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Black Hawk Conflict

The Black Hawk War [26 April - 30 September 1832], named for the leader of a band of Sauk and Fox Indians, was the result of government cession of lands in Illinois.

A faction of Sauk and Fox Indians, living in eastern Iowa and led by Black Hawk, threatened to go on the warpath in 1832 when squatters began to preempt Illinois lands formerly occupied by the two tribes. The faction held that cession of these lands to the Federal Government in 1804 had been illegal. Black Hawk asserted he would remove the squatters forcibly and attempted without success to organize a confederacy and make an alliance with the British. Finally, when Black Hawk's followers, including some 500 warriors, crossed the Mississippi into Illinois in early 1832 and refused to return, the 1st and 6th Infantry under Brig. Gen. Henry Atkinson, together with Illinois militia, set out in pursuit up the Rock River. A volunteer detachment suffered heavy losses in a skirmish on 14 May 1832 near present-day Dixon, Illinois, and Atkinson had to pause to recruit new militia. On 21 July a volunteer force "severely chastised" Black Hawk's band at Madison, Wisconsin, and Atkinson completely defeated what remained of it at the confluence of the Mississippi and Bad Axe on 2 August 1832, capturing Black Hawk and killing 150 of his braves.

On July 10, 1830, Sauk Chief Keokuk sold 26,500,000 acres of Sauk land east of the Mississippi to the United States government for three cents an acre. The land included a village 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. Fearful settlers appealed to Governor John Reynolds, who issued a proclamation calling out a mounted volunteer militia force to repel Black Hawk and his band. With the arrival of the militia, Black Hawk retreated west across the Mississippi.

On April 6, 1832, 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. 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. When the militia fired upon them, the warriors returned fire and killed eleven militiamen. 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 whites and Indians in both states.



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