THE Sac Indians have a curious account of creation. According to their story, the gods in the beginning created the earth and every species of bird, beast, and fish. They next created man. But this creature, as may easily be believed, was shortly discovered to be both cruel and foolish. To improve him the gods put into him the heart of the best beast they had created. This, however, failed to improve its perverse owner. So the Almighty took a piece of himself, of which he made a heart for the man, who at once became wise and gentle. The earth, meanwhile, brought forth fruits in abundance, besides man it was inhabited by innumerable giants and gods.
It seems, according to this tale, that another tribe of gods who had their home under the seas, had a fuss with the gods of the earth. The former pooled their issues with the giants for the purpose of destroying their common enemy. A council was held, at which, after much debate, it was decided that the allies were still too weak to attack Wesukkah, the chief god of the earth. So they conceived a stratagem. A great feast was to be prepared on the earth, to which Wesukkah should be invited. At an opportune moment his enemies would then fall upon him and put him to death. But Wesukkah was wide awake. No sooner had the council decided on this plan than Wesukkah's younger brother appeared in the midst of the assembly. He was at once inquired of, "Where is thy brother Wesukkah?" to which he replied, "I know not; am I my brother's keeper?" The conspirators, seeing their plan was discovered, instantly slew the young god.
Wesukkah was deeply grieved at the fate of his brother. The gods who dwell above the clouds, hearing his noisy lamentations, came down and offered to help him destroy his enemies. Frightened at their danger, the gods from under the sea had run off, leaving their friends, the giants, alone upon earth. The battle-field between Wesukkah and the giants was a flame of fire. The giants fought bravely, but were utterly destroyed, not one of their being left alive.
The gods under the sea, frightened at the fate of their allies, instantly besought their friends for help. The call was not unheeded. Through the influence of the deities of the thunder and the wind, the god of the cold, with his dreadful armies of frost, snow, hail and ice, came from the north, and smote the whole earth. Every river, lake, and sea was converted into solid ice. For many days enormous hailstones, the size of a man's head, smote the inhabitants of the earth. When the storm ceased, all of them, both men, beasts, and gods, save a few choice ones of each kind, which Wesukkah had covered with the hollow of his hand, were found to have perished.
In the process of time, the gods of the sea ventured to peep out from their hiding-place, and seeing Wesukkah almost entirely alone upon the earth, thought that now their enemy might indeed be conquered. Every attempt failed, and the gods of the sea, finding themselves unable to secure the earth for their own habitation, gnashed their teeth, and resolved to destroy it altogether. They besought the god of thunder for aid, and he, calling together the clouds, commanded them to pour water upon the earth. This they obeyed, and the flood continued until the whole surface of the earth, including the highest mountains, was covered with water.
Wesukkah, however, saw the deluge coming, and took some air to make himself a boat. Into this he went, taking with him a few of every sort of living creature, including man. The air boat floated safely on the top of the flood. After a good while, Wesukkah commanded a fish to go down into the waters, and bring up some earth from the bottom. After great difficulty, the fish returned with a mouthful of dirt, out of which Wesukkah, spreading it forth on the surface of the water, formed this earth. Tired with their long confinement, he and the creatures that were with him in his air boat came forth and inhabited it.
Though the Sacs have such a specific account of creation, they have neglected to preserve their subsequent history with any thing like detail. All we know is, that they and the Foxes once inhabited the shores of the St. Lawrence. Being attacked by the Iroquois, they fled to the western shores of Lake Michigan, and thence to the valley of the Mississippi. Elsewhere we have related the story of the assassination of the great Pontiac in an Illinois village. This murder was the cause of one of the most terrible Indian wars known to history. The Sacs and Foxes from the north, together with a large number of Pontiacean tribes, invaded the fertile plains of the Illinois, overran the country, destroyed the villages, and almost utterly annihilated the great Illinois confederacy, of which the Kaskaskias, the Peorias, the Miamis, and the Meas were but individual tribes.
