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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

July 13, Galena, Ill.: The President Receives Some Radical Advice

Editor's Note:

William Campbell (1776-1842) was a friend of Andrew Jackson who had been born in Virginia, come west into the Mississippi Valley as a child, and was a U.S. official connected with administration of lead mines in Galena during the 1830s. Another of his letters to the President was given on June 19th.

The Black Hawk War had created distrust and fear of Indians throughout not just the frontier but also in the minds of policy makers 1,000 miles away. Their fear reinforced their conception of Indians' racial destiny: "I believe all the indians are hostile to us; it is not in their nature to be otherwise". Despite his decades spent on the frontier, Campbell lacked a sophisticated understanding of Native American culture and politics that would have allowed him to envision peaceful coexistence.

Indian agents, who formed relationships with the tribes and learned their language and culture, better understood how to negotiate with them, and how to achieve US goals by politicking instead of violence. As Campbell points out, however, they often worked in league with white traders to help annuity payments flow quickly from tribal hands to white ones.

Campbell writes that the recruiting of Sioux allies was an embarassment and a show of weakness. However, General Atkinson had repeatedly explained that he recruited Native American allies not because he needed their force, but merely so that he knew where they were. In this way he made sure that they did not join Black Hawk, and prevented the general uprising that whites so feared. Many distrustful whites, like Campbell, saw this as an failure, and one more stain on General Atkinson's name.

William Campbell to Andrew Jackson
Galena, July [13] 1832

Dear Genl.

I have given my views to you some months since [see entry for June 19] as to the many abuses which I believed to exist in the Indian Department. It is my opinion that the Indian Agents act incog, with the Indian traders. These men have large sums due them from the Indians, which they never would get only by forcing their claims on the government or Agents who will press those claims to get their pay. This is natural when men are dishonest. There ought to be a change in the Indian Department on the Upper Mississippi: there is something radically wrong in it. When an Indian Agent is appointed, he will do right for a while, and some may continue to do so, but not one in ten. After they find they can deceive the government they will do so to make money. Money is the sole object of some of them: others are actuated by motives of popularity...

I have written to you before, frequently. It is not worth while to repeat any thing before written. Since my last the Indians have killed something like twenty persons in the Mining District: some within eight or nine miles of this place. They kill all they find & mangle the bodies in a most Shocking manner. They spare none, nor ought we spare them: they ought to be exterminated or driven beyond the reach of harming us: if left near the West bank of the Mississippi they will still annoy us. Mr. Henry Gratiot is the Agent of the Winnebagoes: he believes his Indians friendly to the United States: therefore he does not believe the Mining District, including part of Illinois, to belong to the United States: He will get angry when the people say his Indians are not friendly. It is well known that many of them, (particularly all the young men wishing to become Braves) are now with the hostile party.

It will be well to take from them all their annuities and their country West of the Mississippi; & send them to the Rocky Mountains where as I am informed, they may procure plenty of Buffalo meat. It is said on good authority, that ten thousand men could not in the same number of years destroy the immense herds of Buffalo ranging in that quarter.

I believe all the Indians are hostile to us; it is not in their nature to be otherwise. More than 200 Sioux came down by order of Genl. Atkinson to fight for us, & what did they do? This was their conclusion, that we were not able to fight our own battles with the Sacs & Foxes. We had a parade while they were here: they found our numbers to be about 100: an Indian sat on a box & I saw him laugh after counting our men. We will have these same Indians in arms against us before the fall of the leaf, & numerous other tribes. I may be mistaken, but I think, I know something of the Indian character, having come to Kentucky in 1787...

Since writing the above, we have heard from the main Army. From the best information (by Judge Smith who was with it) the Indians had put towards the Chippeway nation. Our Armies march too slow for them on foot. Genl. Atkinson believed he had them penned up in a Swamp at the junction of White[water River, now Bark River] & Rock River: he made a bridge to cross on & when they got there not an Indian was to be found. The Indians shot at & wounded one man while fishing: they have out-generaled US.

I act in open day & wish the world to know what I do, & you in particular. W C

I am with great respect Yours Sincerely - W. Campbell



[Source: Whitney, Ellen M., ed. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970), p.788]

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