BlackHawk War - History

BlackHawk War - History

Indian braves from Illinois and Wisconsin opposed attempts for their resettlement. Led by their chief, Black Hawk, they led an able defense against the settlers. The Indians were subdued by a US army force that included Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis.

The Black Hawk war began when a group of Sauk Indians crossed the Mississippi and entered Illinois. Black Hawk led the Sauk tribe. Black Hawk, and many other Native Americans, did not accept the Treaty of 1804. This treaty called on the Indians to give up all of their lands east of the Mississippi. Along with his objections to the treaty, Black Hawk truly believed he could prevail in a war against the US.

In 1831, Black Hawk crossed over from Iowa back into Illinois. The governors of Illinois and Michigan called out the militia. Black Hawk responded by agreeing to the terms of the original treaty and returning to Iowa. The winter of 1831-1832 was particularly harsh. In April 1832 Black Hawk returned to Illinois with 400 warriors, as well as their families (including many older people.) It is unlikely, based on the make up of those who came with him, that Black Hawk had any hostile intentions in Iowa. He was just looking for a place for his people to plant corn and have any easier life, at least for a time.

The governor of Illinois was not willing to take any chances. He immediately mobilized the militia. On May 14th, Black Hawk sent an emissary to talk to the troops under the flag of truce. Despite that fact, the militia chose to kill the emissary. In turn, Black Hawk responded by attacking the militia. The Native Americans soundly defeated the militia, at what became known as, “The Battle of Stillman’s Run. ” President Jackson ordered a force of 1,000 Federal troops, under the command of the General Winfield Scott, to take control of the situation. The war, however, was resolved before they could arrive.

Black Hawk had withdrawn to Wisconsin. There, they conduced raids on American settlements. U.S. troops caught up with the Black Hawk’s men and defeated them at “The Battle of Wisconsin Heights. ” Black Hawk withdrew across the Mississippi, as the American troops continued to pursue them. Then, Black Hawk decided to make a stand at “The Battle of Black Axe. ” The American troops defeated the Native Americans there, killing or capturing almost all of them – including many women and children.

The Black Hawk war is notable; both for being the last resistance in what would be called “The old North-West”, as well as for being a war in which many Americans who became household names participated. Some of the “soon-to-be-famous” Americans to participate in this war include: Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Winfield Scott and Zachary Taylor.


Utahs' Black Hawk War Timpanogos of the Wasatch

Utahs' Back Hawk War is a tragic story of genocide, paradoxes, and hypocritical morality , and the systematic extermination of the Timpanogos Nation of the Wasatch. The Timpanogos Tribe has not forgotten twenty years of sevier conditions, plundering of their land, poisoning of their water sources, and their ancestors who were massacred and beheaded at Battle Creek, Fort Utah, Bear River, and Circleville all in the name of 'colonization.' Beginning in 1865, Chief Black Hawk led a vigorous pan-regional crusade against Mormon settlement in defense of his people who were dying from violence, disease, and hunger.

The Black Hawk War was not a single event. Between 1849-1872, there were over a hundred and fifty bloody encounters. Forty-one occurred before 1866 when hostilities culminated in open warfare. "Confrontations were raging in all directions," said my great-grandfather Peter Gottfredson, who lived with the Timpanogos during the war and wrote about those tragic times in his book Indian Depredations in Utah.

The Black Hawk War is not over. It never ended. The Timpanogos Nation has been written out of Utah's Native American history. They were catapulted into near extinction by Brigham Young's extermination order in 1850. Not only was their population of some seventy-thousand reduced by over 90%, but they have since had tremendous obstacles to overcome as a direct result. Serious economic issues and sovereign aboriginal rights violations that the Tenth District Court has warned the State of Utah about on numerous occasions, but those were ignored. "They take whatever they want," said Tribal members living on the Uintah Valley Reservation.

University of Utah Prof. Daniel McCool explained, "We took from them almost all their land—the reservations are just a tiny remnant of traditional tribal homelands. We tried to take from them their hunting rights, their fishing rights, the timber on their land. We tried to take from them their water rights. We tried to take from them their culture, their religion, their identity, and perhaps most importantly, we tried to take from them their freedom."

It's no secret that Utah's history on the Black Hawk War has been whitewashed and romanticized. It's time to speak the truth. This is no small matter, reader. It's about the inherent aboriginal rights of First Nations people who are indigenous to Utah. It's about human dignity and the intrinsic value of a human being. We must recognize the Timpanogos Nation and the catastrophic losses they have sustained because of Mormon colonization.

In a poignant conversation I had with Perry Murdock a council member of the Timpanogos Nation, and a direct descendant of Chief Wakara, Perry explained his perspective of the Black Hawk War, "Every day we are reminded of what our ancestors went through. How our families were torn apart. Children murdered, the old, the women, all those who were brutally murdered and made to suffer and die from violence, then disease, then starvation, our ancestors&rsquo graves torn up, the land destroyed, it was genocide plain and simple. Why? What did we do? We didn't do anything. We were living in peace. We were happy. Our children were happy. We loved each other. We cared for each other. And when the Mormons came, we tried to help them. Then they tried to take everything away from us. They wanted it all. They wanted to exterminate us, wipe us off the face of the earth. Why? For our land? For our oil? Now we have nothing."

The time has come to unmask the myths about the war, and address the stereotyping of Utah's Native Americans. Stereotyping desensitizes people and distorts reality. For example, Timpanogos Chief Black Hawk for whom the war was named, is demonized as a renegade warrior, which couldn't be farther from the truth. When the most compelling story of all that comes out of the war is—Black Hawk&rsquos heroic mission of peace.

Black Hawk was not the villain—he was the victim. Contrary to what historians would have us believe, the Timpanogos preferred peace over war. Antonga Black Hawk was the son of Chief Sanpitch who was an advocate for peace throughout the war. It was not about possessions and riches. They saw themselves as stewards of sacred land and fought to protect the sacred and their honor. And though they were not a warring Nation as such, if survival meant engaging in physical combat, they would do so honorably.

Timpanogos' leadership consisted of seven brothers namely Sanpitch, Wakara, Arapeen, Tabby, Ammon, Sowiette, and Grospeen. These seven legendary leaders are referred to as "the privileged blood." They ruled every clan and village along the Wasatch. They were a powerful and prosperous Nation highly respected by all in the area. They had long maintained trade routes from the Columbia River to the north to the Gulf of Mexico to the south.

From the Timpanogos perspective, when Mormon colonists came to the Wasatch they upset the sacred and natural order of all living things, killing the deer, elk, and buffalo. “White man’s horses, cows, and sheep eat Indian’s grass. Whiteman burn Indian’s wood, shoot Indian’s buckskin, rabbits” they depleted the fish population and polluted the water. They cut down trees, diverted rivers and streams to irrigate their crops, and fenced off the land, which drastically altered their environment that the Timpanogos was solely dependent upon for food, medicines, and life-sustaining necessities.

Native American culture is a culture of values. There are many aspects of Native American culture that are misunderstood. The grooming of a War Chief, for example, requires time, and the wisdom of Elders who have a deep commitment to the wellbeing of the tribe. Chief Sitting Bull said, "The warrior is not someone who fights, for no one has the right to take another life. The warrior, for us, is the one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity."

Black Hawk was not a 'renegade' as some have characterized him. At a young age, he was educated in the Jesse Fox school in Spanish Fork, Utah. He learned to read and write English and spoke three languages Shoshoni, English, and most likely Spanish since his Tribe had long-established trade relations with neighboring Mexico. And as historian John Alton Peterson points out "Black Hawk had a keen understanding of Mormon economics."

Chief Wakara's nephew Black Hawk was but a boy when the Mormons came, and in time would become his Nation's War Chief under the leadership of his uncle Chief Tabby. Black Hawk's first responsibility was spiritual. Chosen by his Tribe to lead, his responsibility was to always try to preserve life. He told his warriors to shed no blood, only in self-defense.

Being a strong leader came naturally. Black Hawk's charismatic charm befriended people from all walks of life and aroused in people loyalty with enthusiasm. Honesty, love, courage, truth, wisdom, humility, and respect were the virtues he lived by. Black Hawk by his example taught that love can overcome hate and hypocritical morality. One who respected himself and appreciated others because we are all human. He understood the natural order that all inhabitants of Mother Earth are connected, what Native peoples call "the circle of life." He loved and forgave unconditionally, and understood that being born human makes you superior to nothing.

