N. (Nehemiah) Matson.

French and Indians of Illinois river online

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Author of " Beyond the Ati^antic," " Reminiscences of
Bureau County," Maps, Sketches, Etc.





'# 1874.



665446 A



ft 1933 L

Hntered according to an act of Congress in the year 1874,

Jn tlie oltifp of the Libi-arian of Congress, at Washington.



The beautiful country between the Wabash
and Mississippi rivers, now within the boundaries
of the Sucker State, was once occupied by the
powerful tribe of Illinois Indians. Over these
prairies, and through these groves, these wild peo-
ple, while in their native simplicity roamed at
Jj; pleasure. Generation succeeded generation, and

^ -^ no one doubted their right to possess the land.
5 The French came and lived among them, intro-

S^ ducing a new religion with arts of civilization, and

* between the races harmony and friendship pre-

t vailed. But afterwards an enemy came, war and

S carnage followed, and the Illinoians were annihi-


For a time the conquerors possessed the land,
but the tide of civilization, which is ever rolling


westward, compelled them to find a new home
beyond the Father of Waters.

To give some account of these events, has been
the object of this work, and to what extent these
efforts have been a success, the reader is left to
judge. Some of the incidents herein narrated,
are drawn from history, others from traditions,
while many are from the statements of persons
who fiorured in them. To collect these traditions
from the Indians and early French pioneers, has
been the work of many years, and harmonizing
all conflicting accounts, candor compels me to ad-
mit, has not been a success.

This is an account of people who left no his
tory, and all that is knowm of them are scraps of
tradition, which are more or less vailed in doubt
and uncertainty. While the Indians were still
in the country, I obtained from them many
things relating to the past ; some of which are
confirmed by notes recently collected among the
tribe in western Kansas.

The descendants of the early French pioneers
now living on the American Bottom, have also
been interviewed, and all their traditions carefully


noted. Many of the places where marked events
occurred have been visited ; at some of which
relics of the past still exist.

A short time since, a small edition of this work
was published and copies of it sent among the
descendants of the French pioneers, Fur Traders,
Indian Agents, etc., for the purpose of obtaining
their criticism ; and through this means many
errors were detected, and new facts developed.

This book does not claim to be a full and com-
plete history of the French and Indians of the
Illinois river, but will be found to consist mainly
of sketches and incidents relating thereto. Neith-
er does it vouch for the correctness of every state-
ment made in its pages ; as many of them are
compiled from conflicting accounts, and of their
probability or improbability, others can decide.

Among those who aided me in my researches
were Geo. E. Walker and Col. Gerden S. Hub-
bard, of Chicago ; Col. D. F. Hitt and David
Walker, of Ottawa ; John Hamlin, of Peoria,
and Lyman C. Draper, of Madison, Wisconsin.

N. M.
Princeton, September 1, 1874.

chapter i.


Joliet and Marquette — Starved Rock, - - 15

Father Marquette — Discovery of the Mississippi, 25

Illinois Indians — La Vantum or Great Illinois Town, 33


The Cross Raised on the Bank of Chicago River —
Mission of Immaculate Conception — Death of
Marquette, - - - - - 42


The Great Explorer of the West — La Salle and
Party Westward Bound — The French at Peoria
Lake, - . . . . 53


Henri de Tonti — The French at La Vantum — The

Alarm and Preparation for Defense, - 65


The Battle and Massacre — Torturing Prisoners —

Death of Father Gabriel — A Scene of Horror, 73



Fort St. Louis, Rock Fort and Le Rocher — Trade
with the Indians — Flight of Indians and Attack
on the Fort, - • - - - 85


Return of the Victorious Army — Tonti Visits the
Winnebago Country — The Unscrupulous Priest
—The Great Illinois Chief— His Death, Bur-
ial, &c., ..... 97


Le Fort des Miamis — Strange Indian Customs —
Manitos and Barses — Christianizing the In-
dians, - - - - - - 108


The Last of Tonti — Fort St. Louis Burned and the

Colony Broken Up — Relics of Fort St- Louis, 120


French Settlement at Peoria — La Ville de Maillet —

French Inhabitants of Peoria, - - 132


Pontiac — Massacre of a Hunting Party — Indian

Council — Pontiac Assassinated, - - 144


Rock of Refuge — The Besiegers and Besieged — A

Ghastly Spectacle — Relics of the Tragedy, 157


The Old Fort — Relics of Antiquity — Louisiana
Colony — The Buffalo — Pat Kennedy's Journal
—The Great Buffalo Hunt, - - 172



