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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 4

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)

Subj:    AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF BLACK HAWK (Part 4)   Date:    5/6/2003 9:11:01 AM Eastern Standard Time   From:    Ondamitag   To:    PaulB99237

     In a feeble voice he said, "Soon after your departure to join the British, I descended the river with a small party, to winter at the place I told you the white man had asked me to come to. When we arrived I found that a fort had been built, and the white family that had invited me to come and hunt near them had removed to it. I then paid a visit to the fort to tell the white people that my little band were friendly, and that we wished to hunt in the vicinity of the fort. The war chief who commanded there, told me that we might hunt on the Illinois side of the Mississippi, and no person would trouble us. That the horsemen only ranged on the Missouri side, and he had directed them not to cross the river. I was pleased with this assurance of safety, and immediately crossed over and made my winter's camp. Game was plenty. We lived happy, and often talked of you. My boy regretted your absence and the hardships you would have to undergo. We had been here about two moons, when my boy went out as usual to hunt. Night came on and he did not return. I was alarmed for his safety and passed a sleepless night. In the morning my old woman went to the other lodges and gave the alarm and all turned out to hunt for the missing one. There being snow upon the ground they soon came upon his track, and after pursuing it for some distance, found he was on the trail of a deer, which led toward the river. They soon came to the place where he had stood and fired, and near by, hanging on the branch of a tree, found the deer, which he had killed and skinned. But here were also found the tracks of white men. They had taken my boy prisoner. Their tracks led across the river and then down towards the fort. My friends followed on the trail, and soon found my boy lying dead. He had been most cruelly murdered. His face was shot to pieces, his body stabbed in several places and his head scalped. His arms were pinioned behind him."

     The old man paused for some time, and then told me that his wife had died on their way up the Mississippi. I took the hand of my old friend in mine and pledged myself to avenge the death of his son. It was now dark, and a terrible storm was raging. The rain was descending in heavy torrents, the thunder was rolling in the heavens, and the lightning flashed athwart the sky. I had taken my blanket off and wrapped it around the feeble old man. When the storm abated I kindled a fire and took hold of my old friend to remove him nearer to it. He was dead! I remained with him during the night. Some of my party came early in the morning to look for me, and assisted me in burying him on the peak of the bluff. I then returned to the village with my friends. I visited the grave of my old friend as I ascended Rock River the last time.

     On my arrival at the village I was met by the chiefs and braves and conducted to the lodge, which was prepared for me. After eating, I gave a full account of all that I had seen and done. I explained to my people the manner in which the British and Americans fought. Instead of stealing upon each other and taking every advantage to kill the enemy and save their own people as we do, which, with us is considered good policy in a war chief, they march out in open daylight and fight regardless of the number of warriors they may lose. After the battle is over they retire to feast and drink wine as if nothing had happened. After which they make a statement in writing of what they have done, each party claiming the victory, and neither giving an account of half the number that have been killed on their own side. They all fought like braves, but would not do to lead a party with us. Our maxim is: "Kill the enemy and save our own men." Those chiefs will do to paddle a canoe but not to steer it. The Americans shot better than the British, but their soldiers were not so well clothed, nor so well provided for.

     The village chief informed me that after I started with my braves and the parties who followed, the nation was reduced to a small party of fighting men; that they would have been unable to defend themselves if the Americans had attacked them. That all the children and old men and women belonging to the warriors who had joined the British were left with them to provide for. A council had been called which agreed that Quashquame, the Lance, and other chiefs, with the old men, women and children, and such others as chose to accompany them, should descend the Mississippi to St. Louis, and place themselves under the American chief stationed there. They accordingly went down to St. Louis, were received as the friendly band of our nation, were sent up the Missouri and provided for, while their friends were assisting the British!

     Keokuk was then introduced to me as the war chief of the braves then in the village. I inquired how he had become chief? They said that a large armed force was seen by their spies going toward Peoria. Fears were entertained that they would come up and attack the village and a council had been called to decide as to the best course to be adopted, which concluded upon leaving the village and going to the west side of the Mississippi to get out of the way. Keokuk, during the sitting of the council, had been standing at the door of the lodge, not being allowed to enter, as he had never killed an enemy, where he remained until old Wacome came out. He then told him that he heard what they had decided upon, and was anxious to be permitted to speak before the council adjourned. Wacome returned and asked leave for Keokuk to come in and make a speech. His request was granted. Keokuk entered and addressed the chiefs. He said: "I have heard with sorrow that you have determined to leave our village and cross the Mississippi, merely because you have been told that the Americans were coming in this direction. Would you leave our village, desert our homes and fly before an enemy approaches? Would you leave all, even the graves of our fathers, to the mercy 6f an enemy without trying to defend them? Give me charge of your warriors and I'll defend the village while you sleep in safety."

