Denton Jaques Snider.

Lincoln in the Black Hawk war, an epos of the Northwest online

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Amid the Northern ice-world grim,

Or trails into the frost-fringed shores

Where the Atlantic roars.

If Black Hawk seeks ancestral graves

Let him go on and on to where the ocean

The fixed and bounded continent —
Where he, I hope, will find content —
And there he '11 meet his British friend
For whom he has so often fought,
Who has him often bought;
Who owns that distant land from end to end.
There let him stay with his first ancestors,
And in their tombs be laid,
For which he has us long beprayed,
And cease embroiling us in fatal wars."

Whereat arose a wild ado,

Two parties made the hullabaloo,


One side would hoot, the other cheer

The leaders there who faced each other near,

As if they might be ready for a tussle

And test the worth of words by muscle.

But Keokuk eyed down his foe,

And stopped the broil by looking no.

Division had set in again,

Opposing views rent all atwain,

Not tribal was the separation,

Both tribes stayed one confederation.

Keokuk was a Sauk,

So also was Black Hawk,

Of the same tribe each had the blood,

Yet as born antitypes they stood.

The one was happy when he fought,

Sating his greed for human gore,

The other's greatness was his thought,

His bliss was when his folk he taught

The treasure of his wisdom's store.

Savage revenge he would abate,

Well knowing it to be the Indian's fate;

Black Hawk cried out in hate,

"With gun and powder and whizzing lead,

Let every white man now be bled

Until his skin be dyed to red."

But Keokuk snapped up the talk

And flung it stinging at the Hawk :

1 * The very gun you shoot,

Powder and ball to boot,

From white man's brains you have to take;


Your weapons you can't make,

And with his very knife

You take his life.

Not till his works you can produce

Of fighting him there is no use. ' '

So spake the Indian sage

Seeking to tame his people's rage,

Which was their doom to death.

Sadly he fetched his sighing breath,

Till quiet was restored again

When he continued in this vein :

* * Some words I still would like to say

More solemn yet than any spoken,

Which we can think about to-day,

And muse what they betoken ;

Perchance in them we may foretell our fate,

Unless we act before it is too late.

The whites have pushed us on before,

I like it not and would blame more

If we to ours had not done worse,

And on them wrought the greater curse.

The red has been a foe to red,

Black Hawk in his career has shed

More of our Indian blood than white:

Just that has been our greatest blight.

Where are the mighty mini ?

Their homes we took in war away,

Some dozens only have been left to sigh,

And wandering, die ;


Their tribe is almost lost to-day,

Their land it was which Black Hawk would

now claim,
And still among the Whites it bears their

What you have done to others, has been done

to you,
Unless you stop this mill of fate, perish shall

ye too."
Then rose mild Keokuk, the sage,
Into a wise prophetic rage :
" Where are the stout Kaskaskias,
Bold Kickapoos and the Cahokias —
Eed men by red men slain?
How can we cleanse that deadly stain?
Swift is the law of our own deed,
Its doom of us to-day we read
Unless we stay its murderous speed.
But why should I so far off roam?
The best example have we here at home.
Where is the red-skinned Iowa?
Upon his soil we dwell to-day,
Which we have seized and held with might
Destroying him and his outright.
Such is to me the damning fact ;
To us returns our very act,
Though now the hand be white.
So wave on wave of our red race
Has rolled beyond and left no trace,
Starting from distant Eastern ocean,


Westward has flowed its dying motion;

Tribe after tribe lias passed away,

Their wheeled destiny makes no stay,

And soon must turn our fatal day,

Unless new character we take,

And our ancestral ways forsake.

We must transform the very earth,

And make it picture our free will,

Thus giving to ourselves fresh birth

And with it higher human worth,

E'en if our skin be coppery still,

Not merely we the peace must keep

With our white neighbors, then go to sleep ;

Our indolence and tribal strife

We have to quit or give up life ;

This last advice and best

Old Keokuk would give as his bequest :

Each man must own his lot of soil

And till it with his toil,

Each must his former life undo

And work it over through and through,

Transforming it, strand by strand,

Obedient to the time's command,

Till all his character be new.

I tell his lot, though this by him be hated :

The red man civilized — or fated."

The prophet here in turn scowled down

The universal frown,

Which ignorance must always show

To what it does not know.



