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Chief Black Hawk, the Black Hawk War, many blackhawk sites

Updated on November 29, 2015

chief Black Hawk



by George Catlin. public domain.
by George Catlin. public domain.

So just who was this Chief Black Hawk?

He is also known as Black Sparrow Hawk or Makataimesheklakiak “be a large black hawk. (1757-1838) was a leader and warrior of the Sauk American Indian Tribe. I have heard some question his authority or if he was a chief. I think this is a matter if viewpoint. He was not a hereditary civil Chief of the Sauk but was an appointed war chief .He was born great-grandson of Thunder, Nanamakee, an important principal chief among the Sauk. Although never a civil chief by his 18th birthday he had led war parties to victory.

Who Was Black Hawk?

In about the fifth grade one of the nuns thought I should do more reading. I recall her taking me down to the school library and picking books she thought I would enjoy. Mostly they were juvenile biographies of frontier heroes such as Davy Crocket, Buffalo Bill and Black Hawk. These book started me on a permanent interest in the frontier and it’s heroes.

Many years later I went to work for the Tank and Automotive Command (TACOM) at the Rock Island Arsenal, in Rock Island, Illinois. This is  where the treaty was signed to end the Black Hawk War.  It was Fort Armstrong back then. The Black Hawk war was the only one in which Abraham Lincoln served as a soldier.

One of my co workers, a man of Indian heritage, once said that he thought white people must really admire the Indians because they named so many things after them. I tend to agree with him. Despite the fact that Black Hawk was an enemy of the Americans in the War of  1812 and afterwards in what became the Black Hawk War. His name is everywhere.

The City of Rock Island, Illinois has an interesting park called Black Hawk Park with a museum displaying Indian life as well as the history of the park. It was once an amusement park such as Coney Island, where there were rides and other amusements. Back  then it was developed by the streetcar company, as was Coney Island. The park lost business when the streetcars were replaced by personal automobiles. Luckily the park was kept as a public park. There are numerous things in the area named after Black Hawk, including a college, a bank and other businesses. 

Black Hawk waged the last war against the white man in the Northwest territory. He was born in the Sauk village near the  mouth of the Rock River. In the war of 1812 he joined with the British against the Americans.

In 1804  several Sauk and Fox Indians signed a treaty ceding lands east of the Mississippi to the United States. Under Chief Keokuk some moved across the river to Iowa. Squatters illegally began taking over the village and in 1831 American Troops forced his band to Iowa.

In the Spring Black Hawk led warriors back to Illinois.

Davenport Treaty House

Place wher Keokuk and Gen. Winfield signed treaty. Public Domain.
Place wher Keokuk and Gen. Winfield signed treaty. Public Domain.

War of 1812

He was leader of a band of Sauks at Saukenuk. He was opposed to ceding Native lands to white settlers and their governments. He particularly objected to the validity of Quashquame’s 1804 treaty between Sauk and Fox nations and the Indiana Governor William Henry Harrison. Black Hawk and other tribe members because the full tribal council had not been consulted nor did the representing tribes have authorization to cede lands.  I think it happened fairly often in Indian white agreements that often parties on either side lacked full authority to make deals.

When the War of 1812 erupted between Great Britain and her northern colonies (Canada) and the United States Colonel    Robert Dickson gathered a force of Indians at Green Bay. These were largely Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk, Kickapoo and Ottawa tribes. Dickson then got Black Hawk’s band of 200 warriors. He was given command of all Natives gathered at Green Bay, presented with a silk flag, a medal, and a written certificate of good behavior and alliance with the British. Black Hawk was given the rank of brevet Brigadier General. Twenty years later the certificate would be found after the Battle of Bad Axe.

Black Hawk War

Black Hawk signed a peace treaty in May of 1816 that re-affirmed the treaty of 1804, but he later protested it.

The Sauk and the Fox tribes by  treaty vacated the Illinois lands and moved across the river to Iowa. Black Hawk came across to Illinois to confront the situation but found no allies. However, an undisciplined militia attacked and that led to the Battle at Skillman’s Run and to the Black Hawk War. E. David Edmunds in an essay “National Expansion from the Indian Perspective”....on May 14, 1832 the  Black Hawk War probably would have terminated without bloodshed if the drunken militia partially composed of miners from Wisconsin’s Fever River District and commanded by Major Isaiah Stillman had not attacked Black Hawks envoys as the old Sauk War Chief prepared to surrender.”

The war ended in the clash at Bad Axe at the mouth of the Bad Axe River. Hundreds of men women and children were killed by pursuing soldiers, Indian allies and a U.S. Gunboat.

Blackhawk helicopter

public domain
public domain

After the war

Chief Black Hawk was captured along with what was left of the British. Black Hawk was held in captivity at Jefferson Barracks along with other leaders of the British leaders. President Jackson ordered them sent east. They traveled by steamboat, carriage and train. with large crowds greeting them everywhere. They met with the President and his Secretary of War. They then went to prison at Fort Monroe in Virginia where  They spent only weeks in prison  the mostly posing for pictures.

Going  back west by steamboat they again met huge crowds in large cities along the way. The West was less friendly. In Detroit a crowd hung effigies of them.

