Introduction to In Black Hawk's Footsteps

Available from B. McLaughlin Publishing


A Trail Guide to

Monuments, Museums and Battlefields

of the

Black Hawk War of 1832

120 Pages, Soft cover, ISBN # 0-9755705-2-8


This book is for many readers:



            The Black Hawk War was remarkable on many levels. It was one of the last major acts of armed Native American resistance to white settlement east of the Mississippi River. It is the only United States war ever fought to be named for an individual. The conflict also elevated several people. A number of political and military careers either began or were bolstered by service in the Black Hawk War. Future presidents, governors, famous generals, some of whom would later fight on opposing sides in the Civil War, and people of prominence in their respective locales, all took part in the conflict, either in a state or territorial militia or in the Army.

            Zachary Taylor served as a colonel. Abraham Lincoln served three different tours of duty during his three months in the Illinois Militia. Jefferson Davis missed the war, having gone on leave from Fort Crawford in Prarie du Chien, Wisconsin shortly before it began, but later accompanied Black Hawk on his journey to imprisonment at the Jefferson Barracks, south of St. Louis. The governor of Illinois at the time, John Reynolds joined with the militia in the search for Black Hawk as well as future Illinois governor Thomas Ford and future Wisconsin Territory Governor Henry Dodge, who served as a colonel and commander of the Iowa County, Michigan Territory Militia.

            Black Hawk, the primary figure in the war, already had a lengthy career behind him in 1832. A warrior since the age of fifteen when he first distinguished himself in intertribal fighting, the sixty-five year old warrior’s reputation had earned him a role as a trusted and respected war chief among the Sauk and Mesquakie people. This gave him a following when he joined Tecumseh and later the British in the War of 1812, in which he led a large force of Native Americans from many tribes who’d sided against the Americans. That war also started his rival within the Sauk tribe, Keokuk, on the path to the primary leadership role within the tribe, an issue that helped stir tension in the years leading up to the Black Hawk War.

            The story of the war, the years leading up to it, and its many causes is a tragic one. In many ways it mirrors the stories of white-Indian conflicts before and after. The war itself was more of an extended chase, leading from near Rock Island, through northern Illinois, up the Rock River into the Michigan Territory (present-day Wisconsin), through the Four Lakes region (Madison, Wisconsin today), over hilly, uncharted terrain, leading to the Mississippi, and finally culminating on the banks of the Mississippi River, 175 miles north of where the band had originally crossed.

            The campaign was marked by misfortunes such as the cholera outbreak that prevented Major General Winfield Scott from taking command of the situation when he was badly needed. There were several blunders such as the Battle of Stillman’s Run, where the militia attacked three unarmed Indians attempting to parley with the Americans and then fled from the consequent counterattack. There was also the Battle of Waddams Grove, where Captain James W. Stephenson of the Illinois Militia led three successive charges into a thicket against a largely invisible enemy, losing three of his men and almost his own life.

            There were also several harrowing events such as Dodge’s charge that drove the Indians from the Wisconsin Heights Battlefield. At that same battle, Black Hawk’s masterful use of the hilly terrain allowed he and his warriors to hold off the militia approach long enough for the rest of their band to cross the nearby Wisconsin River. Dodge is also credited with having foiled plans of a wider uprising by some Michigan Territory Ho-Chunk by taking several influential chiefs into custody at a critical moment.

            There was also friction within each side. Even with the common cause of subduing Black Hawk, there was tension between the army and Illinois and Wisconsin militias. Professional disputes between the groups were common. Militia volunteers resented what they saw as preferential treatment of army regulars. Army officers regarded the overall militia performance at Stillman’s Run and other engagements as thoroughly unprofessional. One of Black Hawk’s principal advisors deserted him, and it would later be said by some that he did the same to his own band as the war drew to a close.

Despite its numerous connections to so many important historical events and figures, the Black Hawk War has been largely forgotten by mainstream history. Even in the very land where the battles took place, today’s casual observer would be hard pressed at first glance for evidence that such events happened upon the ground on which they stood. The shortness of the campaign and the passage of time and many generations have contributed to the loss of that history. But if one looks closely enough, the history of the war can still be found. Here and there, historical markers point to events that happened there while traffic shuffles by, or battlefields have been preserved, among the countryside of Illinois and Wisconsin, waiting to be visited, examined, reflected upon. If sought, the history of the war is still accessible.

This book is intended to give a sense of place to that history. It serves as a guide to the locations of the war’s major events as well as some of the lesser-known details of its history. In it, several locations are described individually, first with a short history of each site as pertaining to the war, and then with a description of each site today and what can be viewed at each place. There are also helpful maps and directions for each site.

The book is designed to assist the reader visiting one site at a time, or planning for an entire trip, viewing several related sites. Reading the book before visiting sites will help the reader discern which sites to visit and give a sense of the significance of each site in its larger context. It would also be helpful to consult the maps on pages 94-5 and the chart on page 96 for the location, significance, and features of each site. To help identify some of the many names listed in this book, pages 90-3 contain an order of battle for United States and militia forces during the war as well as short descriptions of many of the war’s key figures.