Sage Keokuk was hardly understood

By those who sprang of his own blood ;

His people he sought somehow to save,

Though bent on digging their own grave

And leaping into it outright

Upon the field of battle with the white.

The Indian idealist he was

Who thought to change the deepest human

By centuries of use inbred,
Ere one brief life-time might be sped;
The case he saw but not the cause,
Not in a decade's speedy birth
May be produced an aeon's worth;
And so the noble red-skinned dreamer
Could never be his folks' redeemer.
The mill of time turns not so fast
To change the man of copper,
The grain might* otherwise not last,
And dry would run the hopper
Through which the world must always go on

One grist is ground, another is a-growing.
Ambition lofty soared with Keokuk,
An Indian Prometheus,
Who would the order old untruss,
His race's God no more would brook,
Would be the one red-skinned reformer,
Of his red world the Titan stormer,


New-model it to his ideal

Whose throbs he never failed to feel

And in his speeches to reveal.

Thus in a single generation

He would remake the Indian nation,

Though still his work would have to imitate

The institutions of another race,

And his own people's life displace

With a new sort of State.

But can they trained be to that transition,

And dome the sky of Keokuk's ambition?

Soon Black Hawk seized the waiting word,

He could no longer hear unheard,

But to his rival fiercely turned

While out his mouth his language burned:

"Red-skinned destroyer of red skins,

Art thou far more than I or any other,

Thy words are reeking with all sins

Against thy Indian brother;

His very soul thou wouldst unking

And leave his body but an empty thing.

Of warriors thou wouldst make us squaws,

To chop the wood, to plant the maize,

Upsetting all our ancient laws,

Compelling men their crops to raise,

And so to get the white man's praise

For industry and tillage —

Which ends our Indian village.

The children too we ought to bear



And with our milk the infants rear;

The squaw herself will not consent

That we usurp her part in life,

She '11 fight in order to prevent

Her turning to a husband from a wife,

And that will be new source of strife.

As for myself, I say it here,

And dare repeat it without fear,

I'll never tomahawk a helpless tree. '

But a white body it must always be ;

I'll never scalp with hoe or plow, I swear,

My good old mother Earth,

But it will be Whitef ace's tuft of hair

Which I shall dangle at my girth. ' *

Black Hawk thrilled the deepest chord

"Which swayed the soul of savages,

Whose very dreams are ravages

Responding to that fiercely spoken word

Which they from furious tongue had heard.

Even the squaws to shout began,

They knew of Keokuk's plan

And were against it, every heart,

They clung in love to their own part

Of the red woman's hard existence,

With the woman's fond persistence

In the transmitted custom of her lot.

She asked not why or what,

She took it as the best,

For her the only test

Of things called bad or good,


And so she always for it stood.

Amid the people's noisy talk

The orator was still Black Hawk,

His weaponed tongue he would not sheathe.

He slashed it out as long as he could breathe ;

But now he struck a soberer strain,

Of argument he oped a vein

Which showed him reasoning his plan,

Though still in it the Indian :

"I say, that one ancestral strand
Which scorns division of the land,
The red man will retain forever,
It from his life you cannot sever
Without his final deep undoing,
E 'en though you call it his renewing.
Let selfish whites each take a slice,
And buy and sell it for a price ;
The earth belongs to the Great Spirit
Who gave it to his children to inherit —
To call their own what they can use,
Or else it lose;
Not it to break in little spots
Which each may name his lots ;
Our soil cannot be bought or sold,
So our traditions long have told.
'Tis the Great Spirit's stern command
That we should now retake our land,
In which our noble fathers sleep
And which our duty is to keep ;


As they to us have given it,

So we to ours shall then the same transmit.' '

Applause more frantic and intense

Greeted the speaker's eloquence

Than had before been ever heard

Kesponding to his fiery word.

He bared the Indians' deepest sense,

Illumed the limits of their consciousness,

And tongued their fate's last stress,

'Gainst which they strove without defence.

He spake their truest representative

Of what they felt and wished and thought ;

And yet through him they could not live,

In such a seesaw they were caught

'Twixt could and ought

Till they were ground to naught.

Between Black Hawk and Keokuk

They swayed with many a turn and crook;

Between two worlds colliding madly

They to death were dashing sadly;

Two hostile institutions in a crash

Crushed the poor mortal with their clash.

