Jefferson County Online
A part of the IAGenWeb and USGenWeb Projects
The Great Black Hawk

The following is a chapter from "The History of Jefferson County, Iowa", Pages 325-326, published by the Western Historical Company of Chicago in 1879.



Black Hawk, the great chief, was born in Sac Village, about three miles from the junction of Rock River with the Mississippi, in Illinois, in 1767. He came of a brave stock and began the life of a warrior at fifteen years of age. Black Hawk's name is variously given, but Maj. Beach, who was personally acquainted with the chief, writes that the real orthography is Muck-a-ta-mish-e-ki-ak-ki-ak, which means a black hawk. Ths history of this chief is only introduced for the sake of preserving the spelling of the name. A fact is mentioned in Maj. Beach's sketch which is here produced:

The Sacs and Foxes, according to their traditions, once dwelt upon the shores of the great lakes. Gradually they were pushed westward, until in time they came to occupy a large portion of Northern Illinois. In spite of the pressure of the whites, this band occupied a site on the east shore of the Mississippi, near Rock River. Here Black Hawk was, in 1832, the controlling spirit. "He was never a chief, either by inheritance or election," declares Maj. Beach, "and his influence was shared by a wily old savage, of part Winnebago blood, called the Prophet who could do with Black Hawk pretty much as he pleased; and also by a Sac name Na-pope, the English of which is Soup, and whom the writer found to be a very friendly and manageable old native, as was also Black Hawk."

If this be true, as there is every reason to esteem it, the character of Black Hawk stands out as a "self-made Indian," if an Americanism can be thus parodied, and he appears in the nature of a dictator as well as that of a great ruler.

Of the famous Black Hawk war, it is not within the province of this sketch to speak; it belongs to the history of Illinois, and has been repeatedly written. After the defeat of the chief, in 1832, he was captured and take to Prairie du Chien. After an imprisonment in Jefferson Barracks, and, subsequently, in Fortress Monroe, whither he was taken, his band was broken up and the once great chief was left alone in his declining years. Maj. Beach relates the following incident derived from personal observation:

"Black Hawk's lodge was always the perfection of cleanliness, a quite unusual thing for an Indian. The writer has seen the old woman busily at work with her broom, by the time of sunrise, sweeping down the little ant-hills in the yard that had been thrown up during the night. As the chiefs of the nation seemed to pay him but little attention in the waning years of his life, Gen. Street, the Agent, looked out for his comfort more carefully than otherwise he would have thought it needful to do, and, among other things, gave him a cow -- an appendage to an Indian's domestic establishment hitherto unheard of. The old squaw and daughter were instructed in the art of milking her, and she was held among them in almost as great reverence as the sacred ox Apis was held among the ancient Egyptians.

"This was in the summer of 1838, when the Agency, for which our town was named, was in process of erection, and Black Hawk had established his lodge on the banks of the Des Moines, about three miles below Eldon. Close by was the trading-house of Wharton McPherson, with whom the writer stayed one night in August of that year (1838), and as he rode past the lodge, Mme. Black Hawk was complacently sitting upon a log by the side of her cow, under a heavily-shaded tree, industriously brushing the flies and mosquitoes from the bovine with a rag tied to the end of a stick. Mr. McPherson said this was her daily occupation in fly-time, often following the animal around as it grazed at a distance. This was the last occasion that ever the writer had an interview with Black Hawk, as he died within two months of that time (October 3, 1838), and was even then so infirm that he could barely move about his wigwam.

"Not long after his burial, his body was stolen from its grave by some sacrilegious person, and, some years later, the bones came into the possession of a physician of Quincy, Ill., who sent them to Gov. Chambers, who, as Governor of the Territory, was also Superintendent of Indian Affairs. The writer was intrusted to notify the family they could have the bones, as he did; but they seemed indifferent about the matter, and did nothing whatever about it."

This page was created on 27 July 2014 and is copyrighted. This page and/or its linked data may be copied and used for personal purposes but can not be republished nor used for commercial purposes without the author's written permission.

I am the County Coordinator and the Webmaster, the one who is responsible for the IAGenWeb project for Jefferson County, Iowa. Please contact me if you would like to contribute to this database or if you note any problems with these pages.

Return to the 1879 History of Jefferson County Contents Page

Return to the Jefferson County Main Page