Tazewell County’s first European settlers

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On Friday, Feb. 2, at 11 a.m., the Pekin Public Library will present the second video in its Illinois Bicentennial Series in the Community Room. The video that will be shown is “Tazewell County Memories 1932-1970,” presented by Tom Finson. It includes vintage film footage from around the county, including Pekin. Admission is free and the public is invited.

Our column this week is also about “Tazewell County Memories” – but these memories are much older than the 20th century, for they reach back to the late 1700s and early 1800s, the time when the first permanent European settlers arrived in the lands that would become Tazewell County.

Taking up again our review of the early history of Illinois, let us resume the story of the French colonization of the Illinois Country where we left off last time – with the Illinois Territorial Militia’s destruction of the town of La Ville de Maillet, predecessor of the city of Peoria, during the War of 1812.

To understand why La Ville de Maillet was destroyed by an American militia and its inhabitants – who were all American citizens mostly of French ethnicity – were forcibly carried from their land, one would need to learn about the formation and early history of the Illinois Territory. We will begin to look at those crucial events of our state’s “prehistory” next time, and instead turn our attention to the immediate aftermath of La Ville de Maillet’s destruction.

As we commented before, the end of La Ville de Maillet was not the end of early French settlement in our area, for several of the French former inhabitants of La Ville de Maillet returned to Peoria Lake after the war. There, at a spot near the Illinois River in what was to become Tazewell County, in the area where Fort Crevecoeur had briefly existed, they maintained a trading post and a small settlement – located about three miles south of where the Cedar Street Bridge is today.

The French called it “Opa Post,” but it is often remembered simply as “Trading House.” In a newspaper article entitled “First American Settlers Here Found Trading Post Inhabited by the French” (printed in the Oct. 15, 1933 Peoria Journal-Transcript), Illinois historian Ernest East wrote, “Evidence indicates that Trading House was founded shortly before 1818 when the American Fur company established an agency there.”

On the other hand, Chapman’s 1879 Tazewell County history, pages 193-194, stated that Trading House may have been around as early as the 1780s or 1790s:

“During the period from the time Laville de Meillet was founded in 1778, or at least after it was moved to the lower extremity of the lake, French traders had a regular established trading post on the Illinois near the site of old Fort Crevecoeur. They carried on an extensive commerce with the neighboring Indians, buying their furs with notions. At this business they became quite wealthy.”

Whenever Opa Post was established, it was certainly already in existence before Illinois became a state in 1818. Consequently, despite Chapman’s absurd (to us) assertion that, “These French traders cannot be classed as settlers,” there can be no question that Opa Post holds the historic title of being the first permanent European (“white”) settlement in what was soon to become Tazewell County. The French trading post dwellings and nearby burying ground were the seed from which Wesley City (today Creve Coeur) would later grow.

This diagram, drawn by Illinois historian Ernest East for a talk he gave in the 1930s, indicates the location of the old burying ground used by the inhabitants of the French Trading House in present day Creve Coeur that predated Illinois statehood. East examined the site on April 20, 1937. IMAGE COURTESY CHRISTAL DAGIT

Here is Chapman’s description of Trading House and its inhabitants:

“The ‘old French trading post,’ by which name it was known, remained at Wesley City for almost a quarter of a century after the first settlers came to the county. A large log building, about 30 by 60 feet in size and 10 feet high, was their principal store-house. Mr. B. F. Montgomery tells us that he visited the place in 1836, and in this building found a very large stock of skins and furs, which they told him were worth in their present state $2,000. The collection contained the covering of almost every animal of any value from the weasel to the buffalo. The principal traders at this point during the early settlement of the county were Tromly and Besau, both of whom were well known by some of the pioneers. These French traders had lived, traded and intermarried with the Indians until there were many half-breeds throughout the neighborhood. They were quiet, peaceable people, and treated the settlers with the neatest kindness. Besau died at the old post many years ago. Tromly went to Kansas in 1844. The former had married an Indian squaw and reared a large family. One of his daughters, Mary Besau, who is said to have been quite beautiful and her personal appearance and bearing graceful, was married to a man by the name of Anderson. About the year 1845 he moved to Kansas, where, near Leavenworth, he resided when last heard from by any Tazewell county people.”

