Hawk, Black (1767-1838)
Black Hawk (1767-1838)
Sauk tribal leader
Early Life. Black Hawk was born in the village of Saukenauk where the Mississippi and Rock Rivers meet, at present-day Rock Island, Illinois. A member of the Thunder clan of the Sauk nation, he was a descendant of the tribe’s first chief. His father carried the medicine bundle of his band until his death; Black Hawk, who was nineteen, then assumed the sacred responsibility. Black Hawk was also recognized early for his warrior spirit. When he was only fifteen he became a brave for wounding an enemy.
White Settlement. White settlers began moving into Sauk territory in the early 1800s. The Sauk and their allies the Fox felt the pressure, and some bands gave up their lands and moved west. When in 1804 some of the southern bands were convinced to cede their lands by William Henry Harrison, then governor of the Indiana Territory, who plied the Indians with alcohol, the northern Sauk and Fox insisted that they had not been represented at the treaty signing and stayed on their land. Black Hawk strongly opposed white settlement and fought on the side of the British during the War of 1812, hoping to stem the tide of American migration to the West. When Illinois became a state in 1818, pressure to relocate intensified. Keokuk, a rival of Black Hawk, convinced many Sauk to negotiate with the U.S. government. On behalf of the tribe they accepted land in Iowa and an annuity in exchange for the Sauk land, but Black Hawk and his supporters remained in Saukenauk. In 1829, when Black Hawk and his band returned from their winter hunt, they found that the village had been taken over by whites, some of whom had taken up residence in the Indian lodges. The two groups lived together relatively peacefully for two seasons, but when Black Hawk returned in the spring of 1831 from another winter hunt, he and his followers were not welcome. The Illinois governor called out the state militia, and Black Hawk and his band fled across the Mississippi, although not permanently. “They are now running their plows through our graveyard, turning up the bones and ashes of our sacred dead, whose spirits are calling on us from the land of dreams for vengeance on the despoilers,” Black Hawk said.
Black Hawk War. When Black Hawk returned in the spring of 1832, he attempted to gain the support of neighboring tribes such as the Winnebago, Kickapoo, and Potawatomi, urging them to help protect the traditional lands and way of life. But only a few joined the Sauk and Fox, bringing the total of Black Hawk’s followers to two thousand, six hundred of whom were warriors. They began to attack white families living in the isolated frontier, causing the militia to return. Two months of minor skirmishes and malnutrition followed for the Indians, whose forces were greatly weakened. After a confrontation with an armed steamboat, Black Hawk decided to move north into Chippewa territory, but only fifty of his followers agreed to go with him. Federal troops cornered those who stayed behind, pushing them up against the banks of the Mississippi and killing five hundred men, women, and children as they tried to escape across the river. Black Hawk surrendered at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, in August.
Prisoner. Black Hawk was imprisoned for several months at Fort Monroe, Virginia, and then taken on a tour of the eastern seaboard. He was paraded in front of large, cheering crowds eager to see a defeated Indian chief and taken to the White House to meet President Andrew Jackson. Black Hawk told him, “I am a man and you are another.” When Jackson admonished him for his unwillingness to accept a treaty and his preference for war, the chief told him, “I took up the hatchet, for my part, to revenge injuries which my people could no longer endure. Had I borne them longer without striking, my people would have said, ‘Black Hawk is a woman; he is too old to be a chief; he is no Sac.’” But he also accepted his defeat and promised to live in peace with the whites and retreat to Iowa. Jackson recognized his rival Keokuk as the official chief of the Sauk, and Black Hawk was forced to live under Keokuk’s leadership. After he died in 1838, his grave was robbed, and his bones were placed on display until 1855, when the historical society where they were kept burned down.
Black Hawk, “Life of Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak,” or Black Hawk,” in Native American Autobiography, edited by Arnold Krupat (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994);
Cyrenus Cole, I Am a Man: The Indian Black Hawk (Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa, 1938).
A Native American war chief, Black Hawk (1767-1838) led his people, the Sauk, in a noble fight to preserve their tribal lands in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Missouri.
At the great Sauk village on the Rock River (near the present city of Rock Island, Ill.), Black Hawk was born and given the name Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kiakiak (Black Sparrow Hawk). His tribe had a long tradition of trading furs to Spaniards and Frenchmen in St. Louis for supplies and weapons. It was there Black Hawk first heard of Americans, and he took a strong dislike to them when he learned they had made the Louisiana Purchase.
