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The State of Iowa
The Black Hawk War

The following is a chapter from "The History of Jefferson County, Iowa", Pages 157-159, published by the Western Historical Company of Chicago in 1879.



The immediate cause of the Indian outbreak in 1830 was the occupation of Black Hawk's village, on the Rock River, by the whites, during the absence of the chief and his braves on a hunting expedition, on the west side of the Mississippi. When they returned, they found their wigwams occupied by white families, and their own women and children were shelterless on the banks of the river. The Indians were indignant, and determined to reposses their village at all hazards, and early in the Spring of 1831 recrossed the Mississippi and menacingly took possession of their own cornfields and cabins. It may be well to remark here that it was expressly stipulated in the treaty of 1804, to which they attributed all their troubles, that the Indians should not be obliged to leave their lands until they were sold by the United States, and it does not appear that they occupied any lands other than those owned by the Government. If this was true, the Indians had good cause for indignation and complaint. But the whites, driven out in turn by the returning Indians, became so clamorous against what they termed the encroachments of the natives, that Gov. Reynolds, of Illinois, ordered Gen Gaines to Rock Island with a military force to drive the Indians again from their homes to the west side of the Mississippi. Black Hawk says he did not intend to be provoked into war by anything less than the blood of some of his own people; in other words, that there would be no war unless it should be commenced by the pale faces. But it was said and probably thought by the military commanders along the frontier that the Indians intended to unite in a general war against the whites, from Rock River to the Mexican borders. But it does not appear that the hardy frontiersmen themselves had any fears, for their experience had been that, when well treated, their Indian neighbors were not dangerous. Black Hawk and his band had done no more than attempt to repossess the the (sic) old homes of which they had been deprived in their absence. No blood had been shed. Black Hawk and his chiefs sent a flag of truce, and a new treaty was made, by which Black Hawk and his band agreed to remain forever on the Iowa side and never recross the river without permission of the President or the Governor of Illinois. Whether the Indians clearly understood the terms of this treaty is uncertain. As was usual, the Indian traders had dictated terms on their behalf, and they had received a large amount of provisions, etc., from the Government, but it may well be doubted whether the Indians comprehended that they could never revisit the graves of their fathers without violating their treaty. They undoubtedly thought that they had agreed never to recross the Mississippi with hostile intent. However this may be, on the 6th day of April 1832, Black Hawk and his entire band, with their women and children, again recrossed the Mississippi in plain view of the garrison of Fort Armstrong, and went up Rock River. Although this act was construed into an act of hostility by the military authorities, who declared that Black Hawk intended to recover his village, or the site where it stood, by force; but it does not appear that he made any such attempt, nor did his appearance create any special alarm among the settlers. They knew that the Indians never went on the war path encumbered with the old men, their women and their children.

The Galenian, printed in Galena, of May 2, 1832, says that Black Hawk was invited by the Prophet and had taken possession of a tract about forty miles up Rock River; but that he did not remain there long, but commenced his march up Rock River. Capt. W. B. Green, who served in Capt. Stephenson's company of mounted rangers, says that "Black Hawk and his band crossed the river with no hostile intent, but that his band had had bad luck in hunting during the previous Winter, were actually in a starving condition, and had come over to spend the Summer with a friendly tribe on the head waters of the Rock and Illinois Rivers, by invitation of their chief. Other old settlers, who all agree that Black Hawk had no idea of fighting, say that he came back to the west side expecting to negotiate another treaty, and get a new supply of provisions. The most reasonable explanation of this movement, which resulted so disastrously to Black Hawk and his starving people, is that, during the Fall and Winter of 1831-2, his people became deeply indebted to their favorite trader at Fort Armstrong (Rock Island). They had not been fortunate in hunting, and he was likely to lose heavily, as an Indian debt was outlawed in one year. If, therefore, the Indians could be induced to come over, and the fears of the military could be sufficiently aroused to pursue them, another treaty could be negotiated, and from the payments from the Government the shrewd trader could get his pay. Just a week after Black Hawk crossed the river, on the 13th of April, 1832, George Davenport wrote to Gen. Atkinson: "I am informed that the British band of Sac Indians are determined to make war on the frontier settlements. * * * From every information that I have received, I am of the opinion that the intention of the British band of Sac Indians is to commit depredations on the inhabitants of the frontier." And yet, from the 6th day of April until after Stillman's men commenced war by firing on a flag of truce from Black Hawk, no murders nor depredations were committed by the British band of Sac Indians.

It is not the purpose of this sketch to detail the incidents of the Black Hawk war of 1832, as it pertains rather to the history of the State of Illinois. It is sufficient to say that, after the disgraceful affair at Stillman's Run, Black Hawk, concluding that the whites, refusing to treat with him, were determined to exterminate his people, determined to return to the Iowa side of the Mississippi. He could not return by the way he came, for the army was behind him, an army, too, that would sternly refuse to recognize the white flag of peace. His only course was to make his way northward and reach the Mississippi, if possible, before the troops could overtake him, and this he did; but, before he could get his women and children across the Wisconsin, he was overtaken, and a battle ensued. Here, again, he sued for peace, and, through his trusty Lieutenant, "the Prophet," the whites were plainly informed that the starving Indians did not wish to fight, but would return to the west side of the Mississippi, peaceably, if they could be permitted to do so. No attention was paid to this second effort to negotiate peace, and, as soon as supplies could be obtained, the pursuit was resumed, the flying Indians were overtaken again eight miles before they reached the mouth of the Bad Axe, and the slaughter (it should not be dignified by the name of battle) commenced. Here, overcome by starvation and the victorious whites, his band was scattered, on the 2d day of August, 1832. Black Hawk escaped, but was brought into camp at Prairie du Chien by three Winnebagoes. He was confined in Jefferson Barracks until the Spring of 1833, when he was sent to Washington, arriving there April 22. On the 26th of April, they were taken to Fortress Monroe, where they remained till the 4th of June, 1833, when orders were given for them to be liberated and returned to their own country. By order of the President, he was brought back to Iowa through the principal Eastern cities. Crowds flocked to see him all along his route, and he was very much flattered by the attentions he received. He lived among his people on the Iowa River till that reservation was sold, in 1836, when, with the rest of the Sacs and Foxes, he removed to the Des Moines Reservation, where he remained till his death, which occurred on the 3d of October, 1838.

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