Robert C. Daniels
Author / Adjunct History Professor
- 1220 Days: the story of U.S. Marine Edmond Babler and his experiences in Japanese Prisoner of War Camps during World War II
- World War II in Mid-America: Experiences from rural Mid-American during the Second World War
- Several published military history articles at www.militaryhistoryonline.com.
Read Some of My Published Articles:
Black Hawk War Tour Guide - Using GPS Guidance
By Robert C. Daniels
© Copyright 2020, Robert C. Daniels
Whether one is a professional or even an armchair historian or simply a history buff, following the trail that Black Hawk, his British band, and the pursuing U.S. military and militia troops took during the 1832 Black Hawk War can prove to be enlightening and even fun. Having grown up in the Wisconsin area during the late 1950’s, 1960’s, and early 1970’s, I had thought I had seen a lot of the Wisconsin area and quite a bit of northern Illinois, and indeed I had. However, during my four days of tromping through the country-sides of southcentral and southwestern Wisconsin and northwestern Illinois in August of 2016 visiting and chronicling in pictures – albeit my non-professional photographic style of pictures – of as many of the known and registered sites of interest of the Black Hawk War that I could locate, I was able to visit parts of these states that I would otherwise most likely have never seen. I was amazed at the miles of flat but picturesque farmland of tall corn and wheat fields in northwest Illinois, and the beautiful thick woodlands, rolling and sometimes steep hills and valleys, as well as dairy farms, in southcentral and southwestern Wisconsin. Also enchanting were the blue, sometimes slow, sometimes swift waters of the Rock, Wisconsin, Pecatonica, and Mississippi Rivers.
Historical signposts, markers, and monuments are interspersed along this route indicating the location or approximate location of a campsite, a fort, a stockade, a battle, a skirmish, a river crossing, or other important occurrence of the war. Some were relatively easy to find, some took a bit more searching. Some are along main modern routes, some are in the backroads, some paved, some still gravel, and even dirt trails; several are located in parks, and at least two in farm fields. Taking this “tour” is not a one day event. It took me four full days to cover the following route, and I could definitely have spent more time to fully digest each of the sites. But, alas, my time was limited and I wanted to visit and document as many of the sites as I could in the four days I had available.
What follows, and at least in the case of the first 37 sites, in the order the events occurred, is a “tour” of the trail of the British Band and their pursuers as well as other events from the time Black Hawk and his followers left Saukenuk in Illinois and headed east to what would be Wisconsin and then west to the disastrous end of their ill-fated trek at the Battle of Bad Axe River along the Mississippi River roughly three months later It covers as many of these sites in northwestern Illinois and southcentral and southwestern Wisconsin that I could locate, most of which I was able to visit. It also covers a couple of sites in the Hampton Roads/Tidewater Virginia area of southeastern Virginia – where I currently live – where Black Hawk was at one time incarcerated and visited during his brief imprisonment after the end of the war and his capture. In addition, it likewise covers a few other sites along the way that I believe anyone interested in history would like to see, and some sites that I could not, for one reason or another, personally visit.
The tour is broken into three separate phases and includes a total of 52 sites, all but two of which are either in Illinois or Wisconsin. In the first phase, sites 1 through 37, covered, in order of their occurrences, are the actual trail taken by both the main band of Black Hawk’s followers and that of the main body of the pursuing U.S. military and militia troops. This portion of the tour will most likely take 3 to 4 days to cover, depending upon how long one stays at any given site.
The second phase of the tour, sites 38 through 50, covers 13 of the more outlying sites of the war; sites of small, isolated skirmishes, military forts, and settler stockades; sites that the main bodies of either Black Hawk’s Band or the army or militia did not travel to or were involved in, but were still important aspects of the war. This phase can be covered in 1 or 2 days.
The two sites in the Hampton Roads/Tidewater Virginia area of southeastern Virginia, sites 51 and 52, make up the third phase of the tour. One day can cover both sites, although they are approximately a 1,000-mile drive southeast of the nearest Illinois site.
It should be noted that at times some of the historical markers’ texts and facts you will encounter along these routes, including at times spellings of place and character names, differ from historical data, and even from one marker to the next. Nonetheless, they are still very informative and are on or near the site of the actual event. Each of the following tour sites correspond to an incident mentioned in the text of my upcoming book, tentatively titled Touring the Black Hawk War, and include GPS coordinates to each site.
So, pack a lunch, grab the kids, jump in the family car, minivan, SUV, truck, camper, or motorcycle, and take a few days to visit these sites.
It is my sincere hope that you enjoy your rides.
Robert C. Daniels
Site 1. Fort Armstrong; recreation of one of the forts corner towers and a memorial – Rock Island, Illinois
A Fort Armstrong historical marker is located close by, but on the U.S. Army Rock island Arsenal – visitors are welcome.
