The legend of the Lost Forty

This is an updated reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in June 2013 before the launch of this weblog.

The legend of the Lost Forty

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In the lore handed down from the days of the pioneer settlers of Tazewell County is a curious tale of a tract of land that came to be known by the colorful name of “the Lost Forty.”

A “forty” is land surveyor’s term that refers to 40 acres of land. Under the Public Land Survey System, the location and boundaries of a tract of land is identified by state, county, township, range, section and section portion. A “forty” is a quarter-quarter section. In 1832, when large areas of Illinois were opened to white settlers, a forty was the smallest tract of land that could be acquired.

How, then, did Tazewell County “lose” one of its forties? The story is told in Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” page 893.

“There is a tract of land in Tazewell County, lying along the Mackinaw River, which consists of a continuous series of abrupt and deep ravines. Not a foot of the tract could be cultivated. The ridges are full of fox dens, wolves are occasionally found, and turkey-buzzards hover over it in large flocks. Even people familiar with the territory have been lost in the dense forest. Except for a few giant oaks the wood has no commercial value.

“The tract is known as the ‘Lost Forty,’ because no one knows who owns it. For years it has been used for trading purposes, and many unwary persons from a distance have advanced money upon it and taken mortgages in various sums, only to receive a questionable title to a worthless piece of land. On the Tazewell County tax-books the ‘Forty’ appears with the ‘owner unknown.’ The land is watered by innumerable springs and the Mackinaw River, which winds its way through the tract.”

This brief account had previously been published in local newspapers, and, as was common newspaper practice in those days, ended up being republished in papers far and wide as “filler,” including the Gloversville, N.Y., Daily Leader in 1903, the Minneapolis Journal of June 7, 1902, the Oregonian of Portland of Nov. 11, 1901, Uhrichsville, Ohio, News Democrat of Dec. 24, 1901, the Bedford, Pa., Gazette of Dec. 27, 1901, and the Anadarko, Okla., Daily Democrat of Dec. 23, 1901.

For some reason, Allensworth did not trouble himself to specify where the Lost Forty was located, but the Anadarko Daily Democrat’s version (which was itself reprinted from the Springfield, Ill., State Journal) expands a little on Allensworth’s words, introducing the tale of the Lost Forty with these words:

“An African jungle transplanted to Central Illinois would be the best description that could be given to a remarkable tract of land in Tazewell county, lying along the Mackinaw river, near the village of Lilly. . . .”

Lilly is located about 3 miles east of Mackinaw, in Sections 14 and 13 of Mackinaw Township. But there is a serious problem with the words, “lying along the Mackinaw river, near the village of Lilly” – the Mackinaw River wends its way through Mackinaw Township a few miles to the north and northwest of Lilly, not really very “near the village of Lilly” at all.

Another clue that may help us find the Lost Forty is the location of one of Tazewell County’s old cemeteries, which, as it happens, is named “Lost Forty Cemetery.” Volume Five of the Tazewell County Cemetery Indexes, prepared in 1982 by Betty Weghorst Murphy for the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society, lists “Lost 40” cemetery as one of the burial grounds of Mackinaw Township – but the index says that this cemetery at that time was “unlocated.”

The TCGHS website’s current cemetery index, however, says Lost Forty Cemetery is, or was, located in Section 12 of Mackinaw Township, which borders Section 13 on the north. Section 12 is near Lilly, and is closer to the Mackinaw River than Section 13. Even so, the Mackinaw River does not “wind its way through” any part of Section 12. The only waterway that flows through Section 12 is Hollands Creek, which is a tributary of the Mackinaw River.

Part of the Mackinaw River and Section 12 of Mackinaw Township are shown in this detail from a map in an 1891 atlas of Tazewell County.

Presumably Lost Forty Cemetery is located in, or at least very close to, the Lost Forty. If so, the Lost Forty must have been in Section 12 of Mackinaw Township, and perhaps Hollands Creek flowed through it, the tributary creek being confused with the actual river.

On the other hand, the county atlas maps of 1864, 1873 and 1891 do not indicate any unknown or disputed ownership of land in Section 12.

