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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 9

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)

     Accordingly Mattatas' daughter was sent to the fort accompanied by several of our men, and was admitted.  She went before the war chief and told the story of the prophet.  The war chief said that the president did not send him here to make treaties with the women, nor hold council with them.  That our young men must leave the fort, but she might remain if she wished.

     All our plans were defeated.  We must cross the river, or return to our village and await the coming of the war chief with his soldiers.  We determined on the latter, but finding that our agent, interpreter, trader and Keokuk, were determined on breaking my ranks, and had induced several of my warriors to cross the Mississippi, I sent a deputation to the agent, at the request of my band, pledging myself to leave the country in the fall, provided permission was given us to remain, and secure our crop of corn then growing, as we would be in a starving situation if we were driven off without the means of subsistence.

     The Deputation returned with an answer from the war chief "That no further time would be given than that specified, and if we were not then gone he would remove us."

     I directed my village crier to proclaim that my orders were, in the event of the war chief coming to our village to remove us, that not a gun should be fired or any resistance offered.  That if he determined to fight, for them to remain quietly in their lodges, and let them kill them if he chose.

     I felt conscious that this great war chief would not hurt our people, and my object was not war.  Had it been we would have attacked and killed the war chief and his braves, when in council with us, as they were completely in our power.  But his manly conduct and soldierly deportment, his mild yet energetic manner, which proved his bravery, forbade it.

     Some of our young men who had been out as spies came in and reported that they had discovered a large body of mounted me coming toward the village, who looked like a war party.  They arrived and took a position below Rock River, for their place of encampment.  The great war chief, General Gaines, entered Rock River in a steamboat, with his soldiers and one big gun.  They passed and returned by our village, but excited no alarm among my braves.  No attention was paid to the boat; even our little children who were playing on the bank of the river, as usual, continued their amusement.  The water being shallow, the boat got aground, which gave the whites some trouble.  If they had asked for assistance, there was not a brave in my band who would not willingly have aided them.  Their people were permitted to pass and re-pass through our village, and were treated with friendship by our people.

     The war chief appointed the next day to remove us. I would have remained and been taken prisoner by the regulars, but was afraid of the multitude of pale faced militia, who were on horseback, as they were under no restraints of their chiefs.

     We crossed the river during the night, and encamped some distance below Rock Island.  The great war chief convened another council, for the purpose of making a treaty with us.  In this treaty he agreed to give us corn in place of that we had left growing in our fields.  I touched the goose quill to the treaty, and was determined to live in peace.

     The corn that had been given us was soon found to be inadequate to our wants, when load lamentations were heard in the camp by the women and the children, for their roasting ears, beans and squashes.  To satisfy them, a small party of braves went over in the night to take corn from their fields.  They were discovered by the whites and fired upon.  Complaints were again made of the depredations committed by some of my people, on their own cornfields.

     I understood from our agent, that there had been a provision made in one of your treaties for assistance in agriculture, and that we could have our fields plowed if we required it.  I therefore called upon him, requested him to have a small log house built for me, ad an field plowed that fall, as I wished to live retired.  He promised to have it done.  I then went to the trader, Colonel Davenport, and asked for permission to be buried in the graveyard at our village, among old friends and warriors, which he gave cheerfully. I then returned to my people satisfied.

     A short time after this, a party of Foxes went up to Prairie du Chien to avenge to murder of their chiefs and relations, which had been committed the summer previous, by the Menomonees and Sioux.  When they arrived in the vicinity of the encampment of the Menomonees, they met with a Winnebago, and inquired for the Menomonee camp.  They requested him to go on before them and see if there were any Winnebagoes in it, and if so, to tell them that they had better return to their own camp.  He went and gave the information, not only to Winnebagoes, but to the Menomonees, that they might be prepared.  The party soon followed, killed twenty-eight Menomonees, and made their escape.

     This retaliation, which with us is considered lawful and right, created considerable excitement among the whites.  A demand was made for the Foxes to be surrendered to, and tried by the white people.  The principle men came to me during the fall and asked my advice.  I conceived that they had done right and that our Great Father acted very unjustly in demanding them, when he had suffered all their chiefs to be decoyed away and murdered by the Menomonees, without ever having made a similar demand of them.  If he had no right in the first instance he had none now, and for my part, I conceived the right very questionable, if not an act of usurpation in any case, where a difference exists between two nations, for him to interfere.  The Fox joined my band with the intention to go out with them on the fall hunt.

