N. (Nehemiah) Matson.

Pioneers of Illinois, containing a series of sketches relating to events that occurred previous to 1813; also narratives of many thrilling incidents connected with the early settlement of the West, drawn from history, tradition and personal reminiscences online

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Online LibraryN. (Nehemiah) MatsonPioneers of Illinois, containing a series of sketches relating to events that occurred previous to 1813; also narratives of many thrilling incidents connected with the early settlement of the West, drawn from history, tradition and personal reminiscences → online text (page 1 of 16)
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PHOTO'D BY K, I.PIHLGREN- primce ton, ill.







Nakratives op many Thrilling Incidents connected with
THE Early Settlement of the West,




Author of "Beyond the Atlantic," "Reminiscences op Bureau

County," "French and Indians or Illinois Rfver,"

"Memories of Shaubena," etc.


1882. J




Copyright, 1882.



IK presenting these pages to the public it be-
comes necessary to make a few phiiii statements
in order that the reader may und,erstand the pur-
poses of the writer. The object of collecting the
early traditions of the country has been for the pur-
pose of supplying the many missing links in history,
and also to correct some of its errors. To gather
these materials has been attended with much labor,
the work of more than forty years, and various
means of obtaining facts have been resorted to. *In
these researches many new items have been devel-
oped, errors in history corrected, but the work of
harmonizing all conflicting statements has not been
an entire success.

While the Indians were still in the countrv I had
frequent interviews with them, and listened to their
accounts of events which had come down through
many generations. In order to obtain more of their
early history I employed an educated half-breed of
western Kansas to collect traditions among liis peo-
ple, especially of those wliose ancestors formerly
lived alone* the Illinois River.

At different times I visited the descendants of

the early French pioneers now living on the Ameri-



can Bottom, and heard their stories of past events
which had come down through the third and fourth
generations. I also visited places of early historical
renown, at some of which relics of the past can still
be seen, and the descriptions herein given of these
localities are drawn from personal observations.
Many of the incidents narrated in this book were
obtained from persons who figured in them, and
every statement not well authenticated has been ex-
cluded from these pages.

An account of the early French exploration of
Illinois has been given in almost every county his-
tory in the state, consequently I would like to omit
this part entirely, but it cannot be done without
doing injustice to the work. Therefore in giving
a short sketch of these events, compiled from his-
tory, I have added some of the French and Indian
traditions relating thereto. These items have been
collected at diiferent times from various sources,
compared and revised with much care, and for the
first time given to the public.

A few years ago I published two editions of a
book entitled "French and Indians of Illinois
River," relating to the same subject as this, and
many of the incidents given in that volume have
been revised, corrected, and inserted in this one.

]sr. M.




The Mainmotli and the Mastodon. — Topography
of Illinois Eiver. — Illinois Indians. — Massa-
cre of Indians. — Raid of the Iroquois. - 17


Father Marquette. — Discovery of the Missis-
sippi River. — The Yoyageurs at La Yantum. 28


The cross raised on the bank of Chicago River.

— Mission of Immaculate Conception. —
Death of Marquette. — Resurrecting of Mar-
quette's bones. - - - 38


La Yantum, or great Illinois town. — The great
Western explorer. — La Salle and friends
western bound. — French at Peoria Lake. —
Fort Creve-Cmur. - - - - - 4:8


La Salle in the Indian camp. — Henri de Tonti.

— The French at La Yantum. — Reception

of evil tidings. — Battle and Massacre. - 59


Torturing prisoners. — Death of Father Gabriel.

— A Scene of Horror. — Starved Rock. - 72




Building of Fort St. Louis. — Trade with tlie
Indians. — La Salle's success, failure and
death. — Fort St. Louis attacked bj L'oquois.
— Return of Tonti's victorious army. - 83


La Fort des Miamis. — The last of Tonti. —
Fort St. Louis burned and colony broken up.
Chassagoac, an Indian Chief. — Louisiana
Colony.— French settlement around Fort St.
Louis. - - - - 93


Jesuit Missionary of the West. — Father Senat
and comrades bnrned at the stake. — Early
French settlement of Illinois. — Early settle-
ment of St. Louis. — r British rule in Illinois. lOT