Having subjugated and massacred the inhabitants of the fair region to which the name of the ruined confederacy is still given, the Sacs and Foxes determined to remain in the delightful country. Their principal village was constructed on the east side of Rock River, near its junction with the Mississippi. Of this region a traveler said, more than a century ago, "It was healthy and amazingly fruitful. The grape, the plum, the gooseberry, and various other native fruits abound. The wild honeysuckle gives its perfume to the air, and a thousand indigenous flowers mingle their diversified hues with the verdure of the plain."
As usual, the difficulties of the United States with these tribes grew out of a treaty. It was made in 1804, and in it it was agreed by the Indians to give up about all their territory east of the Mississippi, for a small annuity. The origin of this treaty was claimed by the Indians to be as follows: In 1804 some of the Sacs went down to St. Louis to try to secure the release of one of their friends, who was under arrest for murder. The party was absent for a long time. When they returned they were dressed in fine clothes, and each man possessed a silver medal. They related to their tribe that after having requested the Americans to release their friend, the governor told them that he wanted some land. Papers were drawn up and eagerly signed by the Indians, thinking that the safety of their friend was secured. They were supplied with a great deal of whisky, and were so drunk during their stay that they could only remember that their friend, instead of being restored to them, was called out before them and shot dead by a file of soldiers. This is the account which the great chieftain of the Sacs afterward gave of the treaty.
When the war of 1812 broke out, Black Hawk, a rising young warrior of the tribe, yielding to the solicitations of Tecumseh and the omnipresent Simon Girty, resolved to join the British army, taking with him five hundred braves. Black Hawk soon wearied of the war and returned home. On his way he visited an old man, the father of a boy which Black Hawk had adopted. The old Indian, lying at the point of death, feebly related the following story:
After Black Hawk's departure to the war, he, with a few others, repaired to a white settlement on Salt River, to pass the winter. He and his boy had pitched their wigwams near a small fort, of which the occupants seemed friendly. One evening the young hunter did not return to the lodge. In the morning the old man and his squaw, with hearts full of apprehension, started on a search for the wanderer. They followed his tracks through the snow till a deer trail was reached. Pursuing this for some distance, they found a dressed deer which he had killed, hanging to a tree. At this point also, were the tracks of white men. The snow was greatly disturbed, as if the spot had been the scene of a struggle. In one place they discovered a stain of blood on the white surface. The tracks of the men turned toward the fort. Not far distant the boy was found lying dead -- shot, stabbed, and scalped. Black Hawk had been much attached to the boy, and was deeply angered at the outrage. Rejoining his warriors, he told them the story, and the whole body resolved to return to the war.
When Tecumseh fell dead in the battle of the Thames, Black Hawk was fighting by his side. We have seen how Brant had fought under the great Pontiac years before he himself came into fame. It is not extravagant to say that the mind and career of Brant were powerfully influenced by the character and fame of the mighty leader whom he thus supported. Tecumseh himself, though born after Pontiac had been buried in his forest grave, was, even more than Brant, a pupil of the great conspirator. The far-reaching influence of Pontiac, which did not die with its author, may therefore be traced in Black Hawk. It may be said that Black Hawk was but an echo of Tecumseh, and thus indirectly of Pontiac himself. "The evil that men do lives after them."
Few incidents are related of Black Hawk from the time of the close of the war of 1812, when he became famous. About 1820 a young Sac killed an Indian of the Iowa tribe. In imitation of the whites, these tribes had arranged to surrender the murderer, to be dealt with by the friends of the murdered man. A party of Sacs, with Black Hawk at their head, prepared for the diplomatic journey to the Iowas, which the occasion demanded. At the moment of departure they discovered that the young man who had committed the murder was ill. He would have nevertheless have accompanied them had not his brother interfered. The latter, with high generosity, insisted that his brother was too sick to travel, and that he would go and die in his place.
After a journey of seven days the party arrived within sight of the Iowa village. The young brave went calmly forward, singing his death-song, and seated himself in the midst of the lodges. A deputation of chiefs came out from the village, with whom Black Hawk held a short talk, explaining that the young warrior, who had surrendered himself to them, had, on account of his brother's sickness, taken his place, and had come to die in his stead. The talk ended. The Iowas, with impassive countenances, returned to the village. Black Hawk and his companions took a last look at their doomed friend, about whom a crowd, armed with sticks and stones, was already gathering, and sadly turned their faces homeward.
