Black Hawk The Battle for the Heart of America

Kerry A. Trask

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384 Pages



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Until 1822, when John Jacob Aster swallowed up the fur trade and the trading posts of the upper Mississippi and the region became inundated by white fortune seekers looking for lead, the six-thousand-strong Sauk Nation occupied one of North America's largest and most prosperous Indian settlements. Its spacious longhouse lodges and council-house squares, supported by hundreds of acres of planted fields, were the envy of white Americans who had already begun to encroach upon the rich land that served as the center of the Sauk's spiritual world. When the inevitable conflicts between natives and white squatters turned violent, Black Hawk's Sauks were forced into exile, banished forever from the east side of the Mississippi River.

Longing for the life they had lost, Black Hawk and his followers, including more than 600 warriors, rose up in a rage in the spring of 1832, and defiantly crossed the Mississippi from Iowa to Illinois in order to reclaim their ancestral home. Though the war lasted only three months, no other violent encounter between white America and native peoples embodies so clearly the essence of the Republic's inner conflict between its belief in freedom and human rights and its insatiable appetite for new territory.

Drawing upon original documents, diaries, and previously overlooked oral histories, especially in Native American archival collections, Kerry A. Trask has produced an Indian perspective missing in previous books on the subject. By dissolving the myths and legends and providing insights into how white America revises its history to fit a democratic mold, this account gives meaning to the struggles of Black Hawk and his people, illuminating the tragic history of frontier America and the Republic's ruinous pursuit of manifest destiny.


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Prologue I will tell you something about stories
[he said]
They aren't just entertainment.
Don't be fooled.
They are all we have, you see
All we have to fight off
Illness and death.
You don't have anything
If you don't have the stories.
Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony
Men with muskets slung over their shoulders and women carrying infants and heavy loads of food and supplies made their way slowly to the broad brown river that lay ahead. It was early April of 1832. Spring had arrived reluctantly that year, with cold rains and scowling
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  • Kerry A. Trask

  • Kerry A. Trask, a scholar of early American history, is a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Manitowoc and earned his Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota. Trask is the author of two previous books; his most recent is Fire Within: A Civil War Narrative from Wisconsin, which was awarded the Leslie Cross Nonfiction Award. He now lives on the west shore of Lake Michigan.