Tom Brady's wild adventure. — Two expedi-
tions against St. Joseph and one against
Detroit. — Pat Kennedy and comrades in
search of copper mines. - _ - _ 119


Colonel Clark's conquest of Illinois. - - 127


Pontiac. — An error in history. — Massacre of
a hunting party. — The Ottawas ordered out
of the country. — The Indian council.— Pon-
tiac assassinated. — A war of extermination. 137


Rock of refuge. — The besiegers and besieged.
— Yarious traditionary evidence. — A ghastly
spectacle. - - - - 153,



Relics of the tragedy. — Searching for gold. —
Fort St. Louis. — Rock Fort and Le liocher.
— Relics of Fort St. Louis. — Indians and
French relics. — Father Buche's manuscript. 1G6


Fort Massac. — American Bottom. — Prairie du
Rocher. — Cahokia. — Kaskaskia. — Kaskas-
kia and Cahokia Indians. — Peoria Indians. 180


Indian tribes in Illinois territory. — Monks of
La Trappe. — Old fort near Starved Rock. —
The ruined city of Aztalan. — Ancient forti-
fication of Marseilles. — The ruined fort on
Fox River. — Medore Jennette, a fur trader. 193


English and French relations with Indians. —
American Pioneers of Illinois. — Early gov-
ernment of Illinois. — Disappearing of
buffalo. — Early historv of Chicago. — Jean
Baptiste and Father Bonner. - - - 205


Early settlement at Peoria.— La ville de Millet.
French inhabitants of Peoria. — French cos-
tumes and manners. — French land claims. - 115


Pierre De Beuro, an Indian trader. — Tecumseh
at Peoria. — Indian de])redations. — Indian
council at Cahokia. — Illinois territory at
the time of the British war. — A false report
circulated. 229



Black Partridge, a noted Indian chief. — Indians
receiving the first tidings of war. — Mrs.
Helm's life saved by Black Partridge. —
Emissaries from Tecumseh. — Unjust retribu-
tion. - - - - 242


Lieutenant Helm ransomed by Black Partridge.
— Mrs. Basson's narrative. — The French at
Peoria regarded as enemies. — Captain
Craig's account of his attack on Peoria. —
Burning of Peoria. — Domestic animals left
by the captives. - - - 254


Indian raid on the settlement. — Captivity of
Amanda Wolsey. — General Howard's expe-
dition against the Indians. — Black Partridge
with his braves in defense of their country.
— Colonel Davenport's account of the block
house. 274


Building of Fort Clark — Indians collect on
Bureau. — Lieutenant Robenson in search of
the enemy. — Treaty of peace. - - - 284


Descendants of the French settlers at Peoria. —
Perils of fur traders. — Burning of Fort
Clark. 293



A RTIFTCIAL mounds are found everywhere
ix througliout the western country, but are more
numerous along tlie Illinois River and its tributaries.
These mounds vary in size, shape and general forma-
tion. Some of them are only small elevations, called
sepulchral mounds, in which are found human bones
and different kinds of trinkets. Others are of various
forms, representing the Hgure of a man, birds, ani-
mals, turtles, alligators, etc. Some of these mounds,
from appearance, were intended for fortifications,
others for sacramental purposes, and many of them
the object for which tliey were constructed cannot
be determined.

Mounds and earthworks are generally found near
the present center of wealth and activity, showing
that the ancient race understood the advantage of
locality as well as people of the present day do. These
mounds are only found where the soil is rich, the
Bcenery tine, and near large streams of water, but
Dever appear in a poor, barren country. The

2 17


mounds found throughout the west have been clas-
sified as fortifications, temples, altars, sepulchers,
signal stations and symbolic figures.

