When Black Hawk dreams dreams…


Chief Black Hawk – captured, paraded, and depicted wearing a photo of his captor

From my manuscript about real people living in a real place at a real time (that is, a fictional account of the story of Elizabeth, Illinois).

The Black Hawk War wasn’t really much of a war (unless you were in it, I suppose). It lasted from May to August 1832 and started when Chief Black Hawk crossed the Mississippi from Iowa into Illinois.

That’s all it takes to start a war.

Abraham Lincoln was part of the story too, but even that doesn’t amount to much (Lincoln mocked the ‘War’ and said, “I had a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes, and although I never fainted from loss of blood, I can truly say I was often very hungry.”)

The death toll includes 77 of the 7,000 of government forces, and 500 of the 600 warriors led by Black Hawk (so that’s not funny).

Chief Black Hawk’s Dreams

Dictated from the tongue of Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, known to the white man as Black Hawk, Chief of the Sac, born on island Saukenuk of Rock river in the white man’s year of 1767 in the Thunder Clan, but soon to die. –This written down by Antione LeClair, U.S. Interpreter for the Sacs and Foxes, on the tenth moon, 1838, but never published before.

Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak said:

When I was just a boy and not yet my people’s Chief, the Great Spirit called me to lead my people, as my father had done bravely in more peaceful times. The hatchet was buried, the bow was at rest, corn was planted and taken-in, women had birthed many healthy children, and the land was quiet. The Great Spirit had given my father a dream that he spoke to the men before he departed. See the many blankets and the strong young men? he asked. The Great Spirit has told me, when I was just a boy and not a Chief, that a time of peace is not a time to lose courage, but a preparation for what is to come. The white man will come soon and drive the Thunder Clan from this home, across the river in time of snow. Women and young women will weep and men and young men will become brave warriors, some will take a scalp and dance for the first time. And a child will be called to lead the people. That was the dream my father spoke before closing his eyes to be with his fathers.

On another occasion, Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak said:

The great warrior and leader of our nation was also my father who played with me when I was just a boy and not yet a Chief. He told me of his journey into the forest when a young man, without food or drink or company of his family he sought the Great Spirit who sought him. This is the way of our people. He dreamt of a deer approaching without fear. Their eyes met and it was as they were brothers. The Great Spirit made him ride through the land on the deer and he was shown the river, the forest, the hills, and the fields. He heard the sound of children at play, songs of gratitude, the smell of fires and roasting food but he did not desire the meat. He was told this land was given to the nation for a season of peace for good labor and hunting. But in the next season there would be crying and hunger.

When I was told this dream I asked what would come next, The next season, after rest and after hunger, what did you learn by the Great Spirit? My father said he was not told of this season, but the next leader of our people, a child who now laughs, would be Chief of a crying and hungering people. And the child would be met by the eagle. And like a boy and his father, we resumed our play together.

Seasons passed and we continued to enjoy peace, even while we fought with our ordinary enemies from across the great river, and I enjoyed the first taste of bravery and took my first scalp at fifteen years of age. But I learned the bravery of retreat as well as the bravery of attack, and I practiced the ways of my father who fought when attached, when our hunting grounds were taken, when our food and our home were threatened. We took no joy in this, but enjoyed the success that the Great Spirit gave to us.

But the time of rest seemed to be passed and enemies grew more numerous, and white men with guns who acted not with purpose but often after consuming alcohol threatened us without reason, and my father rested with his fathers and I will join them soon. I blackened my face, did not eat, and asked the Great Spirit about the seasons my father had spoken of; I hunted and fished, but I was not happy. I sought the Great Spirit then by taking no food, drinking no water from the streams nearby and went into the woods. I was looking for the deer that met my father, but I was afraid and the Great Spirit was wiser than a young brave. There was no deer, but I looked up and saw an eagle soaring above me, circling, waiting for me.

With the eagle I flew over the forest, above the trees, and I saw the hills descending into the valley of the great river, and I saw my people, our tents, our women and children but they were not singing or laughing –they were quiet and busy and there was no joy in their labor. In the distance I saw many faces, white faces, angered and cursing

I awoke from my dream and returned to my people to lead them from our home. I became the Chief of women who were crying and men who would be brave but had not taken scalps or tasted blood going against our enemies. But the enemies of my fathers were not to be our only enemies, and the ways of the white men were new to us and hard to understand.

