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The Black Hawk War [1832] By Reuben Gold Thwaites

 

On Rock River, in Illinois, near its junction with the Mississippi, there was a considerable Sauk village, inhabited by a large band of active sympathizers with the British, and under the domination of Black Sparrow Hawk (commonly called Black Hawk), an ambitious, restless, and somewhat demagogic headman of the tribe. Altho himself "touching the quill" at both the treaty of 1804 and that with the Sauk and Foxes in May, 1816, he afterward denied the authority of the tribal chiefs to sign away the common lands, thereby ignoring his own earlier assent.

When, in 1816, the Federal government treated separately therefor with the Ottawa, Chippewa, and Potawatomi, and it was found that the lower Rock River was south of the prescribed boundary line, the majority of the Sacs and Foxes on that stream, under the Fox llead-chief Keokuk, discreetly moved to the west of the Mississippi. But Black Hawk's "British band," as they were called—two hundred of them had fought under Tecumseh— continued to hold the old village site, where he himself was born, and where was the great cemetery of the tribe; quite ignoring the fact that their tribal rights in the territory were no longer recognized by the United States.

While squatters, coveting land far beyond the frontier of legal entries, still some sixty miles eastward, began to annoy the Hawk as early as 1823, burning his lodges while he was absent on the hunt, destroying his crops, insulting his women, and now and then actually beating him and his people. Persistently advised by the tribal chiefs to abandon his town to the on-rushing tide of settlement, he nevertheless obstinately held his ground. In the spring of 1830 affairs had reached a crisis. When the British band returned from their winter's hunt they found their cemetery plowed over, for several squatters had now preempted the village site, the cemetery, and the extensive aboriginal planting grounds; yet a belt of forty miles of Indian lands still lay unsurveyed between this and the western line of regular settlement.

The indignant Hawk now took his band overland by the great Sac trail, south of Lake Michigan to consult with his friend the British military agent at Malden, in Canada, not far from Detroit. He was there advised that the spirit of the treaty of 1804 had clearly been violated, and that if he persisted in repelling the squatters the Government's sense of fair play would surely support him; but the British official evidently had not carefully studied the trend of our Indian diplomacy. Thus fortified, Black Hawk returned to his village in the spring of 1831, his people in a starving condition, only to find white intruders more numerous and offensive than ever. He thereupon indiscreetly threatened them with force if they did not at once depart. This was construed as being a "bloody menace," and the Illinois militia were promptly called out by Governor John Reynolds in a flaming proclamation, to "repel the invasion of the British band." On June 25, the Hawk cowered before a demonstration made at his village by some seven hundred militiamen and regulars, and fled to the west of the Mississippi, humbly promising never to return without the express permission of the Federal Government.

Black Hawk, now a man of some fifty-four years, a somewhat remarkable organizer and military tactician, and for one of his race broadminded and humane, was nevertheless too easily led by the advice of others. He was now beset by young Potawatomi hot-bloods from northeastern Illinois and along the western shore of Lake Michigan, scalp-hunters from the Winnebago and along the upper Rock River, and emissaries from the Ottawa and Chippewa, all of whom urged him to return and fight for his rights. Particularly was he influenced by a Winnebago soothsayer named White Cloud, who throughout was his evil genius. no crop had been raised, and the winter in Iowa was unusually harsh, so that by early spring the British band were menaced by famine.

Driven to desperation, and relying on these proffers of intertribal assistance, the Hawk crossed the Mississippi at Yellow Banks, April 6, 1832, with five hundred warriors, mostly Sauk, accompanied by all their womens children, and domestic equipment. Their intention was to raise a crop at the Winnebago village at Prophet's Town, on Rock River, and then if practicable the bucks would take the warpath in the autumn.

But the news of the "invasion" spread like wild fire through the Illinois and Wisconsin settlements. Another fiery proclamation from Springfield summoned the people to arms, the United States was also called on for troops, those settlers who did not fly the country threw up log forts, and everywhere was aroused intense excitement and feverish preparation for bloody strife.
In an incredibly short time, three hundred regulars and eighteen hundred horse and foot volunteers were on the march. The startled

Hawk sent back a defiant message, and retreated up Rock River, making a brief stand at Stillman's Creek. Here, finding that the promised assistance from other tribes was not forthcoming, he attempted to surrender on stipulation that he be allowed peacefully to withdraw to the west of the Mississippi. But his messengers, on approaching with their white flag the camp of twenty five hundred halffdrunken Illinois cavalry militia, were brutally slain. Accompanied by a mere handful of braves, the enraged Sac leafier now ambushed and easily routed the large and boisterous party, whose members displayed rank cowardice; in their mad retreat they spread broadcast through the settlements that Black Hawk was backed by two thousand bloodthirsty warriors, bent on a campaign of universal slaughter. This created popular consternation throughout the west. The name of the delulded Black Hawk became everywhere coupled with stories of savage cruelty, and served as a household bugaboo. Meanwhile, so great was the alarm that the Illinois militia, originally hot to take the field, now, on flimsy excuses, promptly disbanded.

