Illinois State Historical Society. 1n.

Papers in Illinois history and transactions (Volume yr. 1902) online

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The united possessions of the Sauk, or Sac and Fox, Indians included the
whole of the state of Iowa, and on this side of the Mississippi river the lands
lyingr along the Illinois river, from its mouth as far as Peoria, then north to
tne Wisconsin river, about 70 or 80 miles from its mouth, down the Wiscon-
sin to the Mississippi, and thence to the Illinois.

Thej'^ had several villages in Rock Island county, but the largest was known
as Saukenuk, on the Sinnissippi or Rock river, about three miles and a half
from where it empties into the Mississippi, near where the village of Milan
now stands.

The date of the settlement at Saukenuk has never been definitely ascer-
tained. Blackhawk himself said that his people had occupied these lands
more than 100 years when they were dispossessed by the whites, in 1831.

The location of Saukenuk was an ideal one. The Sinnissippi, rich in story
and tradition, here flows through a valley whose fertility is unequalled. As
one looks over the farms that now stretch away in the distance, a more beau-
tiful pastoral scene can not be found in the State.

The prairie uplands, clothed with fields of waving grain in blended shades
of green, give a diversified color to the landscape. Clumps of stately elms
are dotted along the banks of the willow fringed river that glitters here and
there through the trees in mirror like brightness. Close to the site of ancient
Saukenuk the shore rises into a bold promontory, more than 200 feet high,
called Blackhawk's Watch Tower.

Those who give the Indians credit for being savages but little above the
beasts of prey, say that from this lofty eminence that overlooked the village,
Blackhawk used to sit and watch for his foes.

But those who knew him best, say that he was a lover of natural scenery,
and that it is more probable that he came here for peaceful purposes. He
himself, in his autobiography, says: "The tower was a favorite resort, and
I often went there alone, where I could sit and smoke my pipe and look with
wonder and pleasure at the grand scenes before me."

Saukenuk has been called a village, but perhaps a better idea could be con-
veyed by the word city, for it once numbered, by actual count, 11,000 active,
industrious, energetic, intelligent people. Like the towns built by the white
men, it was regularly laid out into lots, blocks, streets and alleys. It had
two public squares, and like the old villages and cities we see everywhere in
Europe today, it was walled for protection, not like them, with stone, but
fortified with brush palisades, with gates for entrances.

Saukenuk, according to local historians, was not a mere aggregation of huts
and wigwams, but a town of permanent dwellings. The houses were large,
bark covered, long buildings, from 30 to 100 feet in length, and from 16 to
40 feet in width. They were built for and occupied by several families, or
rather several generations of one family, grandparents with their sons and
daughters and grandchildren with all the husbands and wives.

These houses were built to face the street or public square, at a uniform
distance from the street, and equal distances apart. They were of poles
wrought into frames, and covered with long strips of bark, generally taken
from elm trees. They had arbor- shaped roofs, and numbered about 700.
From this it will be seen that the Sauks and Foxes belonged to the class
known as "village Indians." They called their buildings hodensate, mean-
ing that they were permanent, while the word wigwam, or tepee, is equally
descriptive of a hunting, or nomadic people, and is understood to mean tem-
porary abode. For their winter residences they used wigwams because they
were "small and could be warmed by building a fire in the centre, the smoke
escaping through a hole in the roof. Where the two public squares inter-
sected stood their council house which was of immense size without any

It was used bv the chiefs and men in authority for the secret consideration
and discussion of all matters pertaining to the tribe. When not in use for


this it was used by the young people for a gymnasium and dancing hall. But
it was on the public square that all the people met on all great occasions,
where their mass meetings were held.

Judge Spencer of Rock Island published before his death a little book en-
titled "Reminiscences of Pioneer Life in the Mississippi Valley." He had
settled near Saukenuk and lived about a quarter of a mile from Blackhawk.

His book gives some interesting accounts of life at Saukenuk. He tells us tha
the Indians were governed by two sets of men, peace chiefs and war chiefs,
corresponding to our civil and military departments. The duties of tha
peace chiefs were to settle all disputes and differences between their own and
other tribes, and between the whites and themselves. The war chiefs never
interfered in the affairs of the village, and it is to be presumed never criticised
the verdict of an investigating committee.

