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


Who is Black Hawk?

A NIGHT guard at one of the gates of Saukenuk was aroused by the cry of a whippoorwill.

"Is it a whippoorwill," he asked himself, "or is it one of our scouts Black Hawk sent out a few days ago?" He gave the return signal.

"It is a signal," he said aloud. "The call is nearer." He repeated the notes of the whippoorwill, and again the signal was answered.

"Loud Thunder!" whispered the guard as Black Hawk's son came through the darkness.

"Open the gate. I must see my father," commanded Loud Thunder.

Loud Thunder slipped through the half-opened gate. He raced down the familiar streets of the village.

"Father," he called as he entered their lodge, "the white soldiers are coming! They are coming up the Mississippi on a steamboat."

"Are there many soldiers, my son?"

"Yes, there are many, many soldiers," answered Loud Thunder. "I saw them yesterday afternoon. When it was dark I swam out to the boat. The soldiers were laughing and talking. I heard them say that they were on their way to Fort Armstrong. They will reach the fort sometime tomorrow morning."

The next day the white soldiers arrived at the fort. General Gaines was in command. Shortly after the general and his troops arrived a messenger was sent to Saukenuk.

"General Gaines is holding a council meeting tomorrow," the messenger reported to Black Hawk. "You and your chiefs are to be there."

"We will be there," answered Black Hawk.

The next day Black Hawk, Red Eagle, Mehaska, Neapope, and the other chiefs went to the fort. They were followed by many braves. All were painted in full war paint. They carried tomahawks and spears. The braves started to sing a Sauk war song as they neared the fort.

"We will show the white soldiers we are not afraid of them," said Black Hawk.

Black Hawk entered the room where the meeting was to be held. His chiefs followed him, but the braves remained outside. Black Hawk stopped when he saw Keokuk. Keokuk's chiefs and braves sat nearby. Without a word Black Hawk and his chiefs left the room.

Black Hawk refused to return. General Gaines ordered Keokuk's braves to leave the meeting. Then Black Hawk and his chiefs marched back into the room.

When all were quiet General Gaines called the meeting to order. "Your Great White Father, President Andrew Jackson, is displeased," he began. "He has asked you many times to cross the Mississippi River. You sold your lands many years ago."

"We never sold our lands!" Black Hawk answered firmly.

General Gaines pretended that he had not heard. "You are to make new homes," he continued. "The Great White Father has told you that Saukenuk no longer belongs to you."

"Saukenuk belongs to us and we will not leave!" broke in Black Hawk.

"Many years ago the government of the United States bought your lands," answered the general. "You and your people are to move to the west side of the Mississippi."

"Black Hawk says that we never sold our lands. Black Hawk says that we will not leave our homes."

"Black Hawk! I never heard of him," said the general turning to an officer standing beside his desk.

For many years Black Hawk had been a lesser chief. All this time he had remained in the background. The Indians in the territory knew him and admired him. But the white settlers and soldiers knew only the more important chiefs.

"You are to leave Saukenuk at once!" replied General Gaines.

"Black Hawk says that we are never to leave our village."

"Black Hawk! Black Hawk!" shouted General Gaines. "Who is Black Hawk?"

There was a stir in the room. General Gaines looked up to see a tall, handsome chief rise to his full height.

"Who is Black Hawk?" the chief shouted. "His father and his grandfather were Sauk war chiefs. Black Hawk was the Sauk war chief for many years. Once more he is a war chief. Ask his braves who Black Hawk is and they will tell you. Make war against his people and you will learn who Black Hawk is. Who is Black Hawk? I am Black Hawk!"

The room was quiet. General Gaines watched the Indians. Their flashing black eyes looked at Black Hawk with pride.

"So that is Black Hawk," said the general to himself. "He is old but he stands as straight as an arrow. He is proud and fearless. No wonder the Indians respect him."

General Gaines leaned over the desk and said, "Black Hawk, you and your people are to leave Saukenuk. I will not beg nor will I hire you to go. My duty is to remove you, peacefully if I can. But if you will not go, then I will use force."

"We will not leave Saukenuk," answered Black Hawk.