The French trader “Besau” was Louis Buisson, a former inhabitant of La Ville de Maillet, while “Tromly” was Buisson’s brother-in-law and colleague Toussant or Trousoint Tremblay, whose wife Archange Ouilmette was a daughter of Francois Shobonnier, a Pottawatomi chief. The trading post carried on a prosperous business with the Native Americans and the early pioneers of Tazewell County until Pekin and Peoria established themselves, after which the old fur trade dwindled away. The main log dwelling at the post was the home over the years to several Frenchmen and their families, some of whom, as Chapman said, took Native American wives (Buisson’s wife also was a Pottawatomi, a sister of Archange). After the State of Illinois expelled all the Indians after the 1832 Black Hawk War, some of these intermarried French-Indian families left Tazewell County and accompanied their Native American kin to reservations in Kansas.

According to Ernest East’s 1933 article, Buisson was so well known in this area that the stretch of the Illinois River between Peoria and Pekin used to be known as Bee-saw Lake. Along with other former inhabitants of La Ville de Maillet such as Trading House residents Antoine Bourbonne, Francois Bourbonne, and Antoine Deschamp, Buisson is a notable figure in the early history of both Tazewell and Peoria counties.

“Old Buisson owned a log cabin in the village of Peoria after [Peoria] county was organized,” East wrote. “In 1827 Buisson rented this cabin to the county for use as a court house. He likely purchased the property from Joseph Ogee, who earlier rented a cabin to the county.”

Further on in his article, East supplemented Chapman’s account with the information that Buisson’s daughter Marie or Mary “became the wife of John Anderson. Records of Tazewell county show they were married December 14, 1833, by Justice of the Peace Amasa Turner. The bride’s name is spelled ‘Besaw’ in the record.”

Further information about Marie Buisson Anderson is found in Sept. 26, 1904 letter by Pekin pioneer James Haines, who said “Mary Besaw was greatly [admired] or famed for her beauty and education [which she] obtained in a Convent of the Catholic Church of America, whether at St. Louis or Kaskaskia or farther west, I can’t recall.” Continuing further, Haines wrote, “Mary often visited with my sisters at my father’s cabin home, 3 miles south east of Pekin. Was gay, sprightly, French in fashion, and conduct, but spoke English well and was an agreeable associate with the young folks . . .”

East also noted in a historical report that Mary and her husband John were among the founders of Wesley City, their signatures appearing among the “proprietor” plat-holders on the original plat map of the town filed from a survey taken Sept. 5-6, 1836, about a year after Mary was listed on the property tax rolls for Tazewell County for lands in Section 1 of Pekin Township.

Tazewell County’s old French trading post which predated Illinois statehood apparently endured until the 1840s. It is uncertain when Old Buisson died at Opa Post, but the post apparently did not long survive his death, and his daughter Mary and his colleague Tremblay joined their kin and friends on Indian reservations out west in 1844-45 – only a few years before Pekin became a city.

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Founding, and finding, Fort Crevecoeur

As we continue our series on the early history of Illinois, here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in January 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .

Founding, and finding, Fort Crevecoeur

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Among the earliest written records of Illinois and Tazewell County history are found in the journals of the French explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (1643-1687), who is best known in Tazewell County for building a fort at the future location of Creve Coeur in January of 1680. The Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room has resources that can help to bring that story to life.

This artist’s depiction of Fort Crevecoeur was printed in John Leonard Conger’s 1932 “History of the Illinois River Valley.”

No one can say for sure exactly where La Salle’s “Fort Crevecoeur” was, though La Salle described the general area in his journals. He wrote, “On January 15, toward evening a great thaw, which opportunely occurred, rendered the river free from ice from Pimiteoui as far as [the place chosen for the fort]. It was a little hillock about 540 feet from the bank of the river; up to the foot of the hillock the river expanded every time that there fell a heavy rain. Two wide and deep ravines shut in two other sides and one-half of the fourth, which I caused to be closed completely by a ditch joining the two ravines.”

