DAVENPORT PAST AND PRESENT
FRIEND WILKIE: - As I am informed you intend in your forthcoming History of "Davenport Past and Present" to give some incidents referring to the Black Hawk War. I will give you, from recollection, a statement of some facts that you may arrange for your book, and put in a shape that will interest your readers.
As I before stated, I carried Gen. Gaines, several officers, and as many U. S. Troops from Jefferson Barracks to Rock Island, in 1837, as I could accommodate on the steamboat Enterprise. I was in the Council Chamber when Black Hawk and his Chiefs and Braves were apparently very near destroying the lives of the U. S. Officers, and every other white man in the Council Chamber. I know the fact, that Gen. Gaines, the officers of the U. S. Army, the Indian Agent, (who was the next year killed by the Black Hawk Band.) Mr. Antoine LeClaire, Indian Interpreter, Mr. George Davenport, Mr. Russel Farnham, and some others, all done their duty most humanely to conciliate and reconcile that desperate band of marauders, that separated themselves from the then friendly nation of Indians, called "Sac and Fox," whose principal Chiefs were men of talent, discretion and prudence, and who commanded the respect of officers and traders who had busness and intercourse with them.
I know that Gen. Gaines was extremely humann and conciliatory, in 1831, toward Black Hawk and his band, and I know, too, that all the gentlemen I named above, contributed their advice and influence to procure a reconciliation. This disaffected Band had with them a considerable number of Squaws and pappooses (women and children,) which I know, from conversation at that time with Gen. Gaines, Officers, Traders, Agent and Interpretor, was a prominent reason, concurred in by all, to induce extraordinary efforts for conciliation towards this Band of inhuman and ill governed out-laws.
It is a matter of history, that this Band made a Treaty, received valuable presents from the U. S. Government, made promise of permanent peace, and returned to their own country in 1831.
In the Spring of 1832, they reorganized with renewed strength from the means they obtained by the Treaty stipulations from the United States, and commenced their work of death and destruction on defenceless inhabitants, at many points, both along the River, and in the interior of the State of Illinois.
I was at Galenna with my steamboat Dove in 1832, when two survivors, out of nine, came into Galena, and brought intelligence of the murder of their seven companions, one of whom was the U. S. Indian Agent of the Sacs and Foxes, Mr. Felix St. Vrain, who was a humane and most worthy gentleman, as well as popular Agent with the Chiefs and Indians generally. I knew him well, and in common with all who were acquainted with his chnaracter, respected him highly.
It happened that Gen. George W. Jones, our present U. S. Senator, who was then in Lead Smelting and Merchantile business some miles from the town, came in that morning, and in a few minutes after, he heard of the porbable murder of Flix St. Vrain, his brother-in-law. (The two that came in said that Mr. St. Vrain, when they last saw him, was a quarter of a mile from them, and they heard several rifle shots.) When he mounted his horse to start, I was with him, and begged of him to wait an hour, until some friends could be raised to go with him; and I know, too, that several of his friends tried to prevail upon him to delay until he could have several go with him.
The excitement that morning was intense. The triffing participation I had in the matter gave me knowledge of a fact that is highly creditable to Gen. Jones, and I will state it with the hope that you will make it a matter of history.
Being then intimate with Mr. Jones, I took soom interest in detaining him: I think I held the rein of the bridle, and told him it would be rash imprudence for him to go before he procured at least a few companions. He told me he felt it his duty to go immediatley. He said to me - "My friend, if I can get to my poor brother-in-law even a few minutes before any one else, to staunch his wounds, and save his life, I will be doing my duty; therefore I will not wait."
Off he went. I started that day for St. Louis; stopped at Rock Island, and called to see my friend, Major George Davenport; found him and his family (as all the inhabitants along the river were,) in a state of excitement and dread. His tables and sideboard were covered with powderhorns, cartridges, pistols, &c.; guns in corners, and a swivel at the door.
When he was informed of the probable murder of Mr. St. Vrain, he seemed deeply grieved, evincing generous and laudable solicitude for the wife and children of Mr. St. Vrain, who were residing in the Government Council House on the Island.
Major Davenport and myself went to see Mrs. St. Vrain. We advised her, as there was great danger to her and her family there, to go down on my boat, as they would be safe at St. Genevieve, where her parents and connections lived.
