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



L ONG before daylight Black Hawk was up and about. Loud Thunder and two scouts rode out of camp to watch for the white soldiers. They were to warn Black Hawk when the enemy approached. Other scouts were sent to the Wisconsin River.

"The Winnebagos promised to have a fleet of canoes there," said Black Hawk to his scouts. "Have them ready for my people."

Neapope and twenty-five braves were ordered to make up the rear guard. "Delay the white soldiers as long as you can," commanded Black Hawk.

Red Eagle was in command of the rest of the braves. These braves were to remain with the fleeing people.

Without confusion the people left camp. Slowly they marched along the trail. Some of the squaws carried their babies on their backs and helped the old braves and women and children along the trail. The other squaws and the older children carried heavy bundles. They wore tumplines across their foreheads, and shoulder straps. The tumplines made it easier to carry the heavy load. A group of children stopped to rest. They pushed the straps from their shoulders and forehead and removed the bundles.


The sun was just coming up.

Loud Thunder and a scout raced past the lines of marching people.

"The white soldiers are near," shouted Loud Thunder. "They killed one of your scouts."

"Where is Neapope?" asked Black Hawk.

"He and your braves are holding them back."

"Go back to him," ordered Black Hawk. His horse reared into the air. He called to the people as they marched past him. "The river is ahead. Cross to the island. There you will be safe."

The sound of a shot split the air.

"The enemy! Red Eagle, have your braves surround our people," Black Hawk called. "Take them to the river. Hurry! Hurry!"

The people quickened their steps. The braves formed a long line on one side of the trail.

Black Hawk rode past the line of braves. He called, "Fifty braves come with me. Make for the top of that hill. There we will meet the enemy. We must fight to delay the soldiers. We must gain time to save our people."

Giving the Sauk war whoop, Black Hawk led the way. The fifty braves raced to the hill.

A thousand soldiers were on the other side!

Cautiously Black Hawk formed a line of defense. The enemy tried to advance. Again and again they tried to gain a new position. They could not. Black Hawk and his braves held fast.

All afternoon Black Hawk held this line of defense. Then slowly the soldiers started to gain ground. "Mehaska," he called, "ride to the river. See if our people are safe. We cannot hold out much longer. Hurry!"

Black Hawk ordered ten braves to a new position. "We must delay the soldiers," he said. "Fire at them, then rush to another position."

Far to one side the ten braves fired at the soldiers. The soldiers hurried to break up the new attack. The Indians were gone.

Then far to another side the ten braves fired again. The soldiers raced to the new firing line. Again the Indians were gone.

A volley of shots cracked to the right. The soldiers looked at each other and waited. The volley of shots cracked again. The soldiers gave their horses the spurs.

Black Hawk's plan delayed the soldiers' advance. Mehaska returned just in time. He reported, "Our people are safe, Black Hawk."

"Split up, braves!" called Black Hawk. "Make your own way to the island. I shall meet you there."

Late that night Black Hawk reached the island. His braves were waiting. They crowded around their chief. The twenty-five braves sent out with Neapope were there, too. But Neapope their leader was not.

"Where is Neapope?" asked Black Hawk.

"He left us. He did not tell us where he was going."

"He must have other plans," said Black Hawk. "He will return later. I have been watching the white soldiers. They may try to come to the island tomorrow. I have a plan and it may trick the white war chief."

"Black Hawk, with only fifty braves you held off a thousand soldiers," said Red Eagle.

"The Great Spirit made my Indians brave," said Black Hawk. "My warriors are fighting to protect their squaws and children. We have lost our lands, but the honor of a Sauk will never be questioned. I have never loved my people more. I have never been as proud of my braves."

A campfire burned brightly nearby. The squaws had cooked supper for their families. It was the same food they had cooked for weeks, the bark and leaves from trees and the roots of plants. That was all. Most of the squaws and the children were sleeping. The braves had waited for Black Hawk.

"What is your plan, Black Hawk?" asked one of the braves. "How can you send the white soldiers away?"

"I am going to scare them away. Their camp is only a few miles from the river," said Black Hawk. He pointed to a tall, strong brave, "Come with me."

A few hours later the soldiers' camp was in confusion. A scout reported to the commanding officer. "Black Hawk and the Winnebago Indians are making plans to attack us. They are calling to many braves. We can hear their orders."

"What are the orders?"

"The chief is saying, 'Charge the white soldiers! Scalp them! Show them no mercy!' "

All night the soldiers waited under arms for the attack. All night Black Hawk and one brave shouted loud plans to defeat their enemy.

In the morning the soldiers were ordered to retreat. "We are in no condition to fight a new army under Black Hawk's command," said their commander.

Black Hawk's brave watched the white soldiers leave. He called to Black Hawk, "The white soldiers are leaving. I do not need to command your make-believe braves any longer."

Black Hawk and the brave made their way to the island. They told the anxious people the good news.

"The soldiers have gone, but they will return. We must lose no time. We do not have enough canoes to move all the people down the river at one time. We must get more canoes."

Loud Thunder and other runners were sent to nearby Winnebago villages, but they did not get any canoes. Black Hawk decided to divide his people. Some of the people were to go down the Wisconsin River in canoes. Some of them were to go by land. They were to meet again at the Mississippi.

Loud Thunder dashed into camp. "Where is my father?" he shouted.

"Here I am," called Black Hawk.

"I saw Neapope."

"Where is he? Why hasn't he returned to his people?" asked Black Hawk.

"I saw him in the Winnebago village. He told me he would not return."

"What do you mean?"

"He has deserted us, Father."

"I forgave him for lying to me," Black Hawk shouted. "He said that he loved his people. I believed him. I cannot forgive him now. He is a coward."

Red Eagle joined the group of angry braves.

"Braves," he said. "Neapope needs our pity."

"Why! Why should we pity him?" asked an angry brave.

"Because he is alone," Red Eagle answered. "We will find peace, but as long as Neapope lives he will never find happiness again."

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