Black Hawk’s Final Stand

Black Hawk’s Final Stand

The volunteer army after a hard march, reached Dixon on the evening of May 10th. ahead of the regulars. Black Hawk and his Indians had in the meantime reached the Prophet’s village and had sent word to the Pottawatomies asking them to meet him in a council on Sycamore Creek, (since called Stillman’s Run.) The Pottawatomies were divided. Shaubena, their highest chief, favored the whites, but Big Foot and Mike Girty, a half-breed, were for war. When Whitesides arrived at Dixon, he found there ahead of him two independent battalions, in all three hundred and forty-one men. The one was commanded by Major Isaiah Stillman, the other by Major David Bailey. These commands objected to joining the main army except as rangers, they said they had come to “fight Indians” and believed if they were allowed, they could go out and in a few days end the trouble. After much persuasion, General Whitesides allowed Majors Stillman’s and Bailey’s battalions to go on a scouting expedition, and on the morning of May 13, they set out. In the afternoon of the 14th, they pitched camp about three miles from Sycamore Creek. Black Hawk with forty of his Indians were but three miles from the camp of the whites. The Indians were preparing a dog feast for the visiting Pottawatomies. Learning that a body of white soldiers were making camp, Black Hawk sent three of his young men with a white flag to talk with the whites, and to arrange for a council with White Beaver (Atkinson). When the Indian party was still a mile away, they were perceived by the volunteers and almost the whole camp rushed out and captured the Indian envoys, and hurried them into camp. Black Hawk had sent five other Indians to follow those bearing a white flag, to watch and see how the others were received. When the whites perceived the second party, about twenty of the mounted volunteers started in pursuit and killed two of the Indians, the other three escaped and returned to where Black Hawk and his thirty-five braves were in camp. When Black Hawk heard of how his flag bearers had been treated he prepared his braves to meet the whites, who were now all in hot pursuit. The Indians withdrew behind a fringe of bushes and when the volunteers came within close range the Indians fired a volley. The volunteers fled, pursued by part of the Indians. Night fall ended the chase. Stillman’s and Bailey’s brigade kept up the flight until they reached Dixon, twenty-five miles away. Many of them never went to Dixon, but started for their own homes. The report went out that the whites had been defeated by Black Hawk and about two thousand warriors. The number of whites killed was eleven. While the number of Indians was three. One of the latter being one of the flag bearers, the two others being of the party of five that had followed the flag bearers. It has been said that Stillman’s and Bailey’s men were under the influence of liquor, that they had taken with them several barrels of whiskey, and they were indulging freely in drink just before the Indian flag bearers appeared on the scene. The firing on the flag of truce was, to say the least, dishonorable treatment. Had the whites received the truce bearers in the proper manner, there is no doubt that such arrangements would have been made that hostilities would never have commenced, and Black Hawk and his Indians would have returned to the west bank of the Mississippi. Black Hawk and his band were almost destitute of provisions and ammunition, and their capture of Stillman’s stores, highly elated them. Black Hawk now sent his women and children by way of the Kishwaukee to the swamps of Lake Koshkonong near the headwaters of Rock River. The Winnebagoes acting as guides. Here his party was recruited by Winnebagoes and Pottawatomies. On the day of Stillman’s defeat, General Whiteside with fourteen hundred men proceeded to the scene of battle and buried the dead. The State of Illinois has at Stillman Valley, erected a monument in honor of those killed in this engagement. On the 19th, General Atkinson and the entire army moved up the Rock River, leaving Stillman and Bailey, and their brigades at Dixon. Atkinson soon however, returned to Dixon leaving General Whiteside with his volunteers to follow Black Hawk’s trail. The volunteers now began to object to going farther, claiming that they were not compelled to serve in Michigan territory. They also claimed to having enlisted for one month, and that their time of enlistments had expired. After several days the officers determined to abandon their search for Black Hawk and they turned about and marched south to Ottawa, where on the 27th and 28th days of May, they were mustered out of the service. On the 22d day of May, a party of thirty Pottawatomies and three Sacs, under Girty killed fifteen men, women and children at the Davis farm on Indian Creek, twelve miles north of Ottawa. Sylvia and Rachel, two daughters of William Hall, were taken captive and carried by the Indians to their camp on Lake Koshkonong. Afterwards, White Crow, a Winnebago chief, who had been sent to their rescue by Henry Gratiot, agent for the Winnebagoes, succeeded in purchasing them and delivered the girls to their relatives. At the time of the mustering out at Ottawa, Governor Reynolds called for at least two thousand men to serve during the war, and General Winfield Scott started