Source: Reminiscences of Bureau County, IL; by N. Matson, 1872
Transcribed by: Denise McLoughlin; Tampico Area Historical Society; www.tampicohistoricalsociety.citymax.com
CAPTIVITY OF SYLVIA AND RACHEL HALL
The following account of the captivity of the two Miss HALLs, was principally taken from statements made to the writer by one of the captives, (Rachel HALL), a short time after the Black Hawk war. Although this account differs in many particulars from others heretofore published, it will, nevertheless, be found correct in the main. It is given in language as though narrated by the captive, and in some instances her own words are used:
After being placed on horseback, and guarded by two Indians, who rode by our side, holding on to the reins of the bridles, as narrated in the preceding chapter, we commenced our long, tedious journey. We rode most of the time on a canter, and the Indians frequently looked back, as though they were afraid of being followed by the rangers, who were at that time roaming through the country. We continued to travel at a rapid rate, until near midnight, when we halted to rest our horses. After resting about two hours, we continued our journey, traveling all night, and next day until noon, when we again halted. Here our captors turned out their horses to graze, built a fire, scalded some beans, and roasted some acorns, of which they offered us some to eat, but we declined tasting. We remained in camp a few hours; during that time the Indians were engaged in dressing the scalps, by stretching them on small willow hoops. Among these scalps I recognized my mother's, by the bright color of the hair - the sight of this produced in me a faintness, and I fell to the ground in a swoon, from which I was soon after aroused, in order to continue our journey. After leaving the camp we traveled more leisurely than before, until about nine o'clock at night, we reached the camp of Black Hawk after having rode near ninety miles in twenty-eight hours. We found the Indian camp on the bank of a creek, surrounded by marshy ground, over which were scattered burr oak trees, being, as we afterwards learned, near the Four Lakes, (now Madison City, Wisconsin). On our arrival in camp, a number of squaws came to our assistance, taking us from our horses, and conducted us into a wigwam. These squaws were very kind to to us, and gave us some parched corn and maple sugar to eat, it being the first food that we had tasted since our captivity.
Our arrival in camp caused great rejoicing among the Indians. A large body of warriors collected around us, beating on drums, dancing and yelling, at the top of their voice. Next morning our fear of massacre or torture had somewhat subsided, and we were presented with beans and maple sugar for breakfast. They also offered us coffee to eat, which had been taken out of DAVIESS' house, not knowing that it required to be ground and boiled before being used. About ten o'clock, the camp was broken up, and we moved five or six miles, crossing a creek, and encamped on high ground, which was covered with timber. We were provided with horses to ride, and behind us was packed camp equipage, which consisted of tents, kettles, provisions, &c. On arriving at our new camp, a white birch pole was stuck into the ground, on which were hung the scalps of our murdered friends being exhibited here as trophies of war. About fifty warriors, who were divested of clothing, and their faces painted red, danced around this pole to the music of drums and rattling gourds. Every day during our stay with the Indians, this pole containing the scalps was erected and the dance repeated.
One morning, a party of warriors came to our lodge, and took us out, placing in our hands small red flags, and made us march around the encampment with them, stopping and waving the flags at the door of each wigwam. After this we were taken to the dance ground, by the side of the white pole containing the scalps, and by the side of which a blanket was spread. After painting our faces, one half red, and the other black, we were made to lay down on the blanket, with our faces to the ground. The warriors then commenced dancing around us, flourishing their tomahawks and war clubs over our heads, and yelling like demons. We now thought our time had come, and we quietly awaited our fate, expecting every moment to be our last. When the dance was over, we were taken away by two squaws, who we understood to be the wives of Black Hawk. By these squaws were were adopted as their children; although separated, we were allowed to visit each other frequently. Each day our camp was moved a few miles, always traveling in a circular route. Along the trail, at short intervals, the Indians would erect poles, with tufts of grass tied on one side, showing to the hunters in what direction the camp could be found. Our fears of massacre had entirely disappeared, being adopted into the families of these squaws, not being required to do any work, but watched closely in order to prevent our escape.
Some days after our arrival in Black Hawk's camp, we were told that we must go with two Winnebago chiefs, who had come for us. The squaws with whom we lived, were greatly distressed at the thought of parting with us. The Winnebago chiefs tried to make us understand that they were about to take us to white people, but we did not believe them. Thinkng that they intended to take us further from home and friends, we clung to the squaws, and refused to go. Contrary to our wish, we were placed on horses, behind each of the chiefs, and with us they galloped away, traveling twenty miles that same night. The chiefs said that they were afraid of being followed by some of the Sacs and Foxes, who were displeased at our departure. Every few moments the chiefs would look back to see if they were pursued, then whip their ponies again into a gallop. Some time after dark, we arrived at the Winnebago camp, where we remained over night. Early next morning we continued our journey, traveling all day, when we arrived at an encampment on the bank of Wisconsin river, where there were about one hundred warriors. During next day a party of Sac Indians, dressed in the clothes of murdered white men, came into camp. These Indians commenced talking to us, but the Winnebago chiefs told us to turn away from them, and not listen to what they said, which we did.
