|The Saga of Blackhawk,
Battle of Wisconsin
They came in sight of a river
Before the set of sun,
They came in sight of their foe,
―Whose scouts were on the run!
The screaming Indians came,
Close to the guns aflame!
At less than a hundred feet,
They turned, in their retreat...
The battle began, nigh to where,
The Wisconsin was flowing by...
With smoke adrift in air,
Their traded shots did fly...
The Whites were on a plain
Above that Wisconsin flow;
The natives, up the hills,
Poured down their fire below...
And yet the soldier Whites,
Gained the upper hand,
And drove from off the heights,
The natives from higher land.
But with the coming of night,
The soldiers broke off the fight...
There were reports of a few
To many natives who died;
But only one they slew,
Upon the soldier side...
That eve and during the night,
Stripped bark from off of trees...
And tied pieces together tight,
Canoes they made of these...
With their boats of bark,
And rafts of mats and animal skin,
Their own they floated in dark
To cross to land again...
A few unable to go on,
With the army to assail...
Drifted the river down,
In vessels, fragile and frail...
Come morning, the army formed
And moved with caution on,
Moved across the nether land,
But Black Hawk now was gone.
With rations for a day
And tools for rafts then lacking,
Their crossing they did delay,
To continue Indian tracking...
Another surrender attempt
Soon after, before the break of dawn,
After the natives had crossed and gone,
They heard a voice, loud and shrill,
Coming down, from off a hill...
It was from Neapope,
One of the Indian band,
He spoke in Winnebago,
To arrange, to leave the land...
He described the womenfolk and
Their condition he did invoke...
But those who understood his tongue,
Were gone, the day before he spoke,
No longer were they the Whites among
The others comprehended naught
Of the words their ears had caught...
The Captain at Prairie du Chien,
Commanding Ft. Crawford there,
Took measures to intervene:
To deploy and to prepare...
He was advised to artillery place,
To prevent escape from river space...
But he did more,
Than counseled for:
Besides preventing the flight
From the river mouth
Of fleeing, in their plight,
They brought in canoes
Or ruined them to use...
He had a boat above du Chien,
With cannon, steam back and forth
And called to arms some Sioux,
Who descended from the north...
A hundred and fifty put on paint
With Wabashaw, a patched of eye,
But 'twas ignorance or unrestraint,
To even invite the Sioux to ally...
Cut Off at the Wisconsin
Some Indians tried to get away,
On the water during the dark,
But their vessels were fired upon,
At the starving buoyed in bark...
Some of their canoes were
Yet the fleeing continued to try;
But then, the army deployed
NonWhites, to search and to spy...
The aborigine sight,
Of Winnebago and Menominee,
Was aided with torches of light,
To hunt those who tried to flee...
Of the Indians who were sought,
Were four and thirty caught;
And sadly, this native help,
They severed from nine their scalp.
On the trail again
From cabins left behind before,
The army made rafts for crossing o'er...
On twenty-eighth of July, the day,
The army again was on their way...
The Wisconsin for them behind,
heir quarry they sought to find...
Within miles, the trail they found,
That toward the west it went;
Yet farther on was bound,
More to the north, it bent...
They came to a hilly ground,
Barren of grass for horse to eat;
They saplings cut for their mounts
And followed the tramp of feet...
The dwindling band of Fox and Sac,
Left belongings strewn in back...
Like blankets and kettles, as such,
Left for others to keep and touch.
They passed one by, in wooden crypt,
Whose own took time, for burial sake. And even, sad to say
starved and wounded, in their wake...
The Indian hunger forced them to eat,
Their own transport, of horse for meat.
Back at the Mississippi
At last the Fox and Sacs,
They'd reached the boundary flow,
Near a stream, they called Bad Axe,
Miles above du Chien below.
It was midsummer, August the
But hope of crossing, quickly burst...
The desperate band,
They found no canoes upon the banks...
With Black Hawk, most did not concur,
And with his leadership broke ranks...
He'd counseled these, the sorely tried,
To go up the Mississippi, to hide
He counseled the members that they go,
Among the native Winnebago...