His elders taught that true freedom meant being in harmony with our fellow man and all that our Creator gave us. Black Hawk fought tirelessly to protect the sacred, his people, and freedom.

As a War Chief, 'taking coup' was a greater feat of bravery than taking a life. Leadership meant putting family and Nation above all else.

Black Hawk always offered up prayers before going into battle with ceremony and dance. And as a survivor, he made offerings to the enemy's family and was cleansed in a holy ceremony.

How do I know these things? I lived with them I found the truth. These are traditional teachings of the Timpanogos I learned while living with them and Native Americans throughout North and South America. But it's not about me, it's about the circle of life.

The message of Indigenous America is connection, relationship, and unity. All people are one. One of the direct living descendants of Creator. Chief Joseph said, 'We have no qualms about color. It has no meaning. It doesn't mean anything." I believe this was Black Hawk&rsquos message too when he made his last ride home to pass out of this world. In severe pain dying from a gunshot wound to his stomach, Chief Black Hawk made an epic hundred-and-eighty-mile journey by horseback and spoke to Mormon settlers along the way pleading for peace—and to end the bloodshed. You didn't see the settlers do this. So, it took a greater man to do such a thing. This was, Black Hawk's mission of peace, but it gets left out of Utah&rsquos one-sided view of history.

Q: Did the Mormons try to help the Timpanogos?

Quoting from Walker's Statement to M. S. MARTENAS July 6 1853. Chief Wakara explained, "They were friendly for a short time" said Chief Wakara, "until they became strong in numbers, then their conduct and treatment towards the Indians changed—they were not only treated unkindly—they have been treated with much severity—they have been driven by this population from place to place—settlements have been made on all their hunting grounds in the valleys, and the graves of their fathers have been torn up by the whites."

In the end, Black Hawk's grave was robbed by members of the LDS Church at Spring Lake, and his mortal remains were put on public display in the window of a hardware store for amusement in Spanish Fork, Utah. Then later was moved to Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City, and there remained on public display for decades.

And there's more—a lot more. Important information. The other half of the story, the Timpanogos version. Also the legacy of the Black Hawk War and the effects of Mormon colonization on Utah's indigenous all of which are essential to our understanding of Utah's true cultural heritage, yet it gets left out of Utah's one-sided history and school curriculum. Why? Is it because no one cared enough to ask the Timpanogos their side of the story, afraid of what they know? No matter what narrowness of mind or denominationalism we may have surrendered our commonsense to, there needs to be truth in education. Educators need to teach true Native American history as a regular part of American History. The truth must be told regardless of what happened.

"We can forgive, but we can never forget. We should be able to walk our paths together with integrity, honesty, respecting each other, and being kind to each other. We need to talk, but we also need to stop talking, and listen. From our hearts we should talk, and listen."

Q: Why have I never heard of the Timpanogos?

Why indeed? Utah's history has failed to tell us about the twelve-thousand-foot mountain right in the heart of Utah that was named 'Mt. Timpanogos' in honor of the Tribe. In 1776 Spanish explorers Dominguez and Escalante named the majestic mountain 'La Sierra Blanca de los Timpanogos' (translation: The white mountain of the Timpanogos).

Q: Are the Utes and Timpanogos the same Tribe?

For over a century, Utah's historians have either assumed or overlooked the fact that the Timpanogos are not enrolled members of the Ute Tribe and never were. They are two distinctly different Nations in origin, ancestral bloodlines, language, and customs. The Colorado Utes were not in Utah until 1881 as "prisoners of war" 14 years after the Black Hawk War ended. For more on this topic read The Timpanogos Ute Oxymoron page.

Q: So, who and what caused the Black Hawk War.

Some say it was because "they stole our cattle." The truth is Mormon colonists were stealing land and killing their people before the Timpanogos stole any Mormon beef. Again, there is far more to the story.

To fully comprehend the inculturation of early Christian-led colonists that brought devastation to Native Americans of Utah and across the Americas, it begins with the Doctrine of Discovery followed by Manifest Destiny, a caste system that migrated throughout Europe and the Americas, whereby Christian Monarchs decreed that anyone who did not believe in the God of the Bible, or that Jesus Christ was the true Messiah, were deemed "heathens," "infidels" and "savages". Christians believed that they were entitled to commit all manner of depredations upon them "by reason of their idolatry and sin."

There were no 'loathsome savages' or 'heathan Indians' living in Utah until the Mormons came. There were only indigenous people, human beings living in peace. It was only when Euorpeans arrived then they became "savages" and "redskins."

Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson wrote. "It was the making of a new world that Europeans became white, Africans black, and everyone else yellow red, or brown."

Blinded by their own inculturation, the Mormon church believe they have a divine obligation to convert Utah's Native Americans to Mormonism, according to church doctrine, and in so doing the so-called "loathsome" Indians would become a "white and delightsome people" and would be forgiven of the sins of their forefathers. (Book of Mormon 2 Nephi 5:21-23) According to church doctrine, the nature of the dark skin was a curse, the cause was the Lord, the reason that the Lamanites (Indians) "had hardened their hearts against him, (God)" and the punishment was to make them "loathsome" unto God's people who had white skins.

Polygamist leader Brigham Young and his followers, many of who were recent converts to the LDS Church and had emigrated from Europe to North America to live in freedom the teachings of Christ To save the 'heathens' from hell, and get rich, while Brigham Young spends more than a million dollars in church funds to &lsquoexterminate&rsquo the Timpanogos Nation, then Latter-day Saints re-write history blaming the indigenous peoples of Utah to hide the facts.


Featured Article About Black Hawk From History Net Magazines

The militia surgeon was terrified. All around him the night flickered and danced with muzzle flashes, and the darkness rang with terrifying war whoops and screams of terror. Desperately he kneed his rearing horse, but could not pull away from the grim, dark form holding tightly to his mount. He leaned forward into the gloom and held out his sword.

‘Please Mr. Indian’ he pleased, ‘I surrender. Please accept my sword.’

Only after his captor failed to take the sword, or move at all, did the petrified doctor realize that he was talking to a stump — the very one to which had had tied his horse. Slashing the tether, the surgeon fled madly into the night.

Subscribe online and save nearly 40%.

For 25 miles, he and hundreds of his militia comrades galloped through brush and trees, crazy with fear, more than a little drunk, and certain that every bush and log was a Sauk warrior with a tomahawk thirsting for white man’s blood. Few of them ever actually saw an Indian or fired at anything other than shadows. Their officers, with few exceptions, were in the van of the retreat, led by Colonel James Strode, commander of the 27th Illinois Regiment, notable, until then, for a large mouth and a bellicose air.

The general rout had begun on May 14, 1832, when 275 Illinois militiamen, commanded by Major Isaiah Stillman, were spooked by about 40 Sauk warriors, who were as surprised as anybody at the chaotic panic they created. Thus the Battle of Old Man’s Creek was ever after to be better known by the unfelicitous name of Stillman’s Run. The defeat was more humiliating than serious, though the Indians mutilated the bodies of the 12 white men they killed and a good many more militiamen subsequently deserted for good. The Sauk had lost three braves, one of whom had been murdered before the fight began, as he had tried to negotiate for peace.

Later there would be a good deal of pious bragging and invention about a gallant defense against as many as 2,000 Indians. But the militia knew it had been whipped — whipped badly and nearly frightened to death. In later days, most of the men didn’t talk a lot about being at Stillman’s Run. One officer spoke for most of them in a letter to his wife: ‘I will make you one promise, I will stay with you in future, for this thing of being a soldier is not so comfortable as it might be.’

Indeed it wasn’t. What had started as a wonderful, drunken Indian-killing party was getting serious and, what was worse, downright dangerous. But the war would go on. It was mid-May 1832, and a fundamental question still had to be decided that spring. Was the Sauk and Fox nation to be allowed to return to its ancestral lands near Rock Island, east of the Mississippi River, or was it to be forever confined to its new home west of that river, to which it had been exiled by a scandalous treaty signed in 1804?

The Indian signatories to the treaty had had no authority to speak for the entire tribe. Only one was a legitimate chief, and even he was a noted alcoholic. The Indians’ compensation was pitiful one historian called it a collection of ‘wet groceries and geegaws.’ As young George McCall, a recent graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, put it, the fact that the white men had simply stolen the Sauks’ land ‘was apparent to the most obtuse.’

