N. (Nehemiah) Matson.

French and Indians of Illinois river online

. (page 2 of 14)
Online LibraryN. (Nehemiah) MatsonFrench and Indians of Illinois river → online text (page 2 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of the far west had embraced the true religion,
and were therefore, saved from perdition.

After giving the Indians many presents, and
pronouncing a blessing upon them. Father Mar-
quette and friends, accompanied by an Indian
guide, continued their journey westward. While
rowing their canoes up the rapid current of Fox
river, they reached a village on its baid^s, whose


inhabitants advised tlieni to go no furtlier on their
journey, or their lives would be sacriticed. They
told the voyageurs, that the banks of the great
river were inhabited by ferocious tribes, who put
all strangers to death. That the river was full of
frightful monsters, some of which were large
enoup'h to swallow a canoe with all its contents.
They also said that in a high cliff of rocks by the
river side, lived a demon whose roar was so loud
as to shake the earth, and destroy all canoes pass-
ing up or down the stream ; that the stream was
full ot cataracts and whirlpools, which would en-
cnilf them in its foam. These wonderful stories
did not frighten the travelers. So after giving
the Indians a few presents, and putting their trust
in the powers above, continued on their way.
Passing up Fox ri\(;r, and dragging their canoes
across the portage, they floated down the Wis-
consin. After journeying many days, the river
bluffs on each side disappeared, opening up to
their view a large plain, while ahead of them was
observed a high range of wooded hills. While
viewing the wild scene around them, their canoes
entered the broad Mississippi, and they found
themselves upon the Father of Waters.

The voyageurs landed from their canoes, raised
a cross on the bank of the river, and sang praises
to the Holy Virgin Ibi' her guidance and {)i-t)tec-


tion thus far on their journey. Father Marquette
pronounced a blessing on the river, and christen-
ed it with tlie most sacred name of "Immaculate
Conception." After spending one day in fasting
and pra3^er, their canoes were again put on the
water, and they commenced descending the river.
As they were floating dow^n the stream, they
discovered on the east bank, near where the city
of Alton now stands, a high cliff of rocks rising
from the river edge in bold relief, while its image
was reflected from the clear waters of the Missis-
sippi. This cliff, for many years afterward, was
known as the " Ruined Castle," and is the site of
a thrilling legend in Indian tradition. On land-
ing here, they beheld a sight which reminded
them that the devil was lord of the wilderness.
On the surface of the rock, next to the water,
was painted in red, black and green, a pair of
monsters, each of which was as large as an ox,
with horns like an elk, heads like a tiger, and
with frightful expression of countenance. The
face of these monsters resembled that of a man —
the body covered with scales like a fish — and with
tails so long that they reached three times around
the bod}'. These terrible looking monsters (rep-
resenting Indian gods), so frightened Father Mar-
quette that he fled fi*om the place in terror, and
hastened on board of his canoe.



As the travelers were passing down tlie^-iver,
conversing about the hideous painting on tlie
rock, they were suddenly aroused to real danger.
Here a torrent of dark muddy water came rush-
ing across the clear current of the Mississippi,
Ijoiling and surging, sweeping in its course logs,
brush and uprooted trees. Their light bark ca-
noes were whirled about on the dark angry water
like a small twig in a swollen brook, and witli
great difficulty their small crafts were kept from
swamping in the foaming billows. They had
passed the mouth of the Missouri river, and with
great rapidity their canoes floated down the ra])id

The travelers descended the Mississii)pi about
one thousand miles, to its junction witli the Ar-
kansas, when they turned their canftes up stream,
and rctunird to Canada, as has been ])i'Cviously



Tlie Illinois Indians were of the Algonquin
family, and consisted of five distinct hands,
named as follows : Kaskaskias, Cahohias, Peorias,
Tamaroas, and Mickgamies. The three former
tri})es occuj)ied the villages bearing their respec-
tive names, and the two latter the country north
of Peoria Lake.

