The Battle of the Sink Hole is Fought Near Old Monroe: May 24, 1815

Black Hawk Battle of the Sink Hole
Public Domain

The Battle of the Sink Hole, being one of the final skirmishes of the War of 1812, was fought this date in 1815. This conflict occurred near present-day Old Monroe, and was a confrontation between American militia forces and a group of Sauk warriors led by Black Hawk.

The broader context of this battle is tied to the tensions that had been escalating between American settlers and Native American tribes in the Midwest. The War of 1812, while primarily a conflict between the United States and Great Britain, also saw significant involvement from Native American tribes who allied with the British in hopes of stemming the tide of American expansion into their territories. After the Treaty of Ghent was signed in December 1814, officially ending the war, news of the treaty took time to reach the frontier regions, where hostilities continued intermittently.

The Battle of the Sink Hole was triggered by a raid on a local settlement by Sauk warriors. According to Black Hawk’s journal, the raid was in retribution for the murder of a child he had adopted earlier in the spring.  When the raid was discovered Missouri Rangers, led by Captain Peter Craig, pursued the Sauk forces from Fort Howard and an engagement began. The confrontation took place in a low-lying area not far from the mouth of the Cuivre River. The area was characterized by numerous sinkholes and karst topography, which provided natural defensive positions for the Native American warriors.

When the fighting broke out, another group of American forces who were ranging out of nearby Fort Cap-Au-Gris, sometimes referred to as Fort Independence, heard gunshots and joined the fray. Having become outnumbered, Black Hawk’s forces retreated into a limestone sinkhole and were surrounded by militia. Although the situation seemed dire, the sink hole actually served as a good natural defense, allowing the Sauk forces to ward off further attacks as the day wore on. Both sides suffered casualties, with as many as eight dead from the Missouri forces and between one and five on the Sauk side, depending on whose account you read. As night fell the Missouri forces retreated to Fort Howard to wait out the night, all the while fearing that Sauk reinforcements were arriving and occupying high ground. However, Black Hawk and his men used the cover of darkness to escape the sink hole, and returned back to Illinois.