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Spencer, J. W. Reminiscences of Pioneer Life in the Mississippi Valley . Davenport: Griggs, Watson and Day, 1872. [format: book], [genre: memoir]. Permission: Schingoethe Center for Native American Cultures, Aurora University
I WAS born in Vergennes, Addison County, Vermont, on the twenty-fifth of July, 1801, and after spending the early years of my life there, started, on the fourth of September, 1820, for Illinois, driving a two-horse team for a gentleman by the name of Brush. Having an uncle in St. Louis county, Missouri, I went there, crossing the Mississippi river on the twenty-fifth of October, at St. Louis. This place had about five thousand inhabitants at that time. My uncle, and many more of the early settlers, were about leaving where they had settled, on account of Missouri becoming a slave state. He and several of his neighbors had, early in the Fall of this year, visited the Illinois river country, and made some selections for farms, about thirty miles from the mouth of the river, at a settlement now called Bluffdale. In order to hold the lands they had selected, they were obliged to make some improvement on them, which, having done, they returned to Missouri.
About the first of December, in company with my cousin, who was five or six years my senior, with his wife and two children, we started for the
Illinois river, where my uncle and his party had made their claims the Fall before. On arriving there, we found on one of the claims a log cabin, about fourteen feet square, about half built; it lacked a roof, a floor, and a door, which we soon added. Our horses we fed, and for lack of a stable, turned loose at night. In hunting for them one morning, I found them about two miles from home, and as we turned on our way homeward I discovered a large bear on the bluff, headed for the river. When he got on the prairie bottom, I rode after him; the country being very smooth, I found I could drive him, so concluded to try and drive him home. Our cabin, at that time, was without a door, and for a substitute, they had hung up a blanket. The day being very windy, they had set a chest upon the blanket to keep it in place. This chest was a very considerable part of the furniture of the cabin, being used as a work table, a dining table, and a place for putting away our most valuable things. My cousin's wife was busy getting our breakfast, and had rolled out a short-cake upon the chest; he was at work outside the cabin, making a rude bedstead. On approaching the house I hallooed as loud as I could. The cabin stood in the timber, and my cousin did not discover the bear until he was within fifty yards of him. He ran in
for his gun as soon as possible, and, by stepping on the chest at the door, and putting his gun over the blanket, he gave the bear a mortal wound the first fire. He then reloaded his gun, and going nearer him, fired a second shot, killing him. But this is not all; when his wife looked after her short-cake, she found that he had put his foot in it!
My neighbors in Green county, some of whom accompanied Maj. Campbell, when he started from St. Louis, in the war of 1812, for the relief of the garrison of Prairie du Chien, gave me the particulars of this trip, which I do not think are familiar to our old settlers generally. We all know that there is an island near here named Campbell's Island, but few know why it bears this name. In 1812, Maj. Campbell, with three keel boats, well manned, and loaded with provisions for the relief of the garrison of Prairie du Chien, left St. Louis, and came along without being disturbed by Indians, until, at last, they reached Rock Island. They described the country here as being beautiful, finer than anything they had seen and they landed on a prairie, at the foot of Rock Island, on the Illinois shore. The Indians came to the boats, and seemed friendly, trading some with them. The next morning, while sailing on the right side of Campbell's island, the Major concluded to land for breakfast,
against the wishes of his command. He landed his boat, and tied to the shore, the other two boats anchoring out in the stream. As soon as the Major's boat was made fast, the Indians, who were concealed, commenced tiring on them. These boats were so constructed that while the men were inside they were comparatively safe, but to cut their cable, so as to leave the shore, somebody must expose themselves. They sent out one after another to accomplish this purpose, until two or three had been shot down. Finding it so hazardous to extricate themselves in this way, they changed their plan, and by swinging the stern of the shore boat out, and that of the nearest boat at anchor in, they managed to get from the boat which as made fast to the shore into the other boats, some being killed, others wounded. Among the wounded was Major Campbell, severely, in the shoulder. They now abandoned the boat at the shore, and the Indians, after plundering it, burned it. I have heard some of our first settlers say that in low water the wreck of this boat could be seen. Maj. Campbell was now forced to give up the trip, and returned to St. Louis with the remaining boats. By the failure of this expedition the garrison at Prairie du Chien was forced, for lack of provisions, to capitulate to the English, and the
island near where these brave men were killed, and others wounded, was called Campbell's Island. The Indians call a steamboat a fire-boat. At a dance of the Indians, on Rock Island, I heard Black Hawk, in making a little speech, allude to this boat; he said when this boat was burned it made a real "fire-boat." While living in this part of the state, Alton was our post office, being forty miles from our settlement.
About the year 1826, there was great excitement in regard to the lead mines of the upper Mississippi. In 1827 I thought I would try my luck one season at the mines. I passed Rock Island, on my way up the river, about the last of March, returning late in the summer.
This practice of going up the river in the spring and coming down in the fall, was so generally observed by the first settlers of Illinois, that they were called "Suckers." In the fall of 1828, I removed to Morgan county, about twelve miles from Jacksonville, on the Beardstown road. Mr. Rinnah Wells, in passing from the mines to the southern part of the state, stopped with me over night. In the course of the evening he told me that the Indians had left their old village at Rock Island. Having seen the country along the Rock Island rapids, in passing to and from the mines, and being
much pleased with it, in less than a week, accompanied by Loudon Case, Sr.. I was on my way to ascertain if the Indians had left. When about ten miles from Rock river, we met a Mr. Prince, who had brought a load of corn from his farm near Peoria, to feed Judge Pence's team, who was just then moving to the old Indian village at Rock river. Princeville, on the Peoria railroad, bears his name. We reached Rock river on the 9th of December. The river seemed alive with ducks. I do not think I have ever seen as many at one time since. Getting on the track of Judge Pence's wagons we crossed to the Big Island. Here we found Judge Pence looking for a place to ford, which we found about sundown, between the upper bridge and milldam, on the main stream. Here we found several wigwams, and took shelter in a large one for the night. Early in the morning Judge Pence started out, and returned about breakfast time, saying he would not unload his wagon here, as he had found a better wigwam, which proved to be Black Hawk's. These wigwams are very much the shape of a New England barn, sixteen or eighteen feet wide, and from twenty to fifty or sixty feet long. The largest were calculated for from two to four families. They were built by setting posts in the ground, and siding with bark from elm trees. This bark, cut about
seven feet long, varied in width from two to four feet, according to the size of the tree taken from. They had rafters, and on these were laid small poles, upon the poles was placed the bark, making a roof that turned rain very well. These wigwams made a very comfortable Summer house. Their wigwams for Fall and Winter use were very different, being of nags woven into matting, which could be rolled up, and enough to cover a wigwam carried on one horse. They made a frame of small poles, one end sharpened and stack in the ground, the other bent over so as to form a circle of ten or twelve feet. Then they placed the matting around and over the poles, leaving a small opening in the top for the smoke. A little fire in the center would keep the wigwam warm. The Indians say "the white man makes a great fire, and stands a great way off, the Indian makes a little fire, and gets very near it." On our arrival here we found no Indians, it being the season of the year when they were absent on their winter's hunt. The settlers, as well as the officers of the garrison, thought they would not return. We found here two white families, near where the Farnam house stood, one of them Capt. Clark, father of Capt. Louis Clark, of Buffalo, Scott county, Iowa, the other a discharged soldier by the name of Haney; Judge Pence at Rock river; and
at the rapids, where Rapids City now stands, were John and Thomas Kinney, George Harlan, Conrad Leak, and Archibald Allen. This constituted all the white settlement on the main land. North about seventy miles, on the Plumb river, was a family by the name of Davidson; two miles below New Boston, was a family by the name of Dennison, and on the lower rapids was old Jim White. At this time they only had an occasional mail here, which was got by sending two soldiers on foot to Galena. Soon after I came, having business at Galena, and the officers of the garrison being anxious to hear who had been elected President, in November, it being now the 20th of December, it was arranged that I should carry the mail to Galena, and bring one in return, for which I was to receive five dollars.
