31 July, 2017 18:08

In Chippewa Falls this morning, and it is not hard to see why the Ojibwe would love the shores of Lake Wissota, where this lumbering railroad city got its start in the 1870s.Heading west now for Minnesota – but before leaving Wisconsin some words should be written about Black Hawk’s War – the last armed conflict between Native Nations and the US government east of the Mississippi.
That brief and ill fated war ended about 120 miles due south of here at the mouth of the Bad Axe River in what is now Desoto, Wisconsin; and Black Hawk’s name is everywhere in this state, from the Black Hawk drive tools long manufactured in Milwaukee (now owned by Stanley) to the no less than nine different high school sports teams using the Black Hawk logo in the state.
It is tempting, sometimes, when considering the state of ongoing warfare that seems to have existed between the US government and a wide variety of Native Nations over the course of 100s of years to look at the Indigenous people of the continent as at fault, somehow, for being warlike. But the wars follow a definite pattern: as the white colonialists push ever westward, moving "our" so-called frontier into successive contact with more and more formerly free and non-adversarial Nations, it is our imperial policy of moving onto Indigenous lands and provoking conflict that is always at root in these brief and bitter armed conflicts, that move west through the decades of time, always west.
On November 4th, 1804, four members of the Sauk Nation, accompanied by one member of the allied Fox (Mesquakie) Nation signed a treaty with Indiana Gov. William Henry Harrison. They thought by doing so they were settling a dispute that had arisen with the killing of three white squatters by Sauk and Fox warriors defending their tribal lands. That is the mission they had been authorized by their tribal councils to conclude by journeying to St. Louis that year.
But Harrison tricked them into signing away over 50 million acres of traditional Sauk and Fox lands that lay between what is now northeastern Missouri and Southwestern Wisconsin and all their lands in Illinois for $2,254 dollars in goods and the promise of $1,000 in annual payments to the tribes. Quite a steal.
Black Hawk, a Sauk warrior, refused to go along with it.
As long as the whites did not encroach on the major settlement of Saukenuk (now Rock Island, Illinois) Black Hawk’s home, there was peace.
But on returning from winter hunting in 1829, Black Hawk and his band found white squatters settled in the village, demanding the enforcement of the fraudulent treaty, and the removal of all Sauk and Fox to west of the Mississippi.
Three years of tension and increasing conflict led to outright war in 1832.
Vastly outnumbered in battle, (750 armed militiamen vs. 50 Sauk warriors and about 60 allied Kickapoo) Black Hawk led a brave rear guard action at the Battle of Wisconsin Heights, on July 21st, 1832, allowing about 1000 old men, women and children to escape across the Wisconsin River while losing more than half of his own warriors.
Chased to the banks of the Mississippi, Black Hawk found an armed steamboat there ahead of him, leaving him with no choice but to turn and fight again at the Battle of Bad Axe on August 1st.
According to the State of Wisconsin plaque at the site of that massacre: "Driven into the water by their pursuers, the Indians – warriors, old people, women and children – were shot down or drowned as they tried to escape."
Black Hawk, whose Native name is Makataimeshekiakiak, was taken captive and imprisoned for eight months near St. Louis, then forced to endure a US triumphal victory tour of major Eastern Cities, where the media made much of the captured Sauk warrior.
Asked why he chose to go to war rather than submit to the terms of a fraudulent treaty, Black Hawk is quoted as replying:
"Rock River was a beautiful country. I loved my towns, my cornfields, and this home of my people. I fought for it."


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