Black Hawk himself was much encouraged by his easy victory at Stillman's Creek, and, laden with spoils from the militia camp, removed his women and children about seventy miles northeastward, to the neighborhood of Lake Koshkonong, near the headwaters of Rock River, a Wisconsin district girt about by great marshes and not then easily accessible to white troops. Thence descending with his braves to northern Illinois, where he had spasmodic help from small bands of young Winnebago and Potawatomi, the Hawk and his friends engaged in irregular hostilities along the Illinois-Wisconsin border, and made life miserable for the settlers and miners. In these various forays, with which, however, the Sac headman was not always connected, fully two hundred whites and nearly as many Indians, lost their lives. At the besieged blockhouse forts (particularly Plum River, in northern Illinois) there were numerous instances of romantic heroism on the part of the settlers, men and women alike; and several of the open fights, like one on the Peckatonica River, are still famous in local annals.

Three weeks after the Stillman's Creek affair, a reorganized army of 3,200 Illinois militia was mobilized, being reenforced by regulars under General Atkinson and a battalion of two hundred mounted rangers from the lead region, enlisted by Major Henry Dodge, then commandant of Michigan militia west of Lake Michigan and in later years governor of Wisconsin Territory. The entire army now in the field numbered about 4,000 effective men. Dodge's rangers, gathered from the mines and fields, were a free-and-easy set of fellows, destitute of uniforms, but imbued with the spirit of adventure and the customary frontiersmen's intense hatred of the Indians whom they had ruthlessly displaced. While disciplined to the extent of obeying orders whenever sent into the teeth of danger, these Rough Riders of 1832 swung through the country with small regard for the rules of the manual, and presented a striking contrast to the habits and appearance of the regulars.

As the new army slowly but steadily moved up Rock River, Black Hawk retired toward his Lake Koshkonong base. The pursuit becoming too warm, however, he retreated hastily across country, with women and children and all the paraphernalia of the British band, to the Wisconsin River, in the neighborhood of Prairie du Sac; on his way crossing the site of the present Madison, where he was caught up with by his pursuers, now more swift in their movements. On reaching the rugged bluffs overlooking the Wisconsin, he sought again to surrender; but there chanced to be no interpreter among the whites, and the unfortunate suppliant was misunderstood. The battle of Wisconsin Heights followed (July 21), without appreciable loss on either side. Here the Sauk leader displayed much skill in covering the flight of his people across the broad, island-strewn river.

A portion of the fugitives, chiefly women and children, escaped on a raft down the Wisconsin, but near Prairie du Chien were mercilessly fired upon by a detachment from the garrison of Fort Crawford, and fifteen killed. The remainder, led by Black Hawk and some Winnebago guides, pushed across through a rough, forbidding country, to the junction of the Bad Ax with the Mississippi, losing many along the way, who died of wounds and starvation. The now sadly depleted and almost famished crew reached the Mississippi on the first of August, and attempted to cross the river to the habitat of the Sioux, fondly hoping that their troubles would then be over. But only two or three canoes were obtainable, and the work was not only slow, but, owing to the swift current, accompanied by some loss of life.

In the afternoon the movement was detected by the crew of the Warrior, a government supply steamer carrying a detachment of soldiers from Fort Crawford. A third time the Hawk sought to surrender, but his white signal was fired at, under pretense that it was a savage ruse, and round after round of canister swept the wretched camp. The next day (August 2) the troops, who had been delayed for three days in crossing Wisconsin River, were close upon their heels, and arrived on the heights overlooking the beach. The Warnor thereupon renewed its attack, and caught between two galling fires the poor savages soon succumbed. Black Hawk fled inland to seek an asylum at the Dells of the Wisconsin with his false friends, the Winnebago, who had guided the white army along his path; fifty of his people remained on the east bank and were taken prisoners by the troops; some three hundred miserable starvelings, largely noncombatants, reached the west shore through the hail of metal, only to be waylaid by Sioux, dispatched by army officials to intercept them, and half of their number were slain. Of the band of a thousand Sacs who had entered Illinois in April, not much over a hundred and fifty lived to tell of the Black Hawk War, one of the most discreditable punitive expeditions in the long and checkered history of American relations with the Aborigines.

