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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

June 22, Prairie Du Chien, Wis.: The Sioux Abandon War on Black Hawk

Editor's Note:

These are the minutes from a meeting between Joseph Street (1780-1840), Indian Agent to the Ho-Chunk, Sauk & Fox, and Sioux chief L'Arc. They met at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, the site of his Indian Agency, as the Sioux war party was returning to their homes. This account was published in The Galenian on July 11, 1832.

Before the Black Hawk War had erupted, a feud had been running between the Sioux & Menomonee and the Sauk & Fox. General Atkinson was sent to arrest and try the murderers on both sides but soon found himself with bigger problem when Black Hawk led his band back across the Mississippi. Now, instead of trying to enforce white justice on the tribes, Atkinson recruited the bereved Sioux, Ho-Chunk and Menomonee to join with the U.S. in the war.

Colonel William Hamilton (1797-1850), son of Alexander Hamilton and here refered to as "a little man", had led this group of 170 Sioux. He hoped that Indian warriors would be more successful in finding Black Hawk's force than white soldiers had been. However, Hamilton had no better luck than the Illinois militia and wandered about the countryside for weeks without finding his enemy. L'Arc and the Sioux grew impatient and, just as many Illinois militia had dissolved a month before, decided to return to their homes. L'Arc nicely describes the desolation of the countryside and inaction of their service under Hamilton, who he says "did not use us well."

Street responds by insulting the Sioux for adandoning the war, maligning their bravery and their masculinity. No embarassment was deeper for a Native American warrior, whose reputation and identity was largely based on fighting ability, than to be be called a woman and told to do women's work in the fields.

Here is a 1907 article about the life and career of Joseph Street, from the Wisconsin Historical Collections.

Talk between Joseph M. Street and the Sioux June 22, 1832

The substance of a talk held at Prairie du Chien, 22nd June, 1832, by General Street, Indian Agent, with the Sioux, who turned back, after starting with Col. Hamilton to join the army commanded by Gen. H. Atkinson.

Gen. Street: I wish to know why you have left the army? Heretofore, under the instructions of your Great Father, the President, I have endeavored to keep peace between all his red children. When your friends were killed by the Sacs and Foxes, I advised you not to revenge; your Great Father would see justice done... your G. Father has forborne to use force, until the Sacs and Foxes have dared to kill some of his white children. He will now forbear no longer... And he directed me no longer to restrain you from war. And I said, go and be revenged of the murderers of your friends, if you wish it.
... After coming 2 or 300 miles to revenge your murdered friends and relations, and the murderers are before you, you turn and come home without striking a blow. Why is this? To me your conduct is strange. I cannot comprehend it, and want you to explain the reasons that have influenced you to so a disgraceful a course. Your own, and the reputation of your nation are at stake. Consider what you have done, and what you now ought to do, to redeem the honor of your tribe. Answer me truly; why have you returned? and what do you intend to do?"

The Sioux chief L'Arc, (a Half-Winnebago) said, "My Father. We had a little piece of land over there, (pointing west of the Mississippi) which we wanted to keep for hunting...The Sacs and Foxes would not let us hunt on this land, and killed our people. You told us to let them alone, and leave it to our Great Father, and he would settle the quarrel. We wanted to go to war, but you would not let us. And now the land is not ours, and what have we got for it?

The Sacs and Foxes have now began to kill white people, and you say, go to war, and take your revenge. We came to do so, and you sent us with a little man, (Col. Hamilton) and said, he will conduct you to a great Chief, who has many men, and some on horses; he will shew you the Sacs and Foxes. We followed him a great way over large wagon roads that were very hard, and our mocasins are worn out and our feet sore; we can walk no further. Yet we have seen but very few men and horses. The people were not there. We saw desolated houses, and some places where houses had been burned, and white people killed and left, but no large body of people to help us to fight. We were led to a fort, (Fort Hamilton) where there were not many people, and we had starved until we were tired - we did not want to go any further. We have seen no large army as you said we would. The man (Col. H.) who you sent with us did not use us well and we turned and came back to you...

Gen. Street. When I first sent to you, I thought you were men, and wanted to revenge your murdered friends. You had complained of the Sacs and Foxes murdering your friends, and being prevented by me from retaliating; and I was willing to give you an opportunity to take your revenge. I gave you liberty to go, and shewed you a man to conduct you. I put arms in your hands, and gave you provisions and amunition, and you have gone within striking distance, and come back, and say you are on your way home... Your complaints are untrue - they are made to excuse your coming. You have not hearts to look at the Indians who murdered your friends and families. Go home to your squaws, and hoe corn - you are not fit to go to war. You have not courage to revenge your wrongs. Your Great Father knows how to right his wrongs and is able to do it without your help. I gave you an opportunity to revenge yourselves, but you are afraid...

Your Great Father gives you some flour and pork to eat - you have no stomachs for war. Go home to your squaws, and hoe corn, and never again trouble your Great Father with your anxiety to go to war.

[Source: Whitney, Ellen M., ed. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970), p.651]

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