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The Autobiography of Black Hawk [Unabridged]

3.54  ·  Rating details ·  954 ratings  ·  123 reviews
This story is told in the words of a tragic figure in American history: a hook-nosed, hollow-cheeked old Sauk warrior who lived under four flags while the Mississippi Valley was being wrested from his people.

The author is Black Hawk himself - once pursued by an army whose members included Captain Abraham Lincoln and Lieutenant Jefferson Davis. Perhaps no Indian ever saw so
Audible Audio, 4 pages
Published March 25th 2011 by Audible, Inc. (first published 1833)
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Sep 14, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The modern reader has much to learn from The Life of Black Hawk. Historically, it represents an invaluable time capsule; the psychology of the Native American, an authentic chief no less, is, if not a more all-encompassing portrait of devastating war than The Diary of Anne Frank at least its equal--in its inherent sincerity and pathos. Never forgetting that the autobiography is actually a life story thrice filtered (from the Sac chief’s remembering tongue directly to the interpreter, then edited ...more
E. G.
Introduction, by J. Gerald Kennedy
Suggestions for Further Reading
Map of the Black Hawk War of 1832
A Note on the Text
Title Page of 1833 Edition

--Life of Black Hawk, or Mà-ka-tai-me-she-kià-kiàk: Dictated by Himself

lark benobi
Jan 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
More than anything I've ever read about Native American history, Black Hawk's autobiography gave me a sense of how strange and violent a period the late 18th/early 19th century was in the upper Midwest. What hit me here as revelatory was the utter crowded-ness of this supposed wilderness, where there was an ever-changing confusion of alliances and feuds, and where friends could become enemies overnight, and where English and American and French and Sauk and Cherokee and Osage and Chippewa all me ...more
I explained to them the manner the British and Americans fought. Instead of stealing upon each other, and taking every advantage to kill the enemy and save their own people, as we do, (which, with us, is considered good policy in a war chief,) they marched out, in open daylight, and fight, regardless of the number of warriors they may lose! After the battle is over, they retire to feast, and drink wine, as if nothing had happened; after which, they make a statement in writing of what they hav
I did like this, although parts were confusing. If I had read a book with a map, parts could have been easier to understand. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Brett Barry. In addition, the terms used for different people were confusing. The war strategies were confusing. Some of the language was also confusing. I believe if you read the book it would be easier to figure out the terms and locations.

The different tribes fight each other, the English and the Americans were fighting and the tr
Jul 25, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was a free audibook download from's "Christmas in July" sale for members. I guess I got what I paid for it. The reading (by Brett Bailey, I believe) was lovely, but the content itself was--although at times beautifully poetic and spiritual--mostly just frustrating. Time and time again, Black Hawk and his people show themselves to be gullible and complacent when it comes to the "promises" and treaties made by the Americans. I just want to shake him and tell him that twice is a co ...more
Ai Miller
This was interesting to read, especially given that I spent four years on Meskwaki lands, but I definitely need some guidance through it in terms of how to read it (it was accompanied, for this course, with a reading by Mark Rifkin entitled "Documenting Tradition: Territoriality and Textuality in Black Hawk's Narrative," that I found to be a useful guide,) and found it to be fairly confusing at times. I do still think it's a really important read for anyone who lives on those lands, as Black Haw ...more
Max Ritter
Jun 29, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
As with many pieces of American literature, it functions best as a figure of history. Black Hawk was an interesting man, and his story is heartbreaking and complex. Learning about it is worth your time, but that includes texts outside of this book. The book itself was important at its time as a trailblazer of American Indian lit, but now it doesn't jump much off the page compared to other Native texts that are written in more compelling prose.

One major problem is that the story was (understandab
Oct 04, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd say it's tough to rate this book. How do you rate it? It's the story of the life of Black Hawk, the Sauk warrior who led an insurrection in the American Midwest in the early 19th century.

