During the War of 1812, British-armed Sauk and Fox warriors constituted the principal military threat to the settlements in the Missouri and Illinois Territories. To understand how this situation developed, it is helpful to look at their culture and earlier history. The Sauk and Fox were two closely related Algonquin speaking tribes living near Saginaw Bay and Detroit when first met by Europeans. During the 17th century Iroquois military expansion caused the Sauk and Fox to be pushed northwest towards Green Bay and the south shore of Lake Superior.
The proper name for the Sauk tribe appears to be Osakawak or Asakawaki, meaning People of the Outlet referring to their former home around Saginaw Bay. The name often appears in historical documents as Sac, Sacque, Sox, Sawkee or variations thereof. The proper name for the Fox is Meskwakie or Mesquakie meaning Red-Earth People. The name Fox was derived from the Wagosh (fox) band of the tribe who had that animal as their totem. In the French documents they often appear as the Outigamie or the Renard.
Unlike many other Algonquin tribes who had a close alliance to France in the early 18th century, the Fox defied French control of the Great Lakes fur trade. French traders were sometimes harassed and robbed by the Fox. When the French attempted to trade with the Santee Sioux, mortal enemies of the Fox, the conflict escalated into war. Consequently, the French enlisted the Ojibwa and other Indian allies and nearly extirpated the Fox in a series of wars during the 1720s and 30s reducing them from 5,000 to less than 500. When the Sauk provided shelter to the Fox survivors, they too suffered French wrath and were forced to flee to central Iowa for a time. There they received support and formed an alliance with the Ioway tribe. The Sauk and Fox then amalgamated though maintaining separate chiefs and tribal characteristics. The Sauks were generally regarded as the more warlike of the two tribes by later traders and explorers.
Facing continued Ojibwa pressure on the north, the Sauk and Fox began moving south along the Mississippi. Around 1734, the Sauk had established their principal village at Rock Island, Illinois. For nearly a hundred years Saukenuk was the political, cultural and spiritual capitol of the Sauk and Fox nations. Consequently, what happened in Saukenuk was an important topic of discussion in many colonial and territorial capitals. Other Sauk villages were established along the Mississippi as far south as the Des Moines River while Fox villages dotted the river above Saukenuk to the mouth of the Wisconsin River. Their hunting expeditions ranged from the Illinois River and Lake Michigan in the east to the Missouri valley in the south and west.
In the course of occupying the prairie region of the Midwest, the Sauk and Fox pushed out the already weakened Illinois Confederacy. By 1798 they forced the remnant of the Missouria to abandon their village in Missouri and flee to their Otoe relatives in eastern Nebraska. As was the case with many Indian nations, Sauk and Fox war parties ranged well outside the region they claimed and regularly hunted in. The Kansa moved their villages from the Missouri River to central Kansas to escape Sauk pressure.
As early as 1700, roving bands of Sauk hunters had reached the lower Missouri River where they encountered the powerful Osage tribe. The meeting was not a cordial one and the enmity between the two tribes lasted nearly 150 years. The Sauk were one of the very few tribes that the Osage regarded as their equal and perhaps even feared. Because of their manner of fighting the Osage called the Sauk Hard to Kill People, a name that Missouri and Illinois Rangers would find was equally well deserved during the War of 1812.
The Sauk and Fox soon acquired horses and began adapting their woodland culture to the prairie environment. They developed a buffalo hunting economy similar to their neighbors on the Plains. However, they also continued to practice small-scale farming, gathering and fishing as they had done in the eastern forests. Their lodges remained like those of the east, bark or hide covered wigwams and long houses. However, Sauk combat tactics remained those of the woodlands. War parties often set off on foot and seldom fought from horseback; they preferred hit and run raids or ambush from the cover of forests, marshes, or riverbanks.
British traders reaching the upper Mississippi valley in the late 1740s found that anti-French sentiment was strong in the Sauk and Fox. They did not take an active part in Chief Pontiacs rebellion when many Algonquin tribes resisted British rule in 1764. However, with British victory in 1765 the Sauk and Fox friendship warmed and soon became a formal alliance to the King. This alliance resulted in a luxury of trade goods, particularly firearms, rivaled by few other Midwestern tribes. Consequently, the Sauk were rather indifferent in their relations with the new Spanish regime in Louisiana. Spain encouraged them in their wars against the Osage and Missouria and gave them presents whenever they visited St. Louis. However, Spanish trade goods were considered inferior and arrived with far less regularity than did British goods.
Spanish St. Louis rendered assistance to forces under George Rogers Clark that had occupied the British Illinois Country during the American Revolution. In retaliation, the British launched an attack on St. Louis in 1780. The Sauk comprised a key component of the Indian forces but British gifts, rather than malice towards Spain, appears to the motivating factor for their participation. The attack failed according to British reports, because the Sauk contingent failed to press the attack. There is some indication to suggest that the Sauk may have warned St. Louis authorities of the attack, giving them time to adequately prepare their defenses.
Despite the questionable commitment of the Sauk, 220 American troops under Colonel John Montgomery marched from Cahokia to Saukenuk and burned it in reprisal for the St. Louis raid. Montgomerys bold raid surprised and awed the Sauk, but it also sowed seeds of bitterness since they had not molested any Americans to this point. Afterwards, the Sauk continued to treat with the Spanish officials as though nothing had happened. Spain lacked military muscle in Louisiana and desiring to minimize British influence on the upper Mississippi, did not attempt to punish the Indian tribes involved in the attack.
With the end of the American Revolution, United States territory extended to the bank of the Mississippi encompassing the eastern quarter of Sauk and Fox country. But contact between the United States and the two tribes remained minimal because they were still remote from American settlements and trade routes. That changed when the Louisiana Purchase of April 30, 1803 suddenly placed the entire Sauk and Fox domain within United States jurisdiction. The strategic location of their villages along the Mississippi gave them virtual control over the river and its tributaries from the Missouri River to Prairie du Chien.
