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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sac Chief Black Hawk: A Native American Warrior Addresses His Captors

       Muckete (black) Meshekiahkiah (sparrow hawk), or Black Hawk, was born in 1767, and died in 1838. He succeeded his father as Chief of the Sac Nation in 1788. He acted against the Americans in the War of 1812. Because of the occupation by the whites of certain vacated lands, he began the Black Hawk War in 1831, and was defeated in two battles in 1832. He surrendered, was taken East and confined in Fortress Monroe until June, 1833.
       This speech was delivered in the late summer of 1832 to a General Street, who appears to have been a militia officer. Black Hawk, having been defeated in July and August by General Dodge and General Atkinson in battles on the Wisconsin and Bad Axe Rivers, made his surrender to Street at Prairie du Chien, August 27.
       He was placed in the charge of a young lieutenant, Jefferson Davis, afterward president of the Southern Confederacy. Robert Anderson, who commanded at Fort Sumter, and Abraham Lincoln, served in the war defending against Black Hawk. It also is of interest that Black Hawk, on being taken to the East a captive, was confined in Fortress Monroe, where, thirty-three years afterward, Jefferson Davis was confined.
       Before going to Fortress Monroe, Black Hawk was taken to Washington and presented to Andrew Jackson in the White House, where he saluted him in words which then could not have raised the smile which they raise now: “I am a man and you are another.”

You have taken me prisoner, with all my warriors. I am much grieved.  For I expected, if I did not defeat you, to hold out much longer, to give you more trouble, before I surrendered.  I tried hard to bring you into an ambush, but your last general understood Indian fighting. I determined to rush on you, and fight you face to face. I fought hard.

But your guns were well aimed. The bullets flew like birds in the air, and whizzed by our ears like the wind through the trees in winter. My warriors fell around me. It began to look dismal. I saw my evil day at hand. The sun rose dim on us in the morning, and at night it sank in a dark cloud, and looked like a ball of fire.

That was the last sun that shone on Black Hawk. His heart is dead, and no longer beats quick in his bosom. He is now a prisoner of the white men. They will do with him as they wish.

But he can stand torture, and is not afraid of death. He is no coward. Black Hawk is an Indian. He has done nothing for which an Indian ought to be ashamed. He has fought for his countrymen, 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. The white men despise the Indians, and drive them from their homes. They smile in the face of the poor Indian, to cheat him; they shake him by the hand, to gain his confidence, to make him drunk, and to deceive him.

We told them to let us alone, and keep away from us; but 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 looked up to the Great Spirit. We went to our father [i.e., the President of the U.S.]. We were encouraged. His great council gave us fair words and big promises.  But we got no satisfaction.  Things were growing worse. There were no deer in the forest. The opossum and beaver were fled. The springs were drying up, and our squaws and papooses were without food to keep them from starving.

We called a great council and built a large fire. The spirit of our fathers arose, and spoke to us to avenge our wrongs, or die. We set up the war-whoop, and dug up the tomahawk. Our knives were ready. The heart of Black Hawk swelled high in his bosom, when he led his warriors to battle. He is satisfied. He will go to the world of spirits contented. He has done his duty. His father will meet him there, and commend him.

Black Hawk is a true Indian, and disdains to cry like a woman. He feels for his wife, his children, and his friends. But he does not care for himself. He cares for the Nation and the Indians. They will suffer. He laments their fate.

Farewell, my Nation! Black Hawk tried to save you, and avenge your wrongs. He drank the blood of some of the whites. He has been taken prisoner, and his plans are crushed. He can do no more. He is near his end. His sun is setting, and he will rise no more. Farewell to Black Hawk!

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