By James Lewis, Ph.D.
Europeans and Americans had considered the Sauks and Foxes a single tribe for about a century before the Black Hawk War. But the Sauks (also known as Sacs, both of which are corruptions of Osakiwugis) and the Foxes (who called themselves Mesquakies, but were called by the French Renards which was later translated into english as "Fox") were separate tribes. They acted together on most issues, spoke similar languages, and intermarried. Still, they viewed themselves as two people.
Two centuries before the Black Hawk War, the two tribes had lived north of Lake Erie. A series of wars with the powerful Iroquois confederacy had driven them, along with many other Algonquian-speaking tribes, west of the Great Lakes in the mid-seventeenth century. The two tribes built new villages and cleared new farms near Green Bay on Lake Michigan. They began trading corn and other foodstuffs to French fur traders. And they developed economic, social, and political relationships with their new neighbors, both other new immigrants such as the Potawatomies and longtime residents of the area such as the Winnebagoes.
In 1711, the Foxes attacked the French fort and trading post at Detroit. The ensuing "Fox Wars" lasted for more than twenty years and involved most of the other tribes in the western Great Lakes at one time or another. Some years, Sauk warriors joined the Foxes in their raids on the French; other years, the Sauks aided the French against the Foxes. By the early 1730s, however, the Sauks and Foxes had begun to intermarry both in the villages around Green Bay and in newer villages along the St. Joseph's River on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. During these years, raids by other Native American groups killed most of the Foxes and many Sauks.
The two tribes sought refuge together on new lands further west along the Mississippi River. Most of their land was east of the river, extending from the Wisconsin River in the north to the Illinois River in the south. But they also settled some villages west of the Mississippi and north of the Missouri River. It was these lands that Black Hawk and some of the other Sauks and Foxes continued to view as their homelands as late as 1832.
In the mid-eighteenth century, the Sauks established their principal village at Saukenuk. It was in one of Saukenuk's large bark lodges that Black Hawk was born in 1767. And it was in Saukenuk that he lived much of his life.Located on the north bank of the Rock just upriver from the Mississippi, Saukenuk was a social, spiritual, and economic center for the Sauks. Fertile land surrounded hundred or so lodges which provided homes for most of the several thousand Sauks for much of the year. The tribes considered Saukenuk as sacred ground. It was surrounded by fertile land. The Sauks' fields, which extended two miles north of the village, produced rich harvests of corn, beans, squash, and pumpkins. An abundance of fish could be found in the two rivers.
Plentiful deer and other game inhabited the surrounding forests and grasslands and buffalo in the prairies across the Mississippi. Two rich deposits of lead nearby provided another economic activity for the Sauks. Saukenuk's location at the intersection of two major waterways made it the center of the Sauks' trading network. Whether the traders came to them or they went to the traders, the rivers made possible relatively easy transportation of their furs and lead and the Europeans' guns, powder, cloth, and metal goods.
Saukenuk, and the main Fox village three miles upriver, were political centers as well. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Saukenuk provided the main meeting-place for the Sauks' tribal government. This government included civil chiefs and war chiefs who presided over a tribal council, which represented the twelve clans that made up the Sauk nation. The government did not pass laws; it applied traditional customs and rules to situations that emerged either within the tribe or with outsiders. It allotted hunting grounds, decided on land sales, and sent out war parties. Separate leaders for hunting and raiding bands set out from Saukenuk and the other villages each year.
The political system of the Sauks strove to balance communal and individual needs and wants. Only in special circumstances could the tribal, village, or band governments compel someone to do something. But the force of tradition, custom, and community opinion generally maintained order.
Among the Sauk and Fox, formal political power was not the only route to influence and significance. Neither Black Hawk nor his main rival, Keokuk, were civil chiefs, for example. Their influence initially grew from military accomplishments--Black Hawk's against various native enemies in the 1780s and 1790s and Keokuk's against the Americans during the War of 1812. Their past successes leading raids against other tribes or defending Sauk and Fox villages insured that they would be consulted in time of crisis and would command some support if they called upon Sauk and Fox warriors to join them in new raids. Traditionally, however, such men could not speak in council or represent the nation in formal meetings with outsiders.
