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


I am a Man

T HE Black Hawk War was over. Black Hawk, the war chief of less than two hundred braves, was on his way to prison. Ten thousand officers and soldiers had been discharged and were returning to their homes.

The battleship "Warrior" was ready to begin the long journey down the Mississippi. Black Hawk and his sons walked up the gangplank. A few minutes later Neapope and White Cloud boarded the "Warrior."

"Black Hawk," said Neapope reaching out his hand, "let us be friends."

Black Hawk looked at Neapope and walked away.

Neapope followed him. "Let us be friends," he repeated.

"Friends!" Black Hawk spoke with scorn. "You deserter, do not dare to call me friend."

"A Sauk does not lie!" continued Black Hawk. "A Sauk is not a coward. You are both. You are not a Sauk."

Lieutenant Jefferson Davis, in charge of the prisoners, was kind to them. He was especially kind to Black Hawk. He spent many hours talking to the old Sauk chief. They became close friends.

One night Black Hawk and Lieutenant Davis were alone on the deck of the "Warrior." Black Hawk said, "Today we have been passing the land that at one time belonged to the Sauks. Now it belongs to the white people. But to me it will always be the home of my once mighty people."

"Do not think of the past, Black Hawk," replied the young lieutenant. "Think of the bright days when you will return to your people and to peace."

"Black Hawk's bright days are over. I do not know what the white war chief will do to me. But I am ready to die. I am not afraid."

At St. Louis, Black Hawk and the other prisoners were taken to Jefferson Barracks. General Atkinson was in command. "This is my chance," he said to himself as Black Hawk and the other prisoners were brought to his headquarters. "I will show him that I am the white war chief."

The Sauk prisoners entered the room. Black Hawk walked with light, quick steps. He stood before General Atkinson's desk. "I am Black Hawk," he said. "Do with me as you wish, but be kind to the other prisoners."

"You are my prisoners," said General Atkinson in a loud voice. "I shall treat you all alike. Guard!" he called to a soldier, "take these Indians. Take them to prison."

Silently the Sauk prisoners started to leave the room. "Guard!" called the general, "a ball and chain for each prisoner!"

Black Hawk stopped as if an arrow had hit him. He turned quickly and looked at General Atkinson. He raised his arm and was about to speak. His black eyes flashed. Then proudly he turned and with head erect left the room.

"General, the irons are not necessary," said Lieutenant Davis when the prisoners were gone. "Black Hawk will cause no trouble. His one desire is for peace."

"You are quite an admirer of Black Hawk, I see," said the general.

"No man could be with him for any length of time and not admire him. He is as honest and sincere as any man I have ever known."

"Well, in spite of your confidence in him, Black Hawk will be in irons," snapped the general.

Davis saluted and left. He went to Black Hawk's cell.

"Black Hawk!" he called.

Slowly, the old chief walked to the iron-barred door. The ball and chain clanked on the hard floor.

"I was a chief," he said. "Now, I am in chains. I would not have treated your chief this way."

"I am sorry," said the young lieutenant.

"I know you are, my friend. But this is cruel."

The winter dragged along. Weary days followed weary days. The prison was a dreary place for an Indian chief who all his life had lived in the wilds.

One early spring day the guard came to Black Hawk's cell. He said, "Keokuk is here. Your squaw is here, too."

"Take me to my squaw," said the old chief. "I will see Keokuk later."

For the first time in many months Black Hawk was happy. He and his two handsome sons followed the guard.

Singing Bird hurried toward them. "Black Hawk," she cried. "My sons!"

The three loved ones crowded around her.

"Your people miss you and need you, Black Hawk. When you are free we will be happy," said Singing Bird.

But Black Hawk was not given his freedom. He and the other prisoners were ordered to Washington. A heavy guard of soldiers and Keokuk went with them.

It was a long, hard trip. But there were many things which interested Black Hawk. All along the way the people gathered to see the mighty old war chief. The people knew about Black Hawk. They had read the newspapers and had heard many stories about the old Sauk chief and his bravery.

The prisoners traveled up the Ohio River. They passed the villages of Louisville and Cincinnati.

"Louisville is prettier," said Black Hawk, "but Cincinnati is busier and larger."

"You will see larger cities," said the guard. When they came to Wheeling, West Virginia, they left the river.

"How are we going to travel now?" asked Black Hawk.

"We are going by stagecoach to Washington."

"And leave that pretty river?"

"That pretty river is the Ohio," said his guard.

"It is almost as pretty as my Mississippi," answered Black Hawk.

They traveled over the famous Cumberland Road. The stagecoach joggled and bounced them about.

"I do not like to travel like this," said Black Hawk. "It is very uncomfortable. I would rather ride my horse."

"These roads are fine," said one of the guards.

"An Indian trail is better," replied Black Hawk.

In Fredericktown, Black Hawk saw a railroad. He was very excited. "This is a great road," he said as he saw the shining rails. Later as they rode along in the smoke-filled cars he said, "But I still think an Indian pony on a trail is best."

At last they reached Washington. The prisoners were taken to President Andrew Jackson.

Black Hawk dressed with care. He wore his finest doeskin trousers, fringed jacket, and beaded moccasins. Singing Bird had brought them to him in St. Louis. In his hair were the feathers of the black sparrow hawk.

"Which one is Black Hawk?" asked President Jackson, as the Indians filed into his office.

"I am Black Hawk," answered the old chief as he stepped forward.

"Why did you make war against my people?" asked the president.

"I fought to protect my people."

"Why did you and your braves take your squaws and children on the war path?" demanded the president. "Never in history has a general taken his people with him when he marched to make war. I know because I am a general, too."

"Then you will understand, Great White Father, when I tell you that we did not march to war. I was taking my people back to our old land. We fought only when we were attacked."

Black Hawk drew himself to his full height.

"I am a man and so are you," he said. "You are the chief of the white people and I am the chief of my people. By nature and by birth I am your equal. Because of this war I am your prisoner, but I am still a man!"

President Jackson did not like Indians. He did not like Black Hawk. But he was pleased with the honest and proud manner of the old chief.

For a minute the two men looked at each other. The fearless blue eyes of the soldier-president looked into the fearless black eyes of the Indian chief.

"He is a man," said Jackson to himself. "He is my equal." He rose from his chair and motioned to the guard. "Take off their chains!" he said. "Black Hawk," he continued, "the Indians will soon be at peace. Then I will let you return to your people."

Black Hawk and the other prisoners were led away. They were taken to Fort Monroe.

"The Great White Father is a fine brave," said Black Hawk to the soldiers who took him to the fort.

In a few months President Jackson sent word to the fort. Black Hawk and his sons, Loud Thunder and Nasomsee, with Neapope, and White Cloud were to be taken back to Fort Armstrong where they were to be freed.

But the orders of the president read, "First take them to our cities in the East. After they see our country they will know we have many white men who will fight to protect their people. Then we can all live in peace."

Black Hawk was old and weary. But his simple dignity, his forceful personality, and proud manner made him a hero. His journey through the East was a triumph. Keokuk was with him, but the people came to see Black Hawk and they were not disappointed.

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