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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 10

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)

     We started the next morning, after telling our people that news had just come from Milwaukee that a chief of our British Father would be there in a few days.  Finding that all our plans were defeated, I told the prophet that he must go with me, and we would see what could be done with the Pottowattomies.  On our arrival at Kishwacokee an express was sent to the Pottowattomie villages.  The next day a deputation arrived.  I inquired if they had corn in their villages.  They said they had a very little and could not spare any.  I asked them different questions and received very unsatisfactory answers.  This talk was in the presence of all my people.  I afterwards spoke to them privately, and requested them to come to my lodge after my people had gone to sleep.  They cam and took seats.  I ask them if they had received any news from the British on the lake.  They said no.  I inquired if they had heard that a chief of our British Father was coming to Milwaukee to bring us guns, ammunition, goods and provisions.  They said no.  I told them what news had been brought to me, and requested them to return to their village and tell the chiefs that I wished to see them and have a talk with them.

     After this deputation started, I concluded to tell my people that if White Beaver came after us, we would go back, as it was useless to think of stopping or going on without more provisions and ammunition.  I discovered that the Winnebagoes and Pottowattomies were not disposed to render us any assistance.  The next day the Pottowattomie chiefs arrived in my camp.  I had a dog killed and made a feast.  When it was ready, I spread my medicine bags and the chiefs began to eat.  When the ceremony was about ending, I received news that three or four hundred white men on horse back had been seen about eight miles off.  I immediately started three young men with a white flag to meet them and conduct them to our camp, that we might hold a council with them and descend Rock River again.  I also directed them, in case the whites had encamped, to return, and I would go see them.  After this party had started I sent five young men to see what might take place.  The first party went to the camp of the whites, and were taken prisoners.  The last party had not proceeded far before they saw about twenty men coming toward them at full gallop.  They stopped, and, finding that the whites were coming toward them in such a warlike attitude, they turned and retreated, but were pursued, and two of them overtaken and killed.  The others made their escape.  When they came in with the news, I was preparing my flags to meet the war chief.  The alarm was given.  Nearly all my young men absent ten miles away.  I started with what I had left, about forty, and had proceeded but a short distance, before we saw a part of the army approaching.  I raised a yell, saying to my braves, "Some of our people have been killed.  Wantonly and cruelly murdered! We must avenge their death!"

     In a little while we discovered the whole army coming towards us at a full gallop.  We were now confident that our first party had been killed.  I immediately placed my men behind a cluster of bushes, that we might have the first fire when they had approached close enough.  They made a halt some distance from us.  I gave another yell and ordered my brave warriors to charge upon them, expecting that they would all be killed.  They did charge. Every man rushed towards the enemy and fired, and they retreated in utmost confusion and consternation before my little but brave band of warriors.

     After following the enemy for some distance, I found it useless to pursue them further, as they rode so fast, and returned to the encampment with a few braves, as about twenty-five of them continued in pursuit of the flying enemy.  I lighted my pipe and sat down to thank the Great Spirit it for what he had done.  I had not been meditating long, when two of the three young men I had sent with the flag to meet the American war chief, entered. My astonishment was not greater than my joy to see them living and well. I eager listened to their story, which was as follows:

     "When we arrived near the encampment of the whites, a number of them rushed out to meet us, bringing their guns with them.  They took us into their camp, where an American who spoke Sac language a little told us that his chief wanted to know how we were, where we were going, where our camp was and where was Black Hawk?  We told him that we had come to see his chief, that our chief had directed us to conduct him to our camp, in case he had not encamped, and in that event to tell him that he, Black Hawk, would come to see him; he wished to hold a council with him, as he had given up all intention of going to war."

     This man had once been a member of my tribe, having been adopted by me many years before and treated with the same kindness as was shown to our young men, but like the caged bird of the woods, he yearned for freedom, and after a few years residence with us an opportunity for escape came and he left us.  On this occasion he would have respected our flag and carried back the message I had sent to his chief, had he not been taken prisoner, with a comrade, by some of my braves who did not recognize him, and brought him into camp.  They were securely tied to trees with cord to meditate, but were occasionally buffeted by my young men when passing near them.  When I passed by him there was a recognition on the part of us both, but on account of former friend I concluded to let him go, and some little time before the sun went down I released him from his captivity by untying the cords that bound him and accompanied him outside of our lines so that he could escape safely.  His companion had previously made a desperate effort to escape from his guards and was killed by them.  They continued their story:

