The Apple River Fort was the site of an important battle
during the Black Hawk War. It was the only fort attacked
by Black Hawk during the turbulent summer of 1832. On June
24, 1832, the settlers at the fort turned back an attack
by some 200 Sauk and Fox warriors led by Black Hawk. The
war, which lasted only 16 weeks, ended the threat of Indian
attacks in the area and opened the region to further settlement.
Many notable men participated in the Black Hawk War including
a young Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, and General Winfield
Scott. Abraham Lincoln and his militia company arrived at
the fort the day after the battle.
Today, the fort has been reconstructed and is open for
self – guided tours. Special events throughout the
year highlight many aspects of life in Jo Daviess County
in 1832. Exhibits at the Interpretive Center, on the trail,
and at the fort tell the story of the Sauk and Fox, the
early settlers, and the conflict that became known as the
Black Hawk War.
APPLE RIVER FORT IN 1832
AN UNEASY PEACE
Black Hawk War, one of the so-called Indian Wars, was fought
in northwest Illinois and what is now southwest Wisconsin
in 1832. It pitted a band of Sauk and Fox, led by Black
Hawk, against the Illinois militia and the U.S. Army. The
conflict had its roots in a controversial 1804 treaty in
which the Sauk and Fox ceded 50 million acres to the United
States for $2,234.50 plus a $1,000 per year annuity. Under
the terms of the treaty, the tribes could continue to live
on the land until it was sold.
THE LEAD RUSH
The discovery of lead in the Galena area during the 1820s
brought many miners to the area. Nearby, at the Apple River
settlement, the miners built a cluster of cabins and in
1827 opened the first general store. When the Sauk and Fox
returned from their winter hunt early in 1829, they found
settlers living in their villages. Later that year, their
land was offered for sale and the Sauk and Fox were forced
to relocate on the west side of the Mississippi River.
THE FIGHT FOR LAND
Black Hawk, a Sauk warrior who had fought with the British
against the United States in the War of 1812, was determined
to return to the land he believed belonged to his people.
On April 5, 1832, he started up the Rock River with a band
of 500 warriors and about 700 women, children, and old men.
Governor Reynolds immediately called out the militia, and
when Black Hawk’s warriors routed the militia at the
Battle of Stillman’s Run on May 14th, the Black Hawk
War had begun.
THE BLACK HAWK WAR
The settlers in the mining area were panic stricken. Many
left Galena by steamboat.
At the Apple River Settlement, the miners quickly built
a fort around existing cabins. They had not long to wait.
On June 24th, Black Hawk and some 200 warriors attacked
the Apple River Fort. Inside, the men kept up a steady stream
of fire, aided by the women, who molded musket balls and
loaded weapons. The battle raged for about 45 minutes. Then
Black Hawk, thinking the Fort heavily armed, abandoned the
battle, raiding nearby cabins for supplies as he and his
warriors departed. The next day, at the Second Battle of
Kellogg’s Grove, the arrival of U.S. Army troops forced
Black Hawk to flee north to Wisconsin. Finding his band
hungry and disheartened, Black Hawk decided to lead his
followers west across Wisconsin and back into Iowa. Pursued
by the Army and the militia, Black Hawk’s band struggled
on to the Mississippi at the mouth of the Bad Axe River.
The Black Hawk War ended August 2nd,when the Indians were
caught between the steamboat Warrior and the Army troops.
Of the 1,200 who had started out with Black Hawk, only about
150 survived. Black Hawk escaped but was later captured.
The Apple River Fort, hastily erected that May, survived
its first and only attack that June Sunday. It was torn
down some 15 years later in 1847, its lumber used to build
APPLE RIVER FORT TODAY
FINDING THE FORT
the spring of 1995, the Apple River Fort Historic Foundation
set out to locate the Apple River Fort, which had been torn
down in 1847, fifteen years after the Black Hawk War attack.
Local lore said the Fort was located on a hillside not far
from Main Street Elizabeth. Uncertain, the Foundation hired
an archaeologist, whose initial inspection of the site turned
up a variety of artifacts from the 1830s. Excavations revealed
musket balls, a small cellar, and a trash pit, but also
the fort’s footprint, a 50 by 70 foot area, somewhat
smaller than originally speculated.
BUILDING THE FORT
Rebuilding the fort’s cabins began in 1996, with volunteers
using the same tools and materials used by the original
settlers. Logs were tripped and shingles split by hand.
A 2- to 3- foot trench was dug to connect the two cabins
and a surrounding palisade was erected using 14- to 15-
foot logs. Constructing a second story that projected some
two feet over the building’s lower story created the
blockhouse. At the two corners opposite the buildings, firing
stands were built and supplied with hand-hewn ladders.
THE INTERPRETIVE CENTER
Located a short walk from the fort, the Interpretive Center
and Museum Shop relates the story of the Black Hawk War
and the Apple River Fort. A series of illustrated panels
tells the story of the Sauk and Fox, the early miners, and
the conflict between the two cultures that led to the Black
Hawk War. Other exhibits at the two-story Interpretive Center
include a 15-minute video of the Black Hawk War and archaeology
exhibits telling how the fort was located and displaying
some of the artifacts uncovered at the site. Exhibits along
the trail to the fort explore the role of Abraham Lincoln
and other notables in the Black Hawk War, the building of
the fort, and the June 24, 1832 attack by Black Hawk and
his warriors. Because of its rich archaeological remains
and historical significance, the Apple River Fort site is
listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the
official federal list of districts, sites, buildings, structures,
and objects significant in American history.