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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

June 13: A Soldier Writes to his Sister

Editor's Note:

The writer of this letter, Stephen Mack (d. 1850), was a licensed merchant and fur trader who did business with Indians at his station at Bird's Grove, Illinois. He was the first white resident of modern Winnebago County, Ill, had been licenced to trade since 1823, and was married to an Indian woman named Hononegah. Mack rose to the rank of sergeant in the cavalry during Black Hawk War. The sister to whom he wrote this letter lived with their father in Michigan.

As a long-time resident who was intimately acquainted with Indians through his business and marriage, Mack was less prone to believe the rumors or be shocked by the reports that created fear and hatred among his white compatriots. Mack is comparatively cool-headed, dismissing the hysteria that spread throughout the region in late May and June but also recognizing the real threat of Black Hawk and the failure of the American leadership to stop him. Calm voices of reason such as his were too rare on the panic-stricken frontier.

Stephen Mack to Lovicy Cooper
Chicago, June 13, 1832

Dear Sister:
I have been out on one expedition against the Sauke Indians since my last letter [of May 30], but we could not find them where we expected, and were obliged to return and wait for reinforcements to enable us to penetrate further into the country. General Atkinson will be on the move again in a few days, and General J. R. Williams, (now at this place) will probably move on to his assistance. In that case I shall join him with a few volunteer mounted riflemen from this place.

You need be under no apprehension on my account for I can assure you that all of the accounts that you receive from the seat of war are very much exaggerated. It is really amusing to me who see all the operation and know perhaps better than almost anyone the real danger, to read the accounts of maneuvers of the enemy never thought of by them, and of battles never fought. And then to sit down and listen to the remarks of the raw Yankees who have lately emigrated to this country, one would think that Napoleon Bonaparte had risen from the grave and presented himself in the person of the Blackhawk and that the spirit of his millions of heroes were concentrated in the 5 or 600 warriors led by that chief.

I by no means wish to undervalue our enemies, they are brave and subtle and it may be dangerous to encounter them without an overwhelming force, but I can by no means approve of the tardy operations of our chief officers, for it gives time to the nimble-footed Indians to ravage our frontier settlements and bathe their hands in the blood of helpless women and unsuspecting infants. Had more prompt measures been pursued in the commencement, I have no doubt but many lives would have been spared, and we should have been at this moment in the full enjoyment of peace...

[Source: Whitney, Ellen M., ed. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970), p.583]

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