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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
Part 12

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)

     The time dragged heavily and gloomily along throughout the winter, although the White Beaver did everything in his power to render us comfortable.  Having been accustomed, throughout a long life, to roam the forest o'er, to go and come at liberty, confinement, and under such circumstances, could not be less than torture.

     We passed away the time making pipes until spring when we visited by the agent, trader and interpreter, from Rock Island, Keokuk and several chiefs and braves of our nation, and my wife and daughter.  I was rejoiced to see the two latter and spent my time very agreeably with them and my people as long as they remained.

     The trader, Sagenash (Col. Davenport) presented me with some dried venison, which had been killed and cured by some of my friends.  This was a valuable present, and although he had given me many before, none ever pleased me so much.  This was the first meat I had eaten for a long time that reminded me of the former pleasures of my own wigwam, which had always been stored with plenty.

     Keokuk and his chiefs, during their stay at the barracks, petitioned our Great Father, the president to release and pledged themselves for our good conduct.  I now began to hope I would soon be restored to liberty and the enjoyment of my family and friends, having heard that Keokuk stood high in the estimation of our Great Father, because he did not join me in the war, but I was soon disappointed in my hopes.  An order came from our Great Father to the White Beaver to send us on to Washington.

     In a little while all were ready and left Jefferson Barracks on board of a steamboat, under the charge of a young war chief and one soldier, whom the White Beaver sent along as a guide to Washington.  We were accompanied by Keokuk, wife and son, Appanooce, Wapello, Poweshiek, Pahippaho, Nashashuk, Saukee, Musquaukee, and our interpreter.  Our principle traders, Co. Geo. Davenport, of Rock Island, and SS Phelps and clerk William Cousland, of the Yellow Banks, also accompanied us. On our way up the Ohio we passed several large villages, the names of which were explained to me.  The first is called Louisville, and is a very pretty village, situated on the bank of the Ohio.  The next is Cincinnati, which stands on the bank of the same river.  This is a large and beautiful village and seemed to be in a thriving condition.  The people gathered on the bank as we passed, in great crowds, apparently anxious to see us.

     On our arrival at Wheeling the streets and riverbanks were crowded with people, who flocked from every direction to see us.  While we remained here many called upon us and treated us with kindness, no one offering to molest or misuse us.  This village is not so large as either of those before mentioned, but is quite a pretty village.

     We left the steamboat here; having traveled a long distance on the prettiest river I ever saw (except our Mississippi) and took the stage.  Being unaccustomed to this mode of travel, we soon got tired and wished ourselves seated in a canoe on one of our own rivers, that might return to our friends.  We had traveled but a short distance before our carriage turned over, from which I received a slight injury, and the soldier had one arm broken.  I was sorry for this accident, as the young man had behaved well.

     We had a rough and mountainous country for several days, but had a good trail for our carriage.  It is astonishing what labor and pains the white people have had to make this road, as it passes over several mountains, which are generally covered with rocks and timber, yet it has been made smooth and easy to travel upon.

     Rough and mountainous as this country is there are many wigwams and small villages standing on the roadside.  I could see nothing in the country to induce the people to live in it, and was astonished to find so many whites living on the hills.

     I have often thought of them since my return to my own people, and am happy to think that they prefer living in their own country to coming out to ours and driving us from it, as many of the whites have already done.  I think with them, that wherever the Great Spirit places his people they ought to be satisfied to remain, and be thankful for what He has given them, and not drive others from the country He has given them because it happens to be better than theirs.  This contrary to our way of thinking, and from my intercourse with the whites, I have learned that one great principle of their religion is "to do unto others as you wish them to do unto you."  Those people in the mountains seem to act upon this principle, but the settlers on our frontiers and on our lands seem never to think of it, if we are to judge by their actions.

     The first village of importance that we came to, after leaving the mountains, is called Hagerstown.  It is a large village to be so far from a river and is very pretty.  The people appear to live well and enjoy themselves much.

     We passed through several small villages on the way to Fredericktown, but I have forgotten their names.  This last is a large and beautiful village.  The people treated us well, as they did at all other villages where we stopped.

     Here we came to another road much more wonderful than that through the mountains.  They called it a railroad, (the Baltimore and Ohio). I examined it carefully, but need not describe it, as the whites know all about it.  It is the most astonishing sight I ever saw.  The great road over the mountains will bear no comparison to it, although is has given the white people much trouble to make.  I was surprised to see so much money and labor expended to make a good road for easy traveling.  I prefer riding horseback, however, to any other way, but suppose these people would not have gone to so much trouble and expense to make a road if they did not prefer riding in their new fashioned carriages, which seem to run without any trouble, being propelled by steam on the same principle that boats are on the river.  They certainly deserve great praise for their industry.

     On our arrival at Washington, we called to see our Great Father, the President.  He looks as if he had seen as many winters as I have, and seems to be a great brave.  I had very little talk with him, as he appeared to be busy and did not seem to be much disposed to talk.  I think he is a good man; and although he talked but little, he treated us very well.  His wigwam is well furnished with every thing good and pretty, and is very strongly built.

     He said he wished to know the cause of my going to war against his white children.  I thought he ought to have known this before; and consequently said but little to him about it, as I expected he knew as well as I could tell him.

