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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

Early 1832: Expectations of British Support

Editor's Note:

Black Hawk relates here a pivotal moment in his decision-making.

The Sauk and Fox Tribes were long-time allies of the British in war and trade. Many Sauk and Fox warriors fought with the British in the War of 1812 against the U.S. After the war, the British presence in Wisconsin receded as American traders and settlers gradually moved in. Nevertheless, their Sauk and Fox allies continued to make annual visits to British officials in Malden, Canada, across from Mackinac, Michigan, earning them the name “the British Band.”

Sauk warrior Neopope had gone to Malden over the winter of 1831-32 to consult with the British allies, and in the passage at left, Black Hawk summarizes his report. Black Hawk trusted Neapope as a close friend and advisor. His report led Black Hawk to mistakenly believe that the Sauk and Fox had allies and resources adequate to face the Americans in a violent conflict. Neapope allowed Black Hawk to believe that the British would support his cause.

Historians do not think Neapope deliberately deceived Black Hawk, but rather that both leaders saw what they wanted to see and entered the conflict wearing rose-colored glasses. The conversation related here was a crucial turning point that helped produce the war, for it gave the hopelessly outnumbered "British Band" the confidence to face the American Army.

About this time [Black Hawk later recalled], Neapope, who started to Malden when it was ascertained that the great war chief, General Gaines, was coming to remove us, returned. He said he had seen the chief of our British Father, and asked him if the Americans could force us to leave our village? He said: "If we had not sold our village and land the American government could not take them from us. That the right, being vested in us, could only be transferred by the voice and will of the whole nation, and that, as we had never given our consent to the sale of our country, it remained our exclusive property - from which the American government never could force us away! and that, in the event of war, you should have nothing to fear! as they would stand by and assist us!" ... The prophet has likewise received wampum and tobacco from the different nations on the lakes - Ottawas, Chippewas, and Pottowattomies; and as to the Winnebagoes he has them all at his command. We are going to be happy once more!"

I told him I was pleased that our British Father intended to see us righted. That we had been driven from our lands without receiving anything for them - and I now began to hope, from his talk, that my people would be once more happy. If I could accomplish this, I would be satisfied. I am now growing old and could spend the remnant of my time anywhere. But I wish first to see my people happy. I can then leave them cheerfully. This has always been my constant aim, and I now begin to hope that our sky will soon be clear.

[Source: Black Hawk's Autobiography.]

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