Battle of Bad Axe – Background

Published on February 15, 2013 by Carol

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Monument near the site of the Bad Axe massacre

The Battle of Bad Axe, also known as the Bad Axe Massacre, occurred 1–2 August 1832, between Sauk (Sac) and Fox Indians and United States Army regulars and militia. This final battle of the Black Hawk War took place near present-day Victory, Wisconsin in the United States. It marked the end of the war between white settlers and militia in Illinois and Michigan Territory, and the Sauk and Fox tribes under warrior Black Hawk.

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The battle occurred in the aftermath of the Battle of Wisconsin Heights, as Black Hawk’s band fled the pursuing militia. The militia caught up with them on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River, a few miles downstream from the mouth of the Bad Axe River. The battle that followed was very one-sided: historians have called it a massacre since the 1850s. The fighting took place over two days, with the steamboat Warrior present on both days. By the second day, Black Hawk and most of the Native American leaders had fled, though many of the band stayed behind. The victory for the United States was decisive and the end of the war allowed much of Illinois and present-day Wisconsin to be opened for further settlement.

An 1804 treaty between the governor of Indiana Territory and a council of leaders from the Sauk and Fox Native American tribes ceded 50 million acres (200,000 km2) of their land to the United States for $2,234.50 and an annual annuity of $1,000. The treaty also allowed the Sauk and Fox to remain on their land until it was sold. The treaty was controversial; Sauk war leader Black Hawk, and others disputed its validity because they said that the full tribal councils were not consulted and the council that negotiated the treaty did not have the authority to cede land. After the discovery of lead in and around Galena, Illinois during the 1820s, miners began moving into the area ceded in the 1804 treaty. When the Sauk and Fox returned from the winter hunt in 1829, they found their land occupied by white settlers and were forced to return west of the Mississippi River.

Angered by the loss of his birthplace, Black Hawk led a number of incursions across the Mississippi River into Illinois between 1830 and 1831, but each time was persuaded to return west without bloodshed. In April 1832, encouraged by promises of alliance with other tribes and the British, he again moved his so-called “British Band” of around 1,000 warriors and non-combatants into Illinois. Finding no allies, he attempted to return across the Mississippi to present-day Iowa, but the undisciplined Illinois Militia’s actions led to Black Hawk’s surprising victory at the Battle of Stillman’s Run. A number of other engagements followed, and the militia of Michigan Territory and the state of Illinois were mobilized to hunt down Black Hawk’s band. The conflict became known as the Black Hawk War.

The period between the Battle of Stillman’s Run in May and the raid at Sinsinawa Mound in late June was filled with war-related activity. A series of attacks at Buffalo Grove, the Plum River settlement, Fort Blue Mounds, and the war’s most famous incident, the Indian Creek massacre, all took place between mid-May and late June 1832. Two key battles, one at Horseshoe Bend on 16 June and the other at Waddams Grove on 18 June, played a role in changing public perception about the militia after its defeat at Stillman’s Run. The Battle of Apple River Fort on 24 June marked the end of a week that was an important turning point for the settlers. The fight was a 45-minute gun battle between defenders garrisoned inside Apple River Fort and Sauk and Fox warriors led by Chief Black Hawk.

The next day, after an inconclusive skirmish at Kellogg’s Grove, Black Hawk and his band fled the approaching militia through modern-day Wisconsin. The Sinsinawa Mound raid occurred on 29 June, five days after the Battle of Apple River Fort. As the band fled the pursuing militia, they passed through what are now Beloit and Janesville, then followed the Rock River toward Horicon Marsh, where they headed west toward the Four Lakes region, near modern-day Madison. On 21 July 1832, the militia caught up with Black Hawk’s band as they attempted to cross the Wisconsin River, near the present-day Town of Roxbury, in Dane County, Wisconsin, resulting in the Battle of Wisconsin Heights

Source: Legendsofamerica Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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