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


War Clouds in the East

W AR clouds were gathering over the United States. Every day runners from other Indian tribes arrived in Saukenuk. They told of a war that was to be fought between England and the United States. Some runners said that their chiefs were going to join Tecumseh, the Shawnee chief, and fight with the British. Others said that their chiefs were going to remain neutral.

Sauk chiefs and braves were sent to Washington. They were to see the Great White Father, President Madison. The chiefs were to tell him that the Sauks would fight beside the Americans.

The chiefs returned to Saukenuk with good news. The Great White Father said to them, "You are not to fight, but remain at peace. If war is declared the British traders will no longer furnish you with supplies. You will trade with the American traders. The American traders will give you credit as the British have always done."

But when the Sauks asked the American trader for their necessary supplies he refused to sell them anything on credit.

"I do not sell on credit," he said.

"We were promised that we would be given credit!" exclaimed Black Hawk. "We are on our way to our winter hunting grounds. We have always been given credit. My people need guns, gunpowder, and other supplies."

"I do not sell on credit," repeated the trader.

"But my people cannot go on without supplies. They must be given credit or they will starve," protested Black Hawk. "We have no way of paying you now but in the spring we will bring all of our furs to you. Only last spring we brought back more than nine hundred packs. We were given credit for more than fifty thousand dollars. We are honest. Ask the traders who know us. They will tell you that a Sauk is honest."

What Black Hawk said was true. The Sauks were honest. The braves were good hunters. Each spring they returned with thousands of beautiful furs. In one year they brought back more than two thousand beaver skins, nine hundred otter, thirteen thousand muskrat, five hundred mink, six hundred bear skins, two hundred wild cat skins, and twenty-eight thousand deer hides; also, two hundred and eighty-six thousand pounds of tallow, three thousand pounds of feathers, and one thousand pounds of beeswax.

"We were promised that we would be given credit," said Black Hawk. "The Great White Father in Washington promised us."

"I know nothing about it," answered the trader.

"What am I to do? How can I get supplies for my people?" questioned Black Hawk. "I cannot fail my people. I cannot let them starve. What am I to do?"

"That is for you to decide," answered the trader as he dismissed Black Hawk.

But the necessary supplies were sold to the Sauk Indians. They were sold to them by the British traders who also gave them many presents. But to obtain this credit for his people Black Hawk had to promise that he would fight with the British in the War of 1812. He had to have the supplies on credit or let his people perish.

Before Black Hawk left to join the British, he went to the lodge of an old friend.

"You are uneasy, Black Hawk," said the old warrior, "what is troubling you?"

"Tomorrow at dawn two hundred braves leave with me for Green Bay. We are to meet General Dixon, the British commander, there. I do not want to fight the Americans," answered Black Hawk, "but I have promised to join the British because they gave us credit for the supplies that my people needed. I do not want to go. I have tried to remain at peace."

"I know that you have tried to keep our people at peace, my friend," said the old warrior. "I hope that you are right in leading your braves on the warpath now. May the Great Spirit watch over you."

"I came to tell you good-by and to ask if your son can go with me."

"No, Black Hawk, my son cannot go. He must stay here to support me and his mother."

"My sons are too young to go to war. They can take care of you," said Black Hawk.

"Once I was down the Great River and I stayed for a long time. While I was there the Americans treated me with kindness," explained the old warrior. "I cannot let my son fight them."

"I know and I understand," answered Black Hawk quickly. "I do not want to fight them either, but I must provide for my people. Good-by, my friend, I shall see you when I return."

Early in the morning Black Hawk said good-by to Singing Bird and their children. He motioned to his elder son to follow him. They left the lodge together and walked toward the village square.

"Loud Thunder," said Black Hawk as they walked along. "While I am gone I expect you to take care of your mother and your younger brother and sisters."

"Do not worry about us," answered Loud Thunder. "I am old enough to take care of them."

"You are not old enough," smiled Black Hawk, "but you are trustworthy. I can depend upon you."

Loud Thunder threw back his boyish shoulders and held himself straight as an arrow.

"I am worried about your brother Nasomsee. You are always helping him and taking his part. I am afraid that you are spoiling him."

"But Nasomsee needs me," broke in Loud Thunder. "I have to help him."

"Nasomsee must learn to take care of himself," corrected Black Hawk. "That is the only way he can become a fine Sauk brave."

"I understand, Father."

Black Hawk stopped and put his hand on Loud Thunder's shoulder. "Now, go back to our lodge, my son. Be good to your mother. Good-by, Loud Thunder."

"Good-by, Father."

Alone Black Hawk walked to the village square where his braves were waiting. Red Eagle and Mehaska were with the braves. As Black Hawk entered the square the people and braves were silent.

