Lee County Illinois
Part of American History and Genealogy Project

Old Trails in Lee County Illinois

In the spring of the year 1825, Oliver W. Kellogg desiring to travel to the lead mines, located in Northwestern Illinois and Southwestern Wisconsin, started from Peoria in his wagon for that purpose. He crossed Rock River east of Dixon about three miles and passed through the prairie lying between Polo and Mount Morris, touching the western part of West Grove and continuing northerly and northwesterly to Galena. Prior to this time, the people of Peoria had very much desired a shorter cut to the mines than that afforded by the Mississippi if pursued along its banks by land, and few cared to take the tedious route by keel boat up that river. But prior to the breaking of a trail by Mr. Kellogg, no one cared to brave the hardships of the trip and the perils from the Indians. So soon however as Mr. Kellogg had blazed this trail many others during the summer followed it, some with teams, more on foot, and all camping out. From its maker, the trail was named Kellogg's Trail.

By reference to the map it will be noticed that Kellogg's trail was still too circuitous for the desired short cut, bearing too far east, and the travelers having obtained a taste for a short route to the mines, demanded a still shorter one to take off the curves from Kellogg's. Accordingly John Boles, traveling across the country in the spring of 1826, left the beaten track of Kellogg, some distance south of Rock River, crossed that stream where Dixon now stands, just a little above the spot where stands the present Illinois Central bridge, passed up through the country about a mile east of Polo; north to White Oak Grove, half a mile west of Forreston, thence through Crane's Grove and so on to Galena. This route being much preferable to the old Kellogg's trail, it became immediately the popularly traveled route and was named Boles' trail.

This trail was used exclusively for three years following and a few years ago traces left of it might be seen then east of Polo on the prairie, and to this very minute, worn down into the ground across Mr. Edward H. Brewster's estate of Hazelwood just outside of Dixon, the old trail is discernible.

During the season of 1826, travel over this Boles' route was about double that of the preceding summer and autumn, demonstrating the American mania for short cuts even so far back as the year 1826, when ox teams were the vogue. Travel commenced again early in the year 1827. In the month of March, 1827, Elisha Doty, later a citizen of Polo, went to Dixon from Peoria. The river was still frozen. He attempted to cross the river on the ice; but before proceeding very far, the ice began to give way and he was obliged to give up the attempt and return to the south bank. He made the statement later to the editor of Bross's history that while waiting on the south bank of the river, just before starting on his return, about two hundred teams had collected there, all bound for Galena.

Mr. Doty lived in Polo subsequently for many years. When catechized upon the point he gave us facts never incorporated before in a history of Lee County because they were unknown to the historians, and he attached to them the accuracy which history demands. Thus early in the history of the state, Dixon became a place of prime importance.

The "Lewistown trail," opened a little later than Kellogg's trail, passed Rock River a little above Prophetstown in Whiteside County, but this was little used, the Dixon route being preferable.

T. C. Ankeny, son of John Ankeny who was one of the first settlers of Buffalo Grove (Polo), wrote a sketch of his father, John Ankeny in 1883, for the Ogle County Press, in which he says, "In 1829, by act of the legislature, he, John Ankeny, with John McDonald and another man, was appointed to view and lay out a state road from Apple River to Osier's Ferry on Rock River, now city of Dixon. December 25th of that year, he, with the other commissioners and surveying party, in pursuance of their mission, camped in a grove by a creek which for the vast quantity of buffalo bones covering acres of ground, about the head of the creek east of the grove, they gave the name of Buffalo' to the grove and the stream."

As the session laws for a considerable period to 1829 are silent upon the point, it is more than likely that Mr. Ankeny is mistaken and that his father received his authority from the commissioners of Jo Daviess County, or Peoria County. As a matter of fact, those viewers were appointed by the county commissioners and through the very great kindness of Mr. J. C. Scott of Galena, I am able to reproduce their report; also some other valuable information contained in Scott's letter.

Galena, Illinois, Sept. 27, 1913
Me. Frank E. Stevens, Dixon, Illinois.

Dear Sir: Your letter to county clerk inquiring the names of the viewers who located a road from Rock River to Galena in 1829 was referred to me. Herewith is enclosed copy of their report as appears of record.

The County Commissioners Court of Jo Daviess County, Illinois, on March 8, 1829, appointed John Brookie, Levi Warner and Alvin Humphrey Viewers to locate a road from Bowman & Co.'s Mill on Buffalo creek to Knox's mill on Elkhorn creek. Levi Warner signs as "Dept. Cty. Surv." In this survey Timothy Widifield, Zalmon Livermore and George R. Webster acted as chainmen.

January 7, 1833, the General Assembly of the State of Illinois passed an "Act providing for the location of a road from Chicago to Galena.'' Joseph Naper acted as Commissioner and G. W. Snow as surveyor. The survey was commenced May 30, 1833, at the northeast comer of Lake and West Water streets.

In the notes is the following:

"N. 20° 00' W. Across Rock River at Dixon's Ferry 102 miles 15 chains, 58 1-3 links."
Following the surveyors' notes the following report is made:
"Galena -

From Chicago to Dixon's Ferry the Rout generally a high & dry prairie and no expense of consequence will be necessary to open a road with the exception of the streams.
"There is passable fords to all of them.

"From Dixon's to Galena the general line of the present road has been followed, very hilly but a tolerable good road $500 will probably be sufficient for a good road the whole distance."

This road is sometimes called the Galena & Chicago road and other times the Galena & Peoria road.

Trusting what is sent you will prove satisfactory I am,
Respectfully yours,
J. C. Scott.