The close relationship of the two tribes to traders from Canada was especially disconcerting to Americans arriving in the Upper Louisiana Territory. By this time the Fox population had grown back to around 1,500 and the Sauk numbered 5,000 which meant that they were capable of fielding about 1,600 warriors. This was a significant military force on the frontier, well beyond capability of the U.S. Army in the west to counter it. Therefore, from the United States point of view, treaty relations with the Sauk and Fox were no longer a luxury, they were strategically imperative.
However, relations broke down even before they officially began. Some bitterness and distrust probably remained because of the 1780 Montgomery raid. Then in the spring of 1804, the Sauk attacked a boat of the Missouri Fur Company, killing or capturing several Osages on board who were being conveyed to St. Louis for the purpose of negotiations. Captain Amos Stoddard was outraged by this apparent lack of respect for the United States. When Stoddard angrily confronted Sauk leaders, they complained to him about American trespassers squatting on their lands and the lack of trade relations with the United States.
William Henry Harrison, Governor of Indiana Territory, was given temporary administrative jurisdiction over the Louisiana Territory. Hearing of the Sauk confrontation with Stoddard, Secretary of War Henry Dearborn authorized Harrison ...to procure from the Sacs, such cessions on both sides of the Illinois as may entitle them to an annual compensation of five or six hundred dollars; they ought to relinquish all pretensions to any land on the south side of the Illinois and a considerable tract on the other side. Thus, a plan was set in motion whose intention was to reduce the chance of conflict between the United States and the Sauk and Fox nations but would actually have the opposite effect.
Believing that the Americans favored the Osage, the Sauk and Fox were eager to restore the balance of power by entering into a treaty with the United States. One faction deduced that it was fear of the Osage that induced the Americans to be generous with them. Their estimation of the situation was not entirely incorrect however, they believed that military action would induce the Americans to treat them more favorably. Members of this faction attacked a settlement on the Cuivre River in September of 1804 killing several settlers. To their great dismay, the plan backfired. Outlying settlements around St. Louis began forting up and calling for all out war on the Sauk. Hoping to avert hostilities, two chiefs met with Major James Bruff but he simply ordered them to surrender the guilty warriors or face severe consequences. The Sauk closest to St. Louis began abandoning their villages and moving to Saukenuk.
On October 12, Harrison arrived in St. Louis to a heroes welcome. Seeking to improve relations, the Sauk led by chiefs Pahshepaho and Quashquame brought in a warrior from the Cuivre River raid. Harrison immediately seized on their conciliatory mood by giving them $2,000 worth of presents. Major Bruff reported that the Sauk were willing to ...to make a treaty that would shelter them from their natural enemies -- the Osages, now considered by them as under the protection of the U. States; and without hesitation offered to cede an immense tract of country containing much valuable lead and other minerals.
The delegation was authorized by the tribal headmen to pay for the warriors crime. This was a widespread Indian custom in which gifts were made to the relatives of those murdered to make atonement and thus cover the blood. In this way, blood feuds were sometimes prevented from turning into all out war. The delegation was not authorized to make a treaty on behalf of the tribe but the wily Harrison told them the warrior could only be released in return for a land cession. St. Louis fur trader Pierre Chouteau presided over the treaty negotiations but the delegation could remember few details of the proceedings; they were kept drunk most of the time.
Despite his promise to the Sauk, Harrison kept the warrior in jail to curry favor with the local settlers but he did ask President Jefferson for a pardon. Jefferson signed the document but before it reached St. Louis in February of 1805, the warrior was shot in the head while trying to escape. General James Wilkinson, now governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory, used the incident to humiliate the Sauk headmen by showing them the pardon and interpreting its late arrival as a sure sign of the Great Spirits displeasure with the warrior for shedding the blood of white men. He then presented the pardon to the younger brother of the slain warrior and admonished him to be good.
For the treaty protection of the United States, the Sauk and Fox received an annuity of $1,000 in addition to the $2,000 worth of gifts already given at the treaty signing. In return they lost all their land in Illinois, Wisconsin, and a portion of Missouri. Article VII of the 1804 Treaty stated that the Sauk and Fox might continue to live and hunt on the land, ...as long as lands which are now ceded to the United States remain their property. Both sides interpreted this rather contradictory article to their own advantage. Similar flaws throughout the Treaty of 1804 contributed directly to misunderstanding, mutual hatred and bloodshed for years to come. In 1833, Sauk war leader Black Hawk simply said of this treaty, It has been the origin of all our difficulties.
The first official Sauk and Fox delegation to the United States met with President Thomas Jefferson in Washington DC in January of 1806. Sauk war parties had earlier crossed the Missouri River looking for the Osage. Failing to collect any Osage scalps and not wishing to return home dishonored, the returning war parties struck at the Boones Lick salt works, killed three hunters on the Missouri River near St. Charles and struck Portage de Sioux. General Wilkinson viewed these acts as a prelude to war and dispatched Captain James Many to make strong talk to the Sauk.
Captain Manys detachment entered Saukenuk despite the warning of his Menominee and Winnebago guides. The Sauk were drunk and in a particularly ugly mood due to the presence of the Americans. To many Midwestern and Great Lakes tribes, a plume tied in the hair was viewed as a demonstration of warlike intentions and the plume on Captain Manys shako was viewed as exactly that. The situation nearly turned violent as the soldiers were shoved and cursed by Sauk warriors who recounted the wrongs perpetrated on their people by the Americans. Then they began tying war plumes in their scalp locks. The arrival of a detachment under Lt. Zebulon Pike quieted the situation until the soldiers could beat a hasty retreat from the village. A party of Sauk warriors followed the soldiers for some distance but did not attack. Upon returning to St. Louis, Captain Many cited extreme discontent with the Treaty of 1804 and the efforts of British agents as the cause of the trouble.
