Illinois as the French found it

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

As Illinois’ yearlong bicentennial celebrations commence this weekend, starting with this installment of “From the History Room” and continuing through the coming year we will direct a spotlight upon the history of our state, with a special focus on connections between Illinois’ early history and the history of Tazewell County and Pekin.

The official logo of the Illinois Bicentennial was officially unveiled at the Old State Capitol in Springfield on Jan. 12 of this year.

The best place to begin the story of our state is at the beginning – not Dec. 3, 1818, when Illinois became a state, but in the 1600s, with the arrival of French explorers. The kingdom of France had laid claim to large parts of Canada and the lands through which the Mississippi River and its tributaries flowed, and in the latter decades of the 17th century the French began to explore Illinois – a country of wild and unbroken forests and prairies, before roads, dams, levees, cities, and powerlines.

But, as we recalled last week, it was not an uninhabited land.

Our state’s name, “Illinois,” is a French word. It comes from the name of the people living here when the French first began to explore this part of the world. The people were called the Illiniwek or Illini, also called the Inoka, who were a confederation of 12 or 13 Native American tribes who lived in an area of the Upper Mississippi River valley reaching from Iowa to Lake Michigan and as far south as Arkansas.

When the French first encountered the Native Americans here, the Illiniwek confederation’s member tribes included the Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Peoria, Tamaroa, Michigamea, Moingwena, Coiracoentanon, Chinkoa, Espeminkia, Chepoussa, Maroa, and Tapourara. The names of the first three listed tribes are probably better remembered than the others. It is from the Kaskaskia tribe in southern Illinois that Illinois’ first capital, Kaskaskia in Randolph County, got its name. The name of the Cahokia tribe is remembered today because of the famous Cahokia Mounds in St. Clair County, which are the remains of a Native American city that existed from about A.D. 600 to 1400. The people of Cahokia Mounds were no doubt ancestors of or related to the Illiniwek tribes. The city and county of Peoria were named for the Peoria tribe, which lived along the west shores of the Illinois River at Lake Pimiteoui (Peoria Lake).

Map from Robert E. Warren’s “Illinois Indians in the Illinois Country”

When French explorers and fur traders encountered the Illiniwek in the 1600s, they decided to call their land by the French term Pays de Illinois (land of the Illinois, or the Illinois Country). The French also sometimes referred to the Illinois Country as la Haute-Louisiane (Upper Louisiana).

The names of the first French explorers of the Illinois Country are well known: Marquette and Jolliet, La Salle and Tonti. In 1673 and 1674, Father Jacques Marquette, a Catholic Jesuit priest, and Louis Jolliet explored the Illinois River and Mississippi River down to the Arkansas River. The city of Marquette Heights in Tazewell County and the Hotel Pere Marquette in Peoria are named after Father Marquette (Pere in French means “Father”).

Some years later, on Jan. 15, 1680, two French explorers name René-Robert Cavelier, who had the French aristocratic title of Sieur de La Salle, and his companion Henri de Tonti established a small, short-lived outpost named Fort de Crèvecoeur or Fort Crèvecouer near the southeast shore of Peoria Lake in Pekin Township, in or near modern Creve Coeur or East Peoria.

The arrival of the Europeans caused catastrophic disruptions in the way of life of the Native Americans. The Europeans unwittingly brought diseases that wiped out many Indian tribes, including most of the Illiniwek tribes. Off to the east, European newcomers pushed native tribes west in search of new hunting grounds, leading to war between tribes in competition for the same lands. But by the mid-1700s, European diseases and war with the expanding Iroquois League had reduced the Illiniwek to only five tribes: the Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Michigamea, Peoria, and Tamaroa.

Next week we’ll recall the confusingly named French and Indian War.

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#cahokia, #father-jacques-marquette, #fort-crevecoeur, #henri-de-tonti, #illiniwek-confederation, #illinois-bicentennial, #inoka, #iroquois-league, #kaskaskia, #la-salle, #louis-jolliet, #peoria-tribe, #pimiteoui, #rene-robert-cavelier, #tazewell-county-native-tribes

The first-comers to Illinois

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

As National American Indian Heritage Month nears its end, this week we’ll take a look at Illinois’ Native American past and what one can learn about it at the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room.

