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Black Hawk War

Chief Black Hawk

The factual accuracy of this article is disputed.

The Black Hawk War, named for the leader of a band of Sauk and Fox Indians, was the result of government annexation of lands in Illinois.

In 1804, General William Henry Harrison negotiated a treaty in St. Louis with a group of Sauk and Fox leaders, in which they ceded the land all lands east of the Mississippi in exchange for $1000 per year and the condition that the tribes could continue to reside on the land as long as the US government possessed it.

However, this treaty was subsequently disputed by Black Hawk and other members of the tribes, since the full tribal councils had not been consulted. After the War of 1812, in which Black Hawk had fought against the US, he signed a peace treaty in May of 1816 (following treaties signed by the other tribes in the preceding year); these peace treaties re-affirmed the treaty of 1804, a provision of which Black Hawk later protested ignorance. Nevertheless, the non-native population of Illinois exploded after the War of 1812, exceeding 50,000 in 1820 and 150,000 in 1830. In 1825, thirteen Sauks and six Foxes signed another agreement re-affirming the 1804 treaty. In 1828, the US government liaison, Thomas Forsyth, informed the tribes that they should begin vacating their settlements east of the Mississippi. On July 10, 1830, Sauk Chief Keokuk sold 26,500,000 acres of Sauk land east of the Mississippi to the government of the United States for three cents an acre. The land included the village of Saukenok at the junction of the Mississippi and Rock Rivers, which had been home to Black Hawk and his band of Sauk and Fox Indians for more than 150 years. In the Fall of 1830, when Black Hawk and his followers returned from their hunt, they found white settlers occupying their village. Black Hawk did not sanction the sale of this land and was determined to regain the village; after a year of tension, he returned again in 1831, and Governor John Reynolds proclaimed it an "invasion of the state".

Responding to Reynolds' call General Edmund Pendleton Gaines brought his army troops from St. Louis to Saukenuk to insist upon Black Hawk's immediate departure. Black Hawk refused, and was driven across the Mississippi by Gaines' troops and an additional 1400 militia called up by Reynolds. At this point, Black Hawk signed a surrender agreement in which he promised to remain west of the Mississippi. This did not last long, however. On April 6, 1832, chafing under the rule of Keokuk and stirred up by promises of British support by Sauk chief Napope and of welcome by the Winnebago prophet White Cloud in Illinois, Black Hawk and his band of 1,000 returned to Illinois in an attempt to reclaim their homeland. The Governor, considering this an invasion, mobilized the militia of 1,600 men and called for additional support from U.S. troops. Federal authorities, along with Sauk and Fox tribal councils, ordered Black Hawk and his band west of the Mississippi, but they refused to leave.

The governor issued a proclamation on April 16, mustering five brigades of volunteers to form at Beardstown and to head north to force Black Hawk out of Illinois. (Although US army troops were also involved, the militia, which by the end of the war reached 9,000 men, were the majority.) On May 9, the militia began an aggressive pursuit, finally coming into contact with Black Hawk and his warriors on the Rock River near Dixon on May 14. When the militia fired upon them, the warriors returned fire and killed eleven militiamen in the Battle of Stillman's Run. Although the militia numbered 300, they fled after the initial volley and returned home with news that 2,000 "bloodthirsty warriors were sweeping all Northern Illinois with the bosom of destruction." After this initial skirmish, Black Hawk sent the women and children of his band to the Michigan Territory and then descended into Northern Illinois.

On May 19th, the militia traveled up the Rock River in search of Black Hawk. Several small skirmishes ensued when they encountered the Indians raiding the Illinois settlements of Ottawa and Galena. Following these skirmishes, the governor recruited additional militia forces, raising the number to 4,000. With the one-month enlistment for militia already expired, the Governor mustered them out of service on May 27 and 28. The Federal Government then ordered General Winfield Scott with 1,000 regulars and 300 mounted volunteers to resume the chase.

From the end of June to the beginning of August, the Federal troops pursued Black Hawk and his band throughout Northern Illinois. They remained hot on his trail, but always seemed to remain 2 to 3 days behind. On August 1, with his band depleted and hungry, Black Hawk surrendered on the Mississippi River near the mouth of the Bad Axe River.

Black Hawk was ordered to board a U.S. ship positioned on the river, but many of his band had already crossed the river. When the ship?s crew fired upon the Indians on the shore, a battle ensued. 850 of Black Hawk's band and 17 soldiers were killed. Black Hawk escaped with ten warriors and 35 women and children to Wisconsin, but on August 27 they were captured and delivered to Prairie du Chien. On September 21, a peace treaty was signed with the Sauk and Fox Tribes and Black Hawk was placed in the custody of Sauk Chief Keokuk, the same man who betrayed him by selling his land two years earlier. Black Hawk never again attempted to regain his homeland.

The Black Hawk War of 1832 resulted in the deaths of seventy settlers and soldiers, and hundreds of Black Hawk's band. The War not only affected the lives of the Indians, settlers, and militiamen involved, but also the settlement of Illinois and Wisconsin. The War was responsible for the end of conflict between settlers and Indians in both states.

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