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



I N the early morning Black Hawk ordered the braves to pack the soldiers' supplies.

Black Hawk and Red Eagle rode about the camp. They passed the tree where the two prisoners were tied. Black Hawk did not look at them.

"He does not remember me," said Kilbourn in a low voice.

"You are lucky," answered the other prisoner. "If he had remembered you, I am sure that he would have killed you last night. You told me that he saved your life once. This time he will show you no mercy."

"Do you think we can escape?" Kilbourn asked.

"I have loosened my ties," answered his friend, "and when the guard is not looking I am going to make a break."

"I am trying to loosen my ties," said Kilbourn, "but they are very tight."

"Here is our chance, the guard is walking away."

A rifle shot rang out. Black Hawk raced back to the center of the camp. "What has happened?" he called.

"One of the prisoners tried to escape. I shot him," said the guard.

"Which one?" and without waiting for an answer Black Hawk rode to the tree where the prisoners had been tied. Kilbourn was still there.

Black Hawk leaned from his horse close to Kilbourn and whispered, "Osaukee, I have not forgotten you. Do not try to escape!"

He called to the Indian guard, "Do not leave your post again. Watch this white man every minute. Do not let him escape," and without looking at Kilbourn again he rode away.

Just before sunset Black Hawk returned to Kilbourn. He motioned for the guard to leave. He cut the leather ties from Kilbourn's hands and from his body.

"Follow me!" he ordered when Kilbourn was free.

Together they walked through the camp. Out into the forest Kilbourn followed Black Hawk. Kilbourn's arms were sore and bruised. He rubbed them as he walked along. Black Hawk was silent. When they came to a bend in the river, Black Hawk stopped. "This is where I will be killed," said Kilbourn to himself. "I can hardly blame the old chief. Twice I have tried to kill him. Once he saved my life, but I know this is the end for me."

Black Hawk turned toward Kilbourn. He put his right hand on Kilbourn's shoulder.

"Many years ago you were my son," he said. "Why are you again with the white soldiers?"

"I am a scout of the United States Army," answered Kilbourn.

"Once you lived with my people," said Black Hawk. "They looked upon you as my son. My braves taught you all the things you know about a Sauk trail. Every secret my braves and I taught you, you are now using against us."

Black Hawk was silent for a minute and then he said, "I want to ask you a question. Will you tell me the truth?"

"I will answer your question," replied Kilbourn.

"Why did your soldiers fire upon my flag of truce?"

"You may not believe me, but this is the truth," answered Kilbourn. "I was in camp and I saw it all. Your three braves rode toward our camp. We saw the white flag."

"And your white war chief ordered his soldiers to fire?" questioned Black Hawk.

"No, he did not! Major Stillman is a true soldier. He commanded his soldiers to wait. But some soldiers who had left camp against orders fired at your braves."

"Is that the truth?" demanded Black Hawk.

"It is the truth! They had seen your five braves following the flag-bearers. They thought that you were tricking us."

"But to fire at the sacred flag of truce!"

"Major Stillman will be blamed by his superior officers," said Kilbourn. "But I tell you he ordered his soldiers not to fire at your white flag."

"I believe you, Osaukee," answered Black Hawk. "I have tried to protect you. I did not tell Loud Thunder and Nasomsee that you were my prisoner. I shall never tell them that you are fighting against my people. I brought you here alone," he continued. "I did not trust my braves. If they had remembered you, they would have killed you. The Indian guard was too young to remember you."

"What are you going to do to me?"

"You are free."

"You saved my life before," said Kilbourn. "Why do you save my life now?"

"Many years ago when you were my son I promised you that a Sauk would never harm you. I do not break a promise. When you return to your white war chief I want you to tell him that Black Hawk wanted to be a friend of the white people. They would not let him be a friend. They, not Black Hawk and his people, dug up the tomahawk. And tell your white chief," continued Black Hawk, "that I meant no harm to the palefaces when I returned to my village. Tell him that the Sauk flag-bearers were on their way to ask for peace."

"I will tell him," replied Kilbourn.

Black Hawk walked to the river's edge.

"Here is a canoe for you, Osaukee. Go downstream and you will come to your soldiers. Travel at night and the Indians will not see you."

"Black Hawk, how can I thank you?"

"Do not thank me, my son," answered Black Hawk. "Thank the Great Spirit. He taught me to be brave and to be kind. You will return safely. I will return to my people and to sorrow. Farewell, my son."

Kilbourn climbed into the canoe. He paddled down the river. When he came to the bend of the river he held the paddle high. The current of the river swept the canoe around the bend. Kilbourn turned to wave to the old chief. Black Hawk was gone.

"Black Hawk is the greatest Indian chief I know," said Kilbourn to himself.

He dipped the paddle back into the water. "In many ways it was an honor to be Osaukee, the white son of Black Hawk."

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