The year after Putnam was formed was the year of the Indian difficulties which have been dignified by the title of the "Black Hawk War." Had it not been for the terrors it awakened, the large number of troops called out to crush a feeble band of half-starved savages, and the highly-wrought statements of interested writers, the affair would never have assumed importance. A single battalion of soldiers, skilled in Indian warfare and judiciously commanded, might have repelled the invaders, and brought the troubles to a speedy conclusion. As it was, considering the blunders and cowardice of many of the volunteers, the foolish alarms with which great part of Illinois was rife, and the bombast of its "heroes," the full history of the war must include much of the farcical with the serious and tragic.
A treaty was made and executed at St. Louis in 1804, between Gen. Harrison and five Indian chiefs or head men representing the united tribes of Sacs and Foxes, whereby the latter ceded a vast tract of country west of the Illinois river to the United States. This treaty was ratified by part of the nation in 1815, and by another part the year after, as also in 1822; but Black Hawk, who was the chief of a band of Sacs known as the "British Band," from their acknowledged sympathies, always resisted the treaty, and refused to accede to its terms. His village was situated on the point of land between the Mississippi and Rock rivers at their junction, a little below the site of Rock Island. The Government had caused some lands in the vicinity of and including the village, to be surveyed and sold; and white settlers had moved upon them. Most of the nation removed to the territory assigned them on the west side of the Mississippi. In the spring of 1831, Black Hawk recrossed the river with some three hundred of his band, determined to regain his ancient village and hunting-grounds. He committed some outrages on the settlers, and ordered them away, with threats of death if they remained. Complaints were sent to Gov. Reynolds, who called out a volunteer force to co-operate with Gen. Gaines, then in command of the regular army in the West. The latter repaired to Rock Island with a small force, while the Governor hurried fifteen hundred volunteers over the prairies from Beardstown. Black Hawk and his band retired to the west side of the river just before they arrived, and were frightened into peace by the presence of such an overwhelming force. On the 30th of June, a treaty was concluded at Fort Armstrong, on Rock Island, in which the treaty of 1804 was recognized, and the chiefs and braves of the band agreed never "to recross said river to the place of their usual residence, nor to any part of their old hunting-ground east of the Mississippi, without the express permission of the President of the United States or the Governor of the State of Illinois."* The volunteers burned the deserted Indian village during a driving rain, instead of occupying it for shelter; and after this exploit were disbanded. Thus closed the bloodless "campaign" of 1831.
Early the next spring, the disaffected troop of Black Hawk, influenced by
his counsels and the invitations of "the Prophet," a Winnebago chief who had
a village on Rock river, some thirty miles above its mouth, came across the
Mississippi again, in direct violation of the treaty. He expected that the
Kickapoos, Pottawatamies, and Winnebagoes would at once join his standard;
and he had been assured of an active co-operation on the part of his
"British Father" at Malden, Canada.** With these expecta-
*See the treaty in full in Reynolds’ Own Times, pp. 342-5.
**Life of Black Hawk, dictated by himself, published 1888.
tions, which were never realized, he marched confidently up the Rock river country, at the head of about, five hundred warriors, accompanied by their women, children, and all their little wealth.
This second inroad appears to have spread general alarm through all the frontiers of Northern Illinois. Many settlers, in fear of the untold horrors of savage warfare, abandoned their homes and fled with their families—numbers of them never to return, Putnam county lost not a few of her early citizens from this cause. Others who remained sent away their families farther toward the interior of the State, while they staid behind to cultivate their crops, a very necessary resource in those times. In some parts of the county men became accustomed to work their farms in companies, with their arms near them, while one or two stood on guard. Others, particularly in the southern part of the county (now the county of Marshall) labored alone upon their little spots of ground, apparently fearless of the Indians. The few settlers on the west side of the river deserted their homes, and sought the forts at Hennepin and elsewhere for protection. Some residents in the Bureau settlement fled as far south as Springfield. All in that region were obliged by fear to leave their stock to run at large on the prairies, until they could muster courage to return and drive their cattle across the river. It was while on an errand of this kind that Phillips was murdered on Bureau Creek, as is hereafter related.
