Sioux in the Black Hawk War
From: Minnesota in three Centuries 1655-1908
Editors: Licius F. Hubbard, James H. Baker,
William P. Murray and Warren Upham
The Publishing Society of Minnesotam 1908


THE Minnesota Sioux of Wabasha's band took a considerable part, on the side of the whites, in the Black Hawk War of 1832. During the troublous times of the summer of that year trading operation in the Minnesota country were temporarily suspended at some posts, and no goods were brought up from St. Louis until the war was over.

Early in the spring of 1832 the noted Sac war chief, Black Hawk,' with a considerable number of his nation, came up from Iowa and landed on the Illinois side of the Mississippi above Rock Island. Over the leading canoe waved the British flag. Black Hawk announced that he came to recover the former lands of his people on "the beautiful Rock River." The settlers of that region and the surrounding country were alarmed at his threats and his operations, and the United States military authorities declared war against him. General Henry Atkinson assumed command of the troops in the threatened district.

In the latter part of May, General Atkinson sent an "express" or messenger from Dixon, Illinois, to the agent, General Joseph M. Street at Prairie du Chien, directing him to procure the services of the Minnesota Sioux as allies of the United States in the operations against Black Hawk and the other hostile Sacs. General Street sent John Marsh the former Fort Snelling school teacher, and who spoke Sioux like a native, and Thomas P. Burnett, then a sub-Indian agent, on the mission. Early in the month of May, General Street had reported to Governor William Clark at St. Louis, the threatening conduct of the Sacs and Foxes. He also wrote:

The Sioux thief, Wabashaw and a considerable number of his tribe are now here. A small party of them who came across the country from Red Cedar (in Iowa) state that within their country north of the line of the purchase of last summer, they came upon a war party of the Sauks and Foxes. They followed the trail leading out of the country for several days, and, from the signs remaining at their deserted camps, they have no doubt that three or more of the Sioux have been murdered by the Sauks and Foxes. Among other appearances that confirmed them in this belief was a painted buffalo robe, such as no Indians in this quarter but the Sioux make or use, cut in pieces at one of their camps. They pursued the trail until they came upon their camp, a few miles north of the old Red Cedar fort; but finding them double their own number, did not make an attack. The Sioux say they have made peace and promised to keep it, and will not in any case be the aggressors. Col. Morgan informed me, two days since, that he had sent down to the Sauks and Foxes to send up ten, or twelve of their men to have a talk with him. They were expected here yesterday, but have not yet arrived. The Sioux are waiting their arrival, and are ready to meet them as friends or enemies. When they were informed that the Foxes were coming, they put their arms in order. They say that if the Sauks and Foxes come and deport themselves peaceably, they will not molest them; but if they see any hostile manifestations they will strike them. My own opinion is, that if the Sauks and Foxes have had a war party out against the Sioux, they will not come here upon Colonel Morgan's invitation, knowing that the Sioux always visit this place about this season in considerable numbers.

The Sioux awaited the arrival of their former enemies for several days, May 21, they came. They numbered fifteen and all were Foxes from the bands at the Dubuque mines. There was not a Sac among them. On the part of the Indians the Black Hawk War was fought almost wholly by the Sacs. Although they were confederated with the Foxes, so that the two tribes were commonly spoken of as if they constituted a corporation under the firm name of Sacs and Foxes, yet, when the senior partners went to war on Black Hawk's account, the Foxes refused to join then, save in a few instances, where they had intermarried and were living with the Sacs. The Foxes were led along the peace road mainly by the powerful influence of their head chief, Keokuk, who was always the friend of the whites.

At the "talk" between the Sioux and the Foxes, in the presence of Colonel Morgan, who was commander of the post at Prairie du Chien, both tribes expressed a desire to continue the peace which had been made between them by the treaty of the previous year. The Foxes denied that a war party from their tribe had gone against the Sioux since the treaty. They said they wished to be at peace, and would do no act of hostility against either of their red brethren or the whites; but they wished it understood that they spoke only for themselves, the Dubuque Foxes; they could not answer for their brethren elsewhere. The two tribes "smoked and danced together and parted in apparent friendship and harmony."

At the conclusion of the talk, Wabasha and his men returned to their village. May 30, Marsh and Burnett, with eight men, left Prairie du Chien in a boat for Wabasha's village. En route at La Crosse, they stopped at a Winnebago village and inquired if the warriors were willing to join General Atkinson's army, then on Rock River, and fight the Sacs and Foxes. The chief Winneshiek, opposed the proposition, but the most of his warriors agreed to accompany the commissioners on their return to Prairie du Chien.

