Black Hawk was a Sauk Indian who hated the white settlers. For years, the Sauk and Fox Indians hunted and fished in what is now Illinois and Wisconsin. Soon, white settlers pushed into the land. Under a treaty, the land was taken from the Indians by the settlers.
From boyhood Black Hawk learned to hate the white man. His fame as a fearless warrior began at age 15 when he killed and scalped his first man. Black Hawk went on to fight. First he fought enemy Indian tribes. Later he fought the white man.
Above all else, Black Hawk hated the 1804 treaty which had taken away Sauk and Fox lands. He spoke against the treaty. He called it unfair since the Indians who had signed it were tricked into agreeing to its terms. Black Hawk believed that Indian land could not be sold. He was determined to stay and farm the land.
Black Hawk and his followers refused to leave their villages. By 1831, the Indians found themselves unable to farm their own lands. Black Hawk ordered the whites to get out or be killed. Instead, soldiers moved in and threw the Indians off the land.
Black Hawk felt that he could band together enough Indians to fight the white man. He set out to ask help from other tribes. In April 1832, Black Hawk and several hundred warriors returned to Illinois. He was ready to drive the whites from Indian land. The fighting known as “Black Hawk’s War” began. Soon troops from Washington were sent into the field to put down the Indians. For 3 months the Indians managed to escape the troops. They won several small battles and were raiding the Illinois frontier.
The tide turned as more soldiers poured in. The troops chased the Indians from Illinois to Mississippi. There Black Hawk was trapped. He faced the steamship Warrior on one side and the army on the other. Black Hawk’s band was nearly destroyed. The Sauk leader himself escaped to a Winnebago village. There he gave himself up and was taken to a prison camp in chains. A few months later he was set free.
In 1838, at the age of 71, Black Hawk died in his lodge on the Des Moines River. As he wished, Black Hawk’s body was seated on the ground under a wooden shelter, in old Sauk tradition.