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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

July 14: Wild Rumors That Black Hawk Has Escaped into Iowa

Editor's Note:

Joshua Pilcher (1790-1843), the author of this letter, was Indian agent for the neutral Sauk and Fox who had chosen to remain in Iowa rather than join Black Hawk. He was born in Virginia but became a very experienced trader who had traveled across the Great Plains, up the Missouri River, and into the Oregon country and western Canada in pursuit of furs before settling temporarily as an agent.

He here describes the effect of a rumor begun by General Andrew S. Hughes of the Missouri militia to the effect that Black Hawk had successfully re-crossed the Mississippi River into Iowa, and speculates on the carnage that might ensue as the militia failed to distinguish friend from foe in the Indian communities for which he was responsible.

Hughes' rumor was unfounded. Although no settlers or Army officers knew it, in mid-July Black Hawk and his followers were far off to the east, not far from Madison, Wisconsin, having been guided through the Rock River watershed by friendly Ho-Chunk.

Joshua Pilcher later succeeded William Clark as U.S. Superintendent of Indian Affairs, serving 1839-1841.

Joshua Pilcher to William Clark
St Louis
July 14th 1832

Genl. Wm. Clark Supet. of Indian Affairs


I reced. pr. Steam boat Winnebago, your two letters of the 2nd. Inst. accompanied by a letter from the war department, on the subject of provisions for the use of the friendly Indians ...

The [neutral Sauk and Fox] Indians are now scatter'd over the country in different directions in quest of subsistence and though I adhere invareable to the opinions originally expressd respecting their disposition; I should not feel justified in speaking with certainty in regard to what may happen before they return. A few of them still remain on the western bank of the' river; and are perfectly quiet; though I have been in constant apprehension, leste they should cross over for the purpose of hunting and get kill'd by the Malitia, who, under existing circumstances would not be justified in regarding them as frinds, as they do not know one from an other

The country is filld with so many idle rumours, that the whole of my time would be occupied in writing, were I to undertake to communicate them... I left Fort Armstrong on the 25 ult., and came down to the rapids: Genl. Hughs and several gentlemen arrived from Galena and informd me; that it was universally believed there, that the enemy would cross & that they had probably already done so - that they would be immediately persued by Genl. Dodge &c.

Hughs gave it as his deliberate opinion that they had crossd before that time - with such information upon tbe back of that receid from Genl. Atkinson by Majr. Beall, I felt it my duty to advise Capt. Mase to ask for a reinforcement... if ever the enomy are permited to cross. They would be persued as a matter of course; and once mixt, there could be no distinction; nor is it it reasonable or natural to suppose; that most of the young warriors would not join their relations... [Hughes' false report of Black Hawk having re-crossed the Mississippi] has thrown the whole frontier into commotion, driven off the inhabitants and in one fatal hour defeated the very objects for the promotion of which I had passed forty (almost) sleepless nights...

Immediately after his departure I set out for Galena for the purpose of obtaining correct information for the use of the troops on the Des Moines; and on my arrival; could see no good grounds for the report about B Hawk; nor was there one man out of five hundred who could give me even a remote idea of the position or movements of the army. I think in a few days you may look for some thing of an intiresting nature from Genl Atkinson...

I have the honor to be
Your Obt. Sevt
Joshua Pilcher Actg
Agt. for the Sacs & Foxes

[Source: Whitney, Ellen M., ed. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970), p.798]

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