As horrid reports continued to be spread daily, the panic increased. Word
was sent by Gov. Reynolds to the frontier settlements that they must provide
for their own protection, as all the volunteers would be needed in active
service. Orders were issued through the Adjutant General to Col. John
Strawn—who had been commissioned previously as chief officer of the 40th
Regiment in the 2d Brigade of Illinois militia—residing near Columbia (now
La-con), to raise a sufficient force of rangers for the defence of this part
of the State. At a council of leading men of the county held soon after in
Hennepin, it was determined to make this region the frontier, instead of
retreating further South; otherwise it was feared the whole country to the
Wabash would be swept by the savages. In accordance with his orders and this
resolve, Col. Strawn sent runners throughout the county, calling upon
volunteers to rendezvous in Columbia at nine o'clock in the forenoon of
Sunday, May 20th, and in Hennepin at three o'clock in the afternoon of the
same day. All the settlers fit for service, with scarcely an exception,
assembled on that day and the next, equipped with the implements of war, and
were formally mustered into service as rangers. The Colonel appeared in
military state at the places of rendezvous, with "Bonaparte hat" and laced
coat. His method of organizing the companies was unique and simple. Drawing
up the men in line, he summoned those who desired to present themselves
candidates for the several offices to advance ten paces to the front and
wheel, and then ordered the rangers to move each to the man of his choice.
He who had the largest cluster about him was the elect of the company. In
this manner were organized four companies in the county—one at Columbia,
with Robert Barnes, Esq., for Captain; William McNeil, First Lieutenant;
John Wier, Second Lieutenant; together with eight non-commissioned officers
and thirty-four privates. At Hennepin three companies were mustered into
service: Company No. 1, George B. Willis, Captain; Timothy Perkins, First
Lieutenant; Sam'l D. Laughlin, Second Lieutenant; eight non-commissioned
officers, and fifty-two privates;—Company No. 2, Wm. Haws, Captain; Jas.
Garvin, First Lieutenant; Wm. M. Hart, Second Lieutenant; eight
non-commissioned officers, and twenty privates;—Company No. 3, William M.
Stewart, Captain; Mason Willson, First Lieutenant; Livingston Roberts,
Second Lieutenant; seven non-commissioned officers, and twenty-six privates.
The Hennepin companies do not appear to have begun service until the 21st of
May.* Maj. Thompson, of Putnam, also had a company. The
*These names, numbers, and dates are copied from the rolls in the Department
at Washington, and are perfectly reliable.
rangers were on duty until the 18th of June, when they were discharged at
Hennepin by Col. Strawn, and paid off by U. S. Paymaster Wright. Each
afterwards received 160 acres of bounty land from the General Government.
About the same time that troops were raised, the settlers commenced building block-houses and picketed stations, called by courtesy "forts." The southernmost of these in the county was situated on the farm of Mr. James Dever, at the lower edge of Round Prairie, six miles from Columbia. It was about a hundred feet in length from east to west, and eighty feet in width; and was built by strongly fastening pickets of some twelve feet height in the ground, with square bastions at the corners, pierced with portholes and so placed as to rake the sides of the fort, in case of attack. The cabin of Mr. Dever was enclosed by the picketing; and tents were also pitched within, to accommodate the numbers who fled there during the season of alarm.
About twelve miles north-east of the Dever Fort, and two miles south of Magnolia, was a similar picketed station around the dwelling of Jesse Roberts, Esq., where seven or eight families gathered for protection; and five miles east, on the farm of Mr. Darnell, near the "head of Sandy," was another, the outpost in that direction. Several forts were constructed on the Oxbow Prairie— one on the land of Asahel Hannum, where Caledonia now stands; another in the woods within a few miles, at Mr. Boyle's; and a third around a large barn belonging to James W. Willis, near the site of Florid, where twenty-two families (including a hundred small children, one having been born there) and a number of rangers were "forted" at one time. This station was called Fort Cribs, from the number of corn-bins in and about the building, and was generally in command of Capt. Stewart. It is still standing.