To help solve the mystery, one of our readers, Vivien White of Tremont contacted us in the summer of 2013 and shared some of her childhood memories. White, then 88 years old, said that when she was a child, she lived on a farm in or near Section 12 of Mackinaw Township. Her father, Charles White, rented the farm from an owner whom Vivien believed was from the Washington or Eureka area – but she did not recall the owner’s name or the exact location of the farm, and she didn’t remember exactly where the farm was.

What she remembered, though, is that the farm bordered on the Lost Forty, and that she used to play in that area as a child. White agrees that Allensworth’s old description of the tract – “a continuous series of abrupt and deep ravines . . . The ridges are full of fox dens . . . dense forest” – is accurate. (White remembers a time when she crawled into one of the fox dens. When her father found out, he scolded her because she could have been attacked or bitten by a fox.) However, she said that, contrary to Allensworth, the Mackinaw River did not “wind its way through the tract,” but touched on it or came near it.

So, although we don’t know precisely where the Lost Forty was, White’s recollections at least appear to confirm our initial investigations.

#charles-white, #hollands-creek, #lilly, #lost-forty-cemetery, #mackinaw-river, #mackinaw-township, #preblog-columns, #public-land-survey-system, #the-lost-forty, #vivien-white

Tazewell’s unincorporated communities: Stoehrs

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

As we continue our series on Tazewell County’s unincorporated communities, this week we return to Cincinnati Township to visit a location that is now little more than a name on the map: the former rural village of Stoehrs.

Stoehrs is only a ghost of its former self today, but it still appears on recent maps, such as this 2017 Cincinnati Township plat map.

Stoehrs today is the location of the grain elevators of Tremont Cooperative Grain. At one time Stoehrs was the location of a post office and a school.

Stoehrs, sometimes called Stoehrs Station, is straight west of Midway, being situated adjacent to the intersection of Wagonseller and Garman roads in northwestern Cincinnati Township. John Drury’s 1954 “This is Tazewell County,” page 61, offers this brief comment on Stoehrs:

“Another community in Cincinnati Township is Stoehrs. It is a small village on the Chicago & Illinois Midland Railroad and lies just northwest of the Pekin Airport. The village is served by the post office at Pekin.”

In his 1979 “Preliminary Master List of Settlements in Tazewell County, Illinois,” the late Fred Soady tersely described Stoehrs as “station J. – S. E. next south of CRESCENT – P.O. 1882-1887 (north of Hainesville).” This means Stoehrs had its own post office from 1882 to 1887. Stoehrs originated as a depot on the old Peoria, Pekin & Jacksonville Rail Road (which became the Chicago, Peoria & St. Louis before it became the Chicago & Illinois Midland).

By 1874 the railroad already crossed George Stoehr’s property in Section 20 as shown in this detail of a Tazewell County wall plat map from that year. Note that the map misspells his name “Steohr.”

This detail of an 1873 plat map of Cincinnati Township shows a railroad switch on the northern boundary of George Stoehr’s land. That switch later became a railroad depot.

Stoehrs got its name because it was established on the farm of George Stoehr (1852-1911), whose homestead was about a quarter of a mile south of the Wagonseller-Garman Road intersection. The site of George Stoehr’s homestead is still the location of the home place of a farm, on land owned by Robert Cupi.

In the past a country schoolhouse (Cincinnati Township’s School House No. 1) was a quarter mile east of the intersection on Garman Road. The children of farming families in the vicinity of Stoehrs would attend that school. Today there are a few farm homes just to the east of Stoehrs on Garman Road, near where the school used to be, while a very short jog west of Stoehrs on Garman is the Marine Corps League.

By 1891 the farm of George Stoehr had passed to the Bailey family. Note that the map does not indicate that there was a railroad station near the Stoehrs intersection.

Stoehrs Station first appears in the 1910 Tazewell County atlas.

This detail from a 1929 plat map of Cincinnati Township shows Stoehrs Station, a former rural village that grew up near a train depot, a post office, and a country school near the intersection of Garman and Wagonseller roads.

That about does it in the way of residences near the Stoehrs Station intersection. The railroad still runs through, but the train station, the post office, and the school are long gone. The spot today is chiefly an area for agriculture and industry. Tremont Cooperative Grain’s elevators on Wagonseller Road are on the north side of the Stoehrs railroad crossing. Just a bit further north up Wagonseller are Superior Industries Inc. and Excel Foundry & Machine.

Two pioneer cemeteries are located close to Stoehrs. Southwest of Stoehrs, at the northeast corner of Fuelberth and Bluebird Hill roads, is King Cemetery, a burying ground where members of the King, Clark, and Shaw families were interred from 1843 to 1881.

Off to Stoehrs’ northwest is Bequeath Cemetery (also called Bequaith or Bequeaith Cemetery) on the meandering country road that more recently has been known as Excel Way (because it connects with Wagonseller where Excel Foundry & Machine is located). Bequeath Cemetery was established on the land of a pioneer farmer named John Bequeath (1820-1893), and he and many of his kin are buried there.

Incidentally, the reason that Excel Way meanders is because the road originally tracked the bends and curves of the Mackinaw River. The winding creek to the west of the road formerly was the channel by which the waters of the Mackinaw River found their way to the Illinois River from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, until the Mackinaw changed its course and made itself a new river mouth (as it has done in the past).

#bequeath-cemetery, #chicago-and-illinois-midland-railroad, #chicago-peoria-and-st-louis-railroad, #excel-foundry-and-machine, #george-stoehrs, #john-bequeath, #king-cemetery, #mackinaw-river, #pekin-peoria-and-jacksonville-railroad, #stoehrs, #stoehrs-station, #superior-industries, #tazewell-county-unincorporated-communities, #tremont-cooperative-grain

The founding of Tazewell County

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

After Illinois achieved statehood, new settlers poured into central Illinois throughout the 1820s, making new homes for themselves in and around Fort Clark (Peoria) or clearing land for farms along the eastern shores and bluffs of Peoria Lake and the Mackinaw River basin. Those were the years that saw the arrival of Tazewell County pioneers William Blanchard, Nathan Dillon, and William Holland.

Another of those early settlers was an Ohio resident named Jonathan Tharp (1794-1844), who built a log cabin on a ridge above the Illinois River in 1824 at a spot that is today the foot of Broadway in Pekin. Tharp’s cabin was the seed that would sound sprout and grow into the city of Pekin.

The result of the wave of immigration of those years was that in 1825, a mere seven years after statehood, the State Legislature erected a new county, named for the Peoria tribe of the Illiniwek who had once dwelt in that place.

Tazewell County came along almost on the heels of Peoria County’s founding. As we have often recalled in this column, Tazewell County was established in 1827. It was Illinois’ 38th county – the 23rd county since statehood. At the time, Tazewell County was officially a part of Sangamon County, but was in fact under the governmental administration of Peoria County.

This detail from a map printed in the State of Illinois’ 1991 booklet, “Origin and Evolution of Illinois Counties,” shows the original boundaries of Tazewell County as established by the State Legislature in 1827 and 1829. The village of Mackinaw was chosen as the first county seat because it was then near the geographical center of the county.

The original plan was to name the new county “Mackinaw,” after the tributary of the Illinois River that flowed through it (a Kickapoo chief named Mackinaw or Machina also lived with his people in Tazewell County in those years). However, one of the county’s prominent pioneers, Gideon H. Rupert (1799-1877), a Virginia native, intervened to have the proposed bill to establish the county amended, so the new county would instead be named for U.S. Senator Littleton W. Tazewell of Virginia. The first county seat was still named Mackinaw, though.

Following is the account of the founding of Tazewell County as found in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” pages 207-209 (emphasis added):

“Tazewell county was organized by an act of the Legislature January 31st, 1827, with the following boundaries: Beginning at the northeast corner of township twenty, north of the base line, and range three east of the third principal meridian, thence north on said line to the north line of township twenty-eight north, thence west to the middle of the Illinois river, thence down said river to the north line of township twenty north, thence east to the place of beginning.

