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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

June 6: Ho-Chunk, Sioux & Menominee Warriors Join the Americans

Editor's Note:

The Sioux and Menominee were long-standing enemies of the Sauk and Fox, and attacks between them had become larger and bloodier in the years leading up to the wa. The most rrrecent had occured in 1831, when a band of Sauk and Fox killed 30 Sioux and Menominee near Prairie du Chien. General Atkinson was dispatched to the region to arrest perpetrators on both sides (see this previous entry) but his mission has been interrupted by the war.

Once the war was underway, the Americans encouraged the Sioux and Menominee to seek revenge. And although the Ho-Chunk had not been a part of this traditional feud, the warriors mentioned here were relatives of victims of Sauk and Fox violence. For more on the Ho-Chunk Decorah family, see this entry in the Dictionary of Wisconsin History.

Eventually, Potawatomi warriors would also enlist in the American cause. Muster rolls of Native American units of the militia, transcribed from the National Archives, are available at Turning Points in Wisconsin History (Indian units begin on page 49).

The author of the letter given at left, Joseph M. Street (1782-1840), was Indian agent for the Ho-Chunk, based in Prairie du Chien. In this previous entry he described conditions on the frontier before the war; more information on his life is available here.

Street met with this group of Sioux, Ho-Chunk and Menominee warriors at Wabashaw's village, an ancient Sioux settlement near modern Winona, Minnesota.

At a time when most whites saw the war in simplistic racial terms and worried that all Native Americans would turn against them, this highly visible mobilization of warriors by friendly tribes could have help dampened fears. These Indian allies did not have much military effect on the war's outcome, and most of their planned attacks were aborted. The terrible exception came at the very end of the war, when the the few starving and exhausted survivors of Black Hawk's Band were slaughtered by Sioux warriors once they crossed the Mississippi.

Joseph M. Street to Henry Atkinson
U S. Indian Agency at Prairie du Chien
June 6th. 1832. Br. Genl. H. Atkinson,

Sir,...[After receiving your order, I went] to see the Sioux of Wabashaw's Village... There was 41 here at the moment your letter arrived who were greatly rejoiced that they would be permitted to go to war, and have since been engaged by me in acting as a guard to take thirty or forty horses obtained here for the service to Genl. H. Dodge of the Michigan [i.e., Wisconsin territorial] Militia. Mr. Burnett returned yesterday about 2 O'Clock in the afternoon with 80 Sioux, 30 or 40 Winnebagoes [Ho-Chunk], and more are expected to arrive before their departure from this place. To these is to be added 41 Menominees, making an Indian force of 160 warriors. I have not been out this morning, but I have little doubt that this number has been increased by the arrivals last night to about 200. They are delighted at the permission to go to war, and have been dancing nearly all the time since their arrival. The Menominees especially rejoice in the prospect of revenging their slaughtered friends and families. Many of the Winnebagoes who go, are related to & connected with Menominees and Sioux...The old chief Wabasha is along, resolved to accompany his people...

Waugh-kon Decorri [Waukon Decorah], asked me for leave to go to his Village on the Wisconsin and raise his worriers, and then meet the Chiefs from Winnebago Lake, Fox River of Green Bay, Four Lakes [Madison] & Green Lakes, to assemble their warriors & drive the Sacs & Foxes out of the Winnebago Country. I told him to do so. [I told him,] These Sacs & Foxes are the general enemies of white-men and Indians - they have come into your land, your G. F. [Great Father] has got between them and their own country, and they can't, return. And if you sit still they will take your country from you.

He replied, You have told us to be quiet. They killed my daughter at Red-cedar, you told me to be at peace & our G. F. would have justice done. Now they have killed our G. F.'s white children. There is no justice in them. Give us leave to revenge ourselves and drive these common enemies out of our land, and we will soon clear our Country of them forever. I said go, you have the permission of your G. F. [Great Father]. These Sacs & Foxes are bad Indians and he will no longer protecct them. Waugh-kon left here the day before yesterday under a promise to raise all the Winnebagoes of the Wisconsin Portage, 4 Lakes [Madison], Green Lakes & Winnebagoe Lake and fall directly upon the Sacs & Foxes from the North, passing down Rock River upon them. His brothers, Washington Decorri, and the One-eyed Decorri are now here, going down with the Sioux and Menominees, to join you, and appear anxious for war.

[Source: Whitney, Ellen M., ed. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970), pp. 537-538]

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