"I am taking only two hundred braves with me," he said. "The other braves are to stay here to protect you while we are gone. Pray for our return. The Great Spirit will watch over you. Good-by, my people, good-by."

After several days of fast marching Black Hawk and his braves arrived in Green Bay. Three hundred warriors of other Indian tribes were already there. Many of the chiefs and their braves were friends of Black Hawk. "We are glad to see you," they said. "See the gifts we have received."

"Black Hawk!" called a soldier. "General Dixon wishes to see you."

Silently Black Hawk followed the soldier to the general's tent.

"Black Hawk, I am glad you are here," said the British general as he greeted the Sauk war chief. "I have been waiting for you. You are to take command of all the Indian warriors and lead them to Detroit."

"To Detroit!" exclaimed Black Hawk. "I do not want to fight the soldiers in the East. I want to fight the white men who are trying to take our lands. The people in the East are not our enemies!"

"The soldiers of the Americans are in the East," said General Dixon. "If you defeat them the Mississippi Valley will be yours forever."

Black Hawk was silent.

"The Americans will take your lands if you and your braves do not drive them away," continued General Dixon. "I have the guns and ammunition. All I need is your help."

"I will leave in the morning," answered Black Hawk. He left without saying good night.

Black Hawk and his braves joined the British army in Detroit. A few days later Black Hawk and his braves met the American soldiers in their first battle. The Indians fought beside the British troops. After heavy losses they retreated. "I was told that the Americans were not good soldiers," said Black Hawk after the battle was over. "But they are great braves."

During the winter Tecumseh and six hundred warriors joined the British army.

"Black Hawk," said Tecumseh, "I am glad that you changed your mind. We must fight to save our lands."

"I do not like this war," answered Black Hawk. "I am fighting against soldiers who have not harmed my people."

"Yes, but we must defeat the American soldiers in the East," said a young chief who was standing beside the great Tecumseh.

"I know! I know!" broke in Black Hawk. His voice was harsh. "That is what General Dixon told me, too."

"Shabbona is one of my followers," explained Tecumseh as he introduced the handsome young chief. "He is the war chief of the Ottawa Indians. I have appointed him second-in-command of my warriors."

"Our people are friends," smiled Black Hawk.

Black Hawk and his warriors fought in two more battles against the American soldiers. Many of the Sauk braves were killed. The American soldiers fought bravely.

One morning Black Hawk called Red Eagle to him and said, "I have decided to return to Saukenuk. The braves who wish to stay may remain here. What do you want to do?"

"I will follow you, Black Hawk, always!" answered Red Eagle.

"Mehaska will remain in command of the braves who wish to remain," said Black Hawk. "I must see Tecumseh and Shabbona before I leave for Saukenuk."

Black Hawk searched for Tecumseh and Shabbona. He found them talking to a young British commander. "I have come to say good-by," said Black Hawk. "I am returning to my people."

"You cannot leave," protested Tecumseh. "We are planning a great battle. We will win. Wait, Black Hawk!"

"No, I have decided to return to Saukenuk. The Sauk braves who wish to remain have my permission to stay."

Shabbona begged Black Hawk to stay a few more months. "By that time the war will be over. Our lands will be safe."

"I never wanted to fight the soldiers in the East. They have not harmed my people. I am leaving for my village," answered Black Hawk.

That night Black Hawk, Red Eagle, and a small party of braves started on the trip back to Saukenuk. They traveled many miles each day. They were on the trail before daylight. They did not make camp until it was dark. Some nights they were too tired to make a campfire.

One autumn evening the rain forced them to make camp early. They gathered around their campfire.

"Black Hawk," called a voice from the darkness. "Black Hawk."

Black Hawk jumped to his feet. "Who is it?"

"Mehaska," came the answer. The sound of soft footsteps could be heard as Mehaska ran toward them.

"You are being followed!" called Mehaska. "Black Hawk, American scouts are following you. They intend to get you dead or alive."

"How do you know?"

"One day after you left I was alone in the deep woods. I saw white soldiers coming toward me. They did not see me. I heard them say that some scouts were trying to find you," said Mehaska. "One soldier said, `Kilbourn will find him. Kilbourn will bring him back dead or alive.' I waited until they were out of sight. I ran back to the fort. Thirty braves and I left at once to warn you."

"Kilbourn! Who is Kilbourn?" asked Black Hawk.

"He is one of the best scouts of the United States Army."

"He will have a long, long trail to follow because I am returning to my people," said Black Hawk. His voice was quiet and unafraid.

* * * * * *

Tecumseh and Shabbona fought with the British in the famous Battle of the Thames. Tecumseh was killed. Shabbona took over command of the Indians. The Americans steadily gained ground. At last Shabbona ordered a retreat. "If I live to get back to my people," Shabbona said to himself, "I will never fight the Americans again."

Tecumseh's great dream of uniting all the Indian tribes was ended.

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