Jean Baptiste and Father Bonner — Pierre de Beuro
Captain Levering Visits Peoria — Gov. Edwards
Meeting the Pottawatomie Chiefs, - - 187


Troops Marching Against the Indians — Black Part-
ridge — Indians Attacking the Settlement, - 200


The French at Peoria Regarded as Enemies — Burn-
ing of Peoria, . - . . 212


Descendants of French Settlers at Peoria — Mrs.

Besson's Narrative — Missionaries of Illinois, 223


Gen. Howard's Expedition Against the Indians —

Indians Collect on Bureau, - - - 236


A Treaty of Peace — Waubonsie — Burning of Fort

Clark, .: ... 247


Immigration of Pottawatomies — Pottawatomies of
Illinois River — Ceremonies of Senachwine's
Grave, - - - - - - 250


Attempt to Murder a Surveying Party — Kaltoo, or

Young Senachwine — Fur Traders, - - 2155


On a clear warm day in the early part of Sep-
tember, 1678, two hark canoes were seen slowly
gliding np the Illinois river, whose placid waters
had nev^er before reflected the face of a white man.
These canoes" were propelled up stream partly by
sail and partly by oars, and as they went forward
the travelers on board of them caused the wild
woods along the shores to resound with songs of
praise. On the sail of the foremost canoe was
painted various devices, representing a coat of
arms, a pipe of peace, and a cross — emblematical
of power, friendship and Christianity.

The voyageurs were delighted with the country
through which they were passing, and they made
many comments on the beauty of the surrounding
scenery. Large herds of buffalo were seen feeding
on the prairie, and at the sound of the oars, elk,
deer and antelope would arise from their lair, and
})ound away across the distant plains. Wild geese
and swans were swimming in the river, while



lltK^kb of ]>aro(]iicts luudc incn-y the hjiicly \vatei>
wi'tli tlieir soDi^s.

Tliis party oi' travelers consisted of nine }>er-
sons. Louis Joliet, a government ollicer ; Ja('(jnes
Mar<|uette, a Jesuit priest; five oarsmen, an<l two
Indian interpreters. They were the first to dis-
cover the upper Mississii)pi, ha\ing descended it
in liieir canoes from the mouth of Wisconsin
river to its junction witli Arkansas, Here they
became satisfied that this great river of tlie west
hM not empty into the Pacific ocean, as they liad
sjipposed, Ijut into the Soutli Sea, conse(piently,
they turned their canoes up stream, and were on
tlieir leturn to Canada to report the success of
their discoveries.

It was late in the afternoon when the voyageui's
aii-ived at LaVantum — the great town of Illinois
— located on the north bank of the river, near the
j)rosent site of Utica. They were surprised t<»
find here a large town, built along tjie I'iver i)ank
for jnore than a mile in extent, while hack of it
the great meadow was covered with coin-ticlds,
ramping tents, and swarmed with human beings.

As the voyageurs approachcfl the town, the In-
dians in great nuiid)ei"s collected on the ri\ci'
bank to si-i' these strange jteoj»le, nexer before
having looked u|ion the fac^e of a white man.
Wairiors, armed with bows and ai'rows, lined the


shore, prepared to give the strangers battle, if
enemies, and greet them with kindness, if friends.
The canoes came to a halt, wlien Joliet displaj^ed
the "Wampum," (a token of friendship,) at the
sight of which the warriors lowered their weapons,
and motioned them to come ashore. On landing,
Father Marqnette approached the Indians, while
holding aloft in one hand the pipe of peace, and
in the other a small gold cross. The Indians col-
lected around Marquette, in great astonishment,
offering him many presents to appease the wrath
of the great Manito, from whom they believed
the strani>;ers had come. The travelers left their
canoes, and were conducted to the lodge of the
liead chief, Chassagoac, where they were kindly

