Early depiction of the battle field near Sauk City, WI
On July 21, 1832, during a persistent rainstorm, the 65 year old Sac Indian leader, Black Hawk, led 60 of his Sac, Fox and Kickapoo warriors in a holding action against 700 United States militia at this location. The conflict, known as the Battle of Wisconsin Heights, was the turning point in the Black Hawk War. Here Commanders General James D. Henry and Colonel Henry Dodge and their troops overtook Black Hawk and his followers after pursuing them for weeks over the marshy areas and rough terrain of south central Wisconsin. Yet because of Black Hawk’s superb military strategy, the steady rain and nightfall, approximately 700 Indians, including children and the aged, escaped down or across the Wisconsin River about one mile west of here. Their success was short-lived. The war ended just 12 days later at the Battle of Bad Axe when many of Black Hawk’s followers drowned or were slain in their attempt to cross the Mississippi River.
Col. Henry Dodge
Camp on the Wisconsin Thirty miles below Fort Winnebago July 22d. 1832 On the 20th. We made a forced march & reached the head of the 4 lakes, and on the 21st. We overtook the enemy at this place, our advanced spies killed two Sacks (Sauks) before we met with a body of the enemy – they showed themselves frequently on the surrounding hills to divert our attention, our spies met with three and pursued them within a mile of their camp, our men were pursued in turn by the enemy on horseback.Believing the main body of the enemy near us, I dismounted my squadron of horse, which formed the right and left columns of the advanced guard, the centre column was composed of the spies commanded by Colo. Ewing, I ordered my squadron to advance in front, and fortunately met with a good position, a natural elevation of ground which covered my men who were ordered to squat down, the Enemy raised the Yell and Galloped up within thirty yards of us, we fired on them and killed one and wounded one or two others, when they retreated.. . When the battle was over it was 7 Oclk.Our men had made a forced march of forty miles many of them on foot, and exposed about six hours in the rain their arms wet and out of order.Knowing they had retreated to the river and that they had chosen their position and that we could not reach them before dark, after consulting with Genl. Henry it was agreed to defer a further attack on the enemy until the next morning.
Henry Dodge went on to serve as a Democrat in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives as well was Wisconsin’s first territorial governor.
Chief Black Hawk
Chief Black Hawk left us this account of the battle:
…we were proceeding to the Ouisconsin, with our women and children.We arrived and had commenced crossing them to an island, when we discovered a large body of the enemy coming towards us.We were now compelled to fight, or sacrifice our wives and children to the fury of the whites!I met them with fifty warriors, (having left the balance to assist our women and children in crossing) about a mile from the river, when an attack immediately commenced. I was mounted on a fine horse, and was please to see my warriors so brave.I addressed them in a loud voice, telling them to stand their ground, and never yield it to the enemy.At this time I was on the rise of a hill, where I wished to form my warriors, that we might have some advantage over the whites.But the enemy succeeded in gaining this point, which compelled us to fall back into a deep ravine, from which we continued firing at them and they at us, until it began to grow dark.
After the Black Hawk War, with most of his band dead or captured, Chief Black Hawk was held in captivity with other captured Native Americans. After eight months, in 1833, they were taken east by order of President Andrew Jackson. As they traveled by steamboat, carriage and railroad, large crowds gathered wherever they went. After meeting with the President, they were imprisoned at Fortress Monroe in Virginia. After remaining for only a few weeks (where they posed mostly for portraits) they were again sent west by steamboat. Near the end of his captivity, Chief Black Hawk recounted his life story to a government interpreter. After the tour, he was transferred back to his nation, and lived along the Iowa River and later the Des Moines River. He died October 3, 1838, and was buried on the farm of his friend, James Jordan.