A radio series exploring the 1832 conflict between Native Americans and the US government.
In the Summer of 2016, Helena White re-traced the journey taken by Sauk Chief Black Hawk and 1,500 men, women and children in 1832 who were attempting to reclaim their territory in Northern Illinois that was ceded in a treaty they considered illegal. White visited the sites of Native American villages and Militia battle fields and along the way talked to Native Americans, archaeologists, historians and consulted Black Hawk’s autobiography to learn about the significance of these events.
The music used in the radio series is by Young Buffalo Horse. The song is “For Nathan Charginghishorse” recorded live at Cherokee National Holiday in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Thanks to Molly Stentz, WORT News Director, for her help with this radio series.
Episode 1: Who Was Black Hawk?
You may have heard of Black Hawk and the conflict known as the Black Hawk War, but who was the man at the center of this conflict? In Episode 1, learn the history of the Sauk people in Illinois and meet the people involved in the last Native American up rising East of the Mississippi. Wisconsin was not yet a state when the conflict began in the summer of 1832.
Listen to the entire series as Helena White retraces the steps of Black Hawk’s group as they are chased through Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin. You will hear from a historian who is a descendant of Black Hawk’s group and historians from the Ho Chunk and Meskwaki (Fox) nations talk about the impact the conflict had on tribes in Wisconsin and Illinois. Black Hawk himself will comment on events through his autobiography and White will visit the important sites along the trail with local historians and University of Wisconsin professors.
Episode 2: Rock Island, Illinois
The Sauk and Fox people moved to present day Rock Island in the 1730’s after being pushed out of Canada by rival tribes. The Fox people lived in small, scattered villages, but the Sauk liked big towns and they named theirs Saukenuk. At it’s peak, Saukenuk had 100 large homes and a population of 6,000 people. This made Saukenuk bigger than St Louis and Chicago combined for that time. Black Hawk was born in Saukenuk in 1767. He was in his 60’s when the conflict began in 1832. After the Sauk were forced out of Saukenuk, the settlers who built Rock Island began by paving the village’s main thoroughfare with bricks. Those brick are still there and form 12th Street in downtown Rock Island.
In 1804, four Sauk tribal members were pressured to sign a treaty despite the fact that they held no authority to sign treaties. The Treaty of 1804 ceded 15 million acres of Sauk and Fox land in Northern Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin. Although the treaty allowed the Sauk and Fox to live on the land until it was sold, by the early 1830’s, the US government was ready to carve up the lots for sale and insisted that the tribes move to land in Iowa. By this time Illinois was a state, but Wisconsin was still called Michigan Territory. The US pressure split the Sauk tribe into those who were willing to move to Iowa, led by Chief Keokuk and those who vowed to stay, led by Chief Black Hawk. By 1831, only Black Hawk’s group remained at Saukenuk. The Federal army and the Illinois militia were called in to remove the defiant Sauk. The armies camped nearby in preparation for the attack but the Sauk slipped over the Mississippi River to Iowa during the night. The next morning, the soldiers were furious when they discovered their prey had escaped. In their frustration, the militia rampaged through the village, desecrated Sauk graves and burned Saukenuk to the ground. One year later, in April of 1832, Black Hawk and a group of about 1,500 men, women and children (mainly Sauk, but some Fox and Kickapoo) came back to the Saukenuk area, sparking the conflict that is known as The Black Hawk War.
Episode 3: Prophetstown, Illinois
Once Black Hawk and his group of 1,500 men, women and children crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois, they avoided the burned out ruin of Saukenuk and went to see Black Hawk’s spiritual adviser, The Prophet. The Prophet, or White Cloud, was a Chief, part Sauk, part Ho Chunk, who lived in Prophet’s Village about 50 miles up the Rock River from Rock Island. He was a visionary who used his dreams to guide his actions.
Prophet’s village was made up of out casts from other tribes. Black Hawk trusted The Prophet and had been turning to him for advice in the last few years of up upheaval. Today, Prophet’s Village is called Prophetstown Illinois. It was founded in 1834, just two years after the end of the War on Black Hawk.
When the Black Hawk band entered Illinois, the Federal and state authorities panicked. The militia was called up and the Federal army mobilized. These forces then commenced to follow the Black Hawk group as they made their way up the Rock River.
The US government had promised the Sauk people corn to sustain them through the winter of 1831-1832. But that corn never arrived. This was one of the reasons Black Hawk used for coming back into Illinois: He was going to plant corn at the Prophet’s village. It also explains why the group was so hungry and under supplied. Tune in to Episode 3 to hear about some bad news that Black Hawk was destined to get along the Rock River.
