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Statue of Black Hawk, Oregon, IL

Close up of the Black Hawk statue (

The Black Hawk Statue, also known as the “Eternal Indian”, stands on bluff overlooking the Rock River, in Lowden state park 5 miles south of Oregon. The vision and initial design of the monument came from Lorado Taft, an accomplished sculptor native to Northern Illinois.  The statue itself as 48ft. tall and with the added height of the bluff the statue towers 200ft above the Rock River valley below. The statue is made of a single piece of concrete resting upon a six food pedestal, and in total weighs over 268 tons [3].

Construction of the statue began in 1908 and was completed in 1911 and the technical details of the statues construction is fairly remarkable in themselves. The statue is made of over 2 tons of steel reinforcing rods and 238 cubic yards of concrete which required 65,000 gallons of water.  The construction of the statue was managed by John Prasuhn, a sculptor and civil engineer, who created the final 48ft. model based on the a 6ft. sculpture made by Taft.  The mold for the statue was made in two parts, the body and the head. The mold was created by making a wooden skeleton frame, then wrapping that with wire mesh to create the curves and then wrapping that in burlap. The head was then placed onto the body, and the entire structure was coated in plaster. At this point the base pedestal was completed and the mold was filled with concrete. The water for the concrete was pumped up from the river 150ft below by two 16 horsepower steam engines. In addition, 4 radiators were also needed as the construction had run into December and the water was frequently freezing. Worried that construction of the statue would be halted by the weather and thinking that a half completed statue would not survive the winter Prasuhn and his crew began working day and night shifts. Through their work the casting was finished on December 30, 1910, and in the spring the molding was removed to find that the statue had emerged perfect [9].

The Life of Black Hawk

Black Hawk, or Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, was born in 1767, Saukenuk, IL, and became a war captain of the Sauk tribe.  He is remembered principally for his role in the Black Hawk War, which bears his name. In his adolescent years Black Hawk was taken on raids of other tribes and was able to prove his worth and eventually rose to the role of war captain.

Quashquame’s 1804 Treaty of St. Louis, caused Black Hawk and most of the Sauk and Fox nations to enter the side of Britain in the War of 1812. The treaty ceded a large amount of Sauk land stretching between the Illinois River and the Mississippi to the United States. The treaty was disputed for several reasons, including that the delegation that signed the treaty had no authority, the signers were lied to about the amount of land that was ceded, the signers were all drunk during the signing and the prisoner they had released was shot dead immediately after release [8] [12]. This, along with gifts provided by the British, caused the Sauk and Fox to ally with Britain when the time came.

During the War of 1812 Black Hawk led his band of 200 in several battles against the Americans alongside other Indian nations and British forces. Here Black Hawk was able to learn the way of European fighting methods and insights into the US’s military workings. Black Hawk was commended for his role in the fighting even and was given the title of Brigadier General by the British military. In 1816, he signed a peace treaty with the United States, which unknown to him, re-affirmed the treaty of 1804 [12] [13] [8].

After the war of 1812 Black Hawk and the rest of the Sauk nation remained on the disputed land until 1828 when the United States military told them to leave the lands. At this time there was a large divide within the Sauk nation as to whether they should leave peacefully or resist the American expansion. Black Hawk emerged as the leader of the non-removal faction and along with 1,100 other Sauk remained in their homelands. Black Hawk attempted to get members of other tribes to join him, sending emissaries to tribes as far as Texas [12].  In June 1831, a force of 1700 Americans stormed Saukenuk hoping to find the resistant Sauk, but having heard of the impending attack, the Sauk had all crossed over the Mississippi. In Spring 1932 Black Hawk and his 1,100 followers went back across the Mississippi and traveled up the Rock River. This group would become known as the British band, due to his strong British ties. Of the 1100 members of the band, around half were women, children or elderly, making it clear that it was not a war party [12] [4].

Black Hawk was hoping to gain support from other tribes in defying the American orders, but as he traveled up the Rock River it became apparent that this was not the case so he planed on returning across the Mississippi. Yet this plan would fail when he learned that the Illinois militia was marching towards him. He sent a small group bearing white flags to the approaching Americans in an attempt to avoid conflict in letting them leave, but the Americans were unable to understand what the Sauk were saying and decided to fire on them. The Americans then followed the fleeing Sauk to the main encampment where they were subsequently overrun in a battle that would be known as Stillman’s Run. This marked the start of the Black Hawk war [4].

