Gateway to the Classics: Chief Black Hawk by Frank Lee beals
Chief Black Hawk by  Frank Lee beals


Black Hawk, Sauk War Chief

B LACK HAWK mourned the death of his father for five years. During that time he took no part in the feasts and celebrations. He did not attend the council meetings of the chiefs. He and Singing Bird lived in a small bark lodge far from the other lodges.

Every day Black Hawk walked to Pyesa's grave. From the high hill on which Pyesa was buried, he looked down upon Saukenuk. He spent many hours here alone watching his people. Each day as Black Hawk stood by Pyesa's grave he repeated the oath he had made to Pyesa. "My father, I promise that I will protect my people. I swear that I will never desert the land of my fathers."

Word spread to the Osages and other tribes that Black Hawk spent all of his time mourning the death of his father. Taking advantage of this, they made many raids on the Sauk villages. But at last Black Hawk's five-year period of mourning came to an end. He was ready to take up his duties as war chief.

The people from all the Sauk villages came to Saukenuk. All gathered in the great square.

The drums were sounded. Amid the cheers of his people Black Hawk entered the square. He walked to the place of honor. He greeted the other chiefs. He faced the cheering crowd and raised his hand. "While I mourned the death of my father our enemies made war against the Sauk nation," he called. "They knew there was no war chief to protect you or to lead you to victory. Now I will take up my duties as war chief. I will protect you. My braves, I will lead you to victory. We will fight our enemies and we will defeat them. When our enemies are defeated we can live in peace."

The braves shouted, "Lead us, Black Hawk!"

Black Hawk made plans for the coming battles. The bravest warriors were called to his lodge. Red Eagle and Mehaska were the first to be called.

As he greeted his two best friends, Black Hawk said, "Red Eagle, I am sending you to our friends, the Fox Indians. And Mehaska, you are to go to the Iowa tribes. Tell their war chiefs that we must fight the Osages. I want their warriors to join us. Guide them to the rapids of the Mississippi. My braves and I will be waiting there."

Red Eagle and Mehaska left to carry out their orders. Black Hawk talked with the other braves. Some were sent to scout the Osage lands. Runners were sent to the other Sauk villages to talk to the chiefs. Many braves were chosen to go on the warpath. The rest were commanded to stay in their villages to protect the squaws and children.

Six hundred warriors met at the rapids of the Mississippi. The Fox, Iowa, and Sauk warriors were in full war paint. Under the command of Black Hawk they marched into Osage territory.

One night as the warriors made camp they were joined by the advance scouts. The scouts reported that a large Osage village was just ahead.

"We will attack in the morning," exclaimed Black Hawk. "Come, we will make our way to the village. I must see from which spot to attack."

Black Hawk and his scouts followed a trail which led to the Osage village. When they were near, Black Hawk motioned for his scouts to stop. "I will go on alone," he said. "Wait here!"

A scout handed Black Hawk a pair of Osage moccasins. As Black Hawk put them on he smiled and said, "Our moccasins are more comfortable. But if an Osage finds my footprints he will think that they are the footprints of another Osage."

Black Hawk went on alone. His moccasined feet made no noise. Not a twig nor a branch snapped as he went along the trail. Suddenly he dropped to the ground and lay still. "Footsteps," he said to himself.

Four Osage warriors came along the trail toward his hiding place. They stopped.

"But I did see someone," said one of the Osages.

"We have searched with you," said another. "There are no signs except the footprints of another Osage."

"The footprints prove that I did see someone," said the first warrior.

The three others laughed. "We will be late for the celebration," said one. "Let's return to our village." The four warriors hurried away.

Black Hawk did not move. It grew dark and the stars twinkled in the sky.

At last he said to himself, "Now I can try again." Carefully he edged his body forward. I Ie crawled along the ground. He came to a hill, and there, on the other side, was the Osage village. A great campfire blazed in the village square. The squaws and braves were dancing around it.

Black Hawk watched the Osages for sometime.

"They will dance all night," he said to himself. "We will make a surprise attack in the morning. We can attack from this hill."

Black Hawk joined his scouts. They were waiting for him just off the trail. "A surprise attack, and the village will be taken," he said. "We will attack at daybreak. Now, back to camp."

The Osage village was taken by surprise. A bloody fight followed. Most of the Osage warriors were killed. Only a few made their escape. With their defeat the power of the Osage Indians was broken.

Black Hawk called his warriors together. When they were assembled he stood and spoke: "Warriors of the Sauk, the Fox, and the Iowa tribes, I salute you. Your brave deeds in our fight with the Osages will live forever. The Osages are beaten. All honor to you. Now, let us return to our peoples."

