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

Black Hawk Surrenders

B LACK HAWK'S trail was easy to follow. The soldiers no longer needed their advance scouts and spies. High overhead the buzzards led them to the trail. The buzzards were flying over the followers of Black Hawk who had died on the trail.

All along the trail the soldiers found dead braves, squaws and papooses. In following the trail the soldiers had to climb steep hills and march through deep ravines. They struggled through forests of briers and thorns. Nearer to the Mississippi the soldiers found not only dead Indians but kettles, blankets, and other supplies. The Sauks were discarding everything that hindered their flight to the Mississippi.

As the soldiers neared the Mississippi they found many fresh Indian trails. It was Black Hawk's last desperate plan to throw the soldiers off his trail. But the new trails did not throw the soldiers off their course. The buzzards led them to the Mississippi.

Black Hawk's scouts warned him that the battleship "Warrior" was coming up the river. There were many soldiers on board.

"We must lose no time," called Black Hawk to his people. "White soldiers are coming up the river, Mehaska," he called, "take charge of getting our people across the river. Have the strongest braves paddle the canoes to the Iowa side. Have each brave make as many trips as he can make."

But the Indians could no longer hurry. They had spent many sleepless nights and they were starving. Slowly they struggled on over the trail.

Black Hawk called to Red Eagle, "A runner has just reported to me. White soldiers are marching to the river. Take twenty braves and meet them. Do anything! Delay the soldiers! Gain time for my people to cross the river."

"This is the end!" said Black Hawk to himself. "Soldiers are coming up the river. Soldiers are marching by land. I must delay the soldiers for a few hours. Then my people will be safe."

Down by the river's edge the braves paddled the crowded canoes across the river. With long, fast strokes the braves paddled back again. Many of the squaws tied their papooses to their backs and tried to swim the Mississippi. Horses plunged into the river and children fought to hold to the horses' backs and make their way across the river.

The battleship "Warrior" came nearer and nearer. Over the cries and shouts of the people the boom of the ship's cannon thundered. Many of the fleeing people were killed. The muddy Mississippi water flowed red.

The white soldiers on foot were advancing too. Black Hawk rode back to Red Eagle and the twenty braves. He took over the command, but the white soldiers steadily gained ground.

"Braves," shouted Black Hawk, "retreat!"

Black Hawk turned his horse about. A white soldier who was far ahead of the other soldiers sprang out from behind a tree. He aimed his gun at the old chief. Red Eagle called to Black Hawk. But Black Hawk did not hear his call. Red Eagle raced his horse and stood between Black Hawk and the soldier. The bullet struck Red Eagle and he fell from his horse.

A brave shot the white soldier before he could escape.

Black Hawk knelt beside Red Eagle. "My friend, my friend," he cried.

"Leave me, Black Hawk, I am dying. Go while there is time to escape."

"I will not leave you, Red Eagle. All our lives we have been together. I will not leave you now."

"The white soldiers will come. They will kill you—go while there is time," pleaded Red Eagle.

"I will not leave you," repeated Black Hawk.

The white soldiers did not advance. Black Hawk sat beside Red Eagle.

"Do you remember the day we were made braves?" asked Red Eagle.

"Yes, I do," answered Black Hawk, "and that day you said that you would always be loyal to me."

"I said that you would be a great chief," said Red Eagle. "Do you remember?" Black Hawk nodded. "You are a great chief, Black Hawk," continued Red Eagle. "I am proud that I saved your life."

"You are my dearest friend," Black Hawk's voice was low. "Now, you are dying. May the Great Spirit guide you to the Happy Hunting Ground.".

"Do not forget me, Black Hawk. We will meet again."

Black Hawk and his braves buried their warrior. They made a crude marker and placed it on the grave. Black Hawk knelt beside the new grave and whispered, "Good-by, Red Eagle. We will meet again. Good-by, my brave, my loyal friend!"

Slowly and sadly Black Hawk and his braves rode away. They went to the nearest Winnebago village.

"Take me to your chief," said Black Hawk as he and his braves entered the village.

When Black Hawk stood before the Winnebago chief he asked, "Are my people safe?"

"Some of your people were killed. Most of them crossed the Great River. They are safe."

Black Hawk was silent for a few minutes. Then he raised his head and said, "I am ready to surrender. Take me to the white war chief."

All this time Black Hawk held the Sauk medicine bag under his arm. Stepping forward and holding the bag toward the Winnebago chief he said, "Take my medicine bag. It is the soul of the Sauk nation. It has never been dishonored. Take it! It is my life. Give it to the white war chief."

"I will take it," answered the chief. "It will be kept for you."

"I will not return," answered Black Hawk. "My life will soon be over."

A few days later Black Hawk, his twenty braves and two Winnebago guides, arrived at the fort in Prairie du Chien.

Black Hawk marched to the headquarters of the white war chief. The two Winnebago guides said to the commanding officer: "We have brought Black Hawk to you. You told us to bring him. If you are going to kill him and his braves, wait until we are gone."

Proudly Black Hawk stepped forward. He looked straight into the eyes of the officer. "I am Black Hawk," he said. "No one forced me to come. I have come of my own free will. Do with me as you wish, but be kind to my braves."

The commanding officer looked at Black Hawk. He looked at the braves.

"Before me," he said to himself, "stands the once mighty Black Hawk. Even in defeat he is the chief of his people. Even now he protects his braves."

Aloud he said, "Black Hawk, you and your braves are prisoners of the United States government. You are to be taken to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis. Lieutenant," he called to an officer standing nearby, "take charge of the prisoners."

A young, handsome officer stepped forward and said, "Black Hawk, you are now in my care. My orders are to deliver you to General Atkinson. He has been in charge of the campaign against you. I hope that we will be friends. I am Lieutenant Jefferson Davis of the United States Army."

Black Hawk bowed to the young officer. He turned and looked at his braves. One of them called out, "Wherever the white soldier takes you, we will follow."

Tears came into Black Hawk's eyes. In a low voice he said, "My braves, you have followed Black Hawk for many years. You will follow him no more. Now you must follow the white war chief. We are prisoners."

"Your braves are free, Black Hawk. They are to return to your people," said Lieutenant Davis. "Only you, your two sons, and two other Indians are to be taken to St. Louis."

"Who are the others?" asked Black Hawk.

"They are Sauk Indians," answered the lieutenant. "They are White Cloud and Neapope."

* * *

Many of the soldiers who fought in the Black Hawk War became famous Americans. Two of them, Abraham Lincoln and Zachary Taylor, later were presidents of the United States.

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