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


How Can There Be Peace?

A WHITE flag of truce waved over a new Indian camp. The camp was on the west side of the Mississippi River, a few miles below Rock Island. It was the camp of Black Hawk and his followers.

"We have signed a treaty with the white war chief," said Black Hawk to his people. "We can never cross the Mississippi again. Our old lands and homes no longer belong to us. We have been ordered to build new homes farther west in Iowa."

Bravely the followers of Black Hawk started to build a new village. A few bark lodges were built. But most of the people lived in teepees. Patches of ground were hoed to make ready for next year's cornfields. Other plots of ground were laid out for their new gardens. The squaws worked from early morning until late at night. Many Indian mothers put their papooses in beaded cradles and hung the cradles on the branches of nearby trees. Some mothers strapped the cradles to their backs and carried the papooses as they hoed the ground. The older children gathered wild berries and fruits. The braves went hunting to find food for their families. Everyone was busy. No one complained. But the people did not laugh and sing as they had always done.

One afternoon Loud Thunder returned from a hunt. He raced his sturdy pony to his father's lodge. "Father!" he called as he dismounted. "Nantowa is on his way to see you."

Nantowa was an old friend. Many times he and Black Hawk had been on the warpath together. Nantowa had left Saukenuk with Keokuk. The two friends had not seen each other since.

Black Hawk frowned, but did not answer.

"He is coming with nine other braves," said Loud Thunder.

Nantowa and the nine braves rode into the new village. Black Hawk's warriors watched them. Nantowa asked them to direct him to Black Hawk's teepee. One old brave pointed down the main street but did not speak.

"I am not pleased to see you," Black Hawk said to Nantowa. "Why have you come?"

"The nine braves and I have come to join you."

"Did my son come with him?" Black Hawk asked himself. He looked at each of the braves. Nasomsee had not come.

"You and your warriors are welcome!" he said aloud.

The warriors dismounted. They bowed before Black Hawk and said, "We will follow you, Black Hawk!"

"Go to the square. Find your old friends. Ask them to give you food and shelter," he commanded. "Nantowa will stay with me."

On the way to the square the braves met Singing Bird. She was carrying a basket of wild fruits.

"Nantowa is at your teepee," called one of the warriors.

"Nantowa!" she exclaimed. She hurried down the street. "Nantowa!" she called when she neared her teepee. "Nantowa, tell me about Nasomsee. Is he well? Do you see him often?"

"I saw him every day," answered Nantowa as he greeted her. "He is well. He is one of Keokuk's best scouts."

"When I saw you and your braves," broke in Black Hawk, "I hoped that Nasomsee had come with you."

"He will return some day," said Singing Bird quietly. "I know that he will return."

After the evening meal the braves gathered in the square. Black Hawk and Nantowa sat near the campfire. They talked in a low voice as they smoked a long pipe.

"Black Hawk, ever since I left Saukenuk with Keokuk I have been unhappy," said Nantowa. "I was on my way back to join you when the white soldiers entered our village. I saw them burn Saukenuk."

"They did not burn Saukenuk!" cried Black Hawk. "That cannot be true!"

"The village was burned," answered Nantowa quietly. "Only one lodge escaped the fire." The old brave was silent for a few minutes. "After the smoke cleared away only one lodge was left standing among the ashes of Saukenuk. It was your old lodge."

Black Hawk did not answer. He bowed his head. His hands trembled as he pulled his blanket more closely about him. "I will never forget my last night in Saukenuk," said Black Hawk. "I watched my people as they hurriedly packed a few supplies. All night I was up and about the village giving orders. Red Eagle and Mehaska were in charge of moving our old and crippled Indians. My braves and I brought the canoes close to the river's edge. We made rafts by tying several canoes together. Then we tied long poles on the canoes. In this way we could carry large loads. We put our teepees and little plows for our new farms on the rafts. On other rafts we carried our old and crippled."

Nantowa moved closer to Black Hawk. He put a hand on the old chief's shoulder. "My friend, my friend!" he said.

"During the night I saw my braves and squaws leave the village. They were going to our graveyard."

"I remember that when I left Saukenuk," said Nantowa, "to say good-by to my family graves was the hardest thing I had to do."

"After Singing Bird had packed the few things we wanted to take with us, we went to the graveyard, too. We said good-by to our loved ones," continued Black Hawk, "the graves of my grandfather, my father, and of our two children. I left Singing Bird there alone. She was weeping. The Great Spirit told us to be brave."

"You and your people are brave."

