The Black Hawk War
was fought in 1832 in the
Midwestern United States
was named for Black Hawk, a war
chief of the Sauk, Fox, and Kickapoo
Americans, whose British Band
fought against the United States
Army and militia from Illinois and the
Michigan Territory (present-day
Wisconsin) for possession of lands in the area.
of Indiana Territory William Henry Harrison
treaty in 1804 with a group of Sauk and Fox leaders that ceded
lands east of Mississippi River
"forever". However these leaders had not consulted their full
tribal councils and other leaders objected. The white
population of the region grew rapidly after the
War of 1812
and this led to increasing
tensions with the Native American population. Black Hawk led a
group of Native Americans to the ceded region during the winters of
both 1830 and 1831, which the Illinois governor
Federal troops were brought in, and Black Hawk's band was ordered
to withdraw but refused. Hostilities began on May 14, 1832 when Black
Hawk's band defeated militia at the Battle of
The war primarily comprised a series of
minor battles and skirmishes. A cholera
epidemic severely reduced the manpower of the white American
forces. The war ended with a decisive victory for the
militia at the Battle of Bad
Axe on August 1–2, 1832.
While many Native
Americans stayed in the area, most of their leaders fled; Black
Hawk and eight other Native American leaders were imprisoned.
Several white Americans, such as Abraham
and Jefferson Davis
were able to boost their political careers as a result of
involvement in the war.
the Fox Wars (1712–1716 and 1728–1733) in
the western Great
Lakes and Detroit regions, the
remaining Sauk and Fox sought refuge together in lands further west
that extended from the Wisconsin
River to the Illinois River in
the south. Other settlements were established north of
|Map of Black Hawk War sites
Battle (with name)
Fort / settlement
Symbols are wikilinked to article
and his band viewed this area as their homeland in 1832.
established their main village Saukenuk in the
Black Hawk was born there in 1767 and
lived much of his life in the village.
was a 19th-century
policy of the United States government to move Native American
tribes living east of the Mississippi River to the west of the
river. President Thomas Jefferson
believed that Native Americans should live west of the Mississippi
River, away from the white settlers. The Indian Removal Act
was signed into law by
President Andrew Jackson
on May 26,
1830. This led to the purchase of Sauk, Fox, and Kickapoo
William Henry Harrison, Governor of Indiana Territory (which then
included modern-day Illinois), negotiated a treaty in St. Louis,
Missouri with a group of Sauk and Fox leaders, in which they
ceded lands east of the Mississippi in exchange for $1,000 per year and the condition
that the tribes could continue to reside there until the land was
surveyed and sold by the U.S. government.
Article 2 ceded the land to the United States "forever", and raised
the ire of the Sauk and Fox tribes. This treaty was disputed by
Black Hawk and other members of the tribes, since the full tribal
councils had not been consulted, nor did those representing the
tribes have authorization to cede lands. After the War of 1812
, in which Black Hawk had fought
against the United States, he signed a peace treaty in May 1816
that re-affirmed the treaty of 1804, a provision of which Black
Hawk later protested ignorance. While Black Hawk was away during
the War of 1812, Keokuk
, a Sauk
leader known for his cooperation with the American authorities, had
become a prominent figure in the tribe, and the two became
The white population of Illinois exploded after the War of 1812,
exceeding 50,000 in 1820 and 150,000 in 1830. In 1825, 13 Sauk and
six Fox signed another agreement re-affirming the 1804 treaty. In
1828, the U.S. government liaison, Thomas Forsyth
, informed the
tribes that they should begin vacating their settlements east of
On July 15, 1830, U.S. Indian Commissioner William Clark signed another treaty
with Sauk and Fox leaders, among other tribes, at Fort Crawford in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.
The treaty ceded about
26,500,000 acres (107,000 km2
) of Sauk land
east of the Mississippi
government of the United
. It created a "Neutral Ground" boundary between the Sauk
and Foxes and their traditional enemies, the Sioux
, to prevent future hostilities between the
tribes. The treaty was signed by Keokuk, and in November 1830 was
approved by the Dakota
ceded in the treaty included Black Hawk's home village of Saukenuk, but Black
Hawk did not sanction the sale of this land and was determined to
remain in his village.
Despite opposition by Keokuk
and the US authorities, Black
Hawk's band returned to Saukenuk in 1830 following their winter
hunting. After a year of tension, they returned again in 1831, and
Illinois Governor John
proclaimed it an "invasion of the state".