A good-sized block-house, well adapted to resist a siege, was erected on Front street, in Hennepin, chiefly of the timbers of Hartzell's old trading-house and a smaller one at a little distance from Granville, on the farm of Joseph Warnock. Still farther north was the outermost fort toward the scene of warfare—a mere picket around the dwelling of Mr. John Leeper. There were no defences of the kind west of the river in Putnam county, that region being nearly or quite deserted.
In that part of the county which was thus defended, hostile Indians were very rarely seen; and it is believed that attacks were prevented solely by the completeness of the arrangements for protection and the vigilance of the rangers. Black Hawk's spies were occasionally skulking about. Two were noticed one day in the edge of the woods near Fort Warnock, and their trail followed to the river. Others—in one instance a considerable company—were seen near Hennepin; but the savages made no hostile demonstrations on the east side of the river.
But though none of the tragic scenes of Indian warfare were enacted in that part of the county, genuine or false alarms were by no means rare; and many ludicrous anecdotes have been related of the needless and foolish fright sometimes excited—of which a few only will answer the purposes of this History. One quiet day in June, a number of Capt. Barnes' rangers, who had been scouting up and down the river in search of "Indian sign," but finding none, halted a few miles below Columbia, and fired off their guns together, in a spirit of mischief and to clear them out before returning home. An old settler, who was unsuspectingly at work with his son in a field at some distance, hearing the reports and instantly taking the alarm, shouted to his son: "Indians, Ben, Indians! Run! Strike for the fort, and rouse the settlement!" Ben struck for the Round Prairie Fort, which was several miles distant, with the least possible delay, and in due time arrived in a most pitiable state, much of his clothing being torn from him and his skin lacerated by the briers through which he had forced his way, wet by the creeks he had been obliged to ford, and of course extremely terrified. The panic spread, and bid fair to become general, when the rangers came up, explained the affair, and quieted the gathering fears.
In the Roberts Fort one evening, just as the shades of night were settling around, some trifling but singular noise was heard without, probably caused by cattle. One of the men sprang up and exclaimed, "What noise is that?" at the same time getting upon a grindstone-frame which stood near, and looking out. A Frenchman bearing dispatches from the army to Gov. Reynolds, who had stopped to spend the night in the fort, immediately buckled on his arms' and began to swagger about the cabin, talking valorous things; while the women set up loud lamentations, declaring that they "had been penned up in that place just to be slaughtered," with many other like remarks. As nothing further occurred outside, the fright was over in about half an hour; but one of the inmates took the precaution to put an axe at the head of his bed before he retired for the night.
An alarm was given near the Darnell Fort during the war, by some boys who had been bathing in the adjoining creek, and who returned in great haste, with the assertion that they had been fired upon by a blanketed Indian, who rose from a thicket on the bank. A small force of minute-men turned out, and scoured the woods and surrounding country, but discovered not the smallest sign of Indians.
A cry of "Indians! Indians!" raised without cause by some startled woman in a little school-house in the vicinity of Fort Cribs; where Mr. John P. Blake, of Union Grove, was teaching, broke up the school in the greatest confusion.
Two other alarms, which took place at Hennepin, were more serious, and in all probability were well founded. The first was given by the passengers and crew of the steamboat Souvenir, which came down the river late one afternoon from "Crozier's," at the foot of the rapids. They reported that, about two miles above Hennepin, on the same side of the river, they saw a number of Indians dart from the waterside into the woods. The Captain of the steamer was well known to citizens of the town, and reliance was placed upon his statement. The inhabitants of Hennepin, and those who had fled thither for protection, quickly assembled, and measures of defence were agreed upon. The women and children were put upon an empty keel-boat which lay at the landing, and a sufficient number of men detailed to manage it, with instructions to push out into the stream and float down or cross to the other side, should the town be attacked. Col. Strawn, who happened to be on the ground, formed the remainder of the men into a company, and divided it into watches for the night. He then made a short speech, exhorting to deeds of bravery, and threatening to shoot down the first man who turned his back upon the painted foe. A part of the company mounted guard with such arms as were at hand, walking their rounds in the manner of camp sentinels. For want of a better weapon, Mr. Hooper Warren, who was in the first watch, equipped himself with the longest-handled pitchfork to be found in Durleys' store. The night passed without any disturbance from Indians, and next morning the keel-boat was relieved of its burden.
