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Historic Diaries: Marsh, 1834

Sauk Chiefs in 1820

Editor's Note:

Marston: Major Morrill Marston was in charge of Fort Armstrong in 1820. Born in New England, he had been commissioned major in 1814 for “gallant conduct” at Fort Erie during the War of 1812. He migrated west to Fort Armstrong soon after it was built in 1816-1817. A few months after submitting the document quoted here he was moved to dilapidated Fort Edwards, near Keokuk, Iowa, and in 1824 was dismissed from the army for reasons unknown. A local historian in 1880 ascribed his dismissal to alcoholism, a conjecture perhaps supported by the fact that Marston was discovered drowned in a drainage ditch near his home in 1831.


Keokuk: For a contemporary reminiscence, see John Shaw's memoir at Turning Points in Wisconsin History. His portrait was included in McKenney & Hall's History of the Indian Tribes of North America in 1838.


It is curious that Marston does not mention Black Hawk, who was a more important chief in 1820 than Keokuk.


[July 7. Marsh again made no comments in his diary so we excerpt here a report by U.S. Indian agent Morrill Marston describing Sauk leaders in 1820, before white squatters and soldiers had pushed them west of the Mississippi. The original manuscript from the Society's Draper Collection is presented online in our American Journeys collection].



The name of the principal chief of the Sauks is Nan-nah-que; he is about forty years of age, rather small in stature, unassuming in his deportment, & disposed to cultivate the friendship of the whites; but he does not appear to possess any extraordinary capacity.


The two next chiefs in rank are, Mus-ke-ta-bah (red head), & Mas-co; the latter is a man of considerable intelligence but rather old, & too fond of whiskey to have much influence with his nation. These chiefs are all decidedly opposed to a change of their condition.


About a year since this nation met with a heavy loss in the death of Mo-ne-to-mack, the greatest chief that they have had for many years. Among other things which he contemplated accomplishing for the good of his people, was to have their lands surveyed & laid off into tracts for each family or tribe. He has left a son, but as yet he is too young to assume any authority...


The name of the Chief of the first band of Sauks, is Ke-o-kuck; when they go to war & on all public occasions, his band is always painted white, with pipe clay. The name of the second war chief is Na-cal-a-quoik: his band is painted black. Each of these chiefs is entitled to one or two Aid-de-camps, selected by themselves from among the braves of their nation, who generally accompany them on all public occasions & whenever they go abroad. These two chiefs were raised to their present rank in consequence of their success in opposing the wishes of the majority of the nation to flee from their village on the approach of a body of American troops during the late war; they finally persuaded their nation to remain on the condition of their engaging to take the command & sustain their position. Our troops from some cause or other did not attack them, & they of course remained unmolested.


In addition to these, there are a great number of petty warchiefs or partizans, who frequently head small parties of volunteers & go against their enemies; they are generally those who have lost some near relative by the enemy.


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