The older Black Hawk generally accepted these traditional limits. Even as events built toward war in the spring of 1832, he still viewed himself as acting under the guidance of some of the younger civil chiefs. Keokuk, in contrast, increasingly exercised the powers of a civil chief. His growing influence arose largely from the fact that American officials, recognizing that he was disposed to peaceful accommodation, treated him as a chief. They showered him with gifts that he could redistribute among his people. They insisted upon consulting with him. And they treated him as if he was in a position to make decisions for his people. Favored by the powerful Americans, Keokuk gained the favor of his own people.
Ultimately, the Black Hawk War was a conflict over land. By 1832, the federal and state governments insisted that the Sauks and Foxes had no remaining rights to land in Illinois. Black Hawk and his band of Sauks and Foxes insisted that they had never given up their claims to the lands that they had lived on for one hundred years.
At the center of this dispute was a treaty between the Sauks and Foxes and the United States that had been signed in St. Louis in November 1804--almost three decades earlier. This treaty included a number of provisions that were intended to promote peace, friendship, order, and trade between the two parties. In Article 2 of this treaty, however, the Sauks and Foxes agreed to cede to the United States all of their lands east of the Mississippi and some of claims west of it. In exchange, they would receive one thousand dollars in goods from the United States every year.
From the American perspective, this treaty was binding and legal. It had been negotiated by William Henry Harrison, the governor of Indiana Territory (which included Illinois in 1804), who had been officially authorized for this purpose. Once he submitted the treaty to Secretary of War Henry Dearborn (the cabinet official responsible for Native American affairs at the time), it had gone through the same process as any other treaty. It was submitted by President Thomas Jefferson to the Senate, approved by at least two-thirds of the Senators, and declared formally ratified in January 1805.
The Sauks and Foxes saw things very differently. On their part, the treaty had been negotiated and signed by four men. But none of them were important chiefs; furthermore, none of them had been authorized by the Sauk and Fox tribal councils to negotiate a land cession. They had gone to St. Louis and met with Harrison to quiet the tensions created when some of their young warriors had murdered a number of white settlers. After the treaty was signed, they insisted that they had not intentionally ceded away any land. The Sauk and Fox tribal council, moreover, informed the Americans that the four negotiators had been in no position to do so.
What the Americans saw as a perfectly valid treaty, the Sauks and Foxes viewed as the invalid result of either an honest misunderstanding or deliberate fraud.
In the thinking of Governor Harrison, Secretary Dearborn, and President Jefferson, the November 1804 treaty with the Sauks and Foxes represented a successful end to a policy that had been set in motion almost two years earlier. In early 1803, Jefferson had written Harrison outlining a new policy for the Native Americans east of the Mississippi. His thinking was influence by his belief that the French would take possession of Louisiana, the vast province that extended from the western bank of the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains, from the Gulf of Mexico to British Canada.
Jefferson hoped to live in peace with both the French and the Native Americans. This seemed much easier to achieve with the latter than with the former. Peace between Americans and Native Americans, Jefferson believed, would happen once the Native Americans changed their ways. They would have to stop hunting, commit all of their efforts to farming, begin spinning thread and weaving cloth, and end their wars with other tribes. By doing these things, they could blend with other Americans and become one people. As they made this shift, moreover, they would be willing to abandon much of the land that they kept as hunting grounds, but would no longer need as farmers.
Jefferson eventually expected all of this spare land to be made available to American settlers. In early 1803, however, he urgently wanted Native American lands on the eastern bank of the Mississippi. By placing American settlers along the river from its source to its mouth, Jefferson hoped to have, within just a few years, enough militiamen on the frontier to protect the United States from French Louisiana. He recognized that many of the Native Americans in this critical strip along the Mississippi might not be ready to abandon their culture; if they preferred to continue hunting, however, they would have to agree to remove west of the river.
In early 1803, Jefferson assigned Harrison a major role in putting this policy into execution. Harrison was responsible for the east bank of the Mississippi from the Ohio River in the south to the Canadian border in the north. By the time that he signed the treaty with the Sauks and Foxes in late 1804, however, the diplomatic context had changed. The United States, not France, possessed Louisiana. But Harrison still seized his opportunity to advance Jefferson's original policy.
The Treaty of 1804 did not lead to the immediate removal of the Sauks and Foxes from the lands east of the Mississippi; under Article 7, they could remain on their land as long as it was in the possession of the U.S. government. But it did change their relations with many of their neighbors--American, Native American, and British.