That evening, while in camp, the rapid gallop of a horse was heard. The dusky company seized their arms, with every ear attent and every eye strained to pierce the darkness. The horse came nearer and nearer. Suddenly the rider reined in and leaped from his saddle, right into their midst. It was the young brave who had been left behind. The Iowas had at first threatened him. But when his generosity and self-sacrifice became known there was a sudden revulsion of feeling among these simple children of the forest. Nature taught them to instinctively recognize and worship the hero. It is civilization and life in cities, greed and selfishness, which blunt this fine instinct, and teach man to ignore and sneer at heroism. The Iowas had not only released their prisoner, but sent him back to his people with a present of two fine horses.
A year or two after this touching incident Black Hawk and the band of warriors, who with admiring devotion followed the footsteps of their leader everywhere, were encamped on the Two Rivers on a hunting expedition. One day some white settlers met him in the forest, and accused him of having killed some of their hogs. Black Hawk understood their language but imperfectly. At last, gathering the idea, he indignantly denied the charge. The white ruffians forthwith jumped on him, snatched away his gun and rendered it useless by firing it in the air, and proceeded to beat him most unmercifully with sticks. Then they returned the gun, kicked him, and told him to leave the neighborhood. From this outrage Black Hawk never recovered. The humiliation of his proud spirit was insufferable.
In the summer of 1823 the United States urged upon the Sacs and Foxes the necessity of a removal, in accordance with the treaty of 1804, of which we have spoken, to the west bank of the Mississippi. This caused a division of the tribe. Keokuk, the great peace chief of the Sacs, whose ascendancy and influence was rapidly overshadowing that of Black Hawk, favored the removal, and with a majority of the tribe withdrew to the Ohio River. Black Hawk, of course, took the opposite side to that of his rival, in which position he found not a few supporters.
The site of their village at the mouth of Rock River was, as has been said, one of the most delightful spots in the northwest. Besides its natural advantages and the beauty of the scenery, the place was endeared to every heart by associations. For unnumbered years the dead of every family had been buried under the shadow of the stately forest trees. Every sorrow of the past was a tie which bound their hearts to the place. Every joy which they had experienced was associated in memory with this home. To leave the one seemed to be giving up the other. So Black Hawk entered a violent remonstrance against the proceedings of the whites, and refused to stir. He even went further. When a white man undertook to sell whisky to his people Black Hawk, with two or three companions, went to the house and rolled out the barrels. He then broke in the heads, and spilled the liquor on the ground.
The difficulties increased with time. Black Hawk and his people, returning from their winter hunt, found their lodges occupied by white settlers, who claimed to have bought the land. To this Black Hawk replied, that his reason taught him that land could not be sold. In this remark of an ignorant savage, who spoke purely from instinct, there is food for reflection. If we open the works of the English philosopher, Mill, we find him, after an elaborate induction, arriving at the same conclusion. The theory of our law says that the owner of land is entitled to the possession of it, and any one who enters thereon without permission, does so without right, and is a trespasser. If this be true, he inquires, why then might not a small minority, says a million men, of enormous wealth, buy up every foot of land on the globe, and as to them every other man, woman, and child become trespassers, wrong-doers in the eye of the law, legally liable to be driven off the globe? The hand of the philosopher reaches down from the heights and grasps that of the savage extended upward from the depths.
But Black Hawk had another argument. He said that even if his land could be sold, it never had been. To these arguments, one or the other of which every fair man will say was true, the United States had but a single reply -- "MOVE!" The squaws had planted their corn, and it was beginning to grow. The white men deliberately plowed it up. Black Hawk told the settlers that they must get off his land. At this the governor of Illinois pronounced the territory to be in a state of "actual invasion." Seven hundred troops started up the river to "remove the Indians, dead or alive, to the west side of the Mississippi."