This trip had to be made on foot, as I had sent my team home. So they fitted me out with a knapsack, and taking a pair of skates, I started on my trip, stopping the first night at the head of the rapids. From this point to Mr. Davidson's, the first house, was about fifty miles, and the days being the shortest of the year, it required some energy to reach this house, which would make a good stopping place for the night. In the course of the day I met a large party of Winnebagoes, who were
moving and were traveling across my track. I was not then much acquainted with the Indians, and hardly knew what would be the best course to pursue, but concluded it was best to pass right along among them, as though I was not at all disturbed. They gathered around me, and all I could understand was that they wanted bread. I was skating along, as that time, on a large pond, and the Indian boys followed after me, very much pleased with this, to them, novel way of going. Before reaching Plumb river, it was dark, and as the house I wanted to reach was a mile on the other side, the river must be crossed. I tried the ice, and found that it would not bear me, and concluded to camp for the night. It being a prairie, and no wood near, I remembered to have seen some driftwood about a half mile back, and returned there to camp for the night.
Now came the feat of making a fire in a dark night. I put my hat on the ground, with the top up, putting some cotton on the hat and sprinkling some powder on the cotton; then took my knife and flint, and tried to make fire. Not succeeding very well, I poured a little more powder on the cotton; it being very dark and cold, and feeling a little uncertain about my success in making fire, and knowing the great importance of having a fire in camping in winter, I repeated the operation two or
three times. At last, getting very anxious, I got my face down very near the hat, and with my knife and flint succeeded in igniting the powder. I thought at first my eyes were nearly put out, but it being very necessary to save my fire, I succeeded in doing so.
In the morning I followed up the river until I found a place so narrow that I made a crossing. This took me so far out of my way that I did not stop at Mr. Davidson's at all going up. I reached Galena safely, exchanged the mails, transacted my other business, and about noon, on Christmas day started on my return. Traveling about twenty miles I came to a wood chopper's camp, and stayed all night. The next morning I breakfasted at Mr. Davidson's, at Plumb river. This was a very excellent family, but I found only Mrs. Davidson at home. After breakfast I asked her how much I owed her she replied, "a quarter." I gave her a half dollar, but she could not change it and refused to keep the whole of it. Meeting with her husband in 1832, I told him I was indebted to him. He said he did not know it. When I related the circumstances he remarked, "You are a pretty honest fellow."
Leaving Plumb river, I camped two miles or more this side of the Meridosia. All night I could hear
the wolves walking about me, and could hear the Indian dogs barking, as there were Indians on an island in the river.
The next day I reached the fort at Rock Island, delivering the mail, and bringing the news of the election of Gen. Jackson.
In coming into the village when I first came here I noticed a number of poles standing, from twenty to thirty feet high. Some of these poles had branches or limbs left on them, on which were hung small gourds. I have seen, when the Indians returned from their winter hunt, a dead dog tied up to one of these poles, by winding a rope several times around the pole and dog, the head being up. I always supposed this to be a religious ceremony. Every time they succeeded in battle and none of their number was killed, a new pole was erected, and upon the pole was hung some of the trophies of the victory, and around it the successful warriors and women danced. But if in the battle they lost any of their number, even if they had killed a great number of the enemy, there was no dancing or any demonstrations of joy.
The first season I lived here, about forty of our Indians swam the Missouri river in the night, broke into an encampment of one hundred of the Sioux lodges, and killed fifteen of them with their knives,
losing two of their own number. On account of their loss, there was no dancing or any rejoicing, but when they came home they blackened their faces, and mourned the loss of their two braves. The same season, three of our Indians, on a scout on the Missouri, discovered an Omaha Indian on the prairie. They told me they got into a low, bushy tree, and bleated like a deer, bringing the man near, when they shot and killed him. This Indian had a gun and bridle with him; these, with his scalp, they brought home with them.
Now was explained to me the use of these poles, A new one was erected, and the gun and bridle hung on the pole. Then they began to dance around it that is, the three men who killed the Indian, and several of the squaws. At these dances none of the men except those who actually participated in the battle danced; but the young men, gaily painted, stood looking on. One of the squaws carried the scalp on a stick, about four feet above her head. For music, they had a drum made by taking out the head of a powder keg and stretching a raw hide over it. Some one of the old men, with one drum-stick, such as is used on a bass drum, beat with a slow, measured stroke, while several old men, sitting on the ground, accompanied the drum by singing. This music, in a still night, could
be heard three or four miles. The dancers kept up the entertainment for two or three days, until entire exhaustion ensued. At intervals during the rejoicing, the music and dancing would stop, and a man would step forward usually an old man with a tomahawk or some other instrument of war in his hand, and make a little speech, telling of some war exploit, the Indians all responding with a general shout. Then the music and dancing were again resumed. I witnessed this performance several times while the Indians were here.
After coming, in the fall of 1828, and making my selection for a farm, I moved from Morgan county, arriving here oh the first day of March, 1829. As there was no house to be had, the next best chance was a wigwam. We found one on the bluff, near where Henry Case now lives, which we thought we could use until we could build a cabin. This same spring there came London Case, Sr., and his three sons Jonah, Louden, and Charles and settled at the old Case place. Rinnah Wells and his four sons, and Joshua Vandruff and sons settled at Rock river. In January, before, Joel Wells settled near Hampton, and in the spring Joel Wells, Sr., and Levi and Huntington. Wells settled at Moline; Joseph Danforth, a son-in-law of Rinnah Wells, a mile above Moline; and Michael C. Bartlett,
a son-in-law of Joel Wells, Sr., about where the quilt factory now stands. About the last of May came Mr. Goble and his son Benjamin, settling above Joseph Danforth. Wm. T. Brashar settled on the farm bearing his name.
We were here but a few days when two Indians came the first we had seen. One of them commenced talking in a loud voice in the Indian language, of which we could not understand a word. By pointing to the wigwam, saying "Saukie wigeop," then pointing to the ground, saying "Saukie aukie," and repeating this many times, we understood he claimed the land and the wigwam belonged to the Indians. This man proved to be Blackhawk. We had never heard there was such a chief. He had heard, way out at his winter hunting grounds, that the white man had taken possession of their lands and their wigwams; and he, with the Indian who accompanied him, had walked in all the way, to find the report too true. He first went to his own wigwam, which he found occupied by Judge Pence. This wigwam stood about one hundred yards in front of Rinnah Wells' house, at Rock river. Blackhawk seemed to be very much plagued to find his wigwam occupied, and showed Judge Pence where the fire had burned the posts of the wigwam, and gave them to understand that if they
were to have such great fires they ought to protect the posts. Coming from his own wigwam over to where we lived, it is not to be wondered at that the old man was somewhat excited. About six weeks after Blackhawk's visit here, he, with the rest of the Indians, returned, and by this time Judge Pence was living in his own cabin, in their village. They were very much displeased to find white settlers so near them, and about two hundred of their young men mounted their horses and rode around Judge Pence's house several times. Mrs. Pence and the children, being alone, we're very much alarmed, having never seen so many Indians before. She succeeded in sending one of the children to the fort on the island for help. The Indian agent being absent, Captain Nelson, in command, sent down the interpreter, Antoine LeClaire, who told the Indians they must behave, or they would be visited by the soldiers. They soon became quiet, and we got along pretty well during the season, except a little trouble between the Indians and Rinnah Wells.
The Indians planted their corn in the same hill for many years. They scraped off the outside with a hoe, then dug up the hill thoroughly, and placed the corn in the hill with the hand. They cultivated it altogether with a hoe, going over it three or four times, making the hills very large. After forty
years, they are now plainly to be seen in the old fields. They raised a good many beans of a fine quality; also squashes, and a few melons. This was their entire crop. This work was done mostly by the squaws. I have seen some old men, and some boys of twelve or fifteen years, working in the field, but only one young or middle-aged man, and he was making a fence. Their cultivated grounds were fenced by sticking stakes in the ground and tying poles to them, making a very weak fence, that would not turn cattle or hogs.
One day a party of three or four of us called upon Keokuk, feeling that he was friendly to us, and offered to plow his field. He accepted our proposition, and came out frequently and treated us to sweetened water, which was made by putting maple sugar in the water, and was considered by the Indians a very nice drink.
