The Rescue of the Hall Sisters by the Hocągara

by Nehemiah Matson and Rachel Hall

Nehemiah Matson   Rachel Hall, 1865

The following account of the captivity of the two Misses Hall, is principally taken from the statements made to me [N. Matson] by one of the captives (Rachel Hall), a short time after the Black Hawk war. This account is given in language as though narrated by the captive, and, in some instances, her own words are used.

The Abduction of the Hall Girls

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. Indians riding behind us would strike our horses with their whips, so as to urge them forward at a greater speed. We rode on a canter, sometimes on a gallop; the Indians frequently looking back to see if they were (166) 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 let our horses rest. After resting about two hours, we continued our journey, traveling all night and next day until about one o'clock, when we again halted. Here our captors turned out their horses to graze, built a fire, scalded some beans, and roasted acorns, of which they offered us to eat, but we declined tasting it. We remained in camp a few hours, and during the time some of 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, and the sight of it produced in me a faintness, causing me to fall to the ground in a swoon, from which I was soon after aroused so as to continue our journey. A number of warriors left us for a short time, and on their return appeared much excited, as though something unusual had taken place, when we all mounted our ponies and put them on a gallop. Some of the warriors rode behind us, with their spears drawn in a threatening manner, and we expected every moment to be murdered by (169) them. It appears the Indians became frightened, believing the whites were pursuing them, and rather than give up their prisoners, they had prepared themselves to kill them. After the Indians got over their fright, we traveled more leisurely until about nine o'clock at night, when we reached Black Hawk's camp, near the present site of Madison, Wisconsin, after riding about ninety miles in twenty-eight hours.

Our arrival in camp caused great rejoicing, and a large body of warriors collected around us, beating on drums, dancing, and yelling at the top of their voices. 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 (which had been taken out of Davis' house) to eat, not knowing that it required to be ground and boiled before using. About ten o'clock the camp broke up, and we were provided with ponies to ride, and behind us were packed camp equipage, consisting of tents, kettles, provisions, etc. After traveling five or six miles, crossing a creek, we encamped on a high piece of ground covered with timber, and near a large spring. On arriving at our new (170) camp, the Indians cleared off a piece of ground about ninety feet in circumference, and placed in the center of it a white birch pole, about twenty-five feet high. In the center, near the pole, ten or fifteen spears were stuck into the ground, on which were placed the scalps of our murdered friends, together with three human hearts. We recognized the scalps of father, mother, and Mrs. Pettigrew, and the sight of these made us heart-sick. About fifty warriors, divested of clothing, and their faces painted red, danced around this pole and scalps, to the music of drums and rattling gourds. Every day during our stay with the Indians, this pole and spears containing the scalps, were 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 white pole, and spears containing the scalps, where a blanket was spread. After painting our faces one-half red and the other black, we were made to lie down on the blanket, with our faces to the ground. (171) Warriors now commenced dancing around us, flourishing their tomahawks and war clubs over our heads, and yelling like demons. We thought our time had now come, and quietly awaited our fate, expecting every moment to be our last. When the dance was over, we were taken away by two old squaws, (one of whom we afterward learned, was the wife of Black Hawk,) and the paint washed off our faces. By these squaws we were adopted as their children, and although separated, we were allowed to visit each other frequently. Each day our camp was moved a few miles away, the warriors always traveling in a circular route, and the whole country through which we passed appeared full of Indians. Along the trail, at short intervals, the Indians would erect poles, with tufts of grass tied on one side, showing the hunters in what direction the camp could be found. Our fear of massacre had now entirely subsided; we were adopted into the families of these squaws, and not required to do any work, but closely watched to prevent our escape.