Sage Keokuk well knew that war,

For in him throbbed its mighty jar,

And his cleft soul he scarce could shield

Upon its inner battlefield;

He felt the two-edged argument,

And with it was his spirit rent ;

Still the red sage outsaw his race

And sought to save it for a space,


Or one small fragment of the whole
He would preserve by his control.
Bravely he faced the noisy rabble
And bade them leave their babble ;
And when had died away each mutter,
His weighty thought he thus did utter:

"Of the Great Spirit is the word,

Whose voice it seems Black Hawk alone has

Bidding us live as in the past,
So shall our tribe forever last.
But now the truth to you I have to say
Two are the Great Spirits of this day,
One is the white man's, one is ours,
But very different seem their powers;
The one is greater, the other less,
My heart doth writhe it to confess ;
Across the prairies and over the heights
And on the clouds I see their fights,
The one pursues, the other flees,
Unstopped by mountains, rivers, seas,
Two hundred suns ago they say,
This new Great Spirit sped this way
Over the water from out the East,
And hunted our Great Spirit like a beast,
Who, huddling all his children red,
Has o'er the Mississippi fled.
My longing is to make a lasting peace
That war between the two Great Spirits



And ours, although the weaker one,

The lowering day of death may shun,

And save the remnant of his folk

From the descending final stroke

Of Fate's uplifted tomahawk.

That blow we might betimes yet balk

Were it not for this mad Black Hawk,

Who thinks with his small band to carry

What all our race's greatest chieftains could

not do,
Philip, Tecumseh, Pontiac,
All failed to turn the Whiteface back
And hinder his Great Spirit's fight
From putting ours to flight —
I say we cannot meet his might.
Not only these white skins we view
Black Hawk will have us battle with anew,
But their Great Spirit he will contest,
And drive it off out of the West,
But it will smite him to his fall
Which must involve us, too —
His ruin now hangs over all."

So Keokuk the sage has seen the rods
Swish down in this new battle of the Gods,
As it was fought to his deep-seeing eye
Upon the earth and in the sky —
Perchance a fable but no lie —
Strangely retelling that old Greek tale,


Although he knew it not,

Which Time can never stale

But brings to bloom again on every spot.

He did not say but well he knew

His race must change its Great Spirit too,

And take another deity,

If of its doom it would get free —

Who would with a new faith its evils cure,

So that it could the conflict of the time endure.

But Keokuk, the red idealist,

Could not fetch up at once what ages
missed —

He could not pluck in a life-time 's revolution

The fruit of a millenial evolution.

He sought to jump an entire rearward race

Into the swiftest human forward pace;

He dreamed himself Prometheus again

Who shaped dead clay to living men,

From whose electric finger tips the spark of

Leaped to the brain of all mankind,

And out the dullest earthly clod

Came forth a being like a God.

So Keokuk had the lofty goal:

For that old Indian body a bran-new soul

Without the touch of time to win;

Alack ! the red man could not slough his skin,

And slip another person in.

Nor could those great colliding Spirits twain,

Who sought their worlds with power to main-


Be pacified till one be slain.
The multitude with shrinking dread,
Had listened to what Keokuk had said,
And ceased their noisy passionate crush,
Feeling within their souls a sudden hush,
As if a gleam had from beyond been sent
Flashing the silence of presentiment.*


Then Black Hawk, not to be undone outright,
Leads forth a man kept hitherto from sight,
Whom he would now invoke as voice from

Which not to hear would never be forgiven
By the fierce Powers overhead,
Until each Indian lay dead.
A stranger through the crowd appeared to

He slyly slipped from Black Hawk's near-by

Where he had heard what had been said
By Keokuk, who was the head
Of both the tribes, the Fox and Sauk,
Whom he would keep from war by peaceful

Revealing what lay in the time's design,
How to avoid its stroke malign,
And save the remnant of his race
From the Great Spirit's own white face.
But now behold Francesco Molinar again,


The dark-stoled Jesuit, born in Spain,

Yet talking Indian on the border,

Obeying still the general of his Order,

Who from old Rome has sent command

To his soldiers uniformed in every land,

Of whom this Molinar was one,

Daring to do whatever could be done

To win the war in realms of sin

For Church and State and Latin kin.