The trail guide portion of the book is divided into two main sections and a small third section. The first section contains 23 different sites and includes every major battlefield of the conflict along with a number of forts that were constructed at the time. The second section describes nine sites that are actually part of a detour from the sites listed in the first section. This section details the search for Black Hawk in the southern Michigan Territory and more closely follows the path of Black Hawk and his people and the subsequent pursuit of them by the Michigan Territory and Illinois Militias. The third section details additional sites in DeKalb and LaSalle Counties that are geographically isolated from the other two routes.

The word “site,” as used in this book, may actually refer to more than one location. For example, pages 36-37 detail Site 17, Mining Forts and Colonel Henry Dodge. Here, there is a description of three forts, Fort Jackson, Fort Defiance and Fort Union, that were built in or near southern Michigan Territory mining communities as well as a description of Henry Dodge, an influential resident of that area. Locations of three historical markers that discuss each of these forts are listed, yet they are all part of Site 17. This said, most sites include only one location.

This book is by no means a complete list of every single location relevant to the Black Hawk War. I have chosen these sites based both on their significance in the Black Hawk War and their relative location to the other sites. Every major battlefield, the location of many significant forts, and many other important sites are included in one of the three main sections. In addition, several sites that are either less significant or are somewhat isolated from one of the three routes are listed after Section Three.

It should be pointed out that not all of the sites are arranged in chronological order. However, where possible, such as following the lead up to the Battle of Wisconsin Heights or the route to Bad Axe, the reader may follow the approximate route of the participants, and view and read about places in the proper order of their significance. In other cases, the geographic order of the sites isn’t precisely the order in which corresponding events took place.

The location of many places where the war took place; where its participants walked, sites of small ambushes, homes of many primary figures in the conflict, and graves have faded into obscurity. For instance, many lone settlers were ambushed throughout northern Illinois, from near the Mississippi River to the outskirts of Chicago, yet primarily the spots where the well-known incidents took place are all that are known today. It is impossible to know every place that has some direct connection to the Black Hawk War.

However, as this book attempts to demonstrate, the history of this conflict is all around us. Northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin are home to dozens of places where we can stand and contemplate the events that took place there, taking in the surroundings and imagining the many changes they’ve undergone since the days of the war. As with most places, we need only to look a little deeper than their modern-day exterior to get a sense of their history. So it is with the “Black Hawk War Country.”

I would like to acknowledge a number of people who, through their advice, assistance or support have helped to make this book possible. First and foremost, this book might not have ever been thought of had it not been for my mentor and friend Gregory Schaaf. I am forever grateful for his generosity, advice and guidance as I went about the task of researching and writing my book. On many occasions, he patiently and generously relayed to me his great wealth of knowledge on the ins and outs of writing and publishing and was an indispensable advisor. His wife Angie also lent helpful advice for the front and back covers of this book.

Other influential advisors were John Gile and his wife, Renie.  John’s practical advise and professional wisdom were both reassuring and insightful.  Renie was a great help with many of the promotional aspects of this book.  Bill Schirger also lent his enthusiastic interest and support. 

I owe a big thank you to Lynnwood Brown, my web page consultant, brother-in-law and close friend. I will long remember his patience and creativity in guiding me through the process of creating the promotional web site for this book as well as his and my sister Elise’s enthusiastic support for this project from the very beginning. I must have run scores of ideas by both of them and I am deeply appreciative for their insight and honesty. Elise also showed great willingness in editing and reviewing the many drafts and revisions through which this book has gone. Another of my sisters, Jennifer McLaughlin, also graciously lent her design expertise and advice to the cover of this book. I would also acknowledge and thank my parents for their love and support.

Monsignor Charles McNamee was extremely generous with the many books and articles that he lent to me during the research phase of this book. I am grateful for his time and help as well as for the interesting discussion about the war in which we engaged. His interest in the subject and enthusiasm for my book were very encouraging. 

            Greg Carter of the Old Lead Region Historical Society made an important contribution to scholarship by finding the precise location of the Battle of Waddam’s Grove (see pages 20-21), a detail of the war that had long been a source of confusion among Black Hawk War historians and enthusiasts. Anyone with an interest in the Black Hawk War and the history of Illinois owes him a debt of gratitude for his work. Thank you also to Drew VandeCreek, Project Director of the Northern Illinois University Historical Digitization Projects. He was most helpful in answering my questions regarding copywrite of the images that were used for this book.

            Also deserving of the gratitude of Black Hawk War enthusiasts are the numerous museums, institutions and historical societies of this region whose passion for, and collection and preservation of historical information helps to keep the past alive and relevant for all of us. They are, in no particular order, the Old Lead Region Historical Society, the Wisconsin State Historical Society, the Stephenson County (Illinois) Historical Society, Apple River Fort State Historic Site (Elizabeth, IL), the Lafayette County (Wisconsin) Historical Society, the Illinois State Historical Society, University of Wisconsin, the Lee County (Illinois) Historical Society, the Hoard History Museum (Fort Atkinson, WI), the Dane County (Wisconsin) Historical Society, the University of Illinois Historical Digitization Projects, the LaSalle County Museum, the Galena and JoDaviess County (Illinois) Historical Society, Hauberg Indian Museum (Rock Island, IL), the Ogle County (Illinois) Historical Society, and the Sauk County (Wisconsin) Historical Society. Many of these societies have their own museums and are very helpful with researching the many aspects of this area’s history. Please support them by visiting and giving a small donation. (Copyright 2004, 2005 - B. McLaughlin Publishing, All rights reserved)



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