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Historic Diaries: Marsh, 1834

Indians' View of the Black Hawk War

Editor's Note:

Rev. Marsh made these notes, on how the Indians and the local whites viewed the recent Black Hawk War, while he was at Yellow Banks (Oquawka, Ill.). He was speaking with an unidentified Dr. Russell, whom he had met during his previous visit in July, and one of the Phelps brothers (see July 16 for detail about them) who were active fur traders in the region.


Their understanding of Black Hawk's motives, their description of the battle of Stillman's Run, and their estimate of the barbarity of the white soldiers all harmonize with Black Hawk's own account in his autobiography.



Mon [Aug.] 18th <>


Called upon Dr Russell and had a short interview with him at his house. ...


Cause of the Black Hawk war in 1832:


Dr. R. said that he considered one cause of it the indecisive manner in which Gen. Gaines managed in 1831 in removing him from the Isld. For Bl. H. told him that he did not dare do it and called him a woman, which was considered a very great reproach indeed amongst Indns. to use such a term.


And the next year when he crossed the Mississippi he did not think that Bl. H. really intended to fight, but that he meant to raise corn, and in case of war that Pottawottamies and Winnebagoes would help them. In addition to this he thought that Ne-a-pope, who is a Winnebago, and the Winnebagoes themselves, helped the matter on and encouraged him in going to war.


Opinions of the Indians Respecting the War:


Such as are attached to Ke-o-kuck Dr. R. says, think that Bl[ack] H[awk] has ruined the nation and that the war was wrong, but those attached to Bl[ack] H[awk] think that he was in the right, and that many in the nation do not feel very friendly towards the white people, and that probably Bl[ack] H[awk] is amongst the rest. Of this latter affair he did not appear certain.


A brother of Mr. P[helps]. stated that at a former treaty he thought in 1830 when the land E[ast] of R.I. [Rock Island] was ceded to the U.S., Bl[ack] H[awk] was opposed to it and w[oul]d not sign it but it was signed by all the other chiefs. In 1831 the indecision which Gen. Gaines manifested was one cause of the war. And then the next year the white inhabitants had become very much exasperated and when Bl[ack] H[awk] crossed the river and went up, statements were made that he had gone up with his warriors to the state fort; whereas they went up with their families, and he said that he had no idea that, when he crossed over, he had any idea of going to war.


He meant without doubt to go and raise corn, and if necessary he meant to fight for what he considered his right, ie. to the land which he had never consented to part with and upon which he had said he would live and die. And when he went up the river he did not intend to fight until he considered that he was obliged to.


He sent in a _white_ flag but his men were attacked by Stillmans and part killed and the rest driven back. They then mounted 30 or 40 of their warriors and sent them out to attack the whites in order to keep them back whilst they would remove their families, which were within a mile, and they had no expectation that the whites would retreat. But at the first fire they retreated and so the Indians pursued after and killed numbers.


Mr. P. also stated that he considered the barbarity of the whites as great as that of the Indians for they would kill the women and children indiscriminately.


And his brother came very near having a skirmish with a captain White because he would not deliver up Tama, a friendly chief and 2 or 3 others with him, who had put themselves under his care for the night, having come up the river to his trading Post in order to know what the military movements meant and whether they were going to attack his village which was about 10 m. below. This Captain declared that he would shoot these Indians and threatened to burn Mr. P's store and buildings if he did not give them up. The matter proceeded so far, that the said Capt. ordered his men to fire off their guns and reload ready for action and Mr. P. also ordered his men, having 7 or 8 as a guard about him, to fire off their guns and reload. This they did, each man having two guns. In the mean time Mr. P. said that Tama sh[oul]d not be given up unless the neighbors whom he had sent for sh[oul]d say that he must. But when they came in, the brave Capt. had become less impervious in his demands, and not choosing to risk a battle permitted the neighbors to form and escort Tama to the river, which they accordingly did and so he departed in safety.


O shame to the white men who calls himself a man, a human being, or makes any pretensions to civilization and who can be guilty of such cowardly and disgraceful deeds as to wish to destroy the innocent and defenseless with the guilty!!

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