In 1804 William Henry Harrison negotiated a treaty with another Sauk chief, named Quashquame, and a Fox chief; in the treaty the Sauk and Fox tribes agreed to cede 15 million acres of their land to the United States; this cession included the Sauk lands in Illinois—and thus the site of their great village on the Rock River. Black Hawk, by now a rising war chief, always claimed that Quashquame and the other chief had made this treaty with no tribal authority and had in fact been induced to sign it while drunk.
During the War of 1812, because of his hatred of the United States, Black Hawk sided with the British and fought under Tecumseh, a charismatic leader preaching Native American unity against the Americans. In 1816 Black Hawk signed a document confirming the treaty of 1804, but afterward he claimed he was ignorant of the terms of the agreement. Between 1816 and 1829 he brooded about the loss of the Sauk and Fox lands east of the Mississippi River and worked to get British help from Canada for an Indian uprising. Also, in league with White Cloud, a Waubesheik medicine man and prophet, he sought a general Native American confederation against the United States.
In June 1831, under Black Hawk's leadership, the Sauk returned to their ancient village on the Rock River. However, American troops soon arrived at Rock Island at the request of the governor of Illinois. Black Hawk thereupon withdrew to the mouth of the lowa River on the west side of the Mississippi.
A year later, in April, Black Hawk and 400 to 500 warriors and their families recrossed the Mississippi to fight for their lands in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Missouri. They believed they would receive help from Canada, and some Winnebago, Potawatomi, and Mascouten did join them. Before they could reach the site of their old village, however, American troops arrived, whereupon Black Hawk's army disintegrated.
The conflict known as the Black Hawk War began when Illinois volunteers assaulted those sent by the Sauk chief under a flag of truce to parley. Two Indians were killed in the fighting. Black Hawk led his warriors northward, pursued by troops and Illinois volunteers, which included young Abraham Lincoln. Hampered by hunger and by their women and children, the Sauk retreated west of the Mississippi to end the fighting. But they were attacked at the mouth of Bad Axe River in Wisconsin, were defeated, and surrendered. Black Hawk, two of his sons, and other chiefs, including White Cloud, were taken as prisoners to Fort Armstrong, commanded by Gen. Winfield Scott. There on Sept. 21, 1832, a new treaty was signed, called the Black Hawk Purchase, in which the Sauk gave up more of their land in return for an annuity and a reservation in lowa.
In the spring of 1833 Black Hawk was taken east for a meeting with President Andrew Jackson. Afterward, he was confined for a short time at Fortress Monroe, Va., before being returned to lowa. But Black Hawk's position as tribal leader had been undermined by younger men who did not want to fight the whites, and he spent his last days in lowa, under the supervision of Chief Keokuk. He dictated his reminiscences to a journalist, J. B. Patterson, explaining his position and his attitudes before he died on Oct. 3, 1838, at his lodge on the Des Moines River.
The Autobiography of Black Hawk, edited by J. B. Patterson (1833), was republished in 1955 as Black Hawk: An Autobiography, edited by Donald Jackson. Other useful works include Frank E. Stevens, The Black Hawk War: Including a Review of Black Hawk's Life (1903), and William T. Hagan, The Sac and Fox Indians (1958). □
During the War of 1812, he led many Sauks to join the British. In 1813 they fought at the Battle of Frenchtown and in the sieges of Fort Meigs and Fort Stephenson. In Black Hawk's absence young Keokuk became the recognized war chief of their village, leading to long‐term competition and bitterness between the two men. The warriors returned to Illinois (1814), where they defeated U.S. forces near Rock Island twice.
After the war, the Sauks tried to resume their peacetime activities, but increasing confrontations with the pioneers occurred. By 1830, Black Hawk had become a leader for those Sauks determined to occupy their traditional Illinois lands, while Keokuk accepted the need to migrate west. Dissident Sauks, Mesquakies, and Kickapoos coalesced in early 1832 into the British Band, who considered Black Hawk an elder statesman. He encouraged them to return to Illinois, which precipitated the Black Hawk War. For his role in those events, authorities imprisoned him. He returned to Iowa in 1833 and died there in 1838.
Black Hawk's life spanned an era of transition from relative freedom for midwestern tribes to their total subjugation by the federal government. Sauk actions illustrated the limited choices Indians had in the early nineteenth century, and demonstrated how the inflexible demands Americans made of their tribal neighbors brought disaster.
[See also Black Hawk War.]
Donald Jackson, ed., Black Hawk: An Autobiography, 1955.
Roger L. Nichols , Black Hawk and the Warrior's Path, 1992.
Roger L. Nichols