Even that farcical treaty had given the Sauk and Fox the right to hunt and plant on their old ground until the land was surveyed and opened for settlement. But hordes of settlers had promptly squatted on the land, making the treaty unenforceable. It was too much for proud men to bear.

And so, in the spring of 1831, a band of Sauk crossed the Mississippi and moved into the ancient tribal territories around Rock Island. Their hearts were there, and so was their chief village, a well-laid-out town called Saukenuk. The Indian invasion produced a small amount of bloodshed — and a large amount of unmitigated panic on the part of the squatters, who promptly appealed to the United States Government for help.

Major General Edmund Gaines, Western Department commander, sent the 6th U.S. Infantry and part of the 3rd, and asked the Illinois governor for added militia assistance. War was averted when still another treaty was thrashed out with the Sauk, who promised never again to cross to the east bank of the Mississippi without the consent of both the U.S. president and the governor of Illinois.

Within four months, however, a Sauk band was back across the river, and was said to have killed a couple of dozen Menominee Indians, their hereditary enemies. The panic-stricken squatters again appealed for government aid. It was, after all, less than 20 years since the horrors of the War of 1812, when most of the northwestern Indians had joined the British. Many Indians still fondly remembered those days, times of victory over the Americans. One of them spoke for all: ‘I had not discovered one good trait in the character of the Americans. They made fair promises, but never fulfilled them! Whilst the British made but few — but we could always rely upon their word!’

The man who spoke those words was 65 at that time, but still a power among the Sauk. He was not a great chief, but a respected warrior who had killed his first man when he was 15 and was credited with 30 by the time he was 45. He was also a consummate tactician. His name, Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, roughly translates as Black Sparrow Hawk, but he was more widely known simply as Black Hawk.

On April 1, 1832, some 300 regulars of the 6th Infantry left Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, by boat. They moved smoothly upriver in the burgeoning spring, under the command of bumbling Brig. Gen. Henry Atkinson, and arrived at Rock Island on the 8th. There they learned that Black Hawk’s band — called the ‘British Band’ for their undying allegiance to their old friends to the north — with some local Sauk and some Kickapoo had crossed the Mississippi at Yellow Banks and moved up the Rock River. There were said to be 600 to 800 well-armed braves, more than half of them mounted. And, because they intended to reoccupy their old lands, many of them had brought their families with them.

Atkinson sensibly decided he needed cavalry to catch a mounted enemy. The regular army had no mounted troops because a cheese-paring Congress would not appropriate enough money for it. Infantrymen were cheaper, and dollars were far more important on Capital Hill than military preparedness. Any mounted men would have to come from the local militia, and Atkinson asked Illinois Governor John Reynolds for help.

Reynolds, a pompous bumpkin, jumped at the chance. ‘Generally speaking’ as one historian neatly put it, ‘history has been kind to the governor by not mentioning him at all.’ Reynolds, an intellectual pygmy, was nevertheless alert to the political advantage to be gained form taking the offensive against the Indians — any Indians. Based on some early and undistinguished service in the War of 1812, Reynolds had conferred upon himself the sobriquet of ‘the Old Ranger.’ Now he would add to his self-developed luster by personally leading the militia to chastise the heathen.

Militia troops had long been the bane of the regular U.S. Army. Although they had fought well at times, they had also done a shameful amount of running away. Major General ‘Mad Anthony’ Wayne, who knew something about soldiering, thought he would do well to get two volleys out of the militia before they fled the battlefield. It was not so long since the Bladensburg Races, that dismal day in August 1814 outside Washington when a whole army of militia had skedaddled before a thin line of British bayonets and the whooshing of wildly inaccurate Congreve rockets.

The ensuing war would bring nobody glory, except maybe the Indians. A raw-boned former militia captain named Abraham Lincoln would seldom mention his participation except to comment drolly on the size of the mosquitoes that preyed on him and his men. Other participants — especially officers of the regular army — bluntly called the campaign what it was.

‘A tissue of blunders, miserably managed’ said Colonel Zachary Taylor, destined for well-deserved fame in the Mexican War and ultimately the White House. ‘An affair of fatigue, filth, petty jealousy, bickering [and] boredom’ wrote a junior officer — and future Confederate general — named Albert Sidney Johnston.

The militiamen showed up at Rock Island in droves, a couple of thousand of them by early May. These uncouth Illinois men rejoiced in their local nickname of ‘Suckers’ in memory of one of their chief foods, the unlovely bottom-feeding fish of the same name. The men were furnished food, equipment and arms by the government, and produced prodigious quantities of both hot air and whiskey, without which no movement apparently could be attempted.

Subscribe online and save nearly 40%.

The Suckers poked fun at the regular troops they saw, in part because the regulars had to walk. The militia could ride in some comport, and pursue its Indian quarry with much greater dispatch. As it turned out, it was also better able to run away from a fight, a thing it was to do often. Militiamen would kill many horses during the campaign, galloping madly away from danger, real or imagined. Most of them would kill nothing else.

Still, the militiamen were loud and boastful, singularly dedicated to their constant companion John Barleycorn and wholly without discipline. The only response to Lincoln’s first command was the loud advice to ‘go to hell!’ Apparently, the future president’s experience was not unusual. Part of this chronic indiscipline was frontier orneriness, part of it, maybe most, was whiskey. One soldier wrote of hearing officers shout at their men: ‘Fall in, men — fall in! Gentlemen, will you please some away from that damned whiskey barrel!’

The regulars, in turn, were not pleased with their new allies. They rightly considered them buffoons, ill-disciplined, noisy and all too likely to desert the battlefield. For their part, the militia made fun of the regulars, calling them ‘hot-house lettuces’ given to taking tea with the ladies and ‘eating yellow-legged chickens’ an apparently pejorative frontier term that loses something in modern translation.

Reynolds’ militia had its chance almost immediately, and the result was the absurd debacle at Old Man’s Creek on May 14. The evening before, the Suckers had decided to abandon their supply wagons and each man took what he needed — especially whiskey. ‘Everybody offered everybody a drink’ said one participant, and the column straggled on toward Old Man’s Creek. By sundown the Sucker horde was ‘corned pretty heavily.’

Meanwhile, Black Hawk had led his band to the Winnebago village of Prophet’s Town, only to see his appeal for an alliance rejected. Although he flew a British flag wherever he camped, he eventually learned that reports and rumors he had heard of British support for his enterprise being forthcoming were utterly false. On the morning of May 14, he was at a council with Potawatomi chiefs, which was also to prove unproductive. When word reached him that the 275 militiamen of Major Stillman’s command were nearby, Black Hawk decided to abandon his hopes of returning to his traditional homeland. He sent three messengers under a white flag of truce to request a parley, with the intention of peacefully leading his band back across the Mississippi. He also sent five warriors to back up his envoys and observe how they were received.

What followed was a tragicomic farce. None of Black Hawk’s messengers could speak English and none of the militia could speak Sauk. While the parties tried to communicate, a militiaman noticed the five warriors watching the proceedings from a ridge and assumed that they were being drawn into a trap. A militiaman shot one of the Sauk negotiators dead on the spot and others rode off in pursuit of the fleeing braves, killing two of them. At least one reached Black Hawk, however, and the enraged war chief assembled 40 braves — all he had available, since the others were foraging for food and organized a skirmish line. Those 40 men were angry and aggressive, not at all what the Suckers were used to, and upon running headlong into that war party they promptly dashed back toward camp as fast as they had come.

Bedlam followed. The militia had enlisted for only 30 days, and as the fourth week approached they could think of all kinds of reasons why they had to go home. Some simply deserted. There was no end to the accusations about who was responsible for the shame of Stillman’s Run, and the governor seemed to have lost what little control he had. The regulars were so contemptuous of the militia that Atkinson put the Rock River between his men and the Suckers to avoid collision.

Meanwhile, Black Hawk found himself with the very war that he had tried to avoid fully on his hands. The heady and wholly unexpected victory at Old Man’s Creek, however, deluded the old war chief into believing he might have a chance of victory after all. Instead of quitting while he was ahead and withdrawing as planned just days before, Black Hawk took up the warpath.

Atkinson did what he could to get the expedition going again. He got a scouting party out, led by Colonel William Stephen ‘Uncle Billy’ Hamilton, a scruffy, hard-drinking son of the late Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. Before anything more could be done, word came of the massacre of 15 white settlers on Indian Creek and the kidnapping of two teenage girls by the raiders.

