John Fletcher Steward.

Lost Maramech and earliest Chicago; a history of the Foxes and of their downfall near the great village of Maramech; online

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Online LibraryJohn Fletcher StewardLost Maramech and earliest Chicago; a history of the Foxes and of their downfall near the great village of Maramech; → online text (page 15 of 25)
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Starved Rock, which they had been forced to aban-
don. "The time at last came," we are told of


Guignas, "when he was to be burned alive, and he
prepared himself to finish his life in this horrible
torment, when he was adopted by an old man who
saved his life and procured him his liberty. Other
missionaries who were among the Illinois were no
sooner made acquainted with his sad situation than
they procured him all the alleviations they were
able to. Everything he received he employed in
conciliating the savages, and he succeeded to such
an extent that he induced them to conduct him to
the Illinois, and while there to make peace with the
French and with the savages of that region. Eight
months after this peace was concluded, the Mascou-
tins and Kickapoos returned again to the Illinois
country and took Father Guignas to spend the win-
ter with them, from whence, in all probability, he
will return to Canada. He has been exceedingly
broken down by these fatiguing journeys, but his
zeal, full of fire and activity, seems to give him

Later he was found at Fort Beauharnois and
remained in that region until 1739. Although many
historians say that nothing was heard of him after
the encounter with the Foxes, still we find a state-
ment that he died at Quebec, February 5, 1752. In
the reports sent by Father Nau to his superior he
says: "The war is still carried on against the Fox
nation and against other tribes which have taken
them under their protection. Father Guignas was
not taken, as it was feared, but he has much to
suffer, for nothing can be sent him safely. For two
consecutive years the provisions sent him have
fallen into the enemy's hands." (/. ^., LXV.,


233.) This probably refers to the time when Father
Guignas was at Fort Beauharnois the second time,
as above stated.

There evidently remained enough of the Foxes
associated with the Sacs to annoy the father much
for a long time after the slaughter of 1730. Father
Aulneau says: "We received a few days ago news
of Father Guignas, of whom we had not heard since
1732. He is in a helpless condition; the hunger he
has had to endure and constant dangers which he
has been continually exposed to of being massacred
by the Sacs and Foxes, and numerous other hard-
ships borne heroically, have brought him so low
that even the savages, who have little pity for us,
are forced to look upon him with feelings of com-
passion." (/. R., LXVIIL, 257.) Father Nau
further says: "Our people have a war on their hands
this long time with a savage tribe called the Foxes.
It has been in a very slight degree successful,
through the impossibility in which our troops are of
ever overtaking them in sufficient numbers to
destroy them. Last year ninety of our young men
joined a French expedition against the Foxes; but
after inconceivable hardships and a journey of more
than seven hundred leagues, the guides led them
astray, and they were obliged to make their way
back without having caught sight of the enemy,
save in one instance. A party of twenty-three sav-
ages, nearly all of our mission, and seven French-
men had somehow become separated from the main
body when they found themselves suddenly sur-
rounded by a war party of two hundred Foxes. Our
men would have been destroyed had it not been for


the resolution of the Iroquois. 'We are all dead
men,' he said, 'if we surrender. There is no help
for it; we will have to sell our lives as dearly as
possible. Let us show the Foxes that we are Iro-
quois and Frenchmen.' Whereupon he led the war-
riors to the attack. The enemy could not stand the
first onslaught and retreated precipitately to their
fort. Thirty Foxes were laid low and ten taken
prisoners; our party lost but two Frenchmen and
one savage." Hebbard's Wisconsin under Dominion
of France, p. 142, speaks of this expedition as having
been in August, 1734, when the Foxes were found
on the Des Moines river of Iowa. The attack was a
failure and ended only in negotiations for peace.
The expedition was under the command of De
Noyelle, who, in 1730, as we shall see, aided in
defeating the Foxes (we may as well say aided in
the massacre), at the site of the ancient village of
Maramech. It was not until 1733 that peace, to any
extent effective, was concluded between the French
and the Foxes with others associated with the latter.


