On the Fringes of the Prairie, 1800-1850

Governor Ford's account of the start of the Black Hawk War

Black Hawk's own account of the treaty of 1804 is as follows. He says that some Indians of the tribe were arrested and imprisoned in St. Louis for murder, that some of the chiefs were sent down to provide for their defence; that whilst there, and without the consent of the nation, they were induced to sell the Indian country; that when they came home it appeared that they had been drunk most of the time they were absent, and could give no account of what they had done except that they had sold some land to the white people and had come home loaded with presents and Indian finery. This was all that the [Indian] nation ever heard or knew about the treaty of 1804*.

Under the pretence that this treaty was void he resisted the order of the government for the removal of his tribe west of the Mississippi. In the spring of 1831 he recrossed the river with his women and children and three hundred warriors...with some allies from the Potawatomie and Kickapoo nations, to establish himself upon his ancient hunting-grounds and in the principal village of his nation. He ordered the white settlers away, threw down their fences, unroofed their houses, cut up their grain, drove off and killed their cattle, and threatened the people with death if they remained. The settlers made their complaints to Governor Reynolds. These acts of the Indians were considered by the governor to be an invasion of the State. He immediately addressed letters to Gen. Gaines of the United States army and to Gen. Clark the superintendent of Indian affairs, calling upon them to use the influence of the government to procure the peaceful removal of the Indians, if possible; at all events to defend and protect the American citizens who had purchased those lands from the United States and were now about to be ejected by the Indians...
This footnote comes at the end of this passage:

*It may be well here to mention, that some historians of the Black Hawk war have taken much of the matter of their histories from a life of Black Hawk written at Rock Island in 1833 or 1834, purporting to have been his own statements written down on the spot. This work has misled many. Black hawk knew but little, if anything, about it. In point of fact it was got up from the statements of Mr. Antoine Le Clere and Col. Davenport an old Indian trader, whose sympathies were strongly enlisted in favor of the Indians and whose interest it was to retain the Indians in the country for the purposes of trade. Hence the gross perversion of facts in that book, attributing this war to the border white people, when in point of fact these border white people had bought and paid for the land on which they lived from the government, which had a title to it by three different treaties. They were quietly and peaceably living upon their lands when the Indians under Black hawk attempted to dispossess them.

Excerpt from Thomas Ford, "A History of Illinois" Chicago: University of Illinois Press; 1995: 72-73.


© Illinois State Museum 31-Dec-96