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River Men



Part IV


~ Researched and Transcribed by Sue Rekkas

  Davenport Daily Republican, Sunday, September 1, 1901, page 9.




Cannon Ball Dug Up on Battle Island, on the Mississippi, Forty Miles Above Dubuque, Marks the Spot Where Black Hawk Stood With His Outposts, Displaying a Flag of Truce Which Was Greeted by the Crew of The Steamer Warrior With a Volley of Shot and Shell.


An imbedded cannon ball hurled forth from a throat of steel, sixty-nine years ago this month has just been dug up as a silent witness in the controversy as to the exact location of Black Hawk’s last hard battle, or rather as the position the great chieftain occupied with his outposts, attempting to display a flag of truce to the steamer Warrior which returned the request for mercy with a fulisade and cannon fire that killed 23 of the Red Men.  Silent and grim is this round iron witness, and it not only locates the disputed spot to a certainty, but it also tells the tale of a warfare that makes a black page upon the history of civilization.  It tells a story of almost total extermination of a tribe whose domain had been juggled away by a few drinks of fire water and a string of colored glass beads.


Cannon Balls Greet Flag of Truce.

This cannon ball was dug up on a knoll on Battle Island, 40 miles above Dubuque, just opposite the pavilion of the Battle Island assembly.  The Indians had taken up their position on a prominent hill so that their flag of peace could readily be seen by the whites.  It was August 1, 1832, and the old chieftain, Black Hawk, had been chased across Illinois and up into Wisconsin, and time and time again his small band had been refused the right to surrender.  Repeatedly the white flag had been displayed, and as often disregarded.  Finally Black Hawk and his men had discovered in their despair, the government steamer, Warrior, coming up the river.  The white flag of peace was made ready. But it only served to show the white men the location of the savages.  The firing began as soon as the identity of the chieftain was discovered.  Black Hawk, himself escaped, but his outposts were slain.  The next day came the memorable battle of Bad Axe, and in the general slaughter that followed, Black Hawk, his son Seoskuk, and other chiefs were made prisoners and brought down the river to Rock Island.


A Patriot or an Outlaw?

There is no denying the fact that the advancement of civilization made necessary the removal of the Sacs and Foxes from this vicinity.  And neither is the bravery of the young men who enlisted under the stars and stripes to serve in the Black Hawk war, to be disputed or denied.  But a bird’s eye view of the Black Hawk war, its causes and the methods employed in pursuing it, create a wholesome pity and sympathy for the old chieftain and a tender regard for the grief and sorrow that promoted his actions.  Black Haw was a savage, and was cruel as savages are cruel.  But he was not the monster that lapse of time and dim understanding have painted him.  That he was fighting to retain his land and his villages, should crown him with the laurels of a patriot instead of branding him with the mark of an outlaw.  Even outlaws in the present day are allowed the right to surrender to the authorities.


Bartered Land for Firewater.


From the storehouse of tradition comes the statement that the Sacs and Foxes came from the vicinity of Montreal, Canada, before the year 1700, and that they had lived in their villages at or near Rock Island fully 150 years.  The Jews could scarcely have had a greater affection for Jerusalem than these Indians for their villages.  But the white settlers began to invade the Mississippi valley and the great villages of the whites grew more numerous and more populous.  One day a Red Man murdered a white.  The murderer was taken to St. Louis to be tried and executed.  Two leading members of the tribe were sent from the Rock River villages to intercede for him.  They did not accomplish their purpose, but returned in a maudlin state, and not long after notice was served on Black Hawk that these two representatives of his tribe had signed a treaty selling off all the lands and villages for a paltry sum.


Black Hawk Denies The Sale.


Naturally Black Hawk refused to leave.  He and his braves pursued the usual course of annual expeditions to the lead mines and northern hunting grounds, and when they returned it was to find white settlers in possession of their villages, and growing crops upon their land.  This went on for several seasons, and finally Black Hawk gave notice that the whites must leave.  At a conference on Rock Island, Black Hawk insisted that “the land had not been sold, as the men who went to Saint Louis had no authority to sell, having been sent on other business.”  When the treaty that these men had signed was read to him, he grew angry and said, “The white people speak from a paper, but” he added, striking his hand upon his breast, “the Indian always speaks from the heart.”


But Black Hawk was driven from his villages and soon after signed a paper agreeing not to return to the Illinois side of the river.  Corn and supplies were promised the tribe.  But Black Hawk claim these promises were not made good, and he afterwards attempted to reoccupy his old villages on Rock River.  This precipitated what is known as the Black Hawk war.


Famous Men in the Conflict.

There were many brave young men who enlisted to fight in this war against the famous Indian.  The volunteers were commanded by General Whiteside, and Abraham Lincoln, afterwards president of the United States, held the rank of captain in this command and fought throughout the campaign.  The regular troops were under General Atkinson, colonel of the Sixth infantry, and famous members of his regiment were Lieutenant Colonel Zachary Taylor, afterwards president of the United States, and Lieutenant Jefferson Davis, afterwards president of the so-called Confederate States of America.  As stated above, the demands of advancing civilization made it absolutely necessary to drive the Indians from the vicinity, but nevertheless the manner in which the overwhelming forces of the whites literally crushed the Red Men, without giving them the rights they pitifully petitioned for with the square patch of white, will be something that historians would rather leave out.


Perkin’s Perverted History.


