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Iowa History Daily: August 2 - Black Hawk at Bad Axe

Iowa History Daily: On August 2, 1832, a desperate group of Indigenous men, women, and children under the Sauk leader Mahkatêwe-meshi-kêhkêhkwa (Black Hawk) sought to cross the Mississippi River while under fire from a combined military force of US Army regulars, state militia-members, and American-allied Dakota bands. Known as the Bad Axe Massacre, hundreds of Sauk men, women, and children died.

Black Hawk sought to assert the sovereignty and autonomy of his people throughout his lifetime. Black Hawk rejected the dubious Treaty of 1804 made at St. Louis and allied with the British during the War of 1812 while helping to largely evict the American military from the upper-Mississippi during the war. In the aftermath, the Sauk leader continued to assert his people’s freedom from American control, choosing not to participate in treaty proceedings at Prairie du Chien in 1825 and 1830.

When American settlement arrived at Black Hawk’s ancestral village of Saukenuk on the Mississippi River in the early 1830s, the leader again pushed back against American claims to the land. After a return from Iowa to the village-site in Illinois almost resulted in violence during 1831, Black Hawk returned in April of 1832 with a group of more than 1,500 men, women, and children. Violence erupted between the Illinois militia and the Sauk.

While Black Hawk’s “British Band” moved through Illinois and Wisconsin seeking to rally Indigenous allies over the summer of 1832, the governors of Illinois and Michigan Territory called out militias to hunt the band, and the American military joined the fight. The last Indigenous conflict against American power east of the Mississippi River, engagements at Stillman’s Run and Wisconsin Heights escalated the conflict. Out of food, subsisting largely on roots, and unable to rally support, the band desperately fled back toward the safety of Iowa.

By early August, the combined American forces closed in on Black Hawk’s band near where Bad Axe Creek meets the Mississippi. While the militias pressured the fleeing band from the east, the USS Warrior chugged upstream from Prairie du Chien to unleash firepower on the Sauk seeking to cross the river. For those Sauk men, women, and children fortunate enough to make the crossing, their traditional enemies, the Dakota, waited on the other side.

Hundreds died, and the Americans ultimately arrested Black Hawk later in the month. In the aftermath, the government forced the Sauk and Meskwaki to sell 6 million acres of eastern Iowa, opening the area to settlement while pushing the tribes further west of their ancestral lands. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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