Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
Reed’s Intimate View of Black Hawk
William Carroll Reed, at the age of 91, described his close relationship with Chief Black Hawk and his family, on March 10, 1907. He was the last surviving person who might have actually known the chief personally. He was born in Polk County, Illinois on January 3, 1816 and came to Iowa on May 25, 1835 at the age of 19. He settled in what became Lee County, while Samuel Reed staked out a claim along the Des Moines River (in what became Van Buren County.)
Although the Black Hawk Purchase was opened for settlement on June 1, 1833 few whites were allowed into the territory, because it hadn’t yet been surveyed. Reed chose to settle at Fort Madison where John Knapp had a trading cabin. John Box had moved over from Illinois, and Daniel Thompson had crossed the river from Commerce (Nauvoo) in 1834.
Reed said there was a trading station at Keokuk with a colony, but he had not seen it. A larger community lived at Burlington. There was also a garrison with three companies of dragoons at Montrose, but this was practically all of the white people living in southeast Iowa at the time of his entry. All around them were Indians of the Sac and Fox tribe. Most were friendly, but not all of them.
"I first met Black Hawk in the fall of 1837, five years after the Battle of Bad Ax had ended the rebellion, and after he had been taken on a tour of the eastern cities to be impressed by the greatness of the country, and after which he told his people that the white folks were as numerous as the leaves of the trees."
Although George Duffield described Black Hawk as staggering and untidy when he came to his cabin, Reed says that neither Chief Keokuk nor Black Hawk were drunkards, although they enjoyed whiskey and could consume large amounts without showing any obvious effects.
Reed lived a mile from Black Hawk’s wickiup on Devil’s Creek, so he had much first-hand information about the family. At home, Black Hawk usually wore a blanket and moccasins, but when he traveled, he enjoyed dressing in uniform. On the second occasion that Reed saw the chief, he was dressed in a broadcloth suit wearing a high silk hat, but still had on his famous moccasins.
Reed did not call Black Hawk’s wife by name (Singing Bird,) but always referred to her as Madam Black Hawk. She was pretty, and lighter in color than most Indians, which he thought indicated some French blood. The old chief was small, withered and dried, weighing not over 125 pounds. His son Nes-se-as-kuk was a fine physical specimen with broad chest and shoulders, standing five feet eleven inches tall, weighing about 190 lbs.
Nauasia was their beautiful daughter, and they had another son whom the settlers called "Tom Black Hawk," who disliked white people with a passion. It didn’t help matters any when Nauasia’s heart was broken.
There are two versions of the romance.
According to most historical accounts, Nauasia was the belle of the settlement. Men lined up around her and tried to muster enough courage to dance with her. Walsh, from Baltimore proposed marriage and they were engaged, until his cousin arrived in Ft. Madison, took one look at the bride-to-be and said that everyone back east would taunt them and say, "There goes Walsh and his squaw!" When the ridicule began, Walsh fled the country and poor Nauasia. But, according to Reed, the man who fell in love with her was from New York.
Nauasia loved to dance, and would leap high in the air and whirl and do fancy capers on the dance floor to the delight, surprise and amusement of the settlers. The couple were about to be married, when the man’s family back east heard about it and ordered him to return home at once! He followed his families orders instead of his heart.
Black Hawk’s wickiup was large, with space for the entire family, and had several rooms, one of which housed twelve large leather trunks containing relics from his trip back east and across the countryside. At this location, the family spent their winters while in spring and summer, they went elsewhere.
One day Mrs. Black Hawk was making sugar, and gave Reed a large mould of it to take home. They never talked about the war and disastrous results, or their home at Rock Island where the settlers came in and desecrated the sacred burial ground. However, even though the government had made Keokuk, Wapello, and Hardfish chiefs of the tribe, there was a following that remained loyal and considered Black Hawk their tribal leader until he died.
Keokuk was the only blue-eyed Indian Reed ever met, which confirmed his French blood. He was fat and pompous, was a gambler and horse racer, and had four wives whereas Black Hawk remained loyal to one wife his entire lifetime. Keokuk also made friends with white people, notably Isaac Galland, one of the early setters of Lee County.
Wapello and General Street were such good friends that people called them "David and Jonathan." Keokuk was buried next to General Street at his request.
Black Hawk died in his home along the river above Iowaville in present day Davis County, and was first buried behind Jordan’s house until a shack or pen was prepared for him (Iowaville Cemetery, Van Buren County) 18x15 feet in size. He was placed in a sitting position, with the cane beside him given to him by Henry Clay, medals around his neck, many relics piled around him. A beautiful, silk American Flag was placed on a flagpole at his feet. Poles were placed around the pen and over it, so that a foot of sod covered the area. Outside a post was inscribed in red paint commemorating his deeds and depicting animals Black Hawk had killed.
Reed saw his body three months after burial, by lifting up the board at the corner of the mound, and peeking inside. Every day, his widow was accustomed to visiting the grave until the morning of July 1, 1839. She went sobbing to James Jordan and informed him that the grave had been opened and that someone had taken the head of her dear husband.
He vowed to find out who was responsible.
It was presumed to be Dr. Turner of Lexington (the forerunner of Bonaparte.) About a year after the first incident, someone (thought to be the same person) returned and took the rest of the skeleton. Soon it was wired together and put on display, much to the outrage of his family. Governor Lucas eventually came into possession of the remains, and held them subject to his order.
Both of Black Hawk’s sons hurried to Burlington and viewed the skeleton. For fear that it would be stolen again, they left it in the hands of Lucas, trusting that it would be safer. It eventually was placed in a museum in Burlington, which burned.
In the meantime, the government took control of the situation, and brought a skeleton to Iowaville, which was placed in the mound grave at the cemetery. This served to appease the Indians. There were claims that the skeleton was actually Black Hawk, but Reed never believed it for one minute. Like many others, he felt that the remains burned in the museum fire.
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick