Indians Endure Insults and Injuries from Intruding Whites

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In the spring of 1831, after the Indians had for a long while passively endured a series of insults and injuries from the intruding whites, settled in their vicinity, and while the most profound peace existed on the frontier, a war was suddenly kindled by the same parties, who had thus far been the aggressors. The fences of the white people had, it seems, been thrown across a path which the Indian women had been accustomed to use, and the latter, finding their way obstructed, threw down the enclosure. This trivial offense was eagerly seized upon by those who had long sought to bring about a war. Letters were dispatched to the interior, in which it was alleged that the Indians were hostile, that measures had been taken to unite the Winnebago and Potawatami with them in a league against the whites, that aggressions had already been committed upon the property of the settlers, and that the latter, wholly unprotected, and in the power of merciless savages, were on the eve of abandoning their homes; and an express was dispatched to the Governor of Illinois, formally communicating intelligence of a similar character. Upon this representation, a body of militia was ordered out by the governor, and marched immediately to Rock river. Fortunately for the peace of the frontier, General Gaines, the commander of the western division of the army of the United States, was then at St. Louis, and hastened to the scene of action, where his presence and conciliatory conduct soothed for a time the elements of discord. A council was held, in which these matters were discussed during several days; and it was finally agreed that the Sauk and Musquakee should retire to their own lands on the western shore of the Mississippi.

While this council was in session, General Gaines, observing that Black Hawk was seated among the chiefs and leading men who represented the Indian nation, and having heard his name often repeated as the most active of those who opposed the whites, inquired one day, “Who is Black Hawk? Is he a chief? By what right does he appear in council?” No reply was made. Black Hawk arose, gathered his blanket around him, and stalked out of the council room. On the following morning, he was again in his seat. With the caution which marks the Indian character, he had refrained from making a reply while under the influence of passion, but had taken time to prepare himself. When the council was opened, he arose and said, “My father, you inquired yesterday ‘ Who is Black Hawk? why does he sit among the chief men?’ I will tell you who I am. I am a Sauk, my father was a Sauk I am a warrior, so was my father. Ask those young men who have followed me to battle, and they will tell you who Black Hawk is! Provoke our people to war, and you will learn who Black Hawk is!” He then resumed his seat, and nothing more was said upon the subject.

The nation removed, agreeably to this treaty, to the western side of the ‘river; but the state of Illinois continued to be agitated by rumors indicating a hostile disposition on the part of these Indians. Individuals among them were said to have visited the neighboring tribes to incite them to war a prophet was employed in dreaming and working spells Black Hawk visited the British post at Maiden, for the supposed purpose of procuring arms and ammunition and the band attached to this leader were known to be discontented. It was confidently asserted, that a general league among the north-western tribes threatened the frontier with the desolation of the tomahawk and firebrand. However true these reports may have been in regard to the faction whose movements caused them, it is known that Keokuk and the majority of the nation were sincere in their pacific professions; and, although Black Hawk was now mischievously disposed, it is not probable that, failing in his intrigues to implicate other tribes in the quarrel, he would have ventured upon any hostile demonstration with the small band under his own influence.

In the ensuing spring, while the public mind was thus excited, Black Hawk adopted the injudicious step of returning to Illinois, alleging that his band had been invited by the Potawatami, residing on Rock river, to spend the summer with them, and plant corn on their lands. They crossed the Mississippi in open day, attended by their women and children, and carrying with them their lodges and traveling equipage; thus demonstrating that, whatever might have been their ulterior views, their immediate purpose was not hostile for the Indian always strikes his foe suddenly and by stealth, leaving behind him every encumbrance which might hinder a rapid retreat. A band of men trained to war, and well versed in its various incidents, could not be fairly suspected of the folly of making a hostile inroad upon the territory of a powerful people, under circumstances which must alike have rendered defeat certain, and flight impracticable. But reason sleeps when fear and jealousy are awake. The dreadful experience of the horrors of Indian warfare, too familiar to our frontier population, has rendered them so keenly sensitive to its dangers, that the slightest rumor of such an incursion excites a universal alarm.

