This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in April 2015, before the launch of this weblog.
Voting on the Fort Crevecoeur Controversy
By Jared Olar
On more than on occasion, this column has touched on the brief but significant history of Fort Crevecoeur, a wood stockade outpost built by the French explorers La Salle and Tonti in January 1680 at a location in or near Creve Coeur.
Because the fort did not exist for very long, the exact location of Fort Crevecoeur is shrouded in mystery and doubt, with proposed sites ranging from north of East Peoria to as far south as Beardstown. The controversy over the true site of Fort Crevecoeur was especially a hot topic in the early 20th century, as can be discerned from the May 2015 issue of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly, pages 1284-5.
In that issue are reproduced the agenda of the old Tazewell County Historical Society for its annual meeting on May 4, 1918, as published on April 22 and May 6, 1918, in the Pekin Daily Times by the Society President W. L. Prettyman and Society Secretary Mrs. W. R. Curran. In the April 22, 1918 Pekin Daily Times was the following agenda item for the annual meeting:
“To decide on the location of Fort Creve Coeur. The true location of Fort Creve Coeur has been the subject of several important meetings of this society and the state historical society desires that the members of the Tazewell County Historical Society shall as speedily as possibly, decide where, in their opinion, the actual location of said fort was located. The members at this meeting will take a vote on this question and settle the matter in controversy, so far as they can do so. It is therefore important that all the members of this society and their friends be sure to attend this important meeting.”
The minutes of the society’s annual meeting were published in the May 6, 1918 edition of the Daily Times. On the question of Fort Crevecoeur’s location, the minutes say:
“Tazewell County Historical Society had its meeting last Saturday afternoon, and formally decided upon the Wesley City site, as the logical place where old Fort Creve Coeur was located by Chevalier de Tonty and his comrades.
“The discussion which preceded the formal vote of the membership was participated in by Dan Sheen, of Peoria, Luke Keil of East Peoria, and others. Mr. Keil who has been a resident of East Peoria vicinity for over two score years contended that the site was directly across the river from Peoria.
“Postmaster B. C. Allensworth, of this city discussed the different locations which have been suggested as having been the site of the fort and quoted some letters from Judge Beckwith and Judge McCollough which indicated that they did not agree as the site selected by the D.A.R. and that they were as a matter of fact in doubt as to the location. The Le Grone site at Wesley City finally won on the vote taken. It was the statements of engineer James Buchanan as to what he found there when he surveyed for the railroad yards which determined the location by those present. Judge Curran explained the meaning of these and the finding is perhaps as conclusive as it can be made at the present day.
“J. L. Frazee of Eureka, of the state historical society spoke interesting. (sic) He did not advocate specifically any site but strongly urged that a geologist of state wide reputation be asked to investigate the soil and condition of the several sites before a determination is made.”
Historical and scientific truth, of course, cannot be determined by a majority vote. The vote of the old Tazewell County Historical Society notwithstanding, serious doubt remains that Fort Crevecoeur was really located in the former Wesley City (which later renamed itself Creve Coeur). A year after the society’s vote, the abovementioned Dan Sheen of Peoria published a study paper, “Location of Fort Crevecoeur,” in which he detailed the historical and archaeological arguments in support of the site for which Keil had advocated at the society’s annual meeting. Sheen’s paper also provided arguments against the site favored by the Tazewell County Historical Society. His paper has been digitized and may be read online at https://archive.org/details/locationoffortcr00shee