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


A True Sauk

T HE Sauk Chiefs were waiting for Black Hawk. Yesterday the people had celebrated his return. Today, Black Hawk was to be told of the changes that had taken place while he was gone.

When Black Hawk entered the council house the chiefs rose to greet him. He returned their greetings and walked to his mat.

The peace chief offered a prayer to the Great Spirit. He gave thanks for Black Hawk's safe return. He asked the Great Spirit to give Black Hawk courage and understanding. "Help him to understand what we were forced to do."

When the peace chief finished his prayer he leaned forward and in a quiet voice said, "Black Hawk, when you left almost a year ago our nation was without a war chief."

"What are you trying to tell me?" demanded Black Hawk. "Speak!"

One of the younger chiefs arose and stood before Black Hawk. The chief was short and stocky. He was dressed in white doeskin. Around his neck was a string of bear claws. "Black Hawk, when you left your village I was not an important chief," he said.

"Yes, yes," interrupted Black Hawk. "I remember you. You are Keokuk. What do you wish to say?"

"Shortly after you left to join the British army a Sauk runner came to Saukenuk. He told us that the United States soldiers had left their fort at Peoria, Illinois. They were on their way to attack Saukenuk."

"Our people were alarmed over the news," said the peace chief. "We met in council and decided to leave our village. We were going to cross the Mississippi."

"I had never killed a brave so I could not attend the meeting," continued Keokuk. "I asked the chiefs to let me come into the council house and speak to them."

"Black Hawk, your people were alarmed," broke in the peace chief. "Keokuk promised to protect us. We made him war chief, but you are still a chief of the council."

Keokuk turned to the peace chief. He said in a low voice, "Let me explain what happened." He turned back to Black Hawk and continued, "I was allowed to speak to the chiefs. I told them not to desert their village and homes. I told them to make me their war chief and that I would defend Saukenuk."

"Did you defend Saukenuk?" asked Black Hawk.

"A small band of braves under my command rode out to meet the soldiers," answered Keokuk. "We did not find them."

Black Hawk was silent. Slowly he rose from his mat. He looked directly into Keokuk's eyes.

"Keokuk, you are the war chief of the mighty Sauk nation," he said in a clear, firm voice. "As long as you protect our villages and land I will be loyal to you. I warn you that if you fail in your duty I will not follow you."

He turned and spoke to the other chiefs. His voice was low. "For twenty-five years I have been the war chief of the Sauk nation. You have chosen a new war chief and I bow to our leader. I pray to the Great Spirit to watch over him and guide him. I will be loyal to our laws. I am a Sauk!"

Without another word Black Hawk walked out of the meeting. Red Eagle was waiting for him. Together they walked through the village streets and out into the country to Pyesa's grave. For the first time Black Hawk spoke. "You are my best friend, Red Eagle; why didn't you tell me?"

"I could not," answered Red Eagle simply.

"I do not know much about Keokuk," said Black Hawk. "Tell me about him. Is he brave? Will he lead my braves wisely?"

"Keokuk was born in Saukenuk during the time you mourned your father's death," said Red Eagle. "He is brave. He is a good talker. But he is ambitious and very vain. Only time can tell whether he will be an able war chief."

"Red Eagle, for some reason I can't explain, I feel that Keokuk will not be worthy of being the war chief. As long as he protects our people and their lands I will do all I can to help him. But if he ever fails in this duty, then I will not follow him. I have already warned him!"

"Most of the braves are loyal to you," said Red Eagle. "They do not want to follow Keokuk."

"They must be loyal to whoever is war chief," broke in Black Hawk. "My braves must accept and follow their new war chief."

"They have waited for your return. They are planning to oppose the council."

"They must not!" exclaimed Black Hawk. "Our nation must remain united."

"Then you must talk to them," said Red Eagle. "The celebration for your return was held against the orders of the council. Many Sauks are jealous of you and they made Keokuk the war chief while you were gone. Your loyal braves have made their plans carefully. They want your permission to oppose the council. They can make you the war chief again."

Black Hawk was silent for a long time. At last he said, "To be the war chief of the Sauks is an honor. But more important to me, Red Eagle, is the duty of being a true Sauk."

"What do you plan to do?" asked Red Eagle.

"I shall ask Keokuk to call a meeting of the braves tonight. I must talk to them."

"Then you will not give the braves your permission to oppose the council?" questioned Red Eagle.

"I will never give permission to break a law of my nation. I know that I could again be the war chief," answered Black Hawk. "But I will not, and I will not let any of my braves break the laws of our nation."

When it was dark the braves gathered in the big square. A great council fire blazed brightly. Keokuk, followed by the other chiefs, made his way to the place of honor. The braves wandered from group to group laughing and talking with their friends. The chiefs talked in low voices.

But Keokuk was silent. He pulled his blanket more closely about him. He said to himself, "I should not have allowed Black Hawk to speak to the braves tonight. I know that they are trying to make him their war chief again."

Alone Black Hawk came into the square. Quickly and noiselessly he strode toward the fire. He stood there straight and tall. His head and shoulders were erect.

The braves cheered and shouted. Black Hawk raised his arm. At once they were silent.

"Braves of the Sauk nation," he called out, "I have been told that you are planning to oppose the rule of the council."

"Black Hawk is our war chief!" shouted a group of braves.

Keokuk leaned over and whispered to the chief sitting next to him. "He is trying to become the war chief again."

"He is speaking," said the chief. "Listen to him."

"A Sauk brave has many duties. His first duty is to obey the rules of the council," continued Black Hawk. "He does not break those rules. He does not seek glory and honor. I know that I speak to warriors who are fearless and loyal. I know that you are all true Sauks.

"Warriors may be wiser than I, but none are more loyal. No one loves his country, his home, his people more than I love my country, my home, and my people.

"For many years I have been your war chief. It was my sacred duty to protect my people. It was my sacred duty to lead my braves wisely and with courage."

"Lead us again, Black Hawk," shouted the braves. "We will follow!"

Black Hawk called for silence. "I am no longer your war chief," he said when all was quiet. "Now I am a chief of the council and a Sauk brave. I am proud. Be as loyal to your new war chief as you have been to me. That is all I ask of you. Prove to me that I have led you wisely and with courage. Then I will know that I have not failed in my trust!"

Black Hawk walked to where Keokuk was sitting. Keokuk rose from his mat.

"You are the war chief of the mighty Sauk nation," said Black Hawk so that all could hear. "Do not fail your people!"

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