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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

June 19: "It has thrown this country back... at least ten years."

Editor's Note:

In this letter to President Andrew Jackson, William Campbell paints a grim picture of conditions during the middle of the Black Hawk War. Officials in Washington received many conflicting letters that often arrived weeks after events had transpired and gave them a very unclear picture of the war. A letter from a personal friend must have carried much weight with the president. Campbell here summarizes the latest events (linked in his text to previous entries), expressing a distrust of the army's leadership and Native American allies, and explains the terrible effect the war would have on the development of Illinois.

William Campbell (1776-1842) was a friend of Andrew Jackson who had been born in Virginia, come west into the Mississippi Valley as a child, and was a U.S. official connected with administration of lead mines in Galena during the 1830s. His pessimistic view of the war was shared by many on the frontier and in Washington. The war had violently interrupted the family lives, work and dreams for the future of frontier settlers who had no enthusiasm to fight. It also created massive movements of settlers both as refugees and as militiamen. As they abandoned the farms and lead-mines for the safety of towns or to serve in the militia, the production economy of mining and farming was virtually paralyzed. "Pestilence & Famine" would indeed be a consequence of the war, as the interruption of farming would cause a food shortage later in the year and cholera would break out among soldiers within weeks of the writing of this letter.

Washington, however, needed no more proof of the sorry situation on the frontier. Unable to gain a totally clear picture of the war from the conflicting reports that they received irregularly, they blamed the military leadership and on June 15 had sent General Winfield Scott to finish the war once and for all.

William Campbell to Andrew Jackson
Galena 17th [-19th] June, 1832.

To the President of the United States:..

[Since I wrote you last] the Indians have killed thirty seven of our people that we know of, one of whom was killed near Chicago, and they got from him five hundred dollars, as is said by the two young women who were taken prisoners [the Hall sisters] and are now in this town, having been redeemed from captivity by Genl. Dodge. It is thought by many that the Winnebagoes [Ho-Chunk] are in league with the Sacs & Foxes. One man was killed near Brigham's (Blue Mounds) and five day before yesterday near "Hamiltons Diggings" in these mines. The Winnebagoes say that they are astonished the whites should pretend to fight the Sacs, that they were not able to fight them. There is not a doubt the Winnebagoes have joined those rascally Indians, to annoy and harrass us. They have left their old men, women & children at home to secure their annuities; not a brave is found among them, and as I am informed and believe several other tribes have joined them in the same way.

The sacrifices of the State of Illenois and particularly of the lead mine district are immense. Millions of dollars would not reinstate them in the situation they occupied one year ago. It has thrown this country back in point of population & improvement at least ten years. Why is this? The answer is easy. Four thousand men have been called into the field from the lower part of this state, and every man in the north west part of the state is now under arms for they see "War Pestilence & Famine" staring them in the face. I being the only person here who is personally known to you have addressed you on this important subject.

I wish to add that by order of General Atkinson from his camp on Rock river, Col. Wm S. Hamilton proceeded to Prairie du Chien and obtained some two hundred & thirty Sioux Indians, principally, some Menominies & Winnebagoes. They passed through here on their way to the army eight days ago. On yesterday Twenty six supposed to have deserted arrived in town. As they could give no satisfactory account of themselves, all but three who escaped were taken, & are now kept under a guard awaiting an answer from Col. Hamilton to whom an express was sent yesterday. I, for one think that we should be able to fight our own battles without the aid of savages. I do not believe in laying ourselves under any obligations to Indians.

The hostile army of 900 is said by the last advices to be at Mud Lake. How many of other tribes have or may join them is not known. The Chippewas it is thought will encourage or join them. A great number of troops will be necessary to conquer & destroy those hostile Indians and untill that is done there can be no peace or safety in this country. Their war parties under cover of professed friends may incessantly annoy us. The people look to you for protection & doubt not that it will be afforded...

I am, Dear Sir, with great respect Your Obt. Sert.
Wm Campbell Lieut Col. 27th. Reg. 111. Militia

P.S. I fear that your military officers have not done their duty. There is [some] thing wrong which perhaps hereafter will be ferreted out. There was something lacking last year but a good deal more now. WC

[Source: Whitney, Ellen M., ed. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970), p.612]

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