One day a warrior took Sylvia up on a hill side, about forty rods from the camp, where the Indians were holding a council, and told (172) her that she must go with an old Indian who was blind of one eye, who we afterward learned was White Crow, a Winnebago chief. Sylvia said she could not go unless I went along with her, but they would not agree to this. White Crow made a long speech, talking very loud, and appeared much excited, while all the Indians listened to him with marked attention. After this speech, Whirling Thunder, another Winnebago chief, took me up where the council was held, then the chiefs shook hands, and made preparations to depart. A young warrior took his scalping-knife and cut a lock of hair from over my right ear, and another out of the back part of my head. Another warrior cut a large lock of hair out of the front part of Sylvia's head, and placed it in his shot-pouch. The Winnebago chief tried to make us understand that they were about to take us to white people, but we did not believe them, thinking they intended to take us further from home and friends, so we clung to the squaws, and refused to go with them. The squaws with whom we were staying, appeared much grieved at parting with us, but contrary to their wish and ours, we were placed on horseback, and with the (173) two chiefs, and twenty-six warriors, we left the encampment on a gallop. We rode at a rapid rate all that day. Occasionally the chiefs would look back, as though they expected to be followed, and then whip their ponies into a gallop. We traveled at a great speed all that day and part of the night, when we reached the Winnebago camp on the bank of Wisconsin river. Next morning, before sun up, a party of Sac warriors, some of whom were dressed in the clothing of murdered white men, came into camp. These warriors commenced talking to us, when Whirling Thunder told us to turn away from them, and not listen to what they said, which we did. After a long parley, the Sac warriors, with angry looks and loud words, left the camp and rode away.

It was afterward ascertained that a petty chief, who had captured the girls, was off hunting when they were given up to the Winnebagoes, and on returning to camp, found the prisoners gone, and not receiving his proportion of the ransom, started with a war party to re-capture the girls, or kill them in the attempt. But this war party did not overtake the captives until they arrived safe at the Winnebago camp, where they were (174) secure from re-capture. After the Sac warriors left, our camp was broken up, and we were placed in a canoe, and with about one hundred Indians in like craft, we started down the river. We traveled all that day until sundown, when we encamped on the river bank. Next morning, White Crow went around to the wigwams, stopping at the door of each, having a gourd in his hand partly filled with pebbles, which he shook violently, and talking very loud, as if lecturing them. After this the chief went away and remained absent all day, but returned to camp about sundown, and then for the first time spoke to us in good English. He asked us if our father and mother, sisters or brothers, were living, to which we replied we believed they were all killed at the time of our captivity. On hearing this he shook his head, appeared sad, and after hesitating a moment said he would take us home in the morning.

White Crow asked us if we thought the whites would hang him if he took us to the fort, to which we replied, they would not, but would give him many presents for his trouble. Next morning the two chiefs, (176) accompanied by about forty warriors, started with us for the fort at Blue Mounds.

Crossing the river we traveled southward all day until after dark, when we camped for the night by the side of a stream. Next morning, as soon as it was light, we resumed our journey, traveling until two o'clock, when we stopped for dinner and to let our horses feed. For dinner we had some boiled duck eggs which were about ready to hatch, and our stomachs revolted at taking young ducks thus prepared, but the Indians regarded them a great delicacy. After dinner we again mounted our ponies to continue our journey, and late in the afternoon we reached the fort at Blue Mounds. Before our arrival thither, we saw wagon tracks, with other signs of civilization, and were now convinced that our conductors were taking us to friends, and we had done them great injustice.

White Crow took the white handkerchief which I wore on my head, tied it on a pole for a flag of truce, and proceeded toward the fort, followed by the rest of us. Before reaching the fort we were met by a Frenchman on horseback, who addressed the Indians in their own language. The warriors now formed a circle, when the Frenchman rode into it, and here they had a talk. White Crow was unwilling to give us up until he had seen Col. Gratiot, the Indian Agent, who was absent at the time; but after being assured that we would be well treated until his return, we were delivered up to the troops, who were marched out to receive us.

Here at the fort we met two of our uncles, Edward and Reason Hall, who were rejoiced at our rescue. It was now the third of June and the thirteenth day of our captivity.

