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Great Scott

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Had General Winfield Scott ended his career with the Black Hawk War, our English language would have been the poorer.

The Black Hawk War had begun on April 6th, 1832, when the Sauk War leader and a band of a thousand men, women, and children, crossed the Mississippi south of Rock Island, and began moving up the Rock River. A force of several thousand Illinois volunteers and army regulars from St. Louis under Brigadier General Henry Atkinson chased the Indians up the river.

By June, the war was proving an embarrassment to President Andrew Jackson, who was in the middle of a campaign for re-election. Aside from killing several Indians who were attempting to surrender, Atkinson had been unable to find the remainder.

Frustrated, President Jackson ordered Winfield Scott and a thousand troops to Illinois to take charge and conclude the war.

No-nonsense Scott assembled his men and left within hours of receiving his orders. He'd show those Indians.

However, fate had other plans. A cholera epidemic hit his troops even as they left. Several died along the way; others at a hasty stop in Detroit. When he left Detroit, he had 220 men remaining. Many of these died at Fort Dearborn in Chicago. When rumors of cholera reached Fort Armstrong on Rock Island, the troops there were more afraid of Scott than of the Indians.

Scott did not leave Chicago until July 29th. He arrived at Prairie du Chien on August 7th and took over command of the troops from General Atkinson. It was an empty gesture. The Black Hawk War had been over for a week.

General Scott, denied the glory of winning a war, remained at Rock Island long enough to discharge the Illinois volunteers, to send Black Hawk to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis as a prisoner, and to conclude a peace treaty with the Sauk and Meskwaki.

Fortunately for the General, another war turned up fourteen years later. During the Mexican War in 1846, Scott distinguished himself as a commander in chief, and gave to the English language a phrase we still use. "Great Scott," we say.

Had his career ended with the Black Hawk War, we would only have been able to say, "So-so Scott."

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

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.