In times of trouble the two consulted, and there was always harmony.
Neither the political nor military rulers belonged to the laboring class, it was
the duty of the one to make the laws, and of the other to kill people, and
each attended strictly to bis own business.

Manual toil could add nothing to the glory of either, and the task of culti-
vating the squashes, corn, beans and melons was left to the old men, boys
and women.

Like the fashionable folk of today, the people of Saukenuk considered it a
necessity to go away from home for a part of the year, and about the middle
of September a general exodus took place for their western hunting grounds,
from which they did not return until the middle of April.

They all left on the same day, almost the same hour. In order to do this,
a man with a strong voice was appointed to go through the village a few days
before, proclaiming the day and hour of departure.

In starting, they went down the Mississippi, taking all their canoes, about
200, and from 500 to 700 horses. It was always arranged that the two tribes
should take separate hunting territory, so as not to interfere with each other.
The Sauks took middle and southern Iowa, while the Foxes went to the north
part. After the fall hunt, they went into winter quarters at some appointed
rendezvous, which they frequently fortified as a protection against the Sioux,
and here they staid until after the spring sugar making, when they returned
to Saukenuk.

' The appointed leader of the return trip would permit no straggling. They
were told in the morning where they would camp at night. They kept their
horses and canoes as close together as possible, and would arrive in camp at
nearly the same hour, after a day's march.

With all the impedimenta, progress was necessarily slow, and they often
did not march more than ten miles a day. They brought home with them
dried meat and maple sugar, having disposed of the hides and furs they had
taken by selling them to some Indian trader before starting home.

Befoi'e leaving Saukenuk in the fall, they buried their vegetables, squashes,
beans and dried corn, and their first task, on returning, was to inspect the
places where their stores had been hidden, to get the vegetable food, of which
they had been deprived for so many months.

The dried corn had been prepared by boiling it while green, catting it
from the cob, and then drying it in the sun. It made a palatable dish, of
which they were very fond. To hide these stores where they could not be
found, they selected a dry spot where there was bluegrass sod. They then
cut away a circular piece of sod the size of a man's body. This was care-
fully laid aside and a hole dug, enlarging it as they went down to a depth of
5 or 6 feet. It was made large enough to hold the beans, squashes, dried
corn, and sometimes crab apples, sufficient for one family. The hole was
lined on the inside with strips of bark, and in sacks made from woven flags
and grasses, or skins they had tanned, they put ,the vegetable provisions for


their next summer's use. The sacks were then covered with layers of bark,
the surplus dirt removed, so as to destroy all traces of digging, and the sod
carefully replaced.

Well they knew that as soon as they were gone the Winnebagoes or some
other tribe would be there searching for these hidden delicacies. They would
sometimes dig these holes in the center of the wigwam, where they made their
fire, and after the hole was filled they would build a fresh fire over the spot,
to hide all traces. But the Winnebagoes and other thieving tribes would
thrust their sharp muskrat spears into the ground, and sometimes discover
them, however cunningly concealed.

When a family had been .robbed in this way during their absence, some of
the young men of Saukenuk would go around the village and collect a small
portion from each family to make up the loss.

This thieving never seemed to make trouble between the tribes. It seems
to have been regarded as a sort of game, where the prizes were captured,
not awarded. The annual buffalo hunt took place in summer, the hunters
leaving home in July. This took them into the far western country where it
was probable they would meet the fierce and warlike Sioux who were tbeir
bitter enemies.

Elaborate preparations were necessary for an event of so much importance,
and each man carried a gun, a bow and a large bundle of arrows. They
often waged fierce battles with the cruel Sioux, and besides the dried meat
and tallow they brought home, they also brought the scalps they had taken
from their enemies.

If any of their number had fallen in battle, there was no rejoicing out of
deference to the feelings of the bereaved relatives, but they blacked their
faces, instead of wearing black clothes, and mourned in silence for a speci-
fied time.

