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Livingston County, Illinois
Genealogy and History


When the white settlers first began to locate in the territory out of which Livingston County was formed, they found it in the possession of the Kickapoo and Pottawatomie Indians.

These tribes claimed the country by right of conquest, and their eventful history demands a far more extended notice than can be given to it in these pages. The final and decisive battle between the Kickapoos and the Pottawatomies on the one hand, and the Miamis on the other, finds no parallel in history, except it be the battle of "Chevy Chase" between the followers of Douglas and Percy. This " duel of the tribes," as it is called, will again be referred to. The " Illini " were the first inhabitants of which history gives any authentic account.

This name means " Superior men " and did not apply to a tribe, but to a confederation of tribes, composed of the Peorias, Moinquienas, Kas-kas-kias, Tamaroas and Cahokias. In 1872, this powerful confederation had dwindled to forty souls, and these were living on a reservation southwest of the land assigned by the Government to the Quapaws.

Chicago was their great chief in the days of their glory. In 1700, this chief went to France, and was treated with distinguished honors. His son, of the same name, was also a powerful chief to the time of his death, in 1754.

Against this confederation, the Kickapoos, PottaAvatomies and Miamis combined for a war of extermination. After a long and bloody struggle, the Illini made their last stand at Starved Rock, in La Salle County, in the year 1774. The Illini suffered a disastrous defeat, and left their enemies in undisputed possession of the territory. But when the victorious tribes came to divide the domain among themselves, fresh difficulty arose, and they again resorted to arms.

In this struggle, the Kickapoos and Pottawatomies combined their forces, and made common cause against the Miamis. The war which followed was not of long duration ; but it was exceedingly bloody and fatal to the participants. In the year 1774, less than twelve months from the time that they had conquered the Illini, it was agreed that the Miamis should select three hundred warriors, and the Kickapoos and Pottawatomies a like number, and that these SIX hundred men should meet in combat and decide the (quarrel. The opposing forces met on the banks of Sugar Creek and fought from the rising to the setting of the sun, and at the close of the day there remained only- twelve men who were not killed or mortally wounded ; and of these, five were Miamis and seven Kickapoos and Pottawatomies.

The ballad of "Chevy Chase." with which every student of history is familiar, and which records the only parallel of this conflict to be found in history, tells us that:

"The fight did last from break of day
Till setting of the sun :
for when they rung tlie evening bell,
The battle scatce was done."

"And the Lord Maxwell, in likewise,
Did with Earl Douglas die ;
Of twenty hundred Scottish spears,
Scarce fifty-five did fly."

" Of fifteen hundred Englishmen,
Went home but fifty-three ;
The rest were slain at Chevy Chase.
Under the greenwood tree."

But this people had no written language, and many of their deeds of noble daring will perish with them ; but it would require but little imairination to quote further from the records of Chevy Chase, and apply it to this conflict

" Next day, did many widows come,
Their husbands to bewail ;
They washed their wounds in briny tears,
But all could not prevail."

" Their bodies, bathed in purple blood,
They bore with them away ;
They kissed them, dead, a thousand times
Ere they were clad in clay."

In this battle, the Kickapoos and Pottawatomies were declared the victors, and the Miamis retired to the east side of the AYabash River, leaving them in possession of the territory.

The victorious tribes then divided the land between them, and the Indian trail passing near Oliver's Grove marked the dividing line. East and southeast of this line belonged to the Kickapoos, and the remainder to the Pottawatomies.

Hon. Perry A. Armstrong, a gentleman of culture and natural talent, who resides at Morris, in Grundy County, has made the study of the history of these Indian tribes a specialty for the past twenty-five years ; and it is to him that the writer is indebted for valuable dates in this connection.

Armstrong says, in speaking of the Indian trail referred to : " It was very distinct when I last saw it, in 1845 ; and when I first saw it, in 1831, it was, on an average, eight inches deep by fifteen inches wide." This trail was the dividing line between the two tribes up to the year 1835, when the Government moved them west of the Mississippi.

When the boundary line was established, the Pottawatomies retired to the vicinity of Fox River, while the Kickapoos established their headquarters on Salt Creek, near where the town of LeRoy now stands ; and the vicinity was known to the first settlers by the name of Old Town Timber. The Pottawatomies would come up as far as Rook's Creek, on their hunting excursions, and' they frequently camped on the Vermilion River, in the vicinity of the present residence of Emsley Pope, in Newtown ; but the boundary line was respected,, and the two tribes remained on friendly terms.

