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Black Hawk Putnam

Black Hawk Putnam jpg.jpg

This iconic civil war photo of Black Hawk as a young man, complete with inform and saber

is held within the museums collection.

Black Hawk was the son of John Varnum and Elizabeth (Jenkins) Putnam. Born 28th of April, 1838.

Black Hawk married Jerusha A. Snell and they had four children. He passed away on the 17th of May, 1909 in Houlton.

Black Hawk and Jursha Putnam.jpg

This six foot high painting of Black Hawk and Jurusha hangs within the museum and is one of our cherished pieces of art work.

Sidney Gadsden, a native of England, painted the portrait. Gadsden and his family later moved to Ontario, Canada, where he continued his career as a portrait painter.

Black Hawk Putnam of Houlton, who was named for the famed Sauk Indian, was 23 when he enlisted as captain of Co. E of the Maine 1st Cavalry Regiment on October 19, 1861. Putnam's father was John Varnum Putnam.

The 1st Maine Cavalry and the 1st Vermont Cavalry were engaged in a reconnaissance on May 24, 1862 when they met heavy artillery, infantry and cavalry forces of the Confederate army. Most units fell back to Middletown, Virginia, but some of the 1st Vermont and a portion of the 1st Maine charged and a large number of troops were killed or captured.


Putnam led a charge at Middletown. His horse was shot, he was wounded and, with other soldiers, separated from the remainder of the regiment. They were in the woods and mountains for nine days, but escaped from pursuing Confederates.

He was assigned to recruiting service from July 30 to September 25, 1862. He resigned and was discharged on February 19, 1863.

Apparently because he did not complete his three-year enlistment, Putnam was drafted as a result of the March 1863 "enrolling and calling out of the national forces." The Board of Enrollment that covered Houlton approved his furnishing a substitute and Putnam paid Alexander Gervin of Houlton to serve as his substitute. Gervin was mustered into the 3rd Maine Infantry on Sept. 25, 1864.

Whats in a name?

Black Hawk Sauk band leader warrior.jpg

Black Hawk was leader of a group of Fox and Sauk Indians. He was born in the Virginia Colony in 1767. His father was the tribal medicine man and named Pyesa. As a young man he established himself as a war leader while on many different raids of neighboring villages. When is father passed from wounds Black Hawk inherited the medicine bundle his father carried. Black Hawk moved west as a young man. During the War of 1812, Black Hawk and the Sauk and Fox Indians supported British troops, fighting against the Americans.  

During these final days of his captivity at Fort Armstrong, Black Hawk recounted the story of his life for Antoine LeClair, a mixed-race interpreter, and J.P. Patterson, a newspaper editor.


Before the end of the year, they had edited and published "Life of Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak or Black Hawk". While its authenticity was questioned at the time, it is generally accepted now as Black Hawk’s autobiography. But it should not be viewed as entirely accurate—either as an account of events or as a record of Black Hawk’s understanding of those events.


What Black Hawk said to LeClair and Patterson is very likely not precisely what appeared in the book. His words were translated from Sauk into English by LeClair and then written down by Patterson. The raw transcripts of these conversations do not survive, but it seems likely that Patterson edited and rearranged the material with an eye to his expected audience.

The novel became enormously popular, so popular that John Varnum Putnam named his son Black Hawk.

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