Lee County Illinois
Part of American History and Genealogy Project

The Indians of Lee County, Illinois

With the beginning of civilization in Lee County, Rock River was the dividing line between the Winnebagoes and the Pottawatomies, the former to the west of the river, the latter to the east, and southerly to the Illinois River. Downstream the Winnebagoes occupied the country as far as the prophet's village, now Prophetstown in Whiteside County.

Farther down the Sacs and Foxes occupied the country and their village, about two miles from the mouth, was the largest Indian village in Northern Illinois and one of the largest in the state. Of course these four tribes intermingled and intermarried in a measure and to that extent dwelt together in harmony.

To state arbitrarily what Indians first occupied Lee County would subject the writer to ridicule. It will be my design therefore in looking backward after the earlier aborigines to use the earliest written information: ''Charlevoix'' annotated by that eminent and accurate scholar, John Gilmary Shea; ''The Jesuit Relations,'' annotated by Reuben Gold Thwaites; ''Handbook of American Indians,'' by Frederick Webb Hodge; the ''Wisconsin Historical Collections''; ''Schoolcraft," McKenney and Hall; Carver; Reports of Secretary of War; ''The Indian Tribes of the Upper Mississippi Valley,'' by Emma Helen Blair, and other works.

The Illinois or Illinois Confederation of Algonquin tribes occupied the Rock River country in 1722. This confederation was composed of the Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Michigameas, (spelled in many ways), Peorias, and Tamaroas. Hodge has added the Moingwena tribes.

They were scattered over Northern Illinois, Southern Wisconsin and the Mississippi River, on its west bank as far as the Des Moines River, thence into the Illinois interior at least as far as the Illinois river and thence south and southwesterly into the present limits of Jackson county. The whites first came into actual contact with them (unless Nicollet visited them) at LaPointe (Shaugawaumikong), where in 1667 Allouez met a party which was visiting that point for purposes of trade. In 1670 the same priest met a number of them at the Mascoutin village on Upper Fox river about nine miles from the present Portage City, Wis.; but at that time this band contemplated joining the Mississippi river tribes.

It seems to be true that these tribes were rovers. When in ] 673, the Marquette party passed down the Mississippi river, Marquette found the Peoria and Moingwena tribes on the west side, near the mouth of the Des Moines. Two months later he found them on the Illinois River near the present city of Peoria.

The reason perhaps for their many changes, was because they were harassed constantly by Sioux, Foxes and other northern tribes and the powerful Iroquois from the East. The murder of Pontiac by a Kaskaskia Indian provoked the Great Lakes tribes and thereafter with great rapidity, the Illini disappeared.

At about the year 1722 when the Foxes besieged detachments at Peoria, and "The Rock'' (on the Illinois river) the Illini of Northern Illinois consolidated with their brethren along the Mississippi, just as the Kaskaskia in 1700 had left their large village on the Illinois, near where Utica stands now, to settle in Jackson County where they founded the village of Kaskaskia. Immediately upon leaving the Rock River country, the Winnebagoes from Wisconsin, and the Pottawatomies from the East, took possession of it and they were occupying Lee County when John Dixon took up his residence at the ferry.

John Dixon encountered no trouble with the Indians. His patriarchal appearance appealed to their eyes and his sturdy honesty and unselfish dealings with them captured their hearts. He trusted them implicitly and not a single Winnebago ever tried to cheat him. Owanico the best known to rule over the Winnebagoes of these parts was especially fond of Father Dixon.

Just to indicate the paucity in numbers, of Northern Illinois Indians let me borrow a few figures from ''Schoolcraft,'' who in turn took them from the War Department. In 1806, Lieut. Zebulon M. Pike estimated the total Sauks, 2,850; the total Foxes, 1,750; the total Winnebagoes, 1,950. In January, 1825, all the Indians in Indiana and Illinois were 11,579, and of these the Sauks and Foxes in Illinois numbered 6,400. In the same year, the War Department reported 6,500 Pottawatomies in Michigan, Indiana and Illinois; "A considerable band of them reside in Illinois and another band upon the Rock River. In that same year the total of all the Sauks was reported 5,000 and of all the Foxes, 1,600 and of all the Winnebagoes 5,800 in Wisconsin and Illinois. At the same time Rock River was declared to be the eastern boundary of Winnebago territory.

In 1836 the Sauks were reported to number 4,800; the Foxes 1,600; the Winnebagoes 4,500, while the Pottawatomies of Michigan and Illinois numbered but 1,500. No Winnebago villages in Lee County have been known to exist east of Rock River. Any other Indian villages which may have existed in Lee County were Pottawatomie villages, the most important of which was that of Shab-o-na, and which by the bye was located just over the line into DeKalb County Shab-o-na, an Ottawa, the chief of that tribe, while a famous rover, seldom visited Dixon or other Rock river points. During the Black Hawk invasion he came here many times and his inestimable services during that period endeared him to every white person. He belonged properly to DeKalb County. Wherefore, aside from the Black Hawk trouble, Lee County had little to do with Indians.