     "At the conclusion of this talk a party of white men came in on horseback.  We saw by their countenance that something had happened.  A general tumult arose.  They looked at us with indignation, talked among themselves for a moment, when several of them cocked their guns and fired at us in the crowd.  Our companion fell dead.  We rushed through the crowd and made our escape.  We remained in ambush bout a short time, before we heard yelling like Indians running and enemy.  I a little while we saw some of the whiles in full speed.  One of them came near us.  I through my tomahawk and struck him on the head which brought him to the ground; I ran to him and with his own knife took off his scalp. I took his gun, mounted his horse, and brought my friend here behind me.  We turned to follow our braves, who were chasing the enemy, and had not gone far before we overtook a white man whose horse had mired in a swamp.  My friend alighted and tomahawked the man, who was apparently fast under his horse.  He took his scalp, horse and gun. By this time our party was some distance ahead.  We followed on and saw several white men lying dead on the way.  After riding about six miles we met our party returning.  We asked them how many of our man had been killed.  They said none after the Americans had retreated. We inquired how many whites had been killed.  They replied that they did not know, but said we will soon ascertain, as we must scalp them as we go back.  On our return we found ten men, besides the two we had killed before we joined our friends.  Seeing that they did not yet recognize us, it being dark, we again asked how many of our braves had been killed? They said five.  We asked who they were? They replied that the first party of three we sent out to meet the American war chief, had all taken prisoners and killed in the encampment, and that out of a party of five, who followed to see the meeting of the first party with the whites, two had been killed.  We were now certain that they did not recognize us, nor did we tell who we were until we arrived at our camp.  The news of our death had reached it some time before, and all were surprised to see us again."

     The next morning I told the crier of the village to give notice that we must go and bury our dead.  In a little while all were ready.  A small deputation was sent for our absent warriors, and the remainder started to bury the dead.  We first disposed of them and then commenced an examination in the enemy's deserted encampment for plunder. We found arms and ammunition and provisions, all of which we were sadly in want of, particularly the latter, as we were entirely without.  We found also a variety of saddle bags, which I distributed among my braves, a small quantity of whiskey with them, as I had understood that all the pale faces, when acting as soldiers in the field, were strictly temperate.

     The enemy's encampment was in a skirt of woods near a run, about half a day's travel from Dixon's ferry.  We attacked them in the prairie, with a few bushes between us, about sundown, and I expected that my whole party would be killed.  I never was so much surprised in all the fighting I have seen, knowing, too, that the Americans generally shoot well, as I was to see this army of several hundred retreating, without showing fight, and passing immediately through their encampment, I did think they intended to halt there, as the situation would have forbidden attack by my party if their number had not exceeded half of mine, as we would have been compelled to take the open prairie whilst they could have picked trees to shield themselves from our fire.

     I was never so much surprise in my life as I was in this attack.  An army of three or four hundred men, after having learned that we were suing for peace, to attempt to killed the flag-bearer that had gone unarmed to ask for a meeting of the war chiefs of the two contending parties to hold a council, that I might return to the west side of the Mississippi, to come forward with a full determination to demolish the few braves I had with me, to retreat when they had ten to one, was unaccountable to me. It proved a different spirit from any I had ever before seen among the pale faces.  I expected to see them fight as the Americans did with the British during the last war, but they had no such braves among them.

     At our feast with the Pottowattomie I was convinced that we had been imposed upon by those who had brought in reports of large re-enforcements to my band and resolved not to strike a blow; and in order to get permission from White Beaver to return and re-cross the Mississippi, I sent a flag of peace to the American was chief, who was reported to be close by with his army, expecting that he would convene a council and listen to what we had to say.  But this chief, instead of pursuing that honorable and chivalric course, such as I have always practiced, shot down our flag-bearer and thus forced us into war with less than five hundred warriors to contend against three or four thousand soldiers.

     The supplies that Neapope and the prophet told us about, and the reinforcements we were to have, were never more heard of, and it is but justice to our British Fathers to say were never promised, his chief having sent word in lieu of the lies that were brought to me, "for us to remain at peace as we could accomplish nothing but our own ruin by going to war."

     What was now to be done?  It was worse than folly to turn back and meet an enemy where the odds were so much against us and thereby sacrifice ourselves, our wives children to the fury of an enemy who had murdered some of our brave and unarmed warriors when they were on a mission to sue peace.

     Having returned to our encampment, and found that all our young men had come in, I sent out spies to watch the movements of the army, and commenced moving up Kishwacokee with the balance of my people.  I did not know where to go to find a place of safety for my women and children, but expected to find a good harbor about the head of Rock River.  I concluded to go there, and thought my best route world be to go around the head of Kishwacokee, so that the Americans would have some difficulty if they attempted to follow us.

