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


First Feathers of a Brave

G REAT WAS the excitement in the village of Saukenuk. Ten thousand Sauk Indians dressed in bright colors were gathered in the big village square. The chiefs were in the place of honor. The roll of fifty drums swelled into a roar.

A young Indian danced into the center of the square.

The young Indian was tall and slim. His body was covered with war paint. Two stripes of white were painted on each cheek and on his forehead. In one hand he carried a tomahawk and in the other a long bow. A quiver of feathered arrows was bound tightly to his left side.

"What act of courage allows this boy to dance before us today?" asked the peace chief turning to Pyesa, the war chief of the Sauks.

"He was with my warriors when we defeated the Osage Indians," answered Pyesa. "He wounded their war chief. If our people cheer his dance he will become a Sauk brave. I am holding the feathers he has chosen as his totem. If he is accepted by the people I shall give them to him."

Three loud beats of the drum were sounded. The young Indian raised his tomahawk above his head. As the drums began to roll he started to dance. Bending his body forward he danced about in a circle. He lifted his knees high. His steps were short and quick. He was showing the people how he had stolen upon the enemy.

Faster and faster beat the drums. Faster and faster danced the young Indian. Stopping suddenly he threw his tomahawk into the ground.

Quickly he pulled an arrow from the quiver at his side and fitted it to the string of the bow. With two fingers he pulled the bowstring back. He danced around and around in a circle and pointed the arrow toward the sky. Slowly he relaxed his grip on the bowstring and the arrow fell to the ground. He was showing the people how he had wounded the Osage war chief. He jumped into the air and gave the Sauk war whoop. There was a crash of the drums. The dance was over.

Shouts of "Brave! Brave!" rang out.

"See his eyes flash! See how excited he is," said Pyesa to the peace chief.

"They are cheering me," the young Indian said to himself as he picked up the arrow. "I have been accepted as a brave."

The young Indian hurried to the place of honor. He laid his bow and arrow in front of Pyesa.

Pyesa rose from his mat. He held the totem feathers high so that the cheering Indians could see them. "These are the feathers of the black sparrow hawk," he called. "The new brave you have just accepted has chosen them as his totem. He is my son. I name him 'Black Hawk."

Turning to his son, Pyesa continued, "You have bowed before the Sauk war chief. This means that you are willing to obey his commands. From now on it is your duty to protect the Sauk people from all enemies. Black Hawk, you are the son of a war chief. You are the grandson of Thunder, the first war chief of the Sauks. Some day you, too, may be the war chief of this mighty nation. Kneel before me, Black Hawk."

Black Hawk dropped to one knee and bowed his head. Pyesa placed the feathers in his son's scalp lock.

"Wear your feathers with courage and honor," said Pyesa. "Never forget that you are a Sauk! Arise, Black Hawk, and join the braves."

A young brave who had wounded an enemy could wear feathers. But only a brave who had killed and scalped an enemy could wear the feathers of the eagle.

Again the drums sounded. As the dance continued, all the young Indians who had been on the warpath were allowed to dance. If their deeds were fearless and daring the people cheered them. The young dancers who were cheered were accepted as braves. The dancers who were not cheered were not accepted. They had to wait another year before they would again be given a chance to dance before the people and prove their courage. Also they had to wait another year before they could wear feathers.

The last dancer was Black Hawk's best friend, Watasa. He, too, was cheered by all the Indians.

Black Hawk ran forward to greet him. "Watasa," he cried, "now we are Sauk braves!"

"This is a great day," answered Watasa, smiling at Black Hawk. "I heard your father, Pyesa, say that some day you may be our war chief. I hope this will come true. I will follow you and will always be loyal to you."

The dance was over. Each new brave had been given his first feathers. The people left the square to go to the victory feast.

Black Hawk was the only brave who did not leave the square. He looked about for his father. Pyesa was alone in the place of honor. He was smoking a long, ceremonial pipe. "My son will be worthy," he said to himself as Black Hawk walked toward him.

"Sit here, Black Hawk," said Pyesa. "Today you swore to defend your people and their villages from all enemies. You must not break that oath!"

"I will never break my oath," promised Black Hawk.

"Some day you may be the war chief of the mighty Sauk nation. To be a war chief is a great honor, but it also is a great responsibility. You must be friends with the peace chief and all the other chiefs," continued Pyesa. "You must be brave and you must be wise."

The Sauks, like most Indian tribes, were ruled by a council. The council was made up of the war chief, the peace chief, and the other chiefs of the tribe. The peace chief was an important member of the council. It was his duty to see that justice was given to each member of the tribe. All the other chiefs helped him carry out the orders of the council.

Important as the peace chief and the other chiefs were, the most important chief of all was the war chief of the tribe. To him and to him alone fell the sacred duties of protecting his people and their lands and villages from attack. When on the warpath it was his duty to lead his warriors bravely and wisely.

Black Hawk turned to his father and said, "If I am chosen the war chief of our people I will not fail. I will protect our villages and our lands. No one—no one shall take them from the Sauks!"

"That is what I knew you would say," said Pyesa as he rose from his mat. "Walk with me to our lodge. You may return, but I am too tired to join in the celebration."

Pyesa and Black Hawk walked through the streets of Saukenuk. The streets were deserted as all the people were at the feast. The sound of their laughter and songs grew fainter as Pyesa and Black Hawk walked away.

Saukenuk, the most important of the Sauk villages, was the largest Indian village west of the Allegheny Mountains. It was located on the north bank of the Rock River in Illinois about three miles south of Rock Island. Two miles away the beautiful Rock River joined the "Father of Waters," the mighty Mississippi.

Saukenuk was surrounded by a high wall made of sharpened poles. There were two gates, one at the north end and one at the south end of the village.

In Saukenuk and in the other Sauk villages the Indians lived in bark lodges. To make the frame of a lodge, tall poles were placed in the ground. Then wide pieces of bark were tied to the poles with strips of leather to form the sides. The roof was made of bark, too. The only entrance to a lodge always faced east.

Some of the lodges were very large. A Sauk could tell how many generations of one family lived in a lodge by the number of smoke holes in the roof.

If the family consisted of only the parents and their children, there was but one smoke hole. If parents, their children, and grandchildren lived in one lodge, there were three or more smoke holes. Each family cooked its own meals and gathered about its own fire.

When Pyesa and Black Hawk reached their lodge, Pyesa turned to his son and said, "Some of my friends are going hunting with me. You and Watasa may go with us."

"Thank you, Father. I shall ask Watasa to go."

Black Hawk bid his father good night and returned to the feast. He spent the rest of the evening dancing and singing with his friends.

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