A council was held at Fort Armstrong. Black Hawk was present. He heard the demands of the white man. After listening patiently, he rose and made the usual reply, that his lands could not be and had never been sold. At the close of his speech, General Gaines inquired "Who is Black Hawk? Is he a chief? By what right does he appear in council?" To this insult, which meant that the United States refused to recognize any other chief among the Sacs than Keokuk, who was present to witness the humiliation of his rival, no reply was made. With quivering features, Black Hawk arose, gathered his blanket around him, and stalked in silence from the council-hall. On the following morning he was again in his seat. When the council opened he arose, and with biting emphasis said: "My father, you inquired yesterday 'Who is Black Hawk? Why does he sit among the chiefs?' I will tell you who I am. I am a Sac. My father was a Sac. I am a warrior. So was my father. Ask those young men who have followed me to battle, and they will tell you who Black Hawk is. Provoke our people to war, and you will learn who Black Hawk is."
Matters were at a dead-lock concerning the removal of the Indians. Seven hundred militia-men were on the ground. On the 25th of June, being in the year of 1831, sixteen hundred mounted re-enforcements arrived. This was the key to the lock. That night Black Hawk and his braves, with their women and children, fled from the village which their fathers had built, without the firing of a gun. In the morning they were seen on the west bank of the Mississippi. Above them floated a white flag. This occurrence was heralded through the country as "a great victory over General Black Hawk."
New troubles awaited the exiles. It was too late in the season for them to plant corn and beans a second time. This, however, did not do away with the necessity for them. One night some of the warriors, heartsick at the cries of the women and children for food, crossed the river, as Black Hawk says, "to steal roasting-ears from their own fields." They were fired upon by the whites, and foiled in their efforts. This was rubbing salt in fresh wounds.
The condition of the Indians was miserable. The Winnebagoes, occupying what is now the state of Wisconsin, seeing the distressed of their friends, invited Black Hawk, in the Spring of 1832, to bring his people to their country, and raise a crop of beans and corn. The old chief, overwhelmed with trouble, fearful lest his followers would desert to Keokuk, of whose prosperity and fortune he was intensely jealous, found himself looked to by his people to extricate them from their troubles. He had never been a man of great resources, and, besides this, was now overtaken by age and disappointment. Not knowing what better to do, he accepted the invitation, placed his women and children in canoes, and with his warriors armed and mounted, started up the Mississippi.
Having, in the early part of April, reached a point opposite their old home at the mouth of Rock River, they, perhaps rashly, but certainly without any wicked or hostile intent, crossed to the east side of the Mississippi, with the avowed purpose of ascending Rock River to the village of the Winnebagoes. They had proceeded up Rock River but a short distance when General Atkinson, the commandant at Fort Armstrong, sent a messenger after Black Hawk, ordering him to return. The old chief refused to obey, explaining that he was going to visit the Winnebagoes on their invitation, and raise a crop of corn with them. A second messenger brought a repetition of the order, with a threat, that unless they obeyed peaceably they would be pursued and forced to return. At this point Black Hawk also found that the Winnebagoes did not desire his presence in their country if it would involve them in hostilities with the United States. He resolved, therefore, that if pursued he would return peaceably to the western side of the Mississippi. With true Indian dilatoriness, he stopped to compliment some visiting chiefs with a dog feast. He was engaged in the preparation for this, when he was informed that a large army had approached within eight miles of his camp.
Three young Indians were at once sent out with a flag of truce, to ask for a council and arrange for a peaceable retreat. These messengers were deliberately taken prisoner by the whites. Finding that they did not return, Black Hawk sent out five others to learn what was the matter. These were pursued by twenty horsemen, and two of them killed. At the time of the army's approach, Black Hawk had with him only forty warriors, whom he concealed in ambush. The rest were ten miles away. When the troops approached, the Indians fired, and the soldiers fled in panic. In the reports of this defeat, the Indian force was gravely asserted to have exceeded fifteen hundred men. All the blankets, provisions, and camp equipage of the Americans fell into Black Hawk's hands.