Report: Viewers Of The Road From The Woodbine Spring To O'Gee's
To the Honorable the County Commissioners Court of Jo Daviess
County, State of Illinois:

We, the undersigned subscribers being duly appointed by said Court at their November term to view and lay out a road from the Woodbine Springs to Joseph O'Gee's Ferry on Rock river beg leave to report: That we commenced at the place and proceeded to the latter, following the Lewistown road about five miles there took across south 50 degrees east for O'Gee ferry. Then finding ourselves about to strike one mile above said ferry, on our returning examined the country to Buffalo creek about ten miles where touching our line from thence to Elk creek at a lone tree about five miles, thence to Middle creek three miles, thence to Straddle creek four miles, thence to Crains Grove three miles, thence to East Plum river four miles, thence to West Plum river four miles, thence to the Lewistown road two miles, thence along said road to the beginning five miles.

We find the ground excellent and find fords on the different streams and at this time the U. S. Mail is running it, and we deem it essential to have the road confirmed and supervisors appointed to open and work the same, as wide as the balance of the road from Woodbine Springs to Galena.

And the undersigned subscribers beg leave to further suggest that three districts should be made.

1st. Commencing at the ferry on Fever River to extend to the west bank of Apple River.

2nd. Beginning on the east bank of said Apple River and extend to the west bank of Plum River.

3rd. Beginning on the east bank of Plum River to extend to Rock River and include J. O'Gees residence and such hands as may be living with him subject to labor on highways.

We would moreover state that we employed Colonel Flack as surveyor and A. Hamlin as axman under a full conviction that your Honorable Body will compensate them for their services.

Chas. D. St. Vrain,
John McDonald,
John Ankeny.
Apple River, March 1, 1830.

It will be perceived in this narrative that he speaks of Ogee's Ferry as Osier's Ferry. He is nearer right than is the pronunciation, Ogee's ferry. While Ogee spelled his name as given here, it was pronounced Ozya. Osier, reduced to the French mode of pronunciation would exclude the terminating consonant and give us the pronunciation, Oz-ya, with the first or long sound of O.

The name Ogee would not be called a French name exactly. The old French engages were not particular about their orthography, and if by calling and writing a name Ogee rather than Osier, Ogee would be easier, we may rest assured Ogee would be used.

Both Father John Dixon and Miss Louise Dixon while living told the writer that Ogee pronounced his name Oz-ya or with the French inflection, Oz-yiah, emphasis on the first syllable.

While discussing the point I may as well introduce at this point a letter from the late Dr. Reuben G. Thwaites which sheds a great deal of light on the subject of Ogee's origin and his name:

Sept. 15, 1913. Mr. Frank E. Stevens, Dixon, Illinois.

Dear Sir: In response to yours of the 4th:

The records of the wandering French Canadian traders are very hard to trace; illiterate themselves, almost nothing is known or written about them. You doubtless know Mrs. Kinzie's reference in Waubun to Joseph Ogee. The name was doubtless Auge, a common French-Canadian family name. Tanguay's "Dictionaire Genealogique'' gives a Joseph Auge, who married Aug. 15, 1820, a Sioux woman. There was likewise a Joseph Auge with the Northwest Fur Company in 1799 on Red River of the North. This may possibly have been the same as our Illinois Joseph, for after the amalgamation of the Northwest Fur Company with the Hudson's Bay in 1821, many of the employees were thrown out of employment and drifted about. Many sought Prairie du Chien, and started out from thence south and southeast. Joseph Auge was probably a half-breed son of the Mackinac merchant Michel Auge who was an important character there during the British regime. One Etienne Auge was in 1744 lessee of the post of Green Bay and was murdered by a Menominee Indian.

Yours very truly,
R. G. Thwaites, Superintendent.

In the month of May, 1833, when Dixon's ferry had reached a considerable dignity, Levi Warner and two other men, were appointed by the commissioners of Jo Daviess County "o view and admeasure and lay out a road between Galena and Peoria,'' which they did, and Mr. Warner certified the distance to be 145 miles and 26 and 25/100 chains. The route ran through Dixon's ferry and on through to O. W. Kellogg's place in Buffalo Grove and on to Elkhorn creek to Isaac Chambers' hotel at Chambers' grove. He reached his old friend Chambers' house on May 31st. On June 1st he continued on his way and remained over Sunday, June 2nd, at Thomas Grain's, then known as Grain's Fort. At the home of John D. Winters, near Elizabeth, this sturdy bachelor met his future wife, a comely widow, Martha Winters, formerly Martha Bailey of Cincinnati. He completed his survey to Galena, June 6, 1833. His field notes show it was eleven miles from Peoria to station 29, an open prairie known as LaSalle. Station 37 at Meredith's house was nineteen miles from Peoria. The north line of Peoria County was twenty-one miles, which he reached May 23d, and he makes the note, "good selection for a road thus far.''

Continuing north ten degrees, west sixty chains, he came to a large prairie extending to Rock River.

Thirty-two miles from Peoria he came to the south branch of Crow creek running from west to east, to bridge which would require a length of fifty links and a cost for construction, $12.

Station 45; from Fort Clark as Peoria was called in its infancy, to Boyd's Grove was thirty-six miles in a general course north, eight degrees west. Station 53 was north fifty-nine degrees east, 1,250 chains, to Bureau creek to cross which would require a bridge 150 links long and a cost to build it of $100. Between stations 57 and 58, he ran close to a Mr. Shirley's and a grove. For the six miles before reaching that point the ground was a level prairie. He arrived at that point on Sunday, May 26th, and it was between fifty-four and fifty-five miles from Peoria. The general course from here to Joseph Smith's house (Dad Joe's place), was mostly north seventeen degrees east. Smith's house was situated in the point of a small grove of timber on a very high elevation of ground. The road ran about one chain east of Smith's house. From Mr. Shirley's to Smith's point the ground was good for a road. Smith's was sixty-three miles from Peoria and was in Jo Daviess County, about three miles north of the then county line, so says Mr. Smith's son. The course to Inlet timber, north, eleven degrees, east to Inlet creek, sixty-nine miles from Peoria. The cost of a bridge across this creek, he estimated to be $150.

