Chief Black Hawk

Chief Black Hawk

Black Hawk (1767-1838). The American Indian chief of the Sauk tribe, Black Hawk was the leader of the last war against white settlers in the Northwest Territory. He had a band of about 1,000 followers, many of whom were women, old men, and children.

Black Hawk was born in a Sauk village near the mouth of the Rock River in Illinois. In the War of 1812 he was recruited by the British to fight against the United States government. The Indians’ grievances increased after the war as settlers continued to take over their fields and homes.

In 1804 several members of the Sauk and Fox tribes had signed a treaty ceding all their lands east of the Mississippi River to the United States. Under Chief Keokuk, some of the Indians moved across the river to Iowa, but Black Hawk claimed the treaty was not valid. Forced to move in 1831, Black Hawk led his warriors and their families back into Illinois the following spring. American troops, aided by the Illinois militia, set out after them, and fighting soon broke out. Other tribes failed to help Black Hawk’s band, and it was crushed in August.

Black Hawk was imprisoned for a time and then was taken East, where he met President Andrew Jackson. Later he was allowed to return to Iowa. His autobiography, dictated to a government interpreter, is an American classic. He died in Iowa in 1838.

Black Hawk War

The Black Hawk War (1832) was the last major Indian-white conflict east of the Mississippi River. In 1804 representatives of the Sauk and Fox tribes signed a treaty abandoning all claims to land in Illinois. Although expected to remove to Iowa, they were permitted to remain east of the Mississippi until their former lands were sold. The Sauk leader, Black Hawk (1767-1838), opposed the treaty and rose to prominence when he fought for the British during the War of 1812.

When the Indians were finally ordered into Iowa in 1828, Black Hawk sought in vain to create an anti-American alliance with the Winnebago, Potawatomi, and Kickapoo. In 1829, 1830, and 1831, Black Hawk’s band returned across the Mississippi for spring planting, frightening the whites. When the Indians returned in 1832, a military force was organized to repulse them.

For 15 weeks Black Hawk was pursued into Wisconsin and then westward toward the Mississippi. He received no substantial support from other tribes, some of which even aided in his pursuit. On Aug. 3, 1832, the remnants of his band were attacked as they attempted to flee across the river and were virtually annihilated. Black Hawk escaped but soon surrendered. Imprisoned for a short time, he later settled in a Sauk village on the Des Moines River.

Bibliography:

  • Black Hawk, Life of Black Hawk (1833; repr. 1994);
  • Nichols, Roger, Black Hawk and the Warrior’s Path (1992);
  • Stevens, Frank, The Black Hawk War (1993);
  • Whitney, Ellen, ed., The Black Hawk War, 2 vols. (1970-78).