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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

The Phrenology of Black Hawk

Editor's Note:

Phrenology was a pseudoscience popular throughout the 19th century that attempted to determine a person's intelligence and character by the shape of his or her skull. In this 1838 article, the author maps out the skull Black Hawk, who had died that year, to deduce traits of character such as, "Destructiveness: Very Large; Cautiousness: Full; Hope: Small." He then takes examples from Black Hawk's autobiography that illustrate these traits, to prove the truth of phrenology to "unbelievers."

Click on this link to see the diagram interpreting Black Hawk's skull, on page 3 of the article quoted at left.

The article reflects the popular curiosity about Black Hawk in the 1830s, after the war, his public tour of Eastern cities, and his 1833 autobiography had brought him celebrity. The skulls of many other famous people were analyzed the same way as Black Hawk's; for more information on phrenology, see the exhibit "Talking Heads" at the Harvard University Medical School Library's Web site.

Having given the relative size of the organs of Black Hawk, we will now deduce the phrenological analysis of his character, and then present the coincidence between what phrenology describes his character to be, and what his life, thus far, shows that it really is. His head is large, giving much more than an ordinary amount of intellect and feeling, and indicative also of weight of character and extent of influence. His temperament is bilious-nervous, cementing great strength with great mental and physical activity, and power of endurance, which, in even common, and especially in favorable circumstances, would call into full exercise all the powers of his mind and body. The great size of Combativeness, and the domestic organs, is indicated by the immense breadth of the head, behind the ears, rather than by posterior length. The phrenologist, on careful inspection, will select the three following clusters of organs, as constituting the leading traits in Black Hawk's character; and all our readers will see for themselves these organs, or portions of the head, strikingly exhibited in the cuts.

[Source: "Black Hawk's Phrenological Developments and Character." Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated, Nov. 24, 1838.]

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