N. (Nehemiah) Matson.

French and Indians of Illinois river online

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some of whom ai-e still living, and to them I am
indebted for sonie facts relating to it.*

Black Partrin^e made a speech in the council,
and while holding aloft a silver medal which he
wore suspended from his neck, said : " This token

* While at Cahokia a short time ago, the place of holding this
couucil was pointed out tome by an old man, who in his boy-
hood days, sixty-tw.> years before, attended it. Pie described
Black Partridge, Senachwine, and other chiefs, who it appears
made a lasting impi-ession upon his then youthful mind. In
this little grove where the council was'held. is a large burr oak
tree, wliich looks as though it might have stood here lor many
centuries. At the root of this tree, said the old man, Pontiac
(or the Indian who passed for such) was sitting, when a warrior
came up behind him and split his head open with a tomahawk •


of friendship was given to nie at Greenville by
your great chief (General Wajme). On it you
see the face of our great father at Washington,
and as long as this hangs trom my neck I never
will raise mj^ tomahawk against the wliites."

Pledges of friendship were made by the chiefs,
and Governor Edwards dismissed them with many
presents, when they returned to their homes.
For several months after this couficil harmony
between the Indians and frontier settlements was
undisturbed, and people passed back and forth to
Xake Michigan, as in former days.

About the first ol Auunst two emisaries from
Tecuraseh arrived on the Illinois river informing
the Indians that war existed between the United
States and Great Britain, and tried to induce
them to take part with the latter. A council was
called at Gomo's village, at which the chiefs of
the different bands opposed taking part in the
war. On the following day about one hundred
and fifty young warriors belonging to different
villages, left for Chicago, to join other bands in
an attack on Fort Dearborn. Black Partridge
on learning this fact, mounted his pony and fol-
lowed these young bloods to dissuade them from
their purpose, but failed in his ndission, and
a few days after their arrival at Chicago, the fort
was abandoned and troops massacred.



Ill the fall of 1312, an army of two tliousand
mounted riflemen from Kentucky, under the com-
mand of General Hopkins, arrived at Fort Har-
rison on the Wabasli. These troops were ordered
by the commander-in-chief of the western army
to march against the Indians on the Illinois river,
as it was believed that many of them participated
in the Chicago massacre, which had taken place
a few months before.

On the 14th of October this grand army, the
largest that had ever been so far west, entered
Illinois in what is now Edgar county, and shape<l
their course northwest across the ])rairies. On
the fourtli day out the prairie was discovered on
fire, and the soldiers became alarmed, fearing that
they would be burned U]> in the flames. Being
stricken with a panic they mutinied —all their
j^atriotism vaiiislied — and they resolved to go no
i'urther through a country enveloped in fii-e and


smoke. While this great army was in confusion,
soldiers remonstrating with the officers, it is said
one Major Prunk rode np to General Hopkins
and ordered him to turn back. The general
finding all military law at an end, abandoned the
expedition, and marched his army back to the

About this time Governor Edwards, with three
hundred mounted rangers, under the command
of Colonel Russell, marched northward from Fort
Russell, near the present site of Edwardsville, for
the purpose of operating with Hopkins' army
against the Indians. But being unable to find
the army under Hopkins, tliey continued on
their way toward the Indian country. Governor
Edwards' rangers being mounted on good horses,
without baggage except what each man carried
in his saddle bags, enabled them to march direct
for Peoria Lake, and on the fourth day reached
Black Partridge's village. The Indians having
no warning of the approaching enemy, were un-
])repared to make a defense. Most of the
warriors being off on a hunt, the squaws and
pappooses fell an easy prey to the rangers. Tlie
Indians, panic-stricken, fled from their village,
leaving in their flight ponies, camp equipage and
all other valuables. A fiew of the warriors were
wounded in the assault, so they could not make


their escape, and therefore became victims of the
assailants. These wounded warriors witli a num-
ber of pappooses and a few persons decrepid by
age, were killed by the rangers, who afterwai'ds
said in justification of this barbarous act that
they did not leave home to take prisoners.

The village with all its contents was destroyed
by fire; even the corn in the caches was taken
out and burned, and many of the ponies were
taken off as trophies of war.

