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Black Hawk

The Battle for the Heart of America

Kerry A. Trask

Holt Paperbacks

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ISBN10: 080508262X
ISBN13: 9780805082623

Trade Paperback

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.


Praise for Black Hawk

"In his book Black Hawk: The Battle for the Heart of America, [Trask] has provided a richly detailed history of this campaign. This is no easy task, given that the war was not documented in any great detail at the time and that the sources Trask did have come almost entirely from one side of the conflict . . . Black Hawk: The Battle for the Heart of America reminds us that there is surely a dark and violent side to that heart."—Steven Conn, Chicago Tribune

"Blending history with ethnography and a bit of sociology, Trask's volume explains the war and its lingering impact extremely well . . . Fascinating."—Chicago Sun-Times

"Trask brings to life the struggles between the Indian nations and the advancing white Americans for the 'heart of America' in the 1820s and 1830s . . . He does something unusual in this book that covers a dynamic period in American history which pits the white Americans against the American Indians: He provides the Indian side of the story."—The Oklahoman

"A superb work of history: the best and most complete narrative of the conflict between the United States and the Sauk nation, and a rich and insightful account of the cultural, social, and political forces that drove Indians and whites into a devastating war."—Richard Slotkin, author of Lost Battalions and Gunfighter Nation

"A deeply researched and well-told story of one of most significant tragedies in Indian-white relations."—Robert M. Utley, author of The Lance and the Shield: The Life and Times of Sitting Bull

"[An] illuminating study of that least-known of America's Indian wars, which made Illinois safe for corn and industry. As historians such as Jill Lepore and Charles Mann are ever more plainly demonstrating, white/Indian conflict was more complex than the old grand narrative has it. Trask adds materially to this new history with this engrossing study of the Black Hawk War of 1832, when Sauk Indians driven west by white expansion into Illinois and Iowa abruptly turned back and fought a desperate guerrilla war that briefly looked as if it might succeed. As Trask shows, the war had several proximate causes: The Sauk found themselves pressed up against the Menominee and Sioux, who pushed them back toward the pale of white settlements. The Army had been demobilized, so that the frontier was staffed by a handful of men who were satisfied with 'bad food, slavish labor, harsh discipline, social isolation, and the general absence of respect granted to soldiers by the society as a whole.' The Sauk considered the militia to be just as worthless. And under the leadership of elders such as Black Hawk, the Sauk stayed off liquor and were culturally conservative, which bound them together come time to fight. Fight they did, destroying farms, mines and other settlements along the Mississippi until poor weather, illness and superior enemy arms broke them. At turns, Trask reveals characters who will turn up at other points in American history: Jefferson Davis, Philip St. George Cooke, Alexander Hamilton's son William and Black Hawk himself, his name now preserved in that of a hockey team. He also links his unhappy narrative of war to a curious 'national identity crisis' that pitted sympathetic northeastern types against frontier people who would just as soon kill Indians as look at them—an early hint of the red state/blue state division. Lucid and accessible, even as the author tracks a multifaceted, ultimately tragic tale."—Kirkus Reviews

"The Black Hawk War of 1832 was a three-month conflict that marked the only major effort within Illinois by a native group to resist expulsion from their tribal homelands. Drawing on diaries and oral histories, as well as secondary sources, Trask examines this sordid episode in U.S. history, using a conventional historical model that divides the Sauks into two camps. Tradition is embodied in the leader Black Hawk, while Keokuk represents the accommodationist faction of the tribe. Their intertribal rivalry determined how the Sauk factions responded to the threat of white encroachment on tribal territory . . . Trask's narrative is fast-paced and makes for a fine read. Recommended."—John Burch, Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


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

About the author

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. A native of Canada, he is particularly interested in the early history of the Great Lakes region. Trask is the author of two previous books; his most recent is Fire Within: A Civil War Narrative from Wisconsin, which was awarded the Council for Wisconsin Writers' Leslie Cross Book-Length Nonfiction Award in 1996. He lives on the west shore of Lake Michigan.