If they had been victorious and suffered no loss of life, there was a season
of great rejoicing and dancing that lasted for days. There was no intoxi-
cating liquor used in Saukenuk. Blackhawk would not allow it and forbade
the Indian agents to sell it to his people. When this request was disregarded,
and some of his young men had been induced to drink, he anticipated
the methods pursued by a modern temperance enthusiast, went to the
agency, rolled the whisky barrels out of doors and broke in the barrel heads
with a tomahawk.

The people of Saukenuk were quite ceremonious and did not like to have
their code of etiquette'infringed upon. The grandmother of an acquaintance
of mine was once surprised by a visit from Blackhawk and three other chiefs
who had several hundred warriors with them.

As her husband was a friend of Blackhawk's she felt no fear, but thought
it wise to offer them some refreshment.

Blackhawk with great dignity declined the invitation for his band, but in-
timated that he and the other chiefs would like to eat at a table as the white
braves did.

She cooked them a fine dinner and sat with them at the table. Black-
hawk, in thanking her for hospitality, took occasion to compliment her on
her fine courtesy in sitting at the table with her guests instead of waiting on
them. When a white man was a guest of the Indians no offence was taken
if he declined to partake of any dish he did not like, but once helped it was a
breach of etiquette to leave anything. He could, however, hire some Indian
to eat it for him. This was considered good form, and furnished an easy
way out of many a difficulty.

The people of Saukenuk were honest. After trading posts were e.stab-
lished, they were often induced to buy much more than they could afford,
but the agents said that, though the debts were many, they never lost a dol-
lar from Blackhawk nor any of his tribe.


Like some of our highly educated and cultured United States Senators from
beyond the Rocky mountains, some of the people of Saukenuk believed in
and practiced polygamy, but Blackhawk never had but one wife.

They had many poetic legends that they used to tell around their wigwam
fires when the severity of the weather precluded outdoor sports.

One of these was that a young Sioux, lost on the prairie in a snow storm,
found himself at Saukenuk, and asked hospitality. Although he was their
enemy, he was safe as a guest, and was warmed and fed in the wigwam of a
chief who had a daughter called Dark Eyes.

The young couple fell deeply in love, and it was arranged that when he re-
turned the following summer she would go as his bride to the far western
Country and live in his lodge among his kindred. When the corn was just
ready to show its tassels the next June, the young Indian maiden, at work
with her mother in the cornfield, heard the whistle of an oriole that had been
agreed upon as a signal, and returning to her home, took her blanket and
joined her waiting lover.

But, alas! Her two brothers had also heard the signal, witnessed the
meeting of the two, and pursued the fleetfooted Dark Eyes and her Sioux
lover. The fleeing couple, hard pressed, took refuge in a cave under Black-
hawk's tower. A furious rainstorm was coming up, a bolt of lightning rent
the cliff, and the faithful lovers were buried beneath the ruins.

Since then, on summer nights, the whistle of an oriole can sometimes be
heard, and Dark Eyes and her lover come forth and wander about the famil-
iar places.

Another legend is that a wandering French violinist once came to Sauke-
nuk, and was entertaining the people who had gathered at the top of Black-
hawk's tower with the music of his violin — a recital, we call it m modern
phrase. His back was turned toward the brow of the cliff, and becoming en-
thusiastic with his own music, he stepped backward over the edge, and was
dashed to death below.

With the annual recurrence of the time of the tragedy, the Indians said
that the soft strains of a violin could be heard floating on the summer air.

Two or three miles from Saukenuk, just above the point where the Sinnis-
sippi joins the Father of Waters, is an island in the Mississippi, nearly three
miles long and three-quarters of a mile wide, comprising about 1,000 acres.
This was a favorite pleasure resort for the young people of Saukenuk, where
they went to gather strawberries, blackberries and nuts that grew plentifully
here in the season. It was a favorite fishing resort also, and here they loved
to gather and indulge in their simple amusements, dashing through the rap-
ids in their light canoes, and enjoying other pastimes.

One spot on this island was sacred ground, and they never approached it
save with hushed tread and subdued voices. This was at the lower end of
the island, where the rock which forms the bed of the island, and from which
it receives its name, rises in an almost perpendicular wall many feet in height.

