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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

A Farm Wife Describes Her Fears in a Letter

Editor's Note:

To escape the ravages of the Black Hawk war, Sarah Bracken fled from Wisconsin to Cynthiana, Kentucky, where she wrote this letter to her niece, Mary J. McKown, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. In it she relates the experiences of her husband, Charles Bracken, in the battle of Pecatonica [described in this previous entry] and her fears for the future.

Her letter describes how the war entirely disrupted life in northern Illinois and southwestern Wisconsin. Indian attacks on settlers and travellers had sent whites running for the safety of forts and towns, where fear and rumors spread and supplies often ran low. The resulting stress proved too much for some, like Sarah Bracken, who fled the region entirely. Bracken shared with many the hope that the army's march on Black Hawk in July would quickly end the war.

This letter, lightly edited here, is taken from a 20-volume series called Wisconsin Historical Collections. You can see the manuscipt in Sarah BRacken's own hand writing here, at Turning Points in Wisconsin History.

Cynthiana
July 21st, 1832

Dear Niece,

You must attribute to indifference my not writing to you sooner. The disgusting situation of our country and my unexpected journey to this [Cynthiana, Kentucky] must plead some excuse for my apparent neglect. Dear Mary Jane you cannot conceive the distress and anxiety of mind I have suffered during the last two months.

It was a long time before I could be prevailed on to leave home, but the entreaties of my husband the duty I owe to my children together with my infirm health have forced me here. I was in Fort some time before I left home and I should certainly have died had I staid there all summer, which would have been the case had I remained. The country is in a dreadful situation, no business of any kind going on, no crops making, the people all in Garrison, a great many murders perpetrated, and distress of every kind that can be imagined.

I received a letter from your Uncle a few days ago. He was well, but that he was so seems a miracle. He had been in a battle and at one time engaged hand to hand with an Indian but escaped unhurt. O how grateful I feel to God for his kind protection at that dreadful time. The Indians were 11 number and every one killed; we had none killed but 3 mortally wounded.

I have heard from there since [that] the army was on the march in great number and I hope will scare the savages out of the country with out any more bloodshed. I am in daily expectation of letters and papers and shall be unhappy until I receive them.

Remember me kindly to mother and tell her I hope she will comply with Mr. Curry's request and visit us this fall. Give my love to Jane and my new Brother, to John and his wife, and to your Father and Mother, and Mary Jane do not wait for an exchange of letter and answer but write after, for be assured it will gratify me very much. Tell Mother I will write to her as soon as I hear from Colonel Bracken for I know her feelings like mine are not very enviable.

Your affectionate Aunt,
Sarah Bracken

P.S. Tell Jane her Sister Martha says she must make Ann a fashionable frock and send her. S. B.



[Source: Bracken, Sarah. Letter, July 21, 1832. Manuscript in the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives (File 1832 July 21 ).]

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