According to the statements of early French
explorers, these Indians were the most numerous
of all the tribes of the west, occupying the coun-
try from Lake Micliigan to the Mississippi
river, and from Rock river to the mouth of the
Ohio, being almost the entire territory now in-
cluded within the State of Illinois. Over this
vast country herds of buffalo roamed for their
l)enefit, and tlie many rivers were navigated by
their bark canoes only. From the numerous
groves the smoke from their camp lires was seen


to ascend, and the lonely forest re-echoed the
report of their rifles, as well as their wild war

They had many towns along the Illinois river,
the largest and principal one was La Yantum,
which was located near the present site of Utica,
an account of which will be given hereafter.

On account of the great abundance of game
(it being known far and near as the bufifalo coun-
try), neighboring tribes frequently made this their
hunting grounds, and although the Illinois In-
dians were not a warlike people, still they would
resent an encroachment u})on their rights, conse-
quently they were often at war with other tribes.

The Iroquois from the east made frequent raids
on the Illinois Indians, destroying their towns,
killing squaws and pappooses, and carrying away
large quantities of pelts and furs, which they sold
to French and English traders.

According to tradition, the Iroquois, in one of
these raids, cari'ied off eight hundred prisoners,
principally squaws and pappooses, and burned
them at their village on the bank of Seneca Lake.
The Iroquois Indians having been in ti-ade with
the Dutch at Albany, and the French in Canada,
liufl armed themselves with gujis, which gave
tliem great advantage over the Illinois, who us(m1
bows and arrows only. These war parties of the


Iroquois created so much terror among the Illi-
nois, that they would flee at their approach
without offering to give them battle. On account
of these frequent raids, the Illinois were much
reduced in numbers, which caused them to fall an
easy prey to the neighboring tribes some years

A little over a century ago, a number of tribes
combined, forming an alliance against the Illi-
nois, which resulted in their annihilation, and the
occupation of their country by their enemies, as
will be shown in the sequel.


The name of La Yantum was applied to the
great town of Illinois Indians, more than a cen-
tury ago, by the French and half-breeds at Peoria.
The origin of the name is not known, but is said
to be a combination of a French and Indian word,
and means a great place, a large towii, capital of
the tribe, &c. In letters written by Jesuits and
early explorers, it is spoken of as the great town
of the west, and the chiefs of other villages met
here for council. Joliet called this place Kaskas-
kia, but by La Salle and subsequent explorers, it
was known as the great Illinois town. According
to the statements of early explorers, this was the


largest town in tlie western country, beini^ tlie
headquHrters of tlie Illinois Indians, and the seat
of their trade. The number of its inhabitants
have been variously estimated, ranging from five
to eight thousand. Marquette says he found
here five hundred chiefs and old warriors, and
fifteen hundred braves or young warriors. Seven
years afterward Father Hennepin counted four
hundred and sixty-eight lodges, and these con-
tained from two to four families each. Other wtic-
counts are given of it as being a large town,
occupying the river bank for more than a mile,
and extending back some distance on the prairie.
This great Indian town of the west has long
since disappeared, and like many of the ruined
cities of the old world, history and tradition alike
fail to point out its exact location. Some have
located it a little below Buffalo Rock, and others
near the mouth of Little Yermillion, as many In-
dian relics are found at both of these places. But
in comparing the different accounts given of this
town, from its first discovery by Joliet to the
time of its final destruction, a period of near one
hundred years, it is shown conclusively to have
stood on or near the present site of old Utica.
History says it was on the north bank of the river,
in ])lain view of Fort St. Louis, and the French
passed to and from it in their canoes.



On the north side of the river is a large bottom
prairie, about nine miles in length and one in
breadth, extending from the river to the bluft',
and from the mouth of Little Vermillion to Buf-
falo Rock. Near the middle of this prairie, and
a few hundred ^^ards below the rapids, the river
is confined into a deep, narrow channel. Here
the bank rises gradually from the water's edge
until it reaches the high land in the rear, forming
a sloping plateau, which is elevated above the
floods of the Illinois, and for beauty of location
is scarcely surpassed by any place on the river.