     About this time, Neapope, who started to Malden when it was ascertained that the great war chief, General Gaines was coming to remove us returned.  He said had seen the chief of our British Father, and asked him if the Americans could force us to leave our village.  He said: "If you had not sold your land the Americans could not take your village from you.  That the right vested in you only, could be transferred by the voice and the will of the whole nation, and that as you have never given your consent to the sale of your country, it yet remains your exclusive property, from which the American government never could force you away, and that in the event of war, you should have nothing to fear, as we would stand by and assist you."

     He said he had called at the prophet's lodge on his way down, and there he had learned for the first time, that we had left our village.  He informed me privately, that the prophet was anxious to see me, as he had much good news to tell me, and that I would hear good news in the spring form our British Father.  "The prophet requested me to give you all the particulars, but I would much rather you would see him yourself and learn all from him.  But I will tell you that he has received expresses from our British Father, who says that he is going to send us guns, ammunition, provisions and clothing early in the spring.  The vessels that bring them will come by way of Milwaukee.  The prophet has likewise received wampum and tobacco from the different nations on the lakes, Ottawas, Chippewas and Pottowattomies, and as to the Winnebagoes he has them all at his command.  We are going to be happy once more."

     I told him I was pleased that our British Father intended to see us righted.  That we had been driven from our lands without receiving anything for them, and I now began to hope from his talk, than my people would once more be happy.  If I could accomplish this I would be satisfied. I am now growing old and could spend the remnant of my time anywhere.  But I wish first to see my people happy.  I can then leave them cheerfully. This has always been my constant aim and now I begin to hope that our sky will soon be clear.

     Neapope said:

     "The prophet told me that all the tribes mentioned would fight for us if necessary, and the British Father will support us.  If we should be whipped, which is hardly possible, we will still be safe, the prophet having received a friendly talk from the chief of Wassacummico, at Selkirk's settlement, telling him, that if we were not happy in our own country, to let him know and he would make us happy.  He had received information from our British Father that we had been badly treated by the Americans.  We must go and see the prophet.  I will go first; you had better remain and get as many of your people to join you as you can.  You know everything we have done.  We leave the matter with you to arrange among your people as you please.  I will return to the prophet's village tomorrow.  You can in the meantime make up your mind as to the course you will take and send word to the prophet by me, as he is anxious to assist us, and wishes to know whether you will join us, and assist to make your people happy."

     During the night I thought over everything that Neapope had told me, and was pleased to think that by a little exertion on my part, I could accomplish the object of all my wishes.  I determined to follow the advice of the prophet, and sent word by Neapope, that I would get all my braves together, explain everything that I had heard to them, and recruit as many as I could from the different villages.

     Accordingly I sent word to Keokuk's band and the Fox tribe, explaining to them all the good news I had heard.

     They would not hear. Keokuk said that I had been imposed upon by liars, and had much better remain where I was and keep quiet.  When he found that I was determined to make an attempt to recover my village, fearing that some difficulties would arise, he made application to the agent and great chief at St. Louis, asking permission for the chiefs of our nations to go to Washington to see our Great Father, that we might have our difficulties settled amicably.  Keokuk also requested the trader Colonel Davenport who was going to Washington, to call on our Great Father and explain everything to him and ask permission for us to come on and see him.

     Having heard nothing favorable from the great chief in St. Louis, I concluded that I had better keep my band together, and recruit as many as possible, so that I would be prepared to make the attempt to rescue my village in the spring, provided our Great Father did not send word for us to go to Washington.  The trader returned.  He said he had called on our Great Father and made a full statement to him in relation to our difficulties, and had asked leave for us to go to Washington, but had received no answer.

     I had determined to listen to the advice of my friends, and if permitted to go see our Great Father, to abide by his counsel whatever it might be.  Every overture was made by Keokuk to prevent difficulty, and I anxiously hoped that something would be done for my people that it might be avoided. But there was bad management somewhere, or the difficulty that has taken place would have been avoided.

     When it was ascertained that we would not be permitted to go to Washington, I resolved upon my course, and again tried to recruit some braves from Keokuk's band, to accompany me, but could not.

     Conceiving that the peaceable disposition of Keokuk and his people had been in a great measure the cause of our having been driven from our village, I ascribed their present feelings to the same cause, and immediately went to work to recruit all my own band, and making preparations to ascent the Rock River, I made my encampment on the Mississippi, where Fort Madison had stood.  I requested my people to rendezvous at the place, sending out soldiers to bring in the warriors, and stationed my sentinels in a position to prevent any from moving off until all were ready.

