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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

April 27, Prophetstown, Ill.: Henry Gratiot Urges Black Hawk to Go Back

Editor's Note:

Henry Gratiot (1789-1836) came to the lead mining region in 1825, where he eventually settled at Gratiot's Grove, Wisconsin. He worked with his brother as a lead smelter, and served as a sub-Indian Agent to the Ho-Chunk.


Turtle Village, adjacent to present-day Beloit, Wisconsin, lay on the Rock River near the modern Wisconsin-Illinois border.


Wakefield's book (the source of this anecdote) was printed in very few copies and quickly became extremely rare. The 1896 editor of the excerpt given here suggested that Wakefield must have had these details directly from Gratiot himself. They could also have come from the clerk who accompanied him, or from White Crow or another of the Ho-Chunk chiefs.



...Mr. Gratiot took twenty-four men of the [Ho-Chunk] Turtle village to accompany him to The Prophet's town, at which place they arrived on the 25th... On the 26th Mr. Gratiot saw at a distance about two miles down Rock River the army of the celebrated Black Hawk, consisting of about five hundred Sacs, well armed, and mounted on fine horses, moving in a line of battle.

Their appearance was terrible in the extreme. Their bodies were painted with white clay, with an occasional impression of their hands about their bodies, colored black. Around their ankles and bodies they wore wreaths of straw, which always indicated a disposition for blood. They moved on with great regularity, performing many evolutions, wheeling every few minutes and firing towards Fort Armstrong, turning, flanking, and then forming into solid columns from which they would form their line of march. In that way they marched to the beating of a drum till they came to the village...

On the following morning The Prophet, at the head of about forty warriors, came into Mr. Gratiot's lodge, presented Gen. Atkinson's letter, and told him he might take the letter back to the general. Mr. Gratiot insisted on reading the letter to them, upon which request Black Hawk and Na-o-pope were sent for, and the letter read, the substance of which was to advise the hostile chiefs to desist from their evil designs, re-cross the Mississippi River, settle down in peace, and plant their corn etc.

In reply to which they requested Mr. Gratiot to hand back the letter and inform Gen. Atkinson that their hearts were bad and that they would not return, but to the contrary that
if he brought his troops among them, they would fight them. Mr. Gratiot immediately
went to Rock Island and delivered the message.

[Source: Wakefield, John Allen. History of the Black Hawk War. Jacksonville, Ill., 1834), pp. 10-12. Reprinted in Wisconsin Historical Collections X: 493ff]

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