The Way It Was; 6
I considered that as myself and band had no agency in selling our country and that as provision had been made in the treaty for all of us to remain on it as long as it belonged to the United States that we could not be forced away. I refused therefore to quit my village. It was here that I was born and here like the bones of many friends and relatives for this spot I felt a sacred reverence and never could consent to leave it without being forced deaf from. The way it was presenting eyewitness accounts of historic events. Material for this series was drawn from the files and
papers of the State Historical Society it was guns. Today I am a man. And you are another. Story of the Black Hawk War. The Black Hawk War has been called one of the most sordid episodes in the history of our Indian relations. It cost the lives of about 250 soldiers and settlers and twice that number of Indians. The war itself lasted for only about four months in the air eight hundred thirty two although the indirect cause of the conflict lay in an event that had occurred twenty eight years earlier. November 3rd 18 for William Henry Harrison then governor of Indiana signed a treaty with representatives of the Sauk and Fox Indians
in which they ceded to the United States some 2000 dollars worth of goods and a tribal annuity of a thousand dollars. The title to approximately 50 million acres of land in what is now northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. The land thus ceded included the site of the capital of the Salk nation. It also contained the main tribal cemetery and the homes and fields of 500 Indian families. The treaty of eighteen four contained a clause that was to allow the Soc. And Fox Indians into a false sense of security. Article 7 granted them permission to remain on their lands until the government should dispose of it to settlers and for almost 20 years the Indians enjoyed undisputed possession of the land for their lodges and corn fields from the mid eighteen twenties on however white squatters encroached more and more upon the Indian clearings around sucking up the activities of the squatters naturally aroused the
resentment of the Indians. In consequence of the intruders on our field we found considerable difficulty to get ground to plant a little corn. Some of the whites permitted us to plant small patches in the fields they had fenced keeping all the best ground for themselves. Our women had great difficulty in climbing their fences being unaccustomed to the kind and were ill treated if they left a real doll. One of my old friends thought he was safe. His cornfield was on a small island in Rock River. He planted his cord it came up well but the white man saw it. He wanted it and took his team over ploughed up the crop and replanted it for himself. Will man shed tears not for himself but on account of the
distress his family would be in if they raised no corn and one time a white man beat one of the women cruelly for pulling a few suckers of corn out of his sock when she was hungry. I don't other time one of our young men was beat with clubs by two white men for opening a fence which crossed oh a road to take his horse through his shoulder blade was broken and his body badly bruised from the affects of which he soon after died. Conditions grew steadily worse until 1830 when the squatters acquired title to the land. The socks were ordered to abandon their lands and for a time Black Hawk and his followers refused. However unprepared for combat they eventually capitulated and agreed to cross the Mississippi never to return except by permission of the president of the United States or the
governor of Illinois. In crossing the river the Indians had left their crops. The government had agreed to give them an allotment of corn but the amount required was greatly underestimated and the Indians consequently suffered acutely from hunger. Then later in the year Neil pope the chief of lesser rank and Blackhawks tribe brought word that if Blacklock recross to Mississippi and tried to win back his village he could expect aid from the British. His old allies in the War of 1812 as well as from the Ottawa Winnebago Chippewa and Pottawattamie with these assurances on April 6th 1830 to Blackhawk with his entire band including women and children recrossed the Mississippi. 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 and so on.
My braves and warriors were on horseback armed and equipped for defense. Proceeding up the Rock River. Black Hawk defied government orders to turn back. And the Illinois and Wisconsin area was soon rife with tales of Indian war with resistance forming against him it soon became apparent to Black Hawk that assurances of Indian and British support were mythical and he prepared to turn back. In the meantime however General Henry Atkinson commander of the reich wing of the Western Department of the regular army and learned of Blackhawks actions he the white beaver as the Indians called him then notified Governor John Reynolds of Illinois that the force of regular militia was too small to handle the situation. In the event of a war within two weeks a force of eighteen hundred volunteers was raised and sent up the Rock River in pursuit of Black Hawk.
