The Black Hawk War*

Guest Writer Willard W Glazier

“My reason teaches me that land cannot be sold. The Great Spirit gave it to his children to live upon. So long as they occupy and cultivate it, they have a right to the soil. Nothing can be sold but such things as can be carried away.” ~Black Hawk

[Willard W Glazier, a Cavalryman, veteran of the Civil War, and successful author, was in 1876, at age thirty-three, traveling cross-country, ocean to ocean, on horseback. His horse was a large Kentucky Black Hawk or Morgan stallion whom he had named Paul Revere. “His color was coal black, with a white star in the forehead and four white feet; long mane and tail; height fifteen hands; weight between ten and eleven hundred pounds, with an easy and graceful movement under the saddle.” Paul, as he called him, had been having some problems with a sore on his back, which necessitated treatment and subsequent delay, so that after four months on the road, Glazier was still less than halfway through his journey. He had started out from Boston April, 1876, and it was late September when he stopped at Davenport, Iowa.]

It is only fifty years ago that the first cabin was erected here by white men. the side of the great river a bluff rises gradually to an elevation of about one hundred and fifty feet, and on its side and at its base the city of Davenport is built. Over a bluff we come upon a beautiful rolling prairie, and back as far as Duck Creek the land is covered with fruit, vegetable and flower gardens, and presents a picture of uncommon beauty. of the Mississippi are obtained from the summit of the bluff; also of Rock Island Arsenal and Rock Island City on the opposite shore….

Davenport excels all the other cities of the State in the beauty and advantages of its location. The view from the hill-tops is scarcely to be equalled for picturesqueness by anything I saw during my journey …. On account of its being built on a declivity the drainage is perfect. It is surrounded by a most fertile country and possesses every element for the growth of a large city.

Recrossing the magnificent bridge spanning the river between Davenport and the Illinois shores, I found myself on Rock Island. The Island lies to the north of the city, the latter not being located on the Island but on the mainland of Illinois. [The natives, Sacs and Foxes, migrated here from Montreal, Canada, about 1700, and had lived on or near, Rock Island over one hundred and thirty years.] Since 1804 [Treaty of St Louis] the Island proper has been the property of the United States Government, although not occupied until 1812, on the breaking out of the war with England. The surface is very fertile, and coal and limestone are found in large quantities. It is about three miles long, covering nine hundred and sixty acres ….

In the spring of 1828, there were only nine white men and their families on the site now occupied by Rock Island City; the Indians of the Sac [Sauk] tribe were much aggrieved by the whites taking possession of their lands while the latter were away on their hunting expeditions. Black Hawk, chief of the tribe, took great offence and protested strongly against it; and as the number of white settlers increased, the discontent of the Indians grew stronger. They were urged by the commanding officer of the Island and the Indian agent, Colonel Davenport, to move across to the west side of the river in compliance with their treaty with the United States Government; but Black Hawk refused to move and contended that the Island was his property.

The Fox tribe crossed the river and established themselves there. The lands on the Illinois side were now surveyed and sold to the settlers by the Government, but Black Hawk and the Sacs still refused to leave. Depredations were committed by the Indians of which the whites complained, and in 1831 Black Hawk gave notice to the settlers to leave his lands. Some neighboring tribes it was now feared, would unite with the Sacs in an attack on the settlers, who petitioned the military authorities and the Governor of Illinois to protect them, and in this way what is known as the Black Hawk War originated.

In response to the complaints of the settlers, Governor Reynolds, of Illinois, called out sixteen hundred mounted volunteers and marched them to the Island and General Gaines at Saint Louis proceeded immediately to the scene of action with the Sixth United States Infantry. General Gaines ordered all the settlers to move to the Island, and then invited Black Hawk to talk over the situation.

The military and settlers met in the Council House, and Black Hawk, with about one hundred warriors in their war paint, approached and entered and soon commenced shouting in an intimidating manner. It was thought that an attempt at a general massacre would be made. An Indian called “The Prophet” raised his voice very high, gesticulating and speaking rapidly in an angry tone as if he desired to excite the warriors to an attack.

At length quiet was obtained and General Gaines spoke to Black Hawk, reminding him of the sale of the lands in dispute to the United States Government. Black Hawk and his followers claimed that the lands had never been sold. The treaty was then read and explained to the chief, which seemed to enrage him greatly.

Black Hawk shouted: “The white people speak from paper, but the Indian always speaks from the heart.”

He further said that their lands had not been sold, that the men who signed the treaty had no authority to do so, or to sell their land. And even if it was sold, they were not paid for it. The General said that the Government had assigned him and his people land on the west side of the Mississippi. His only answer was that he would neither leave nor fight and if the whites attempted to drive him off, he would sit down in his wigwam and they might do what they liked with him. General Gaines understood by this that he would defend what he considered his rights.