In the Spring of 1828, the Kickapoos removed their headquarters within the present bounds of Livingston County. They erected a council house and built a village on the east side of Indian Grove, and the tribe at that time numbered about 700 souls. They possessed all the ordinary characteristics of the typical American Indian—the copper complexion, black, straight hair, well-proportioned limbs and keen, black eyes.

The women were far more attractive in personal appearance than the generality of squaws, notwithstanding the fact that upon them devolved all the drudgery of domestic life ; and, while they remained at Indian Grove, the women cultivated the land, after a rude fiishion, and raised corn, beans and potatoes, While the men devoted themselves to hunting and fishing, but the squaws were expected to dress all game after it was brought home.

In the Spring of 1830, they removed to Oliver's Grove, then known as Kickapoo Grove, where they erected a large and permanent council house, ninety-seven wigwams and several small encampments. It was here that an exact census of them was taken, and they numbered — men, women and children — 630 souls.

In the year of 1832, a pioneer Methodist preacher by the name of William Walker, who resided at Ottawa, Ill., visited them and established a Mission. Father Walker was at the time an old man, and the journey was a long one for him to make ; but, under his ministrations, several of the tribe were converted to Christianity, among the number being a young man whom Walker ordained, and who held regular service every Sabbath when Walker could not attend. They soon came to have great respect for the Sabbath, and, at whatever distance from home they might be hunting during the week, they ahvays returned to camp on Saturday night, so as to be in attendance at church on Sunday morning.

Their prayer books consisted of walnut boards, on which were carved characters representing the ideas intended to be impressed upon the mind. At the top of the board was a picture of a wigwam.

These boards were quite uniform in size and appearance, and were held very sacred, and were protected with the utmost care ; no Indian thought of retiring for the night without first consulting his board.

Each Sabbath they had a public dinner, of which the whole community partook. In the center of the ground in which their religious meetings were held, a fire was kindled, and over this the camp kettles were hung in a line. The men were grouped on one side of this line and the women on the other; at one end gathered the children, and at the other end stood the preacher. Two men stood near the children to see that perfect order was preserved; and no congregation, even in the days of the Puritan fathers, was more decorous than were these newly Christianized Kickapoos. While the minister preached, the dinner cooked ; and when the religious services were over, the kettles were removed from the fire, and the dinner was served out into wooden bowls and trenchers, with ladles and spoons of the same material. The dinner generally consisted of venison, coon, opossum, turtle, fish, or any other animal food they could obtain, together with corn, beans and potatoes, all boiled together.

Hon. Woodford G. McDowell, on whom we have largely drawn for information, says that a dinner of this kind "generally left a quantity of soup, which was highly flavored and quite nutritious." It is natural to suppose that such would be the case.

The Kickapoos remained at this point until September, 1832, when they were removed by the Government to their lands west of the city of St. Louis.

Shabbona, the friend of the whites, with whom many of the earliest settlers were acquainted, was neither a Kickapoo nor a Pottawatomie, but an Ottawa Indian. After the death of Pontiac, after whom the county seat of Livingston County is named, the Ottawa tribe became merged into the Pottawatomies; but many individual members of the tribe clung to the old name, and cherished with pride the history of their descent from this superior stock. Of this number was Shabbona, who was very sensitive on the question of his origin. If he was called a Pottawatomie, says Armstrong, he would immediately and invariably reply: "Me Ottawa Indian ; me no Pottawatomie."

The history of the great chief Pontiac is interwoven with the history of the nation ; yet it has remained for Hon. Perry A. Armstrong, of Morris, to give to the world a reliable account of his last days.

The last event recorded in his career, in the commonly received history, is his attack on Capt. Dalzell, who, at the head of three hundred men, was marching to the relief of Detroit, about the last of July, 1763. Says the national historian : "Subsequent to this period, we have no reliable history of the Great Sachem of the Ottawas." Armstrong says : " He was a great brave, who had enemies and rivals, who finally caused him to be assassinated. He was invited to a war dance on a dark night, solely for this purpose. He was warned to stay away, or if he attended to take with him a strong force of braves ; but aspiring to be the leader of all, he knew that if he showed fear on this occasion he would be forever disgraced; he started alone, and was waylaid and murdered before he reached his destination." This event occurred is 1772, near where East St. Louis stands.

[The History of Livingston County, Illinois - Wm. LeBaron, Jr. & Co. - 186 Dearborn Street, Chicago (1878)]


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