"We are Sauks!" answered Black Hawk quickly. The two old friends were silent for a few minutes; then Black Hawk said, "I knew that we had

to pass the fort to get to the Mississippi. I commanded my people to be quiet as we passed. We saw no one on our way to the 'Father of Waters.' We crossed the Mississippi near the mouth of Rock River."

"The Mississippi is more than a mile wide at that point!" exclaimed Nantowa. "And the current is very swift."

Black Hawk nodded.

"It started to rain," Black Hawk said, "and that made it even harder to escape."

"The Great Spirit was weeping with your people," broke in Nantowa.

"There was not a single cry from my people," continued Black Hawk. "They acted as though they could not see nor hear. I watched them leave. Our horses and braves swam beside the rafts. When my people were safely on their way I stood on the east bank of the Mississippi alone. I prayed to the Great Spirit. Then I swam with my horse across the river."

"Black Hawk, you made your escape without losing one of your followers. All the Sauks, even Keokuk, are proud of you. It is one of the greatest deeds ever done by any chief."

"I had one night—one short night in which to save my people. I failed to protect my village," said Black Hawk and his voice broke. "I failed to protect our homes. But my people are safe."

Slowly the campfire died out and only the ashes remained. Down the streets the squaw torches blazed beside the teepees. One by one the braves left the square. Each one walked to his teepee. The burning torch beside it was put out. Nantowa and Black Hawk were alone.

"Ashes! Ashes!" cried Black Hawk, "Saukenuk is in ashes!"

Quietly and sadly the summer months passed. Black Hawk and his followers could not go to their winter hunting grounds. The braves had only a few traps and guns and very little ammunition. The only trader who would give them credit for the necessary supplies was Davenport. But he was a friend of Keokuk. Black Hawk and his braves were too proud to ask Davenport for credit.

The winter months would bring bitter cold, sickness, starvation, and death. Misery and hardships were ahead for the followers of Black Hawk. They did not hesitate. They were loyal to their chief.

Days of rain and sleet and nights of heavy frost killed the few vegetables growing in the new gardens. Then snow covered the village. The squaws peeled the bark from the trees to cook for their families. They shoveled away the snow to dig roots and mixed them with acorns to feed their starving children.

The braves went hunting. Sometimes they returned with game. Most of the time they returned with none.

The snow and wind blew into the old and torn teepees. Several families crowded together in a smoke-filled teepee. The blankets and fur robes did not keep out the bitter cold.

At last Black Hawk cried out, "Peace! Peace! How can there be peace while my people starve? How can there be peace while my people die? They look to me for help and protection.

"There is one last hope," he said slowly, "General Dixon, my old friend in Canada. He will help us. Many years ago we fought with him. Now we need his help. He will help us to get back our lands. We can go back to where our village once stood. We will build a new Saukenuk."

Black Hawk lost no time in carrying out his plans. Trusted runners were sent to the villages of the Potawatomi, Winnebago, Ottawa, and Kickapoo Indians. These Indians were almost as poor as Black Hawk's followers. They, too, had little or nothing in the way of guns, ammunition, clothing, or food. Black Hawk said to his runners, "Tell them that all we need is their help. General Dixon will give us the rest. If they will help us, we can go back to Saukenuk."

As soon as the runners were on their way Black Hawk started for Canada. Red Eagle and Loud Thunder went with him. Day after day they traveled over the snow-covered trails. The cold and blizzards could not stop them. The trip was difficult, but hope speeded them on.

General Dixon greeted Black Hawk, Red Eagle, and Loud Thunder kindly. "Why have you come?"

"We need your help, my friend," answered Black Hawk. "The Americans have taken our village and lands. My people are starving."

"I will be glad to give you and your people food and clothing," said the general.

"How can we get back our lands?" asked Black Hawk. "We never sold our lands."

"I cannot help you get back your lands. My country and the United States are at peace."

"But we helped you when you asked us," pleaded Black Hawk.

"I know you did. I respect and admire you, but I cannot help you," repeated General Dixon.

Tired and discouraged Black Hawk, Red Eagle, and Loud Thunder returned to their new village, a village of sickness, starvation, and death.

Singing Bird, her eyes bright with fever, greeted Black Hawk. She wept when he told her the discouraging news.

"Singing Bird," he asked, "have you lost all hope, too?"

She tried to smile through her tears. She started toward him but fell at his feet. She had fainted from hunger.

Black Hawk carried Singing Bird to a mat of furs. He covered her with blankets. All night Black Hawk sat by her side. Over and over he heard her cry, "Nasomsee, Nasomsee." When it was almost morning Singing Bird lay quietly. She was asleep. Black Hawk watched the faint smile on her lips. "She will be better tomorrow," he said to himself. "She will be better tomorrow!"

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