Directly under it is a cave, where they believed a good spirit lived, the
guardian of their tribe.

Like the seers of modern times, many of them had seen spirits, and this one
was in the form of a swan, only ten times larger, and pure white, as orthodox
spirits are supposed to be.

On this spot Fort Armstrong was built, in 1816, and abandoned in 1836. In
1831, the soldiers of General Gaines burned to the ground the homes of Black-
hawk and his people, under circumstances with which we are all familiar,
and which limited time will not permit me to rehearse.

Saukenuk is no more. Over her fields, where once a thousand acres of
corn waved its tassels in the summer wind, the trolley cars of the Tri-City
railway now speed along on tracks of shining steel.

Blackhawk Inn, a summer hotel, crowns the summit of the hill that over-
looked the ancient village of Saukenuk, on the very spot where the chief of a


great nation used to sit and feast his eyes on the beauty of the scene. For
20 miles he could see the fertile fields of his fathers and trace for miles the
course of the Sinnissippi as it wound in and out, a silvery thread of light.

On the island where his young people used to wander, the whirr of wheels
and the clang of machinery are heard, and in the long rows of stone build-
ings are made and stored the equipments of war in one of the largest arse-
nals in the world.

Over the cave where the good spirit lived the Daughters of the American
Revolution of Rock Island placed, only a few weeks ago, a monument to mark
the site of old Fort Armstrong.

It stands where two great "transcontinental lines of traffic and travel cross
each other— the majestic Mississippi on its way to the southern gulf and the
great line of railway that, connecting with the lines of the Atlantic seaboard,
cleaves its way through the Rocky mountains to seek the waters of the Pa-

The spot is made memorable, also, from its historic association with many
names famous in the history of our country — Zebulon Montgomery Pike,
whose monument rises above the clouds in the lonely peak that bears his
name, Robert E. Lee, Winfield Scott, Zachary Taylor and Abraham Lincoln,
backwoodsman, pioneer, country lawyer, politician, statesman. President,
martyr, greatest of all the great men that Illinois has given to her country.
The view from this point is one of surpassing beauty. I spent part of last
year in Europe. We saw the scenery of the Rhine, the blue lakes and snowy
peaks of Switzerland, the lagoons of Venice, the green lanes and beautiful
lake district of England, and admired the grandeur of the Highland Tros-
sachs; but when, after my return, I saw it again, with the memory of what
I had seen in the old world fresh in my mind, it was beautiful still. Not
even the destroying hand of improvement had eradicated the charm that
once made it so dear to Blackhawk and the people of ancient Saukenuk.


[By Mrs. Katharine C. Sparks.]

When the war for i^Tmerican independence was fought, the population o^
the rebelling colonies was confined almost entirely to the east of the Alle-
gheny mountains. The stirring events of that contest took place for the most
part in the territory embracediby the 13 original states. We have been so long
accustomed to associate the heroic deeds of our Revolutionary fathers with that
region, to erect there our shrines for the homage due to American patriotism,
that one comes with some surprise upon the thought of connecting the west-
ern country of Illinois with the Revolutionary war. It is true that the expe-
ditions of George Rogers Clark and others were made w;esf of the Alleghenies;
it is true that these adventures are becoming better known and their import-
ance more appreciated; and it is also true that the present Illinois is associ-
ated with the Revolution in an entirely different way — through membership
in a body organized to perpetuate the memory of the men who participated
in that immortal conquest.

Edmund Burke well says, that 'People will not look forward to posterity
who never look backward to their ancestors." This statement was made by
an Englishman who had in mind the pride of an aristocracy; of old families;
of primogeniture by which vast estates were kept intact from generation to
generation. In America we apply the statement to a lineage of deeds and
not of blood; of courage and not of class; of ancestors perhaps of humble
birth who yet made for themselves niches high in the wall of fame.

