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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 17, 2003 - Issue 87


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Autobiography of Black Hawk
Starts For A New Home

Dictated to himself with Antoine LeClair, U.S. Interpreter and J. B. Patterson, Editor and Amanuensis, Rock Island, Illinois, 1833
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

     After we had finished his autobiography the interpreter read it over to him carefully, and explained it thoroughly, so that he might make any needed corrections, by adding to, or taking from the narrations; but he did not desire to change it in any material matter. He said, "It contained nothing but the truth, and that it was his desire that the white people in the big villages he had visited should know how badly he had been treated, and the reason that had impelled him to act as he had done." Arrangements having been completed for moving to his new home, he left Rock Island on the 10th of October with his family and a small portion of his band, for his old hunting grounds on Skunk river, on the west side of the Mississippi river below Shokokon. Here he had a comfortable dwelling erected, and settled down with the expectation of making it his permanent home, thus spending the evening of his days in peace and quietude.

     Our next meeting with the Chief was in the autumn of 1834 while on our way to the trading house of Captain William Phelps (now of Lewistown, Ills.), at Sweet Home, located on the bank of the Des Moines River. This was soon after the payment of the annuities at Rock Island, where the chiefs and head men had been assembled and received the money and divided it among their people by such rule as they saw fit to adopt; but this mode of distribution had proved very unsatisfactory to a large number of Indians who felt that they had been sorely wronged. The Sacs held convocation at Phelps' trading house soon after our arrival, and petitioned their Great Father to change the mode of payment of their annuities. Black Hawk was a leading spirit in this movement, but thought best not to be present at the meeting. The writer of this drew up a petition in advance of the assembling of the meeting, in accordance with the views of the Messrs. Phelps, and after a short council, in which the Indians generally participated, the interpreter read and explained to them the petition, which was a simple prayer to their Great Father, to change the mode of payment so that each head of a family should receive and receipt for his proportion of the annuity. They were all satisfied and the entire party "touched the goose quill," and their names were thus duly attached to this important document.

     The Secretary of War had long favored this mode of payment of the annuities to the Indians, and at a meeting of the Cabinet to consider this petition the prayer of the Indians was granted, and in due time the Indian department received instructions, so that upon the payment of 1835 this rule was adopted. On his return from Rock Island, Black Hawk, with a number of his band, called on his old friend Wahwashenequa (Hawkeye), Mr. Stephen S. Phelps, to buy their necessary supplies for making a fall hunt, and to learn at what points trading houses would be established for the winter trade. During their stay the old chief had frequent interviews with the writer (his former amanuensis). He said he had a very comfortable home, a good cornfield, and plenty of game, and had been well treated by the few whites that had settled in his neighborhood. He spent several days with us and then left for home with a good winter outfit.

     The change in the manner of payment of annuities would have been opposed by Keokuk and his head men, had they been let into the secret, as the annuity money when paid over was principally controlled by him, and always to the detriment of the Sacs' traders who were in opposition to the American Fur Company, the former having to rely almost entirely upon the fall and winter trade in furs and peltries to pay the credits given the Indians before leaving for their hunts.

Mr. Graham's Speech


Black Hawk's Last Visit

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