It was afterwards ascertained that a petty chief, who had captured the girls, was off on a hunt at the time they were given up to the Winnebago chiefs, and not receiving his portion of the ransom, immediately started with a party of warriors to retake them, or kill them in the attempt. These warriors did not overtake the girls until they arrived safe at the Winnebago camp.
One of the chiefs asked us if we thought the whites would hang them if they took us to the fort, to which we replied they would not, but would give you many presents for your trouble. Next morning the two chiefs who had us in charge, accompanied by about thirty warriors, started with us. Crossing the river, we traveled southward all day until after dark, when we camped for the night. Early next morning, as soon as it was light, we continued our journey, and in the afternoon we reached the fort, at Blue Mounds. Before our arrival thither, we were convinced that our protectors were taking us to our friends, and we had done them great injustice. About three miles from the fort, we came to a halt, and the Indians cooked some venison, and we all set down on the ground and eat it. After dinner, one of the Indians took a white handkerchief which I wore on my head, tied it on a pole, and proceeded to the fort. We followed after this Indian until we came within a half-mile of the fort, when we were met by a Frenchman, on horsebackk. The Indians formed a circle, and the Frenchman rode into it, and had a talk with them. The chiefs were unwilling to give us up until they had seen Mr. GRATIOT, the Indian agent, who was then abssent. After being assured by the Frenchman that we would be well treated until Mr. GRATIOT'S return, we were delivered up to the Frenchman and taken to the fort.
A few days after the capture of the two Miss HALLs, their oldest brother, John W. HALL, went with a regiment of volunteers, marching from Fort Wilburn north to join the army in pursuit of Black Hawk. On arriving at the lead mines, and informing Mr. GRATIOT and Gen. DODGE of his sisters; captivity, Mr. GRATIOT employed two friendly Winnebago chiefs, named Whirling Thunder and Fit-o-poo, to buy the prisoners from the Sacs and Foxes; and the chiefs left for Black Hawk's camp, on their mission of mercy.
It was agreed that the prisoners should be delivered up on the payment of two thousand dollars in cash and forty horses, besides a large number of blankets, beads, &c. After buying the girls, a difficulty arose, which came nigh defeating their plans. A young chief claimed Rachel as his prize, intending to make her his wife, and was unwilling to give her up, saying that he would tomahawk her rather than let her go. The matter was finally compromised, by giving him ten additional horses; but on parting with her he drew forth his scalping knife and cut off a lock of her hair, to keep as a trophy of his warlike exploit.
A short time after this affair, Major, now Colonel DEMENT, of Dixon, while in command of a spy battalion, was attacked by a large body of Indians at Buffalo Grove, The troops retreated into a block house, where they held the Indians at bay. A young chief, while leading his warriors forward to storm the block house, was shot by the Rev. Zadoch CASEY, who was afterwards Lieutenant Governor of Illinois. On the head of this young chief was a wreath of laurels in acknowledgment of his bravery, and around his neck was a lock of braided hair, which was afterwards found to be the same taken from the head of Rachel HALL.
When the girls arrived at the fort, their clothes were torn almost into rags, and having no protection for their heads except handkerchiefs, they were badly sunburned. The women at the fort furnished the girls with clothes, and they were greatly rejoiced to meet their brother, John W., whom they supposed was killed at the time of their captivity.
An account of the captivity of these girls was heralded throughout the United States, and there was great rejoicing at their rescue. The girls were much lionized by the people at the fort, and received from them many presents. Nicholas SMITH, now of West Bureau, being engaged in teaming for the army, took the girls in his wagon, and carried them to a fort near Galena, at which point they were put on board of the steamboat Winnebago, and carried to St. Louis, where they were received and entertained by Gov. CLARK. While at St. Louis they were met by the Rev. Erastus HORN, an old friend of their father, who frequently preached on Bureau while president of the Protesant Methodist Church. Mr. HORN took the girls to his home, in Morgan county, and acted the part of a father to them. Soon after, their brother John W., married and settled on the Seaton place, now in the town of Selby, and the girls came and lived with him. The legislature gave them a quarter section of canal land at Joliet. Congress also voted them money as a donation.
Sylvia married the Rev. Wiliam HORN, a son of their protector, and now lives at Lincoln, Nebraska. Rachel married William MUNSON, and moved to Freehold, La Salle county, at which place she died a few months ago.
Rachel HALL, at the time of her captivity, was sixteen years of age instead of fourteen, as previously stated.