War contributes to and at the same time challenges traditional notions of kinship responsibility. This is clearly evident in the autobiography of Black Hawk. The Black Hawk War of 1832 for instance emerged from the growing tension between the Fox Indians, the Sauk Indians and the United States. As the war moved on, factions of other tribes ganged efforts and made a move to join Black Hawk. Black Hawk was a Native American who was up to the challenge posed by the United States. Other Native Americans committed violent acts for individual reasons in the chaotic war. Apparently, the Native Americans responded to the fate that befell their fellow Native Americans, Black Hawk and the Indians. Thus, this essay discusses the role that the rules of kinship and reciprocity continued to play among the Sauk and Fox, despite the interruptions created by war and removal.

            Relationships of duty and reciprocity are very important in each and every kind of social structure. In many aboriginal communities, there is a way in which different age personalities relate to one another. For instance, the young men could be expected to render support for the elderly in reciprocal responsibility. The rules of kinship, obligation and reciprocity form a culture based on sharing amongst the family members and the kinship affiliation. This has a lot of implications in the way indigenous people manage their resources and other responsibilities in the society. Meeting obligations to kinship ties always comes first before other things like individual wealth.

            Even though Black Hawk was not a hereditary chief, he filled a leadership void which was within the Sauk community. When Quashquame surrendered a lot of the Sauk native soil in 1804 to the United States, he was regarded as ineffective. This even included the ceding of their own village, Saukenuk. This is where Black Hawk showed his desire to meet kinship obligations and reciprocity. In his autobiography, Black Hawk said that, “I will leave it to the people of the United States to say whether our nation was properly represented in this treaty? Or whether we received a fair compensation for the extent of country ceded by these four individuals? I could say much more respecting this treaty, but I will not at this time. It has been the origin of all our serious difficulties with the whites.” 

            Black Hawk was infuriated by the treaty of 1804. He reiterates in the autobiography that it was since then explained to him. He found through the treaty that all of the motherland towards the east of the Mississippi and again to the south of Jeffreon was surrendered to the United States for a sum of a thousand dollars per annum. Apparently, Quashquame went against his roles in maintain the rules of kinship and reciprocity for his people. Black Hawk was a true kin to the Sauk community. Even though he had never risen to the position of civil chief like Quashquame, he defended the communal role and stood in support of the community.

            Similarly, the Great Britain depended on their allies in fighting war. They mainly sought assistance form Native Americans.  The Native Americans included the Ho-Chunk, Ottawa and Potawatomi tribes. The Ho-Chunks started the gradual process of recovering their masses and establishing kinship ties. The Native Communities thus offered the ground for political alliances. While kinship affection was crucial to the Native Americans, war and fear completed their ransom. During this time, many native leaders including Black Hawk condoned societal unions. These promised to further reinforce the trade bonds with kinship ties that were more binding. In the process, French traders were transformed into Indian fathers, brothers and husbands. Consequently, the very simple regulations of demand and supply led to Native expectations of mutual obligation and reciprocity.  Most importantly, the French fur trade became less than a commercial outlet. They became much more obligated and faithful to their Sauk and Fox kin than their wealth accumulation. This is one of the ways in which the rules of kinship and reciprocity began manifesting among the French traders.

            The privilege of carrying out business with the Sauk and Fox Indians was dependent on demonstrations of reciprocity. When the United States chose to take advantage of the Sauk and Fox Indians, Black Hawk waged war against them aided by his allies and a group of the Sauk warriors. The British later learnt the importance of reconstituting a kinship based network of trading. Instead of chasing away the French who were left behind, the British chose the traders and the invaluable networks. Generally, the American merchants were left out in the trade network. This simultaneously forestalled the advancement of commercial networks and relationships.

The Sauk and Fox Indians led by Black Hawk carefully chose their allies by considering what was in their prospects of victory and the best interest of all their people.  Contrary to what, Quashquame did, Black Hawk was up to challenge the Americans. In one occasions, he met a somber mood amongst his people. In his autobiography, he said, “I discovered, on landing, that all was not right; every countenance seemed sad and gloomy! I inquired the cause, and was informed that the Americans were coming to take possession of the town and country! –and that we should then lose our Spanish fathers! This news made myself and band sad.” At this stage, it is clear how war contributed to and at the same time challenged traditional notions of kinship responsibility. Although Black Hawk was not the chief, he did much better than Quashquame in support for his people in reciprocal responsibility.

For this reason, other Native Americans like the Ho-Chunks were reluctant to intermarry with the whites.  Again, it was all about paying allegiance to the prospects of success and solely to the interests of the people. The Ho-Chunks had not established kinship networks that tied them to other people other than the British and the French. This was however to a lesser extent.  The Sauk and Fox Indians assented to associations in the reasonable belief and conviction that they would gain the almost imperishable kinship bonds upon which would rest meaningful alliances. Ideally, wars both led to and challenged the conventional notions about kinship responsibility. The Ho-Chunk sympathies as well as the kinship ties would not allow a complete breach with the brand of the British people. Ultimately, white crow resigned by himself together with his people to the very dangerous course of duplicity.

