The Black Hawk War of 1832


The Black Hawk War was a short conflict fought between the United States and Native American Indians led by Black Hawk. The U.S. won the war, forcing the Sauks and Foxes to give up land in present-day Iowa.

Black Hawk, Sauk Brave, Illustration

This illustration depicts Black Hawk, circa 1838. Image Source: Yale University Library.

Black Hawk War Facts

  • Date — April 6—August 27, 1832.
  • Location — Illinois Territory and Michigan Territory of the United States.
  • Outcome — U.S. victory.
  • PresidentAndrew Jackson.
  • Era of U.S. History — Age of Jackson.
  • Interesting Fact — The Civil War Presidents, Abraham Lincoln (USA) and Jefferson Davis (CSA), were with U.S. forces during the Black Hawk War, although neither of them was involved in combat.

APUSH Definition and Significance

The Black Hawk War for APUSH was an 1832 conflict between Native American tribes led by Chief Black Hawk and U.S. government forces and militias in the Midwest. The war was triggered by disputes over tribal land rights and forced removal. It saw a series of skirmishes and battles, the most notable being the Battle of Bad Axe, resulting in the defeat of Black Hawk’s forces. 

The significance of the Black Hawk War for APUSH is that the outcome led to the cession of Native American lands in present-day Iowa, accelerating Westward Expansion.

This video from the Smithsonian Channel discusses the Battle of Bad Axe, which is sometimes referred to as the Bad Axe Massacre.

Important Moments in the Black Hawk War of 1832

This brief overview of the Black Hawk War of 1832 is intended to provide a general understanding of the war, along with the major causes, events, and outcomes.

Treaty of 1804

The 1804 Treaty of St. Louis was a major cause of the Black Hawk War. In the treaty, two Native American Indian tribes, the Sauks and Foxes, gave up their land for a low price. The Sauks and Mesquakie, sometimes called Fox, were allies. The United States often treated them as one, causing confusion and tension.

Westward Expansion Into Wisconsin and Illinois

Trouble started after the War of 1812 when settlers moved into southwestern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. Black Hawk, a young Sauk warrior who fought with Tecumseh in the War of 1812, grew upset about the loss of Indian lands and tried to rally Indian resistance against the United States and reclaim the land surrendered in the 1804 Treaty.

Black Hawk’s Village is Threatened

Black Hawk’s village was located near Rock Island, Illinois. By 1831, American settlers were encroaching on the village. Black Hawk intended to carry out raids but was forced to relocate his people to the west bank of the Mississippi River. However, Black Hawk returned to the other side of the river the following spring. He led his people to a Winnebago village, where the chief was allied with Black Hawk’s cause.

The British Band

Black Hawk and his followers were referred to as the “British Band” due to their support for the British. Black Hawk, like Tecumseh and other Indian leaders, saw the British as less of a threat to the Indian way of life, because the British were not trying to take control of Indian lands.

However, not all Sauks and Foxes supported Black Hawk. A faction led by Keokuk was allied with the Americans.

Battle of Stillman’s Run

After returning east, U.S. forces under the command of General Henry Atkinson pursued him. Atkinson had a mixed force of regular U.S. Army troops and volunteers. One of the volunteers was Abraham Lincoln, the figure 16th President of the United States. Eventually, Black Hawk came to realize he lacked the support he needed from other Indians and the British and he decided to surrender.

Abraham Lincoln, Portrait, Gardner
President Abraham Lincoln. Image Source: Wikipedia.

During negotiations, two Indians were killed by militia, led by Major Isaiah Stillman. Black Hawk responded by carrying out a raid on Stillman and his men. Atkinson and his officers struggled to control the militia, who were drunk and undisciplined. They rushed toward the Indians, who fired on them from concealed positions. The militia panicked and fled, returning to their camp.

U.S. Forces Pursue Black Hawk

In the spring of 1832, Black Hawk launched more attacks on U.S. forces and successfully avoided capture.  

By the end of June, a large force led by General Atkinson and General Winfield Scott joined the search for Black Hawk, but they failed to capture him. 

However, Black Hawk and his warriors started to run low on supplies, forcing him to end their raids and move north into southern Wisconsin. Black Hawk decided to cross back over the Mississippi River and led his people across southwestern Wisconsin. U.S. forces led by Atkinson and Colonel Henry Dodge pursued them.

Crossing the Mississippi River

On August 1st, Black Hawk and his people arrived at the confluence of the Bad Axe River and Mississippi River. 

Unable to find a way to cross and fearing an attack from the advancing U.S. troops, Black Hawk suggested moving north to seek assistance from the Winnebagos. 

However, most of his people ignored him and started to build rafts to cross the river. Meanwhile, Black Hawk and a small group of warriors moved upriver.

Battle of Bad Axe

As the rafts were being constructed, the steamboat Warrior arrived, carrying a contingent of American troops. The Indians tried to surrender, but their intentions were misunderstood by the troop commander, who opened fire on them, starting the Battle of Bad Axe. 

After two hours, the Warrior was forced to withdraw due to a lack of fuel, leaving 23 Indians dead. About 200 others managed to escape across the river just before Atkinson’s troops arrived for a second attack. Around the same time, the Warrior returned to the battle.

The battle resulted in approximately 150 Indian casualties, with nearly half taken as prisoners. The army sustained minimal losses. Many of Black Hawk’s people who reached the west bank of the Mississippi were attacked by Sioux war parties allied with the U.S.

Battle of Bad Axe, 1832, Warrior Firing on Indians
This illustration depicts the Warrior firing on the Indians at the Battle of Bad Axe. Image Source: NIU Digital Library.


The Black Hawk War was short, lasting just 15 weeks. The Indians suffered an estimated 400 to 500 casualties, while the Americans had around 70 soldiers and civilians killed. Black Hawk himself was eventually captured and spent a year imprisoned at Fortress Monroe, Virginia.

Black Hawk After the War

Following his release, Black Hawk went on a tour of eastern cities and dictated his autobiography through a French interpreter. This account was subsequently published as a book. 

Sauks and Foxes Lose More Territory

As a consequence of the Black Hawk War, the Sauks and Foxes were compelled to relinquish an additional swath of land, approximately 50 miles wide, spanning the entire length of present-day Iowa.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title The Black Hawk War of 1832
  • Date 1832
  • Author
  • Keywords Black Hawk War, Black Hawk, Henry Atkinson, Winfield Scott, Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Battle of Stillman's Run, Battle of Bad Axe
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date May 22, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update November 7, 2023