Black Hawk and Keokuk

Black Hawk and Keokuk

At the commencement of the nineteenth century and up to the Black Hawk War, the principal and central figure of the Native American in the upper Mississippi Valley was the Sac chief, Black Hawk, who was born at the Indian village on Rock River in 1767. Black Hawk was of middling size and as Catlin says. “with a head that would excite the envy of a phrenologist; one of the finest that heaven ever let fall on the shoulders of an Indian.” Another Sac chief who had risen from the ranks was Keokuk. His advancement was due to his raising a war party to defend his nation from an expected attack of the Americans during the War of 1812, but which attack never occurred. Although polygamy was practiced among the Sacs and Foxes, Black Hawk had but one wife while Keokuk had seven. Keokuk was also born at the Sac village on Rock River in 1783, and died in April, 1848, at the Sac and Fox Agency in Kansas. Early in the nineteenth century there seems to have arisen a difference between the Sacs and Foxes. Lieutenant Pike, writing in 1805, says : “But recently there appears to be a schism between the two nations, the latter (Foxes) not approving of the insolence and ill will which has marked the conduct of the former (Sacs) towards the United States on many late occurrences.” This disagreement continued to grow, and while some of the Foxes held with the Sacs, most of the Foxes were inclined to be well disposed to the Americans, as were some of the Sacs, and these friendly Indians arrayed themselves under Keokuk’s standard while the war party held to Black Hawk. Black Hawk and Keokuk were thus rival chiefs. Keokuk had never done any-thing that entitled him to leadership. The Indian standard of character and honor made it the duty of an Indian to be foremost in the ranks of the war party. Keokuk had few victories to his credit, but he was diplomatic. In 1828 he moved with his following across the Mississippi and built a village on the Iowa. Black Hawk, like Keokuk, was not an hereditary chief, but had risen to the position of chief of the war party through the native vigor of his character and his great success in war. Black Hawk had never suffered defeat. His band, which was much the larger, comprised the chivalry of the Sac and Fox nations. At the beginning of the War of 1812, he offered the services of-his nation to the Americans, which from motives of humanity they declined. Yet the British were not loathe to accept them, for directly after this we find that La Guthre, an agent of Great Britain, was at the Rock River village to enlist the Sacs and Foxes on the British side and against the Americans, and we find them fighting us in the War of 1812. From this fact and from this time, Black Hawk’s band was known as the “British Band.” A study of Black Hawk’s life discloses that he possessed those qualities which in a white man would raise him to power and position. Black Hawk was the great Indian commoner. Keokuk was noted as an Indian orator; Black Hawk as an Indian warrior.


The Sac and Fox Indians of Illinois 


Source: Historic Rock Island County, pub. Kramer & Company, Rock Island, Illinois, 1908

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