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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 17, 2003 - Issue 87


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Autobiography of Black Hawk
Mr. Graham's Speech

Dictated to himself with Antoine LeClair, U.S. Interpreter and J. B. Patterson, Editor and Amanuensis, Rock Island, Illinois, 1833
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

     "BROTHERS: Open your ears. You are brave men. You have fought like tigers, but in a bad cause. We have conquered you. We were sorry last year that you raised the tomahawk against us; but we believe you did not know us then as you do now. We think, in time to come, you will be wise, and that we shall be friends forever. You see that we are a great people, numerous as the flowers of the field, as the shells on the seashore, or the fishes in the sea. We put one hand on the eastern, and at the same time the other on the western ocean. We all act together. If some time our great men talk long and loud at our council fires, but shed one drop of white men's blood, our young warriors, as thick as the stars of the night, will leap on board of our great boats', which fly on the waves and over the lakes--swift as the eagle in the air--then penetrate the woods, make the big guns thunder, and the whole heavens red with the flames of the dwellings of their enemies. Brothers, the President has made you a great talk. He has but one mouth. That one has sounded the sentiments of all the people. Listen to what he has said to you. Write it on your memories; it is good, very good.

     "Black Hawk, take these jewels, a pair of topaz earrings, beautifully set in gold, for your wife or daughter, as a token of friendship, keeping always in mind, that women and children are the favorites of the Great Spirit. These jewels are from an old man, whose head is whitened with the snows of seventy winters, an old man who has thrown down his bow, put off his sword, and now stands leaning on his staff, waiting the commands of the Great Spirit. Look around you, see all this mighty people, then go to your homes, open your arms to receive your families. Tell them to bury the hatchet, to make bright the chain of friendship, to love the white men, and to live in peace with them, as long as the rivers run into the sea, and the sun rises and sets. If you do so, you will be happy. You will then insure the prosperity of unborn generations of your tribes, who will go hand in hand with the sons of the white men, and all shall be blessed by the Great Spirit. Peace and happiness by the blessing of the Great Spirit attend you. Farewell."

     In reply to this fine talk, I said, "Brother: We like your talk. We like the white people. They are very kind to us. We shall not forget it. Your council is good. We shall attend to it. Your valuable present shall go to my squaw. We shall always be friends."

     The chiefs were particular in showing us everything that they thought would be pleasing or gratifying to us. We went with them to Castle Garden to see the fire-works, which was quite an agreeable entertainment, but to the whites that witnessed it, less magnificent than would have been the sight of one of our large prairies when on fire.

     We visited all the public buildings and places of amusement, which, to us, were truly astonishing yet very gratifying.

     Everybody treated us with friendship, and many with great liberality. The squaws presented us many handsome little presents that are said to be valuable. They were very kind, very good, and very pretty--for pale-faces.

     Among the men, who treated us with marked friendship, by the presentation of many valuable presents, I cannot omit to mention the name of my old friend Crooks, of the American Fur Company. I have known him long, and have always found him to be a good chief, one who gives good advice, and treats our people right. I shall always be proud to recognize him as a friend, and glad to shake him by the hand.

     Being anxious to return to our people, our guide started with us for our own country. On arriving at Albany, the people were so anxious to see us that they crowded the streets and wharfs, where the steamboats landed, so much, that it was almost impossible for us to pass to the hotel which had been provided for our reception. We remained here but a short time, it being a comparatively small village, with only a few large public buildings. The great council house of the state is located here, and the big chief (the governor) resides here, in an old mansion. From here we went to Buffalo, thence to Detroit, where I had spent many pleasant days, and anticipated, on my arrival, to meet many of my old friends, but in this I was disappointed. What could be the cause of this? Are they all dead? Or what has become of them? I did not see our old father there, who had always given me good advice and treated me with great friendship.

     After leaving Detroit it was but a few days before we landed at Prairie du Chien. The war chief at the fort treated us very kindly, as did the people generally. I called on the agent of the Winnebagoes, (Gen. J. M. Street), to whom I had surrendered myself after the battle at Bad Axe, who received me very friendly. I told him that I had left my great medicine bag with his chiefs before I gave myself up; and now, that I was to enjoy my liberty again, I was anxious to get it, that I might hand it down to my nation unsullied.

     He said it was safe; he had heard his chiefs speak of it, and would get it and send it to me. I hope he will not forget his promise, as the whites generally do, because I have always heard that he was a good man, and a good father, and made no promise that he did not fulfill.

     Passing down the Mississippi, I discovered a large collection of people in the mining country, on the west side of the river, and on the ground that we had given to our relation, DUBUQUE, a long time ago. I was surprised at this, as I had understood from our Great Father that the Mississippi was to be the dividing line between his red and white children, and he did not wish either to cross it was much pleased with this talk, as I knew it would be much better for both parties. I have since found the country much settled by the whites further down, and near to our people, on the west side of the river. I am very much afraid that in a few years they will begin to drive and abuse our people, as they have formerly done. I may not live to see it, but I feel certain the day is not far distant.

     When we arrived at Rock Island, Keokuk and the other chiefs were sent for. They arrived the next day with a great number of their young men, and came over to see me. I was pleased to see them, and they all appeared glad to see me. Among them were some who had lost relations the year before. When we met, I perceived the tear of sorrow gush from their eyes at the recollection of their loss, yet they exhibited a smiling countenance, from the joy they felt at seeing me alive and well.

