Black Hawk (Sauk leader)

Published on April 24, 2012 by Amy

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Black Hawk
Black Hawk

Black Hawk (1767 – October 3, 1838) was a leader and warrior of the Sauk American Indian tribe in what is now the United States. Although he had inherited an important historic medicine bundle, he was not one of the Sauk’s hereditary civil chiefs. His status came from leading war parties as a young man, and from his leadership of a band of Sauks during the Black Hawk War of 1832.

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During the War of 1812, Black Hawk fought on the side of the British. Later he led a band of Sauk and Fox warriors, known as the British Band, against European-American settlers in Illinois and present-day Wisconsin in the 1832 Black Hawk War. After the war, he was captured and taken to the eastern U.S., where he and other leaders toured several cities. Black Hawk died in 1838 in what is now southeastern Iowa. He left behind an enduring legacy through many eponyms and other tributes.

Early life

Black Hawk, or Black Sparrow Hawk (Sauk Makataimeshekiakiak “be a large black hawk”) was born in the village of Saukenuk on the Rock River, in present-day Rock Island, Illinois, in 1767. Black Hawk’s father Pyesa was the tribal medicine man of the Sauk people. The Sauk people used the village in the summer for raising corn and as a burial site, while moving across the Mississippi for winter hunts and fur trapping.

Little is known about Black Hawk’s youth. He was said to be a descendant of Nanamakee (Thunder), a Sauk chief who, according to tradition, met an early French explorer, possibly Samuel de Champlain. At age 15, Black Hawk accompanied his father Pyesa on a raid against the Osages, and won the approval of his father by killing and scalping his first enemy. The young Black Hawk then tried to establish himself as a war captain by leading other raids, but met with limited success until, at age 19, he led 200 men in a battle against the Osages, in which he personally killed five men and one woman. Soon after, he joined his father in a raid against Cherokees along the Meramec River in Missouri. After Pyesa died from wounds received in the battle, Black Hawk inherited the Sauk medicine bundle that had been carried by his father.

After an extended period of mourning for his father, Black Hawk resumed leading raiding parties over the next years, usually targeting the Osages. Black Hawk did not belong to a clan that provided the Sauks with civil leaders, or “chiefs”. He instead achieved status through his exploits as a warrior, and by leading successful raiding parties. Men like Black Hawk are sometimes called “war chiefs”, although historian Patrick Jung writes that “It is more accurate to call them ‘war leaders’ since the nature of their office and the power that it wielded was much different from that of a civil chief.” The term “war captain” is preferred by some historians.

War of 1812

Black Hawk served as a war leader of a band of Sauk at their village of Saukenuk. He had always been opposed to ceding Native American lands to white settlers and their governments. In particular, he denied the validity of Quashquame’s 1804 treaty between the Sauk and Fox nations and then-Governor William Henry Harrison of the Indiana Territory. The treaty ceded territory including Saukenuk to the United States. This treaty was subsequently disputed by Black Hawk and other members of the tribes because the full tribal councils had not been consulted, nor did those representing the tribes have authorization from their councils to cede lands. Black Hawk participated in skirmishes against the newly constructed Fort Madison in the disputed land; this was the first time he fought directly with U.S. forces.

The War of 1812 involved forces of Great Britain and her North American colonies in present-day Canada against the United States. The British depended upon Native American allies to help them wage war. Colonel Robert Dickson, an English fur trader, amassed a sizable force of Native Americans at Green Bay to assist the British in operations around the Great Lakes. Most of the warriors he assembled were from the Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk, Kickapoo and Ottawa tribes. Dickson appealed to Black Hawk and his band of about 200 Sauk warriors. When Black Hawk arrived, he was given command of all the Natives gathered at Green Bay, presented with a silk flag, a medal, and a written certificate of good behavior and alliance with the British. In addition, Dickson bestowed upon Black Hawk the rank of brevet Brigadier General. Twenty years later after the Battle of Bad Axe, the certificate was found carefully preserved, along with a flag similar to the one Dickson gave to Black Hawk.

During the war, Black Hawk and his warriors fought in several engagements with Major-General Henry Procter on the borders of Lake Erie. Black Hawk was at the battle of Fort Meigs, and the attack on Fort Stephenson. The British and the Indian Confederacy, led by Tecumseh, were repulsed with great losses to the British.

Black Hawk despaired over the waste of lives caused by the use of European attack methods; soon after, he quit the war to return home. Back in Saukenuk he found that his rival Keokuk had become the tribe’s war chief. Black Hawk rejoined the British effort toward the end of the war and participated alongside British forces in campaigns along the Mississippi River near the Illinois Territory. Black Hawk helped to push the Americans out of the upper Mississippi River valley, at the Battle of Credit Island and by harassing U.S. troops at Fort Johnson. Black Hawk fought in the Battle of the Sink Hole in May 1815, leading an ambush on a group of Missouri Rangers. Conflicting accounts of the action were given by the Missouri leader John Shaw and by Black Hawk.

After the War of 1812 ended, Black Hawk signed a peace treaty in May 1816 that re-affirmed the treaty of 1804, a provision of which Black Hawk later protested ignorance.

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