Around the time white settlers began flooding into Tazewell County in the 1820s, Potawatomi War Chief Senachwine compared the settlers’ numbers to the blades of grass on the prairie, while the chief could take all of his people and “place them in the hollow of my hand.” After futile efforts at resistance and co-existence, the native tribes of our area finally were expelled in the mid-1830s. Some of the stories and memories of the original peoples of Pekin and Tazewell County will be recalled this Columbus Day by Pekin Public Library’s Local History Specialist Jared Olar, who will present a program titled “In the Hollow of my Hand” in the library’s Community Room at 9:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 10. The library also has a display that spotlights Central Illinois’ Native Americans in the Local History Room.
Tag Archives: Pottawatomi Trail of Death
Black Hawk, Shabbona, and the Clearance of Illinois’ Native Americans
By Jared Olar
As previously noted in this column, the city of Pekin was established at the site of a Native American village of about 100 wigwams located on Gravel Ridge along the eastern shore of Pekin Lake (near the location of the Pekin Boat Club). Pekin’s first European settler, Jonathan Tharp, built his cabin in 1824 to the south of that village, at or very near the spot where the former Franklin School stands today, at the foot of Broadway.
The Indians who lived along Gravel Ridge in the 1820s and 1830s were primarily Pottawatomi, but much of Tazewell County also was home to Kickapoo bands. In a letter dated in May 1812, Illinois Territorial Gov. Ninian Edwards wrote, “At Little Makina, a river on the south side of [the] Illinois, five leagues below Peoria, is a band, consisting of Kickapoos, Chippeways, Ottaways and Pottowottamies. They are called warriors, and their head man is Lebourse or Sulky. Their number is sixty men, all desperate fellows and great plunderers.”
While Sulky was a Kickapoo, his other name “Lebourse” is French, for he was, like many Native Americans in Illinois during that period, partly of French descent, even as his own band was made up of warriors from three other tribes besides the Kickapoo. The name of the river that Gov. Edwards said was the location of Sulky’s village – “Little Makina” – might suggest that they were living on the shores of the Mackinaw River south of Pekin. However, the distance “five leagues below Peoria” indicates a spot about 17 miles downriver from Peoria Lake, which is the river distance between Peoria and Pekin, so “Little Makina” must refer to a stream or creek that flows into the Illinois (perhaps Lick Creek?). That would mean Sulky and his band were living at the future site of Pekin around May of 1812.
Another Kickapoo chief in Tazewell County, mentioned by Gov. Edwards in a letter written July 21, 1812, was Pemwotam (or Pemwatome), whose village was at the northeast end of Peoria Lake in Fondulac Township, to the north of the McClugage Bridge. On his raid of the Indian villages of Peoria Lake in Oct. 1812, Gov. Edwards destroyed a Kickapoo village that is said to have been Pemwotam’s. In his 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” Charles C. Chapman gives a somewhat lengthy account of Edwards’ raid, describing the destruction of the Kickapoo village in Fondulac Township and of Pottawatomi chief Black Partridge’s village in Woodford County.
Chapman mentions another Kickapoo chief of Tazewell County named “Old Machina,” whose name is also spelled “Mashenaw.” Machina’s village was near Mackinaw, and Chapman related the pioneers’ recollections of Chief Machina’s displeasure at the new wave of settlers who arrived in the 1820s.
Another Native American name associated with early Pekin history is that of a Pottawatomi leader named Shabbona, whose name is also spelled Shaubena and Shabonee. He was prominent in the early history of Pekin and Tazewell County and played a significant role in the wider history of Illinois, the Midwest and the U.S. At the time that Jonathan Tharp settled at the future site of Pekin, Shabbona’s camp was in the vicinity of Starved Rock, but Pekin pioneer historian William H. Bates indicates that around 1830 Shabbona and his family had set up a small village of Pottawatomi just south of Tharp’s cabin, between McLean Street and Broadway. But not much later, during the Black Hawk War of 1832 Shabbona and his family were camped in northern Illinois.
A member of the Ottawa tribe, Shabbona was born about 1775, but his place of birth is uncertain. In his 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” Charles C. Chapman said Shabbona “was born at an Indian village on the Kankakee river, now in Will county,” but others say he was born in Ontario, Canada, or on the Maumee River in Ohio.
