See his autobiography (1833; ed. by D. Jackson, 1955); C. Cole, I Am a Man: The Indian Black Hawk (1938).
The Black Hawk War was fought in 1832 in the Midwestern United States. The war was named for Black Hawk, a war chief of the Sauk, Fox, and Kickapoo Native Americans, whose British Band fought against the United States Army and militia from Illinois and the Michigan Territory (present-day Wisconsin) for possession of lands in the area.
In 1804, William Henry Harrison, Governor of Indiana Territory (which then included what would become Illinois), negotiated a treaty in St. Louis, Missouri with a group of Sauk and Fox leaders, in which they ceded lands east of the Mississippi in exchange for $1,000 per year and the condition that the tribes could continue to reside there until the land was surveyed and sold by the U.S. government. It was Article 2 which ceded the land to the United States "forever," and raised the ire of the Sauk and Fox tribes. This treaty was subsequently disputed by Black Hawk and other members of the tribes, since the full tribal councils had not been consulted, nor did those representing the tribes have authorization to cede lands. After the War of 1812, in which Black Hawk had fought against the U.S., he signed a peace treaty in May 1816 that re-affirmed the treaty of 1804, a provision of which Black Hawk later protested ignorance. While Black Hawk was away during the War of 1812, Keokuk had risen in prominence, and the two men became rivals.
The white population of Illinois exploded after the War of 1812, exceeding 50,000 in 1820 and 150,000 in 1830. In 1825, thirteen Sauk and six Fox signed another agreement re-affirming the 1804 treaty. In 1828, the U.S. government liaison, Thomas Forsyth, informed the tribes that they should begin vacating their settlements east of the Mississippi.
On July 15, 1830, U.S. Indian Commissioner William Clark signed another treaty with Sauk and Fox leaders, among other tribes, at Fort Crawford in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. The treaty ceded about 26,500,000 acres (107,000 km²) of Sauk land east of the Mississippi to the government of the United States. It also created a "Neutral Ground" boundary between the Sauk and Foxes and their traditional enemies, the Sioux, for the purpose of preventing future hostilities between the tribes. The treaty was signed by Keokuk, and in November 1830 was approved by the Dakota Sioux.
The land ceded in the treaty included the village of Saukenuk, but Black Hawk did not sanction the sale of this land and was determined to remain in his village. Despite opposition by Keokuk and the US authorities, Black Hawk's band returned to Saukenok in 1830 following their winter hunting. After a year of tension, they returned again in 1831, and Illinois Governor John Reynolds proclaimed it an "invasion of the state."
Responding to Governor Reynolds's call, General Edmund Pendleton Gaines brought his federal troops from St. Louis, Missouri to Saukenuk to insist upon Black Hawk's immediate departure. Black Hawk left but soon returned, remaining west of the Mississippi. He was threatened by Gaines' troops and an additional 1,400 militia called up by Reynolds on June 25, 1831. On June 30, Black Hawk and the chiefs of the so-called "British Band" were forced to sign a surrender agreement in which they promised to remain west of the Mississippi.
On 5 April 1832, chafing under the rule of Keokuk, Black Hawk and his group of 1,000 returned to Illinois. Ho-Chunk prophet White Cloud contributed to the outbreak of war by promising Black Hawk the support of the Ho-Chunk Nation, when in fact he could only speak for his own tribe. Black Hawk was also misled by another ally, Neapope, who promised British aid. Reynolds issued a proclamation on 16 April, mustering five brigades of volunteers to form at Beardstown and to head north to force Black Hawk out of Illinois. Although one-half of all the federal troops of the United States Army were eventually involved in the conflict, the 9,000 volunteers from the Illinois Militia provided the majority of the U.S. combatants.
Black Hawk's British Band was composed of about 500 warriors and 1,000 old men, women and children when they crossed the Mississippi on April 5. The group comprised members of the Sauk, Fox and Kickapoo Nations. They crossed near the mouth of the Iowa River and then followed the Rock River northeast. Along the way they passed the ruins of Saukenuk and headed for the village of the Ho-Chunk prophet White Cloud.
