[Marxism] Black Hawk

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Feb 2 14:06:05 MST 2006

Bookforum, Feb.-Mar 2006

John Mack Faragher on Kerry A. Trask’s Black Hawk: The Battle for the Heart 
of America and Stuart Banner’s How the Indians Lost Their Land: Law and 
Power on the Frontier

In early April 1832, Black Hawk's band of Sauks—some two thousand men, 
women, and children, including several hundred well-armed warriors—crossed 
the Mississippi near the mouth of the Iowa River and began making their way 
north toward Saukenuk, their traditional summer village, at the junction of 
the Mississippi and Rock rivers (now within the city limits of Rock Island, 
Illinois). A startled American settler encountered them along the river 
road. They had come in peace to reclaim their village, the Sauks told him, 
"but if the Whites want War they shall have it."

That was precisely what many Americans wanted. Historian Kerry A. Trask 
makes this clear in Black Hawk: The Battle for the Heart of America, both a 
biography of the Sauk leader (Makataimeshekiakiak—"Black Sparrow Hawk"—in 
the Sauk language) and a history of the war that took his name, a war that 
was nothing short of an instance of American genocide. Trask quotes General 
Henry Atkinson, commander of a small force of US Army troops sent to patrol 
the northern Illinois frontier: "I will treat them like dogs," he sneered. 
"If Black Hawk's band strikes one white man[,] in a short time they will 
cease to exist!" Atkinson was blustering—he was unwilling to take on such a 
large force—but his rhetoric was commonplace. Indian hating, Trask 
understands, was part of the very character of American settler society. 
Atkinson wrote Illinois governor John Reynolds for assistance, warning that 
"the frontier is in great danger." Reynolds responded quickly. Facing 
reelection and sensing the political advantage of a quick and violent 
strike against a despised enemy, he called out the militia.

It was mid-May by the time several hundred disorderly volunteers, including 
a young captain named Abraham Lincoln, caught up with the Sauks along the 
Rock River. Thus far there had been no violence. Black Hawk had expected 
support from other tribes, possibly from the British in Canada as well, but 
none materialized. Now uncertain of his course and fearing for the safety 
of the women and children, he sent a delegation out to parley with the 
American officers under a flag of truce. Here was an opportunity to end the 
crisis. But eager for a fight, the Americans attacked, killing two of the 
Sauks. Believing himself (erroneously) to be greatly outnumbered, Black 
Hawk nevertheless thought he had no choice but to order his men to charge. 
It quickly turned into a rout. Confronted with fierce warriors, the 
undisciplined settlers panicked and fled in wild confusion. Soon Indians 
were raiding isolated settler cabins in the area, killing, scalping, taking 
captives, and terrorizing the entire region. There was an outcry for 
revenge. One editor urged Reynolds to "carry on a war of extermination 
until there shall be no Indian (with his scalp on) left in the northern 
part of Illinois." The modern term for extermination is genocide.

Like most violent conflicts between American settlers and Indians, the 
Black Hawk War was fought over land. There had been a long lead-up to this 
confrontation. The American position was that the Sauks had ceded their 
territory years before, in 1804, when General William Henry Harrison 
cajoled several minor chiefs to sign a treaty giving up all their lands 
east of the Mississippi, as well as some of their claims to the west, 
reportedly using whiskey to smooth the negotiations. Legitimate Sauk 
leaders protested as soon as they got news of the treaty, making it 
perfectly clear that as far as they were concerned it was null and void. 
The Americans ignored them.

full: http://www.bookforum.com/faragher.html



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