Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Abe Lincoln, Indian Fighter!

By Andrea Downing

Lincoln, 1846--earliest known photo of him
 Sometimes it might seem that the life of Abraham Lincoln commenced with the Civil War, or perhaps it skipped from birth in a log cabin to the Civil War. And sometimes it seems that ‘The West’ starts with Kansas, part of present-day ‘flyover country’. But long before the Civil War and the great American expansion westward, long before the Transcontinental Railway, the west included Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois, And then, as later, Native Americans fought for their rights.  So I wonder if you know that Honest Abe was an Indian fighter?  Sort of…
In the early 1800s, there was little sympathy for Native Americans and Lincoln could be considered a man of his time, although a fair one. In 1832 the Illinois militia, which included all white men over the age of eighteen, was called out due to the movement of the Sauk and Fox peoples past the Illinois border.  The United States had previously forced them off their homelands in Illinois, across the Mississippi River. There was a treaty, of course:  the Fourth Treaty of Prairie du Chien, of July, 1830. These Sauk lands stretched from northwestern Illinois to southwestern Wisconsin, but the US government sought to make room for settlers moving into that area and therefore pushed the Indians into present-day Iowa.  The Native Americans faced a hard winter there and were unable to produce crops. It fell to a warrior, Black Hawk, to take them back across the river and try to regain their lands. Having fought on the side of the British in the War of 1812, Black Hawk’s band were known as the British Band and numbered four to five hundred.
Lincoln, then aged twenty-three, joined the Illinois militia. He already had political aspirations and was known locally for his leadership skills. It was no surprise, therefore, that the men—most of whom were rough prairie people—elected him Captain, and he served in this capacity for one month from late April to late May, 1832. He was in the 31st Regiment of Sangamon County Militia, 1st Division, and put in charge of a rifle company of the 4th Regiment of Mounted Volunteers. Lincoln remained modest about his captaincy, although he valued the honor of being chosen.  Fortunately for future events, he never saw any action other than a wrestling match to claim a good camping spot. Years later, in Congress in 1848, Lincoln jested about his militia days and the lack of any fighting: “By the way, Mr. Speaker, did you know I am a military Hero? Yes sir; in the days of the Black Hawk war, I fought, bled, and came away.... I had a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes; and, although I never fainted from loss of blood, I can truly say I was often very hungry.” [1]
All of this is not to say Lincoln’s time in the militia was a walk in the park.  He and his men came upon the results of the Battle of Kellogg’s Grove. Sources quote him as saying, “I remember just how those men looked as we rode up the little hill where their camp was. The red light of the morning sun was streaming upon them as they lay head towards us on the ground. And every man had a round red spot on top of his head, about as big as a dollar where the redskins had taken his scalp. It was frightful, but it was grotesque, and the red sunlight seemed to paint everything all over.”2
Lincoln gets between his men and a Sauk
Despite this, Lincoln was able to save one Sauk, an old man who gave himself up at the camp showing a paper which stated in English that he was a good man.  When Lincoln's men wished to kill him anyway, the Captain got between the Indian and the men and convinced them that this was not the thing civilized men would do.
Lincoln, of course, was eventually mustered out and went on to his political career.  But what happened to Black Hawk? Needless to say, he and his men lost the war.  They were taken captive until another worthless treaty was forced upon them, the so-called Black Hawk Purchase or ‘Treaty with Sauk and Foxes, 1832’, which this time took six million acres in the northeast corner of Iowa—a forty mile strip—at eleven cents an acre.  There would be two further purchases in 1837 and 1842.
Black Hawk lived with the Sauk along the Iowa River and later moved to the Des Moines River near Iowaville in what is present-day south east Iowa. He passed after a short illness in 1838.
Black Hawk

As for Abraham Lincoln, I leave that for your research.

[1] Wikimedia quotes this and gives two sources.

[2] Again, several sources quote this as mentioned in Wiki, above.
      All photos Wikimedia


Patti Sherry-Crews said...

Great post, Andrea! I'm speaking to you from the Land of Lincoln itself, Illinois. It's so true how we think of the west as farther west but this was the frontier not too long ago. We listened to a podcast recently about Indian and settler skirmishes just north of Chicago while we happened to be driving through said area. I had to look for the Black Hawk Wars and I see there are many sites around northern Illinois not far from a town we often go to when visiting relatives, so we'll have to check it out. Didn't know that about Lincoln, by the way.

Andrea Downing said...

Thanks for your 'local's' view, Patti. I think there is a statue of Black Hawk somewhere or other but can't quite remember, in one of the places where he lived I believe. Difficult to think of Lincoln aged twenty-three! The book I was recently reading about his last court battle prior to being elected President was also an eye-opener.

Oscar Case said...

Interesting part of Lincoln's life that I knew thing of. Thanks for posting.

Andrea Downing said...

Thanks for stopping by, Oscar. Glad you were enlightened :-)

Renaissance Women said...

I grew up a bit south of the area you talk about. There are a couple of good books on the "Black Hawk" war. Also, as I mentioned elsewhere, Keokuk, Iowa is named of the chief that Black Hawk or one of his band killed. It is a rich and sad history. Doris

Andrea Downing said...

Doris, it's fascinating--we tend to leave the middle of the country as if westward expansion just somehow hopped over it, perhaps due to the fact the Transcontinental Railroad actually started in Council Bluffs practically in Nebraska. As authors writing about the west, we also tend to concentrate post Civil War and when Abe Lincoln was twenty-three, the nation was still incredibly young. Just my theory!