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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

June 27, Gratiot's Grove, Wis.: Spies Report on Black Hawk

Editor's Note:

This is a transcript of conversations of Oliver Emmell and White Crow sent to Col. Henry Dodge on June 27. On June 14, sub-Indian Agent to the Ho-Chunk Henry Gratiot had employed Emmell and White Crow to spy on Black Hawk's Band, who were camped in the swamps near modern Koshkonong, Wisconsin.

Oliver Emmell, or Ammel (ca. 1798 - ca. 1875), was a French-Canadian trader who had married to a Ho-Chunk woman. Unlike Americans, the French who lived and traded with Native Americans often integrated into their societies and cultures, learned their languages, and married into Indian families. This bond is reflected in Emmell's report: his Ho-Chunk companions defend his life, saying he "is as one of us". After the Black Hawk War, he built a trading post on the future site of Madison; his was the first house ever known to be created on the site by a white man. More information about him is available here).

White Crow (d. prior to 1836), was chief of a Ho-Chunk village on Lake Koshkonong. (More information on him is available in this previous entry.) Because White Crow divided his allegiance during the war, both sides were deeply suspicious of him; in reality, he was most concerned with saving his people from destruction by either side. By serving as a spy for the Americans, he hoped to gain their trust and protection from Black Hawk, who had been harassing his people, invading their land, and pushing them into starvation, as reported here.

Report of Oliver Emmell and White Crow
[Gratiot's Grove, Wisconsin, June 27, 1832]

Report of Oliver Emmell, who with five indians was employed by Henry Gratiot sub Ind. agent, on the 14 inst, at the request of Gen. Dodge, to go and ascertain the position, strength &c of the hostile indians:

On the third day after leaving Col. Hamilton's we arrived at Mud lake [Lake Koshkonong] and there in a swamp we found a large encampment of Winnebagoes [Ho-Chunk], who had fled there, they said, because they had been told that the whites had seized their chiefs and were intending to make war on their nation.

Their women and children are in a state of starvation, living on grass and roots. Whirling Thunder and I satisfied them that they had nothing to fear from the Americans unless they should provoke it by some act of hostility. I remained one day with them and sent the son of Whirling Thunder into the Potawatomi country to see what they were doing. His report is favourable.

One day we met a man who asked the indians why they had this man (me) with them. They replied "he is a Frenchman who has married among us and is as one of us." He replied that French, English, and Americans all smell alike, and we will kill him for we have determined that all who wear hats shall be treated as enemies. This threat I have no doubt, would have been carried into execution had it not been for the interference of White Crow. Same day two Saukees came to the tent where I was and at night stole my horse. Next day the Winnebagoes, fearing that the Saukees would certainly kill me took my clothes from me, painted me like themselves and sent me and one Indian forward as hunters. While the others descended the river in canoes. We met Saukees three different times [while] I was in this disguise. My fellow hunter would stop and engage their attention till I could get off.

I was frequently in sight of the camps of the Saukee which extend from lake Koshkenon along catfish river to its mouth, a distance of six or seven miles. I counted eighty tents.

Gratiot's grove, June 27, 1832.
Oliver Emmell.

[Source: Whitney, Ellen M., ed. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970), p.694]

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