Most listened naught,
To what he thought...
They'd suff'ring undergone,
And to another way were drawn:
To cross to the farther shore,
Yon the water that lay before...
They constructed rafts and
To ferry them the river o'er;
And of the native band, a few
Did cross, to the other shore.
But then! a boat did appear,
Approaching and drawing near...
White flag raised again
It was the Warrior called,
With troops and an artillery piece...
To the Indians now, to fight was futile,
They raised white flags, to cease...
They hailed the Warrior boat,
To surrender to those afloat...
An interpreter did err and say,
To the lieutenant in command,
That what the natives had said:
Was for the Whites to land...
From mistrust there came a demand
That two come aboard instead...
Now those ashore misunderstood,
And complied not, as well they could...
Black Hawk put cloth on a pole
And called to the captain he knew,
To let him come aboard,
And send for him, a canoe...
Yet Black Hawk heard
A warning word:
A native said to hide
For the Whites were going to shoot...
Would death be upon his side?
And error there took root.
A woman reported that they,
Were Fox and Sac upon the shore;
And the boat, to native dismay,
A storm of lead on them did pour...
To nervous men aboard, it
They cover sought and guns did prime;
And on the boat the commander feared,
Those ashore, were playing for time...
Those aboat unloosed, a volley
About two hours did last the fray,
Until the Warrior had to retire,
To replenish fuel they went away...
Black Hawk tried again to persuade,
After the boat had left,
But discredit had befallen the Hawk:
His group in twain was cleft.
That night some lodges went forth,
Departing with Black Hawk north...
Meanwhile coming behind
The army roused by bugle,
long before it was light...
Some moved out before,
To find and follow,
the path of flight...
The scouts came upon
A party ahead;
Some they dispatched,
And some had fled...
The army formed for battle,
But advancing, no foe did see;
But the last to leave the camp
Discovered, what happened to be
The trail and course
Of the principal force...
A brigade began
To battle the Indian band,
Who after a feeble fight, fell back,
and fallen timberland...
They drove those they did pursue,
From off the river bottom
To where bars of willow grew...
And movements, they shot 'em!
Many women and young they slew!
Shot, burrowed in sand,
Shot, while trying to swim away...
Behind logs, or cowering in brush,
All these the troops did slay!
From the willow bars, a few,
Did cross to islands two
And there they climbed up trees...
But sadly for the natives, these...
The Warrior appeared anew,
With these islands in view;
They boomed away with cannonfire
At those aloft, up higher...
The Whites came together at the flow;
Aboard the soldiers did embark:
To empty the islands of foe,
To bring them closer to their mark...
They routed the remaining ones
And drove the natives to water:
There to drown...or shot by guns,
Shot from the banks in slaughter...
An agent would say,
That the Indian, they
Were literally pushed
Into the Mississippi flood...
Shot astream or at the edge
current once tinged with blood!
Black Hawk said many women
Began swimming the river o'er,
With young upon their backs...
—Some drowned, some shot before
They reached the farther shore...
It would be called a war...
Yet it seems 'twas more
A chase and a massacre,
That took place and did occur...
It needn't have been
In the annals of men.
The surgeons dressed soldier wounds
And those of natives surviving the fray;
The prisoners and wounded were sent,
To Prairie du Chien on water's way...
Those who got away,
The army did not pursue,
For their horses had tired
And the infantry, had no shoe...
To the General, it seemed
Too cruel more blood to shed,
Until he learned if remnants
Would surrender, instead...
But Wababshaw and the Sioux
Reported to the American chief,
Who deputized the Sioux to search
For those, who'd end in grief!
He'd been told to restrain,
The Sioux from the Fox and Sac...
But then why did he give such rein?
Why didn't he send them back?
Those who crossed
Those of Black Hawk's band
Who'd fled to the farther side,
Hungry, and nigh defenseless were,
And most would perish of homicide!
About a week, after crossing,
And far from the boundary river,
The Sioux o'ertook the Fox and Sac,
And did hostile death deliver!