In the spring of 1806, Nicholas Boilvin, Pierre Chouteaus interpreter was appointed as U.S. agent to the Sauk and Fox. His knowledge of Indian customs and languages was indispensable and made him one of the few people in government service who was truly knowledgeable of Indian cultures. That year there were rumblings of an alliance of the tribes from the Great Lakes to the Missouri. Great Britain was accused of orchestrating the Indian threat, yet General Harrisons land grabs and rather contemptuous treatment of Indian leaders was conveniently overlooked. By 1808, the Shawnee brothers Tecumseh and Teskawata The Prophet had launched full scale efforts to unify all Indian tribes to halt white emigration and the further loss of Indian lands. Emissaries of the Prophet made open overtures to the Sauk and Fox who responded by sending delegations to the Wabash valley. With no resources at his disposal, Boilvin could actually do little to counteract the Prophets influence.
Troops landed about 15 miles above the mouth of the Des Moines River and began construction of Fort Madison in September of 1808. An angry party of warriors led by Black Hawk confronted the soldiers and protested the intrusion. For the first time, they were informed that this was the government-trading house promised to them in the Treaty of 1804. The Sauk temper cooled somewhat but Black Hawk remained suspicious that a trading house needed so many soldiers and fortifications to protect it. At one point, Black Hawk and his warriors began dancing as a ruse then attempted to rush the main gate. They withdrew when they met a cannon and a soldier with fire in his hand then saw fully armed soldiers rushing out of the barracks. The son of an Ioway chief had warned the garrison of the ruse the previous night. Despite being nominal allies, some Sauk warriors had mocked the Ioway tribe, leading him to reveal their plan. In his memoirs, Black Hawk claimed that this was not a premeditated action but he did admit that had they actually gotten inside, they would have wiped out the garrison. The garrison slept on their arms until the fort was completed in April of 1809.
American miserliness in treating with the Indians also led to hard feelings. In 1810 the Sauk and Fox visited Fort Malden, Canada and received generous presents of gunpowder and lead. On the return trip, they called on Governor William Hull at Detroit and asked for food and clothes. They received no clothes, some food and plenty of stern warnings against visiting Canada or the Shawnee Prophet. This contrast in generosity was not lost on the Sauk and Fox. The long record of British generosity was paying off, even though they were not deliberately inciting the Indians to make war at this point.
By the spring of 1811 were the tensions between white settlers and Indians were such that the frontier was a powder keg ready to explode. Ironically it was the U.S. government that nearly lit the fuse. Julien Dubuque, a long-time friend of the Fox, had received a grant from them for the lead mines in Iowa. Dubuque had filed his grant with the Spanish government in St. Louis for fee simple. Upon his death; the U.S. government sold the Spanish grant to some eastern investors. The government then ordered Boilvin to lead the mineworkers to the Dubuque lead mines that July. Learning of what had transpired, the Indians confronted a party of 60 miners and refused to let them land their boats. They became increasingly agitated by explanations of grants, legal titles, and estates. Recognizing the danger, Boilvin quickly got the party out of the area. The Indians then burned all the mine structures, swearing never again to give up their land as long as they lived.
Tensions continued to run high as the number of Indians joining Tecumsehs confederacy grew. Sporadic raids occurred in which the attackers, mainly Potawatomie, generated more American animosity towards Great Britain because most of the guns, powder and ball used in the raids were of English manufacture. In November, General Harrisons clash with the Prophet at Tippecanoe Creek seriously knocked the Indian Confederacy off balance, but it also ended any chances of keeping peace on the frontier. Boilvin still had no orders or means with which to enlist the Indians as U.S. allies and could only urge their neutrality as he watched British traders now openly recruit the Indians in his presence. The situation with the Sauk and Fox became so critical that on January 7, 1812 John Johnson the factor at Fort Madison wrote to Governor Howard in St. Louis, Every hour I look for a war party and God only knows when it will end.
The Winnebago, having born the brunt of Indian casualties at Tippecanoe began retaliatory raids in the Mississippi valley. Encouraged by this activity, Sauk warriors struck isolated cabins in the St. Charles District of Missouri. A general Indian war seemed imminent as did war with Great Britain, but the loyalty of many tribes actually remained in question. The Santee Dakota supported the British while their Yankton and Teton kinsmen leaned towards the Americans. The Ioways, largely supported the British but one band did not. There were even divisions among Tecumsehs and Tenskawatas tribesmen. Most of the Shawnee bands east of the Mississippi supported war against the Americans while those west of the river did not.
From all outward appearances, the Sauk and Fox had every reason to take up the hatchet against the Americans; constant friction with white settlers, long-standing trade relations with British traders operating in Canada. Then there was the confusing, inconsistent policies of the American government of which Fort Madison was a prime example. Unlike Fort Osage, which was successful in keeping peace with the Osage and Kansa tribes Fort Madison was a disaster from the start. The actions of the garrison and factor Johnson tended to agitate rather than pacify the Indians they were intended to serve. Johnson never developed a rapport with his charges as George Sibley had done with the Osage. But among all these reasons, first and foremost there was the hated Treaty of 1804.
Despite such goading, there were still elements within the Sauk and Fox tribes that favored neutrality and even outright friendship with the United States. Generally, leaders of this faction had traveled to Washington DC as delegates. They had some sense of the true size and immensity of power of the United States could wield. Ironically, Black Hawk, who was now a key leader of the hostile elements, had always been passed over when delegates to Washington were selected. It is interesting to speculate how events may have turned out had the venerable warrior been included in these trips.
American policy towards the Sauk and Fox remained inconsistent and disjointed. Illinois Governor Ninian Edwards held negotiations with the Sauk but Harrison urged him to make a war of extirpation on them. Conversely, William Clark, as U.S. Indian Agent in St. Louis tried to insure Sauk friendship or at least their neutrality. He and Boilvin took another delegation of Sauk, Fox, Osage, Ioway, Miami, Potawatomie, Winnebago and Sioux to Washington in June of 1812 to engender their respect for the United States. En route they learned that war had been declared on Great Britain.
Secretary of War Eustis notified Clark that, No exertion or reasonable Expenses will be spared to keep the Indians quiet and friendly. President Madison warmly received the Indian delegation and told them Your father does not ask you to join his warriors. Sit still on your seats and be witnesses that they are able to beat their enemies and protect their red friends. While the United States viewed the Indian role in the war as a neutral one, Great Britain clearly did not. Relatives of the Washington delegates were preparing for war on the frontier and they did so with the full consent and support of the British.
