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



T HE large meeting room in Fort Armstrong was crowded with Indians and soldiers.

The officers and soldiers of the fort were seated on one side of the room. Davenport, the trader, and Kilbourn sat with the officers. Mehaska and other loyal braves of Black Hawk sat opposite them. Keokuk and his braves were there, too. Many warriors waited outside.

"Black Hawk will be here in a few minutes," announced the commanding officer as he entered. He walked to the end of the room and sat down at his desk.

Soldiers and Indians waited quietly.

Outside the loud roll of the Sauk drums sounded. "Black Hawk!" shouted the braves.

Every Indian in the room jumped to his feet. So did the soldiers. Every eye turned toward the door.

Black Hawk stood before them. He paused in the doorway, and then with head held high, walked to the desk of the commanding officer.

"You and your people are to live in peace," said the officer. "Shortly after you were taken to St. Louis a Winnebago chief came to see me. He gave me the Sauk medicine bag. I promised that I would return it to you the day that you were freed. You are free, Black Hawk, and here is your medicine bag."

"The Sauk medicine bag!" cried Black Hawk.

He held out his hands to take it. He turned to his loyal braves. He tried to speak but could not. He held the otterskin bag high for them to see.


"Our medicine bag has been given back to us," he said. "It will never be carried into battle again."

The braves were standing very straight. Black Hawk turned toward the soldiers.

"This is the symbol of my nation," he explained. "It means the same to me and to my braves as your flag means to you. It is our flag. I pledge my sacred word that we will remain at peace."

"Black Hawk," said Davenport as he and Black Hawk shook hands, "your people know that you are returning. I sent Joe Smart to tell them. They are waiting for you."

"Thank you, my friend," answered Black Hawk. "Are my people happy?"

"They are busy," replied Davenport. "When you return they will be happy. I have given your people all the credit they need at my trading post. You and your people will always have credit with me."

"You are a real friend," said Black Hawk. "If all the white men were like you, many things would have been different. Good-by, I must go. My sons are waiting."

At the door Kilbourn waited. "I made a special trip to be here today," he said. "I had to be here the day that you were freed."

"Osaukee," said Black Hawk as a smile lighted up his face. "Come to my village when you can. My people will welcome you."

Black Hawk left the fort. He went to where his sons were waiting.

"We are free!" he said to them.

Black Hawk and his sons hurried to the river's edge. Sauk braves paddled their canoes out into the middle of the river. The braves formed the canoes in a long line to escort their chief home.

"Great Spirit," prayed Black Hawk as he held his hands high above his head, "watch over this holy island. Teach the white men to love the old Sauk lands. Guide me and my people to a new life. Bring peace to all."

Black Hawk signaled to his waiting braves. The flash of wet paddles sparkled in the sunlight and the line of canoes cut through the water. One by one they disappeared around the bend in the river.

In the first canoe Black Hawk led the way. His trim, proud figure and the feathers of the black sparrow hawk were outlined against the sky.

Once more Chief Black Hawk was in command.

* * *

Black Hawk's last home was on the Des Moines River. His bark lodge was like his old lodge in Saukenuk. Both Indian and white man found a welcome at Black Hawk's lodge.

"You are my friend," Black Hawk would greet each visitor. "Come into my lodge. You are always welcome."

Black Hawk often visited Trader Davenport on Rock Island. Black Hawk and his followers brought their choicest furs to him each spring. The Sauk's cornfields were fertile. The people were no longer hungry and ragged. "My people are happy," Black Hawk said to Davenport. "We are as happy as we can be away from Saukenuk."

"Do not look back," said Davenport. "You and your people must look toward the future."

"There is one thing you must do for me," said Black Hawk. "Tell the white people that I did not make war against their women and children."

"The people of America already know that," answered Davenport. "While you fought the white soldiers, many women and children were killed. But your braves did not murder them. They were killed by Indians, but not by your Sauk braves."

On October 3, 1838, Black Hawk died. His people mourned his death. Once they had celebrated in feast and song the victories of their beloved chief. Now they wept with Singing Bird.

Black Hawk was more than a war chief to the Sauks. He was their leader and protector. He fought to defend the homes and the lands of his people. He was defeated and put in chains. But high in the list of famous patriots is the name of Black Hawk, Indian Chief.

On the east bank of Rock River near Oregon, Illinois, stands Lorado Taft's fifty-foot statue in honor of Black Hawk. The statue is not a likeness of the Sauk war chief, but it was named for him because Taft believed that Black Hawk represented the typical brave and patriot of all Indian tribes.

With the true feeling of an artist, Taft expressed in his statue none of the sadness or tragedy of the Indians' past. Instead he gave it the strength, simple dignity, the unconquerable, proud spirit, and the dauntless courage of a man.

And this heritage of courage, pride, and dignity is found in the Indians of today. Their love and devotion to their past cannot be misunderstood. Their love and devotion to the ideals of freedom and democracy cannot be questioned.

Only a short time ago an old Indian chief said to his braves, "Our country is in danger. Once again the flag we love calls for help. Go, my braves, and defend with your lives the freedom of our country. Fight beside your white brothers. Point your guns with theirs.

"Your flag—my flag—our flag will not come down. Go, my braves, and return victorious!"


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