Black Hawk: An Autobiography by Black Hawk
3 words: personal, dramatic, frank
While on a recent road trip, the Dear Man and I noticed a fair number of references to the Black Hawk War. And then we realized that we were living right in the middle of a place filled with history, and we knew precious little about it.
Being industrious, curious types, we set out to fix that.
The Dear Man asked the Librarian if she’d considered reading Black Hawk’s autobiography.
Flash forward one week, and I had a copy in my hands.
Flash forward another week, and he also had a copy in his hands.
And then we started learning all kinds of cool stuff about a nearly forgotten period of history.
If you’d asked me what I had on the Black Hawk war, I would’ve said, “Um… young Abraham Lincoln?”
Cuz, YEAH: dude served in the Illinois militia (never saw battle, but buried some scalped soldiers).
The cool thing about this book is that it’s told in Black Hawk’s words. Or at least, sort of. My only real complaint with the book is the inclusion of way too many exclamation points and italicized words for emphasis. And in some places, I doubted that Black Hawk would have spoken in the way the words were written on the page.
But at least we get his viewpoint.
And that’s explanation enough for this book to still be in print more than 175 years after its initial publication.
This is a book that doesn’t go down easy.
I found myself seething at the way Black Hawk’s people’s land was taken from them.
I kinda got worked up.
Then I recalled the passages where they’re doing the scalp dance, and I shuddered.
Then I thought about them approaching the militia with a white flag of peace and being fired on. And I got worked up again.
It was fascinating to see the episodes through Black Hawk’s eyes, and to understand it from his perspective. He’s narrating the story as an older man, near the end of his life, and while he’s faced plenty of hardship, his spirit is still lively.
Besides describing the battles and difficulties faced by the Sauks, Black Hawk also paints a detailed picture of their daily life.
Visiting the Hauberg Indian Museum, located at the Black Hawk State Historic Site in Rock Island, Illinois, reinforced the descriptions of the Sauks’ annual cycle of farming, hunting, and trading. The museum has a fine display, some great artifacts, and some really good maps that helped us find our way to the area nearby where Black Hawk was born and lived.
We read the Donald Jackson edition, which is also the edition on display at the Hauberg Museum, so it’s got some decent cred.
The thing I liked about this edition was Jackson’s terrific introduction. He sets the scene, including some unexpected details, such as a riveting description of Black Hawk’s hair in comparison with the hairdo of Andrew Jackson.
And Donald Jackson analyzes the validity of the autobiography and its various versions over the years, and that’s good stuff, too.
So… what books have inspired you to take to the road?