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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

April 6: The U.S. Suspects Black Hawk Is Crossing the Mississippi

Editor's Note:

This is a transcript of a talk on April 6, 1832, between Major John Bliss, commanding officer of Fort Armstrong on Rock Island, and the so-called Winnebago Prophet, chief of a village at the site of modern Prophetstown, Ill., and a close ally of Black Hawk

The Prophet, or Waubakeeshik, was half Ho-Chunk and half Sauk; the translation of his name is "White Cloud." An early description of him and his role in the war is available here.

His invitation to the Sauk to cross the Mississippi and his offer of military support made him one of the people most responsible for the war. He promised Black Hawk the support of the entire Ho-Chunk nation when in reality he could speak only for the warriors of his own village. Just as Neopope let Black Hawk believe that the British would support him, Waubakeeshik promised that the Ho-Chunk and other Great Lakes tribes would come to his aid

Black Hawk later recalled that he thought, "The Prophet has likewise received wampum and tobacco from the different nations on the lakes -- Ottawas, Chippewas, Pottawattomies; and as for the Winnebagoes, he has them all at his command. We are going to be happy once more." (Black Hawk, Autobiography)

On the day that this interview was conducted, Black Hawk and his supporters were 100 miles downriver, preparing to cross to the eastern bank of the Mississippi near modern Yellow Banks, Ill.

Q. (Major John Bliss): They tell me you have invited the British band of Sac Indians to stay at your village.
A. (The Prophet): I was not drunk when I told the Agent so yesterday, I did ask them, because the head Chiefs of that village are dead, and those who are left are too young too young to command a village.
Q. When did the Chiefs die?
A. The bad Thunder died last summer, and two (Namoett & loway) died last spring on their way home from Texas.
Q. Those Indians you have invited have signed a Treaty, to remain on the west side of the Mississippi, how came you to invite them knowing this?
A. I knew nothing of the treaty, I live up the River, their village on Rock River, and mine are considered one, and I thought there would be no harm done to invite them to my village,
Q. Did you not expect, last year that you would be ordered from your village by the whites?
A. No I did not; perhaps you expect to do so, but you may lay my bones there.
Q. Did you not enquire of Mr Dixon whether you would not be permited to remain at your village last year, and what did he say?
A. I did not, he told me nothing
Q. Did you expect that the whites would permit the Sacs to go to your village since the treaty?
A. You have heard what I said, they can do what they please, but if I had promised, I go at the risk of my life.
Q. Have they (the Sacs) promised to go to your village?
A. These are the two young men (pointing to two Indians sitting near him) who took my message, they (the Sacs) said to them, we will talk about it this spring, but I have not yet received an answer.
Q. Where do you expect to meet them?
A. I expect to receive the answer at my village.
Q. If the Sacs come on this side of the River, there may be war between them and the United States, and all by your inviting them; You ought to prevent this.
A. You ought to tell them so too, if they come to my village I will tell those who signed the treaty
Q. Then you do not care much if they do get into a war?
A. I have nothing to say; if you think so, you can make war, those (the Sacs) are my young men, I can call on them, and the Wenebagoes, I am half Sac & half Wenebago.

[Source: Whitney, Ellen M., ed. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970), vol. 2, p.230-1]

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