Frightful news of other killings and burnings caused mass flight along the frontier, with fugitives pouring into havens as far away as Chicago. Not all the raiders were Sauk there were Winnebago, too, but winged rumors made no distinction. At one settlement two shots fired at a flock of wild turkeys were enough to stampede everybody in the entire area into a wild flight for shelter at the local fort.

Meanwhile, orators and newspapers all along the frontier screamed for bloody revenge. By the end of May, much of the Illinois Militia had disbanded, with only 250 heeding frantic appeals form the Old Ranger to re-enlist. There was a new levy coming, but nobody knew just how large it could be. Men were unenthusiastic about the war. The Detroit Free Press sneered, ‘There is no danger — no more probability of an invasion by Black Hawk’s party than there is from the Emperor of Rusia [sic].’

A new swarm of militia soon gathered, however, thirsting for Indian blood and stealing anything that was not nailed down. They were organized into there brigades of about 1,000 men each, still as loud, brawling, hard-drinking and undisciplined as ever.

Black Hawk, camped around Lake Koshkonong, learned of the new army and knew he could not wait for it to come looking for him. In mid-June, he went over to the attack. First he sent small parties on forays westward, a feint to convince his enemies that he was beginning to move into Iowa. Meanwhile, his main force remained around Koshkonong, hunting to support the families.

The raiders stole stock and struck at isolated parties of whites, leaving a trail of scalped, mutilated bodies and unmitigated terror. The white pursuers did win one small success on June 16, at a place called Pecatonica Creek. The Battle of Bloody Pond, as it was also called, wasn’t much of a fight — 21 militia dragoons commanded by Colonel Henry Dodge took on 11 Kickapoo and managed to exterminate them while losing three of their own.

The frontier went crazy with delight. An ocean of hyperbole elevated the little skirmish into something approaching the Battle of Waterloo, and the militia leader was proposed as a candidate for governor. ‘The annals of border warfare’ crowed one writer, ‘furnish no parallel to this battle.’ That much was true: never in the field of frontier conflict had so much been said about so little.

In fact, the Battle of Bloody Pond did nothing to stop the ceaseless strikes of Black Hawk’s war parties, and most of the settlers remained terrified, disorganized and feckless. On June 24, Black Hawk led 150-200 warriors in an attempt to storm the hastily erected stockade at Apple River. The fort and its inhabitants were saved primarily by the exertions of a touch, tobacco-chewing woman with the appropriate name of Elizabeth Armstrong. This profane fury tongue-whipped the terrified refugees inside the fort and bullied its 25 male defenders into action, dragging one man from his hiding place inside a barrel and shoving him to a loophole.

After a brief siege, the Sauk and Fox moved on to forage for food, and on the next day they moved on to an even smaller fort at Kellogg’s Grove, hoping to ambush its garrison as it ventured out. Instead, the Indians ran afoul of a large party of militia led by Major John Dement and lost nine warriors killed, including two war chiefs, in the running fight that followed.

There were now too many regulars and militia in the region, and Black Hawk’s time was running out. Gradually the white juggernaut moved ahead, pushing up the Rock River past Lake Koshkonong. Black Hawk’s band, with its women and children, fell back. It was not easy for either pursuers or pursued. On went the chase, slogging through a dreadful region called the ‘trembling lands’ a maze of swamp and bog and hummock, waist-deep in stinking water.

By mid-July, the whites were desperately short of supplies, and the ponderous pursuit halted, still without substantial success. A number of militiamen were sent home, doubtless to Atkinson’s relief, and the governor seized the chance to go home with them, loudly assuring everybody that Black Hawk was finished. Among those mustered out was Captain Abraham Lincoln, on his way home to infinitely greater things.

If Atkinson was to have the honor of winning this war, he would have to move fast. President Andrew Jackson, never a patient man, had already tired of the glacial pace of the campaign, and had sent out someone he knew would do something about it. Brevet Major General Winfield Scott, a smart, driving regular officer destined for glory in the coming war with Mexico, was sent west to take command.

Atkinson pulled his diminished force together and slogged on after Black Hawk, who was plainly heading back toward the Mississippi. It was a miserable march, dragging its way through more of the ‘trembling lands’ plagued by torrents of rain, blown-down tents and a stamped that left many militiamen on foot. On July 20, the column’s leading elements cut Black Hawk’s trail. The effect on Atkinson’s tired army was electric. Morale rose and the men pushed on hard, living on raw bacon and wet cornmeal, snatching sleep on the ground under the pouring rain.

It was the beginning of the end. Black Hawk’s band was already in dreadful straits, reduced to eating roots and tree bark to stay alive, and leaving behind the bodies of old people dead of starvation. The militia was closing faster now as it broke out of the swamps and into open country, near Madison, Wis.

Subscribe online and save nearly 40%.

Just when it seemed that the war was over, on July 21, Black Hawk turned on his pursuers at a place called Wisconsin Heights. Vastly outnumbered, he could not close, but volleyed again and again with musket fire, keeping the whites off balance and on the defensive as their casualties mounted, though only one man was killed. At last, as night began to fall, the Suckers managed to launch a bayonet charge toward the high ground and the ravine from which the Indians’ galling fire had come. Their assault crashed into empty air — Black Hawk was gone.

‘Our men stood firmly’ one militiaman wrote proudly, unaware that’standing firmly’ was precisely what Black Hawk desperately wanted the army to do. While they stood firmly, he had gotten his entire band across the Wisconsin by canoe, losing only five braves. He had commanded about 50 Sauk, who he later described as ‘barely able to stand up due to hunger.’

Now it was a race. Some of Black Hawk’s exhausted band kept on down the Wisconsin. Others headed for the confluence of the Bad Axe River and the Mississippi, north of Prairie du Chien. There, the Mississippi broke into shoals and island, and it might be possible to cross to the west. Black Hawk could not know that a thoughtful regular officer had already anchored in the mouth of the Wisconsin with a flatboat, carrying 25 regulars and a 6-pounder cannon.

The pursuers pushed every closer to the Sauk band, slogging through trackless swamp, matted undergrowth and difficult hills. Now, the leading Sucker units knew they were close — the air was filled with circling buzzards and the way was littered with Indian corpses. A few were marked with wounds, but most of them had simply died of exhaustion and starvation.

It was all over now but the killing. At the Wisconsin’s mouth, one band of Sauk was stopped cold by the flatboat’s murderous grapeshot. The survivors scattered to the river’s banks. They could perish miserably over the next few days, hunted down by bands of Menominee led by Uncle Billy Hamilton. Across the broad Mississippi waited bands of Lakota, alerted that the hated Sauk would try to cross. And upstream, as Black Hawk’s hapless survivors reached the mouth of the Bad Axe on August 1, blasts of canister from the steamboat Warrior slashed through them and drove them back from the shore. Black Hawk ventured out toward Warrior with some white cotton on a stick in what proved to be a vain attempt to surrender. The remaining Sauk were hemmed in between the great river and Atkinson’s force, outnumbered 4-to-1.

The whole affair ended the next day, August 2, as Black Hawks knew it must. Atkinson’s men dropped their packs, fixed bayonets and pushed toward the banks of the Mississippi, regulars in the center, militia on either flank. There were perhaps 1,100 of them, plodding in line, holding muskets and equipment over their heads as they waded through pools of stagnant water. They advanced cautiously into the thick morning mist along the river.

Black Hawk’s warrior got off a single volley and then the soldiers were upon them. The whites suffered a mere 27 casualties — only five of them dead — while Black Hawk’s band was destroyed. At least 150 bodies were found, including many women and children. Many Indians fell or jumped into the river and the Mississippi took them forever. Those few who escaped were hunted down by vengeful Winnebago and Lakota, and even some traitorous Sauk.

A few refugees took to the water and the islands in a vain attempt to escape across the river. Fire from Warrior killed many of them with grapeshot and musketry, and even crushed some of the survivors with its paddle wheel as they tried to hide in shallow water. Fortified by whiskey, some militiamen pushed on to the islands and more fugitives were killed there.

A few of Black Hawk’s people escaped, against all odds. Many women tried to swim, some carrying small women on their backs. Most sank under a hail of musketry or were taken by the river as their strength ebbed, but a few made it. One mother swam the great river while clutching her tiny baby’s neck in her teeth. She would survive and so would the child, who rose to be chief, ever after called Scar Neck.

