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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

May 21, Indian Creek, Ill.: Abduction of the Hall Sisters

Editor's Note:

This excerpt describes one of the war's most famous incidents, the massacre of the Hall family and kidnapping of their teenage daughters. The paragraphs at left are from a widely circulated pamphlet published shortly afterwards.

The facts of this tragic episode are clear. On May 21, a Potawatomi war party attacked a farm settlement at Indian Creek, Ill. The residents there had been warned to leave but were well-known for their belligerent attitude toward Indians and preferred to stay. An member of the Hall household, earlier in 1832, had publicly whipped and humiliated a Potatwatomi warrior, and on May 21st this warrior returned to settle the score. The Indian raiding party appeared at his cabin unannounced, quickly slaughtered most of the unarmed inhabitants, and retreated with the teenaged Hall sisters as hostages. The violence was an act of personal revenge unconnected to the conflict between the Sauk and the U.S. According to Black Hawk, it was Sauk warriors traveling with the Potawatomi who intervened to save the Hall sisters:

"They were brought to our encampment, and a messenger sent to the Winnebagoes, as they were friendly on both sides, to come and get them, and carry them to the whites. If these young men, belonging to my band, had not gone with the Pottowittomies, the two young squaws would have shared the same fate as their friends."

After 9 days in captivity, Indian agent Henry Gratiot paid a ransom of ten horses, wampum and corn, with the Ho-Chunk acting as mediators, and the Hall sisters were returned unhurt on June 1st.

Although it was a peripheral event in the conflict between Black Hawk and the U.S., the story of the Indian Creek massacre and the captivity of the Hall sisters became one of the most publicized episodes of the war. The tale was sensationalized in news reports and accounts such as the pamphlet excerpted at left, which terrorized frontier inhabitants and inflamed white soldiers. Only a week after the Battle of Stillman's Run and Gov. Reynold's call for 2,000 more militia, the news of the massacre and the kidnapping of the Hall sisters was used to draw more recruits from Illinois and Kentucky.

Click on the underlined title, immediately to the left, to read the complete text of the pamphlet. Its woodcut of the abduction is reproduced here.

... The first and most fatal [attack] was upon a small settlement on Indian Creek, running into Fox river, where were settled about twenty families, who, not being apprized of their approach, became an easy prey to their savage enemies --indeed so sudden and unexpected was the attack, that they were unalarmed until the savages with their tomahawks in hand, had entered their houses, and began the perpetration of the most inhuman barbarities! No language can express the cruelties that were committed; in less than half an hour more than one half of the inhabitants were inhumanly butchered --they horribly mutilated both young and old, male and female, without distinction of age or sex! among the few whose lives were spared, and of whom they made prisoners, were two highly respectable young women (sisters) of the ages of 16 and 18....

[The sisters] state, that after being compelled to witness, not only the savage butchery of their beloved parents, but to hear the heart-piercing screeches and dying groans of their expiring friends and neighbors, and the hideous yells of the furious assaulting savages, they were seized and mounted upon horses, to which they were secured by ropes, when the savages with an exulting shout, took up their line of march in Indian file, bending their course west; the horses on which the females were mounted, being each led by one of their number, while two more walked on each side with their blood-stained scalping knives and tomahawks, to support and to guard them --

The poor unfortunate females, whose feelings as may be supposed, could be no other than such as bordered on distraction, and who had not ceased for a moment to weep most bitterly during the whole day, could not but believe that they were here destined to become the victims of savage outrage and abuse; and that their sufferings would soon terminate, as they would not (as they imagined) be permitted to live to see the light of another day ! such were their impressions, and such their dreadful forebodings -- human imagination can hardly picture to itself a more deplorable situation ; but, in their conjectures, they happily found themselves mistaken, as on the approach of night, instead of being made the subjects of brutal outrage, as they had fearfully apprehended, a place separate from that occupied by the main body of the savages, was allotted them ; where blankets were spread for them to lodge upon, guarded only by two aged squaws, who slept on each side of them.

With minds agitated with the most fearful apprehensions, as regarded their personal safety, and as solemnly impressed with the recollection of the awful scene which they had witnessed the morning previous, in the tragical death of their parents, they spent, as might be expected, a sleepless night; although the savages exhibited no disposition to harm or disturb them--early the morning ensuing, food was offered them, but in consequence of the disturbed state of their minds and almost constant weeping, they had become too weak and indisposed to partake of it, although nearly twenty hours had passed without their having received any sustenance.

[Source: Edwards, William P. Narrative of the Capture and Providential Escape of Misses Frances and Almira Hall, Two Respectable Young Women (Sisters) of the Ages of 16 and 18 (New York: William P. Edwards, 1832)]

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