A Native American by any other name…
By Susan Johnson
The residents of the Ogle County area who claim “Black Hawk” as their famous symbol know the statue was not originally meant to depict the local war chief who fought in the Black Hawk War of 1832. Sculptor Lorado Taft, a member of the Eagle’s Nest art colony that was based in the area in the early 1900s, never gave it a name. However, he did admit to combining features of the Sauks, the Foxes, the Sioux and the Mohawks to depict a general American Indian profile. Through common usage, it became linked with the local persona of the chief who fought to defend his land against the white settlers.
The statue was the subject of an article in the February 2010 issue of Historic Illinois. The article notes that “The Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which operates Illinois state parks, and its predecessor agencies, undertook major restoration and repair projects in 1945 and 1973. Landscaping and lights were installed in the 1950s. There were relatively minor patch-and-fill projects throughout the 1980s and 1990s.” The statue stands on a bluff in Lowden State Park and is visible from across the Rock River.
Status of the park itself was in question when former governor Rod Blagojevich shut down 11 state parks and 13 state historical sites in December 2008 because of a $2 billion budget crisis. But in February 2009, after Blagojevich’s removal from office, Gov. Pat Quinn reopened seven state parks, including Lowden and Castle Rock, as well as 10 historical sites.
Americans may remember the Statue of Liberty restoration, which took place in 1986 during the Reagan administration. This project required $230 million in private funding. The effort was organized by the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. Private contributions were the backbone of the Foundation’s success. More than $295 million was collected as people from all around the country contributed to help in necessary repairs; $86 million went to the statue’s restoration. It was done so that Lady Liberty could shine forth in all her splendor on July 4, 1986, for the national celebration.
It seems fitting that on the local level, a statue that has become a beloved symbol not just for the region, but now nationally, in the National Register of Historic Places, should get the same respect. Black Hawk was certainly a freedom fighter for his people and their homeland, as he described in his autobiography, published a few years before his death. To the people of northern Illinois, who have never forgotten his courage, he truly is “the Eternal Indian” (as Taft referred to him). Let’s make sure that the visage of this Native American continues to look out over the Rock River Valley for many years to come.
You may contribute to a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) fund called “Friends of the Black Hawk Statue Fund.” Please send your check to: Friends of the Black Hawk Statue Fund, P.O. Box 537, Sterling, IL 61081.
From the June 30-July 6, 2010 issue
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