“Pimiteoui” was the Native American name for the area where the Illinois River widens to become what we now know as Peoria Lake. It was also the name of a Native American village located at the future site of Peoria. In his 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” p.33, Charles C. Chapman locates the fort “at the lower end of the lake, on its eastern bank . . . The place where this ancient fort stood may still be seen just below the outlet of Peoria lake.”

This diagram of Fort Crevecoeur based on misreadings of La Salle’s description was printed in John Leonard Conger’s 1932 “History of the Illinois River Valley.”

As we saw last time, the purpose of Fort Crevecoeur and the other forts the French built in the Illinois Country was to help France control the fur trade. The most likely place where this fort stood is in the low areas of Creve Coeur or possibly East Peoria, between Peoria Lake and the bluffs. Others have argued the fort was much further up the river, or far down river in the area near Beardstown, but neither of those locations fits La Salle’s description very well.

In a 1902 essay, “Historic Pekin!,” Pekin’s early historian W. H. Bates tells how La Salle and his party “landed at what is now Wesley City, Pekin Township, five and a half miles due north from Pekin, and built a large stockade fort on the high bluff above which he named Creve Coeur. “ Wesley City later was renamed Creve Coeur in memory of La Salle’s fort, and until recently the community has looked back to those days every spring and fall with events at Fort Crevecouer Park.

The fort did not last long. La Salle had to return to Canada in February, leaving Henri de Tonti (1649-1704) and a small garrison at the fort. In April, Tonti departed to consider the possibility of building a fort on Starved Rock, but during his absence, most of the garrison mutinied and destroyed the fort. The story of La Salle’s explorations and the brief existence of Fort Crevecoeur is related in some detail in John L. Conger’s 1932 “History of the Illinois River Valley.”

As for La Salle himself, he later founded a French colony on Garcitas Creek, Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico, but La Salle’s men mutinied and he was murdered by one of the mutineers on March 19, 1687, near modern Navasota, Texas.

Rare, early maps of the area show both Lake Pimiteoui and Fort Crevecoeur, but not in enough detail to ascertain the precise location of the fort. One of the earliest of those maps was drawn up in 1688 by Jean-Baptiste Louis Franquelin, who had served as La Salle’s draftsman in France in 1684. Franquelin’s 1688 map was ultimately based on a lost map drawn up by La Salle himself. Fort Crevecoeur and Pimiteoui Lake are also noted on Marco Vincenzo Coronelli’s 1688 map of North America. Coronelli got his information about Fort Crevecoeur from La Salle’s own 1682 Relation Officielle of his discovery of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Reproductions of these and other early maps of Illinois and North America are included in “Indian Villages of the Illinois Country,” a remarkable atlas kept on file in the library’s local history room.

Fort Crevecoeur — also known as Fort de Crevecoeur — made its first appearance on a map in 1682, when the Abbe Claude Bernou drafted a map of the Americas. Shown here is a detail from Bernou’s map.

Fort Crevecoeur is marked in this detail from a 1688 map by Jean-Baptiste Louis Franquelin. This was one of the first maps to show the ephemeral Fort Crevecoeur.

Fort Crevecoeur is marked in this detail from a 1688 map by Marco Vincenzo Coronelli. This was one of the first maps to show Fort Crevecoeur.

#abbe-claude-bernou, #creve-coeur, #fort-crevecoeur, #franquelins-map, #henri-de-tonti, #illinois-bicentennial, #la-salle, #starved-rock, #vincenzo-coronelli, #wesley-city

Cutting a new road to Peoria

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

A couple of items in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection provide a fascinating glimpse of the history of the changes in transportation in our area.

These items are two 1920s-era newspaper clippings from the Peoria Journal-Transcript, one of the predecessors of the Peoria Journal Star. The clippings are photographs of what was then the new paved road that linked Pekin with East Peoria and Peoria. The road was laid down to assist with the transit of both commerce and workers between Pekin and Peoria, because the old unpaved road – adequate for the old days of horses, wagons, and stagecoaches – no longer was suitable for the heavier traffic of early 20th century automobiles.

