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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

Black Hawk's Concept of Property

Editor's Note:

The war broke out over the question of who had the right to live at Saukenuk and on adjacent lands. Black Hawk here explains that he and his forefathers felt a natural right to the land they farmed and had lived on for generations. The U.S. government, in contrast, claimed legal right to the land through the stroke of a pen in the Treaty of 1804.

In going to war, the U.S. was asserting its property right in a commodity. The Sauk, on the other hand, were fighting for a sacred space that connected them to their heritage. The government fought largely from political and economic motives. The Sauk and Fox fought largely from emotional and religious ones. Ignorance and misunderstanding about such fundamental cultural differences was one factor that helped produce the war.

For other examples, see the "Treaty Councils" section of Turning Points in Wisconsin History.

My reason teaches me that land cannot be sold. The Great Spirit gave it to his children to live upon, and cultivate as far as necessary for their subsistence; and so long as they occupy and cultivate it, they have the right to the soil -- but if they voluntarily leave it, then any other people have a right to settle upon it. Nothing can be sold but such things as can be carried away.

[Source: Black Hawk. [Black Hawk's Autobiography.]

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