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Fort Wilbourn

Historical Site Categories: Black Hawk and Native American History

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What's The Story

In 1804, a small group of Sauk and Meskwaki leaders traveled to St. Louis to seek the release of an incarcerated Sauk man. Before they left St. Louis, they had signed a treaty transferring title to all the land west of the Illinois and Fox Rivers to the Mississippi River and extending into Wisconsin for $1,000 per year. According to Black Hawk, a Sauk warrior, in his autobiography, the leaders “had been drunk the greater part of the time while in St. Louis.”

Black Hawk and many who followed his leadership, contended that the treaty permitted them to maintain their homes at Saukenuk (present-day Rock Island, Illinois). They attempted to resettle in 1831 only to be forced west of the Mississippi River. Following a difficult winter, Black Hawk and his followers returned to Illinois in April 1832. Their return was met with alarm. Federal troops and state militia were dispatched to force the group back to Iowa territory. A series of skirmishes ensued. The Illinois militia retreated at Stillman’s Run. Federal troops pursued the Sauk through northern Illinois and south-central Wisconsin to the confluence of the Bad Axe and Mississippi River, where the Sauk were decimated.

Black Hawk was captured, taken to St. Louis, and eventually to the east coast, where the American commitment to North America was obvious. He returned to the Midwest and died near the mouth of the Des Moines River on October 3, 1838.

To learn more:

Trask, Kerry A. 2006. Black Hawk: The Battle for the Heart of America. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

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