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Blackhawk Park site of battle

Published Oct. 15, 2015
A lone marker recognizing sacred ground stands at Blackhawk Park, located near DeSoto, Wis. Every year Native American groups visit the park and the surrounding area to pay respect and remember a past. The inscripted stone marks where one of the last Indian-American battles east of the Mississippi River occurred more than 180 years past. 

Blackhawk Park was constructed in 1960 by Vernon County, Wisconsin, on land leased from the Corps of Engineers. In February of 1980, the lease was terminated and, since then, the Corps has operated and maintained the park. In addition to being a place for those who enjoy camping and fishing in a rustic setting, Blackhawk Park and the surrounding floodplain and uplands retains significant historic value.

Muk-a-tah-mish-o-kah-kaik, known as Black Hawk, was the elder war chief of a band within the Sauk tribe. The Sauk had a main village at Rock Island, Illinois, that spread to Iowa during the winter. Rising tensions between the Sauk tribes and American settlers moving into the area separated the Sauk tribe and pushed Black Hawk’s band north into Wisconsin. 

Before the start of the war in April of 1832, Black Hawk’s followers known as the “British Band” consisted of 2,000 men, women and children. Detailed accounts of the Aug. 1, 1832, battle begins with a remnant British Band crossing the Kickapoo River and following a ridge top to present day village of Red Mound located just east of Blackhawk Park. With an army in pursuit, the band made its way to the Mississippi River where they began making bark canoes and rafts for crossing the river, but the river would prove not safe to cross.

Shortly after the British Band reached the banks of the Mississippi River, the steamboat WARRIOR approached from upstream and conflict began with the Sauk muskets against the cannon of the steamboat. The battle would not end here. The British Band was able to backtrack and travel east after the steamboat retreated to refuel. 

In moving east, they would encounter two militias to the east, one led by Brigadier General Henry Atkinson of the United States troops and another led by Colonel Henry Dodge who led the southwest Michigan Territory militia. The two militias and a rearmed WARRIOR fought Black Hawk’s band leading to the end of the battle on Aug. 2 and the defeat of the British Band at Blackhawk Recreation Area where they had their main camp. 

Blackhawk Park is unique in being the largest public use facility in Pool 9 of the Mississippi River. It offers more than a variety of programs and activities but is a place that has significant historic integrity and is visited every year by Native American groups to commemorate lives lost and to remember the past.