     The council consented that Keokuk should be war chief. He marshaled his braves, sent out his spies and advanced with a party himself on the trail leading to Peoria. They returned without seeing an enemy. The Americans did not come by our village. All were satisfied with the appointment of Keokuk. He used every precaution that our people should not be surprised. This is the manner in which and the cause of his receiving the appointment.

     I was satisfied, and then started to visit my wife and children. I found them well, and my boys were growing finely. It is not customary for us to say much about our women, as they generally perform their part cheerfully and never interfere with business belonging to the men. This is the only wife I ever had or ever will have. She is a good woman, and teaches my boys to be brave. Here I would have rested myself and enjoyed the comforts of my lodge, but I could not. I had promised to avenge the death of my adopted son.

     I immediately collected a party of thirty braves, and explained to them the object of my making this war party, it being to avenge the death of my adopted son, who had been cruelly and wantonly murdered by the whites. I explained to them the pledge I had made to his father, and told them that they were the last words that he had heard spoken. All were willing to go with me to fulfill my word. We started in canoes, and descended the Mississippi, until we arrived near the place where Fort Madison had stood. It had been abandoned and burned by the whites, and nothing remained but the chimneys. We were pleased to see that the white people had retired from the country. We proceeded down the river again. I landed with one brave near Cape Gray; the remainder of the party went to the mouth of the Quiver. I hurried across to the trail that led from the mouth of the Quiver to a fort, and soon after heard firing at the mouth of the creek. Myself and braves concealed ourselves on the side of the road. We had not remained here long before two men, riding one horse, came at full speed from the direction of the sound of the firing. When they came sufficiently near we fired; the horse jumped and both men fell. We rushed toward them and one rose and ran. I followed him and was gaining on him, when he ran over a pile of rails that had lately been made, seized a stick and struck at me. I now had an opportunity to see his face, and I knew him. He had been at Quashquame's village to teach his people how to plow. We looked upon him as a good man. I did not wish to kill him, and pursued him no further. I returned and met my brave. He said he had killed the other man and had his scalp in his hand. We had not proceeded far before we met the man supposed to be killed, coming up the road, staggering like a drunken man, and covered all over with blood. This was the most terrible sight I had ever seen. I told my comrade to kill him to put him out of his misery. I could not look at him. I passed on and heard a rustling in the bushes. I distinctly saw two little boys concealing themselves in the undergrowth, thought of my own children, and passed on without noticing them. My comrade here joined me, and in a little while we met the other detachment of our party. I told them that we would be pursued, and directed them to follow me. We crossed the creek and formed ourselves in the timber. We had not been here long, when a party of mounted men rushed at full speed upon us. I took deliberate aim and shot the leader of the party. He fell lifeless from his horse. All my people fired, but without effect. The enemy rushed upon us without giving us time to reload. They surrounded us and forced us into a deep silk-hole, at the bottom of which there were some bushes. We loaded our guns and awaited the approach of the enemy. They rushed to the edge of the hole, fired on us and killed one of our men. We instantly returned their fire, killing one of their party. We reloaded and commenced digging holes in the side of the bank to protect ourselves, while a party watched the enemy, expecting their whole force would be upon us immediately. Some of my warriors commenced singing their death songs. I heard the whites talking, and called to them to come out and fight. I did not like my situation and wished the matter settled. I soon heard chopping and knocking. I could not imagine what they were doing. Soon after they ran up a battery on wheels and fired without hurting any of us. I called to them again, and told them if they were brave men to come out and fight us. They gave up the siege and returned to their fort about dusk. There were eighteen in this trap with me. We came out unharmed, with the exception of the brave who was killed by the enemy's first fire, after we were entrapped. We found one white man dead at the edge of the sink-hole, whom they did not remove for fear of our fire, and scalped him, placing our dead brave upon him, thinking we could not leave him in a better situation than on the prostrate form of a fallen foe.