On hearing the intelligence of the invasion, as it was termed, of Black Hawk, the Governor of Illinois called out a large body of militia, and, placing himself at their head, marched to Rock Island. A singular state of things was now presented. Not a blow was struck. The Indians, after resting a few days in their village, pursued their march towards the country of the Potawatami, without concealment or violence. Notwithstanding their merciless rule of warfare, which spares no foe who may fall into their hands, however helpless, they passed the isolated cabins in the wilderness, without offering the slightest outrage to the defenseless inhabitants. The property of the settlers, intruders upon the lands of these very Indians, remained untouched. Travelers between St. Louis and Galena proceeded singly, or in small parties, through a wild region, now the reputed seat of war, without molestation, while an army was on its march to the frontier, and the newspapers were filled with reports of an Indian war in all its “pomp and circumstance.” Matters did not remain long in this condition. A battalion of mounted militia, which had been sent in advance of the army, falling in with five or six Indians, who were approaching them with pacific signals, unhappily captured and put to death all except one, who made his escape, bearing the news of the slaughter of his comrades to the Indian camp, which was near. Black Hawk, who alleges that he was engaged in entertaining some visitors with a dog feast, immediately planned an ambuscade, into which the militia were enticed. On receiving the fire of the Indians, they became panic-struck, and fled in great disorder, with the loss of about fourteen men.

The Indians, finding that the war was commenced in earnest, now determined to do all the mischief in their power. Dividing their little force into numerous parties, they struck into the settlements, which, at that time, were thinly scattered over an immense region of frontier, burning the huts of the settlers, and slaughter ing such as fell in their way. In the course of a few weeks, they committed much bloodshed and destruction. The whole state of Illinois became greatly excited. Two thousand additional militia were ordered out, and the citizens of every profession or calling were eager to participate in the campaign. It would be impossible for those who have never witnessed such scenes, to realize the state of public feeling which pervaded the country at that period. The greater portion of the population of Illinois were emigrants from the older western states, and had either experienced the horrors of Indian warfare, or were the immediate descendants of those who had seen and felt the atrocities of savage barbarity. They had been accustomed from infancy to hear of the midnight conflagration and the slaughter of women and children, and to regard the Indian with fear and hatred. They thought of the red man only as one whose hand was ever ready to shed innocent blood; and there were few who could not tell of some friend or relative whose hearth-stone had been desolated by the tomahawk. Although many years had rolled on in peace, and a new generation had grown up, the feuds of the border were not forgotten. With such feelings, the whole population rose at the first alarm, and so popular was the war, that it was hardly creditable for any able-bodied man to remain at home. Farmers, lawyers, physicians, merchants, civil officers of every grade and department, were among the volunteers; and especially were all gentlemen who had any aspiration for political preferment, eager to signalize themselves in this field.

The plan of our work would not authorize a detailed account of this war. It is enough to say, that the little band of Black Hawk were soon compelled to fly before the immense force arrayed against them, directing their course north and west over the uninhabited waste lying between the head waters of Rock river and the Mississippi. The army pursued with ardor, but under many dis advantages. Although the country was level and open, the Indians being the smaller party, were enabled to elude their pursuers, while the army, too numerous for the service allotted them, and encumbered with wagons, moved with heavy steps. After several weeks’ laborious marching, and some skirmishes in which gallantry was displayed on both sides, the Indians were overtaken on the shore of the Mississippi, near the mouth of a stream called Bad Axe, and nearly the whole party slain or captured. Black Hawk was among the few who escaped; but he was delivered, a few days after, to General Street, the Indian agent at Prairie du Chien, by two Winnebago. Thus ended a war instigated by a few individuals to forward their own sinister views, but which cost the government more than two millions of dollars, besides needlessly sacrificing many valuable lives. But while we condemn the beginning of this contest, we would award credit to those who afterwards became engaged in it. However unjustly a war may be brought about, it becomes the cause of our country whenever hostilities have commenced, and honor should be awarded to the citizen who draws his sword to repel an armed foe from our borders.