The feeling which prompted the organization of the National Society of the
Daughters of the American Revolution was far from a pride of ancestry of


birth. Oq the contrary, it was a pride of an ancestry of worth. This pride,
of course, was simply attendant upon the great motive back of the orj^aniza-
tion — the preservation of the memory of the soldiers of the Revolutionary
war. This end the descendants of these men endeavor to accomplish by in-
augurating local chapters wherever a sufficient number can be found, the
whole constituting the national organization. The members are united in the
same lofty purpose; to recall the deeds of their Revolutionary ancestors, and
to instruct the youth of this generation in true patriotism. They seek to in-
still a patriotism that stands for something higher and nobler than deafening
noise, firecrackers, skyrockets and red fire, which cause life to become a bur-
den and make one almost wish himself beyond recall, even if in danger of
being confronted by more red fire. It seeks to protect the flag from desecra-
tion, to preserve the last resting places of Revolutionary soldiers, and to mark
properly and care for historic buildings and sites. Many of these places of pre-
cious memory would become forever lost or destroyed but for the effortsof the
patriotic women who devote their strength and funds to preserving these "price-
less inheritances for posterity. The organization has also done much iu the
past ten years to arouse interest in a more intensive and widespread study of
the history of our country. This has been done by arranging courses of
lectures on the subject; by offering prizes in the grammar and high schools
for essays on topics pertaining to our national history; and by organizing the
children into a junior society, with the same end in view.

Although founded less than 12 years ago, the organization of the Daughters
of the American Revolution has extended until it is represented by chapters
in every state and territory in the Union. It is one of the largest organiza-
tions of women in the world, numbering over 38,000 members. Illinois is
represented by 27 chp.pters, ranking among the highest of the states in re-
spect to the number of its members. The Chicago chapter, to which I have
the honor to belong, is composed of nearly 800 members, having the largest
membership of any chapter in the organization. It also lays claim to being
the first regularly organized chapter, and therefore the State of Illinois, in
addition to its many other claims of preeminence, contains both the largest
and oldest chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

This preeminence of Illinois Revolutionary ancestry is due almost entirely
to the western movement of the people across the continent. When the Rev-
olutionary war was fought, Illinois was scarcely known on the map. It was
never really a part of the old 13 states although nominally held by Virginia
for a few years. If it had not been for the migration from the old states to
the west, the interest in Revolutionary history would have been confined to
the 13 original states. But their sons and daughters have been drawn off to
erect new commonwealths toward the west until they have now crossed the
continent. This migration is manifest frequently in tracmg the genealogy of
American families. Successive generations dwell in successive states toward
the west. Thus a child may be born in Kansas whose parents migrated to that
state from Illinois. The father was a native of Illinois but the grandfather
came to that State from western New York. The great-grandfather in turn was
not a native of New York but had migrated from Massachusetts, while the
great-great-grandfather had been born in England and settled in Massachu-

This westward movement has been a powerful factor in fostering American
pride and therefore in nationalizing the American people. It has prevented
an east and west sectionalism by creating a wide spread interest in the past
history common to both. The deeds of the old have become the pride of the
new. Faneuil hall, the old state house in Philadelphia, and the Apollo tavern
at Williamsburgh, belong to California, to Texas, and to Illinois, as well as
to Massachusetts, to Pennsylvania, and to Virginia, in which they were loca-
ted. Washington, the Adamses, and Patrick Henry are national, not state
heroes. The heroism, the privations, and the fruits of the Revolutionary war
are national heritages. They are not confined to the 341,000 square miles
composing the thirteen states in which the war was largely fought; but
they are a part of 3,500,000 square miles which comprise the present conti-
nental United States. They are not monopolized by the 3,000,000 people who


made up the population contemporary with the war; but through the migration
of their descendants they are the joint property of the 70,000,000 people who
now enjoy American independence.

Although the descendants of Revolutionary ancestry have thus carried the
priceless heritage of the past in their migration, yet they are now situated far
from the scenes of those heroic deeds. No one who has stood on Buuker
Hill, at Valley Forge or at Yorktown can ever forget the sensations expe-
rienced at the time; but this privilege is given to few people of the west. If

Online LibraryIllinois State Historical Society. 1nPapers in Illinois history and transactions (Volume yr. 1902) → online text (page 22 of 40)