     On arriving at the head Kishwacokee, I was met by a party of Winnebagoes, who seemed to rejoice at our success.  They said they had come to offer their services, and were anxious to join us. I asked them if they knew where there was a safe place for our women and children.  They told us they would send two old men with us to guide us to a good safe place.

     I arranged war parties to send out in different directions, before I proceeded further.  The Winnebagoes when alone.  The war parties having all been fitted out and started, we commenced moving to the Four Lakes, the place where our guides were to conduct us.  We had not gone far before six Winnebagoes came in with one scalp.  They said they had killed a man in a grove, on the road from the Dixon's to the lead mines.  Four days after, the party of Winnebagoes who had gone out from the head Kishwacokee, overtook us, and told me that they had killed four men and taken their scalps: and that one of them was Keokuk's father (the agent).  They proposed to have a dance over their scalps.  I told them that I could have no dancing in my camp, in consequence of my having lost three young braves; but they might dance in their own camp, which they did.  Two days after, we arrived in safety at the place where the Winnebagoes had directed us.  In a few days a great number of warriors came in.  I called them all around me and addressed them.  I told them: "Now is the time, if any of you wish to come into distinction, and be honored with the medicine bag!  Now is the time to show your courage and bravery, and avenge the murder of our three braves!"

     Several small parties went out, and returned again a few days, with success - bringing in provisions for our people.  In the mean time some spies came in, and reported that the army had fallen back to Dixon's ferry; and others brought news that the horsemen had broken up their camp, disbanded, and returned home.

     Finding that all was safe, I made a dog feast, preparatory to leaving my camp with a large party, (as the enemy were stationed so far off).  Before my braves commenced feasting, I took my medicine bags, and addressed them in the following language:

     "BRAVES AND WARRIORS: These are the medicine bags of our forefathers, Mukataquet, who was the father of the Sac nation.  They were handed down to the great war chief of our nations, Nanamakee, who has been at war with all the nations of the plains, and have never yet been disgraced! I expect you all to protect them!"

     After the ceremony was over and our feasting was done I started, with about two hundred warriors following my great medicine bags.  I directed my course toward sunset and dreamed, the second night after we started, that there would be feast prepared for us after one day's traveled. I told my warriors my dreams in the morning and we started for Moscohocoynak, (Apple River). When we arrived in the vicinity of a fort the white people had built there we saw four men on horseback.  One of my braves fired and wounded a man when the others set up a yell as if a large force were near and ready to come against us.  We concealed ourselves and remained in this position for some time watching to see the enemy approach, but none came.  The four men, in the mean time, ran to the fort and gave the alarm.  We followed them and attacked their fort.  One of their braves, who seemed more valiant that the rest, raised his head about the picketing to fire at us when one of my braves, with a well-directed shot, put an end to his bravery.  Finding that these people could not be killed without setting fire to their houses and fort I thought it more prudent to be content with what flour, provisions, cattle and horses we could find than to set fire to their building, as the light would be seen at a distance and the army might suppose we were in the neighborhood and come upon us with a strong force.  Accordingly we opened a house and filled our bags with four and provisions, took several horses and drove off some of their cattle.

     We start in a direction towards sunrise.  After marching a considerable time I discovered some white men coming towards us.  I told my braves that we would go into the woods and kill them when they approached.  We concealed ourselves until they came near enough and then commenced yelling and firing and made a rush upon them. About this time their chief, with a party of men, rushed up to rescue the men we had fired upon.  In a little while they commenced retreating and left their chief and a few braves who seemed willing and anxious to fight.  They acted like men, but were forced to give way when I rushed them with my braves.  In a short time the chief returned with a larger party.  He seemed determined to fight, and anxious for a battle. When he came near enough I raised the yell and firing commenced from both sides.  The chief, who seemed to be a small man, addressed his warriors in a loud voice, but they soon retreated, leaving him and a few braves on the battlefield.  A great number of my warriors pursued the retreating party and killed a number of their horses as they ran.

     The chief and his few braves were unwilling to leave the field.  I ordered my braves to rush upon them, and had the mortification of seeing two of my chiefs killed before the enemy retreated.

     This young chief deserves great praise for his courage and bravery, but fortunately for us, his army was not all composed of such brave men.

     During this attack we killed several men and about forty horses and lost two young chiefs and seven warriors.  My braves were anxious to pursue them to the fort, attack and burn it, but I told them it was useless to waste our powder as there was no possible chance of success if we did attack them, and that as we had run the bear into his hole we would leave him and return to our camp.

Part 9


Part 11

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