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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

April 19: Gen. Atkinson Warns Keokuk to Remain Neutral

Editor's Note:

General Atkinson was originally sent to Rock River to resolve a feud between the Sioux & Menomonee and the Sauk & Fox (see this previous entry).

In this speech he pledges protection to Keokuk's part of the tribe, and at the same time he encouraged their Sioux & Menomonee enemies to attack Black Hawk's warriors.

Menominee militia units were formed in Green Bay and served against Black Hawk (see these rosters) and, although they would not commit to fighting any decisive battles, Sioux warriors killed many of Black Hawk's followers at the very end of the war. The Ho-Chunk were divided, with some following The Prophet in support of Black Hawk, others backing the U.S., and many trying to stay out of the way of the combatants altogether.

The war, therefore, was not a simple racial fight between whites and Indians, but rather a complex conflict among several nations, some of which were internally divided in their loyalties.

Fort Armstrong Council
Rock Island 19th. April 1832


The Sac & Fox Nation friendly to the U. States [ie., the faction led by Keokuk] being assembled near Fort Armstrong, Genl. Atkinson met them and said: ...


I am going to St Louis to make arrangements to settle the difficulties with those bad men over there [Black Hawk's band], This is the second time that those bad men have opposed the President. They were forgiven the first time, this time they will not. As sure as the Sun shines on us at this moment, they will be punished; it is easy to send 10,000 men if 1,000 is not enough.


You, Keokuk, know that I speak nothing but the truth; the friendly Sacs shall be protected and supported. When I was at Prairie du Chien, I gave instructions to the Commanding Officer there to prevent either the Sioux or Menominies passing them; if they attempt it, they will be opposed. The War Party that attempted it was pursued by the troops and sent back. After every precaution, some small Sioux Party may try to get to you by land, this you must guard against.


I did not tell the Winnebagoes and Sioux not to go against those bad men of Black Hawk, I do not care how many they kill. Advise your young men to keep on the west side of the river, and hold no communication with the unfriendly Sacs.



[Source: Whitney, Ellen M., ed. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970), p.281]

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