In the spring of 1829, when the corn was about knee high, Keokuk called on all the white settlers and proposed that they should put up their cattle at night, on account of the Indians' poor fences, and said the Indians would watch them in the daytime, and the cattle should not be hurt. All the settlers agreed to this proposition except Mr. Rinnah Wells, who thought it too much trouble. When the corn got in good order for roasting ears, Mr. Wells's
cattle came out one night to near Mr. Corker's old place, and cat up the corn of several Indian families. Mr. Wells had corn on the opposite side of the road the road running about, as it does now. The next night, when the cattle returned for another meal, the Indians turned them into Mr. Wells's own field. After that, Mr. Wells took care of his cattle.
I became very well acquainted with Blackhawk, living, one summer, less than a quarter of a mile from him. He was a man of medium size, and about sixty years of age a very quiet, peaceable neighbor. Blackhawk was a strong temperance man. In all my acquaintance with him, I never knew him to have but one spree. The first summer I lived, here, Blackhawk, accompanied by a few of Ins braves, made a visit to a man selling whisky to Indians, He rolled the barrels out doors, and with his tomahawk knocked in the heads and let the whisky out. For this he was called to account by the Indian agent, who told him such conduct would not be allowed, and that it would bring him in conflict with the government. After leaving the council house, I heard him tell the interpreter, Mr. Le Claire, that he believed he would not get himself into any more trouble of this kind, as by the effort to keep his young men from drinking he had made himself a great deal of trouble, As for himself, he
said he would not drink and would wear wampum, but the young men might drink and wear swansdown meaning, he would save his property, and they might drink and spend theirs. After he was deposed by the government, he never tried to influence the Indians, or take any part in their business.
Before the war I never knew him to wear any part of a white man's garb, but after it he wore a coat, hat, and pants.
It was the practice of our Indians to leave here for their fall and winter hunting grounds about the middle of September, and return about the middle of April. They all left on the same day, if not the same hour. In order to move in this way, it was arranged that a man with a strong voice, several days before leaving, went through the village telling them on such a day they would leave for their winter hunting grounds.
Our Indians consisted of the Sauks and Foxes, these two tribes owning their lands jointly. I noticed that when they traveled they camped separately. The Foxes, while living here, lived from Jonah Case's old place up as far as Wm. Brooks's. The Foxes had mostly left previous to my coming here, except a few who had intermarried with the Sauks, and had made villages at Princeton, Bellevue, and Dubuque.
Our Indians, in starting for their hunting grounds, went down the river with the help of their horses, of which they had five or six hundred, and their canoes, which numbered about two hundred.
Before starting it was understood by the two tribes where each should go, so as to avoid confusion. In hunting the Sauks occupied southern and middle Iowa, the Foxes northern Iowa. Our Indians ascended the Iowa, Skunk, Des Moines, and all smaller streams that would admit of a canoe. After the fall hunt they had a rendezvous appointed, where they assembled for winter quarters. This selection was made in a large timbered bottom, on account of their horses, and security from the Sioux.
They sometimes made temporary forts as a protection against the enemy. After making their maple sugar in the spring, they were now ready to start for the old village. As soon as possible, they would gather on the Mississippi, those that went to the more northern streams would wait for those who went farther south. They would all gather together about the Iowa river and move up the river, waiting for bad weather, making at best not more than eight or ten miles a day. They had a leader, who permitted no straggling, having it understood in the morning where they would camp at night.
So in the greatest order, keeping the canoes and horses as near together as possible, they would arrive here the same hour.
They brought home little besides the sugar just made and dried meat, their skins and furs having been disposed of to the Indian traders where they had been. Now they commenced looking for their corn, beans, and dried squashes they had cached in the fall. This was done by good hiding. The most common way was to select a dry piece of ground where there was a blue grass sod. They then cut out a circular sod about eighteen inches in circumference, or as large as would admit a person's body. This sod was laid aside, and then a large hole dug, enlarging as they went down, to the depth of five or six feet, so as to make it of sufficient size to hold the corn, beans, squashes, and sometimes crab apples of one family. These were put in sacks of their own making. They then put in bark on the bottom and sides, and inside of this they put these sacks of provisions, for the next spring's use. Then they were covered with bark and filled with dirt, and the sod was carefully replaced, so as to make it look perfectly natural. They then cleaned up all the surplus dirt and hid it away, so there was nothing to indicate that anything had been buried there, or the earth disturbed at all. It depended on
the hiding whether there would be any corn in the spring, for as soon as they were gone the Winnebagoes and other Indians came here hunting for their treasure. These Indians, by the aid of their muskrat spears, feeling in the ground, often succeeded in finding, and would take the supplies of several families.
One family with whom I was acquainted, buried their supplies in the center of their wigwam, where they had their fire. After burying their treasure they had made a large fire to make it look all right. But the Winnebagoes hunted around and stuck their spears in the ground, and finally discovered the place, and took it all. The old squaw to whom it belonged wept bitterly.
When a family had been robbed in this way of all they had, it was the custom to send some of the young men around the village, from one wigwam to another, and collect a small quantity of each one for the sufferers. This robbery made no disturbance between the different tribes. A large part of the corn had been boiled and cut from the cob, and dried when green, making very nice eating, which they enjoyed very much, eating nearly all the time for several days, being deprived of this kind of food for some time before they came home
made one buffalo hunt each year, leaving home the first of July.
This required a good deal of preparation, as they went a long distance, and into the Sioux country, their deadly enemy. Each man was armed with a gun, bow, and a large bundle of arrows. They expected fighting, and generally brought home scalps, dried meat, and tallow, but no robes, on account of the hot weather. There happened this year a circumstance of some note. Our Indians, in an attack on the Sioux camp on Turkey river, near where Dubuque now stands, killed several Sioux, and among the rest a Winnenbago squaw and a Menominee boy. They hastened to the Winnebagos, and settled their mistake by giving them some horses. This seems to be the currency of the Indians. They always seemed to wish to avoid a rupture with the Winnebagos, who were 8,000 strong. The Menominees spoke the same language, and were particular friends, and being a long distance away, they put off settling with them until the next spring, when nine of the principal men of the Foxes, of the Dubuque village, started in a canoe for Prairie du Chien, to make the settlement for killing the boy. When a little below the Wisconsin river they were attacked by the Menominees and all killed. This stirred up the spirit of revenge, and in August our
Indians surprised the Menominees within three hundred yards of Fort Crawford, at Prairie du Chien, and killed forty-six of them, men, women, and children. Our government called our Indians to an account for this, as they had the right to do by a former treaty, which was to the effect that all differences between these tribes should be submitted to it for settlement. On being called up, Keokuk took a stick and balanced it on his hand, and said: "Put these nine principal men of the Foxes on one end, and the forty-six women and children of the Menominees on the other end, and I think it will be a fair settlement." And that was the settlement.
The possessions of the Sauks and Foxes in Illinois commenced at the mouth of the Illinois river, keeping along that stream as far as Peoria, then moving north so as to strike the Wisconsin river seventy or eighty miles from its mouth, down the Wisconsin to the Mississippi, and down the Mississippi to the place of beginning. On the west side of the Mississippi, they owned the whole of what is now the state of Iowa. Colonel Davenport informed me, as nearly as he could ascertain, our Indians originally occupied the country about Montreal, Canada; from there they removed to Green Bay, possibly about two hundred years ago; and, as nearly as he could ascertain, they had been living here about sixty
years when I came here. From the growth of timber, from their corn-fields, and from every indication by which a frontier man judges of the age of a settlement, I have no doubt but his information was correct. Now they had at last reached the great Father of Waters, the most beautiful country their eyes had ever seen. The rivers abounded in fish, and the country was alive with game; and they were not willing to be driven so unjustly from these their fruitful hunting grounds.
There is an old legend, said to be believed by the Indians, in regard to the island, and this was another reason why they so much disliked to give up that beautiful spot, to be made a military post. They had been taught to believe that a Good Spirit had the care of it, who lived in a cave in the rocks immediately under the place where the fort was built. He is said to have been often seen by the Indians, and was white, with wings like a swan, but ten times larger. The island was much frequented by them in summer, but they were always careful to make no noise in the part of the island which he inhabited. They believed the noise and confusion incident to building and maintaining the fort drove him away.
The Indians were governed by two seta of chiefs peace or civil chiefs, and war chiefs. The duties
of the peace chiefs were to settle all troubles between their tribes and other tribes, and also between them and the whites; while the war chiefs never interfered, in any particular, in the business of the village. The two prominent war chiefs, when I came here, were Black Hawk and Keokuk. In times of trouble, the prominent war and peace chiefs consulted together, and there was the most perfect understanding as to the management of affairs.
