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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 11

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)

     On arriving at our encampment we found that the army had commenced moving.  Another party of five came in and said they had been pursued for several hours, and were attacked by twenty-five or thirty whites in the woods; that the whites rushed in upon them as they lay concealed and received their fire without seeing them.  They immediately retreated whilst we reloaded.  They entered the thicket again and as soon as they came near enough we fired.  Again they retreated and again they rushed into the thicket and fired.  We returned fire and a skirmish ensued between two of their men and one of ours, who was killed by having his throat cut.  This was the only man we lost, the enemy having had three killed; they again retreated.

     Another party of three Sacs had come in and brought two young white squaws, whom they had given to the Winnebagoes to take to the whites.  They said they had joined a party of Pottowattomies and went with them as a war party against the settlers of Illinois.

     The leader of this war party a Pottowattomie, had been severely whipped by this settler, some time before, and was anxious to avenge the insult and injury.  While the party was preparing to start, a young Pottowattomie went to the settler's house and told him to leave it, that a war party was coming to murder them.  They started, but soon returned again, as it appeared that they were all there when the war party arrived.  The Potawatomies killed the whole family, except two you squaws, who the Sac took up on their horses and carried off, to save their lives. They were brought to our encampment, and a messenger sent to the Winnebagoes, as they were friendly with both sides, to come and get them, and carry them to the whites.  If these young men, belonging to my band, had not gone with the Pottowattomies, the two young squaws would have shared the same fate as their friends.

     During our encampment at the Four Lakes we were hard pressed to obtain enough to eat to support nature.  Situated in a swampy, marshy country, (which had beers selected in consequence of the great difficulty required to gain access thereto,) there was but little game of any sort to be found, and fish were equally scarce.  The great distance to any settlement, and the impossibility of bring supplies there for, if any could have been obtained, deterred our young men from making further attempts.  We forced to dig roots and bark trees, to obtain something to satisfy hunger and keep us alive.  Several of our old people became so reduced, as to actually die with hunger!  Learning that the army had commenced moving, and fearing that they might come upon and surround our encampment, I concluded to remove our women and children across the Mississippi, that they might return to the Sac nation again.  Accordingly, on the next day we commenced moving, with five Winnebagoes acting as our guides, intending to descent the Wisconsin.

     Neapope, with a party of twenty, remained in our rear, to watch for the enemy, whilst we were proceeding to the Wisconsin, with our women and children.  We arrived, and had commenced crossing over to an island, when we discovered a large body of the enemy coming forward towards us.  We were now compelled to fight, or sacrifice our wives and children to the fury of the whites.  I met them with fifty warriors, (having left the balance to assist our women and children in crossing) about a mile from the mite of the river, when an attack immediately commenced.  I was mounted on a fine horse, and was pleased to see my warriors so brave.  I addressed them in a loud voice, telling them to stand their ground and never yield it to the enemy succeed in gaining this point, which compelled us to fall into a deep ravine, forth which we continued firing at them and they at us, until it began to grow dark.  My horse having been wounded twice during this engagement, and fearing from his loss of blood that he would soon give out, and finding that the enemy would not come near enough to receive our fire, in the dusk of the evening, and knowing that our women and children had had sufficient time to reach the island in the Wisconsin, I ordered my warriors to return, by different routes, and meet me at the Wisconsin, and was astonished to find that the enemy were not disposed to pursue us.

     In this skirmish with fifty braves, I defended and accomplished my passage over the Wisconsin, with a loss of only sex men, though opposed by a host of mounted militia.  I would not have fought there, but to gain time for our women and children to cross to an island.  A warrior will duly appreciate the embarrassments I labored under - and whatever may be the sentiments of the white people in relation to this battle, my nation, thought fallen, will award to me the reputation of a great brave in conduction it.

     The loss of the enemy could not be ascertained by our party; but I am of the opinion that it was much greater, in proportion, that mine.  We returned to the Wisconsin and crossed over to our people.

     Here some of my people left me, and descended the Wisconsin hoping to escape to the west side of the Mississippi, that they might return home.  I had no objection to their leaving me as my people were all in a desperate condition, being worn out with traveling and starving with hunger.  Our only hope to save ourselves was to get across the Mississippi.  But few of this party escaped.  Unfortunately for them, a party of soldier from Prairie du Chien were stationed on the Wisconsin, a short distance from its mouth, who fired upon our distressed people. Some were killed, others drowned, several taken prisoners, and the balance escaped to the woods and perished with hunger.  Among this party were a great many women and children.

     I was astonished to find that Neapope and his party of spies had not yet come in, they having been left in my rear to bring the news, if the enemy were discovered.  It appeared, however, that the whites had come in a different direction and intercepted our trail but a short distance from the place where we first saw them, leaving our spies considerably in the rear.  Neapope and one other retired to the Winnebago village, and there remained during the war.  The balance of his party, being brave men, and considering our interests as their own, returned and joined our ranks.

     Myself and band having no means to descend the Wisconsin, I started over a rugged country, to go to the Mississippi, intended to cross it and return to my nation.  Many of our people were compelled to go on foot, for want of horses, which, in consequence of their having had nothing to eat for a long time, caused our march to be very slow.  At length we arrived at the Mississippi, having lost some of our old men and little children, who perished on the way with hunger.

