Black Hawk in the Artist’s Eye

The sheer number of sources on the Sauk leader Makataimeshekiakiah we’ve assembled for researchers and the library’s upcoming program on the contested whereabouts of his mortal remains testify to an enduring fascination with the man known as “Black Hawk.” This figure has not only piqued the curiosity of historians and biographers, but inspired these visual and literary artists as well.

These portraits are likely familiar; they have been reproduced often to accompany texts on  Makataimeshekiakiah, the Black Hawk War, Native Americans, and Quad-Cities-area history.

Charles Bird King, “Black Hawk (Sauk),” Thomas Loraine McKenney and James Hall. History of the Indian tribes of North America. Philadelphia: E. C. Biddle, 1836-1844.

James Otto Lewis, “MAC-CUT-I-MISH-E-CA-CU-CAC or Black Hawk; A Celebrated Sac Chief.” The Aboriginal Portfolio, 1835, hand-colored lithograph on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

From Benjamin Drake’s The Life and Adventures of Black Hawk, Cincinnati, 1838.

George Catlin, Múk-a-tah-mish-o-káh-kaik, Black Hawk, Prominent Sac Chief, 1832, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Robert M. Sully, Black Hawk, May 1833, Wisconsin Historical Society.

James Weshall Ford, Black Hawk, 1833, Special Collections, Library of Virginia.

John Jarvis, Black Hawk and His Son Whirling Thunder, 1833, Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa.

The four others below appeared in this special issue of the Palimpsest:

The image on the lower left (the other three are unknown to this writer) appeared in Elbert Herring Smith’s Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, Or, Black Hawk, and Scenes in the West, New York, 1849.

The 1848 edition featured a rather grumpier Black Hawk:

Smith’s work is, as the subtitle reads, a “national poem in six cantos.” The artist’s image of Black Hawk is here evoked in epic verse.

Two other examples of long-form poetry detailing the exploits and character of Black Hawk may be found here at the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center. James Craighead’s Black Hawk: A Romance of the Black Hawk War (Creston, Iowa, 1930) is also inspired by Italian epic poetry by way of English poet Edmund Spenser. These pages from our copy show the use of the Spenserian nine-line stanza in a work heavier on the romance between an American officer and a Sauk maiden than a portrait of Black Hawk:

In contrast, Amer Mills Stocking’s 1926 poem employs a mishmash of styles and is meant as an accurate historical account. Note the use of footnotes!

(posted by Katie)

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