[Epilogue]. A few days after the capture of the two Misses Hall, their oldest brother, John W., went with a regiment of volunteers marching north in pursuit of Black Hawk. On reaching the lead mines, Mr. Hall presented the case of his sisters' captivity to Col. H. Gratiot, agent for the Winnebagoes, who employed two chiefs, White Crow and Whirling Thunder, to ransom the prisoners, and they left immediately for Black Hawk's camp. On arriving in camp a council was called, at which it was agreed to deliver up the prisoners on the payment of two thousand dollars in cash and forty horses, besides a quantity of blankets, beads, etc. After buying the girls of the Sacs and Foxes, a (177) difficulty arose, which came very near defeating their plans. A young chief claimed Rachel as his prize, intending to make her his wife, and was unwilling to give her up, telling the Winnebago chiefs that he would tomahawk her rather than let her go. After a long parley the matter was compromised by giving him ten additional horses; but, on parting with her, he took his scalping-knife and cut off two locks of her hair, to keep as a trophy of his warlike exploits.

A short time after this affair. Major Dement, in command of a spy battalion, was attacked at Kellogg's Grove by a large body of Indians, and compelled to take refuge in a block-house. A young chief, while leading his warriors forward to take the blockhouse, was shot by Governor Casey, and around his neck was found a lock of braided hair, which afterward was identified as that taken from the head of Rachel Hall.

When the captives were brought to the fort their clothes were found to be torn almost to rags, and, having no protection for their heads except handkerchiefs, they were badly sunburned. When taken prisoners, Rachel's dress consisted of a red and white calico, ruffled at the bottom, and Sylvia's (178) dress was made of blue cambric, but now they were so dirty and torn, the material of which they were made could scarcely be made out.

The girls were taken to the fort at White Oak Springs, and from there to Galena, where they met their brother, John W., whom they supposed was killed at the massacre.

An account of the captivity of the Misses Hall was, at the time, heralded throughout the United States, and people everywhere were much rejoiced at their rescue. The returned captives were much lionized by the people at Galena, and received from them many presents, including fashionable dresses, etc. After remaining here a few days they were put on the steamer Winnebago, accompanied by their brother, and carried to St. Louis, where they were received and entertained by Governor Clark. While at Governor Clark's residence money amounting to four hundred and seventy dollars was collected for them, beside many valuable presents. At St. Louis they were met by the Rev. Erastus Horn, an old friend of their father, who took them to his home in Cass county. A short time afterward (179) their brother, John W. Hall, married and settled in Bureau county, when the girls came to live with him. The Legislature gave them a quarter section of canal land near Joliet, and Congress voted them money as a donation.

Sylvia married the Rev. William Horn, and is now living at Lincoln, Nebraska. Rachel married William Munson, and moved to Freedom, La Salle county, near the place where she was captured, and died there a few years ago.1

Commentary. "one-half red and the other black" — generally, red represents life and black death.

"White Crow"Kau-ray-kaw-saw-kaw would seem to correspond to Karekasaga, which is unattested and is probably a corrupted form of the name. His name given elsewhere as Kau-kish-ka-ka2 better approximates the expected Kaǧískága, which means "White Crow." He was nicknamed "The Blind," or Le Borgne since he had lost an eye.3 He was chief of a village by Lake Koshkonong of about 1200 people who lived in white cedar bark lodges.4 He was the father of "the Washington Woman," who married Yellow Thunder.5 At the beginning of the Sauk War he believed that the Sauks would vanquish the whites and tried to warn them.

