Ben Strand did not learn about Wisconsin’s American Indian tribes when he was in grade school.
Nor did he realize that Abraham Lincoln once spent time in Wisconsin as a soldier.
So when Strand came across a sign outside a Jefferson County tavern proclaiming that Lincoln had served in the Black Hawk War of 1832, he wanted to know more.
Strand, who lives in Milton, set out on a journey of discovery to learn about the state’s native people and the 16th president’s role in the conflict.
After a dozen years of research, Strand has written a book, “A Black Hawk War Guide,” published this month by Arcadia Publishing.
“I accumulated so much information, I thought I should write a book,” he said.
The 205-page guide highlights landmarks, battlefields and museums of the final conflict east of the Mississippi River between American Indians and U.S. regular troops and militia.
Strand also includes many firsthand accounts, which give critical insight into what people of the day were thinking.
“First-person sources tell us so much about the relationship people had with Native Americans,” Strand said.
Researching the Black Hawk War led Strand to a deeper understanding of the state’s history.
When he was a boy, he watched “Rawhide” on TV and read Louis L’Amour books.
But he had no knowledge of the native people in the state, including the Sauk and Fox or Meskwaki Indians.
“For generations, the legacy of Native Americans in the Midwest was politely omitted,” he said. “Today, the stories, cultures and legacies of numerous communities that lived in the Midwest for thousands of years before European immigrants arrived are slowly becoming more discoverable.”
Strand grew up in Dodgeville, the small city named after Henry Dodge. But he never knew much about Dodge, the state’s first governor, slave owner and a key figure in the Black Hawk War, “who was aggressive in forcing Native Americans out of the state,” Strand said.
As Strand learned about Wisconsin’s frontier history, “I feel like a big question mark from my upbringing was finally answered,” he said.
His book is a way to share knowledge, and he said he was “just one more person adding a little bit to the story.”
Strand called tracking down historical information “just a joy.”
The best part of his research was meeting with people of the Sauk and Fox communities now living in Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa.
A young member of the Sauk tribe wrote the foreword to Strand’s book.
Kealan Hamilton-Youngbird explained how his people were tricked and manipulated into ceding away all their land east of the Mississippi.
Between 1828 and 1831, the Sauk and Fox were forced to share land with more and more settlers who moved into their villages in Rock Island, Illinois.
Eventually, the settlers demanded that the American Indians be moved from their homes.
By 1831, U.S. authorities pushed the native people west of the Mississippi and promised them food that would equal what they left behind.
The promise went unfulfilled.
The Sauk warrior and leader Black Hawk led some of the starving people back to their homelands, which the U.S. government saw as an act of war and which later became known as the Black Hawk War.
The hunt for Black Hawk and his 1,200 followers, including warriors, old men, women and children, went on for more than a year. Many died of hunger, thirst or exhaustion and were buried on the trail.
“On Aug. 2, 1832, my people were massacred at what was labeled the Battle at Bad Axe,” Hamilton-Youngbird wrote.
U.S. regular troops and militia rebuffed Black Hawk’s attempt at a truce and killed hundreds.
But Hamilton-Youngbird said his people are still here, in spite of uncertainty and adversity.
“We have managed to hold on to our traditional ways,” he said. “We still know our history.”
Anna Marie Lux is a human interest columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.