It was as later historians noted an army more characterized by zeal them professionalism. They were imbued with reckless enthusiasm impatient at the slow advance of the army and anxious at once to do something brilliant feeling confident that all that was necessary to end the war was for them to be given a chance to meet the enemy in open battle. On May 14th 1830 to three hundred soldiers sent out as a scouting party under the command of Major Isaac Stillman were encamped three miles south of Sycamore Creek Illinois. The position of their camp was by all accounts unusually good for defense. It was here that they met the three Salk Braves sent out under a flag of truce by a Black Hawk. I concluded to tell my people that if white beaver General Atkinson came after us we would go back as it was useless to think of stopping or going on without
provisions and ammunition. I received news that three or four hundred white men on horseback 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 and see them after this party started. I sent five young men to see what might take place. The camp Blackhawks Braves were approaching and the state of its soldiers have been described in the recollections of John Kingston who was later to become one of the vice presidents of the Wisconsin State Historical Society. From various and in some instances conflicting accounts of gathered from the men and it appears that the following are about the facts. How about the middle of the afternoon of a regiment had halted for
purposes of encamping for the night. Nearly all the horses had been picketed out turned loose or otherwise disposed of. The men were lazy lay engaged about camps gathering wood pitching tents etc. and others drinking whiskey of which necessary beverage they had in abundance and camp and to save time they knocked in the heads of the barrels containing it and it may be as well to state at the outset that the men engaged in the incident. Perhaps the majority were at the commencement of the affair intoxicated both Black Hawk and Captain Henry Smith an officer and general Atkinson's army have described the events that followed. It's interesting to note that there are accounts while differing in minor points agreed and their damning portrait of the soldiers of major Stillman.
Very soon after pitching tents and after unsettling some Indians were discovered on the open prairie a mile or two distant the camp been entirely field a small open wood which was on every side surrounded by open and clear prairie slightly undulating. The strongest fortress could hardly have been more effectively defended than the camp in question by a hundred men ought to have repulsed ten times their number of an attacking force on the discovery of the Indians only two or three in number. They malicious sallied out as all agree in great confusion some with saddle some without and pursued and captured these Indians. When someone called out that three or four others were in sight on which another pursuit occurred in still greater disorder. The last Indians were overtaken and it said two of them killed on resisting Lee and without provocation the others made their escape and when they came in with the news I was preparing my flags to meet the war chief of the Americans to
talk peace. The alarm was given nearly all my young men were absent 10 miles away. I started with what I had left about 40 and had proceeded but a short distance before we saw part of the army approaching. I raised my brave some of our people have been killed wantonly and cruelly murdered. We must avenge their death. In a little while we discovered a whole army coming toward 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 and we might have the first fire when they approached close enough they made a halt some distance from us. I gave another yell and ordered my braves to charge upon them expecting that they would all be killed. Every man rushed toward the enemy and fired. The enemy retreated in the most confusion and consternation. Before my little band of warriors their numbers appeared no doubt much
greater than they really were in the dusk of the evening and panic seized the whites. So keep air was the word rendered in the backwoods English the devil take the hindmost and the whole corps fled without firing a well-directed shot. They passed on the run directly through their camp and plunge into the Kraken didn't halt until it arrived at Dixon's ferry many miles away where they came straggling in for twenty hours after following the enemy for some distance. I found it useless to pursue them further. As they rode so fast and I returned to the encampment with a few braves as about twenty five of them continued in the pursuit of the flying it's asserted by the Indians that the pursuit was continued through the night by less than thirty Braves. There were doubtless many gallant fellows in Salem and score and it's difficult to account for this save by attributing it to a want of discipline and of material confidence in themselves was prized
in my life I see in this and time. An army of three or four hundred men after having learned that we were going to attempt to book the flag bearers that had gone on to ask for a meeting to come forward then with full determination to demolish the few braves I had with me to retreat when they had won it was unaccountable to me. It proved a different spirit from any I had ever before among them. The casualties of the battle were slights only 11 whites and three sock were killed. But its consequences were far reaching and observance of the flag of truce would have meant a peaceful retreat of Blackhawks band across the Mississippi.
