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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

June 21, Kaukauna.: A Devout Christian Fears the Approaching Sauk

Editor's Note:

Rev. Cutting Marsh (1800-1873) was a Vermont native who moved to Wisconsin in 1830 to serve as missionary to the Stockbridge Indians at Kaukauna.

In this June 21st diary entry, Marsh expresses anxiety like that which preoccupied most Illinois and Wisconsin settlers during the Black Hawk War. Although only 75 whites were killed during the entire war, fear of Indian attacks was intense and widespread during late May and June. There was a sense that marauding Sauk or Ho-Chunk warriors might appear any place at any time, strike brutally and unmercifully, and disappear into the landscape without a trace. This accurately reflected the reality of Native American warfare, which was based on hit-and-run surprise attacks and ambushes by small war parties.

Marsh's fears were unfounded, however. In late June Black Hawk and his followers were far away, hiding in swamps just north of modern Beloit, Wisconsin, which they hoped would serve as a natural barrier to the approaching American calvalry. Hoping to eventually escape to the west side of the Mississippi, they found themselves with no allies and without food or supplies. Settlers like Rev. Marsh lived with daily fear of Indian attacks, but the hundreds of non-combatants of Black Hawk's band -- the elderly, women, and children -- also had their own fears. They faced not only hunger and exposure, but also thousands of unrestrained American militia who wanted nothing less than their extermination.

After the war, Rev. Marsh visited the Sauk and interviewed Black Hawk, Keokuk, The Winnebago Prophet, and other leaders. His diary of that trip is available here , at our Historic Diaries pages.

Thurs. 21.

Visited some and returned at dusk, & it was reported that the Sacs &c were about 70 m. from the Portage and coming this way; all was immediately alarm & confusion. Mr. & Mrs. Stevens passed the night with us, but there was little sleep in the Mission house during the night. I felt at first somewhat alarmed, & disconcerted, but was enabled I trust to find relief in prayer; and that in some measure I could say the Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge - And that I could, fleeing to the blood of the everlasting covenant, commend myself & the interests of this Mission to the God of Missions, even if I must now close my earthly career.

Walked to & fro for some time up & down about the Mission house the latter part of the night feeling that there was a possibility that I might discover or be surprised by a deadly foe - The moon shone beautifully - all was calm & quiet around, & nothing to break the stillness of the scene but the murmuring of the waters in the Fox river. Still every thing appeared to wear a melancholy appearance because I knew not what dangers awaited me, nor bushes I might hear them coming to do their dreadful, & tragical work of murdering & scalping both old & young - But the morn. returned; I had slept after the day began [to] dawn, - the sun shone into my room pleasantly & the morn seemed to smile and I arose thankful as I truly hope for the kind preservation of the night and that midnight alarm had [not] been permitted to disturb our dwelling.

[Source: "Documents Relating to the Stockbridge Mission, 1825-1848." Wisconsin Historical Collections XV (Madison, 1900: 39-204; this excerpt is from page 61).

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