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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
Part 3

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)

     Soon after our return home, news reached us that a war was going to take place between the British and the Americans. Runners continued to arrive from different tribes, all confirming the reports of the expected war. The British agent, Colonel Dixon, was holding talks with, and making presents to the different tribes. I had not made up my mind whether to join the British or remain neutral. I had not discovered yet one good trait in the character of the Americans who had come to the country. They made fair promises but never fulfilled them, while the British made but few, and we could always rely implicitly on their word.

     One of our people having killed a Frenchman at Prairie du Chien, the British took him prisoner and said they would shoot him next day. His family were encamped a short distance below the mouth of the Wisconsin. He begged for permission to go and see them that night, as he was to die the next day. They permitted him to go after he had promised them to return by sunrise the next morning. He visited his family, which consisted of his wife and six children. I cannot describe their meeting and parting so as to be understood by the whites, as it appears that their feelings are acted upon by certain rules laid down by their preachers, while ours are governed by the monitor within us. He bade his loved ones the last sad farewell and hurried across the prairie to the fort and arrived in time. The soldiers were ready and immediately marched out and shot him down. I visited the stricken family, and by hunting and fishing provided for them until they reached their relations.

     Why did the Great Spirit ever send the whites to this island to drive us from our homes and introduce among us poisonous liquors, disease and death? They should have remained in the land the Great Spirit allotted them. But I will proceed with my story. My memory, however, is not very good since my late visit to the white people. I have still a buzzing noise in my ears from the noise and bustle incident to travel. I may give some parts of my story out of place, but will make my best endeavors to be correct.

     Several of our chiefs were called upon to go to Washington to see our Great Father. They started and during their absence I went to Peoria, on the Illinois River, to see an old friend and get his advice. He was a man who always told us the truth, and knew everything that was going on. When I arrived at Peoria he had gone to Chicago, and was not at home. I visited the Pottowattomie villages and then returned to Rock River. Soon after which our friends returned from their visit to the Great Father and reported what had been said and done. Their Great Father told them that in the event of a war taking place with England, not to interfere on either side, but remain neutral. He did not want our help, but wished us to hunt and supply our families, and remain in peace. He said that British traders would not be allowed to come on the Mississippi to furnish us with goods, but that we would be well supplied by an American trader. Our chiefs then told him that the British traders always gave us credit in the fall for guns, powder and goods, to enable us to hunt and clothe our families. He replied that the trader at Fort Madison would have plenty of goods, and if we should go there in the autumn of the year, he would supply us on credit, as the British traders had done. The party gave a good account of what they had seen and the kind treatment they had received. This information pleased us all very much. We all agreed to follow our Great Father's advice and not interfere in the war. Our women were much pleased at the good news. Everything went on cheerfully in our village. We resumed our pastimes of playing ball, horseracing and dancing, which had been laid aside when this great war was first talked about. We had fine crops of corn, which were now ripe, and our women were busily engaged in gathering it and making caches to contain it.

     In a short time we were ready to start to Fort Madison to get our supply of goods, that we might proceed to our hunting grounds. We passed merrily down the river, all in high spirits. I had determined to spend the winter at my old favorite hunting ground on Skunk River. I left part of my corn and mats at its mouth to take up as we returned and many others did the same.

     The next morning we arrived at the fort and made our encampment. Myself and principal men paid a visit to the war chief at the fort. He received us kindly and gave us some tobacco, pipes and provisions.

     The trader came in and we all shook hands with him, for on him all our dependence was placed, to enable us to hunt and thereby support our families. We waited a long time, expecting the trader would tell us that he had orders from our Great Father to supply us with goods, but he said nothing on the subject. I got up and told him in a short speech what we had come for, and hoped he had plenty of goods to supply us. I told him that he should be well paid in the spring, and concluded by informing him that we had decided to follow our Great Father's advice and not go to war.

     He said that he was happy to hear that we had concluded to remain in peace. That he had a large quantity of goods, and that if we had made a good hunt we should be well supplied, but he remarked that he had received no instructions to furnish us anything on credit, nor could he give us any without receiving the pay for them on he spot!

     We informed him what our Great Father had told our chiefs at Washington, and contended that he could supply us if he would, believing that our Great Father always spoke the truth. The war chief said the trader could not furnish us on credit, and that he had received no instructions from our Great Father at Washington. We left the fort dissatisfied and went to camp. What was now to be done we knew not. We questioned the party that brought us the news from our Great Father, that we could get credit for our winter supplies at this place. They still told the same story and insisted on its truth. Few of us slept that night. All was gloom and discontent.

