- The Black Hawk War of 1832, and: Inkpaduta: Dakota Leader
Anglo-Americans have commonly admired the tragic-romantic figure of the Indian resistance movement leader. Paradigmatic is Tecumseh, who enjoyed the empathy of some Americans even while at war with the United States. By their conduct or circumstances, other Indian resistance leaders have left more ambiguous legacies. In two recent works, historians Patrick J. Jung and Paul N. Beck revisit the defining moments of Indian leaders on opposite ends of this spectrum: the Sauk war captain Black Hawk and the Dakota headman Inkpaduta, respectively. Whereas Jung seeks to solidify Black Hawk’s place in a significant tradition of pan-Indian resistance, Beck aims to lend humanity to a man remembered almost exclusively as a bloodthirsty “savage.”
Jung’s first book, The Black Hawk War of 1832 is not a biography of Black Hawk but rather the most recent general history of his efforts to retain land and autonomy in the face of Anglo-American expansion into the Old Northwest. Coming fast on the heels of another commendable telling of this story (Kerry Trask, Black Hawk: The Battle for the Heart of America [New York: Henry Holt, 2006]), Jung’s book is distinguished by its scholarship and engagement with the broader historiography of Indian resistance movements. While Jung makes the case that the Black Hawk War “provides an excellent example of how Indian wars came about and how they were conducted” (p. 6), his central argument is that Black Hawk was heir to an ideology of pan-Indian resistance to white expansion that counted Pontiac and Tecumseh among its previous leaders. Ultimately, Black Hawk failed because this nativist movement had fractured in the years after the War of 1812 and broke on the shoals of intertribal conflict in the upper Mississippi River Valley.
If not as engaging as Trask’s book, The Black Hawk War of 1832 may very well be the best campaign narrative of the conflict. Jung provides a concise and yet—on the basis of exhaustive primary research—authoritative narrative of the underlying causes and events of the war. Especially valuable is his treatment of the intertribal struggle that coincided with the Anglo-American war against Black Hawk. Indeed, Black Hawk’s prospects for mounting a pan-Indian resistance appear to have been slimmer than Jung admits. Rent by generational disputes and informed by their respective histories, Black Hawk’s Indian enemies saw little reason to surrender their perceived interests in favor of Indian solidarity. Jung overstates American agency in exploiting intertribal disputes, but he recognizes them as critical to the war’s outcome.
While Black Hawk has long enjoyed the privileged status of “patriot chief ” (he was fêted on the east coast within a year of surrendering), the Dakota leader Inkpaduta owns no such legacy. The principal figure behind the “Spirit Lake Massacre” [End Page 1331] of 1857, in which nearly forty Iowa and Minnesota settlers lost their lives, Inkpaduta has instead endured historical ignominy. In Inkpaduta: Dakota Leader, Paul Beck offers “a new interpretation of Inkpaduta’s life—based not on myth, legend, racism, or white memory but rather on sound historical research” (p. xix). Tracing the events leading up to the “Spirit Lake Massacre,” Beck demonstrates that the white residents of Smithland, Iowa, goaded Inkpaduta’s followers to violence by confiscating their weapons in the midst of a harsh winter. After the attacks, Inkpaduta became something of a bogeyman to white settlers on the northern Great Plains, who implicated him in every subsequent Sioux “depredation” or conflict. Recognizing his value as a scapegoat, other Sioux groups endorsed these stories and discredited Inkpaduta as a renegade. Following the Battle of the Little Big Horn (in which he certainly participated), Inkpaduta eluded American capture in Canada, where he lived out...