© 2023 WVIK
Listen at 90.3 FM and 98.3 FM in the Quad Cities, 95.9 FM in Dubuque, or on the WVIK app!
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations


This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The English writer, Bulwer-Lytton, claimed that the "pen was mightier than the sword." The Sauk Indians who once lived around Rock Island could tell you about that firsthand.

When the Americans began to encroach on Indian territory following the War of 1812, the Sauk who lived at Saukenuk, their principal village at the juncture of the Rock and Mississippi Rivers, divided into pro and anti-American factions. The pro-American Sauks were led by Chief Keokuk. Seeing the inevitable end of any conflict with the Americans, Keokuk led a peace party that sought to appease the Americans by moving across the Mississippi to the Des Moines River. A smaller faction, led by a fierce war leader, Black Hawk, determined to resist the Americans by force.

In the spring of 1832, Black Hawk stopped at Keokuk's village to propose war with the Americans. Black Hawk won over many of Keokuk's supporters, who, one by one, danced around a tree and sank their hatchets in the bark as a vote for war.

With almost no followers left, the eloquent Keokuk, already famous for his way with words, stood up and addressed the crowd in an oration that reminded later historians of Mark Anthony's funeral speech for Caesar. He argued for peace by pretending to favor war. "Let us go to war," he cried, "knowing that we all must die." Then he suggested that before they left, the men should kill the women and children, for, he said, "we cannot take them with us, and we cannot leave them behind."

For those who sided with Black Hawk, the sword prevailed. The end result that August, at the mouth of the Bad Axe River in Wisconsin, was the massacre of nearly the whole of Black Hawk's party.

In the end, however, the pen was to do much more damage. In 1842, ten years after the War, with a mark on a piece of paper, Keokuk sold all the remaining Sauk lands in Iowa to the Americans for $800,000. If it's true that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword, it's also possible for pens to be as fatal.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.