The Black Hawk war was a conflict between the United States and Native Americans led by Black Hawk, a Sauk leader, angered by the loss of his birthplace and against the best interest of other tribes affected.

Black Hawk, a Sauk Leader

Black Hawk (born in 1767 and died on October 3rd, 1838) was a Sauk leader and warrior who lived in what is now the midwestern United States. Although he had inherited an important historic sacred bundle from his father, he was not a hereditary civil chief. Black Hawk earned his status as a war chief or captain by his actions, leading, raiding, and war parties as a young man and then a band of Sauk warriors during the Black Hawk War of 1832.

During the war of 1812, Black Hawk fought on the side of the British against the US, the hope of pushing white American settlers away from Sauk territory. Black Hawk led a number of incursions across the Mississippi River beginning in 1830. Each time, he was persuaded to return west without bloodshed

In April 1832, encouraged by promises of alliances with other tribes and the British he again moved his “British Band” into Illinois. On 5th April 1832, Black Hawk and around 1000 warriors and civilians recrossed the Mississippi River into Illinois in an attempt to reclaim their land. About half of the Black Hawk band were combatants and the rest were a combination of women, children, and the elderly. The band consisted of Sauk, Fox some Potawatomi, and Kickapoo in addition to some members of the Ho-chunk, the nation was sympathetic to Black Hawk. 

Black Hawk’s reason for crossing into Illinois was to reclaim lost lands and perhaps create a confederacy of Native Americans to stand against white settlement. Promises of aid from other Illinois tribes were made to the British Band and Black Hawk believed that promises of assistance were made by the British in Canada.

Abraham Lincoln’s role in Black Hawk War

On April 21, 1862, Lincoln and the other volunteers gathered at the property of Dallas Scott. Lincoln rode a horse from New Salem to Richland Creek, where neighbors had gathered to form a company of volunteer militia near Beard stone, Illinois. Then men were officially sworn in and began the process of electing a company commander who would hold the rank of captain. In the choice between Lincoln and William Kirkpatrick, Lincoln received three-fourths of the votes and became the captain. Many years later Lincoln said this election as captain was ‘a success which gave me more pleasure than any I have had since.

Even though he did not see any combat during his service, he helped to bury fallen soldiers at two battle sites. Interestingly, he began his service in the Black Hawk War as a captain but his company was mustered out of service after the Battle of Still man’s run. He then re-enlisted as a private in Captain Jacob Early independent company and reminded in service until July 10th, 1832 when Early Company was mustered out of service.

Abraham Lincoln was issued the military patent for his role in the Black Hawk war, though he didn’t fight in any battles, he was given 120 acres of land in western Iowa, just north of present-day Denison.

End of the Black Hawk War

After hundreds of casualties and changes in leadership for the U.S, the war ended on August 27th, 1832 marking the end of the Native American resistance to American expansion west. After this conflict, multiple treaties were formed and signed to purchase remaining Native American lands in the area.

Black Hawk was imprisoned in Virginia for nearly a year, but before he was released, he and a few other Native American prisoners who participated in the war were forced to tour major east coast cities. This tactic was employed by the United States government to dissuade other Native American leaders from attacking the country, by reinforcing the size and power of the United States.

Black Hawk and his fellow prisoners were treated like celebrities. As stories of his battles spread across the country, he became a legend and a symbol of resistance within the Native American tribes.

The First Native American Autobiography

Before being released from custody, Black Hawk told his story to an interpreter. Aided also by a newspaper reporter, he published the autobiography of Black Hawk, embracing the traditions of his nation. This is the first Native American Autobiography published in the U.S, his book became an immediate bestseller and has gone through several editions.