"Blackhawk is an Indian. He has done nothing for which an Indian ought to feel ashamed."
(Black Hawk of the Sauk Nation)
In the year 1767, in the village of Saukenuk, located a few miles north of the confluence
of the Rock River with the Mississippi River in northwestern Illinois, a child was born.
This was Ma-ca-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, which means "Black Sparrow Hawk" in the Algonquin
language of the Sauk. Whites would later call him Black Hawk. He would become one of the most fearsome
yet respected Native American warriors to be born in what is now the state of Illinois.
THE SAUK NATION
Sometime in early historic times, the Sauk, feeling pressure from the French and Chippewa,
migrated southward out of central Wisconsin, into southwestern Wisconsin, Northwestern Illinois,
and northeastern Iowa. Some settled at the rapids of the Mississippi, near what is today Keokuk, Iowa.
Another group settled near the mouth of the Rock River in Illinois. A third group settled on the Osage and Missouri Rivers
in the late 1700s. The Sauk were allied with the Meskwaki (known to whites as the Fox) and often
lived among them and vice versa. Principal native enemies of the Sauk included the
Minnesota Sioux (Santee Dakota and Yankton Nakota), Osage, and Chippewa.
At the age of just fifteen, Ma-ca-tai-me-she-kia-kiak joined a
raid against the Osage. He succeeded in killing and scalping an enemy
warrior, which entitled him upon return to Saukenuk to join in the scalp dance.
At this early age, Black Hawk had become a Sauk warrior. A short time later, he led seven Sauk
warriors in an attack against an encampment of 100 Osages. Ma-ca-tai-me-she-kia-kiak
killed an enemy, then escaped without losing a man. In a very short time, he became
one of the most influential warriors in the Nation.
THE TREATY OF 1804
In 1804, certain Sauk and Meskwaki leaders signed a disasterous treaty. By its
terms, the Sauk and Meskwaki forfeited all of their lands adjaecent to the
Mississippi River in both Illinois and Iowa. Most of the Sauk
and Meskwaki people were outraged. White settlers soon began to move into the disputed area.
Conflict seemed inevitable.
THE WAR OF 1812
When the War of 1812 began, Blackhawk and the Sauk fought for the British, no doubt viewing them as
the lesser of two evils. Blackhawk's warriors won battles at Campblell's Island and Credit
Island, but the British were ultimately defeated. With that defeat, the hope
that the influx of white settlers could be checked was forlorn at best.
THE BLACKHAWK WAR
The Sauk now lived in Iowa, having been forced west by the Americans. But the settlers wanted more land.
In 1828, President John Adams demanded that the Iowa lands of the Sauk be sold. And when the Sauk
returned from their winter hunt that same year, they discovered that their lands had once again been sold.
Faced with the hostile Lakota, Dakota and Nakota nations to the west, the
Sauk faced east and sought to reoccupy their old lands. In April, 1832, the Sauk
re-crossed the Mississippi and returned into Illinois. In August, they were attacked by
white militia. Blackhawk led the resistance which was initially successful.
His principal rival among the Sauks, Keokuk, remained aloof from the conflict. As a
historical footnote, Abraham Lincoln, later to become the 16th President of the United States,
and Jefferson Davis, later to become President of the Confederate States of America, both
fought against the Sauk in the Blackhawk war. Likewise the 12th President, Zachory Taylor, also fought
against the Sauk.
Ma-ca-tai-me-she-kia-kiak's warriors were constantly outnumbered by Federal troops and milita. In addition
to these forces, Sioux and Winnebago Indians served with the Federal troops. For fifteen weeks,
Ma-ca-tai-me-she-kia-kiak and the Sauk warriors held them at bay. Finally the
Sauk were cornered and defeated at the Battle of Bad Axe on August 2nd, 1832.
Ma-ca-tai-me-she-kia-kiak and his son (Whirling Thunder) were
made prisoners and shown around the country by President Andrew Jackson as spoils of war.
The rest were removed to "Indian Territory" to the west.
Ma-ca-tai-me-she-kia-kiak died on October 3, 1838, at the age of 71.
Still the whites would not let him rest. His grave was robbed and his body stolen.
It was later recovered, but instead of being respectfully re-buried, the body was shipped
to Burlington, Iowa, where it was kept in a museum. In 1855, the museum burned and the
body was destroyed. At last Ma-ca-tai-me-she-kia-kiak was out of reach of those who
would exploit and abuse him.