Dubuque County Historical Society Images

The River People

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Black Hawk

The Sauk Indian, Maktaimeshekiakiah, otherwise known as Black Hawk, was born at the mouth of the Rock River where it flows into the Mississippi. He became chief of the Sauk tribe in 1788, at the age of 21, and guided the life of the tribe along the river for the next 44 years.

In 1804, United States agents used alcohol to trick Sauk and Mesquakie representatives into signing away their lands east of the Mississippi River. In 1832, however, Black Hawk boldly led his people back across the Mississippi to reclaim their homeland. When Black Hawk's peace emmisaries were shot down, he fought back, and then followed the river north. At a place called Bad Ax, on the Mississippi River, Black Hawk was stopped by militia on board Captain Joseph Throckmorton's steamer Warrior. The soldiers ignored Black Hawk's white flag of truce and fired upon the tribe, killing several men, women and children.

Black Hawk was taken prisoner and brought to Jefferson Barracks in chains aboard the steamer Winnebago, causing sensations in Galena and St. Louis. His transport to Washington, D. C. the following spring brought huge crowds of onlookers to the cities of Louisville, Cincinnati and Wheeling. Chief Black Hawk died on a reservation in Iowa five years later, but his desire to retain his tribal homeland along the river remains an inspiring episode in the saga of Native American river life.



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