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Black Hawk mixes nature, history


Dispatch/Argus Photo By John J. Kim

A statue of Chief Black Hawk stands in front of the Hauberg Indian Museum on the grounds of the Black Hawk State Historic Site in Rock Island. The museum takes it visitors through a year in the life of Sauk and Fox Indian tribes, who once lived in what became the Quad-Cities.

ROCK ISLAND -- Sauk and Fox Indians once wove straw mats and dried pumpkin rings on wooden bars at Black Hawk State Historic Site.

They may have done it where a child now swings on a playset or a nature lover climbs a steep slope along the Rock River.

When the strip malls, mega stores and honking horns of John Deere Road fade into the looming trees of Blackhawk Road, people know they've found the park.

Park officials said they do everything possible to maintain Black Hawk's dual identity of nature preserve and cultural resource. With a museum, interpretive trail guides and nature walks, park employees and volunteers try to make sure Quad-Citians capitalize on this historic resource.

The objective of learning about history is to understand how the past affects people today, Beth Carvey-Stewart, assistant site manager, said.

``That's where teachers go wrong, teaching just the facts and dates,'' she said. ``They're not teaching history as a soap opera. That's what it is, except it's true.

``People say, `Oh yuck, history's boring.' Well, then history hasn't been taught to you properly.''

That's exactly what Ms. Carvey-Stewart tries to fix at the Hauberg Indian Museum, tucked into a lodge overlooking the Rock River to the south and acres of trees to the north.

When children first walk into the museum, Ms. Carvey-Stewart asks them what an Indian is. She hears a lot of stereotypical answers:

``Someone who hunts for buffalo.''

``They live in teepees.''

``They kill people.''

Ms. Carvey-Stewart wants the children to say, ``The first people to live in America.''

Although kids have a lot of stereotypes about Native Americans, they're always excited to learn about the truth beneath the assumptions, Ms. Carvey-Stewart said.

``Kids love Indians, and that's one of the things that makes my job easy,'' she said. ``We have their attention the minute they walk in the door.''

The museum leads more than 10,000 school children a year on a tour of a year in the life of a Native American, starting with a summer corn harvest and ending with a spring maple syrup bottling. Life-size displays, houses and mannequins simulate the daily life of a Sauk or Fox Indian during the late 1700s or early 1800s.

People usually don't know much about the Fox and Sauk, who lived along the Rock River from 1750 to 1831, until white settlers forced the dwindling tribes to move, Ms. Carvey-Stewart said. Most history books mention only Navajo, Pueblo and Iroquois tribes.

``There's not a lot of teaching material out there,'' she said. ``The history of Illinois is the history since the white man came, because that's who's writing the textbooks.''

Images of Native Americans range from respectful to ridiculous, Ms. Carvey-Stewart said. That's the message behind the museum's new collection of lithographs, ``Images in Time.''

Caucasians sometimes portray a Native American man as a brave, heroic warrior, she said. ``Then turn the page, and he's the ignoble savage: cruel, drunken and dirty. The image has been made and remade according to what Caucasians want it to be.''

Park supporters know what they want the image of the park to be -- true to history. Quad-Cities nature lovers have fought for years to keep the park quiet and natural -- and to keep out car horns, exhaust fumes and pavement.

A group of nature lovers founded Citizens to Preserve Black Hawk Park Foundation in 1972, when city and state officials wanted to expand John Deere Road to a four-lane highway that would cut through the middle of the park.

Now, after more than 25 years and many clashes with politicians, the group has developed a positive relationship with state government officials, founding member Bob Motz said.

``I never sleep totally comfortably, knowing that nothing will ever happen expressway-wise,'' he said. ``But we don't see immediate concern. Our emphasis now is helping people see what a green jewel Black Hawk is.''

Black Hawk hasn't always been a clean, green mecca of wildlife, plants and trails.

From 1890 to 1925, a street car company operated an amusement park along the river, Ms. Carvey-Stewart said. A tunnel of love, roller coaster, toboggan slide and shooting gallery entertained park goers.

Hiking through the park this winter, Ms. Carvey-Stewart said, ``Oh, cool!'' as she ran toward a fallen tree with a pulley device fastened in it. ``This looks like it could have been left from the amusement park. You never know what you're going to find here.''

However, there are several things Ms. Carvey-Stewart can always count on finding.

When she leads school groups through the park, she points out wild cherry trees that would have provided food for Native Americans. She shows them shag bark hickory trees whose bark would have been used to smoke meat. She talks about the wooden erosion bars put up to stop soil from sliding down the hill.

``I try to get them thinking about the forces of nature,'' Ms. Carvey-Stewart said. ``Humans are powerful because they can move so fast. Nature is more powerful in the end, but it moves so slowly.''

On the north side of the park, which has been designated a nature preserve, trees are older and trails more secluded.

The north side also includes playground equipment, a picnic area and Girl Scout cabin that was built in the early 1940s and closed in October. Ms. Carvey-Stewart said she hopes to turn the cabin into a learning building for teachers leading interpretive nature hikes.

Black Hawk's natural resources began to be recognized by the government in the 1930s, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt assigned a Civilian Conservation Corps unit to develop the park. Workers planted trees, built the lodge and forged foot trails.

Ms. Carvey-Stewart said she hopes to expand the museum collection to the lodge's Keokuk Room to include photographs of CCC workers revamping the historic site.

The museum opened in 1939, and the park has continued to expand its community outreach activities ever since.

Mr. Motz, who chaired the preservation group 18 years, helps organize annual activities, such as the Valentine's Day moonlight walk and the Spring Stroll, which includes birdwatching and wildflower walks, refreshments and a program. On alternating autumns, geology and archaeology experts lead walking tours of the park.

Black Hawk provides a representative sample of Quad-Cities rocks, according to Richard C. Anderson, who has led the geology walks about 10 years. Mr. Anderson said he also walked geology classes through the park during his nearly four decades as a professor at Augustana College in Rock Island.

``It's the best way to teach geology, to get students out to see the rocks in their natural habitat,'' he said. ``We have hand-sized specimens in the lab, but it's not the same as seeing them outdoors in changing conditions.''

Mr. Anderson is one of many teachers who use the park as a teaching resource, Ms. Carvey-Stewart said.

Even before Mr. Motz became officially involved with Black Hawk, he spent a lot of time exploring the wildflowers, birds and trees.

He taught biology at Rock Island High School 36 years and now works part-time with future science teachers at Augustana. For years, he has led students on nature walks at Black Hawk.

`Black Hawk is kind of like apple pie and baseball,' Mr. Motz said. `It's an all-American place that people like to see.'

Timeline tracing Black Hawk State Park history

1750-1831: Sauk and Fox Indians moved from Wisconsin to area now Black Hawk Park.

1828: Pressure from white settlers forced Indians to abandon Rock Island villages and move to Iowa.

1890-1925: A street car company ran an amusement park on the hill by the Rock River.

1927: Black Hawk became a state park.

1933: President Franklin D. Roosevelt formed Civilian Conservation Corps and assigned one team to Camp Black Hawk.

1935: Civilian Conservation Park completed park as it is known today, with lodge, trails, parking lots, bridges and plants.

1939: Hauberg Indian Museum opened.

1972: State of Illinois tried to give Black Hawk to city of Rock Island and expand John Deere Road to a four-lane highway through the park. Citizens to Preserve Black Hawk Park was founded to fight the state government.

1977: Museum was remodeled to mimic a year in the life of a Sauk or Fox Indian.

-- By Laura Oppenheimer (February 2, 1998)

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