She seemed to know by intuition that her husband was killed. We did not give her even an intimation of the doleful news we had heard, but she seemed convinced that he was killed. The deep affiction of the mother and her children that night was really distressing. The family went to St. Louis with me. When I returned to Galena, I learned that a party of several started in a few minutes after Mr. Jones, but did not overtake him until they were some six miles from Galena. They found the dead body of Flix St. Vrain, I think, some fourteen miles from Galena. The heart was cut out, and head and hands cut off; the corpse was identified by the despatches* and papers that were left undisturbed in his pockets. I thought then, and think still that there are but few men, under the circumstances, posessing the courage and magnanimity to act as Gen. George W. Jones acted on that occasion.
*Mr. St. Vrain was sent from Gen. Atkinson's Army, on Rock River, with Despatches to Galena, with eight escorts.
The day I arrived at Galena, the news came that daily and nightly murders and depredations were committed by the Black Hawk Band at various points, which created tremendous excitement. Col. Strode had several companies mustered, and proclaimed martial law--which required every able-bodied man to go into service. There was a good supply of patriotic and brave, as well as efficient men there then; hundreds of miners left their diggings, and came into Galena. There were a number, however, who preferred remaining in the town to soldiering. Several that were extremely active and fine healthy looking men, at dancing parties, reported themeselves as invalids, and exposed internal and external diseases; some made liberal offers to the Medical Faculty on condition that they should be rejected as unfit for service.
Col. Strode pressed my steamboat, crew and self, and we got ready in a few hours.
A short time before we started, my Second Engineer left the boat; I went to see him. He told me he was afraid he might be killed, and did not want to run the risk. I gave him half an hour to make up his mind to go on board, and attend to his duty as an officer of the steamboat Dove, or I would have him put in the ranks of the Army as a Private, with the brand of a coward on him. He immediately went on board, and he and the other Engineer very properly requested plank to be put up to shield them aft of the boilers. We shielded the Pilots from view also by putting plank on each side of the Pilot Wheel House.
On our way down, between Galena and Rock Island, we found Mr. Davidson's house had been ransacked the night before. Several rifle shots had been fired into the room that the family occupied. A small block house that they had built the year before, as Mr. Davidson said, "to please the women," saved the lives of that family. Mr. Davidson's was the only house there then; now the flourishing town of Savanna is on that location.
We saw at another point, near where Cordova is now situated, a fire still bruning, where the Indians had camped, and the trail where they had traveled, but found no Indians. We returned to Galena, and went up from there to Prairie du Chien, (Fort Crawford.) We heard of Indians being on or near an Island a short distance above Dubuque, a few hours before we arrived there. Whilst we were in service we had on board a Company of about eighty. It was called the "Spy Company," officers and privates all acted alike, and I think were gentlemen. I have been intimate with, and met many of them from time to time since. They were a choice Company of Pioneers, and acquitted themselves well during the war, and many of thom have been since, and are now distinguished gentlemen in this country. I have read several misrepresentations reguarding the conduct of the U. S. Government towards the Black Hawk Band, as well as untruthful apologies published to excuse that marauding murderer's party.
Several of the prominent officers in that war have efficiently and honorable filled high places as distinguished Democrats in the Councils of the nation. Instance Governors Reynolds and Dodge, Gen. G. W. Jones, and others.
I had intimate acquaintance with many officers, agents, interpreters, Tradors, and Indian Chiefs, from 1827 up to this time, and when opportunity offered I tried to learn the truth.
Now, when I look back, I cannot call to mind a single instance where there was an act of inhumanity or oppression encouraged by the Administration of the United States, or the Illinois State Government. Nor do I know of a single case of an official or trader giving cause to this Band to commence the war. I do know that thousands of the innocent and unoffending inhabitants of Illinois and Wisconsin were driven from their homes, had their property destroyed, families seriously inconvenienced, and several inhuman butcheries of men who had no part in the war, were committed by those Indians before the United States army made an attack on them. I know that the privations, distress, dread, and intense anxiety of the white inhabitants, caused by the actions and demonstration of this Band of out-laws, were general and wide-spread over the State of Illinois and Territory of Wisconsin, from the Spring of 1831, to the end of the war, which was terminated by the memorable battle of "Bad Axe" - where, by general (and I have reason to believe true,) report, Gov. Henry Dodge, Ex-United States Senator of Wisconsin, gained high honors by his brave and noble conduct in the command of that division of the army. I have frequently heard his officers speak of his admirable military skill. He had, in the war of 1812, acquired an enviable reputation as Captain of a Company of Volunteers from St. Genevive, Missouri.