Forty years ago this point w^as considered the
head of navigation, and consequently the terminus
of the Illinois and Michigan canal. In 1834 a
town was laid off here by Simon Crozier, and
everybody prophesied that it w^as destined to be
a large city. Steamboats at St. Louis put out
their sign for Utica, and travelers for the lake
countrv and eastw^ard bound, would land here,
and thence proceed by stage to Chicago. Corn
is now raised on this town site, two or tliree old
dilapidated buildings only remain of this once
great paper city, and Utica, like its predecessor.
La Yantum, exists only in history.

Felix La Pance, a French trader at Peoria,
frequently visited this towm, it being on his route
to and from Canada. And he traded with these


Indians from 1751 to 1768, taking their lurswitli
hiin on liis annual trip to Canada, and paying tor
them in goods on his return. Some account of
this town is found among his papers in the pos-
session of his descendants, who are now living on
the American Bottom. This account says the
town contained from five to six hundred lodges,
standin<r aloncj the river bank for more than a
mile in extent. Back on the prairie were a large
number of wigwams, or camping tents, occupied
part of the year by people from the neighboring
villages, who came here each year to raise corn.
The town contained from live to eight thousand «
inhabitants, but at the time of holding their an-
nual feast, nearly all the Illinois nations collected
here. On the river bank, about the middle of the
town, stood their great council-house, surrounded
by stockades and various kinds of fortifications.

The town was shaded by a few out-spreading
oaks, in the midst of which, and close to the river
bank, was a large spring of cold water. No trees
are here at the present time, but there might
liave been in former days, and killed by tire on the
prairie after tlie town was abandoned. The spring
spoken of by La Pance cannot be found on the
old town site, but whoever will take the trouble
to examine the river at this point when it is low,
will observe a short distance from shore the bub-


bles from a spring under water. Wal)a, an Indian
chief, who was raised in a village near the mouth
of Fox river, said to one of the fur traders, while
speaking of this town : In his boyhood days there
was here by the side of the trail a large spring of
cold water, and Indians in passing back and forth
would stop here to drink, but afterw^ards it disap-
peared and came out under the river.

A short distance from the river, and back of the
old toW' n site, is a range of gravelly knolls, where
the Indians had their caches or subterranean store-
houses, for depositing corn. The remains of
these caches were plain to be seen in the early
settlement of the country, and in a few instances
these relics still exist. On the bottom prairie,
above and below the town, for miles in extent, lay
their corn-fields, and east of these w^as tlieir race-
course, which could be traced out in the early
settlement of the country. Forty years ago this
prairie sho"wed unmistakable signs of having been
cultivated. Weeds were found growing here,
which botanists say are never found on the prairie,
except where the sod has been broken*

*It is said that the indians from the neigliboring villages came
here during the summer to raise corn, as the land was thouglit
to produce better crops than elsewhere. The French occupied
this place for thirty-six years, and many of them lived in the
town with the Indians, and were more or less engaged in agri-
cultural pursuits, which may account for the large amount of
land under cultivation.


Tlie higli land al)Ove and below the town site
appears to have been used as a burying ground,
on which many skeletons have been exhumed,
and various kinds of relics found. James Clark,
who owns a large farm here, says every year small
pieces of human bones, teeth, beads, arrow heads,
&;c., as well as implements of Indian and Euro-
pean manufacture, are plowed up. Here in this
burying ground, in all probability, many thousand
human l)eings found a long resting place, and the
bones of posterity mingled with those of their
ancestors. And here are still to be seen a number
of artificial mounds, supposed to have been erected
over the remains of chiefs or great warriors of
past ages. About sixty years ago Waba, a noted
Indian chief, opened two of these mounds, from
which he took a number of valuable trinkets,
consisting of gold and silver medals, crosses,
crucifixes, &c. Among the trinkets found here
was a silver medallion head of Louis XIV, bearing
date 1670, three years before Manjuette visited
this place, and in all probability it was given to a
convert by that holy father.