In the spring of 1833, several of the captive leaders of the hostile band were conducted to Washington. Among these was the Prophet, who was. supposed to have been the chief plotter, Neopope, who was the active military leader, Black Hawk and his son, a fine looking young man, who was facetiously called by some of the editors of the day, Tommy Hawk. On their arrival at the Federal city, they were admitted to an audience with the President, to whom Black Hawk, on being presented, said, “I am a man, you are another.” Being informed by President Jackson that it was intended to hold them captive until the treaty made with General Gaines should be complied with, the Prophet made a speech, in which he remonstrated against this decision, and Black Hawk, after giving a history of the causes of the war, concluded a long address by saying, “We did not expect to conquer the whites. No, they have too many houses, too many men. I took up the tomahawk, for my part, to revenge injuries which my people could no longer endure. Had I borne them longer without striking, my people would have said, Black Hawk is a woman, he is too old to be a chief, he is no Sank. These reflections caused me to raise the war whoop. I say no more on that subject; it is all known to you. Keokuk was once here; you took him by the hand, and when he desired to return home, you were willing. We hope you will treat us in the same way, and let us go.”

The prisoners were conducted to Fortress Monroe, in Virginia, where they were kindly treated, and received every mark of consideration and attention. On their liberation, after a detention of about a month, Black Hawk made a speech to General Eustis, the commanding officer, of which the following is said to have been the substance:

“Brother, I have come on my own part, and in behalf of my companions, to bid you farewell. Our Great Father has at length been pleased to permit us to return to our hunting-grounds. We have buried the tomahawk, and the sound of the rifle will here after bring death only to the deer and the buffalo. Brother, you have treated the red men very kindly. Your squaws have given them presents, and you have provided them with plenty to eat and drink. The memory of your friendship will remain until the Great Spirit says that it is time for Black Hawk to sing his death song. Brother, your houses are as numerous as the leaves upon the trees, and your young warriors like the sands upon the shore of the big lake which lies before us. The red men have few houses and few warriors, but they have hearts as warm as those of their white brethren. The Great Spirit has given us our hunting-grounds, and the skin of the deer which we kill there is his favorite, for it is white. This dress and these feathers are white: accept them, my brother. This present will remind you of Black Hawk when he is far away. May the Great Spirit preserve you and your children. Farewell.”

Previous to their return to their own country, the captive warriors were conducted to the principal cities of the Atlantic states, and received every where the most marked attention and hospitality. They were invited to the theaters, museums, and other places of public resort; and great pains were taken to show them the various objects which were considered worthy of their attention, or likely to excite their curiosity. At New York they witnessed the ascension of a balloon, which was about to rise into the air as the steamboat which carried them to that city reached the wharf. On beholding the immense crowd which was assembled, and hearing the cheers of the multitude, they were at first alarmed, supposing those cries to be the war-whoop of enemies; but when the real cause of the tumult was pointed out, they expressed the highest admiration. When the silken globe ascended gracefully into the air, and the aeronaut waved his flag, Black Hawk ex claimed, “That man is a great brave, but I do not think he will ever get back.”When the balloon had attained so great a height as to be scarcely visible, he said, “I think he can go to the heavens, to the Great Spirit;” and another of the party added, “I should think he could see the Great Spirit now.”

After a tour of about two months, during which they visited Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Albany, Boston, and other towns of less note, they returned, by way of the northern lakes, to Fort Armstrong. Major Garland, of the army, under whose charge they had traveled, being instructed to secure for them a kind reception from their nation, previous to their enlargement, sent a messenger to advise Keokuk of their arrival. That chief was encamped on the opposite shore of the river, about twenty miles below; and although these persons were his enemies, and had especially contemned his authority in bringing about the recent disastrous war, he determined, with the dignity which usually marks his conduct, to give them a respectful and cordial reception. A message was sent immediately to announce his intention; and at noon, the following day, the dull, monotonous sound of the Indian drum proclaimed the approach of the chief. He led the cavalcade, with two large canoes lashed together, and shaded by a canopy, under which, with his three wives, he sat in state. About twenty canoes followed, each containing six or eight braves, who sung their wild songs as they plied the paddle. They ascended the river slowly until they came abreast of the fort, and then landed on the right bank, where they remained about two, hours, engaged in painting themselves, and arranging their dresses. They then crossed the river, and, on landing, Keokuk said to his followers, “The Great Spirit has sent our brothers back; let us shake hands in- friendship.” On reaching the spot where Black Hawk and his companions were encamped, they found these un fortunate braves seated in front of their tent, silent and motionless, as if absorbed in sorrowful reflection doubtful, perhaps, of the reception that awaited them. Keokuk extended his hand to Black Hawk, and then to the rest of the newly returned party, without speaking; his followers imitated his example; the salutation was reciprocated with apparent cordiality, and then the whole company seated themselves on the ground. No one spoke, each waiting until the chief should break the silence. After an interval of fifteen minutes, Keokuk asked Black Hawk how long he had been on the road, adding that he had been expecting him, and was on the way to meet him when he heard of his arrival. Pipes were then introduced, and a general conversation ensued; after which the parties separated, Black Hawk and his party remaining in their camp at Fort Armstrong, while Keokuk with his band returned to the western shore of the river, where they spent the night in singing and dancing.

