Elijah Kilbourne's Account
by Jennifer Erbach
Several years before the Black Hawk War, Elijah Kilbourne had been captured by Black Hawk's tribe and, according to their customs, adopted as one of Black Hawk's sons. He lived with the Sac tribe for a while, then escaped. He was part of Major Stillman's company during the incident known as "Stillman's Run."
"Many years after this I was a participant in the battle at Sycamore Creek, which, as you know, is a tributary of Rock river. I was employed by the government as a scout, in which capacity it was acknowledged that I had no superior; but I felt no pride in hearing myself praised, for I knew I was working against Black Hawk, who, although he was an Indian, had once spared my life, and I was one never to forget a kindness. And besides this I had taken a great liking to him, for there was something' noble and generous in his nature. However, my first duty was to my country, and I did my duty at all hazards.
"Now you must know that Black Hawk, after moving west of the Mississippi, had recrossed, contrary to his agreement, not, however, from any hostile motive, but to raise a crop of corn and beans with the Pottowattomies and Winnebagoes, of which his own people stood in the utmost need. With this intention he had gone some distance up Rock river, when an express from General Atkinson ordered him peremptorily to return. This order the old chief refused to obey, saying that the General had no right to issue it. A second express from Atkinson threatened Black Hawk that if he did not return peaceably, force would be resorted to. The aged warrior became incensed at this and utterly refused to obey the mandate, but at the same time sent word to the General that he would not be the first one to commence hostilities.
"The movement of the renowned warrior was immediately trumpeted abroad as an invasion of the State, and with more rashness than wisdom, Governor Reynolds ordered the Illinois militia to take the field, and these were joined by the regulars, under General Atkinson, at Rock Island. Major Stillman, having under his command two hundred and seventy-five mounted men, the chief part of
whom were volunteers, while a few like myself were regular scouts, obtained leave of General Whitesides, then lying at Dixon's Ferry, to go on a scouting expedition.
"I knew well what would follow; but still, as I was under orders, I was obliged to obey, and together with the rest proceeded some thirty miles up Rock river to where Sycamore creek empties into it. This brought us to within six or eight miles of the camp of Black Hawk, who, on that day—May 14th—was engaged in preparing a dog feast for the purpose of fitly celebrating a contemplated visit of some Pottawattomie chiefs.
"Soon after preparing to camp we saw three Indians approach us bearing a white flag; and these, upon coming up, were made prisoners. A second deputation of five were pursued by some twenty of our mounted militia, and two of them killed, while the other three escaped. One of the party that bore the white flag was, out of the most cowardly vindictiveness, shot down while standing a prisoner in camp. The whole detachment, after these atrocities, now bore down upon the camp of Black Hawk, whose braves, with the exception of some forty or fifty, were away at a distance.
"As we rode up, a galling and destructive fire was poured in upon us by the savages, who, after discharging their guns, sprung from their coverts on either side, with their usual horrible yells, and continued the attack with their tomahawks and knives. My comrades fell around me like leaves; and happening to cast my eyes behind me, I beheld the whole detachment of militia flying from the field. Some four or five of us were left unsupported in the very midst of the foe, who, renewing their yells, rushed down upon us in a body. Gideon Munson and myself were taken prisoners, while others were instantly tomahawked and scalped. Munson, during the afternoon, seeing, as he
supposed, a good opportunity to escape, recklessly attempted to do so, but was immediately shot down by his captor. And I now began to wish that they would serve me in the same manner, for I knew that if recognized by the savages, I should be put to death by the most horrible tortures. Nothing occurred, however, to give me any real uneasiness upon this point till the following morning, when Black Hawk, passing by me, turned and eyed me keenly for a moment or so. Then, stepping close to me, he said in a low tone: `Does the mole think that Black Hawk forgets?'
"Stepping away with a dignified air, he now left me, as you may well suppose, bordering in despair, for I knew too well the Indian character to imagine for a single instant that my life would be spared under the circumstances. I had been adopted into the tribe by Black Hawk, had lived nearly three years among them, and by escaping had incurred their displeasure, which could only be appeased with my blood. Added to this, I was now taken prisoner at the very time that the passions of the savages were most highly wrought upon by the mean and cowardly conduct of the whites. I therefore gave up all hope, and doggedly determined to meet stoically my fate.
"Although the Indians passed and repassed me many times during the day, often bestowing on me a buffet or a kick, yet not one of them seemed to remember me as having formerly been one of the tribe. At times this infused me with a faint hope, which was always immediately after extinguished, as I recalled to mind my recognition by Black Hawk himself.
"Some two hours before sunset Black Hawk again came to where I was bound, and having loosened the cords with which I was fastened to a tree, my arms still remaining confined, bade me follow him. I immediately obeyed him, not knowing what was to be my doom, though I
expected none other than death by torture. In silence we left the encampment, not one of the savages interfering with us or offering me the slightest harm or indignity. For nearly an hour we strode on through the gloomy forest, now and then starting from its retreat some wild animal that fled upon our approach. Arriving at a bend of the river my guide halted, and turning toward the sun, which was rapidly setting, he said, after a short pause:
"'I am going to send you back to your chief, though I ought to kill you for running away a long time ago, after I had adopted you as a son—but Black Hawk can forgive as well as fight. When you return to your chief I want you to tell him all my words. Tell him that Black Hawk's eyes have looked upon many suns, but they shall not see many more; and that his back is no longer straight, as in his youth, but is beginning to bend with age. The Great Spirit has whispered among the tree tops in the morning and evening and says that Black Hawk's days are few, and that he is wanted in the spirit land. He is half dead, his arm shakes and is no longer strong, and his feet are slow on the war path. Tell him all this, and tell him, too,' continued the untutored hero of the forest, with trembling emotion and marked emphasis, 'that Black Hawk would have been a friend to the whites, but they would not let him, and that the hatchet was dug up by themselves and not by the Indians. Tell your chief that Black Hawk meant no harm to the pale faces when he came across the Mississippi, but came peaceably to raise corn for his starving women and children, and that even then he would have gone back, but when he sent his white flag the braves who carried it were treated like squaws and one of them inhumanly shot. Tell him too,' he concluded with terrible force, while his eyes fairly flashed fire, `that Black Hawk will have revenge, and that he will never stop until the Great Spirit shall say to him, come away.'
Black Hawk. LeClair, Antoine, interpreter; Patterson, J.B., editor , Autobiography of Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak, or Black Hawk, Embracing the Traditions of his Nation, Various Wars in Which He Has Been Engaged, and His Account of the Cause and General History of the Black Hawk War of 1832, His Surrender, and Travels Through the United States. Also Life, Death and Burial of the Old Chief, Together with a History of the Black Hawk War (Oquawka, IL: J. B. Patterson) p 163-166.
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