As soon as the rangers had completed their
work of destruction, they started back on a
forced march for the settlement, as they were
now in the midst of the Indian country, where a
thousand or more warriors could Ije raised in a
dav's time.*


This chief, whose Indian name was Mucketev-
})okee, lived at his village on the bank of Illinois
river, a short distance above the head of Peoria
Lake. Here he lived, and here he died, and in
the early settlement of the country, his grave

I }* There are conflletiug accounts relatiug to the destruction ol
Black Partridge's viUage, some of which contradict these bar-
barous actH of the soldiers. But I obtained iu>" iulormatiou
while in conversation with General Whitesides, who wa« pres-
ent and participated in this afliiir. General Whitesides (then
a young man,; belonged to Captain Judy's company of spies.


was pointed to strangers. Persons are now liv-
ing who knew this chief well, and from whom I
obtained a description of his person, and many
incidents relating to his life and character.

Black Partridge was tall and slim, with a high
forehead, a large nose, a sharp visage and pierc-
ing black eyes. His appearance was noble, his
form erect, and his figure commanding. The
long coarse hair, once as black as a raven, but of
latter years mixed with gray, hung in matted
clusters over his shoulders. On his breast he
'v^H>re a silver medal, on which was the medallion
head of General Washington, and in his nose
and ears were large gold rings.

In the border wars of Ohio, Black Partridge
took a part and with a few of his braves fought
against the whites. He was pre^sent and signed
the treaty of Greenville, in the year 1796, and
received from the liand of General Wayne, the
medal above referred to. This medal as an
insignia of peace and friendship, was carried about
his person for seventeen years, and surrendered it
to Captain Heald, August 15, 1812.

and had a good opportunity of observing what transpired. He
described some acts of the soldiers, which for the sake of hu-
manity ought not to be recorded in liistory, and therefore wiU
bear no part in tliis narrativ^.

Having ah'eady published some items in relation to the de-
struction of Black Partridge's village, it becomes unnecessary
to repeat them here.


On the morning of the Chicago massacre,
Black Partridge entered the quarters of Captain
■Heald, the officer in command of Fort Dearborn,
and said to him, " I have come to deliver up to
yon this medal which I have long worn as a token
of friendship, and it is with a sorrow^ful heart I
ncrw part with it. But our young braves are
resolved on imbuing their hands in human blood ;
I cannot restrain them, and I will not wear an
emblem of friendship while I am compelled to
act as an enemy."

In Mrs. Kinzie's account of the Chicago mas-
sacre is related an incident of Black Partridge
saving the life of Mrs. Helm, wife of Lieutenant
Helm, second officer in command at Fort Dear-
})orn. This incident almost rivals romance, but
its truth is confirmed by a person still living —
Mrs. Benson — who was present, and from whom
I partly obtained the following narrative.

On the morning of the 15th of August, 1812,
the sun rose with unusual splendor, and its golden
rays were reflected from the smooth water of Lake
Michii^an, but manv of the inmates of Fort Dear-
born who then looked upon it, did not live to see
it set beneath the western horizon.

At nine o'clock the troops left the fort in mili-
tary array, with martial music, and flags flying.
Captain Wells, having his face blacked after the


mann.er of Indians, and with his Miami warriors
mounted on horses, led the van. The troops on
foot followed, and next to them were the baggage
wagons containing the sick, with the women and
children, while the Pottawatomie warriors tive
hundred in number, brought up the rear. This
cai-avnn followed the road along the beach of the
lake for about a mile and a half, to a range of
sand knolls."**" Here the Pottawatomies left the
road, and took to the prairie, when Captain
Wells, with his horse on a gallop, rode back and
told the troops to form for battle, as the Potta-
watomies were about to attack them. Soon the
tight commenced, and the soldiers defended
themselves manfully, selling their lives as dearly
as possible, but many fell on every hand by an
overpowering enemy. Mrs. Helm, wife of Lieu-
tenant Helm, then but seventeen years of age,
having been thrown from her horse at the com-
mencment of the tight, stood spell bound, look-
ing on the scene of blood and carnage around
her. Her father and husband w^ere engaged in
the fearful strife, and she expected every moment
to see them fall by the murderous savages. Soon
a warrior with an uplifted tomahawk approached