I could add many incidents of those times that might interest some of your readers, but have not spare time to prepare them; what I have written is hastily scratched on the paper from memory, but, nevertheless, I have aimed to state facts.
(By request of the writer of the above, who is a personal friend of Ex-Gov. Reynolds, and also by request of Ex-Gov. Reynolds himself, we append the following account of the Black Hawk War, from "Annals of the West," by Messrs. Perkins and Peck:)
As this portion of Illinois history has been much misunderstood, and consequently misrepresented in several publications, we shall give the facts fo the case, but in a very condensed form:
1st. The Sauks and Foxes had no original right, in the Indian sense even, to any portion of Illinois. They were intruders on the country of the Santeaurs and Ioways.
2nd. The head chiefs sold their claim to their lands in Illinois and Southern Wisconsin, to the United, States in 1804.*
* Indian Treaties.
3rd. This treaty was violated by all the portion of the united tribes, which committed hostilities against the United States, and joined the British during the war. The portions of the tribes that remained peaceable, re-confirmed the treaty of 1804, at Portage des Sioux, September 13th, 1815. The hostile part of this nation, in 1816, professed repentance for their misdeeds and asked forgiveness, and the treaty of 1804 was again renewed and re-enacted,
4th. Black Hawk never was a chief; never recognized as such by Indian authority, or by the United States. He was a brave, in Indian parlance, gathered around him a small party of disaffected spirits, refused to attend the negotiations of 1816; went to Canada, proclaimed himself and his party British subjects, and received presents from that quarter.
5th. Another treaty was made in full council, "with the chiefs, warriors, and head men of the Sac and Fox tribes," at Fort Armstrong, [Rock Island,] September 3rd, 1822, by the agent of the United States, in which the treaty of 1804, is referred to and ratified. And still another treaty was made by ten regularly delegated chiefs and head men, and Governor Clark on the part of the United States, in Washington City, the 4th of August, 1824. In this treaty they sell, for a valuable consideration, all their title to the northern portion of the State of Missouri, from the strip of country between the Mississippi and Des Moines river, to certain half-breeds of that nation. And on all the lands they had claimed south and east of this line, they are not to be permitted to settle or hunt, after the first day of January, 1826.
6th. In the treaty of 1804, the Sauks and Foxes wer permitted to reside and hunt on the land sold, while it remained the property of the United States.
Writers, and especially Brown, have retained the story of Black Hawk, and by this means misrepresented this whole business. Brown has given Indian speeches, in place of authentic public documents and treaties. Drake, in his "Book of the Indians," in many respects a valuable antiquarian work, has made great mistakes. This work abound with errors, concerning the causes and the management of the Black Hawk affair.
7th. Another treaty was held at Prairie du Chien, in 1825, with the Sauks, Foxes, Winnebagoes, Chippeways, Sioux, and other North-western Indians. The object was to settle the long existing hostilities among these tribes, in which the United States Government exercised the attacked by a band of Sioux, and eight of their number killed and wounded. The commander at Fort Snelling caused four of the Sioux, who had committed this murder, to be delivered to the Chippeways, by whom they were shot. Red Bird, a Sioux Chief, determined to retaliate, and got defeated. Being derided by his own nation, he resolved to attack the white people, whom he regarded as allies of the Chippeways; and on the 27th of July, two men in the vicinity of Prairie du Chien, were killed, and a third wounded. At the same period hostile demonstrations were made by some Winnebagoes, and Black Hawk's party of the Suaks, in the viciaity of the lead mines, which caused much alarm. About the 28th of July, two keel-boats, conveying military stores to Fort Snelling, were attacked by hostile Sioux, Winnebagoes and Sauks, two of their crew were killed, and four wounded. The party was commanded by Red Bird, but Black Hawk was of the party, General Atkinson marched a detachment of troops into the Winnebago country, captured Red Bird and six other Indians, and committed them to prison in Prairie du Chien, for trial. Red Bird died in prison. A part of the others were convicted and executed in December, 1828.