Brevet Brigadier General Henry Atkinson was given charge of prosecuting the war. Federal authorities, along with Sauk and Fox tribal councils, ordered Black Hawk and his band to retreat west of the Mississippi, but they refused to leave. Soon after that, Black Hawk conferred with the Ho-Chunk and Potawatomi tribes and learned that none of the Illinois or Michigan tribes, or the British, would aid his band.
On 9 May, a small Illinois militia battalion began the pursuit of Black Hawk from the army's point of rendezvous on the Rock River at Dixon. On May 10, 1832 the militia burned the Prophet's Village. Upon hearing of this Black Hawk decided to return with his band to Iowa. Events at Stillman's Run prevented this and the Black Hawk War began.
The first confrontation occurred on May 14, 1832 and resulted in an unexpected victory for Black Hawk's band of Sauk and Fox warriors over the disorganized militiamen commanded by Isaiah Stillman. After a long march (the militia was mounted and followed by several supply wagons), the militiamen finally came into contact with Black Hawk and his warriors north of the Kishwaukee River, near present day Stillman Valley. When the militia killed a member of a three-man parley sent by Black Hawk, he rallied 40 mounted warriors and attacked the militia camp at dusk. Though Stillman's men numbered about 275, cohesion quickly collapsed and they fled to Dixon's Ferry, 35 miles (56 km) away. During the encounter, 11 militiamen under John Giles Adams were killed.
Soon after the battle at Stillman's Run, an exaggerated claim of 2,000 "bloodthirsty warriors . . . sweeping all Northern Illinois with the bosom of destruction" sent shock waves of terror through the region. After the outbreak of hostilities, Black Hawk led many of the civilians in his band to safety in the Michigan Territory. On May 19, the militia traveled up the Rock River searching for Black Hawk. Several small skirmishes and massacres followed over the next month in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin before the militia regained public confidence through battles at Horseshoe Bend and Waddams Grove.
The war would see a number of small skirmishes and "massacres". On May 19, a six-man detail carrying dispatches from Colonel James M. Strode was ambushed by a party of Kickapoo near the settlement of Buffalo Grove, Illinois in Ogle County. The ambush claimed one victim, William Durley, who was buried where he fell by Felix St. Vrain and his party as they marched to Galena. Two others present at the attack had bullet holes through their clothing but were not injured. In 1910 a memorial to Durley and the Buffalo Grove ambush was erected by the Polo, Illinois Historical Society. At that time Durley's remains were reinterred beneath the memorial.
One of the Black Hawk War's most famous and well publicized events was a peripheral event not directly connected to the war or Black Hawk and his "British Band." The Indian Creek massacre occurred two days after the incident in Buffalo, following a dispute between a local settler and a Potawatomi warrior over the damming of nearby Indian Creek. The young warrior, named Keewasee, recruited a group of warriors and attacked the William Davis settlement on the banks of the creek. The attack resulted in the murders of 15 men, women and children, most of whom were unarmed, though it is possible Davis may have killed one assailant before being felled himself. The victims were scalped and mutilated. In addition, two teenage girls were kidnapped and held until they were ransomed two weeks later and released at Fort Blue Mounds. Events surrounding the release of the girls would lead to two attacks at the fort in June. The incident at Indian Creek triggered panic among the white population, and many settlers fled to the safety of local forts. The Illinois Militia used the massacre to boost recruiting in Illinois and Kentucky. The same day as the massacre at Indian Creek, a settlement on the Plum River was raided by Sauk or Fox warriors. Though the encounter was bloodless, it was one of many incidents that contributed to the atmosphere of fear.
The St. Vrain massacre, a small skirmishes after Stillman's Run, took place near present-day Pearl City, Illinois in Kellogg's Grove on May 24, 1832. The massacre was most likely perpetrated by Ho-Chunk warriors unaffiliated with Black Hawk's band. It is also unlikely they had the sanction of their nation. The victims were United States Indian Agent Felix St. Vrain and three of his companions. Some accounts indicated that St. Vrain's body was subjected to mutilation, and at least one claimed it had happened while he was still alive.
