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Chapter 12: Fort Gibson.

Lieutenant Davis and Major Boone.-engagement at Stillman's run.-battle of Bad Axe.-end of the Black Hawk War.

The watchfulness, capacity, and bravery of these two men contributed largely to the success of the campaign which would otherwise have proved disastrous to them on account of the want of provisions and the inexperience of the troops. It was here that Lieutenant Davis first observed that very few men could live upon animal food alone. This and other hardships compelled Major Boone to establish a camp for the sick at one time, and go on with only such as were more seasoned to deprivation. At one time, of these tried veterans there were only two, besides Lieutenant Davis, in his company who were able, for the necessary hunt, to procure meat for the others, and the horses suffered little less than the men. The Indians of the prairies were a new experience to the frontiersmen who had been accustomed to ambuscades [137] for their enemies. With these the fight was all on the open plain.

One of the engagements in which Black Hawk's band made a noble fight at this time is told by the chief in his “Autobiography.”

Black Hawk, with his women and children, had been starving at Four Lakes. Some of the old people actually died of hunger. He concluded to move his women and children over to an island in the Ouisconsin River. Just as the crossing began, a large body of United States troops attacked the party. He had but fifty warriors, and a part of these were detailed to cross the women and children. About a mile from the river the engagement commenced. The fight continued until Black Hawk thought they had crossed, and were in safety; and it is evident from his account that he expected he and his entire force would be cut to pieces. About dark the United States troops retired, and he said, “I was astonished to find the enemy were not disposed to pursue us.” The Indians had fifty men, of whom they lost six, and were hampered with impedimenta, in a conflict with four hundred well-armed troops, in which the Sacs were the victors. The engagement was known as “Stillman's run.”

Mr. Davis remarked, after describing this [138] conflict to a friend from Iowa, that he had never known anything to compare with the gallantry of the Indians on that occasion. Had such a thing been attempted and accomplished by a handful of white men in any part of the world, their fame would have been immortal.

Now the Indian outrages began to be more frequently perpetrated. At one time a child was stolen, and Lieutenant Davis was sent to bring it into the lines. He said the little fellow seemed quite happy with his captors, and with dirt and sunburn was nearly as dark as they were.

At another time a band of friendly Menomonees, almost under the guns of Fort Crawford, were attacked, vanquished, and twenty-five of them slain, and the “British band” of Sacs and Foxes established themselves upon Rock River with hostile intent.

General Atkinson, on March 7th, with the disposable troops at Jefferson Barracks, went in search of Black Hawk. Lieutenant Davis accompanied the troops.

Of the battle of the Bad Axe, Mr. Davis wrote:

The second Black Hawk campaign occurred in 1832, and Colonel Taylor, with the greater part of his regiment, joined the army commanded by General Atkinson, and with it [139] moved from Rock Island up the valley of Rock River, following after Black Hawk, who had gone to make a junction with the Pottowatomie band of the Prophet, a nephew of Black Hawk.

This was the violation of a treaty he had made with General Gaines in 1831, by which he was required to remove to the west of the Mississippi, relinquishing all claim to the Rock River villages. It was assumed that his purpose in returning to the east side of the river was hostile, and from the defenceless condition of frontier settlers, and the horror of savage atrocity, a great excitement was created, due rather to his fame as a warrior than to the number of his followers.

If, as he subsequently stated, his design was to go out and live peaceably with his nephew, the Prophet, rather than with the ‘Foxes,’ of whom Keokuk was chief, that design may have been frustrated by the lamentable mistake of some mounted volunteers in hastening forward in pursuit of Black Hawk, who, with his band — men, women, and children — was going up on the south side of Rock River.

