Lesson Plan 4: The Black Hawk War - "Reconstructing "Stillman's Run"

By Jennifer Erbach

Students will compare several eyewitness accounts of Stillman's Run, and discuss how a historian might use them.

Students will act as historians and try to reconstruct what happened during Stillman's Run from the eyewitness accounts.

Prior to the lesson, divide the class into three groups. Each group will be given one of the following testimonies concerning what happened during "Stillman's Run."

Students should read their assigned account and come to class with an outline of what happened according to their author.


Outline the Black Hawk War to give students a general idea of where the war took place, why it was fought, its major battles, and ultimate outcome. Note: go into little or no detail about the "Stillman's Run" incident.

Part I:

Have the students get out the outlines that they did for homework. Ask the students from Group 1 to tell you what happened during "Stillman's Run." (This should provoke a reaction from Group 2, since their version is very different.) Then ask Group 2 to give their version of what happened, followed by Group 3. Clearly, there is a discrepancy among the accounts, particularly between Stillman and Black Hawk's versions.

Part II:

In order to try and figure out what actually happened during the incident known as "Stillman's Run" we're going to have to examine the evidence (in this case, the three eyewitness testimonies) as a historian would. Put the students into teams of 3--one member from each homework group.

In the teams, evaluate the three testimonies, using the following discussion questions:

  • Where do these accounts agree? Where do they contradict each other? Do any of the accounts seem to be exceptionally different from the rest?
  • From what perspective are the events being considered in each account? How might this affect what information the account gives?
  • Consider the audience to whom each man was giving his account. How might this have affected their story?
  • Where else could you look for evidence of what really happened during "Stillman's Run?"

Part III:

Having examined the testimonies, what conclusions can you draw about what happened at the Battle of Stillman's Run? Using the testimonies, try to piece together an accurate account of the events that took place on the night of May 14, 1832. Be sure to support your conclusions!

State Standards Addressed: 16.A.4b Compare competing historical interpretations of an event. 16.A.5a Analyze historical and contemporary developments using methods of historical inquiry (pose questions, collect and analyze data, make and support inferences with evidence, report findings).

Notes for the Instructor: 

  • Time required for this lesson should be less than two 40-50 minute class periods.
  • Look in the "Interpretive Materials" section of Lincoln/Net's Black Hawk War page for information on the [Background] to the war and the [Conflict of 1832].
  • The State Historical Society of Wisconsin provides a similar lesson plan and some good discussion questions using the Battles of Bad Axe and Wisconsin Heights. Teachers may wish to access this lesson plan at: http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/oss/lessons/secondary/blackhawk.htm