When we consider that these tribes were only about two thousand strong, and held their lands by their prowess as warriors, it gives us some idea of their fighting qualities.
In 1804 one of our Indians killed a man in St. Louis, and was put in jail. A deputation of five principal men from here went to St. Louis, expecting to get him released by giving horses for him, as was the custom among the Indians. While these men were in St. Louis they sold all of their lands on the east side of the Mississippi river, the government agreeing to pay them $2,000 a year forever. Old General dark, the partner of Lewis in crossing the Rocky Mountains, was the general superintendent of the western Indians at that time, acting for the government.
Col. Davenport told me that he did not believe Black Hawk ever took a pipe full of tobacco bought
with that money. He and a large part of the Indians were bitterly opposed to this sale. Out of this sale grew the Black Hawk war; Black Hawk and his party contending that the lands were not sold, as the men who made the sale were not authorized to sell, but went to St. Louis on other business. There was a clause in the sale that the Indians might occupy the land while it belonged to the government. The land had been surveyed several years before I came here, and before the Indians left in the fall there was a notice given that the ands would be offered for sale in October, and the Indian agent told them they must not come back. It was hoped by the settlers that the Indians would not return, but in this they were disappointed, for they came as usual, though not as many as before. Keokuk and his followers did not return. He was opposed to their coming back, and commenced a village on the Iowa river, about twenty miles from its mouth. Keokuk was the head or chief of what was called the American party. He was not the son of a chief, but attained his rank by his ability and talent, being a remarkable orator.
Black Hawk was a born chief, belonging to a royal family, and was the head of what was known as the British party.
The year of 1830 passed off very well, considering
the situation of the whites and Indians. During the summer our Indians received a visit from sixteen young men of the Kickapoos. They were from twenty to twenty-five years of age. This summer I lived at the old village, having good opportunity to see all that transpired between the Indiana. The Kickapoos spoke the same language as our Indians, as well as several other tribes. They entertained their guests right royally, keeping them all at one large wigwam, making it very pleasant for them.
I wondered how so many could be entertained at one place, knowing that the Indians' supplies were quite limited. Mr. Nathan Smith, who lived with the Indians, explained it to me in this way. He said they were the guests of the entire village, and that two of the young men would go through the village and collect provisions from the different wigwams, for their entertainment, this being repeated as often as necessary, while they remained. These young men staid about a month, having a splendid time. About the last of their stay they took one day to visit each wigwam in the village, at which they danced and were treated to something to eat and generally some sweetened water to drink. When these young Indians came they were on foot, but our Indians, after entertaining them so handsomely,
gave each one a horse when they left for home.
In 1831 came a new era in our history. The Indians returned in large numbers, perhaps as many as in 1829, and with quite a different spirit towards the whites. Black Hawk gave the settlers to understand that after this season they must go south of Rock river, or above Pleasant Valley. He said this district between the rivers should be occupied exclusively by the Indians, giving several reasons why they could not afford to give up these pleasant hunting grounds. One reason was that on this side of the Mississippi they were comparatively safe from their enemies, and another, that the region abounded with game and fish, and was suited to their mode of living, and they would not give it up. Black Hawk said we could all stay this season, except Joshua Vandruff and Rinnah Wells, who lived in the midst of their village, and had a large stock of cattle, which troubled the Indians a great deal. Mr. Vandruff showed Black Hawk that it would be very hard for him to leave on so short a notice, as he was a poor man, and had twelve children. Black Hawk finally consented that he could stay another season, but Mr. Wells must go, and he would give him until the next day to make his choice whethe he would go willingly or be put off. Mr. Wells
consulted with his friends, and finally consented to leave in thirty days. This move on the part of the Indians made it necessary for the settlers to look about and see what they could do for their protection.
We had petitioned the Governor of the state in the summer of 1829 without his taking any notice, but how we concluded to try it again. We made a statement of our grievances, and of the order of Black Hawk for our removal, and forwarded it with all possible haste to the Governor. This had the desired effect. The Governor moved immediately, going first to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, where he found "Old General Gaines." He told the General that if he would go to Rock Island and drive the Indians out of the state he would give him the job; but if he would not or could not go, he would do it himself. The General concluded to undertake the business, and, taking the sixth regiment, which was then lying at Jefferson Barracks, he proceeded at once to Rock Island. When here, he commenced firing morning and evening guns, which had not been the practice; also, target shooting with his cannon. He had all the white settlers come into the fort, bringing all their horses and cattle on to the island as expeditiously as possible. When this was done, he sent for Black Hawk for a talk with
him about the village, and a day was fixed for a meeting.
Keokuk and some of his friends came up from their village, on the Iowa river, and came on to the island. General Gaines, the officers of the sixth regiment, the officers of the garrison, with the citizens, and Keokuk and his friends, met in the council house. Black Hawk, with seventy-five to one hundred warriors, nicely dressed and painted, drew near. When within about one hundred yards of the council house they commenced singing in a very loud voice, which seemed to alarm Keokuk and party so much that they left in great haste. Those who understood the Indians best, thought, from the singing and the manner of the Indians, that there would be a general massacre. A man that always accompanied Black Hawk, as they entered the council house, commenced singing in a very boisterous manner, and gesticulating as though he was very angry, speaking very rapidly. General Gaines spoke to him very quietly of the sale of their lands. The Indian said the land had never been sold. General Gaines then called for the reading of the treaty, which seemed to enrage him still more. He said, "the white people speak from a paper; but," he added, striking his, hand upon his breast, "the Indians always speak from the heart."
After the purchase of these lands from the Indiana, in 1804, the government had exchanged all the lands north of the old Indian boundary line (ranging from the most southern bend of Lake Michigan due west to the Mississippi, striking the river about where the boat-yard now is, in the lower end of town), with the Chippewas, Pottawattamies, and Ottawas, for land lying about Chicago.
In 1829 the government re-purchased these lands of the Indians, giving them $16,000 a year forever (that is the way the treaty reads), and allowing them to select a quarter section for each of their half-breeds. These selections amounted to a great deal of very valuable land. Antoine Le Claire and brother selected theirs on the Mississippi river, commencing at Moline and running up as far as Henry McNeil's old place.
The first point Black Hawk tried to make when he spoke was, that "the land had not been sold, as the men who went to St. Louis had no authority to sell, having been sent on other business," By this time we began to think Black Hawk was pretty nearly right. The second point he made was, "if it was sold, they had got nothing for it." He said, over and over again, "if a small part of the land was worth $16,000 a year forever, all of it must be worth more than $2,000." When the General pressed an
answer about his leaving, he said all the time, "he would not fight, and he would not leave, but if our people came to drive him off he would sit down in his wigwam, and they might do what they pleased with him; for himself he would do nothing." General Gaines interpreted his talk to mean that he would fight.
The General's force was very small only about five hundred men in all consisting of the sixth regiment, not full, and two companies that belonged at the garrison. The men and boys of the settlement were all at the fort, away from their homes, doing nothing. I went with another citizen and called on the General, and proposed that the men and boys of the settlement be formed into a company, which was accordingly done. The company numbered fifty-eight men, and was called the "Rock River Rangers." We were mustered into service the 5th of June, 1831.
An election of officers was held, which resulted in the election of Benjamin J. Pike as captain; John W. Spencer, first lieutenant; Griffith Aubery, second lieutenant; James Haskill, Leonard Bryant, and Edward Corbin, sergeants; Charles French, Charles Case, Benjamin Goble, and Henry Benson, corporals.
The members of the company were:
General Gaines now called on the Governor for help, and he collected about 1,600 mounted men, with a rendezvous at Beardstown.
At a second meeting with Black Hawk, he brought up an old Indian by the name of Quashquama, or Jumping Fish, who was one of the five men who sold the land. He was a very old man, and seemed to he in his second childhood, and to have lost all memory of the sale. He was the only one of the five living, and his testimony was of no use.
At the fourth and last meeting came a middle-aged squaw, who introduced herself to the General, and said she was a grand-daughter of a prominent, chief, and then began to speak of the sale of the lands. She said "the men could not sell the cornfields, for they belonged to the women they had made them." She said, "it was very hard work to dig up the ground," and putting her hand on her back, she said, "it made their backs ache." Another reason she gave was, "that if the men had sold them they would have told them of it, which they had never done."