At this point it may be serviceable to note that while the water course was called Inlet then, it should not be confounded with the commonly accepted Inlet creek of today.

From a high point between stations 61 and 62, as noted by Mr. Warner, there was a high bluff from which point the grove at the ferry on Rock River and the grove at Mr. Smith's were both in open view at the same time. "From which point, I should think a straight road, or nearly so, might be located on good ground. "From thence to Galena, the bearings were something like or near north, ten degrees west.

From Peoria to Rock River at Dixon's ferry, it measured eighty miles and 56.50 chains. Mr. Warner reached Dixon's ferry May 29, 1833. Across Rock River from bank to bank, the distance was 9.90 chains. "Rock River is a beautiful stream; rocky bottom and healthy water,'' Mr. Warner wrote at the time.

Warner's course from Rock river to Kellogg's place at Buffalo grove, was north and about twenty-eight to forty degrees west. From Peoria to Kellogg's place he made the distance ninety-one miles and fifty-five chains ( Kellogg's was on the south bank of Buffalo creek).

Mr. Warner estimated that the bridge needed for Buffalo creek would have to be one chain in length and the cost would be $25; the width of the stream was twenty-five links. He reached that point Thursday, May 30, 1833.

The general direction from Kellogg's to Chambers' was north, thirty-four degrees to sixty degrees, west. From Peoria the distance was ninety-eight miles. He was at Chambers' Friday, May 31st. On Sunday, June 2d, he had reached a point opposite and about fifty links east of Thomas Crain's, 108 miles, 55 chains from Peoria. From Crain's to east fork of Plum River, the course varied from north, sixty-two degrees west to north, thirty-one degrees west. The cost to bridge the stream was set at $50. The length of the bridge would need to be one chain; the bridge 112 or 133 miles from Peoria. The course from Plum river to middle fork of Plum river was first, north, eight degrees west, and later south by seventy-seven degrees west, then north seventy-two degrees west. The bridge at this point would cost about $5, and it was between 117 and 118 miles from Peoria. The road reached the main stream of Plum river about 119 miles from Peoria, to bridge which, 100 links, $50 was needed. This point was reached June 3d. The route to Flack's was generally north by forty to seventy degrees. Flack's was 126 miles and fifteen chains from the place of beginning. From there the road to Apple river ran a northwesterly course, varying from north twenty-six degrees west to north eighty-eight degrees west. Of the river, Warner says, "course from east to west, beautiful current of water about 1.75 chains wide; good fording."

On Tuesday, June 4th, he was at Winters' place, about twenty-five links east of John D. Winters' house, and 132 miles and twenty-three chains from Peoria. From Winters' to Morrison's door in Galena, it was about thirteen miles, general direction north by eighty-seven to eighty-two degrees west.

Mr. Warner reached Galena, June 6th, making the distance 145 miles and 26.25 chains.

For the above very valuable information, I am indebted to Mr. J. W. Clinton, of Polo.

John D. Winters was a stage driver or mail carrier on this route for a considerable period. Isaac Rucker, who died but recently, also drove stage on this route from 1834 to 1837 on the Winters' line of stages, and very fortunately for us, Mr. Clinton secured from him the names of his stops, which were as follows: Dixon to Buffalo Grove, twelve miles; Buffalo Grove to Cherry Grove, eighteen miles; Cherry Grove to West Plum river, which was Kellogg 's old place in Stephenson county, twelve miles; from West Plum river to Apple river, twelve miles, and from Apple river to Galena, fifteen miles.

From Dixon south to Dad Joe's Grove, the distance was twenty miles; from Dad Joe's Grove to Princeton, fifteen miles; from Princeton to Boyd's Grove, fifteen miles; from Boyd's Grove to Northhampton, twenty miles; from Northhampton to Silliman's, fifteen miles; from Silliman's to Peoria, twenty miles. These figures, 105 miles, make a total above Surveyor Warner's of some-thing like twenty-five miles, which must be accounted for by detours made by the stage drivers from the regular and original line run by Warner.

When Indians were present, the method of crossing Rock River was simple. Winnebago Indians in numbers were found at this point then and rather thickly settled along the banks. Moreover they were very friendly with the whites, acquiescing readily in all requests to oblige them with their simple methods of ferrying over the river. Two canoes were placed side by side. Into one of these the two wheels of one side of a wagon were placed, and into the other, the two wheels of the other side of the wagon were placed. In this position, the Indians easily ferried wagons across the river. The horses were made to swim. Once across, the horses were hitched again to the wagon and the traveler proceeded on towards Galena.

When, however, the Indians were absent, as was too frequently the case, the inconvenience was very great, as fording was impossible except at rare intervals.

Delays became so exasperating that John L. Bogardus of Peoria in the year 1827 resolved to construct a ferry boat and establish it at this point. For this purpose he sent up from Peoria a man who built a "shanty" eight by ten on the banks of the stream who remained in it a short while until Bogardus sent up a Mr. Doty, a carpenter, and father of the Elisha Doty already mentioned, who with the first arrival started to build the ferry boat. When about half completed, the Indians burned it and advised Mr. Doty and his assistant to return to Peoria. The advice was accepted without argument. Parenthetically, it may be said of Bogardus, that he had been educated for the law; but in Peoria he had been mixed up considerably with ferries. In Ballance's history of Peoria, he is put down as a "sharper.''

This trail had become so important to the whites, however, that the failure of the Bogardus venture but strengthened their determination to equip Rock River with a ferry and be no longer dependent on the whims or habits of the Indians.

More than this, the route had become so important and travel had become so heavy that the Government had ordered a mail route to follow it, deflecting just enough to go to Gratiot's Grove over into Wisconsin.

