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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

June 2, Porter's Grove, Wis.: Col. Dodge and White Crow Negotiate

Editor's Note:

This excerpt (slightly edited here) is from the transcript of a council between General Henry Dodge and Ho-Chunk chief White Crow. It was printed in the Galenian newspaper on June 13. The day before this council, Dodge, afraid that the party of Ho-Chunk who had returned the Hall sisters would ambush him and his troops, arrested White Crow and five other chiefs to ensure their compliance. The discussion given at left was held the following morning , and one can easily imagine the tension that must have existed between the two leaders.

Col. Dodge here scales up the rhetoric of his speech against Black Hawk's forces, demonizing them as the "enemies of all mankind" and calling for their outright extermination. This extreme attitude reflected the popular feelings of whites in the region, who for the last month had felt mounting terror and outrage at the defeat and dissolution of the militia and repeated Indian attacks on settlers and travellers. Dodge sought to advance his reputation and political career by becoming a hero in the Black Hawk War, and this speech, soon published in the region's only important newspaper, was crafted to appeal to potential voters.

Dodge also wanted to intimidate the Ho-Chunk, who remained divided in their loyalties. No single chief held authority over all the Ho-Chunk bands and villages. Some had aided Black Hawk during the war by providing him intelligence, selling him supplies, or guiding him away from the pursuing Americans. Others had fled the vicinity and remained neutral, while still others unabashedly supported the U.S cause. Underlying Dodge's rhetoric against the Sauk is the threat that the same fate could befall the Ho-Chunk if they disobeyed their American "fathers."

White Crow, who had been arrested the night before, here tries to win himself back into the confidence of Col. Dodge. Just as Dodge uses extreme language to intimidate the Ho-Chunk, White Crow's deference and willingness to help are perhaps exaggerated to gain the colonel's trust.

Here is a painting of Henry Dodge made two years after the Black Hawk War. Like his speech here, it depicts him as a strong man of the frontier.

More information about White Crow is available here.

The Indians were addressed by Col. Dodge as follows...

There will be in a few days 2,000 mounted men in the field, who will revange the blood of our people which has been spilted by the Sacks; nothing but death & destruction await them. Faithless to all treaties, governed by none of the just principles which regulate the intercourse of one nation with another - covered with the blood of their own agent [Felix St. Vrain], who had been selected by their great father the president to attend to all their wants, and who had been uniformly kind and good to them - the Sacks have abandoned their nation and country.

They hope to collect the disaffected of all nations, the restless and discontented of the Winnabagoes, the Puttawatomies, and kickapoos, and subsist by murdering & robbing our people. How can our goverment make a treaty with them, what pledge can they have from the Sacks, that they will be faithful to any engagements they may make with us? Justice, sound policy, and the example which has now become necessary to give us a lasting peace with all the nations of Indians with whom we have treaties, rendered it necessary that this band of Sacks should be exterminated and killed. Like the pirates of the sea, the hand of every man should be against them. They are the enemies of all mankind...

The White Crow [replied] - My Fathers, I want your advice. I do not want blood spilt on our ground, and we are now going to say to you, but I do not [know] whether it is right or wrong, but you must tell us. The Sacks want us to to give them a piece of Land and we are willing to lay them off a piece in the prairies, and when they go to it, we will come and tell you where they are, and you may then go and do with them as you please...You may Surround them, I will take you to them and you can kill them all; tell us if you wish me to do it or not...

My Fathers, If you give liberty we will raise the Tomahawk and join the red skins and we think that the skins should attack them on one side & the Americans on the other, & have the Sacks between us, & all strike at one time, & we will shew you whether we are soldiers or not.

[Source: Whitney, Ellen M., ed. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970), p.509]

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