Responding to Governor Reynolds's call,
General Edmund Pendleton
Gaines brought his federal troops from St. Louis,
Missouri to Saukenuk to insist upon Black Hawk's immediate
Black Hawk left but soon returned, remaining west
of the Mississippi. He was threatened by Gaines' troops and an
additional 1,400 militia called up by Reynolds on June 25, 1831. On
June 30, Black Hawk and the chiefs of the so-called "British Band
" were forced to sign a surrender
agreement in which they promised to remain west of the
On April 5, 1832, chafing under the rule of Keokuk, Black Hawk and
his group of 1,000 returned to Illinois. The Ho-Chunk prophet
contributed to the outbreak
of war by promising Black Hawk the support of the Ho-Chunk Nation
(formerly known as Winnebago), when
in fact he could only speak for his own band of the tribe. Black
Hawk was also misled by another ally, Neapope
, who promised British aid. Reynolds 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 one-half of all the federal troops of the United States Army
involved in the conflict, the 9,000 volunteers from the Illinois
Militia provided the majority of the U.S. combatants. Black Hawk's
British band was composed of about 500 warriors and 1,000 old men,
women and children when they crossed the Mississippi on April 5.
The group comprised members of the Sauk
Nations. They crossed near the mouth of the Iowa River
and then followed the Rock River
northeast. Along the way
they passed the ruins of Saukenuk and headed for the village of the
Ho-Chunk prophet White Cloud.
Brigadier General Henry Atkinson
was given charge of
prosecuting the war. Federal authorities, along with Sauk and Fox
tribal councils, ordered Black Hawk and his band to retreat west of
the Mississippi, but they refused to leave. Soon after that, Black
Hawk conferred with the Ho-Chunk and Potawatomi
tribes and learned that most their
members, nor the British, would aid his British Band.
On May 9,
a small Illinois militia battalion began the pursuit of Black Hawk
from the army's point of rendezvous on the Rock River at Dixon.
10, the militia burned the Prophet's Village. Upon hearing of this Black Hawk decided to
return with his band to Iowa.
An 1854 artist's depiction of the
Battle of Stillman's Run.
Events at Stillman's Run
prevented this and the Black Hawk War began.
The first confrontation occurred on May 14, 1832 and resulted in an
unexpected victory for Black Hawk's band of Sauk and Fox warriors
over the disorganized militiamen commanded by Isaiah Stillman
. After a long march
(the militia was mounted and followed by several supply wagons),
the militiamen finally came into contact with Black Hawk and his
warriors north of the Kishwaukee
River, near present day Stillman Valley.
When the militia killed a member of a
sent by Black Hawk, he
rallied 40 mounted warriors and attacked the militia camp at dusk.
Though Stillman's men numbered about 275, cohesion quickly
collapsed and they fled to Dixon's
, 35 miles (56 km) away. During the encounter, 11
militiamen under John Giles Adams
Soon after the battle at Stillman's Run, an exaggerated claim of
2,000 "bloodthirsty warriors . . . sweeping all Northern Illinois
with the bosom of destruction" sent shock waves of terror through
the region. After the outbreak of hostilities, Black Hawk led many
of the civilians in his band to safety in the Michigan Territory
. On May 19, the
militia traveled up the Rock River searching for Black Hawk.
small skirmishes and massacres followed over the next month in
northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin before the militia
regained public confidence through battles at Horseshoe Bend and
Massacres and skirmishes
The war would see a number of small skirmishes and massacres. On
May 19, a six-man detail carrying dispatches from Colonel James M. Strode was
ambushed by a party of Kickapoo near the
settlement of Buffalo Grove, Illinois in Ogle County.
ambush claimed one victim, William Durley, who was buried where he
fell by Felix St. Vrain and his
party as they marched to Galena.
Two others present at the attack had bullet
holes through their clothing but were not injured. In 1910 a memorial to
Durley and the Buffalo Grove ambush was erected by the Polo, Illinois Historical Society.
At that time Durley's
remains were reinterred beneath the memorial.
One of the Black Hawk War's most famous and well publicized events
was a peripheral event not directly connected to the war or Black
Hawk and his "British Band." The Indian Creek massacre occurred two days after the incident in Buffalo,
following a dispute between a local settler and a Potawatomi
warrior over the damming of nearby Indian Creek.
warrior, named Keewasee
, recruited a group
of warriors and attacked the William Davis settlement on the banks
of the creek. The attack resulted in the murders of 15 men, women
and children, most of whom were unarmed, though it is possible
Davis may have killed one assailant before being felled himself.
The victims were scalped and mutilated. In addition, two
teenage girls were kidnapped and held until they were ransomed two
weeks later and released at Fort Blue Mounds.
