The Autobiography of Black Hawk


Black Hawk was the leader of the Sauk American Indian tribe and this autobiography recounts his memories growing up, his people's values and traditions, the wars he fought in, his experience working and fighting against/with Americans and Europeans, his eventual surrender and his travels throughout the United States. 

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Key Takeaways
  1. Interesting account of time period, wars, relationship between Native American tribes and Europeans. These people had very different mindsets in terms of goals and outcomes. Native Americans followed their hearts and natural emotions whereas the British would follow their strict laws (go into battle knowing they'd lose and pretty much sacrificing their men whereas the Native Americans saw no shame in retreating to fight another day). 
  2. Their concept of right and wrong different too - Indians want to do right their whole lives whereas Europeans can be sorry about what they've done right before they die and be fine
  3. Basically Americans deceitful and liars who took great advantage of Native Americans' low alcohol tolerance and used it during treaties and bartering
  4. The Sauk knew they were not the most powerful but were always grateful -  "Grateful to the great spirit every time I take a drink from the spring"
  5. Does not believe that land can be bought or sold as it is not theirs
What I got out of it
  1. Fascinating autobiography from a man who saw the world much differently than most Americans did and still do. Much more in tune with nature and the land and would not sacrifice the land for anything. I think we can all learn to be a little more grateful and in touch with the world around us as Black Hawk was.
  • Black Hawk refers to the white men of Europe as their father (English father, etc). Had a very symbiotic relationship gifting each other weapons and goods an advice. Upset when they were told that Americans would be replacing their Spanish father
  • Talking of a treaty with the Americans in St. Louis and mention they were drunk most of the time. Black Hawk say these treaties were the source of most of their difficulties with the Americans
  • A "brave" = a good warrior
  • The Sauk left their society and fasted for several years whenever somebody close to them died
  • Black Hawk surrendered himself to save his people and once he did he was taken on a tour of the us by the whites and got to see all the major cities and modern spectacles (hot air balloon, fireworks...)
  • Believed that guests/strangers should be treated very well and fed and given the best provisions possible
  • Black Hawk ends the novel by saying that any white man will be welcome in his village and that the "tomahawk is forever buried" - implying peace between the two peoples. Interesting ending in that throughout the book he was recounting how conniving and ruthless the Europeans were

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