Instead reports of the whole affair led to an Indian scare that bordered on hysteria. Settlers fled the area in panic the extent of their hysteria is best illustrated and the frequently cited story of Susan. In the hurried route that took place at this time there was a family that lived near the Iroquois River in northeastern Illinois. They had no horses but a large family of small children. The father and mother each took a child. The rest were directed to follow on foot as fast as possible. The eldest daughter also carried one of the children that was not able to keep up. They fled to the river where they had to cross. The father had to carry over all the children at different times as the stream was high and so rapid. The mother and daughter could not stem the current with such a burden. When they all as they thought had got
over they started. Then the cry of poor little Susan was heard on the opposite bank asking if they were not going to take her with them. The frightened father again prepared to plunge into the strong current for his child. When the mother seeing it cried out never mind Susan. We have succeeded in getting ten over which is more than we expected at first and we can better spare Susan than you my dear. So poor Susan who was only four years old was left to the mercy of the frightful savages. But poor little Susan came off unhurt. One of the neighbors who was out hunting came along and took charge of little Susan the eleven who had been so miserably treated by her mother. Blackhawk at first encouraged by his easy victory over Stillman took refuge in the Rock River swamps near Beloit. Several weeks later the Indian band pursued by militia volunteers and regular army troops began a flight northward through
Wisconsin in a desperate attempt to recross the Mississippi. In this chase which lasted for over two months several skirmishes were fought in which frankly scalps were taken on both sides. But battle wounds were not the only cause for the diminishing of Blackhawks forces. There was but little game of any thought to be found and fish were equally scarce. We were forced to dig roots and bark trees to obtain something to satisfy hunger and keep us alive. We started over a rugged country to go to the Mississippi intending to cross it. 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.
The State of Black Hawks forces was all too obvious to the pursuing soldiers. Peter Parkinson the head of one of the brigades recalled the signs they found in the pursuit it was evident that they endangered greatly distressed by starvation and sickness numbers of dead warriors women and children were found along the trail. Their principal subsistence seemed to be roots in the bark of trees where they killed a horse for food. There was no vestige of the animal left but the hare. On August 1st 1830 to Black Hawk and his band reached the Mississippi near the mouth of the bad x river and attempted to cross. We had been here about a little while before we saw Steamboat the warriors coming. I told my braves not to shoot as I intended going on board so that we might save our women and children. I knew the
captain Throckmorton 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 captain of the boat and told him to send his canoe ashore and let me come aboard. The people on board asked whether we were socks or Winnebagos. I told them that we were socks and wanted to give ourselves up. I Winnebago on board called out to me to run and hide that the whites were going to shoot at about this time one of my braves had 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. The captain of the boat later explained his actions in a letter written to a friend on the following day. As we reached the end it is they raised a white flag and endeavored to decoy us but we were a
little too old for them. For instead of landing we ordered them to run a boat on board which they declined. We then fired three rounds of canister on the stock on shore. This little fight cost them twenty three killed and of course a great many wounded. We never lost a man. Blackhawk realizing that the army would arrive before the Salk affected their escape instructed twenty of his braves to form a rear guard on the bluff near the river and to retreat three miles upstream when the enemy attacked by this movie hope to draw the whites upstream and conceal the flight of the main body of Indians. When the battle began at two o'clock the next morning Black Hawks ruse worked for a time but by chance one of the brigades discovered the main body of socks and at once attacked after half an hour's fight. The rest of the soldiers arrived and the battle of bad acts as evidenced by accounts on both sides became more a massacre than a
battle. My people tried to give themselves the whites paid no attention to their entreaties but comments slaughtering them are brave Much 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 walk killed the red men fought with intense desperation and the weak from hunger died like brains. If you escape through a broad slew to a willow island which the steamer warrior now reappearing on the river raked from end to end with canister. This was followed by a wild dash through the mud and water by a detachment of regulars and a few volunteers. When did the business by sweeping the island with a bayonet charge. Some of the fugitives succeeded in swimming to the west bank of the Mississippi but many were drowned on the way or picked off by sharpshooters who exercise no more mercy