     In the morning a canoe was seen descending the river, bearing an express, which brought intelligence that La Gutrie, a British trader, had landed at Rock island with two boatloads of goods. He requested us to come up immediately as he had good news for us, and a variety of presents, the express presented us with tobacco, pipes and wampum. The news ran through our camp like fire through dry grass on the prairie. Our lodges were soon taken down and we all started for Rock Island. Here ended all hopes of our remaining at peace, having been forced into war by being deceived.

     Our party was not long in getting to Rock Island. When we came in sight and saw tents pitched, we yelled, fired our guns and beat our drums. Guns were immediately fired at the island, returning our salute, and a British flag hoisted. We landed, were cordially received by La Gutrie, and then smoked the pipe with him. After which he made a speech to us, saying that he had been sent by Col. Dixon. He gave us, a number of handsome presents, among them a large silk flag and a keg of rum. He then told us to retire, take some refreshments and rest ourselves, as he would have more to say to us next day.

     We accordingly retired to our lodges, which in the meantime had been put up, and spent the night. The next morning we called upon him and told him we wanted his two boatloads of goods to divide among our people, for which he should be well paid in the spring in furs and peltries. He consented for us to take them and do as we pleased with them. While our people were dividing the goods, tie took me aside and informed me that Colonel Dixon was at Green Bay with twelve boats loaded with goods, guns and ammunition. He wished to raise a party immediately and go to him. He said our friend, the trader at Peoria, was collecting the Pottawattomies and would be there before us. I communicated this information to my braves, and a party of two hundred warriors were soon collected and ready to depart. I paid a visit to the lodge of an old friend, who had been the comrade of my youth, and had been in many war parties with me, but was now crippled and no longer able to travel. He had a son that I had adopted as my own, and who had hunted with me the two winters preceding. I wished my old friend to let him go with me. He objected, saying he could not get his support if he did attend me, and that I, who had always provided for him since his misfortune, would be gone, therefore he could not spare him as he had no other dependence. I offered to leave my son in his stead but he refused to give his consent. He said that he did not like the war, as he had been down the river and had been well treated by the Americans and could not fight against them. He had promised to winter near a white settler above Salt River, and must take his son with him. We parted and I soon concluded my arrangements and started with my party for Green Bay. On our arrival there we found a large encampment; were well received by Colonel Dixon and the war chiefs who were with him. He gave us plenty of provisions, tobacco and pipes, saying that he would hold a council with us the next day. In the encampment I found a great number of Kickapoos, Ottawas and Winnebagoes. I visited all their camps and found them in high spirits. They had all received new guns, ammunition and a variety of clothing.

     In the evening a messenger came to visit Colonel Dixon. I went to his tent, in which there were two other war chiefs and an interpreter. He received me with a hearty shake of the hand; presented me to the other chiefs, who treated me cordially, expressing themselves as being much pleased to meet me. After I was seated Colonel Dixon said: "General Black Hawk, I sent for you to explain to you what we are going to do and give you the reasons for our coming here. Our friend, La Gutrie, informs us in the letter you brought from him, of what has lately taken place. You will now have to hold us fast by the hand. Your English Father has found out that the Americans want to take your country from you and has sent me and thy braves to drive them back to their own country. He has, likewise, sent a large quantity of arms and ammunition, and we want all your warriors to join us."

     He then placed a medal around my neck and gave me a paper, which I lost in the late war, and a silk flag, saying: "You are to command all the braves that will leave here the day after to-morrow, to join our braves at Detroit."

     I told him I was very much disappointed, as I wanted to descend the Mississippi and make war upon the settlements. He said he had been ordered to lay in waste the country around St. Louis. But having been a trader on the Mississippi for many years himself, and always having been treated kindly by the people there, he could not send brave men to murder helpless women and innocent children. There were no soldiers there for us to fight, and where he was going to send us there were a great many of them. If we defeated them the Mississippi country should be ours. I was much pleased with this speech, as it was spoken by a brave.

     I inquired about my old friend, the trader at Peoria, and observed, "that I had expected that he would have been here before me." He shook his head and said, "I have sent express after express for him, and have offered him great sums of money to come and bring the Potawatomies and Kickapoos with him." He refused, saying, "Your British father has not enough money to induce me to join you. I have now laid a trap for him. I have sent Gomo and a party of Indians to take him prisoner and bring him here alive. I expect him in a few days."

