Thursday, May 23, 2013

Native Allies: The Battle of Credit Island Part V

Welcome to the final post in a series about the forgotten (but now, clearly, remembered) Battle of Credit Island! Today our guide, Chris Espenshade, addresses another significant piece in the puzzle of that 1814 battle: the Native American warriors who fought with the British. Who were they, and what might they know about what happened that day? You can read Parts I-IV in this series by clicking on the links below.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV


One might think that it would be relatively straightforward to identify the tribal affiliations of the 800-1200 Native American warriors who participated in the Battle of Credit Island. That would seem like too many participants to be ignored or misidentified in the contemporary accounts. However, most of what we know comes from British and American accounts, and the sources were not always specific or accurate in ascribing fighters to specific tribes.
Chief Black Hawk of the Sauk (from History of the Indian tribes of North America, with Biographical Sketches and Anecdotes of the Principal Chiefs). 
It is clear that warriors from the nearby Fox and Sauk villages participated, including Chief Black Hawk.  It is also clear that a group of Sioux was assigned to protect the British artillery.  Unfortunately, “Sioux” was a generalized term that was interchangeably applied to diverse groups throughout the region.  One account mentions the participation of Kickapoos and Puant. We do not know if there were other tribal participants beyond the Sioux, Sauk, Fox, Kickapoos, and Puant.

History is always enriched by a variety of perspectives, so information requests were sent to the Flandreau Santee Sioux; Ho-Chunk Nation; Iowa Tribe of Kansas & Nebraska; Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma; Lower Sioux; Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community; Otoe-Missouria Tribe; Prairie Island Indian Community; Sac & Fox of the Mississippi in Iowa; Sac & Fox Nation of Missouri; Sac & Fox Nation of Oklahoma; Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska; Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community; Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate; Spirit Lake Tribe, North Dakota; Upper Sioux Indian Community of Minnesota; and Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.  

In the hope that some oral tradition of the battle may have survived, I asked if there was any tribal oral history or archival record that the tribe had participated at the Battle of Credit Island. Once the British lost the war, it was probably not a good thing for a tribe to broadcast their participation on the British side at the Battle of Credit Island. 

The responses are just starting to come in, and we have not yet added any tribes beyond the Sauk, Fox, and Sioux. The letter also serves the purpose of inviting Native American input into how the battle is interpreted and commemorated.  The City of Davenport strongly desires to publicly interpret the battle, and 2014 will likely see a major bicentennial celebration.  

From the existing accounts, we have been able to determine that Native Americans at the Battle of Credit Island scouted far downstream and kept the British informed of the progress of the American boats. They encouraged and assisted the movement of the artillery on the morning of September 5. The Native American warriors prevented the Americans from landing a party to flank the British gun position. Given the important role of the Native American forces in this battle, we are hopeful that descendants will provide input into how they would like the battle remembered.  

And with that, we have come a complete circle back around to the first post, identifying Credit Island as a forgotten battle. With the data from our recent efforts, the City and the ABPP will be able to begin a process of public outreach and interpretation.  Our initial proposals include signage along the existing bicycle paths, and a self-guided canoe/kayak tour of the battlefield.  If you find yourself anywhere near Davenport, Iowa in September of 2014, we encourage you to visit the battlefield and see the steps the City and the ABPP have made in bringing the battle back to life. 

This research – conducted by Commonwealth Cultural Resources Group -- was sponsored by the American Battlefield Preservation Program and the City of Davenport, Iowa.  This material is based upon work assisted by a grant from the Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Interior.

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