A council was held the next day, in a large room in the fort Keokuk came, attended by a hundred braves, decked in their savage finery, and singing their wild songs, until they reached the fort, which they entered in silence. Keokuk seated himself with Pashepahaw on one side, and Wapella on the other. The braves sat behind, and maintained a profound silence during the whole interview. Black Hawk with his party entered afterwards, and were seated opposite, facing the rest of the tribe. The chiefs rose and shook hands with them. Black Hawk and his son appeared dejected; they had unwillingly consented to attend this council, which to them could be no other than a scene of public humiliation. He had parted from his people in anger and rebellion, stigmatizing them as cowards, and heaping, especially upon Keokuk, the most abusive epithets, because they would not rashly plunge into a w&r with a nation which could crush them at any moment. Keokuk had predicted the event of such a contest, and Black Hawk, who had brought it on his followers by imprudently entering the country of an incensed enemy, now stood before his people a ruined man, owing his life to the clemency of his captors his reputation for prudence and conduct blighted, his followers nearly all slaughtered, his long-nursed scheme of superseding Keokuk blasted for ever.

Major Garland was the first to speak. He expressed his gratification at the friendly reception which had been extended to Black Hawk and his companions, and hoped that the nation would now live at peace. He reminded them of a speech made to the prisoners by the President, in which the red men were dissuaded from war and domestic broils, and caused that address to be interpreted at full length. Keokuk arose and said, ” The heart of our Great Father is good; he has spoken like the father of many children. The Great Spirit made his heart big in council. We receive our brothers in friendship; our hearts are good towards them. They once listened to bad advice, now their ears are closed against evil counsel. I give them my hand. When they shake it, they shake the hands of all. I will shake hands with them, and then I have done.”

They were then told by Major Garland that the President considered Keokuk the principal chief of the nation, and desired he should be acknowledged as such; he expected Black Hawk would listen, and conform to this arrangement; he hoped the dissensions in the tribe would cease, that he should hear no more of two bands, but that all would unite in living together as one nation. From some mistake of the interpreter, Black Hawk understood that he was ordered to submit to the advice of Keokuk, and became greatly excited. Losing all command of himself, he arose, trembling with anger, and exclaimed, “I am a man an old man. I will not obey the counsels of any one! I will act for myself no one shall govern me! I am old, my hair is gray. I once gave counsels to young men am I to be ruled by others? I shall soon go to the Great Spirit, where I shall be at rest! What I said to our Great Father at Washington, I say again I will listen to him. I am done !”

This address caused a momentary excitement throughout the assemblage. It was an unusual .departure from the decorum which ordinarily prevails in an Indian council; and was not expected from so old a man still less from one who had recently been severely punished for giving way to his passions. The offensive remark was explained : he was told that the President had not commanded, but advised him, to submit himself to the chief of his people. He made no reply. His galled spirit had been touched; he had given loose to feelings which had long been restrained, and he now sat in moody silence. Keokuk, in a low tone, said to him, “Why do you speak thus before white men? You trembled you did not mean what you said. I will speak for you.” The old man consented, and Keokuk arose:

“Our brother, who has lately come back to us,” said he, “has spoken, but he spoke in anger. His tongue was forked. He did not speak like a man, like a Sank. He felt that his words were bad, and trembled like a tree whose roots have been washed by many rains. He is. old let us forget what he said. He says he did not mean it. He wishes it forgotten. What I have said are his words, not mine. Let us say that our brother spoke in council to-day, and that his words were good. I have spoken.”

