NIU Libraries Digitization Projects
Lincoln/Net Prairie Fire Illinois During the Civil War Illinois During the Gilded Age Mark Twain's Mississippi Back to Digitization Projects Contact Us
BACK

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html


Previous section

Next section

Chapter IV. — The Black Hawk War.

WHILE the removal of the tribes from the south-west to their new location in the West was proceeding prosperously, a sudden and unexpected difficulty arose with some tribes residing along the banks of the Upper Mississippi.

The remote key-note of the war-song had been sounded by the Wyandot, Shawnee, and Delaware prophets in 1783, by Ellksattawa in 1812, and by the Creek prophets in 1814. The Government of the Union had, in various ways, been apprised of the dissatisfaction and threatened hostility of the Sacs, and their co-tribe, the Foxes. The Sac chief, Black Hawk, or Muccodakakake (
Plate VIII.), was born in 1767, at the Sac village, on Rock river, Wisconsin. 599 His grandfather had lived near Montreal, whence his father, Pyesa, had emigrated to the boundless and attractive field of the great West.
Black Hawk was one of those dreamers and fasters, of the aboriginal race, who mistake the impressions of dreams for revelations of the Great Spirit. In his own person he united judgment with courage, and had acquired much influence in the Indian councils. Pyesa having emigrated to the West while Great Britain exercised sway over it, his preference for that power was very decided. His son, inheriting the same views, kept up the bias by annual visits to Maiden, where presents were distributed by the British Indian Department to the tribes, whether residents of the United States, or not. Tales of British supremacy, of their Indian policy, and of the grasping and acquisitive spirit of the Americans, have been circulated for years by every foreign subordinate in the Indian territory, who has selfish aims to promote thereby, and who is, at the same time, indebted to the clemency of the American system for permission to remain in the country, the policy of which he traduces.
Black Hawk had brooded over the early history of his tribe, and, to his view, as he looked down the vista of years, the former times appeared so much better than the present, that the vision wrought upon his susceptible imagination, which pictured it to be the Indian golden age. He had some remembrance of a treaty made by General Harrison in 1804, to

-- 448 --

which his people had not given their assent; and his feelings were with difficulty controlled when he was desired to leave the Rock River valley, in compliance with a treaty made with General Scott. That valley, however, he peacefully abandoned, with his tribe, on being notified, and went to the west of the Mississippi; but he had spent his youth in that locality, and the more he thought of it the more determined he was to return thither. He readily enlisted the sympathies of the Indians, who are ever prone to ponder on their real or imaginary wrongs; and it may be readily conjectured that what Indian counsel could not accomplish, Indian prophesy would. Without doubt he was encouraged in his course by some tribes, who finally deserted him and denied their complicity, when he took up arms and began to experience reverses.
Black Hawk claimed to have such relations with the Foxes, Winnebagoes, Sioux, Kickapoos, and others. Early in 1831 he sent a symbolical miniature tomahawk, made of wood, and smeared with vermilion, to the principal war-chief of the Chippewas. This warlike invitation was received at the Chippewa agency, Sault Ste. Marie, at the lower end of Lake Superior, and a report of the effort to enlist the Chippewas in this confederacy communicated to the Government at Washington.
Mr. Schoolcraft was directed to visit the suspected district, by passing through the interior Indian country, lying between the south shore of Lake Superior and the Mississippi, in light canoes, manned by Canadian voyageurs, and under a small escort of infantry — devoting the season to that expedition. He did not discover that any of the tribes were committed to open hostility; but there appeared to be a great familiarity with Black Hawk's plans, and the tribes in league with him were named. In consequence of these disclosures, and of the existing state of affairs, the spring and summer of the following year (1832) was, by direction of the Government, devoted to a further inspection of the Sioux and Chippewa tribes towards the north. 600

The Rock river valley, and the adjacent country, was ceded to the United States, November 3, 1804, by the Sac and Fox tribes, 601 with a proviso, permitting the Indians to continue to reside and hunt on the lands until they were required for settlement. The Sac chief, Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kai-kaik, or Great Kite, called
Black Hawk, after an undisturbed occupancy of the lands for thirty-two years, subsequent to the negotiation of this treaty, affected to believe that the chiefs who ceded it, and who were then dead, had not been duly authorized to do so; or, that, after such a lapse of time, his tribe was unjustly required to comply with the terms of the treaty, by crossing the Mississippi to its opposite banks. At all events this plea furnished an excuse for giving vent to the hostility which he had long felt against the Americans.

