|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
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
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
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.