Site 2. Saukenuk – Rock Island, Illinois
Unfortunately, there is not really anything remaining of the village of Saukenuk (the main village of Black Hawk and his tribe of Sauks), and its full location can only be surmised. However, it is believed through various written descriptions that the intersection of 12th Street and 45th Street of Rock Island, Illinois, near the juncture of U.S. 67 (11th Street) and Blackhawk Road (State Road 5), in the southern part of the city of Rock Island, was “the heart of Saukenuk.” This also equates to about two miles up the Fox River from its junction with the Mississippi River, were the village was reported to have been situated.
A few blocks east of this intersection (at GPS: 41.464524,-90.574945), and thought to have also have been part of the village, is the Black Hawk Forest and Black Hawk State Historical Site. The historical site includes walking trails; the John Hauberg Museum of Native American Life, specializing in Sauk and Fox cultural objects and artifacts; and the Singing Bird Nature Center. All worth a visit. What I found to be of special interest was the Tallgrass Prairie located at the historical site depicting what the Illinois prairie looked like at the time of the Blackhawk War.
Site 3. Black Hawk War Campsite historical marker – Near Hillsdale, Illinois
Site 4. Prophetstown historical marker – Prophetstown, Illinois
Site 5. Dixon’s Ferry and Abraham Lincoln statue and historical marker – Dixon, Illinois
Site 6. Lincoln in the Black Hawk War historical marker – Dixon, Illinois
Site 7. Stillman’s Defeat monument and gravesite – Stillman Valley, Illinois
Site 8. Black Hawk at Turtle Village / The U.S. Military at Turtle Village historical marker – Beloit, Wisconsin
Site 9. Black Hawk War historical marker – I-90/I-39 outside Beloit, Wisconsin
Site 10. Route of Abraham Lincoln 1832 and 1859 historical marker – U.S. 51 between Beloit and Janesville, Wisconsin
Site 11. The Black Hawk War / Black Hawk’s Grove historical marker – Janesville, Wisconsin
Site 12. Storrs Lake Milton historical marker – Milton, Wisconsin
Sites 13 and 14. Lincoln Hill historical marker – Cold Spring, Wisconsin; and Black Hawk War Encampment “Burnt Village” Site and historical marker – East of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin
(GPS: 42.893741,-88.776136) and (GPS: 42.914967,-88.779394), respectively
Site 15. Black Hawk War Encampment Site and historical marker – Bald Bluff Scenic Overlook, Ice Age Trail Access, of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, south of Palmyra, Wisconsin
Note that although the actual historical marker is no longer present, its sign post is, and the site is worth visiting simply to see what the area looked like during the war. Once there, looking straight east past the Kettle Moraine Oak Opening Bald Bluff Unit sign up the walking path, the empty sign post is visible just before the opening of the wooded area. The original marker can be seen at
Site 16. Fort Koshkonong historical marker and plaque – Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin
Site 17. Trail Discovery historical marker – Watertown, Wisconsin
Site 18. Third Lake Passage historical marker – Madison, Wisconsin
Site 19. Tragedy of War historical marker – Madison, Wisconsin
Site 20. Pheasant Branch Encampment historical marker – near Middleton, Wisconsin
Site 21. Indian Lake Passage historical marker – near Marxville, Wisconsin
Site 22. Battle of Wisconsin Heights historical markers – near Sauk City, Wisconsin
Site 23. Black Hawk’s Band’s Wisconsin River Crossing Site – near Sauk City, Wisconsin
Although there is no actual marker indicating the location where Black Hawk’s band actually crossed the Wisconsin River during and after the Battle of Wisconsin Heights, the river and "possible" crossing site, which is approximately one mile due west of the Battle of Wisconsin Heights, can be viewed along County Trunk Y, just a short 2.3-mile drive from the Battle of Wisconsin Heights markers at the Blackhawk River Runs boat ramp. Again, although not marked, somewhere along this stretch of the riverbank, Black Hawk's band did indeed cross the river, and this is a good site to view the river and imagine the fleeing Indians crossing in make-shift canoes and log rafts.
Also along County Trunk Y, one can look east and view both the Wisconsin Heights itself in the background and what the area looked like when Black Hawk’s band fled from the heights through what is now the Mazomanie Oak Barrens State Natural Area in the foreground.
Site 24. Site of Old Helena historical marker –in Tower Hill Bottoms State Park near Spring Green, Wisconsin
Site 25. Military River Crossings historical marker – near Spring Green, Wisconsin
Site 26. Western Escape historical marker – near Spring Green, Wisconsin
Site 27. The Pursuit West historical marker – near Gotham, Wisconsin
Site 28. Troop Encampment historical marker – near Rockbridge, Wisconsin
Site 29. Ocooch Mountains historical marker – Boaz, Wisconsin
Site 30. Soldiers Grove Origin historical marker – Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin
Site 31. Black Hawk Trail historical marker (1) – Rising Sun, Wisconsin
Site 32. Black Hawk Trail historical markers 2 and 3 – near West Prairie, Wisconsin
Site 33. Black Hawk and Winnebago Trail historical marker – near Retreat, Wisconsin
Site 34. Black Hawks Outpost historical marker – near Victory, Wisconsin
Site 35. Black Hawk War – Battle Bluff – Battle Hollow – Battle Island and Battle of Bad Axe historical markers – near De Soto, Wisconsin
Site 36. Head of Battle Island historical marker – U.S. Corps of Engineers Blackhawk Park, near De Soto, Wisconsin
Site 37. Fort Crawford – Fort Crawford Museum in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin
About .03 miles due north of the site of the Fort Crawford Museum on S Beaumont Road is a small military cemetery. At the entrance of this cemetery facing S Beaumont Road is a plaque/marker for Jefferson Davis, who served under General Atkinson as a Second Lieutenant. He would later become famous/infamous as the President of the Confederate States of America. The cemetery itself is worth the short few minutes it would take to visit.
