Saturday, August 18, 2018

Fort Armstrong, Rock Island, Illinois (1816–1836)

Fort Armstrong, Illinois, was one of a chain of western frontier defenses that the United States erected after the War of 1812. It was located at the foot of Rock Island, Illinois, in the Mississippi River near the present-day Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa. It was five miles from the principal Sac and Fox village on Rock River in Illinois.
1839 painting of Fort Armstrong, six years after the removal of the Sauk and Fox tribes, on the U.S. Army's present-day Rock Island Arsenal Island, looking toward Iowa, in the background, from the Illinois side, of the Mississippi River.
Built of stone and timber construction, 300 feet square, the fort began in May 1816 and was completed the following year. In 1832, the U.S. Army used the fort as a military headquarters during the Black Hawk War. It was normally garrisoned by two companies of United States Army regulars. With the pacification of the Indian threat in Illinois, the U.S. Government ceased operations at Fort Armstrong, and the U.S. Army abandoned the frontier fort in 1836.
Fort Armstrong
In 1805, when President Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark on their expedition into the Louisiana Territory, he also sent Lieutenant Zebulon Pike and Major Stephan H. Long up the Mississippi River to gather data and determine strategic sites for forts. Pike identified one site as the "big island." Congress agreed with his recommendation, reserving the island for military use in 1809, naming it "Rock Island."

"The island was the best one on the Mississippi River and had long been the resort of our young people during the summer. It was our garden like the white people have near their big villages, which supplied us with strawberries, blackberries, gooseberries, plums, apples, and nuts of different kinds. Its waters supplied us with the finest fish situated at the foot of the rapids.

In my early life, I spent many happy days on this island. A good spirit had charge of it, which lived in a cave in the rock immediately under the place where the fort now stands. This guardian spirit has often been seen by our people. It was white, with large wings like a swan's, but ten times larger. We were careful not to make much noise in that part of the inhabited island for fear of disturbing it. But the noise at the fort has since driven it away, and no doubt a bad spirit has taken its place."  [NOTE: The quote is from an Indian, but it's unknown who] 

This was to be the second US fort between St. Louis and Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. The US wanted to establish a military presence to dissuade the French and English Canadians (who traded in areas nearby) from encroaching upon the unorganized territory. After its losses at several forts during the War of 1812, the US Army wanted to increase its presence on the Mississippi frontier. The fort also would serve to protect American settlers within the area and to help control or remove the Sauk, the American Indians in the region.
A Model of Fort Armstrong, Illinois.
The Sauk disapproved of its construction; Black Hawk wrote in his memoir, "When we arrived, we found that the troops had come to build a fort on Rock Island. This, in our opinion, was a contradiction to what we had done– 'to prepare for war in time of peace.' We did not object, however, to their building their fort on the island but were very sorry."

On May 10, 1816, soldiers arrived to begin constructing Fort Armstrong. It was named after John Armstrong, the Secretary of War under President James Madison. The army assigned 600 soldiers and 150 laborers to the project. After the construction was completed, fewer than 200 soldiers garrisoned the post. Between 1824 and 1836, the garrison was reduced to fewer than 100 troops.

In 1832, President Andrew Jackson ordered Winfield Scott to Illinois to take command of the Black Hawk War conflict. General Winfield Scott led 1,000 troops to Fort Armstrong to assist the U.S. Army garrison and militia volunteers stationed there. While General Scott's army was en route along the Great Lakes, his troops had contracted Asiatic cholera before they left the state of New York; it killed most of his 1,000 soldiers. Only 220 U.S. Army regulars from the original force made the final march, from Fort Dearborn, in Chicago to Rock Island, Illinois. Winfield Scott and his troops likely carried the highly contagious disease with them; soon after their arrival at Rock Island, a local cholera epidemic broke out among the whites and Indians around Fort Armstrong. Cholera microbes were spread, through sewery-type, contaminated water, which mixed with clean drinking water, brought on by poor sanitation practices of the day. Within eight days, 189 people died and were buried on the island.

By the time Scott arrived in Illinois, the conflict had come to a close with the army's victory at the Battle of Bad Axe. Also known as the Bad Axe Massacre, it was a battle between Sauk (Sac) and Meskwaki (Fox) Indians and United States Army regulars and militia that occurred on August 1st and 2nd of, 1832. This final battle of the Black Hawk War took place near present-day Victory, Wisconsin.