“In the act organizing the county January 31, 1827, an error occurred in describing the boundaries. This error was corrected by an act re-establishing the boundaries, passed January 22, 1829.

“The territory comprising the county of Tazewell formed part of the counties at the dates named in the several subdivisions of the State prior to the organization of the county, as follows:

“1809 — At this date Illinois Territory was organized, and was subdivided into the counties of Randolph and St. Clair. Tazewell was included in the county of St. Clair.

“1812 — Tazewell formed part of the county of Madison.

“1814 — Tazewell was included in the counties of Madison and Edwards: west of the third principal meridian in Madison, east of the meridian in Edwards.

“1816 — Tazewell was included within the boundaries of Madison and Crawford counties: east of the meridian in Crawford, west in Madison.

“1817 — Tazewell formed part of the counties of Bond and Crawford: west of the meridian in Bond, east in Crawford.

“1819 — Tazewell was included in Clark and Bond counties: west of the meridian in Bond, east in Clark.

“1821 — Tazewell formed part of Fayette and Sangamon counties: west of the meridian in Sangamon, east in Fayette.

“1827 — Tazewell organized January 31st: boundary defective.

“1829 — Tazewell boundaries defined, and error in law of 1827 corrected as above given. County originally created from territory then comprising part of the counties of Sangamon and Fayette:
west of the third principal meridian taken from Sangamon, east of the meridian, comprising 24 townships, taken from Fayette.

“1830 — McLean county was formed by taking off the three ranges east of the meridian and range one west of the meridian.

“1839 — Logan county was created, taking off three townships on the south.

“1841 — The counties of Mason and Woodford were organized, and Tazewell reduced to its present boundaries.

“The commissioners to locate the county seat were Thos. M. Neale, Wm. L. D. Ewing and Job Fletcher. They were by the act of organization required to meet on the third Monday of March, 1827, or within five days thereafter, at the house of Wm. Orendorff, for the purpose of locating the county seat, which, when located, was to be called ‘Mackinaw.’ Until county buildings were erected the courts were required to be held at the house of Wm. Orendorff. Election for county officers at the house of said Wm. Orendorff on the second Monday of April, 1827.

“All that part of Fayette lying east and north of Tazewell was attached to Tazewell for county purposes.

“In the year 1825 the Legislature created Peoria county, and attached to it for all county purposes all of the territory north of town 20 and west of the third principal meridian, thus including all the present county of Tazewell. Nathan Dillon, William Holland and Joseph Smith were chosen County Commissioners for the new county. The former two resided in this county. They held their first meeting at Peoria March 8, 1825.

“When the population of Tazewell was thought to be sufficiently large to regularly organize, an election was held in April, 1827, and Benjamin Briggs, George Hittle, and James Lotta were chosen County Commissioners. The Commissioners at once proceeded to hold a meeting and consummate the organization. This they did at the house of William Orendorff, April 10, 1827. . . .

“The county at this time was very large; even in 1829, when a new boundary was formed, it contained 79 townships. It has been divided for the formation of other counties so often that it has finally been reduced to 19 townships.

“The county was named in honor of Hon. John Tazewell (sic – Littleton), United States Senator from the State of Virginia. There is a county in that State which also bears the same name, these being the only two in the United States.”

#chief-mackinaw, #gideon-rupert, #illinois-bicentennial, #jonathan-tharp, #littleton-waller-tazewell, #mackinaw, #mackinaw-river, #nathan-dillon, #tazewell-county-history, #william-blanchard, #william-holland, #william-orendorff

The meandering Mackinaw changes its course

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In this column we explore topics related to the history of Pekin and Tazewell County during the period of the past two centuries or so. This week, we’ll take a look at a remarkable matter of natural history having to do with one of our area’s natural, primeval features: the Mackinaw River, an important tributary of the Illinois River.