But evidently erosion was a recurring problem in the early years of this new road’s life.

The photos are from April 1927 and March 1929, and they show the road in the area of what is now known as Creve Coeur Hill after some springtime rains had caused mud to slide down onto the pavement from the slopes of the surrounding hills and hollers through which work crews had cut the road.

This photograph from the April 10, 1927 Peoria Journal-Transcript shows work crews clearing the mud from the then-new paved road that cut through the hollers at what is now known as Creve Coeur Hill. In the new road’s infancy, before vegetation was able to take root along the sides of the road, erosion caused by heavy rains often swept mud from the walls onto the pavement.

The April 1927 photo is headlined, “PEORIA-PEKIN TRAFFIC KEEPS ROAD MEN BUSY,” with the caption, “Sometimes they work day and night on the new Peoria-Pekin road, especially when it rains. The hill, just outside East Peoria, is the place where the walls of the new ‘cut’ slide. Here is a road gang busy clearing the pavement after a slide.”

The March 1929 photo’s headline is, “‘TAKE A CUT,’ SAYS THE WEATHERMAN,” and the caption says, “And those who took the cut on the Pekin – East Peoria hard road after the heavy rains a week ago found the steep dirt walls of the cut had washed down to make traffic very slippery.”

This March 1929 photograph from the Peoria Journal-Transcript shows a stretch of the Peoria-Pekin hard road after early spring rains had caused a mud washout.

Before this road was built, Pekin and East Peoria were linked by an unpaved road that passed through the village then known as Wesley City (today Creve Coeur) on the way to East Peoria. While going through Wesley City, the road came near the east bank of the Illinois River.

The new road, however, was plotted out to track further to the east, ascending through the land above the Wesley City bluffs before cutting through the hollers to descend and then join up with the old roadway from Wesley City to East Peoria.

The old roadway through Wesley City along the river no longer gets the traffic it once did in the 1800s and early 1900s, but it’s still there, of course – it’s Wesley Road.

#creve-coeur, #creve-coeur-hill, #pekin-east-peoria-road, #peoria-journal-transcript, #peoria-pekin-road, #transportation-changes, #wesley-city, #wesley-road

Dead and aborted towns of Tazewell County

Judging from the number of “likes” and “shares” on Facebook and Twitter, a great deal of interest was generated by the column last month on Pekin’s mysterious and ephemeral suburb of “Hong Kong,” marked on an 1857 wall map of Tazewell County but appearing on no other map nor in any other known historical document.

Hong Kong, of course, is far from the only toponym that has vanished from the map. In April 1979, the late local historian Fred W. Soady Jr. prepared a “Preliminary Master List of Settlements in Tazewell County, Illinois” for the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society. Soady’s list includes many place names that have long since disappeared, some of the settlements existing for a short time before dying out, others flourishing for a good while before succumbing to trends and pressures of migration and economics. The town of Circleville south of Pekin is a better known example of a town that was founded early in Tazewell County, flourished for many years (being on an old stage coach route), but later faded and died.

In other cases, the places on Soady’s list are still inhabited today but were renamed at some point. As this column has discussed in the past, the old neighboring settlements of Fond du Lac (Fondulac) and Blue Town merged to become Hilton, which later was renamed East Peoria. Other nearby settlements we’ve discussed include Wesley City, which later adopted the name of Creve Coeur, while North Pekin formerly was called Radio City.

As for the village of Mackinaw, which was Tazewell County’s first county seat, its original name was “Mackinawtown.” Soady’s list includes an entry for “MACKINAW TOWN” (two words), with a note saying, “oldest name (1827-28) for MACKINAW.” However, an old copy of a plat in the TCGHS archives, probably drawn during the 1850s from an original plat legally filed and recorded in the 1830s, shows the name as “Mackinawtown” (one word).

