Based on an incident in the Black Hawk
called the Battle
of Bad Axe, the fate of the
Indians was decided, which modern
historians have called a massacre.
The Bad Axe River,
east of the Mississippi,
above the northern border of Iowa,
to the west (43 degrees, 30 minutes north
occurred a few miles
mouth, across from Iowa.
This poem recalls 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.
* * * * * *
Her qualms of fright, did give
An urgent sense, to flee the foe:
To flee across the nearby river,
The breadth of the Mississippi flow.
Native fortunes sank,
With her little one she
To reach the distant
Away from the battle
In the heat of the fray,
held her infant close;
And snugged it in a blanket,
― something like a
grasp'd it with her teeth!
the tail of a horse
She plunged into the water,
To cross its current
the Indian slaughter.
To the strands of the 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...
As Namesa fled in desperate flight.
killed that day
In trying to cross the river o'er...
The enemy may've fired her way
From a musket or rifle bore...
She might've heard a whirr
As a shot flew by, close to her,
Flew from a distant powder flash!
Into the water with a little splash!
The missile flew by,
Into the water nigh!
The horse was towing the two,
While the current was pulling them too.
Around 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,
As her frighten'd infant cried.
hard, O mother, bite!
Be not o'ercome with fright!
With your nostril breathe your breath,
Ope not thy mouth,
by lapse to
her dental grip,
And that her tiny child might slip
world of wet
life she did bequeath...
She struggled in this
As water flew into her face;
She strove to avoid the horse's kick,
As back its hooves would flick.
side she'd come
Where battle had begun by mistake,
There, in the
was tinged with blood!
Did there occur!
O sad the Indian plight!
Who suffered so in this fight.
At last, to the other
Perhaps her arms feeling nigh to numb.
still in tow,
Her horse did scramble
onto the bank,
As she was drawn forth with a yank!
Its equine tail, she could now let go.
By the river running wide,
She was on its bank beside:
While on its way, the river did wend.
―So escaped this
mother Sac! you
crossed the water!
Away from terror, and deadly attack...
child, O Indian daughter!
More peril still lay
But this Sac lay not, among
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
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 was.
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
Her exploit, remarkable as it was, might've
even been a little more remarkable.
Think of what this mother endured for her child to
save its life, compare it to what some mothers do today in ridding
themselves of the life within.
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 "Namese."
His curator, Mary Young Bear,
said the letter "s" is also written with the letter
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
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
Return to Home Page