Water has probably flowed down the Mackinaw into the Illinois River far longer than anyone can imagine. The river’s source is far to the east, near the village of Sibley in Ford County, and it then meanders and wends its way for about 130 miles through McLean, Woodford and Tazewell counties.

However, a survey of old maps and atlases reveals that the Mackinaw River’s outlet was not always where it is today. The river formerly flowed through what it now Mason County, but, as David Perkins of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society recently brought to my attention, at some point between the 1830s and 1860s, the Mackinaw shifted its course. No longer did the Mackinaw River continue a generally westward course until emptying into the Illinois in Mason County near the spot where Chautauqua Lake is located today. Instead, the Mackinaw took a northward turn and found a new outlet at a location on the Illinois just west of the modern-day Powerton Fish and Wildlife Area.

Early Illinois maps and sources document the old course of the Mackinaw River. An 1815 map by Rene Paul (Plate XL in “Atlas: Indian Villages of the Illinois Country 1670-1830), for example, shows the “Macanac R.” flowing west-south-west into the Illinois River at a point nearly opposite the mouth of the “La Marche” river, a good ways south of Peoria Lake. No northward bend in the Mackinaw is shown.

Macanac River 1815

This 1815 map by Rene Paul (Plate XL in “Atlas: Indian Villages of the Illinois Country 1670-1830) shows the “Macanac R.” flowing west-south-west into the Illinois River at a point nearly opposite the mouth of the “La Marche” river, a good ways south of Peoria Lake. No northward bend in the Mackinaw is shown.

Another early publication, Zadok Cramer’s 1808 “The Navigator,” reprinted in 1818 and excerpted in the July 2009 Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly, describes the “Sesemi-Quain” and “De la March” rivers, tributaries of the Illinois, before coming to:

“The river Michilimackinac, comes in on the south-eastern side, above the two just mentioned, and 195 miles from the Mississippi; it is navigable 90 miles, 50 yards wide, and has at its mouth 30 to 40 small islands, which at a distance look like a small village. Some distance up this river is a coal mine, on the banks are red and white cedar, pine, maple walnut, & c.”

“Michilimackinac” was the full, original name of the Mackinaw. But the distance of “195 miles from the Mississippi” does not accord with the course and length of the Illinois River today. A 1998 edition of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ “Illinois Waterway Navigation Charts” shows the present mouth of the Mackinaw at about 148 miles upriver from Grafton, Ill. (which is where the Illinois joins the Mississippi River today), while the former mouth of the Mackinaw River was at a spot approximately 124 miles upriver from Grafton.

An 1819 map of Illinois by John Melish (Plate XLVI in “Atlas: Indian Villages of the Illinois Country 1670-1830), presents the “Michilimackinac R.” flowing much as Rene Paul’s 1815 shows the “Macanac R.” The same basic water course for the Mackinaw can be found on an old 1822 atlas map. Baldwin & Cradock’s 1833 atlas also shows the mouth of the Mackinaw far to the south of its present mouth – but significantly, this atlas map illustrates that before it found the Illinois, the Mackinaw flowed into an extensive swamp in what was then Tazewell County but is today Mason County. This old swamp bears on the changed course of the Mackinaw.

A map obtained by David Perkins, formerly a plate illustration in an 1879 book, shows northern and central Illinois in 1835. This map also shows the old swamp, but traces the course of the Mackinaw along the southern boundary of the swamp. Notably, however, the map also shows a stream or rivulet along the swamp’s western boundary, running in a generally northerly direction up to the Illinois River at a spot near the present mouth of the Mackinaw.

1835 Illinois map from 1879 book

This map, formerly a plate illustration in an 1879 book, shows northern and central Illinois in 1835. This map shows the old swamp, but traces the course of the Mackinaw along the southern boundary of the swamp. Notably, the map also shows a stream or rivulet along the swamp’s western boundary, running in a generally northerly direction up to the Illinois River at a spot near the present mouth of the Mackinaw.