The Sauks and Foxes had not been pleased when the Americans replaced the Spanish in Louisiana in early 1804. Their economic and diplomatic interests had benefitted from having an option of trading with the Spanish or the Americans. When Harrison and other U.S. officials insisted on the validity of the Treaty of 1804, it placed a great strain on an already tense relationship.
But the Sauks and Foxes soon found themselves in the same position as many of the other Native American groups north of the Ohio. Harrison's aggressive treaty-making during Jefferson's presidency (1801-1809) resulted in extensive cessions throughout the region that left a number of tribes disgruntled. The efforts of two Shawnee brothers--the war leader Tecumseh and the prophet Tenskwatawa--helped to transform this resentment into action. Together, they called for a rejection of European tools and ways and an end to land cessions. The Sauk and Fox villages were far removed from the center of Tecumseh's and Tenskwatawa's power in northeastern Indiana. At a time when thousands of men and women from dozens of tribes were moving to or visiting Prophetstown, most of the Sauks and Foxes remained in their villages and never fully accepted the Shawnees' message.
Native Americans were drawn together by their resentment of the aggressive policies of the United States and the rapid influx of American settlers at the same time that relations between the United States and Great Britain were becoming more tense. Closer ties between the British in Canada and the Native Americans north of the Ohio followed naturally. Increasingly, British officials and forts, particularly Fort Malden opposite Detroit, received regular visits from warriors in search of advice and gifts. To American officials and settlers in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Kentucky, this development was alarming.
The War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain began in June 1812, but fighting between the United States and the northwestern Native Americans had begun six months earlier. In November 1811, Governor Harrison led a force of Indiana and Kentucky militia in the destruction of Prophetstown in the Battle of Tippecanoe. Native resentment against the United States grew. War belts circulated among northwestern tribes even before the War of 1812 formally began.
Still, many tribes did not immediately enter the war on the side of the British. Some, including the Sauks and Foxes, hoped to remain uninvolved. But the war made it very difficult for the U.S. government or American traders to provide the supplies and annual payments expected by the tribes, while the British still offered guns, powder, shot, and other items. Over time, more and more native warriors joined or launched raids on American forts and settlements. Black Hawk led groups of Sauk warriors in a number of attacks during the war: Fort Madison in September 1812, Frenchtown in January 1812, Fort Meigs in May 1813, and Detroit in July 1813.
Many tribes and tribal councils remained divided, however. During the war, American officials persuaded neutral Sauks and Foxes to separate from the rest of their tribe. Roughly 1500 of them moved, first, to the mouth of the Des Moines River on the western bank of the Mississippi and, then, further west up the Missouri River. When Black Hawk returned from fighting with the British, he discovered that almost a third of his people had left their old homes.
Black Hawk and other Sauk and Fox warriors continued raiding during the final two years of the war. But they also found it necessary to devote more attention to defending their own homes and villages from the Americans. In July and September 1814, the Sauks turned back American attacks that even threatened Saukenuk itself.
While the War of 1812 ended in early 1812, many northwestern Native Americans continued to fight for months afterward. Though furious with the British for abandoning them, they still hoped to recover the lands that they had lost in the previous two decades. In 1815 and 1816, these tribes gradually signed treaties with the United States ending the fighting. The Sauks were among the last to do so. After storming out of a peace council made up of many tribes in July 1815, they finally signed a treaty in May 1816.
This treaty, unlike the earlier treaty from 1804, was signed by twenty-two Sauk chiefs and leaders including Black Hawk (under the name "Black Sparrow Hawk"). Intended mainly to reestablish peace between the Sauks and the United States, it also included, as Article 1, a confirmation of the Treaty of 1804 with its immense land cession. Black Hawk would later insist that neither he nor any of the other Sauks understood that, by placing their marks on this treaty, they were acknowledging the earlier treaty.
After the War of 1812 and the Treaty of 1816, the Sauks and Foxes maintained contact with the British, though these meetings no longer had a diplomatic or military component. Every year or two, Black Hawk and other Sauk and Fox warriors visited the British either at Fort Malden or, increasingly, at Drummond's Island in Lake Huron. There, they received gifts and met with British officials and traders and other Native Americans.
