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 Jefferson County Illinois
The Last of the Indians


The last Indians of record in Jefferson County were camped in Wolf Prairie. They were Delawares who had ceded their lands along the Wabash, Ohio, and White rivers in Indiana and the Saline River in Southern Illinois to The United States. These lands included the famous salt springs on the Saline River west of Shawneetown. The Delawares were the last aboriginees to make salt there, and even then salt from the southern Illinois salt mines was being bartered and traded by them as far away as Louisiana and the eastern mountains. In 1803 the Moravian Missionaries had taught the Illinois and Indiana Delawares how to farm and they had sold the salt springs to the The United States in order to get money with which to buy farm emplements and seed. The Delawares were the only group of Indians who could produce a chronicle or record of their history for study by early students of American Indians. An ancient history of the movements and important events that had happended to the Deleware people for several centuries had been carved into long sticks by pictures and symbols. At the time they left Illinois young men were still being trained by the wise old chroniclers of the Deleware Nation to read and interpret the markings on the red sticks, or "alam Olum" as they called these long wooden records. William Penn made a treaty with the Delawares who were living on the west bank of the Deleware River near the present side of Philadelphia in 1656. During the intervening years pressure of white settlement had forced them westward until many of them were living in western Indiana and southeastern Illinois. At the beginning of the American Revolution Delawares were living near the mouth of the Wabash and making salt along the Saline River in Illinois. They were friendly toward the Ameri-cans, and in 1872 the Saline river band of Delawares were reported as being extremely helpful to the Americans and many of them were actually serving in the Colonial Army. After the Revolution, white settlement forced them westward until they finally sold all their lands and became transients in Illinois. The Spanish granted them a parcel of land on the Missouri and Kansas rivers west of where Levenworth now stands, and while enroute to those lands in 1819-1820 three bands of them camped in Jefferson County. They stayed here for almost two years. One group was camped on Horse Creek under a chief named Captain Whitefeather, another was camped on Harper Creek southwest of the new, brick Shiloh Church on the Richview Road, under a chief named George Owl. A third group of about 500 was camped in Bullock's Meadow, in the north end of Wolf Prairie about half a mile or so west of the 460 - I-57 interchange. The name of their chief is not recorded, but they were a part of the group under Chief's William Anderson, Lapahillie, and Nathcoming, who ceded title to all their western reservation within two years. Although we do not know the name of their chief, we do know he had some very pretty daughters and was extremely hospitable. William Henry Perrin's History of Jefferson County has this to say about those Indians. "They sent loads of pelts to Shawneetown and Kaskaskis bringing back many things the settlers could not have procured elsewhere. They also sold hunting shirts, breeches, and mocca-sins (of buck-skin) of their own making, to the whites.

---- The Chief, it is said, had some pretty daughters, and when at his urgent request, Isaac Casey's daughter paid them a visit, the old chief seemed very much delighted and was as polite toward them as a French Dancing Master. While these Indians were camped in the county they remained on the most friendly terms with the settlers, and were polite and extremely hospitable. If any of the whites visited them at mealtime, they were invited to eat, and if they refused the Indians were offended." They hunted and trapped in the surrounding area. Dug roots, picked berries, fished, and made maple sugar. The making of maple sugar, in late winter, was a time of delight for the children according to a report Journal of The Bureau of American Ethnology in 1872. Everybody worked at the gathering of the sap and boiling it down. When it was nearly done the old men would whittle little wooden molds in the shape of moons, stars, birds and animals, into which they poured some of the thick syrup to harden. These were given to the children as candy. There are no records of gardening or farming by the Delawares, while they were here, but they doubtless raised some garden produce at least. In 1820 they packed up and headed west, following the Old Kaskaskia Trail, later called the Pinckneyville Road. A huge caravan of people with horses piled high with their meager possessions. What happended to the Wolf Prairie Delawares after they left here is typical of the treatment Indians received everywhere in those days. While waiting to be ferried across the Mississippi river at Kaskaskia, white renegades stole some of their horses. They also attacked their woman while they were out gathering wood. Dragged them into the bushes and raped them. The Chief complained to the Indian Agent in St. Louis, (Captain William Clark, who had gone with Merriweather Lewis to the Pacific in 1805) but without the cooperation of local authorities he could do nothing, so their wrongs were never righted. When they got to their new lands they were dismayed by the seemlingly endless-treeless-plain. They complained of the lack of sugar trees and many other plants they had been used to in their old home in the east and here in Wolf Prairie. But worse, the gentle Delawares, who had been civilized for several generations, were shocked to discover that they were surrounded by wild Indians. The supeebly mounted and well armed savages of the plains swooped down upon them out of nowhere in a howling mob, trampled their crops, destroyed their villages, and kidnapped their women and children. They ambushed the hunting parties, murdered the men and stole the horses. It was not safe for anyone to work in the fields. The helpless Delawares appealed to the United States for help or for arms but got neither. Many of the Delawares turned Trapper or Mountain Men, and hunted as far west as the Rockies. Sometimes making as much as a thousand dollars in a season. Many were murdered and robbed on their way back to the reservation. In 1867 they sold their Kansas lands and associated themselves with the Cherokees. Descendents of the Wolf Prairie Delawares now live in Oklahoma, but they have passed out of existance as a tribe.

Source: "The Prairie Historian"
September 1973, Volume 2, Number 3
Submitted By: Abby Newell

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