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:
Touring the Black Hawk War
The below are excerpts of a current book project that I am currently working on. Please consider this as a "draft" in progress.
My goal is to not only document the Black Hawk War, but to also offer both pictures of and directions to 52 various sites of the war: the battlefields, various campsites, forts, and other sites of interest. All of these contain some sort of historical marker.
During the various weeks of August of 2016 and 2017, I traveled extensively throughout the area the war took place in - northwestern Illinois and southwestern Wisconsin - visiting every site I could locate, taking pictures and documenting directions to the sites. Of the 52 sites, 50 are located in these areas. The other two sites are in the Hampton Roads area of southeastern Virginia, where Black Hawk and some of survivors of the war were briefly incarcerated.
This book is written in two parts. First, covered in detail, is the tragic story of the Black Hawk War. A war, like many wars, was not a war that needed to occur. Covered is its cause, how it transpired, how it was fought, who fought in it, how it ended, its legacies, and what became of its major players of the war, many of which, at least on the side of the U.S. Government, going on to future roles, including major roles in the American Civil War – in some cases allies in the Black Hawk War, but bitter enemies in the Civil War – including three future presidents, two of which would be on opposing sides during the Civil War.
Second, a guided tour, including driving directions, of many of the sites of the Black Hawk War – just about any site that could be located that contains some sort of historical marker related to the war. Most of these sites I, the author, personally visited and photographed during my research for this book. For those sites that I visited I include some of these photos taken of the various sites and markers. The few sites that I was unable to visit, for one reason or another, I still provide directions and any historical marker text that I could locate for the site and, where possible, web addresses to websites that contain applicable pictures. However, due to copyright issues, I do not include pictures that I did not personally take – this goes for maps as well. With this said, unless otherwise noted, any photographs of historical markers and locations, as well as any images or maps included in this book are either photographs that I personally took or images and maps that I drew or created, as meager as they are. Therefore, their references will not be noted below these items. However, as is custom, any picture or image that I did not personally take or create will have their sources referenced under the item.
The tour portion of this book is compiled to be followed, if desired, in approximately 4 to 6 days, depending upon the person, of a somewhat leisurely pace by car, SUV, motorcycle, etc. I would suggest these trips could prove to be great weekend picnic outings for families, if the reader is so inclined.
The route of the tour takes the rider through various areas of northwest Illinois and southwest Wisconsin, sometimes through small towns and villages and even larger cities, many times to areas somewhat off the beaten path into the countryside – through rolling farmland that once was prairie; along slow moving rivers banked by woods and marshlands; through areas of rolling hills that are sometimes wooded, sometimes farmland; past stretches of rugged, wooded hills and steep valleys; next to sandstone rock faced cliffs; and near lakes, both small and rather large. All quite scenic. Touring these sites will give the reader not only a chance to see areas of these two states that most people would not normally visit or see, but also a much better understanding of what both Black Hawk and his band of followers and General Atkinson and his military and militia troops encountered during the war.
The first 37 sites of the tour are arranged in the order of and closely following, as far as can be determined, the route that Black Hawk’s main band of followers – warriors, women, children, and the elderly – followed by General Atkinson’s main forces, took during the war. This part of the tour begins at the site of Fort Armstrong on the banks of the Mississippi in western Illinois. We then follow their treks first northeast along the Rock River in Illinois up to and into what was then the Wisconsin Territory (now modern day Wisconsin), and then, leaving the Rock River area, nearly due west through the rather rugged areas of southwest Wisconsin to the Mississippi River. These 37 sites, if one follows the directions included, can be broken into about 3 or 4 days of touring, since the directions to site 2, the site of Saukenuk at Rock Island, Illinois, is listed from site 1, the site of Fort Armstrong at Rock Island, Illinois, and the directions to site 3, a Black Hawk War Campsite near Hillsdale, Illinois, is listed from site 2, and so on and so forth. So, beginning at the site number 1 of our tour, the site of Fort Armstrong – in modern day Rock Island just north of the convergence of the Rock and Mississippi Rivers – and following the directions provided, one can follow and visit every site I could locate that includes some sort of historical marker pertaining to the war in the order that they were visited by Black Hawk and his band and soon thereafter by General Atkinson and his pursuing troops
The second portion of the tour, sites 38 through 50, represent the known sites of military forts, such as Fort Winnebago, and various settler stockades and forts quickly built during the war, and some of the outlying skirmishes that took place between the settlers, militia, army, and Indians during the war that are not actually on the main route taken by Black Hawk’s Band. These later tour sites are not arranged per the order in which they were built or the skirmishes took place, but, for the most part, in a rather north to south route, starting at the site of Fort Winnebago in Portage, Wisconsin, and going south through the countryside of southwestern Wisconsin and into and ending in northwestern Illinois at the Apple River Fort in Elizabeth, Illinois. This later path of our tour can be broken up into another 1- or 2-day trip.
