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


Mighty Sauk Nation Divided

S TEADILY the frontier of the United States was pushed westward. Strong, independent pioneers faced great dangers and hardships in order to build the new country.

With the pioneers came many cruel and greedy men. The greedy ones did not come to build a country. They came to cheat and steal from the white settlers and from the Indians. They brought trouble to the people of the West.

Changes took place in the life of the Indians. They no longer had to depend entirely upon themselves for food, shelter, and clothing. The trading posts were full of blankets, materials for clothing, knives, guns, and even bows and arrows which formerly the Indians made for themselves. There were pots and pans for cooking and tools for farming, and many other things. The Indians soon learned that it was easier to bargain for these articles than it was to make them.

At first the white man was welcomed by the Indians. Often they gave him food and shelter even when they had but little for themselves. They were ready to accept the white man as a friend. It was not long, however, before the Indians learned that many white men did not want friendship. They wanted land and more land.

Too many white men did not try to understand the Indians. They looked upon the Indians as savages. These white men did not understand how deeply the Indians loved their homes and lands. The settling of the West was the struggle between the two civilizations.

Many harsh things were done by both the Indians and the white men. The Indians attacked the settlers. They wanted to drive the white men away. The white men fought back to protect their new homes. On each side there was misunderstanding, selfishness, and cruelty.

The years brought sorrow to Black Hawk. He watched the new villages and farms of the white men spring up. He saw the land where his people had hunted and trapped cleared of trees. The many acres of growing crops belonged to the white settlers. Each year the white men moved nearer to Saukenuk.

Black Hawk often talked with Keokuk. Keokuk, the war chief of the mighty Sauk nation, said, "Some day the Sauks will have to move. Some day the white people will demand our lands."

"When you were made our war chief, you promised to protect our land," said Black Hawk. "You must not break your promise."

"We cannot fight the white men. They have many soldiers and guns," explained Keokuk.

"If you fail in your duty I will not follow you," warned Black Hawk. "The Sauk lands are not to be given to the white men."

In the early fall of 1829 an Indian agent of the United States government arrived at Rock Island. He lived with the commander of Fort Armstrong. The Indian agent sent for Keokuk.

Following his talk with the Indian agent Keokuk called a council meeting of the Sauk chiefs. It was a secret meeting. A double guard of braves circled the council house. One by one the chiefs were allowed to pass the guards.

The peace chief called the meeting to order. He prayed to the Great Spirit. When he had finished Keokuk rose from his mat.

"We have been ordered to give up our lands," he said.

"Who gave you that order?" demanded Black Hawk.

"The Indian agent of the United States government," answered Keokuk.

"What did you say to the Indian agent?"

"The white people are strong. They have many soldiers," answered Keokuk without looking at Black Hawk. "They will force us to leave."

"What did you say to the Indian agent?" repeated Black Hawk.

"I told him that we would leave."

The chiefs of the council cried out, "No! No! These are our lands."

"Soon we will leave Saukenuk for our winter hunting grounds," continued Keokuk. "In the spring we will not return to Saukenuk. We will make new homes. We have been ordered to make new homes on the west side of the Mississippi."

Keokuk stopped talking and glanced about the circle of chiefs. But the chiefs were not looking at him. They had turned to Black Hawk.

Black Hawk was silent. His head was bowed. He said to himself, "Many years ago I promised that I would protect my people. I swore that I would never desert the land of my fathers. That is the oath I have kept all my life. I will not break it now."

Black Hawk rose to his feet. As he walked toward Keokuk he started to speak.

"Are you the brave who asked our people to make you the Sauk war chief? Are you the brave who promised to protect their villages and lands?" he demanded. "Yes, you are that brave, Keokuk! Now, you say that we are asked to give up our lands. Now, you say that we must find new homes. I say to you that we will not give up our homes and lands. I say that we will never give them up!"

During the speech the chiefs had risen. They crowded around Black Hawk. Keokuk stepped back. He and Black Hawk faced each other.

"When I returned to Saukenuk," continued Black Hawk, "after fighting with the British I learned that I was no longer the war chief. I made no protest. I am a Sauk!" He drew himself to his full height. "Never once have I tried to regain my old powers. Never once have I disobeyed a command. I have been loyal but now I say that I will not follow Keokuk!"

Keokuk made a sign as though to speak. Black Hawk strode over to him and with a voice that burned with hate shouted, "You have failed in your trust! You have betrayed your people! You are not a true Sauk!"