-- 449 --


Black Hawk was one of those aborigines who dwell so long on a single idea, that it appears to be possessed of sufficient importance to engage the attention of the entire Indian race. The theme of Black Hawk's delusion was the Americans, the hated Americans, who had unjustly supplanted the English in the country, and who were treating the Indians with injustice. A native of Bock river valley, where he was born about 1767, 602 he had been a regular attendant at the annual convocations of the aboriginal tribes in Canada, which has been the source whence so much evil political counsel has been transmitted to the Indians residing on the contiguous territory of the United States. It was there that presents were distributed to them, in acknowledgment of the services they had formerly rendered to the British armies, and as a means of securing their aid in future contingencies. Hither had Tecumseh come, for the benefit of British counsels, prior to, and during the war of 1812. The Indian tribes regarded Maiden as the metropolitan centre, which Detroit had been, before the days of General Wayne. The writer may be pardoned for these remarks. He had served a long time on the frontiers, in the Indian Department, during which period he became familiar with Indian opinions, on the topic which attracted their attention at that era. The aboriginal chiefs, from Detroit to the Mississippi, as high up as the
Falls of St. Anthony, and to the head of Lake Superior, never ceased boasting of the profuse liberality, the wealth, and the power of their British Father. So far as these demonstrations were confined to the limits of the British provinces, no objection, certainly, could be made to the policy; but on the tribes from the United States, who constituted generally by far the largest part of the assemblages, the effect was to disturb and distract their minds, and fan the flames of an enmity, which, if left to itself, would have died away. Meantime, the few blankets, kettles, and guns, which the United States tribes received, were no equivalent for the time lost, in long journeys, the occasional losses suffered on the road, and the actual moral degradation to which their families were exposed.

No theme is so popular with an Indian reformer as complaints of the existing state of things, compared with the years that are past, when, it is imagined, the people were wiser and better, and even spoke their language in greater purity. 603 The past is always referred to by the Indians as a golden age, and, while indulging in reminiscences of bygone prosperity, they are prone to overlook the future and neglect the means of providing for it. This was the argument used by the great Algic leader Pontiac, when he counselled resistance to the British, at the period of their conquest of the West, from the French, in 1760. The same grounds were assumed by the Wyandot, Shawnee, and Delaware seers and powwows, when the Americans extended their sovereignty over the territory in 1783; and it constituted the theme of the harangues by which Tecumseh and his wily brother preached up the war of 1812. The olden time has ever

-- 450 --

been hallowed in Indian reminiscences. The evils of the present hour are magnified, and the future disregarded. Such were Black Hawk's teachings.

In an evil hour, the chief determined to renew the experiment of keeping the intrusive feet of emigrants from his native valley, and from the flowing line of the Mississippi.
Black Hawk was then about sixty-seven years of age. 604 His features denote great firmness of purpose, and his wisdom had acquired him great respect among the united tribes of the Sacs and Foxes, as well as the Winnebagoes, Iowas, and surrounding tribes. He had undertaken to form a confederacy of the tribes; a task much easier to propose than to effect, there being no certainty how far the tribes, who hearkened to his messengers and counsels, would fulfil their engagements when the trying hour arrived. But little alarm was excited by the details of Black Hawk's proceedings. At the St. Louis superintendency, not much importance appears to have been attached to the menaced hostilities, not only because the time was so unsuitable for the Indians to make another attempt to roll back the tide of civilization, but owing to the lack of reliable information, as to how far the other tribes had consented to act in concert with the Sac chief. The officials at the Michigan superintendency, being nearer to the Indian rendezvous at Maiden, were more intimately acquainted with the state of Indian feeling, and, consequently, as considerable uneasiness was felt, the agents on the Chicago borders were instructed to watch closely the Indian movements. Everything denoted that there was an active combination forming among the tribes of the Upper Mississippi, extending to the waters of Lake Superior. The expedition directed to that quarter, in June, 1831, proceeded through Lake Superior in canoes and boats, to Chegoimegon or La Pointe, thence entered and followed the Maskigo, or Mauvais river, ascending through difficult rapids, to a lake at its source, passing numerous and intricate portages, and rafts of drift wood; crossing a portage into the Namakagan, or south branch of the St. Croix river, and then descending the main stream to Yellow river. At the St. Croix river, he was informed that the combination of Black Hawk embraced nine tribes. From the Yellow river he proceeded to Lac Courtonélle, or Ottowa lake, at the head of Chippewa river, and by a difficult portage to the Red Cedar fork, whence he descended the latter to the mouth of the Chippewa river, at the foot of Lake Pepin, on the Mississippi. In his course, he diverted from their purpose, and arrested, a war party of Indians, under Ninaba, who were en route to the Mississippi, to attack the Sioux. The Mississippi river was finally descended to Galena. 605