Turning back to 1710, we read that some French-
men, who for a time had traded with the Sioux,
found the route blockaded by the Foxes, and that
the Foxes had, in many ways, attempted to embit-
ter the Sioux against the French, on the ground that
the latter were only wishing to aid the Sioux and
lead them to their own final injury. They made a
pretext that the French clandestine traders (the
coureurs du bois) were supplying the Sioux with pow-
der, lead, arms, and merchandise. Ten years before
this, La Sueur's journal tells us, that that traveler
met, on the Mississippi river, five Canadians, one of
whom was dangerously wounded in the head; they
were naked and had no arms except a wretched gun
with five or six charges of powder and ball. They
said ,that they were descending from the Sioux to
go to the Tamarois and that they had met with nine
canoes, carrying ninety Indians, who had plundered
and cruelly beaten them. The party was going to
war against the Sioux and was made up of four
different nations, Foxes, Sacs, Pottawatomies, and
Winnebagoes. The Indians no doubt intended the
robbery as a punishment to the Frenchmen for hav-
ing taken arms to the Sioux. The Foxes were jeal-
ous of what they considered their rights and, as
before, levied tribute on all who passed along their
river. This jealousy continued for many years.
Father Chardon, a missionary at Green Bay, wrote



to his superiors, even as late as 1733, that it would
be difficult to establish a mission at the Sioux
because of the interference of the Foxes and Kicka-
poos who, two years before, had killed two French-
men. The Foxes declared that they would not let
the French go to the Sioux because they not only
carried arms, but the commerce that the French
made diminished their own commerce' considerably,
as otherwise, as middlemen, they could carry on a
profitable trade between the French and the Sioux.
Notwithstanding this opposition, the Foxes suc-
ceeded in getting the Sioux to join them and attack
some of the French who were on their way to the
Illinois. Prior to this, fragments of these two tribes
attacked the French who were established at the
Illinois village. Being so embittered against the
Illinois they could not be made to end the war they
had been engaged in for so many years.

In 1727 an association of Frenchmen was formed
to attempt trade with the Sioux. The uncertainty
of reaching the latter was such that, in the articles
of association, there was a provision to the effect
that in case the traders were prevented by the
Foxes, from passing to the Sioux, they were to be
permitted to trade their merchandise wherever it
seemed best, under the orders of the officer com-
manding, who would direct the manner and place
for the purpose. {Affluents Mississippi, p. 548.)

Father Charlevoix encountered fragments of this
ruthless tribe. He tells us, in speaking of the cus-
tom of burning prisoners: "Sometimes the prisoners
are judged and executed before arriving at the vil-
lage of their captors. At one time a Frenchman



having been taken by the Foxes, the latter held a
council, on their route homeward, to determine
what they should do with the prisoner." The way
they reached a conclusion "was to throw a stick up
in a tree a certain number of times, and if it
remained there the prisoner was to be burned, but
if it fell to the ground his life was to be spared."

While passing down the Illinois river, near Peoria
lake, the father and .his Frenchmen found forty
Canadians, who informed him that he would soon be
in the midst of four parties of Foxes and that he
would have safety neither in advancing nor return-
ing. There were thirty Foxes in ambush, and an
equal number of the same around the village of
Pimiteouy, and others, to the number of eighty,
held themselves in readiness lower down the river.
The canoes of the fleet that carried the father
landed at the foot of an island for the purpose of
procuring game, and while there heard noises of
wood-chopping. The nearness of the Illinois vil-
lage of Pimiteouy led them to judge that the noise
came from some Illinois who were doing this, yet it
had much the appearance that the Foxes had dis-
covered them and, not daring to attack them, wished
to draw some of the French into the woods. The
father believed that the lack of curiosity on the part
of the French proved their safety. Thirty Illinois
warriors, commanded by the chief of the village of
Pimiteouy, were on the march to endeavor to get
reliable information in regard to the enemy. A few
days before their departure an engagement had
taken place in the neighborhood, where the two
parties had each made a prisoner. The Fox that


was taken had been burned, a gunshot distant from
the village, and the body yet remained tied on its

The custom of the Illinois in torturing a prisoner,
it may be said in passing, was to plant two posts
and secure a cross-bar near the ground to which the
feet of the prisoner were tied, some distance apart,
and another cross-bar at sufficient height to tie his
outstretched arms well apart. A slow fire beneath,
"to give their friend warmth," as they would tan-
talizingly say, was usually the beginning of the tor-
ture. Firebrands and necklaces of hot hatchets
were resorted to. Shower-baths of hot ashes and
coals, and various other amusements followed.