Some of the small mounds may have been the
work of Indians, and of comparative recent date, but
the large ones undoubtedly belong to the prehistoric
age, and built by people who have long since passed
away. Among the largest of this class of mounds
is Mount Monk, on the American Bottom, and Mount
Joliet, on the Des Plaines River, near the city of
Joliet. The former at the base is eight hundred
yards in circumference and ninety feet high. The
latter nearly one mile in circumference and one hun-
dred and fifty feet high, rising like a great pyramid in
the midst of a plain. Some people believe these large
mounds were formed by some freak of nature, there-
lore the subject of their formation belongs to geology
rather than history. Others regard the mound build-
ers as a myth, the ofi^spring of fanatical antiquists
claiming that nature and Indians did these works.
But these skeptics are not posted in relation to the
many thousand works of this kind found in the
Mississippi Yalley, which it must be admitted have
been made by human hands, and could not have been
the work of Indians. Who built these mounds, at
what time, and for what purpose, opens a field of
wild speculation. On this subject men of science


have advanced many curious opinions without estab-
lishing any reliable facts.

There are many speculative theories advanced re-
hxting to the ancient people who at one time in-
habited this country, but this mystery is buried in
the unknown past, where in all probability it will
forever remain. Who these people were, from
whence they came, and what became of them, are
questions often asked, but never satisfactorily an-
swered. In the absence of any knowledge of these
people, and for the want of a better and more appro-
priate name, they are called Mound Builders. The
cities built and temples erected by these people (if
any) have long since disappeared, and the marvels
alone remain to tell the story of the past. Unlike
the ancient Egyptians they have left no monumental
obelisks covered with hieroglyphics, nor a rosetta
stone, as a key to the mysteries of past ages.

A great deal of nonsense, under the name of
science, has been written by late antiquarians in re-
lation to mounds and mound builders without throw-
ing any light on the subject.

Some remarkable facts relating to antiquities in
this section of the country will be found in another
part of this book under the head of ancient fortifica-
tions and ruined cities.



At one time the gigantic mammoth and masto-
don roamed at large over the prairies of Illinois,
and left their bones in many places, sunk deep in
the marshes. At what time these monsters inhab-
ited this country, what their form, movements, and
habits were, the time and cause of disappearance,
will in all probability forever remain a mystery.
Skeletons of diiferent species of these animals have
been exhumed from swamps and marshes in a good
state of preservation, and now adorn the museums
of this country. Many facts have been collected
which leave no doubt that people lived in this
country when these animals roamed at large. In
exhuming the bones of one of these monsters some
years ago near Beardstown, an arrow-head and a
broken point of a copper spear were found among
the bones, showing that the beast came to its death
by the hand of man. Dr. Koch, who has supplied
foreign museums with skeletons of mastodons from
this western country, says : In exhuming the bones
of one of these animals from a marsh where it had
mired the skeleton was found, standing erect. A
fire had been kindled against it, and ashes, pieces of
charred wood, with arrow-heads, stone axes and
other weapons, were found among the bones, showing


conclusively in what way the beast came to its

In 1773 James Douglass, the lirst white man
that visited Big Bone Lick, in Kentucky, found a
large number of mammoth bones lying on top of
the ground in a good state of preservation. Some
of the rib bones he set u])right, and spread a
blanket on them, forming a tent to shelter him from
rain and sun.

According to tradition, at the time of the early
French exploration of this country many large
bones were found at a lick a short distance from
Peoria Lake, and among them were two tusks ten
feet in length. In the early settlement of this
country large bones were occasionally found on top
of the ground which could not have belonged to
any animal known at the present time. As a rule
bones on top of the ground will last only about
fifty years, but instances are on record where they
have remained sound after lying for many ages.

Bones of the mammoth and mastodon are found
everywhere on this continent, but in greater num-
bers in the Valley of the Mississippi, but neither
history nor tradition has left any account of them
in a living state. These animals, judging from
their bones, must have been of an enormous size ;
the elephant of the present time in comparison to


them would be a mere pigmy. The skeleton of one
of these, now in the museum of the University at
Rochester, 'N. Y., is sixteen feet high, twenty- six
feet in length, with tusk fourteen feet long, and at
the base one foot in diameter.

