with him. A few months later somebody in Cincinnati stole the body, to exhibit it, I guess, and the Indians raised an awful fuss. The government took the matter in charge and finally brought a skeleton and put it in the pen where Black Hawk had been buried. The Indians were pacified, but I have always felt sure that the body reburied was not the body of Black Hawk at all.

Fulton, in "The Red Men of Iowa," gives more particulars of the burial of Black Hawk than does Mr. Read. Fulton's account is extremely interesting: The body was placed on the surface of the ground in a sitting posture, with the face toward the southeast, and the body supported in that position by a wooden slab or puncheon. On his left side was placed a cane given him by Henry Clay, with his right hand resting upon it. He was dressed in a full military suit, which had been presented to him by President Jackson. Three silver medals hung upon his breast, all of which had been presented to him by distinguished persons during his visits to Washington. There were also placed in the grave two swords, an extra pair of moccasins, and some other articles of Indian costume, with a sufficient supply of provisions to last him three days on the journey to the spirit land. Around the body and the articles buried with it were two large blankets closely wrapped. Two wooden forks were then firmly driven in the ground, and a pole placed upon them extending over the body. The whole was then covered with sod to the depth of about one foot. At his feet, a flagstaff was placed, floating a beautiful silk American flag, which had been presented to him. The flag remained over his grave until the winds tore it to pieces and long after the body had disappeared. A post was planted by the grave, on which was inscribed, or painted, some figures commemorative of his deeds. Subsequently his relatives and friends enclosed the grave with a rude picket fence, and fondly hoped that the remains of the great was chief were at rest.

Fulton continues by giving the details of the theft and replacement of the Black Hawk body: One morning about July 1, 1839, Black Hawk's bereaved widow returned from her accustomed visit to his grave bitterly weeping. Calling on Mr. Jordan, she informed him that some one had opened the grave and taken away the head of her husband. Mr. Jordan promised to do all that he could to find out who had taken it. The next winter the rest of the skeleton disappeared. It afterward transpired that one Dr. Turner, who lived at Lexinton, a little village at that time situated just above the present town of Bonaparte, in Van Buren county, was the man who had committed the deed. He came in the night and attempted to seize the body, but being frightened only succeeded in getting the head, which he carried away in his saddlebags. The next winter he came again and carried off the rest of the skeleton. They were conveyed to Quncy, Ill., where the different parts were united with wire. Black Hawk's relatives complained bitterly at the outrage. Finally the man in Quincy to whom Dr. Turner had delivered the remains, informed Governor Lucas of Iowa that he would hold them subject to his order. The governor directed that they be forwarded to his office in Burlington and on the receipt of them informed Black Hawk's relatives of the fact. His two sons immediately proceeded to Burlington, where they saw the skeleton in the executive office. They were afraid, however, that if they brought it home with them, it might again be stolen and concluding that the governor's office was the safest and best place for it they left it there. At the expiration of his official term, Governor Lucas delivered the skeleton over to his successor, Governor Chambers. It was finally placed in a museum which was established in Burlington and some years after, with many other valuable and curious relics which had been collected, was consumed by fire.

Mr. Reed -- his full name is William Carroll Reed, the second name being in honor of General Carroll, who was chief of staff of General Jackson at the battle of New Orleans -- removed from Lee county to Van Buren county in 1840 and then to Marion county in 1846. He now resides within sight of the place where he first located in that county, sixty-one years ago. He was married to Susan Thompson in 1837, his wife dying on Dec. 29, 1903. The couple had twelve children, ten sons and two daughters. It is a popular joke of the old man to bewilder visitors by saying that he had "ten sons and each son had two sister," thus giving many the impression that he had no less than thirty children. Five of his sons died in infancy, two were wounded in the civil war. Elder Reed now lives with his son John, who served five years in the regular army, and his daughter Jessy Reed, who was named in honor of Jessy Fremont. Another daughter, Mrs. Mary Cowan, resides in New Mexico.


Permission of Iowa Old Press, an IAGenWeb Project
Transcribed by S.F.


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