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Black Hawk's Autobiography

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

If John Patterson had not had printer's ink for blood, all his training as a writer and newspaper editor might have gone to waste. He had already failed as an editor of two newspapers out in Virginia, when he came to Rock Island in April 1832 to seek his fortunes with anything but words.

Patterson's attempt to escape from publishing did not get far. At Fort Armstrong, Patterson met the publisher of The Galena Galenian. The publisher invited him to come to Galena and edit the paper so the publisher could go off and fight Black Hawk. On April 6th, Black Hawk and his band of a thousand Sauk Indians had crossed the Mississippi into Illinois, contrary to treaty. War was in full swing as federal troops and Illinois militia pursued the Indians up through Illinois.

At Galena, even Patterson himself was mustered into service as a private in the 27th Regiment of the Illinois Militia on May 26th. Someone must have noticed the ink in his veins for he was made the regimental printer.

The Black Hawk War ended on August 1st, and Patterson returned to Rock Island to resume his job search. And he might have escaped writing and editing had he not gotten to meet Black Hawk in person, after the warrior had been released from prison and returned to Iowa.

Black Hawk had accepted defeat, but he desperately wanted to tell his side of the story to set the record straight. Unable to write, Black Hawk asked his friend Antoine LeClaire, an Indian interpreter living across from the Fort, to write his autobiography. LeClaire was willing to translate Black Hawk's words into English, but felt he lacked the ability to do the actual writing. LeClaire turned to John Patterson for help, and Patterson agreed.

Black Hawk told his story to LeClaire, who put the words into English. They were then edited and put into readable form by Patterson. And it was Patterson who saw that they were published in October of 1833 and publicized as well.

Black Hawk's was the first Indian autobiography published in the United States, and it became the prototype for many of those that followed, including Geronimo and Black Elk. In trying to avoid his calling, John Patterson ran right into it.

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.