It appears that around the mid-1800s some local event or events of a geologic nature – say, a flood, perhaps with agricultural activities in or near the swamp being a contributing cause – led to the Mackinaw River shifting its course. Abandoning its former course, the river was diverted, or diverted itself, into the channel of the northerly stream. Henceforth the Mackinaw no longer would flow through Mason County. Thus, an 1864 plat map of Tazewell County shows the Mackinaw following its present course, and all subsequent atlases and maps show the same river course.

1866 map of Illinois

This 1866 map of Illinois shows the present course of the Mackinaw River, as is typical for Illinois and Tazewell County maps from 1864 onward.

While such changes are remarkable, it’s well known that rivers can and do change their courses, whether in slight or major ways. The change in the Mackinaw River’s course no doubt was noticed and recorded by contemporaries, but as yet Perkins and I have found no historical notices of the change. Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County” makes no mention of it, nor do the historical essays in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County” say anything about a change in the Mackinaw’s course. More recent reference works that we’ve consulted also are silent on this point.

The Mackinaw’s former course through Mason County still exists, and it even links up to the Mackinaw north of Townline Road in Tazewell County. At that point, one finds a drainage ditch that follows the line of Schuttler Road and then turns straight south along Dinky Ditch Road. Along the way south, it becomes Hickory Grove Ditch, flowing under Hickory Grove Road just east of Manito.

The ditch then makes an eastward curve before swinging diagonally southwest through Mason County – this stretch of the watercourse is known as North Quiver Ditch, but further on past Forest City, it’s the Mason Tazewell Ditch, until finally, past Topeka, it becomes Quiver Creek, which empties into the Illinois at Chautauqua Lake.

But once, way back when, it was the final western length of the Mackinaw River.

#mackinaw-river, #mackinaw-river-course, #michilmackinac, #old-maps, #tazewell-county-genealogical-historical-society, #tazewell-county-history, #tazewell-county-maps

The early days of Mackinaw

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

The early days of Mackinaw

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The village of Mackinaw in eastern Tazewell County occupies a special position in the county’s history. As this column has noted previously, Mackinaw was the first seat of government for Tazewell County, and the first county courthouse was erected in Mackinaw.

One of the most important sources for the history of those days is Charles C. Chapman’s “History of Tazewell County.”  Also among the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room sources that tell of Mackinaw’s history is “Mackinaw Remembers 1827-1977,” edited by Gladys Garst. The story of Mackinaw’s founding is told on the first two pages of that book, along with a glance back at the prehistory of the Mackinaw area.

“The proof and importance of marks in our Indian cultural heritage,” this volume says, “lies in the fact that Dr. W. H. Holmes, Curator, Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution, stated the following about the cache discovered in 1916 on the James Tyrrell farm northeast of Mackinaw: ‘Undoubtedly, they represent the most skillful work in stone flaking that has yet been found in this country.’ Thirty-five bifaces (a particular cut) from the Mackinaw cache are on exhibit at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield. Three are in McLean County Historical Society Museum in Bloomington, and one is owned by Mr. Stuart Ruch of Champaign. These are thought to be from the Hopewell culture (100 BC to AD 300). Irvin Wyss and Ivan Lindsey are two local men who were digging when they found the cache. Many artifacts have been found by others. Ernest Fuehring has a display in the Mackinaw Federal Savings and Loan Building.”

The most obvious marks of Mackinaw’s Indian cultural heritage are the village’s name and the name of the Mackinaw River. As a rule, the names of rivers and notable natural geographical features tend to be older than the names of towns or cities.  Naturally that is the case with the village of Mackinaw. It may be a surprise to learn, however, that the village did not derive its name from the river.

According to “Mackinaw Remembers,” “It is an accepted fact [the village of Mackinaw] bears the name of Chief Mackinaw or Mackinac of the Kickapoo tribe . . . Some say Mackinaw means ‘little chief.’ It is listed in Illinois State History, No. 4, p. 57, 1963, by Virgil K. Vogel, pamphlet series of Illinois State Historical Society, as meaning turtle. It is taken from the language of the Ojibways.”