The second alarm occurred soon after the killing of Phillips, which filled the town and country with consternation, and made the people doubly watchful. On the Friday after the murder, near sunset, Dr. B. M. Hayes came hurrying through the town, with a countenance in which the utmost terror was depicted, declaring that he had seen about a dozen Indians cross the road and go into the woods, some quarter of a mile above. The block-house had just been finished, and men and women from all directions ran there for shelter, quite filling both the upper and lower stories. Preparation was made to give the enemy a warm reception; but no attack was attempted, and the alarm was ere long dissipated.
An amusing incident is related as having occurred in the northern part of the county, about the middle of June. In obedience to the second call of Gov. Reynolds, a large number of volunteers assembled at Hennepin, whence they were ordered to Fort Wilburn, a small fortified post on the south bank of the Illinois river, about a mile above Peru. Here the army was organized in brigades and battalions. A spy battalion was formed, under command of Major John Dement, which was ordered to proceed to Fort Dixon, via the Bureau Settlement, and there report to Col. Zachary Taylor.*
"On the march of this battalion to the Bureau settlement, night overtook them in a large prairie, and there they camped in it. A sentinel fired his gun, as he said, at an Indian who had a. piece of fire in his hand. The report of his gun gave the alarm, and all were aroused to arms. After some time preparing for the enemy, who did not approach, a party took the sentinel to the place where he said he saw the Indian with a torch in his hand, and the sentinel exclaimed—"there the Indian is again, with the same fire in his hand!" but, lo and behold, it was the moon just rising above the horizon that the sentinel supposed was an Indian with a torch in his hand. At times the imagination will work wonders. This mistake of the sentinel afforded the volunteers much merriment."**
On another occasion, as a body of regular troops under Gen. Atkinson was
pursuing the Indian trail from the Illinois to Fox river, while passing at
some distance from Lost Grove, where Capt. Willis' company of rangers was
encamped, each party mistook the other for Indians. The regulars gave way,
and the rangers, hastily mounting, started in pursuit. A
*Afterwards President of the United States. It is believed by some that he
visited certain of the forts in Putnam county, without making himself known,
to ascertain the state of the defences on the frontier. An officer answering
his description in personal appearance is remembered to have been seen there
on one occasion during the war.
**Reynolds' Own Times, p. 387.
chase of several miles ensued, when, as Willis' company gained upon the fugitives, the latter began to suspect, from the appearance of their pursuers, that they were not the dreaded savages. Two of their men at length ventured to stop and reconnoitre; and ascertaining the character of the pursuing party, they signaled the main body to stop. As Capt. Willis rode up, he is said to have rebuked Atkinson in round terms for his cowardice, which had caused all parties so much inconvenience and annoyance.
Many mistakes and alarms similar to those related, occurring in all parts of the theatre of war or panic, mingle a large share of the ridiculous with whatever of the tragic there may be in the history of the war.
The only incident that marks with blood the annals of Putnam county during the Black Hawk difficulty, is the murder of Phillips, a settler on Bureau Creek, near Dover, now in Bureau county. He was killed by a party of savages on Monday, the 18th of June, 1832, the same day that the rangers met at Hennepin to be disbanded. Parties of Indians had been previously seen moving about, dressed in red blankets (a token of war); and the white settlers, including Phillips, had been frightened away. On his return, he was warned of danger by passing soldiers, as "Indian sign" had been lately noticed in the vicinity, but remained to meet his death.
"Some six or seven, among whom were Messrs. Phillips, Hodge, Sylvester Brigham, John L. Ament, Aaron Gunn, J. G. Forestall, and a youth by the name of Dimmick, left Hennepin and came over to the settlement after their cattle, which were kept at the cabins of Messrs. Ament and Phillips, then situated near the present residence of Mr. J. G. Forestall, (north of the village of Dover.) Indians were then lurking about in ambush, ready to pick off the settlers as they might have opportunity, and of course our friends were obliged to be on the watch, for that they were running; the risk of their lives the sequel of our story will show.
