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Our Iowa, Its Beginning and Growth

Herbert L. Moeller and Hugh C. Mueller

New York, Newsom and Company


Transcribed by Debbie Gerischer & Kaylee Bopp




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, 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."


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 Indians.

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.


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.


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.


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 Keokuk.

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."


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 by fire.


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 drinker.


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