     The next day arms and ammunition, knives, tomahawks and clothing were given to my band. We had a great feast in the evening, and the morning following I started with about five hundred braves to join the British army.  We passed Chicago and observed that the fort had been evacuated by the Americans, and their soldiers had to Fort Wayne. They were attacked a short distance from the fort and defeated. They had a considerable quantity of powder in the fort at Chicago, which they had promised to the Indians, but the night before they marched away they destroyed it by throwing it into a well. If they had fulfilled their word to the Indians, they doubtless would have gone to Fort Wayne without molestation. On our arrival, I found that the Indians had several prisoners, and I advised them to treat them well. We continued our march, joining the British below Detroit, soon after which we had a battle. The Americans fought well, and drove us back with considerable loss. I was greatly surprised at this, as I had been told that the Americans would not fight.

     Our next movement was against a fortified place. I was stationed with my braves to prevent any person going to, or coming from the fort. I found two men taking care of cattle and took them prisoners. I would not kill them, but delivered them to the British war chief. Soon after, several boats came down the river full of American soldiers. They landed on the opposite side, took the British batteries, and pursued the soldiers that had left them. They went too far without knowing the strength of the British and were defeated. I hurried across the river, anxious for an opportunity to show the courage of my braves, but before we reached the scene of battle all was over.

     The British had taken many prisoners and the Indians were killing them. I immediately put a stop to it, as I never thought it brave, but base and cowardly to kill an unarmed and helpless foe. We remained here for some time. I cannot detail what took place, as I was stationed with my braves in the woods. It appeared, however, that the British could not take this fort, for we marched to another, some distance off. When we approached it, I found a small stockade, and concluded that there were not many men in it. The British war chief sent a flag of truce. Colonel Dixon carried it, but soon returned, reporting that the young war chief in command would not give up the fort without fighting. Colonel Dixon came to me and said, "you will see to-morrow, how easily we will take that fort." I was of the same opinion, but when the morning came I was disappointed. The British advanced and commenced the attack, fighting like-true braves, but were defeated by the braves in the fort, and a great number of our men were killed. The British army was making preparations to retreat. I was now tired of being with them, our success being bad, and having got no plunder. I determined on leaving them and returning to Rock River, to see what had become of my wife and children, as I had not heard from them since I left home. That night I took about twenty of my braves, and left the British camp for home. On our journey we met no one until we came to the Illinois River. Here we found two lodges of Pottawattomies. They received us in a very friendly manner, and gave us something to eat. I inquired about their friends who were with the British. They said there had been some fighting on the Illinois River, and that my friend, the Peoria trader, had been taken prisoner. "By Gomo and his party?" I immediately inquired. They replied, "no, but by the Americans, who came up with boats. They took him and the French settlers prisoners, and then burned the village of Peoria." They could give us no information regarding our friends on Rock River. In three days more we were in the vicinity of our village, and were soon after surprised to find that a party of Americans had followed us from the British camp. One of them, more daring than his comrades, had made his way through the thicket on foot, and was just in the act of shooting me when I discovered him. I then ordered him to surrender, marched him into camp, and turned him over to a number of our young men with this injunction: "Treat him as a brother, as I have concluded to adopt him in our tribe."

     A little while before this occurrence I had directed my party to proceed to the village, as I had discovered a smoke ascending from a hollow in the bluff, and wished to go alone to the place from whence the smoke proceeded, to see who was there. I approached the spot, and when I came in view of the fire, I saw an old man sitting in sorrow beneath a mat, which he had stretched over him. At any other time I would have turned away without disturbing him, knowing that he came here to be alone, to humble himself before the Great Spirit, that he might take pity on him. I approached and seated myself beside him. He gave one look at me and then fixed his eyes on the ground. It was my old friend! I anxiously inquired for his son, my adopted child, and what had befallen our people. My old comrade seemed scarcely alive. He must have fasted a long time. I lighted my pipe and put it into his mouth. He eagerly drew a few puffs, cast up his eyes, which met mine, and recognized me. His eyes were glassy and he would again have fallen into forgetfulness, had I not given him some water, which revived him. I again inquired, "What has befallen our people, and what has become of our son?"

Part 2


Part 4

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