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


The Sauk War Post

B LACK HAWK'S war post had seen service before. The war post was made from a linden tree. It was ten inches thick and about seven feet tall. The bark of the tree had been removed. On the smooth surface a red picture had been painted. The picture showed the Sauk braves going into battle. The sharpened end of the pole was driven into the ground.

Three braves erected the war post. When all was ready, Black Hawk rushed forward and gave the Sauk war whoop. He raised his tomahawk high above his head. Suddenly he hurled it at the post. The tomahawk hit the post and was buried in the wood.

"Sauk chiefs," called Black Hawk, "enlist in our cause! Strike the war post!"

Neapope aimed his tomahawk. He gave the Sauk war whoop. He shouted, "We will get back our lands. Fight with Black Hawk!"

One by one Black Hawk's chiefs hurled their tomahawks at the war post. The braves cheered as each tomahawk hit its mark.

Black Hawk and his chiefs dashed to the post. Each chief withdrew his tomahawk.

"Strike the post!" called Black Hawk.

The chiefs held their tomahawks high as they circled the post. "Strike! Strike!" they shouted. They struck the post with the flat sides of their tomahawks. Waving their tomahawks in the air, the chiefs danced away from the post.

"The chiefs have enlisted!" shouted Black Hawk. "Now, my braves, it is your turn. Will you follow me?"

"We will follow!" the cheering braves answered.

"Then dance!" ordered Black Hawk. "Dance around your war post!"

The braves joined hands and formed a large circle. They danced from right to left. They sang their war song of victory. Faster and faster sounded the war drums. Faster and faster the braves danced to the beat of the drums. Suddenly the braves broke from the circle. Yelling and waving their tomahawks, they rushed to the war post. They struck the post with the flat sides of their tomahawks.

When an Indian struck the war post it was his sign that he was enlisting to go on the warpath. Only death could keep him from going after he had enlisted.

Black Hawk watched his braves enlist. "Neapope," he said, "see how eager the braves are to follow me. They will fight to regain our lands!"

"Yes, your braves are anxious to follow you, but look at Keokuk. He is standing apart from his braves. His braves have not joined in the dance."

"No, but they will join," answered Black Hawk. "When the dance is over I am going to talk to them."

Black Hawk's braves struck the war post. As each brave enlisted he pretended to fight an enemy. He jumped into the air. He ran about giving the Sauk war whoop.


The braves danced on. Black Hawk watched and waited. On the other side of the square Keokuk watched and waited, too.

Black Hawk pushed his way through the circle of braves. He took his place beside the war post. He held his tomahawk high. The dance was over.

"Sauk braves," he called, "for more than a hundred years we were a powerful, happy, and united nation. We had our homelands and our hunting grounds. We were feared and respected by other Indian tribes. Now we are a divided nation. Much of our glory is gone. All this has happened because the white men have taken our lands. They say they have a right to our lands. I want to lead you back to Saukenuk. Let us unite and become the powerful nation that we were not so very long ago."

Black Hawk's braves cheered. "Lead us, Black Hawk! We will follow!"

"Other Indian tribes have promised to help us," said Black Hawk. "The British general says that he will help us. He will send us all the supplies we need. We can win! We can win and we must!"

Keokuk closed his eyes as he listened to Black Hawk's speech. "Lies! Lies! Some one has lied to him," he said to himself.

A cheer rang out. Keokuk opened his eyes just as several of his chiefs bowed before Black Hawk. He heard his braves shout, "Lead us, Black Hawk v. We will follow!" They started to dance around the war post.

"My braves must not follow him," cried Keokuk. He pushed his way to the war post. He placed his left hand on the post.

Great shouts of joy filled the air. "Our chief has enlisted," shouted one of his braves.

But Keokuk had not enlisted. He had placed his hand on the post. He had not struck the post with his tomahawk.

"Braves!" he called as he raised his right hand for silence. "Sauk braves," he said, "I know the wrongs that have been done to us. I know that you want to return to your old villages. You ask to be led to war. There are many white soldiers. We are only a few Indians. The white soldiers have many guns and cannons. We have none. If we cross the Mississippi River we will have to fight. If you decide to go to war I will lead you. Yes, I will lead you," he called in answer to the cheers of his own braves.

"What shall we do with our squaws and children?" he shouted. "We cannot take them with us. I will not leave them here alone and unprotected. I will lead you on the warpath, my braves, but first you must kill your squaws and your children."

Keokuk turned to Black Hawk and questioned, "Do you believe that other Indian tribes will help you? If they intend to help you, why aren't they here? They are not here because they do not intend to help you. You say that the British will help you. They are at peace with the Americans and they cannot help you. Someone has lied to you, Black Hawk. I beg of you, lead your people to peace. Do not lead them to war."

Black Hawk and the braves were silent. One by one Keokuk's braves left the square. Only Black Hawk, his braves, and Keokuk remained.

"Live in peace, Black Hawk, it will be best for your people," said Keokuk.

"I promised my people that I would take them back to their old homes," answered Black Hawk. "I cannot turn back now."

"But you are leading them to war."

"All we want is to return to Saukenuk. All we ask is to return to our old homes," answered Black Hawk. "That is very little, Keokuk; surely the white soldiers will let us do that."

"They will fight," answered Keokuk.

"We have left our new village. My people are camped a few miles from here. We cannot go back." Black Hawk turned to his braves and commanded, "Come, we will return to our camp."

Keokuk watched them go. When they were out of sight he dashed into his lodge. He pulled Smart out from under the blankets.

"Black Hawk will not turn back!"

"I know," answered Smart. "I heard everything. I must leave at once. I must get word to Fort Armstrong."

"You cannot go! Some of Black Hawk's scouts did not leave. They are still in my village," explained Keokuk. "I will send one of my runners to the fort. The white people will be warned!"

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