When being transported from Fort Monroe to Iowa, Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak said:

After returning to our home to the east of the great river, we found no peace (this was after being driven from our homes by the white man because of a treaty signed by some of our braves in drunkenness but not agreed upon by me or all the braves as is our custom). And after the invitation to plant corn and make a home once again in the lands of our fathers, I sought the Great Spirit and in my sleep I was met by the eagle again. I saw the grave of my father as we flew toward the sun rising, along the great river. There were white soldiers, riding horses and firing their guns as my people ran, hiding in the woods, children and women hunted by warriors. They were chased as a fish upstream in a river known by trees bearing apple fruits. They hid for one moon in a quiet place and prayed that this might be their home. But the white women and men had made this there home not being content to stay where the Great Spirit had placed them.

I circled with the eagle over the woods, watching over my people, and saw drunken men riding toward their hiding place. When they met there were threats but little bravery, and I was discouraged. The white women and men retreated to hide in a structure that surrounded them for protection while my people had only the trees and hills for their protection. There was no great battle but many noises from the white men, cruses and shouts that sounded much greater than their number. My people moved around the structure and the sounds grew louder, but there was no battle as my people were only looking for a home and passed by this pleasant place.

When I awoke I led my people as I had seen from the eagle, and it happened as I was shown. But I prayed that this place of conflict could be our home and not a place of hiding, but it was not so.

At Des Moines in the land of Iowa, just before his death, Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak said:

This is the last moon I will see, and the Great Spirit made me to see the land that was once the home of my people. I was a brave Chief, but the white man had taken our home. The few women that are alive are crying, and our few children are weak with hunger. Many were killed by the white soldiers or chased into the great river as they escaped. I surrendered not to spare my own life, but to preserve the lives of my people. We were fearful for our weak, and a brave Chief must act not as his pride demands, but in compassion.

I dreamed and the eagle showed me the island of my birth, my father the brave Chief of my people, my mother and her kindness to me. I was shown the land we returned to and hoped to plant corn. I saw the river of apple fruits and good soil and my heart sank as I hoped this would be our home, but we were feared without cause and fled to escape. And when I awoke from my dream I was crying which surprised those with me, and they asked if a great warrior should cry or was my age the reason. I said that I was not crying for myself, but for my people who were driven from our home and starved and the season had become one of tears and bravery. I tried to save my people and the Great Spirit who shows the Chiefs the seasons stopped my plans.

But I did not tell them about the following season, about the season I asked my own father of, the season that eagle would show to the child who would lead my people. And I went to be with my father and my fathers and dreamed a dream with the eagle that did not end.

In the middle of nowhere…

elizabeth mapcampestral \kam-PESS-trul\ adjective – of or relating to fields or open country: rural

From that unpublished manuscript – Elizabeth Parsonage – just a few paragraphs… tell me what you think (and pass it along, please).

In small towns that were once frontiers of hope and promise of so much more –of gold that turned out to be lead ore, the expansive and unlimited plains and the rich earth of the Mississippi Valley where settlements supported surrounding laborers breaking rock or dark earth with heavy and rich yields. Isolated by relative circumstance, these small towns crisscross America and if one could connect all these dots it would form a patchwork blanketing the land’s contours, creating the illusion of a crowded network from one point of view. But close-up, in the space in between this and that town, there are few enough people to leave room for productive labor, not far from outlets of provision, but with space to breathe and an uncrowded landscape to see.

At first isolated settlements weren’t escapes from urban preoccupation with noise, and for few were they a comparable opportunity for riches. They didn’t flee industrialization or the growing sense that productivity was becoming the measure of human success, replacing contentment and virtue with utilitarian and pragmatic preoccupation. Enough labor for enough reward for enough supply for enough comfort for enough opportunity for contentment –enough for life that few would call happy without significant qualification. In rock or earth, both or either were a good even if hard source of living, somehow sanctified by the motto Early to bed, early to rise. Rest was welcomed but not worshipped, leisure was enjoyed instead of planned, and the evening prayer was Good night, sleep tight, wake up bright with the morning light, to do what’s right with all your might.