Now then. Let's see. Essentially, Black Hawk was the driving force behind the Black Hawk War of 1832, during which he led a band of warriors and, I suppose it's safe to say, tribespeople in a series of skirmishes with the United States government that got pretty nasty on both sides. Eventually he was capture
Victor Carson
Audible recently made a free audiobook version of this work available to its members. I love "free" and was interested in the character of Black Hawk, so I was pleased to listen to this brief 3-1/2 hour work. Black Hawk lived from the late 1790s to the mid 1830s. He wrote his autobiography about 1833 and included the relocation of his Sac and Fox tribes from an area near Montreal to an area near Rock Island on the Mississippi. The story narrates the tribe's encounters with the French, the Englis ...more
Jul 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
This book was originally published in 1833 (dictated by Chief Black Hawk to his translator, Antoine Leclair) and was an immediate best seller. A no holds barred and unflinching narrative of the great Sauk leader, 'The Autobiography of Black Hawk' stands as one of the very first accounts of the conflict between American indians and white settlers. Historically, this is an important work because it stands as one of the first native narratives of the war of attrition fought against American indians ...more
Oct 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not sure why I didn't realize before that the the first 2/3-3/4 of this book is autobiographical, or that it was written so close in time (relatively) to the occurrence of the events it describes. The style & perspectives definitely reflect the time, but I learned a lot nonetheless. And it's got to be pretty rare to find a book from that time period that gives the Native American perspective in any form, much less as extensively as this one does. Heartbreaking, but important not to forget. ...more
Zach Turner
An interesting read with excellent information about life inside a Native American tribe and the atrocities committed by the US government and white settlers during the time. (A brief note of warning, the original editor and translator of this text have admitted to racism and have taken some liberties in some of the storytelling, but it is still mostly a real autobiography.)
Dec 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A tragic look into the window of time where native life, as it previously had been, was coming to an end, while the beginning events of what would eventually become the “United States of America,” were starting. Black Hawk shares his memories of life within his community and relations with other Indigenous clans, including a very moving and human story of how another clan forgave and, in goodwill, sent back one of his clan’s young men that had done a wrong to the other clan. Black hawk talks abo ...more
Perry Whitford
Dec 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Black Hawk was the Sauk tribe leader who remained hostile throughout the American advance into the Midwest, aiding the British both in 1812 and beyond, all the way up until his eventual surrender in 1832.

Soon after he hung up his tomahawk he dictated this autobiography, and it really does read as though he's talking directly to you without any attempt to edit, sanitise or make any chronological sense of the way he remembered things.