Having realized that the American forces would attack again and learning from his scouts that they numbered in the thousands, Black Hawk realized that he and his band must flee from his ancestral homeland for good. He wrote,

What was now to be done? It was worse than folly to turn back and meet an enemy where the odds were so much against us and thereby sacrifice ourselves, our wives and children to the fury of an enemy who had murdered some of our brave and unarmed warriors when they were on a mission to sue for peace. [1]

After the battle the British band fled north, breaking into small groups in order to better avoid the following Americans. They eventually regrouped and were discovered as they attempted to cross the Wisconsin River. This results in the battle of Wisconsin Heights, in which the Sauk warriors were able to hold off the Americans long enough for the majority of the band to cross. For more on this battle

Black Hawk’s band continued to flee towards the Mississippi in an attempt to escape. However once they reached the Mississippi they found an American warship waiting for them. Being trapped between the warship and the approaching American militia, they again raised a white flag only to be fired upon anyway. The following Battle of Bad Axe resulted in between 450-600 deaths and the capture of Black Hawk [4].

Once captured, Black Hawk along with other Indian leaders was led on a tour of American cities, in an effort to quell any rebellious notions. Through this tour he met many high ranking Americans including the President, and was able to see for the first time what American life looked like and how they lived. Throughout this tour he found himself in awe of American society and developed a respect for many of the people he met. When asked if you would remain peaceful with America and the whites he replied

We like your talk. We like the white people. They are very kind to us. We shall not forget it. Your council is good. We shall attend to it. Your valuable present shall go to my squaw. We shall always be friends.[1]

After a year of captivity Black Hawk was released following the signing of a treaty promising to follow the leadership of the other Sauk leaders and to never again rebel against the U.S. He spent the remainder of his life living peacefully , he died at the age of 71 on October 3, 1838. His last public speech was given on July 4, 1838 at Fort Madison, IL.

It has pleased the Great Spirit that I am here to-day. I have eaten with my white friends. The earth is our mother—we are now on it—with the Great Spirit above us—it is good. I hope we are all friends here. A few summers ago I was fighting against you—I did wrong, perhaps; but that is past—it is buried—let it be forgotten.

Rock river was a beautiful country—liked my towns, my cornfields, and the home of my people. I fought for it. It is now yours—keep it as we did—it will produce you good crops.

I thank the Great Spirit that I am now friendly with my white brethren—we are here together—we have eaten together—we are friends—it is his wish and mine. I thank you for your friendship. [1]

There are several factors that caused Black Hawk to “bury the tomahawk” [1]. One being his age, Black Hawk was in his 60s at the start of the Black Hawk War and probably realized that it would be his last hurrah. After he was released he knew he was at the end of his life and  no longer had the  drive, energy or time to regather his forces and take back his land.

His tour of east also played a major part in him becoming peaceful. Prior to the tour, most of his interactions with whites and American culture had been with settlers and the military, both of which took his land and attacked his people. Through the tour he met many more whites through out the country who treated him kindly, and allowed him to see that there was a lot goodhearted people in America. Upon the end of the tour he sincerely believed that the Sauk and America could live in peace as long as both respected the others borders.

The tour also showed him how powerful the U.S. was, up until this point he had only ever been as far east as the western frontier. Once he reached the U.S. interior he was constantly in awe at the size and industriousness of the nation. He realized that any attempts at fighting the U.S. would be in vain.


The Monument

Lorado Taft’s monument does not memorialize Black Hawk as the man he was, but instead it serves to commemorate the people and beliefs that Black Hawk represents and fought for.

The bluff that the monument stands on was a popular location for Taft and the other members of the Eagle’s Nest Art Colony, who took evening strolls there. It was during these evening walks that Taft conceived the idea of the statue. In his words at the unveiling of the monument:

Every evening as these shadows turn blue we walk here on the bluff.—We have always been very faithful in going to Mr. Heckman’s house several times a day, paying gayly our tribute of homage and affection, and we have always stopped at this point to rest and to enjoy the view. This is our fourteenth summer here, and it may be that the contemplative attitude has become a habit. As we stand here we involuntarily fold our arms and the pose is that of my Indian — restful, reverent. It came over me that generations of men have done the same thing right here. And so the figure grew out of the attitude, as we stood and looked on these beautiful scenes.[3]

