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  • Peace, Friendship, and Financial Panic:Reading the Mark of Black Hawk in Life of Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak
  • Kendall Johnson (bio)

I tell you what's a goine to happen now very soon, De United States bank will be blown to de moon, Den all de oder bank notes well be mighty plenty, An one silver dollar will be worth ten or twenty.

"Zip Coon" (1834)1

Black Hawk, a Sauk chief in frequent negotiation with the US in the decades before the disastrous Black Hawk War, tells us in his autobiography Life of Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak (1833) that he never accepts or wears a US peace medal.2 The medals were based on a design commissioned by Thomas Jefferson after the 1803 Louisiana Purchase and were maintained through the administration of Zachary Taylor. On the obverse appears the image of the sitting president, like that of President Martin Van Buren (see Figure 1), and on the reverse appears (see Figure 2) the treaty motto of "Peace and Friendship," a crossed tomahawk and calumet, and two hands, one of a uniformed officer and the other of a braceleted Indian, clasping each other in ostensible accord.

Such images belie the disastrous Black Hawk War of 1832, and the diplomatic and legal duplicity that removed the Sauk and Mesquakie/Fox people west of the Mississippi, dispossessing them of their traditional village of Saukenuk at the mouth of River Rock during Andrew Jackson's presidency. The war had begun in [End Page 771]

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Fig. 1.

Martin Van Buren medal. Obverse: "Martin Van Buren President of the United States, A.D. 1837." From The American Numismatic Society, New York, NY.

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Fig. 2.

Martin Van Buren medal. Reverse: "Peace and Friendship." From The American Numismatic Society, New York, NY.

April when approximately 2000 Saukies of the "British Band" and some Mesquakie/Fox and Kickapoos, including entire families and 500 warriors, came back across the Mississippi River, challenging the terms of the removal initiated by an 1804 treaty. The federal and Illinois state governments used the return to wage war, and Black Hawk fled with his people into Wisconsin. After weeks of pursuit, federal soldiers cornered those who had not starved on the banks of the Mississippi. At the Battle of Bad Axe on 2 August 1832, the federal steamship the Warrior, aided by Sioux warriors hired by the US, massacred hundreds of people in what the North American Review characterized as "the most disastrous Indian [End Page 772] campaign of modern times" (Snelling 84).3 Black Hawk finally managed to surrender to the Winnebago and was jailed at Jefferson's Barracks in Missouri.4 To impress upon Black Hawk the futility of his resistance, William Clark, the superintendent of Indian Affairs and Meriwether Lewis's expeditionary partner, ordered him and fellow leaders (Napope, Pamaho, White Cloud, and others) to tour major cities—Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Detroit, and Washington D.C., where Black Hawk met with President Jackson. After being returned to Iowa, he "dictated" his life to the newspaper publisher John B. Patterson through army interpreter Antoine LeClair. Patterson then edited and published Life of Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak or Black Hawk—dictated by himself, which became known as Black Hawk's Autobiography in 1882 when Patterson published a revised edition as The Autobiography of Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak.

By understanding the history behind peace medals and the hallmark phrase "peace and friendship," we can better understand the autobiography's more general condemnation of US practices of treaty negotiation. Black Hawk shuns US medals, but he does mention wearing British medals—particularly during the War of 1812 (66, 97). He insists that: "Whilst the British made but few [promises]—we could always rely upon their word" (60). Whereas, in regard to the US, he exclaims, "I had not discovered one good trait in the character of the Americans that had come to the country! They made fair promises but never fulfilled them!" As the narrative ends, Black Hawk recounts his punitive tour of the east coast and...