Near the end of his captivity in1833 Black Hawk told his life story to an interpreter which was edited by a local reporter and it became the first autobiography of a Native American published in the United States. It was a best seller.

Black Hawk was transferred back to his nation and he lived with them along the Iowa River and later Des Moines River in southeast Iowa. He died October 3, 1838 after an illness of two weeks and was buried on the farm of a friend.

Sadly his remains were stolen by someone who prepared his skeleton to exhibit. His sons went to the governor of the Iowa territory who used his influence to get the bones back. By agreement they were left in the care of the Burlington Geological and Historical Society… His remains were destroyed, however, when fire consumed the building. At least that is one version of what happened.

 In modern times we see Black Hawk as a tragic hero and there are many commemorations of him. Roads, sports teams and schools. Having the Blackhawk helicopter named for him is an honor from a former enemy.

As my friend said, I think the white man does admire the Indian.


© 2010 Don A. Hoglund


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    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      moonlake, thanks for commenting.

    • moonlake profile image


      8 years ago from America

      Interesting hub enjoyed reading it. My great-great-grandfather fought in the Black Hawk wars. Voted up and shared.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I lived in the area of Rock Island, Illinois for some 20 years and there are a number of things named for Black Hawk. I think I read a children s biography of Black Hawk when I was in about the 5th grade. Whatever the rights and wrongs may be, the Black Hawk war was a major influence on the area. Thanks for commenting.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      DAHoglund, Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak (Chief Black Hawk) is someone whom I know from his autobiography and the statue near Oregon, Illinois.

      In the book, I remember there was this humorous episode in which a politician said, "Who is Black Hawk?" I gather that it was meant in the sense of "Who does he think he is that he can show his face here, there, and everywhere?" because it was fairly obvious that the politician indeed knew about the Sauk leader who was being "displayed" out East.

      But Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak took him literally and inserted himself in the conversation to introduce himself. I'm sure that the politician was absolutely flabbergasted.

      Respectfully, and with many thanks for sharing Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak's story here, Derdriu

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thank you for the comment.Living for twenty years in Blackhawk country (Illinois) it was hard not to be influenced by him.

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Hazelton 

      10 years ago from Sunny Florida

      dahoglund, what a wonderful piece of history. Voted up and awesome. I really enjoyed reading it.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      11 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thank you very much for your comments. I am glad it provided some new insights.

    • Deborah Demander profile image

      Deborah Reno 

      11 years ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

      This was a fascinating hub. I had never considered all things "Black Hawk" before reading. I agree with your assertion that the white men (mostly)admire the indians. They were and still are far ahead in their spirituality and respect of the earth. We could learn a lot from them. And I learned a lot from your hub. Thanks.


    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      11 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Peggy W

      Thanks for your comments.I tend to think Indian/white relation are more complex than usually presented. There were periods of peace and cooperation at time, I think,as well as times of war. Many problems were due to misunderstanding as in the the case of the treaty that led to this war. Much is due to the social organization of the Indians (tribes, clans etc) as opposed to the whites social organization. In most case neither understood the line of authority etc. One exception seemed to be the Scots who immediately understood and consequently themselves often became Indian leaders.Often treaties were made on both sides by people who did not necessarily have the authority to make commitments.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      11 years ago from Houston, Texas

      You did a good job of telling the story about Black Hawk. I had also read about him and as you said, he was paraded around out East for pictures. He was a curiosity to them.

      Our history with how we treated most all of the native Indians who inhabited this land first is tragic. One can hardly blame them for trying to not only defend their land, but their way of life.

      Rating this useful and will also link this to my Rock Island U.S. Army Arsenal hub as you so nicely did to this one. Thanks!

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      11 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      Thank you for reading it and commenting.


      Thanks for commenting. I'm glad you found something you wanted to know. I learned also. The role of untrained militia was tragic.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image


      11 years ago from Texas, USA

      Good article thanks for answering some of the questions I had about this man. I enjoyed reading your article; Black Hawk was quite a man.

    • creativeone59 profile image

      Benny Faye Ashton Douglass 

      11 years ago from Gold Canyon, Arizona

      Thank you Putz, for a very intresting and informative hub.Thank you for sharing it. Godspeed. creativeone59

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      11 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for reading. Glad you liked it.

    • FCEtier profile image


      11 years ago from Cold Mountain

      Voted this "Up"!

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      11 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      Thanks for the complimentary comment. I think it is much the same that we still hold Robert E, Lee in high regard.

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 

      11 years ago from Moundsville, WV


      I think your premise is correct. There is a great deal of respect for such a worthy adversary!!!!

      Great hub, you packed a lot of history into this space!!!!!!

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      11 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Actually I worked for the Army but was not in the Army. Sometime earlier I was a Navy reservist. There is a lot of history at Rock Island. The installation had a history as a Civil War prison camp and there is a cemetery there for Confederate prisoners that died there.Thanks for commenting.

    • billyaustindillon profile image


      11 years ago

      Very interesting hub. That is pretty special that you were there where the Black Hawk treaty was signed and you were in the military. I see had a lot of tragedy in his life - very interesting the different wars and your analysis. i often wondered where the black hawk helicopter name came from. Thanks for filling in the blanks.


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