Patrick Jung’s book gives crystal clear explanations of the events leading up to the war, paints living, almost breathing portraits of every character on each side (including everyone in between) and weaves all these facts into a highly enjoyably and readable narrative.This is no simple task, given the complexity of the relationships involved.For example, Midwestern Native Americans hailed from different tribes and held differing attitudes towards the European-Americans and towards each other, especially so during the unifying Pan-Indian movement, an obvious response to the insistently encroaching white problem.The occasionally-mentioned Potawatomi generally sided with the whites while the Sauks, Foxes, and Winnebago’s were the most consistently (and ferociously) anti-American.Yet many of these U.S.-haters did not join Black Hawk’s side when he stood up to their common enemy.
The U.S. side is just as complex and their attitude towards the natives varied.Under pressure by President Andrew Jackson to put “a speedy and honorable termination to this war, which will hereafter deter others from the like unprovoked hostilities by Indians on our frontier,” the U.S. military leaders had to often rely on ill-trained local volunteer militia as well as the thinly-spread professional soldiers who manned the local forts.While the attitude of most of the trained troops towards the Native American was somewhat professional, if racist, the volunteer troops were generally much too eager to shed the red man’s blood, an unfortunate reality that would have dire consequences for the outcome of the war.(An interesting minor player in the volunteer Illinois militia who Jung mentions from time to time is the 23 year-old leader of a 200-man battalion named Abe Lincoln who never saw action, as he said later, except for “a good many bloody struggles with the musquetoes [sic].”)
After the war, the white leaders took Black Hawk for a trip out east to give him a view of the country’s enormous population in an obvious attempt to discourage him – or any other Midwestern Native American – from ever again taking up arms against the U.S.It worked but what is fascinating about this section of the book is how eastern Americans viewed the Natives as compared to those in the Midwest: “Black Hawk noticed that people in the East were fundamentally different from those on the frontier.Indeed, westerners tended to see Indians as almost subhuman.Easterners, on the other hand, rarely had contact with Indians and thus treated them as novelties and even as romantic ‘noble savage.’”
The book contains a plethora of maps and drawings and, coupled with Jung’s clear narrative, paints the clearest picture yet of this important moment in the history of U.S.-Native American relations.
(This review also appears at BookPleasures.com).