Black Hawk War (1832)

views updated May 23 2018


The Black Hawk Warnamed after the Indian leader Black Hawk (17671838)was the last of the Indian wars that took place in the Old Northwest Territory, north of the Ohio and east of the Mississippi rivers. The conflict completed the grab for Indian territory that started before the American Revolution (17751783), continued through the Indian wars of the 1790s, and reached a peak just after the War of 1812 (181214). Black Hawk's struggle to keep the last traces of Sac and Fox lands in what is now western Illinois led directly to the forced expulsion of his group of Native Americans from their traditional territory.

Black Hawk had a history of grievances with white Americans dating back over a quarter of a century. In 1804 he had signed a treaty thathe thoughtconveyed only some hunting rights in Sac and Fox lands to white Americans. When he found that he had in fact ceded some 50 million acres to the U.S. government, Black Hawk joined the Shawnee leader Tecumseh and the British in opposing American expansion during the War of 1812.

After the war Black Hawk returned to his homeland, but he was confronted with increasing numbers of white settlers. In 1829 one family entered his home when he was away on a hunting trip and dispossessed him. Protests to U.S. Indian agents only resulted in suggestions that he and his supporters (known as the "British Band" of Sac and Fox) find new lands west of the Mississippi River. He was also informed by the General Land Office that his homelands were to be opened to white settlement. Black Hawk responded by dividing his time between summer camps in his homeland and winter camps, in what is now Iowa, west of the Mississippi.

The outbreak of the Black Hawk War had less to do with direct disagreements between the Native American leader and white Americans than it did with internal politics among the Sac and Fox themselves. Black Hawk's opposition to the U.S. government was countered by another Sac and Fox chief called Keokuk. Keokuk favored negotiations with the government. During 183132 he ceded the Rock River country in what is now northwestern Illinoisthe heart of Sac and Fox territoryto the Americans in exchange for an annuity and promises of lands west of the Mississippi. When Black Hawk and the British Band of Sac and Fox rejected the agreement and crossed the Mississippi in April of 1832accompanied by a scattering of Winnebagos and Potawatomis. It was Keokuk who warned the whites of Blackhawk's approach.

General Henry Atkinson appealed to Illinois governor John Reynolds to raise 3,000 militiamen to augment his small force of 220 regular soldiers. Reynolds, however, was only able to pull together about 1,700 raw, untrained troops, including a young Abraham Lincoln. On April 28, 1832, Atkinson and his men set off in pursuit of Black Hawk and the British Band. Major Isaac Stillman's militia unit caught up with them on May 14 at the mouth of the Kyte River. Black Hawk had discovered that neither the Potawatomis nor the Winnebagos were willing to support him against the soldiers and had decided to surrender. The militia, which had been drinking heavily, panicked at the sight of Black Hawk's emissaries and fired on them, killing two. With only 40 warriors to call upon, Black Hawk set up an ambush and, in a battle known as Stillman's Run, routed Major Stillman's force of 275 men.

The comparatively easy defeat of the militia emboldened Blackhawk and his followers. On May 20 a group made up mostly of Black Hawk's Potawatomi supporters attacked a farmstead at Indian Creek, killed 15 men, women, and children, and kidnapped two girls (who were later ransomed). The Indian Creek Massacre roused the frontier. By mid-June Atkinson had the 3,000 militia he had originally wanted, plus 400 regular soldiers. President Andrew Jackson (182836) ordered Major General Winfield Scott to gather 800 soldiers at Chicago and move west in support of Atkinson. Lieutenant James W. Kingsbury, commanding the steamboat Warrior, was also ordered to proceed up the Mississippi to cut off Black Hawk from possible escape to the West.

By August 1, 1832, Black Hawk had abandoned any hope of regaining his homelands. His followers were trying to cross the Mississippi River in handmade canoes or rafts when the Warrior found them and, after negotiations failed, fired on them. Two days later the militia units under Colonel Henry Dodge and Atkinson arrived and captured or killed many of the remaining Sacs and Foxes. Those who escaped across the Mississippiabout 200were captured by Sioux who were allied with the U.S. government. Black Hawk himself was turned over to the Americans by the Winnebagos, among whom he had sought refuge.

On September 19, 1832, General Scott brought the Black Hawk War to an end by concluding a treaty with the remaining Sacs and Foxes. The treaty ceded to the U.S. government a strip of Sac and Fox land running along the western bank of the Mississippi River almost the entire length of Iowa's Mississippi river-bankand reaching 50 miles inland. The territory, comprising a total of about six million acres, was to be vacated entirely by the Sacs and Foxes by June 1, 1833. The U.S. government paid $660,000 for this concession.

See also: Andrew Jackson, Tecumseh, War of 1812


Black Hawk. Black Hawk: An Autobiography. Edited by Donald Jackson. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1955.

Eby, Cecil D. "That Disgraceful Affair:" The Black Hawk War. New York: W. W. Norton, 1973.

Gurko, Miriam. Indian America: The Black Hawk War. New York: Crowell, 1970.

Hagan, William T. The Sac and the Fox Indians. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1958.

