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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

July 19, Hustisford, Wis.: Black Hawk's Trail Is Discovered

Editor's Note:

Col. Henry Dodge hastily wrote this note to Gen. Henry Atkinson, informing him that the militia had accidentally come across Black Hawk's trail on July 18. His grammar has been lightly edited here for readibility.

For the last few weeks, Black Hawk and his followers had been secreted in swamps in the upper Rock River, near Horicon Marsh, in Dodge Co. 16-year-old Satterlee Clark, who was at Fort Winnebago in Portage at the time, was told by Ho-Chunk friends that the Sauk were nearby and planning to attack the fort. His colorful account of dashing overland through the night to get reinforcements is here.

Dodge and Gen. James Henry set out for Hustisford (the rapids of the Rock River) to reconnoitre, found the Saulk had left, and on the 18th sent their two adjutants, led by a Ho-Chunk guide, with a report to Atkinson. These three men had only gone a few miles when they stumbled across Black Hawk's trail. They turned around, raced back to Dodge and Henry, and shared the news. Peter Parkinson left this account of their discovery that day.

The accidental discovery of Black Hawk's fresh trail catapulted the war towards its tragic conclusion. During their miserable campaign through southern Wisconsin, the troops had always been two steps behind their elusive Sauk adversaries. With this discovery, the end of the war came into sight. Surgeon's mate John Wakefield described the militia's elation at the discovery this way, in his History of the War between the United States and the Sac and Fox Nations of Indians:

"Thickets and swamps of the worst kind we had to go through; but the men had something now to stimulate them. They saw the Sac trail fresh before them, and a prospect of bringing our campaign to an end."

In only two days, the militia would chase Black Hawk through the site of modern Madison and catch up with him at the Battle of Wisconsin Heights.

Henry Dodge to Henry Atkinson

July 19th 1832

Dear General

I yesterday addressed you from the rapids of Rock River, my adjt [adjutant] directed by an Indian Guide.

After travelling about 12 miles, [they] fell in with Two Large Trails, no doubt the greater part of the Socks [Sauks]. From the appearance of the Trails it must be the Main Body of the Enemy. The direction is about a South West Course. They have peeled the Bark of the Oaks and have Dug in different places in search of Wild Potatoes. Genl. Henry who is accquainted with the trail of the Socks, having followed it from the mouth of Rock River, believes it to be the Main Body of the Enemy also.

Your friend in great Hast,

H. Dodge

P.S Genl Henry and myself will pursue the trail as fast as our Horses will carry us...

[Source: Whitney, Ellen M., ed. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970), p.826]

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