Black Hawk was born 1767 in his village of Saukenuk. Saukenuk was located at the present site of Black Hawk State Historic Site near Rock Island, Illinois. His native name was Ma-Ca-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak. He was a war chief of the Sauk (or Sac), Fox and Kickapoo Indians in Illinois and Michigan Territory (present day Wisconsin).
In 1804, William Henry Harrison, Governor of Indiana Territory, negotiated a treaty with Sauk and Fox leaders for lands east of the Mississippi forever. However, the leaders who negotiated the treaty had not consulted the full tribal councils and some of the leaders objected. The treaty did allow for the tribes to remain east of the Mississippi River until the US Government was prepared to sell the land.
After the War of 1812, many settlers went west, encroaching on some of the Tribal Lands. However, it wasn't until 1829 that the Federal Government ordered the tribes to evacuate to the west of the Mississippi once lead was being profitably mined in the Rock River area and other areas of present southwestern Wisconsin and Northwestern Illinois. Many of the chiefs, fearing that they could not survive against the much larger force of the Federal Army, asked only for enough corn to get them through the winter, which the government agreed to. When the government failed to honor its agreement, some, like Black Hawk, returned to their lands east of the Mississippi, hoping to at least harvest their corn. They were doomed to disappointment, as their corn fields had been trampled and otherwise disturbed.
Black Hawk and his followers returned to Saukenuk in the winter of 1830 and again in 1831. The governor of Illinois called this an invasion. They had departed before troops arrived both times.
On 14 May 1832, in the Stillman Valley in Illinois, the first battle occurred. Black Hawk's warriors defeated the disorganized Illinois militia there. The war consisted of a bunch of minor battles and skirmishes over a sixteen week period. Many of the chiefs had resigned themselves to defeat and were attempting to give the noncombatants, women and children, time to retreat across the Mississippi.
On 19 May 1832, a six-man details carrying dispatches from Col James Strode was ambushed near Buffalo Grove, Illinois by a party of Kickapoo. William Durley died in the ambush and was buried where he died. In 1910, a memorial was made to the ambush in Polo, Illinois. At that time, Durley was reinterred beneath the monument.
Two days after the Buffalo Grove incident, was the Indian Creek massacre. A Potowatomie warrier named Keewasee became angered at a local settler for damming up Indian Creek. Keewasee rounded up a group of warriors and they attacked the William Davis settlement on the creek. Fifteen, men, women and children were killed and their bodies mutilated. Most of them were believed to be unarmed. In addition, two teenage girls were kidnapped and ransomed two weeks later at Fort Blue Mounds. This incident triggered panic among the settlers and many fled to the safety of assorted forts.
The same day as Indian Creek, Sauk or Fox warriors attacked a settlement on Plum Creek. There was no bloodshed, but the atmosphere of fear permeated the countryside.
A small skirmish took place on 24 May 1832 near present day Pearl City, Illinois in Kellogg's Grove. This massacre is believed to have been perpetrated by Ho-Chunk warriers unaffiliated with Black Hawk's band. The victims were Felix St Vrain, United States Indian Agent, and three companions. St Vrain's body was mutilated and it was possibly done while he was still alive. This led to Governor Reynolds calling up more troops for a total of 4000.
On 27 and 28 May, the first of the militia was mustered out having served their month. General Winfield Scott was then ordered up with 1000 infantry and 300 calvary. However, a cholera epidemic struck much of the US at this point and Scott's soldiers would bring it with them to Illinois. By the time these troops landed in Chicago, there were only about 200 left. In 1833 a more extensive cholera outbreak occurred and can be pinpointed to Scott's soldiers.
Two minor skirmishes occurred near Fort Blue Mounds between 6 and 20 Jun. In one, a miner was killed, in the other, two militiamen were killed, one of them mutiliated. In the first, it is believed that Ho-Chunk warriers attacked, leaving civilians to fear that the Ho-Chunk tribes were preparing to join Black Hawk. In the second, a raiding party of about a 100 warriers committed a full-scale attack.
On 14 Jun, near South Wayne, Wisconsin, seven men were out working on the farm of Omri Spafford. Five men, including Spafford were killed. The other two escaped to Fort Hamilton. Col Henry Dodge set out for Fort Hamilton upon hearing of the raid. Upon arriving 16 Jun, Col Dodge gathered 29 men and took out after the Kickapoo raiding party. He located them at Horseshoe Bend on the Pecatonica River. This was the first real victory for the militia and a turning point in the war.
Also on 16 Jun, Adam W Snyder's forces battled a force of about 80 Kickapoo at Kellogg's Grove in present day Stephenson County, Illinois. Three militia and six Kickapoo died. This was the first of two battles to take place in Kellogg's Grove.
The Battle of Waddams Grove (also called the Battle of Yellow Creek) occurred near Yellow Creek in present day Stephenson County, Illinois on 18 Jun 1832. The fighting became a battle of bayonets and knives. Six Sauk and three militia under James W Stephenson died. Stephenson, himself, took a musket ball to the chest. This battle served to restore confidence in the military. The militia who died were buried in a memorial cemetery at Kellogg's Grove.
On 24 Jun, the Battle of Apple River Fort, near present day Elizabeth, Illinois commenced. Black Hawk led 150 - 200 Sauk and Fox warriors to attack the hastily built fort against 25 militia. The fort was severely understaffed, but some of the noncombatants helped by making musketballs and reloading weapons.
The second battle in Kellogg's Grove happened 25 Jun, when forces under Major John Dement battled a large force commanded by Black Hawk. The unrelenting attack by Black Hawk left 25 horses and five militia dead, while nine of his band died.
The Battle of Wisconsin Heights occurred on 21 Jul 1832 near present day Sauk City, Wisconsin. A force of Wisconsin and Illinois militia under the command of Generals Henry Dodge and James D Henry met with Black Hawks band. Militarily, the battle was devastating for Black Hawk as he had about 70 casualties, including those who drowned. However, this battle did allow many of the band to safely cross the river.
The final battle of the Black Hawk War occurred at Bad Axe River near present day Victory, Wisconsin. Black Hawks band was trying to cross the Mississippi River while they were pursued by a force of regulars and militia. The fighting took place over two days, 1 - 2 Aug 1832 and was very one-sided. Historians have called it a massacre. A Warrior steamboat was present on the river both days. By the second day, Black Hawk and most of their commanders had fled. The militia lost fourteen men and there were roughly 260 of Black Hawk's band that died.
Black Hawk, Neapope, White Cloud and eight other leaders of the band were held captive at Jefferson Barracks near St Louis for eight months. In Apr 1833, the men were taken to Washington DC on orders of President Andrew Jackson. Wherever they stopped, the men were a spectacle and met with large crowds. After meeting with the President, they were again taken around before reaching their final destination of Fortress Monroe in Virginia.
The end of the war allowed much of Illinois and Wisconsin to be settled. This war was costly for all Native Americans, even the ones who had assisted the settlers previously. They were forced to give up much of eastern Iowa, prime farm land, for about eleven cents an acre. The last of the tribes were forced out of Iowa by 1845.
The Black Hawk war assisted several in their political careers. Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, and Zachary Taylor all became president. Henry Dodge was appointed the Territorial Governor of Wisconsin. Four Illinois Governors, future governors of both Michigan and Nebraska and seven US Senators all emerged among those who fought in this war.
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