Painting of Black Hawk, the Sauk
war chief and Black Hawk War
namesake, being the last Indian
war in Illinois.
On September 21, 1832, the Black Hawk War officially ended with the treaty signed at Fort Armstrong (named the Treaty of Fort Armstrong)[1]. The defeated Sac and Mesquakie (Fox) Indians agreed to cede to the US the lands they occupied east of the Mississippi River. Black Hawk, two of his sons, and other Sac and Fox warriors had been taken to the fort as prisoners after their capture following the Battle of Bad Axe. They spent the winter held at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, after which the Army took the men on a tour of Eastern cities, hoping to impress them with the wealth and power of white civilization. The natives met with President Andrew Jackson and were of great interest and celebrity among the white population, who at that period admiringly viewed natives as "noble savages[1]." After a brief period of imprisonment at Fortress Monroe at Hampton Roads, Virginia, the Sauk and Fox warriors were allowed to return to Iowa. Together with their people, they occupied a small reservation in Iowa allotted by the Treaty of Fort Armstrong. Black Hawk died there in 1838.

Fort Armstrong was abandoned by federal troops on May 4, 1836, but continued in use by militia until 1845. The remains of the old fort were destroyed by fires in 1855 and 1859.
The historical reconstruction of Fort Armstrong, a three-story blockhouse on the U.S. Army's Rock Island Arsenal Island.
The photograph above is the replica blockhouse that was built in 1916.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

On Sept. 21, 1833, following the Black Hawk War, at Fort Armstrong, Rock Island, HI., a final treaty of peace, friendship and cession was made by Gen. Winfield Scott and the Hon. John Reynolds, of the State of Illinois, representing the United States, and the chiefs, head-men, and warriors of the "Sac and Fox" Indians. 

This treaty recites that certain "lawless and desperate" leaders constituting a formidable band and a large portion of the Sac and Fox nations, left their country in April of 1832, and, in violation of their treaties, commenced an unprovoked war upon citizens of the United States, which, at great expense, has subdued said hostile band and killed or captured all of the principal chiefs and warriors. Thereupon, partly to indemnify it for such expense and partly to secure the future safety and tranquility of the invaded frontier, the United States demanded of said tribes (to the use of the United States) a cession of a tract of the Sac and Fox country, bordering on said frontier, more than proportional to the numbers of said hostile band. Said tribes accordingly ceded a large territory in Iowa to the United States and, among other things, provided:

By Article V, the United States agreed to pay to Farnham & Davenport, Indian traders at Rock Island, $40,000 to satisfy their claims against said tribes for articles furnished to them. 

By Article VI, the United States, at the request of said confederated tribes, agreed to grant by patent, in fee simple, to Antoine Le Claire, interpreter, a part Indian, one section of land opposite Rock Island and one section at the head of the first rapids above said Island within the country herein ceded by the Sacs and Foxes.

By Article VII, Muk-ka-ta-mish-aka-kaik (or Black Hawk) and his two sons, Wau-ba-ku-shik (the Prophet), his brother and two sons, Napope, We-shut, Iowa, Pama-ho, and Cha-kee-pa-she-pa-ho (the Little Stabbing Chief) were to be held as hostages for the future good conduct of the late hostile bands during the pleasure of the President of the United States.

This treaty was signed by the "marks" of nine of the Sacs, including Keokuk, "or he who has been everywhere," and by twenty-four of the Foxes.

On Oct. 1, 1834, the United States made a treaty with the united nations of the Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi Indians, whereby they ceded to the United States all their land along the shore of Lake Michigan, and between that lake and the land ceded to the United States by the Winnebago nation by the treaty of Fort Armstrong, made Sept. 15, 1832, bounded on the north by the country lately ceded by the Menominees, and on the south by the country ceded at the treaty of Prairie du Chien, made July 29, 1829, and supposed to contain 5,000,000 acres of land.

This cession was in lieu of 5,000,000 acres of other lands to be given them by the United States west of the Mississippi river; also, $250,000 to satisfy claims of persons against them, $100,000 in goods, $280,000 to be paid in annual amounts of $14,000 for twenty years, $150,000 for the erection of mills, etc., $70,000 for the education of young Indians, and $4,600 to certain Indians named.

On Dec. 17, 1834, the United States made a treaty with the Potawatomi whereby they agreed to remove farther west within three years thereafter to a country provided for them by the United States.

By these numerous treaties, it is apparent that the United States became seizin of an absolute and indefeasible title to all the land in this portion of the State of Illinois.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

[1] "SAVAGE" is a word defined in U.S. dictionaries as a Noun, Verb, Adjective, and Adverb. Definitions include:
  • a person belonging to a primitive society
  • malicious, lacking complex or advanced culture
  • a brutal person
  • a rude, boorish or unmannerly person
  • to attack or treat brutally
  • lacking the restraints normal to civilized human beings
Unlike the term "RED MEN," dictionaries like Merriam-Webster define this term, its one-and-only definition, as a Noun meaning: AMERICAN INDIAN (historically dated, offensive today).

The term Red Men is often used in historical books, biographies, letters, and articles written in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries.

I change this derogatory term to "INDIANS" to keep with the terminology of the time period I'm writing about.

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