The French were the first whitemen his people came across, a hap
This short book—the full title of which is Autobiography of Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak, or Black Hawk, Embracing the Traditions of his Nation, Various Wars In Which He Has Been Engaged, and His Account of the Cause and General History of the Black Hawk War of 1832, His Surrender, and Travels Through the United States. Also Life, Death and Burial of the Old Chief, Together with a History of the Black Hawk War—was the first autobiography of an American Indian leader published in the United States a ...more
Jul 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It’s not many people that get a war – even a small one – named after them. The Black Hawk War of 1832 was small, but it made a mark. Already in his declining years, Black Hawk, a war chief of the Sacs, led a band of 500 braves and a similar number of women and children up the Rock River of Illinois and Wisconsin to reclaim territory that had been taken from them by a disputed treaty. Over six thousand American militiamen (including Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis), as well as native allies, ...more
Aug 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: people
amazon review:
One of the most respected personages in Native American history, BLACK HAWK (1767-1838), Sauk war chief of the Native American tribe in Illinois, was already a renowned name in the early 1800s, having fought for the British during the War of 1812. By 1832, when Black Hawk led warriors against encroaching European settlers on Sauk lands, he was so well-known that the engagement became known as the Black Hawk War. In his 1833 autobiography, Black Hawk-dictating to American newspaper
Neil Hanson
Interesting historical perspective, and I did enjoy that aspect of it. But it's pretty dry reading. Also, this was clearly translated as it was written 100+ years ago, since the writing style and language bears no similarity to anything other than English spoken in those days. I suspect this was standard fare for that time and place, so I don't want to be too critical. It's just that the use of a language imparts the real story, and translating the words into "high English" means the heart and s ...more
Black Hawk dictated his autobiography through amanuensis Antoine LeClair which was originally published in 1833. He was a Sauk leader and in his own words describes the conflict in 1832 as Americans came into the land east of the Mississippi and took the land away from his people. Black Hawk gives a good description of the Native American Culture as well as the trouble trying to do business with the US government. Of course the citizens weren't admirable in their behavior either.. It was interes ...more
Oh Oh Oh....this book made my heart weep. The Indians received such a raw deal. This was truly tragic. Black Hawk fell for every promise that was given. Each one echoed just as hollow as the previous one. And for every honorable white man that they found, there were 10 more that weren't. One of my favorite quotes goes something like, "When someone shows you who they really are, believe them the first time." I mean for crying out loud, I was inwardly screaming, "Learn and adapt." That quote would ...more
Nov 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've never read a book like this. It's fascinating for its first-hand historical content. It's really interesting to hear Chief Black Hawk describe his tribe's culture and that of the Portuguese, British, and Americans. It's a quick smooth read because of how concise his word choice is, and yet there's a minimalist poetry to it, kind of like haiku. ...more
Brian Eshleman
This book was OK. Black Hawk's nobility certainly comes through, but the particulars are not exactly gripping. ...more
Apr 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While sewing over the past few days, I listened to the audio version of this book. As a Wisconsin resident all my life, and one who grew up close to the town (Fort Atkinson) named after the American army officer who Blackhawk surrendered to at the end of the "Blackhawk war," I thought I should refresh my knowledge about this famous warrior. I remembered that Blackhawk and his people were already on the western side of the Mississippi River and that they wanted to cross back to the east side to g ...more
Amory Ross
Andrew Jackson. Abraham Lincoln. Major John Reynolds. Winfield Scott. Washington Irving. James Fenimore Cooper. All these names of history once crossed paths with a Sac war leader named Black Hawk. At the end of his tumultuous life he sat down with JP Patterson and dictated his life story, leaving an important novella about the horrors of clashes with white settlers.

Black Hawk records mostly his military campaigns against the intruding settlers. He leads with the fac that not much happened to hi
Being that I grew up in a place repeatedly mentioned in this thin autobiography, and not far off from some of the principal locations of the action, the Black Hawk War and the War of 1812 being the only official wars to ever feature conflict within the borders of what are now Wisconsin and Illinois, I'm disappointed in my teachers for never making this assigned reading.

You can't ask for a better insider perspective on Native American cultural attitudes about war, and you'll nowhere else (to my
Herman Gigglethorpe
While Black Hawk's autobiography has historical value, his English translator's prose is rather dry.

Black Hawk was a chief of the Sauk, and fought against the United States in the War of 1812 and the Black Hawk War in 1832. The British treated the Sauk more fairly than the Americans, who mainly tried to cheat them out of their land with various dodgy treaties. Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were involved in the Black Hawk War, among other American historical figures.

Black Hawk describes his
I found this book at a book-drive while serving my mission in Kentucky. I was told that this was a good story to read, so I took it.

Black Hawk's tale is a tragic one. A good chief of the Sauk Indian tribe, who had been deceived and betrayed by so many. He was even betrayed by his own people.

I chose to add this to my genealogy shelf due to the oral story of Black Hawk's origins. Oral tradition is also taken into account, whether if it's true or not.

I enjoyed the footnotes that were placed in the
Erin DeLaney
I read this after researching a bit of the history of the land my European ancestors settled on in north east Missouri. I figured I could read a first hand account from Black Hawk before reading more from a modern, US-centric source. I'm glad I did. I feel like I have a greater understanding for the man and the culture. As is probably expected, some parts of his writings are not particularly admirable today (such as his views on violence, slavery, etc) but then neither are the horrible actions t ...more
Mar 01, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I feel like it's a worthwhile endeavor to read more about our Native American people. My husband is a descendent of chief Massasoit as mentioned in the early Thanksgiving narratives, so I have an additional interest in understanding what happened to the first Americans. It's very troublesome to know how lack of integrity and good communication contributed to many of the early skirmishes. A lack of respect for different peoples and misunderstandings were also devastating. Glad I listened to this ...more
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