They may live along a lonely road, and live among lonely people –not always, but often. But loneliness is relative, sometimes coming from straightforward emotional isolation, sometimes the quiet we so earnestly desire becomes the very danger that threatens our well being, and sometimes perfectly acceptable physical isolation, like living in a perpetually small township with little variation in lifestyle save that of the four seasons, stupefies its residents so that the greatest argument is over the experience of loneliness itself. The cure of such loneliness isn’t a simple reversal of circumstances, the sensory overload of immersion in a crowded setting or stadium or even a city; the cure may be a little hair-of-the-dog-that-bit-us, but that isn’t so much a cure as it is a treatment. It is learning to live with the satisfaction of isolated living –Simple is as simple does, as the old-timers say. –And that just might be the aphorism of Elizabeth, Illinois, U.S.A.

Most of the buildings in town were constructed before World War II, but there were a few old farmhouses, a town hall, a railroad depot, and dozens and dozens of barns dotting the landscape that survived the nineteenth century. The Baptist church and parsonage next door were built just after the War to End All Wars but before the next War to End All Wars. The motto being, Use care with superlatives. Anything that was wood frame is gone, remembered but gone. And buildings that remain are wood and brick and stone, stone and brick and wood, and the township was built and torn down and rebuilt.

Of course there’d been explorers and missionaries through the area, but they’d already moved on in their interminable march to anywhere else. They wrote journals and reports of the landscape, the Indians, the climate, and the peculiarities that when compared to where else they’d been made for the remarkable. When the first white settler arrived in the territory, a surly man named A. P. VanMatre, he traveled because of the report of rich hills for land mining near the Fever River. He settled in 1825 and was too busy to be lonely; too busy building a smelter and making money with hard work and a seeming unlimited supply of lead ore. Two years later a fur trapper settled nearby and his name was Henry VanVolkenburg (and it seemed that you needed to be VanSomething-or-other to live here). It isn’t official, but folks tell a story about the two Van’s, about how they got to know each other in their free time. Then someone else who’s an insider to the joke says But I thought they didn’t know each other, and the first person says That’s because they didn’t have any free time. That’s frontier humor for you. And you say But that wasn’t funny, and the response is That’s because they were too busy working to be funny.

The area was first claimed by the French and they had a trading post in the late seventeenth century, but then an Englishman and officer of the British Commonwealth named Wolfe defeated them on the Plains of Abraham near Quebec in September, 1759 and to the victor go the spoils, including the hilly area we call Jo Daviess County and everything around it called the Upper Midwest. That is, until the Revolutionary War spoiled the spoiled in the famous Treaty of 1783 but then the area was claimed by Virginia. They gave it up, and it turned out that Virginia control of the remainder of the known world was just a formality. Speaking of formalities, without ever seeing the area Congressmen enacted the even more infamous Ordinance of 1787 that divided up uninhabited lands to the West by geographic markers like the Mississippi River and making the area West and North of the Ohio River into at least three and no more than five states. Sometimes the lines were drawn along waterways, sometimes along valley basins, and sometimes it looked like someone stretched a line from one place to another to come up with a state and as arbitrary as it seems that’s why folks live where they live instead of someplace else.

Farmers followed VanMatre and VanVolkenburg and changed the balance of odd to ordinary names when Winters and two brothers named Flack cut the rich soil and planted a first crop of corn in the area and the rest, as they say, is history. Mining and farming, farming and mining, made the area livable and that’s Jo Daviess County from its establishment February 17, 1827 to today; at first literally, then faming took over but mining became the first story in Elizabeth’s history, The Lore of the Ore, as they say.

Why mining? That’s the way it’s always been actually. Geologists call this the southern terminus of the Driftless Region, an area that covers the upper Midwest of southern Minnesota and Wisconsin, northern Illinois and Iowa. About two million years ago, back in the beginning of the Pleistocene Epoch (that’s the sixth epoch of the Cenozoic era of geologic time for those of you keeping score), this area supposedly didn’t have glaciers while everywhere else nearby did. That’s why all around is leveled land, flat and without contour, but the Mississippi River area has deep valleys that were pushed, shoved and cut by the undulation of advancing and receding glaciers nearby that teased the area only to dump their outwash deposits of silt, sand and gravel and made the mighty Mississippi a mighty drain, flushing waters but leaving the rugged and rich deposits that drew settlers to the area in the nineteenth century. Thus it was, and thus it will always be.

