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



B LACK HAWK and his followers crossed the Mississippi River, April 7, 1832. They landed fifty-five miles below Rock Island. The old and crippled, the women and children traveled by canoe. Two hundred braves on Indian ponies rode along the bank on the Illinois side of the river.

The Sauks traveled up the river and past Fort Armstrong. They came to the burned village of Saukenuk. They were happy. They were home!

Then an officer of the United States Army rode into the village. He asked to be taken to Black Hawk.

"You and your people are to return to Iowa," said the officer.

"This is our home," answered Black Hawk.

"The government of the United States orders your return to Iowa. General Atkinson and two boatloads of soldiers are at Fort Armstrong. They are ready to carry out that order."

"I do not want war," answered Black Hawk.

"Then return to Iowa," said the officer. Then he mounted his horse and rode back to the fort.

When the officer was gone, Black Hawk called a meeting of the new council.

"The white soldier orders us to return to Iowa," said Black Hawk.

"We cannot turn back," said Neapope. "If we return to Iowa the other tribes will not help you. And if we go down the Mississippi the white soldiers will kill all of us."

"Come to Prophetstown, my village," broke in White Cloud. "You can rent some of our land."

"We will leave with you at once," said Black Hawk. "There we will make new plans."

A few days later they were settled in Prophets-town. And again the same officer came to warn Black Hawk to return to Iowa.

"We will remain with our friends," answered Black Hawk. "We are going to raise our crops here. The Potawatomi Indians will rent us some of their land, too."

Black Hawk sent runners to the nearby Indian villages to ask for help. Loud Thunder and other scouts were sent to watch the white soldiers.

The runners returned to Black Hawk with discouraging news. "Their chiefs told us to tell you that if the white soldiers permit you to stay, they will rent you some land. If you are not allowed to stay they cannot help you."

"They promised to help us," said Black Hawk.

"They will help you," interrupted Neapope. "They are waiting for you to tell them your plans."

Loud Thunder and his scouts returned late at night. They hurried to Black Hawk. "The white soldiers have left the fort," Loud Thunder reported. "They are on their way to this village."

Before daylight Black Hawk and his people fled. White Cloud went with them. The Indians of Prophetstown left in another direction.

When the soldiers arrived they burned Prophets-town, the deserted village, to the ground.

Black Hawk's followers made their new camp on the Kishwaukee River. When Black Hawk arrived, his runners were waiting for him. They reported, "Some of the Potawatomi chiefs are on their way to meet you tomorrow. They want you to meet them outside the main camp."

A short time later Black Hawk, his chiefs, and a hundred braves were on their way to meet the Potawatomis. They made camp ten miles below the main camp.

After a meager evening meal the Sauk chiefs met in council. They sat in a circle around Black Hawk's campfire. Every once in a while the loud, angry voice of Neapope rang out. After each outburst Black Hawk's brisk commands brought the council to order.

At last Black Hawk said, "Neapope, you told me that other Indian tribes were eager to help us."

"They are going to help us!" shouted Neapope. "Ask White Cloud if you don't believe me."

"I do believe you," answered Black Hawk.

Red Eagle jumped to his feet. "I will ask White Cloud because I don't believe you, Neapope," he cried. He turned toward White Cloud. "Are the Indians going to help us regain our old lands?" he demanded.

White Cloud was silent. All the chiefs turned toward him.

"Answer him!" ordered Black Hawk.

"I tell you that all the tribes are going to help us," shouted Neapope. "They are waiting for your orders, Black Hawk. When you have made your plans they will be ready."

"Lies! Lies!" called a voice from the darkness.

Instantly the chiefs jumped to their feet. A young Indian rushed past them. He fell on his knees in front of Black Hawk.

"Do not believe him!" cried the young Indian.

"Nasomsee, my son!" exclaimed Black Hawk He leaned over the kneeling figure of his son "Nasomsee! White Cloud is our prophet, my son," said Black Hawk. "He would not lie to me. And Neapope is second-in-command. He would not lie to me either."

"They have lied to you. Believe me, my father."

"Why do you say they have lied to me?" asked Black Hawk. "Speak, Nasomsee."

"Nasomsee deserted his people," called Neapope "Why should you believe him?"

"Silence!" commanded Black Hawk.

Nasomsee strode to the campfire. He stood there straight and tall. He looked at each chief.

"I did desert my people," he said in a low voice. "None of you will ever know how unhappy the past two years have been. Neapope asks why you should believe me. You must believe me. I have come to warn you. Not one Indian tribe will help you."

"How do you know?" shouted Neapope.

"Because I have gone to each village and talked to its chief," said Nasomsee. "Sometimes I was in the village when you were there. But you did not see me. Sometimes I came to the village a few days after you had been there. Every chief told me what he had said to you. Not one ever promised to help."

Nasomsee walked around the campfire and faced Neapope. "Now tell Black Hawk that you have not lied to him. And you, White Cloud, tell him that you have not lied."

The campfire blazed brightly. The pine logs spit and crackled. All else was silence. The chiefs waited for Neapope to answer.

At last he said, "Yes, I have lied, Black Hawk."

"I have lied, too," said White Cloud.

"Why? Why?" cried Black Hawk.

"I knew that if you thought other tribes would help you, that you would return to our old lands," Neapope explained. "You have never been defeated on the warpath. You can win this battle for our homelands. I believed that you would not break your promise to your people."

"What do you mean?"

"Many years ago you promised that you would never desert the land of your fathers," said Neapope. "If you do not fight you have broken that promise."

"How dare you!" shouted Black Hawk. "You lie to me and yet you dare to tell me that I have broken my promise."

"Neapope does not mean that," said White Cloud.

"Why did you lie to me?" demanded Black Hawk turning to White Cloud. "I trusted you above all others. Why did you lie?"

"Tell him why you lied," said Neapope. "But before you tell him remember what I told you."

"If I tell the truth Neapope will kill me," said White Cloud to himself. Aloud he said, "We lied to you, Black Hawk, because we, too, love our land and our people. We hoped that you would reclaim our old lands."

"Give me another chance," begged Neapope. "Let me go to the Indian tribes and ask them to help us. Give me another chance."

"No," answered Black Hawk. "You are to remain in camp where I can watch you. White Cloud, go away, I no longer need you."

"What shall we do?" asked the chiefs.

"We must make other plans!" answered Black Hawk. "We cannot turn back and travel through hostile country. We will go to Wisconsin. We will recross the Mississippi there. We cannot reclaim our lands without help. We cannot fight alone. We must return. That is all we can do."

Black Hawk and his chiefs were quiet. At last he commanded, "Go to your teepees. I will see you in the morning."

When the chiefs were gone Black Hawk turned to his son and asked, "How did you find us?"

"I went to your main camp," answered Nasomsee. "Mother told me where to find you."

"Singing Bird has always said that some day he would return," said Black Hawk to himself. Aloud he said, "I am glad that you have come back to us. I have missed you."

"I learned that Neapope and White Cloud had lied to you and I had to warn you, my father," answered Nasomsee. "I am going to stay with you. I will never leave again."

"Go to my teepee," said Black Hawk.

The light and flame of the campfire died out. Only the ashes remained. Alone through the long, dark hours Black Hawk waited for the dawn.

"I am ready to accept the white men," he said to himself. "They will take our lands. They will love our lands as much as we have always loved them. Someday they may have to fight to keep them. And when they do then they will understand my people."

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