The river’s name, however, is an abbreviated form of “Michilimackinac,” a name which some people continued to use even as late as 1846. “In 1681 Father Marquette mentions the Michilimackinac River in his log. It is so-spelled on some maps published in 1822 in the Atlas of Indian Villages of Illinois, compiled by Tucker and Temple,” says “Mackinaw Remembers.”

“Mackinaw Remembers” also has this to say about the Native American peoples living in the area in the early 1800s: “The Indians left a definite mark in our area. War clouds just prior to the War of 1812 made feisty Kickapoos even more restless. They burned settlements on their move toward Lake Peoria. One band of them took up quarters with some Potawatomi, Chippewa, and Ottawa on the Mackinaw River. The peaceful Potawatomi far outnumbered the other tribes. Their chief was named Shimshack. Chief Mackina of the Kickapoos eventually became friendly; however, he and the tribes left with the mass evacuation of Indians in Illinois in 1832.”

Chapman’s Tazewell County history also includes some anecdotes of Chief Mackinaw, or “Old Machina” as Chapman calls him, and notes that his people, the Kickapoo, “dwell in the western and southwestern part of the county” (page 195).

“For some years after the first settlers came wigwams were scattered here and there over the county . . . Another extensive camping ground was on the Mackinaw river, near the present town of Mackinaw. Old Machina was the chief of this band. The Kickapoos had made a treaty shortly previous to the coming of the first settler, by which the whites acquired all their land. When the whites came, however, to settle and occupy the land the Kickapoos were angry, and some of them felt disposed to insult and annoy the settlers. When John Hendrix came to Blooming Grove the Indians ordered him to leave. Not long afterwards they frightened away a family which settled on the Mackinaw. Old Machina ordered one family away by throwing leaves in the air. This was to let the bootanas (white men) know that they must  not be found in the country when the leaves of autumn should fall. In 1823, when the Orendorffs came, Old Machina had learned to speak a little English. He came to Thomas Orendorff and with a majestic wave of his hand said: ‘Too much come back, white man: t’other side Sangamon’” (page 195-196).

Fanny Herndon, one of the “Snowbirds” (the survivors of “the Deep Snow” during the extremely harsh winter of 1830-31), “related stories of earlier settlers mentioning the many tepees here. She told of an Indian trail which came in the village [of Mackinaw] from the northeast, went past the west side of the Bryan Zehr place, and led to the present home of Clifford Rowell. It continued southwest along the bluffs.

The formal founding of the village of Mackinaw is almost coeval with the establishment of Tazewell County in 1827. Originally when Illinois legislators made plans to form a new county out of Peoria County, the proposed name was Mackinaw County, not Tazewell County. In fact, the bill that was approved by the Illinois House of Representative in January 1827 was named, “An Act Creating Mackinaw County.” The Illinois Senate, however, amended the title to read, “An Act Creating Tazewell County,” and it was in that form that the bill passed the Senate on Jan. 31, 1827. Gideon Rupert of Pekin is credited with the choice to name the county after Rupert’s fellow Virginian Littleton Waller Tazewell, U.S. Senator from Virginia.

The legislation erecting Tazewell County also fixed the county seat at Mackinaw, which then was near the center of the county. William H. Hodges, County Surveyor, was hired to lay off the town of Mackinaw, and the sale of town lots was then advertised for three weeks in the Sangamon Spectator. It was decided that the county court house – a relatively simply log structure –was to be built “at or near the spot where the commissioners drove down a stake, standing nine paces in a northeastern direction from a white oak blazed on the northeastern side.” That was Lot 1, Block 11, where the Eddy Smith family lived in 1977. The Mackinaw courthouse served the county for only three years, from 1828 to 1831. Then followed the rivalry between Pekin and Tremont for the honor of county seat which this column has previous described.


Shown is an artist’s rendering of the log house that served as Tazewell County’s courthouse when Mackinaw was the county seat from 1828 to 1831.

#chief-mackinaw, #gideon-rupert, #littleton-waller-tazewell, #mackinaw, #mackinaw-courthouse, #mackinaw-river, #michilmackinac, #preblog-columns, #snowbirds, #tazewell-county-history, #tazewell-county-native-tribes