These meetings remained a cause of some concern for U.S. officials and American settlers, but were not nearly as alarming as they had been on the eve of the War of 1812. What officials worried about more was the intermittent warfare between various native groups. From the American perspective, warfare between the Sauks and Foxes and the Osages, or the Sioux and the Ojibwas, or the Sauks and Foxes and the Sioux always threatened to spill over into American settlements or to harm American traders. It also seemed to slow the process of transforming Native Americans into "civilized" Americans. American officials regularly called councils to try to arrange peace between various native groups. At one of these councils, in August 1825, thirteen Sauks and sixteen Foxes signed another treaty confirming that they had no land claims east of the Mississippi.
The first three decades of the nineteenth century were a period of tremendous population growth in Illinois. In 1800, there were so few permanent American settlers in what would become Illinois that federal census takers did not even bother to count them. A decade later, the non-Native American population was still barely over twelve thousand. But the end of the War of 1812 brought a huge influx of settlers to Illinois, which became a state in late 1818. By 1820, the population had more than quadrupled to fifty-five thousand. The vast majority of these settlers, however, lived in the southern and eastern parts of the state, far from the Sauks and Foxes in the north and west.
Over the course of the 1820s, Illinois' non-Native American population nearly tripled, topping one-hundred-and-fifty-seven thousand in 1830. During these years, moreover, the area of settlement spread across the state with new land offices opening every few years to sell more of the surrounding countryside. As American settlers swept north and west across the states, more and more native groups abandoned their villages and farms for new lands west of the Mississippi. By the late 1820s, the Sauk and Fox villages in the northwestern corner of the state were in the last significant area of native settlement.
Cheap and fertile farmland was not the only thing that drew American settlers to Illinois after the War of 1812, however. The other major attraction was lead. It brought American miners onto lands actually occupied by the Sauks and Foxes on both sides of the Mississippi. The Sauks and Foxes had worked these mines for decades, obtaining lead for their own purposes and to trade with, at different times, the French, Spanish, British, and Americans. On the eve of the war, American miners had tried to take over the Foxes' lead mines west of the river (near what is now Dubuque, Iowa), but they had been driven off by the Foxes.
After the war, the federal government issued leases to lead miners for lands claimed by the Sauks and Foxes. In the summer of 1822, hundreds of miners swarmed into the areas around Galena in northwestern Illinois. The Sauk and Fox chiefs protested strongly, but the U.S. government supported the miners. While the constant state of tension between the American and Native American miners occasionally erupted into violence during the 1820s, more Americans flocked to the region, overwhelming and, whenever possible, ignoring the native presence.
This new, mostly white, population viewed the old, mostly Native American, population with great concern. At the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century, men such as presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and their secretaries of war Henry Knox and Henry Dearborn had believed that Native Americans would adopt the culture of white Americans (in their thinking, becoming "civilized") and merge into white society. Even at that time, most western settlers rejected this belief. By the 1820s and early 1830s, white Americans throughout the country were increasingly likely to see Native Americans as racially rather than culturally inferior. Cultural problems--how they dressed, what they ate, how they spent their time, how they spoke--might be corrected. But racial inferiority was viewed as permanent and uncorrectable.
Even as most Illinoians saw Native Americans as permanently inferior, they also considered them dangerous. Settlers whose farms and villages were isolated from each other and often far from army posts worried about Native American raids and attacks. These fears were not entirely unjustified. It had not been that long since Illinois tribes had attacked frontier settlements and federal forts during the War of 1812. Personal violence between natives and whites (as well as among natives and among whites) was common. Fueled by liquor and unrestrained by law, men fought, and even killed, each other over a wide range of issues.
At a time when Native Americans were being pushed from land that they considered their own by the influx of settlers and the force of treaties, tensions remained high. Settlers saw signs of an approaching uprising whenever Native Americans passed through land that was no longer their own or assembled in groups that were larger than expected or stole a horse or shot a cow that had wandered onto their lands or fought a group of miners at a lead dig. During these war scares, white settlers often temporarily abandoned their homes, fleeing to larger towns and cities or to army forts.