Taft does not try to physically represent Black Hawk. The statue ironically most closely depicts a member of the Sioux nation, with what resembles buffalo robes and a long double hair braid, who were the longtime enemies of Blackhawks Sauk nation. Prashun even remarked that “there may come a time when Black Hawk will wear feathers on his head as a means of disguising lightning rods”, also a characteristic of the Sioux [9] [11].  The reason for the statue being designed in this fashion is because that is how Taft envisioned what “pleasing features that would tend to inspire admiration for the earliest inhabitants of the Rock River Valley”. This results in a design that is essentially what Taft thought an Indian should look like, without consideration of what the Indians in that area would have actually looked like.

Portrait of Black Hawk  (

Along with this lack of care over appearances the monuments creators stereotyped and idealized the American Indians. Seen in the speeches given during the unveiling ceremony, such as in the following passage of “The Indian” by Edgar Bancroft

The American Indian, a true child of nature, born, as his legends have it, of the Earth, the all nourishing Mother, and the Sun, the all vivifying Father; a simple race that roamed the woods and the prairies, camping where the night found them, living freely their individual lives. [6]

This theme, where the Indian was a simple primitive creature with no capacity for evil or wrong doing until the evil white man came, carried through the other two speeches as well. Under this context, the monument seems to be an appeasement of their own white guilt, without actually caring that much about the Indians they were celebrating. By creating and celebrating this statue they can appease the guilt they have over the atrocities that were committed against Native Americans, as Wynnogene declared at the unveiling, “it is to the free mind of the artist we must turn for justice to the American Indian” [6].

However it is difficult to be too critical of Taft, as he is as much a part of history now, as Blackhawk was in Taft’s time. And despite the questionable motives for building the statue and its inaccuracies, the idea behind it seems to be one that Black Hawk would embrace. The statue does immortalize the last look over the beloved homeland before being driven away by the pressing tide of American settlers. Its presence does remind the people that live in the valley that there was an earlier people who once lived on and loved this land.

Works Cited

Primary Sources

[1] Autobiography of MA-KA-TAI-ME-SHE-KIA-KIAK, or Black Hawk,. N.p.: n.p., n.d. The Project Gutenberg.

[2] Prasuhn, John G. “A Novel Use of Cement in Sculpture.” Sci Am Scientific American 107.10 (1912): 192.

[3]Loden, Frank O. “Lorado Taft’s Indian Statue “Black Hawk” : An Account of the Unveiling Ceremonies at Eagles’ Nest Bluff.” Internet Archive. Frank O. Lowden, 1912.

Secondary Sources

[4] Carpenter, Richard V. “The Indian Statue, near Oregon, Illinois.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984) 4.4 (1912): 469-72. JSTOR. Web. 11 Oct. 2015.

[5] Paterek, Josephine. 1996.  Encyclopedia of American Indian Costume. New York: W. W. Norton & Company

[6] Jung, Patrick J. “Toward the Black Hawk War:.” Michigan Historical Review 38.1 (2012): 27-52.

[7] Linden, Chris. “100 Years Later, Lorado Taft’s ‘Black Hawk’ Still Stands Sentry.” Northwest Quarterly. 2011.

[8] Nichols, Roger L. “The Black Hawk War in Retrospect.” The Wisconsin Magazine of History 65.4 (1982): 238-46.

[9] “Native American Hairstyles.” Native American Indian Hairstyles (Braids, Whorls, Scalplocks, Roached ‘Mohawk’ Hair, And Other Styles).

[10] Smith, William Rudolph. The History of Wisconsin in Three Parts, Historical, Documentary, and Descriptive. Madison: B. Brown, 1854. 221-406.


 Further Reading

“American Art American City: Lorado Taft.” Chicago Tonight. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2015.Jackson, Donald, Anthony F. C. Wallace, and Ellen M. Whitney. “Prelude to Disaster: The Course of Indian-White Relations Which Led to the Black Hawk War of 1832.” Ethnohistory 23.1 (1976): 80. JSTOR [JSTOR].

Lurie, Nancy Oestreich. “In Search of Chaetar: New Findings on Black Hawk’s Surrender.” The Wisconsin Magazine of History 71.3 (1988): 162-83. 2015.

Whitney, Ellen M. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1970.