Two weeks after the declaration of war, Kickapoo emissaries of the Prophet held a council at Saukenuk. Assembled warriors from several tribes expressed reluctance to take up the hatchet since many of the headmen were away in Washington. Black Hawk recalled, I had not made up my mind whether to join the British or remain neutral. I had not discovered one good trait in the character of the Americans that had come to the country. They made fair promises but never fulfilled them. Whilst the British made few but we could always rely on their word. Black Hawk surely wished to join the fight, but he lacked the authority to make such a commitment on behalf of the tribe. The Kickapoo warned the Sauk that if they did not join their brothers on the Wabash, the Americans would take this very village from them which the incredulous Sauk could scarcely believe.
Learning of the council underway at Saukenuk, Governor Edwards sought to launch what he viewed as a preemptive strike. Edwards marched 300 Illinois militiamen against a small band of Kickapoo and Miami encamped on Peoria Lake, burning their village. The retreating Indians fled to Saukenuk where they were given refuge. Edwards had hoped to cow the Indians with his decisive action. However, he had inadvertently given the Indians at Saukenuk one more reason to consider siding with the British.
Secretary of War Eustis promise to spare no reasonable expense in keeping the Indians pacified largely went unheeded. There were no modifications of government policy towards the Indians to meet the war time situation. Boilvin was still provided with no economic resources to induce the Indians to align with the United States. Furthermore, he was ordered to cease the Indian practice of atonement or paying of the blood. Thus the one tool Boilvin had at his disposal to help keep the peace and goodwill of the tribes was effectively removed.
The Sauk delegation returned from Washington believing that they could get supplies for their coming winter hunt on credit at Fort Madison. It is unclear whether this was a misinterpretation or an outright lie on the part of the government. The American factory system with the Indians operated solely on a cash basis. Supplies were given only for the cash equivalent of furs turned in by the Indians. In contrast, Canadian traders worked on a credit basis, further showing the Indians their trust. When Black Hawk and his men went to the fort to trade, John Johnson informed them there was no such policy change. Black Hawk was convinced that the Americans had simply lied to them once again. Then news came like fire through the prairies that British traders were at Saukenuk with two boatloads of trade goods.
French Canadian trader Lagoterie welcomed the Sauk warriors with gifts of tobacco, rum and a silk Union Jack. He gave the Sauk the trade goods on credit and informed them that Colonel Robert Dickson of the British Northwest Company was at Green Bay with even more goods recently captured at Mackinac. This act of British generosity in the face of the American miserliness at Fort Madison sealed the commitment of many Sauk to the British cause. Black Hawk and over 200 warriors headed for a rendezvous with Col. Dickson at Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Winnebago and Ottawa also had warriors in route to the rendezvous. Flexibility in American trade policies undoubtedly would have done much to undermine British influence among the Indians and prevented much of the bloodshed to come.
At Green Bay, Dickson presented Black Hawk with a medal and a Union Jack and put him in charge of the warriors. Black Hawk immediately wished to strike in the Mississippi valley, but Dickson persuaded him that the real fight was in the east. He told Black Hawk that they would be fighting real soldiers and a victory in the east would ensure victory in the west. A thousand warriors under General Black Hawk rushed to Detroit, which fell on August 16, just prior to their arrival. Disappointed, the Sauk and Fox returned to the Rock River.
The Americans were totally unaware that the Sauk had been recruited by Dickson. However, as far back as July, Thomas Forsyth the sub-agent to the Potawatomie had reported that 100 Sauk had gone to Fort Malden in Canada. He had warned then Governor Howard that though they were not yet committed, The Sackies, Foxes and Sieux are all waiting to see how their brethren come on. When an opportunity offers it will be like a Clap of thunder. But the lack of hostile Indian activity in the Mississippi valley had lulled that region into a false sense of security.
The first clap of thunder came when Black Hawk returned home. He immediately led his frustrated warriors and a group of Winnebago against the nearest American target: Fort Madison. From September 7-10, the Indians besieged the fort, heavily damaging but failing to take it. Four Rangers were killed in an unfinished blockhouse by a warrior inserting his lance between the logs. On an interesting note, artist George Catlin painted the portrait of a Fox warrior The Sturgeons Head holding a lance in 1832. Sturgeons Head told Catlin that he had killed four men with his lance during the war but Catlin doubted his story. Undoubtedly, Catlin may have been thinking of the recently ended Black Hawk War rather than the War of 1812. It was also during this attack that Black Hawk supposedly shot the American flag loose from the flag post. Lt. Hamilton wanted to abandon the post as indefensible but was refused permission by Howard.
The federal government was now heavily preoccupied with events in the east and left the territorial governments of the west to fend for themselves. William Clark initiated the construction of four gunboats to patrol the Mississippi and lower Missouri Rivers. A chain of forts was also proposed in the Mississippi and Illinois River valleys to monitor any movement towards St. Louis. Governor Edwards devised a plan advocating moving neutral elements of the Sauk within the line of white settlement so they could be more closely watched. Secretary of War Armstrong approved of Edwards plan but directed William Clark to actually implement it.
Nicolas Boilvin and half-blood Fox interpreter Maurice Blondeau began the efforts of separating out the neutral faction. Blondeau almost had his efforts derailed from the beginning. In December of 1812 a party of Missouri Rangers captured two Sauk men on the banks of the Mississippi. They released the old man but murdered and then scalped the younger man on general principals. The victim was a brother of Quashquame who signed the 1804 treaty and a leader of the neutral faction Sauk. When the family appealed to the commander of Fort Madison for a present to cover the blood they were rebuffed and sent away empty handed exasperating the situation. When he learned of the incident, Clark was chagrined and directed Blondeau to give $125.00 worth of presents to the offended Sauk to conciliate them.