The Canadians who had assisted in torturing the
prisoner told the father that he endured the torment
five hours, and that the unfortunate had, up to the
time of his death, insisted that he was an Illinois
who had been taken prisoner by the Foxes in his
infancy and had been adopted by them. He could
offer no proofs of this assertion, and suffered slow
death in consequence. Unlike most savages, when
submitted to the tortures, this prisoner uttered dis-
tressing cries. An old Illinois warrior, whose sons
had been killed by the Foxes, inspired by re-
venge, did more than others to torture the prisoner
in every way that he could invent. Finally the
sufferer's cries excited the pity of one who, with a
view to ending his misery, enveloped him in cloth-
ing of dry grass and set fire to it. As he still
breathed after the grass had been consumed, the
children were permitted to pierce his body with
arrows. Usually, where the prisoners did not die


bravely, it was a woman or a child that was per-
mitted to give the stroke of death, as he did not
merit to die by the hand of a warrior.

Father Charlevoix, the Jesuit priest who told the
story, was a fair historian, but the fact that he, like
Bancroft, gave to the Jesuit missionaries credit for
most of the discoveries in America, rather than to
the traders who ever preceded them, becomes
apparent to his readers. The traders sometimes put
on the cloak of religion, by taking missionaries with
them in their excursions, in order to win commer-
cial privileges from the zealous Christian king of

Charlevoix was observing, and tells us much in
regard to the region of country that we now see to
have become one of the garden spots of the world.
Passing down the Illinois river, he mentions many
tributaries thereof. "The largest," he wrote, "is
named the Pisticoui and comes from the beautiful
country of the Mascoutins, and it has at its mouth
a rapid named La Charboniere, because of the rich
coal-beds found on either hand. One sees on this
route little more than immense prairies, sown with
little bunches of woods that appear to have been
planted by the hand of man. The grasses are so
high that one becomes lost but for paths that are as
well beaten as in well-populated countries. How-
ever, nothing passes over them but buffalo and,
from time to time, herds of deer and antelope."

Along the Pestekouy (the Fox river) fora distance
above its mouth, the soil has been turned, during
recent years, to strip the beds of coal that lie
unconformably upon the St. Peter's Sandstone


through which the ancient Pestekouy cut its way.
Where was this rapid may now be the Dayton dam
that turns the waters of the river into the canal
feeder at Ottawa. The father does not tell us that
he passed up the Pestekouy, but he certainly did
have correct information regarding it. The Peste-
kouy is laid down on all maps as heading far up in
the country of the Mascoutins, and the father could
not have better spoken of the richness of the region
through which it runs had his canoe stemmed its

Near where heads the stream, at one of its many
summer-sought enlargements, is laid down Pistakee
lake, that still bears the erstwhile name of the river.
The river and lake were so named because of the
herds of buffalo that grazed on the bordering
prairies. In Lanman's History of Michigan (1839),
on the map, is shown a bit each of Illinois and Wis-
consin, and there we find, above the lake, the word
"PISTAKA." As there seen, the river also persists
in being known by its ancient name, Pistaka, the
English interpretation of the French spelling Peste-

While passing down the Illinois river the father
met the Illinois and Miami tribes. The latter
claimed to him to have originally come from the
sea, far to the west. These tribes united firmly in
i697,*for the first time, succeeded in making a stand
against the Iroquois and, having driven them back,
forced them into the treaty of peace of 1702. (Mis-
sissippi Basin, p. 15.)

The Illinois and Foxes were still enemies, and the
former, in 1722, captured the nephew of Oushala,