When it came time to bid for this profitable job, Mr. John Dixon, then clerk of the county commissioners court of Peoria County and recorder, threw in a bid for it. Later it was awarded to him and he took with him to the crossing Joseph Ogee, there to establish the ferry. Being one-half Indian, Ogee was not disturbed and Mr. Dixon found favor with them for his enterprise and Ogee launched his boat in the spring of 1828; a boat propelled across the stream by poles, the passengers generally taking a pole and assist-ing in the work sometimes arduous enough. This ferry started from the south bank of the stream and landed on the north side wherever good or bad fortune dictated, or perhaps I should say wherever the current of that day dictated; high and low water of course had their influence on that decree.

This method of "poling" continued until the year 1830 when Mr. Dixon bought the ferry from Ogee. During this period of practically two years Ogee occupied the hut built for Bogardus by the latter's representative.

Joseph Ogee was a Frenchman living at Peoria in the year 1828. For a long while he had acted as interpreter between the whites' and the Indians. He must have been a person of average consequence, at least in the year 1825, because I find in H. W. Wells' "The Schools and Teachers of Early Peoria," in a letter written by Mrs. Maria Harkness, who taught school in Peoria in May, 1826, that Ogee was one of her patrons and sent his children to her school to be taught. The same John L. Bogardus was another patron. Judge Latham, the Indian agent, and John Dixon were others. The number of patrons was eleven and the number of pupils was thirty. The tuition charged was $1.50 per pupil for a term of three months, and the teacher, then Miss Waters, boarded round.

The school was commenced in a log cabin owned by William Holland, the village blacksmith, where it was continued but one week because there were no windows and no light except the open door. Beginning with the second week, the school was moved to Ogee's "new hewed log cabin." This cabin must have been built about the year 1825 because James Eads, who attended the first school ever taught in Peoria (in 1821 or 1822 and by James Grant) in referring to the Ogee cabin says, "Ogee's hewed log cabin which was famous afterwards as a schoolhouse and courthouse was not built for two or three years afterwards.''

Ogee's cabin stood on the bank of the Illinois River "near the Fort Clark Mill site and near the bridge." Just prior to the Black Hawk War in 1832 it was still used as a schoolhouse and in 1834 when the first courthouse was built it was still used as a courthouse.

Ballance describes it as a cabin 16x18 near the present site of the Fort Clark Mill.

Ogee figured in the first trial held in his cabin-courthouse and the first criminal case tried in the courts of Peoria County; where fore a brief notice of it should follow while on the subject of the founder of the ferry at Dixon.

Some question has been raised about Ogee's blood. He was not a full blood Frenchman; he was a half breed, French and Indian. Judge David McCullough, who wrote the best history of Peoria County ever published, knew intimately all about Ogee while ho resided at and near Peoria. Judge McCullough calls him a half breed.

Another indisputable authority is the record of the trial of the first murder case in Peoria County, and by the way, it mentions not only Ogee, but Father John Dixon, who was clerk of the court, so that Dixon people took an active part in the trial.

Nom-a-que was a Pottawatomie Indian, living far from Peoria on the Illinois River. He wanted to reach Opa (Wesley City) opposite the Bureau River. He reached it only to find the trading point abandoned. It had been moved across the river to Peoria. Waiting for means to cross, a canoe bearing a hunter appeared. When the canoe grated on the beach, the hunter threw his paddle across the gunwales of the boat and greeted the Indian. To the delight of Nom-a-que the greeting was in the language of the Pottawatomies.

Nom-a-que told the hunter he had traveled long and hard, that he wanted to go to the settlement and that he intended to locate there for the winter. Later, as the canoe bearing the Indian and the hunter glided gracefully up the river towards the village, the hunter told Nom-a-que that his name was Joseph Ogee, that he had come to the trading post in 1818, and that his wife, who was now waiting for him, was a Pottawatomie squaw. As the canoe drew near the village beach, Ogee pointed out a large log cabin that stood near the river, which he said belonged to him and which was his home. After hauling the canoe high upon the bank, Ogee led Nom-a-que to his cabin, where the Indian was given a cordial welcome by the half breed's squaw.

As Nom-a-que refreshed himself with meat and drink and the squaw prepared for the evening meal and he felt welcome in the humble cabin with his new found friends, he little dreamed that a few weeks later he would be tried for murder in the same room and cabin. Yet this is what happened, for he was the first man tried for murder in Peoria County after the circuit was organized on Nov. 14, 1825.

He had murdered Pierre Laundri, a Frenchman, during a drunken brawl. After a trial noted for its many disgraceful exhibitions by counsel, he was convicted. Col. William S. Hamilton, son of Alexander Hamilton, defended him. He was convicted and his case was appealed to the Supreme Court and there after considerable delay, a new trial was given.

There was no jail then, and the expense was considerable in hiring guards to watch him, but the Indian made no attempts to escape. He was re-tried and sentenced to be hanged. But his guard being by that time carelessly maintained, at the suggestion of his succeeding counsel he escaped. Subsequently at the battle of Stillman's Run, he was wounded so desperately that when found by Peorians, he was humanely killed.

The courthouse was Ogee's cabin which I have mentioned before. At night the jurors slept in the room in their blankets, on the floor. The cabin is mentioned as standing on the bank of the river, near where the T. P. & W. bridge lands on the Peoria side of the river.

The present Lee County was in Peoria County then. The trial judge was John York Sawyer, the judge who induced Father Dixon to accept the clerkship of that court, and Father Dixon acted as clerk at the trial. The whole countryside attended that trial. Ogee swore to the original complaint, Oct. 4, 1825, before Jacob Wilson, a justice of the peace, and the offense is charged as having been committed Oct. 2, and on the fourth the victim died.

Nom-a-que at one time and another was confined in jail at Springfield, at another in Edwardsville, and the expense was considerable for those days. I should explain that after his second conviction, his case was appealed and that pending a decision, he was permitted to roam at large.

The story is printed in the July number, 1912, of the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, pages 246, et seq.

Thus it will be perceived, another item in Ogee's life was furnished; he came to the old American Fur Company's trading point, established by Gurdon S. Hubbard in 1818.