* This range of sand knoUs was where Fourteenth street
stnkes the lake, and were a kind of a land mark thirty years
ago, but have since been graded down in making the street.


her, bnt dodging to one side tlie blow intended
for her head took effect in the shoulder, produc-
ing a ghastly wonnd. Slie caught the savage
around the neck, and attempted to get possession
of his scalping knife which, hung in a scabbard
on his breast, bnt the warrior threw her to one
side and was about to use his tomahawk on her
head, when she was caught in the arms of another
Indian who bore her off, struggling, into the iake.
Here she was plunged under the water, but her
head was frequently raised, so she soon discovered
that the Indian did not intend todrow^n her. On
looking into the face of her captor, she recognized
Black Partridge, the white man's friend, notwith-
standing he w^as disguised by paint. Wlien the
fight was over her protector conveyed his charge
to the Indian camp, and delivered her over to a
friendly squaw^ who dressed her wounds.*

About two months after the events above nar-
rated. Black Partridge learned that Lieutenant
Helm, the husb-iud of the woman whose life he
had saved, was still a prisoner among the Indians
at a village on the Kankakee river. On receiv-
ing this intelligence he boarded a canoe and went
to Peoria to consult with his friends in relation

* This Indian encampment was on a smaU stream or slough,
which ran along the line of State street, and entered the river
near Clark street bridge. This camp,according to the statement
of Billy Caldwell, was near where Jackson street crosses State.


to the Lieutenant's ransom. Captain J. B. Mail-
lot, Antoine Des Champs and Thomas Forsyth,
were consulted, and it was agreed by them that
Black Partridge should go immediately to the
Indian village and purchase the release of Lieu-
tenant Helm. Presents were furnished by the
three traders as a ransom for the prisoner, with a
written order on General Clark, Indian agent at
St. Louis for an additional one hundred dollars on
his arrival there.

Black Partridge being provided with presents,
and accompanied by a half-breed from Peoria,
mounted their ponies and started on their mission
of mercy. On arriving at the Indian village,
they found Lieutenant Helm closely guarded by
his captors, and suffering from a wound which he
received at the massacre. When the old chief
entered the lodge. Lieutenant Helm threw his
arms around his neck and cried like a child. He
knew that Black Partridge had rescued his wife,
and saved the life of his tather-in-law (John Kin-
zie) with his family, and in him he saw a prospect
of his own rescue.*

♦The wife of Lieutenant Helm was a step-daughter of John
Kinzie, an Indian trader, who came to Chicago in iSO-i. Kinzie
was a half-brother of Thomas Forsyth, of Peoria, and latlier-in-
law of Mrs. Kinzie, who published a book on the early history
of Chicago.

The wife of Captain Heald was a sister ot Captain Wells ; the
latter was raised among the Indians, adopted their dress, cus-
toms and language, and lost his life at the Chicago massacre.



Black Partridge called the chiefs and warriors
together and laid the presents before them, say-
ing all these articles should be theirs, with an
additional one hundred dollars in silver if they
would send their prisoner to General Clark at St.
Louis. After a long parley the Indians rejected
the proposition, contending that the ransom of-
fered was not sufficient.

A short time before Captain Heald had been a
prisoner at this village, and the Indians sent him
to St. Joseph in charge of three warriors, to be
liberated, but the pay received in exchange for him
was so small that the warriors were sent back to
reclaim their prisoner, but Captain Heald having
been sent to Detroit they failed to get him.

The Indians refused to release Lieutenant Helm
unless the ransom was increased, so Black Part-
ridge offered them his pony, rifle, and a large gold
ring which he wore in his nose. This proposition
was accepted, and Lieutenant Helm, with the half-
breed, accompanied by a petty chief, all mounted
on ponies, started the next day for St. Louis.

It was thought best to take the prisoner to St.
Louis to be set at libertv, as the Indians mioht
think if brought to Peoria that the French were
in league with the Americans, and thereby create
a feeling against them.