About this year, the President issued a proclamation, according to law, and the country about the mouth of Rock River, which had been previously surveyed, was sold, and the year following, was taken possession by American families. Some time previous to this, after the death of old Quashquaine, Keokuk was appointed chief of the Sauk nation. The United States gave due notice to the Indians to leave the country, east of the Mississippi, and Keokuk made the same proclamation to the Sauks, and a portion of the nation, with their regular chiefs, with Keokuk at their head, peaceably retired across the Mississippi. Up to this period, Black Hawk continued his annual visits to Malden, and received his annuity for allegiance to the British government. He would not recognize Keokuk as chief, but gathered about him all the restless spirits of his tribe, many of whom were young, and fired with the ambition of becoming "braves," and set up himself as chief.
Black Hawk was not a Pontiac, or a Tecumthe. He had neither the talent or the influences to form any comprehensive scheme of action, yet he made an abortive attempt to unite all the Indians of the West, from Rock River to Mexico, in a war against the United States.
In the memoir he dictated, and LeClaire wrote, he states, "runners were sent to the Arkansas, Red River and Texas - not on the subject of our lands, but on a secret mission, which I am not, at present, permitted to explain." The mission was no secret when the memoir was written. It was to arouse up the Indians to attack the white settlements, through the long line of frontier, at the same time.
Still another, treaty, and the seventh in succession, was made with the Sauks and Foxes, on the 15th, of July, 1830, in which they again confirmed the preceding treaties, and promised to remove from Illinois to the territory West of the Mississippi. This was no new ceasion, but a recognition of the former treaties by the proper authorities of the nation, and a renewed pledge of fidelity to the United States.
During all this time Black Hawk was gaining accessions to his party. Like Tecumthe, he, too, had his Prophet - whose influence over the superstitious savages was not without effect.
In 1830, an arrangement was made by the Americans, who had purchased the land above the mouth of Rock River, and the Indians that remained, to live as neighbors; the latter cultivation their old fields. Their enclosures consisted of stakes stuck in the ground, and small poles tied with strips of bark transversely. The Indians left for their Summer's hunt, and returned when their corn was in the milk - gathered it, and turned their horses into the fields, cultivated by the Americans, to gather their crop. Some depredatious were committed on their hogs and other property. The Indians departed on their winter's hunt, but returned early in the spring of 1831, under the guidance of Black Hawk, and committed depredations on the forntier settlements. Their leader was a cunning, shrewd Indian, and trained his party to commit various depredations on the property of the frontier inhabitants, but not to attack, or kill any person. His policy was to provoke the Americans to make war on him, and thus seen to fight in defense of Indian rights, and the "graves of their fathers." Numerous aftidavits, from persons of unquestionable integrity, sworn to before the proper officers, were made out and sent to Governor Reynolds, attesting to these and many other facts. We have examined these documents, knew, personnaly, some who subscribed so them, and others from good testimony. Black Hawk had about five hundred Indians in training, with horses, well provided with arms, and invaded the State of Illinois with hostile designs. These facts were known to the Governor and other officers of the State. Consequently, Governor Reynolds, on the 28th of May, 1831, made a call for volunteers, and communicated the facts to General Gaines of this military district, and made a call for regular troops. The State was invaded by a hostile band of savages, under an avowed enemy of the United States. The military turned out to the number of twelve hundred or more, on horseback, and under command of the late General Joseph Duncan, marched to Rock River.
The regular troops went up the Mississippi in June. Black Hawk and his men, alarmed at this formidable appearance, recrossed the Mississippi, sent a white flag, and made a treaty, in which the United Stares agreed to furnish them a large amount of corn and other necessaries, if they would observe the treaty.
In the spring of 1832, Black Hawk, with his party, again crossed the Mississippi to the valley of Rock River, notwithstanding he was warned against doing so by General Atkinson, who commanded at Fort Armstrong, in Rock Island. Troops, both regular and militia, were at once mustered, and marched in the pursuit of the native band. Among the troops of observation, and close in the neighborhood of the savages. On that evening, having discovered a party of Indians, the whites galloped forward to attack the savage band, but were not with so much energy and determination, that they took to their heels in utter consternation. The whites were one hundred and seventy-five in number; the Indians from five to six hundred. Of this party, twenty-five followed the retreating battalion, after night, for several miles. Eleven whites were killed and shockingly mangled, and several wounded. Some four or five Indians were known to be killed. This action was at Stillman's Run, in the eastern part of Ogle county, about twenty-five miles above Dixon.