Events surrounding the release of the girls
would lead to two attacks at the fort in June. The incident at
Indian Creek triggered panic among the white population, and many
settlers fled to the safety of local forts. The Illinois Militia
used the massacre to boost recruiting in Illinois and Kentucky. The same day as the massacre at Indian
Creek, a settlement on the Plum River was raided by Sauk or Fox warriors.
encounter was bloodless, it was one of many incidents that
contributed to the atmosphere of fear.
massacre, a small skirmish after Stillman's Run, took place
near present-day Pearl City, Illinois in Kellogg's Grove on May 24, 1832.
The massacre was most
likely perpetrated by Ho-Chunk
unaffiliated with Black Hawk
band. It is also unlikely they had the sanction of their nation.
The victims were United States Indian Agent
Felix St. Vrain and
three of his companions. Some accounts indicated that St. Vrain's
body was subjected to mutilation, and at least one claimed it had
happened while he was still alive. The massacre led to an
unwarranted fear of all Native Americans
the area, even those friendly to the settlers. An example appears
in an article published in the New Galenian
on May 30,
1832. While it described the events of the massacre, it also
associated the murders of St. Vrain and his companions with the
's band. Following these
incidents, Governor Reynolds called up additional militia forces,
raising their number to 4,000 men.
Reynolds mustered the first of the militia out of service on May 27
and May 28 since their one month enlistment was expired. The
federal government then ordered General Winfield Scott
's 1,000 regulars and 300
mounted volunteers into action. For the moment it looked as though
Atkinson's role in the war would end soon, but a cholera epidemic
struck much of the United States. Winfield Scott's troops would
bring it over from the east into Illinois.
General Scott assembled a force of about 1,000 federal troops.
embarked on boats from Buffalo, New York, making their way towards Chicago.
To widespread horror, cholera was reported
among the troops. The expedition was doomed. Troops became ill and
many of them died. At each place the vessels landed, the sick were
deposited and soldiers deserted.
Efforts to prevent the immediate spread of the illness into the
population of the towns the expedition passed were largely
successful as only 3 civilians died in the initial outbreak.
However, later, in 1833 a larger-scale cholera epidemic affected
large regions of the United States, its roots can be traced to the
Scott expedition. By the time the expedition landed in Chicago,
there were less than two hundred effective troops left. Scott felt
the need to cancel his plans for an immediate march into the war
zone. Instead he waited for reinforcements, supplies, and tended to
his stricken men. Winfield Scott arrived too late for military
action, but he played an important part in drafting the terms of
Public confidence in the militia, eroded since the outbreak of
hostilities at Stillman's Run, was still low when the month of June
began. Small attacks and skirmishes continued to plague the
frontier of southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. Though Fort Blue
Mounds, in present-day Dane County, Wisconsin near the village of Blue
Mounds, was never the site of a full-fledged battle or
skirmish there were war-related events near the fort between June
6, and June 20.
The first event killed a civilian miner, and
area residents suspected Ho-Chunk
were responsible. This belief exacerbated the fear that more from
the Ho-Chunk Nation were set to join Black Hawk's band against the
white settlers in Michigan
and Illinois. The second incident was a full-fledged
Blue Mounds Fort by a raiding party estimated by eyewitnesses to be
as large as 100 warriors.
Two members of the militia were
killed in that attack, one of whom was badly mutilated and missing
a "part" when his body was found.
event, the Spafford
Farm massacre, also known as the Wayne massacre, occurred on June
14, 1832 near present-day South Wayne, Wisconsin.
A band of Native Americans attacked a group
of 7 men working on the farm of Omri Spafford, 5 men, including
Spafford, were killed. Two men escaped, one of them killing an
attacker before individually making their way to Fort Hamilton
. One of the men
spent several days hiding in the forest because he was under the
erroneous impression that the fort was being overtaken by friendly
who had arrived around the same
After Colonel Henry Dodge
of the massacre at Spafford Farm he set out for Fort Hamilton
Arriving at Fort Hamilton on June 16, Dodge gathered a force of 29
mounted volunteers and set out in pursuit of the band of Kickapoo
warriors responsible for the massacre. They caught up with them at
a bend in the Pecatonica River
known as "Horseshoe Bend." The Battle of
Horseshoe Bend was the first real victory for the militia and a
major turning point in the conflict.
The clash helped
restore public confidence in the volunteer militia force.
Hawk War also included two clashes at Kellogg's Grove, in
present-day Stephenson County, Illinois.
