Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2018




This article examines the writings and oratory of the Sauk tribal leaders Keokuk and Black Hawk in the context of Indian diplomacy at Rock Island Indian agency. While Black Hawk's autobiography Life of Mà-ka-tai-me-she-kià-kiàk (1833) is widely read today, Keokuk's oratory has typically been dismissed as an accommodationist extension of US governmental discourses, as op-posed to Black Hawk's rhetoric of resistance and criticism of the Black Hawk War. Complicating these historical narratives, this article argues that both Black Hawk and Keokuk produced collaborative publications that in similar ways critiqued the management of Indian affairs within networks of Indian agents, traders, and tribal leaders. Black Hawk's Life challenges the legitimacy of Keokuk's leadership within these networks, but also mounts a more structural critique of the "bad management" of Indian affairs at Rock Island Indian Agency. Keokuk's oratory similar-ly addressed the economic and intertribal ramifications of American expansion, while also imagining that the agency of tribal leaders within the Indian Office held a potential to reassert an economic and social place for the Sauk Nation and the closely allied Meskwaki Nation. Operating through the technologies of the Indian Office, Black Hawk and Keokuk's writing and oratory represent critical instances of institutional negotiation and intervention. Seen together, their oral, scribal, and print publications register the historical dynamics of removal in the Midwest, as it was elaborated and contested at the Rock Island Indian agency.


This article was originally published in J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists published by University of Pennsylvania Press and can be accessed online at:

Original Publication Information

Kelderman, Frank. "Rock Island Revisited: Black Hawk’s Life, Keokuk’s Oratory, and the Critique of U.S. Indian Policy." 2018. J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists 6(1): 67-92.