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Introduction to Black Hawk's Narrative

The Sauk and Mesquakie Indians were living in the Mississippi valley in the 1820s and 1830s when pioneer settlers began moving west into their hunting grounds. In the summer the Indian men hunted buffalo and elk and bartered for supplies with European traders.

At first the fur trade was good for both the Indians and the Europeans. Eventually, however this trade led to conflicts over land. As these problems increased and pioneer settlers pressed farther toward Indian lands, the U.S. government moved the Indians west. But some refused to move. Chief Black Hawk of the Sauk Tribe resisted moving.

Chief Black HawkChief Black Hawk

Black Hawk, the famous war chief of the Sauk tribe, was born in 1767. He grew up in Saukenuk, an Indian village on the Rock River near the Mississippi. During his lifetime he earned a reputation as a daring warrior.

When Black Hawk refused to leave his village in the spring of 1831, the U.S. army was called in to move him across the Mississippi to Iowa. He was not to return to Saukenuk on the Illinois side of the river. The next spring Black Hawk disobeyed this order and led his warriors and their families back to his village. The military was ordered to capture Chief Black Hawk.

Black Hawk led his followers north to escape, but the army followed. Three months later the remnants of his group of men, women, and children were captured in Wisconsin. Called the Black Hawk War, this conflict ended with Black Hawk being put in prison. To punish the Sauk and Mesquakie for the trouble caused by Black Hawk, the government made them sign a new treaty at Fort Armstrong selling even more of their land.

To convince Black Hawk that the Indians could not win, government officials took the chief east to see cities, army forts, and gun factories. He saw that fighting was useless when railroads could always bring more troops of soldiers. Everywhere on the tour, the train stations were crowded with people trying to get a glimpse of the chief. In Washington, D.C., Black Hawk met President Andrew Jackson.

At that meeting the Sauk chief promised not to make war again, but he was not ashamed about fighting to protect his lands. "I am a man and you are another;" he told President Jackson, but he realized that there were too many whites to fight.

Black Hawk returned to Iowa to live in a small cabin with his family. During his last years, he told the story of his life to Antoine Le Claire, a man who knew English, French and many Indian languages. He wrote down Black Hawk's memories of his life. In a letter written on October 16, 1833, Antoine Le Claire wrote the following:

From Black Hawk's Autobiography:

Indian Agency, Rock Island, October 16, 1833

I do hereby certify, that Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiah or Black Hawk, did call upon me, on his return to his people in August last, and express a great desire to have a History of his Life written and published, in order, (as he said) "that the people of the United States, (among whom he had been traveling, and by whom he had been treated with great respect, friendship and hospitality,) might know the causes that had impelled him to act as he has done, and the principles by which he was governed." In accordance with his request, I acted as Interpreter; and was particularly cautious, to understand distinctly the narrative of Black Hawk throughout -- and have examined the work carefully, since its completion -- and have no hesitation in pronouncing it strictly correct, in all its particulars.

Given under my hand, at the Sac and Fox Agency, the day and date above written.

Antoine LeClair
U.S. Interpreter for the Sacs and Foxes

Black Hawk's Narrative of the Yearly Cycle of the Sauk and Mesquakie Tribes is just a part of the memories of Black Hawk. He dictated them to Antoine Le Claire who wrote them down.

Chief Black Hawk graphic used by permission from the State Historical Society of Iowa.
Used by permission: Special Collections, State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.
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