The years between 1760 and 1840 witnessed the young United States' indefatigable expansion, even at the expense of the people already occupying the land. Roger Nichols's account of the life and times of Black Hawk, the great Sauk leader, provides an engaging way to study this tumultuous period in American history. From his teens until his midsixties, Black Hawk chose to follow the warrior's path, leading groups of Sauks against the Osages, Sioux and the Cherokees, as well as against white pioneers, state militiamen, and U.S. Army regulars. His final stand against the United States, in what became known as the Black Hawk War (1832), proved to be disastrous for his people and paved the way for a torrent of white settlement into the Old Northwest.
Although biographical history is especially difficult to write when the subject did not leave any written records, Professor Nichols, an expert in American Indian history, skillfully paints the portrait of Black Hawk, the stubborn, taciturn warrior, and considers possible reasons the aged leader acted as he did. Nichols emphasizes that lack of communication was a major stumbling block to peaceful U.S.-Indian relations. He examines how this contributed to the unnecessary loss of Indian lives and whether it was a convenient excuse used by the military to drive the Indians to the brink of extinction.