This marks the end of the trail of Black Hawk and his main band of followers during the Black Hawk War.
Touring the Outlying Sites of the Black Hawk War
These next 13 sites, sites 38 through 50, are what I consider as outlying sites, the sites of some of the military forts and settler stockades built or in use during the war, as well as the sites of the known and documented smaller skirmishes between Black Hawk’s followers – or, in some cases, independent Indians who wanted to settle a personal grudge or score – and settlers and militia troops and military units. The majority of these sites are in the central portions of southwestern Wisconsin and northwestern Illinois, with one a bit more south than the rest. These sites can be visited, following the directions given, during a 1- or 2-day trip.
Site 38. Fort Winnebago historical marker and Surgeon's Quarters – Portage, Wisconsin
In addition, within a mile of the fort is also the Old Fort Winnebago Cemetery that includes the burial sites of two Revolutionary War veterans, among other veterans.
Site 39. Blue Mounts Fort historical marker – Blue Mounds, Wisconsin
Site 40. Dodge’s Grove and Fort Union historical marker – southeast of Dodgeville, Wisconsin
Site 41. Site of Fort Jackson historical marker – Mineral Point, Wisconsin
Site 42. Fort Defiance historical marker – southeast of Mineral Point, Wisconsin
Site 43. Fort Hamilton plaque and mural – Wiota, Wisconsin
Site 44. Battle of Pecatonica 2-sided historical marker – near Woodford, Wisconsin
Site 44. Spafford Farm/Wayne Massacre Site and monument – near South Wayne, Wisconsin
There is a monument commemorating those settlers that were attacked, the five that died and the two that survived, near the site of the attack in the rural Hoffman Cemetery. The cemetery is located in a farm field along a dirt and grass trail. Note, there is no sign from the road indicating the cemetery. Also please note, that like at the Battle of Pecatonica site, during my visit (August 2016) I was again attacked by several angry swarms of mosquitoes at this cemetery, please again plan accordingly.
The actual site of the battle/massacre, although not itself marked by any form of marker, is roughly 2,300 feet or so due south of the Hoffman Cemetery at the congruence of the Pecatonica River and Spafford Creek. Approximately 450 feet west of the intersection of County Trunk N and County Trunk D, on County Trunk D will be an east facing yellow Narrow Bridge sign (at least it was there in 2016) on the south side of the road. A few feet directly south of this sign is the congruence of the Pecatonica River and Spafford Creek, which is the site of the massacre. Note, again, that the site itself is not marked by any form of historical marker or plaque.
Note: for the next 5 sites, our tour leaves Wisconsin and ventures back into Illinois.
It should be noted that once in Illinois, several of the area roads we will travel during this remainder part of our tour in Illinois will be gravel, but well kept.
Site 45. Battle of Waddams Grove/Battle of Yellow Creek plaque – near Waddams Grove, Illinois
Site 46. Kellogg’s Grove Blackhawk War Monument – near Kent, Illinois
Site 47. Stone Arch Bridge historical marker – near Brookville, Illinois
Although what is left of the bridge, if there is anything left of it, is not visible from the marker nor the road by the marker, the marker is relevant and on the way to the next site in our tour, the Buffalo Grove ambush site. It is, therefore, worth visiting.
Site 48. Buffalo Grove Ambush historical markers – near Polo, Illinois
Site 49. Apple River Fort (a full replica, including docents) – near Elizabeth, Illinois
Site 50. Indian Creek Massacre Site historical markers – near Earlville, Illinois
This ends the Wisconsin and Illinois sites of our tour of the Black Hawk War. The remaining two sites are located in the Hampton Roads/Tidewater Virginia area of southeastern Virginia.
These next 2 sites, sites 51 and 52, are sites that Black Hawk and some of his leading followers were incarcerated at or visited during their incarceration after the war. They are in the cities of Hampton and Portsmouth in the Hampton Roads/Tidewater area of southeastern Virginia.
Site 51. Fort Monroe – Hampton, Virginia
Site 52. Watts Home – Portsmouth, Virginia
This ends our Black Hawk War Tour. I sincerely hope you enjoyed your tour! Feel free to send comments about your tour to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robert C. Daniels
Last updated on 20 Apr 2020 .
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