The first official settlers were a small crowd that stayed small; and the story always goes back to two men: John Winters the farmer and Captain Clack Stone. The Captain owned the claim to the village of Elizabeth and that meant they had all the responsibility but just a little authority. They took care of settlement claims and kept the peace, which they thought would be an easy job and they’d nurture the area into a modest infamy. Infamy it was, but not modestly thanks to a little incident known as the Black Hawk War in 1832. On May 15th Captain Clack Stone’s Company, the 27th Regiment Illinois Militia was called out of retirement to repel the aggression of the Sac and Fox Indians all because they reacted poorly to President Andrew Jackson’s order of relocation to west of the Mississippi. There’s a suspicious account of a cowardly retreat (or Was it wise? –that’s the debate) by some of the militia on May 14th that led to the Governor’s order the very next day to Captain Clack Stone and the war was on.

The battle took one farming season, May to August, which was unfortunate for the farmers, but the peaceful result of war was a happy irony that was tragic but short lived enough to become historically curious and provide the Chamber of Commerce another folksy attraction in what is now a quite farming community that it’s always been. Soundly quiet, that is until the Chicago Great Western Railroad came ‘a steamin through in 1888, stopping at the Depot on Myrtle Street in downtown Elizabeth and connecting the sleepy community to Chicago to Iowa to Minnesota to Omaha, Nebraska, to Missouri (obviously not a straight route). They built an elaborate tunnel west of Elizabeth called the Winston Tunnel. It was over a half-mile long and was the longest in Illinois –considering the topography of Illinois it was pretty much the only place someone could build a half-mile tunnel without digging straight down.

Now it’s the next century and Elizabeth, Illinois, is pretty much the same it was last century. Except the railroad’s gone now, the tracks torn up not long ago, the Depot is a historical site, and the impressive tunnel became such a burden to maintain that it was closed as well. Mining lost its luster after its glorious contribution to the Civil War armory. And the Fort the settlers hastily built in the Black Hawk War is also gone, the lumber used to build a barn for farming. Only the farming remains, and the rest are the stories of history.

These days almost seven hundred people live in Elizabeth, in 1950 almost seven hundred people lived here, and in 1900 almost seven hundred people lived here. And the same thing can be said for the town’s downtown; there is a diner named Wiler’s right along the main street cutting through town, a bar, a bank, a grocery and variety store, a B & B and a craft and antique shoppé owned by the same woman, a town hall and a township library, and two or three churches depending on how one defines the word Church. There’s the Baptist church, cleverly named Elizabeth Baptist Church, unaffiliated with any Baptist Convention. There’s a Lutheran church named St. John’s even though you’d expect it to be named after Paul, and the Saint part always bothered Baptists anyway because they say all true Christians (read Baptists) are saints themselves –at least Positionally, as they say. To call any of Jesus’ apostles Saints seemed sacrilegious to the real Protestants who called themselves Baptists and thought all other Protestants were just closet Papists. Luther didn’t go far enough and should have thrown the baby out with the baptistery water according to Baptists because the child shouldn’t be there in the first place. In town there’s also what used to be a Presbyterian church and it had one of those paedo baptisteries as well so they could sprinkle the secretly elect of God. But in the sovereign providence of the Almighty it seems Presbyterians weren’t predestined to thrive in the area and the church building was boarded up during in 20’s until a developer from Galena bought the building and turned it into a Wedding Chapel in the late 80’s, making for a sort of rural Las Vegas in Northern Illinois.

Confession and other silliness…

confessionalConfession is good for the soul of gossips – that’s the way the expression should read.