Atkinson might've prevented this attack,
By Wabashaw's blood-thirsty Sioux,
Who massacred most of the Fox and Sac,
And scalped sixty-eight
of those they slew!
Black Hawk gives up
With bounty and promise of ponies
And redemption in the American eye,
Some Winnebago trailed Black Hawk
To where the Dells are nigh...
They watched where they did go
And surprised them as they slept;
Without their striking a blow,
The band, surrender did accept...
But Black Hawk said he went
To a village of Winnebago,
And asked a chief to go with him,
To surrender to the American foe...
The women made him attire,
Of deer skin white to wear;
He then went to Prairie du Chien
To give up to the agent there...
The agent turned him and the others o'er
To Zachary Taylor at the fort,
Who in turn entrusted them,
To a guard of a gallant sort...
A lieutenant, kind and considerate,
In the way he treated the seized;
By name was Jefferson Davis,
His conduct Black Hawk pleased.
The officer traveled with them
To Jefferson Barracks by boat;
Black Hawk surveyed the country,
As he passed the land afloat...
The land that was native and theirs,
That cost so much, he did note...
Confined at the Barracks
They wore a ball and chain;
Time dragged on in wintertime
And lack of liberty caused him pain.
In spring some visitors came,
Including his daughter and wife;
A trader brought him venison dried,
A reminder of former life...
In time, he was taken East,
To Washington and Fort Monroe,
And in time, he was released,
After more America he'd come to know.
Back to Iowa
To Iowa country, he came to dwell,
To live by a river side.
First by the Iowa flow, a spell,
Then by the Des Moines, to abide.
In the fall of a year,
His autumn came to him...
A time when leaves are sere,
His spirit, parted from limb...
From that aged, ancient tree,
The giant growth of the human race,
A leaf detached and fell so free,
And alit upon the river's face...
The leaf alone, a little curled,
Drifted away like a canoe,
Past a current a little swirled,
A bit of russet beneath the blue...
And there was heard the cry
Of a dark-plumed bird...
As off, a hawk did fly,
Off into the
Black Hawk dictated his story to Antoine LeClair, the U.S. interpreter
the Sac and Foxes, who "was particularly cautious, to understand distinctly
the narrative of Black Hawk throughout." After completing
carefully examined it, pronouncing it "strictly correct, in all its
particulars." He certified at the Sac and Fox Agency on Oct. 13, 1833, that
after his return to his people, that Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak or Black Hawk
had called upon him and asked that a history be written so the people of
this country "might know the causes which impelled him to act as he had
done, and the principles by which he was governed."
This autobiography and The Sac and Fox Indians by
William Hagan were among the works consulted in writing this long narrative
of the Sac warrior and leader.
His final words in the autobiography were as follows:
"...the white man will always be welcome in our village or camps, as a
brother. The tomahawk is buried forever. We will forget what has passed―and
may the watchword between the Americans and the Sacs and Foxes, ever be
―'Friendship!' I am now done. A
few more moons, and I must follow my fathers to the shades! May the Great
Spirit keep our people and the whites always at peace―is the sincere wish of
In his final years
he lived near the Iowa River, and a missionary who
visited his home in 1833 described his lodge as neatly kept, "surrounded by
melon vines." He was gone at the time but his children were polite. In 1838
he moved to a new home along the Des Moines, which empties into the
Mississippi at the southeast corner of Iowa. He died that year, on October
3rd, and was placed in a small log mausoleum, above ground in a sitting
position. His grave was robbed and his remains were transferred to the
museum of the Geological and Historical Society at Burlington, Iowa, but
were destroyed by a fire in 1855.
Two sons and a daughter lived with him in Iowa. One of the sons was Whirling
Thunder, the subject of a painting with his father, done by
John Jarvis (The
Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and
Art). His daughter Namequa
was good looking enough "to compete with local white girls for the glances
of young pioneer men." While Black Hawk resisted the American encroachments
of the white upon Indian land, his great grandson was "one of the greatest
athletes America ever saw." That grandson was Jim Thorpe, through whose veins
coursed the blood of Black Hawk.