The next notice we have of Lee County was in the year 1827. In that year, Red Bird, a Winnebago chief, of Wisconsin, was irritated into a declaration of war against the whites by the intrigue of the Sioux, and the massacre of a family of whites at Prairie du Chien followed. Fear for the Illinois settlements in the lead mines prompted the Illinois governor to send a battalion of troops thence to assist in quelling Red Bird's insurrection. After a tedious march to Galena, it was found that Gen. Henry Atkinson and Col. Henry Dodge had captured Red Bird and the so called Winnebago War had been terminated.

Thus even before the establishment of Ogee's Ferry, this point had attached to itself considerable importance as a place of rendezvous in times of danger and for the first time, Dixon became a theatre of war.

Mrs. S. W. Phelps of Lee Center has given us the best description of the old Peoria trail I have found. In 1832, her family traveled from Springfield to Galena. "Then a child of eight, I was the junior member of a party of five en route from New York City to Galena, Ill. The route was via Hudson River to Albany, thence across New York State by Erie Canal to Buffalo, onward by stage to Wheeling, Va., down the Ohio River and up the Mississippi by steamboat, and without detentions, required a full month's time.

"Arriving at Springfield, Ill., it was found to the dismay of the older travelers that the mail stage would travel no further northward before spring. After days of search for a good team for sale, my uncle bought a stout pair of horses, an emigrant wagon, buffalo robes, and provided with a compass, a large sack of crackers and some dried beef, the best provisions for emergencies of hunger which the town afforded, we set forth, soon to leave the 'settlements' behind and to pass through a wilderness country made still more desolate by the 'Black Hawk War.'

"Stopping places become more infrequent, till for the latter days of the dreary way they were forty miles apart, the blackened ruins of cabins now and then marking the deserted 'claims.' (I do not know of a cabin on the trail burned in 1832 by the Indians; some other cause must have contributed. Editor.) Roads, more properly called 'trails' by the inhabitants, long unused and either overgrown by prairie grass or burned over by autumnal fires were difficult to follow. Late in the afternoon of Dec. 13, our wagon halted before a little cabin known as 'Daddy Joe's'. Daddy Joe had espied us from afar, and awaited our approach leaning upon the rail fence, smoking a cob pipe, his rotund figure topped off by a well ventilated straw hat. , His son, yet a lad, occupied a post of observation upon a 'top rail,' his head also sheltered from the wintry winds by a similar structure.

"Winnebago Inlet,' known to early settlers as a slough of despond, lay between us and Dixon's Ferry, our haven of rest for the coming night, and my uncle asked directions to a safe crossing from Daddy Joe. His advice given between long puffs of his pipe was that we should go no further that 'evening.' He kindly offered shelter, food and his son as guide in the morning, as he was sure we could not 'make the ford' before dark. His assertion that the old ford was impassable and that the trail to the new was too blind to folks after night, was assuring, but anxious to push on, my uncle urged the tired horses to a lively pace. The result proved Daddy Joe the wiser man. The winter dusk came on all too early, the 'old trail,' too easily mistaken for the new, and in the uncertain twilight, the horses plunged down the steep, slippery bank into the black abyss of the 'old ford.' The poor beasts floundered breast deep in the icy mush, till just beyond midstream they could go no further. The wagon settled to its bed and the three feminine occupants climbed upon the trunks in the rear end, there to perch for several hours. By desperate struggles an occasional jerk brought us a few inches forward, after each one the wagon again settling into miry bed. Thus after several hours of exhausting effort the two men were able to leap to the shore from the backs of the horses, bye and bye to land the stronger horse and with his help to pull out his fellow, now hardly able to stand alone. Then one by one, we were helped along the tongue of the wagon to terra firma. My aunt, exhausted by fatigue and fright, was lifted to the back of the better horse with a buffalo robe as saddle, her husband leading the horse. Mr. Hull followed coaxing along the other, Miss Pierce and myself bringing up the rear. We started by the light of the new risen moon along the trail in ^Indian file' for a walk of three miles to 'Dixon's Ferry.'

"I recall distinctly the feelings with which I trudged on in the deep silence of midnight under the glistening stars over the bound-less prairie. The weary march ended at last, twinkling lights greeted our eager eyes and as we quickened our pace the moon-beams revealed a most picturesque, though somewhat startling scene. White tents gleamed and in every direction smoldering campfires showed dusky, blanketed forms crouching or lying prone around them while a few men in army uniform bearing lanterns moved about with alert step and keen eye. We halted at once, the ladies greatly alarmed, but the watchers had noted approaching hoof beats and hurried to reassure us, explaining that several thousand Indians were there encamped, for the final settlement of annuities and other matters included in their recent treaty with the Government. A moment later we were made welcome to the warmth and comfort of her neat cabin by Mrs. Dixon, who hastened to make ready a hot, relishing supper, a royal feast to our famishing appetites.

"Our kind hostess gave up her own soft bed by the cheerful hearth fire to the ladies, tucking me snugly away at the foot to a dreamless sleep, finding a resting place somewhere among her many guests for my uncle and Mr. Hall.

"In the gray of the early dawn, Mr. Dixon and his stalwart sons started out with oxen, chains and poles to rescue the abandoned prairie schooner from the Inlet Slough, returning with it in triumphal procession a few hours later. Meanwhile, someone had taken me out into the 'great tent' among the warrior chiefs, adorned with paint and feathers and earrings, and gorgeous in all the new toggery obtained from the agents. As we passed around the circle, a painted chief caught me up in his arms, seating me on his knee, admired and patted my red cheeks, calling me 'brave squaw, brave squaw,' because I did not turn pale and run away in fear. All preparations for a fresh start were soon completed, and we made haste to leave Lee County soil at least so much of it as we were not compelled to carry away upon our belongings. But getting away proved no easy matter. The horses had not been consulted. Once at the river's brink our troubles began anew. The ferry was a rope ferry, the boat a flat boat 'poled' across the swift flowing river. The quivering horses, terrified at sight of the water, refused to enter the boat. After long and vain urging they finally made a wild plunge forward which sent the boat spinning from the shore as they sprang upon the boat, dragging the four wheels of the wagon with them, the hind wheels dropping into the river, almost tossing us into the stream. Instantly, Mr. Hall was in the shallow water with his shoulder to the wheel, and somehow, between the efforts of the men and horses the whole wagon was got on board. After a halt upon the shore for advice and thanks to our friends, and a changing of the soaked garments for dry ones by the chilled men, their dripping raiment fluttering from various points of the wagon cover, our long ride to the lead mines was again resumed."

