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


The Click of a Rifle

E ARLY each morning Black Hawk and his braves were on the move. They no longer marched over the open trails which were known to other Indian tribes. Black Hawk followed an old war trail—not because the Sauks were on the warpath, but because this trail was secret and difficult for others to follow. Black Hawk led his braves along the high ground where the soil dried quickly and the wind blew away the traces of their passing. Whenever they came to a river or a creek, Black Hawk led them upstream in the water so that their footprints could not be followed. They traveled where the underbrush was less dense because they could march more rapidly there.

Day after day Black Hawk and his braves pushed on over the trails which led them home. Old, familiar landmarks were passed along the way. They quickened their pace into a dog trot.

They came to a small creek. Black Hawk ordered his braves to halt. "We will divide into two parties," he said. "Ten braves remain with me."

"Red Eagle," he called, "you and the other braves hurry to our village. Follow the creek downstream a mile. The creek will lead you to the open trail. Tomorrow afternoon you will reach Saukenuk. I will be there before sunset the next day."

Red Eagle and his braves marched away. Black Hawk motioned to the ten braves. He waded into the creek and went upstream. The braves followed in single file. He led his braves upstream for several miles, then Black Hawk hit a path leading into the deep woods.

"We will rest here," he said. He dropped to the ground under the shade of a great oak tree. The braves stretched out nearby. As they rested they ate their noon meal of pemmican.

Each brave carried his own food in a rawhide pouch which hung from his belt. A small handful of pemmican was all that he usually had for a meal while on the trail.

"Mehaska," said Black Hawk, "I have not said anything about your warning since you joined us. But I have not forgotten Kilbourn and his American scouts."

"Do you think we are safe?" asked Mehaska.

"We must be cautious," answered Black Hawk. "The white scouts may have been unable to follow us but they know where we are going. They may have passed us and may be waiting somewhere between here and Saukenuk. That is the reason I sent Red Eagle and the rest of the braves on ahead. A few can travel more quickly and silently than a large party."

Black Hawk stood up and looked at his braves. He called to them, "Come here to me."

The braves jumped to their feet.

"We must make certain that we are safe from the white scouts," said Black Hawk. "We will divide into three parties and each party will go in a different direction. I will go to the north. Look for traces of the white scouts. Meet me here. I will decide which is the safest trail to follow the rest of the way to Saukenuk."

Black Hawk started off to the north. He walked rapidly and his moccasined feet made no noise. Soon he was alone in the northern part of the woods. He studied the landmarks about him. He held his head high but his keen, black eyes moved constantly as he looked for signs of the scouts.

"I see no signs," he said to himself, "but somehow I feel that I am being followed."

Every now and then Black Hawk knelt and held one ear close to the earth. There were no sounds except the familiar forest sounds of the birds and a few frightened animals.

"I do not hear anything, and I have found no signs," he said to himself. "I will go back."

He came to a clear spring. He leaned over and cupped his hands to drink the clear, cool water. The forest was very quiet.

"Click!" The click of the hammer of a rifle broke the stillness. Black Hawk jumped to his feet and turned around. A white scout holding a rifle that had not fired stood twenty feet from him.


Holding his gun ready to fire Black Hawk advanced with catlike steps toward the scout.

"Who are you?" demanded Black Hawk.

"I am Kilbourn."

"Kilbourn," said Black Hawk to himself. He did not show any surprise. Aloud he said, "Drop your gun! Turn around! When I give the word, walk straight south and go where I tell you to go. Try to escape and I will shoot you."

Black Hawk picked up the gun that Kilbourn had dropped. "March!" Black Hawk commanded. Without a word Kilbourn obeyed.

When they came to the meeting place the braves had returned. Mehaska and the braves were waiting.

"Have you been harmed?" cried Mehaska.

"No," answered Black Hawk. "The white scout tried to shoot me, but his gun did not fire. Take his gun," Black Hawk said as he handed Kilbourn's gun to Mehaska.

"Is this scout—?" questioned Mehaska.

"He told me his name is Kilbourn," broke in Black Hawk. "He is going with us to our village."

"But he tried to kill you, Black Hawk," protested Mehaska.

"Black Hawk!" exclaimed Kilbourn to himself. "My orders were to get him dead or alive. Instead he has captured me. Now I am at his mercy."

"Where are the scouts who were with you when you were ordered to follow me?" demanded Black Hawk.

"He knows that I am a scout of the United States army," said Kilbourn to himself. He turned toward Black Hawk and said, "I am the only scout who was ordered to capture you."

"I do not believe you," said Black Hawk, "but you are brave to protect your men. You do not need to tell me. I know that they are on other trails that lead to Saukenuk. We will take the trail where I found you. Your scouts will not be on that trail."

"Come," ordered Black Hawk. "We must march on." Again the Sauks took the trail. Black Hawk led the way. Kilbourn followed next in line. Mehaska and the other braves followed in single file. They marched until nightfall.

"We will make our camp off the trail," said Black Hawk. "Guard the white man carefully, but treat him well. Even though he tried to kill me he is a brave man."

The night passed. Kilbourn made no attempt to escape. With the coming of dawn Black Hawk had his little party on the march. They had been marching for about an hour, Black Hawk in the lead, when a shot rang through the woods.

"Lie down," ordered Kilbourn, at the same time throwing himself to the ground.

