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Rare Chief’s Grade Presentation Fowler Attributed to Sauk Chief Blackhawk
One of the rarest firearms is this fancy English gun given to high ranking chiefs by the American Fur Company. William Chance & Son of Birmingham, England (1800-1846) made only a handful of these fancy chief’s guns. Between 1831 and 1849 the American Fur Company, founded by John Jacob Astor, ordered only 36 of these guns. According to a publication by the Museum of the Fur Trade (Quarterly Vol. 34, Number 4, Winter 1998) one of these is reputed to have been carried by Blackhawk. This gun shows honest use, but is in its original state except for an early conversion to percussion. Flat lock plate is marked at the rear "W. CHANCE/& SON", with a worn gravestone fox with tail erect over the initials "IA" (for John Jacob Astor) in front of the cock. Fancy three-screw brass serpentine side plate. The 42" octagonal to round .62 cal. barrel is marked "LONDON", with Birmingham proofs and a grave stone sitting fox; engraved tang; with two inlayed bands around the breach (one brass and the other silver). The unique front sight is a silver arrow through a silver disc. About ˝" has been cut from the muzzle, which was common with Indian guns which were commonly over loaded. Walnut full stock with checkered wrist; no damage or repairs. These chief’s guns all had unique inlays. This example features a silver dog escutcheon on the wrist, a silver flower on the underside of the butt, and three barrel pins with silver escutcheons. Brass mounts include butt plate engraved with boar’s head; an arrow and feathers; fancy trigger guard with engraved pineapple, shield, and vines; three decorative ramrod thimbles; and original brass-tipped wood ramrod. Included with the gun and purchased at the same time from the private owner is a rare brass powder flask known as the "Indian Hunter" by Joseph Batty of Sheffield, England, ca. 1798-1828. These flasks were made especially as gifts and trade pieces for the Indian tribes.
Black Hawk, born Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, (1767 – October 3, 1838) was a band leader and warrior of the Sauk American Indian tribe in the Midwest. He was born in Saukenuk, near present day Rock Island, Illinois. He was not a hereditary civil chief, but earned his status as a war chief by his actions, beginning with his first kill and scalping at the age of 15. During the War of 1812 he sided with the British, who made him a brevet brigadier general in command of all native tribes in British service. During the war Black Hawk fought in several major engagements with Major-General Henry Procter around Lake Erie. Becoming disillusioned with the loss of life he associated with European military tactics, he returned home to Saukenuk, but rejoined the British near the end of the war in actions near the Mississippi. After the war he signed a peace treaty.
Black Hawk is best remembered by the war which bears his name. He did not recognize the validity of the Treaty of 1804 which had ceded the Sauk and Fox lands in Illinois. In April of 1832, encouraged by support from neighboring tribes and from the British, he raised a band of about 500 warriors and 1000 non-combatants and re-entered Illinois, picking up allies as he went. After achieving some initial victories, he was pursued and eventually brought to battle with Illinois and Michigan militias at the mouth of the Bad Axe River in August. He was soundly defeated at the Battle of Bad Axe by a group of soldiers, allied Indian tribes, and even a US gunboat, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Sauk and Potawatomi men, women, and children. Black Hawk survived the engagement, but surrendered at Prairie du Chien and was held in captivity at Jefferson Barracks, near St, Louis. In April of 1833 he was taken east to Washington, D.C., where he met with President Andrew Jackson and Secretary of War Lewis Cass. Everywhere he went he was followed by huge crowds and lavished with gifts, posing for numerous portraits.
Near the end of his captivity in 1833, Black Hawk told his life story to government interpreter Antoine LeClaire, which was quickly published as his autobiography and became a best seller. In his later years, Black Hawk tried to reconcile with both American settlers and his Sauk rivals, including his nemesis Chief Keokuk.
While there are no known records indicating how or when Black Hawk received this gun, due to its markings it is unquestionably one of the 36 fancy chief’s guns made especially for the American Fur Company between 1831 and 1849. It is possible that it was a gift from George Davenport who was known to be a close friend, neighbor, and acquaintance of many years. Davenport, one of the first settlers of Rock Island, lived only 2 miles from Black Hawk’s home and in 1826 took a position with Astor’s American Fur Company, which he held until after Black Hawk’s death. In 1835 he and several others, including close friend and Black Hawk biographer Antoine LeClaire, purchased a large tract of land on the Mississippi adjacent to Black Hawk’s village of Saukenuk, which officially became Davenport, Iowa on Feb. 23, 1836. In 1838, the year of Black Hawk’s death, Davenport became a U.S. Indian agent representing the Sauk and Fox tribes and helped negotiate the 1842 treaty for the sale of their Iowa land to the Iowa Territory. Davenport’s home on Rock Island, built in 1833, is still standing and is a museum open to the public.
More research may be required to prove beyond doubt that this gun and flask were owned by Blackhawk, but all the evidence supports its belonging to the famous chief. It was obtained in 1979, along with the flask, from a rural family in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, which is along Black Hawk’s retreat route after his defeat at the Battle of Wisconsin Heights and before his final defeat at the Battle of Bad Axe along the Mississippi. The seller concluded the deal for a modest sum before ever mentioning that it had belonged to Black Hawk and was certainly unaware that this was one of only a handful of guns which could have been the one reputedly carried by him.
This exact gun and powder flask are featured in Lar Hothem’s "Rare and Unusual Indian Artifacts", pages 273 & 274, with several photos, a description, and an estimated value of $150,000. Included is a notarized affidavit from the original purchaser (a retired FBI agent) indicating how and where the gun and flask were obtained.
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Everything in this display is included with the gun