The problems with the Chicago canal were only compounded in the spring of 1831.  Tensions began to mount when a band of Sauk Natives led by the warrior Black Hawk, returned to their village, Saukenuk, near Rock Island from winter hunting in Iowa, seeking refuge from Sioux warparties only to find white squatters living in their lodges in what the Natives viewed as a direct violation of the Treaty of 1804.  The Federal government, on the other hand, had sold the land under the village to white settlers and, in its interpretation of the treaty, the withdrawal of the Natives was dictated.  Infantry from St. Louis temporarily quelled the situation and forced the Sauks to sign a new treaty requiring them to retire west of the Mississippi but without the season’s crops they normally would have harvested.  Their distress had been compounded by a poor winter hunt that had left the starving Sauk with little alternative but to try to return to their former home.  The following spring on April 5, 1832, the Winnebago prophet White Cloud visited Fort Armstrong and informed government authorities that the Sauks led by Black Hawk, were going to recross the Mississippi and join White Cloud’s village in northern Illinois, thereby defying the treaty signed just the previous year.

Map Showing Location of Fort Armstrong, Saukenuk, and Black Hawk’s retreat to Bad Axe. (Online)

Following the killing of three of Black Hawk’s emissaries, who were seeking a peaceful resolution, on May 12, 1832, the Natives broke into smaller warparties bent on revenge and wreaked havoc throughout northern Illinois.  Rightfully fearing for their lives, white settlers fled the area for the relative safety of Fort Dearborn that at the time had fortunately been abandoned by its garrison.  Fortunately, because the population at the fort was to increase five-fold by the end of May, swelled by over 400 refugees who were able to take shelter in or near the vacant barracks.  Once the fort was filled, latecomers were forced to hastily erect temporary shelters with whatever materials were readily available.

While over 4,000 local militia, regulars, and volunteers pursued Black Hawk up the Rock River, the Federal government shipped additional troops, under the command of General Winfield Scott from Buffalo to Fort Dearborn.  Unfortunately, when these men finally arrived on July 10, they presented an even greater threat than did the Natives: cholera.  Once word of the shipboard menace got out, the fort emptied even faster than it had filled.  Around midnight, one of Scott’s officers ordered the fort’s remaining civilian occupants to evacuate before morning, when the infected soldiers would be moved into the fort.  The ensuing panic sent the refugees once again desperately in search of shelter:

“The next morning in vain did we seek for a house.  A rail fence was, however, in sight.  Into one corner I moved.  A few boards made the floor.  Carpet kept off the wind from our heads and backs.  Other boards formed a far from water-proof roof.  Here we remained three days and nights, cooking on the ground… After three days Captain Johnson and my husband secured a lot of green lumber.  In sight of our fence stood the frame of a house.  To this the green boards were soon nailed and a temporary partition put in.  Here our two families moved.

In the ten days that it took the soldiers to recover, over 100 had died.  By the time the surviving troops had finally set out for the Rock River, the local troops from Fort Armstrong had already caught up with and cornered the main body of Natives trying to recross the Mississippi at the Bad Axe River in southern Wisconsin and massacred over 150 Natives on August 2, 1832.  Hostilities were formally ended with the signing of a treaty on September 21, that set a deadline of June 1, 1833, for the final withdrawal of the Sauks to land west of the Mississippi.


Pres. Jackson used his upcoming 1832 re-election campaign as a plebiscite on the value of the Second Bank of the U.S. that, even though it had a rocky beginning after its 1816 charter, had by 1832 calmed down the national economy and had stabilized the country’s currency.  (Based on Hamiltonian principles of a strong, national government, the 2BUS was a political lightning rod in the country’s mounting Sectionalist politics for strict constructionists argued that there was no provision in the Constitution for the Federal government to establish such an institution.) In fact, buoyed by the 2BUS’s recent policies and by increased land sales, the Federal government made the final payment of the Federal debt in January 1835 that had left Congress somewhat in a quandary regarding what to do with the burgeoning inflow of money coming from the sale of Federal lands.  Congress passed the Specie Distribution Act of 1836 specifically to “spread the wealth” to the states to be used for internal improvements as they deemed best (without any Federal centralized planning, Jackson’s bogeyman).  

Nonetheless, Jackson viewed the 2BUS as an institutional threat to his personal authority (the President had no control over its patronage positions) and had used Populist reaction against the 2BUS and the marked failure of the issuance of paper currency as political issues to win his re-election in 1832, after which he had embarked on a program to destroy the bank by denying the renewal of its charter due in 1836.  Jackson eventually settled on a policy that was questionable in its legality: stopping all further deposits of Federal revenues in the Bank in order to weaken its power.  However, he had to first go through three Secretaries of the Treasury before he found one, Roger Taney who at the time was also the Attorney General. to implement his plan.  This new banking policy had the added bonus, utilizing Van Buren’s patronage process by distributing these funds into initially seven (whose number eventually grew to over ninety) “pet” banks that were, not so coincidentally, all owned by Democratic Party stalwarts.  The reduced power of the 2BUS to control the money supply, combined with the infusion of Federal monies that became available once the Federal debt was paid off, into “less-principled” regional banks resulted in an explosion of paper currency that had unleashed a frenzy of real estate speculation that was slowly resulting in inflation of the dollar and an economic bubble.


Anderson, Frederick K., Joined By a River: Quad Cities, Rock Island, 1982.

Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago, 3 vols. Chicago, 1884-1886. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

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