In the spring of 1881 the bones of one of these
monsters were found embedded in a slough two miles
northeast of Princeton. Although the bones were
much decayed, and not enough of them remained to
form a skeleton, it is believed the animal to have
been about fifteen feet high, and twenty-two feet in


From the junction of the Kankakee with Des
Plaines to the mouth of Illinois River, exclusive of
windings, is two hundred and sixty miles, two hun-
dred and ten miles of which is navigable for steam-
boats. The Illinois is a sluggish stream; in two
hundred miles it has only twenty-eight feet fall,
about the amount of fall necessary for canal naviga-
tion, and when the Mississi]3pi is high it backs up
the Illinois River seventy -two miles. The river bot-
tom is from one to two miles wide, but at Beards-
town it is twelve miles between the bluffs. The bot-
tom lands are about equally divided between timber
and prairie. The soil very rich, but much of it sub-
ject to inundation. The bluffs are from one to two


liundred feet high, and mostly covered with timber.
At Starved Rock, and also at Marseilles, are exten-
sive rapids, with a wide, shallow channel inter-
spersed with many beautiful WMjud-clad islands.

.The scenery along the Illinois River is very beau-
tiful; the broad stream dotted here and there with
islands has attracted the attention and received the
admiration of both savage and civilized people. The
river banks are made attractive by alternate timber
and prairie, and passes through a fertile country,
which in former times abounded in game. For the
possession of this country, according to tradition, has
caused many a hard-fought battle, between savage
tribes, and the bones of the victors as well as the
vanquished have been left to decay on its banks.

On the bank of the Illinois River the French
established the first canony in the Mississippi Valley,
and here a nucleus was formed for settling the Great
West. In former times its placid waters were navi-
gated only by the bark canoes of savages, after
which the little bateaux of the French were seen on
its waters for about one hundred^ and forty years.
These crafts, loaded with furs, and sails spread to the
breeze, passed up the river from French villages,
coasting along the lakes to Canada, and return with
goods for the Tndinn market. At a later period the
Mackinaw boat of the American Fur Company took


the place of French bateaux. Following in the
wake of these crafts came the sluggish keel boat,
loaded with emigrants, which in their turn disap
peared on the introduction of steam navigation.


The Illinois Indians were of the Algonquin fam-
ily, and consisted of 'G.ve bands or semi-tribes, named
as follows : Kaskaskias, Cahokias, Peorias, Tam-
aroas and Michigamies. The three former bands
occupied villages bearing their respective names,
and the two latter the country north of Peoria Lake.
According to the statement of early French ex-
plorers, these Indians were the most numerous of all
the tribes of the west, occupying almost the entire
territorv now included within the State of Illinois.
Along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, tVom the
mouth of Ohio to Lake Michigan, their villages were
found at short intervals, and the vast country east
and west of these rivers was their hunting-grounds.
Over this country herds of buffalo, elk and deer
roamed for their benefit, and the many rivers were
navigated only by their bark canoes. From the
many groves the smoke from their camp-fires was
seen to ascend, and the lonely forest reechoed their
wild war whoops. These Indians had many towns
on the Illinois Piver, the largest and most important


one, called La Vantnm, located near the })resent
site of Utica, an account of which will be given in
the suctceeding chapter.

On account of abundance of ij^anie (Illinois being
knowni as the buifalo country), neighboring tribes
frequently made this their hunting-ground, and al-
though the Illinois Indians were not a warlike
people, still thev would resent an encroachment on
their rights, consequently many bloody battles were
foui2:hT with the acrffressors.

More than a century ago the northern bands of
the Illinois Indians became extinct, therefore most
of their traditions are lost, still there are some things
relating to them preserved by the French pioneers
which jire related by their descendants now living
on the American Bottom.

According to tradition, there w^as a large Indian
village on the east side of the Illinois River, a short
distance above the head of Peoria Lake. Near this
village, on the bank of the river and partly sur-
rounded by a bayou, was a place where the Indians
held their annual religious feasts. On this ground
was erected an altar, containins^ imac^es of the differ-
ent gods, and around which the Indians knelt in
prayer w^hile offering up sacrifices. At one of these
feasts all the warriors of the village and many from


neighboring ones were collected here engaged in
religious exercises, while squaws and papooses stood
looking on, and mingling their voices in songs oi
praise. The warriors, dispossessed of their arms,
were engaged in devotion, the j^riests exhorting them
in the ways of holiness, and receiving their annual
offerings. While thus engaged they were suddenly
attacked by a large body of Pottawatomies and most
of them slain. Being taken by surprise, and un-
armed, defense or escape appeared impossible, and
many a brave warrior sang his death song and sub-
mitted to his fate. A few escaped b}^ swimming the
river, but the most of them, including squaws and
papooses, fell an easy prey to the victorious enemy.