The third portion of the tour contains two sites located in the Hampton Roads/Tidewater Virginia area of southeastern Virginia, two sites that Black Hawk and some of his surviving leaders of his band visited after the war as part of their confinement/tour of the east coast of the United States.
For more on the tour and its routes and sites, see the ending chapter: Black Hawk War Tour Guide on page ___.
Any errors in these directions or contents in the book are solely my responsibility, for which I humbly apologize in advance.
Robert C. Daniels
8. Hostilities Begin
The next morning, 14 May, in preparation of the day’s important council with the Potawatomis, and with hopes of impressing the delegation, Black Hawk had his people begin preparing a dog feast, which was a common ceremonial feast among the various Great Lakes Indian tribes. Although the exact time is in question, with several accounts conflicting each other, sometime around mid- to late-afternoon Major Isaiah Stillman and his Illinois mounted militia troops arrived at a small patch of wood a little north of Old Man’s Creek (also called by some historians as Sycamore Creek) at a site a little under 3 miles due east of where the creek enters the Rock River. According to militia member John Wakefield, who was not present with Stillman and his troops, it was Colonel James Strode in the advanced guard that had chosen the location. For all indications it was a good campsite: a small wooded area surrounded by miles of open prairie, well suited for defense against an attacking enemy who would have to assail over open ground against armed troops protected behind the cover of trees. They also found a large, fresh trail heading north near the site of their encampment. This fresh trail, coupled with some of the militia’s flank guards having earlier in the day seen several dogs believed to be those of the Indians and even the sight of a couple of Indians in the distance, indicated the British Band was most likely not far off.
Not heeding the indications from the fresh trail, or the sight of the dogs, or even the glimpsing of the couple of Indians in the distance, Stillman’s militia hastily and rather haphazardly sat up their camp, tethering and unsaddling their horses, erecting their tents, lighting campfires, and opening and quickly sharing the contents the barrel (or barrels) of whiskey they had brought along. At the same time, Chief Shabonna, Chief Wabaunsee, and other Potawatomi chiefs, having arrived at Black Hawk’s camp, were eating the dog feast prepared for them prior to opening their council with Black Hawk, Neapope, the Prophet White Cloud and other chiefs and leading warriors of the British Band. To further impress the delegation, Black Hawk had also laid out the contents of his Mi´shâm, or medicine bag, for all of the delegation to see as a sign of respect.
It was at this time that Sauk scouts burst into the council to inform Black Hawk that a large encampment of – reportedly stated as between 300 and 400 – Long Knives, as the Sauks called the American troops, were but a few miles south. What occurred next depends upon the teller, with many different yet relatively similar accounts, but it basically developed as follows. As soon as the news arrived, the Potawatomi chiefs quickly departed. Especially with this quick departure of the Potawatomi delegation, Black Hawk’s last hope of the promised help was dashed. Being the experienced leader he was, he quickly came to the understanding that it was, therefore, time to go back across the Mississippi River. To this end, he dispatched three young warriors with a white flag to the camp of the Long Knives to escort some of the Americans to the British Band’s camp. Black Hawk’s intention was, as he was later to relate, so “we might hold council with them, and descend Rock River again,” meaning he wanted to surrender and return back to Iowa. Soon after the first three warriors departed, Black Hawk thought it prudent to send a party of five other warriors to stand off at a distance and watch to see what happened. This second party was also soon on its way.
