Battle of Bad Axe – Prelude

Published on February 15, 2013 by Carol

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Battle of Bad Axe

A few hours after midnight on 22 July, with Black Hawk’s band resting on a knoll on the Wisconsin Heights Battlefield, Neapope, one of the key leaders accompanying Black Hawk, attempted to explain to the nearby militia officers that his group wanted only to end the fighting and go back across the Mississippi River. In a “loud shrill voice” he delivered a conciliatory speech in his native Ho-Chunk language, assuming Pauquette and his band of Ho-Chunk guides were still with the militia at Wisconsin Heights. However, the U.S. troops did not understand him, because their Sauk allies had already departed the battlefield. Following this failed attempt at peace, Neapope abandoned the cause and returned to a nearby Ho-Chunk village. The British Band had slowly disintegrated over the months of conflict; most of the Ho-Chunk and Potawatomi that had joined were gone by the Battle of Bad Axe. Others, especially children and the elderly, had died of starvation while the band fled the pursuing militia through the swamps around Lake Koshkonong.

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Following the engagement at Wisconsin Heights, the militia decided to wait until the following day to pursue Black Hawk. They heard, but did not understand, Neapope’s speech during the night, and to their surprise, when morning arrived their enemy had disappeared. The battle, though militarily devastating for the British Band, had allowed much of the group to escape to temporary safety across the Wisconsin River. The reprieve was short-lived for many – a group of Fox women and children who attempted to escape down the Wisconsin following the battle were captured by U.S.-allied tribes or shot by soldiers further downstream. During the night, while the non-combatants escaped in canoes, Black Hawk and the remaining warriors crossed the river near present-day Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin. The band fled west over rugged terrain toward the banks of the Mississippi River, with a week’s head start on the militia.

While the band fled west, Commanding General Henry Atkinson trimmed his force to a few hundred men and set out to join militia commanders Henry Dodge and James D. Henry to regroup and resupply at Fort Blue Mounds. Under the command of Atkinson, around 1,300 men from the commands of Henry, Dodge, Alexander Posey and Milton Alexander crossed the Wisconsin River between 27 July and 28 July near present day Helena, Wisconsin. The well-fed and rested militia force picked up Black Hawk’s trail again on 28 July near present-day Spring Green, Wisconsin, and relatively quickly closed the gap on the famished and battle-weary band of Native Americans. On 1 August, Black Hawk and about 500 men, women, and children arrived at the eastern bank of the Mississippi, a few miles downstream from the mouth of the Bad Axe River. On arrival, the leaders of the band, including Black Hawk, called a council meeting to discuss their next move

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