Recorded history in central Illinois reaches back not even four centuries, to the era of the European exploration and colonization of North America. But archaeology and anthropology enable us to learn about the thousands of years of human habitation in central Illinois prior to written records.

Naturally much of our local history involves the stories of the white settlers, and the bulk of the materials and resources in the Local History Room has to do with their story. But our local history collection does not neglect the peoples who arrived here first during forgotten past ages, and so from time to time this column has looked back at the original inhabitants of Tazewell County, especially during the period of the arrival of white settlers and the dispossession of the Native American tribes – recounting, for example, the life of Pottawatomi leader Shabbona who dwelt for a while in Pekin, or the Oct. 1812 raid of Illinois Territorial Gov. Ninian Edwards on Chief Black Partridge’s village which was located on the northeast shore of Peoria Lake in Fon du Lac Township.

Those who would like to learn more of the first-comers to Illinois can find a great deal of information in the publications on Illinois state history that may be found on the shelves of the Local History Room. Our collection also includes fascinating resources such as the atlas of “Indian Villages of the Illinois County,” which contains reproductions and descriptions of rare historical maps of North America and the Midwest dating from as early as the time of the French explorers of the Illinois River valley in the 1680s.

This atlas was one of the resources referenced by this column in 2012 when we told the story of the founding of Fort Crevecoeur. Another useful compilation in the Local History Room is John Leonard Conger’s 1923 “History of the Illinois River Valley.”

Shown is George Catlin’s 1830 painting of Kee-mo-ra-nia (“No English”), a member of the Peoria tribe, which originally lived in central Illinois but by 1830 had been relocated to Kansas. Catlin’s painting was donated by Mrs. Joseph Harrison Jr. to the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Those whose interest in the first nations of Illinois is more genealogical might want to search Helen Cox Tregillis’ 1983 volume, “The Indians of Illinois: A History and Genealogy,” which includes a lengthy and apparently exhaustive alphabetized list of Native American individuals who appear in the documents of Illinois history from 1642 to 1861, along with the title or description of the historical document where he or she was mentioned. Tregellis compiled this index from 43 different publications. Because Native Americans in earlier periods usually were illiterate and thus did not produce the written texts that are the basis of historical works and genealogical research, we are largely dependent on the texts and treaties of the white colonists for Native American history. Consequently, Tregellis’ index can be a great navigation aid for researchers.

One of the more recent additions to the Local History Room collection is Blake A. Watson’s 2012 “Buying America from the Indians: Johnson v. McIntosh and the History of Native Land Rights.” Watson’s book views Native American history through the lens of laws, treaties and the courts, exploring the impact of the 1823 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Johnson v. McIntosh, which, as Watson explains, set important legal precedents that determined the principles that still govern American Indian property rights today.

Although it’s a story that encompasses a broad sweep of U.S. history, Watson’s book also touches directly on Illinois and the land that would later become Tazewell County, and in the process Watson tells how land speculators and government agents obtained title to the Illinois country and displaced the native tribes.

Watson relates the story in a dispassionate and factual manner, but the story he tells is the same one that was emotionally evoked in James Stelle’s 1853 poem, “An Indian at His Father’s Grave,” which commences with these lines:

“Stop! Whiteman stop! This mound you see
Is where my father’s ashes lay;
‘Tis dearer far than life to me –
Oh! Do not force his child away.”

Stelle’s poem was published as the frontispiece to Tregellis’ book.

#black-partridge, #ninian-edwards, #shabbona, #tazewell-county-native-tribes

Illinois Bicentennial celebrations planned for Tazewell County

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The bicentennial year of Illinois’ admission as the 21st state in the Union commences on Dec. 3, 2017, inaugurating a year of state and local celebrations that will culminate on Dec. 3, 2018, the 200th anniversary of President James Monroe’s signing of the bill granting Illinois statehood.

Celebrations and events commemorating Illinois history are planned for the coming year not only in Springfield, but also in local communities. At the state level, the Illinois Bicentennial Kickoff will take place Dec. 3 at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum in Springfield, and the same day Winter Wonderfest in Springfield will host an Illinois Bicentennial Day. A schedule of events is available online at the official website of the Illinois Bicentennial, www.illinois200.com.

The official logo of the Illinois Bicentennial was officially unveiled at the Old State Capitol in Springfield on Jan. 12 of this year.