Besides the village in which Mack located, another village was located in Wyoming Township called in the Prairie du Chien Treaty of 1829, ''The As-sim-in-eh-kon, or Paw Paw grove.'' This village was located on the spot conveyed by the treaty to Pierre Leclerc, known to the Lee county records as Leclere.

Along the river near Dixon, many Indian families dwelt, but so far as can be found, they lived in clumps of three or four families or fires and not as a village. These two villages are the only ones I have been able to locate in Lee County and I am reasonably confident there were no others. Both were Pottawatomie villages. Sha-bo-na's may have lapped over into Lee County, but from its location in DeKalb County, I do not see how it could.

It may be interesting to learn before leaving the Winnebagoes that their first title was the Ochangeas. The French nicknamed them Puants from the habit they had of drying fish in the fall, against their tents, from which noisome smells arose; thus, Puants, or Puans, or ''Stinkers."

In 1832 the second Black Hawk campaign, brought to Lee County, all of the Indian forces and at Dixon's Ferry the white troops rendezvoused and at Dixon's Ferry Gen. Henry Atkinson, of the United States army maintained his headquarters. After concentrating at the mouth of Rock River, the militia was sworn into the United States service by General Atkinson. This disposes of the old and much believed tradition that Lieut. Jefferson Davis swore the troops, including Capt. Abraham Lincoln, into the service at Dixon's Ferry. I have in my possession the original letter written by Brig.-Maj. Nathaniel Buckmaster, the day after the event, in which he states that Atkinson swore them in at the mouth of Rock River.

This Black Hawk was no chief; he was a brave and nothing more. Forsyth, the agent, took occasion to make this statement many times and if the reader will take the time to read the treaties with the Sacs (Sauks) he will notice that Black Hawk invariably signs with the braves, never with the chiefs. Gov. John Reynolds, who had an intimate acquaintance with him takes the pains to explain that he was not a chief, simply a leader of a few Indians, devoted to the British, who accepted British pensions and annuities and who were styled the ''British Band.'' He was a person of infinite daring and brute courage, but a man of no sort of capacity for military affairs. Led by a white man of genius and courage. Black Hawk was capable of executing small commissions, like the one under Captain Anderson at the mouth of Rock River. But in larger affairs he either lacked a sense of honor or else tired easily and was what is styled a ''quitter,'' as for instance his escapade at the Battle of the Thames. With much pomp and ceremony he enlisted with the British; marched to British headquarters in Wisconsin; was dubbed ''General Black Hawk'' and was presented with a sword. With his band he marched to the scene of action. When at the Battle of the Thames, he saw Tecumseh fall and learned that the Americans could fight, notwithstanding his many predictions to the contrary; he deliberately deserted and returned to his village back in Illinois. As an orator Black Hawk possessed undoubted ability. There was but one other Sac who could equal him in eloquence and that was the matchless Keokuk and after Black Hawk had harangued the vast majority of his tribe into favoring his scheme of 1832, Keokuk it was who appeared on the scene and argued the scheme into disfavor. Keokuk was the chief of Black Hawk's tribe, not Black Hawk, and instead of nauseating the pages of history by erecting at Oregon an heroic monument to ''Chief Black Hawk, the author of the stupid project should have learned a little history and directed his genius to the memory of good old Sha-bo-na, the grandest of all Western Indians, or else to some other Indian who had the right to overlook the Rock river country around Oregon. Black Hawk was a trespasser the moment he put his foot into the country above the prophet's village in Whiteside County. Above that point it was Winnebago and Pottawatomie Country and never Sac territory. The latter was confined in Illinois to a narrow strip along the bank of the Mississippi River.

Black Hawk had signed many treaties, each one confirming a former one, until the first one of 1804, which was Black Hawk's first alleged cause for dispute with the whites, had been confirmed many times. This Indian would remain tranquil for a time, accept the bounty of the United States and of England at the same time, until his restless spirit demanded diversion, then the Treaty of 1804 and its subsequent confirmations would be denounced and later a disturbance would follow. Forsyth, the Sac agent, wrote the War Department to this fact so far back as the early '20s and therein named Black Hawk, ''who is not a chief,'' as the disturbing agent.

In 1831 Black Hawk endeavored to cross over into Illinois from his Iowa abode for purposes of war. Governor Reynolds sent a force of militia to act in conjunction with General Gaines in expelling him. By the time the militia had reached the mouth of Rock River. Black Hawk and his band, at the show of such forces, returned to the Iowa side without attempting a blow. At the request of General Gaines another treaty confirming the one of 1804, obviating all of Black Hawk's objections and engaging to remain peaceful thereafter, was signed by Black Hawk and the whites had every reason to believe he would remain on the west side of the Mississippi.

