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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

June 27: White Crow Tries to Keep the Ho-Chunk Neutral

Editor's Note:

This is the second part of the report to Henry Gratiot that was begun yesterday. This speech by Ho-Chunk chief White Crow was made at his meeting with Indian Agent Henry Gratiot and Col. Henry Dodge on June 27, where Oliver Emmell reported on his espionage work.

White Crow was the chief of a village of about 1,200 people near the site of modern Koshkonong, Wisconsin. During the war, this tribe found themselves squeezed between Black Hawk's warriors, who tried to bring them into an alliance, and the Americans, who deeply distrusted them. Throughout the war, White Crow tried to keep his people out of the war altogether by playing one side off against the other. As Black Hawk's band of about 1,000 civilians and warriors pushed White Crow's followers off their land, the Americans did nothing to help them. Nevertheless, White Crow repeatedly pledged his allegiance to the whites against Black Hawk, and aided them in the war.

As sub-Indian Agent to the Ho-Chunk, Henry Gratiot tried to convince the American leadership of their good intentions and at the same time to persuade them not to join Black Hawk. Two days after this meeting, Gratiot wrote this letter to Michigan Territory Governor G.B Porter explaining his difficulties in keeping the Ho-Chunk out of war.

"...The hostile Sauks having come immediately among the Winnebagoes, it has required all of my influence and exertions to preserve peace between the whites and the Winnebagoes. Not that I believe that my band of indians are disposed to be hostile, but the whites are so extremely suspicious of them that it is next to an impossibility to preserve peace...

"Although I had no funds in hand, yet, I found that to avoid increasing the number of our enemies, considerable expenses must be incurred. I have endeavoured to be economical in the expenditure, and have made no bill but such as the nature of the case seemed to demand imperiously..."

The rest of this letter can be found in "Journals and Reports of the Black Hawk War," in The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Dec., 1925), pp. 392-409.

Gratiot was a prominent member of a pioneer Wisconsin family. Here is an extended account of his life and career, written by his son-in-law.

Report of Oliver Emmell and White Crow

[Speech of White Crow at Gratiot's Grove, Wisconsin
June 27, 1832]

...Father I have spoken to you, to Gen. Atkinson, Gen. Dodge, and Col Hamilton. We now ask you to give us some provisions for our families, we have been driven from place to place, we can neither hunt nor fish, and we have no corn fields, our women and children are nearly exhausted. Give us a wagon load of provisions, we will guard it out, and send a hundred of our young men to guard it back. Father, our other circumstances are extremely embarrassing, for the Saukees are almost as mad with us as they are with you. They have tryed almost every means in their power to involve us in difficulties with you. I expect that next they will kill some of our People, and try to make us believe that it was you...

Father, I think it extremely important that you should be in haste to strike. Tell me the very day you will be ready. My young men are stealing horses from the Saukees and they are stealing from us, and I am affraid that some of my men will be killed and we be hurryed into war before you are ready for our assistance.

Father, when your army comes we want you to march between the Saukees and our camp, that our women, children and old men may be safe while we are fighting: Then Father we will exhibit an example worthy the imitation of all red men. We know that some Winnebagoes are among the Saukees. They are our brothers and sons, but they shall share the fate of enemies...

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

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