The Illinois State Historical Society is sponsoring a program to plant a “Johnny Appleseed” apple tree in each Illinois county to commemorate the bicentennial. Tazewell County Museum President Christal Dagit has purchased one of the trees for Tazewell County and donated it in the museum’s name to the Fon du Lac Farm Park in East Peoria

In Tazewell County, an official Illinois Bicentennial Committee chaired by Dagit has been meeting monthly since this summer to help coordinate local activities to commemorate the bicentennial.

Tazewell County’s celebration of the state’s bicentennial will open next month with a cannon blast in Delavan on Dec. 3, 2017 and the county will also close the bicentennial year in the same way on Dec. 3, 2018. An Illinois Bicentennial Flag Raising Ceremony will take place at 11:45 a.m. Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, on the Tazewell County Courthouse lawn, including a brief program and the raising of the bicentennial flag at noon.

Various activities to mark the bicentennial of Illinois statehood are in the planning stages in various Tazewell County communities. Among the events will be a Bicentennial Tea sponsored by the Tazewell County Museum and Pekin Woman’s Club, set for May 12, 2018, at the Mineral Springs Park Pavilion in Pekin.

To assist area schools in teaching students about the early history of our state and our county, Tazewell County’s Illinois Bicentennial Committee also will offer a historical timeline for teachers and students. The timeline, on a double-sided sheet of paper, traces Illinois’ history from the days of the Illiniwek Confederation and the French explorers down to the founding of Pekin in 1830. Copies of the timeline will be available at the Tazewell County Museum, at 15 S. Capitol St. in the old Arcade Building in downtown Pekin, and at the Pekin Public Library. (For more information about the timeline, call the library at 347-7111, ext. 2, or the county museum at 347-1215.)

Also, the Pekin Public Library is commemorating the bicentennial all year long with an Illinois Bicentennial Movie Series that will run January to December 2018. On the first Friday of each month at 11 a.m., the library will show a historical video dealing with an aspect of the history of Illinois, Tazewell County, or Pekin. The movies will be shown in the Community Room on the second floor of the library, and admission is free.

The movie series commences on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018, with the showing of a 1 hour 40 minute documentary, “History of Pekin,” that was produced many years ago by the Video Pekin Project. The movie tells of the history of Pekin high school, the old Pekin Theatre, Pekin Hospital, and the Old Post Office.

This weekly column, “From the History Room,” also will highlight the people and events of early Illinois and Tazewell County starting next month and continuing through the end of Nov. 2018.

#illinois-bicentennial

Gehrig’s 7th Regimental Band played in Pekin

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

One of the landmarks of arts and entertainment during Pekin’s bygone days was a military-style orchestra called “Gehrig’s 7th Regimental Band.” Gehrig’s Band is important in Pekin’s history because it was the first community band ever to be formed in Pekin, having a history that begins around the time the Civil War ended. The band’s founder, Edward Gehrig, was himself a veteran of the Civil War.

Gehrig’s 7th Regimental Band is shown during a performance in Mackinaw in this 1909 photograph reproduced in “Pekin: A Pictorial History.”

Here is the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial’s summary of the history of Gehrig’s Band, from page 156 of that volume:

“The first Pekin band was organized in 1865 by Edward Gehrig, Sr., a Civil War veteran and a reknowned (sic) cigar maker. Before moving to Pekin, Gehrig had organized and directed Spencer’s Military Band in Peoria, which was often hired to play at dances and other Pekin functions since there was no orchestra in the city. Finally, Pekin lured Gehrig away from Peoria in 1865 to establish his cigar factory and, incidentally or not, a community band. In 1880 this band assumed the title of Gehrig’s 7th Regimental Band. At the death of leader Gehrig in 1901, his son Charles assumed the role of conductor, serving for the next 20 years.”

This 1902 portrait of band director Charles F. Gehrig was reproducted in the Nov. 2017 Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly.

The Sesquicentennial goes on to explain that during the 1920s Gehrig’s Band and Bauer’s Military Band used to play Tuesday and Thursday nights in the bandstand that once stood in front of the Tazewell County Courthouse. Other community bands from that era included the Roehrs & Dietrich Union Band, the Pekin Opera House Band, Peobel’s Band, and the Hal Jones Band.