The massacre led to an unwarranted fear of all Native Americans in the area, even those friendly to the settlers. An example appears in an article published in the New Galenian on May 30, 1832. While it described the events of the massacre, it also associated the murders of St. Vrain and his companions with the Sauk and Fox of Keokuk's band.
Following these incidents, Governor Reynolds called up additional militia forces, raising their number to 4,000 men.
On May 27 and May 28, their one month enlistment being expired, Reynolds mustered the first of the militia out of service. The federal government then ordered General Winfield Scott's 1,000 regulars and 300 mounted volunteers into action. For the moment it looked as though Atkinson's role in the war would end soon, but a cholera epidemic struck much of the United States. Winfield Scott's troops would bring it over from the east into Illinois.
General Scott assembled a force of about 1,000 federal troops. They embarked on boats from Buffalo, New York, making their way towards Chicago. To wide-spread horror, cholera was reported among the troops. The expedition was doomed. Troops became ill, and many of them died. At each place the vessels landed, the sick were deposited and soldiers deserted.
Efforts to prevent the immediate spread of the illness into the population of the towns the expedition passed were largely successful as only 3 civilians died in the initial outbreak. However, later, in 1833 a larger-scale cholera epidemic affected large regions of the United States, its roots can be traced to the Scott expedition. By the time the expedition landed in Chicago, there were less than two hundred effective troops left. Scott felt the need to cancel his plans for an immediate march into the war zone. Instead he waited for reinforcements, supplies, and tended to his stricken men. Winfield Scott arrived too late for military action, but he played an important part in drafting the terms of peace.
Public confidence in the militia, eroded since the outbreak of hostilities at Stillman's Run, was still low when the month of June began. Small attacks and skirmishes continued to plague the frontier of southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. Though Fort Blue Mounds, in present-day Dane County, Wisconsin near the village of Blue Mounds, was never the site of a full-fledged battle or skirmish there were war-related events near the fort between June 6 and June 20. The first event killed a civilian miner, and area residents suspected Ho-Chunk warriors were responsible. This belief exacerbated the fear that more from the Ho-Chunk Nation were set to join Black Hawk's band against the white settlers in Michigan Territory and Illinois. The second incident was a full-fledged attack near Blue Mounds Fort by a raiding party estimated by eyewitnesses to be as large as 100 warriors. Two members of the militia were killed in that attack, one of whom was badly mutilated and missing a "part" when his body was found.
Another event, the Spafford Farm massacre, also known as the Wayne massacre, occurred on June 14, 1832 near present-day South Wayne, Wisconsin. A band of Native Americans attacked a group of 7 men working on the farm of Omri Spafford, 5 men, including Spafford, were killed. Two men escaped, one of them killing an attacker before individually making their way to Fort Hamilton. One of the men spent several days hiding in the forest because he was under the erroneous impression that the fort was being overtaken by friendly Menominee who had arrived around the same time.
The second half of June 1832 brought more battle; this time the militia would be dominant. After Colonel Henry Dodge was informed of the massacre at Spafford Farm he set out for Fort Hamilton Arriving at Fort Hamilton on June 16, Dodge gathered a force of 29 mounted volunteers and set out in pursuit of the band of Kickapoo warriors responsible for the massacre. They caught up with them at a bend in the Pecatonica River known as "Horseshoe Bend." The Battle of Horseshoe Bend was the first real victory for the militia and a major turning point in the conflict. The clash helped restore public confidence in the volunteer militia force.
The Black Hawk War also included two clashes at Kellogg's Grove, in present-day Stephenson County, Illinois. The first battle took place the same day as Dodge's clash with the Kickapoo, on June 16, 1832, and was really nothing more than a minor skirmish. Forces commanded by Adam W. Snyder fought with a band of about 80 Kickapoo warriors. During the fighting three militia members were killed and six Kickapoo warriors died.
The Battle of Waddams Grove, also called the Battle of Yellow Creek occurred on June 18, 1832 near Yellow Creek in present-day Stephenson County, Illinois. The fight became a bloody battle with bayonets and knives. Up to six Sauk, and three militia men under the command of James W. Stephenson were killed in action, while Stephenson was severely wounded during the battle by a musketball to the chest. The battle served to restore confidence in the militia within the population of the area, who were still afraid following the defeat at Stillman's Run. The dead militia men were eventually buried in a memorial cemetery in Kellogg's Grove, Illinois.