June 1, Marsh and Burnett reached Wabasha's Prairie and village. The Sioux were apparently anxious and fully prepared to go to war against their old enemies. In six days Marsh and Burnett returned to Prairie du Chien with eighty Sioux and twenty Winnebago warriors as allies of the whites. The number of Sioux was ultimately increased to about one hundred. May 24, General Joseph M. Street, Indian Agent at Prairie du Chien, in a letter to Agent Taliaferro at Fort Snelling giving an account of the defeat of "Stillman's Run" and other news of the war wrote:

I have paid sixty seven of your Sioux; the remainder, thirty one will be here, it is said, in a few days. I found it impossible to get all at one time. The first who came with whom was Wabashaw; the French Crow, and most of the principal men wanted me to give them the money without division and they would divide it. When convinced that I would not do that they received their portions with much complaining as to the quantity and they say inequality of the division.

Many Indians, too, are of different families from the lists, if they can be believed. Some who have a family marked to them are single persons, and many marked single persons on the list have families. I assured them it could not now be altered, and that they in all probability had been the cause of the error by giving their census erroneously; that I would endeavor to take a new census of them previously to another payment if they were placed within my agency. This satisfied them and they, in a set speech by Wabasha and another by the French Crow desired I would say to you and to their Great Father that they wanted to be placed under my agency; or in other words, "we want you for our father; and we want you to pay us our money, to take the management of our shop, and of our agricultural establishment." They also complained of the want of oxen, etc. I briefly answered that I would let you know their wishes, and - if their G. F. directed - I would be their agent, etc.

I apprehend they are a discontented people and hard to please. It was not until I put up the money and told them I w'd return it to you that they agreed to receive it in any other way than in a lump to divide at home. When they found me resolved they agreed to receive whatever I would pay them.

We are all well. If there are any cranberries to be had, send. me a keg. I am with great respect Your mo. abt. St.

U. S. Ind. Agt.

P. S. There are forty eight Sioux here who will leave today. J. M. S.

The details of the Black Hawk War cannot here be given. The Indians were soon driven, with loss, from the country east of the Mississippi, although considering their weak condition, they fought well. In the action at "Stillman's Run" the Indians were completely victorious. Black Hawk was not only a brave fighter, but a skilful one. He was encumbered with the women and children of his band and other impediments, which greatly interfered with his movements.

At last, on the 31st of July Black Hawk and his people, warriors, women and children, reached the east bank of the Mississippi at the mouth of the Bad Ax. Many of them were sick and all were weary and half famished. The white forces, in hard and unrelenting pursuit, were on their heels, and the next day leaped upon them. The Indians fought as best they could, but were soon overpowered and driven into the river. A number of them succeeded in crossing to the west bank by the aid of their ponies. Others, mostly warriors, took refuge on an island in the river but were all killed save one, who escaped by swimming to the main shore. A writer in the Galena. Gazette of August 6 said:

When the Indians were driven to the bank of the Mississippi some hundreds [?] of men, women and children plunged into the river in an effort to escape by diving and swimming, very few, however, escaped our sharp shooters.

The steamboat Warrior, Captain Joseph Throekmorton, subsequently well known in Minnesota, had been converted into a war vessel and the day previous to the battle came up from Prairie du Chien and prevented the vanguard of the Indians from crossing the river. The Warrior had two pieces of cannon and a platoon of regulars under Lieutenant James W. Kingsbury. Captain Throckmorton wrote: "We had sixteen regulars, five riflemen and twenty of ourselves." The Indians raised a white flag, but the whites thought the signal was a decoy and "let slip six pounder loaded with canister followed by a severe fire of musketry." The boat fought the Indians "for an hour, or more, until our wood began to fail, and night coming on we left and went back to the Prairie" [du Chien]. This little fight cost them twenty three killed, and of course a great many wounded. "The next morning the Warrior returned in time to take part in the battle. The first shot from the Warrior laid out three." In both encounters the boat had none killed and but one wounded.

