Black Hawk created a powerful Iowa legacy

by Mike Chapman

One of the most intriguing figures to ever be connected with the State of Iowa is a Native American warrior known as Black Hawk.

It would be hard to find a Native American who has greater name recognition in Iowa than Black Hawk. In fact, he may be one of three most famous Indians in the entire nation, along with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, members of various Lakota Sioux tribes that gained immortality by defeating George Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Black Hawk faced many hardships during his long sojourn through American history, and he was very well regarded for his warrior skills – and for his enduring efforts to carve out a home for his people. He spent most of his adult life fighting to preserve his way of life for the Sauk and Fox tribes he was associated with.

His name has survived all across the decades. He has a large Iowa county named after him, as well as a bridge, a popular hotel, a state park and even a lake. Nearly every major Iowa town or city has a street named Black Hawk, while there is a college just across the river from Iowa (in Moline) that bears his name, as well as a huge statue near Oregon, Illinois, overlooking the Rock River.

A military helicopter called the Black Hawk has seen action in numerous battles around the globe. He is one of the few men in American history to have a war named for him – a skirmish that started in Illinois and wound its way across parts of Iowa and Wisconsin. And when the government bought a huge tract of land on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River in 1832, it was known as the Black Hawk Purchase

In short, the name of Black Hawk has become a well-known symbol throughout the nation, and particularly in Iowa. The warrior himself has been the subject of countless articles and nearly a dozen books.

“The story of the American Indians is a record of a brave, proud people,” wrote Frank L. Beals in his book, Chief Black Hawk. “Their struggle to preserve their way of life against the advancing civilization of the white man is tragic, but it is filled with deeds of high courage and patriotism.

“One of the most famous of all Indians was Black Hawk, war chief of the Sauk nation. He was loved by his followers, feared but respected by his enemies, and misunderstood by the white man.”