On the following day, at the request of Joliet,
all the Indians of the town were assembled on the
river bank, to hear the good tidings brought b}'
the strangers. Here Joliet planted a post, on
which he placed the portrait of Louis XI Y,
together with a picture of the French coat of
arms. Around this post, seated on the ground,
were about one thousand warriors, while back of
them were standing many thousand squaws and
pappooses. When all was silent, Joliet advanced
toward the })ost, holding aloft in one hand his
sword, and in the other a sod of earth, proclaim-


in^' in a loud voice, " In the name and by the
authority of tlie most Ifigh Christian King of
France, Louis XIV, 1 take possession of all the
country from Canada to the Pacific, and from the
Lakes to the South Sea, and henceforth it shall be
called New Fi-ance." At this announcement, all
the Frenchmen fired their gnns, and shouted
" Vive le roir

After completing this ceremony, Joliet ad-
dressed the Indians as follows : " On this post
you see the picture and coat of arms of the great-
est chief on earth, whom we call King. He lives
across the big waters, and his domain extends
from sea to sea, and there is no chief like him in
all the world. People from all countries come to
take counsel of him and do his biddinij;. This
irreat chief will be vour father, and vou will be
liis children ; he will supply you with beads,
knives, hatchets, <fcc., and he will protect you
from the attacks of your great enemies, the Iro-
quois/' At the conclusion of Joliet's speech, the
Indians beat their drums, clapped their hands
and shouted with joy.

Fathor Manpiette now came forward and un-
rolled a canvass, on which was painted a picture
of Christ nailcil to the cross. Raisiuir the cnn-
vass a1»oM' his head, so nil the warriors could si»(*
tin- picture, he siiid, " This is the Savior of tlie


world, who died to redeem all niMukind, and is
the ruler of earth and sky." Again the Indians
l)eat their drums, clapped their hands and shout-
ed long and loud.

When order was restored, Marquette preached
to the warriors, explaining to them the great
importance of abandoning the religion of their
fathers and eml)racinoj Christianity. Chassagoac
the head chief, with many of his friends were
convei'ted under Marquette's preaching and bap-
tized by him, as members of the Catholic church.
Marquette gave the chief a number of mementoes
consisting of crosses crucifixes, &c., wdiich he
kept about his person for more than fifty years,
and at the time of his death they w^ere buried,
with him.

On the third dav the canoes of the travelers
were again on the water, and on reaching Lake
Michio;an at the mouth of Chicao-o river, the
party separated. Joliet with three companions,
continued on his way to Canada to report his dis-
covery to the Governor ; while Marquette with
two others, went to Green Bay for the purpose of
converting the Indians.

As Joliet w^as passing down the rapids of St.
Lawrence river, near Montreal, his canoe upset,
and his journal with all other valuables, were

20 fkp:nch and Indians of Illinois river.

Tlit'se c\'i»lorcrs puhlislied ii<» accoiint of* tlicir
travels, and the woi'ld was Imt little wiser lV»r
their jouiMiey, except establishing the taet, that the
Mississij»])i river did nut flow into the Pacific
ocean, and Illinois was a rich country.


On the south bank of the Illinois river, ei^ht
miles below Ottawa, and near the tc>ot ol the
rapids, is a remarkable cliff known as Starved
Rock. This rocky cliff rises almost perpeiidicnlar
from the water's edge to the hight of one hundred
and thirty-six feet, and is separated from neigh-
boring cliffs l)y a wide chasm, which shows signs
of having be^n produced by some convulsion of
nature. Three sides of this rock rises like a
watch-tower; but the fourth, next to the blulV,
recedes inward, and at one place can be ascended
by a steep rocky stair-like pathway. Among cre-
vises in the rocks are stunted cedars, and between
tlw\se the cactus and mountain ivy grow. The
walls ot* this cliff are of gray sand-stone, partly
hid with forest trees, and viewed from a distance
has the appearance of an old castle of feudal times.

Stiirved Ruck is of a circular form, and from
every stand-point it has a bold, majestic appear-
ance. On the north side, next to the river, the


cliif is perpeiulicular, rising in towering masses,
and, as it were, frowning down on the rapid
stream which flows at its base. In some places
the- walls are smooth, and thick layers of rock
look like the work of art, while at other places
they are rough with overhanging crags, and under
which are many dark, dismal-looking caverns,
once the al)ode of wild animals.

A part of the summit of Starved Rock consists
of smooth sand-stone, on which are engraved
many names of visitors, but the larger portion of
it is covered by earth, with grass and small trees
•rrowimr thereon. The rock contains an area of
about three-fouj'ths of an acre, and al)Ounds on
all sides with shrubs of evergreens.

