Chief Black Hawk
Chief Black Hawk, born Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, (1767 – October 3, 1838) was a band leader and warrior of the Sauk Native American tribe in what is now the Midwest U.S. During the War of 1812, Black Hawk had fought on the side of the British against the U.S., hoping to push white American settlers away from Sauk territory. Later he led a band of Sauk and Fox warriors, known as the British Band, against European-American settlers in Illinois and present-day Wisconsin in the 1832 Black Hawk War.
- Black Hawk... is now a prisoner to the white men... He has done nothing for which an Indian ought to be ashamed. He has fought for his countrymen, the squaws and papooses, against white men, who came year after year, to cheat them and take away their lands. You know the cause of our making war. It is known to all white men. They ought to be ashamed of it. Indians are not deceitful. The white men speak bad of the Indian and look at him spitefully. But the Indian does not tell lies. Indians do not steal.
An Indian who is as bad as the white men could not live in our nation; he would be put to death, and eaten up by the wolves. The white men are bad schoolmasters; they carry false books, and deal in false actions; they smile in the face of the poor Indian to cheat him; they shake them by the hand to gain their confidence, to make them drunk, to deceive them... We told them to leave us alone, and keep away from us; they followed on, and beset our paths, and they coiled themselves among us, like the snake. They poisoned us by their touch. We were not safe. We lived in danger. We were becoming like them, hypocrites and liars, adulterous lazy drones, all talkers and no workers... The white men do not scalp the head; but they do worse-they poison the heart.
Autobiography of Black Hawk, by Black Hawk (1933)
- Our women plant the corn, and as soon as they are done we make a feast... the young men select the women they wish to have for wives. He then informs his mother, who calls on the mother of the girl, when the necessary arrangements are made and the time appointed... He goes to the lodge when all are asleep... and with his flint and steel strikes a light and soon finds where his intended sleeps. He then awakens her, holds the light close to his face that she may know him, after which he places the light close to her. If she blows it out the ceremony is ended and he appears in the lodge next morning as one of the family. If she does not blow out the light, but leaves it burning he retires from the lodge. The next day he places himself in full view of it and plays his flute. The young women go out one by one to see who he is playing for. The tune changes to let them know he is not playing for them. When his intended makes her appearance at the door, he continues his courting tune until she returns to the lodge. He then quits playing and makes another trial at night which mostly turns out favorable. During the first year they ascertain whether they can agree with each other and be happy, if not they separate and each looks for another companion. p.23
- Every one makes his feast as he thinks best, to please the Great Spirit, who has the care of all beings created. Others believe in two Spirits, one good and one bad, and make feasts for the Bad Spirit, to keep him quiet. They think that if they can make peace with him, the Good Spirit will not hurt them. For my part I am of the opinion, that so far as we have reason, we have a right to use it in determining what is right or wrong, and we should always pursue that path which we believe to be right, believing that "whatsoever is, is right." If the Great and Good Spirit wished us to believe and do as the whites, he could easily change our opinions, so that we could see, and think, and act as they do. We are nothing compared to his power, and we feel and know it. We have men among us, like the whites, who pretend to know the right path, but will not consent to show it without pay. I have no faith in their paths, but believe that every man must make his own path. p. 24
- Black Hawk's watchtower... This tower to which my name had been applied, was a favorite resort and was frequently visited by me alone, when I could sit and smoke my pipe, and look with wonder and pleasure, at the grand scenes that were presented by the sun's rays, even across the mighty water. On one occasion a Frenchman, who had been making his home in our village, brought his violin with him to the tower, to play and dance for the amusement of a number of our people, who had assembled there, and while dancing with his back to the cliff accidentally fell over it and was killed by the fall. The Indians say that always at the same time of the year, soft strains of the violin can be heard near that spot. p. 26
- My reason teaches me that land cannot be sold. The Great Spirit gave it to his children to live upon and cultivate as far as necessary for their subsistence, and so long as they occupy and cultivate it they have the right to the soil, but if they voluntarily leave it, then any other people have a right to settle on it. Nothing can be sold but such things as can be carried away. p. 29
- Bad and cruel as our people were treated by the whites, not one of them was hurt or molested by our band. I hope this will prove that we are a peaceable people—having permitted ten men to take possession of our corn fields, prevent us from planting corn, burn our lodges, ill treat our women, and beat to death our men without offering resistance to their barbarous cruelties. This is a lesson worthy for the white man to learn: to use forebearance when injured. We acquainted our agent daily with our situation, and through him the great chief at St. Louis, and hoped that something would be done for us. The whites were complaining at the same time that we were intruding upon their rights. They made it appear that they were the injured party, and we the intruders. They called loudly to the great war chief to protect their property. How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make right look like wrong, and wrong like right. p. 30
- On our way down, I surveyed the country that had cost us so much trouble, anxiety and blood, and that now caused me to be a prisoner of war. I reflected upon the ingratitude of the whites when I saw their fine houses, rich harvests and everything desirable around them; and recollected that all this land had been ours, for which I and my people had never received a dollar, and that the whites were not satisfied until they took our village and our graveyards from us and removed us across the Mississippi.
On our arrival at Jefferson Barracks we met the great war chief, White Beaver, who had commanded the American army against my little band. I felt the humiliation of my situation; a little while before I had been leader of my braves, now I was a prisoner of war, but had surrendered myself. He received us kindly and treated us well. We were now confined to the barracks and forced to wear the ball and chain. This was extremely mortifying and altogether useless. Was the White Beaver afraid I would break out of his barracks and run away? Or was he ordered to inflict this punishment upon me? If I had taken him prisoner on the field of battle I would not have wounded his feelings so much by such treatment, knowing that a brave war chief would prefer death to dishonor. p.47
- Before I take leave of the public, I must contradict the story of some of the village criers, who, I have been told, accuse me of having murdered women ad children among the whites. This assertion is false! I never did, nor have I any knowledge that any of my nation ever killed a white woman or child. I make this statement of truth to satisfy the white people among whom I have been traveling, and by whom I have been treated with great kindness, that, when they shook me by the hand so cordially, they did not shake the hand that had ever been raised against any but warriors. p. 54
- Black Hawk's bitterness may have come in part from the way he was captured. Without enough support to hold out against the white troops, with his men starving, hunted, pursued across the Mississippi, Black Hawk raised the white flag. The American commander [of the Black Hawk War] later explained: "As we neared them they raised a white flag and endeavored to decoy us, but we were a little too old for them." The soldiers fired, killing women and children as well as warriors. Black Hawk fled; he was pursued and captured by Sioux in the hire of the army.