Here at this great town a large portion of the
Illinois Indians would collect during the summer
for the purpose of fishing and raising corn, and
here were held their annual religious feasts and
war dances. During the winter months the In-


dians would leave their town for Lake Weiio,
situated about one day's journey westward, for
the purpose of collecting furs, and return to their
village in early spring.*

♦According to Indian tradition, there was a lake about nine
leagues west of tlie great bend in tlie Illinois river, wliei'e tlie
Indians went each winter to collect furs. The Indians caUed it
Lake Weno, (a place of much game), and many allusions are
made to it by the lirst P'rench fur traders.

No such lake now exists, but it is quite probable that thei'e
was one in former times, along the valley of Green river, as
many things are found here to make this tlieory plausible-
There is a place in Henry county which shows marks of having
been a natural dana or obstruction of the river, causing the
valley above to be inundated. Many things indicate that a large
portion of Green river valley was once covered with water,
forming a hike thirty miles or more in length, and from one to
three in width. The boundaries of this lake are now plain to
be seen, by peculiar stratas of earth, which geologists assert are
never found except where water once stood. On both sides of
the river, along sloughs and small streams, are seen the remains
of beaver dams, which are so common on the margin ol west-
ern lakes.

When the govei'nment surveys were made along the valley
of Green river, in the year 1821, those having charge of it re-
turned in their notes and so platted many lakes where section
corners could not be made, and in maps drawn at that time is
shown almost a complete sheet of water. Many places
along this valley, which were covered with water in the early
settlement of the country, are now only marsh land, subject to
occasional overflow, and in time will be brought under cultiva-
ti(m. The obstruction in the river below having worn down by
time, and the valley filling up by washings, would cause the
lake to disappear and leave it as now seen.

Weno Lake is said to have abounded with beaver, otter and
muskrat ; the two latter were plenty here in the early settle-
ment of the country, but the former had disappeared.



Father Maivj^uette remained at Green Bay but
a short time, liis health being bad, and the Win-
nebago Indians with whom he sojourned were
unwilling to abandon the religion of their fathers
for that of Christianity. It being impressed on
the mind of Marquette that his stay on earth
would be short, and before departing hence he
felt it his dut}' to again visit the Illinois Indians,
and amono^ them establish a mission in honor of
the Holy Virgin.

Late in November Marquette left Green Bay,
accompanied by two of his countrymen, Pierre
and Jacques, together with two Winnebago
Indians. The weather was cold, the winds high,
and it was with great difficulty they coasted along
the western shore of Lake Michigan. Fre<|uently
the travelers would be compelled to land from the


turbulent water, draw their canoe on the beach,
and wait for the winds and waves to subside.

After a long perilous voyage on Lake Michigan,
the travelers reached the mouth of Chicago river,
and ascended it about three leagues to a grove of
timber above the present site of Bridgeport.
Here Marquette was taken very sick, so the party
could go no further on their way until he recov-
ered. Winter now set in, the river froze up, and
the prairie and groves \vere covered with snow
and ice. Near the river bank the companions of
Marcpiette built a hut, covering and siding it with
buffalo skins, and here they lived about three

Buffalo and deer ^vere plenty, and the Indians
from a neighboring village supplied them with
corn, honey and maple sugar, so they did not lack
for the necessaries of life, For many days Mar-
quette was prostrated by disease so he could not
rise from his couch, and his friends believed that
his time of departure was nigh. Having a great
desire to establish a mission among the Indians
before he died, he begged his two companions —
Pierre and Jacques — to join him in nine days'
devotion to the Virgin, and through her inter-
position his disease relented, and he gained
strength daily.

Indians from a village two leagues distant,


frequently visited their hut, and Marquette, feel )le
as he was, preached to them, aiid by the power of
his eloquence many became Christians. Near
their hut they built of Cottonwood poles a tempo-
rarv altar, and over which was raised a laro^e
wooden cross. The converted Indians were
taught to look upon this cross while praying, ami
tlierebv all their sins wxre remitted. Many mir-
acles are said to have been wrought among the
Indians b}' looking upon this sacred talisman —
the blind were made to see and the sick restored
to health. For many days the Indians continued
to worship at the altar. Father Marquette
pj'caching and laying his hands on their
heads, would bestow his blessing on them. A
beloved chief, who for years had been affli^.ted
with a demon in his back, so he could not raise
from his couch, was carried to Marquette, and
when the holy father laid his hands upon him, in
the name of the Virgin, the demon departed and
the chief was restored to health.