Indications of immediate hostilities were apparent in the spring of 1832.
Black Hawk, at this time, crossed to the eastern side of the Mississippi with all his tribe, took possession of the Rock river valley, and announced his intention to plant corn. Troops

-- 451 --

were ordered to ascend the Mississippi, and preserve the peace of the frontiers, while the utmost excitement existed in the contiguous Illinois settlements. As soon as the troops were known to be on their way, Black Hawk's warriors proceeded to the residence of the agent, Mr. St. Vrain, at Rock island, whom they regarded as the instigator of this military movement, and immediately murdered him, scalping, and mutilating his body. All the neighboring families received like treatment. The Illinois militia were promptly ordered to the frontier, and a battle was fought in the Rock river valley, in which the Indians appear to have had the advantage, as Major Stillman withdrew his forces, after a severe conflict.
Black Hawk, in his narrative, says that they retreated before a determined fire from forty warriors. 606

In the meantime, before any overt hostile acts were committed, the agent of the Chippewas was instructed to make a reconnoissance of the Indian country, extending north and west of the parts visited in 1831, for the purpose of acquiring more perfect information as to the extent of the dissatisfaction.

The following is an extract from the instructions received: "The Secretary of War deems it important that you should proceed to the country upon the heads of the Mississippi, and visit as many of the Indians in that, and the intermediate region, as circumstances will permit.

"Reports have reached the department, from various quarters, that the Indians upon our frontiers are in an unquiet state, and that there is a prospect of extensive hostilities among themselves. It is no less the dictate of humanity, than of policy, to repress this feeling, and to establish permanent peace among these tribes. It is also important to inspect the condition of the trade in that remote country, and the conduct of the traders. To ascertain whether the regulations and the laws are complied with, and to suggest such alterations as may be required. And, finally, to inquire into the numbers, standing, disposition, and prospects of the Indians, and to report all the statistical facts you can procure, and which will be useful to the Government in its operations, or to the community in the investigation of these subjects." 607

To plunge into a vast and hostile Indian wilderness, required a confidence only derived from long experience. The agent was furnished with a small military force of but twelve men, under the command of Lieutenant J. Allen. Leaving the agency at St. Mary's early in June, he passed through Lake Superior to its extreme head, at Fond du Lac, ascended the River St. Louis to the Savanne portage, and thence entered Sandy Lake and the Mississippi. The latter was followed, through its windings, to the extreme point before visited, at Cass Lake, where an encampment was formed, and the baggage left. The height of the waters being favorable, he set forward from this point in Indian canoes, with a select party, fully resolved to discover the source of the

-- 452 --

Mississippi. The search was pursued with the aid of an Indian guide, up falls, across lakes, around precipices, through denies, over drifts, and through winding channels, for three days. The result of this toilsome journey was the arrival of the party at
Itasca lake, its true source. 608

The information obtained in this journey demonstrated that the Chippewas and Sioux, whatever sympathies they had with
Black Hawk and his scheme, were not committed to his project by any overt participation in it. The Indians were vaccinated, as directed by an act of Congress, and their numbers definitely ascertained. While on a visit to the large band at Leech Lake, their leading chief, Guelle Plat, exhibited to the agent several British medals, which were smeared with vermilion, the symbol of blood; but it appeared to be done rather in a spirit of boastful self-importance, than as a threat of alliance with
Black Hawk. Information obtained in these reconnoissances implicated the Winnebagoes, Iowas, Kickapoos, Pottawattamies, and some Missouri bands. 609 Meantime, while this expedition was pursuing its explorations, the Sac chief had commenced the war, and been driven by Generals Atkinson and Dodge to the mouth of the Bad Axe river, between the
Falls of St. Anthony and Prairie du Chien. Without being apprized of the impending peril, the expedition eluded the danger, after ascending the river to the influx of the St. Croix, by passing up that river into the waters of Lake Superior.

-- 453 --

Previous section

Next section


Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html
Powered by PhiloLogic