toward squatters and children. And they did toward graves as though they were rats instead of human beings. As many women as could commence swimming the Mississippi with their children on their backs. A number of them were drowned and some were shot before they could reach the opposite shore. Some squaws were killed by mistake in the battle they were mixed with the Warriors and some of them dressed like males. A little the Warriors fought with courage and valor of desperation. Yet the conflict resembled more carnage than a regular battle. One incident occurred during the battle that came under my observation which I must not omit truly and only Indian brave and his five sons all of whom I had seen on the prairie and knew had taken a stand behind a prostrate log in a little ravine midway up the bluff from whence they fired
on the regulars with deadly aim. The old man loaded the guns as fast as your son's discharge them and at each shot a man fell. They knew they couldn't expect quarter and they sold their lives as dear as possible making the best show fight and held their ground the firmest of any of the Indians. But they could never withstand our men for as the volunteers poured over the bluff they each shot a man and in return each of the Braves was shot down and scouted by the wild volunteers. Who out with their knives and cutting two parallel gashes down the Indians backs would strip the skin from the quivering flesh to make razor straps of them in this manner I saw the old brave and his five sons treated. And afterward I had a piece of their high. It was a hard sight to witness to two children wounded in suffering the most excruciating pain. It was enough to make the most hardened being on earth to me. When I was moving along the shore to the north when a little Indian boy with one of his
arms shot most off came out of the bushes and made signs for something to eat. He seemed perfectly indifferent to pain and only sensible of hunger but when I carried the little naked fellow out of the boat someone gave him a piece of hard bread and he stood and ate it with the wounded arm dangling by the torn flesh. And so he remained until the arm was taken off. This battle of massacre lasted three hours. It was a veritable pandemonium filled with frightful scenes of bloodshed. The Indians lost one hundred and fifty killed outright and as many more of both sexes and all ages and conditions were drowned. Some fifty of May being taken prisoners. They mostly women and children. About three hundred of the band crossed the river successfully before and during the struggle led to the action of a body of 100 warriors presented themselves and asked leave to pursue on the trails of such of the enemy as it
escaped. This was granted and this after two days pursuit overtook and killed fifty or sixty mostly it's feared women and children. Large body off. So I sued and killed a number of our women and children who had got safely across to Mrs. White's ought not to have permitted such conduct. And none but cowards would never have been guilty of such cruelty which has always been practiced on our nation by the so it was one of the most atrocious and inexcusable acts of the war. The Sioux were the tribal enemies of the Salk and the permission that the suit received authorized them to cross the neutral ground which was by law forbidden to them and to massacre the Sox on their own tribal lands out of the band of nearly 1000 persons across the Mississippi in the borough of not more than one hundred fifty all told lived to tell the Dragic story of the
Black Hawk War. A day or rocked with dishonor to the American name. Black Hawk cool had managed to escape during the battle was captured several days later near the Wisconsin Dells on September 23rd at Fort Armstrong. He signed a treaty of peace which ceded to the United States all the land east of the Mississippi and eight million acres to the west of the river. This treaty officially caused the Black Hawk War. Blackhawk was held as hostage for some time after the close of the war. He was taken on a trip to the east to impress him with the strength of the government he had opposed and he was taken to Washington where he met President Andrew Jackson. On our arrival at Washington. We called to see our Great Father the President looks as if he has seen as many winter
seems to be a great brave. I had very little talk with him as he appeared to be busy did not see much disposed to talk with me as well furnished with everything good and pretty and is very growingly built. According to the accounts of white men the meeting was dramatic for a few moments the two stood staring at each other in silence. It was Blackhawk who spoke first. I am a man and you are another. We did not expect to conquer the whites. They had too many houses and too many men. I took up the hatchet. For my part to revenge
injuries which my people could no longer endure. Had I borne them longer without striking my people would have said black Hockey's I want mine. He is too. To be a chief A is no talk. These reflections caused me to raise the war. I say no more of it. It is known to you. The way it was. Presenting eyewitness accounts of historic events. Today I am a man and you are another. The story of the Black Hawk War. Material for this series was gathered from the files and papers of the State Historical Society of
- The Way It Was
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- "The Way It Was" is a radio program which presents eye witness accounts of notable topics throughout American history. Each episode begins with a description of a specific event, person, or historical topic, followed by several dramatic readings of witness testimonies found in the files and papers of the state historical society of Wisconsin. The program was originally released in 1969, and was re-broadcast from the program library of National Public Radio.
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 69-37-6 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- MLA: “The Way It Was; 6.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 21, 2022. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-bc3szn9h>.
- APA: The Way It Was; 6. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-bc3szn9h