The three young unarmed warriors flying their white flag arrived unannounced near Stillman’s camp. When they were seen, they were immediately surrounded by a swarm of militiamen, many of which had already imbibed their ration of whiskey. About this same time, other militiamen saw the five additional warriors Black Hawk had sent to witness the encounter on a hill in the distance. As the word of the two groups of Indians spread throughout the camp, about 20 militiamen quickly mounted their horses and galloped towards the party on the distant hill. According to Stillman, writing a month after the affair, these 20 militiamen were led by Lieutenant Asahel Gridley. Alarmed at the oncoming militia, the party of five warriors sent to observe the parley turned and fled. The pursuing militia soon opened fire killing two of the fleeing Indians. The other three were able to make their escape. However, at the sound of the gunfire, the confusion around the first three Sauk emissaries with the white flag – most of the militia members, including Stillman, would later state there was no white flag, some even stating they saw a red flat, which indicated war – dramatically increased, and one of the emissaries was shot from his horse and killed. In the confusion, the other two young warriors jumped from their horses and ran through the crowd of inebriated and bewildered militiamen to the safety of the brush along the shoreline of Old Man’s Creek. By this time, apparently with all semblance of order gone, more and more of Stillman’s command had mounted their horses and were racing towards the sound of the firing in the distance where Gridley and his men had been last seen chasing the five Indians.
Black Hawk was still at the location of the Potawatomi council site near the Kish-wá-co-kee (Kishwaukee) River, only about five miles north of Stillman’s campsite, preparing a white flag for the meeting with the Americans he was expecting to soon arrive with the three young warriors. This thought was shattered when the surviving three warriors that had just recently escaped the rushing militia arrived with the news of the death of their two companions – they had not seen the killing of the third warrior at the camp – along with the news that a large party of militia was bearing down on Black Hawk’s camp. By this time, right on the heels of Gridley’s 20 militiamen was nearly the entire accompaniment of Stillman’s command, led by Stillman himself, having followed Gridley the five or so miles from the militia’s camp on Old Man’s Creek. Black Hawk had with him but a small party of about 40 warriors, all of the rest were further away with the women and children of the band or hunting much needed game. Nonetheless, expecting to sell his and their lives to hopefully give their families time to flee, the wily old warrior directed his warriors to make a stand behind some bushes.
Major Stillman formed his men in a line – some reports state that this line placed a bog between the militia and Black Hawk and his band of warriors. According to the major’s account – which is his only report of the entire incident that mentions his seeing a white flag – at the point where nightfall was about to descend, a white flag was displayed by the Sauks. Most likely this was held by Neapope in hopes of stopping the battle before it started. Interestingly, Black Hawk’s account does not mention this white flag. Nonetheless, Stillman and some of his lieutenants near him believed this to be a trick, and began to advance. At this point, as Black Hawk was to relate, fearing an attack by a greatly outnumbering foe, and with his band’s families not far behind them to protect, he, Black Hawk, “gave another yell, and ordered my brave warriors to charge upon them – expecting that we would all be killed!” After first letting fly a volley at the oncoming militia, he then led his warriors on foot into the open in a military form of advance alternately firing as they went. It was possibly at this point that the volunteers lost their first killed in the Black Hawk War as, according to at least three sources, one of their numbers fell from his horse, shot by one of Black Hawk’s warriors.
It was at this time, in the dusk just before the sun set, with the shadows lurking, the sound and sight of the whooping and advancing Indians on the attack, that the militia, many under the influence of whiskey, imagining 1,000 or even 2,000 Indians swarming towards them, turned as one and fled en masse as an uncontrollable mob. No cajoling by Stillman, Major David Bailey, Colonel Strode, the latter two who had also rode out with Stillman, or any of the other officers could get the panic-stricken militia under control. Black Hawk was amazed at the site. As he was to retell, “the enemy retreated! in the utmost confusion and consternation, before my little, but brave band of warriors!” John Wakefield’s account, however, depicts a somewhat more orderly retreat, even stating that some of the militia reformed and returned fire at least once. But Wakefield was not present and reported on what he was later ‘informed’ took place by some of those that had been present – most likely those that wanted to protect their reputations.