The copy of the Mackinawtown plat, along with another copy of a plat for the “Town of Mackinaw” (made from an original plat filed May 26, 1830, with Tazewell County Recorder of Deeds Isaac Perkins) are among the old land records and plats in the TCGHS archival collection. One set of historical hand-drawn copies of Tazewell plats in the TCGHS collection was preserved by being interleaved long ago among the map plates of an old 1855 “Mitchell Universal Atlas” (published by Charles DeSilver) that was donated to the TCGHS in 1990. These plats, most of them drawn in the 1850s, are of towns and settlements with familiar names – such as Tremont, Delavan, Dillon, Groveland, Armington, Morton, Spring Lake, Hopedale, Washington – or else show additions to area towns, such as the Colts, Haines, and Cincinnati Additions to Pekin, or the Semples and Dorseys Additions to Washington, or Bacons Addition to Groveland.

Several of these plats, however, are of settlements that no longer appear on our maps, or may never have appeared on any map or in any atlas or plat book. We have already mentioned Circleville, which no longer exists, and Wesley City, now called Creve Coeur. The Wesley City plat inserted in the “Mitchell Universal Atlas” is chiefly remarkable for showing a grid of streets and lots that is obviously and purely a fantasy of the plat owners, and is frankly impossible geographically, for the plat fails to account for Creve Coeur’s hills, gullies, and hollers.

A number of these plats are of settlements that probably never got off the ground – “aborted towns” that never made it past the planning stage of the land speculators – or perhaps only existed for a short time, or later were merged into neighboring settlements. Among these “dead” and “aborted” towns of Tazewell County shown in this collection of plats are Liberty (surveyed July 22, 1835, plat filed June 17, 1836), Spring Garden (plat recorded by its proprietor S. A. Bumstead), Hancock (surveyed October 1836), Madison, Hamilton (surveyed August-September 1836), Cleveland (plat filed Feb. 15, 1836), Montpelier (surveyed Sept. 8-9, 1836), and Danforth (located along the old T & P railroad, surveyed by William S. Morgan for proprietors E. W. Cantwell and W. F. Evans).

The town of Cleveland, on Peoria Lake, existed – or would have existed – about where East Peoria’s Walmart is located today. Soady’s preliminary list of Tazewell County toponyms suggests that Liberty may have been another name for Dillon, which, however, has its own plat in this collection separate from the Liberty plat. Soady’s list also suggests that Danforth may have been renamed Tullamore. But Spring Garden, Hancock, Madison, Cleveland, and Montpelier do not appear on Soady’s list.

One of the “aborted” towns in this collection of plats was to be named Cincinnati. Like the proposed town of Cleveland, it was to bear an Ohio place name – many pioneer settlers of Tazewell County in general and Pekin in particular came from Ohio. The plat owners of the prospective town of Cincinnati were Jonathan Tharp and Jesse Dillon. Tharp is famous locally for settling in 1824 at a spot that is now the foot of Broadway in Pekin, where the former Franklin School now stands. The published works on Pekin’s history mention that two rival groups of Pekin settlers wished to establish a town here along the Illinois River. While one group, including Nathan Cromwell, Isaac Perkins, and William Haines, proposed a town with streets running perpendicular to and parallel with the river, Tharp and Dillon proposed their town with streets running north-south and east-west.

Tharp and Dillon filed their plat for the town of Cincinnati on July 11, 1830 (Soady’s list says Tharp laid out the plat in 1827). Cromwell, Haines, and their associates drew up their own town plans in 1829 and also formalized a plat in 1830, apparently in such a hurry to file it that they didn’t have time to think of a name – they called their desired settlement simply “Town Site” and only came up with the name “Pekin” later in 1830. Meanwhile, the plans of Tharp and Dillon failed to bear fruit. Instead, their proposed town was recast as the Cincinnati Addition to Pekin, the northern border of which was Broadway, with Tharp’s home lot (No. 160) at the northwest corner of the Addition. The “Mitchell Universal Atlas” collection includes a cartographer’s fragile template and accompanying legal description for a plat of “Cincinnati,” as well as a later plat copy of Cincinnati Addition which was drawn and recorded May 28, 1857 – tellingly, the plat copy of Cincinnati “Addition” is in fact still titled “Town of Cincinnati.”

