The Black Hawk War

Black Hawk
Black Hawk

A treaty was made and executed at St. Louis in 1804, between Gen. Harrison and five Indian chiefs or head men representing the united tribes of Sacs and Foxes which ceded a vast tract of country west of the Illinois river to the United States. This treaty was ratified in 1815, 1816 and also in 1822. Black Hawk, who was the chief of a band of Sacs, always resisted the treaty, and refused to accede to its terms.

Black Hawk's village had been situated on the point of land between the Mississippi and Rock rivers at their junction, a little below the site of Rock Island until it was sold by the Unites States government to white settlers. In the spring of 1831, Black Hawk re-crossed the river with three hundred warriors, determined to regain his ancient village and hunting-grounds. He ordered the white settlers to leave, with threats of death if they remained. Complaints were sent to Governor Reynolds, who called out a volunteer force to join General Gaines, then in command of the regular army in the West. Fifteen hundred volunteers were sent from Beardstown to join General Gaines' army at Rock Island.

Black Hawk were frightened into peace by such an overwhelming force. On the 30th of June, a treaty was concluded at Fort Armstrong, on Rock Island, in which the treaty of 1804 was recognized, and the chiefs and braves of the band agreed never "to re-cross said river to the place of their usual residence, nor to any part of their old hunting-ground east of the Mississippi, without the express permission of the President of the United States or the Governor of the State of Illinois." The volunteers burned the deserted Indian village and the campaign of 1831 was over.

Early the next spring of 1832, Black Hawk, influenced by his counsels and the invitations of "the Prophet," a Winnebago chief who had a village on Rock river, some thirty miles above its mouth, came across the Mississippi again, in direct violation of the treaty. He expected that the Kickapoos, Pottawatamies, and Winnebagoes would join him; and he had been assured of an active co-operation on the part of his "British Father" at Malden, Canada. With these expectations, he marched confidently up the Rock river country, at the head of about five hundred warriors, accompanied by their women, children, and all their little wealth.

When information of Black Hawk's second invasion reached the Governor, a new call was made for volunteers, and promptly responded to by eighteen hundred men. General Whiteside and his new recruits pursued Black Hawks' band up Rock river. On the 5th of May, a mounted battalion commanded by Major Stillman, of Tazewell county, engaged in battle with Black Hawk at Old Man's Creek (Stillman's Run) in Ogle county, and was ingloriously defeated. Stillman's men fired upon a white flag sent out by Black Hawk, who wished to avoid a battle. It has been reported that the volunteers were intoxicated and disorderly. They rushed heedlessly into battle and when the Indians fought back, they retreated as fast as they rushed into battle.

Black Hawk's band of Indians now divided into squads to attack the scattered settlements. One of these war-parties, numbering about seventy, attacked a settlement on Indian Creek, ten miles above Ottawa, and killed fifteen people, carrying off two young girls into captivity. Several other murders were committed by the marauding Indians; and an additional force of two thousand volunteers was called out, to replace the first troops, who were discharged the last week in May. The new army marched toward Dixon, to join the United States force under General Atkinson.

Meanwhile an attack was made by Black Hawk and a band of Indians on the Apple River Fort, near Galena, which was successfully defended. Several skirmishes between the whites and Indians ensued, and the scene of war was transferred to Wisconsin in July.

Black Hawk and his starving warriors were tracked to Wisconsin, where they suffered a disastrous defeat. About sixty Indians were killed, and many wounded; the American loss was only one killed, and eight wounded.

Unable longer to resist, Black Hawk retreated to the Mississippi, which he attempted to cross. Before he could accomplish this, the battle (or rather massacre) of the Bad Axe nearly annihilated his band, and terminated this famous war. Black Hawk and several other chiefs were taken down to Jefferson Barracks, where a treaty was concluded September 21st, 1832.

For More Information On The Black Hawk War
Visit the Following Genealogy Trails County Sites

Bureau County, Illinois
Reminiscences of Bureau County by N. Matson. Chapters, 9, 10 and 11

LaSalle County, Illinois
John Hope Henderson and The Account of the Massacre at Indian Creek , LaSalle County, Illinois by Thomas J. Henderson
Putnam  and Marshall County, Illinois
Earliest Historical Facts of Marshall-Putnam Counties by Henry Ford - Chapter 5, the Black Hawk War

Rock Island County, Illinois
Reminiscences of Pioneer Life in the Mississippi Valley by J.W. Spencer

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©2007 Nancy Piper