Mehaska eased the muzzle of his rifle around until it was pointing at Kilbourn's side. The two men looked at each other. Black Hawk wriggled around until he could see what was happening. Reaching out with one hand he took hold of the muzzle of Mehaska's rifle and pushed it away. Kilbourn held the forefinger of his right hand to his lips. The party lay still, no man making a sound.

Into a small clearing of the woods four white scouts appeared.

"I thought I saw something moving," said one of the scouts.

"You are imagining things," answered one of his companions.

"Don't be so ready to shoot," said still another scout.

"Well, whatever it was it is gone now," said the first scout. "I can't imagine what has happened to Kilbourn. He said that if he was not back by sunset last night we were to return to Detroit."

"Yes," spoke up a scout, "and he said to take a safe trail. Let's start at once for Detroit."

"And leave Kilbourn?" a man asked.

"That is all we can do."

Black Hawk watched Kilbourn. Neither man made a move. The white scouts moved away through the woods. After listening for what seemed a long time Kilbourn said, "They have gone now. You will not be bothered by them any more."

When they were on their feet Black Hawk took Kilbourn by the shoulder and turned him around and looked into his eyes. Kilbourn returned the gaze.

"Mehaska," said Black Hawk turning to his friend, "he is unafraid. He saved our lives when he might have betrayed us to his friends."

"It would have meant his life as well as ours," said Mehaska.

"You spared my life, Black Hawk. I owe you something," said Kilbourn without taking his eyes off the Sauk war chief.

"You are not afraid of death. You are not afraid to stand by one who has befriended you.

You are worthy to be a son of Black Hawk. I will make you my white son. Now let us hurry on." The next day just at sunset Black Hawk and his braves came to the Rock River. Several braves in light canoes were waiting for him. Hundreds of Sauks were standing on the opposite bank. In the background was the village of Saukenuk.

Cheers and shouts rang out, "Black Hawk! Black Hawk! Welcome home!"

When Black Hawk and his party reached the opposite bank the people crowded around them. Red Eagle came forward and said, "Welcome, Black Hawk. A great feast and dance are being held to celebrate your return."

Black Hawk raised his hand and called, "Sauks, I am glad to be back with you." He lowered his voice and said to Red Eagle, "Take the white scout. Dress him as a Sauk. Stripe his cheeks and forehead with white paint. My youngest son is a yellow face. Bring him to the big square. There before all my people he will be made a Sauk."

The stripe of white or the stripe of yellow paint on a brave's face was a very important Sauk custom. The stripe was put on by the mother when a son was born. If the mother striped her first son with yellow paint he was known as a yellow face. Her second son was striped with white paint and was known as a white face. The mother very carefully alternated the two colors. For celebrations or on the warpath a brave was allowed to paint his body with many colors. But he could never change the color of the stripes on his face.

The reason for this custom was to make two classes of braves. In all contests, games, hunting parties, and even on the warpath the white faces tried to outdo the yellow faces. And the yellow faces tried to outdo the white faces.

Red Eagle and Kilbourn entered the great square. Black Hawk in the place of honor rose from his mat. "He is a brave," he said to himself as the slim, young American scout bowed before him. Black Hawk raised his hand to quiet the cheering Indians. "Sauks," he called, "welcome my white son. From now on his name is Osaukee. I give him my word that a Sauk will never harm him."

"White faces," continued Black Hawk as he called to the braves, "teach my son the Sauk ways. Now go on with the celebration."

Alter the feast and dance were over, the squaws and children left the square. They went to their lodges. The warriors and the chiefs gathered around the blazing council fire. They listened to Black Hawk as he told many exciting stories about the British and American soldiers.

"The American soldiers are brave," said Black Hawk, "and Osaukee is one of the bravest." He turned toward Kilbourn and said, "Because of your courage your life was spared. You are worthy to be a Sauk!"

Kilbourn smiled, but did not answer. "I am not afraid of Black Hawk's Indians," he said to himself. "They will keep constant guard over me but they will not harm me. However, the day will come when I can escape. Until then I will act as though I enjoy being Black Hawk's son."

The council fires grew dim. Kilbourn watched Black Hawk as he laughed and talked with the braves. "The braves admire and respect him." said Kilbourn to himself. "I already sense the great love and devotion Black Hawk feels for his people and their lands. He is as much a patriot as I am," he added thoughtfully.

"When may we take Osaukee on a hunting trip, Black Hawk?" asked one of the braves.

"Later," replied Black Hawk. "First of all I shall go to our village on the Iowa River. Singing Bird and my children are there. I shall bring them back to Saukenuk."

The peace chief stepped forward. "Black Hawk," he said, "tomorrow the chiefs of the Sauk nation meet in council. We have something important to tell you."

"Tell me now!" ordered Black Hawk. His voice sounded loud because of the sudden silence.

"Tomorrow," repeated the peace chief. "Tomorrow."

1. Why did Tecumseh come to see Black Hawk?

2. What great sale of land did Tecumseh tell about?

3. What answer did Black Hawk give Tecumseh's plan to make war on the Americans?

4. Tell about the Quashquamme treaty.

5. Who had the right to sell the Sauk lands?

6. Why did Black Hawk join the British?

7. Why did Black Hawk save Kilbourn's life?

8. What is meant by "white faces" and "yellow faces?"

9. Why did Kilbourn call Black Hawk a patriot?

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