Black Hawk and his braves returned to Saukenuk. A great feast and dance was held to honor him and his warriors. The braves danced in the victory celebration. Black Hawk, Red Eagle, and Mehaska talked with the braves who had stayed in Saukenuk.

"While you were gone," said one brave, "the Cherokees attacked our village. They killed ten of our braves. The attack lasted all morning. At noon the Cherokees retreated."

"They will attack us again," said another brave. "What shall we do?"

Without answering Black Hawk called to a drummer, "Give the signal!"

The drummer gave the signal roll on the drum. The dancers and the people became quiet. Black Hawk rose to his full height. His fists were clenched and he walked back and forth as he talked. "People of the Sauk nation, the Cherokees are planning to make war on us. They say they will destroy our homes. They say they will take our lands."

His voice was loud and angry. "I say that they shall not destroy our homes. I say that they shall not take our lands. Who killed your war chief, Pyesa?" He shouted the answer. "The Cherokees!"

This was a fearless and daring Black Hawk. The people cheered their young war chief.

"This land is ours. No one shall take it from us. We shall fight as we have never fought before. Warriors and braves of the Sauk nation," he called, "get ready for war!"

Again Black Hawk led his braves on the warpath. Again the Sauks returned victorious. The Cherokees were badly defeated.

Enemy Indian tribes soon learned to fear the Sauk braves led by their courageous war chief. One by one the Indian tribes living near the Sauks made peace with Black Hawk. He was known far and wide for his honesty as well as for his courage. His honor was never questioned.

Black Hawk was a good general. All his plans were well made. He was never reckless. He was cautious but fearless. And always Black Hawk was the victor. In each battle he was in the thickest of the fight. He did not send his braves to war, he led them.

After more than ten years of warfare Black Hawk had fulfilled his promise to the Sauk people. Their enemies had been defeated. At last the mighty Sauk nation was at peace. The people were happy and contented.

However, Black Hawk was always alert and cautious. He kept guards posted at all times.

One morning the guards on duty at the south gate of Saukenuk reported to Black Hawk that they had seen a smoke signal. The signal was being sent from the Sauk Watch Tower several miles from the village. Here trusted sentinels were on duty twenty-four hours a day. Signals were sent to the village to warn the people of the coming of either friend or foe. The smoke or fire signals could be seen for many miles.

The smoke signal warned, "Tecumseh! Arrives at sunset!"

"We are honored," said Black Hawk when he heard the message. "The great Shawnee war chief, Tecumseh, will be welcomed. Prepare a feast and celebration for our visitor."

Just at sunset Tecumseh and thirty Shawnee braves marched into Saukenuk. They marched to the village square.

Black Hawk, dressed in his finest doeskins, rose from his mat. He walked forward to meet the famous Shawnee chief.

"Tecumseh, my people and I welcome you," said Black Hawk as he held out his hand. "Sit with me in the place of honor."

"A great tract of land has been sold," said Tecumseh. "France has sold it to the United States. The Americans call it the Louisiana Purchase."

"Does that mean that our Spanish and French friends in St. Louis will no longer be our traders?"

"Yes, and our British traders will have to leave, too," answered the Shawnee war chief. "But it means much more. It means that these lands will soon be settled by the white man. You and your people will be pushed toward the west."

"These are our lands. No one—no one shall take them from us!" exclaimed Black Hawk in a harsh voice.

"The Americans say that now these lands belong to them."

"These are our lands," repeated Black Hawk.

"If you join with me they shall always be yours," promised Tecumseh. "I want to unite all of the Indian tribes. We have always fought each other. We must forget the past. We have a new enemy --the white man. Together we must fight the white man. I have traveled from Florida to Canada. I have talked to powerful chiefs. Many have promised to follow me. Join us, Black Hawk, and fight to save your lands!"

Black Hawk was silent for a long time. Slowly he turned toward the Shawnee chief. He looked directly into Tecumseh's eyes. "When I was chosen the war chief of the Sauk nation, I promised my people that I would bring them peace. I have kept my promise," said Black Hawk. "I carried the Sauk medicine bag into all battles. Now it hangs in my lodge. I will carry it on the warpath again only to protect my people and their lands. My people are happy and contented. No, Tecumseh, I will not follow you! I will not lead my braves to fight the white man!"

"The Americans will take your lands. You must join me, Black Hawk," insisted Tecumseh. "If you do not, this very village will be taken from you."

"The white people will not make war on peaceful Indians. They will not take our lands. Look at my people," said Black Hawk. He pointed to the village square. "See them dance and hear their songs. No, Tecumseh, I will not lead my braves to war! My people are at peace!"

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