     We had now affected our purpose and concluded to go back by land, thinking it unsafe to use our canoes. I found my wife and children, and the greater part of our people, at the mouth of the Iowa River. I now determined to remain with my family and hunt for them, and to humble myself before the Great Spirit, returning thanks to him for preserving me through the war. I made my hunting camp on English river, which is a branch of the Iowa. During the winter a party of Pottawattomies came from the Illinois to pay me a visit, among them was Washeown, an old man who had formerly lived in our village. He informed us that in the fall the Americans had built a fort at Peoria and had prevented them from going down the Sangamon to hunt. He said they were very much distressed. Gomo had returned from the British army, and brought news of their defeat near Malden. He told us that he went to the American chief with a flag, gave up fighting, and told him he desired to make peace for his nation. The American chief gave him a paper' to the war chief at Peoria, and I visited that fort with Gomo. It was then agreed that there should be no more hostilities between the Americans and the Pottawattomies. Two of the white chiefs, with eight Pottawattomies braves, and five others, Americans, had gone down to St. Louis to have the treaty of peace confirmed. This, said Washeown, is good news; for we can now go to our hunting grounds, and, for my part, I never had anything to do with this war. The Americans never killed any of our people before the war, nor interfered with our hunting grounds, and I resolved to do nothing against them. I made no reply to these remarks, as the speaker was old and talked like a child.

     We gave the Potawatomies a great feast. I presented Washeown with a good horse. My braves gave one to each of his party, and, at parting, said they wished us to make peace, which we did not promise, but told them that we would not send out war parties against the settlements.

     A short time after the Potawatomies had gone, a party of thirty braves belonging to our nation, from the peace camp on the Missouri, paid us a visit. They exhibited five scalps, which they had taken on the Missouri, and wished us to join in a dance over them, which we willingly did. They related the manner in which they had taken these scalps. Myself and braves showed them the two we had taken near the Quiver, and told them the cause that induced us to go out with the war party, as well as the manner in which we took these scalps, and the difficulty we had in obtaining them.

     They recounted to us all that had taken place, the number that had been slain by the peace party, as they were called and recognized to be, which far surpassed what our warriors, who had joined the British, had done. This party came for the purpose of joining the British, but I advised them to return to the peace party, and told them the news, which the Potawatomies had brought. They returned to the Missouri, accompanied by some of my braves whose families were there.

     After "sugar-making" was over in the spring, I visited the Fox village at the lead mines. They had nothing to do with the war, and consequently were not in mourning. I remained there some days, spending my time very pleasantly with them in dancing and feasting. I then paid a visit to the Pottowattomie village on the Illinois River, and learned that Sanatuwa and Tatapuckey had been to St. Louis. Gomo told me that "peace had been made between his people and the Americans, and that seven of his band remained with the war chief to make the peace stronger." He then told me: "Washeown is dead! He had gone to the fort to carry some wild fowl to exchange for tobacco, pipes and other articles.  He had secured some tobacco and a little flour, and left the fort before sunset, but had not proceeded far when he was shot dead by a white war chief, who had concealed himself near the path for that purpose.  He then dragged him to the lake and threw him in, where I afterwards found him.  I have since given two horses and a rifle to his relatives, not to break the peace, to which the have agreed.

     I remained for some time at the village of Gomo, and went with him to the fort to pay visit to the war chief.  I spoke the Pottowattomie tongue well, and was take for one of their people by him.  He treated us friendly, and said he was very much displeased about the murder of Washeown.  He promised us he would find out and punish the person who killed him.  He made some inquires about the Sacs, which I answered.  On my return to Rock River, I was informed that a party of soldiers had gone up the Mississippi to build a fort a Prairie du Chien.  They stopped near our village, appearing friendly, and were treated kindly by our people.

     We commenced repairing our lodges, putting our village in order, and clearing our cornfields.  We divided fields belonging to the party on the Missouri among those who wanted them, on condition that they should be relinquished to their owners on their return from the peace establishment.  We were again happy in our village.  Our women went cheerfully to work, and all moved on harmoniously.

     Some time afterward, five or six boats arrived loaded with soldiers on their way to Prairie du Chien to reinforce the garrison at that place.  They appeared friendly and were well received, and we held a council with the war chief.  We had no intentions of hurting him or any of his party, for we could easily have defeated them.  They remained with us all day and gave our people plenty of whisky.  During the night a party arrived, by way of the Rock River who brought us six kegs of powder.  They told us that the British had gone to Prairie du Chien and taken the fort.  They wished us to again join them in war, which we agreed to do.  I collected my warriors and determined to pursue the boats, which had sailed with a fair wind.  If we had known the day before, we could easily have taken them all, as the war chief used no precaution to prevent it.

Part 3


Part 5

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