Kathleen P. Chamberlain
Review of Patrick
J. Jung, The
Black Hawk War of 1832. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 2008.
Pp. 275. ISBN: 978-0-8061-3811-4.
The events surrounding
the Black Hawk War of 1832 are well traveled. The tragedy had barely
ended before contemporary accounts such as Benjamin Drake's 1838
popular but flawed Life and Adventures of Black Hawk began to
appear in print. These works generally contained equal portions of
myth and fact, but served as the basis for the scholarly accounts that
followed. With the advent of American Indian studies in the 1970s came
renewed interest in Black Hawk, the Sauk warrior who challenged
American forces in Illinois, and his rival Keokuk, the civil chief
frequently depicted as a lackey of the U.S. government. Patrick Jung's
study takes a broader approach to the Black Hawk War, placing it in
the larger context of the intertribal conflict that flourished in the
Great Lakes region after 1800--especially following the War of
1812--and intensified during the early years of Andrew Jackson's
presidency and the period of Indian removal.
Jung sees a need to
reexamine not the facts of the war itself, since these are relatively
well known, but its context in terms of pan-tribal religious
revitalizations that swept the Ohio country and Mississippi Valley
after the American Revolution and spawned pro-removal factions and
resistance movements that put many of the Indian wars in motion. While
the Shawnee prophet Tenskwatawa and his brother Tecumseh urged tribes
to put aside their differences and unite against a common enemy in the
years before the War of 1812, Tecumseh's death in 1813, Jung claims,
unleashed vicious warfare between rivals who fought each other as
frequently as they battled whites. Thus, resistance to American
expansion and intertribal warfare "came together in an awkward embrace
in the years immediately preceding the Black Hawk War" (5). Only by
understanding these conflicting forces, Jung maintains, can historians
explain Black Hawk's and other such wars.
Although Jung, an
assistant professor of history at the Milwaukee School of Engineering,
lists a primary research interest in American military history, The
Black Hawk War does not fall strictly into this category. The
first three chapters, for example, explore the cultural and historical
factors that weakened the Sauk and their Fox allies and laid the
groundwork for this tragedy. Though the teachings of Delaware prophet
Neolin in the 1760s gave rise to a nativistic spirit in the region and
the Shawnee pan-tribal revitalization prompted Indian unity and
opposition to so-called "government chiefs" who "consistently acceded
to the United States' demand for land," Sauks and Foxes were more
influenced by the Potawatomi sorcerer Main Poc, who encouraged not
pan-tribalism but continuing hostilities with traditional rivals (25).
Main Poc inflamed Sauk leaders against their common enemies, the
Menominees, Santee Sioux or Dakota, Osages, and Omahas even as he
preached resistance to white encroachment. The U.S. Department of War,
territorial officials, traders, and Indian agents--and before 1813
British commanders as well--played upon these rivalries and splintered
tribal groups like the Sauks into pro- and anti-American and British
factions. Jung's clear, concise, and organized writing style renders
this very complex and often confusing situation extremely logical and
Jung suggests that the
weak political organization of the Sauk coupled with decades of chaos
and massive land losses had by 1832 made them vulnerable and
ultimately unable to launch a united front against U.S. attempts to
remove them to Indian Territory. Tribal factions complicated the
situation, although Jung contends that to label these factions as pro-
or anti-removal or even pro- or anti-American is overly simplistic.
Keokuk, for instance, is nearly always dubbed pro-removal, but in
reality he was not nearly as friendly to the U.S. government as
earlier accounts portray him. Jung claims that Keokuk acceded to the
removal of the Sauk from Illinois to west of the Mississippi River
into Iowa only because, by 1832, he had concluded that resistance to
overwhelmingly superior American forces was futile. Black Hawk, on the
other hand, still believed resistance was the key to Indian survival
despite the rapid changes occurring all around him.
Chapters 4-7 focus on the
return of Black Hawk's band to Illinois and then the war itself;
thereafter, the book becomes more of a traditional military history.
These chapters juxtapose the movements of Black Hawk and his
so-called British Band against the activity of General Henry Atkinson.
Atkinson's primary mission was at first to arrest the Sauks, but he
then "by accident" became responsible for all operations of the war
including dealing with citizen volunteers who inserted themselves into
the conflict. Readers will find familiar material in this portion of
the book, including battles such as Bad Axe and Wisconsin Heights. It
is also well known that the volunteer militia acted "more like a
loosely structured mob than an army" and that a lack of provisions,
the outbreak of cholera, and a challenging environment plagued those
trailing Black Hawk's warriors (127). Jung contends that, examined
from both sides, the war was more a panic than a true military
conflict. His interpretation of the war itself agrees with Roger L.
Nichols' Black Hawk and the Warrior's Path.
Nichols, however, casts Black Hawk as the naïve traditional, whereas
Jung credits the Sauk leader with understanding the American
expansionist mentality. But, if Black Hawk indeed possessed such an
understanding, why did he still believe in his people's ability to
The last chapter examines
the aftermath of the Black Hawk War from the perspective of continuing
Sauk divisions. Despite Black Hawk's death in 1838, anti-Keokuk and
anti-assimilation factions endured and maintained traditional
practices well into the twentieth century. Jung also places the war in
the larger framework of American expansion and the Indian removal period.
He claims that, to a degree, the Seminole Wars of 1835-42 fanned hope
among some Indians of another pan-tribal resistance. Thus, although
Black Hawk did not win the war, his actions inspired others well after
The Black Hawk War
augments some of the recent studies of Jacksonian Indian policies
and expands the literature focusing on Great Lakes Indians during an
extremely tumultuous time in their history that still cries out for
more scholarly treatment. This well researched and written blend of
ethnohistory and military history will stand as a central work on
Black Hawk and his war for many years to come.
Eastern Michigan University
 E.g., Robert Remini, Andrew Jackson and His Indian Wars
(Arlington Heights, IL:
H. Davidson, 1992).