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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

July 22, Wisconsin Heights: Another Surrender Offer Is Ignored

Editor's Note:

This account was written by Daniel M. Parkinson (1790-1868), a militia officer in the Black Hawk War and participant in the Battle of Wisconsin Heights.

Parkinson here describes the early morning hours of July 22, just hours after the Battle of Wisconsin Heights, when Black Hawk's chief lieutenant, Neapope, attempted to communicate the Sauk surrender offer to the Americans. The mlitia had been travelling with Ho-Chunk scouts and trader Pierre Paquette, who would have been able to understand and translate the surrender speech. Sadly, and unknown to Black Hawk, the Ho-Chunk and Paquette had left right after the battle and, with no one to translate, the troops interpreted the speech as a threat.

Even if the speech had been translated, it is not certain that the tragic outcome at Bad Axe would have been avoided. By late July, calls for the "extermination" of Black Hawk's band had been voiced by everyone from officials in Washington to settlers on the frontier. Throughout the spring and summer individual soldiers had expressed a desire to kill all the Indians they encountered, and had only the day before slaughtered an unarmed refugee sitting on the grave of his wife in Madison. And when Black Hawk had attempted to surrender in May, the militia had ignored his white flag, attacked his emissaries, and charged his camp. Even if the surrender terms had been understood and accepted, it seems unlikely that the safety of the roughly 500 remaining men, women and children of Black Hawk's community would have been preserved for long on the banks of the Wisconsin.

Daniel Parkinson in the Dictionary of Wisconsin History

The silence of our camp was broken by the loud shrill voice of an Indian from the summit of one of the highest peaks in that vicinity, haranguing, as we supposed, his warriors preparatory to an attack upon us.

Although we were well posted and surrounded with a double guard, yet it naturally produced some excitement, and was well calculated to test the coolness and material of our officers and men. We then thought Black Hawk's entire force was being brought to bear upon us in a night attack -- the most to be dreaded of all attacks, especially made by an Indian enemy.

Our material proved good; no man showed the white feather, and our commanders, in concert with the Indian orator, harangued their men in the most stirring manner. Gen. Henry, in particular, addressed his men in a most patriotic strain, reminding them of the discredit already brought upon the Sucker [Illinois] arms by the defeat of Maj. Stillman, and other similar disaster, appealing to them in the name of their Sucker mothers, to vindicate the valor of the Suckers and the Sucker State. In fact, it was often remarked afterwards, that he made a great Sucker speech, under the impulse of which his men, no doubt, would have well vindicated, as they had the preceding day, the valor of the Sucker arms.

It was afterwards ascertained, however, that the Indian Chief was making propositions of peace, instead of urging or cheering on his warriors in battle, which no doubt would have been accepted, had the Winnebagoes been in camp. The proposals were said to have been, that the Sauks and Foxes would surrender themselves up, at discretion, and only asked protection for the lives of their women and children. But hearing no response, and supposing the Winnebagoes were with us, they concluded that their proposals were not acceptable, and no mercy would be shown them; and consequently every effort was then made to remove as fast as possible out of the country.

[Source: Parkinson, Daniel M., 1790-1868. "Pioneer life in Wisconsin." Wisconsin Historical Collections Vol. 2, pp. 359-360]

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