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Historic Diaries: Marsh, 1834

Interview with Black Hawk

Editor's Note:

Rev. Marsh's notes on conversations with Black Hawk have not been published before and do not appear to have been cited by historians.

Black Hawk's autobiography: this book had been printed the previous fall (October, 1833) from a manuscript created at Rock Island by George Davenport and Antoine LeClair. It quickly became very popular, because the war in 1832 and Black Hawk's tour of eastern cities in the summer of 1833 had made his name a household word. Its authenticity was immediately called into question, perhaps because many white Americans could not imagine any Indian being as intelligent, articulate, and civilized as the narrator of the book. The publisher's defense against these charges was printed in Wisconsin Historical Collections. You can see two different online versions -- original page images and an electronic text -- at Turning Points in Wisconsin History.

Sauk history: Black Hawk's account of the tribe's oral tradition agrees in general with the conclusions of modern historians and anthropologists. For documents from early Sauk history, see volumes 15-20 of Wisconsin Historical Collections or choose the Subject "Sauk Indians" from the Article Search there.

"broken down and tottering": At the time, Black Hawk was about 67 years of age, but in the last 24 months had led his people through a brutal war, lost most of his close associates, been imprisoned in St. Louis and Virginia, toured eastern cities, and returned home only to be denigrated by many of his people for leading them into what they considered a needless conflict. He died about four years after this interview.

Sat. [Aug.] 16th

Held a short conversation with Black Hawk. He said that the Great Spirit made all things and that He had made two places, for the red and white men to go to after death. But that the bad of every kind would be sent to Hell or miche-manitoo. The red man would go to the W[west]. but the white to the E. (or South).

Mr. Chase, brother in law of Mrs. Phelps, said that Mr. Patterson, publisher of Black Hawk's Life, so called, informed him that he got the contents of that book from Mr. Le Claire and George Davenport, the Indian trader.

Sometime after, had a conversation with Black Hawk's son. Found him much more favorably disposed towards receiving instruction then he was yesterday. He however imagined that it would be difficult to learn to read and write, and that Ke-o-kuck had said the same. That "Perhaps is the young men and women both went to the same school they would be all the time courting." One of the young men with him was dressed pretty much in the native style, having his face painted a little and his wah-ne-yah-pen-nu-wen upon his head, and a more pleasant or mild countenance I have seldom seen.

This afternoon had an interview with Black Hawk and his friend [unfilled gap in ms. for friend's name], his son also was present. Dr Russell inquired of him if he ever gave a history of his life to LeClaire or Mr. Davenport. He said that he did but he never told him that he wished him to make a book, and he heard of it last winter only, but was not pleased with it. He told the people at Rock Island or Mr. D. etc., that he wished to live in peace like the white people and go to war no more. In respect to Slavery and the plan as laid down in that book, he never said anything about it, nor did he appear to know anything about it.

In respect to their origin he said that their fathers had told them that they came from Quebec, after they left Q. they went to Det. then to Mackinaw, then to Green Bay, then to Chicago, then to the Wisconsin, and then to Rock Island or Rock river. That his great grand-father was made head chief by the French people after he had fasted four years, being angry with an enemy and wishing to go to war with them. That then the Great Spirit told him to go and he should meet his father, the French; he did so and was made a chief. He said also that their father had told them that the world was once destroyed or drowned by a flood and almost all of the people were drowned. It was occasioned by We-suk-ka's killing the devil, because he had killed his brother (i.e., We-sack-kas'). After the death of his brother he cried a great deal and fasted and the Great Spirit told him to go and kill the evil spirit. He did so and the rest brought in the flood.

He appeared unwilling to say anything about their Meshaum but said that it was the same as the flag amongst the white people; all followed the man who carried it. He said that he was pleased with the proposal to have farms but neither their grand father the French nor their British father, nor their Great Father the President of the U. S. [had] spoken to them about it [or about] having teachers.

[Here follow three and a half pages written upside down, which appear to be notes for the speech that Marsh gave to the assembled elders at Appenoose's village on August 11th.]

He spoke when engaged with great energy and was quite eloquent, although broken down and tottering under the weight of years, and his influence in the vigor of manhood must have been great.

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