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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

Bibliographical and Editorial Note

Editor's Note:

The following modern works about the war provided guidance for the explanatory notes that appear in these right-hand boxes:

Trask, Kerry A. Black Hawk: the battle for the heart of America. (New York : Henry Holt, 2006)

Hagan, William Thomas. Black Hawk's Route through Wisconsin : report of an investigation made by authority of the Legislature of Wisconsin. (Madison : State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1949)

Hagan, William Thomas. The Sac and Fox Indians. (Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1958)

Finally, a convenient short narrative of the war's major military events can be found in Rooney, Elizabeth B. "The Story of the Black Hawk War." Wisconsin Magazine of History, Volume 40, number 4 (Summer, 1957): 274-283. A short overview of Black Hawk's life is given in Monaghan, Jay. "Black Hawk Rides Again -- a Glimpse of the Man." Wisconsin Magazine of History, Volume 29, number 1 (Sept., 1945): 43-60. While both are factually accurate, they each reflect the values and assumptions prominent during the time they were written.

For reliable short treatments of topics mentioned here, consult the online Dictionary of Wisconsin History, at It includes concise biographies of all the important people, exact locations of places mentioned, and brief descriptions of major events.

The documents were selected, digitized, edited, and annotated by Univ. of Wisconsin history student Galen Poor, with guidance from Michael Edmonds of the Society's Library-Archives division.

The eyewitness accounts given here each day have been drawn from a wide variety of materials in the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

First, we incorporated many of the original manuscripts, articles, rare books, and images included in the Black Hawk War section of our Turning Points in Wisconsin History digital collection. We also made heavy use of nearly 50 reminiscences, letters, registers, and other primary sources in Wisconsin Historical Collections and the secondary sources published in its successor, the Wisconsin Magazine of History.

Everyone who works on the Black Hawk War must be deeply indebted to Ellen Whitney's monumental four-volume collection of documents from federal archives, local historical collections, and other repositories: Whitney, Ellen M. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield, Illinois State Historical Library, 1970-1978). Comprising volumes 35-38 of the Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library, it put all the basic public records of the war conveniently into the hands of researchers.

A similar effort was made by local Wisconsin historian Crawford Beecher Thayer in this three volumes that edit and reprint firsthand reports of the war's major events:

Hunting a Shadow : the search for Black Hawk : an eye-witness account of the Black Hawk War of 1832. (Fort Atkinson? Wis. : C.B. Thayer, 1981)

The Battle of Wisconsin Heights : an eye-witness account of the Black Hawk War of 1832.(Fort Atkinson, Wis. : C.B. Thayer, 1983)

Massacre at Bad Axe : an eye-witness account of the Black Hawk War of 1832. (Fort Atkinson? Wis. : C.B. Thayer, 1984)

A fundamental source on the war will always be Black Hawk's autobiography, first published a year after the war, in 1833. It was based on interviews conducted with him by a local Indian trader and interpreter and printed by a local publisher, all of whom had their own agendas. For 150 years it has been considered a notoriously problematic and often unreliable text. Even Black Hawk himself said in 1834 that "he never told him [the publisher] that he wished him to make a book, and he heard of it last winter only, but was not pleased with it."

Despite the intrusions of its white editors, Black Hawk's memoir remains a fundamental source of information about the war. We chose to quote from the 1882 edition prepared by J. B. Patterson, its original publisher: Life of Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak or Black Hawk : embracing the traditions of his nation, various wars in which he has been engaged, and his account of the cause and general history of the Black Hawk War of 1832, his surrender, and travels through the United States, dictated by himself. (Oquawka?, Ill., 1882). We did so because Patterson included notes on Black Hawk's entire career and incorporated many anecdotes from local participants. When necessary, it has been checked against the scholarly text edited by Donald Jackson: Black Hawk: an autobiography (Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1955 & 1964).

Documents are generally transcribed faithfully as they appeared in the cited sources, though we have changed spelling and grammar at times to conform to modern practice or to make a passage more easily understood. Similary, capitalization, punctuation, and paragraph breaks have sometimes been altered to conform to modern usage or to facilitate reading on the screen. Omissions are always marked with an ellipsis ... and comments by the editors are always enclosed in square brackets [like this]. Researchers who need to quote precisely from the original source must examine the original source; we have linked to online facsimile images of these whenever possible.

Finally, whenever you have a question or suggestion, use the email link at the foot of every page. We can usually reply within a few hours.

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