From the late 1780s through the mid-1820s, it was generally accepted that Native Americans took the lead in supervising the federal government. Within the federal government, these affairs were usually assigned to the War Department, even though native tribes were, in many ways, treated as independent nations. The president, the secretary of war, the commissioner of Indian affairs, and, on some matters, Congress set policies in the nation's capital. A variety of government officials in the field then put these policies into action.
Almost every tribe had an agent or subagent who lived with or near them. These agents served as conduits through which the tribes could make their needs, desires, and complaints known to the federal government. The Sauks' and Foxes' agent between 1817 and 1830 was a fur trader named Thomas Forsyth; upon his removal from office, Felix St. Vrain became their agent. Army officers also played important roles. The commander at the fort nearest to each tribe met with tribal leaders and coordinated policies with their agent even when relations were peaceful. As tensions increased, higher-ranked officers who were responsible for larger districts often became involved, especially when as troops were mobilized to preserve peace and defeat native resistance. The affairs of the Sauks and Foxes were also overseen by the regional superintendent of Indian affairs in St. Louis, William Clark (the "Clark" of the Lewis and Clark expedition).
By the early 1830s, the Sauks and Foxes were well-accustomed to visiting their agent and the army commander at Fort Armstrong on Rock Island near Saukenuk, the superintendent in St. Louis, and even, on a few occasions, the president and cabinet members in Washington. There is no evidence, however, that they had visited the governor in the state capital at Vandalia.
In the mid-1820s, some of the southern and western states began to demand a larger role in Native American affairs. This process got its start in Georgia, where the governor and the state legislature tried to pressure President John Quincy Adams to remove the Creeks and Cherokees from the state and to force the natives themselves to leave. Alabama and Mississippi soon adopted and echoed Georgia's approach.
By the fall of 1827, Illinois Governor Ninian Edwards had also begun calling on the Adams administration to remove the remaining Native Americans from Illinois. In one sense, Edwards was in a stronger position than his southern counterparts. The various tribes in Illinois had signed treaties ceding their land within the state decades earlier. Edwards only needed to ask the administration to enforce already existing treaties, not to negotiate new ones.
Beginning in September 1827, Edwards wrote a series of letters to President Adams and his secretaries of war, James Barbour and Peter Porter, regarding the Sauks and Foxes and the other Native Americans who remained in Illinois. Considering the continuing presence of these people "a grievance, so inconsistent with the rights of the State," Edwards requested federal action to remove them. Secretary Barbour quickly assured Edwards that steps would be taken to comply with this request "with the least possible delay consistent with humanity." When nothing happened within eight months, Edwards sent off more ominous letters, warning that, if the federal government did not resolve the problem, the state government would. In July 1828, Secretary Porter informed Edwards that the remaining Native Americans had agreed to leave the state by the end of May 1829. Porter also reminded the governor that it was "the business of the Department [of War, and not of the governor,] to see that they fulfill their promise."
By the time that the May 1829 deadline came and went, with some of the Sauks and Foxes still east of the Mississippi, the states had gained a powerful ally in Native American affairs in Washington. In March 1829, Andrew Jackson succeeded John Quincy Adams as president. Jackson already had a long history of challenging federal Indian policy--as both a general and a commissioner charged with negotiating land cessions. He largely accepted the arguments of many of the state governors that the native people within a state's boundaries were the responsibility of the state, not the federal, government. Furthermore, Jackson strongly believed that it was in the interest of both natives and whites that any eastern Native American who wanted to remain a member of a tribe and practice a native culture should move beyond the Mississippi.
In December 1829, President Jackson called on Congress to empower him to negotiate removal treaties with all of the tribes east of the Mississippi. Jackson's Removal Bill proved very divisive. It was attacked in pamphlets, newspapers, and public meetings, mostly in northeastern states, for six months. Many congressmen spoke out and voted against it. In May 1830, the Removal Bill passed both houses of Congress and Jackson signed it into law. He could now send commissioners to negotiate removal treaties with all of the eastern tribes. But neither the Jackson administration in Washington nor its agents in the field believed that a new treaty with the Sauks and Foxes was needed. The old treaties of 1804, 1816, and 1825 had already committed the two tribes to remove west of the Mississippi.
In this climate of removal, John Reynolds, the new governor of Illinois, felt confident that the administration would support him when he renewed the state's requests that the Sauk and Fox be forced to live up to the old treaties.
