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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

April 12, Yellow Banks: Black Hawk Crosses the Mississippi

Editor's Note:

Major John Bliss here alerts General Henry Atkinson (1762-1842), commander of U.S. troops in the region, that Black Hawk and his advisor Neapope (here spelled Narpope) have crossed the Mississippi at Yellow Banks, just south of modern Burlington, Iowa. Joined by disaffected men, women and children of several tribes, Black Hawk was leading the band to the Ho-Chunk Prophet's Village on Rock River.

Despite Bliss's report here, Black Hawk later said that he was determined not to strike the first blow against the whites but to act only defensively. This is only the first of many examples of conflicting evidence and contradictory accounts. It's possible that Bliss's un-named informant told the Americans what he thought they wanted to hear, or had reasons of his own for inflaming their emotions against Black Hawk's band.

Malden, in Canada, was the site of a British garrison where Black Hawk and his "British Band" had visited annually and received generous gifts. Black Hawk was convinced by his friends Neapope and White Cloud that the British would support them against the Americans, should a conflict break out.

John Bliss to Henry Atkinson
Hd. Qrs. Fort Armstrong April 12th. 1832

The express who arrived today says that Indians were crossing their horses, when he arrived at the yellow banks, that at Sturgeons Bay the Indians started all their old People & children with one hundred packed horses for the Prophets Village. The younger persons proceed by water in canoes & by land on horseback with flankers thrown out to reconnoitre, & are very strict and vigilant...

Their whole number is about six hundred warriors including one hundred Kickapoos & some Pottowattomies... Black hawk and Narpope [sic] are with them, their allies are the Pottowattomies, Kickapoos, Winnebagoes & Menominees. They say that the Canadian French and British will join them & that they can get as much powder & lead as they want two days march from this place... Their intentions and plans are to go to the Prophets Village & remain there until their families have got out of reach, then to attack the settlements in small parties & run off to Malden.

They tell the friendly Indians that they pity them as they will be first killed, that they are Americans & Cowards, & as they passed them in their canoes, struck & abused them. They further say that they could crush our numbers last year like a lump of dirt... They give out that they shall take peaceable possession of Prophets Village but if the Whites want War they shall have it. This last I have no doubt they have resolved upon already.

With much respect I am Sir Your Obedt &c J Bliss Ma 1 Inf Comg
To Brig Genl. H. Atkinson Comg. R. Wing West. Dept. Rock Island Ills.

[Source: Whitney, Ellen M., ed. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970), p.238]

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