Here, by the side of the river stands this high,
isolated rock, the same as it stood centuries ago,
overlooking the broad valley below and the many
wood-clad islands which divide the swift current
of the Illinois, and here it will stand a monument
of the past, and the admiration of the future. Its
bold, towering walls ; its high, majestic summit,
and its isolated position, makes it the most pictu-
resque object on the Illinois river ; and for histori-
cal interest it has no equal in the western country.

The view from the summit of Starved Rock is
very fine, and the country in the distance will re-
mind the beholder of a grand landscape painting


or a l)eautiiiil panorama. To the uortli an<l west
is seen a large bottom prairie, bounded on each
side by bluffs covered with forest trees. Tlirough
this great meadow flows the Illinois river, which
can be seen for many miles distant, winding
al)Out in its serpentine course. On looking down
into the river at the base of the rock, cattish and
turtles can be seen sporting over the sand and
rocks in the clear shallow stream ; wdiile shoals of
red-horse are steming the swift current.

In the early settlement of the country. Starved
Hock became a noted land-mark, visited generally
by people traveling through the country, and by
them it was regarded as a great natural curiosity.

Of latter years, it has become a place of resort
for excursion and pic-nic parties from the neigh-
boring cities, and no one ever visited it without
being captivated with its \vild romantic scenery.

By the earh^ French explorers, Starved Hock
w^as called LeRocher, and through them it has
figured extensively in tlie history of "western dis-
coveries. Almost two centuries ago La Salle built
a fort on its summit, the remains of which are
still to be seen ; and around this fort was clustered
the first colony in the valle}' of the Missisv^i]i])i.

Two liundred years has made Imt little altera-
tion in the appearance of Starved Rock ; the same
fort-like walls remain, and probably the same


stunted cedars crown its suniiiiit, but the sur-
roundings liave undergone a great change. The
great meadow which its summit overlooks, once
covered with grass and wild flowers, and some-
times blackened with herds of buffalo, is now
occupied by farms in close succession. To the
north, across the large bottom prairie is seen the
village of Utica, with its cement mills and ware-
houses, and by the side of which, pass the canal
and railroad. To the west, live miles below, but
in plain view are the flourishing cities of LaSalle
and Peru, with their church steeples glittering in
the sunbeams, while steam and canal boats are
seen in the river, and trains of cars passing and
repassing on the different railroads. Evidence of
agriculture, commerce and civilization are now
to be seen from the summit of Starved Rock,
where the scenery was once wild and lonely ; and
here, was also heard the wild war-whoop of
savages while engaged in the bloody strife, leav-
ing the great meadow below strcAvn with dead,
the result of an Iroquois victory.

The summit of Starved Rock was, at one time
the abode of gay and joyous Frenchmen, where
balls and wine suppers were held ; and here, too,
was heard, morning and evening, the songs of
praise from the lips of devout Jesuit priests. At
another time it was a scene of strife, carnage and


desolation, stained witli liuiiiau blood, aud covered
with the l)odies of the slain. Pleasure pai'ties
now dance on this rock, but they do not consider
that here was once the dance ui' death — where
the infant, the mother, the young maiden, the
brave warrior, and the aged chief alike suffered
and died.

No spot in the great w'est is so closely identified
with the earl}^ liistory of the country as Starved
Rock. It was here the first explorers found a
resting-place, and here was the nucleus for the
first settlement in the Mississippi valley.



A few years ago, while passing through the
Vatican at Rome, my attention was called to a
department entitled, "Portraits of North Ameri-
can Jesuits." On entering this department, I
noticed a life-sized portrait of a man in the garb
of a priest, with an open bible in his hands, and
a gold cross on his breast. The portrait repre-
sented a man in the prime of life, tall and well
proportioned, with handsome molded features, and
a countenance beaming with intelligence. At
the foot of the picture was a motto in Latin, and
below it, painted in large Roman letters, w^as the
name of Father Jaccpies Marqnette, a Jesuit priest
of North America.