Shabbona was the grandnephew of the great Ottawa Chief Pontiac, and his father had fought alongside Pontiac in Pontiac’s War of 1763. His name comes from the Ottawa word zhaabne (related to the Pottawatomi word zhabné) which means “hardy” or “indomitable,” and interpreted by white settlers as “built like a bear.” The Ottawa originally lived in Ontario, Canada, but were driven out by the Iroquois, moving to Michigan where they joined with the Ojibwa and Pottawatomi, and afterwards migrating with their kinsmen the Pottawatomi to Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Around 1800, Shabbona married Pokanoka (Coconako), daughter of a Pottawatomi chief in Illinois named Spotka (Hanokula), and upon the death of his wife’s father he succeeded him as leader of Spotka’s Pottawatomi band.
Chapman devoted a few pages of his 1879 history to the life of Shabbona, whom he praised as “The kind and generous Shaubena” and “that true and generous hearted chief.” In his account of the Black Hawk War of 1832, Chapman wrote:
“At the time the war broke out he, with his band of Pottawatomies, had their wigwams and camps on the Illinois within the present limits of the city of Pekin. Shaubena was a friend of the white man, and living in this county during those perilous times, and known by so many of the early settlers, that we think he deserves more than a passing mention. . . . While young he was made chief of the band, and went to Shaubena Grove (now in De Kalb county), where they were found in the early settlement of that section. In the war of 1812 Shaubena, with his warriors, joined Tecumseh, was aid to that great chief, and stood by his side when he fell at the battle of the Thames.”
Shabbona’s experiences in the War of 1812 convinced him of the futility of armed resistance to white encroachment, and for the rest of his life he strove to live in peace with the white settlers who were flooding into Illinois. Many Native Americans in Illinois called him “the white man’s friend” – and they didn’t mean it as a compliment.
Together with a fellow Pottawatomi leader named Wabaunsee, Shabbona kept the Pottawatomi out of the Black Hawk War, despite two attempts of Sauk war leader Black Hawk to persuade him to join the fight. “On one of these occasions,” Chapman wrote, “when Black Hawk was trying to induce him and his band to join them and together make war upon the whites, when with their forces combined they would be an army that would outnumber the trees in the forest, Shaubena wisely replied ‘Aye; but the army of the palefaces would outnumber the leaves upon the trees in the forest.’ While Black Hawk was a prisoner at Jefferson Barracks he said, had it not been for Shaubena the whole Pottawatomie nation would have joined his standard, and he could have continued the war for years.”
The Black Hawk War was the last, desperate attempt of Native Americans living in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin to resist their displacement before the wave of encroaching white settlers. The war is named for a Sauk warrior named Black Hawk (Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, 1767-1838), who had refused to accept the treaties with the U.S. by which the Sauk people had agreed to move from Illinois and Wisconsin to Iowa. Black Hawk repeatedly led hunting parties from Iowa into Illinois, and in 1832 when he was ordered to cease his “incursions,” he attempted to forge a confederacy of tribes to resist white settlement. But by 1832 it was already too late for the Indians of Illinois – though the war opened in April 1832 with a victory for Black Hawk caused by American incompetence at Stillman’s Run (in which Pekin co-founder Isaac Perkins was killed), Black Hawk’s efforts were futile and the war was over in months, having been nothing more than an occasion for whites and Indians to commit some brutal massacres. Black Hawk retreated to Prairie du Chien in Wisconsin, where he surrendered on Aug. 27, 1832, and bringing Illinois’ leaders to the conclusion that all remaining Native Americans should be expelled from the state. How differently things may have turned out for the Indians of Illinois if Black Hawk had taken an approach more like that of Shabbona and of his fellow Sauk chief Keokuk.
Chapman commented, “To Shaubena many of the early settlers of this county owe the preservation of their lives, for he was ever on the alert to save the whites.” But, Chapman said, “by saving the lives of the whites (he) endangered his own, for the Sacs and Foxes threatened to kill him, and made two attempts to execute his threats. They killed Pypeogee, his son, and Pyps, his nephew, and hunted him down as though he was a wild beast.” After the surrender of Black Hawk, for their alliance with the U.S. Shabbona and Wabaunsee were rejected by their people, who instead chose as their leader Kaltoo, also called Ogh-och-pees, eldest son of the late Pottawatomi war chief Senachwine (Sen-noge-wone).
