A number of events led up to the tragedy that was called the Black Hawk War of 1832. First there was the disputed treaty of 1804. Although the treaty was laughable and not recognized by a significant number of the Sauks the United States government continued to refer to it in subsequent treaties. The Americans quickly established territorial dominance after the War of 1812 even though most of the battles had been won by the coalition of natives and British.
In 1829 squatters—white settlers who had not purchased the land—occupied the city of Saukenuk. There were a number of disputes, and Keokuk decided to relocate to a new summer village on the west side of the Mississippi, along the Iowa River.
In 1830 Black Hawk took his band—smaller than Keokuk’s, back to Saukenuk to plant corn and live in their summer home. The village was overrun with white settlers. They did their best to plant corn, but most of their historical fields had been taken over by the whites. There were minor skirmishes but all out war was avoided.
Because they failed to get a good corn crop, the Sauk who had followed Black Hawk had a terrible winter in 1830-31. Many went hungry.
In the spring of 1831 Black Hawk returned to Saukenuk with his band in an attempt to occupy the village and plant corn. Militia and troops ordered them out, and Black Hawk signed a treaty in which he agreed to leave and his people were given corn in exchange for their leaving.
In the fall of 1831 and over the following winter and spring Black Hawk worked on putting together a coalition of native groups and British that he thought would support him in a battle to take back his village. His advisor, Neapope, told Black Hawk that he would get support from the British, Potawatomi, Ojibwe, Ottawa, and Ho-Chunk. Keokuk, always the rival of Black Hawk, argued otherwise, and told the Meskwaki and Sauk that there would be no support. A greater number reluctantly followed Keokuk’s advice.
In early April 5-6, 1832, Black Hawk and his band of about 1500 people (including warriors but also large numbers of women and children) crossed the Mississippi near where Keokuk now stands and began traveling north, with the intention of reoccupying Saukenuk. By April 13 they were in Saukenuk.