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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

Mid July, Madison, Wis.: Black Hawk Heads Northwest

Editor's Note:

After the Battle of Stillman's Run on May 14, Black Hawk's community of 1,000 men, women, children and elderly had escaped north into the wilderness of southern Wisconsin. During May and June they camped near Lake Koshkonong, where there was an abundance of fish to eat. Their families were relatively safe there, and Black Hawk with 200 warriors attacked the Apple River Fort in late June to secure supplies. When he returned, the whole band set out on a route north along the Rock River, and then south and west to Four Lakes, where they camped east of the site of modern Madison, Wisconsin.

Experts in picking defensible terrain, they lived briefly on an island in the middle of an unidentified swamp that was safe from the mounted militia. However, there was also little food to be found there, and conditions soon became unbearable. Old and young died of hunger, and Kickapoo, Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk allies departed. With the militia and army finally on the march, Black Hawk decided to lead his band across the Wisconsin River to the Mississippi, where he hoped to travel south and rejoin the rest of the Sauk and Fox, led by Keokuk.

This map shows Black Hawk's route from mid-June to mid-July

During our encampment at the Four Lakes we were hard pressed to obtain enough to eat to support nature. Situated in a swampy, marshy country, (which had been selected in consequence of the great difficulty required to gain access thereto,) there was but little game of any sort to be found - and fish were equally scarce. The great distance to any settlement, and the impossibility of bringing supplies there from, if any could have been obtained, deterred our young men from making further attempts. We were forced to dig roots and bark trees, to obtain something to satisfy hunger and keep us alive! Several of our old people became so reduced, as to actually die with hunger! Learning that the army had commenced moving, and fearing that they might come upon and surround our encampment, I concluded to remove our women and children across the Mississippi, that they might return to the Sac nation again. Accordingly, on the next day we commenced moving, with five Winnebagoes acting as our guides, intending to descend the Wisconsin.

[Source: Black Hawk's Autobiography]

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