In April of 1813, Boilvin led the neutral Sauk and Fox to the mouth of the Des Moines River. Some of the neutral chiefs then visited Governor Howard in St. Louis and offered to fight against the British. Howard flatly refused them. A Kentuckian with past experience in Indian warfare, Howard apparently trusted no armed Indians roaming the countryside, regardless of their allegiance. One chief said they could not restrain the young men when war was all around them and as the Americans would not suffer the Indians to join with them in the war, they must go and join the British who had invited them to do so.
In the face of numerous defeats and setbacks, some good news for the Americans developed in the west. A long-standing feud between the Fox and Winnebago came to blows, creating a schism in the British and Indian alliance which the British seemed unable to quell. Since the Winnebago were the staunchest of Britains Indian allies, the Fox could only turn to the U.S. for aid in their fight. This situation ensured that the majority of Fox remained neutral towards the U.S. during the rest of war. However, the Sauk were now placed in an extremely awkward position. Other tribes aligned with Britain threatened the Sauk if they should try to intervene on behalf of the Fox. The Sauk therefore had to decline the pleas of assistance from their old comrades.
Once again, Colonel Dickson rallied Black Hawks warriors with gifts of gunpowder and rum. This time they were to defend Detroit and prevent it from being retaken by gathering American forces. Thousands of Indians were already gathered at Detroit and were rapidly consuming British supplies. Growing impatient with British inaction, Tecumseh was calling for a move against the Americans. General Henry Proctor finally ordered an all out attack on Fort Meigs, Ohio on May 1. The target was especially appealing to the Indians since William Henry Harrison was known to be inside the fort.
Proctors artillery bombardment failed to weaken the fort precisely because it had been built to withstand such an attack. An advancing line of 900 British troops and 1,200 Indians quickly withdrew after meeting withering defensive fire. The attack then settled into a siege, a mode of warfare ill suited to the Indian temperament. On May 5 a relief column of 1,200 Kentucky volunteers appeared and drove back some British units but in their hasty pursuit of the enemy, nearly half of them were killed, captured or wounded by the Indians swarming the woods. Black Hawk rushed his warriors to the scene of action but again arrived too late to participate in the actual fight.
Despite this minor victory, the Indians now lost interest in the fight and began leaving in droves. The Canadian militia also went home to plant their crops. With his army rapidly melting away, Proctor was forced to lift the siege on May 9 and return to Canada. At the personal urging of Tecumseh, Black Hawks warriors stayed on with the British army. Proctor led a renewed force into Ohio in July. A ruse by Tecumseh to draw the Fort Meigs garrison out into an open fight failed. Now desperate to accomplish something, Proctor sent 400 regulars and 400 Indians, half of which were Sauk, against nearby Fort Stephenson on August 1.
Now leery of frontal assaults, the Indians watched from the woods as the British troops were cut down at the dry moat of the fort. The forts commander had correctly predicted the direction of the attack and had placed his lone cannon in that position. Echoing the attack on St. Louis in 1780, Proctor promptly blamed the Sauk for the failed assault. Disgusted at the way the British wasted men in battle and now insulted as well, Black Hawk said, I was now tired of being with them; our success being bad, and having got no plunder I determined on leaving them and returning to Rock River...
In July, Howard revived a request he had made as governor to lead a force to Prairie du Chien and build a fort there. Before Secretary of War Armstrong could reply Fort Madison had been attacked again, this time by the Potawatomie along with some Sauk. General Howard changed targets and in September led a force of 1,300 Rangers and militiamen to Lake Peoria, the heart of Potawatomie territory. Howards troops began construction of Fort Clark on the lake while Major Nathan Boones Rangers began a reconnaissance towards the Rock River and Saukenuk.
Convinced that they were about to be attacked, the Sauk convened an emergency council but with Black Hawk and most of the war captains still in the east, the atmosphere was filled with despair. As the council broke up, a young brave asked permission to address the council even though he had not met the necessary prerequisite. To speak in the council, one must have killed an enemy in battle. However, the man in question was articulate and well liked in the tribe. He received permission to speak then immediately proceeded to berate the council for their defeatism and offered to lead the defense of Saukenuk. His oratory so stirred the tribe that he, Keokuk The Watchful Fox was immediately made the nominal leader of the Sauk.
Boones men only came within about forty-five miles of Saukenuk. Presumably, they were doing nothing more than scouting for possible movements against Fort Clark. Among the Sauk however, Keokuks leadership was thought to have turned back the American Long Knives further consolidating his influence in the tribe. When Black Hawk got home shortly thereafter, he was stunned to find a man who was not even a warrior competing for his leadership of the tribe. This started a bitter rivalry of lasting consequence to the Sauk and Fox nations. The situation underscored the confusion brought about by the War of 1812: not only had they lost a significant portion of their land but they had now irrevocably divided into two political factions. Sauk traditions, culture and political systems were beginning to unravel.
Contrary to popular belief the Black Sparrow Hawk Makataimeshekia was a warrior and not a chief. He had participated in many campaigns which had nearly destroyed the Missouria and kept the Osage on the south side of the Missouri River. He had led successful raids against distant enemies such as the Cherokee and the Ojibwa. While he excelled as a military leader he lacked vital diplomatic and oratorical skills, thus limiting his influence in civil and political matters. Keokuk on the other possessed the diplomatic skills that Black Hawk lacked. He eventually became good friends with William Clark and his long leadership of the tribe after the war made him one of the most important leaders to emerge in the Sauk nation.
William Clark, newly appointed governor of Missouri Territory, accelerated his efforts to separate the neutral Sauk from British influence after learning of Howards earlier rejection of their offer of assistance. At Portage de Sioux on September 28 mixed-blood Fox interpreter Maurice Blondeau got them to agree to move to the Missouri River. Negotiations were held so that they and their old enemy, the Osage would not molest each other. Their village and new factory was to be established on Moniteau Creek under the watchful eye of their old factor John Johnson. Over 1,500 Sauk and Fox were in the Missouri Band as the neutrals were known. Clark more optimistically reported that he had deprived the British of a the use of 1,000 warriors.
