Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Black Sparrow Hawk

(Painting by George Catlin, 1832, courtesy of the Smithsonian)

April 5, 1832: After being removed from Illinois in 1831, Black Hawk, and his Sac followers lived in Iowa. Wanting to return to their old home land, today, Black Hawk and almost 1000 of his tribe will cross the Mississippi River back into Illinois. Not much later, they will be attacked by the whites.



Chief Blackhawk and the Blackhawk War

Black Hawk, who's full name was Black Sparrow Hawk, was born in 1767, at Saukenauk an area three to five miles north of where the Rock River in Illinois meets the Mississippi River located near present day Rock Island, Illinois. . This location is near present-day Rock Island, Illinois. In his native tongue, his name was Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak. Contrary to popular belief, Black Hawk was never a chief. He was a warrior and a recognized leader among the Sauk and Mesquakie (Fox) nations, but he never achieved the rank of chief. Black Hawk was married to a woman named Singing Bird. Together they had two daughters and three sons. Among Black Hawk's descendants was legendary athlete Jim Thorpe. Thorpe was Black Hawk's great-grandson.

In the early 1800s the Sauk and Fox Indians lived along the Mississippi River from northwestern Illinois to southwestern Wisconsin. Black Hawk fought on the side of the British in the War of 1812. He and his followers, known as the British Band, were responsible for the victories at Campbell's Island and Credit Island. Black Hawk had done his best to force American settlers off the western frontier.

In 1830, seeking to make way for settlers moving into Illinois, the United States required the Sauk to move and accept new lands in present-day Iowa. There they struggled to prepare enough acreage for their crops. The winter of 1831-1832 was extremely difficult. In April 1832, Black Hawk led about one thousand Sauk and Fox people back to northern Illinois. Black Hawk hoped to forge a military alliance with the Winnebago and other tribes. They intended to plant corn on their ancestral farmland were they had been forcibly removed to the year before. Fearing the Sauk, Illinois settlers promptly organized a militia.

Observing the military forces organizing against him, Black Hawk reconsidered his actions and decided to surrender. Yet an undisciplined militia ignored a peace flag and attacked the Sauk. The Indian warriors promptly returned fire. The militia retreated in a panic, many forgetting their firearms. The Sauk collected the weapons and retreated northward along the Rock River into Wisconsin. The Black Hawk War had just begun.



Words Spoken - Blackhawk: "Blackhawk is an Indian. He has done nothing for which an Indian ought to feel ashamed."


In the year 1767, in the village of Saukenuk, located a few miles north of the confluence of the Rock River with the Mississippi River in northwestern Illinois, a child was born. This was Ma-ca-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, which means "Black Sparrow Hawk" in the Algonquin language of the Sauk. Whites would later call him Black Hawk. He would become one of the most fearsome yet respected Native American warriors to be born in what is now the state of Illinois.

At the age of just fifteen, Ma-ca-tai-me-she-kia-kiak joined a raid against the Osage. He succeeded in killing and scalping an enemy warrior, which entitled him upon return to Saukenuk to join in the scalp dance. At this early age, Black Hawk had become a Sauk warrior. A short time later, he led seven Sauk warriors in an attack against an encampment of 100 Osages. Ma-ca-tai-me-she-kia-kiak killed an enemy, then escaped without losing a man. In a very short time, he became one of the most influential warriors in the Nation.


Sometime in early historic times, the Sauk, feeling pressure from the French and Chippewa, migrated southward out of central Wisconsin, into southwestern Wisconsin, Northwestern Illinois, and northeastern Iowa. Some settled at the rapids of the Mississippi, near what is today Keokuk, Iowa. Another group settled near the mouth of the Rock River in Illinois. A third group settled on the Osage and Missouri Rivers in the late 1700s. The Sauk were allied with the Meskwaki (known to whites as the Fox) and often lived among them and vice versa. Principal native enemies of the Sauk included the Minnesota Sioux (Santee Dakota and Yankton Nakota), Osage, and Chippewa.


  1. I was born in the Sauk Valley of Illinois. My Grandfather worked for the railroad and his father refused to leave his land - I have very little information as all of my blood family have passed and when I was growing up in the 40's, 50's and 60's we didn't mention our heritage. Any other information would be helpful.

  2. i am an avid hiker from dubuque iowa one day i was walking with my son and i noticed sumthing dangling from a branch over the river in the mines of i went to touch it i noticed it was a feather it fell into my hands it has what looks to be tendon tied around the bottom of the feather to hold it on, can anyone tell me what this symbolizes my emaill address is