This is a paragraph from an unpublished manuscript entitled Elizabeth Parsonage:

That was where the pastor met with people – in the study; it was a safe place, almost officially so. A confessional, but with a couch and chairs and a desk and shelves lined with books. Sometimes the books were about the Bible, sometimes about theology, but ever since the 1950s they were more and more about feelings and relationships and marriage and love and how to handle rebellious children, but they didn’t seem to help much. It was like they were commentaries but not solutions like they seemed to promise. This book could save your marriage. Follow this advice and your teenage girl won’t hate you. But they didn’t work, at least not as much as one would wish. People would come to the study and spill their guts as if the pastor knew as much as God knew, and they’d say everything with the promise that Nothing would leave this room. And if the walls could talk they’d tell you things about divorces and pregnancies and hatred and tears and deaths and scandals and sickness and pettiness and revenge and although most would be curious about other peoples’ troubles, any real human being listening to what the walls had to say would be in tears and tell the wallpaper to shut-up.


And this is a little something which, I confess, means more to me than it should…

Confessor Cat
There’s a black cat that visits my home every day,
walking carelessly toward my door, toward me
looking at it out my window, with eyes that flash
bright when lighted, then quickly darken again.

And when I see it, I count my sins, unprompted
I rehearse the errors of my ways while the cat
slows and gracefully sits, staring at me like it knows
what races through my mind, and how I’ve erred.

It isn’t hurried, nor is it asking anything of me;
there’s no deep-seated memory from my youth,
no intuition of the deities of ancient Egypt,
just a feral beauty at ease without need of home.

My mind races through the rights and wrongs
without a tally, and the black cat waits just long
enough for my silliness to end; and because
gifts are exchanged, I now feed my confessor
in sacramental pâté, but first returning thanks
for the privilege of a conscience assuaged
by the simple act of being seen by a black cat.

Please share with your friends – like, click, repost, report as spam, or otherwise  show the world you’re alive and kicking…

Elizabeth, Illinois, and other places I’ve driven through…


My Horse
Somewhere along State Rd. 11
winding through sleepy towns
dotting southern Wisconsin is a
small, faded farm house
pushed up to the two-lane
and animals scattered about
the yard with a hand-painted sign
propped against the once white
fence that read, “My horse is old,
not neglected” and it could easily
read that way for the house, barn,
the tractor or even me, I suppose.

Elizabeth, Illinois
I drove through the rows and rows of
look-alike domiciles, with alternating
sprawling industrial parks and ponds
retaining run-off from acres of blacktopped
lots, ribbon striped but vacant – hopeful
for business; hopeful for money to upgrade
to a bigger, better look-alike because won’t
that make everything right. Through
Rockford and beyond, past Winnebago
where I know people but never stopped
myself; and along the bypass around Freeport
where we used to stop for soft-serve, dipped,
by the roadside but not anymore; that
makes me sad and it closed down like so
many businesses bypassed. The story is that
a woman named Elizabeth was so wealthy and
generous she gave free portage to those
seeking a better life – any life – in the Illinois
gold rush of the nineteen hundreds and the
next town earned her name; there was such
a thing – the Illinois gold rush – that drew
immigrants of all colors and flavors, and some
settled and dug and died and are buried in
Lutheran and Catholic cemeteries (because
consecrated ground matters in death just like
in life) all along the ridge known as Terrapin
toward Galena and they’re still buried there
today. I drove slowly through Woodbine
because it’s a speed trap and more slowly
through Elizabeth – it’s always been only seven
hundred people living there because so many
born and raised there don’t stay there and
that might make some mothers sad but I’m
sure some are happy; a couple pick-ups slow
and turn off into farms with porch lights lit,
with fences needing mending, calves in a nearby
pen and an Oldsmobile on the front lawn with
a ‘For Sale’ sign on the window, and they’re
asking for ‘Best Offer.’ The road slopes and
turns over and around the most variegated
terrain of Illinois; two lanes in the binary
back-and-forth of this driving life where
west is sometimes north or at least northwest
and no compass tells you more than the
highway, passing by the homes of real
people happy and sad at the same time
with two hundred channels of cable of all
the world out there but not here. I drove
this road through the lives of so many who
knew exactly where they were and I knew
nothing more than the wheel in my hand,
the mirrors showing the fast fading of what
I’d passed, and what’s next hidden beyond
the next ridge; and so I drove on, and on…