Perhaps 115 of Black Hawk’s party remained as prisoners, nearly all of them women and children. It was over, and there was much celebration, whiskey drinking and boasting over the pitiful scalps and booty that were all that remained of the British Band.

If the fighting was over, the dying was not. Cholera stalked down the river with the remains of Scott’s force and struck mercilessly at Sucker and regular alike. Fifty-five men were dead within a week, and many others deserted in terror, further spreading the epidemic. Its hideous rictus and vomiting would claim victims for the rest of that year and into the next, spreading all the way down the river to New Orleans, where it would kill 500 people a day at its height.

But at least there would be peace, however shameful. A new treaty was dictated by the victors. By its terms, the Sauk and Fox would leave the east bank of the Mississippi forever and five up a 50-mile strip on the west bank as well. There would be a trumpery payment to the tribe, which worked out to about $4 per Sauk per year, before, of course, ‘deductions’ for various sums owed merchants and agents.

Black Hawk was not among the prisoners, nor was his body found among the dead. He had left before the battle, old and tired and sick at heart. Whether he had simply given up on the war or was trying to lead part of Atkinson’s troops way from the Indian families is not clear. In any case, his people did not blame him for his absence. He had led them well, but the long march was over.

After eluding the militia for a few weeks more, in late August, Black Hawk finally gave himself up at Prairie du Chien. Kept for a time in chains at Fort Armstrong near the much-lamented village of Saukenuk, he was eventually taken to Washington, where he had a brief audience with President Jackson. Old Hickory had originally intended to imprison Black Hawk at Fortress Monroe, Va, but he was so impressed with the old war chief that he gave him a ceremonial sword and sent him home, one good soldier honoring another.

Before leaving the white man’s world, Black Hawk toured the Eastern seaboard, where he was ogled and lionized by the public. A condition of his release was that he renounce any claims to leadership of the Sauk, that position going to the more pliable Keokuk.

Back home, Black Hawk dictated a bitter autobiography in 1933. In it, he gave his chief reason for fighting the whites. ‘My reason teaches me that land cannot be sold’ he said. ‘The Great Spirit gave it to his children to live upon. So long as they occupy and cultivate it they have the right to the soil. Nothing can be sold but such things as can be carried away.’

In time, Black Hawk would become something of a mascot in his new home near Burlingon, Iowa. He was generally treated as a respected citizen and often invited to listen to debates in the state assembly. In 1838, he died of an unspecified ailment called ‘bilious fever.’

Black Hawk remained something of a celebrity after his death. Curious white settlers invaded his tomb and stole his body. A local doctor boiled the bones clean, fleeing with his skeleton to start a touring exhibition. The governor of Iowa interceded and had the warrior’s remains returned to Burlington. In 1853, a fire finally put Black Hawk forever beyond the meddling of the white man.

The Suckers, Governor Reynolds, General Atkinson and other enemies have long since joined him in death, but Black Hawk the war leader had outlasted them all in memory. Wherever he is, the old Sauk must smile at the speed and sleekness of the U.S. Army’s current troop carrying helicopter that bears his name. On balance, it is not a bad epitaph.

Subscribe online and save nearly 40%.

This article was written by Robert B. Smith and originally published in the April 1991 issue of Wild West magazine.

For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Wild West magazine today!


The Utah Black Hawk War

Just 70 years following the Dominguez and Escalante expedition, trouble began for the Royal Bloods of the Timpanogos. On July 24, 1847, LDS leader Brigham Young and a party of 143 Mormons emerged from the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon onto a hill overlooking the northern end of Timpanogos Lake (now Salt Lake valley), thus concluding a thousand-mile journey from Nauvoo, Illinois taking a hundred and eleven days by horseback and covered wagons. Seeing the valley, Brigham said, &ldquoIt's enough. This is the right place. Drive on.&rdquo

In the following years, Mormons would continue to pour in on the land of the Timpanogos at the rate of three thousand a month. It created confusion and upset the sacred balance of nature the natural order by cutting down trees, diverting streams, killing animals, and creating chaos among all living things thus setting the stage for a major conflict with the Timpanogos Nation, whose only want was to be left alone. They believed their sacred duty was to protect the sacred as being critical to the survival of all life.

Mormon's war with the Timpanogos Nation was not a single incident. Researching the Black Hawk War for some twenty years, I was first to publish there being over a hundred and fifty bloody confrontations between the Timpanogos Nation and the Mormons during the years of 1849 - 1872. And forty-one of those occurred before the year 1865, the date my great-grandfather Peter said the War began, which is one of the many arguments Native people have against Utah's one-sided history. The war may have begun for the Mormons in 1865 according to their historians, but the Timpanogos have not forgotten the previous sixteen years when their ancestors were brutally massacred at Battle Creek, Fort Utah and Bear River. Or when their beloved Leader Wakara, or "Chief Walker" as the Mormons call him, was murdered in 1855.

Historians for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints say the years leading up to the war were "complex circumstances." Whereas a knowing member of the Timpanogos Tribe put it succinctly when I asked if causes of the war were complex, "What choice were we given? To walk knee deep in the blood of our people, or give up our sacred land and culture and accept white man's ways. it was a matter of what's right. our honor. survival. why is that so complicated to understand?"

It's easy to become confused when there are many different Chiefs in these accounts. First, we need to understand the word 'Chief" is a Whiteman's term. In the Native way there were no 'Chiefs' but there were many leaders, and depending on the situation a person was chosen by the community to lead them accordingly. So, there were several leaders of the various Bands of the Timpanogos, but I will use the term 'Chief' since it is established that way. The Timpanogos Nation, during and following the Black Hawk War, had three Principal Chiefs who were Wakara, Arapeen, and Tabby during the years 1847 and 1898, and other leaders such as Black Hawk were subordinate to the Principal Chief, Black Hawk was a War Chief. I will use the terms 'Principal Chief' when referring to the Nation's leader, and 'War Chief" for those who lead warriors in battle.

Wakara Warns Brigham Young

Continuing our story, the Timpanogos Principal Chief Wakara warned Brigham Young upon arrival, that he and his people were not welcome to settle on the land of his ancestors. Brigham assured Wakara they were only passing through to California, that they needed to spend the winter to rest and continue their journey in the spring. The following is a brief synopsis of the events as they unfolded.

Wakara having compassion for the Mormon's, helped Brigham and his followers survive the first winter of '47 with food and provisions. Wakara's brothers Tabby, Sanpitch, Sowette, Arapeen, Grospeen, Ammon, Kanosh, and others made every effort to avoid bloodshed.

When spring came in 1848, Brigham Young had no intention of leaving as he had promised Wakara, and commenced building cabins, barns and fencing off the land. Wakara's patience was wearing thin and again warned Young to leave, and to not build any fort (Fort Utah) on their land near Timpanogos Lake. But by now, hundreds more Mormons had arrived.

Battle Creek and Fort Utah

As tensions continued to escalate, on February 28, of 1849 Brigham Young falsely accuses a small group of 'Indians' of stealing his horses which led to the senseless killing of a peaceful group of Timpanogos at Pleasant Grove armed with only a rifle and never fired one shot. This is known as the Battle Creek Massacre. A year later February 9, 1850 a second massacre occurs at Fort Utah when seventy Timpanogos were killed, and the severed heads of fifty Tribal leaders and members are hung by their long hair from eves of buildings and stacked in boxes. That alone was enough to start a war. Wakara was outraged, heartbroken, his people were in danger and fearful of these strange intruders who had little or no regard for his people or the natural order, while his elder brother Sowette argued against violence that would bring more harm. And though Sowette had no power over Wakara, he was the elder, and it is the Native way to respect the elders for their wisdom and council.

Just prior to the massacre at Fort Utah, Mormon apostle George A. Smith, a cousin to Church founder Joseph Smith declared that the indigenous peoples of Utah territory "have no right to their land." And while the LDS Church had no legal basis what-so-ever to remove indigenous peoples from their aboriginal land, and in fact violated the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848. Smith orders the all-Mormon legislature to "extinguish all titles" and get them out of the way and onto reservations because they were judged as being "heathens" and "savages" and so the stage was set for the extermination of the Timpanogos Nation that would follow. George A. Smith was 33 years of age when he initiates the genocide of the Timpanogos Nation.


