The Flight of
Based on an incident in the Black Hawk
War. 1 During what is called the Battle
of Bad Axe, the fate of the Sauk or Sac
Indians was decided, which modern
historians have called a massacre.
The Bad Axe River, east of the Mississippi,
is a little above the northern border of Iowa,
to the west (43 degrees, 30 minutes north
The battle occurred a few miles below the
river's mouth, across from Iowa.
This poem tells of the remarkable escape
of a Sac Indian woman named Na-me-sa with her
infant, across the Mississippi River. Apart from
what was found in a brief history, one may
posit some details, with reason, from the
possibles and probables, as is done here. ―JR
* * * * * * *
At the Mississippi flow,
As the Indian fortunes sank,
With her little one, she sought
To flee to the farther bank,
Beyond the battle fought...
In the heat of fray, bellicose,
And held the blanket with her teeth.
She seized the tail of a horse
And evade the Indian slaughter.
The horse aheada-swimming,
And she, the water skimming.
Its buoyant surface cleft,
Behind the battle left.
She was aware of an underwater kick
Of equine hooves, as back they'd flick;
The pony propelled the water through,
Its legs like paddles of birchen canoe
Around her, the river roiled,
Its turbulence bubbled like boiled;
As the churning water did seeth, 2
She clung to her child with her teeth.
A muffled plaint might've come,
From within the blanket inside,
As she gripped with tooth and gum
And the frightened infant cried...
Na-me-sa would feel it in her heart
But she needed to onward strive;
And yet, a cry would also impart:
That her baby was still alive!
Bite hard, O mother, bite!
And keep the other bank in sight...
With your nostril breathe your breath,
Open not your mouth, by lapse to death!
She feared losing herdental grip:
And that her baby would slip,
Into the water beneath,
This little life she did bequeath...
As she glimpsed the farther land,
She focused, intent to keep in hand,
The tail, that switches away a fly,
That brush, that helped them not to die.
Herteeth may've been hurt a bit,
Worn, but with resolve and grit, 3
She was steadfast like an arrow inclined,
From out the quiver of will and mind...
Beyond the watery wake,
Where sadly in the river's flood,
The current would be tinged with blood!
Alas, a massacre
Did there occur!
O sad the Indian plight,
Their casualties from the fight.
While pulled more distant from there,
She clung, her teeth and fingers fast.
With herself still drawn in tow,
Her horse it scrambled onto the bank,
And from its tail, she now let go,
After being pulled up, with a yank!
O'er mud she did likely slide,
And landed the river beside:
She could now, her infant tend,
As the water, its way did wend.
--So escaped this mother Sac,
O Na-me-sa, you crossed the water,
You saved thy child, O Indian daughter!
More peril was still lay ahead,
For now the native Na-me-sa, 4
Was safe, on the soil of I-o-wa. —John Riedell
1. P. 1035, Vol XXXVII, The Black Hawk War 1831-1832,
3. Here the term "grit" refers to a "firmness of mind or spirit: unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger." But the word might also play off the idea that when she ground kernels of corn on a mortar, some pieces of grit might've gotten loose and mixed in with the meal, especially if the mortar was sandstone. This could've had long-term, abrasive effect on her teeth. While she held on with all the strength she had, one might wonder about what her dental condition was.
4. Inquiries were made to Historic Preservation Department of the Meskwaki Nation - Fox and Sac Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa, Tama, Iowa, directed by Johnathan Buffalo. He thought her name could have to do with the word for fish and might derive from the Fish Clan of the Sac Tribe. The Fox language has a similar word meaning fish spelled "Namese." His curator, Mary Young Bear, said the letter "s"is also written with the letter "d'.
* * * * * * *
Na-me-sa joined others who made it across the river. She testified that they traveled fast. From the context of what's attributed to her, they encamped seven days after they crossed the Mississippi, and were attacked by Sioux at sunrise. As fortune would have it, she was on a horse, and ran off, hearing firing behind. She saw six Sacs killed and many wounded. As she fled, she repeatedly heard the words: "I'm a Winnebago." The context isn't clear, but perhaps it was the plaintive cry of those who were about to die or in danger of it.
Since the child was an infant, we should consider whether the child was born during the trek of the Indians, attempting to escape the Whites and to reach the Mississippi to cross back over.Na-me-sa could've been weakened by the ordeal and even emaciated. Her exploit, remarkable as it was, might been even a little more remarkable.
Think of what this mother endured for her child to save its life, and compare this to what some mothers do today in ridding themselves of the life within.
( I feel some affinity by geography and sentiment to the Sac Indians and to their
leader Black Hawk, as I was born
and grew up on a farm in
Sac County, Iowa, named for the Sauk
people [Sac being a variant] ). A nearby
glacial lake is called Black Hawk, and
was named after the Sauk leader. We
had a stone statue of him near the lake, which was sculpted by Harry
Stinson, who was assisted by Grant Wood.
The stream which wound through our
was called the Indian Creek, a tributary of the Raccoon River.
Copyright © 2005 - John Riedell - All