The White Crow had told Capt. Beon Gratiot, that he was friendly towards him as his brother was the Winnebago Indian Agent; that he did not wish to see him killed, and that he had better leave Col. Dodge and go home; that the Sauks and Foxes would kill all the whites; that the whites could not fight, as they were a soft-shelled breed; that when the spear was put to them they would quack like ducks, as the whites had done at Stillman's Defeat; and he proceeded to mimic out, in full Indian style, the spearing and scalping in the Stillman affair; and that all the whites who persisted in marching against the Indians, might expect to be served in the same manner.6

He died in 1836 and is buried near the village of Cross Plains.7

R. A. Lewis
Whirling Thunder

"Whirling Thunder" — this portrait of Whirling Thunder was made by R. A. Lewis in 1865. His name in Hocąk, Wakąjagiwįxga, actually means "Whirling Thunderbird," and is a clan name in the Thunderbird Clan.

"the fort at Blue Mounds" — George Force, Emmerson Green, and William Auberry, along with about a dozen other men from the area, came together to construct a block house that they named "Blue Mounds Fort." This was necessitated by widespread depredations being committed by the Sacs in northern Illinois. A couple of days after the return of the Hall sisters, on June 6, 1832, some Hocągara, acting on their own, robbed and killed William Auberry. On the 20th of June, the men at the fort were becoming a bit complacent, since no action seemed immanent. So they sent Green and Force out to reconnoiter, and manned the blockhouse with only six men. The former were set upon by a force of 70 or so Sacs, and cut down in full view of the fort. Had the Sacs followed this up with a rush upon the fort, they might have killed everyone there. As it was, they stopped to dance around their victims and mutilate their corpses. This gave the garrison, such as it was, enough time to set up an effective defence. Rather than press the matter, the Sacs decided to retire.8

Colonel Henry Gratiot

"Col. Gratiot" — was born in St. Louis, then under the governance of the Spanish, on April 25, 1789. He was an ardent opponent of slavery, and when Missouri was admitted as a slave state, he moved north to the Galena area in Illinois so that he might live in a Free State. He and his brother purchased from the Hocągara mining rights to the lead deposits for which this region was known. Gratiot developed close personal relationships with the Hocąk nation. During the Winnebago War of 1827, however, he did allow the government to build what they later called "Ft. Gratiot" on his property. In 1830, he was given the post of Subagent to the Hocąk Nation. At the onset of the Black Hawk War in 1832, he was sent as an emissary with Little Priest and other prominent Hocągara to deliver a message from Gen. Atkinson, but they barely escaped with their lives. In 1834, he sold his mining interests and established a farm in the area. Every autumn a band of Hocągara would camp on his land to visit with him and his family. In 1835, the bad condition of the Rock River bands came to his attention, so he undertook successfully to reestablish their annuities from the government. He fell ill while attempting to return to Wisconsin from Washington, and died in Baltimore, April 27, 1836. In Wisconsin, he is remembered in the names of the village of Gratiot, and the town of the same name.9

Colonel John Dement   The Kellogg's Grove Monument

"Major Dement" — John Dement (26 April 1804 – 16 January 1883) began his career in 1826 by becoming sheriff of Franklin County, Illinois. From 1831 to 1837 he served in the Illinois Assembly and became State Treasurer. Dement's political career was interupted by the Black Hawk War of 1832, where he held various positions, and ultimately rose to the rank of Colonel. As a Major, Dement commanded a battalion at the Second Battle of Kellogg's Grove, where, according to Black Hawk himself, Dement distinguished himself, although his men suffered a rout:

The chief and his few braves were unwilling to leave the field. I ordered my braves to rush upon them, and had the mortification of seeing two of my chiefs killed before the enemy retreated. This young chief deserves great praise for his courage and bravery, but fortunately for us, his army was not all composed of such brave men.