Intertribal war and American policy [ edit | edit source ]

Although the return of Black Hawk's band worried U.S. officials, they were at the time more concerned about the possibility of a war among the Native American tribes in the region. ⎸] Most accounts of the Black Hawk War focus on the conflict between Black Hawk and the United States, but historian John Hall argues that this overlooks the perspective of many Native American participants. According to Hall, "the Black Hawk War also involved an intertribal conflict that had smoldered for decades". ⎹] Tribes along the Upper Mississippi had long fought for control of diminishing hunting grounds, and the Black Hawk War provided an opportunity for some Natives to resume a war that had nothing to do with Black Hawk. ⎺] After having displaced the British as the dominant outside power following the War of 1812, the United States had assumed the role of mediator in intertribal disputes. Before the Black Hawk War, U.S. policy discouraged intertribal warfare. This was not strictly for humanitarian reasons: intertribal warfare made it more difficult for the United States to acquire Indian land and move the tribes to the West, a policy known as Indian removal, which had become the primary goal by the late 1820s. ⎻] U.S. efforts at mediation included multi-tribal treaty councils at Prairie du Chien in 1825 and 1830, in which tribal boundaries were drawn. ⎼] Native Americans sometimes resented American mediation, especially young men, for whom warfare was an important avenue of social advancement. ⎽]

Fort Armstrong was located on Rock Island, which is now known as Arsenal Island. The view is from the Illinois side, with Iowa in the background.

The situation was complicated by the American spoils system. After Andrew Jackson assumed the U.S. presidency in March 1829, many competent Indian agents were replaced by unqualified Jackson loyalists, argues historian John Hall. Men like Thomas Forsyth, John Marsh, and Thomas McKenney were replaced by less qualified men such as Felix St. Vrain. In the 19th century, historian Lyman Draper argued that the Black Hawk War could have been avoided had Forsyth remained as the agent to the Sauks. ⎾]

In 1830, violence threatened to undo American attempts at preventing intertribal warfare. In May, Dakotas (Santee Sioux) and Menominees killed fifteen Meskwakis attending a treaty conference at Prairie du Chien. In retaliation, a party of Meskwakis and Sauks killed twenty-six Menominees, including women and children, at Prairie du Chien in July 1831. ⎿] American officials discouraged the Menominees from seeking revenge, but the western bands of the tribe formed a coalition with the Dakotas to strike at the Sauks and Meskwakis. ⏀]

Hoping to prevent the outbreak of a wider war, American officials ordered the U.S. Army to arrest the Meskwakis who massacred the Menominees. ⏁] General Gaines was ill, and so his subordinate, Brigadier General Henry Atkinson, received the assignment. ⏂] Atkinson was a middle-aged officer who had ably handled administrative and diplomatic tasks, most notably during the 1827 Winnebago War, but he had never seen combat. ⏃] On April 8, he set out from Jefferson Barracks in Missouri, moving up the Mississippi River by steamboat with about 220 soldiers. By chance, Black Hawk and his British Band had just crossed into Illinois. Although Atkinson did not realize it, his boats passed Black Hawk's band. ⏄]

When Atkinson arrived at Fort Armstrong on Rock Island on April 12, he learned that the British Band was in Illinois, and that most of the Meskwakis he wanted to arrest were now with the band. ⏅] Like other American officials, Atkinson was convinced that the British Band intended to start a war. Because he had few troops at his disposal, Atkinson hoped to get support from the Illinois state militia. He wrote to Governor Reynolds on April 13, describing—and perhaps purposely exaggerating—the threat that the British Band posed. ⏆] Reynolds, who was eager for a war to drive the Indians out of the state, responded as Atkinson had hoped: he called for militia volunteers to assemble at Beardstown by April 22 to begin a thirty-day enlistment. The 2,100 men who volunteered were organized into a brigade of five regiments under Brigadier General Samuel Whiteside. ⏇] Among the militiamen was 23-year-old Abraham Lincoln, who was elected captain of his company. ⏈]


Book/Printed Material The story of the Black Hawk War

The Library of Congress is not aware of any U.S. copyright protection (see Title 17, U.S.C.) or any other restrictions in the materials in the Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820-1910 materials. The Library of Congress is providing access to these materials for educational and research purposes. The written permission of the copyright owners and/or other rights holders (such as publicity and/or privacy rights) is required for distribution, reproduction, or other use of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use or other statutory exemptions. Responsibility for making an independent legal assessment of an item and securing any necessary permissions ultimately rests with persons desiring to use the item.

Credit Line: Library of Congress, General Collections and Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Further copyright information is also available at American Memory and Copyright.


Featured Article About The Black Hawk War From History Net Magazines

The militia surgeon was terrified. All around him the night flickered and danced with muzzle flashes, and the darkness rang with terrifying war whoops and screams of terror. Desperately he kneed his rearing horse, but could not pull away from the grim, dark form holding tightly to his mount. He leaned forward into the gloom and held out his sword.

‘Please, Mr. Indian,’ he pleaded, ‘I surrender. Please accept my sword.’

Only after his captor failed to take the sword, or move at all, did the petrified doctor realize that he was talking to a stump, one to which he had tied his horse. Slashing the tether, the surgeon fled madly into the night.

Subscribe online and save nearly 40%.

For 25 miles, he and hundreds of his militia comrades galloped through brush and trees, crazy with fear, more than a little drunk, and certain that every bush and log was a Sauk warrior with a tomahawk thirsting for white man’s blood. Few of them ever actually saw an Indian or fired at anything other than shadows.

These Illinois militiamen had been spooked by a couple of dozen Sauk warriors, who were as surprised as anybody at the panicked rout. The militia officers, with few exceptions, were in the van of the retreat, led by a colonel named Strode, notable, until then, chiefly for a large mouth and a bellicose air.

Thus the Battle of Old Man’s Creek, ever after to bear the unfelicitous name of Stillman’s Run, was appropriately christened for the overall commander of the frightened rabble, Cavalry Major Isaiah Stillman. The defeat was more humiliating than serious: only 12 militiamen had been killed, although a good many more had deserted for good. The Sauk had lost three braves, one a prisoner murdered as the fight began.

Later, there would be a good deal of pious bragging and invention about a gallant defense against hundreds of Indians. But the militia knew it had been whipped, whipped badly and nearly frightened to death. In later days, most of the men didn’t talk a lot about being at Stillman’s Run. One officer spoke for most of them in a letter to his wife: ‘I will make you one promise, I will stay with you in future, for this thing of being a soldier is not so comfortable as it might be.’

Indeed it wasn’t. What had started as a wonderful, drunken Indian-killing party was getting serious and, what was worse, downright dangerous. But the war would go on. It was mid May of 1832, and a fundamental question still had to be decided that spring. Was the Sauk and Fox nation to be allowed to return to its ancestral lands near Rock Island, east of the Mississippi, or was it to be forever confined to its new home west of that river, to which it had been exiled by a scandalous treaty signed in 1804?

The Indian signatories to the treaty had had no authority to speak for the entire tribe. Only one was a legitimate chief, and even he was a noted alcoholic. The Indians’ compensation was pitiful one historian called it a collection of ‘wet groceries and gewgaws.’ As young West Pointer George McCall put it, the fact that the white men had simply stolen the Sauks’ land ‘was apparent to the most obtuse.’

Even this farcical treaty had given the Sauk and Fox the right to hunt and plant on their old ground until the land was surveyed and opened for settlement. But hordes of settlers had promptly squatted on the land, making the treaty unenforceable. It was too much for proud men to bear.

And so, in the spring of 1831, a band of Sauk crossed the Mississippi and moved into the ancient tribal territories around Rock Island. Their hearts were there, and so was their chief village, a well-laid-out town called Saukenuk. The Indian invasion produced a small amount of bloodshed–and unmitigated panic on the part of the squatters, who promptly appealed to the government for help.

Major General Edmund Gaines, Western Department commander, sent the 6th United States Infantry and part of the 3rd, and asked the Illinois governor for added militia assistance. War was averted when still another treaty was thrashed out with the Sauk, who promised never again to cross to the east bank of the Mississippi without the consent of both the U.S. president and the governor of Illinois.

Within four months, however, a Sauk band was back across the river, and was said to have killed a couple of dozen Menominee Indians, their hereditary enemies. The panic stricken squatters again appealed for government aid. It was, after all, less than 20 years since the frontier horrors of the War of 1812, when most of the northwestern Indians had joined the British. Many Indians still fondly remembered those days, the times of victory over the Americans. One of them spoke for all: ‘I had not discovered one good trait in the character of the Americans. They made fair promises, but never fulfilled them! Whilst the British made but few–but we could always rely upon their word!’