After the Black Hawk War, new treaties were negotiated so Illinois would be cleared of all Native American tribes. The Pottawatomi of Indiana and Illinois, including those who had lived at Pekin, were deported to Nebraska and Kansas, and, and we noted before, the agonizing march of the Indiana bands is remembered as the Pottawatomi Trail of Death. Shabbona, however, was allowed to have a reservation of two sections of land at Shabbona’s Grove. But “by leaving it and going west for a short time the Government declared the reservation forfeited, and sold it the same time as other vacant land. Shaubena finding on his return his possessions gone, was very sad and broken down in spirit, and left the grove for ever,” Chapman wrote.
The people of the town of Ottawa then bought him some land near Seneca in Grundy County, where Shabbona stayed until his death on July 17, 1859. “He was buried with great pomp in the cemetery at Morris,” Chapman wrote. His widow Pokanoka drowned in Mazen Creek, Grundy County, on Nov. 30, 1864, and she was laid by his side. Efforts to raise money for a grave monument were interrupted by the Civil War, so it was not until 1903 that a large inscribed boulder was placed at their final resting place. According to the 1886 compilation “Abraham Lincoln’s Vocations,” some years later Shabbona’s daughter and her son, John Shabbona, came from the reservation at Mayetta, Kansas, and visited Shabbona’s Grove, viewing photographs and documents pertaining to Shabbona in DeKalb and Chicago. In 1903, when Shabbona’s monument was laid, John Shabbona again returned to Chicago along with members of several of the expelled tribes of Illinois for a special Indian encampment recognizing the original peoples of Chicago (see “City Indian: Native American Activism in Chicago, 1893-1934,” 2015, by Rosalyn R. LaPier, David R. M. Beck, page 64).
As an epilogue, in 2001 the Department of Interior’s Solicitor wrote an opinion that Shabbona’s Grove was never lawfully forfeited and therefore is a reservation owned by the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. The case is still pending, however.
When Pekin was only a town
By Jared Olar
For the first 19 years of its existence, from 1830 to 1849, Pekin was a pioneer town, with much of the character that is associated with the Wild West rather than a modern semi-rural Midwestern city. A Native American village even thrived near the new town until 1833, first located on the ridge above Pekin Lake and later on the south shores of Worley Lake.
However, as Pekin’s pioneer historian William H. Bates tells in the 1870-71 Pekin City Directory, it was in that first period of Pekin’s history that the crucial groundwork was laid for Pekin’s civic development.
Thus, Bates tells us that Pekin’s nascent economy got a boost in Pekin’s first year with the opening of two stores – one belonging to Absalom Dillon and the other to David Bailey – and a hotel or tavern operated by Pekin co-founder Gideon Hawley. Religion in the new town also made its debut in 1830, with the construction of Rev. Joseph Mitchell’s Methodist Church on Elizabeth Street between Third and Capitol.
The following year, Thomas Snell built the town’s first school house, located on Second Street between Elizabeth and St. Mary. Thomas’ son John was the school teacher. The same year, Thomas built Pekin’s first warehouse.
The most significant of 1831’s milestones for Pekin was the transfer of the county seat from Mackinaw to Pekin. When the Illinois General Assembly created Tazewell County in early 1827, Mackinaw was designated as the county seat because it was near what was then the geographical center of Tazewell County. But Pekin’s location as a port on the Illinois River meant Pekin was less remote than Mackinaw. That greater accessibility gave Pekin better prospects.
Another thing that may have played a role in the decision to move the county seat was a memorable extreme weather event: the incredible “Deep Snow” of Dec. 1830, a snowfall and sudden freeze that had turned life on the Illinois prairie into a desperate fight for survival. Pekin was closer to other, larger towns and settlements than Mackinaw, and therefore safer for settlers.
With such considerations in mind, the county’s officials decided to relocate to Pekin even though Illinois law still said Mackinaw was the county seat.
Pekin remained the de facto county seat for the next five years. During that time, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Samuel D. Lockwood presided over the Circuit Court in Tazewell County. Court at first took place in the Snell school house, but later would convene in the Pekin home of Joshua C. Morgan, who simultaneously held the offices of Circuit Clerk, County Clerk, Recorder of Deeds, Master in Chancery, and Postmaster. That house was later the residence of Pekin pioneer doctor William S. Maus.
