Studies in Midwestern History

Article Title

Chasing Black Hawk

Document Type


Streaming Media


Kevin Koch traces 500 miles of the Black Hawk War trail over three days in the aftermath of a winter snow and ice storm. Beginning from his home in Dubuque, Iowa, Koch travels south and crosses the Mississippi River at Rock Island, IL, the site of Black Hawk’s home village of Saukenuk. From there the trek roughly follows the Rock River through Northwest Illinois, crosses into present-day Wisconsin, reaches its northern apex at Horicon Marsh, swings westward through Madison, crosses the Wisconsin River at Sauk City, and concludes at the site of the 1832 Bad Axe massacre at the Mississippi River north of Prairie du Chien.

Along the way, Koch ponders the “curious juxtaposition of the beautiful lands that Black Hawk and his people had lived in and passed through, and how that beauty must have mixed with blood and fear.”

Tracing the route in winter was simply due to Koch's personal calendar, as the actual events took place from April to August. Koch is cognizant of the dissonance between the horror and starvation of the Black Hawk War and the petty inconveniences of his own trek: “However, this deep winter excursion in below-zero wind chills and icy roads was in some small way an act of solidarity with Black Hawk and his band, if only in the sense of sharing a bit of discomfort,” something that we in the modern world don’t handle well. Koch wrote:

“I’m feeling a bit rung-out as I gaze at the massacre site along the Mississippi. How can I even think that I’ve traced Black Hawk’s trail when I’ve zipped along highways at 60 miles per hour in a car, warm and comfortable in the below-zero wind chills? Danger for me has meant not making stupid decisions about road conditions. But even so, I’ve been on the road, alone, chasing Black Hawk for three days and 500 miles across ice-covered roads, and I knew it was going to come to this, I knew this is where it ended, and how. And yet I’ m not prepared for the heaviness I feel.”

Kevin Koch, Ph.D., is Professor of English at Loras College, where he teaches creative nonfiction and other courses.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License

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