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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

July 25, Green Bay: Fear That More Tribes Will Join Black Hawk

Editor's Note:

The author of this letter, George Boyd (1779-1846), was a Maryland native who moved to Michigan in 1818 to serve as an Indian agent in Mackinaw. In June, 1832 he was transferred to Green Bay, where he served as agent for the Menominee and Oneida during the Black Hawk War.

His letter expresses one of the greatest American fears among settlers during the Black Hawk War: that all the Great Lakes tribes would rise up together against whites in a region-wide racial war.

Partly to prevent this, General Atkinson made alliances with as many of the tribes as possible. This allowed him to employ Native Americans as warriors and scouts, but more importantly, he could be confident that they would not join Black Hawk. As Indian agent to the Menominee, George Boyd had to make sure they remained friendly to the US and sent warriors in support of Atkinson, as they had promised. The rosters of the Menominee volunteers who served alongside the U.S. in the hunt for their traditional Sauk enemies are here.

Despite the formal alliances between the tribes and the Americans, little trust existed between them. As the war dragged on and Black Hawk remained at large, many white settlers lumped all the tribes together in their minds, in the fear that the friendly tribes would see Americans as weak and attack them.The outbreak of cholera among the troops, to which Boyd refers in this letter, increased apprehensions that the American opposition to Black Hawk would crumble, and the tribes would unite against whites instead of the Sauk.

See this article for more information on George Boyd and the rest of his papers from the Black Hawk War.

George Boyd to George B. Porter
Indian Agency Office, Green Bay
July 23d. [-25th] 1832.

...It appears to me, Sir, that a crisis has arrived, which if not promptly and gallantly met by all entrusted with authority for the public good -- will cause this fair and infant portion of the Union to mourn for devastations by the Scalping-knife, scarcely inferior to those about to be poured upon us by the scourging hand of an Almighty Providence. My fears are more than realized by putting to myself the following questions--

Will it be prudent, if practicable, for General Scott to hazard a conjunction of any portion of his diseased command, with the healthy part of the Army already in the field under Genl. Atkinson?

Would not the very rumor of Cholera, under such circumstances, drive every militia man, from the side of Atkinson?

Is it not within human probability, that Indian Tribes, at present lukewarm and indifferent as to the fate of this War -- such as the Pottawattamies & Winnebagoes, both partially allied to the hostile Indians by intermarriages -- may not, by witnessing the ravages made by disease among our troops, at once and to a man, join the Sacs & Foxes, and raise the Tomahawk against us?...

With great Consideration & respect,
I have the Honor to be Your Excellency's Most Obedt. St.

George Boyd, U:S. Ind: Agent.

For His Excellency G. B. Porter Governor of the Terry of Michigan & Superintendant of Indian Affairs, Detroit.

[Source: Wisconsin Historical Collections, Volume XII, (Madison, 1892), p. 278]

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