That fierce old feud of savage circling years,

The fountain of a century's tears,

Between the Spanish kings and Netherlands,

He bore within to Westerlands.

In the Armada still he fought

Upon the Mississippi's shore,

The Saxon foe again he sought

To conquer as of yore :

Such conflict was his being's very core.

That ancient European strife

Between Teutonic North and Roman rule,

In every blood-drop of him still was rife,

Transplanted to this farthest Thule.

The red men all he schemed to rally

And drive the Saxon from the Valley,

Or break the onward flow at least,

And yet he only saw its speed increased.

Louisiana's vast domain

Had been the American's recent gain,

Which he would somehow counteract —

Undo the world 's historic act


And turn it back to Spain

Which it had quit some centuries ago,

With damning frown of overthrow.

The cosmic egg was getting addle,

Still the Great Spirit's huge canoe

He tried his best to paddle

Up the time-stream, at its swiftest too ;

Like Spain's topmost grandee,

He looks Castilian dignity

Now speaking at Black Hawk 's behest ;

There peeps the nature of his quest,

As the white priest full loftily

Dissects red Keokuk's theology:

1 ' First a correction I would make

Of what I deem a bad mistake,

Which the last speaker did commit,

Which if believed would send you to the pit.

Just one Great Spirit rules both red and

And loves them both, if he be thought aright,
Not two of them, as Keokuk says ;
To only one the wise man prays,
That one is the Great Spirit good —
One good — when he is truly understood.
But a spirit bad there is, the Devil,
Who has in man great power of evil,
He is the foe of red and white,
Of you and also me,
Of all the world that we can see ;


With him I battle day and night

In holy, never-ending fight.

And now I wish to say a solemn fact,

On which you soon will have to act :

Yon Americans across the River

Are of that Devil 's darkest brood,

From whom you must yourselves deliver

"With help of our Great Spirit good —

From vampyres sucking Indian blood.

If them ye drive out of the West,

By the Good Spirit you will be blest

As doing his most holy will,

His promise then he shall fulfill.

Him fighting on your side I see,

And giving you the victory;

Put down these wicked heretics

With all their saucy, lying tricks,

And cunning words, in which they revel,

The spawn of that same ugly Devil.

The true Great Spirit is unknown

To philosophic Keokuk,

But I stand near his very throne,

And bask in his most gracious look;

Him with you I along shall take,

If you Black Hawk your leader make.

Start now upon your new career

Back toward the rising sun ;

No longer eye the setting one,

Which you have faced this many a year

Falling the hopeless tear.


And if your march leads you to death
I shall be there at your last breath,
Anointing you for Paradise straightway,
Whose gates you shall pass through without

And this drear life you there will never miss
Fleeting angelic days in Heaven's bliss."
Such was the gospel now of Molinar,
Preaching the Indians into war
Likely to be their last,
If they the fatal die should cast;
Their savagery he deeply stirred
By favor of the Lord,
Their dying breath he e'en would bless
With promise of eternal happiness ;
He prayed to do the will divine,
Which was his own sweet will,
And Paternoster's every line
With unctuous tone would fill,
But 'tween "thy will be done" and mine
He left a fluctuating gap,
Which it were hard to map,
And it remains unsettled still.
Quick Keokuk picks up the thread
Of flitting words ; the philosophic Red
Against the sacerdotal White
Is pitted for a brainy fight,
And scarcely is a minute sped,
When that big Indian's phosphorescent head
In darkness strikes a dazzling light:


i ' This black-robed man has no control

Over the white or red man's soul;

I question if he has the key

Which can unlock futurity,

And well I know he has no right

To promise triumph in this fight.

Why should we want his happy skies I

We Indians have our own fair Paradise.

And the Great Spirit of Americans

Whom he calls Devil,

Defeats him, thwarting all his cunning plans,

And curses him with his own evil.

He and his people once possessed

All of these lands of the North- West,

And all the valley to the sea ;

From mountain crest to mountain crest

They claimed their own to be.

Where are they now, Molinar !

