The History of the Butterfly, Part 136: The Death of Black Hawk

From Stevens, 1903:

“Black Hawk’s cabin stood about one hundred feet from the north bank of the Des Moines River, a few rods from that of Mr. James H. Jordan, the agent.  Near it, on the sloping bank, stood two large trees, an elm and an ash, so intertwined as to appear like one tree.  Close by flowed the clear waters of what was known as Black Hawk’s Spring.  Here, during the sultry days of summer, he would sit and dreamily ponder over the scenes of his long and turbulent career.  Before him was spread that old battlefield on which his nation snatched from the Iowas their country and their homes—the same country then passing to others.  Then came a gloomy period of melancholy, which enveloped him so completely that he said but little, and that to his few intimates.  In the summer of 1838 a party of Iowas returned on a friendly visit to their old home and Black Hawk held a friendly council with them at a place about half a mile from his cabin.  On that spot he directed that his body should be buried…General Street…thoughtfully made the family a present of a cow, a property very unusual with an Indian.  This pleased him and the family immensely.  Madam Black Hawk and her daughter learned to milk, and during the warm days of 1838 the two were often seen sitting beside their beloved cow, patiently brushing away the troublesome flies and other insects.  This daughter, though married, remained with her parents to the time of Black Hawk’s death and, it may be said, was the mainstay in their domestic affairs; a model of neatness.  It has been said that she and Madam Black Hawk were so neat that the little yard was swept during the warmer months once a day.  One October day was designated as “ration day,” which was attended by nearly every Indian, leaving Black Hawk almost alone.  Though he had been sick of a fever for many days, nothing serious was feared.  Mr. Jordan was with him to the last moment his official duties would permit, leaving him, as he supposed, on the high road to recovery; but the old man took a sudden turn for the worse and within three hours after Mr. Jordan left his bedside Black Hawk was dead, after a sickness of fourteen days.

During Black Hawk’s sickness his wife, As-shaw-e-qua (Singing Bird), was devoted in her attentions to him and deeply mourned his death.  Some days before it occurred she said:  “He is getting old; he must die.  Monoto calls him home.”

His remains were followed to the grave by the family and about fifty of the tribe, the chiefs and all others being absent at Fort Armstrong to receive their rations.  He was buried on the spot selected by him prior to his death…

…His body was placed on the surface of the ground in a sitting posture, with his head toward the southeast, the body supported in position by a wooden slab or puncheon.  On his left side was placed a cane given him by Henry Clay, with his right hand resting on it.  Three silver medals, the gifts of prominent persons in the east, hung upon his breast.  There were also placed in the grave two swords, a quantity of wampum, an extra pair of moccasins and other articles of Indian Costume, with a supply of provisions sufficient to last him three days on his journey to the spirit land.  Around the body and the articles buried with him two large blankets were closely wrapped.  On his head was placed a military cap elaborately ornamented with feathers.  Forked sticks were firmly driven at the head and foot of the grave and across these a pole was placed, extending over the body.  Against this pole split puncheons were laid to a peak, the gables of the primitive vault being closed with boards and the whole then sodded over.  Near by was a hewn post inscribed with Indian characters.  Enclosing all was a strong circular picket fence ten or twelve feet high.”


About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
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