Black Hawk reported that this band under Quashquame consisted primarily of old men, women, children and a few others and They accordingly went down to St. Louis...sent up the Missouri and provided for, whilst their friends were assisting the British. Regardless of the composition of the Missouri Band, by the winter of 1813, any Sauk not living on the Missouri was considered part of the Rock River Band and would be treated as hostile. Our army will now meet an army in every savage bandvengeance they have so long merited will fall on them with double fury wrote one St. Louis citizen.
As 1813 drew to a close, the course of the war was mixed. In the east, the United States fared badly but it was different in the west. General Howard built a fort in the middle of Indian country on Lake Peoria, Fort Meigs and Stephenson withstood severe assaults. Oliver Hazard Perry defeated the British fleet on Lake Erie and Harrison recaptured Detroit. On October 5 the British were routed at the Battle of the Thames and Tecumseh was killed, shaking Indian confidence in the prosecution of the war. Harrison managed to conclude a treaty with several tribes in which they agreed to give up prisoners and make war on any Indians still allied to Britain. Except for a few isolated raids, the Missouri frontier remained relatively quiet.
Late in the fall, Fort Madison was abandoned then burned by the garrison. However, the loss of the fort did not affect the strategic situation in the west. The trading houses importance to the Sauk and Fox economy had long since been wiped out by Canadian traders working for Robert Dickson. The fort had been a dismal failure in its mission to stabilize Sauk/American relations from the beginning and clearly failed to deter the participation of the Sauk in hostile activities. Other forts further down river such as Fort Independence, Fort Mason and Fort Howard were equally capable of serving as distant early warning posts for St. Louis.
The mood of the Sauk and Fox was somber. They were politically divided and a significant portion of them had been relocated in the former country of their ancient enemy the Osage. Those who had offered to help the Americans were rebuffed. Victory and plunder eluded those who campaigned with the British in the east. In effect, a nation of warriors seemed impotent in the middle of a war. In stark contrast there were wild celebrations in the streets of St. Louis over the impending end of the war. But 1814 was a new year and Sauk frustration would soon find an outlet.
No longer tied to formal British command Black Hawks warriors began to fight in traditional Sauk style. In the early spring, raids began occurring, some as far west as the Boones Lick settlements of central Missouri. Thomas Smith and Jonathan Todd were killed and their heads impaled alongside the Boones Lick trail, which ran from that place to St. Charles. Shortly thereafter, some Rock River Sauk appeared at the Missouri Bands encampment. They raised a British flag at the village and when factor Johnson ordered it removed Chief Nomwaite said he would do so for some whiskey. Warriors attempted to pillage the Moniteau factory but were restrained by their relatives.
Johnson retreated to St. Louis and in July the Sauk struck the Hannah and Stephen Cole settlements near Boonville. They moved upriver to the Jones settlement just south of Arrow Rock. The settlers crossed the river and fled to Coopers Fort just as the Indians reached the settlement. From the stockade of the fort, the settlers watched the fires as the Sauk burned two blockhouses and a barn filled with flax. The Sauk apparently stayed in the area for some weeks capturing all the horses, and systematically killed cattle and sheep and destroyed crops and fences. In August, a boat of the Missouri Fur Company passed through the area and noted that the inhabitants were shut up in their forts as the country was overrun with Indians. It is difficult to say with certainty if these acts were perpetrated by the Rock River or the Missouri band or elements of both. However, some of the Missouri Band apparently returned to the Rock River after these incidents.
Sporadic raids were occurring elsewhere in Missouri and Illinois, fueling rumors that a thousand or more Indian warriors were about to descend the Mississippi River in force. As these events were unfolding, Governor William Clark embarked with 200 men on a gunboat bearing his name the Governor Clarke. Rather than hopelessly chase the Indians in the field, he planned to neutralize British influence and support for the Indians by building a fort at Prairie du Chien, their main base of supply. Clark intended to garrison the fort with militia until it could be reinforced by regular army troops. Military leaders in the west had long recognized the need to neutralize Prairie du Chien but had received little support from Washington to execute such a plan.
As the gunboat ascended the Mississippi, no Indians were seen. Near the mouth of the Rock River, small parties of Sauk in canoes appeared. As they approached the Governor Clarke, they were fired on or else were captured. Cowed by Clarks display of resolve the Sauk leaders asked him for peace and he ordered them to attack the Winnebago as proof of their desire for peace. Hearing of Clarks bold actions at the Rock River, the Indians at Prairie du Chien politely declined to support the British garrison, which promptly fled when the Governor Clarke appeared. Landing unopposed, troops under Lieutenant Perkins immediately began construction of Fort Shelby.
Clark returned to St. Louis and the Governor Clarke remained anchored at Prairie du Chien. General Howard dispatched reinforcements of sixty regulars and sixty-four rangers upriver. They were accompanied by family members and other assorted camp followers. On July 19, the relief force consisting of five boats was anchored at the mouth of the Rock River. Major John Campbell agreed to hold a council with the Sauk. Campbell evidently did not expect trouble because of Clarks previous action. However, on the 20th, a British and Indian force returned to Prairie du Chien and attacked Fort Shelby, forcing the Governor Clarke to retreat downstream. After capturing Shelby, the British designated it Fort McKay in honor of their commanding officer, colonel William McKay. Messengers carried the news to Saukenuk, hoping that the Sauk would intercept the Governor Clarke above the Rock River.
On July 21, 1814 several miles separated the five boats of the flotilla. Gale force winds blew Campbells boat to the shoal of an island. When the troops disembarked for breakfast a volley cut down half of the 33 regulars. Hundreds of Sauk and Fox swarmed the boat from all directions. Even the women joined the fight using their hoes as weapons on hapless soldiers caught on deck or chopping holes in the boat for warriors to fire into. The Rangers further upstream saw smoke and turned downstream to investigate. They raked Campbells boat with gunfire driving off the Indians and then picked up the survivors. The Governor Clark, then came upon the advance boats with news of the capture of Prairie du Chien. The entire flotilla began a headlong retreat to St. Louis, leaving Campbells burning boat behind. Colonel McKay, elated by the decisive action of the Sauk and Fox rewarded them with gunpowder and other gifts.
