N. (Nehemiah) Matson.

French and Indians of Illinois river online

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post on the Wabash, (which still bears his name),
with about one hundred French soldiers and many
Indian allies, went to lower Louisiana to assist
Governor Bieneville in prosecuting a war against
the Chickasaws. This expedition proved a fail-
ure, and the two commanders and Father Senac,
with many of the soldiers, were taken prisoners
and burned at the stake. While the flames en-
veloped their bodies, Father Senac, amid the
blazing faggots, exhorted his companions to die
as become Fi*enchmen and Christians, and while
racked with torture he administered to his dying
countrymen the last rites of the Catholic church.

The colonv in Illinois continued under French
rule until 1765, when it became subject to Great
Britain, and afterwards to the United States.


The flesh of the buffalo furnished the Indians
with food, their skins with clothing, bedding and
tents ; their sinews for bows, the bones and horns
for ornaments ; consequently, when these animals


left the country, the wild savages of the west
were deprived of many of the comforts of life.

According to the statement of the early French
explorers, and also confirmed by Indian tradi-
tions, the country west of the great bend in the
Illinois river, was the great buffalo range, and
here their bones were found in large quantities

in the early settlement of the country.

At what time the buffalo left the country is
not known, but in comparing the various state-
ments of traders and Indians, it must have been
between 1780 and 7190. In the year 1778, An-
tonine Des Champs, then a lad of eight years of
age, came with his parents from Canada to Peo-
ria, and lived there until the town was destroyed,
thirty-four years afterwards. Des Champs said,
for some years after he came to Peoria, buffalo
were plenty, and he had frequently seen large
herds of them swimming the Illinois river. Pre-
vious to 1790 the French had an extensive trade
in buffalo robes, but after that period there were
none shipped from the Illinois river.

In the early settlement of the country, old In-
dians were living here who said in their youthful
days they had seen large herds of buffalo on the
prairies, but they all perished in a big snow,
which covered the ground many feet in depth,
and crusted over so a person could walk on it.

PAT Kennedy's journal. 181

Next spring a few buffalo, poor and haggard in
ap[)earance, were seen going westward, and as
tliey approached the carcasses of tlie dead buffalo,
which were lying on the prairie in great numbers,
they would stop, commence pawing and lowing,
and then start off again on a lope for the west,
and from that time buffalo were seldom seen
east of the Mississippi river.

Although the bnffalo had left the country, as
above stated, a few stray ones were occasionally
seen here in after years, and as late as 1815, the
Indians attacked a herd between the Illinois
and Green rivers, killing two of them.

Forty years ago buffalo bones were plenty on
the prairies; and in three different places in
Burean county many acres of ground were covered
with them, showing where large herds had per-
ished. Skulls of buffalo, with horns still on them,
were frequently found here, and their trails lead-
ing to and from watering places were plain to be
seen, in the early settlement of the country.*

PAT Kennedy's journal.

Through the politeness of Lyman C. Draper,
Secretary of the Wisconsin Historical Society,
and author of a number of historical collections, I
have been furnished with a manuscript copy of

*Eeminiscences of Bureau County,


Patrick Kennedy's journal, of his travels up the
Illinois river, and from which the following items
are gathered :

On the 23, of July, 1778, Kennedy, with a
party of adventurers, left Kaskaskia in a kecl-
hoat, and ascended the river in search of copper
mines. On arriving at the foot of the rapids
they left their boat and proceeded up the river on
foot, forty-five miles. Here on an island they
found encamped a party of French tradei's, but
failing to obtain any information of them in re-
lation to the copper mines, they abandoned the
search and returned to Kaskaskia.

Kennedy's journal speaks of seeing large herds
of ])uffalo, elk and deer, feeding on the big
meadow on both sides of the river. It also<j:ives
an account of a saline spring and lake, where the
French and Indians were engaged in making salt.
It refers to a cliff of rocks not far from the mouth
of Fox river, where the French obtained their mill-

Tliis journal gives a geographical description
of the country — size and names of rivers, and a
t!;eneral account of the Illinois rei^rion, but throws
no light on the history of the French settlements.
It refers to the town and fort at Peoria Lake, but
says nothing of the size of the place, of its inhab-
itants or general appearance.