Conciliatory remarks were made by Colonel Davenport, the commanding officer at Rock Island, and by Major Garland, after which Black Hawk requested, that if his words had been written down, a black line might be drawn over them.

Wapella said, “I am not in the habit of talking I think I have been thinking all day. Keokuk has spoken; he spoke for us all. I am glad to see my brothers. I will shake hands with them. I have done.”

After the council had closed, Major Garland invited the principal chiefs, with Black Hawk, to spend the evening at his quarters, in the hope of cementing the reconciliation which had been effected. The pipe was circulated, and the Indians treated to a glass of sparkling champagne, which they relished highly. Pashepahaw, after shaking hands with the whole company, made a speech:

“We met this morning,” said he; “I am glad we have met again. That wine is very good; I never drank any of that kind before. I have thought much of our meeting today; it was one that told us we were brothers, that we were all Sauk. We had just returned from a buffalo hunt, and thought it was time for our brothers to be here, as our brothers at St. Louis told us they would come in this moon. We started before sunrise to meet you; we have met, and taken our brothers by the hand in friendship. They always distrusted our counsels, and, forsaking the trail of the red men, went where there were no hunting-grounds, nor friends now they have returned to find the dogs howling around their wigwams, and wives looking for their husbands. They said we counseled like women, but they have found our counsels were sound. They have been through the country of our Great Father. They have been to the wigwams of the white men. They received them kindly, and made their hearts glad. We thank them: say to the white people that Keokuk and Pashepahaw thank them. Our brother has promised to listen to the counsels of Keokuk. What he said in council to-day was like the fog of the Mississippi the sun has shone and the day is clear, let us forget it. His heart is good, but his ears have been opened to bad counsels. He listened to them, and closed his ears to the voice which came across the great waters. He now knows that he ought to listen to Keokuk. We told our Great Father that all would be quiet, and asked him to let our brother go. He opened his dark prison, and let him see the rising sun; he gave him to his wife and children, who were without a lodge. Our Great Father made straight the path of our brother. I once took prisoner a great chief of the Osages. I heard the cries of his women and children. I took him out to the rising sun, and put him upon the trail to his village. ‘Go,’ said I, ‘and tell your people that Pashepahaw, chief of the Sauk, sent you.’We thank our Great Father. Say to him that I reach out my right hand; he is a great way off, but I now shake him by the hand. Our hearts are good towards him. I hope to see him before I lie down in peace. May the Great Spirit be in his counsels. What our brother said today, let us forget. I am done.”

Keokuk arose and said, “We feel proud that you have invited us here this evening to drink with you. The wine which we have drunk we never tasted before. It is the wine which the white men make, who know how to make every thing. I will take another glass, as I have much to say. Today we shook hands with our brothers. We were glad to see them we often thought of our brothers. Many of our nation said they would never return; their wives and children often came to our wigwams, which made us feel sad. What Pashepahaw said is true. I talked to our young braves, who had the hearts of men; I told them that the Great Spirit was in our counsels, and they promised to live in peace Those who listened to bad advice, and followed our brothers, have said that their ears are closed they will go to war no more. I sent their words to our Great Father, whose ears were open. His heart had been made sad by the conduct of these our brothers, whom he has now sent home. We thank him. Say to him Keokuk thanks him. Our brothers have seen the great villages of the white men; they traveled a long road, and found the Americans like grass. Many years ago I went through the villages of our Great Father; he had, many that were broad like the great prairies. He has gone : another is our Father; he is a great war chief. I want to see him; I shall be proud to take him by the hand. I have heard much of him; his head is gray. Tell him as soon as the snow melts from the prairie I will come. What I have said I wish spoken to him, before it is put upon paper, so that he shall hear it as I said it. What our brother said in council today let us forget. He told me to speak: I spoke his words. I have spoken.”