While they were waiting for the arrival of help and parleying with the Indians, General Gaines fitted up the steamboat Winnebago with a cannon on the bow of the boat, and a company of soldiers, and proceeded up "Rock river to their village, passing within fifty yards of their wigwams. Strange to say, although a steamboat was seldom seen in those days, the Indians seemed not to take the least notice of the boat, not even looking at it, and even the women and children showed no signs of wonder or fear.
As soon as the Governor's troops were collected together, they marched for Rock Island, camping the last night within about ten miles of the island. The Indians, being aware of their approach, crossed
the Mississippi at night, taking with them all their effects, women, children, horses, and dogs. The next day was fixed for the attack upon Black Hawk. It was arranged that General Gaines should take the boat, with one company of men from the garrison, and ascend Rock river, while Major Bliss, with the rest of the forces, should cross over and form on this side, and march for Rock river. Just about where the Rock Island railroad freight house now stands, we were met by an Indian named Black Buffalo, a man I knew very well. He had a bridle in his hand, and was hunting his horse.
He had swapped horses with Jonas H. Case, the year before; the horse did not like to go with the Indians, and had given them the slip. Major Bliss wished me to ask him about the Indians, where they were, &c. He told me they had all crossed the Mississippi. The Major told me to tell him if he did not tell the truth he would kill him. The Indian still affirmed that what he said was true. He was sent to the fort a prisoner for that day.
Major Bliss formed our company of Rock River Rangers in an extended line of half a mile, in front of the regulars, with one cannon in the rear, for our march for Rock river. We marched near where the road is now traveled, until we reached General Rodman's land, then turning to the left until
reaching the top of the bluff, taking the direction of Black Hawk's watch tower. On arriving there, we planted the cannon on the brow of the bluff, and then commenced throwing grape and cannister into the bushes on Vandruff's island. It was here we expected to find the Indians. Gen. Gaines arrived with the boat and stopped about where the bridge crosses the main stream, near Sears' flouring mill, and commenced firing on the island also. This island was very bushy, and commanded the only ford that the Governor and his forces could cross at. But it proved that Black Buffalo had told the truth. The Governor's troops, after crossing the river, burned the Indians' wigwams, and marched for Rock Island, and camped on the river, from the ferry landing to the freight house. This force amounted to 1,600 mounted men. They turned their 1,600 horses loose on the prairie, and the next thing was to procure fuel to cook their supper. I had a field of twenty acres of corn and potatoes, and the volunteers went for the fence. We tried to stop them from taking the rails, but could not; going to the Governor and General Gaines, they went out to the field and told the men they must not take the fence. While they were present the men stopped operations, but as soon as they turned to return the men, to the number
of four or five hundred, took each a rail on his shoulder, and marched behind them into camp. By this operation I lost all my crop for one year, for which I never received a cent, the soldiers doing me ten times as much damage as the Indians had ever done. When we asked Black Hawk why he did not do as he said he would, "sit down in his wigwam and let them do as they pleased with him," he said, "If General Gaines had come with only the regular troops at the island, he should have remained in his wigwam, but to have done so with men that the officers had no control over would have been sure death to him." In this he acted wisely, as among these volunteers were many frontier men who had had friends killed by the Indians, and were prepared to avenge their death on these or any other Indians.
In a few days there was another meeting with Black Hawk, and a treaty concluded, that the Indians should stay on the other side of the river, and the government would give them as much corn as they could have raised if they had not been disturbed. The government appointed two men, Mr. Rinnah Wells and myself, to go over their fields and make an estimate of the corn they might have raised. I do not now remember the estimate, but it amounted to several thousand bushels. Thus
ended this season's operations. Now commences the more serious part of our story.
In the spring of 1833, notwithstanding the agreement of the Indians to keep on the west aide of the river, they came over, breaking their treaty, made only the summer before. They crossed at Burlington, and came up, as usual, with their canoes and horses. As soon as the government ascertained this, General Atkinson was sent from Jefferson Barracks with a regiment of, men, reaching here before the Indians.
The Indians did not make more than ten miles a day, but came along regularly, reaching here soon after the General, and keeping on the south side of the big island, in Rock river, which I had never known them to do before.
When they were nearly up to where Milan now stands, I crossed the river by fording, to see if I could ascertain their movements. The first Indians I saw were four young men. They had fine looking guns, and seemed to be well armed. One of them was Black Hawk's son, Seoskuk, who was one of the finest looking Indians I ever saw. He was about thirty years of age, and a splendid looking fellow. I asked him where they were going. He answered by saying, "May be they should go over to their old village, or they might stop where they were, or
go up Rock river to Prophetstown." Seoskuk asked me if there were many soldiers at the fort. I told him there were a good many. I was the only white man who had any communication with them at this point. They finally went up Rock river about two miles and camped for the night.
The next morning, at the old fort, we could hear them beating their drums and singing so plainly that they seemed but a short distance from us. They were probably five miles distant, and it was quite remarkable, the country being so hilly between them and us, that we should hear them so distinctly. It is hard to tell what this demonstration was for. I have thought it might have been on account of their passing this point without being molested by General Atkinson, as they knew he was at the island with an extra regiment. This same morning General Atkinson, not understanding their movements, was anxious to inform the frontier settlers of their danger, but the only ford on the river was so near the Indians that it was not thought safe to make a crossing. I proposed to take the dispatch to the nearest settlements. To avoid the Indians I took a canoe and went down the river until I passed the mouth of Rock river. Here I took great pains to hide my canoe, as my getting home depended on this, and made the rest of my journey on foot.
The dispatch from General Atkinson to the settlers was to this effect, "That there was now no doubt but what we were to have a conflict with the Indians, urging them to take care of themselves, and get out of the way." I had to camp out the first night, and after walking forty mires the next day, reached the settlement. I went to the different settlements, gave the warning of General Atkinson, and returned home. On coming to the river I very fortunately found my canoe where I had hid it, and then came on up to the island.
We all supposed the General would stop the Indians at this point, But he did not, but called on the Governor for help. He was soon here with 1,800 mounted men. About three hundred men had already rendezvoused at Dixon, and were waiting for orders. All was depending upon General Atkinson getting ready to follow the Indians up Rock river.
The stream being too shoal for steamboats, they had to resort to the next best thing, the old keelboat, and it was a hard matter to get supplies of them on so short notice. He succeeded in getting one that would carry eighty tons, the largest I ever saw. This boat was manned by seventy regular soldiers; they had another of thirty-five tons, and several Mackinaw boats, also well manned. These were loaded with provisions, and after two hard
days work we got over the rapids of Rock river, and on the eighth of May, started on the war expedition. General Atkinson had several hundred regulars with him, so in manning these boats he changed hands every other day, as it was very laborious work, Rock river being a very rapid stream at that time of the year. Our first camping place was about two miles above the Chicago and Rock Island railroad bridge. Our second at the mouth of Canoe creek, our third at Sand Prairie. This part of the river was so crooked that we made but slow progress. Our fourth encampment was about two miles above Prophetstown. I remember this as though it were yesterday.
The troops were officered by General Atkinson, Colonel Zachary Taylor, afterwards President of the United States, Captain Abraham Lincoln, who filled the same high office, Captain, afterwards Major General, Harney, and other officers. Captain Lincoln belonged to the volunteer forces, and the others to the regulars.
It was about the middle of May, and the moon being full, the night was beautiful. The men were enjoying themselves as I had not seen them before, little thinking that so near them their friends were fleeing for safety, and some were being overtaken and killed. About ten o'clock the next morning we
met a young man by the name of Hultz, from Dixon's ferry, who told us of Maj. Stillman's defeat by the Indians, and that there was probably a great loss of life. Maj. Stillman had rendezvoused at Dixon, with about three hundred men that had been raised in the neighborhood of Peoria, while the Governor and his men rendezvoused at Beardstown. The Governor was ordered to this place, and when he reached here Maj. Stillman had been several days in camp; his men already tired of camp life, Stillman proposed to the Governor, while he was waiting for General Atkinson and the boats, to take his men and go and see where the Indians were.