Marquette was born at Leon, in the north part
of France, of a wealthy and distinguished family.
He was of fine personal appearance, a strong in-
tellect, well educated, and while young became a


magnate in liis native city. When at a proper
at^e he was ordained a priest, and being enthusi-
astic about the conversion of heathen, he sailed
for America, forsaking home, wealth and friends,
to spend a life among the savages in the western

After remaining a slujrt time at Quebec, Mar-
quette went west to Lake Huron, where he spent
a number of years among the Indians, instructing
tliem in the ways of Christianity. While among
the Indians he learned their language, and it is said
that he nnderstood and could speak six different
Indian dialects.

Marquette went to ISault de Sainte Marie, the
outlet of Lake Supericn-, where Father Allonez
had previously established a mission. For a num-
ber of years this devout missionarv traveled
through the lake country, visiting different Indian
villages, preaching to the natives, and wherever
he went he made many converts to Christianity.
Under his preaching old and young came forward
to join the church ; sometimes baptizing one
hundred or more in a day. His active spirit
could not rest, causint^ him to travel from place
to place, exposed to inclement weather, wading
through water and snow, spending days without
shelter or fire, subsisting on parched corn or moss,
gatliered from rocks. Sometimes paddling his


canoe up and down stream, or along the lake
shore, and sleeping at night in the open air.

Said Marquette in a letter to a friend in France,
"A life in the wilderness has its charms, and the
rnde hut of a savage is hetter adapted to a true
disciple of Christ, than the palace ot a king. My
iieart oftimes swells witli rapture as my canoe
glides through strange waters, or while plodding
my way through thick forests, among briars and
thorns, in laboring for tlic cause of my Redeemer."

Marquette fonnded a mission at Mackinaw, and
the Indians of different villages along the lake
came thither for religious instruction. He built
here, on the bank of the lake a small chapel dedi-
cated to St. lofnace, and a few years afterwards
he was buried beneath its floor.


For many years Indians from the far west, on
visiting the French trading post in Canada, spoke
of a great river that flowed into the the ocean ; but
of the course of this river, and what ocean it
emptied into, could not be' learned. However, it
was believed to empty into the Pacific ocean ; and
throno-h it a water communication could be ob-
tained across the continent. The Governor of
Canada, knowing the great advantage to be


derived from tliis outlet to the west, selected
Louis Joliet, a Canadian by hii'tli, to make the
iieeessai'v discovery.

Early in the spring of 1673, Joliet was fui-nish-
ed with the necessarv ontfit for the voyai^'e, and
was soon prepared to enihark on his hazardous
enterprise. Father Marqnette, who liad acquired
much fame among the Indians, on the shore of
Lake Huron, was selected to accompany this

Father Marquette was a devout votary of the
Yiro^in Marv. and to do her bidding- he was will-
in*'- to make any sacrifice. His bold nature knew
no fear, and he was prepared to suffer all privations,
endure all hai'dships, in discovering new lands
and con(piering new realms, to the honor and
glory of her Holiness.

Before starting on the tour of discovery, Mar-
quette wrote to a friend in Quebec, saying : '' In
njaking this voyage I place myself under the pro-
tection of the Holy Virgin, and if she grants me
the ))rivilege of seeing the great river of the west,
which flows into the Pacific ocean, I will name
it in honor of her, ''The Inmiaculate Conception."

All things being ready, Joliet and Mai-(juette,
acconqiained by live companions in two bark
canoes, skirtecl on theii- journey. They carried
with tliem a ^^upJ)ly f)j smoked meat and Indian


corn, besides a great variety of trinkets tor Indian

After a tempestuous voyage, in coasting along
the lake shore, they arrived at Green Bay, eai'ly
in May. Here, at an Indian village they rested
f<>r a few days, and during their stay, Marquette
preached many times to the natives, exhibiting
the picture of the Virgin, Intant Christ, cruci-
tixion, etc., all of which he explained to them.
On the morning of the tliird day aftei* their arri-
val, Marquette was delighted to see a cross raised
in the midst of the village. On this cross were
])laced deer and huffalo skins, bows and arrows,
war-clubs, knives, tomahawks, and scalps taken
from the enemy. This cross, said the head chief,
was erected in honor of the great French Manito,
and all the warrioi's are commanded to bow down
and worship it. On seeing these manifestations
of Christianity, Marquette raised his hands heav-
enward, and thanked God that these heathen

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Online LibraryN. (Nehemiah) MatsonFrench and Indians of Illinois river → online text (page 1 of 14)