All of those bands consolidated to form the old Pekin Municipal Band in 1925 “as a result of Illinois legislation allowing municipal bands to levy a tax for concerts.” The Pekin Municipal Band in turn is the predecessor of the Pekin Park Concert Band.

The Nov. 2017 issue of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly is devoted to local veterans, and features reproductions of portraits of the 24 members of Gehrig’s Band that were taken on or around Jan. 1, 1902, including a portrait of the band’s director and manager, Charles F. Gehrig, who also played the cornet in the band.

#charles-f-gehrig, #edward-gehrig-sr, #gehrigs-7th-regimental-band, #gehrigs-band, #pekin-history, #pekin-municipal-band, #pekin-park-concert-band

Remembering the Pekin Union League

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On the east side of the Pekin National Bank, on the wall facing N. Capitol Street at the Corner of Court Street, is an informative plaque telling of an important event in Pekin’s history – the founding of the Union League during the Civil War.

This column on Feb. 4, 2012, briefly told of the founding of the Union League. In addition, an article in the Aug. 16, 1975 Pekin Daily Times that lacked a byline but was accompanied by two photographs not only told the story of the Union League but also related the history of Pekin’s historical plaques that have commemorated the Union League.

Shown in this photograph from the Aug. 16, 1975 Pekin Daily Times are Marty Perlman, left, and Gerald Conaghan, right, president of Pekin National Bank, holding a historical plaque commemorating the founding of the Union League. The plaque was first placed on the east wall of the old Smith Bank/Perlman Furniture building at the corner of Court and Capitol in 1920, but in 1975 was remounted in the lobby of the Pekin National Bank, which was built on the same site as the Smith Bank/Perlman Furniture building which burned down in 1968.

First, here’s the story of the Union League as reported in the Aug. 16, 1975 Pekin Daily Times:

“It was June, 1862, and the early summer weather in Pekin had taken a back seat to the bad news coming from such places as Shiloh, the valley of the Shenandoah and communities in Indiana and other northern states which had been hit by Confederate raiders.

“There were reports of sabotage by southern subversive groups like the Golden Circle and the Sons of Liberty, and these, plus inflation and the draft, were beginning to shake the faith in President Abraham Lincoln’s Civil War policies.

“It had become clear to a handful of Pekin leaders that something should be done to firm up the North’s support for the war and to strengthen their resolve to abolish slavery in the South.

“Then came the one bright spot: the capture of Ft. Donelson by Gen. U. S. Grant and the freeing of Tennessee, much of which had remained fiercely pro-union despite harsh Confederate measures to crush Union sympathizers.

“As a result, those Tennesseeans (sic) remaining true to the north had met secretly to encourage each other to oppose the Confederate government. These groups called themselves Leagues of Union men or Union Leagues. . . .

“The concept was brought to Pekin by the Rev. J. W. N. Vernon, the new minister of Pekin’s First Methodist church, who had just come to this community from Tennessee.

“And so it was that on June 25, 1862, Rev. Vernon and ten other Pekin men gathered secretly on the third floor of the old brick building at Court and Capitol known for many years as the Smith Bank building.

“From that meeting came the Union League, an organization which became one of the most influential and fast-growing movements in the nation’s history.

“Within a year of the original meeting, the League had 606 councils and 75,000 members in Illinois alone and eventually may have had 2 million members in councils in nearly every local township and village in the North.

“It was the basis, in fact, of the Union party which elected Lincoln and Johnson in 1864. At the close of the Civil War, the military councils of the League were to become the Grand Army of the Republic.”

As this column recounted over five years ago, in the initial stages of the Civil War pro-Confederacy and pro-slavery sentiment remained prominent even as far north as Peoria and Pekin (both communities having been founded by slave-owning families). Consequently, prior to the formation of the Union League “those who believed in the Union spoke often in whispers in Pekin streets and were wary and often afraid,” says the 1949 Pekin Centenary.

Besides, Rev. Vernon, the founding members of the Union League were Richard Northcroft Cullom, former Illinois state senator; Dr. Daniel A. Cheever, abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor; Charles Turner, Tazewell County state’s attorney; Henry Pratt, Delavan Township supervisor; Alexander Small, Deer Creek Township supervisor; George H. Harlow, Tazewell County circuit clerk; Jonathan Merriam, stock farmer who became a colonel in the Union army; Hart Montgomery, Pekin postmaster; John W. Glassgow, justice of the peace; and Levi F. Garrett, Pekin grocery store owner and baker.