The vanity of the young Indians was inflated by their success at Stillman's Run, as was shown by some exultant messages, and the sagacious old chief, whatever he may [140] have previously calculated on, now saw that war was inevitable and immediate. With his band recruited by warriors from the Prophet's band, he crossed the north side of Rock River, and passing through the swamp Koshenong, fled over the prairies west of the Four Lakes toward the Wisconsin River. General Dodge with a battalion of mounted miners pursued and overtook the Indians while crossing the Wisconsin and attacked their rear-guard, which, when the main body had crossed, swam the river and joined in the retreat over the Kickapoo hills toward the Mississippi River. General Atkinson with his whole army continued the pursuit, and after a toilsome march overtook the Indians north of Prairie du Chien, on the bank of the Mississippi River, to the west side of which they were preparing to cross in bark canoes made on the spot. That purpose was foiled by the accidental arrival of a steam-boat with a gun on board. The Indians took cover in a willow marsh, and there, on August 3d, was fought the battle of the ‘ Bad Axe.’ The Indians were defeated, dispersed, and the campaign ended.

In the meantime General Scott, with troops from the east, took chief command and established his headquarters at Rock Island. Thither General Atkinson went with the regular troops, except that part of the [141] First Infantry which constituted the garrison of Fort Crawford, with these Colonel Taylor returned to Prairie du Chien.

After a short time it was reported that the Indians were on an island in the river above the prairie, and Colonel Taylor sent a Lieutenant (Lieutenant Davis) with an appropriate command to explore the island. Unmistakable evidence of their very recent presence was found, and contemporaneously Black Hawk, with the remnant of his band and accompanied by some friendly Winnebagoes, appeared under a white flag on the east bank of the river, and the lieutenant returned with them to the fort, where Colonel Taylor treated them as surrendered hostiles. Their trails were followed through the brush to the west side of the island, where signs of canoes having just been pushed off were discovered. The lieutenant 1 and his party recrossed the island to get their boats, and there saw, on the east side of the river, a large collection of Indians under a white flag. On going to the group it proved to be Black Hawk with a portion of his band, with a few Winnebagoes, who said Black Hawk had surrendered to them, and that they wanted to take him to the fort and to see the Indian agent. The lieutenant [142] went with the Indians to the fort, reported to Colonel Taylor, among other things, his disbelief of the Winnebago story. The grand old soldier merely replied, ‘They want the credit of being friendly and to get a reward, let them have it.’

Black Hawk was taken with his two sons, and other braves, his nation was scattered, and the prisoners, sixty in number, were sent down to Jefferson Barracks under Lieutenant Davis's care, where they were heavily ironed. The cholera was prevailing at that time at Rock Island, and on the boat two of the captive Indians were seized with it, and suffered intensely. Lieutenant Davis did all he could for them, unavailingly. The sufferers had an oath of friendship, a custom common among the Indians, and they plead with him to put them ashore that they might go to the hunting-grounds together. At the first little settlement their request was granted. Mr. Davis said his heart ached as he saw the friend who was suffering the least supporting the head of his dying companion. He never knew their fate.

Black Hawk sat silent and stolid, the only feeling he exhibited was when the settlers along the shore came on the boat to see him. This Lieutenant Davis prohibited, and in some measure prevented, and by showing the [143] captives courtesy and by little kindly offices, merited and received from Black Hawk the thanks rendered by that chief in his “Autobiography.” He said: “We started to Jefferson Barracks in a steam-boat, under the charge of a young war chief (Lieutenant Davis), who treated us all with much kindness. He is a good and brave young chief, with whose conduct I was much pleased. On our way down we called at Galena, and remained a short time. The people crowded to the boat to see us, but the war chief, would not permit them to enter the apartment where we were, knowing, from what his own feelings would have been if he had been placed in a similar situation, that we did not wish to have a gaping crowd around us.”

Martial courtesy to a fallen foe, which has in this day somewhat fallen into desuetude, was then revered as one of the first obligations of an “officer and a gentleman.”

So ended the Black Hawk War. It seems a small matter now, but then it stirred the hearts of the whole country.

Perhaps this vague account of Black Hawk's fatal battle for the rights of his nation, seen dimly through the mists of nearly seventy years of time and prejudice which have been wrapped about this unhappy, hunted, and nearly extinct race, is very mixed, and at times [144] nearly unintelligible; but with the meagre information culled from rare books now out of print, aided by the memory of the tales Mr. Davis told of his experiences at that time, it is the best that could be done.

The belligerents are overcome, traduced, defrauded, and dead. The man has painted the picture, the lion is not an artist, and his teeth and claws were drawn before he joined the silent majority. The unsuccessful, like the absent, are always wrong.

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