Black Hawk's recrossing of the Mississippi into Illinois in early April 1832 ended a period of rising tensions that stretched back at least to the spring of 1828. In May 1828, the Sauks and Foxes' agent, Thomas Forsyth, informed the tribal chiefs that they should begin making preparations to abandon their villages, homes, and farms east of the Mississippi in accordance with the treaties of 1804, 1816, and 1825. The chiefs denied that they had ever ceded any of their lands east of the Mississippi and north of the Rock River. This position strained the relations between the tribes and both the federal government, which wanted to start selling the land on the Rock, and the state government, which wanted to clear all of the remaining Native Americans from Illinois.
As the pressure from Forsyth and William Clark, the federal superintendent of Indian affairs in St. Louis, mounted over the next two years, tensions also emerged among the Sauks and Foxes. Some chiefs still insisted that the tribe had never knowingly ceded its Illinois lands. If a treaty said otherwise, they claimed, it must be the product of American trickery: the U.S. commissioners must have told the native negotiators (who could not read english) that the treaty said one thing, but actually written into it something else. By the spring of 1829, Black Hawk had become a constant and forceful supporter of this view. Other chiefs decided that, since the Sauks and Foxes could not possibly resist the United States by force, removal across the Mississippi was necessary, even if undesireable. Keokuk, Black Hawk's principal rival, accepted this argument. After remaining in Saukenuk in the summer of 1829 to preserve peace and order, he crossed the Mississippi in the fall vowing never to return.
According to Forsyth, Keokuk and the chiefs who had removed to Iowa permanently viewed Black Hawk and the Sauks and Foxes who remained east of the Mississipi as "Mutinous." Both American and Sauk and Fox observers frequently called them the "British Band," a term that derived from their occasional visits to Canada and that distinguished them from the rest of the tribes. "If any Indians did attempt to return [from their winter hunting west of the Mississippi] to reside at Rocky River" in the spring of 1830, Keokuk informed Forsyth, "they must take their chances." They could no longer expect the protection of the tribal council and all of the Sauks and Foxes. Still, Black Hawk and other Sauk and Fox warriors and families did return in the spring of 1830 and, after another year of increased tension, in the spring of 1831.
By the spring of 1831, even Black Hawk had recognized that the white settlers who had begun to purchase Sauk and Fox lands--including parts of Saukenuk itself--were not going to leave. The few hundred who returned that year did so because they viewed it as a sacred place and a home that could not simply be abandoned without being removed by force. They also tried to use the 1804 treaty to their advantage. It had said that the Sauks and Foxes could stay on their lands as long as they were in the possession of the United States. Since not all of the lands had sold, Black Hawk and others claimed the right to return to the others.
To Illinois Governor John Reynolds, however, the return of Black Hawk's band in the spring of 1831 could only be viewed as an "actual invasion of the State." Many of the settlers along the Rock agreed, fleeing their farms for safety further east. A war scare emerged. Reynolds quickly informed Superintendent Clark that he had decided to call out a militia force of seven hundred mounted soldiers, who would remove the Sauks and Foxes "dead or alive over to the West side of the Mississippi." Clark immediately passed this letter on to General Edmund Pendleton Gaines, the commander of the Western Division of the U.S. Army. Gaines assured the governor that he would send his troops from St. Louis to Saukenuk and would take charge of the discussions with the Sauks and Foxes east of the Mississippi. But he also accepted Reynolds's offer of mounted militia in case the crisis got out of hand.
By early June 1831, Gaines had moved his headquarters to Rock Island, within a few miles of Saukenuk, and begun meeting with the Sauk and Fox chiefs and leading warriors. The chiefs still claimed that they had never ceded the land north of the Rock. But Gaines's unwillingness to allow them to remain even long enough to harvest their corn, coupled with his acceptance of Keokuk's proposal that he provide the Sauks and Foxes with corn for the winter, led many families to recross the Mississippi after these early meetings.
The Sauks and Foxes who remained by mid-June insisted that they would not leave the homes of their forebears. "My fathers were great men," Black Hawk angrily reminded Gaines at one point, "and I wish to remain where the bones of my fathers are laid." With many of the Sauks and Foxes about to leave or already gone, Black Hawk sought support from some of the nearby Kickapoos, Potawatomis, and Winnebagoes (including a Winnebago prophet, White Cloud, whose village was further up the Rock River).
