Black Hawk's Meeting with Shabbona
Updated: Dec 13, 2021
On the evening of May 17, 1832, Sauk Chief Black Hawk and his band of braves and warriors arrived at the village of Potawatomi Chief Shabbona (Shaubenee) near present-day Aurora, Il., in an attempt to persuade the Potawatomi braves to join in a war against the white settlers in Illinois. According to chronicler P. A. Armstrong
in The Sauks and the Black Hawk War (published in 1887), Black Hawk, "mounted on his favorite milk-white pony, clad in the red coat and epaulets of a colonel of British cavalry, with ponderous sword and belt, came trooping into the village, followed by Neapope, Pashepaho, and other Sauk chiefs, at the head of the entire band of braves and warriors, accompanied by the beating of tom-toms and singing of their war-songs. Approaching the lodge of Shaubenee, the war-post was set in the ground, ready for the dance. But to the old chief's consternation, Shaubenee, Wauponsee, Shemenon, Shaata, Meaumese, Sushshauquash, and other Pottawattamie chiefs, met him coldly, while the younger Pottawattamies seemed to be under restraint, and when the Sauks commenced circling around the war-post, few Pottawatotamies joined them. Hence the war-dance lagged, and was soon practically abandoned, and Black Hawk essayed to rouse them by his wonderful eloquence." (Black Hawk's version of events is told in his autobiography; see link below.)
Black Hawk then said, "'Shaubenee, if you will permit your young men to unite with mine, I will have an army like the trees in the forrest, and will drive the palefaces like autumn leaves before an angry wind.'" "'Aye,'" replied Shaubenee, laying his hand heavily down on Black Hawk's shoulder, "'but the palefaces will soon bring an army whose numbers are like the leaves on the trees, and will sweep you and your army into the great ocean beneath the setting sun.'" Shabbona then decided to warn the white settlers "who were scattered along on the skirts of small streams flowing into the Illinois river from the north, extending from Bureau Creek, on the west, to the Du Page, on the east, a distance of nearly one hundred miles in a straight line; but as the settlers were scattered in zig-zag lines, to visit and warn all of them would require the messenger to travel three times that distance."
Armstrong describes the dangers that faced not only the settlers, but Shabbona and his followers after the ill-fated meeting with Black Hawk, as "the blood-stained tomahawk was already hurtling through the air---Shaubenee placed his life in the scales... the lives of the women and children of the pioneer settlers should be saved, if within his power. Time was precious, since the danger was pressing." The author explains that when Shabbona (Shaubenee) withdrew from the war dance, he made an implacable enemy of the Sauk chief, who "dispatched swift-footed spies to follow him and report his subsequent actions."
Historian Charles Scanlan states that Shabbona, his son Pypagee, and his nephew Pyps "mounted ponies and rode to the various white settlements," and that when the chief's horse "dropped dead under him," he "obtained another horse from a farmer and rode day and night until he had warned the whites at all the settlements." (See Indian Creek Massacre and Captivity of Hall Girls by Charles Scanlan, link below.) Shabbona rode for 48 hours, warning settlers in his broken English to leave their homes and seek safety; in a few cases, he warned them a second time, and some barely escaped Black Hawk's warriors. The settlers sought refuge at Fort Dearborn in Chicago or at other fortified locations such as Ottawa.
At the Davis settlement at Indian Creek near Ottawa, William Davis discouraged his fellow settlers from seeking safety at the fort at Ottawa. On May 21, 1832, a war party of sixty to seventy braves that consisted of a guerrilla band of Potawatomi (with a few Sauks and Foxes) attacked and violently killed sixteen men, women and children at this site. They also kidnapped two sisters, Rachel and Sylvia Hall, who were then ransomed and eventually freed. (See Scanlan book.)
In order to escape Black Hawk's wrath, Shabbona sent his people eastward to Indiana. When the Black Hawk War ended, they returned to their grove in DeKalb County. After the Treaty of Chicago in 1833, most Native Americans in the Illinois area were forced to move west of the Mississippi.
Shabbona and his followers were relocated to Kansas; however, the Sauks also occupied this territory, about 50 miles from Shabbona's new homesite. In 1837, the Sauk chief Neapope tracked down Shabbona, his sons, and nephew while on a buffalo hunt and killed Pypegee and Pyps; Shabbona barely escaped with his life, and returned to DeKalb County. (See Memories of Shaubena by N. Matson, below.)
To learn more about Black Hawk and his war against the settlers, find P. A. Armstrong's book The Sauks and the Black Hawk war, with biographical sketches, etc... at https://archive.org/details/cu31924088025972. Black Hawk's own story can be found in
Autobiography of Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, or Black Hawk, by Black Hawk at: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/7097/7097-h/7097-h.htm.
N. Matson's Memories of Shaubena is found at http://access.bl.uk/item/pdf/lsidyv3724e2f4.
Charles Scanlan's Indian Creek Massacre and Captivity of Hall Girls can be found at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks50294.
Sue Devick, M.A.