Black Partridge accompanied Lieutenant Helm


and his conductors one day's journey on their
way, and tlien started across the country for his
village on the Ilhnois river.

It was late at night, very dark, and the rain
pouring down in torrents, as the old chief, on foot
and alone, plodded his way through the thick
river timber toward his home, where he expected
to be warmly greeted by his family and friends,
but was doomed to disappointment. The village
had disappeared — not a lodge nor a human being
could be found — nothing remained on its site but
the charred poles of which the lodges were con-
structed. A pack of hungry wolves which had
been feeding on dead bodies, ran away at his
approach, and 'their howling during the night
added gloom and terror to the surrounding scene.
Black Partridge drew his blanket around him,
and with a sorrowful heart seated himself on the
ground to await the approach of day. ^ext
morning he found among the dead his favorite
daughter, with her infant son clasped in her arms,
both stiff in death. On the site of the village,
and in the swamp near by, he found the remains
of many of his friends, among whom was an old
squaw of ninety winters.


After the destruction of Black Partridge's vil-


lage, his band left the Illinois river, some of
whom found refuge on Bureau creek and others
on Green river, where they remained until the
following summer. A party of warriors, headed
by Black Partridge, returned to the village some
days after it was destroyed, for the purpose of
burying the dead, and found their remains partly
devoured by wolves. The warriors engaged in a
winter hunt, according to their custom, but Black
Partridge traveled over the country, visiting dif-
ferent villages, and holding council with their
chiefs in order to enlist them in his cause. He
was now old — his head whitened by the snows of
seventy winters — still his figure was erect and his
step firm. Age had not dimmed the fire of his
eyes, nor destroyed the ambition of his youth.
He had long been a friend to the whites, and had
done everything in his power to prevent the mas-
sacre at Chicago. He had saved the life of Mrs.
Helm, at the risk of his own, and had collected
around him a few faithful friends to guard the
house of John Kinzie, and thereby rescued his
family as well as other prisoners from massacre.
He had traveled a long way to the Kankakee
village, and given his pony, rifle and ring to ran-
som Lieutenant Helm, and wliile tired and
hungry he returned to find his home desolate<l,
and his friends murdered or driven away. Not-


withstanding Black Partridge had done all this,
the whites made war against him, burned his
town, destroyed his corn, carried off his ponies,
and killed about thirty of his people, among whom
were some of his kinsmen, and he^now lived only
for revenge.

On the following summer' Black Partridge,
with about three hundred warriors mounted on
ponies, left for the frontier settlements in the
southern part of the State. They went within
thirty miles of the settlement, and secreted them-
selves in the thick timber of Shoal creek, now in
Bond county. From here they sent out small
war parties to attack the settlers and kill de-
fenseless women and children. The people were
greatly alarmed at these depredations ; many fled
from their homes and sought safety at Cahokia
and Kaskaskia ; others built temporary forts to
shield themselves from the tomahawk and scalp-
ing knives of these ruthless savages. It is said a
half-breed, dressed as a w^hite man, acted as a spy,
visiting ^different settlements and informied the
Indians of the most exposed points. Through
this spy the Indians learned that an expedition
was about to be sent against their villages on the
Illinois river, so they broke up their camp and
left for their homes.



While the inhabitants of Peoria were quietly
pursuing their daily avocation of farming, hunt-
ing and trading with the Indians, being as they
supposed at peace with all the world, a plot was
laid for their destruction. Being located in the
midst of a wilderness country, two hundred miles
from the nearest American settlement, and hav-
ing but little intercourse with the civilized world,
they would not have known that war between
the United States and Great Britain existed if
they had not learned the fact from the neighbor-
ing Indians.

Although the French at Peoria had lived within
the jurisdiction of the United States government
for thirty-four years, they had never taken the
oath of allegiance, acknowledged its power, nor
paid tax to its support. They were a foreign
people, speaking a different language, with habits
and customs peculiar to themselves, and all their


trade and intercourse was with the French citizens
of Canada.