The Governor consented to their going, and they drew rations for four or five days. According to army regulations at that time, whisky constituted a part of the rations. On the first day out they seemed to conclude they could carry their whisky beat by drinking it all in one day, and before night they had very nearly accomplished this task, and a good many of them were not altogether sober. About an hour before sundown they went into camp, within three or four miles of the Indians. They had not been in camp long before Black Hawk sent three of his braves with a flag of truce, saying for Black Hawk, "That it was now night, and for that reason he did not come himself, but that he would
come in the morning and talk with them, and did not intend to fight."
Black Hawk sent five of his men out on the prairie to see how their flag was received. About twenty or thirty of our men, being under the influence of whisky, gathered up their horses and guns, and rode out to where these Indians were sitting, apparently unconcerned, not expecting any harm. They allowed our men to come within a few feet of them, when our men, be it said to their shame, deliberately raised their guns, killing three of the Indians, the other two fleeing to their encampment. The Indians who brought the flag of truce, took advantage of the flurry, sprang away and escaped. Now our folks prepared to meet the Indians, as they felt sure of a fight. They mounted, formed in line, and moved slowly towards the Indian encampment. As soon as the news of the attack on their men readied the Indians, they flew to arms in the greatest possible speed, and came on to the fight. The Indians commenced firing at a long distance, and before many shots had been fired our men commenced a stampede for Dixon, the Indians close in the rear, killing all who were unhorsed in the flight. The horse of Black Buffalo came into Dixon that night he had left the Indians again. The men who first came into Dixon reported that a
large part of the command had been killed, and it was not known for some time but that it was so. A considerable number of the men from the country about the Illinois river, instead of coming into Dixon went to their homes. The next day the Governor sent out a strong force to bury the dead. They found eleven whites killed, scattered along for several miles, and not more than five or six Indians, including the three killed on the prairie. There was an Indian living here by the name of Neapope, who, before General Gaines came here, had gone to Maiden, in Canada. The British part of our Indians made a practice, as well as most of the Indians of the north-west, of going to Canada to pay court to the English. Colonel Davenport told me they would collect in large numbers on the Detroit side of the river, and the athorities at Maiden would fix on a particular day for each tribe to cross, and would give them a day's entertainment. They prepared a feast, and met the Indians with a band of music, and escorted them into the fort, where a great deal was done for their pleasure and amusement.
Neapope and some others had gone to Canada before there was any demonstration, in 1881, to drive them off, and came back in the fall in perfect ignorance of the removal of the Indians.
During the winters of 1831-2 Neapope continued to run back and forth from our Indians to the Winnebagoes and Pottawattamies, making Black Hawk believe that when he got up Rock river these tribes would help him, and when he reached Milwaukee the English would assist him.
When Black Hawk, on his way up Rock river, reached Sycamore creek, where our army found him, those Indians told him they could not bring themselves into trouble with the government, and consequently he could not look to them for assistance. After meeting these Indians, I have not the least doubt but Black Hawk intended to give himself and people up without making any resistance, had our men not been intoxicated, and therefore violated his flag of truce. The time was now past for parleying with the Indians. From this time the prospect was war. The Indians now flew to unprotected white settlements, waylaid the roads leading from one point to another, killing a number of people in a few days. There were fifteen killed on Indian creek. They carried off captive two young ladies by the name of Hall, after killing all the other members of the family except a brother, quite a young boy, who made his escape. These young ladies were afterwards bought by the Pottawattamies, who paid for them in horses, and returned them to
our government. Their clothes being quite shabby, the ladies of Galena gave them new clothing, and they were brought to Rock Island on their way to Morgan county.
They waylaid the roads leading from Dixon to Galena. At Buffalo Grove a party of men were passing, unconscious of danger, as the settlements were too far apart to get any news so soon of Stillman's defeat. One of this party was our Indian agent by the name of Savry, another Thomas Kinney, and another by the name of Hawley; the other members of the party I cannot name. The Indians lay behind a large, long log, near the road. They tired, killing one man and one horse, then killing the man who had lost his horse. Mr. Savry was one of the killed. Mr. Hawley having a very fine horse, they followed him in hot pursuit for thirty miles. After this terrible chase they run his horse in marshy ground, and he fell a victim to their savage rage. Mr. Hawley was a brother of the late Captain Hawley, of Pleasant Valley, Scott county, Iowa. This account was given me by Thomas Kinney, a neighbor of mine, who was one of the party.
About twenty miles east of Galena, Lieutenant Aubery, of our old command, started to carry a dispatch from Fort Hamilton a short distance. His horse soon returned with a bloody saddle, and it
was evident he had been shot by the Indians. It so happened that old General Dodge, with twenty men, was at the fort, and he started quickly in pursuit. Soon finding the dead man, they followed the trail of the Indians, which by the long grass is easily done. They soon came in sight of them, thirteen in all, on foot. They were making their way in great haste to the Picatonica bottom, where the grass was from six to eight feet high. The General dismounted, detailing every fourth man to hold the horses, leaving fifteen men to pursue the Indians. They followed the trail almost to the river, when suddenly the Indians sprang up and fired upon them, killing two of our men, one of these being Samuel Wells, a son of Rinnah Wells, and a member of our old company. Our men returned their fire, bringing down eleven of the Indians the first fire, the remaining two taking refuge in the river, trying to make their escape. Our men, reloading their guns, fired, killing them in the water, thus securing the thirteen.
About eight or ten miles north of Galena, where two men were at work in a corn field, one plowing, the other hoeing, corn, two Indians placed themselves so that the man plowing would come near them, killing him the first fire. The other, seeing his companion shot down, and having no means of
defence, took to his heels for Galena. The Indians pursued him several miles, but, being a swift runner, he made his escape. The Indians returned to the house, taking what suited their fancy.
There was a large canoe at the house, and it being too heavy for them to get to the river, they found a cross-cut saw in the house, and cut off as much as would ferry them over the river, and made good their escape.
Some twenty miles south-east from Galena, where Elizabeth now is, there was a small settlement of miners, who had erected a rude fort for their protection. An old man by the name of Dixon, who was a frontier man, and well accustomed to Indians, started for Dixon's ferry, accompanied by a man on foot. About a mile from the place of starting they met a large force of Indians, who fired on them, wounding the man on foot. The country being rough and wooded, Dixon, by his dexterity, riding about rapidly, showing himself in many different places in a short time, gave the Indians to believe they had a large force of armed and mounted men to contend with. In this way Dixon gave the wounded man time to reach the fort and apprise the settlers of their danger. The people had scattered out about their business, but the alarm being given they were immediately collected in the fort. If it
had not been for Dixon's ingenious manoeuvering, detaining the Indians, they must have been all massacred, as they had hardly time to reach the fort before the Indians took possession of the village and surrounded the fort. The Indians could go from one house to another with comparative safety. They plundered the houses of whatever suited their fancy, and carried off all the valuables, as well as most of the provisions, in the village. Watching about the fort, if any one showed himself inside he was fired on by them. One man showing his head above the fort, received a bullet, breaking his neck. Dixon, instead of stopping at the fort, pressed on to Galena to get a force for their relief. They came on as rapidly as possible, and, when a short distance south of Elizabeth, they found a large force of Indians secreted in the bushes and grass. The Indians, allowing our men to come within a few feet of them, fired, killing several, among others Mr. George Ames, a brother of Mrs. William Brooks, sr.
About, this time there were about seventy regular soldiers stationed at Kellogg's Grove, there being a large hewed log house there which made a safe rendezvous for persons going from one point to another, or for those hard pressed by the Indians, which was often the case. One of our mounted companies was driven in by the Indians, and was obliged to flee to
this place for safety. Hitching their horses as near the house as possible, so as to be able to protect them somewhat from the Indians, they took shelter in the house. The Indians crept up among the trees and shot down fifty-seven horses. They saw one horse acting very strangely, and thought they could see something in the weeds in front of him. They concluded this was an Indian, and so three or four shots were fired at him. After the Indians had left, in looking over the battle-field, some of the men from this neighborhood recognized Black Buffalo as the man who was in the weeds. Trading horses had brought him to his death, as he had lost his horse at Stillman's defeat and was trying to get another. He had a long stick with which he hooked the bridle off the stake of the fence, and was trying to creep along and lead him away, but the horse being afraid of him caused our men to discover and kill him.
