Date in Native History: On April 6, 1832 Black Hawk's War began.
The event that set the "war" into motion took place in a "small
settlement of semi-savage white people," according to Perry Armstrong's
book, The Sauks And The Black Hawk War With Biographical Sketches,
Etc. The settlement was populated with very few women and many
white traders, and there was a lot of alcohol.
There was a party at the settlement to which Indian men and
women were invited. A Sauk man became angry at the way a young white
man was treating his daughter, and when he said so, the Sauk was
thrown out, bodily. All of the participants were intoxicated, and
the Sauk killed the white man. The result was the Quashquamme Treaty
of November 3, 1804, by which the Sauks lost about 50 million acres
of land, including Saukenuk, their homeland.
Sandra Massey, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the
Oklahoma Sauk and Fox Nation, explained that the Sauk man was immediately
brought in to authorities by his people, "to cover the blood," and
was sent to prison in Saint Louis. He had been a highly respected
man among his people and the Sauks hoped that by speaking with the
governor, they would gain his return. "The four men who went to
free the man signed a treaty, but had no idea they were signing
away so much land," Massey said.
The Sauk could not get their man released from prison, but they
did not want to return without him. With whiskey involved, promises
were made, a treaty was signed, and their man was finally released.
He was shot down in the street almost immediately after.
The treaty went unknown to the Sac and Fox for many years. One
of the conditions was that they could remain there until the land
was sold. When emissaries came bearing poor quality gifts and a
paltry copy,000 each year, it was simply assumed by the Sauks that
they were gifts. It was years before they realized the gifts were
the Sauk head-man, was among the four who signed the treaty. He
insisted that he had only sold land on the east side of the Mississippi
River. "You white men may put on paper what you please, but I tell
you, I never sold any lands higher up the Mississippi than the mouth
of Rocky River," he said, according to Armstrong's book.
Further, the treaty was declared illegal by then Missouri Gov.
Benjamin Howard, who stated in a report that appears in Armstrong's
book that one of the boundary rivers in the treaty didn't exist. "Therefore
the treaty is null and void, of no effect."
Once the real purpose of the gifts became clear, Black Hawk
refused to accept them. He insisted that neither Quashquamme nor
any of the others had authority to sign such a treaty, but the truth
was ignored by the authorities. Frustrated, Black Hawk said in his
"How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make
right look like wrong, and wrong like right."
In 1827, about a dozen white families moved onto the homelands
of Saukenuk, and began to destroy the Sauk's corn crops. They built
fences and divided up the property, and abused any Sauk who tried
to use the land that was still rightfully theirs to use, according
to the treaty. The settlers ignored the Sauk, saying the land would
be sold sooner or later, and they wanted their claim to it. Black
Hawk appealed to the Indian Agent and the governor, but all of his
complaints were ignored.
According to the military, Black Hawk's War began April 6, 1832.
However, according to Black Hawk's autobiography, there was no war
at all. Massey said Black Hawk brought women, children and elderly
along, and while the men were prepared to fight if they had to,
they were simply returning to their homelands for access to their
cached crops. The governor had promised that when they left their
homelands, food would be provided. When it was not, Black Hawk led
his people home to Saukenuk because they would starve otherwise.
The "war" never occurred.
Known as a strong warrior all of his life, Black Hawk was equally
known for fairness. He had spared even those who had threatened
his own life. But his fearlessness preceded him, and the terrified
settlers petitioned the government for protection when they saw
Black Hawk's band in the area. A month later, a massacre of settlers
in Illinois was attributed to Black Hawk's instructions, although
he had nothing to do with it.
U.S. military records show a different story than Black Hawk's
report, as told in Armstrong's book and other records. According
to the National
Archives and Records Administration, "The Illinois and Missouri
State Militias maintained a presence on their borders to prevent
an uprising. In March 1832 hostilities started the second phase.
There were only two battles before Black Hawk was defeated and captured
in August 1832. During the hostilities, 5,979 troops served for
the Federal Government. Of this total, 4,638 were volunteer soldiers,
the majority of whom were from Illinois."
to all other sources, Black Hawk surrendered. "He turned himself
in," Massey said. "He recognized that there was a government-to-government
relationship, and that they had a right to sell their land to the
government. He recognized that the treaty was invalid. If this happened
today, he would win in a court of law. We pay honor to him on our
tribal flag... he had that strong sense of justice."
In Armstrong's book, written in 1887, Armstrong states there
has never been a Christian who upheld the values, the charity, the
forgiveness that Black Hawk did. As for how Black Hawk viewed the
whites who had ruined the lives of his people, he said in his autobiography,
Black Hawk's Autobiography, edited by Roger L. Nicols.
"The white men are bad school masters; they carry false looks
and deal falsely. They smile in the face of the Indian to deceive
and cheat him. They shake us by the hand to gain our confidence,
and make us drunk to ruin our wives. We told them to leave us alone,
and keep away from us, but they followed on and beset our every
path and coiled among us like so many snakes, whose touch was poisonous...
My sun is setting... and I hear the voices of my sacred ancestors
saying, Black Hawk, come away."
Black Hawk was released in 1838, and though he rejoined his
family and nation, his power as a leader had been completely usurped
by another put in place and supported by the U.S. government.