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E. Frank Brockway Invites Chief Black Hawk of the Wisconsin Winnebago Tribe to Perform at the 1898 Iowa State Fair.                  

 

Letts, Iowa:  March 23rd, 1906

 

Friend Aldrich

 

            I enclose you a story as told by Chief Black Hawk a nephew of the old warrior.  I believe the story to be a story of unwritten history of this locality of just about one hundred years ago and really a true story.  It was told to my brother by the old Chief when he was 94 years old when he and his band came to Des Moines as an attraction for the Iowa State Fair.  I think it was in the late summer or fall of 1898.  They had stopped at the opening of the trolley line and pleasure grounds at Black Hawk Tower.  One evening brother took him aside and questioned him and the following is the story he passed on to me.  You find a fine picture of my brother and Black Hawk in the September issue of the Midland Monthly of the year they were in Des Moines and I think it was 1898. 

 

            I first knew the hill spoken of at the mouth of the Cedar and Iowa rivers in the spring of 1842 it was then called Oceola and it was then said that Chief Oceola’s squaw was buried in this spot.  There were Indian mounds then on top of the hill.  Later I was often at the hill he spoke of as up the river it is still known an always spoken of as Signal Hill.  I could furnish you a photograph of both my brother and Black Hawk.  My brother was a man of some prominence.  He was a pioneer in Wisconsin and lived at Jackson Co. Black River Falls and was a member of the legislature in 1871.

 

            Thinking this would be a matter of interest I send it to you just as I got it and as stated believe it a true story.  My brother said there system of signals were equal to ours in the army or navy. 

 

Should you not be able to use the story please return it to me and oblige Respectively Submitted.

 

E. F. Brockway

 

(A page of unwritten history of local interest.)

 

Black Hawk’s Story:

 

            I first met Black Hawk in the spring of 1857, my older brother had become acquainted with him some thirteen years previous.  He was then and until he died, the chief of his tribe, the Winnebagoes.  He always said that he had never fought the whites but said that he had been a runner or carrier of dispatches for his uncle during the Black Hawk war.

 

            My brother first met him at the mouth of Bad Ax, on the east side of the Mississippi River where that noted warrior was defeated.  Black Hawk was then in his prime and the chief of his tribe in Wisconsin.  He there described the defeat of his people, under the leadership of his uncle as a merciless affair on the side of the white soldiers.  Many Indians were shot and killed in the water while defenseless and trying to swim to an island.

 

            Brother settled at Black River Falls, Wisconsin and Black Hawk was always near there and they were always friends until they died a few years ago not far from the same time(/location). I had been connected with the State Fair board and my friends on the Board were looking for attractions.  I suggested Black Hawk and his band, the Board  requested me to write to my brother and see if he could induce them to come to the fair.  Brother succeeded. With half a dozen camps, their gay attire, war drums, etc., big and little agreed to come.  I think this was in the fall of 1898.

 

            They started in time to stop over several days a Black Hawk’s Tower, near Rock Island and were there several days as an attraction.  One evening Brother took the old Chief aside, (he was then ninety-four years old) and asked him if he had ever been there before. - - -

 

Black Hawks’ Story:

 

            He said he use to be there with his uncle when he was about ten years old.  His people use to assemble there each fall in great numbers and called the place “Turtle Hill”. The young people had all kinds of sports, feasting, dancing and running horses.  The chiefs and big men would hold long talks, planning how to take care of themselves, their people and hunting grounds against their old foes, the Chippeways, and to arrange good signals and teach then to the people so that they could speedily bring all the warriors together.

 

            Maybe far up big river Chippeway he come over on Winnebago’s land, kill deer, elk, and bear.  Winnebago no like it, make heap trouble, maybe somebody get killed.  Then Winnebago man he go on top of hill, tell Indian at Turtle Hill big trouble.  Indian man at Turtle Hill he always watches, he make fire quick on top of hill, he tell all warriors come quick.  Warrior he see em fire or smoke in daytime, he get war paint on, he run horse, come fast as he can far down big river, far off towards the bog lake, across the big river and towards sundown another big Indian call him where two big rivers come together.  Osceola Indian he build fire here; another big hill up river have fire there, (this, no doubt, meant Signal Hill, near Iowa City) fire down river, every big hill have fire.  Indian he make horse jump fast, come to river, make horse swim, come to big river, swim to island, rest, swim again, pony swim good long time, Indian hang on to tail, on to mane.”  Next morning all around the hill like a big army were a thousand braves with ponies and war paint, all ready for a big fight.

 

            Black Hawk said that in day time they signaled with smoke four Indians would hold a blanket over a fire, covered with grass, green leaves, anything to make a dense smoke to signal.  In daytime they would move the blanket away three times, sending up three little clouds of smoke in quick succession, at night they would hold a blanket before the fire and then move it away. 

 

      Such was his story, told half in English, half in Indian, all of which Brother could understand.

 

            Brother readily recognized the two rivers that came together as the Cedar and Iowa and the high bluff north of Col. Jct, near the two bridges as Oceola for we lived just across the river in sight of it, two months and sixty-four years ago when we were boys and it was then called Oceola.  At that time tradition said that Oceola was a great chief and that his squaw was buried there.

 

            The time of which Black Hawk spoke was close to -?- years ago and, no doubt, about the same signals had been used for ages upon the same hills.  Twenty-five years ago I was camped, with my family, ten miles north of this hill by the Iowa River.  I had written to my friends on the Cedar, some eight miles across the valley that if we were there I would signal them with a fire on top of the hill and for them to meet us at a certain hour.  I lit my pile of brush on top of the hill and my friends answered by swinging a torch from the top of a wind-mill tower.  I did not think then, that we were following an almost forgotten savage custom.  The old Chief’s story showed that they were men of brains and well organized and their system of signals was not far behind the telephone.  The last time I saw Chief Black Hawk was at the State Fair.  At 94 years he stood very straight, was quite dark, a kindly intelligent face and a very large head much like the descriptions of the head of Daniel Webster.

 

            At the State Fair it was the time when the automobile was a new thing, they asked Black Hawk to ride, he then looked it all over, then turned to my brother and said “you ride, I will”.  He always reasoned with his people not to use strong drink and pleaded with the whites not to sell it to them and never touched it himself.  Could we but have a correct history of this one tribe for four hundred years back, with a detailed story of their customs, their laws, and ways of living, their wars, their love and hates, it would no doubt, be more interesting than any book of fiction.

 

E. F. Brockway 

 

    

 

 

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