The Battle of Apple River Fort commenced on June 24, 1832 at the hastily constructed Apple River Fort, near present-day Elizabeth, Illinois. Approximately 150-200 Sauk and Fox warriors under the command of Black Hawk attacked the fort which was defended by about 25 militia. The militia, under the command of Captain Clack Stone, was shorthanded during the battle as most of the fort's detachment were not present. Fierce fighting ensued for at least 45 minutes with both sides exchanging heavy gunfire. Inside the fort, the people of the nearby settlement had taken refuge. One woman, Elizabeth Armstrong was singled out for her bravery after the battle. She rallied the fort's women to assist during the battle by making musketballs and reloading weapons. Believing the fort to be more heavily defended than it was, Black Hawk and his band eventually retreated.
The second, and larger, Battle of Kellogg's Grove commenced on June 25, 1832 when forces commanded by Major John Dement met and fought with a large band of Native Americans at the grove. The Native forces, under the command of Black Hawk mounted an unrelenting attack during which 25 horses and five militia men were killed and at least of nine of Black Hawk's band died.
On July 21, 1832 Illinois and Wisconsin militia men under the command of Generals Henry Dodge and James D. Henry caught up with Black Hawk's British Band near present-day Sauk City, Wisconsin. The clash became known as the Battle of Wisconsin Heights. Militarily, the battle was devastating for Black Hawk's band of warriors; including those who drowned during the melee, casualty estimates climbed as high as 70. Despite the relatively high casualties the battle did serve to allow much of the band, including many women and children, to escape across the Wisconsin River. The reprieve was temporary for the group of Sauk and Fox, the militia would eventually catch up with them at the mouth of the Bad Axe River resulting in the decisive battle of the war.
The Battle of Bad Axe, also known as the Bad Axe Massacre, occurred 1–2 August, 1832, between Sauk (Sac) and Fox Indians and United States Army regulars and militia. This final battle of the Black Hawk War took place near present-day Victory, Wisconsin in the United States. It marked the end of the war between white settlers and militia in Illinois and Michigan Territory, and the Sauk and Fox tribes under Chief Black Hawk.
The battle occurred in the aftermath of the Battle of Wisconsin Heights, as Black Hawk's band fled the pursuing militia. The militia caught up with them on the eastern bank of the Mississippi, a few miles downstream from the mouth of the Bad Axe River. The battle that followed was very one-sided; historians have been calling it a massacre since the 1850s. The fighting took place over two days, with the Warrior steamboat present on both days. By the second day, Black Hawk and most of the Native American commanders had fled, though many of the band stayed behind. The victory for the United States was decisive and the end of the war allowed much of Illinois and present-day Wisconsin to be opened for further settlement. Chase was a big influence in Illinois because he planted many trees at Sunset Ridge School.
The Black Hawk War was similar to other frontier wars fought in the United States in that in provided a boost to several political careers. Besides the notable involvement of Lincoln and Davis, four Illinois governors served during the war: Thomas Ford, John Wood, Joseph Duncan and Thomas Carlin. The conflict also helped in the political careers of a future governor in both Michigan and Nebraska as well as boosting at least 7 U.S. Senators. In 1836, Henry Dodge was appointed governor of the Wisconsin Territory.
Henry Atkinson, however, did not fare as well following the war and spent the last decade of his life at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis. Most of those affiliated with the conflict, subordinates and superiors believed that Atkinson had handled the prosecution of the war badly. U.S. President Andrew Jackson was looking for someone to blame for the conflict even as it was ongoing. After the war Congressional reports glossed over Atkinson's failings but privately others still criticized him. Zachary Taylor stated he believed that had Atkinson's regulars met with Black Hawk in the war's first battle instead of the militia under Isaiah Stillman the war could have ended without a single shot being fired. Historians generally believe that a more decisive action by General Atkinson, charged with prosecuting the war, in stopping Black Hawk's Band from moving up the Rock River may have prevented the war. Zachary Taylor made similar observations shortly after the war ended.