News of the defeats enraged General Howard. On August 22 he dispatched a force of 430 rangers, militia and regulars in 8 boats under the command of Colonel Zachary Taylor. Taylors orders were to completely destroy all the Sauk and Fox villages on the Rock River. Sauk scouts were now fully alert and watching every movement on the river. They kept the British fully informed of the flotillas approach and Colonel McKay decided to reinforce Saukenuk with three cannons under Lt. Duncan Graham.
Colonel Taylor planned to deceive the Indians with a flag of truce and then attack using the boats cannons. The Sauk refused the bait of the white flag and stayed out of gun range. Frustrated, Taylor ordered the boats to press on upstream, acting as though it was it was their intention to head for Prairie du Chien all along. During the night the flotilla tied up to a small willow island. Taylor planned to drift back and attack Saukenuk early in the morning. However, Sauk warriors infiltrated the island during the night. At first light they killed the sentries.
Taylors guns began raking the island when suddenly cannon shot began splintering the boats and ripping the sails. Astonished that they were taking cannon fire, Taylor began retreating downstream. Soon, more than a thousand Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo, Ioway, Sioux, and Winnebago warriors began pouring fire into the boats from the riverbanks. The gauntlet continued for nearly two miles. In the meantime, Lt. Graham wheeled his cannons along shore, keeping up a steady fire on the retreating boats. For a second time, a major American expedition had been routed in the very shadow of Saukenuk.
Taylors troops finally landed and began building Fort Johnson at the mouth of the Des Moines River. There is an interesting anecdote associated with this event that provides some insight into the Sauk world view. Warfare for them was a supernatural as well as a military matter. Black Hawk led a party of warriors to the fort looking for an opportunity to strike. One night, the Great Sprit gave him a dream that if he would go down the bluff to a creek, he would see a hollow tree cut down and in the top there would be a large snake. The snake would show him where the enemy was. Black Hawk reported that the following morning, we reached the bank of the creek. Here I found a tree that had been cut down. I looked in the top of it and saw a large snake with his head raised, looking across the creek. I raised myself cautiously and discovered, nearly opposite to me, two war chiefs, walking arm-in-arm, without gunsin a little while they returned, walking immediately towards the spot where we lay concealed but did not come as near as before. If they had, they would have been killed as each of us had a good rifle.
The Sauk continually harassed the troops until they finally abandoned and burned the unfinished post in October. Heady with victory, the Sauk now lost all respect and fear of the United States. War parties struck the Missouri frontier with a vengeance again fueling rumors of a massive Indian invasion force. In fact, most of the raids were really rather small striking isolated cabins and farms. However, the guerrilla warfare of the Sauk clearly had a devastating psychological impact on the frontier inhabitants. Seldom if ever were the Sauk and Fox warriors seen until it was too late and seldom could the Rangers or militia who pursued them inflict casualties on them.
While casualties in the Sauk and American conflict were relatively light, there was no quarter given. Scouts from Coopers Fort in the Boones Lick found some dugout canoes hidden on the bank of the Missouri River. A party of six or seven Sauk warriors were discovered midway between Coopers Fort and Fort Hempstead and both garrisons gave chase. Surrounded, the Indians made a stand in a deadfall tree where they were quickly decimated. For many years thereafter, the settlers boasted of making razor strops from the skin and tool handles from the bones of the slain warriors. Such was the grisly nature of warfare on the frontier. By the end of the year, 1814 was known as the bloody year and many frontier settlements saw reverse migration as inhabitants fled to more civilized quarters.
The opening months of 1815 offered no respite from Sauk and Fox raids.
On the morning of March 7, Captain James Callaway and fourteen Rangers set out from Fort Clemson in pursuit of Sauk and Fox who had stolen horses from Loutre Island on the Missouri. That afternoon they found the horses being tended by a few Sauk women who fled at the Rangers approach. Despite the fears of 2nd Lieutenant Jonathan Riggs that they were riding into a trap, Callaway proceeded back to Fort Clemson the same way they had come. As they were fording the Prairie Fork a large party of Sauk fired a volley at them. In the ensuing fight Callaway and four other Rangers were killed. The news shocked the frontier as Callaway was a grandson of Daniel Boone.
In April a major attack occurred at Cote sans Dessien settlement, near present day Jefferson City. Sauk, Fox and Ioway warriors set fire to the roof of a blockhouse several times. Each time, the women in the fort put out the flames by any means they could, including the contents of their chamber pots. The attack broke off after an exploding powder magazine killed several warriors. In the Boones Lick, another key frontier leader was lost. Captain Sarshall Cooper was killed by his fireside when a musket was fired through some loose chinking of his cabin. Although there are several accounts of his death, the most plausible seems to be that a Sauk or Ioway warrior committed the deed.
By this time, stories began circulating that peace had been made between Great Britain and the United States. On April 8, 1815 Capt. A.N. Bulger assured 1,200 Indian warriors assembled at Prairie du Chien that the British were continuing the war solely on their account. Capt. Bulger then sent Lt. Graham to Saukenuk to dispatch more war parities against the Missouri settlements. Within a few days, the gunboat Governor Clarke anchored off Saukenuk bearing official word of the peace treaty made on Christmas Eve of 1814. Graham was told that if the Indians did not stop raids immediately, they would lose whatever benefits the British secured for them in the treaty. Frantically, Graham and then Bulger tried to recall the war parties but many were already wreaking havoc on the frontier.
On May 10, 1815 at Fort McKay, Captain Bulger reluctantly read the provisions of the Treaty of Ghent to 800 angry Indians. Black Hawk held up the war belt he had received from British officials in Canada and said I have fought the Big Knives and will continue to fight them until they are off our lands. Till then my father your Red Children cannot be happy. At the conclusion of his speech, he stormed out of the council room. Bulger now feared an attack by his former allies and he kept the garrison of under arms day and night.