The old chief, elated by his victory, and encouraged by re-enforcements, as well as enraged at the murder of the bearers of his flag of truce, resolved to fight rather than retreat beyond the Mississippi. A bloody border war followed. Farm houses were attacked, horses stolen, and settlers murdered as usual. In the early engagements of the war, the Indians had the advantage. When the whole forces of the American army, exceeded twenty-five hundred men, became available for the conflict, the tide began to turn. Black Hawk and his people commenced a retreat toward the Wisconsin River. The army was in full pursuit. The members of Black Hawk's band were reduced to a diet of roots and horseflesh. Many of them died of actual starvation, and their corpses were found by the pursuers strewn along the pathway of their flight. Reaching the Wisconsin River, the women and children were embarked upon hastily constructed rafts, for a descent toward the Mississippi. On the voyage these helpless people were attacked by troops stationed on shore, some killed, some drowned, and come captured. Of those who escaped to the woods, the majority perished from starvation.
Meanwhile Black Hawk and the rest of his band struck out directly across the country toward the Mississippi. Many, weakened by hunger, succumbed to the hardships of the way. A part of the women and children were embarked in canoes as soon as the river was reached. Some of these vessels upset in the river, and their occupants sank beneath the waves. On the 1st of August, while the remainder of the Indians were waiting for transportation, they were overtaken and attacked by the troops. Black Hawk again sent forward a messenger with a flag of truce, who was fired upon and killed. Not less than one hundred and fifty Indians, nearly half the entire force, were killed in the action. Black Hawk, with the remainder, jumped into the river, attempting to swim to the opposite shore.
During the battle a young squaw with a child in her arms was shot in the breast, and fell covering the child with her body. When the soldiers came up, they heard the cries of the child, and, running to the spot, removed it from beneath the corpse of its mother. One arm of the infant was amputated, and the child afterwards recovered. Among the women who sprang into the river was a squaw with an infant wrapped in a blanket, which she carried in her teeth. The mother seized the tail of a horse which was swimming across, and in this way reached the opposite shore in safety.
Though Black Hawk escaped alive from this battle, he did not long avoid the toils of his enemies. His followers deserted him one by one, and he was at last betrayed and captured, through the treachery of two Winnebagoes. He was at once removed to Jefferson Barracks, below St. Louis, and there confined and forced to wear a ball and chain. The winter was gloomy enough for the old chief.
Among those who had been captured with him was a young warrior or chief named Naopope. An artist visited the Indians in prison, and sought to paint the likeness of Naopope. "Paint me as I am," thundered Cromwell, when an artist sought to hide warts and blemishes, which disfigured the countenance of the Protector of England. "Make me so, and show me as I am to the great father," cried Naopope to his portrait painter, seizing the ball and chain that were fastened to his leg, and raising them on high. When the artist refused to do this the Indian distorted his face with incessant grimaces, and prevented his picture from being taken. Such was the unconquerable spirit of this poor manacled captive in the dungeon of Jefferson Barracks.
In the following spring Black Hawk was taken to Washington City. When confronted by President Jackson, the old Indian bluntly remarked, "I am a man and you are only another." God and the savage are no respecters of persons. When told that he would be liberated, Black Hawk said: "Brother, I have come on my own part and behalf of my companions to bid you farewell. Our great father has at length been pleased to permit us to return to our hunting grounds. We have buried the tomahawk, and the sound of the rifle will hereafter only bring death to the deer and the buffalo. Brother, you have treated the red men very kindly. Your squaws have made them presents, and you have given them plenty to eat and drink. The memory of your friendship will remain till the Great Spirit says it is time for Black Hawk to sing his death-song. Brother, your houses are as numerous as the leaves upon the trees, and your young warriors like the sands upon the shore of the big lake that rolls before us. The red man has but few houses and few warriors, but the red man has a heart that throbs as warmly as the heart of his white brother. The Great Spirit has given us our hunting grounds, and the skin of the deer which we kill there is his favorite, for its color is white, and this is the emblem of peace. This hunting-dress and these feathers of the eagle are white. Accept them, my brother; I have given one like this to the White Otter. Accept of it as a memorial of Black Hawk. When he is far away this will serve to remind you of him. May the Great Spirit bless you and your children. Farewell."