Episode 4: The Battle of Stillman’s Run
Black Hawk’s group of about 1,500 men, women and children were woefully under supplied for a long expedition. By early May, Black Hawk had received bad news. His rebellion was not going to get promised support from local tribes nor the British. He was depressed and ready to tell his people they had to return to Iowa. Late in the afternoon, some of his men returned to the camp at present day Milford to report that a group of white soldiers were camped nearby in present day Stillman Valley. Black Hawk took this as an opportunity to surrender. However, events did not go as planned for everyone involved.
The Illinois militia were nearby because the Federal and state governments thought Black Hawk wanted to attack the populace. It was at this time that future president Abraham Lincoln joined the Illinois Militia. Other militia commanders included Colonel Henry Dodge, who commanded the Michigan Territory militia. Dodge would go on to become the first Territorial Governor of Michigan Territory – which later became Wisconsin. Dodgeville, Wisconsin is named after Henry Dodge.
A huge monument to the 12 militia men who died during the battle dominates the hill in present day Stillman Valley. A militia man stands atop a tall column and there are bas-relief renditions of the conflict between the militia and attacking Native Americans around the base. None of these carved images show the militia running in panic. The graves of the 12 who died are buried nearby. A local resident was able to succinctly explain the battle when he said, “It was when the militia had their asses handed to them by the Indians.”
Episode 5: Hiding in the Trembling Lands
After Black Hawk’s defeat of the Illinois Militia, he knew his people were now in grave danger. He had seen how the militia responded to unarmed Native Americans holding the white flag of surrender and he knew the militia would want to exact revenge for the deaths of 12 of their comrades. Sympathetic Ho Chunk guides led the group away from danger and into a safe hiding area known as The Trembling Lands. On their way, they passed by the large Ho Chunk village called Turtle Village – now present day Beloit.
Federal General Atkinson (for whom Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, is named) and his troops spent several futile weeks languishing in the swampy ground around Lake Koshkonong searching for Black Hawk. Their struggles in the boggy ground increased the soldiers’ antipathy towards their enemy. No one knows for sure where Black Hawk and his group hid in mid summer of 1832, but University of Wisconsin Prof. Robert Birmingham has a good theory!
Episode 6: Escape through Madison, Wisconsin
Once Black Hawk and his starving group left their hiding place, they headed down a well established Ho Chunk trail straight to the shores of Lake Monona in present day Madison, Wisconsin. Today, that Ho Chunk trail is called County Highway BB. By driving down Highway BB from Jefferson to Madison, you can re-trace the path taken by the fleeing group. Once the militia became aware of Black Hawk’s trail, they hurried down the same path. You will find Historic Markers about the War on Black Hawk in Watertown and Lake Mills.
Once Black Hawk’s group arrived at the shores of Lake Monona on July 21st, 1832, they made their way through the thickly wooded isthmus between lakes Monona and Mendota with the militia hot on their heels. Today, following that route takes you right through the heart of Madison’s Eastside neighborhood, up the hill to the Capitol, though the famous Capitol building, down State Street on the other side and through the campus of the University of Wisconsin all the way to present day Middleton. There is a Historic Marker on East Wilson Street, near the intersection with Blair, noting the location where the militia caught up with and killed a Native American man. In Middleton, Black Hawk’s group camped at what is now Pheasant Branch Park. The militia were just behind them.
Episode 7: The Battle of Wisconsin Heights
After passing through present day Madison, the Black Hawk group struggled on towards present day Sauk City (an old Sauk village). Here, Black Hawk planned for the group to cross the Wisconsin River and ultimately get to the safety of Iowa. The militia continued to be very close behind. On Sunday, July 22, 1832, Black Hawk’s group reached the shores of the Wisconsin River and gathered any available material to make rafts.
The militia was now so close that Black Hawk feared they would attack his people before they could safely cross the river. He retreated with his warriors to a hilly area to orchestrate a rear guard action.
About 80 of Black Hawk’s group opted to take the Wisconsin River to the Mississippi and make their escape from there. Sadly, most of these people were killed from the river banks by soldiers stationed near Prairie Du Chien. The rest of the group pressed on into the Ocooch Mountains – or present day Driftless Region.
Episode 8: Into the Ocooch Mountains
If you have traveled through the Driftless Region of Southwest Wisconsin, you will know that it is densely wooded, with steep hillsides and deep hollows. Today it still has thick wooded hills with farm fields in the valleys. Back in July 1832, this area was called the Ocooch Mountains and it was a relatively unexplored and unpopulated area.