Reluctant to start a war until he was certain that his force far outnumbered Black Hawk's, Gaines waited. But the arrival of Governor Reynolds and fourteen hundred Illinois militiamen near Rock Island on June 25, 1831, gave Gaines a more-than-adequate force. He sent the armed steamboat Winnebago up the Rock, placed his artillery near Saukenuk, and readied his troops. During the night, the remaining Sauks and Foxes recrossed the Mississippi. Gaines demanded that they come to Fort Armstrong for a council meeting. On June 30, Gaines and Reynolds forced Black Hawk and the chiefs of the "British Band" to sign "Articles of Agreement and Capitulation." Under this agreement, the humiliated Black Hawk agreed to remain west of the Mississippi, to stop visiting British posts in Canada, and "to submit to the authority of the friendly Chiefs & Braves," including Keokuk. When he signed this agreement, Black Hawk later recalled, he "was determined to live in peace."
Even with Black Hawk and all of the Sauks and Foxes removed west of the Mississippi, tensions remained high in the summer and fall of 1831. Anti-Native American sentiment raged in Illinois and throughout the West. Settlers dug up native graves, beat up native men, and shot at native livestock without any real reason. The Sauks and Foxes who had reluctantly left their villages and homes resented such treatment. They also grew frustrated when the government failed to provide all of the corn that they would need to survive the winter. A few men recrossed the river to harvest whatever corn, beans, and squash they could from their old fields, leading to new conflicts.
When combined with this anti-Native American sentiment, the governor's views insured that any new dispute would end in an explosion. Governor Reynolds had emerged from the 1831 crisis even more worried about the few Native Americans who remained in Illinois. Writing to the secretary of war in July 1831, Reynolds alerted the federal government to "a village of bad Indians on Rock River"--the home of the Winnebago prophet White Cloud. The governor made it perfectly clear what would happen in a future crisis. "If I am again compelled to call on the Militia of this State," he warned, "I will place in the field such a force as will exterminate all Indians, who will not let us alone."
If Black Hawk had known Governor Reynolds's intentions, he might not have led eight hundred or so Sauks and Foxes, along with about two hundred Kickapoos, back across the Mississippi nine months later. He did not want war, certainly not a war of extermination directed against his people and their allies. But he was prepared to defend his people.
At least four factors fueled Black Hawk's return. For one thing, he clearly hated the idea of submitting to the authority of his rival Keokuk and the tribal chiefs who had abandoned their homelands without a fight. During 1830 and 1831, however, most of the dissident chiefs whose authority Black Hawk did respect died. They were succeeded by a number of young men, who lacked the caution and experience of their predecessors. The most important of these was Napope, a member of the Sauk tribal council. With Napope and the Winnebago prophet White Cloud at their head, Black Hawk, the other dissident Sauks and Foxes, and distinct groups of Kickapoos and Winnebagos formed themselves into what was effectively a separate tribe with its own council and war leaders.
While this step freed the British Band from the restraining hand of the Sauk and Fox leaders, other developments brought them back east of the Mississippi. First, White Cloud invited them to settle permanently at his village on the Rock (now Prophetstown, Ill.). Even though it was not Saukenuk and did not include the lands where their forebears were buried, the prophet's village was near their old homelands and far from the Sauk and Fox tribal council. Second, Napope, who had visited the British at Fort Malden in the summer of 1831, returned with pledges of British support, though he had clearly invented them. Still, he reported that the British believed that the Sauks and Foxes had a right to their Illinois lands and that they would provide aid--including men, guns, powder, and shot--if the Americans tried to drive them off by force. Finally, in the spring of 1832, White Cloud told Black Hawk that, if the Americans attacked the Sauks and Foxes, they would be joined by other tribes and by a British force that would come down Lake Michigan.
Stirred up by the lies of Napope (a chief) and White Cloud (a prophet), Black Hawk took his dramatic step in April 1832. He hoped to return his people to their homes, or at least to lands on the Rock River, and to restore his honor as a warrior, which had suffered from the humiliation of capitulating to Gaines and Keokuk nine months earlier. And he believed that he could force the Americans to accept the justice of Sauk and Fox claims and to admit the injustice of their own demands and actions.