The Black Hawk and Seminole Wars
Digital History ID 667
Black Hawk (1767-1838), a Sauk leader, refused to accept a treaty that removed his people from their lands in Illinois. Mistakenly convinced that British Canada would support an attack on American settlements, he led a group of his people back into northern Illinois. In his autobiography, he describes the causes of the Black Hawk War--and the conflict's gruesome conclusion, when many of his people were killed as they tried to flee across the Mississippi River.
The whites were settling the country fast. I was out one day hunting in a bottom, and met three white men. They accused me of killing their hogs. I denied it, but they would not listen to me. One of them took my gun out of my hand and fired it off--then took out the flint...and commenced beating me with sticks, and ordered me off. I was so much bruised that I could not sleep for several nights.
Some time after this occurrence, one of my camp cut a bee-tree, and carried the honey to his lodge. A party of white men soon followed, and told him that the bee-tree was theirs.... He pointed to the honey, and told them to take it. They were not satisfied with this, but took all the packs of skins that he had collected during the winter, to pay his trader and clothe his family in the spring, and carried them off!...
This summer our agent came to live at Rock Island. The trader explained to me the terms of a treaty that had been made, and said we would be obliged to leave the Illinois side of the Mississippi....
During the winter, I received information that three families of whites had arrived at our village, and destroyed some of our lodges, and were making fences and dividing our cornfields for their own use....
What right had these people to our village and our fields, which the Great Spirit had given us to live upon? My reason teaches me that land cannot be sold....
The white people brought whisky into our village, made our people drunk, and cheated them out of their horses, guns, and traps!...
It was ascertained that a great war chief [General E.P. Gaines], with a large number of soldiers, was on his way to Rock River. The war chief arrived, and convened a council at the agency. He said: "I hope you will consult your own interest and leave the country you are occupying, and go to the other side of the Mississippi."
I replied: "That we had never sold our country. We never received any annuities from our American father! And we are determined to hold on to our village!"
The war chief said: "I came here, neither to beg nor hire you to leave your village. My business is to remove you, peaceably if I can, but forcibly if I must! I will now give you two days to remove...."
We crossed the Mississippi during the night....The great war chief convened another council for the purpose of making a treaty with us. In this treaty, he agreed to give us corn in place of that we had left growing in our fields. I touched the goose quill to this treaty, and was determined to live in peace.
The corn that had been given us was soon found to be inadequate to our wants; when loud lamentations were heard in the camp, by our women and children, for their roasting-ears, beans, and squashes. To satisfy them, a small party of braves went over in the night to steal corn from their own fields. They were discovered by the whites and fired upon. Complaints were again made of the depredations committed by some of my people, on their own corn fields!
[Black Hawk's people returned to the Illinois side of the Mississippi to plant corn on Winnabago land; several clashes occurred between the Fox and Sauk and the Americans.]
I had resolved upon giving up the war--and sent a flag of peace to the American war chief, expecting, as a matter of right, reason, and justice that our flag would be respected. Yet instead I was forced into war, with about five hundred warriors, to contend against three or four thousand....
A party of whites, being in advance of the army, came upon our people, who were attempting to cross the Mississippi. They tried to give themselves up--the whites paid no attention to their entreaties--but commenced slaughtering them! In a little while the whole army arrived. Our braves, but few in number, finding that the enemy paid no regard to age or sex, and seeing that they were murdering helpless women and little children, determined to fight until they were killed. As many women as could, commenced swimming the Mississippi, with their children on their backs. A number of them were drowned, and some shot, before they could reach the opposite shore. The massacre, which terminated the war, lasted about two hours. Our loss in killed, was about sixty, besides a number that were drowned.
Source: Life of Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak or Black Hawk, Dictated by Himself (Cincinnati, 1833), 83-136.
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