Black Hawk’s group were so hungry that the militia could follow their trail by finding the bark stripped from trees, roots dug from the earth, discarded belonging and dead bodies. The militia’s horses struggled in the ankle snapping terrain, but the soldiers pushed them on in their excitement to catch up with the Native Americans.
Episode 9: The Massacre at Bad Axe
On August 1st, what remained of the Black Hawk group arrived at their destination; the banks of the Mississippi River 30 miles north of Prairie Du Chien near the Bad Axe River. Over three months, the group had traveled about 340 miles and were now very close to the safety of Iowa.
But before the exhausted group could begin to swim across the river to safety in Iowa, the steamboat The Warrior paddled into view. The steamboat captain, Joseph Throckmorton, had been sent to intercept the Sauk group and a large canon had been put on his vessel. The steamboat crew and soldiers attempted to kill the Native Americans huddled on the shore, firing on the group despite Black Hawk’s white flag and request to talk. After The Warrior returned to Prairie Du Chien because it was low on fuel, Black Hawk, The Prophet and a small group left Bad Axe to find refuge with tribes further north. Black Hawk was not present for the carnage of the next day.
On August 2nd, the militia and the federal troops caught up with the remaining Native Americans. Future first Wisconsin Territorial Governor Colonel Henry Dodge was one of the officers commanding militia men who engaged in a wholesale massacre of men, women, children and babies.
It is estimated that over 400 were killed during the two days. Some managed to swim across the Mississippi to Iowa, but many of them were then killed by Sioux Indians who were encouraged to do so by the US government.
Tune in hear what happened over these two tragic days in August 1832.
Episode 10: Sandra Massey and the changes of the last 20 years
“We’re still here!” says Sandra Massey, Historic Preservation Officer for the Sac and Fox Nation in Oklahoma, referring to the fact that some members of the Sauk tribe managed to escape the Bad Axe Massacre. Massey is a descendant of Black Hawk’s group. Helena White met Massey at the site of the Bad Axe Massacre where Massey talked about what it is like for members of her tribe to visit this tragic place.
Massey also talked about how attitudes towards Native Americans and their cultural heritage has changed over the last 20 years. She was in town for the sentencing phase of a trial that exemplifies this shift in attitude.
Tune in to hear the shocking story of former Effigy Mounds Park Superintendent Thomas Munson.
Episode 11: The Aftermath of the Conflict
What happened to Black Hawk when the conflict was over? What happened to the tribes involved? Tune in to hear the remarkable story of Black Hawk’s celebrity tour of the East. Sandra Massey of the Sauk Nation, Bill Quackenbush of the Ho Chunk Nation and Jonathan Buffalo of the Meskwaki (Fox) Nation explain the impact the conflict had on their tribes and the current state of their nations.
(Below) Helena White and Sandra Massey at Black Hawk Park, a Corps of Engineers Park at the site of the Bad Axe Massacre, near De Soto, Wisconsin.
To contact Helena White regarding this radio series, please do so at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Black Hawk: An Autobiography. Black Hawk, edited by Donald Jackson. 1955 University of Illinois Press
“That Disgraceful Affair,” the Black Hawk War. Cecil Eby. 1973 Norton and Company
Black Hawk: The Battle for the Heart of America. Kerry A. Trask. 2006 Henry Holt and Company
Hunting A Shadow: The Search For Black Hawk. Compiled and Edited by Crawford B. Thayer. 1981 Banta Press
In Black Hawk’s Footsteps: A trail Guide to Monumments, Museums and Battlefields of The Black Hawk War. Benjamin McLaughlin. 2004 McLaughlin Publishing
Life, Death and Archeology at Fort Blue Mounds: A Settlers Fortification of the Black Hawk War. Robert Birmingham. 2012 Wisconsin Historical Society Press
Uncommon Defense: Indian Allies in the Black Hawk War. John Hall. 2009 Harvard University Press
Twelve Moons: A Year with the Sauk and Meshkwaki, 1817-1818. Elizabeth Carvey and Tom Willcockson. 2012 Woolverton
Re-Collecting Black Hawk: Landscape, Memory and Power in the American Midwest.University of Pittsburgh Press
Auto Touring Route: 1832 Black Hawk War. War Trail Coalition Brochure
Young Buffalo Horse: https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCqUFK9NjjP_6p72UjTNHAug
Black Hawk State Historic Site and Hauberg Indian Museum, 1510 46th Ave, Rock Island Ill http://www.blackhawkpark.org/