Dement continued on in the service through the Battle of Bad Axe. In 1835, he married Mary Lousie Dodge, the daughter of General (and later Governor) Henry Dodge. In 1837, Andrew Jackson appointed him Receiver of Public Moneys, a position he held off and on depending on the fortunes of his party, until 1861. He and his wife settled in Dixon, where he died at age 79.10

Lt. Gov. Zadoc Casey

"Governor Casey" — Zadoc Casey (March 7, 1796 – September 4, 1862) had been Lieutenant Governor of Illinois, but resigned in order to enlist as a private in the Black Hawk War under the command of Major Dement. Before the war, he had served in the U. S. House of Representatives (1833 to 1843), and in 1852 became the speaker of the Illinois House. He was in the Illinois Senate from 1860 to his death in 1862.11

"calico" — a plain woven cotton fabric with a small, all-over floral print. Given the quality of the cotton and the weaving, it was inexpensive, and therefore a favorite for the Indian trade. It was extensively worn in the latter half of the XIXᵀᴴ century.

"cambric" — also called "batiste," was a high quality, densely plain woven bleached cloth, originally made of linen, but later also of cotton. It is so-called after the French commune of Cambrai where it was original produced.

The Fort at White Oak Springs

"the fort at White Oak Springs" — built ca. 1806, it was used as a ranger station. It is located near Petersburg, Indiana.

Charles Wilson Peale
Gov. William Clark

"Governor Clark" — this is the William Clark (1770-1838) famous for the Lewis and Clark Expedition. He was a superintendent of Indian affairs, and served as governor of Missouri Territory from 1822 until his death in 1838.

"Rev. Erastus Horn" — president of the Prostestant Methodist Church in Bureau County.12 He offered the girls residence in his home, which they accepted.13

William Horn and Sylvia Hall   William Munson

"Rev. William Horn" — the son of the Rev. Erastus Horn. He married Sylvia Hall in May, 1833, and they moved to Morgan County. They were married for 55 years.14

"William Munson" — he married Rachel Hall in March, 1833 and settled in La Salle County.15


1 Nehemiah Matson, Memories of Shaubena. Incidents Relating to the Early Settlement of the West (Chicago: D. B. Cook and Co., 1878) 165-179.
2 John T. de la Ronde, "Personal Narrative," Wisconsin Historical Collections, VII (1876): 350.
3 Daniel M. Parkinson, "Pioneer Life in Wisconsin, Wisconsin Historical Collections, II (1903 [1856]): 326-364 [338-340]; Charles Bracken, "Further Strictures on Ford's Black Hawk War," Wisconsin Historical Collections, II (1903 [1856]): 402-414 [404-410].
4 Charles E. Brown, "The White Crow Memorial Pilgrimage," Jefferson County Union (Oct. 20, 1918) 1-10 [8].
5 Brown, "The White Crow Memorial Pilgrimage," 3.
6 Col. Daniel M. Parkison, "Pioneer Life in Wisconsin," Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, I-II (1855): 326-[339].
7 Brown, "The White Crow Memorial Pilgrimage," 7. "Additions and Corrections," Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, X (1888): 496 (to II, 354).
8 H. A. Tenney, "Early Times in Wisconsin," Wisconsin Historical Collections, I (1903 [1855]): 94-102 [98-100]. Submitted, Nov. 20, 1849.
9 Timothy R. Mahoney, Provincial Lives: Middle-Class Experience in the Antebellum Middle West (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999) 57-59.
10 The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832: Vol. II, Letters and Papers; Part I, April 30, 1831-June 23, 1832. Ed. Ellen M. Whitney (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1973) 70b-71a.
11 William Henry Perrin, History of Jefferson County, Illinois (Chicago: Globe Pub. Co., Historical Publishers, 1883) 182-186.
12 Nehemiah Matson, Reminiscences of Bureau County (Princeton, IL, Republican Book and Job Office, 1872) 153.
13 Henry Brown, The History of Illinois: From Its First Discovery and Settlement to the Present Time (New York: J. Winchester, 1844) 384.
14 Brown, The History of Illinois, 384. Charles M. Scanlan, The Indian Creek Massacre, 2d ed. (Milwaukee: Reic Publishing Co., 1915) Ch. XIII.
15 Brown, The History of Illinois, 384. Scanlan, The Indian Creek Massacre, Ch. XIII.