The old trail from Peoria to Galena became the most famous trail in the country. Northward a constant stream poured in the spring to make money from the lead mines. In the fall the same stream flowed backward. This movement so like that of the fish called sucker, gave the name Sucker to the people of Illinois and ever since it has clung to them.

It is known quite generally that Ogee was an intemperate man. It is known that he married a Pottawatomie woman because at the treaty of Prairie du Chi en in 1829, his wife, Madeline, was given a section of ground in Wyoming Township, Lee County; but for what services, I cannot tell. The treaty simply recites, "To Madeline, a Pottawatomie woman, wife of Joseph Ogee, one section west of and adjoining the tract herein granted to Pierre 'Leclerc,' at the Paw-paw Grove.'' Ogee did a famous business. For some reason or another, possibly because he had not complied with the law governing ferries, Ogee took out a license from Jo Daviess County, Dec. 7, 1829. Possibly it was because a post office was about to be established at this point. In the year 1829 any way a post office designated "Ogee's Ferry'' was established and a Mr. Gay was made postmaster.

From the American State Papers Post Offices, I made the discovery that the receipts for the first year of Ogee's Ferry as a post office, ending March 31, 1830, were $4.64, while from Galena they were the largest in the state, $824.54; over at Elkhorn they were 48 cents; at Peoria, $58.82; New Salem, Lincoln's old home, $4.16, and Chicago, nothing.

Ogee's habits became so lax that rather than see the ferry lose its prestige, Mr. Dixon took it off his hands and on April 11, 1830, he moved his family, consisting of himself, Mrs. Dixon and their five children, to this spot. On Sept. 29, 1830, he was commissioned postmaster of "Dixon's Ferry," the new name of the place. As such postmaster, he continued until the year 1837.

As soon as Father Dixon obtained the ferry, a new order was introduced; a rope ferry was substituted for the Ogee method of "poling."

Travel increased along the trail and the fact that it became known generally that John Dixon was the only man between Peoria and Galena who had money; settlers were drawn here, expecting to get work enough from him to pay living expenses while they were getting their claims cultivated.

This log house was store and tavern combined and many a famous man has tarried with Father Dixon. Up and down and down and up, Father Dixon fed and lodged them and Father Dixon loaned those old Argonauts money. He traded with the Indians and out of their affectionate regard for him they named him Na-chu-sa (Head-hair- white). Some have tortured the name into Nadah-Churah-Sah. Perhaps that was the correct version and perhaps their explanation is true that the Indian habit of abbreviation made it sound Na-chu-sa; the last named is the pronunciation that has come to us by no less an authority than John Dixon himself.

With Mr. Dixon's settlement here, Ogee loitered about the ferry until about 1839. Not very long before Father Dixon bought the ferry from him, his wife, angered at his worthlessness, threatened to leave him. Quarrels became the rule rather their the exception, and one day without ceremony, Mrs. Ogee trailed off under the knowledge and the certain belief that being rich in her own right, she would not have long to wait before her hand was sought in marriage, and sure enough it was. Madeline was a wise lady for an Indian. A man named Job Alcott living near the present village of Paw Paw married her and together, man and wife removed to the West with the tribe of Pottawatomies.

As the records of Lee comity show at this time, the land was sold to David A. Town, of Paw Paw, the first settler. The sale was effected by the execution of two deeds; but as the descriptions were rather vague, a third deed was executed with something like accuracy.

From an inspection of the treaty of Prairie du Chien, one would believe that the grant to Madeline Ogee was in fee simple, but I am told by the Secretary of War that in all cases, the consent of the Government was required to alienate a piece of land and that in the case of Mrs. Alcott, the Government gave that consent to all three transfers.

More than likely some doubting reader may inquire when and where Madeline got her divorce before taking on a bigamous husband. Alas I Madeline, charming widow that she was, not, took Mr. Alcott for better or for worse without asking consent of any of the courts. A divorce proceeding was quite unknown and superfluous. Alcott proposed and she took him before he could escape.

From the execution of the last deed, all trace of the Alcotts and Ogee vanished. Ogee's disappearance was the beginning of the end; the passing of the red man from our land. In the year 1835, the year of the great migration westward, the last of the Winnebagoes were taken west to their new reservation. While they remained they traded with Mr. Dixon; they trusted him implicitly and they carried his fame for honesty so far into neighboring tribes that while other whites were molested and robbed and others were murdered, the family of Mr. Dixon never was disturbed.

During the presence of Black Hawk, in advance of the troops, he ate at Mr. Dixon's table and Mrs. Dixon waited upon him. For this notable service Mrs. Dixon had his affectionate regard.

In another place I have told of the old account books still owned by Mr. Henry S. Dixon, which Mr. Dixon kept with the Indians, but I did not include one entry which of itself should be selected as the brightest piece of humor ever written about Dixon. The entry is this: "Col. Z. Taylor, To Mdse., including shirt pattern, $6.50."

And then follows the story of its liquidation: "Settled by note."

Col. William S. Hamilton, son of Alexander Hamilton, traveled that famous old trail and stopped many a time with Father Dixon, and many an item may be found charged against him for merchandise and money borrowed.

