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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

"The Origin of All Our Serious Difficulties"

Editor's Note:

While Black Hawk was moving up through Illinois in the second week of April, American troops were coming upstream by riverboat. They were converging toward conflict because of a piece of paper signed in St. Louis a generation earlier.

In the treaty quoted at left, signed in St. Louis in 1804, four Sauk and Fox chiefs unwittingly ceded a vast area of land in southern Wisconsin and Illinois, including their home at Saukenuk. Many Sauk and Fox considered this treaty deceitful and unfair. They argued that the four signers had gone to St. Louis on other business, did not have the authority to cede any land, and that the Americans kept them drunk for their entire visit. Others believed that Article VII gave the tribes a right to retain the land; but in the 1820's the government sold it to white settlers who legally pushed out the Sauk and Fox.

Black Hawk expresses the injustice of this treaty in his autobiography:

"I find, by that treaty, that all of the country east of the Mississippi, and south of Jeffreon, was ceded to the United States for one thousand dollars a year! I will leave it to the people of the United States to say whether our nation was properly represented in this treaty? or whether we received a fair compensation for the extent of country ceded by these four individuals? I could say much more respecting this treaty, but I will not at this time. It has been the origin of all our serious difficulties with the whites."

The complete text of the Treaty of 1804.

ART. II. The general boundary line between the lands of the United States and of the said Indian tribes shall be as follows, to wit: Beginning at a point on the Missouri river opposite to the mouth of the Gasconade river; thence in a direct course so as to strike the river Jeffreon at the distance of thirty miles from its mouth, and down the said Jeffreon to the Mississippi, thence up the Mississippi to the mouth of the Ouisconsing [Wisconsin] river and up the same to a point which shall be thirty-six miles in a direct line from the mouth of the said river, thence by a direct line to the point where the Fox river (a branch of the Illinois) leaves the small lake called Sakaegan, thence down the Fox river to the Illinois river, and down the same to the Mississippi.

And the said tribes, for and in consideration of the friendship and protection of the United States which is now extended to them, of the goods (to the value of two thousand two hundred and thirty-four dollars and fifty cents) which are now delivered, and of the annuity hereinafter stipulated to be paid, do hereby cede and relinquish forever to the United States, all the lands included within the above-described boundary....

ART. VII. As long as the lands which are now ceded to the United States remain their property, the Indians belonging to the said tribes, shall enjoy the privilege of living and hunting upon them....

In testimony whereof, the said William Henry Harrison, and the chiefs and head men of the said Sac and Fox tribes, have hereunto set their hands and affixed their seals.

Done at Saint Louis, in the district of Louisiana, on the third day of November, one thousand eight hundred and four, and of the independence of the United States the twenty-ninth.

William Henry Harrison, [L. S.]
Layauvois, or Lalyurva, his x mark, [L. S.]
Pashepaho, or the giger, his x mark, [L. S.]
Quashquame, or jumping fish, his x mark, [L. S.]
Outchequaka, or sun fish, his x mark, [L. S.]
Hahshequarhiqua, or the bear, his x mark, [L. S.]

[Source: Treaty with the Sauk and Foxes, Nov. 3, 1804]

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