Black Hawk then rose with a calm but dejected air. “I feel,” said he, “that I am an old man; once I could speak, but now I have little to say. We have met many of our brothers to-day; we were glad to see them; we have listened to them; their hearts are good. They have behaved like Sauk since I left them; they have taken care of my wife and children, who had no wigwam; I thank them for it. The Great Spirit knows I thank them. Before the sun gets behind the hills tomorrow, I shall see them. When I left them, I expected to return soon. I told our Great Father at Washington I would listen to his counsels; I say so to you. I will listen to Keokuk. I shall soon be far away, where I shall have no village, no band; I shall live alone. What I said in council today I wish forgotten. Say to our Great Father, and Governor Cass, I will listen to them. Many years ago I met Governor Cass in council, far across the great prairies towards the rising sun. His advice was good, but my ears were shut. I listened to the Great Father far across the big waters. My father, whose band was large, also listened to him. My band was once large now I have no band.

I and my son, and all our party, thank our Great Father for what he has done. He is old, I am old; we shall soon go to the Great Spirit, and be at rest. He sent us through his great villages. We saw many of the white men, and were kindly treated. We thank them. Say to them we thank them. We thank you for traveling with us your path was long and crooked. We never saw so many white men before; but when with you we felt as safe as if among friends. When you come to the Mississippi again, you shall come to my lodge now I have none. On your road home, you will pass where our village once was. No one lives there now all are gone. I give you my hand; we may never meet again, but we shall re member you. The Great Spirit will be with you, and your wives and children. I will shake hands with my brothers here, and then I am done.”

Thus ended the brief but disastrous contest brought about by the rapacity of a few of our citizens. But although this was the immediate cause of the war, it must not be denied that there were other latent sources of disquiet which had predisposed a portion of the Sauk to such a measure. The rivalry between Black Hawk and Keokuk was of long standing, and had occasioned much heart burning. The former was the older man, and was descended from the chiefs, but was deficient in talent, and inferior to his rival in popularity; the latter, having energy, address, Conduct, and eloquence, gradually rose to the head of the tribe. The division would probably have been healed long since but for an unfortunate interference. After the war between the United States and Great Britain, in which the Sauk and Foxes took part with the latter, a formal peace was made in 1815, in which those tribes acknowledged themselves to be under the protection of the American government. For this reason, and because their lands were within the boundaries of the United States, Keokuk at once admitted the propriety of trading and negotiating entirely with the American agents and traders, and made his annual visits accordingly to St Louis. Black Hawk, from mere perverseness at first, but after wards from interest, continued to resort to the British post at Maiden, and to receive protection from the British authorities, or, as he expressed it, ” to listen to the Great Father across the big waters. “Those who recollect the late unhappy war with Great Britain, have not forgotten that it occasioned, especially upon the frontier, a bitterness of feeling, akin to that created by a civil war, and which continued to rankle for years after the contest was over. The visits, therefore, of Black Hawk to Canada were not likely to produce, on his part, a disposition friendly to the United States. It was on such occasions that he received the bad advice alluded to by the chiefs in their speeches.

Black Hawk was one of the party which attended Keokuk in his journey to Washington, in 1837. He was, however, not one of the delegates, but was taken with them to prevent him from engaging, in their absence, in intrigues which might disturb the harmony of the tribe. He accompanied them to all public places, and was treated as a friend arid equal, but did not sit in council, except as a spectator. At their first interview with the Secretary of War, where we happened to be present, Keokuk rose and said, “There is one here who does not belong to the council, but he has been accustomed to sit with us at home, and is our friend. We have brought him with us we hope he will be welcome.”

Black Hawk was small in stature, and his figure not striking; nor did his features indicate a high grade of intelligence. The, strongest evidence of his good sense is found in an assertion contained in his autobiography, that he never had but one wife. He died at his village on the Des Moines river, on the 3d of October, 1838. His body was disposed of, at his special request, after the manner of the chiefs of his tribe. He was placed upon the ground in a sitting posture, his hands grasping his cane. A square enclosure made of saplings is all the monument that marks the spot where rest the remains of this far-famed chief.



MLA Source Citation:

McKenny, Thomas & Hall, James & Todd, Hatherly & Todd, Joseph. History of the Indian tribes of North America: with biographical sketches and anecdotes of the principal chiefs. Embellished with one hundred portraits from the Indian Gallery in the War Department at Washington. Philadelphia: D. Rice & Co. 1872. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 27 August 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/indians-endure-insults-and-injuries-from-intruding-whites.htm - Last updated on Dec 14th, 2012


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