     We had been here but a little while before we saw a steamboat (the "Warrior") coming.  I told my braves not to shoot, as I intended going a board, so that we might save our women and children.  I know the captain (Throckmorton) and was determined to give myself up to him.  I then sent for my white flag.  While the messenger was gone, I took a small piece of white cotton and put it on a pole, and called to the capitan of the boat, and told him to send his little canoe ashore and let me come aboard.  The people on board asked whether we were Sacs or Winnebagoes.  I told a Winnebago to tell them that we were Sacs, and wanted to give ourselves up!  A Winnebago on the boat called out to us "To run and hide, that the whites were going to shoot!"  About this time one of my braves jumped into the river, bearing a white flag to the boat, when another sprang in after him and brought him to the shore.  The firing then commenced from the boat, which was returned by my braves and continued for some time.  Very few of my people were hurt after the first fire, having succeeded in getting behind old logs and trees, which shielded them from the enemy's fire.

     The Winnebago on the steamboat must either have misunderstood what was told, or did not tell it to the captain correctly; because I am confident he would not have allowed the soldiers to fire upon us if he had known my wishes.  I have always considered him a good man, and too great a brave to fire upon an enemy when suing for quarters.

     After the boat left us, I told my people to cross if they could, and wished; that I intended going into the Chippewa country.  Some commenced crossing, and such as had determined followed them, remained; only three lodges going with me.  Next morning, at daybreak, a young man overtook me, and said that all my party had determined to crass the Mississippi - that a number had already got over safe, and that he had hear the white army last night within a few miles of them.  I know began to fear that the whites would come up with my people and kill them before they could get across.  I had determined to go and join the Chippewas; but reflecting that by this I could only save myself, I concluded to return, and die with my people, if the Great Spirit would not give us another victory.  During our stay in the thicket, a party of whites came close by us, but passed on without discovering us.

     Early in the morning a party of whites being in advance of the army, came upon our people, who were attempting to cross the Mississippi.  They tried to give themselves up; the whites paid no attention to their entreaties, but commenced slaughtering them.  In a little while the whole army arrived.  Our braves, but few in number, finding that the enemy paid no regard to age or sex, and seeing that they were murdering helpless women and little children, determined to fight until they were killed.  As many women as could, commenced swimming the Mississippi, with their children on their backs.  A number of them were drowned, and some shot before they could reach the opposite shore.

     One of my braves, who gave me this information, piled up some saddles before him, (when the right commenced), to shield himself from the enemy's fire, and killed three white men.  But seeing that the whites where coming too close to him, he crawled to the bank of the river, without being perceived, and hid himself under the bank until the enemy retired.  He then came to me and told me what had been done. After hearing this sorrowful news, I started my little party to the Winnebago village at Prairie La Cross.  On my arrival there I entered the lodge of one of the chiefs, and told him that I wished him to go with me to his father, that I intended giving myself up to the American war chief and die, if the Great Spirit saw proper.  He said he would go with me.  I then took my medicine bag and addressed the chief.  I told him that it was "the soul of the Sac nation - that it never had been dishonored in any battle, take it, it is my life - dearer than life - and give it to the American chief!" He said he would keep it, and take care of it, and if I were to live, he would send it to me.

     During my stay at the village, the squaws made me a white dress of deer skin.  I then started with several Winnebagoes, and went to their agent, at Prairie du Chien, and give myself up.

     On my arrival there, I found to my sorrow, that a large body of Sioux had pursued and killed a number of our women and children, who had got safely across the Mississippi.  The whites ought not to have permitted such conduct, none but cowards would ever have been guilty of such cruelty, a habit that has been practiced on our nation by the Sioux.

     The massacre, which terminated the war, lasted about two hours. Our loss in killed was about sixty, besides a number that where drowned.  The loss of the enemy could not be ascertained by my braves, exactly; but they think they killed about sixteen during the action.

     I was now given up by the agent to the commanding officer at Fort Crawford, the White Beaver having gone down river.  We remained here a short time, and then started for Jefferson Barracks, in a steamboat, under the charge of a young war chief, (Lieut. Jefferson Davis) who treated us with such kindness.  He is a good and brave young chief, with whose conduct I was much pleased.  On our way down we called at Galena and remained a short time.  The people crowded to the boat to see us; but the war chief would not permit them to enter the apartment where we - knew, from what his feelings would have been if he had been placed in a similar situation, that we did not wish to have a gaping crowd around us.

     We passed Rock Island without stopping.  The great war chief, General Scott, who was then at Fort Armstrong, came out in a small boat to see us, but the captain of the steamboat would not allow anybody from the fort to come on board his boat, in consequence of the cholera raging among the soldiers.  I did think the captain ought to have permitted the war chief to come on board to see me, because I could see no danger to be apprehended by it.  The war chief looked well, and I have since heard was constantly among his soldiers, who were sick and dying, administering to their wants, and had not caught the disease from them and I thought it absurd to think that any of the people on the steamboat could be afraid of catching the disease from a well man.  But these people are not brave like war chiefs, who never fear anything.

     On our way down I surveyed the country that had cost us so much trouble, anxiety and blood, and that now caused me to be a prisoner of war.  I reflected upon the ingratitude of the whites when I saw there fine houses, rich harvests and everything desirable around them; and recollected that all this land had been ours, for which I am my people never received a dollar, and that the whites were not satisfied until they took our village and our graveyards from us and removed us across the Mississippi.

     On our arrival at Jefferson Barracks we met the Great War chief, White Beaver, who had commanded the American army against my little band.  I felt the humiliation of my situation; a little while before I had been leader of my braves, now I was a prisoner of war, but had surrendered myself.  He received us kindly and treated us well.

     We were now confined to the barracks and forced to wear the ball and chain.  This was extremely mortifying and altogether useless.  Was the White Beaver afraid I would break out of his and run away?  Or was he ordered to inflict his punishment upon me?  If I had taken him prisoner on the field of battle I would not have wounded his feelings so much by such treatment, knowing that a brave war chief would prefer death to dishonor.  But I do not blame the White Beaver for the course he pursued, as it is the custom among the white soldiers, and I suppose it was part of his duty.

Part 10


Part 12

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