The first battle took place the same day as
Dodge's clash with the Kickapoo, on June 16, 1832, and was really
nothing more than a minor skirmish. Forces commanded by Adam W. Snyder
fought with a band of about 80 Kickapoo warriors. During the
fighting three militia members were killed and six Kickapoo
Waddams Grove, also called the Battle of Yellow Creek, occurred
on June 18, 1832 near Yellow
Creek in present-day Stephenson County, Illinois.
An 1857 painting of the battlefield at
The fighting became a melee
Up to six Sauk, and three militia men under the command of James W. Stephenson
were killed in action, while
Stephenson was severely wounded during the battle by a musketball
to the chest. The battle served to restore
confidence in the militia within the population of the area, who
were still afraid following the defeat at Stillman's Run. The dead
militia men were eventually buried in a memorial cemetery in
Kellogg's Grove, Illinois.
Apple River Fort commenced on June 24, 1832 at the hastily
constructed Apple River
Fort, near present-day Elizabeth, Illinois.
Approximately 150–200 Sauk and Fox warriors
under the command of Black Hawk
attacked the fort which was defended by about 25 militia. The
militia, under the command of Captain Clack
, was shorthanded during the battle as most of the fort's
detachment were not present. Fierce fighting ensued for at least 45
minutes with both sides exchanging heavy gunfire. Inside the fort,
the people of the nearby settlement had taken refuge. One woman,
out for her bravery after the battle. She rallied the fort's women
to assist during the battle by making musketballs and reloading
weapons. Believing the fort to be more heavily defended than it
was, Black Hawk and his band eventually retreated.
second, and larger, Battle of Kellogg's Grove commenced on June 25, 1832 when forces commanded by
Major John Dement met and fought with a
large band of Native Americans at the grove.
Replica of Apple River Fort in
forces, under the command of Black
mounted an unrelenting attack during which 25 horses and
five militia men were killed and at least of nine of Black Hawk's
On July 21, 1832, Illinois and Wisconsin militia men under the
command of Generals Henry Dodge and James
D. Henry caught
up with Black Hawk's British Band near
City, Wisconsin. The clash became known as the Battle of
Militarily, the battle was devastating for
Black Hawk's band of warriors; including those who drowned during
the melee, casualty estimates climbed as high as 70. Despite the
relatively high casualties the battle did serve to allow much of
the band, including many women and children, to escape across the
. The reprieve was
temporary for the group of Sauk and Fox, the militia would
eventually catch up with them at the mouth of the Bad Axe River
resulting in the decisive battle
of the war.
The Battle of Bad Axe occurred August 1–2, 1832, between Sauk and
Fox Indians and United States Army regulars and militia.
final battle of the Black Hawk War took place near present-day
Wisconsin in the United States.
It marked the end of
the war between white settlers and militia in Illinois and Michigan
Territory, and the Sauk and Fox tribes under Chief Black
The battle occurred in the aftermath of the Battle of Wisconsin
Heights, as Black Hawk's band fled the pursuing militia. The
militia caught up with them on the eastern bank of the Mississippi,
a few miles downstream from the mouth of the Bad Axe River. The
battle that followed was very one-sided; historians have been
calling it a massacre since the 1850s. The fighting took place over
two days, with the Warrior steamboat present on both days. By the
second day, Black Hawk and most of the Native American commanders
had fled, though many of the band stayed behind. The British Band
lost at least 260 members whereas the whites lost 14 men. While
Black Hawk intended to get to the battle, he only got to within
about 2 miles (3.2 km). The victory for the United States was
decisive and the end of the war allowed much of Illinois and
present-day Wisconsin to be opened for further settlement.
The Black Hawk War of 1832 resulted in the deaths of 70 settlers
and soldiers, and hundreds of Black Hawk's band. As well as the
combat casualties of the war, a relief force under General Winfield
Scott suffered hundreds dead and deserted. The war also resulted
in the settlement of Illinois, Iowa, and
It ended the threat of Native American attacks in
northwest Illinois and allowed the region to be further settled.
Atrocities were committed by both whites and Native
Hawk was held in captivity at Jefferson Barracks, just south of St. Louis, with Neapope, White Cloud, and eight other leaders
of the British Band.
In April 1833, after 8 months, they
were taken east on the orders of U.S.
President Andrew Jackson
. The men traveled by steamboat
, and met with large crowds
wherever they went. Once in Washington, D.C., they met with Jackson and Secretary of War Lewis Cass, though their final destination was
prison at Fortress
Monroe in Virginia.
