The Black Hawk War

The Black Hawk War

Black Hawk with his band now removed to Iowa near the mouth of the Des Moines River, at the site of the abandoned Fort Madison. Neapope, second in command, took a trip to Malden, Canada, and upon his return in the fall of 1831, told Black Hawk that he would receive assistance from the British. The Prophet, whose village on Rock River was where Prophely $3 something yesterdaytstown, Illinois, now is, and who had great influence over Black Hawk, also sent word that the Ottawas, Chippewas, Pottawatomies and Winnebagoes would  be with him and would render aid. Black Hawk after receiving these messages said: “We are to be happy once more.” Black Hawk now directed all his efforts to getting together his warriors in anticipation of his march to his old village and its occupation, and prepared for an attack by the Americans should they again undertake to drive him away. The army through spies was kept informed of Black Hawk’s actions, and early in April, Keokuk sent to Fort Armstrong a warning that Black Hawk was about to commence his march to reoccupy his old village. Again messengers were sent out from Fort Armstrong to warn the settlers of their danger and advising them to seek shelter at once, either at Fort Armstrong or in the stockade which had been erected around the trading store of Davenport and Farnham. The most daring and persevering of these messengers was Judge John W. Spencer. On foot he traveled as far as Dixon, going from cabin to cabin sounding the alarm and advising the settlers to seek protection. We cannot realize today the wild excitement and dread despair the news of an Indian uprising caused among our pioneer settlers. Few if any had horses to use in carrying their families and goods. Oxen were the beasts of burden and the settlers were obliged to take what little they could and carry it on their persons. John Wakefield, in his history of the Black Hawk War written in 1834, gives an amusing sketch of the excitement attendant upon the news of the expected Indian attack. He says: “In the eastern part of the state the people were as much alarmed as in the northwest. During one of the many false alarms that `The Indians are coming’ a family was living near the Iroquois River that had no horses but a large family of small children. The father and mother each took a child and 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 bur-den. When they all, as they thought, had got over they started when 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 about four years old, was left to the mercy of the frightful savages.” But little Susan came off unhurt, as one of the neighbors who was out hunting came along and took charge of her.

See: The Turkey Scare

The 6th of April, 1832, Black Hawk, with about 1,000 Indians, including warriors, women, old men and children, together with all their possessions, crossed the Mississippi at Yellow Banks (Oquawka) and leisurely proceeded up the east bank of the river to Rock River and thence up that river opposite to his old village where he camped the night of April 12. The next morning he started for the Prophet’s village with the intention, as he said, “to make corn.” There is and always has been a question whether Black Hawk, when he crossed the Mississippi River and invaded Illinois in 1832, intended attacking the Americans, or merely again occupying his village with the intention of resisting forcible removal, or whether he intended going to the Prophet’s village merely to raise a crop. If he wanted merely to raise a crop, he could have done that as easily at the mouth of the Des Moines River as at Prophetstown. From Black Hawk’s biography we learn that the trip to Prophetstown was part of his plan to again get control of the site of his ancient village and his cornfields. He tells us that while at the Des Moines “I concluded that I had better keep my band together, and recruit as many more as possible, so that I would be prepared to make the attempt to rescue my village in the spring.” He then, as he says, “tried to recruit braves from Keokuk’s band,” and “requested my people to rendezvous at that place, and sent out soldiers to bring in the warriors, and stationed my sentinels in a position to prevent any from moving up until all were ready.” The taking with him his women, children and old men would indicate that he did not on that trip contemplate war, as no Indian war party ever carries with it the women or children. Black Hawk undoubtedly intended taking his women and children to the Prophet’s village, there to leave them to make a crop, and during the summer continue his recruiting and possibly in the fall occupy his village. For had he intended going to war at once he would have stopped at his village and there made his defense. At Yellowbanks the Prophet met Black Hawk, and made a talk to his braves, telling them “that as long as they were peaceable, the Americans would not dare molest them. That we were not yet ready to act otherwise. We must wait until we ascend Rock River and receive our reinforcements and we will then be able to withstand an army.”

Indian Wars 


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

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