About this time a company of about forty men stopped at Kellogg's Grove and struck their tents for the night. It being a rainy night, one of the sentinels took shelter near the body of a large tree. Very unexpectedly an Indian put his hand on his shoulder, which was as great a surprise to the Indian as to the soldier. The soldier fired his gun straight up in the air, and our folks, hearing the
report, supposed they were attacked by the Indians, and left their tents and went into, the house for safety. My brother, R. H. Spencer, and four others, were not awakened by the firing, and slept in the tent until morning. The Indians had been prowling around in search of horses, and early in the morning our men got on their trail; the grass being wet they could easily follow it on a fast trot. In about ten miles they came in sight of the Indians. There were only four of them, and they made a signal to give themselves up. But old General Whiteside, who had fought against the Indians in 1812, and for whom Whiteside county was named, showed them that they must fight. The Indians ran into a deep ravine where the water had gullied a large hole, and in this they took shelter. The situation was such that the folks had to get very near in order to see the Indians. This they did by taking advantage of the large trees, which were a good protection. Behind one tree were three or four men, when one of them, a large man, stepped out and said, "Let me give them a pop," and fired, and in return received two bullets through his body. General Whiteside now said: "Boys, rush on them their guns are empty." They closed upon them, killing them all. They now started on their return, four men carrying the wounded man, taking turns. After traveling
several miles they were attacked by a superior force of the enemy, and in turn had to flee for safety. General Whiteside tried hard to make a stand with fifteen or twenty men, to check the Indians for a few minutes, but could not succeed, and the men who were carrying the wounded man came near being left to the mercy of the Indiana, as the men detailed to hold their horses, only thinking of themselves, were riding away, leading their horses with them. While they were mounting their horses my brother saw an Indian on a white horse thrust a long spear into the wounded man, whom they were obliged to leave on the ground. The next man who came along, with his tomahawk cut off the wounded man's head. In this attack the Indians killed two of our men besides the one at first wounded.
During the trouble with the Indians, there was an old man, who, in his religious belief was a Dunkard, who started from the frontier settlement about LaSalle, to go to Chicago, about a hundred miles distant. His friends did all they could to dissuade him from going, as he must make the journey on horseback and alone. But he was determined to go, feeling that he would not be disturbed in the journey; that an overruling power would protect him against the Indians. After leaving the settlement, when a few miles on his way, he was
discovered by a band of Indians. On coming up with them, he permitted them to come within a few yards of him without showing the least fear. This sect, unlike people of his time, wore their beards long and full, and the Indians had never seen any one with a long beard before. From his strange look or behaviour, they were awe-struck, and debated among themselves what was best to do with the old man. The old man had a very fine horse, which seemed to decide the question, and so, after following along with him for some time, they killed him. On their return to camp that night, they found some Pottawattamies in their camp, and told them they had killed the Devil that day, exhibiting the scalp as it had been taken off, with the beard attached.
The Indiana were now forced to take a position on the upper part of Rock river, occupying the country from lake Koshkonong to where Whitewater now stands. This being wooded country, it was very difficult to drive them out.
After fighting and skirmishing with them from the middle of May until the last of July, they finally got them started for the Mississippi. The Indians now made all possible haste for Iowa, our army pursuing them closely, overtook them near the Wisconsin river. On the bluff, about five miles
from the river, the Indians made their stand, and fought one of the hardest battles of the war. The Indians were found in the high grass, and by taking advantage of their hiding place, would load their guns, rise up and fire, then drop down again and load. They left more than forty dead on the ground, and our army, as they followed them up, found their dead scattered for several days. It was believed they lost more than eighty, who were killed, or died from their wounds. This battle was fought by the Indians to give time to get their families across the Wisconsin river. Here they very hastily made bark canoes, taking the bark from large elm trees. Cutting the bark eight or ten feet long, they shaved the ends, making it thin and pliable, so they could tie it together, and in this way keep the water out. This is not the way of making a regular bark canoe, but a very good substitute.
In these rude canoes ninety women and children, and one old man, came down the river to its mouth, where they were intercepted by our people, and brought to Rock Island and held as prisoners.
Our army was detained at the Wisconsin river several days in crossing. It being a very rapid stream it was difficult to cross, and as there were no boats, they took an old hewed log house and made a raft or rafts, and finally succeeded in crossing.
While making preparations to cross the river, one night, after the Indians had all left, there came an Indian in the night, and standing on a high point on the opposite side from our army, with a very powerful voice, which could' be distinctly understood, said, "If the whites would let the Indians go they would go back to Iowa, and remain quiet and peaceable." But our army was now anxious to punish them, and so hastened across the river, took their trail, which brought them to the Mississippi. They found, at all the camping places of the Indians, skeletons of their horses, as they were now reduced to this kind of food, having no time to hunt, pressing with all their energy to reach the Mississippi, before our army should overtake and destroy them. But after all their exertions, their great suffering from hunger and exhaustion, they were doomed to disappointment. They had succeeded in reaching the river, and had safely crossed many of their women and children, before our army came up.
Here at the river was fought the second hard battle, killing one hundred and fifty of the Indians, and some of their women and children, they being huddled together in the high weeds and grass. One can get some idea of their great hunger from a little circumstance that happened there. It became
necessary to amputate the arm of a little girl about ten years old. Some one gave her a biscuit, which she continued to eat during the operation.
During the trouble with the Indians, the government brought down a band of one hundred and fifty Sioux, who were the most dreaded enemy our Indians had, on account of their great numbers. They quartered them at Galena, and tried to get them in the contest, but did not succeed, they being too cowardly to attack the Sauks and Foxes when they were armed, and they quietly slipped away in the night.
Now I have the most unpleasant part of my story to tell. After the Indians had crossed the river, and were almost defenceless, having lost most all their guns and amunition in crossing the river, our army put a band of these merciless Sioux on their trail, who, knowing how perfectly helpless they were, were glad of the opportunity to destroy them. I will give the account of this terrible massacre as given by a squaw, who had lived with a white man by the name of Nathan Smith. I knew them both well.
She said her brother, by the name of Wishita, a fine looking man, and a chief of considerable standing, was wounded while crossing the Mississippi, but he, with great exertion, reached the western
shore. Here the bank being steep, she tried to get him out, but could not succeed, and was obliged to leave him behind her on account of her company, which was already in advance of her.
She had crossed the river on a pony, carrying her child, about a year old, before her. They hurried on, fearing an attack of our army, or an attack of the Sioux, as they were now in their country. They had traveled that day and night, and until the latter part of the next day, without food, when they succeeded in killing some game, and camped for the night. That night, they, for the first time in many weary days and nights, had plenty to eat. They had camped in a valley, and the morning was very foggy. They had eaten an early breakfast, and were about starting on their journey, she just mounting her horse, when the Sioux, with a great noise, whooping and yelling, broke into their camp, killing large numbers of them regardless of age or sex.
She rode off as fast as her horse could possibly go, carrying her child before her. She said the motion of her horse was so hard on her child, she thought for some time it was dead, and looked for some thick bush or weeds that she could throw it in to hide it from the Sioux.
She knew by keeping a southern course it would bring her to her friends.
After traveling more than two hundred miles without another human being save her child, without food, and expecting hourly to he overtaken by her enemies, she at last found a trail where Keokuk had been out on a buffalo hunt. Following this trail, it brought her to the Indian village on the Iowa river.
This last battle fought on the Mississippi, was the noted battle of Bad Axe, and Black Hawk, feeling that he and his people were thoroughly overcome, did not cross the river, but went up the river and gave himself up to the Winnebagoes, who brought him a prisoner to Prairie du Chien. Black Hawk's son, Seoskuk, Neapope, Pashpahaw, the stabbing chief, and several of the principal men, accompanied him to prison. They were sent to Washington about the latter part of the summer, where they remained until the next spring, when they were set at liberty and started on their return home, passing through New York City. President Jackson and a party of friends happened to be with Black Hawk on their way to New York, and General Jackson's friends complained that the Indians diverted the attention of the people too much from the President.
There was a great demonstration in New York at that time, and the Indians received much attention. Many of the ladies kissed Seoskuk, which was a
matter of little comment, as one rarely meets so fine a specimen of humanity in a life-time. The ladies took their rings off from their fingers and gave them to the Indians. Black Hawk showed me some of the rings, and said he had fifty just as fine.