from Fortress Monroe on the sea board with one thousand regulars. In the meantime three hundred mounted volunteers under Colonels Frye and Henry agreed to remain in the field to protect the frontier. Abraham Lincoln was among this number. He, having re-enlisted May 27, as a private. Black Hawk now divided his people into several parties and made forays against the whites. On June 14th, a party of eleven Sacs killed five white men at Spafford farm on the Peckatonica River. Colonel Dodge with twenty-nine men followed them and the next day killed eleven, although he had three killed and one wounded in his own party. On June 24th, Black Hawk in command of a party of braves made an attack on Apple River Fort, fourteen miles east of Galena. After an hour’s siege, the Indians after destroying the neighboring cabins, withdrew. On June 25th, the same party attacked Major Dements’ spy battalion, a hundred and fifty strong, at Kellogg’s, Grove. General Posey arrived in time with a detachment of volunteers for their relief. The Indians lost fifteen. The whites’ loss was five. Skirmishes were had at Plum River Fort, Burr Oak Grove, Sinsiniwa Mound, and Blue Mounds. On June 15th, the new troops met at Fort Wilburn at Peru, their aggregate strength was about three thousand and twenty men, making the entire army in the field about four thousand effective men. The army now under General Atkinson, marched up the east bank of Rock River. White Crow offered to conduct our army to Black Hawk’s camp, and that wily savage kept the whites on a goose chase for several days trying to entrap them. Black Hawk in the meantime, had started westward to the Wisconsin River, and on the evening of July 21st, the Indians were overtaken on the bluffs of the Wisconsin where a decisive battle was fought in which General Henry commanded the American forces. This army charged the enemy and drove them from position after position with great loss, until sundown. This was the first important victory of the whites in this campaign. In the morning it was learned that the Indians were heading towards the Mississippi River and had left one hundred and sixty-eight dead on the field, twenty-five more being found next day along the trail. General Henry having lost but one man killed, and eight wounded. On the morning of August 2d, the army reached the bluffs of the Mississippi. The Indians had reached the river and were making active preparations to cross. At this time, Captain Throckmorton commanding the steamer Warrior, arrived at the spot. The Indians displayed a white flag. Throckmorton commanded them to come on board. They replied that they could not, because they had no boats. Upon this Throckmorton fired his six-pounder cannon loaded with canister into the Indians, killing twenty-three women and children. General Atkinson now came upon the scene, and at the mouth of the Bad Axe, attacked the Indian encampment. The Indians were completely routed, suffering a loss of one hundred and fifty killed, besides many drowned in their attempt to cross the river. The American loss was but seventeen. General Atkinson with the captured Indians, and about fifty women and children, went to Prairie du Chien. There on August 7th. General Scott with nine companies of infantry from Fortress Monroe, arrived and assumed command. The volunteers now returned to Dixon and were discharged, on the 17th day of August. Black Hawk, who had started back, was captured by some treacherous Winnebagoes and on the 27th day of August was delivered a captive to the whites at Prairie du Chien. He was kept that winter at Jefferson Barracks and in April, 1833, was sent as a prisoner to Fortress Monroe where he was, confined until June 4, when he was discharged. After visiting the principal cities in the east, he returned west, locating on a small reservation on the Des Moines River in Davis County, Iowa, where he died October 3, 1838. The following year his remains were stolen, and in the spring of 1840 Govern-or Lucas succeeded in recovering them and caused the skeleton to be delivered at the then capitol at Burlington. When the capitol was removed to Iowa City, the remains were taken there. January 16, 1855, they were destroyed by fire. The final treaty was concluded September 21, 1832. The treaty says: “Concluded at Fort Armstrong.” but in consequence of cholera then raging at the fort, the treaty was held on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi now the State of Iowa. Among the witnesses to this treaty were Antoine LeClaire, interpreter, Benjamin F. Pike, John W. Spencer and George Davenport, assistant quarter master general Illinois Militia. Governor Reynolds in referring to this final engagement says: “Although the warriors fought with the courage and valor of desperation, yet the conflict resembled more a carnage than a regular battle.” Another noted authority calls it ” a dishonorable chapter in the history of the borders.” Out of the hand of nearly one thousand Indians men, women and children who crossed the Mississippi at Yellow Banks in April, not more than one hundred and fifty lived to tell the story. The American loss in this war was about two hundred and fifty. The financial cost to the government and the State of Illinois was nearly $2,000,000.


Indian Wars 


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

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