The matrimony bonds may have been fragile but the kinship in the children lasted. Army officers that were sent to humble the Sauk and the Fox Indians appealed to Indians conception of a cross-cultural coalition. The intermarriages apparently served some tribes like the French very well. This facilitated kinship bonds between tribes which struggled to survive and the powerful tribes like the French tribe. Generally, intermarriages were very strong. They were very useful as they drew many young men into the war conflict in aid of their kinship and in providing reciprocal obligation and duty. The kinship bonds were not severed easily and subsequent occasions exhibited that white crow was not ready to leave his own blood and flesh. The intermarriages amongst the Ho-Chunks with other tribes offered a kinship biased antipathy for the Mesquakies and the Sauk Indians.

The process of taking kinship responsibility was a tricky scenario for Black Hawk. Even though he did not agree with the venerated chief Quashquame, he did not confront him. Black Hawk maintained a calm situation as he rose in importance while the civil chief faded away. The civil chief did not take kinship responsibility by confronting the United States. However, Black Hawk did and faced the United States in battle. Despite the weakness realized in Quashquame, Black Hawk did not lose focus. He did not take the civil chief as the enemy. Rather, he was committed to the course of defending the interest of their people from the oppressors. It was a great challenge and a setback for Black Hawk to take measures which apparently were retrogressive. This was so because Quashquame made an effort to restore the relationship with the army of the United States.

Quashquame settled on little offers from the United States while Black Hawk wanted the full freedom and power of their people restored. While Quashquame was loyal to the United States, the Americans saw Black Hawk as the main leader of the Sauk Indians who were allied to the British people.  Quashquame led the rest of the Sauk Indians who were not combatants in the war. To Black Hawk, this was a very ideal plan in that, “all the children and old men and women belonging to the warriors who had joined the British were left with them to provide for.” This happened as a council agreed that Quashquame with the company of children, women and old men should descend the Mississippi to St. Louis. At this destination, they were supposed to sit under an American chief who was stationed there. This group did so as their other friends went on to assist the British.

The scenario was a tricky and difficult one. Both Black Hawk and Quashquame were interested in the welfare of the people. However, while Quashquame succumbed to pressure, Black Hawk took kinship responsibility and defended the interests of the society at large.  This situation made it difficult for the achievement of a united front. It was a very disturbing scenario in 1815 which saw a split of the Sauk Indians at the Missouri and Rock rivers. The British brand of the Sauk Indians lived by the Rock River. They were mainly the group of warriors who took part in the Black Hawk War. There was a heated fight in delivering the Sauk and Fox Indians. Every leader of the different groups had different ambitions but all in the defense of their kinship ties. The wars brought great challenges to kinship responsibilities.

The problem however was coming up with the best move and the choice of people who had in mind the interest of the Sauk and Fox Indians. This was a situation in which the Sauk and Fox Indian community would have completely disintegrated. However, the role played by the rules of kinship and reciprocity emerged as a uniting factor.  Otherwise, it would be a war of divide and rule. These kinship rules and reciprocal support held the people together and despite the different approaches, there was somewhat a peaceful co-existence between the allied groups. However, Taimah who came to cover Quashquame as the chief of the Sauk pleaded with the United States met with the resistance of Black Hawk that challenged the compromise greatly. Quashquame was a weak leader whose interests were in leisure and art more than politics. It was funny to the Black Hawk allegiance how Quashquame advocated for diplomacy amidst conflict.

Black Hawk was a brave warrior committed to the course of freeing his people from oppression rather than staying with it. It is written in his autobiography, “I rushed furiously upon another, smote him to the earth with my tomahawk—run my lance through his body—took off his scalp and returned in triumph to my father! He said nothing, but looked pleased. This was the first man I killed!” He was zealous at his kinship responsibility and worked well with those who were of the same mind set. Through him, we see the support he demonstrated to his people in reciprocal responsibility. The community of the Sauk Indians gave him identity and a sense of pride. He wanted to defend it as a result. That is the reason why Black Hawk was angry with the Sauk Chiefs who were at ease and who were blinded by the United States to the point of compromising the role normally played by the rule of kinship and reciprocal responsibility. It was very disheartening to see what the Sauk had gathered for many years being lost in a split second through non-visionary chiefs. Black Hawk did not fight for himself; he did it for the interest of all the people. Even though the United States underrated him and his warriors, he did not return the favor. 

            Kinship and reciprocity is a principle that mainly holds for the help given other close people in the family lineage. This does not matter even if they are not immediate descendants. The tendency to sacrifice own life for others in the family and/or community could pass on from a generation to another. Black Hawk is one such example who elicits calm confidence and commitment in fighting for his Sauk community. His father meant a lot and when he died due to the ravages of war, this kinship tie affected him greatly. He indulged in spirited fights to rescue his people and the community at large.  He was so daring. At one point he was asked to drop the British flag and replace it with the American one, something that he adamantly refused. He said that they declined that so that they may have two fathers. He further reiterated that, “…the young American chief. He was a good, man, and a great brave –and died in his country’s service.” This shows further how kinship responsibility produced mixed approaches, feelings and results. It not only reflected in his life but also to all those who were committed to the war in fighting for the interests of their communities.

            In conclusion, the role that the rules of kinship and reciprocity continued to play among the Sauk and Fox, despite the interruptions created by war and removal were very significant. These affiliations made the relationship of the Americans and the Sauk rough right from the beginning all through to the end. Black Hawk was aware of the bad relationship between the Native Sauk and the white Americans. He alleged that the situation was occasioned by the constant lies of the Americans to the natives. This is an inspirational history. It is a chronicle account of how the rules of kinship and reciprocity emerge and how consequential and momentous they can be.

Order now

Related essays