After the Civil War, the Union League became a Republican Party social club, but would carry on its abolitionist legacy through support of civil rights for African Americans.

But here in Pekin, the founding of the Union League was commemorated by a plaque placed on the side of the old Smith Bank building in 1920. Later the building housed Marty Perlman’s business, the Perlman Furniture Co., which was destroyed by a fire in Oct. 1968. But, the Daily Times reported, “Perlman pried the charred plaque off the east wall after the flames had been extinguished, had it reconditioned and saw that it was kept safely until it could be remounted in an appropriate place at a significant time.”

That time and place came on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 1975, when the old 1920 plaque was remounted in the lobby of Pekin National Bank (built on the site of the Smith Bank/Perlman Furniture Co. building) on the occasion of President Gerald R. Ford’s visit to Pekin to dedicate the Pekin Public Library and Everett M. Dirksen Center.

But a few days before that, the outside plaque on the east wall of the Pekin National Bank had already been mounted. That plaque, donated by the Union League of America and the Illinois State Historical Society, was formally dedicated at the same time as the remounting of the 1920 plaque.

#abolitionism, #alexander-small, #charles-turner, #civil-war, #copperheads, #dr-daniel-a-cheever, #george-h-harlow, #hart-montgomery, #henry-pratt, #john-w-glassgow, #jonathan-merriam, #levi-f-garrett, #marty-perlman, #perlman-furniture-co, #rev-j-w-n-vernon, #richard-northcroft-cullom, #teis-smith-bank, #union-league

The steamboats named Lucy Bertram

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Last month we learned the name of the riverboat whose deckhands went on a drunken spree through the streets of Pekin on July 4, 1851 – the Lucy Bertram. This week we’ll take a closer look at the history of the Lucy Bertram, which plied the waters of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers during the heyday of the American steamboat.

As a matter of fact, there were two steamboats christened with the name “Lucy Bertram.” It was the first Lucy Bertram whose deckhands entered Pekin’s history. According to William J. Petersen’s “Steamboating on the Upper Mississippi” (1968), page 320, the Lucy Bertram was a 268-ton sidewheeler that was launched at St. Louis, Mo., in 1847.

The Lucy Bertram was one of the first three packet steamers of the St. Louis and Keokuk Packet Company, whose owners were apparently great fans of the famed Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott. The Lucy Bertram was named for one of the characters in Scott’s novel “Guy Mannering.” (Incidentally, Scott’s novels seemed to be popular not only with steamboat sailor but with trans-Atlantic seamen also, as there was an English trans-Atlantic ship named the “S.S. Guy Mannering” that brought English immigrants to the U.S. about this same period of time.) The St. Louis and Keokuk Packet Company’s first steamboat, launched in 1842, was the 211-ton Die Vernon, named for a character in Scott’s “Rob Roy.” The Lucy Bertram’s two companions were the Rob Roy, title character of Scott’s novel, and the Jeannie Deans, a character of Scott’s “The Heart of Midlothian.”

Retired steamboat Capt. F. A. Whitney of Centerville, Iowa, later shared some of his memories of steamboating during these years in a series of articles in “The Saturday Evening Post.” In his first installment, Whitney wrote (emphasis added):

“During the Civil War in the sixties, there was a packet line of steamers running between St. Louis and Keokuk. These were named the Hannibal City, Warsaw, Rob Roy, Lucy Bertram, Die Vernon, Hardy Johnson, and Andy Johnson. These were all splendid side wheel steamers. The crews were noted for their skill and popularity, their stewards and chefs were the best money could hire. Many a passenger made the trip on one of these boats to enjoy the accommodation, music and meals, for traveling at that time was indeed a pleasure. These boats being larger and drawing too much water could not go above the lower rapids at Keokuk, so there was another line of boats called the Northern Packet Company which ran its boats between St. Louis and St. Paul . . . .