This old iiiaimscript is now in the hands of
Ilypolite Pilette, who lives on the American
Bottom, between Cahokia and Prairie du Rocher.
It consists of twenty-three pages, closely written,
on large sheets, and from age the paper is yellow
and ink faded. This mannscript is in the French
language, dated La Yille de Maillet(now Peoria),
A. D. 1770, and was written by Jacques Buclie, a
Catholic priest.

The writer s].>eaks only of tilings that came
under his own observation, and relates many
remarkable incidents which are worth preserv-
inir. Some of these statements differ from the
traditions of others, but nevertheless are not
improbable, as they carry with them an air of

Father Buche's manuscript forms a connecting
link of historv between the time of La Salle and
the destruction of Peoria, and from its pages
many of the incidents narrated in this book have
been taken. It speaks of the destruction of La
Yantum, and the perishing of the remnant of the
Illinois Indians on Starved Rock.

It also gives an account of digging for gold
. within the stockades of Fort St. Louis, the pit-
holes of w^hich are now plain to be seen.

Father Buche speaks of visiting an Indian village,
fifteen leagues north of Peoria, where he remained


many day, teacliing the people the ways of Christ-
ianity. Tiie inhabitants of this village, said he,
were possessed of the devil, indulging m vile
practices and idolatrous worship. The chiefs had
many wives, and pat them to death if they proved
barren. At their rehgious feast, which took place
once a year, an infant of some noted chief was
burned on the altar as a sacrifice to the great
Manito. This was done in order that the band
might be successful in war, hunting and fishing.
and also to protect them from the power of the
evil one.

Father Buche said he preached many times to
these benighted people, and the chiefs and
many warriors were converted to Christianity.
In one day he baptized about fifty persons, whose
names were enrolled in the church book, and their
souls saved from perdition.


In Father Buche's manuscript, is an account of
a great buffalo hunt, which took place on the
prairie west of the Illinois river. He says that
he accompanied thirtj^-eight of his countrymen
and about three hundred Indians on a buffalo
hunt, when they killed so many that their hides
alone were taken, and their carcasses left on the


prairie, food for wolves. A few leagues west of
the great bend in the Illinois river, they discov-
ered a herd ot many thousand buffalo feeding on
a small prairie, partly surrounded b}^ thick tim-
ber. It being about sundown, the hunters en-
camped for the night in a grove near by, with the
intention of attacking the herd on the following
morning. Next morning before it was light, the
Indians, divested of clothing, mounted on ponies
and armed with guns, bows and arrows, spears,
vfec, were anxiously awaiting the command of
their chief to commence the sport. The Indians
formed a circle around the herd, secreting them-
selves in the timber, while the French comi)leted
a line across the prairie. The buffalo were lying
thick over the prairie, chewing their cud, uncon-
scious of approaching danger. At a given signal
from the chief, the lines closed in all sides, but as
soon as the animals got wind of the approaching
enemy, arose to their feet and fled in great con-
fusion. But on approaching the line the Indians
fired on them, at the same time yelling at the top
of their voice. The frightened creatures turned
and fled in the opposite direction, where they were
met by the French hunters and foiled in a like
manner. Thus they continued to run back and
forth from one side of the ring to the other, while
the slaughter went on.


As the buffalo approaclicd the line, the Indians
would pierce their hearts with spears, or hrin^^
them down with arrows or riHe balls. The line
continued to close in, and the frightened bnffalo,
snorting and with wild flashing eyes, would charge
the guards, first on one side, then on the other,
but met the missiles of death everywhere.
After surging back and forth in wild confusion,
the buffalo broke through the line, bearing down
the guards, jiunping over the prostrated ponies
and their riders, and thus made their escape.

Father Buclie says in his manuscript : " By the
wild surging herd my pony was knocked down,
and I lay prostrated by its side, while the fright-
ened buffalo, with loud snorting and wild flashing
eyes, in their flight jumped over me ; but through
the protection of the Holy Virgin I was saved
from instant death."



