c. 1804 | Missouri

Father Knows Best

Black Hawk pinpoints the origin of his people’s difficulties.

The loss of my father, by the Cherokees, made me anxious to avenge his death by the annihilation, if possible, of all of their race. I accordingly commenced recruiting another party to go against them. Having succeeded in this, I started with my party and went into their country, but only found five of their people, whom I took prisoners. I afterward released four men—the other, a young squaw, we brought home. Great as was my hatred for this people, I could not kill so small a party.

During the close of the ninth moon, I led a large party against the Chippewas, Kaskaskias, and Osages. This was the commencement of a long and arduous campaign, which terminated in my thirty-fifth year, having had seven regular engagements and a number of small skirmishes. During this campaign, several hundred of the enemy were slain. I killed thirteen of their bravest warriors with my own hands.

Our enemies having now been driven from our hunting grounds, with so great a loss as they sustained, we returned, in peace, to our villages, and after the seasons of mourning and burying our dead relations and of feast dancing had passed, we commenced preparations for our winter’s hunt, in which we were very successful.

We generally paid a visit to St. Louis every summer, but in consequence of the protracted war in which we had been engaged, I had not been there for some years. Our difficulties having all been settled, I concluded to take a small party that summer and go down to see our Spanish father. We went—and on our arrival put up our lodges where the market house now stands. After painting and dressing, we called to see our Spanish father and were well received. He gave us a great variety of presents and plenty of provisions. We danced through the town as usual, and its inhabitants all seemed to be well pleased. They appeared to us like brothers—and always gave us good advice.

On my next, and last, visit to my Spanish father, I discovered, on landing, that all was not right: every countenance seemed sad and gloomy! I inquired the cause, and was informed that the Americans were coming to take possession of the town and country—and that we should then lose our Spanish father! This news made me and my band sad—because we had always heard bad accounts of the Americans from Indians who had lived near them—and we were sorry to lose our Spanish father, who had always treated us with great friendship.

The Concord of the State, by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1637–1645.

The Concord of the State, by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1637–1645. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. 

A few days afterward, the Americans arrived. I took my band and went to take leave, for the last time, of our father. The Americans came to see him also. Seeing them approach, we passed out at one door, as they entered another—and immediately started, in canoes, for our village on Rock River—not liking the change any more than our friends appeared to at St. Louis.

On arriving at our village, we gave the news that strange people had taken St. Louis—that we should never see our Spanish father again! This information made all our people sorry.

Some time afterward, a boat came up the river, with a young American chief and a small party of soldiers. We heard of him (by runners) soon after he had passed Salt River. Some of our young braves watched him every day to see what sort of people he had on board! The boat at length arrived at Rock River, and the young chief came on shore with his interpreter—made a speech, and gave us some presents. We in return presented him with meat and such provisions as we could spare.

We were all well pleased with the speech of the young chief. He gave us good advice, said our American father would treat us well. He presented us an American flag, which was hoisted. He then requested us to pull down our British flags—and give him our British medals—promising to send us others on his return to St. Louis. This we declined, as we wished to have two fathers!

When the young chief started, we sent runners to the Fox village, some miles distant, to direct them to treat him well as he passed—which they did. He went to the head of the Mississippi, and then returned to St. Louis. We did not see any Americans again for some time—being supplied with goods by British traders.

A riot is at bottom the language of the unheard.

—Martin Luther King Jr., 1967

We were fortunate in not giving up our medals—for we learned afterward from our traders that the chiefs high up on the Mississippi, who gave theirs, never received any in exchange for them. But the fault was not with the young American chief. He was a good man, and a great brave—and died in his country’s service.

Some moons after this young chief descended the Mississippi, one of our people killed an American—and was confined in the prison at St. Louis for the offense. We held a council at our village to see what could be done for him—which determined that Quàsh-quà-me, Pà-she-pa-ho, Oú-che-quà-ka, and Hàshe-quar-hí-gua should go down to St. Louis, see our American father, and do all they could to have our friend released: by paying for the person killed—thus covering the blood and satisfying the relations of the man murdered. This being the only means with us of saving a person who had killed another—and we then thought it was the same way with the whites!

The party started with the good wishes of the whole nation—hoping they would accomplish the object of their mission. The relatives of the prisoner blacked their faces and fasted, hoping the Great Spirit would take pity on them and return the husband and father to his wife and children.

Auguste-Hilarion, Comte de Keratry, by Honoré Daumier, c. 1832.  Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

Auguste-Hilarion, Comte de Keratry, by Honoré Daumier, c. 1832.  Musée d'Orsay, Paris. 

Quàsh-quà-me and party remained a long time absent. They at length returned, and encamped a short distance below the village—but did not come up that day­—nor did any person approach their camp. They appeared to be dressed in fine coats and had medals! From these circumstances, we were in hopes that they had brought good news. Early the next morning, the Council Lodge was crowded—Quàsh-quà-me and party came up and gave us the following account of their mission:

On their arrival at St. Louis, they met their American father and explained to him their business and urged the release of their friend. The American chief told them he wanted land—and they had agreed to give him some on the west side of the Mississippi, and some on the Illinois side, opposite the Jeffreon River. When the business was all arranged, they expected to have their friend released to come home with them. But about the time they were ready to start, their friend was let out of prison, ran a short distance, and was shot dead! This is all they could recollect of what had been said and done. They had been drunk the greater part of the time they were in St. Louis.

This is all myself or nation knew of the treaty of 1804. It has been explained to me since. I find by that treaty that all our country east of the Mississippi and south of the Jeffreon was ceded to the United States for one thousand dollars a year! I will leave it to the people of the United States to say whether our nation was properly represented in this treaty or whether we received a fair compensation for the extent of country ceded by those four individuals. I could say much about this treaty, but I will not at this time. It has been the origin of all our difficulties.


Black Hawk

From The Life of Black Hawk. Born in present-day Illinois in 1767, Black Hawk resisted the ceding of fifty million acres to the U.S. government in 1804. He fought on the side of the British during the War of 1812 and in 1832 led a faction of Sauk and Fox American Indians into U.S. territory in Illinois, resulting in the Black Hawk War, which ended with his capture. Over the course of the following year, Black Hawk asked interpreter Antoine LeClaire to take down his story. It was published in 1833, five years before he died.