Preparations for an attack were now made by the commanding officers and Governor Reynolds, and on June 19, 1831, troops were assembled near the mouth of Rock River. The next morning they moved upon the Indian village. Black Hawk, however, and all his people had left in the night, crossed the Mississippi and were camped a few miles below Rock Island. Ten days after, the chief presented himself on the Island with twenty-seven warriors and voluntarily signed a treaty of peace with General Gaines and the Governor of Illinois, the latter representing the National Government. The terms of this treaty included a pledge on the part of Black Hawk not to return to the east side of the river or give any more trouble to the white settlers.

In the following winter, Black Hawk refused to keep the treaty any longer and in April, 1832, he and about five hundred of his braves crossed the Mississippi at Burlington and moved up the east bank of the river with his women and children, intending to drive out the settlers and return to their old village on the Island. The Winnebagoes and other Indians were to have assisted him in recovering the land. This news soon reached Saint Louis and Colonel Atkinson with a body of infantry left that city for Rock Island. Zachary Taylor, afterwards President of the United States, was in command of a company, and Lieutenant Jefferson Davis, afterwards President of the Confederate States, was attached to the same regiment throughout this campaign.

About two thousand volunteers were brought forward by Governor Reynolds of Illinois, assembling at Beardstown and marching to Yellow Banks, fifty miles below Rock Island. They moved to the mouth of Rock River where they were joined by Colonel Atkinson and his regulars. The volunteers were under the command of General Whiteside, and Abraham Lincoln, afterwards President of the United States, served under him as captain of a company. The Indians had ascended Rock River and halted opposite Rock Island, the women and children having been sent higher up the river in canoes. Black Hawk now made an attempt to capture Fort Armstrong. He crossed to the Island with his warriors in the night, but a violent storm arising interfered with his plans that night, and in the morning Colonel Atkinson’s Infantry arrived and drove them from the Island. They followed their women up Rock River, pursued by Colonel Atkinson and the volunteers under General Whiteside.

Nearly the whole of Black Hawk’s band was destroyed in the following months of May, June, July and August, and Black Hawk himself was captured and removed as a prisoner to the Island. He and his son Seoskuk, and other chiefs, were afterwards taken to Washington and other Eastern cities. On his return from his eastern tour, Black Hawk settled down with a remnant of his own tribe on Des Moines River, where he died in 1838 …. After the close of the “Black Hawk War” there were no hostilities with the Indians at Rock Island ….

East of the city, stretching away to Rock River, are some picturesque bluffs and scenery of great beauty …. Three miles … inland is a resort frequented by the residents of both sides of the river. Its traditions and associations are romantic. It is known as Black Hawk’s Watch Tower. The tower consists of a rock and is the summit of the highest hill, overlooking Rock River and affording an extensive picture of the surrounding country. The rock derives its name from its having been used by Black Hawk as a point from which he could survey his lands for many miles. Tradition says it was selected by the chief’s father and overlooked the tribe’s first village on the banks of Rock River.

Black Hawk gave the following account of the place to Antoine Le Claire in 1833: “The tower was my favorite resort and was often visited by me alone, where I could sit and smoke my pipe and look with wonder and pleasure at the grand scenes that were presented, even across the mighty river. On one occasion a Frenchman who had been resting in our village, brought his violin with him to the Tower to play and dance for the amusement of my people who had assembled there, and while dancing with his back to the cliff, accidentally fell over it and was killed. The Indians say that at the same time of the year soft strains of the violin can be heard near the spot.”

He further relates that in the year 1827, a young Sioux Indian, who was lost in a violent snow-storm, found his way into a camp of the Sacs, and while there, fell in love with a beautiful maiden. On leaving for his own country he promised to return in the summer and claim his bride. He did so, secreting himself in the woods until he met the object of his affection. A heavy thunderstorm was coming on at the time, and the lovers took shelter under a rocky cliff on the south side of the Tower. Soon a loud peal of thunder was heard; the cliff was rent into a thousand pieces and they were buried beneath them. “This, their unexpected tomb,” says Black Hawk, “still remains undisturbed.”

In the spring, summer, and autumn many hundreds of visitors climb to the Tower, especially on Sunday and holidays, and while breathing the pure, healthful atmosphere, enjoy delightful views of the surrounding country and the majestic river at their feet.

“We know our lands have now become more valuable. The white people think we do not know their value; but we know that the land is everlasting, and the few goods we receive for it are soon worn out and gone.” ~Canassatego

Copyright © 2012 Alexandra Lee

Photo Credit: Mississippi Palisades State Park, Northern Illinois

* Willard W Glazier, Ocean to Ocean on Horseback / Being the Story of a Tour in the Saddle from the Atlantic / to the Pacific; with Especial Reference to the Early History / and Devel (Philadelphia: Edgewood, 1899), chapter 21. Photos, quotes added.


About Christseekerk

Minister, Editor, Writer, Senior Citizen, Grown Children, Grandchildren. Interests travel, writing, reading, walking, golf.
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One Response to The Black Hawk War*

  1. Pingback: Peter Cartwright: Methodist Circuit-Riding Preacher | Aesthetics

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