It has been urged that the whites aggravated him, ridiculed him, converted the lands of his tribe and so on. Black Hawk lacked the capacity of Keokuk to observe the gradual decrease in numbers of the Indians and the gradual advances of civilization which demanded lands the Indians were not actually using. Black Hawk lacked capacity. His morals were not of an order to inspire a great following or father a great cause. The whites may have quarreled with him, as with themselves. But it is noticeable that Black Hawk about this time, after agreeing to remain on his new lands in Iowa, seemed to delight in returning to the Illinois side to have another quarrel and take perhaps some more aggravations, and even as has been claimed, a beating.

In 1832 his restless spirit incited his last act of warfare. He got a few followers to agree to a raid. He came very close to success in his efforts to enlist a large following; but Keokuk, ever watchful for material advantages for his people, by a speech of matchless eloquence, took from Black Hawk almost his last recruit. With the rag-tag, therefore, of the Rock River Sacs, Black Hawk re-crossed the Mississippi, under pretense to the whites of making com with his friends, the Winnebagoes, but with the avowed purpose to his followers of annihilating the whites. His apologists insist he did not mean war because he took with him his women. The apology demonstrates his stupidity. Keokuk in his speech won back the Sacs by drawing a picture of the very consequences which befell Black Hawk. Keokuk insisted that war with the great numbers of whites in the country meant annihilation. Black Hawk could not see it and did not see it until he was taken in a grand tour all over the East. All too late Black Hawk saw and believed and ever after he lived a model life and whatever of commendation he secured, he derived it after that fruitful tour. Once more Governor Reynolds sent forward a large body of militia to meet the regular troops at the mouth of Rock River. There they were sworn into the service and immediately they marched up the river to Dixon's Ferry. At that point two battalions of mounted infantry under Majors Stillman and Bailey, numbering about two hundred and seventy-five men from the Illinois River country were met, and John Dixon reported that Black Hawk and his following of something like six or eight hundred had moved up the river to a point near Old Man's creek. Stillman demanded that he be permitted to pursue and annihilate the Indians. Governor Reynolds, who desired always to make himself solid politically, against wiser counsel consented, and on the morning of May 13, 1832, the Stillman and Bailey battalions joined by Colonel Strode and others desirous of securing fame, followed. A furious rainstorm compelled a halt over-night when but a few miles out and the soldiers did not reach Old Man's creek until about dark of the 14th. They had dismounted and were preparing supper when a party of three, bearing a flag of truce from Black Hawk, appeared on a hill. Instead of respecting it, a squad of soldiers mounted hastily, shot the flag bearer, took another of the party prisoner and pellmell, half the army followed the fleeing third Indian. When he and Black Hawk's five pickets or vedettes, sent to observe the reception of the flag, came tumbling into Black Hawk's camp. Black Hawk became enraged and turning with a mere handful of followers plunged into the oncoming whites, with the fury and noise of a thunder storm. The frightened whites at once turned to flee, frightening in their flight, all those who behind them, had been pursuers. By the time this fleeing mass of frightened humanity reached camp on Old Man's creek, fright had become so contagious that most of the men had become positively insane. A few only retained their composure. They remained and attempted to stop the stampede and stop the advance of the Indians. These were Capt John G. Adams of Tazewell county, David Kreeps, Zadock Mendinall and Isaac Perkins of his company; James Milton; Tyrus M. Childs, Joseph B. Farris, Bird W. Ellis, John Walters, Joseph Draper, and James Doty of other companies. On the side of the hill leading from the highland to the creek, these men stood their ground and were killed, most of them outright, two badly wounded who crawled, one five miles south of the scene and one two and a half miles south, where they died and were buried.

All that night stragglers came tumbling into Dixon's Ferry. Through the lawlessness of the troops, but one day's provisions remained; the rest had been left behind after burning the prophet's village so that a forced march might be made to Dixon.

Governor Reynolds called his officers to his tent and after a consultation; it was decided to call out additional forces. The troops had begun to murmur about neglected crops back home. Reynolds sent his messengers back into the southern part of the state with his proclamation. Meantime on the 15th the army marched to the scene, buried the dead, camped overnight and returned next day to Dixon's Ferry.

By this time Gen. Henry Atkinson with the regulars had reached Dixon's Ferry, and here he established his headquarters. It was ordered at once that the militia under Reynolds and Gen. Samuel Whiteside and the regulars under Lt.-Col. Zachary Taylor precede up-stream and overtake Black Hawk. That wily Indian, however, had disposed his forces artfully. The women and old men he sent up into the Rock River swamps of Wisconsin, while he remained near to pounce upon detachments and harass the whites wherever he might.

