History of the Butterfly, Part 65: Black Hawk, Fort Madison, and the Shawnee Prophet

More from the Autobiography of Black Hawk (Jackson, 1955)

“Soon after our return from fort Madison, runners came to our village from the Shawnee Prophet, (whilst others were dispatched by him to the villages of the Winnebagoes, with invitations for us to meet him on the Wabash.  Accordingly a party went from each village.

All of our party returned, among whom came a prophet, who explained to us the bad treatment the different nations of Indians had received from the Americans, by giving them a few presents and taking their land from them.  I remember well his saying—‘If you do not join your friends on the Wabash, the Americans will take this very village from you!’  I little thought then that his words would come true!  Supposing that he used these arguments merely to encourage us to join him, we agreed that we would not.  He then returned to the Wabash, where a party of Winnebagoes had arrived, and preparations were making for war!  A battle soon ensued, in which several Winnebagoes were killed.  As soon as their nation heard of this battle, and that some of their people had been killed, they started war parties in different directions.  One to the mining country; one to Prairie du Chien, and another to fort Madison.  This last returned to our village, and exhibited several scalps which they had taken.  Their success induced several other parties to go against the fort.  Myself and several of my band joined the last party, and were determined to take the fort.  We arrived in the vicinity during the night.  The spies that we had sent out several days before, to watch the movements of those at the garrison, and ascertain their numbers, came to us, and gave the following information:–‘That a keel-boat had arrived from below that evening, with seventeen men; that there were about fifty men in the fort, and that they marched out every morning at sunrise, to exercise.’ 

It was immediately determined that we should take a position as near as we could, (to conceal ourselves,) to the place where the soldiers would come; and when the signal was given, each man to fire and then rush into the fort.  I dug a hole with my knife, deep enough, (by placing a few weeds around it) to conceal myself.  I was so near to the fort that I could hear the sentinel walking.  By day-break I had finished my work, and was anxiously awaiting the rising of the sun.  The drum beat; I checked the priming of my gun, and eagerly watched for the gate to open.  It did open—but instead of the troops marching out a young man came alone.  The gate closed after him.  He passed close by me—so near that I could have killed him with my knife, but I let him pass.  He kept the path towards the river; and had he went one step out of it, he must have come upon us, and would have been killed.  He returned immediately and entered the gate.  I would now have rushed for the gate, and entered it with him, but I feared that our party was not prepared to follow me.

The gate opened again—four men came out, and went down to the river after wood.  Whilst they were gone, another man came out and walked towards the river—was fired upon and killed by a Winnebago.  The others immediately ran for the fort, and two of them were killed.  We then took shelter under the bank, out of reach of fire from the fort. 

The firing commenced from both parties, and continued all day.  I advised our party to set fire to the fort, and commenced preparing arrows for that purpose.  At night we made the attempt and succeeded to fire the buildings several times, but without effect, as the fire was always instantly extinguished.”

This painting of Tenskwatawa, the Shawnee prophet, was done by George Catlin in 1830.  By that time he was living in Kansas, having been removed from Ohio.  He was still respected by his tribe but his political power was long gone. 

Source of painting photo:  Wikimedia commons.

The Shawnee prophet’s visit to Saukenuk was probably about 1811 and the attack on Fort Madison 1812.


About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
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