Although the town of Cincinnati never came to fruition, “Cincinnati” is, of course, still an extant Tazewell County toponym – it’s the name of the township located to the south of Pekin Township.

The photo gallery below features selections from the “Mitchell Universal Atlas” collection of plats, all images courtesy of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society.

#blue-town, #cincinnati-addition, #circleville, #creve-coeur, #fondulac, #hilton, #hong-kong, #jonathan-tharp, #mackinaw, #mackinawtown, #mitchell-universal-atlas, #nathan-cromwell, #plats, #tazewell-county-history, #wesley-city, #william-haines

Pieces from Creve Coeur’s past

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in April 2013 before the launch of this blog . . .

Pieces from Creve Coeur’s past

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Among the books in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection are a few histories of local communities in or near Tazewell County. Of that sort of publication, one recent addition to our collection is Vivian Higdon’s 116-page “Pieces From Our Past: Creve Coeur 1680-1998,” a gift to the library from Tyler Chasco. This week we’ll look back at Creve Coeur’s past with the help of Higdon’s book.

As noted in this column about a year ago, Creve Coeur is best known for its ties to Fort Crevecoeur, which was built by French explorer Rene Robert Chevalier de La Salle in January 1680. Consequently, Creve Coeur can boast a history much longer than any other Tazewell County community.
That’s not to say that the modern Village of Creve Coeur has an unbroken history tracing back to 1680, of course. It was not until May 5, 1921, that community voted to incorporate as the Village of “Crevecoeur.” Later, as Higdon explains, Mayor Carroll Patten in 1960 petitioned to have the official spelling of the village changed to “Creve Coeur,” because he believed “Crevecoeur” was a misspelling.

The village’s name was chosen because it included the site that traditionally was believed to be where La Salle’s stockade fort had briefly stood. Others doubt they had correctly identified the fort’s location, and Dan Sheen of Peoria in 1919 offered compelling arguments that the correct spot was a site in what is today East Peoria. Despite the contending theories of historians and archaeologists, the story of Fort Crevecoeur is integrally connected with Creve Coeur’s history and heritage, which is commemorated through Fort Crevecoeur Park and the events held there each year.

Prior to the incorporation of Crevecoeur, the community was known as Wesley City, an unincorporated settlement on the Illinois River which was first platted in 1836. An echo of the name of Wesley City lingers on in the name of Creve Coeur’s Wesley Road that tracks the riverfront. With the shifting of the Illinois River over the years, however, most of the streets of the original Wesley City are today submerged.

This detail from the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County shows Wesley City, former name of Creve Coeur. Most of the streets shown on this map are now under water.

This detail from the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County shows Wesley City, former name of Creve Coeur. Most of the streets shown on this map are now under water.

Wesley City had grown up near the site of an old French trading post which was built around 1775, nearly a century after La Salle’s ephemeral fort. Among the French Catholic fur traders who lived and worked there were Toussant Tromley and Louis Buisson (or Besaw), “both of whom were well-known to some of the pioneers” of Tazewell County, according to Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 history of the county.

The trading post at Wesley City, located about three miles south of the Franklin Street Bridge, carried on a prosperous business with the Native Americans and white settlers until Pekin and Peoria established themselves, after which the old fur trade dwindled away. Also called “Opa Post” or Trading House, the log building was the home over the years to several French families, some of whom took Native American wives. When the State of Illinois expelled all the Indians after the 1832 Black Hawk War, some of these intermarried French-Indian families left Tazewell County and accompanied their Native American kin to reservations in Kansas.

In the meantime, a Methodist preacher named Phillips and a few other settlers built a grist and sawmill near the trading post, which led to the founding of the community that they named Wesley City, after the Methodist leader John Wesley. Around that same time, the Rusche family arrived in Illinois from Alsace-Lorraine and settled in Wesley City. Over the generations, the Rusches had a prominent role in the development of their community, and their place in the history of Wesley City/Creve Coeur is commemorated with the naming of Rusche Lane.

#creve-coeur, #fort-crevecoeur, #opa-post, #preblog-columns, #vivian-higdon, #wesley-city