Winfield Scott, a candidate for President and the general of all the armies, when he came out to relieve Atkinson, stopped with Father Dixon and he bought goods too. But the entries show that he was a cash customer.

But those acquaintances and those credits, like the one to Taylor, had their influence. When in 1840 John Dixon went to Washington to secure the removal of the United States land office from Galena to Dixon, Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott made it their business to assist him with the result that in 1840 the land office was ordered removed to Dixon and in 1840 it was removed.

While in 1834 the importance of this trail was diminished and the Peru and Peoria shipping and trading points lost in influence to the rising young city of Chicago, Dixon became a center of larger influence by reason of the establishment in that year of the mail route by the Government from Galena through Dixon to Chicago, and with that year, the history of Lee County may be said to begin.

Stations in Lee County were established at Inlet, Melugin's Grove and Paw Paw, though for a considerable period East Paw Paw maintained a higher degree of importance, than its Lee county namesake. It seems remarkable that notwithstanding the selection of a north and south route through Lee County and its use for many years by a constant stream of travel, few stopped by the wayside to settle in Lee County. The tide of immigration which began in 1835, came almost entirely from the east along the Dixon mail and stage road which traversed the county diagonally from the southeast to the northwest and while the Peoria trail is but a memory and is an utter stranger to the maps of today, yet the old Dixon-Chicago trail today is almost identical with the old 1834 route from Dixon, clear through to Chicago. After the settlement of the Dixons here, Mr. John K. Robison was about the first to follow. Listening to the rumors of Mr. Dixon's money, he followed in 1833 and obtained employment teaching Mr. Dixon's children and some others from Buffalo Grove. He used the old Dixon mansion for his school room; thus the mansion became the first tavern, the first store and the first school in Dixon and in Lee County. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Robison moved to Melugin's Grove, married a daughter of Zachariah Melugin and lived there practically all the rest of his life.

Some few variations were attempted in the route when settlements came into importance as they did with great rapidity; but with the exception of a change to take in Aurora when that place had reached a prominent position in the census reports, little or no change ever was made in the famous old Chicago road.

On March 2, 1839, the change was made to Aurora. The road was to begin on the west bank of Fox River at or near a house built by Harvey Bristol, occupied by Horace Town, then west to strike the Dixon's Ferry road. Such was the language of the act of the Legislature which authorized the change. Road making at that time occupied the public mind quite as much as it does today while we are talking about the Lincoln Highway and other great road schemes. On the same day mentioned above, the Legislature authorized the laying out of a road from Dixon's Ferry to Linder, Union Grove and thence on to Fulton City. Dixon was a center, it will be observed! On the same day all roads established as county roads were declared to be state roads and thereafter every Legislature dealt with the subject of roads with greater frequency than any other subject.

On March 2, 1837, an act was passed by the Legislature to view and lay out a road from Princeton in "Putnam'' County, to intersect the state road leading from Chicago to Dixon's Ferry in Ogle county. And this road actually was laid out and it became the thoroughfare from Princeton to Chicago. By the laying out of that road, Mr. George E. Haskell, the Inlet merchant, secured a large volume of trade at his Inlet store. Only a few days ago Mrs. Haskell told me that her husband's trade was largely from the country over in the direction of Princeton and that it was her custom always to put up the customer for the night, feed him and Ins team and send him back with the best of opinions of Mr. Haskell and his generosity.

The commissioners to lay out that Princeton branch of the Chicago road were men who subsequently secured national fame. Their names were Charles Bryant, Joseph Knox, and John Kemball.

As I have mentioned before, the road designed to run from Lewiston to Galena never reached the period of infancy. It died in childbirth. But the road from Beardstown to Galena by way of Prophetstown, Savanna, Plum river on the north and Henderson, Knoxville, Rushville on the south, came near rivaling Kellogg's and Boles' trails out of existence. Father Dixon had more to do with the ultimate extinction of the Beardstown road than any other influence. He put it out of commission just as he put the Galena land office out of commission, and Dixon's Ferry was saved. The road was so important in the eyes of the Legislature, that five commissioners were appointed to lay it out: A. M. Seymour, of Henry County; Asa Cook, of Whiteside County; Israel Mitchell, of Jo Daviess County; Russel Tancrey, of Schuyler County, and G. A. Charles of Knox County. The intention of the act was to create a great state road.

One reason why many of the contemplated north and south roads were failures, was the lack of bridges of any character by which to cross the low ground which lay from Lee county clear over to the Mississippi River.

On the Peoria road through Lee County, the distance over marshy ground was made trifling by reason of the narrowness of the strip which laid between Inlet and Winnebago swamps (all then called Winnebago swamp). That at times was very bad, but efforts were made early to afford the traveler a passage over, sometimes perilous, but nevertheless certain. The older method already has been recited by the Lee Center lady.

On Feb. 19, 1839, Henry W. Cleaveland, obtained an act of the Legislature, by which he was granted the privilege of building a bridge across the Winnebago swamp, and this bridge and its necessary causeway were to be finished by a certain date in 1840. Like every other venture authorized in those days it was not finished on time and Cleaveland had his franchise extended on Feb. 26, 1841, to Dec. 1, 1841, in which to finish his bridge and causeway.

The causeway was to be raised at least three feet above the sur-face of adjacent ground and was to extend north or south of the bridge across Green river so as to embrace all the wet ground. It was to be made of good timber, and was to be covered with earth. Furthermore, the bridge need not be more than fifteen feet wide. Mr. Cleaveland dallied until Feb. 3, 1843, when a supplementary act was passed amending the original act so that "it shall not be so construed as to compel the said Cleaveland, his associates, etc., to use timber or stone in the erection of the causeway across Winnebago swamp only at such place or places where it is absolutely necessary.