Turning quickly to the other chiefs he called out, "I ask those of you who agree with me to follow me. Those of you who are ready to protect your homes and lands, come with me. I want no one to follow me unless he is ready to die to save our homelands."

The news of the council meeting spread through the village. The excited braves gathered in groups

and discussed which leader they would follow. Many of the braves said that Keokuk was right.

They said, "The white people will take our lands even if we fight to keep them. Keokuk is right. It is better to give up our lands and never return to Saukenuk."

Other braves shouted, "We will follow Black Hawk. He is right. We must fight to save our lands. The white men shall not take them. Keokuk has failed us. Keokuk is willing to do as the white man tells him to do. We will follow Black Hawk. He has never failed us. He will not fail now!"

The squaws went tearfully about their work. "How can the white men ask us to give up our homes?" they asked. "How can we leave this land that is so dear to us?"

A brave marched up and down the streets of Saukenuk. He called to the people, "Keokuk orders that all Sauks are to leave tomorrow for our winter hunting grounds. Take all of your possessions! We will not return to Saukenuk."

Late in the afternoon Black Hawk went to his lodge. Inside the lodge he heard angry voices. Loud Thunder and Nasomsee were quarreling. He heard Singing Bird cry out, "My sons! My sons!" Black Hawk quickened his steps.

"I am going to follow Keokuk."

"Nasomsee, would you fail your people?" asked Black Hawk. He walked over to his son. His hand trembled as he placed it on his son's shoulder.

Nasomsee lowered his head.

"Answer me!" demanded Black Hawk.

"I am going with Keokuk," replied Nasomsee. Without looking at his father he rushed from the lodge.

"I tried to stop him," said Loud Thunder quietly.

"I know, my son." Black Hawk turned toward his wife. "Singing Bird," he said, "your tears will not bring him back."

The next morning more than half of the people left Saukenuk. They were the followers of Keokuk. And with them marched Nasomsee, a son of Singing Bird and Black Hawk.

Black Hawk called a meeting of the braves. When they had gathered in the big square, he said to them, "Three of our chiefs left with Keokuk. Whom shall we choose to take their places in our new council of chiefs?"

"Red Eagle," called a brave.

"And Mehaska," called another.

"They will be good chiefs," answered Black Hawk. "They are true Sauks."

"White Cloud, our prophet!"

"Good," said Black Hawk, "our prophet is very wise."

"Make me second-in-command of the braves and I will fight to save our homelands," said a chief stepping forward. It was Neapope, one of the lesser chiefs. He was tall and powerfully built. His muscles were like steel. Yet his black eyes never looked directly at the person to whom he was talking.

"We are all ready to fight to keep our lands," said Black Hawk. "You do not have to be secondin-command for that reason."

"Do you want White Cloud to become a member of our new council?" asked Neapope.

"Yes, yes," shouted the braves.

White Cloud, the prophet, was an important person. Whenever the Sauks went on the warpath they consulted him. White Cloud claimed that he had visions or dreams and could tell them what to do. The Sauks believed in him and trusted him. However, White Cloud was not a good Indian. He was cunning, cruel, and weak. He was easily influenced by others who were stronger than himself. He did not live in Saukenuk but in his own village called Prophetstown.

"If I am made second-in-command I promise that White Cloud will join us," shouted Neapope.

"We need White Cloud," said Black Hawk. "I am old and I need a younger brave to help me carry out my plans. Neapope, from now on you are second-in-command of my braves."

Neapope was more cruel than White Cloud. He was more cunning and wicked. He was strong instead of weak. He let no one interfere with his plans for deceit and trickery. He was dishonest and very vain. So cleverly did he cover his faults that all the Sauks believed him to be a worthy chief.

"Neapope," said Black Hawk, "go to the village where White Cloud lives. Ask him to become a member of our new council."

"I will start at once," answered Neapope. He left the meeting and hurried to his lodge. A few minutes later, mounted on his fastest horse, he raced past the square.

As Black Hawk dismissed the braves he said, "When Neapope returns we will leave for our hunting grounds."

When Neapope returned, he reported to the council: "White Cloud does not want to become a member of our council. But he will remain loyal to us. He will help us whenever we need him. He will not join Keokuk's followers."

1. Why did the Indians and the white settlers fight each other?

2. Do you think these Indian wars could have been avoided? Why?

3. What did Keokuk promise the Indian agent?

4. What happened in the secret council meeting?

5. Why did Black Hawk say that Keokuk was not a true Sauk?

6. Why did many braves think Keokuk was right?

7. Would you have followed Keokuk, or Black Hawk?

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