BLACK HAWK AND KEOKUK
BLACK HAWK'S EARLY YEARS
Black Hawk was born in 1767 in a Sac
village that was located on the north bank of the Rock River, in
Illinois, about four miles from the present city of Davenport, Iowa.
His father, Pyesa, was a medicine man. Black Hawk himself was not
born a chief but became one because he was a great fighter. He went
on his first war party when he was fifteen years old and wounded an
enemy. After that he was allowed to wear feathers and to paint his
face. He killed his first enemy when he was sixteen and after that
he killed many people. In the story of his life he tells of killing
a number of Indian women and children as well as men.
BLACK HAWK'S FATHER KILLED
Black Hawk, while still a young man,
was known to be very brave and cruel. He wanted war and liked to
tell about his fighting. He became the leader of a group of young
braves. This group, for no reason except that they liked to fight,
several times attacked the Osage Indian tribe. When the Sacs and
Osages agreed to a treaty of peace, Black Hawk and his young braves
decided to attack the Cherokee Indians. Pyesa, his father, thought
that this would be too long a trip for young men to take alone, so
he went with them. They met the Cherokees south of St. Louis,
Missouri, and killed twenty-eight of them. Only seven Sacs were
killed, but Pyesa was one of them. Black Hawk says, "I now fell
heir to the great medicine bag of my forefathers, which had belonged
to my father. I took it, buried our dead, and returned with my
party, all sad and sorrowful, to our village, in consequence of the
loss of my father. Owing to this misfortune, I blacked my face,
fasted, and prayed to the Great Spirit for five years - during which
time I remained at peace, hunting and fishing."
Although the Cherokees had killed
Pyesa in self-defense, it made Black Hawk angry and several years
later he again led a war party against them. He says, "The loss of
my father, by the Cherokees, made me anxious to avenge his death, by
the annihilation, if possible, of all their race. I accordingly
commenced recruiting another party to go against them. Having
succeeded in this, I started with my party and went into their
country, but found only five of their people, whom I took prisoners.
I afterwards released four men - the other, a young squaw, we
brought home. Great as was my hatred for this people, I could not
kill so small a party."
JOINS BRITISH AGAINST
The British made friends with Black
Hawk while he was still a young man. He listened to the English
traders and took presents from them. They told him that the
Americans were terrible people and that they were trying to rob the
Black Hawk joined forces with the
British in the War of 1812. He was made an aide to the great chief,
Tecumseh, but was disappointed because he was not made head war
chief himself. When the war was over and the British were defeated
in the Northwest Territory, Black Hawk was greatly discouraged. He
hated the Americans worse than ever but said of them: "The American
fought well, and drove us with considerable loss! I was surprised
at this, as I had been told that the Americans could not fight!"
Black Hawk deserted the British near
Detroit. He said, "I was now tired of being with them- our success
being bad and having gotten no plunder." It is said that he cried
when the British lost the war.
MANY AMERICANS KILLED
Brigade Major Campbell held a council
with Black Hawk on Rock Island, near Davenport, in July, 1814. The
chief took presents from the Americans and promised not to help the
British or to make trouble for Campbell's troops. That night he
heard that the British had captured Fort Shelby at Prairie du Chien.
"I immediately started," Black Hawk said, "with my party by land
in pursuit, thinking that some of their boats might get aground or
that the Great Spirit would put them in our power, if he wished them
taken and their people killed." Unfortunately for the Americans,
the Indian war party found them and killed many of them.
DID NOT RECOGNIZE
The old chief made his last stand
against the Americans in the Black Hawk War of 1832. The five head
chiefs of the Sac and Fox tribes had, in 1804, sold all their lands
east of the Mississippi. Black Hawk, then a minor chief, refused to
recognize the treaty. Later he signed two other treaties in which
the treaty of 1804 was not recognized.
The white men and the Indians both
broke their agreements. Settlers, for instance, moved in before the
land was surveyed. The Indians of Black Hawk's tribe later refused
to move out as they had agreed to do. The whites plowed up a sacred
Indian burial ground. The Indians burned the settlers' crops. Each
side, in fact, seemed to do everything it could to make the other
side angry. The settlers wanted to make the Indians move out and
the Indians wanted to stay as long as they could.
THE BLACK HAWK WAR
Pashepaho and Keokuk, head chiefs of
the Sacs, and Wapello, head chief of the Foxes, peacefully moved
their tribes of several thousand Indians to the west bank of the
Mississippi, near Davenport. They asked Black Hawk to come with
them. He refused and with about eight hundred Indians stayed behind
to make trouble for the white settlers. It was what this group of
Indians under Black Hawk did that started the Black Hawk War.
Black Hawk tried to get all of the Sac
warriors to fight the white people. Keokuk, the Sac chief who did
not want to go to war, was a great orator. He told the braves that
they had better kill all their women and children before they went
because they would never return from a war with the whites. Then
nearly all the warriors stayed with Keokuk and remained peaceful.
Black Hawk then got some braves from
the Winnebago, Pottawatomie, Fox, and Kickapoo tribes to join him.
He had, altogether, a force of nearly two thousand Indians. These
braves helped Black Hawk in his war against the white people.
The war ended with the Battle of Bad
Axe. The Indians were defeated and the old chief was taken
prisoner. He was sent to St. Louis and from there to Washington and
other eastern cities. At Washington he met the President. The
Government returned him to Iowa and made Keokuk head chief of all
Sac and Fox tribes. This made Black Hawk sad because he hated
In his last public address at Fort
Madison, July fourth, 1838, Black Hawk said, "I liked my towns, my
cornfields, and the home of my people. I fought for it. It is now
yours-keep it as we did-it will produce you good crops," and "I
have looked upon the Mississippi since I have been a child. I love
the Great River."
HIS LAST YEARS
Black Hawk spent the last few years of
his life quietly. He lived with his family in a cabin on the lower
Des Moines River. He died in 1838 and was buried near his home.
The Indians dressed him in a soldier's uniform that was given to
him by President Jackson. His body was put on top of the ground
with boards and sod over it. Later, his bones were stolen from the
grave by white men but were recovered and put in a museum at
Burlington. There they were burned when the building was destroyed
KEOKUK, THE GREAT
Keokuk, called the "watchful fox," was
also a Sac chief. He was thirteen years younger than Black Hawk.
Keokuk also became a great warrior but it was as a speaker and a
thinker that he became most famous. He said it was better for the
Indians to sell their lands to the white people than to fight
against them. He was a friend of the Americans. After the Black
Hawk War, Keokuk was made head chief of all the Sac and Fox tribes
and Black Hawk was put under his care.
While Black Hawk may seem to have been
only a cruel warrior, he also had many good traits. He was brave and
fearless and always loyal to his own people. He never became a
drunkard as did many Indian chiefs. He had only one wife and was
devoted to his family.
Keokuk was fond of pomp and display.
He liked to have his three or four wives beautifully dressed and go
with him among the Indians. He was fond of horses and of dancing.
Unfortunately, he was fond of whisky too, and became a heavy