The victors collected all the valuables of the van-
quished, including arms, clothing, camp equipage,
furs, pelts, etc., loading them on ponies, and w^itli
their spoils left for their homes on the Wabash.

The date of this tragical affair is not known, but
it was before the advent of the French, or tlie raids
on these Indians by the Iroquois. For some time
after the French came to this country the ground
where this massacre took place was strewn with
human bones.


The Iroquois Indians from the east made fre-
quent raids on the Illinoisans, destroying their towns,


killing squaws and papooses, and carrying away
large (jiiantities of pelts, furs, etc., which they sold
to English traders. According to tradition, in one of
those raids they carried off eight hundred prisoners,
mostly squaws and papooses, and burned them at
their village on the bank of Seneca Lake. The Iro-
quois, having been in trade with the English at
Albany, liad armed themselves with rifles, which gave
them great advantage over the Illinoisans, who used
bows and arrows only. These frequent raids of the
Iroquois were for spoil only, and not for conquest,
as they made no effort to take possession of the coun-
try. The Illinoisans were rich in ponies, furs, pelts,
trinkets, etc., and the robbers would return loaded
with spoil, and at one time they brought back three
hundred ponies loaded with valuables. It is said the
traders at Albany encouraged these robberies by
furnishing the Iroquois with war implements, and
buying the stolen goods.

On account of the frequent raids on the Illinoisans
they became reduced in numbers, which caused them
to fall an easy prey to the neighboring tribes some
years afterward. A little over a century ago a num-
ber of tribes combined, forming an alliance against
the Illinois Indians, which resulted in their annihila-
tion, and the occupation of the country by the vic-
tors, as will be shown in the sequel.



A FEW years ago, while passing tlirougli the
Vatican at Rome, my attention was called to
a department entitled "Portraits of N^orth 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. This portrait represented a man in the
prime of life, tall and well proportioned, with hand-
some moulded features, and a countenance beaming
with intelligence. Below this picture was a motto
in Latin, and also the name of Father Jacques Mar-
quette, a Jesuit priest of ]S"orth 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 intellect,
well educated, and, while young, became a magnet
in his native city. At a proper age he was ordained
a priest, and being enthusiastic about the conversion
of heathens he sailed for America, forsaking home,
friends and wealth to spend a life among savages in

- 28


the New World. After remaining a sliort time at
Quebec Marquette went west to Lake Huron, where
he spent a number of years among the Indians, in-
strncting them in the ways of Christianity. Wliile
among tliese Indians he learned their languages, and
it is said that he understood, and could speak, six
different Indian dialects.

Marquette went to Sault Ste. Marie, where Father
Allouez had established a mission, and for a time
traveled through the country visiting different tribes
of Indians, and among them made converts wher-
ever he went. His active spirit could not rest, caus-
ing him to travel from place to place exposed to in-
clement weather, wading through water and snow,
spending days without shelter or fire, subsisting on
parched corn, or moss gathered from rocks, some-
times paddling his canoe up and down streams, or
along the lake shore, and sleeping at night in open
air. Said Marquette in a letter to a friend in France:
''A life in the wilderness has its charms, and the
rude hut of a savage is better adapted to a true dis-
ciple of Christ than the palace of a king. My heart
ofttimes swells witli rapture as my canoe glides over
strange waters, or while plodding my way through
thick forests, among briers and thorns, in laboring
for the cause of my Redeemer."

Father Marquette founded a mission at Point


St. Ignace, opposite the island of Mackinaw, and In-
dians from different villages along the lake came
thither for religions instruction. He built here on

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryN. (Nehemiah) MatsonPioneers of Illinois, containing a series of sketches relating to events that occurred previous to 1813; also narratives of many thrilling incidents connected with the early settlement of the West, drawn from history, tradition and personal reminiscences → online text (page 1 of 16)