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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

Summer, 1831: "I am a Sac!"

Editor's Note:

Swords followed close behind ploughshares on America's western frontier.

This conversation occured in June of 1831, a year before the war, between Gen. Edmund P. Gaines and Black Hawk, when the latter tried to return to his ancestral home. Gaines' opening remarks refer to the 1804 Treaty of St. Louis.

Gen. Gaines had led U.S. troops to the village of Saukenuk near modern Rock Island, Ill., to force the Sauk and Fox Indians from their homeland. His legal basis for the removal was the 1804 treaty, in which a few Sauks ceded all the tribe's land east of the Mississippi.

Although many Sauk and Fox respected this extremely unfair treaty for fear of American retaliation, Black Hawk (1767-1838), now an old man, stood his ground in this dialogue with Gaines.

In fact, Black Hawk left Saukenuk peacefully in 1831 after this exchange with Gen. Gaines, but the following spring he would lead his band back east across the Mississippi to reclaim their homeland on the Rock River, where their forefathers were buried and their corn grew.

The stage was set for the major conflict that would begin in the spring of 1832.

A Short Biography of Black Hawk
Black Hawk's autobiography

[Gen. Edward Gaines:] "The president is very sorry to be put to the trouble and expense of sending so large a body of soldiers here to remove you from the lands you have long since ceded to the United States. Your Great Father has already warned you repeatedly, through your agent, to leave the country, and he is very sorry to find that you have disobeyed his orders. Your Great Father wishes you well, and asks nothing from you but what is reasonable and right. I hope you will consult your own interests, and leave the country you are occupying, and go to the other side of the Mississippi."

I replied: "We have never sold our country. We never received any annuities from our American father, and we are determined to hold on to our village."

The [American] war chief, apparently angry, rose and said: "Who is Black Hawk? Who is Black Hawk?"

I replied: "I am a Sac! My forefather was a SAC! I and all the nations call me a SAC!!"

The war chief said: "I came here neither to beg nor hire you to leave your village. My
business is to remove you, peaceably if I can, forcibly if I must! I will now give you two days in which to remove, and if you do not cross the Mississippi by that time, I will adopt measures to force you away."

I told him that I never would consent to leave my village and was determined not to leave it.

[Source: Black Hawk's Autobiography]

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