In the year 1790 there lived near Lexington,
Kentucky, a young slave named Jean Baptiste,
who was brought by his master from Virginia
into that new country. Baptiste associated much
with the Indians, learned their language, and be-
came fascinated with their free, independent mode
of living. His proud spirit could not be subdued
by the whip of his master ; therefore he severed
the bond which made him a slave, and taking the
north star for a guide, he soon became a free man.
Armed with his master's rifle and a large hunting
knife, he traveled northward about three hundred
miles, through a wilderness country. On reach-
ing Des Plaines river he found refuge in an
Indian village, married a squaw and raised a
family of children. One of his grandsons is now
living in a hewn log house on the bank of Cahokia
creek, in St. Clair county, from which I obtained the
narrative relating to his distinguished grandsire.


According to the statement of Sau-ga-nash (Billy
Caldwell), the first white man that settled at Chi-
cago was a negro. This negro was no other than
Jean Baptiste, above referred to, whose name is
now associated with the early history of the west-
ern metropolis. He left the Indian village on
Des Plains river soon after he came to the coun-
try, and built a cabin near the mouth of Chicago
river, immediately north of Rush street bridge.
Here he cultivated a small piece of ground, and
spent much of his time in hunting and fishing,
as well as concocting schemes to make himself a
chief amono^ the Indians.

Baptiste told the Indians that he had been a
fijreat chief amonc the whites at the south, and he
expected to become one among them also. Pos-
sessing much shrewdness and a good address, this
cunning negro tried various means to gain the
confidence of the Indians, so that he rniirht be
proclaimed a chief among them, but all his
plans failed. On account of the abundance of
fish here at the mouth of the river, and the cool
lake breeze in the summer made it a good place
for a village, and he persuaded his Indian friends
to come thither and build. He also told them that
some day there would l)e a big town at the mouth
of Chicago river, and if they occupied the land
the}^ could sell it to the whites at a good price.


His object was to build a town here on the lake
shore, of which he would be the founder, and by
that means become a chief. A few Indians built
lodges on the north side of the river, in accord-
ance with Baptiste's wishes, but the scattering
trees afforded the village but little protection from
winter storms, and the cold wind from the lake
discouraged them, consequently they abandoned
the lake and returned to their old village on the
Des Plains.

At that time, Father Bonner, a French Jesuit
priest, was living among the Indians, and for
niany years had been preaching to them. Bap-
tise, being aware of the priest's influence among
the Indians, thought he might use it to his own
advantage, therefore he sought his friendship, and
gained his confidence. He also joined the church,
became a zealous Catholic, attending all meetings,
making long and fervent prayers. Father .Bon-
ner thought only of making Baptiste an instru-
ment in his hands to promote the cause of
Christianity, while the unscrupulous negro ex-
pected to use the priest in advancing his claims
to the chieftainship, therefore the two became
intimate friends and labored for each other's

Father Bonner notified all the Indians who
were communicants of his church, to meet him


on St. Jerome's day at the place on Chicago river
consecrated by Father Marquette, for the pur-
pose of offering np prayers to Christ and the
Holy Virgin, but his real object was to have
Baptiste proclaimed head chief of the band. On
the day appointed a large number of Indians col-
lected at the place designated, in accordance with
the priest's request, when the object of the meet-
ing was explained to them. On the mound,
which had long been hallowed by the Indians as
the spot where Marquette built an altar, a wooden
cross was erected for the occasion. Father Bon-
ner, standing by the side of this cross, preached
to the Indians, and in conclusion, said that he
had a matter ot great importance to lay before
them. He told them tliat the Holy Virgin had
visited him in a dream, and impressed upon his
mind that the advancement of Christianit}" re-
quired that Baptiste, by divine authority, should
be proclaimed head chief of the band. Baptiste
now came forward and knelt by the side of the
cross, when the priest anointed him chief in the
same manner that Samuel annointed Saul. kin<{
of Israel. After pouring bears oil on Baptiste's
wooly head, he exclaimed in a loud voice, " By
the power and authority of the Holy Catholic
Chnreh, I ])ronounce tliis man licad chief of this
band." When the ceremony was completed, the


priest offered up prayer in behalf of tlie newly
appointed chief, calling on the Virgin to give him
grace and wisdom in order that he might be a
just and wise rnler of his people.

