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Farewell Address

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

It is customary for a general to make a farewell address to his troops at the end of a campaign, but perhaps the Sauk war chief Black Hawk was not acquainted with white customs when he chose, instead, to address his captors at Fort Armstrong on August 27th, 1832. Or perhaps it was because he had few warriors left to address. All but a handful had been massacred at the mouth of the Bad Axe River in Wisconsin on August the first.

In addition, what was there for Black Hawk to say to his remaining warriors, also in chains and about to be sent to prison at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri. He and his people had made one last effort to return to his village of Saukenuk at the mouth of the Rock River, where a previous treaty had promised they could remain. They had been hunted down and soundly defeated.

But Black Hawk had plenty to say to his captors in his last address. You can take my lands and my life, he said, but one thing you cannot do, you cannot make me behave like a white man. Black Hawk stood proudly. "Every white man knows why we went to war," he told his audience. "They should be ashamed of what they do...Indians do not tell lies. Indians do not steal. An Indian who was as bad as a white man couldn’t live among our people. He would be put to death and eaten by wolves."

Black Hawk shared his worst fears for the future with those listening. "White men are bad teachers," Black Hawk said. They smile at the Indian, and then get him drunk, and cheat on him." The Sauk living among whites were already changing. "We were becoming like the white men, hypocrites and liars, all talkers and no workers."

Where would it end for the Sauk? Black Hawk is near his end, said the warrior. His sun is setting. As for his people, they will not be scalped, white men do not scalp. Their fate is far worse: "they will become like white men. And then you cannot hurt them anymore. Our villages will be like white settlements, as many officers as men, to take care of them and keep them in order."

All this savage gibberish was soon over, and Black Hawk, his sons, and his commanders were sent on their way to Jefferson Barracks. All that we have left are his words and the sad memory of what prompted them.

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.

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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.