From New York they went by the canal to Buffalo, through the lake to Green Bay, up the Fox river, down the Wisconsin to its mouth, and down the Mississippi to Rock Island. Here, fortunately, I happened to meet Black Hawk, and he was unusually talkative. He told me of their trip to Washington, of the crowds of people they saw in New York, and showed me some of the many presents he had received on the journey. He told me of the great wonder of seeing a man go up in a balloon, He said the man had a great knife in his hand (meaning a sword), which he waved back and forth, and then he went up, up, up, and looking and pointing up, he said, "Panoche! panoche!" meaning a great way off. He was in good spirits, expecting to reach his family the next day.
Major Garland, of the army, under whose charge they had traveled, being instructed to secure a kind reception for them from their nation, sent a messenger to advise Keokuk of their arrival. Keokuk was encamped on the Iowa shore of the river, about twenty miles below, and although Black Hawk and
his party were his enemies, he determined to give them a respectful and cordial reception. A message was returned to that effect, and at noon the following day the dull sound of the Indian drum proclaimed the approach of the chief. He, with his three wives, in two canoes lashed together with a canopy over them, followed by many of his braves, came up the river to the foot of the island, and then landed on the right bank, where they remained painting and dressing themselves for some time.
Keokuk, followed by his braves, crossed the river, and before coming to Black Hawk's camp, said to them: " The Great Spirit has sent our brothers back; let us shake hands in friendship." On reaching the spot were Black Hawk and his friends were encamped, they found them seated in front of their tent, silent and motionless doubtful, perhaps, of the reception that would be given them. Keokuk extended his hand to Black Hawk, and then to the rest of his party, without speaking, his followers imitating his example, and then the whole company seated themselves on the ground. No one spoke, each waiting until the chief should break the silence. After about fifteen minutes, Keokuk asked Black Hawk how long he had been on the way, adding that he had been expecting him, and was on his way to meet him when he heard of his arrival. The
next day, in the council, Black Hawk thanked Major Garland for his kindess. He said: "I and my son, and all our party, thank our Great Father for what he has done. He is old, I am old; we shall soon go to the Great Spirit, and be at rest. He sent us through his great villages. We saw many white men, and were kindly treated. We thank them say to them we thank them. We thank you for traveling with us. Your path was long and crooked. We never saw so many white men before; but when with you we felt as safe as if among friends. When you come to the Mississippi again you shall come to my lodges; now I have none. On your road home you will pass where our village once was. No one lives there now all are gone. I give you my hand; we may never meet again, but we shall remember you. The Great Spirit will be with you and your wives and children. I will shake hands with my brethren here, and then I am done." Black Hawk thanked Keokuk and his nation for their attention to his wife and children, as they had given them shelter when they had none, and had protected them while he was far away. He felt happy to have escaped with so slight punishment, as when he gave himself up he hardly knew what would be the result. It must have been quite humiliating to the old man to
have to yield up all his rights as head of the nation to a young man like Keokuk. Sad must have been his heart when he said, "I will listen to Keokuk. I will soon be far away, where I shall have no village, no band I shall be alone." Still, we must admire the generous course Keokuk pursued with him, when, in after years, they took a trip together, taking in their course all the principal eastern cities.
They, with other Indians, were sitting in council in the presence of the Secretary of War, when Keokuk arose and said: " There is one here who does not belong to the council, but he has been accustomed to sit with us at home, and is our friend; we have brought him here with us, and hope he will be welcome."
Black Hawk lived until the year 1838, when he died on the third of October at his village on the Des Moines river, and his body was disposed of, at his special request, after the manner of the chiefs of his tribe. He was placed upon the ground in a sitting posture, his hands grasping his cane. They usually made a shallow hole in the ground, setting the body in up to the waist, so the most of the body was above ground. The part above ground was then covered by a buffalo robe, and a trench about eight feet square was dug about the grave. In this trench they set picketing about eight feet high,
which secured the grave against wild animals. Notlong after Black Hawk died, some one, more troubled with phrenology than reverence, took his head and carried it away, which so distressed his family that his sons came into Burlington to Gov. Lucas, who was then Governor of the territory of Iowa, to see if the government would not have it restored to them. But they did not succeed in getting it.
When I first came here there were quite a number of these high picketings still standing, where their chiefs had been buried, and the body of a chief was disposed of in this way while I lived near their village. The common mode of burial was to dig a shallow grave, wrap the body in a blanket, place it in the grave, and fill it nearly full of dirt; then take split sticks about three feet long and stand them in the grave so that their tops would come together in the form of a roof; then they filled in more earth so as to hold the sticks in place. I saw a father and mother start out alone to bury their child, about a year old. They carried it by tying it up in a blanket, and putting a long stick through the blanket, each taking an end of the stick. I have also seen the dead bodies placed in trees. This is done by digging a trough out of a log, placing the body in it and covering it. I have seen several bodies in one tree. I
think when they are disposed of in this way it is by special request, as I knew of an Indian woman who lived with a white family, who desired her body placed in a tree, which was accordingly done. Doubtless there was some particular superstition attached to this mode, though I do not remember to have heard what it was.
Our nearest neighbor living fifty miles south-east from here, on the old mining road leading from Beardstown to Galena, where the road crossed Henderson river, was an old man by the name of Atwood, an Englishman by birth. I do not consider him a fair representative of an Old Settler, but as many who lived here in early times have come in contact with him I cannot forbear to give him a passing notice. He said he was a lord in England, and when he took ship for America great, crowds of people gathered to see him safely started. His fame had reached New York in advance of his arrival, and large numbers were gathered kneeling on the shore to receive him. He told them to stand up, as he was only a man. Mr. Atwood's settlement there was a year or two before, ours here, so we had occasion to do some trading with him in his farm products. After a few months traffic with him he sent, us word that be had all the paper money he could secrete, and, as paper money was liable to be stolen or burned up, if we
continued to trade with him we would have to bring either gold or silver, which he could bury in the ground. In stopping with him he told me of a remarkable cure he had performed upon a man where gangrene bad set in. Among a great many eminent physicians who had visited this man and given him up as incurable, was Dr. Franklin. I said to him that I did not know that Dr. Franklin practiced medicine. His wife spoke up and said: "Yes he did, all through North Carolina, where I lived." I asked the old man how many hogs he had. He hesitated some time, and began to make excuses. His hogs "had strayed away and were lost the Indians had killed a good many and now he only had about seven hundred left." There was not seven hundred hogs within twenty miles of him. One of his neighbors by the name of McGee, a blacksmith, was at work in his shop at a very difficult job. Being a good deal plagued with his work, the old man came in and began telling some of his long yarns, when McGee stopped his work, and addressed the old man in this way: "I make it a practice to believe some men because they tell the truth, others to accommodate them, but," bringing out an oath, said, "I won't believe you upon any consideration." He said he was not troubled again for a long time with the old man. His neighbors said they had
calculated the time it would take to do the different things he had done, and the different places he had lived, and the number of years he had stayed in each place, and ascertained he was over a thousand years old, being the oldest man we have any record of.
I now feel it not only a duty, but a great pleasure, to make some mention of the old settlers of Rock Island county. I came to the state at such an early day, and traveled over it so extensively, making my home at two different times in very new parts of the state, that I had a great opportunity of judging of frontier life, and of frontier men. Of all my knowledge of the settlement of the state, our old settlers were the most intelligent and best informed of any who came under my notice. There have been some statements made about us, which have had a large circulation, in regard to our abusing the Indians, and whipping their Women, which are basely false, or if not, never came under my notice. Our relation to the Indians, after the first summer, was very peculiar. We having had a good title to our lands from the government, felt we were entitled to be protected in our rights, while the Indians claimed the lands to be theirs with just as much assurance. Under such conflicting circumstances, losing the greater part of our crops, being
compelled, a part, of the time, to stay in the fort for safety, we lived almost three seasons together without any serious outbreak among us, which seems to me to be flattering to both whites and Indians. I feel that the Old Settlers of Rock Island county are very nearly related to me. Our privations and hardships brought us very near to each other, and I cannot but sympathize in the sorrows of each Old Settler, and rejoice in their well doing.
Spencer, J. W. Reminiscences of Pioneer Life in the Mississippi Valley . Davenport: Griggs, Watson and Day, 1872. [format: book], [genre: memoir]. Permission: Schingoethe Center for Native American Cultures, Aurora University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=spencer.html