"I will give you two days in which to leave. Then I will bring my soldiers to your village." "We will not leave!"

General Gaines stood up and walked out of the meeting.

Turning to his chiefs Black Hawk said, "Follow me! We will return to our village."

On the way back to Saukenuk, Black Hawk rode in front of his braves. He was silent. When they reached the village square Black Hawk said to Neapope, "Find White Cloud, the prophet, and send him to my lodge. I must see him at once!"

"White Cloud, we cannot give up our village," said Black Hawk as soon as White Cloud joined him. "Tell me what to do."

"I will tell you tomorrow."

The next morning White Cloud returned. "Black Hawk," he said, "last night I had a dream. Send the daughter of our old chief Mattatas to the white war chief. He will give her permission to let us remain in our village."

In a short time the beautiful young squaw hurried to the fort. A guard took her to General Gaines. She bowed to the general in quiet dignity.

"I am the daughter of Mattatas," she said. "My father was a chief. He fought for your people. He was wounded while fighting for your people."

"I did not know your father, but I have heard of him," answered General Gaines.

"Then you know he was an honest chief. I often heard him say that we did not sell our lands. Do not let your soldiers take them from us!"

"It is my duty!" said the general.

"Then grant my people one favor. Let us stay long enough to harvest our crops. If we are forced to move now, our children and old people will starve. I am a mother and I beg of you for the sake of all Sauk children to let us stay." She knelt before the general.

"I am sent here to make your people leave your village," repeated General Gaines. "It is not my duty to make new treaties."

"Grant us this one favor!" pleaded the squaw.

"I do not hold council with women," said the general as he ordered the Indian mother to leave at once.

As a last hope Black Hawk sent Red Eagle to the Indian agent at Rock Island. "Ask him," said Black Hawk, "to let us stay long enough to harvest our crops. If he will grant us this plea I pledge to him my sacred word that we will leave in the fall."

But this plea, too, was refused. Their last hope was gone. Tomorrow the soldiers would force them to leave Saukenuk. Runners were sent out to notify the braves who had gone hunting to return at once. Something had to be done!

Alone, Black Hawk waited in his lodge. He said to himself over and over again, "I must protect my people. I must protect my people."

On the morning of June 26, 1831, General Gaines and a large force of soldiers marched into Saukenuk. Not a gun was fired. Not one arrow flew through the air. No war whoops rang out from the Indian village. All was quiet. Saukenuk was deserted.

General Gaines called his officers to him.

"How did the Indians leave the village? My spies told me they were here last night."

"I cannot understand how they could have escaped," said one of the officers. "In order to get to the Mississippi River they had to pass our fort."

"But how did they get by?" asked another officer. "We did not see or hear them."

A soldier reported to the general. He saluted and said, "We have searched the village. There is not one Indian left here. They packed and left in a great hurry. All their canoes and most of their horses are gone."

The village was deserted. There had been nearly two thousand Indians in Saukenuk the night before. Some of the Indians were old and crippled and there were many squaws and frightened children. The braves were ready to fight to protect their homes and families. But they had no guns and ammunition. They could not fight against the large force under General Gaines.

All hope was gone. Black Hawk, the patriot, left his beloved village. Black Hawk, the chief and protector of his people, led them to safety.

The soldiers burned Saukenuk to the ground. Generation after generation of Sauks had been born in this village. They had lived and died and had been buried here. In Saukenuk the old warriors had taught the young Indians all the arts of the forest and warpath. Here the maidens and squaws had welcomed back their victorious braves. Never again would there be a victory celebration or a national feast.

Saukenuk, the Queen City of the Indians, was no more.

1. What news did Black Hawk's scout bring to the winter camp?

2. What did Black Hawk do when he heard the news?

3. What did Davenport advise Black Hawk to do?

4. Why did the Indians need help if they moved to a new home?

5. How did Davenport try to help them?

6. What did the white settlers do to force the Sauks to give up their lands?

7. What did Davenport ask the Indian agent to do for the Sauks?

8. What happened when General Gaines asked, "Who is Black Hawk?"

9. On what terms did Black Hawk agree to leave Saukenuk?

10. What did the soldiers do to Saukenuk?

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