Weeks, Philip. Farewell, My Nation: The American Indian and the United States, 18201890. Arlington Heights, IL: H. Davidson, 1990.

i touched the goose quill to the treaty . . . not knowing, however, that by that act i consented to give away my village.

black hawk, sac indian leader, 1831

Black Hawk War

views updated May 11 2018


BLACK HAWK WAR (1832), a conflict between the United States and a faction of Sauk (or Sac) and Fox Indians, waged mainly in Illinois and Wisconsin. The leader of the Sauk and Fox was an aging chief named Black Hawk, who was the rival of Keokuk, another Sauk chief. Keokuk had been receptive to ceding land to the whites and with his faction of the Sauk and Fox had moved across the Mississippi River to Iowa in 1823. Black Hawk, who had fought on the side of the British in the War of 1812, declined to evacuate his village at Rock Island, Illinois.

At issue was a treaty made at St. Louis in 1804, under the terms of which the Sauk and Fox supposedly agreed to cede all their lands on the eastern side of the Mississippi River and in return remain undisturbed until the country should be opened to settlement. Black Hawk vehemently denied the validity of the 1804 treaty, maintaining that the party of Sauk and Fox who had signed the treaty had had no authority to do so and had been deceived while intoxicated. In 1829, under pressure from Indian agents, a band of Sauk under the leadership of Keokuk moved to the western side of the Mississippi and established a village on the Iowa River. Black Hawk tried to organize the discontented Sauk east of the Mississippi into a confederacy to resist further incursions by the Americans. He believed strongly that the British would back them against American aggression, although support never materialized.

Intertribal conflicts and clashes with settlers came to a head in 1831 when settlers preempted the site of Black Hawk's village at present-day Rock Island, Illinois. Hostilities with the Indians were narrowly averted that year when an army of regulars and Illinois militiamen assembled. Black Hawk yielded to this threat of force and withdrew west across the Mississippi.

Early in 1832, despite the opposition of Keokuk, Black Hawk crossed back into Illinois and moved toward Rock Island with four hundred warriors and their families. The militia ordered Black Hawk to return to Iowa. War erupted after a peaceful emissary sent by Black Hawk was murdered. After Black Hawk won a bloody skirmish, the poorly trained American troops regrouped and strengthened. Battles raged for fifteen weeks and moved up the Rock River into southern Wisconsin. Black Hawk was finally overtaken by a force of American volunteers and defeated on 28 July in a crushing battle in which sixty-eight Indian warriors were killed and many more wounded. The remnant of Black Hawk's forces pushed across southern Wisconsin to the mouth of the Bad Axe River, where on 2 August they were massacred as they attempted to escape across the Mississippi into Iowa. Black Hawk himself escaped but was later captured by the Winnebagos, who turned him over to American troops for the reward.

Under the terms of the peace settlement, signed on 21 September 1832, the Sauk and Fox agreed to cede 6 million acres of land in eastern Iowa, and a tract of 400 square miles was reserved along the western bank of the Mississippi for Keokuk and his followers, who had refrained from hostilities during the war. Nine Sauk and twenty-four Fox signed the treaty. As punishment, Black Hawk was briefly incarcerated in Virginia; he then returned west to Iowa and was placed under the supervision of Keokuk.


Hagan, William Thomas. The Sac and Fox Indians. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988.

Jackson, Donald, ed. Black Hawk: An Autobiography. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1964.

Nichols, Roger. Black Hawk and the Warrior's Path. Wheeling, Ill.: Harlan Davidson, 1992.

Wallace, Anthony F. Prelude to Disaster: The Course of Indian-White Relations Which Led to the Black Hawk War of 1832. Spring field: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970.

Kenneth M.Stewart/h. s.

See alsoWarfare, Indian ; Mesquakie ; Wars with Indian Nations: Early Nineteenth Century (1783–1840) ; andvol. 9:Life of Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kai-kiak .

Black Hawk War

views updated May 23 2018

Black Hawk War (1832).This conflict was the last armed resistance in the Midwest to cause federal removal of the eastern Indians beyond the Mississippi River. It resulted from a disputed 1804 treaty signed by a few Sauks unauthorized to take such action. Though the tribe disavowed the treaty, federal officials acted upon it, opening lands in Illinois for settlement.

The conflict began in April 1832, encouraged by Black Hawk, a Sauk leader, when nearly 2,000 Sauks and Mesquakies crossed the Mississippi River, moving into Illinois. That brought about the mobilization of the state militia and the movement of the U.S. Sixth Infantry, commanded by Col. Henry Atkinson, from Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, north into Illinois. There the troops pursued the migrating Indians up the Rock River Valley. On 14 May 1832, militiamen under Col. Isaiah Stillman attacked Indians trying to parley, triggering the actual combat. For much of the summer the troops hunted for the fleeing Indians as they moved north into Wisconsin and west toward the Mississippi. On 2 August, Atkinson's force overtook their exhausted quarry at the mouth of the Bad Axe River, killing or capturing most of the Indians.

Fighting that summer consisted of frequent small‐scale raids by groups of warriors and pursuit by the militiamen. The campaign demonstrated the need for mounted troops in similar campaigns, and led to the establishment of the dragoons a few years later. The war persuaded other tribes that they must move west or face destruction.
[See also Native American Wars: Wars Between Native Americans and Europeans and Euro‐Americans.]


Roger L. Nichols , General Henry Atkinson: A Western Military Career, 1965.
Roger L. Nichols , Black Hawk and the Warrior's Path, 1992.

Roger L. Nichols