As for the indiscreet but honest Black Hawk, in many ways one of the most interesting of North American Indians, he was promptly surrendered (August 27) by the Winnebago to the Indian agency at Prairie du Chien. Imprisoned first at Jefferson Barracks, and then at Fortress Monroe,2 exhibited to throngs of curiosity seeking people in the Eastern States, and obliged to sign articles of perpetual peace, he was finally turned over for safekeeping to his hated and hating rival, the Fox chief Keokuk. In 1834 his autobiography was published—a book probably authentic for the most part, but the stilted style is no doubt that of his white editor.

Dying in 1838 (October 3) upon a small reservation in Iowa, Black Hawk's grave was rifled by a traveling physician, who utilized the bones for exhibition purposes. Two years later the skeleton was, on the demand of indignant sympathizers, surrendered to the State of Iowa; but in 1853 the box containing it was destroyed by a fire at Iowa City, then the capital of that commonwealth.
With all his faults, and these were chiefly racial, Black Hawk was preeminently a patriot. A year before his death he made a speech to a party of whites who were making him a holiday hero, and thus forcibly defended his motives: "Rock River was a beautiful country. I liked my town, my cornfields, and the home of my people. I I fought for them." No poet could have penned for him a more touching epitaph.

(183l) BY GOLDWIN SMITH

Emancipation immediate, unconditional, and without compensation—such was the platform on which Garrison had now taken his stand, and such were the doctrines which the Liberator, as soon as it got fairly under way, began to preach. The first article followed upon the belief in the utter wrongfulness and sinfulness of slavery, which was the necessary basis of the moral and religious movement, and in grasping which Garrison had fasped the sole and certain assurance of victory. If man could have no property in man, he could no more have property for a day than forever. The slave was at once entitled to his freedom; he was entitled to set himself free if he could by flight or by insurrection. If the slaves who were shipped in Mr. Todd's vessel had risen upon the crew, tumbled into the hold or even killed those who resisted, and carried the vessel into a free part, they would have been doing right in the eyes erg all but the slave owner and his friends. For the same reason it was logical to protest against any condition not imposed in the interest of the slave. But conditions might be imposed in the slave's interest, to smooth and safeguard a transition which no reasonable man could believe to be free from peril. The policy of provisional apprenticeship was adopted for that purpose by the British Parliament, and tho without practical success, certainly without moral wrong.

But in refusing to sanction compensation to the slave-owner, Garrison would surely have gone astray. What is or is not property in the eye of morality, morality must decide. What is or is not property in a particular community is decided by the law of that community. The law of the American community had sanctioned the holding of property in slaves, and tho the slave was not bound by that law the community itself was. Men had been induced to invest their money in slaves under the guarantee of the public faith, and emancipation without compensation, so far as the republic was concerned, would have been breach of faith and robbery. The slave owner had sinned no more in holding slaves than the State had sinned in sanctioning his possession, and if a sacrifice was to be made to public morality, equity demanded that it should be made by all alike.

The British legislature, overriding extremist proposals, acted upon this principle; and it did right. What the conscience of the individual slave owner might dictate to him was another affair. To declare that there should be no compensation, and thus to threaten a powerful body of proprietors with beggary, would have been to make the conflict internecine. After the Civil War it was sorrowfully recalled that the price of the slaves would have been about six hundred millions, which would have been a cheap redemption from a struggle which cost eight thousand millions of dollars, besides the blood and havoc. If the Liberator had been instrumental in preventing such a settlement a dark shade of responsibility would rest upon its pages.

But it is not likely that the settlement ever could have taken place. Not the commercial interest alone of the slave-owner, but his political ambition and his social pride were bound up with the institution. If he had been willing to part with his crops of cotton and tobacco, he would not have been willing to part with his aristocracy. Nor would it have been easy, when the State had paid its money, to enforce the real fulfillment of the bargain. Even now, when the South has been humbled by defeat, it is not easy to make her obey the law. Nothing more than the substitution of serfage for slavery would probably have been the result. Any such scheme, however, would scarcely have been feasible for a government like that of the American republic. The redemption of the slaves in the West Indies had been conceived and carried into effect by the imperial government and Parliament, acting upon the dependencies with autocratic power. A czar conceived and carried into ef fect the emancipation of the serfs in Russia But a measure of this kind could hardly have been conceived, much less could it have been carried into effect, amid the fluctuations of popular suffrage and the distractions of political party. It is probable that the conflict was really irrepressible, and doomed to end either in separation or civil war.

