Thursday, March 27, 2014

2-4 Prophetstown - White Cloud - Friend & Advisor

February 15, 2014
Prophetstown, IL

White Cloud Murel
Painted by
Prophetstown High School Students

There are cities in the Middle East where the past lies buried literally beneath your feet. Archaeologists will often dig into the bowels of present-day ancient cities only to find relics of much older civilizations in the layers below. This is easily understood for two reasons. First, cities are built in places where natural resources lend themselves to the support of a large number of people. Waterways, especially where they converge, are natural places of origin for cities, since travel by boat is key to commerce and trade. Second, when a civilization is conquered, its culture and people displaced or eradicated, the most logical place for the conquering force to take up residence is in the homes of the conquered. Even if those homes are destroyed by battle, it is often possible to use the building blocks left behind to reconstruct, and even if there is no usable building material remaining, as after a fire, it is still logical to clear away the ruins and use the clearings, footpaths, and prime locations chosen by their predecessors for the very reason that they offered the best view, the best protection, the best of whatever was there to be had. As with all real estate, location matters.

Rock River
Site of  'Prophets Village'
Prophetstown State Park, IL
The modern-day city of Prophetstown, IL hugs the southern bank of the Rock River at the place where Coon Creek empties into the bottom of an impressive oxbow in the larger waterway. Where the two waters meet, I found myself in Prophetstown State Park, reading a series of memorial plaques that commemorate the historical figures of the town, including one for Wabokieshiek, known to the whites as White Cloud, or the Winnebago Prophet. As I mentioned in an earlier post, White Cloud played an important role in the Black Hawk’s story. Black Hawk dreamed of setting up a village in the area, allied with and strengthened by friendship with the Ho-Chunk and Potawatomi, where his people could grow the crops they needed to survive. Black hawk had been led to believe by Ne-o-po-pe that this particular village, led by his longtime friend Wabokieshiek, would support the Sauk people in their attempt to reclaim some portion of the territory that had been ceded to the American government in the treaties of 1804 and 1816. 

Wabokieshiek - White Cloud
The Winnebago Prophet

Black Hawk found instead that most of the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) were allied with the Americans, and that there would be no active support or supplies. Black Hawk decided to move on, seeking help from others. Historical accounts record that Wabokieshiek joined Black Hawk’s band and traveled with him on his journey, but very little is written about this seemingly incredible demonstration of friendship and loyalty, effectively giving up his role as Chief of a thriving community of Indians. I have found no account explaining this decision, but I can offer the following information. Shortly after Black Hawk and his band moved on up the Rock River from Prophet’s Village, the village was visited by soldiers of the Illinois Militia and regular army, led by General Whitesides, and the village was burned to the ground on May 10th, 1832, just four days before the nefarious and historic events at Sycamore Creek.  Some accounts of this event describe the village as ‘abandoned’, but it is factual that several hundred Indians remained living at the site for several years after the end of the Black Hawk Conflict.  I believe it is likely that when the white soldiers came, Wabokieshiek refused to help them in finding and capturing Black Hawk, and the village was burned to the ground in retaliation. I believe it is likely that after suffering this unprovoked attack, Wabokieshiek chose to catch up to Black Hawk and discuss with his friend an alliance that may have been impossible just days earlier. I also believe it may be possible that when the events at Sycamore Creek occurred on May 14th, 1832, that Wabokieshiek changed his allegiance permanently, no longer able to stay neutral in the conflict.  I believe that Wabokieshiek, as a Sauk Leader, heard the battle cry of the Sauk and Fox people, and came to the call.

The city of Prophetstown was built upon the burned ruins of the Indian Village. The history of the city from the perspective of the people living there now is that while they acknowledge that the town is named after the tribal leader known as ‘The Prophet’, they also largely treat their town history as though it began only when Asa Crook arrived and opened the first schoolhouse in 1835. This is not an uncommon slight, as most cities and towns think of their town origins only in terms of the first white people who lived there. It opens my eyes to the fact that before there was a Prophetstown, Illinois, before there was a Chicago, or a Peoria, or any of the other cities and towns that started springing up in the early to mid-1800’s, there lived a civilization which existed for 10,000 years whose people lived so harmoniously with their environment that only the barest traces can be found to give testimony to the fact. In an era of sustainable living and green technologies, much can yet be learned by studying the ways of the Native Americans.

At the height of its Indian population, Prophet’s village had over 2000 Indians living there. The 2010 Federal Census shows that of 2,023 people living in the 1.4 square miles of land known as Prophetstown, the number of people who described themselves as ‘Native American’ was two.

Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak – There are many who follow your path here, to learn of Wabokieshiek, your friend and ally. He is here – he is remembered – he is  honored by some. Today, as I stand and meditate I am confused by the spirits of so many tribes, so many people, and so many different stories that are told of this place.  My journey here today was to learn more about Wabokieshiek, to find out why he left his home to join you on your flight. No matter why he went, in the end, he was a true friend.
Wabokieshiek - Thank you for allowing me to come to your village, and to see the beautiful creeks and trees. Thank you for helping me understand how powerful your motivations must have been to leave this place – your home – and help Black Hawk in his time of need. Thank you for using the strength and wisdom that made you a strong leader, with the respect of your own people and that of others. May your spirit walk this world and the next in peace. Ah-ho.

(Key Terms: Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak, Black Sparrow Hawk, Black Hawk, 1767, Saukenuk, Pyesa, Rock Island, Black Hawk’s Watch Tower, Black Hawk State Historic Site, Hauberg Museum, Sauk, Sac, Meskwaki, Fox, Rock River, Sinnissippi River, Mississippi River, War of 1812, British Band, Great Britain, Treaty of 1804, Treaties, Ceded Land, William Henry Harrison, Quashquame, Keokuk, Fort Armstrong, Samuel Whiteside, Black Hawk War of 1832, Black Hawk Conflict, Scalp, Great Sauk Trail, Black Hawk Trail, Prophetstown, Wabokieshiek, White Cloud, The Winnebago Prophet, Ne-o-po-pe, Dixon’s Ferry, Isaiah Stillman, The Battle of Stillman’s Run, Old Man’s Creek, Sycamore Creek, Abraham Lincoln, Chief Shabbona, Felix St. Vrain, Lake Koshkonong, Fort Koshkonong, Fort Atkinson, Henry Atkinson, Andrew Jackson, Lewis Cass, Winfield Scott, Chief Black Wolf, Henry Dodge, James Henry, White Crow, Rock River Rapids, The Four Lakes, Battle of Wisconsin Heights, Benjamin Franklin Smith, Wisconsin River, Kickapoo River, Soldier’s Grove, Steamboat Warrior, Steamship Warrior, Fort Crawford, Battle of Bad Axe, Bad Axe Massacre, Joseph M. Street, Antoine LeClaire, Native American, Indian, Michigan Territory, Indiana Territory, Louisiana Territory, Osage, Souix, Potawatomi, Ojibwe, Ottawa, Ho-Chunk)


  1. Blackhawk came thru Dixon's Ferry on April 28th and I believe the Prophet was with him. He was taking Blackhawk up river to help find a safe place for the tribe to live near the Winnebego's.


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