"Section 2. Said Cleaveland may procure one disinterested householder of Lee County to examine the bridge and causeway; the county commissioners another and the two so chosen to select a third and if they think the bridge and causeway are completed according to law and this explanation, they shall file an affidavit thereof in the office of the clerk, which shall be satisfactory evidence until contrary appears." That ended Cleaveland's legislation.

The road was made of dirt and timbers, but many times the dirt left the logs beneath and then all the tortures of travel on a corduroy road were endured.

In another part of this book, (May town,) there has been written a faithful and very interesting story about this noted old causeway and its history, good and bad. It tells of the old toll house and tavern, so lonesome that flies and mosquitoes fled when they chanced that way. The murders too are told minutely.

The old Galena, Dixon, Chicago road, which became the ultimate stage road and state road, was surveyed by Capt. Joseph Naper of Naperville in 1833. The first stage coach on this stage-mail route to leave Dixon started eastward Jan. 1, 1834.

On Jan. 12, 1836, John Boles and James L. Kirkpatrick were, by enactment, permitted to build a toll bridge over "Fever River, at or near a place in Galena, called Meeker's furnace and at the termination of the state road."

On Feb. 10, 1835, a bill was approved which authorized the laying out of a state road from Chicago to Galena, crossing Rock River at the residence of John Phelps (Oregon). And the road, passing through Sycamore and St. Charles, was surveyed duly, and used for many years, under the provisions of an act approved March 4, 1837.

On the same Feb. 10th, the act was approved authorizing the survey of the road from "the Paw Paw Grove, on the road leading from Chicago to Dixon's Ferry, running from said grove by the groves on the headwaters of Bureau River, to the settlements at Dimick's Grove, on said stream, and from thence to Princeton, so as best to accommodate the inhabitants between those points, and from Princeton, on the shortest and best route to the county seat of Rock Island County.'' The reader will find this road mentioned many times in the history of Sublette, through which township it passed. But evidently, either the route was unsatisfactory or some hitch halted it until Feb. 24, 1843, when another act authorized Commissioners William Hoskins, Robert E. Thompson and Enos Smith of Bureau county to view, survey, mark, locate and establish a state road from Princeton, via Dover and LaMoille to the intersection of the state road leading from Paw Paw to Princeton.

I am convinced the road had been built already and that this act, but changed it somewhat, because in the title, the word review is used.

Among other measures put through various Legislatures to amend old roads and make new ones, was one passed Jan. 14, 1836, to straighten out the road from Peoria to Dixon, and James Wilson of Tazewell County, Henry Thomas of Putnam County and Simon Reed of Peoria County, were appointed commissioners "to view, survey, mark and locate a state road, to commence at the courthouse in Peoria, running thence by the most direct route to Bock River, to strike the same at a point on the first rapids below Dixon's Ferry; thence by the most direct route to Galena."

For this work, which by the way never was done, the commissioners were to be paid $2 per day, which, with the surveyors and chainmen's fees were to be paid by William Kirkpatrick of Rock River. In consideration therefore, Lid Kirkpatrick was to be permitted to build a toll bridge across the Winnebago swamp, at the place where said road crossed the swamp. The bill was passed to help Kirkpatrick and for no other purpose, and like so many others, failed.

On Feb. 27, 1837, an act was approved authorizing the survey of a road from Peoria via Wappelo and Savanna to Galena. But like most other roads designed to attack the Dixon road, nothing successful ever came of it. The Cleaveland charter, under the act of Feb. 19, 1839, superseded all others, just as in the earlier years it had preceded them.

May 3, 1843, Morris Walrod of DeKalb, Reuben Pritchard of Ogle, and Bela T. Hunt of Kane county, were appointed commissioners to lay out, mark and locate a state road from Chicago via St. Charles, Sycamore, Coltonville and Browdies' Grove to Dixon. The bill also conferred the power to assess damages as well as estimate the advantages and disadvantages. This bill was designed to draw to Sycamore some of the importance which had become attached to places along the more southerly route and unite at Sycamore, the Oregon and the Dixon routes. But nothing ever came of it.

The state road, LaSalle to Inlet, where it intersected the Chicago road was authorized by act of March 3, 1843, and it was the road which crossed Sublette Township and subsequently was used extensively. To locate this road Zimri Lewis and Jarvis Swift of LaSalle county and George E. Haskell of Lee County, were appointed commissioners.

Evidently, once a state road had been located, it remained a fixture until subsequent legislation changed it, because in looking over the session Taws, I found many instances where old routes were vacated either by change or abandonment. The Dixon-Peoria road was no exception. On March 2, 1843, so much of the Peoria-Galena road via Osceola and Wappello (spelling of the act followed), was vacated, "as is located across block 1, Hale's second addition to Peoria, and extending diagonally across said block from Main to Hamilton street."

The last road worthy of notice, which I find, was authorized by act of Feb. 12, 1849, and it appointed Commissioners Henry Porter of Lee, Henry Childs of Bureau and J. P. Thompson of LaSalle, to locate it from Peru to Knox's Grove, in the town of Sublette.

The trails are gone. In Lee County, the banditti of the prairie gave them many chapters of desperate deeds. They lent an atmosphere and an action which made brave men tremble, but which now have the lure of memories are more pleasing. Like all the other problems which confronted the old pioneer, he met and conquered the desperado, the corduroy road, the storm and poverty. What a fight that brave old warrior made! What a brave old soul that hardy fearless pioneer was I If he were alive today, he would hark back to the scenes with the same interest we do and with perhaps a secret pleasure that he was in at the beginning and that he was in at the death, too, of the regime of terror and trouble.

Do you now cavil because I have spent so much time upon the first days of this fertile and prosperous county of ours where lands sell for fabulous sums; where men drive miles in less time than the pioneer drove inches.

Lee County History


This page is part of a larger collection.
Access the full collection at History of Lee County Illinois

 



Back to AHGP

AHGP

Copyright August @2011 - 2017 AHGP - Judy White
For the exclusive use and benefit of The American History and Genealogy Project. All rights reserved.