You urge us here to that same war

In which your people have been driven to the

And still are keeping up their flight.
Through Texas trembles now their throng,
Will not stay there so very long
If it be true what I have learned;
Their faces have already turned
Toward the Brazos and the Eio Grande ;
The new Great Spirit swoops that land,
For your Great Spirit shows so weak —
Weaker than ours — I dare it speak —


So weak as that of the Illini,

To whom is scarcely left a babe to cry,

So weak as that of the Iowas,

Whom we upon this spot have slain,

And seized their land as our own gain,

From whose fresh graves shoots up our

maize —
A deed not altogether to our praise.
Down to St. Louis once I went
Where the great treaty had been sent
For us red men to sign —
And Black Hawk's name is there with mine-
Many a year has gone since then,
I recollect the coming men,
You smirch them the vile Saxon brood ;
I saw the going men, they were your blood,
And sank your falling star,
Francesco Molinar—
You handed over all this western world
To a young banner there unfurled,
Streaming a rainbow of red and white and

On which the twinkling stars shone out to

From heaven heralding a gospel new.
Your aged flag then floated down the River
Out of our sight forever,
And to return this way— never,
Till the westering sun wheel round his team,
And the roaring Mississippi run up stream;


These new white men are they

With whom we have to deal to-day

And with them pray ;

We have to deal with their Great Spirit too,

But not with yours and you;

For yours, if I dare seem so bold,

Is getting just a little old;

But their Great Spirit shows far greater

Than yours, e'en if he came much later,

A harder hitter he, and hotter hater,

If ever I again should have to fight

To him my prayers I'd say each night.

And for that war of good with evil,

Or as you put it, of God with Devil,

Why doesn 't your God, if he be stronger,

Kill Devil without delaying longer,

And put an end to that long strife

By taking simply one bad life —

Skin off his scalp, though he should pray

For mercy — that is our Indian way ; .

The Devil 's scalp, if I were you,

O priestly Molinar,

Would dangle from my belt for all to view

As greatest trophy of my war.

And so just ponder ! for all time to run,

My labor at one stroke were done.

Then I would hurry back to Spain

Whence I would never pop my poll again. ' '

Here Keokuk stopped suddenly
And dropped his play of irony,


Sober, yea sad, lie seemed,

Some tears adown his furrowed features

Yet love out of his glances gleamed :
"I shall make peace in all my land,
Enforcing it by just command,
To win us that Great Spirit new
With whom we have henceforth to do.
I'll get him for my people if I can,
And friend be to that coming man,
Who calls himself American.' '
Great was the hubbub — in two parts
The people stood with separated hearts ;
The two sides shouting at each other,
It seemed like brother fighting brother;
Party hate the village rending,
A civil broil appeared impending,
When Keokuk, the statesman chief,
Grappled the crisis and bespoke his grief :
1 i Alas! I see we must divide —
Let each man choose his side —
It tears atwain my heart
Your going now apart ;
On us the red man's curse has lit,
I see we cannot shun a split
Though we shall have to pay for it.
So hearken to my tears' command:
Let Black Hawk's friends there with him

stand ;
But those who choose to stav with me,


May take their place at yonder tree. ' '
Black Hawk leaped up and gave a whoop,
Almost one half of the whole troop
Stood with him there to be his braves
Marching to take their father 's graves
Across the Mississippi's waves.
Sage Keokuk stayed with the rest,
Still doing what he deemed the best,
Hoping that many might turn back
When they had smelt the first attack.
Soon Molinar brought up the rear,
He could not quite conceal his fear
That Satan must have ta 'en a hand
In splitting Black Hawk's Indian band,
And that a diabolic eloquence
Inspired red Keokuk's sense
Wording it with forbidden power
The saint to overtower.

The sun went down upon that little nation,
But showed the red man 's separation ;
The tribal soul in two was rent
And there could be no settlement.
But Keokuk felt full his heart
Seeing so many of his own depart;
Against the Hawk he had no hate,
Went to his foe as one held dear,
Whom he would still conciliate
And drawing with a whisper near,
Prophetic spake that none could hear :


11 Black Hawk, whatever you may think of me,
Your friend I still shall prove to be ;
I know you will be coming back
Ere many moons have arched their track
Around yon domed blue;
Now this I wish to say to you :
E'en if a prisoner you be,
T shall do all I can to set you free —
Whatever you have done to me;
I shall you not in wrath requite,
But save you from your deed ;

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Online LibraryDenton Jaques SniderLincoln in the Black Hawk war, an epos of the Northwest → online text (page 6 of 16)