Based on an incident in the Black
called the Battle
of Bad Axe, the fate of the
was decided, which modern
have called a massacre.
The Bad Axe
east of the Mississippi,
above the northern border of Iowa,
the west (43 degrees, 30 minutes north
occurred a few miles
mouth, across from Iowa.
This poem recalls of the remarkable escape
of a Sac Indian woman named Namesa with her
infant, across the Mississippi River. Apart from
what was found in a brief history, one may
posit some details, with reason, as is done here. ―JR
* * * * * * *
met, had taught her
To flee the present
go across the water,
Of the Mississippi
As the Native fortunes sank,
With her little one, she
To reach the farther
Away from the battle fought...
In the heat of fray, bellicose,
held her infant close;
And snugged it in a blanket,
like a sheath ―
grasp'd it with her teeth!
the tail of a horse
She plunged into the water,
to cross its
current and course,
the Indian slaughter.
To the strands of horse's hair
Her fingers tightly clung...
Her neck up, to grasp for air,
In rapid gulps of lung.
Her child enrapt, was heft
As high as muscle might,
Above the buoyant surface cleft...
Namesa made her desperate flight.
Many an Indian was
killed that day
In trying to cross the river o'er...
The enemy may've fired a shot her way
From a musket or rifle bore...
She might've heard a whirr
As a missile flew, so close to her
And hit the water with a splash!
While Namesa and steed did onward go,
As the missile dropt below.
The horse was towing the two,
While the current was pulling too.
Around her, the river roiled,
Its turbulence bubbled like
A muffled plaint might've come,
From within the blanket,
As she held it fast with tooth and gum
And listen'd to hear if infant cried.
Bite hard, O mother, bite!
Be not o'ercome with fright!
With your nostril breathe your breath,
Ope not thy mouth, by lapse to
to lose her dental grip,
And that her child might slip
world of wet
life she did bequeath...
She struggled in
this streaming space
As water flew in her face;
She strove to avoid the horse's kick,
As back its hooves would flick.
Beyond the watery wake,
side she'd come
There, in the river flood,
The current was tinged with blood!
Alas, a massacre
Did there occur!
O sad! the Indian plight,
They suffered so in this fight.
At last, to the other
Perhaps her arms, felt nigh to numb.
With herself, still drawn in tow,
Her horse scrambled
onto the bank,
As she was drawn up, with a yank!
Its equine tail, she could now let go.
By the river running wide,
She was left on the land beside:
could her infant tend,
While on its way, the river did wend.
―So escaped this
mother Sac! you crossed the water!
Away from terror, and deadly attack...
thy child, O Indian daughter!
More peril still lay,
But this Sac lay not, among the dead:
For now the native Na-me-sa,
Was safe, on the soil of I-o-wa.
1. P. 1035, Vol XXXVII, The Black Hawk War 1831-1832,
Collection of Illinois State Historical Society)
2. I imagine she ground
kernels of corn on a mortar,
and some pieces of grit might've gotten loose and
mixed in with the meal, especially if the mortar was sandstone. This
could've had long-term, abrasive effect on her teeth. While she held on with
all the strength she had, one might wonder what her dental condition
3. Namesa joined others who made it
across the river. She testified that they traveled fast. From the context of
what's attributed to her, they encamped seven days after they crossed the
Mississippi, and were attacked by Sioux at sunrise. As fortune would have
it, she was on a horse, and ran off, hearing firing behind. She saw six Sacs
killed and many wounded. As she fled, she repeatedly heard the words: "I'm a
Winnebago." The context isn't clear, but perhaps it was the plaintive cry of
those who were about to die or in danger of it.
* * *
* * *
Since the child was an infant, we should consider whether the child was
born during the trek of the Indians, attempting to escape the Whites and to
reach the Mississippi, to cross back over.
Namesa could've been weakened by the
ordeal and even emaciated.
Her exploit, remarkable as it was, might've
even been a little more
Think of what this mother endured for her child to save its life, and
compare this to what some mothers do today in ridding themselves of the life
Inquiries were made to Historic
Preservation Department of the Meskwaki Nation - Fox and Sac Tribe of the
Mississippi in Iowa, Tama, Iowa, directed by Johnathan
Buffalo. He thought her name could have to do with the word for fish
and might derive from the Fish Clan of the Sac Tribe. The Fox
language has a similar word meaning fish spelled
His curator, Mary Young Bear,
said the letter "s" is
also written with the letter "d'.
On a hill, above the creek, on the north side of
the farm, artifacts were found in recent years.)
( I feel some affinity by geography and sentiment to the Sac Indians and to their
leader Black Hawk, as I was born
and grew up on a farm in
Sac County, Iowa, named for the Sauk
people [Sac being a variant] ). A nearby
glacial lake is called Black Hawk, and
was named after the Sauk leader. We
had a stone statue of him near the lake, which was sculpted by Harry
Stinson, who was assisted by Grant Wood.
The stream which wound through our
was called the Indian Creek, a tributary of the Raccoon River.
When my great grandfather,
Jeff P. Kruser, a pioneer immigrant from Denmark, settled in Iowa
in the 1870's, he said in a 1946 interview that there were
Indians "along the Raccoon river." In 1877 he married Emma
Goodenow and settled on a 40-acre tract having "a clear water spring," their
home being a dugout. They bought the farm I knew in three 40-acre
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