At a point over in DeKalb County, the troops murmured so loudly for a discharge that a discharge was ordered and marching to the mouth of the Fox River, they were mustered out.

While at Dixon, Abraham Lincoln was a captain of one of the militia companies. Lieut. Jefferson Davis was aid and adjutant to Taylor, Lieut. Robert Anderson, Lieut. Albert Sidney Johnston, Gen. Henry Dodge, Col. William S. Hamilton, and many other notable men and soldiers were numbered in that little frontier army at Dixon.

Pending the formation of the new army, two companies from Pry's new battalion were ordered to march from Ottawa to Galena to protect the frontier, then the scene of several murders. Capt. Elijah lies was captain of one company and Abraham Lincoln was a private in it. The other company was commanded by Capt. Adam W. Snyder. They marched back to Dixon's Ferry, lies' company first. This company from Dixon's Ferry was piloted to Galena by John Dixon. After resting a brief period it marched back without event to Dixon's Ferry, thence onto Fort Wilbourn the new point of concentration, where it was mustered out. Captain Snyder's company was designated for the more perilous duty of establishing a base of supplies between Dixon's Ferry and Galena. At Dixon's Ferry two companies of regulars under Major Bennet Riley, were detailed to escort Snyder's company. After performing his duty and encountering two engagements near Kellogg's grove, Snyder's company returned to Dixon's Ferry and was mustered out.

On June 18th, in order to make haste to cover the frontier between Dixon and Galena, still ravaged by the Indians who were murdering the whites, General Atkinson ordered Maj. John Dement forward with his battalion first to hunt for the murderers of Phillips in the Bureau woods, then to report to Colonel Taylor at Dixon's Ferry. At the latter point Dement was ordered forward to maintain the roads to Galena which Major Riley had opened.

At Kellogg's grove, Major Dement fought the first battle in which Black Hawk received a check. It was a furious fight in which the soldiers were disposed to act exactly as they did at Stillman's, and that too would have been a rout had it not been for Major Dement's personal bravery. He inspired his men and after checking Black Hawk's advance, retired to the buildings improvised as a fort. From this point Black Hawk finding himself unable longer to cope with the heavy odds, retired to join his women and old men in the fastnesses of the Rock River swamps near Lake Horicon.

By this time General Atkinson had disposed his army into three divisions to move forward from Dixon's Ferry, one under Alexander to move northwesterly to cut off a possible retreat; another under Posey to join Gen. Henry Dodge at Fort Hamilton, a middle ground, and the other under Gen. James D. Henry, up the east bank of Rock River. From this moment, Dixon's Ferry had no part in the war more than to become a reserve point for a small force and also the objective point of Gen. Winfield Scott, who with Ms staff, which included Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, reached Dixon, switched his army downstream to Fort Armstrong and then with Ms staff moved on to Galena and then Fort Crawford. Black Hawk's capture, the treaties at Fort Armstrong followed, and Dixon's Ferry, no longer the central point of the nation's attention, subsided into the quiet routine of a little far-away frontier post. During this period, John Dixon had been an active factor as guide and commissariat for the army. He led it clear through to the affair at the Bad Axe and returned home to trade with the Indians and ferry passengers over the river. Years afterwards, Robert Anderson sent him messages recalling the exciting days of 1832 and years afterwards, Jefferson Davis, a powerful United States Senator, on the floor of the Senate appealed to the associations of those days and with John Dixon, to secure passage of a bill giving John Dixon relief in the nature of a land warrant for 160 acres of land.

The close of the Black Hawk war sealed the doom of the Indians in Illinois. Without delay they were removed to distant reservations.

The following year a Winnebago outbreak was feared, by Mr. Dixon and the few settlers of the country. Preparations were made to concentrate at Galena, but fortunately nothing came of it, and with the Indians of Northern Illinois, moved to their reservations, a short while thereafter, the Indians ceased to be factors in Lee County.

Until the year 1836, when they were finally paid off in full, many bands of Indians loitered around Dixon, Inlet and Paw Paw; but they all were very civil and when paid off, they left.

It was my intention at first to begin with the Treaty of St. Louis, in 1804 and notice each one which affected Lee county, but aside from the two Prairie du Chien Treaties of 1829, which disposed of the Lee county allotments, with the exception of the Ogee, Sha-bo-na and LeClere sections, they were of such minor importance as to carry no particular interest. The first of the two Prairie du Chien Treaties with the Chippewa, Ottawa and Pottawatomie tribes conveyed the lands south and east of Rock river and was concluded July 29, 1829, by John McNeil, Pierre Menard and Caleb Atwater; the other with the Winnebagoes, conveying all north and west of the river, was concluded Aug. 1, 1829, by the same commissioners. The Ogee and LeClere sections were in Wyoming Township.

Pioneers of Lee County

Lee County History

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