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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

April 28, Rock Island: White Crow Pledges His Neutrality

Editor's Note:

White Crow (d. prior to 1836) was a Ho-Chunk chief who headed villages containing about 1,200 people. One was at the site of modern Koshkonong, Wisconsin and another in the vicinity of modern Gov. Nelson State Park in Middleton. Having lost an eye, he was also known as The One Eye or The Blind. During the war he worked for both sides, encouraging Black Hawk to continue on up the river and supplying him with goods, but also serving at times as a warrior, spy, and negotiator for the Americans. After the war Black Hawk's band was bitter over his betrayal, but he was pardoned by the U.S. A brief sketch of his life, prepared in 1895, is available here (see footnotes at bottom of page).

"The red head" was the Indians' name for William Clark (1770-1838), of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806). In 1822 he was appointed superintendent of Indian affairs in St. Louis, and although sympathetic he nevertheless implemented Indian removal throughout the Midwest. In 1825 he presided over a major treaty council of all the upper Mississippi Valley tribes at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, where White Crow and other chiefs promised "a firm and lasting peace" with the Americans.

The "bad birds" were Black Hawk and his supporters, including other villages of Ho-Chunk. Blood-colored tobacco was a symbol of the Sauk warriors' military intentions. The young woman is unidentified.

For more details on White Crow, whom we will encounter often in these documents as he tries to straddle between the Americans and the Sauk, include this 1916 article, on the discovery of his Lake Koshkonong village in the Janesville Gazette, and this 1917 article on White Crow and his daughter from the Baraboo News.

Minutes of a talk... by General Atkinson U.S.A. with... White Crow, a War chief of Winnebagoes. White Crow rose & said,...

My father, [although] there is very often great many fools among us, there never has been any blood shed on our river yet. We have always been well advised, we always listen & do all we can. Father, the red head came to Prairie du Chien, and gathered together all his children, and told them to bury the tomahawk, I have listened to him, I have buried it, and it shall never be raised... We love our Country. We love our Father you have given us, he gives us good advice, we wish to raise our corn in peace.

Father, if you see me here to day, it's because I heard some bad birds singing that brought me down this river. I came down for the purpose of taking away my children from them, and I met them between here & my Village, & all I want is my children from among them. We want nothing to do with these bad birds. Father, it's a hard case for me, they send me tobacco painted red; it troubles me a great deal. I am travelling all the time on account of that red tobacco. I came to let you know candidly, that they have sent me this tobacco; they are going up this river; they have sent to me to join them.

You may think I invited them, but protest before God, I did not. We have a great deal of confidence in this woman. She will tell the truth. This band of Indians has gone up the river against our will, we have remonstrated against it. They shall not come on the Winnebago lands. If you permit them to remain up there we want you to keep them away from us. If blood is spilt at our door, we can't help it. If our young men who are with the Sacs will not return with us, they may remain and share their fate. We will have nothing to do with the Sacs.

[Source: Whitney, Ellen M., ed. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970), p.321]

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