Segnak the Younger (Blackbird) is a name that carries both admiration and infamy throughout the annals of history. Bestowed a warrior’s heritage, Blackbird was the son of Segnak the Elder, Milwaukee headman known for his military and diplomatic coups during the War of 1812, American Revolution and early Northwest Indian Wars. Adhering to his lineage and fulfilling his own legacy, Segnak the Younger allied with the esteem Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa “The Prophet,” fiercely advocating the Native cause pervading the wars of the Old Northwest to vehemently repulse Anglo-American encroachment and requite the atrocities committed against their brethren. Saluted as a warrior amongst his own, Blackbird’s actions and leadership during Tecumseh’s War and the War of 1812 carried far darker connotations to the fledgling, yet powerful new nation. With the defeat of Tecumseh and his confederacy at the Thames , the United States diffused their Algonquin belligerents, inevitably assuring victory. With dominance secured and a new era of Indian policy emerging, Blackbird’s anti-American exploits forced him into obscurity, motivating the aging and resourceful warrior to assume a new identity and heed the axiom “adapt or die.”
Eclipsed by both his predecessors and contemporaries, Segnak the Younger’s role as a key player in the War of 1812 cannot be contested. Despite his absence from the majority of records recounting this pivotal time, it’s those few that do exist describing his defense of Prophetstown, leadership at the Battle of Fort Dearborn and stand at Frenchtown that secure his legacy as a fierce warrior, a fact he eloquently summed up in an 1813 debriefing conducted by the British Indian Department. The contentious nature of the speech was in response to the British’s reproach of Blackbird’s brutal tactics during the War, despite awarding him a medal of honor for the controversial assault he led on Fort Dearborn less than a year before. What the Crown’s officials continually failed to understand was that Segnak and his inter-tribal alliance were not merely grunts to the British or any other foreign cause, but belligerents of another nature who fought not only to resist but collect retribution for the nearly 200 years of unabated Anglo encroachment on their homeland. An eye for an eye, it was a fight begun by their fathers and deserving of an end at their hands.
“We have listened to your words, which words come from our father. We will now say a few words to you. At the foot of the Rapids last spring we fought the Big Knives, and we lost some of our people there. When we retired the Big Knives got some of our dead. They were not satisfied with having killed them, but cut them into small pieces. This made us very angry. My words to my people were: ‘As long as the powder burnt, to kill and scalp,’ but those behind us came up and did mischief. Last year at Chicago and St. Joseph the Big Knives destroyed all of our corn. This was fair, but, brother, they did not allow the dead to rest. They dug up their graves, and the bones of our ancestors were thrown away and we never could find them to return them to the ground.
I have listened with a good deal of attention to the wish of our father. If the Big Knives, after they kill people of our colour, leave them without hacking them to pieces, we will follow their example. They have themselves to blame. The way they treat our killed, and the remains of those that are in their graves in the west, makes our people mad when they meet the Big Knives. Whenever they get any of our people into their hands they cut them like meat into small pieces.
We thought white people were Christians. They ought to show us a better example. We do not disturb their dead. What I say is known to all the people present. I do not tell a lie.”