The Black Hawk War, Illinois’ last conflict with its Native American population, broke out in 1832. The war lasted only a few months. It began disastrously for the Illinois militia with the debacle at Stillman’s Run in northern Illinois, where the untrained and undisciplined militia recruits quickly succumbed to panic and fled, leaving behind the few brave men in their number to be butchered and scalped. As Bates sardonically put it, “The balance of the command, so history hath it, saved their scalps by doing some exceedingly rapid marching to Dixon on the Rock River.” Among the fallen was Pekin co-founder Major Isaac Perkins.
The town of Pekin itself was not directly affected by the fighting, although the townsfolk did build a stockade around the Snell school house as a precaution, renaming it Fort Doolittle. The fort never had to be used, however, which was a very good thing, because, as Bates commented, it “was so constructed, that in case of a siege, the occupants would have been entirely destitute of water.”
Despite the war’s inauspicious start, the Illinois troops quickly gained the upper hand and Sauk war leader Black Hawk (Makataimeshekiakiak) was forced to give up the struggle. The outcome of the war was the greatest calamity for the remaining Indian tribes of Illinois, who beginning in 1833 were almost to a man forcibly relocated to reservations west of the Mississippi – including the Pottawatomi and Kickapoo bands who lived in Tazewell County. Tazewell County’s Pottawatomi were soon joined by the harried remnants of their kin from Indiana, whom state militia soldiers forced to march west from their homes in Indiana in 1838 along a route that is remembered as the Pottawatomi Trail of Death.
In July 1834, an epidemic of Asiatic cholera struck Pekin, causing the deaths of several pioneers, including Thomas Snell and the wife of Joshua C. Morgan. The victims were hastily interred in the old Tharp Burying Ground, the former site of which is now the parking lot of the Pekin Schnucks grocery store.
Given the challenges and upheavals of the first five years of Pekin’s existence, it should not be surprisingly to learn that there are no surviving records of the town’s elections prior to 1835. On July 9, 1835, the townsfolk elected five men as Trustees: David Mark, David Bailey, Samuel Wilson, Joshua C. Morgan, and Samuel Pillsbury. Two days later, Pekin’s newly elected Board of Trustees organized itself, choosing Morgan as its president and Benjamin Kellogg Jr. as clerk.
One of the first acts of the new board was passing an ordinance on Aug. 1, 1835, specifying the town’s limits. At the time, Pekin’s boundaries extended from the west bank of the Illinois River in Peoria County eastward along a line that is today represented by Dirksen Court, reaching out as far as 11th Street, then straight south along to 11th to Broadway, then westward along Broadway back across the Illinois River to Peoria County. It is noteworthy that land in Peoria County has been included within the limits of Pekin ever since 1835.
Pekin’s first Board of Trustees continued to meet until June 27, 1836, when the county seat was formally relocated by Illinois law to Tremont, where a new court house had been built. Pekin then elected a new board on Aug. 8, 1836, the members of which were Samuel Pillsbury, Spencer Field, Jacob Eamon, John King, and David Mark. King was elected board president and Kellogg was again elected clerk.
Board members served one-year terms in those days, so Pekin held elections every year. Getting enough board members together for a quorum was evidently a real challenge. The board addressed that problem by passing of an ordinance on Jan. 4, 1838, stipulating that any board member who was more than 30 minutes late for a board meeting would forfeit $1 of his pay.
Another notable act of Pekin’s board around that time was a resolution of Dec. 29, 1840, adopting “an eagle of a quarter of a dollar of the new coinage” as the official seal of the town of Pekin.
Throughout these years, Pekin continued to see economic developments. The first bank in town, a branch of the Bank of Illinois, was established in 1839 or 1840 at the rear of a store on Second Street. There was not yet a bridge across the Illinois River, but ferries were licensed to operate. Alcohol distilleries also were established in the area that is still Pekin’s industrial district, and around those years Benjamin Kellog also built the first steam mill near the river between Margaret and Anna Eliza streets.
In spite of a scarlet fever epidemic in winter of 1843-44, these economic developments were signs of Pekin’s continuing growth and progress, notwithstanding the loss of the county seat to Tremont. The pioneer town was poised to attain the status and rank of a city.