Tragedy of War or Tragedy of Genocide

For those of you who aren’t from Wisconsin or familiar with this piece of our history, Black Hawk (Ma-ka-tai-me-shi-kia-kiak) and his people were originally from what is now northwestern Illinois and southwestern Wisconsin. In the early 1800’s they were forcibly removed from their land because of western migration of white America. The band near the mouth of the Rock River in Illinois felt the treaty which caused their removal was invalid but decided it was futile to resist the full weight of the Illinois Militia and American troops. The government failed to honor its promises to provide a means to move and food for the band’s survival, however, so the band returned to their villages only to find their corn smashed and their land fenced in by white settlers.

The tragedy that followed as over a thousand men, women, children, and elderly fled U.S. troops and were slaughtered even after multiple attempts to surrender is a well-documented piece of Wisconsin history. After “the cruelly misnamed battle of Bad Axe” only about 150 of the original 1,200 survived.

War involves armed conflict between two countries or groups within a country. Genocide is the violence to destroy the existence of groups of people.

When I came across this marker in downtown Madison, one of the many places Black Hawk and his band passed through on their attempted retreat, I was shocked at first and then determined to find a way to make the travesty of history right.

I called the department of the Wisconsin Historical Society in charge of historic markers and was told that they are reconsidering all of the markers related to Black Hawk and his people and that if I would like to lend weight to the removal of this marker and hopefully replace it with a marker that helps people understand and think about this part of our history more accurately, I should write a letter appealing for the markers removal and replacement.

I have included the letter, and if any of my readers would like to sign on just message me in the comments, or email me at Include an address or email just so the historical society doesn’t think I’m making you up.

All the events described in part from the Wisconsin Historical Society’s own webpage at:

Wisconsin State Historical Society                                                                        9/29/17

816 State Street

Madison, Wisconsin 53706


Dear Mr. Bernstein,

I came across Historic Marker number 396 on a run in downtown Madison and was a little shocked and horrified by the title The Tragedies of War. It would more accurately been called “The Tragedies of Genocide” since the event being described, a native elder being scalped by white soldiers while mourning on his dead wife’s freshly dug grave, was part of pattern of U.S. aggression against tribes and bands who didn’t submit to removal from their ancestral lands and conform to policies and treaties put in place to feed white expansion west and their voracious desire for Indigenous peoples lands.

The Wisconsin Historical Society acknowledges on its web pages that Black Hawk and his band were relentless pursued by U.S. troops through the Madison area and that attempts at surrender were “rebuffed or misinterpreted by American troops.” As supplies of food ran out the young and elderly died along the way from hunger, thirst and exhaustion.

War is commonly defined as a state of armed conflict between nations or peoples within a nation. Genocide is the killing off of groups of people, including mass killing of noncombatants, who are members of a particular race, ethnicity or cultural group.

The culmination of Black Hawk and his people’s attempted retreat across the Mississippi to the treaty land, “the cruelly misnamed Battle of Bad Axe,” ended with the indiscriminate slaughter of men, women, elderly and children even after multiple attempts by Black Hawk and his people to once again surrender. Only about 150 of the original 1,200 survived. Those who did make it to the Mississippi were mercilessly murdered by gunboats until “the Mississippi ran red with blood.”

The marker was erected in the 1998 and it’s possible those who erected it did it out of a well-intentioned attempt to honor the suffering of Black Hawk and his people. I respectfully request that the marker be removed however, not as an attempt to rewrite that period but to be replaced with one that could give an accurate portrayal of what we know to have happened, and to acknowledge that those events weren’t a tragedy of war, but systematic genocide against this continents indigenous people which started with the European invasion and continues to this day.


Frances Wiedenhoeft

About Frances Wiedenhoeft

After a lifetime in nursing, anesthesia and the Army I now write, blog, attend school for journalism and massage, and watch my 3 grandchildren. I am a veteran of Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan and try to serve other vets such as myself, and to work for peace.
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