In the spring of 1831, when Black Hawk and his people returned from their winter hunt, they found the few white settlers whom they had left the fall before increased by many new comers. They found the Indian homes occupied by pale faces, and among their corn hills they found the white man’s wagon. But more aggravating yet, they found the bones of their ancestors disturbed and laid bare upon the ground by the white man’s plow. Black Hawk and his people had borne much the past few years but this seemed too much. He protested, and was told the white man had bought the land from his white father in Washington. He could not understand this. Judge John W. Spencer in his “Reminiscences” says: “Black Hawk gave the settlers to understand that after this season they must go south of Rock River, or above Pleasant Valley. * * * This move on the part of the Indians made it necessary for the settlers to look about and see what they could do for their protection,” and, Judge Spencer says, “We had petitioned the governor of the state in the summer of 1829 without his taking any notice, but now we concluded to try it again. We made a statement of our grievance, and of the order of Black Hawk for our removal, and forwarded it with all possible haste to the governor. This had the desired effect.”
The following is the petition sent to the governor by citizens of Rock Island:
The settlers not hearing from Governor Reynolds and receiving no aid from the officials at Fort Armstrong, applied to the Indian agent, and he wrote the following letter:
One of the settlers living on what is now Vandruff’s Island, kept a sort of tavern where whiskey was sold, and here the Indians came to barter for fire water. Black Hawk saw his people bartering off their peltries and game for whiskey and he saw the ruin that the white man’s “fire water” was creating among them. He protested and begged the white man to stop selling the Indians whiskey, but the sale went on. One day he, with some five or six of his braves, paddled in their canoes from their village to Vandruff’s Island. Silently the old chief marched up to the cabin followed by his braves. They did not stop to knock, but entered the door and silently rolled the barrel of whiskey outside the cabin, knocked in the head with their tomahawks and allowed the pale faces’ “fire water” to run on the ground. Then they rowed back to their village. This last act of the Indians greatly excited the whites and Benjamin F. Pike, a settler, afterwards our first sheriff, was sent to Belleville in St. Clair County to personally ask the governor for assistance. He took with him the following petition from the settlers:
Upon his arrival at Belleville Pike prepared the following statement:
Pike presented his petition from the Rock River settlers and these affidavits personally to Governor Reynolds, who on the same day issued a call for seven hundred mounted militia, to move the Indians west of the Mississippi River. He also wrote the following letter to General Clark, Superintendent of Indian Affairs:
Felix St. Vrain, the then agent for the Sacs and Foxes, had in the meantime gone to St. Louis and in the following letter sets out the situation at Rock River:
Upon receipt of Governor Reynolds’ letter, General William Clark sent to General Edward P . Gaines the following letter:
General Clark the same day sent to Governor Reynolds the following communication in reply to his letter:
Governor Reynolds certainly meant business, for on the same day he sent the following letter in reply to the letter from General Clark:
To which letter General Gaines replied as follows:
General Clark the following day forwarded to the War Department at Washington the following communication:
General Gaines immediately proceeded to Fort Armstrong and upon his arrival with his troops commenced putting the fort in condition to withstand a siege if necessary. The six companies he brought with him from Jefferson Barracks were strengthened by four additional companies from Fort Crawford, at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. All the settlers in this vicinity were warned of impending danger and came to the fort with their families, bringing their horses, cattle and everything of value that could be carried. The soldiers began target practice, and morning and evening guns were fired, something not heretofore done. June 5, General Gaines sent for Black Hawk, Keokuk, Wapello and other chiefs for the purpose of holding a council. Black Hawk came to the council attended by all his chiefs and many warriors, all in war paint, carrying arms, and singing war songs. None but the chiefs were allowed to enter the fort, and here in the presence of Keokuk, Wapello, and other head chiefs, General Gaines told Black Hawk that he and his band must move west of the Mississippi River, and that if they did not go, he, Gaines, would move them by force. Gaines gave the Indians until the twentieth in which to move. Previous to this Black Hawk had held two interviews with the Prophet, a Winnebago living at his village where Prophetstown is now located. The Prophet claimed to have had visions or dreams, and said that the white soldiers would do no one any harm; that their object was merely to frighten the Indians, and it was upon this information that Black Hawk acted.
After the council, General Gaines at once sent by special messenger the following letter to Governor Reynolds:
This letter evidently pleased Governor Reynolds for he said: “I was very much rejoiced on receiving this letter, as it put my whole proceedings on a legal and constitutional footing, and the responsibility of the war was removed from me to the United States.”
June 4, General Gaines wrote to Henry Gratiot, sub-Indian agent, to investigate the situation at the Sac village at once; and on the twelfth that gentleman sent the following reply:
At the suggestion of General Gaines the men and larger boys of the settlement formed themselves into a company, elected officers, and named themselves “Rock River Rangers,” and tendered their services to General Gaines, who accepted the company of fifty-eight men, and mustered them into the service. No record of this company’s enrollment has been found, it probably never having been forwarded to Washington. Judge Spencer in his “Reminiscences,” gives June 5th as the date. The following is a roster of the company:
Governor Reynolds calls out the militia to quell the “Indian uprising.”
Shortly after the militia reached the Indian village it began to rain and soon the rain descended in torrents, and early the morning of the 26th, the troops commenced setting fire to the houses. Soon the frail dwellings were wrapped in flames and in less than one hour’s time almost every wigwam in the village was in ashes.
On June 30th, 1831, a new treaty was signed by which the British band of Sacs again agreed to make their homes on the west side of the Mississippi and never to cross such river, except with the consent of the President of the United States or of the Governor of Illinois. Black Hawk signed this treaty and then for the first time ratified, against his will, the treaty of 1804.
On June 31, 1831, a war party of nearly 100 Sacs and Foxes had attacked a camp of Menominees situated about one half a mile about Fort Crawford at Prairie du Chien and killed twenty-five. Black Hawk says the killed were Sioux and Menominees. Between the former and the Sacs and Foxes there had always been a bitter and hostile feeling. April 1, 1832, General Henry Atkinson, then commanding Jefferson Barracks at St. Louis, received orders to proceed up the Mississippi and demand from the Sacs and Foxes the principals engaged in the murder of the Menominees.
April 16, Governor Reynolds received General Atkinson’s letter, asking the assistance of the state militia. Promptly on the same day the Governor issued the following proclamation:
It seems the martial spirit of the citizens of Rock Island County was not stilled or satisfied by the march of the Rock River Rangers in 1831 from Fort Armstrong to the Sac village, for in 1832 we find one company enrolled in the service where every member save one was from Rock Island County, that one being a brother of the captain, and he came from Adams County to enlist under his brother. The following is from the rolls as corrected and now on file in the War Department at Washington.
Rock Island County furnished more soldiers than those given in Captain John W. Kenney’s company. Yet, I have been able to trace but few owing to the fact that the rolls are by no means complete. A large number joined the state militia and were never sworn into the United States service, consequently no record was kept and their names will remain forever unknown. I have frequently heard certain of our old citizens claim to have been in the Black Hawk War, and have made diligent search for their names. I give in this sketch only such names as appear on record in the reports of the war department.
I find a company of Illinois Volunteer Militia was stationed at Fort Armstrong and was in the service of the United States from April 21 to June 3, 1832, when it was mustered out. This company did garrison duty. The records say it was composed of men from Rock Island and adjacent counties, but I have been unable to place but one, he being Samuel Wells. The roster of the company is:
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.
Source: Historic Rock Island County, pub. Kramer & Company, Rock Island, Illinois, 1908