Without going exhaustively into the history of the war, an incident or two might be given showing how the history of these stirring events has been perverted.  Perkins in the “Annals of the West,” a leading work by one of the leading Western historians, calls the battles of Stillman’s Run, one of the memorable battles of the war.  Even at the present day a movement is on foot to erect a monument on the site of the battlefield. About 25 miles above Dixon, Illinois.  The account by Perkin’s, after speaking of the troops at Rock Island says: “Among the troops was a party of volunteers under Major Stillman, who on the 14th of May, was out upon a tour of observation, and close in the neighborhood of the savages.  On that evening having discovered a party of Indians, the whites galloped forward to attack the savage band, but were met with so much energy and determination that they took to their heels in utter consternation.  The whites were 175 in number, and the Indians from five to six hundred.  Of this party 25 followed the retreating battalion after night for several miles.  Eleven whites were killed and shockingly mangled, and several wounded.  Some four or five Indians were known to be killed.  This action was at Stillman’s Run in the eastern part of Ogle County, about 25 miles above Dixon.”  So much for the story as told by a reputed Historian.


Other side of Stillman’s Run.


But there is another side.  One member of the white party became separated from the rest just after the Indians had gone by and hid himself in a ravine until the pursuing Indians had gone by and returned.  He counted them going and coming, and when all had passed on the return he stole out of the ravine and followed the train of troops.  He found them in a state of consternation, and telling tales of being attacked by thousands of Indians.  When he declared that at no time were there more than 25 Indians in the attacking party he barely escaped rough treatment for his stories.  And yet there is no doubt the fleeing troops believed their statements were true.


Magnanimity of Black Hawk.


But the man’s statements are not unsupported.  Black Hawk tells a similar tale in his memoirs, but even they need not be taken as conclusive.  There happened to be in the service of the whites a scout who had for three years lived as a member of Black Hawk’s tribe.  As luck would have it this man was captured by the Indians, and he felt that no mercy would be granted him if recognized.  Black Hawk seemed to pay no attention to him at first, but finally when unobserved he walked up to the prisoner and made the brief remark, “Does the White Mole think that Black Hawk forgets?”  When an opportunity came the great chief released the prisoner, escorted him from the camp and assisted him on his way.  Years later the scout issued a signed statement of the occurrence, giving Black Hawk credit for the greatest magnanimity and kindness of heart, and classing him as one of the greatest braves and most intellectual Indians of his time.  And yet in Perkin’s perverted history is the statement, “Black Hawk cannot rank with Pontiac or Tecumseh; he fought for only revenge, and showed no intellectual power; but he was a fearless man.”


Claims Women Were Shot Down.


Black Hawk claims in his memories that at the Battle of Bad Axe, which followed the attempt to surrender himself to the crew of the steamer Warrior, the whites shot down his old men and defenseless women, while the latter, some with papooses on their backs, were swimming the Mississippi River.  The statement was undoubtedly induced by the attack upon the little band that stood under the flag of truce, for no American soldier, no matter how outlawed may be the game he was hunting, ever turned a weapon of death upon a woman simply for the purpose of revenge.  There were volunteers in the fight and it may be that in the excitement they failed to distinguish between the warriors and the women.  But the fact remained that the Indians were treated as outlaws.


Personal Attack by Perkins.

Perkins, in his “Annals of the West,” takes the position that the land in the vicinity of Black Hawk Tower had never belonged to the Sacs and Foxes, but had been taken by conquest.  Nevertheless for 150 years it had been the home of the combined tribes.  Fathers and sons had lived and died there; generations had come and gone and the associations and environments of the vicinity meant as much to the Red Men as the associations of a home in the sanctity of civilization.  Perkins also vents much spite upon the personal character of the warring chieftain, but again he is wrong, for the testimony of all those that came into contact with Black Hawk was to the effect he was exceptional for his personal qualities.  He was devoted to his home and his family.  He died in 1838 and was buried on the Red Men—fire water.  Never but once was he seen intoxicated, and that was years after he had been relegated with the remnants of his band to a strip of land in Iowa.  He was invited to attend a celebration at Burlington and some of his hosts undertook to fill him up on bad whiskey and succeeded.  He died in 1836 and was buried on the banks of the Iowa.  But even in death he was not allowed to rest in peace.  His bones were stolen and taken to Burlington where the skeleton hung in a doctor’s office until a delegation headed by his son visited the town, and demanded their return.  A skeleton was turned over to them, but there is no positive evidence that it was the skeleton of Black Hawk, and thus it will never be known where lies the body of the fearless chieftain of the Sacs and Foxes.


The Davenport Democrat and Leader, July 20, 1924, page 100.


Chief Blackhawk Weeps, Viewing Home Near City



When Black Hawk passed down the river during a visit to Rock Island in the spring of 1833, he wept like a child to see the site of his old village.


Black Hawk was in his sixty-fifth year—an old man.  There were the rolling prairies of his beautiful village—the theater of the great exploits of his whole life, which he was never to visit again.


Expatriated, conquered, thrust down from his high position, and ignominiously treated, with the sight of boyhood and manhood’s home in the possession of the stranger-enemy, and with the prospect of a distant removal, in his old age, from all that he valued—why should he not have wept?  He died—and among all the famous events of “General Black Hawk’s History”—there is not one so lustrous as the aged man weeping as he passed his old home, and the graves of his kindred.





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