Black Hawk

Resisting Cultural Genocide

As Black Hawk stood watching his followers cross the Mississippi River eastward. The Sauk leader might have used that moment to reflect on his years in Saukenuk, a village near present day Rock Island where his people had lived since before the American Revolution. During the 1820s, white American colonizers increasingly pressured the Sauk to leave their home and move west of the Mississippi River. The U. S. government warned them not to return to Saukenuk after their winter hunt. Nevertheless, on this spring day in 1832, Black Hawk was coming home.

Knowing that Black Hawk disputed the U. S.’s claim to Saukenuk, Governor John Reynolds of Illinois expected conflict and called up the state militia. This assumption of hostility put Black Hawk and the U. S. military on a collision course. Months of fighting ensued and led to Black Hawk’s surrender. While imprisoned, he dictated his autobiography, arguing that “land cannot be sold. The Great Spirit gave it to his children to live upon, and cultivate, as far as is necessary for their subsistence; and so long as they occupy and cultivate it, they have the right to the soil.”


Object label:

Black Hawk’s Autobiography

A first edition of Life of Black Hawk or Má-ka-tai-me-she-kiá-kiák Dictated by Himself.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

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