The Indians refused to accept Baptiste as their
head chief, notwithstanding he had been appointed
by high anthority, and the would-be ruler re-
turned to his cabin with a sorrowful heart. Fail-
ing to gain power over the Indians, Baptiste
became disgusted with the life of a savage, aban-
doned his cabin and went to Peoria, where he
ended his days some years afterwards.

The cabin which Baptiste built was afterwards
occupied by a French trader named Le Mai, who
sold it to John Kinzie in 1804, about the time
Fort Dearborn was built.

Father Bonner was loved and honored by the
Indians, and he remained with them until his
death, which occurred one year before Fort Dear-
born was built. He was not only a spiritual
father, but said to be a natural one, as a number
of half-breeds, known to the early settlers of
Chicago, claimed to be his descendants.


About the year 1776, a young French Creole of
Cahokia, by the name of Pierre De Beuro, came



to Peoria, and for a few years was employed as a
L'lerk ill a tradino; house. De Beuro beiiii^ of an
enterprising turn of mind, and well acquainted
with the Indian language, left Peoria in search
of his fortune. Having made the acquaintance
of a number of chiefs while clerkinic '^^ Peoria,
he concluded to visit their villages, which were
located at different points on or near tlie river.
He stopped some time at Wappa, «>n Bureau
creek, then at a village on Lake De Pue, and
afterwards went to a large town near the mouth
of Fox I'iver. Here he married a squaw, the
daughter of a noted cliief, and made preparations
to entraire' in the fur trade.

De Beuro visited Peoria to procure necessary
tools for building a house, and accompanied by a
half-breed he ascended the river as far as the
mouth of Bureau creek, where he established a
trading post.

Below the mouth of Bureau creek is an eleva-
ted piece of land, covered with timber, and known
as Hickory Ridge. This j>]ace became a noted
land mark with the French and Indians and was
the scene of a nuinl)er oi traditionary incidents.
It also V)ecame a place of note in the early settle-
ment of the country, jind during high wate?- was
the landing for the Hennepin ferry-boat. Here
i>n this ridge, elevated above the floods of the


river, De Beuro, assisted by a number of Indians,
built a double log cabin, and laid the foundation
of a large fur trade. Being located in the heart
of the Indian country, the first year he collected
two canoe loads of furs and buffalo skins, which
he shipped to Cahokia, and paid for them on his
return with goods received in exchange.

While the traders at Peoria continued to send
their furs to Canada, De Beuro sent his to Caho-
kia, and there obtained goods for the Indian
market. Antoine Des Champs said every spring
for a number of years, canoes loaded with furs
and buffalo robes, passed Peoria on their way
down the river from this trading house. The
traders at Peoria were unfriendly toward De
Beuro, as he took a large portion of their trade,
and they tried to buy him out, but did not suc-
ceed. In the spring of 1790, De Beuro, in ac-
cordance with his former custom, sent two canoes
loaded with furs down the river to Cahokia, in
charge of his clerk and two Indians. The trader
accompanied the canoes down the river about
twenty miles to an Indian village for the purpose
of transacting some business, and from here he
started for home on foot, but never reached it.
Search w^as made for the missing trader, and some
days afterwards his remains were found a short
distance from the trail, in a thick cluster of un-


(lerbrusli, partly devoured by wolves. He had
been shot through the body, and from appearances
ran a short distance when he was overtaken by the
assassin and his head split open with a tomahawk.

Report says a trader at Peoria, whose descend-
ants are now living near East St. Louis, being
angry at De Beuro on acconnt of taking away
much of his trade, employed a halt-breed to assas-
sinate him, and thereby break np the rival trading

When the clerk found that the trader was dead,
he a])propriated the proceeds of the furs to his
own account, and De Beuro's squaw put the goods
at the trading house into canoes, and took tliem
to her people who lived at a village near the
niouth of Fox river. . Thus the trading post was
broken u]), after being in operation fourteen
years. The bnihlings vacated went to decay, but
from thi.s trader Bureau creek derived its name.