In Mai'ch the country was flooded with water,
and Marquette's health being partially restored,
they put their canoe on the river and comiuued
tlieir journey westward. Although Manpiette
was gone, his magic power over the Indians re-
maiiu'd. They hallowed the S}»ot where thealtar
stood, and when the rude structure rotted down.


tliey erected an earthen mound on its site, so the
spot should not be for2;otten by coming genera-
tions. Although two centuries have passed away,
this mound is still to be seen, and among the
French and Indians there are many remarkable
traditions in relation to it. The Indians from
difterent villages, according to tradition, were in
the habit of collecting here once a year — on the
fifth day of the tenth moon — and offer up ])iayers
and sacrifices to the Great Manito of the French,
in order that they might be successful in war,
tishing, hunting, <fec.

About fifty years after Marquette had raised
the cross here, Charlevoix, with a party of French
explorers, visited this country, and while rowing
their canoes up the Chicago river they found col-
lected on this spot a large body of Indians,
enocagjed in devotional exercises. On the mound
Stood a wooden cross, partly covered with a bear
skin, and around it the Indians were kneeling in
prayer. Charlevoix and friends landed from
their canoes, and spent the day worshiping with
the Indians, and to them Father Canabe, a Jesuit
priest, administered the sacrament.*

*In the early settlement of Chicago, this place was known to
niauy of the French Catholics, some of whom visited it in
memory of its sainted founder— Father Marquette. This place
was tlie scene of another remarkable incident, which wiU ap-
pear In another part of this book.


Tlie winter was now over, snow and ice had
disappeared from the prairies, and tlie warm snn
of early spring not only animated nature, but it
gave strength and vitality to Father Marquette.
His cough had almost ceased ; his tall, manly
form, which had been bent by rheumatism, was
now erect, and he sang songs of praise to the
IIolv Yirg^in tor his restoration to health. After
taking an affectionate farewell of the Indians,
Marquette, with his two companions, left in their
])ark canoe for the ojreat Illinois town.

With sail and oars the voyageurs urged their
canoe down the Illinois river, while the surround-
ing woods re-echoed their songs of praise. Birds
were singing among the branches of trees, squir-
rels chirping in the groves, while elk and deer
bounded away at the sound of the approacliing
canoe. Swans, pelicans and wild geese would
rise from the water and fly squawking down
stream, while beaver and otter were sporting in
the river, and diving under their canoe. Far and
near the prairie was covered with buffalo, some
baskino' in the sun, while others were feedinii' on
the early spring grass. Morning and evening
\oUix lines of buffalo were seen cumiui'- to the
river to drink, sometimes swimmini!; the stream


or climbing the banks and shaking the water from
their shaggy sides, while gazing wildly at the
passing canoe.

When Marquette arrived at La Yantiim, the
Indians received him as though he was an angel
from heaven, some of whom fell on their knees
before him, asking forgiveness for past sins.
Chassagoac, the head chief, who Marquette had
baptized the year before, was so delighted at meet-
ing the holy father that he embraced him and
wept for joy.

On the day following Marquette's arrival, all the
Indians, both old and young, assembled on the
meadow above the town to hear good tidings
from the great French Manito, (the name given
to Jesus Christ). Around Marquette were seated
on the ground five hundred old chiefs and war-
riors, and behind them stood fifteen hundred
young braves, while back of these were collected
all the squaws and pappooses of the town. Mar-
quette, standing in the midst of this vast assembly,
displayed to them two pictures painted on canvas,
one of the Virgin and the other of Jesus Christ,
telling them of God, of heaven, and of hell,
when all the Indians clapped their hands and
shouted for joy. By direction of Marquette, the
Indians tore down the temple and images erected

to the god of war, and built a chapel on its site.


This chapel was constructed by setting poles in
the ground, siding and covering it with elk and

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryN. (Nehemiah) MatsonFrench and Indians of Illinois river → online text (page 2 of 14)