Among the Indians killed on the Wisconsin shore was a young mother, who at the time was holding her child in her arms. Lieutenant Robert Anderson (afterward of Fort Sumter fame) described this incident in the Galenian (newspaper) and his account was reprinted in Niles's Register for November 3, 1832. Lieutenant Anderson wrote:

When our troops charged the enemy in their defiles near the bank of the Mississippi, men, women, and children were soon mixed together in such a manner as to render it difficult to kill one and save the other. A young squaw of about nineteen stood in the grass at a short distance from our line, holding her little girl in her arms, about four years old. While thus, standing, apparently unconcerned, a ball struck the right arm of the child above the elbow and shattered the bone, passing into the breast of its young mother, who instantly fell to the ground. She fell upon the child and confined it to the ground also. During the rest of the battle this child was heard to groan and call for relief, but none had come to offer it, when, however, the Indians had retreated from the spot, and the battle had nearly finished, Lieutenant Anderson (the writer) of the United States army, went to the spot and took from under the dead mother her wounded daughter and brought it to the place we had selected for surgical aid. It was soon ascertained that its arm must come off, and the operation was performed without drawing a tear or a shriek. The child was eating a piece of hard biscuit during the operation. It was brought to Prairie du Chien and we learn that it has nearly recovered. This was among the many scenes calculated to draw forth a sympathetic tear for human misery.

The wounded child was given into the care of an Indian woman, a prisoner, and subsequently was taken to Rock Island and delivered up to its tribe.

Wabasha's Sioux, under his head soldiers, The Bow (called by the French L'Arc and often corrupted to Lark), were placed in charge of Colonel W. S. Hamilton and sent against the Sacs. They reached the army just after Colonel Dodge had encountered and practically exterminated a remnant of, Black Hawk's band on the Pecatonica, Hastening to the battlefield they fell upon the dead bodies of their old time enemies, mutilated them with savage ferocity and then danced the scalp dance in great glee and with shouts of triumph, as if they themselves had achieved the victory.

But our Minnesota Sioux, when brought into perilous proximity with the savage Sacs, manifested no desire to fight. They did not ask to be sent to the front, and - Oh, the shame of it a fortnight of inconspicuous service, while on the march under Colonel Hamilton to join General Atkinson's army, then in the presence of Black Hawk's force, they suddenly turned and fled. They did not stop until they reached Prairie du Chien, then, June 22, they had a "talk" with General Street, the Indian agent, who berated them soundly for their cowardly conduct.

The truth was the Sioux always dreaded the Sacs and Foxes. The latter Indians hated the Sioux, and sought every opportunity to injure them. Often war parties came up from central Iowa and attacked the Medawakanton and Wahpakoota Sioux family in their villages on the Cannon River and elsewhere in Southern Minnesota. While the Sioux were unsuspecting and off their guard, the Sacs and Foxes would dash up the streets of a village, rush into the tepees, and the first intimation many poor Sioux had of the presence of an enemy was a shot from his rifle or a blow from his tomahawk. These raiders from Iowa were savage and merciless fighters, and very adroit ones too. Invariably they succeeded in returning home without any severe loss to themselves, but bearing away the scalps and property of their enemies.

In General Street's talk to the deserting Sioux he did not mince words. As reported in the Galena Gazette of July 11, 1832.

I wish to know why you have left the army * * * I said to you; "Go and be revenged of the murderers of your friends if you wish it. If you desire revenge you have permission to take it. I will furnish you arms, ammunition, and provisions, and here is the man [Colonel Hamilton] who is sent to conduct you to the enemy. Follow him and he will lead you to the murderers of the Winnebagoes, the Menomonees, and the Sioux.

That is what I said to you.

With one accord you desired to go to war, and appeared bent on full satisfaction for your wrongs and injuries. You raised the war song. Colonel Hamilton led you into the country infested by Sacs and Foxes, and when in striking distance of your enemy you mangled the dead bodies of eleven Sacs killed by the warriors of your Great Father the day before you arrived. Then you turned about and came back to this place. You •have neither seen, nor made any effort to see the Sacs and Foxes. * * * Answer me truly - Why have you returned and what do you mean to do?

The Bow, who was half Sioux and half Winnebago, replied, making trivial excuses and evincing a dread of the Sacs.

The Sacs and Foxes have now begun to kill white people. They have killed a great many white men and are still killing them; more than a hundred have been killed already. The man you sent with us did not use us well, and we turned and came back to you. We saw a man with much beard [General Henry Dodge] who had killed eleven Sacs. He is a brave man and there are brave men along with him, but they are very few * * * Our feet are sore and our moccasins are worn out. We want to see our families. We have come thus far and I think we shall continue on home. Six of our people have remained with the little man, [Colonel Hamilton] and some went by Galena for our canoes.

