Illustration of Sauk leader Chief Black Hawk

Native History: Alcohol and Murder Result in Loss of 50 Million Acres

Christina Rose

This Date in Native History: On April 6, 1832 Black Hawk’s War began. The event that set the “war” into motion took place in a “small settlement of semi-savage white people,” according to Perry Armstrong’s book, The Sauks And The Black Hawk War With Biographical Sketches, Etc. The settlement was populated with very few women and many white traders, and there was a lot of alcohol.

There was a party at the settlement to which Indian men and women were invited. A Sauk man became angry at the way a young white man was treating his daughter, and when he said so, the Sauk was thrown out, bodily. All of the participants were intoxicated, and the Sauk killed the white man. The result was the Quashquamme Treaty of November 3, 1804, by which the Sauks lost about 50 million acres of land, including Saukenuk, their homeland.

Sandra Massey, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Oklahoma Sauk and Fox Nation, explained that the Sauk man was immediately brought in to authorities by his people, “to cover the blood,” and was sent to prison in Saint Louis. He had been a highly respected man among his people and the Sauks hoped that by speaking with the governor, they would gain his return. “The four men who went to free the man signed a treaty, but had no idea they were signing away so much land,” Massey said.

The Sauk could not get their man released from prison, but they did not want to return without him. With whiskey involved, promises were made, a treaty was signed, and their man was finally released. He was shot down in the street almost immediately after.

The treaty went unknown to the Sac and Fox for many years. One of the conditions was that they could remain there until the land was sold. When emissaries came bearing poor quality gifts and a paltry $1,000 each year, it was simply assumed by the Sauks that they were gifts. It was years before they realized the gifts were annuities.

Quashquamme, the Sauk head-man, was among the four who signed the treaty. He insisted that he had only sold land on the east side of the Mississippi River. “You white men may put on paper what you please, but I tell you, I never sold any lands higher up the Mississippi than the mouth of Rocky River,” he said, according to Armstrong’s book.


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