The salutatory of the Liberator avowed that its editor meant to speak out without restraint. "I will be as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject I do not wish to think or speak or write with moderation. No ! No ! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen—but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse —I will not retreat a single inch—and I will be heard !"

This promise was amply kept. Some of Garrison's best friends, and of the best friends of his cause, complained of the severity of his language, and their complaint can not be set aside as unfounded. Railing accusations are a mistake, even when the delinquent is Satanic. Unmeasured and indiscriminate language can never be justified. Washington had inherited an evil kind of property and an imperfect morality in connection with it; but no one could have called him a manstealer; and there were still owners of slaves to whom the name as little belonged. Citations of the controversial invective of Luther and Milton will avail us nothing; the age of Luther and Mi!ton was in that respect uncivilized. A youth dealing with a subject on which his feelings are excited is sure to be unmeasured.

However, it was to the conscience of the nation that Garrison was appealing; and an appeal to conscience is unavoidably severe. Nothing will warrant the appeal but that which necessitates severity. The voice of conscience herself within us is severe. In answer to the clergymen who shrank from him, or protest to shrink from him, on account of the violence of his language, Garrison might have pointed, not only to passages in the Hebrew prophets, but to passages in the discourses of Christ. He might have reminded them of the language in which they were themselves, every Sunday in the pulpit, warning men to turn from every sin but slavery. With no small force he pleaded that he had icebergs of indifference around him, and it would take a good deal of fire in himself to melt them. To hate and denounce the sin either in the abstract or as that of a class or community is not to hate or denounce the individual sinner. To an individual slave-owner who had shown any disposition to hear him, Garrison would have been all courtesy and kindness. We may be sure that he would have clasped at once to his heart any slave owner who had repented. Having to use his own figure, taken in his hand the trumpet of God, he resolved to blow a strong blast. He could not believe that there was a sin without a sinner, nor could he separate the sinner from the sin. There was much wrath but no venom in the man. If there had been venom in him it would have belied his countenance and deportment. Miss Martineau, not an uncritical observer, was profoundly imprest with the saint-like expression and the sweetness of his manner. In private and in his family he was all gentleness and affection. Let it be said, too, that he set a noble example to controversial editors in his fair treatment of his opponents. Not only did he always give insertion to their replies, but he copied their criticisms from other journals into his own. Fighting for freedom of discussion, he was ever loyal to his own principle.

What is certain is that the Liberator, in spite of the smallness of its circulation, which was hardly enough to keep it alive, soon told. The South was moved to its center. The editorials probably would not have caused much alarm, as the slaves could not read. What was likely to cause more alarm was the frontispiece, which spoke plainly enough to the slave's eye. It represented an auction at which "slaves, horses, and other cattle" were being offered for sale, and a whipping post at which a slave was being flogged. In the background was the Capitol at Washington, with a flag inscribed "Liberty" floating over the dome. There might have been added the motto of Virginia, Sic semper tyrannis and perhaps some extracts from the republican orations with which the South was celebrating the victory of French liberty over Charles X.

On seeing the Liberator the realm of slavery bestirred itself. A Vigilance Association took the matter in hand. First canoe fiery and bloodthirsty editorials; then anonymous threats; then attempts by legal enactment to prevent the circulation of the Liberator at the South. The Grand Jury of North Carolina found a true bill against Garrison for the circulation of a paper of seditious tendency, the penalty for which was whipping and imprisonment for the first offense, and death without benefit of clergy for the second. The General Assembly of Georgia offered a reward of five thousand dollars to any one who, under the laws of that State, should arrest the editor of the Liberator, bring him to trial, and prosecute him to conviction. The South reproached Boston with allowing a battery to be planted on her soil against the ramparts of Southern institutions.

Boston felt the reproach, and showed that she would gladly have supprest the incendiary print and perhaps have delivered up its editor; but the law was against her, and the mass of the people, tho wavering in their allegiance to morality on the question of slavery, were still loyal to freedom of opinion. When a Southern Governor appealed to the Mayor of Boston to take proceedings, the Mayor of Boston could only shake his head and assure his Southern friend that Garrison's paper was of little account. The reward offered by the General Assembly of Georgia looked very like an incitement to kidnapping. Justice to the South requires it to be said that nothing of the kind was ever attempted, nor was the hand of a Southern government visible in any outrage committed against Abolitionists at the North, tho individual Southerners might take part, and the spirit of the Southern fire-eater was always there.