The residents of Peoria had taken no part in
the war, as it was afterwards proven, but never-
theless they were charged with assisting the
Indians by supplying them with arms. Report
said that they were bringing munitions of war
from Canada, and selling them to the Indians to
enable these savages to make raids on the frontier
settlements. It was also alleged that they had
sent five horses over to the Sac village, near Rock
Island, to pack lead for the Indians, and this lead
was paid for in goods furnished by Peoria mer-
chants. But the most damaging oi all the evil
reports in circulation, and which caused the
greatest feeling of resentment among the people,
was that of cattle stealing. It being reported
and believed by people everywhere that Captain
John Baptiste Maillet, the chief military man of
Peoria, with a number of followers had been
stealing cattle from the Wood river settlement, in
Madison county, to feed the Indian army then
collected at Gomo's village. These reports were
afterwards shown to be false, and instead of Cap-
tain Maillet being a cattle thief, as reported, he
was rewarded by an act of Congress for his loy-
alty to the United States government.

The evil reports in circulation about the French


at Peoria were generally believed, and Governor
Edwards, supposing they were true, called for
volunteers in order to send an armed force against
them. About two hundred men responded to
the call, who were placed under the command of
Captain Craig, and rendezvoused at Shawnee-
town. Four keel-boats were prepared, with rifle
ball proof planking, mounted with cannon, and
filled with armed soldiers. These boats left
Shawneetown earlv in October, and arrived at
Peoria on the oth of November. The inhabitants
of Peoria were much surprised to see four armed
boats land at tlieir wharf, as no large craft had
ever reached tliat place before.

The following account of the arrival of these
boats, and the burning of Peoria, are principally
taken from the statements of Antoine LeClair
and Hypolite Pilette, who were present, the
latter being a boy at the time. LeClair was a
half-breed, and acquired much celebrity in after
life as the proprietor of Davenport, Iowa. Pilette
is now living on the American Bottom, near
Prairie de Rocber, and to whom previous refer-
ence has been made.


On Sunday morning, November 5th, 1812, as
the people of Peoria were assembled at church,


engaged in sajing mass, they were startled by the
report of a cannon. The congregation, partly
through fright and partly by curiosity, ran out of
the church, when they discovered four armed
boats m the lake under full sail. On coming op-
posite the town, the boats rounded to and landed
at the wharf. Father Racine came down from
the pulpit, and in his long black robe, with his
bald head uncovered, started for the landing, fol-
lowed by all his congregation, men, women and
children. Here they \vere met by Captain Craig
and some of his men, who had landed from the
boats. Thomas Forsyth, who spoke English, in-
quired of the commanding officer, Captain Craig,
the object of his mission, but he evaded answer-
ing the question, and in return demanded of the
citizens a supply of meat and vegetables for his
men, which were furnished them.

The soldiers landed from the boats and scattered
through the town in search of plunder, and com-
mitted many depredations on the people. They
broke open the store of Felix Fontain, in which
Antoine LeClair was a clerk, and took therefrom
two casks of wdne, and drank their contents.
Many of the soldiers got drunk, forced their way
into dwellings, insulting w^omen, carrying off
eatables, blankets, and everything w^hich they
took a fancy to. It was long after dark before


Captain Craig succeeded in getting his drunken
disorderly crew on board, when the boats were
pushed off from shore to prevent further depre-
dations on the citizens. The boats lay at anchor
off in the lake in order to prevent the soldiers
from again visiting the town, as well as a precau-
tion against an attack from the Indians.

During the night a high wind arose, and to es-
cape the waves in the lake the boats raised tlieir
anchors and dropped down into the channel of
the river, about one-balf mile below the town,
where they remained until morning. About
daylight, eight or ten guns were fired in quick
succession in the thick river timber close to the
boats. Captain Craig thinking that they were
attacked by Indians, ordered the boats to push
out into the channel of the river, while the can-
nons were brought to bear and several shots fired
into the timber in order to dislodge the supposed

About daybreak on the morning of the sup-
posed attack on the boats, a party of French
at the village, consisting of eight or ten in num-
ber, went out in the river timber to shoot some
beeves. The cattle being mixed with buffalo
would live during the winter without feeding and
became partly wild, so they were frequently

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Online LibraryN. (Nehemiah) MatsonFrench and Indians of Illinois river → online text (page 11 of 14)