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Uncommon Defense

Uncommon Defense

Indian Allies in the Black Hawk War

John W. Hall

ISBN 9780674035188

Publication date: 09/30/2009

In the spring of 1832, when the Indian warrior Black Hawk and a thousand followers marched into Illinois to reoccupy lands earlier ceded to American settlers, the U.S. Army turned to rival tribes for military support. Elements of the Menominee, Dakota, Potawatomi, and Ho Chunk tribes willingly allied themselves with the United States government against their fellow Native Americans in an uncommon defense of their diverse interests. As the Black Hawk War came only two years after the passage of the Indian Removal Act and is widely viewed as a land grab by ravenous settlers, the military participation of these tribes seems bizarre. What explains this alliance?

In order to grasp Indian motives, John Hall explores their alliances in earlier wars with colonial powers as well as in intertribal antagonisms and conflicts. In the crisis of 1832, Indians acted as they had traditionally, leveraging their relationship with a powerful ally to strike tribal enemies, fulfill important male warrior expectations, and pursue political advantage and material gain. However, times had changed and, although the Indians achieved short-term objectives, they helped create conditions that permanently changed their world.

Providing a rare view of Indian attitudes and strategies in war and peace, Hall deepens our understanding of Native Americans and the complex roles they played in the nation’s history. More broadly, he demonstrates the risks and lessons of small wars that entail an “uncommon defense” by unlikely allies in pursuit of diverse, even conflicting, goals.


  • This exceptionally well-researched and elegantly written book is a must-read for those who want to understand better the history of the American frontier and the complexity of wars fought amongst indigenous peoples.... John Hall's compelling analysis of the U.S.-Indian diplomacy during the Black Hawk War is instructive as the United States and its allies confront tribal societies in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan while endeavoring to defeat transnational enemies and shape the course of local conflicts that predated our involvement there and are almost certain to continue long after we are gone.

    —Brigadier General H.R. McMaster, U.S. Army


  • John W. Hall is Ambrose-Hesseltine Assistant Professor of Military History, University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Book Details

  • 384 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press