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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 3, 2003 - Issue 86


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An Indian Family Feud

by From The Milwaukee Sentinel - June 7, 1895
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

The Black River Falls Tragedy and Its Causes
Why Jim Swallow Murdered George Black Hawk
The Code of the Indian Vendetta Requires Payment for the Killing of a Relative Either in Ponies or Merchandise or by the Killing of a Relative of the Murderer, and Swallow's Deed was done to Avenge the Death of His Brother

Old Chief Black Hawk

Black River Falls, Wisconsin - June 2, 1895 - A tragedy of more than usual importance took place in Winnebago Indian circles last week, today old Chief Black Hawk, sitting in his camp on Levis Creek, Jackson County, mourns the loss of his brave son, George Black Hawk, who died Tuesday night from the effects of knife wounds inflicted by Jim Swallow (Nahrestha Kithagah), two weeks ago. Chief Black Hawk is a nephew of the old war-famed Black Hawk, and he fairly worshiped his son, who was his heir, and who would, had he not been thus untimely cut off, have assumed the chieftainship of the Winnebago tribe as soon as his father went forth into the spirit land and happy hunting grounds. It is a sore blow to the old chief, who smokes his pipe at the door of his hunting lodge with his grizzled face imperturbable as an image and his black eyes fix on a dismal future. His line will expire with his death, and the Winnebagos will be obliged to elect his successor from another royal house. Meantime Jim Swallow, the murderer of George Black Hawk, lies in jail in Black River Falls waiting trial. It is a case of considerable importance, as the families of the dead man and his slayer are two leading families of the tribe, the old treaty belts and other valuables being very nearly equally divided. Black Hawk has visit Washington many times and has many metals among his souvenirs.

George Black Hawk

Indian Family Feud
Previous reports of the affair have been sent to the press by persons who have little knowledge regarding the Indians and their ways, and have not been very accurate. There always has been a strain of jealousy between Green Cloud and Black Hawk as to the chieftainship, a kind of Indian War of the Roses, and while they were on exhibition at the World's Fair (in the Midway Plaisance Indian village) they had a continuous quarrel until Black Hawk was forced to leave. Green Cloud is the brother-in-law of Swallow, and the effect of the latter's bloody deed may make his kinsman king. When in the future the impartial historian writes the annals of the Winnebago tribe, perhaps this Jim Swallow, who is now waiting indictment under the United States law for killing his kinsman, may figure as the aboriginal Duke of Clarence of our own time, who put down a Plantagenet to set his brother Edward of York on the throne. Under different names and different skies from those of Merry England these things are done. The Indian tribe is small and doomed to decay, but the consequences of his deed under the interpretation of a law of so-called civilization, instead of falling beneath the assassin's blow or being drowned in the butt of malmsey.

According to the ethics of the Winnebago tribe, murder is a misdemeanor, not a crime. The usual way of settling cases of murder among the Indians is briefly enunciated here. One Indian who kills another gives an opening to the relatives of the murdered man to take his life if they are so inclined. The murderer however offers ponies, blankets, beads and other things dear o the Indians heart to the dead man's relatives, and should they accept these presents, the crime is considered to be atoned. It is considered a brave act by the Indians to take a life for a life. Perhaps it is true that a sufficient quantity of firewater makes an Indian brave, and in such condition he would want a pony or a blanket if he had been sober. These children of nature have their vendettas and their amenities, and perhaps they are no more extreme than those of the whites who speak Anglo-Saxon accents and eat with a spoon instead of a knife.

Would Not Accept Ponies
The slaying of young Chief George Black Hawk was a sequel to an old vendetta between the families of Swallow and Hinockah (a collateral branch of the Black Hawk house). About two years ago Henry Swallow, brother of Jim (the survivor of this last misunderstanding) was killed by young Hinockah, who claimed that Swallow abused his (Hinockah's) mother, and struck a blow for the old woman who had brought him into the world (an act, by the way, that few juries would reprehend). Since then old Hinockah, father of the boy, has offered his ponies to Jim Swallow to settle the matter, but Swallow invariably refused, and said he could not accept anything until he had talked with his two brothers and sisters in Nebraska concerning the matter. George Black Hawk had been visiting Iowa and Nebraska all winter, and had just returned home, and meeting old Hinockah, (brother of old Black Hawk and his uncle) started for home. A short distance from town they met Jim Swallow. A conversation was begun regarding the refusal of Swallow to accept the ponies from old Hinockah in payment for his brother's death. Swallow said that he had not seen his people in Nebraska, and did not like to settle until he had done so, lest they should be displeased with his actions.

George Black Hawk spoke here, saying that he had seen Swallow's relatives in Nebraska and had talked with them and that the settlement would be perfectly satisfactory to them. 'But,' said Black Hawk, 'If you want to be brave, do what you like.'

Swallow replied that he had nothing to kill anybody with.

Old Hinockah stepped forward, handing Swallow his knife, saying, 'If you are a brave man and want to take a life do it now.'

At this Swallow struck Hinockah in the neck with the knife. Then he wheeled on Black Hawk and struck him a severe cut between the eyes. As Black Hawk fell to the ground, Swallow jumped upon him and made five other severe gashes on his body. Black Hawk was taken to his father's camp and an Indian medicine man was sent for. George Black Hawk's mother, meantime, started getting out the healing herbs, digging them with a fire shovel from the ground.

The last chapter in this singular story of revenge and apparently causeless manslaughter is told by Thomas R. Roddy of Black River Falls who is as well acquainted with Indian traits and language as any man in the United States, and who has traded with the Indians for years and has thus been brought in constant touch with them. Said Mr. Roddy to a Sentinel reporter:

"I went out the next day, being summoned by the district attorney to act as interpreter. The justice of the peace also went out with a stenographer to take the statement of George Black Hawk before his death. At the same time the sheriff started with a posse in pursuit of the murderer, who had fled to the upper settlement. We knew that the six wounds were very severe and might prove fatal, but had hope of George's recovery. Here old Black Hawk called me to him and told me in his native tongue that the Great Spirit appeared to him in a dream in the night and told him: 'George looks well, but he cannot live many days.' The old chief said that while for the honor of his people he was bound to kill Swallow, his son's slayer, he had decided to let the state take the matter up. Then the sheriff came and asked me to go with him to capture Swallow, adding that if I would do so he though we could capture him. We started early and found him at the camp of Old Green Cloud. We arrested him and he now lies in jail awaiting trial."

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