During the war of 1812, when the troops under
General Howard, at Peoria, were preparing to
ascend tlie river in keel boats in search of the
enemy, the Indians tore down the cabins built
by pe Beuro, and with the logs erected a K'reast-
work on the river bank so they could fire on the
boats. But on the arrival ot the boats, and End-
ing their decks protected by heavy planking, with
port holes for cannon, the Indians were stricken


with panic, and fled from their breastworks with-
out firing a gun or letting their presence be
known to the troops.

Gerden S. Hubbard says, when he came to the
country in 1818, this breastwork was still stand-
ing, and its relics were plain to be seen in the
early settlement of the country."^


In the summer uf 1809, soun after ^N^inian
Edwju'ds was aj)pointed Governor of Illinois
territory, trouble existed between the whites and
Indians, and a few persons m ere killed by the "
latter. The Indians on the Illinois river appear-
ed shy and unfriendly, and rumors were in circu-
lation that they meditated an attack upon the
frontier settlements. These reports, and their
unfriendlv demonstrations, caused Governor
Edwards to send Captain Levering, a native of
Kaskaskia, with a small company of volunteers
in a keel boat to Peoria, in. order to ascertain the
intention of the Indians.

Captain Levering and all his company were
French Creoles, who understood the Indian

* A few years ago David MiUer cut the timber off Hickory
Ridge and put the laud under cultivation. Where De Beuro's
trading house stood many relies of civilization, such as pieces
oi pottery, glassware, &c., were plowed up.


language and customs, and with whom friendly
relation existed, even in time of war.

On arriving at Peoria the volunteers were
cordially received by both French and Indians,
who prepared for them a great feast and a ball
in the evening. Some of the guests became fas-
cinated with the Indian maidens, two of whom
took wives home with them.

From Peoria parties were sent to different
Indian villages for the purpose of delivering pres-
ents, and have a talk with the chiefs. One of the
parties visited the Kickapoo village on Sugar
creek, about forfv miles southeast of Peoria, and
the Indians here expressed a friendly feeling
towards America ns.

Joseph Trotier, a native of Cahokia, accom-
panied by two half-breeds, ascended the river in
a canoe as far as the great bend, stopping at
Crows, Gomo and Black Partridge's villages, and
from the chiefs and warriors received assurance
of j)eace and friendship. They also visited the
village of Wappa, on Bureau creek, and Comas
the head chief sent Governor Edwards as a token
of friendship, a pair of large elk horns and a
panther skin, all of which he had taken with his
own hands.

Captain Levering and company returned to
Kaskaskia, carrying with them many presents


from the chiefs to Governor Edwards, and also
their pledges of friendship.

For nearly two years after Captain Levei'ing's
visit to the Indian country, the frontier settle-
ments were nut molested, but in the tall of 1811,
a number of persons were killed by the Indians
in Madison and St. Clair counties. At these
depredations people on the frontier settlements
became o-reatly alarmed ; some fled from the
country, while others built temporary forts to
shield themselves from the tomahawks and scalp-
ing knives of the savages. Fort Russell was
built near the present site of Edwardsville, and
cannon brought from old Foi't Charters and
mounted on its wooden ramparts.


During the winter of 1811-12, the Indians at
the different villages along the river, heard that
]>reparations were being made by Governoi" Ed-
wards to send an army against them in tlie spring.
On hearing of this intended invasion by the
troops, they wei'e much alarmed, and the chiefs
and principal warriors met in council at Senach-
wine's village, to agree on plans lor the future,
but no definite conclusioii was arrived at. Many


of the chiefs went to Peoria to consult with their
friends, the French, and to procure their assistance
in averting the evil which threatened them.
Captain J. B. Maillet consented to go to Kaskas-
kia and see Governor Edwards, and pledge to
him their intentions of peace and friendship. On
arriving at the seat of government the Governor
proposed to meet the chiefs in council at Cahokia,
in the latter part of April, and there settle all
misunderstandings. At the time appointed a
large delegation ot chiefs, among whom were
Black Partridge, Senachwine and Gomo, in their
canoes arrived n^ Cahokia.

The council wivs held in a little grove of timber
on the bank ot Cahokia creek, above the town
and was attended bj a large collection of people,

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Online LibraryN. (Nehemiah) MatsonFrench and Indians of Illinois river → online text (page 10 of 14)