“As these boats carried colored deck hands, some of them were always ready to entertain the passengers when at leisure by dancing, singing, diving in a pan of water for nickels, etc., and when the boat left the wharf at St. Louis for its up river trip at 4 p. m. the deck hands would sing as they hauled in the head line, ‘I roistered on the Rob Roy, I roistered on the Lee, I roistered on the Belle La Cross, she got away with me. The Libby is a good boat, and so am the Lee, but the Old Diamond Jo, she’s too much for me. Get on board, get on board, we’s goin’ up the river, get on board . . .,’ making up the words to fit the song as they hauled in the lines. Oh, those were the happy days.”

Pekin old-timer Emil Schilling said the deckhands of the boat we now know was the Lucy Bertram who were involved in the 1851 riot in Pekin were African-American, as was common on steamboats during this era.

Although Whitney mentions the Lucy Bertram in his recollections, that wasn’t the same steamboat as was involved in the Pekin riot. That was in fact the second Lucy Bertram, which according to Petersen (page 320) was a 698-ton steamboat built in 1863 for the St. Louis and Keokuk Packet Company which cruised up and down the Mississippi River until 1878. It was the second Lucy Bertram who plied the Mississippi’s waters during the Civil War, and in fact Petersen on pages 188 and 320 says she even assisted with troop transport for the Union Army:

“By 1864 the movement of steamboats was again in full swing up and downstream. On April 18 th more than one hundred soldiers from the Keokuk hospitals left on the steamboat Lucy Bertram to rejoin their regiments. Nine days later the Die Vernon took the Fifteenth Iowa to the front; and a month later the Lucy Bertram took the Forty-fifth Iowa Regiment downstream. . . .”

In her book, “Seeing the Elephant: The Many Voices of the Oregon Trail” (2003), pages 198-199, Joyce Badgley Hunsaker includes passages from a diary or memoir of Fincelius Gray Burnett (Finn Burnett of Wyoming, frontiersman, 1844-1934) in which Finn Burnett says his uncle David was a captain of the second Lucy Bertram. Hunsaker reports Burnett as saying:

“Uncle David’s second clerk, Sam Clemens, used to count the sacks as the deck hands loaded them onto the boat. Then he’d count the barrels of lard as they’d come aboard. That’s right, Samuel Clemens. Mr. Mark Twain, himself. Of course, that’s before he was famous. I remember him being a rather spare-made man, quick-motioned, and spry. And in those days he was young. History made him out a river pilot, but I never knew him as such. To me, he was just Uncle David’s clerk.”

However, Hunsaker’s book includes both actual historical sources as well as fictionalized or imagined diary entries, and it’s not clear whether the Finn Burnett diary/memoir is real or imagined. In Hunsaker’s book, Burnett speculates that Twain’s character Huckleberry Finn may have been inspired by Burnett’s own childhood experiences growing up on the Mississippi River and traveling with his Uncle David on the Lucy Bertram.

Shown is the second Lucy Bertram, a 698-ton steamboat which plied the waters of the Mississippi from 1863 to 1878. The deckhands of the first Lucy Bertram, which was launched in 1847, were involved in a drunken riot in Pekin in 1851.

#finn-burnett, #lucy-bertran, #mark-twain, #pekin-history, #pekins-first-riot, #riverboats, #sir-walter-scott, #steamboats

Officers of the Pekin Zouaves

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On the last page of the very first Pekin City Directory, published by Omi E. Root of Peoria in 1861, is an entry for an “independent company of volunteer militia” called the “Pekin Zouaves.” This is how Root’s Directory describes this militia company:

“Organized May 16th, 1861. Number of members, 60. Annual days of parade, 22d February, 10th May, 4th July, 10th September, and 8th January. The following commissioned officers were elected, May 28th, 1861, for six years: G. W. Baker, Captain; H. P. Finigan, First Lieutenant ; L. B. Greenleaf, Second Lieutenant ; W. M. Olmsted, Third Lieutenant. C. R. Cummings, Orderly Sergeant ; appointed by the captain for one year.”

The reason this militia company was formed was one of the most important events in U.S. history – the Confederate States of America’s attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, which sparked the U.S. Civil War. Soon after, militia companies were established throughout the remaining United States to prepare to aid in the Union’s war efforts against the Confederacy, and the Pekin Zouaves were one of those companies.

