The story of a community is not in its buildings, though buildings do have stories to tell. The story of a community is in its people. The brave men and women with a dream that work together to build that dream into a future for themselves and their children for generations to come. The story of Milton begins with a group of men with a dream but in order to tell their story I must first tell another.
That would be the story of a war.
Picture Courtesy of Wikipedia
The Black Hawk war is also the story of a community with a dream for its future. This communities dream came to a halt initially with the Treaty of St. Louis of 1804. The validity of this document and it’s ramifications carried on for 28 years before action was finally taken between Black Hawk and the Americans. There were parties on both sides of this treaty that questioned whether it was valid but nothing was ever done to correct the wrong done to the Sauk and Fox Nations.
This treaty is actually a series of 14 treaties signed between 1804 and 1824. But, it is the original treaty of 1804 that set the groundwork for the Black Hawk War.
Black Hawk tells the story of the incident in his Autobiography written in 1833. A Sauk warrior had killed a white man and was in prison in St. Louis. Four representatives were sent from Saukenuk, their village, to St. Louis to negotiate his release. The representatives were Quashquame, Pohespaho, Ouchequaka and Hashequarhiqua. When this party returned from St. Louis without their friend this is what they said:
“On our arrival at St. Louis we met our American father [William Henry Harrison] and explained to him our business, urging the release of our friend. The American chief told us he wanted land. We agreed to give him some on the west side of the Mississippi, likewise more on the Illinois side opposite Jefferson. When the business was all arranged we expected to have our friend released to come home with us. About the time we were ready to start our brother was let out of the prison. He started and ran a short distance when he was SHOT DEAD!”
Harrison of course had a slightly different story. In his account he says that the party came to St. Louis to bring the warrior and turn him over to authorities for the murder of the white man, not knowing that President Jefferson had already cleared him because it was an obvious case of self-defense. Harrison said that the prisoner was shot “While trying to escape.”
There were a few issues with the treaty that the Sauk and Fox Nations objected to. The first is that it happened at all. The four Sauk representatives that went to St. Louis were there to negotiate the release of a friend not a treaty. None of these men was authorized to negotiate or sign a treaty. Such a treaty should have had the proper representation of tribal elders and warriors from both the Sauk and Fox present.
The second issue was that the treaty was specific about taking possession of Villages along the Mississippi and Rock Rivers, which included the ancestral village of the Sauk at Rock Island. The village of Saukenuk was a well established village like any white village with permanent homes, streets and other structures. The residents farmed and fished. There was always plenty for everyone.
The third issue was the amount of land involved. The team sent to negotiate the release of their friend agreed only to a small amount of land on the west and east sides of the Mississippi. The finished treaty took everything from the Fox River in Illinois west to the Mississippi, up into Wisconsin and west from Illinois into Missouri.
Map courtesy of Wikipedia
The fourth issue was that the treaty allowed the Sauk and Fox tribes to remain on their land until it was sectioned off and sold to white settlers. It would be at that time that they would have to vacate their homes. Prior to the war there were squatters on the land but none had been sectioned or sold to settlers. Black Hawk rejected the treaties authority and was determined to keep his people’s land.
President Jefferson’s Removal act of 1830 only complicated matters further and in the spring of 1832 after returning from the winter hunting grounds and discovering that squatters had taken over Saukenuk. Enough was pretty much enough. Black Hawk did his best to abide by the rules and worked to get the squatters out of his village but after doors kept being closed and being told to get out or else. The or else finally happened.
The war only lasted seven weeks. The native Americans didn’t have a chance as they were vastly outnumbered. The American side had 6000+ militia, 630 actual Army soldiers and 700+ members of Native American tribes not allied with the Sauk and Fox. On Black Hawk’s side there were 1100 people, 600 of which were women, children and men too old to fight.
It wasn’t a war. It was a massacre. But history is written by the victors.