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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

Keokuk - The Watchful Fox

Editor's Note:

Black Hawk recalls here the 1831 debate among the Sauk and Fox about whether or not to give up their ancestral home at Saukenuk

Keokuk (1790?-1848?), meaning the Watchful Fox, was Black Hawk's chief rival for leadership of the Sauk and Fox. More than twenty years younger, politically astute and an extremely effective orator, Keokuk cooperated with the Americans who recognized him, not Black Hawk, as chief of the tribe. In 1831 Keokuk bowed to American demands and led the tribe west of the Mississippi. When Black Hawk decided to re-cross the Mississippi in 1832, the two rival chiefs competed for the allegiance of the tribe.

Black Hawk bitterly describes in his autobiography, "Ke-o-kuck, who has a smooth tongue, and is a great speaker, was busy in persuading my band that I was wrong - and thereby making many of them dissatisfied with me."

After the war Keokuk continued to cede land to the Americans, leading the diminishing Sauk and Fox to Iowa in 1836, and finally to Kansas in 1846, where he died two years later.

A photograph of Keokuk.

Account of a speech by Keokuk to Black Hawk's Band at the end of the war, described by Wisconsin settler John Shaw (see page 219 of document)

Nothing was talked of but leaving our village. Ke-o-kuk had been persuaded to consent to go; and was using all his influence, backed by the war chief [General Atkinson] at Fort Armstrong and our agent and trader at Rock Island, to induce others to go with him. He sent the crier through our village, to inform our people that it was the wish of our Great Father that we should remove to the west side of the Mississippi - and recommended the Iowa river as a good place for the new village...

The party opposed to removing called on me for my opinion. ... I now promised this party to be the leader, and raised the standard of opposition to Keokuk, with a full determination not to leave our village.

[Source: Black Hawk's Autobiography]

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