Published on February 12, 2012 by Amy
Wabokieshiek (‘The Light.’ or White Cloud’) A medicine-man also known as The Prophet, the friend and adviser of Black hawk. He was born about 1794, and presided over a village known as “prophet’s Village,” on Rock river, about 35 miles above its mouth, on the site of the present Prophetstown, Ill. Half Winnebago and half Sauk, he bad great influence with both tribes, and was noted for cruelty and his hostility toward Americans. When Black Hawk’s lieutenant, Neapope, went to Malden, Canada, to consult with the British authorities in regard to the right of the Indians to retain their lands on Rock river, he stopped on his return at the Prophet’s village, where he remained during the winter, and told Wabokieshiek of his mission.
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The Prophet, always ready for mischief and delighted at this opportunity to make trouble for the whites, is said to have performed some incantations, had several visions, and prophesied that if Black Hawk would move against the whites he would be joined by the “Great Spirit” and a large army which would enable him to overcome the whites and regain possession of his old village. These predictions, added to Neapope’s false reports from the British, induced Black Hawk to continue the war which bears his name. Keokuk is said to have blamed the Prophet for all the trouble.
After the defeat of the Indians at Bad Axe in 1832, Black hawk and the Prophet made their escape, but were captured by Chaetar and One-Eyed Dekaury, two Winnebago Indians, in an attempt to reach Prairie La Crosse, where they expected to cross the Mississippi and be safe. They were delivered to Gen. Street on Aug.27,1832. Arriving at Jefferson Barracks, 10 miles below St Louis, they were put in irons, to their extreme mortification and of which they complained bitterly.
In April of the following year they were taken to Washington, where they were permitted to see president Jackson, to whom Wabokieshiek appealed for their freedom; instead, they, were sent to Fortress Monroe, Va., where they remained until June 4, when they were released. Having lost his prestige as a prophet, Wabokieshiek lived in obscurity among the Sauk in Iowa until their removal to Kansas, and died among the Winnebago about 1841. He is described as being six ft tall, stout and athletic of figure, with a countenance in keeping with his militant disposition.
At variance with accounts of his depravity is a statement by Maj. Thomas Forsythe, for years the agent of the Sauk and Foxes, in which he says of Wabokieshiek: “Many a good meal has the Prophet given to the people traveling past his village, and very many stray horses has he recovered from the Indians and restored them to their rightful owners, without asking any recompense whatever.” It is also said that during the progress of the Black Hawk war, Col. Gratiot, agent for the Winnebago, who on account of his humane and honorable treatment of the Indians was considered most likely to influence them, was selected to visit the hostile camp and induce the Prophet to turn the British band back to its Iowa reservation. On reaching the Prophet’s village, Gratiot and his party were surrounded by the hostiles and made prisoners, despite their flag of truce, and he would have lost his life had not the Prophet come to his rescue. He was taken to Wabokieshiek’s house and allowed to explain the object of his mission, but could not dissuade the Indians from their purpose. Although the warriors clamored for Gratiot’s life, Wabokieshiek was determined to save him, and after keeping him for several days found an opportunity to allow him to escape.
While in Jefferson Barracks Wabokieshiek’s portrait was painted by Catlin, and is now in the National Museum; another portrait, by R. M. Sully, made while the Prophet was a prisoner at Fortress Monroe.
Consult Fulton, Red Men of Iowa, 1882; Stevens, Black Hawk War, 1903; Wis. Hist. Soc. Coll., X, 1888.