Peace was now hopelss, and although Keokuk, the legitimate chief of the nation, controlled a majority, the temptation of war and plunder was too strong for those who followed Black Hawk.
We now quote from the first edition of the Annals, with some emendations: -
On the 21st of May, a party of warriors, about seventy in number, attacked the Indian Creek settlement, in LaSalle county, Illinois, killed fifteen persons, and took two young women prisoners; these were afterwards returned to their friends, late in July, through the efforts of the Winnegagoes. On the following day, a party of spies was attacked, and four of them slain, and other massacres followed. Meanwhile three thousand Illinois militia had been ordered out, who rendezvoused upon the 20th of June, near Peru; these marched forward to Rock River, where they were joined by the United States troops, the whole being under command of General Atkinson. Six hundred mounted men were also ordered out, while General Scott, with nine companies of artillery, hastened from the sea-board, by the way of the lakes to Chicago, moving with such celerity, that some of his troops, were are told, actually went eighteen hundred miles in nighteen days; passing in that time from Fort Monroe, on the Chesnpeake, to Chicago. Long before the artillerists could reach the scene of action, however, the western troops had commenced the conflict in earnest, and before they did reach the field, had closed it. On the 24th of June, Black Hawk and his two hundred warriors were repulsed by Major Demint, with but one hundred and fifty militia; this skirmish took place between Rock River and Galena. The army then continued to move up Rock River, near the head of which it was understood that the main party of the hostile Indians was collected; and as provisious were scarce, and hard to convey in such a country, a detachment was sent forward to Fort Winnebago, at the portage between the Wisconsin and Fox rivers, to procure supplies. This detachment, hearing of Black Hawk's army, pursued and overtook them on the 21st of July, near the Wisconsin river, and in the neighborhood of the Blue Mounds. General Henry, who commanded the party, formed with his troops three sides of a hollow square, and in that order received the attack of the Indians; two attempts to break the ranks were made by the natives in vain; and then a general charge was made by the whole body of Americans, and with such success that, it is said, fifty-two of the red man were left dead upon the field, while but one American was killed, and eight wounded.
Before this action, Henry had sent word of his motions to the main army, by whom he was immediately rejoined, and on the 28th of July, the whole crossed the Wisconsin in pursuit of Black Hawk, who was retiring toward the Mississippi. Upon the bank of that river, nearly opposite the Upper Ioway, the Indians were overtaken, and again defeated, on the 2nd of August, with a loss of one hundred and fifty men, whils of the whites but eighteen fell. This battle entirely broke the power of Black Hawk; he fled, but was seized by the Winnebagos, and upon the 27th, was delivered to the officers fo the United States, at Prairie du Chien.
General Scott, during the months of July and August, was contending with a worse than Indian fos. The Asiatic cholera had just reached Canada; passing up the St. Lawrence in Detroit, it overtook the western-bound armament, and thenceforth the camp became a hospital. On the 8th of July, his thinned ranks landed at Fort Dearborn, or Chicago, but it was late in August before they reached the Mississippi. The number of that band who died from the cholera, must have been at least seven times as great as that of all who fell in battle. There were several other skirmishes of the troops with the Indians, and a number of individuals murdered; making in all, about seventy-five persons killed in those actions, or murdered on the frontiers.
In September, the Indian troubles were closed by a treaty, which relinquished to the white men thirty millions of acres of land, for which stipulated annuities were to be paid; constituting now the eastern portion of the State of Iowa, to which the only real claim of the Sauks and Foxes was their deprudatious on the unoffending Ioways, about one hundred and thirty years since. To Keokuk and his party, a reservation of forty miles square was given, in consideration of his fidelity; while Black Hawk and his family were sent as hostages to Fort Monroe in the Chesapeake, where they remained till June, 1833. The chief afterwards returned to his native wilds, where he died.
Black Hawk cannot rank with Pontiac or Tecmmthe; he fought only for revenge, and showed no intellectual power; but he was a fearless man.