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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

May 29: Chicago Citizens Seek Safety

Editor's Note:

This appeal by Chicago residents living far from the actual scenes of battle reveals the confusion and sense of danger felt by whites throughout the entire region. The intentions of many Native American communities were largely unknown to settlers, most of whom could not speak Indian languages and had little personal contact with native peoples. Much of what they heard or read about the war, such as the pamphlet about the Indian Creek massacre excerpted in a previous entry, only fueled their worst fears.

Indian communities who remained at peace faced the risk of being attacked by both Black Hawk's forces and the militia, many of whom viewed the war as an excuse for total extermination of all Native Americans in the region. Thomas J.V. Owen, the Indian agent referred to in this letter, wisely called the Potawatomi under his charge to come in from romote areas and resettle closer to his agency in Chicago.

Settlers' fears were also heightened by the fact that Black Hawk's whereabouts were completely unknown at this point in the war. In the two weeks since the Battle of Stillman's Run, there had been several attacks on farms and isolated parties of whites. Reports of these sent many frontier settlers running to the protection of garrison towns or forts; half the signers of this letter were not residents of Chicago but had gone there from other villages in the vicinity.

Chicago Residents to James Stewart
Chicago Illinois, May 29th. 1832
Col Stewart, Sub Indian Agent &ca.

Sir We have been so situated at this place heretofore that it has been almost impossible for us to know what course to pursue or what rumor to give credit to, but our situation at present as nearly as we can understand it ourselves is as follows; viz:

The inhabitants of this country are all at this time within the walls of this garrison, with their families and the force in the garrison is sufficient to defend it. The Potawatamies Indians we have the utmost confidence in; they have all removed from their villages between this place and Rock River and also on Fox River and are located within twelve miles of this place, with their families, acting under the guidance and direction of Mr. [Thomas J.V.] Owen; but the frontiers between the Du Page River and Fox River are entirely exposed - the property of the Inhabitants is left at their respective dwellings and is subject to be destroyed or burned by the Indians at any moment, and it is for the protection of the Inhabitants on the Du Page & Fox River frontiers, that we are desirous of having a force and an efficient one of from three to five hundred mounted men well armed and equipped, and we have full confidence that with such a force, could it reach here in a short time we could commence effective operations and terminate in a very short time this harrassing and distressing war. '

Please, Sir, Be so good as to disseminate this intelligence and let our patriotic fellow citizens of Michigan [Territory] act as their good sense and better judgment may dictate.

Respectfully Yours
R J Hamilton John S C Hogan.
T J V Owen David Bailey
G Kerchival H Semple
J Naper Jean B Beaubien
R A Kenzie

P.S. There are government stores at this place sufficient for such a force and such an expedition.

[Source: Whitney, Ellen M., ed. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970), p.475]

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