1828: Joseph Street Tries to Prevent the Black Hawk
Introduction: In the early 19th century, Wisconsin lead mining was more attractive to settlers than either the fur trade or farming. By 1827 some of the Lead Region had been granted to the U.S. but most of it still belonged to the Ho‐Chunk. This didnʹt stop the miners from invading the area, including future governor Henry Dodge. Prompted by waves of illegal squatters and believing (incorrectly) that U.S. soldiers had helped murder Ho‐Chunk prisoners, in late June 1827 a warrior named Red Bird attacked farms and boats near Prairie du Chien, killing six settlers.
That was the situation when Joseph Street arrived in Prairie du Chien late in 1827 as the new Indian agent. Street was immediately worried about a full‐scale war, and in a letter written on Jan. 28, 1828, to his superiors in the U.S. War Dept., he describes the tensions caused by white squatters and his fears that the situation will grow violent. Open warfare finally broke out four years later, and Street was still at the center of the action.
Background Reading: ʺLead Mining in Southwestern Wisconsinʺ h t t p : / / w w w . w i s c o n s i n h i s t o r y . o r g / t u r n i n g p o i n t s / t p ‐ 0 2 6 / ? a c t i o n = m o r e _ e s s a and ʺThe Black Hawk Warʺ http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/tp‐012/?action=more_essay y
Document to Analyze: Joseph Streetʹs Jan. 28, 1828, Letter to the Secretary of War. http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=265
Who, What, Where, When, Why: In this letter Street is writing from Prairie du Chien to tell his superiors in Washington about tensions on the frontier. The original handwritten letter is in the National Archives; the images you see are from a microfilm copy. To view a typed version of any page, click ʺPage & Textʺ at the upper right while reading it. Ho‐Chunk elders are quoted at length (especially in the opening pages) and the so‐called Winnebago War of 1827 is reviewed in detail, including a Ho‐Chunk chiefʹs explanation of Red Birdʹs behavior (page 2). Near the end of the letter Street urges the government to stop widespread sexual exploitation of Indian women, and reveals how economics, race, and gender relations were all woven together on the Wisconsin frontier (pages 10‐12).
Related Documents: Meeker, Moses, 1790‐1865. ʺEarly history of the Lead Region of Wisconsin.ʺ http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=895 and Chandler, R. W. Map of the Lead Mines on the Upper Mississippi River. (1829). http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=106
Vocabulary: Unfamiliar words are defined at www.wisconsinhistory.org/dictionary