the principal Fox war chief, and burned him alive.
War resulted. (Starved Rock, p. 49.) The Foxes
then attacked the Illinois and drove them to the top
of Starved Rock and held them there at their mercy.
These Illinois were of the Peoria branch, the last to
cling to the region about the famous stronghold of
La Salle; all the other Illinois had fled to the west.
Mr. Hebbard, in Wisconsin under the Dominion of
France ', tells us: "Unluckily we know nothing of the
details of the siege, except the number of the slain
twenty Peorias and one hundred and twenty of the
besiegers but the bare figures are quite eloquent.
They tell not of a mere blockade, but of fierce
assaults, storming parties, desperate attempts to
scale the heights the old story of Foxes' fury and
reckless courage." The author of Starved Rock
tells us that the "news of this attack on the Peorias
having reached Fort Chartres, a detachment of a
hundred men, commanded by Chevalier d'Artagui-
ette and Sieur de Tisne, was sent to their assistance.
Before these reinforcements reached the Rock,
however, the Foxes raised the siege and departed."
The Peorias, on or about this time, abandoned their
home near the Illinois river, and united with the
other branches of the tribe at Kaskaskia; so that,
after all, the Foxes again had control of the very
heart of New France, along the Illinois river. "It
was a grave disaster to the French," Charlevoix
says, "for now that there is nothing to check the
raids of the Foxes, communication between Canada
and Louisiana became less practicable." The hand-
ful of warriors of the Fox tribe were so troublesome
to the French that the matter was taken up at Ver-


sailles, France, and it was decided "that the Foxes
must be effectually put down and that His Majesty
would reward the officer who could reduce or rather
destroy them." It seems from the above that the
last of the" Illinois left the Rock in 1722, and all
historians substantially agree as to this date; but
when I write the account of the struggle between
the French and allies on one hand and the Foxes on
the other, eight years later, we shall find certain of
the allies referred to in the military reports from
which I shall quote, as the "Illinois of the Rock."
It seems from this that some of the Peoria branch of
the Illinois tribe for sometime had been called "the
Illinois of the Rock," and that the braver ones hov-
ered about their old hunting-grounds and thus, as
we shall find, were among the first to give warning
of the attempt of the Foxes to pass through the
former hunting-grounds of the Illinois to those of
the Iroquois, where they hoped to find an asylum.

While so near let us learn of the Rock. Echoes
of forgotten tragedies and romance seem to resound
over Starved Rock, and traditions of sad events
seem to be whispered by the soughing oaks and
sighing pines that crown the summit of this natural
fortress. A half century ago a pretty story was
written that found its way into the school readers
of the day, entitled Starved Rock, or The Last of
the Illinois. Purely fiction though it probably
was, all there depicted might have been. So
charmed was I with the story that whenever oppor-
tunity offered I visited the place. A more fertile
field for the flowers of romance cannot be found.
I have stood upon the summit and watched the ris-


ing sun over the westward-flowing Illinois river that
narrows to the sight until it is lost in the distant
bend. Beautiful islands, that were the fields of the
natives, divide the river; and there are still fields
that rustle in the summer winds as did the fields of
those who, two hundred years ago, taught the
intruders to plant and tend the golden corn,
Buffalo Rock, on the river's northern bank, for
many years was the home of a branch of the Miami
tribe brought there by La Salle who, at a treaty
held on the St. Joseph river, convinced them that it
was to their interest to unite with the Illinois for
common defense. A rock indeed, but not a barren
one. Its surface was, back in geological ages, cov-
ered unconformably by a seam of coal, the debris of
ferns, sturdy as the palms of our day, and a thin
seam of carboniferous shales and surface soil.
Great trees offered shade, and blue grass carpeted it.
Where once were the cabins of these people the soil
has been stripped, by the enterprising miner, for the
fossil sunshine beneath. This rock, covering a large
area, precipitous at nearly all points, was a place of
easy defense.

One gathers from the description given by most
recent writers that what is now known as Starved
Rock is a promontory, but this is not true, although
half the pleasure-seekers who visit it, and tire not of
telling of its beautiful surroundings, come away
believing it to be but a height thrust northward from
the range of hills that are upon the same plane as
the prairie beyond the woods that border the river.
The fact is that the path that leads from the river
passes up to a neck that connects two otherwise iso-


lated rocks. The one upon which was the ancient
fort is somewhat higher and larger, and rises with a
sheer front from the [river. Back of this double-
summited rock is a well-defined swamp that is
drained by a small stream passing to the east, and
north into the river. To the west the land is low,
and during the rainy season the Rock may well'be
considered an island, for upon the west side also the
water then flows down a slight ravine to the river.

Although the site of Fort St. Louis has never been
lost, Francis Parkman claims to have discovered it.
The tales of early French affairs in the west identify,
and a multitude of two-centuries-old maps mark its
place. Some late writers lead us to the old Shawnee
earthworks on the neighboring hills, and others say
that on Lovers' Leap, Tonty built the fort.