The man who spoke those words was 67 now, but still a power among the Sauk. He was not a great chief, but a war leader, a general who had killed his first man when he was 15. He was also a consummate tactician. His name was Black Hawk.

On April 8, 1832, some 300 regulars of the 6th Infantry left Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, by boat. They moved smoothly upriver in the burgeoning spring, under the command of bumbling Brig. Gen. Henry Atkinson, and arrived at Rock Island on the 8th. There they found that Black Hawk’s band–called ‘the British Band’ for their undying allegiance to their old friends–with some local Sauk and some Kickapoo had moved up the Rock River. There were said to be 600 to 800 well-armed braves, more than half of them mounted. And, because they intended to reoccupy their old lands, many of them had brought their families with them.

Atkinson sensibly decided he needed cavalry to catch a mounted enemy. The regular army had no mounted troops because a cheese-paring Congress would not appropriate money for them. Infantrymen were cheaper, and dollars were far more important on Capitol Hill than military preparedness. Any mounted men would have to come from the local militia, and Atkinson asked Illinois Governor John Reynolds for help.

Reynolds, a pompous bumpkin, jumped at the chance. ‘Generally speaking,’ as one historian neatly put it, ‘history has been kind to the governor by not mentioning him at all.’ Reynolds, an intellectual pygmy, was nevertheless alert to the political advantage to be gained from taking the offensive against the Indians–any Indians. Based on some early and undistinguished service in the War of 1812, Reynolds had conferred upon himself the sobriquet of ‘the Old Ranger.’ Now he would add to his self-developed luster by personally leading the militia to chastise the heathen.

Militia had long been the bane of the regular army. Although they had fought well at times. they had also done a shameful amount of running away. ‘Mad Anthony’ Wayne, who knew something about soldiering, thought he would do well to get two volleys out of the militia before they fled the battlefield. It was not so long since the Bladensburg Races, that dismal day outside Washington when a whole army of militia had skedaddled before a thin line of British bayonets and the whooshing of wildly inaccurate Congreve rockets.

Subscribe online and save nearly 40%.

The ensuing war would bring nobody glory, except maybe the Indians. A rawboned captain of militia named Abraham Lincoln would seldom mention his participation except to comment drolly on the size of the mosquitoes that preyed on him and his men. Other participants–especially officers of the regular army–bluntly called the campaign what it was.

‘A tissue of blunders, miserably managed,’ said Zachary Taylor, destined for well-deserved fame in the Mexican War and, ultimately, the White House. One of his junior officers, Albert Sidney Johnston, agreed. ‘An affair of fatigue, filth,’ he wrote, ‘petty jealousy, bickering [and] boredom.’

The militia showed up at Rock Island in droves, a couple of thousand of them by early May. These uncouth Illinois men rejoiced in the local nickname of ‘Suckers,’ in memory of one of their chief foods, the unlovely bottom-feeding fish of the same name. The men were furnished food, equipment and arms by the government, and produced prodigious quantities of both hot air and whiskey, without which no movement apparently could be attempted.

The Suckers poked fun at the regular troops they saw, in part because the regulars had to walk. The militia could ride in some comfort, and pursue its Indian quarry with much greater dispatch. As it turned out, it could also run away from a fight, a thing it was to do often. Militiamen would kill many horses during the campaign, galloping madly away from danger, real or imagined. Most of them would kill nothing else.

Still, the militiamen were loud and boastful, singularly dedicated to their constant companion John Barleycorn and wholly without discipline. The only response to Lincoln’s first command was the loud advice to ‘go to hell!’ Apparently, the future president’s experience was not unusual. Part of this chronic indiscipline was frontier orneriness part of it, maybe most, was whiskey. One soldier wrote of hearing officers shouting at their men: ‘Fall in, men–fall in! Gentlemen, will you please come away from that damned whiskey barrel!’

The regulars, in turn, were not pleased with their new allies. They rightly considered them buffoons, ill- disciplined, noisy, and all too likely to run away. For their part, the militia made fun of the regulars, calling them ‘hot-house lettuces,’ given to taking tea with the ladies and ‘eating yellow-legged chickens,’ an apparently pejorative frontier term that loses something in modern translation.

Reynolds, militia had its chance almost immediately, and the result was the absurd debacle at Stillman’s Run on May 14. The evening before, the Suckers had decided to abandon their supply wagons, and each man took what he needed–especially whiskey. ‘Everybody offered everybody a drink,’ said one participant, and the column straggled on toward Old Man’s Creek. By sundown the Sucker horde was ‘corned pretty heavily.’

As evening began to come down, a handful of foraging Indians was spotted ahead, and a mob of militia galloped off in pursuit. Taking three prisoners along the way, they killed two more fleeing Sauk. Their dashing pursuit ended abruptly, however, when they ran head-on into Black Hawk and 40 braves, all he could collect of the scattered tribe. These 40 were angry and aggressive, not at all what the Suckers were used to, and the militia galloped back toward their camp as fast as they had come.

Bedlam followed. The militia had enlisted only for 30 days, and as the fourth week approached they could think of all kinds of reasons why they had to go home. Some simply deserted. There was no end to the accusations about who was responsible for the shame of Stillman’s Run, and the governor seemed to have lost what little control he had. The regulars were so contemptuous of the militia that Atkinson put the Rock River between his men and the Suckers to avoid collision.

Atkinson did what he could to get the expedition going again. He got a scouting party out, led by a scruffy, hard drinking son of Alexander Hamilton called Uncle Billy. Before anything more could be done, word came of the massacre of 15 white settlers on Indian Creek and the kidnapping of two teen-age girls by the raiders.

Frightful news of other killings and burnings caused mass flight along the frontier, with fugitives pouring into havens as far away as Chicago. Not all the raiders were Sauk there were Winnebago, too, but winged rumor made no distinction. At one settlement two shots fired at a flock of wild turkeys were enough to stampede everybody in the entire area into a wild flight for shelter in the local fort.

Meanwhile, orators and newspapers all along the frontier screamed for bloody revenge. By the end of May, much of the Sucker militia had disbanded, only 250 men heeding frantic appeals from the Old Ranger to re-enlist. There was a new levy coming, but nobody knew just how large it would be. Men were unenthusiastic about the war. The Detroit Free Press sneered, ‘There is no danger–no more probability of an invasion by Black Hawk’s party than there is from the Emperor of Rusia [sic].’

A new swarm of militia soon gathered, however, thirsting for Indian blood and stealing anything that was not nailed down. They were organized into three brigades of about 1,000 men each, still as loud, brawling, hard- drinking and undisciplined as ever.

Black Hawk, camped around Lake Koshkonong, learned of the new army and knew he could not wait for it to come looking for him. In mid-June, he went over to the attack. First he sent small parties on forays westward, a feint to convince his enemies that he was beginning to move into Iowa. Meanwhile, his main force remained around Koshkonong, hunting to support the families.

The raiders stole stock and struck at isolated parties of whites, leaving a trail of scalped, mutilated bodies and unmitigated terror. The white pursuers did win one small success at a place called Pecatonica Creek. It wasn’t much of a fight: 20-odd militia took on 11 Kickapoo and managed to exterminate them while losing three of their own.

The frontier went crazy with delight. An ocean of hyperbole elevated the little skirmish into something approaching the Battle of Waterloo, and the leader of the militia was proposed as a candidate for governor. ‘The annals of border warfare,’ crowed one writer, ‘furnish no parallel to this battle.’ That much was true: never in the field of frontier conflict had so much been said about so little.

In fact, the Battle of the Pecatonica did nothing to stop the ceaseless strikes of Black Hawk’s war parties, and most of the settlers remained terrified, disorganized and feckless. The besieged fort at Apple River was saved only by the exertions of a tough, tobacco-chewing woman, appropriately named Armstrong. This profane Fury tongue-whipped the terrified refugees inside the fort and bullied the male defenders into action, dragging one man from his hiding place inside a barrel and shoving him to a loophole.

But now there were too many regulars and militia, and Black Hawk’s time was running out. Gradually the white juggernaut moved ahead, pushing up the Rock River past Lake Koshonong. Black Hawk’s band, with its women and children, fell back. It was not easy for either pursuers or pursued. On went the chase, slogging through a dreadful region called the ‘trembling lands,’ a maze of swamp and bog and hummock, waist-deep in stinking water.

