Oct 6, 2016

Review: Black Hawk: An Autobiography


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Title: Black Hawk: An Autobiography
Author: Black Hawk (edited by Donald Jackson)
Publisher: Illinois Press
Rating: 1/5 Stars
Paperback, 192 Pages
Published 1833 (This edition was published in 1975)



Summary: This story is told in the words of a tragic figure in American history - a hook-nosed, hollow-cheeked old Sauk warrior who lived under four flags while the Mississippi Valley was being wrested from his people. The author is Black Hawk himself - once pursued by an army whose members included Captain Abraham Lincoln and Lieutenant Jefferson Davis. Perhaps no Indian ever saw so much of American expansion or fought harder to prevent that expansion from driving his people to exile and death. He knew Zebulon Pike, William Clark, Henry Schoolcraft, George Catlin, Winfield Scott, and such figures in American government as President Andrew Jackson and Secretary of State Lewis Cass. He knew Chicago when it was a cluster of log houses around a fort, and he was in St. Louis the day the American flag went up and the French flag came down.He saw crowds gather to cheer him in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York - and to stone the driver of his carriage in Albany - during a fantastic tour sponsored by the government. And at last he dies in 1838, bitter in the knowledge that he had led men, women, and children of his tribe to slaughter on the banks of the Mississippi. After his capture at the end of the Black Hawk War, he was imprisoned for a time and then released to live in the territory that is now Iowa. He dictated his autobiography to a government interpreter, Antoine LeClaire, and the story was put into written form by J. B. Patterson, a young Illinois newspaperman. Since its first appearance in 1833, the autobiography has become known as an American classic.

I had to read this book for my American History class, and I wasn't that crazy about it. It's an autobiography of a Native American chief named Black Hawk back when the American settlers were arriving and causing difficulty, so I wasn't super crazy about it to begin with. (That aspect of American History doesn't tend to excite me very much.) 

Since it's an actual story of an actual chief that lived so many years ago, the language was difficult and broken to start with. It was translated so it was supposed to be easier to understand, but I just found it super difficult. Black Hawk also tended to jump forward or backward in time at random intervals with little warning, which made the story hard to follow at times. 

However, the part of the book that I did enjoy was actually seeing the Americans settling from the Native Americans' perspective. We learn about it in school all the time, but reading an eyewitness account to the lies, the deceit, the cruelty, and even (occasionally) the kindness was thought-provoking and gave me a perspective that I've never really considered before.

If you're into history or nonfiction, Black Hawk is definitely the book for you. Even if the actual writing style of the book wasn't my cup of tea, it was interesting to see important historical events in Native America from the perspective of the people whose land was taken from them and who were punished for nothing other than residing in a space that somebody else wanted. This book is filled with plenty of action, war, and cultural information that helps the reader gain perspective where they may not have necessarily considered it before. 

All in all, this book wasn't my cup of tea, but maybe it could be yours -- so still give it a try!



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