They stayed only a few weeks at the prison,
during which they posed for multiple portraits by different
artists. On 5 June 1833, the men were sent west by steamboat on a
circuitous route that took them through many large cities.
the men were a spectacle everywhere they went, and met with huge
crowds of people in cities such as New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Reaction in the west, however, was much
different: in Detroit: a crowd
burned and hanged effigies of the
Effect on Native Americans
The war affected adversely even those Native Americans who had
cooperated with the US government. Even the Sauks and Foxes who
were friendly towards the whites suffered, despite the fact that
they had surrendered many of Black Hawk's supporters to the
government. These bands of Native Americans were forced
to give up most of eastern Iowa, prime farm land, as an indemnity
for the war at a price of about eleven cents an acre (26 $/km²) in
the Black Hawk
Purchase and had to move further westward by June 1,
The Ho-Chunk tribe suffered a similar treaty that
forced them to move from Wisconsin and Illinois into western Iowa.
Few members of any of the affected tribes managed to stay east of
the Mississippi River. The federal government purchased the last of
the Native American held lands in Iowa in 1842 and had moved the
last tribes from Iowa by 1845.
Abraham Lincoln, the future US president, served in Reynolds'
militia during the time of the Black Hawk War, but never saw
action. Zachary Taylor
future US president, commanded the troops under General Atkinson
during the war. Jefferson Davis, future president of the
Confederacy, was on
leave during most of the war but returned in time to escort the
surrendered Black Hawk, son Whirling Thunder, Neapope, White Cloud
and others to Jefferson
Barracks, Missouri in September 1832.
Davis gave an interview
in 1887 in which he indicated he was at the Battle of Wisconsin
Heights, but this assertion today has been largely
Historical marker at University of
The Black Hawk War was similar to other frontier wars fought in the
United States in that in provided a boost to several political
careers. Besides the notable involvement of Lincoln and Davis, four
Illinois governors served during the war: Thomas Ford
, John Wood
, Joseph Duncan
and Thomas Carlin
. The conflict also helped in the
political careers of a future governor in both Michigan and
Nebraska as well as boosting at least 7 U.S. Senators
1836, Henry Dodge was appointed governor of the Wisconsin Territory
did not fare as well following the war and spent the last decade of
his life at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis. Most of those
affiliated with the conflict, subordinates and superiors believed
that Atkinson had handled the prosecution of the war badly,
especially that he was not decisive enough. U.S. President Andrew Jackson
was looking for someone to
blame for the conflict even as it was ongoing. After the war
Congressional reports glossed over Atkinson's failings but
privately others still criticized him. Zachary Taylor stated he
believed that had Atkinson's regulars met with Black Hawk in the
war's first battle instead of the militia under Isaiah Stillman the
war could have ended without a single shot being fired. Historians
generally believe that a more decisive action by General Atkinson,
charged with prosecuting the war, in stopping Black Hawk's Band
from moving up the Rock River may have prevented the war. Zachary Taylor
made similar observations
shortly after the war ended.
State Historic Site in Rock Island, Illinois occupies much of the site of the village of
Saukenuk. Blackhawk Township, Rock Island County,
Illinois is named after Black Hawk. University of
Wisconsin–Madison has a marker at a spot where Black Hawk's band
retreated. Black Hawk County, Iowa, Black Hawk
College, and Black Hawk Bridge are named after Black Hawk.
The Black Hawk War is a key event in the white settlement of the
central United States. It is often seen as needlessly bloody and
possibly avoidable. While this was the last Indian War fought in
Illinois and Wisconsin, it was not the last one fought east of the
Mississippi River. The Second
was fought in Florida from 1835 to 1842, showing
opposition among the Native Americans against American expansionism
was not over. Black Hawk dedicated his autobiography to Atkinson
because of the kind treatment Atkinson had extended to him during
his confinement and warned Atkinson: "The path to glory is rough,
and many gloomy hours obscure it. May the Great Spirit shed light
on yours—and that you may never experience the humility that the
power of the American government has reduced me to."
- November 3, 1804 7 Stat., 84. Ratified January 25, 1805,
proclaimed February 21, 1805.
- 7 Stat., 328, Proclamation: February 24, 1831
- Compiled from: Sage, Leland L. A History of Iowa, Iowa
State University Press, Ames, Iowa: 1974, (ISBN 0813807166).
- Originally published as History of the War between the
United States and the Sac and Fox Nations of Indians, and Parts of
Other Disaffected Tribes of Indians, in the Years Eighteen Hundred
and Twenty-Seven, Thirty-One, and Thirty-Two (1834).
Jacksonville, IL: Calvin Goudy.