There were still a good many Indians in the West. The Sac Indians had lately sold their lands in northern Illinois to the United States. They had then moved across the Mississippi river, to other lands that had been set apart for them.
But they did not like their new home. At last they made up their minds to go back to their former hunting-grounds. They were led by a chief whose name was Black Hawk; and they began by killing the white settlers and burning their houses and crops.
This was in the spring of 1832.
The whole state of Illinois was in alarm. The governor called for volunteers to help the United States soldiers drive the Indians back.
Abraham Lincoln enlisted. His company elected him captain.
He did not know anything about military tactics. He did not know how to give orders to his men. But he did the best that he could, and learned a great deal by experience.
His company marched northward and westward until they came to the Mississippi river. But they did not meet any Indians, and so there was no fighting.
The young men under Captain Lincoln were rude fellows from the prairies and backwoods. They were rough in their manners, and hard to control. But they had very high respect for their captain.
Perhaps this was because of his great strength, and his skill in wrestling; for he could put the roughest and strongest of them on their backs. Perhaps it was because he was good-natured and kind, and, at the same time, very firm and decisive.
In a few weeks the time for which the company had enlisted came to an end. The young men were tired of being soldiers; and so all, except Captain Lincoln and one man, were glad to hurry home.
But Captain Lincoln never gave up anything half done. He enlisted again. This time he was a private in a company of mounted rangers. The main camp of the volunteers and soldiers was on the banks of the Rock river, in northern Illinois. Here, one day, Abraham Lincoln saw a young lieutenant of the United States army, whose name was Jefferson Davis. It is not likely that the fine young officer noticed the rough-clad ranger; but they were to know more of each other at a future time.
Three weeks after that the war was at an end. The Indians had been beaten in a battle, and Black Hawk had been taken prisoner.
But Abraham Lincoln had not been in any fight. He had not seen any Indians, except peaceable ones. In June his company was mustered out, and he returned home to New Salem.
He was then twenty-three years old.