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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

April 28: Black Hawk Describes Gratiot's Visit

Editor's Note:

Nearly three weeks after Black Hawk had crossed the Mississippi, General Atkinson was still trying to get him to leave Rock River peacefully. These efforts were undermined, if we are to believe this excerpt from Black Hawk's autobiography, by the encouragement of the Ho-Chunk chiefs, who fueled his determination to reclaim his homeland.

Gratiot's descendants told a story passed down in his family of his harrowing escape from Sauk warriors on this occasion. That story, though colorful, is not confirmed by any other sources. It is also unreasonable to think that Black Hawk would simultaneously send Gratiot to Fort Armstrong with a message, and permit his warriors to try to stop him from delivering it. The family story, printed here, is a good example of how a detailed oral tradition can be perpetuated even though other documentary evidence and common sense refute it.

Soon after the express returned, Mr. Gratiot, sub-agent for the Winnebagoes, came to our encampment. He had no interpreter, and was compelled to talk through his chiefs. They said the object of his mission was to persuade us to return. But they advised us to go on -- assuring us that the further we went up Rock river the more friends we would meet, and our situation would be bettered. They were on our side and all of their people were our friends. We must not give up, but continue to ascend Rock river, on which, in a short time, we would receive reinforcements sufficiently strong to repulse any enemy! They said they would go down with their agent, to ascertain the strength of the enemy, and then return and give us the news. They had to use some stratagem to deceive their agent in order to help us!

During this council several of my braves hoisted the British flag, mounted their horses and surrounded the council lodge! I discovered that the agent was very much frightened! I told one of his chiefs to tell him that he need not be alarmed, and then went out and directed my braves to desist. Every warrior immediately dismounted and returned to his lodge. After the council adjourned I placed a sentinel at the agent's lodge to guard him, fearing that some of my warriors might again frighten him! I had always thought he was a good man and was determined that he should not be hurt. He started with his chiefs to Rock Island.

[Source: Black Hawk's Autobiography]

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