Published on February 13, 2013 by Carol
Hostilities in the Black Hawk War began on May 14, 1832, when Black Hawk’s warriors soundly defeated Illinois militiamen at the Battle of Stillman’s Run. Potawatomi chief Shabbona worried that Black Hawk’s success would encourage Native attacks on American settlements, and that Potawatomis would be held responsible. Soon after the battle, Shabbona, his son, and his nephew rode out to warn nearby American settlers that they were in danger. Many people heeded the warnings and fled to Ottawa for safety, but William Davis, the settler who had built the controversial dam, decided to stay. Davis convinced some of his neighbors that danger was not imminent. Twenty-three people remained at the Davis settlement, including the Davis family, the Hall family, the Pettigrew family, and several other men
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On the afternoon of May 21, 1832, a party of about forty to eighty Potawatomis attacked the Davis house. Three Sauks from Black Hawk’s band accompanied the Potawatomis. It was late afternoon when the inhabitants at the settlement saw the group of Native American warriors approach the cabin, vault the fence and sprint forward to attack. When the attack began, a number of men and boys were working in the fields and in the blacksmith’s shop. Several men rushed to the house during the attack and were killed, but six of the young men escaped the slaughter by fleeing. In all, fifteen settlers were killed and scalped. “The men and children were chopped to pieces,” writes historian Kerry Trask, “and the dead women were hung up by their feet” and their bodies mutilated in ways too gruesome for contemporary observers to record in writing.
Most modern scholars do not name a leader of this attack. According to historian Patrick Jung, the attack was led by the Potawatomi man who had been assaulted at the dam by Davis, but Jung did not identify this Potawatomi by name. Historians Kerry Trask and John Hall identified the man who had been assaulted as Keewassee, but they did not specifically describe him as taking part in the attack, nor did they name a leader of the attack. Historian David Edmunds wrote that the attack was led by Toquame and Comee, two Potawatomi warriors. According to Jung, however, Keewasse, Toquame, and Comee were three Sauk warriors who accompanied the Potawatomis during the attack.
In 1872, amateur historian Nehemiah Matson wrote that the raid was led by a man named Mike Girty, who was supposedly a mixed race son of Simon Girty. But a 1960 profile of Matson stated that “Because of his indiscriminate mixing of fact and legend, however, scholars generally discount his books as valid sources.” In a 1903 book, Frank E. Stevens dismissed Matson’s story, writing that “The statement by Matson that one Mike Girty was connected with the Indian Creek massacre is incorrect.” Modern scholarly accounts of the Black Hawk War and the Indian Creek massacre make no mention of Mike Girty.