     The next morning, the war chief, our guide, convened a council at Fort Armstrong. Keokuk and his party went to the fort; but, in consequence of the war chief not having called for me to accompany him, I concluded that I would wait until I was sent for. Consequently, the interpreter came and said, "They were ready, and had been waiting for me to dome to the fort." I told him I was ready and would accompany him. On our arrival there the council commenced. The war chief said that the object of this council was to deliver me up to Keokuk. He then read a paper, and directed me to follow Keokuk's advice, and be governed by his counsel in all things! In this speech he said much that was mortifying to my feelings, and I made an indignant reply.

     I do not know what object the war chief had in making such a speech; or whether he intended what he said; but I do know that it was uncalled for, and did not become him. I have addressed many war chiefs and listened to their speeches with pleasure, but never had my feelings of pride and honor insulted on any other occasion. But I am sorry I was so hasty in reply to this chief, because I said that which I did not intend.

     In this council I met my old friend (Col. Wm. Davenport,) whom I had known about eighteen years. He is a good and brave chief. He always treated me well, and gave me good advice. He made me a speech on this occasion, very different from that of the other chief. It sounded like coming from a brave. He said he had known me a long time, that we had been good friends during that acquaintance, and, although he had fought against my braves, in our late war, he still extended the hand of' friendship to me, and hoped that I was now satisfied, from what I had seen in my travels, that it was folly to think of going to war against the whites, and would ever remain at peace. He said he would be glad to see me at all times, and on all occasions would be happy to give me good advice.

     If our Great Father were to make such men our agents he would much better subserve the interests of our people, as well as his own, than in any other way. The war chiefs all know our people, and are respected by them. If the war chiefs at the different military posts on the frontier were made agents, they could always prevent difficulties from arising among the Indians and whites; and I have no doubt, had the war chief above alluded to been our agent, we would never have had the difficulties with the whites we have had. Our agents ought always to be braves. I would, therefore, recommend to our Great Father the propriety of breaking up the present Indian establishment, and creating a new one, and make the commanding officers at the different frontier posts the agents of the Government for the different nations of Indians.

     I have a good opinion of the American war chiefs generally with whom I am acquainted, and my people, who had an opportunity of seeing and becoming well acquainted with the great war chief (Gen. Winfield Scott), who made the last treaty with them, in conjunction with the great chief of Illinois (Governor Reynolds), all tell me that he is the greatest brave they ever saw, and a good man--one who fulfills his promises. Our braves spoke more highly of him than of any chief that had ever been among us, or made treaties with us. Whatever he says may be depended upon. If he had been our Great Father we never would have been compelled to join the British in the last war with America, and I have thought that as our Great Father is changed every few years, that his children would do well to put this great war chief in his place, for they cannot find a better chief for a Great Father anywhere.

     I would be glad if the village criers (editors), in all the villages I passed through, would let their people know my wishes and opinions about this great war chief.

     During my travels my opinions were asked for on different subjects, but for want of a good interpreter (our regular interpreter having gone home on a different route), were seldom given. Presuming that they would be equally acceptable now, I have thought it a part of my duty to lay the most important before the public.

     The subject of colonizing the Negroes was introduced and my opinion asked as to the best method of getting clear of these people. I was not 'fully prepared at the time to answer, as I knew but little about their situation. I have since made many inquiries on the subject, and find that a number of States admit no slaves, whilst the balance hold these negroes as slaves, and are anxious, but do not know how to get clear of them. I will now give my plan, which, when understood, I hope will be adopted.

     Let the free States remove all the male Negroes within their limits to the slave States; then let our Great Father buy all the female Negroes in the slave States between the ages of twelve and twenty, and sell them to the people of the free States, for a term of years, say those under fifteen until they are twenty-one, and those of and over fifteen, for five years, and continue to buy all the females in the slave States as soon as they arrive at the age of twelve, and take them to the free States and dispose of them in the same way as the first, and it will not be long before the country is clear of the black-skins, about which I am told they have been talking for a long time, and for which they have expended a large amount of money.

     I have no doubt but our Great Father would willingly do his part in accomplishing this object for his children, as he could not lose much by it, and would make them all happy. If the free States did not want them all for servants, we would take the balance in our nation to help our women make corn.

     I have not time now, nor is it necessary to enter more into detail about my travels through the United States. The white people know all about them, and my people have started to their hunting grounds and I am anxious to follow them.

     Before I take leave of the public, I must contradict the story of some of the village criers, who, I have been told, accuse me of having murdered women and children among the whites. This assertion is false! I never did, nor have I any knowledge that any of my nations ever killed a white woman or child. I make this statement of truth to satisfy the white people among whom I have been traveling, and by whom I have been treated with great kindness, that, when they shook me by the hand so cordially, they did not shake the hand that had ever been raised against any but warriors.

     It has always been our custom to receive all strangers that come to our village or camps in time of peace on terms of friendship, to share with them he best provisions we have, and give them all the assistance in our power. If on a journey or lost, to put them on the right trail, and if in want of moccasins, to supply them. I feel grateful to the whites for the kind manner they treated me and my party whilst traveling among them, and from my heart I assure them that the white man will always be welcome in our village or camps, as a brother. The tomahawk is buried forever! We will forget what has passed, and may the watchword between the Americans and he Sacs and Foxes ever be--"FRIENDSHIP."

     I am done now. A few more moons and I must follow my fathers to the shades. May the Great Spirit keep our people and the whites always at peace, is the sincere wish of BLACK HAWK.

Part 12


Starts for a New Life

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