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It Needn't Have Been

What's called the Black Hawk War,
Began as a quest for peace
And tranquility lay before:
The Indian return would cease. 

The one they call Black Hawk
Of the tribe of Sac or Sauk,
Had been forced to leave his nest,
O'er the Mississippi, and west.
 
He was compelled to abide
Upon the Iowa side.
He felt the arrow of sadness,
Not the marrow of gladness . 1.                

And yet, encouraged by a report
Of tribal help and British support;
And word of one, believed endowed:
Wobokieskiek, the prophet White Cloud...

With others, the Indian Sac  2
Recrossed the river back, 3
      Back to land he wouldn't quit,
      Lo there his talons alit.

He had in mind to enjoy
Ancestral land in Illinois;
He didn't seek a fray
But sought to 'fend, and stay.

Away from the mighty flow,
They followed the River Rock.
This route did onward go;
With drums abeat, the flock,
Were silent not in their intent;
With song on lip, they singing went...

They came by canoe, they came by horse,
To make their corn and gather force.
But the help foretold, came not to pass,
It was disheartening news, alas...

The British were coming not,
The Winnebago wouldn't unite,
The Potawatomi had no corn...
Black Hawk decided not to fight...

Black Hawk believed
      Himself deceived...

His trust now shaken,
He'd been mistaken!
  If the foe on them did close,
And they, were o'ertaken,
  Surrender then, he chose...

With the militia, just miles away
Black Hawk decided not to stay:
He sent a white flag to the enemy force,
To give up, and reverse his river course.

The truce bearers went to talk
Of council with Black Hawk,
Of where the parties could meet,
Woes discuss, and then retreat.

A few observers were sent to look
And were seen, far out upon the prairie...
Their presence some militia mistook
And the Indian venture did miscarry...

Events disastrous would ensue,
And rip! the flag of truce in two!

A reaction in the militia force,
Caused some to hasten ahorse:
They rode from their encamping place,
Toward those afar, their mounts apace!

They galloped o'er the prairie,
Alarming, as on they sped...
The observers stayed not to tarry,
But turned instead...and fled!

But shot! in volley were two,
By those who did pursue!
For the Indian quest, O sadly,
Some militia acted badly,

And swiftly came the pursuers on steed,   
While most of the natives were away;
Black Hawk with fewer, faced their stampede:
Hidden by bush, they sprang in fray!  

Impetuosity,   
Unloosed ferocity!

In fright, the militia fled,
But not all, as some lay dead.

And there, did fighting begin,
The strife that needn't have been

The White pulled back
      The bow that bent,
And nocked the arrow
      The Indian sent.

What the Indian sought,
Had come to nought...
Their flag was torn,
And conflict was born...

Lo, many suns would cross the sky,
And many would suffer and many would die,
Before the war,
              that had thus begun,
Would be o'er,
               and thus be done. 
John Riedell



1.  From the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:  Marrow is used figuratively for what alone satisfies the soul.  In Job 21:24 it says of one dying content, "his figure is full and nourished, and his bones are rich in marrow."  It's been variously defined as a soft fatty tissue in most bones; the essence, the best part; vitality.   It's also described as the choicest part, (a) as the choicest of food, (b) the source of animal vigor, or (c) the inmost or essential part.

2.  As reported in the autobiography of Black Hawk, at a council Maj. Gen. Edmund Gaines was “apparently angry.”  He said, “Who is Black Hawk?”  And he repeated it.   Black Hawk responded, “I am a Sac!  My forefather was a Sac! and all the nations call me a SAC! ”

3.  To what was called the Yellow Banks.

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