As Black Hawk was to later state to Patterson, “After pursuing the enemy some distance, I found it useless to follow them, as they rode so fast, and returned to my encampment with a few of my braves.” However, about 25 of Black Hawk’s warriors mounted their horses and continued the pursuit. These 25 warriors continued to chase the fleeing militia to and even past Stillman’s camp at Old Man’s Creek. So panicked were the militia that they rode right through their own camp and continued on. Those that had stayed in camp, not knowing what had just occurred, saw the horror on the faces of their comrades as they galloped through the camp and were instantly caught up in the fervor and followed, on horseback if they could manage to grab a horse in the confusion, or on foot if they could not, leaving all of their provisions behind. ‘Retreating’ right along with this group was Majors Stillman and Bailey as well as Colonel Strode.
Only Captain John Adams and nine members of his company of Major Bailey’s original battalion stood and fought. They rallied on a small plot of high ground south of the creek from their encampment as the others, most on horseback, some on foot, rushed past in a frenzied attempt to save themselves. Adam’s small group died on the spot, giving their lives to allow the others to escape.
Black Hawk War Tour – Stillman’s Defeat – Stillman Valley, Illinois:
See Tour Site 7 in Appendix A
Site 7. Stillman’s Defeat – Stillman Valley, Illinois
The site of “Stillman’s Run” is located in the modern day small town of Stillman Valley, Illinois, about a 32-mile drive northeast of the Dixon, Illinois ‘Lincoln in the Black Hawk War’ marker. Although both Black Hawk’s band and Isaiah Stillman’s troops followed the southern banks of the Rock River, our route will take us along the river on its north side.
Directions: To get to the site of “Stillman’s Run”, retrace your steps from the ‘Lincoln in the Black Hawk War’ marker back west to S Galena Ave/U.S. 52. Turn right (north) onto S Galena Ave/U.S. 52 and go approximately .3 miles to E 2nd Street/State Road 2. Turn right (east) onto E 2nd Street/State Road 2 and continue east and northeast on State Road 2 out of town and along the Rock River for about 15 miles to the town of Oregon, Illinois. Continue through Oregon staying northeast on State Road 2 for another 10 miles to Byron, Illinois. In Byron, turn right (south) onto S Union Street/State Road 72. Cross the Rock River on S Union Street/State Road 72, and turn left (east) at the intersection just after the bridge (this will be State Road 72). Stay east on State Road 72 for about 4 miles to the intersection (in the village of Stillman Valley) of E Roosevelt Street/State Road 72 and Spruce Street. At the intersection, on the right side right(south) side of E Roosevelt Street/State Road 72, is a small park that contains the ‘Stillman Defeat’ marker and a memorial to those who died in the battle. For reference, the park also contains the town’s water tower.
Stillman’s Defeat marker
Inscription: “Stillman’s Defeat: Here, on May 14, 1832, the first engagement of the Black Hawk War took place when 275 Illinois Militiamen under Maj. Isaiah Stillman were put to flight by Black Hawk and his warriors. So thoroughly demoralized were the volunteers that a new army had to be called into the field.”
 Trask, 181-184; Hagan, 157; Jung, 86; Wakefield, 46-47.
 Hagan, 157-158; Jung, 87-88; Black Hawk, 58.
 Cole, 150; Trask, 184; Hagan, 158; Jung, 88; Black Hawk, 58.
 Cole, 150-151; Trask, 184-186; Hagan, 158-159; Jung, 88-89; Black Hawk, 58-59; Wakefield, 47.
 Cole, 151; Trask, 186; Hagan, 159; Jung, 88; Black Hawk, 58-59.
 Cole, 151; Trask, 184, 187; Hagan, 159; Jung, 89; Black Hawk, 59; Wakefield, 47; Isaiah Stillman, Missouri Republican Times, St. Louis, Missouri, 19 June 1832; Johnston diary, 14 May 1832, in Whitney, 1311.
 Cole, 151; Trask, 187; Hagan, 159; Jung, 89; Black Hawk, 59; Wakefield, 47-48.
 Hagan, 159; Black Hawk, 59; Cole, 149.
 Cole, 152; Trask, 187; Wakefield, 51.
Last updated on 28 Jul 2019 .
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