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


Shabbona Warns White Settlers

T HE news of Stillman's defeat spread rapidly. There were many different stories about the defeat. Some people said that Black Hawk and a thousand warriors had attacked Stillman and his soldiers. Others said that more than two thousand warriors were with Black Hawk. But Black Hawk had only fifty braves with him.

When the settlers learned that Stillman's soldiers had run instead of fighting, they said, "Black Hawk did not win a battle. Stillman was not defeated. We will call it 'Stillman's Run."

The governor of Illinois sent out another call for volunteers. Many men left their frontier homes to join the army. Regular soldiers were sent to Illinois to fight the Indians. But most of the soldiers were volunteers. The volunteers had little or no training. Often they disobeyed their commanding officers. But their bravery could not be questioned.

Major Stillman and his soldiers served during the rest of the war. But Stillman was not their commanding officer. A more experienced officer took over the command.

"Stillman's Run" encouraged the Indians. "We will follow Black Hawk," said some of the Indian tribes. "We will drive the white people away."

Black Hawk was pleased.

"If Shabbona will join us," said Black Hawk, "the other tribes will join us, too. We must talk to him. I will send Loud Thunder to his village. Loud Thunder is our swiftest runner."

Shabbona and Black Hawk were friends. Many years ago they had fought side by side for the British in the War of 1812.

After the war Shabbona had returned to his people, the Ottawa Indians, and was made their war chief. Later he married a Potawatomi Indian maiden. He became a chief of the Potawatomi and Chippewa tribes.

Since the War of 1812 Shabbona had been a friend of the white people. When Tecumseh was killed in the Battle of the Thames, Shabbona took over the command. He and his braves were forced to retreat. "I will never fight the white people again," promised Shabbona. So far Shabbona had not broken his promise.

At sunset a few days later, Black Hawk and his braves rode into Shabbona's village. The Sauk braves were in full war paint. They stopped in front of Shabbona's teepee. Black Hawk ordered, "Braves, erect the Sauk war post!"

As Shabbona came out of his teepee Black Hawk said, "Shabbona, I need your help. Let your braves dance in the war dance."

"Black Hawk, before you crossed the Mississippi, I told you that my braves would not make war against the white people. I have not changed my mind," answered Shabbona.

"If you and your braves fight, the other tribes will join us."

"No, Black Hawk, I will not fight the white people."

Black Hawk's braves were dancing around the war post. Some of Shabbona's braves joined in the dance. The wild beating of the drums and the shouting of the braves filled the night air.

"The white people have wronged your people, too," said Black Hawk. "If we fight together we will win."

"The white people have not harmed my peaceful Indians. I am determined that my braves shall not fight," answered Shabbona.

"Is there some way that I can enlist your braves to help me?"

"Black Hawk, ever since I learned that you had crossed the Mississippi I have tried to keep my Indians at peace. I have done more than that. I have done all I can to help the white people."

"Some day they will take your lands."

"I do not say that the white settlers have not wronged my people. They have. Some of my braves will make war against them, but I will not lead them. But I will tell you what I am going to do. I am going to warn my white friends."

"If you do that, all the Indians will look upon you as a traitor."

"I know they will," answered Shabbona. "But that is what I am going to do."

One of Shabbona's braves called out, "We want to follow Black Hawk!"

"My braves!" shouted Shabbona, "I am your chief. I will not lead you to war. We are to remain at peace."

"We will follow Black Hawk!" shouted some of Shabbona's braves.

Quickly Black Hawk strode to the war post. He called to the shouting warriors. "Follow me, we will win! Dance, my warriors!"

Shabbona watched the dance. "Some of my braves will go," he said to himself. He returned to his teepee. Inside, his son was waiting.

"We must warn the white people," whispered Shabbona. "It's our duty."

"What shall I do, Father?"

"Ride! My son, ride! We must warn each family. Take the south trail. I will take another trail. Go and I will follow in a few minutes."

Shabbona, mounted on his fastest horse, Star, raced from the village. The Sauks, when they saw him, dashed for their horses and raced after him. Shabbona had a fair start and did not lose it. The Sauk braves were left behind.

On through the night the courageous Shabbona rode. In his haste to leave his village he had left behind his blanket and gun. "I do not need them," he said to himself. "The blanket is heavy. If the Indians are going to kill me my gun will not help." He came to a log cabin. "Go to fort. Go to fort," he cried. "The Indians!"

The white men did not understand Shabbona. He spoke very little English and few of the white men knew his language. He jumped off his horse and tried to act out the danger. Some of the white men understood. Hurriedly they left their homes.

Shabbona rode on. He stopped at each cabin and warned the people.

Just at dawn Shabbona stopped at a cabin far off the trail. The white man chased him away. To the white man Shabbona was an enemy. But Shabbona came back. The man kicked him and hit him. Shabbona cried, "Friend! Friend! Take family—go to fort!"

Finally the white man understood. He thanked Shabbona and ran to his cabin. Soon he and his family were on their way to the nearest fort.

On and on rode Shabbona.

Star stumbled. "Do not fail me," pleaded Shabbona. Again Star stumbled and fell to the ground. He was dead. As Shabbona took off the bridle he said, "Good-by, Star, I must go on. I have many white families to warn."

Shabbona hurried along the hot, dusty trail. Far ahead was a white man's cabin. This man was his friend. He gave Shabbona a fresh horse.

Shabbona's ride to warn his white friends was a race with death. He rode for more than thirty hours. He had no time to eat or sleep. Shabbona rode through a wild country. There were few roads. He rode through swamps and he forded streams. He took the shortest trails which led him up steep hills and down into deep ravines.

His horse was covered with foam, but Shabbona rode on, his long black hair streaming out in the wind. The last house was in sight. He had won the race against the Indians.

Most of the white settlers went to a fort as soon as Shabbona warned them. But the families of the Indian Creek settlement did not believe Shabbona. The chief warned them three different times. Finally the settlers went to the nearest fort in the little town of Ottawa. But when the Indians did not attack, three families returned to Indian Creek. They decided to stay in one cabin. Shabbona learned that these settlers had gone back to Indian Creek. He was angry.

"They do not believe me," he cried. "I will warn them again." He rode to the little settlement that same evening. It was after midnight when he reached the cabin of the three families.

"Go back," cried Shabbona. "Indians come!"

But they did not go back to the fort. The next day thirty Indians broke into the cabin. They killed fifteen of the people who had not believed Shabbona. Two young girls, Rachel and Sylvia Hall, were taken prisoners.

The Indians who murdered the men, women, and children were some of Shabbona's braves. However, most of his braves did not go on the warpath. None of them joined Black Hawk.

Black Hawk and Shabbona had been friends for many years. But when Shabbona left the war dance, Black Hawk became his bitter enemy.

* * * *

Many years later Shabbona said, "I knew before I rode away that night to warn the white people that some Indians would call me a traitor. I could not control my braves. It was my duty to warn the settlers. I am an Indian chief, but I am a friend of the white man."

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