     My party having all come in and got ready, we commenced our march up the Mississippi; our women and children in canoes carrying such provisions as we had, camp equipage, &c.  My braves and warriors were on horseback, armed and equipped for defense, the prophet came down and joining us below the Rock River, have called at Rock Island on his way down, to consult the war chief, agent and trader; who, he said, used many arguments to dissuade him from going with us, requesting him to come and meet us and turn us back.  They told him also there was a war chief on his way to Rock Island with a large body of soldiers.

     The prophet said he would not listen to this talk, because no war chief would dare molest us so long as we were at peace.  That we had a right to go where we pleased peaceably, and advised me to say nothing to my braves and warriors until we encamped that night.  We moved onward until we arrived at the place where General Gaines had made his encampment the year before, and encamped for the night.  The prophet addressed my braves and warriors.  He told them to "follow us and act like braves, and we have nothing to fear and much to gain.  The American war chief may come, but will not, nor dare not interfere with us so long as we act peaceably.  We are not yet ready to act otherwise.  We must wait until we ascend Rock River and receive our reinforcements, and we will then be able to withstand any army."

     That night the White Beaver, General Atkinson, with a party of soldiers passed up in a steamboat. Our party became alarmed expecting to meet the soldiers at Rock River, to prevent us going up. On our arrival at its mouth, we discovered that the steamboat had passed on.

     I was fearful that the war chief had stationed his men on some high bluff, or in some ravine, that we might be taken by surprise.  Consequently, on entering Rock River we commenced beating our drums and singing, to show the Americans that we were not afraid.

     Having met with no opposition, we moved up Rock River leisurely for some distance, when we were overtaken by an express from White Beaver, with an order for me to return with my band and re-cross the Mississippi again. I sent him word that I would not, not recognizing his right to make such a demand, as I was acting peaceably, and intended to go to the prophet's village at his request, to make corn.

     The express returned.  We moved on and encamped some distance below the prophet's village.  Here another express came from the White Beaver, threatening to pursue us and drive us back, if we did not return peaceably.  This message roused the spirit of my band, and all were determined to remain with me and contest the ground with the war chief, should he come and attempt to drive us.  We therefore directed the express to say to the war chief "If he wishes to fight us he might come on." We were determined never to be driven, and equally so, not to make the first attack, our object being to act only in the defensive.  This we conceived to be our right.

     Soon after the express returned, Mr. Gratiot, sub-agent for the Winnebagoes, came to our encampment.  He had no interpreter and was compelled to talk through his chiefs.  They said the object of his mission was to persuade us to return.  But they advised us to go on, assuring us that the further we went up Rock River the more friends we would meet, and our situation would be bettered.  They were on our side and all of their people were our friends.  We must not give up, but continue to ascend Rock River, on which, in a short time, we would receive reinforcements sufficiently strong to repulse any enemy.  They said they would go down with their agent to ascertain the strength of the enemy, and then return and give us the news.  They had to use stratagem to deceive their agent in order to help us.

     During this council several of my braves hoisted the British flag, mounted their horses and surrounded the council lodge.  I discovered that the agent was very much frightened.  I told one of the chiefs to tell him not to be alarmed, and then went out and directed my braves to desist.  Every warrior immediately dismounted and returned to his lodge.  After the council adjourned I placed a sentinel at the agent's lodge to guard him, fearing that some of my warriors might again frighten him.  I had always thought he was a good man and was determined that he should not be hurt.  He started with his chiefs to Rock Island.

     Having ascertained that White Beaver would not permit us to remain where we were, I began to consider what was best to be done, and concluded to keep on up the river, see the Pottowattomies and have a talk with them. Several Winnebago chiefs were present, whom I advised of my intentions, as they did not seem disposed to render us any assistance.  I asked them if they had not sent us wampum during the winter, and requested us to come and join their people and enjoy all the rights and privileges of their country.  They did not deny this; and said if the white people did not interfere, they had no objection to our making corn this year, with our friend the prophet, but did not wish us to go any further up.

     The next day I started with my party to Kishwacokee.  That night I encamped a short distance about the prophet's village.  After all was quiet in our camp I sent for my chiefs, and told them that we had been deceived.  That all the fair promises that had been held out to us through Neapope were false. But not to let our party know it.  We must keep it secret among ourselves, move on to Kishwacokee, as if all was right, and say something on the way to encourage our people.  I will then call on the Pottowattomies, hear what they say, and see what they will do.

Part 8


Part 10

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