"Lovers' Leap" is but a cliff terminating an exten-
sion of the prairie and, not being "isolated and
approachable only at a single point," cannot have
been referred to as "the Rock." The definition of
the French word roche is given as a rock "very
large and isolated."

A question as to the location of Fort St. Louis has
been raised by the Hon. Perry Armstrong, of Mor-
ris, Illinois, and uncertainty is also entertained by
others, which I attribute to unfamiliarity with the
early French records and maps, many of which, it
may be said, have not long been accessible. More
than a score of maps before me show the fort on the
south side of the Illinois river, somewhere between
the mouth of the Fox river and the Vermilion.
This general location has never been disputed, but
the exact place of the Rock is the matter con-


troverted. Before turning to the French writers,
every one of whom spent either days or months or
years at the post, one may well read what Mr. Arm-
strong says, in his valuable article on "The Piasa":

"Standing on the south bank of the Illinois river,
about eight miles below the city of Ottawa, is a sin-
gularly shaped St. Peter's Sandstone rock, which
rises up from the river's edge one hundred and
forty-seven feet. Its surface embraces an area of
about half an acre* and is overlaid with earth sev-
eral feet deep, studded with a few small red cedar
trees. It is circular in shape, and its walls are
nearly perpendicular, except a small space on the
south side, where persons can climb up. But this
passageway is so narrow that it was easily defended
by those on the summit."

Now follows La Salle's description of the Rock,
written in 1682, or possibly 1683 (Margry, II., 175):

"It is situated six leagues! below the said village
[Kaskaskia, which shifting village must then have
been near the mouth of the Fox river], on the left
bank in descending the river on the summit of a
rock, steep nearly all around; the river bathes at the
foot, so that one can draw water to the top of the
rock which is about six hundred feet around. It is
inaccessible except on one side, where the ascent is
yet quite high."

* By pacing I have made the area of the Rock to be about
^ of an acre upon its level summit, but, if taken over all, an
acre is not far out of the way. Differences in the way of meas-
uring its area have been the cause of the different estimates.

f A French land league was then 2.42 miles. Distances
were guessed by the travelers, who, as Charlevoix says, almost
always overestimated, because of the difficulty of traveling.


La Salle again wrote (Margry, II., 122): "The vil-
lage of the Illinois is on the north side of the river.
On the south is a great rock, very high, sharp and
almost everywhere steep, with the exception of one
place, where it inclines to the edge of the water."

Nicholas La Salle (said by Margry not to have
been in the same line of descent as the great
explorer) wrote in 1683: "He proceeded to make a
fort of wood on a rock on the border of the river of
the Illinois, face to face with their village."

Tonty says (Margry, I., 613), in speaking of La
Salle: "He came to join me on the 30th of Decem-
ber, and during the winter we there constructed the
Fort of St. Louis on an inaccessible rock, whither La
Salle had induced the Shawnees to come."

Charlevoix, who visited the place in 1721 (VI.,
119, edition of 1744), makes as bad an estimate of
distances as any when he places the fort a league
from Buffalo Rock, and the latter only a league
from the mouth of the beautiful "Pisticoui," the
country bordering which he praises so highly. "At
the end of another league [from Buffalo Rock,
where was the fort of the Miamis], on the left, one
sees a similar rock, which has been named sim-
ply Le Rocher; this is a plateau, much elevated,
two hundred feet of which border the river, which
river is here much enlarged. The Rock is almost
perpendicular and, at a distance, one takes it for a
fortress. One yet sees there some remains of pali-
sades, because the Illinois had formerly made there
an entrenchment, in which it was easy for them to
seek shelter in case of any irruption on the part of
their enemies. Their village is at the foot of this


rock on an island, which, with several others, all of
a marvelous fertility, separate, at this place, the
river into two channels quite large."

Joutel, who spent the winter of 1687-88 at the fort,
wrote: "Fort Louis is in the country of the Illinois
and seated on a steep rock about two hundred feet
high, the river running at the base of it. It is forti-

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Online LibraryJohn Fletcher StewardLost Maramech and earliest Chicago; a history of the Foxes and of their downfall near the great village of Maramech; → online text (page 15 of 25)