General Street replied that the Bow did not tell the truth and that their conduct had been most despicable.

You have not hearts to look at the Indians who murdered your families and friends. Go home to your squaws and hoe corn, you are not fit to go to war. Your Great Father gives you some flour and pork to eat; you have no stomachs for war. Go home to your squaws and hoe corn, and never again trouble your Great Father with your anxiety to go to war. Take your canoes and clear yourselves.

The next day, June 23, General Street, still convinced that Wabasha's warriors were fitted only to become corn field hands, wrote to Taliaferro:

* * * All the Sioux but six have returned to this place (Prairie du Chien) without being in an action or attempting to strike a blow. They got to General Dodge on the Pecatonica the day after he had killed the eleven Indians and went to the ground and scalped and mangled. the dead Indians and are now dancing with their scalps. They are on their way home and their courage has wholly evaported.

Of all the Indian forces sent down only the Menominees and six Sioux remain. The Menominees say they are determined to be revenged on the Sacs and Foxes personally before they quit. I have no doubt they will make a brave stand, but the Sioux are cowardly and ought to go home and hoe corn.

Notwithstanding their previous bad conduct. Generals Atkinson and Dodge called upon the Sioux for help in concluding the operations against Black Hawk. The day before the battle of the Bad Ax Captain Throckmorton and his steamboat, the Warrior, were sent up to Wabasha's Village to inform them that the Sacs were approaching the Mississippi and directing him to come down at once. It was on the return trip when a Sioux scout informed Captain Throckmorton that Black Hawk and his band were at the mouth of the Bad Ax, and the boat immediately prepared for action and was soon. engaged.

Just after the Warrior had left the battle ground for Prairie du Chien with Lieutenant Colonel Zachary Taylor and General Atkinson on board, Wabasha and his warriors came up on the west bank of the river. General Atkinson immediately die patched them in pursuit of the miserable Sacs that had escaped from the battle and were now wending their way into the Iowa country. They were soon overtaken by their old time enemies, and the scenes that ensued were painfully sickening. Nearly all their powder had been spoiled in swimming the river and they were too weak to fight successfully with the tomahawk and war club. The Sioux fell upon them and slaughtered them at will. Neopope (Soup) Black Hawk's chief military adviser, was made prisoner and his life spared because of his rank. He was delivered at Prairie du Chien and his captors rewarded. Only an insignificant remnant of the fugitive band succeeded in escaping the hatchets and scalping knives of the Sioux.2

Among those of Wabasha's band who participated in the pursuit of the Sacs was a half breed, named Jo. Jack Frazer. His father was a Scotchman and his mother a Sioux. The fighting blood of the Caledonian and the Dakota mingled in his veins and he was a desperate antagonist. He became well known in Minnesota, and in the great Outbreak of 1862 fought bravely for the whites at Fort Ridgely and Birch Coulie. In the chase of Black Hawk's Sacs seven scalps were secured by Frazer's knife.

Black Hawk, in his "Autobiography" severely denounced the whites for sending the Sioux in pursuit of his wretched and forlorn people.

I went to the agent at Prairie du Chien and gave myself up. On my arrival there. I found to my sorrow, that a large body of Sioux had pursued and killed a number of our women and children, who had got safely across the Mississippi. The whites ought not to have permitted such conduct, and none but cowards would ever have been guilty of such cruelty - a habit which has always been practiced on our nation by the Sioux.

A few days after the Bad Ax battle Black Hawk was captured by two Winnebagoes who were in the service of the whites and had been trailing the noted warrior. The captors were Dekorah and Chaeter, but in his address to General Street the latter said: "Near the Dalles, on the Wisconsin I took Black Hawk; no one did it but me." After he had been a prisoner for some years, during which time he had paraded throughout a great deal of the country, Black Hawk was released and sent to his people in Iowa. The noted old warrior, whose life from boyhood had been one of strife and conflict, of adventure and incident, but never of real usefulness to anybody, died on the Des Moines River in Southeastern Iowa, October 3, 1838, at the age of seventy one. His grave was robbed and his skeleton was finally burned in 1855, by the destruction of the Historical Museum at Burlington, Iowa.

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