But why was this company called “Zouaves”? The original Zouaves were a French army light infantry corps organized in 1830 – at first the French Zouaves were all Algerians from North Africa, and consequently their uniforms were Middle Eastern or Turkish in style. Romantically imitating the French Zouaves, other nations also established their own companies of soldiers wearing Zouave-style uniforms, including militia companies in Illinois and Missouri during the early months of the Civil War.

At the website www.infantry8thmo.org/HTMhistory.html is a “Brief History: 8th Missouri Volunteer Infantry (US) – The ‘Fighting American Zouaves.’” Following are excerpts from the “Brief History” (emphasis added):

“As a result of a direct order from President Lincoln to alleviate the prejudice against the Irish, the 8th Missouri Infantry was organized in St. Louis from June 12 to August 14, 1861. Over 600 Irish boatmen & deck hands left the St. Louis riverfront to fight under the command of Captain Morgan L. Smith. Originally from New York, he and his brother, Captain Giles A. Smith, also recruited troops from Bloomington, Illinois. The 8th MO uniform was that of the American Zouaves.

“The Peoria Zouave Cadets were organized in Peoria, Illinois 3/23/1861. They recruited up to war strength and left for St. Louis on 6/19/1861 but, upon their arrival, there was a disagreement and about half returned to Illinois to join the 17th Illinois. An under-strength company calling themselves the Pekin Zouaves from Pekin, Illinois, sent about 30 recruits from Peoria to St. Louis, and filled up the company. They mustered in as Company H. Neither company provided the ‘Zouave influence’ for the company since they were already being referred to as the ‘American Zouave Regiment.’ Company L sharpshooters were recruited in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

“The 8th MO served the duration of the Civil War and fought decisive battles under Generals Grant and Sherman. They became well known for their tenacity, displaying Zouave fighting techniques on the battlefield. Generals Grant and Sherman write about the 8th Missouri in their Memoirs. General Grant’s son, Frederick Dent Grant, writes in ‘At the Front With Dad’ about slipping into the Battle of Vicksburg at age 13 with the 8th Missouri. Eleven soldiers in 8th MO were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions during the Siege of Vicksburg.”

As this column has noted previously, one of the members of the Pekin Zouaves was none other than Pekin’s pioneer historian William H. Bates (1840-1930). Of the five original officers of the Pekin Zouaves, Capt. G. W. Baker is listed on page 13 of the 1861 Pekin City Directory as “BAKER, GEORGE W. F., ambrotype and photographic gallery, cor. Court and Second ; bds. Tazewell House.” Thus, Baker was, like Henry Hobart Cole, one of Pekin’s early photographers.

This photograph from the collection of Steven Schmit of Richmond, Va., shows Civil War veteran William H. Bates of Pekin wearing his old “Zouave” uniform.

First Lieut. H. P. Finigan was Henry P. Finigan, a Catholic Ulster-born Pekin attorney, land and real estate agent, and grain merchant. Finigan with his wife Margaret and Margaret’s parents together escaped the Irish Potato Famine and settled in Pekin. Henry’s date of birth is uncertain, because when he registered for the draft in June 1863, his age was written down as 31, but the 1870 U.S. Census says he was 34 at that time (that census also mistakenly gives his middle initial as “B.” rather than “P.”).

Second Lieut. L. B. Greenleaf was Luther Berge Greenleaf, born in Connecticut in 1834 or 1836, died August 1902 in Onarga, Ill. The 1861 Pekin City Directory says he was then a law student. His Onarga newspaper obituary says although he studied law, he instead became a journalist in Peoria, later moving to Kansas for a while, then finally settling down in Onarga.

Third Lieut. W. M. Olmsted was William M. Olmsted (1802-1872), who in 1861 was a clerk at Stephen Roney’s Hardware, 33 Court St., at the corner of Court and Second. Olmsted later was promoted to the rank of captain during the civil war. His grave in Lakeside Cemetery is one of the old Oak Grove Cemetery burials.

Lastly, Orderly Sgt. C. R. Cummings was none other than Columbus R. Cummings (1834-1897), a prominent Pekin businessman and land owner who subsequently served as Pekin’s 20th mayor (1875-1876), later moving to Chicago, where he became a Gilded Age railroad tycoon and banker. It was the heirs of C. R. Cummings’ great estate who in 1916 gave the Pekin public schools an athletic field with the stipulation that it should be named after the estate manager James M. James (1849-1918).

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