Livingston County, Illinois
The city and township of Pontiac, as is supposed by many, must have been, in some way, associated directly with the noted Indian Chief whose name they bear. It has been asserted by some that the site of the present city was an ancient Indian burying place, and that the bones of Pontiac lie in its soil.
By others, it has been said that, at one time, the old chief, when deserted by his followers, retired to this place and made it his temporary home ; and by still others, more ignorant of the life of this famous brave, it has been inferred that he actually resided in this vicinity at the time that the earliest settlements were made by the whites.
It seems a pity to spoil these pretty little romances, and one could wish that they were not fiction ; but truth compels a diflferent interpretation of the name of the city.
Pontiac was, indeed, a great Indian Chief, and that the town was named in honor of him is equally true ; but that he ever even passed through this part of Illinois is not probable. That he was buried in the neighborhood is still more improbable ; and that he still resided here when the whites first settled is out of the question, as he had then been dead more than half a century.
Pontiac, was the chief of the Ottawas, and lived with his tribe, near Detroit, Mich., and, during the trouble between France and England, otherwise known in this country as the " French and Indian war," was a strong ally of the French, neither bribes nor threats being sufficient to induce him to espouse the English cause. Even after the French had treated with the English and had transferred all of Pontiac's possessions to the English, he remained stubborn and spurned their proffers of friendship.
On one occasion, after many of his followers and some whole tribes had given in their allegiance to the English, Pontiac answered a proposition to take up arms against the French by saying, " When the French came among us, they took us by the hand. They lived with us in peace. They made us brothers. When the English came, they brought hornets. They destroyed our houses. They called us dogs. The French have been true to us. We will be true to them. The English are our enemies, and we can never be friends."
However, one by one the followers of Pontiac were alienated, and joined the British cause, until he was left almost alone. Disappointed and disgusted, he abandoned his home and came to Illinois. But here he was not permitted to be at peace, for an Indian spy was commissioned by British authority to accompany him in all of his movements. He had partially assented to neutrality, but was still suspected of favoring the French. In 1772, some time after settling near Kaskaskia, he was invited to a party, given by members of a neighboring tribe; and, though warned to go well protected and well prepared for trouble, he preferred to go unaccompanied. On this occasion he made a violent speech against the English, when the spy, who sat near, sprang to his feet and buried his hatchet in Pontiac's brain.
The town of Pontiac, like several others in the West, owes its name to this great chief; but the true version is, doubtless, that the original proprietors of the town, having lived for some years at Pontiac, Mich., fancied the name, and bestowed it on their new enterprise.
At the date when the history of this township begins, the county of Livingston had not been organized ; indeed, the number of residents in the county was not sufficient to warrant a separate county government.
In Avoca, Indian Grove, Rook's Creek, Amity, Reading and Oliver's Grove a few hardy pioneers had built cabins and cultivated little patches of ground, but the balance of what is now embraced within the limits of the county was all a desolate waste, literally a "howling wilderness." The tall, rank grass, the few stunted oaks, the thick and briery underbrush and the marshy soil of the banks of the Vermilion at this point must have presented but few attractions as a location for a town, or, indeed, for the opening of a farm, as, both up and down the river, settlements had been made before this point was selected by any one. Perhaps the shallow water at this point in the river, known as the " Ford," had something to do with attracting to the place Henry Weed and the two Youngs ; but if their settlement was made with a view of establishing a county, with this as the central point, their vision must have been prophetic, as but few points presented scantier natural advantages.
Be that as it may, in 1837 the county was formed, and the Commissioners to locate the " Seat of Justice," in consideration of donations consisting of the Public Square and Jail lot, $3,000 to build a Court House, and the construction of a bridge across the Vermilion at this point, located the county seat on the land which had been pre-empted by them.
[The History of Livingston County, Illinois - Wm. LeBaron, Jr. & Co. - 186 Dearborn Street, Chicago (1878)]