Governor Clark, Governor Edwards, and Pierre Chouteau were appointed peace commissioners and they began directing twenty-eight tribes to come to Portage de Sioux in July to make peace. The messenger sent to Saukenuk was promptly scalped. The commissioners then wrote to the Secretary of War stating that a show of military force was still necessary against the Rock River Sauk. As the letter was being dispatched, Black Hawk appeared in Missouri personally leading a large war party. His actions resulted in the sensational murder of the Ramsey family near St. Charles and skirmishing around Fort Howard. This raid led to the rather famous Battle of the Sinkhole near present day Troy.
Black Hawk and his warriors were intercepted and trapped by Rangers from Fort Howard in a large sinkhole. The Sauk sang their death songs as Rangers repeatedly attempted to dislodge them. A second party of Sauk fired on Fort Howard, causing the Rangers to be drawn away. Black Hawk and his men then slipped out of the sinkhole in the fading twilight. This incident again allows some insight into the Sauk view of warfare as a spiritual matter. Black Hawk reported, There were eighteen in this trap with me. We all got out safe and found one white man dead on the edge of the sink hole. .We scalped him and placed our dead man upon him. We could not have left him in a better situation than on an enemy. Thus the Sauk honored their slain comrade while humiliating their foe at the same time, not only in this world but in the afterlife as well. Black Hawk regrouped with the second band and they returned to Saukenuk, ending the last major Indian fight of the War of 1812.
Gradually Indians from the 28 nations began gathering at Portage de Sioux. The majority of the Fox tribe was present and about forty Rock River Sauk came in. Clark noted the insufferable impudence of the Sauk in the council and the stark absence of their chiefs and war leaders. He stated in the council proceedings that the failure of the Sauk leaders to appear within thirty days would mean an all out war on the tribe. Former allies of the Sauk all stood and yelped their approval. The Sauk entourage was clearly alarmed and despite the heavy military guard, they quietly slipped away from Portage de Sioux that night.
Clark did not carry out his threat but instead sent Nicholas Boilvin to Saukenuk to bring in the recalcitrant leaders. When Boilvin arrived in Saukenuk he found the Indians dancing over American scalps. Boilvins diplomatic skills and high regard among the Indians kept him from suffering the fate of the first treaty messenger. He exhorted the leaders to send a delegation to Portage de Sioux. Finally their old trader Robert Lagoterie himself urged them to accept the inevitable. The Rock River Sauk reluctantly agreed to send a delegation to Portage de Sioux. However, the commissioners adjourned in early September and the Sauk straggled in two weeks later. They were simply told to come back the following spring to sign the peace treaty. In the interim, the Rock River Sauk remained in a state of war with the United States.
They finally appeared in St. Louis on May 6, 1816 to sign the treaty. At the negotiations Clark forbade the Sauk to trade in Canada. One chief angrily accused Clark of speaking with two tongues. Clark immediately broke off the talks and an artillery detachment soon commenced firing drill next to the Sauk encampment. Understanding the message, the next day a more contrite chief explained that what he meant was the Americans spoke with two languages, English and French. All the headmen of the Sauk nation including Black Hawk were directed to touch the goose quill and thus recognize and reconfirm the validity of the Treaty of 1804.
The Sauk and Fox now found themselves completely at the mercy of a foe who had never defeated them in battle. However, three years of warfare had greatly disrupted their normal hunting, farming and gathering cycles reducing their food supply. Sauk and Fox culture had become dependent on European trade goods and now they were cut off from Canadian traders who had supplied them for decades. In a very real sense, the war left them impoverished and with no alternatives other than to capitulate to the Americans.
To make matters worse, the Sauk and Fox were now a politically divided nation. The Fox and the Missouri Band had signed the peace treaty at Portage de Sioux, confirming the validity of the Treaty of 1804. At the same time, they also promised to remain distinct and separate from the Rock River Band. By 1816, the Missouri Band which was the smallest of the Sauk groups settled on the headwaters of the Grand River. There they seemed to associate rather closely with the Ioways.
The main body of the Sauk and Fox tribes remained divided into two factions, one under Keokuk and the other under Black Hawk. Keokuks leadership grew as did his friendship and subservience to the Americans. Black Hawk remained recalcitrant, insisting the Treaty of 1804 was illegal and invalid. His faction came to called the British Band because of their belief that somehow, some way, Great Britain would again come to their aid. Ironically, settlers moving into Clark County, Missouri tended to view Black Hawk as an honorable and trustworthy individual despite his hostile past. He made many friends among the settlers and never threatened them. On the other hand, these same people viewed Keokuk as a drunkard and held him in low esteem.
The War of 1812 failed to resolve any of the issues surrounding the Treaty of 1804 and the difficulties it had spawned. The war also accelerated the decline of the Sauk and Fox as a regional power and irreparably damaged their culture and political structure, splitting them into three separate factions. The Treaty of 1804 spawned one final bloody conflict, the so-called Black Hawk War of 1832 .
The Sac and Fox Indians, William T. Hagan, University of Oklahoma Press
The Sac and Fox, Nancy Bonvillain, Chelsea House
The Fox Wars, Edmunds and Peyser, University of Oklahoma Press
The Osages, John Joseph Mathews, University of Oklahoma Press
The Kansa Indians: A History of the Wind People, William Unrau, Univ. of Oklahoma Press.
The Ioway Indians, Martha Royce Blaine, Univ. of Oklahoma
History of Missouri, Vol. I, David March, Lewis Historical Publishing
Lyman Copeland Drapers Notes, Roll 6-S, 30-C, and S, Western Manuscripts Collection, State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia
Memorial of the State of Missouri in Relation to Indian Depredations Upon the Citizens of That State, Washington DC 1825, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.
The History of Pioneer Families of Missouri, Lucas, 1881 (also contains a reprint of the 1833 autobiography of Black Hawk)
The History of Howard and Cooper County, National Historical Publishing, 1883
War of 1812 on the Missouri Frontier, Kate Gregg, Missouri Historical Review, Vol. XXXIII, State Historical Society of Missouri.
Letters and Notes on Manners, Customs and Conditions of North American Indians, George Catlin, 1844 (Dover Publications, 1973 reprint)