Black Hawk and his companions were taken to Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and all the eastern cities before their return. Everywhere great multitudes thronged to see the great "General Black Hawk." Extensive military displays were made to impress the savages with the power of the United States. The crowning feature of Black Hawk's humiliation was, however, yet to come. He was to be formally liberated, but was also to be degraded and removed from his office of chief of the Sacs, among whom henceforth his life-long enemy and rival, Keokuk, was to be alone acknowledged as chief. The spot where the ceremony was to be performed was Fort Armstrong, on the site of the old Sac village. "This was the favorite island of the Indians -- in former years abundant in fruits and flowers, and from time immemorial the fancied abode of a good spirit, who watched over their village and protected their hunting grounds. No spot could have been selected calculated to awaken so many painful associations in the mind of Black Hawk as Rock Island. For half a century it had been the witness of his power and influence; it was now to become the scene of his disgrace and reluctant submission to a rival."
On arriving at Fort Armstrong, runners were sent out summoning the Indians from far and wide to attend the strange ceremony. They came by scores and hundreds, both from the Sacs and all the neighboring tribes, who remembered the fame of Black Hawk, and were now curious to witness his infamy. Chief of all the arrivals was that of the princely Keokuk. He ascended the Mississippi reclining in two canoes, lashed side by side, and covered with a canopy. Handsome decorations covered the vessels. Near the chief sat his three wives. Following him came a long line of canoes, filled with his people. Each brave was painted in the most elaborate style, and equipped with all the panoply of war. At high noon the great Keokuk, with stately step and lofty bearing, disembarked amid the rattle of scores of Indian drums, and the shouts and songs of his people. It was indeed a triumph.
The afternoon and evening were devoted to games and dances. From all the gay assembly Black Hawk alone remained apart in solitude. He might have been seen, crouched in the corner of his room in the fort, his face buried in his hands, and his soul given over to grief and gloom.
On the following day the grand council was assembled. Keokuk and a hundred gaudily attired warriors were given the posts of honor. Presently Black Hawk and his son, unattended, entered the room with an air of profound dejection, and timidly took an obscure seat. They had protested strongly against this unnecessary ceremony of disgrace, and came filled with the deepest mortification. For a time profound silence reigned. Then Major Garland arose and made a lengthy speech. He concluded by saying, that he wished it distinctly understood by all persons, that hereafter their great father, the President, would receive and acknowledge Keokuk alone as the chief of the Sac and Fox nation; Black Hawk must listen and conform to his councils, and that the band of Black Hawk must be henceforth merged in that of Keokuk.
There was a moment of silence, in which the features of the old chief were seen to twitch with uncontrollable emotion. Then, springing to his feet, he exclaimed, in a voice trembling with futile rage: "I am a man -- and old man. I will not conform to the councils of any one. I will act for myself -- no one shall govern me. I am old -- my hair is gray -- I once gave counsels to my young men. Am I now to conform to others? I shall soon go to the Great Spirit, when I shall be at rest. What I said to our great father at Washington, I say again -- I will always listen to him. I am done." This speech was the cry of defeat, the lament of the fallen chieftain.
Major Garland attempted to make explanations, to the effect that he had only requested him to listen to the counsels of Keokuk. To this he made no reply, but, drawing his blanket around him, sat in moody silence. At last Keokuk rose, came to him, and talked for awhile in a low tone. The words of the wily Keokuk were not without effect. Before the council ended Black Hawk rose and said that it was his wish, if his speech had been put upon paper, that a line might be drawn through it. He did not mean what he said. This was the last drop of gall in the cup of bitterness.
During the remainder of his life Black Hawk, with a few old braves, who, having followed him in prosperity, did not desert him in adversity, lived at a point on a small stream called Devil Creek, isolated from his tribe. It was the attempt of the fallen chief to hide his disgrace. He never ceased to recall his happy life on Rock River. "I liked my towns, my cornfields, and the home of my people," he would say to the white men who visited him. "I fought for it. I did wrong, perhaps; but that is past -- let it be forgotten. The country which was mine is now yours. Keep it as we did -- it will produce you good crops." He attributed all his misfortunes to Keokuk, and never ceased to regret that he had been led into armed resistance to the United States. He died in 1838, being about seventy-two years old. His old age was given over to sorrowful melancholy. Death was indeed to him a welcome guest.
Retyped and reformatted by Ray and Kathy Leigh