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Black Hawk War Powder Horn

Powder horn used by a member of Colonel Dodge's militia during the Black Hawk War, 1832.
(Museum object #1947.851)

An unknown member of Colonel Henry Dodge's militia carried this powder horn during the Black Hawk War during the spring and summer of 1832. The militia man may have made the powder horn himself by hollowing out a cow horn, carving a piece of wood to plug the base end of it, and breaking or burning off the tip to create a hole for pouring fine black powder into the ignition pan of his flintlock rifle. In addition to this horn, which measures approximately seven inches in length, the man would have probably also carried a larger powder horn to hold a coarser black powder for use in the barrel of his rifle.

In April 1832, word reached the settlers of northern Illinois and western Wisconsin that Sauk leader Black Hawk had crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois with 1,200 men, women, and children, creating a sense of alarm. After clashing with members of the Illinois militia along the Rock River, Black Hawk and his followers headed toward Wisconsin in an attempt to recross the Mississippi River to safety. In response, Colonel Henry Dodge called up several hundred mounted militia in what is now southwest Wisconsin (in 1832 Wisconsin was still a part of the Michigan Territory). With the help of U.S. regular forces and others, Dodge's pursuit culminated at the Battle of Bad Axe on August 2, 1832 where they decimated the Sauk. Black Hawk escaped this battle but was captured shortly thereafter.

The bulk of the men that formed Dodge's militia came from the lead-mining region which Dodge had been charged to defend and were not professional soldiers. The profits from lead and other minerals in the area had originally drawn many of these men to settle in southwest Wisconsin. To protect themselves from Black Hawk's advance the settlers quickly set to building stockades and makeshift forts as Dodge organized his mounted force. While officers made attempts to obtain firearms and other supplies from the U.S. government, many militia men provided their own guns and ammunition out of necessity.

[Sources: Smith, Alice E. The History of Wisconsin, Vol. I: From Exploration to Statehood (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1985); Birmingham, Robert A. "Uncovering the Story of Fort Blue Mounds," Wisconsin Magazine of History, 75:4 (Summer 2003).]

Posted on July 28, 2005

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