By mid-July, the whites were desperately short of supplies, and the ponderous pursuit halted, still without visible success. A number of militiamen were sent home, doubtless to Atkinson’s relief, and the governor seized the chance to go home with them, loudly assuring everybody that Black Hawk was finished. Among those mustered out was Abraham Lincoln, on his way home to infinitely greater things.

Subscribe online and save nearly 40%.

If Atkinson was to have the glory of winning this war, he would have to move fast. President Andrew Jackson, never a patient man, had already tired of the glacial pace of the campaign, and had sent out someone he knew would do something about it. General Winfield Scott, a smart, driving regular officer destined for glory in the coming war against Mexico, was sent west to take command.

Atkinson pulled his diminished force together and slogged on after Black Hawk, who was plainly heading back toward the Mississippi. It was a miserable march, dragging its way through more of the ‘trembling lands,’ plagued by torrents of rain, blown-down tents, and a stampede that left many militiamen on foot. On July 20, the column’s leading elements cut Black Hawk’s trail. The effect on Atkinson’s tired army was electric. Morale rose and the men pushed on hard, living on raw bacon and wet cornmeal, snatching sleep on the ground under the pouring rain.

It was the beginning of the end. Black Hawk’s band was already in dreadful straits, reduced to eating roots and treebark to stay alive, and leaving behind the bodies of old people dead of starvation. The militia was closing faster now as they broke out of the swamps into open country, near Madison, Wis.

Just when it seemed the war was over, Black Hawk turned on his pursuers at a place called Wisconsin Heights. Vastly outnumbered, he would not close, but volleyed again and again with musket fire, keeping the whites off-balance and on the defensive as militia casualties mounted. At last, as night began to fall, the Suckers managed a bayonet charge toward the high ground and the ravine from which the Indians’ galling fire had come. The attack struck empty air–Black Hawk was gone.

The whites, nevertheless, congratulated themselves. ‘Our men stood firmly,’ one wrote proudly, unaware that’standing firmly’ was precisely what Black Hawk wanted the army to do. While they stood firmly, he had gotten his whole band across the Wisconsin by canoe, losing only six braves. He had commanded about 50 Sauk ‘barely able to stand up due to hunger.’

Now it was a race. Some of Black Hawk’s exhausted band kept on down the Wisconsin. Others headed for the confluence of the Bad Axe River and the Mississippi, north of Prairie du Chien. There, the Mississippi broke into shoals and islands, and it might be possible to cross to the west. Black Hawk could not know that a thoughtful regular officer had already anchored in the mouth of the Wisconsin with a flatboat, manned by 25 regulars and a six-pound cannon.

The pursuers pushed ever closer to the Sauk band, slogging through trackless swamp, matted undergrowth and difficult hills. Now, the leading Sucker units knew they were close: the air was filled with circling buzzards and the way was littered with Indian corpses. A few were marked with wounds, but most of them had simply died of exhaustion and starvation.

It was all over now but for the killing. At the Wisconsin’s mouth, one band of Sauk was stopped cold by the flatboat’s murderous short-range grapeshot. The survivors scattered to the river’s banks. They would perish miserably over the next few days, hunted down and killed by bands of Menominee led by Alexander Hamilton’s shabby son.

Across the broad Mississippi waited bands of Sioux, alerted that the hated Sauk would try to cross. And upstream, as Black Hawk’s miserable survivors reached the mouth of the Bad Axe, blasts of canister from the steamboat Warrior slashed through them and drove them back from the shore. The remaining Sauk were hemmed in between the great river and Atkinson’s force, outnumbered 4-to-1.

The whole ugly affair ended on August 2, as Black Hawk knew it must. Atkinson’s men dropped their packs, fixed bayonets, and pushed toward the banks of the Mississippi, regulars in the center, militia on either flank. There were perhaps 1,100 of them, plodding in line, holding muskets and equipment over their heads as they waded through pools of stagnant water. They pushed cautiously into the thick morning mist along the river.

Black Hawk’s warriors got off a single volley, and then the white army closed. They took a mere 27 casualties–only five of these dead–and Black Hawk’s band was simply destroyed. At least 150 bodies were found, including many women and children. Many fell or jumped into the river, and the Mississippi took them forever. Those few who escaped were hunted down by vengeful Sioux and Winnebago, and even some quisling Sauk.

A few fugitives took to the water and the islands in a vain attempt to escape across the river. Fire from the Warrior killed many of these with grapeshot and musketry, and even crushed some of the survivors with her paddle wheel as they tried to hide in shallow water. Fortified by whiskey, some militiamen pushed on to the islands, and more miserable fugitives were killed there.

A few of Black Hawk’s people escaped, against all odds. Many squaws tried to swim, some carrying small children on their backs. A few made it. Most sank under a hail of musketry, or were taken by the river as their strength ebbed. One mother swam the great river holding her tiny baby by clutching the child’s neck in her teeth. She would survive and so would the child, who rose to be a chief, ever after called ‘Scar Neck.’

Perhaps 115 of Black Hawk’s band remained as prisoners, nearly all of them women and children. It was over, and there was much celebration and whiskey drinking and boasting over the pitiful scalps and booty that were all that remained of the British Band.

If the fighting was over, the dying was not. Cholera stalked down the river with the remains of Scott’s force and struck mercilessly at Sucker and regular alike. Fifty-six men were dead within a week, and many others deserted in terror, further spreading the epidemic. Its hideous rictus and vomiting would claim victims for the rest of that year and into the next, spreading all the way down the river to New Orleans, where it would kill 500 a day at its height.

But at least there would be peace, however shameful. A new treaty was dictated by the victors. By its terms, the Sauk would leave the east bank of the Mississippi forever and give up a 50-mile strip on the west bank as well. There would be a trumpery payment to the tribe, which worked out at about $4 per Sauk per year, before, of course, ‘deductions’ for various sums owed merchants and agents.

Black Hawk was not among the prisoners, nor was his body found among the dead. He had left before the battle, old and tired and sick at heart. Whether he had simply given up on the war or was trying to lead part of Atkinson’s troops away from the Indian families is not clear. In any case, his people did not blame him for his absence. He had led them well. The long march was over. Black Hawk had lost.

Subscribe online and save nearly 40%.

This article was written by Robert B. Smith and originally published in the February 1998 issue of Military History magazine.

For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Military History magazine today!


The War of 1812 and the Black Hawk War

When the War of 1812 broke out, the population in the territory was less than 5,000 people. Acting Territorial Governor Atwater enrolled about 200 men in the militia. They participated in General Hull's Canadian campaign and were involved in the effort to capture Sandwich. The campaign was doomed to failure however, and the invading force was captured. The Michigan militia was paroled, thus ending its participation in this war.

The Black Hawk War

In 1832, Michigan men again answered the call to arms. This time it was for an Indian war--the Blackhawk War. Michigan played only a small part in this campaign but did call out and order to service a regiment of militia that included the First Regiment of Michigan Militia, the Detroit City Guards, and a company of mounted volunteers (dragoons).

The troops never saw combat, however. Exposure and the hardship of the march to the Mississippi River, coupled with an outbreak of the Asiatic cholera, took a heavy toll. Sickness and some deaths were reported.

The Black Hawk War was the last campaign in which the Detroit City Guards participated.


Black Hawk War

The Black Hawk War (1832) was the last major Indian-white conflict east of the Mississippi River. In 1804 representatives of the Sauk and Fox tribes signed a treaty abandoning all claims to land in Illinois. Although expected to remove to Iowa, they were permitted to remain east of the Mississippi until their former lands were sold. The Sauk leader, Black Hawk (1767-1838), opposed the treaty and rose to prominence when he fought for the British during the War of 1812.

When the Indians were finally ordered into Iowa in 1828, Black Hawk sought in vain to create an anti-American alliance with the Winnebago, Potawatomi, and Kickapoo. In 1829, 1830, and 1831, Black Hawk’s band returned across the Mississippi for spring planting, frightening the whites. When the Indians returned in 1832, a military force was organized to repulse them.

For 15 weeks Black Hawk was pursued into Wisconsin and then westward toward the Mississippi. He received no substantial support from other tribes, some of which even aided in his pursuit. On Aug. 3, 1832, the remnants of his band were attacked as they attempted to flee across the river and were virtually annihilated. Black Hawk escaped but soon surrendered. Imprisoned for a short time, he later settled in a Sauk village on the Des Moines River.


Watch the video: A German Pilot Stopped Fighting to Save a Damaged American B-17