Published on December 9, 2012 by Carol
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Editor: Roger L. Nichols
Black Hawk’s Autobiography is reframed in this edition to convey the true voice of the author despite Jacksonian influences of the original editor and interpreter (Patterson and LeClair) who published the first autobiography in 1833. Nichols muses in his introduction,”What is certain is that Black Hawk provided some narrative which has come down to the present…To what extent… does his product offer an authentic Indian voice?…Having worked on this text for some years, it seems to me that we can indeed ‘tease out’ the Indian’s feelings and ideas from the Autobiography…the resulting prose still gives obvious examples of Sauk cultural practices and the warrior’s individual attitudes.” (p. xix) The value of such an edition is clear. For the first time a mid- 19th century Native American perspective of the experience of American/other territorial expansion, takeover, and ensuing treaties and conflicts between settlers and Native Americans is articulated. What emerges despite the cosmetic grooming efforts of Patterson or LeClair is not pretty or flattering to Americans in any way. Black Hawk is a formidable and resourceful enemy both with the pen and the arrow. What is valuable to Native Americans and other scholars today is both historical and current. Lost, forgotten, buried, disregarded, unperceived, and misunderstood Sauk values and outlooks can be discovered and explored. Perhaps the bitter battle of Wisconsin Heights can engender new insight from current audiences. What is clear and amazing is the evident skill and generalship of Black Hawk, as well as the loyalty and bravery of his band. Nichols begins with a chronology of important events in Black Hawk’s life and a series of maps of parts of present day Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin to clarify and illustrate the progress of the British Band with Black Hawk. It is very clear that Nichols is understating when he states “…modern readers using some care can indeed find much that was Sauk and that was Black Hawk in this account.” I found many parts of Black Hawk’s Autobiography to be deeply moving. At one part, Black Hawk describes his joy at doing battle with a worthy adversary, a leader who was careful with his men and cautious in the risk of death and injury as well as cunning and resourceful, by saying “I would have liked to shake his hand!” I have spent some time roaming and camping in the land where Black Hawk fought the battle of Wisconsin Heights. Reading his autobiography helps reanimate that haunted, proud and beautiful landscape with the brave members of the British Band and their leader. It makes you feel as though you want to shake his hand.