Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


Before 1800, two very different rival leaders emerged among the Sauk Indians. Both were born at the main Sauk village of Saukenuk on the Rock River. Old Chief Tecumseh was enjoying a powerful influence over most of the Indian nations living north of the Ohio River. He wanted to drive the Europeans away from the lead mines around Dubuque and Galena, and out of Fort Madison.

Born in 1767, Black Hawk was already a recognized warrior by the age of fifteen. He had led war parties against the Osage and Cherokee tribes. Black Hawk had savored the words of Tecumseh and devised schemes during the early 1800s by which these dreams might be accomplished.

England wanted to lay aside a large portion of land north of the Ohio River for the Indians, which would help keep peaceful relations with these nations and allow British fur traders to work easily among them. Black Hawk allied himself with the English, joined the British Army during the War of 1812, and did everything he could to prevent the Americans from occupying Indian lands after that war ended.

Meanwhile, a half-breed French and Sauk was born at Saukenuk in 1780, named Keokuk. He believed that more could be accomplished through peaceful relations with settlers and other tribes. However, his friendship with the Americans cost him his leadership role among the Sauks until after the Black Hawk War ended in 1832. Keokuk led the survivors of his nation westward, while Black Hawk chose to stay behind at Iowaville where he died in 1838. Keokuk removed his people from Iowa to Kansas in 1846 and he died two years later. His remains were brought back to the city of Keokuk where a monument was placed in his honor.

Black Hawk waged a very costly war against the Americans in a last ditch effort to prevent the settlers’ intrusion. He believed that the Americans took advantage of the Indians and forced them to make agreements they did not understand. Thus he fought for the rights he felt had been taken away or denied the Indians. It was not until he was an old man that he made strong friendships with the settlers and lived peacefully among them.

Perhaps Chief Keokuk had a more accurate vision of the future. He recognized the Great White Father in Washington at an early age, and quickly realized that the pioneers were moving onto Indian lands under the protection of the American flag and law. Both Black Hawk and Keokuk employed the idea, “if you can’t lick ’em, join ’em” but Black Hawk had to learn the hard way before he could accept this notion.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick