Famous Native Americans

Black Hawk

Black Hawk

Black Hawk was a member of the Sauk Indians. He lived in the village of Saukenuk. This was the largest village. It was between the Rock River and the Mississippi River in Illinois. Black Hawk's father was Chief Pyesa.

The Sauk Indians stampeded the buffalo into the rocky walls of a canyon to kill them. Each spring the men hunted for buffalo and elk. The women planted corn and beans. They also gathered fruit, nuts, and berries. Black Hawk wanted to go hunting with the men, but he was too young.

After one big hunt the Sauks were attacked by a band of Osage Indians. Black Hawk killed his enemy with his hatchet. Black Hawk was considered a warrior after fighting so well. He could sit among the men at the council fire after that. Black Hawk could now fight against his enemies: the Cherokee, the Osage, and the Sioux. When Chief Pyesa died the Indians made Black Hawk their new chief.


Each year Black Hawk went to St. Louis to trade with the Spanish. In 1804 when he went to trade the Spanish had moved out of St. Louis and the Americans had moved in. Black Hawk had heard bad things about the Americans.

After returning to his home Black Hawk decided to go to Canada and see if the English would trade for gunpowder. While Black Hawk was away the American soldiers came up the Mississippi River with swords. The Sauks sent four chiefs to St. Louis to make peace. They signed a treaty giving the Americans all the Sauk territories. They did not know what they were signing.

The American soldiers came into the Sauk territory and built a strong fort. When Black Hawk returned from Canada he was angry after seeing the fort. He attacked the fort with burning arrows. The Americans had cannons at the fort causing Black Hawk to draw back.

Black Hawk continued to trade with the English. When the War of 1812 started President James Madison offered Black Hawk gunpowder if he would agree not to help the English. Black Hawk agreed. He did not want to fight. When Black Hawk went to the fort to get the gunpowder he was given tobacco, food, and blankets, but no gunpowder.

When Black Hawk returned to his village an English trader brought him gunpowder and the news that many Indian Nations were going to attack the forts to the north and east. After four years of fighting the English lost.

Chief Keokuk told the Americans that he was Supreme Chief. Keokuk had given away some of the Sauk lands to the U.S. government. Later Black Hawk signed a peace treaty in May 1816. Black Hawk signed away the Sauk land east of the Mississippi without knowing it.

One summer when Black Hawk returned from hunting he found settlers living in his village. By 1830, Keokuk moved many of the Sauk and Fox Indians across the Mississippi to a reservation in Iowa.

In the fall of 1831 Black Hawk was forced by the soldiers to take the remaining Indians to the reservation in Iowa. After a bad winter Black Hawk took 400 warriors and their families back across the Mississippi River. The Americans began to fight Black Hawk over this in battles called the Black Hawk War.

Black Hawk knew he could not win this war. He sent three messengers with a flag of truce to the American camp. The Americans shot them down. After the messengers were killed Black Hawk rushed into the American camp. The Americans ran in panic. As Black Hawk and his men were starting to head back across the Mississippi River they were caught between the American steamboat Warrior and the American troops. Two hundred Indians died that day. Black Hawk was held prisoner after his surrender. The Americans then took all the land from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River.