     He said he wanted us to go to Fortress Monroe and stay awhile with the war chief who commanded it.  But having been so long from my people, I told him that I would rather return to my nation; that Keokuk had come here once on a visit to him, as we had done, and he had let him return again, as soon as he wished, and that I expected to be treated in the same manner.  He insisted, however, on our going to Fortress Monro; and as the interpreter then present could not understand enough of our language to interpret a speech, I concluded it was best to obey our Great Father, and say nothing contrary to his wishes.

     During our stay at the city, we were called upon by many of the people, who treated us well particularly the squaws; we visited the great council house of the Americans; the place where they keep their big guns; and all the public building, and then started for Fortress Monroe.  The war chief met us on our arrival, and shook hands, and appeared glad to see me.  He treated us with great friendship, and talked to me frequently.  Previous to leaving this fort, he made a feast, and gave us some presents, which I intend to keep for his sake.  He is a very good man and a great brave.  I was sorry to leave him, although I was going to return to my people, because he had treated me like a brother, during all the time I remained with him.

     Having got a new guide, a war chief, (Maj. Garland), we started for our own country, taking a circuitous route.  Our Great Father being about to pay a visit to his children in the big towns towards sunrise, and being desirous that we should have an opportunity of seeing them, and directed our guide to take us through.

     On our arrival at Baltimore, we were much astonished to see so large a village; but the war chief told us we would see a larger one.  This surprised us more.  During our stay here, we visited all the public buildings and places of amusement, saw much to admire, and were well entertained by the people who crowded to seen us. Our Great Father was there at the same time, and seems to be much liked by his white children, who flocked around him, (as they had around us) to shake him by the hand.  He did not remain long, having left the city before us.  In an interview, while here, the President said;

     "When I saw you in Washington, I told you that you had behaved badly in going to war against the whites.  Your conduct then compelled me to send my warriors against you, and your people were defeated with great loss, and several of you surrendered, to be kept until I should be satisfied that you would not try to do any more injury.  I told you, too, that I would inquire whether your people wished you to return, and whether, if you did return, they would be any danger to the frontier.  Gen. Clark and Gen. Atkinson, whom you know, have informed me that your principal chief and the rest of your people are anxious you should return, and Keokuk has asked me to send you back.  Your chiefs have pledge themselves for your good conduct, and I have given directions that you should be taken to your own country."

     "Major Garland, who is with you, will conduct you through some of our towns.  You will see the strength of the white people. You will see that our young men are as numerous as the leaves in the woods.  What can you do against us? You may kill a few women and children, but such a force would soon sent against you as would destroy your whole tribe.  Let the red men hunt and take care of their families.  I hope they will not again raise the tomahawk against their white brethren.  We do not wish to injure you. We desire your prosperity and improvement.  But if you make war against our people, I shall send a force, which will severely punish you.  When you go back, listen to the councils of Keokuk and the other friendly chiefs; bury the tomahawk and live in peace with the people of the frontier. And I pray the Great Spirit to give you a smooth path and a fair sky to return."

     I was pleased with our Great Father's talk and thanked him.  Told him that the tomahawk had been buried so deep that it would never be resurrected, and that my remaining days would be spent in peace with my white brethren.

     We left Baltimore in a steamboat, and traveled in this way to the big village, where they make medals and money, (Philadelphia.)  We again expressed surprise at finding this village so much larger than the one we had left; but the war chief again told us we would see another much larger than this.  I had no idea that the white people had such large villages, and so many people.  They were very kind to us, showed us all their great public works, their ships and steamboats.  We visited the place where they make money, (the mint) and saw the men engaged at it.  They presented each of us with a number of pieces of the coin as they fell from the mint, which are very handsome.

     I witnessed a militia training in this city, in which were performed a number of singular military feats.  The chiefs and men were all well dressed and exhibited quite a warlike appearance. I think our system of military parade far better than that of the whites, but as I am now done going to ware I will not describe it or say anything more about war, or the preparations necessary for it.

     We next started for New York, and on our arrival near the wharf, saw a large number of people gathered at Castle Garden.  We had seen many wonderful sights in our way - large villages, the great nation road over the mountains, the railroad, steam carriages, ships, steamboats and many other things; but we were now about to witness a sight more surprising that any of these.  We were told that a man was going up in the air in a balloon.  We watched with anxiety to see if this could be true; and to our utter astonishment, saw him ascend in the air until the eye could no longer perceive him.  Our people were all surprised and one of our young men asked the Prophet if he was going to see the Great Spirit.

     After the ascension of the balloon, we landed and got into a carriage to go to the house that had been provided for our reception.  We had proceeded but a short distance before the street was so crowded that it was impossible for the carriage to pass.  The war chief then directed the coachman to take another street, and stop at a different house from the one we had intended. On our arrival here we were waited upon by a number of gentlemen, who seemed much pleased to see us.  We were furnished with good rooms, good provisions, and everything necessary for our comfort.

     The chiefs of his big village, being desirous that all their people should have an opportunity to see us, fitted up the great council house for this purpose, where we saw and immense number of people; all of whom treated us with great friendship, and many with great generosity.  One of their great chiefs, John A. Graham, waited upon us and made a very pretty talk, which appeared in the village papers, one of which I now had you.

Part 11


Mr. Graham's Speech

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