Arriving at the cabin of Mr. Ament, he (Ament) stationed his companions at the doors and windows as sentinels, while he prepared their dinner, which, as soon as ready, was partaken off by part at a time, the others keeping a sharp look-out for the enemy. After dinner, a consultation was held as to the expediency of remaining in their present situation until morning, or returning immediately; the rain then pouring down in torrents, and Indians in all probability around them. Failing to agree in the matter, Phillips, who was somewhat of an eccentric character, picked up a board, saying, "Well, boys, this board must decide our course," at the same time placing it in an upright position; "if it falls toward the north, we are safe, and will remain; if to the south, we must be off." The board fell toward the south, and thus by common consent shaped their plans; and, as soon as their cattle could be collected, they started for Hennepin. Their cattle, however, proved unmanageable, (being afraid to go near the timber for fear of Indians,) and after chasing them for miles, they were obliged to give up the attempt, and leaving them near Mr. Musgrove's cabins, they returned to Hennepin as they came.
"Some two weeks later, the same individuals arrived at Mr. Ament's cabin, for the purpose of making a second attempt to secure their stock. Mr. Phillips retired to his own cabin and commenced writing a letter, but while thus engaged thought he heard the alarm of Indians, and going to the door, met Mr. Ament on his way to the cabin which he had left a few moments before. The two returned together, and concluded to spend the night there, having seen no sign of Indians. During the night, a terrific thunder-storm arose, the rain pouring down in torrents. One of the number remarked that they "guessed there was no danger from Indians that night; but they little dreamed that the cabin was surrounded by some thirty or forty savages, who were peeping through the cracks between the logs, and endeavoring by every continued flash of lightning to count the numbers within! Little did they at that moment think that in the morning one of their number would fall a victim of the foe, and all barely escape! But such was the case! Morning came—a morning ever to be remembered by those six survivors. Messrs. Brigham and Phillips went out upon the porch in front of the building, and not noticing the deep trail around the cabin or the marks of the Indian moccasins on the floor of the piazza, continued standing there for several minutes, engaged in conversation. At length Mr. Phillips stepped off the porch, saying, "I will go over to my cabin and finish writing my letter;" to which was replied by Mr. Brigham, "Wait a moment, and I will go with you;" and turning round he entered the cabin, but had scarcely closed the door ere the crack of a rifle was heard, followed by the shrill war-whoop, and poor Phillips lay a corpse, pierced by two balls! The Indians then rushed toward the cabin, and buried their tomahawks in the body of their unfortunate victim. Some of the survivors had the presence of mind to grasp two or three guns with bayonets, and point them through the door at the Indians, which act, without doubt, saved their lives. The savages knowing that bayonets were used by soldiers, it is supposed that on seeing these guns they concluded there were soldiers within, and consequently made a hasty retreat, leaving some of their blankets behind them, which were afterwards found in a thicket near by.
"It was then thought best to dispatch one of their number to Hennepin for troops. Young Dimmick, then a youth of sixteen or seventeen years, being anxious to go, a horse was called to the door, upon which he mounted, and in a few hours reached the fort in safety and gave the alarm. A small company of rangers or soldiers, immediately proceeded to the cabin, and found the remaining five individuals safely harbored within its walls, and the body of Phillips still lying where he fell. No Indians were to be found; they had taken 'French leave.'
"Mr. Brigham has since often remarked that it seemed to him a striking providential circumstance; that he entered the cabin as he did, instead of going immediately with Mr. Phillips, he having no errand whatever within! Had he not entered the cabin then, he would in all probability have shared the same fate of his companion."*
*This full and circumstantial account is taken from "Sketches of the Early Settlement and Present Advantages of Princeton, with a brief Sketch of Bureau County, &c," by Isaac B. Smith; Princeton, 1857—a very excellent work of the kind. We acknowledge indebtedness to it for several items of information.
The distance to Hennepin was sixteen miles, which the boy Dimmick rode in little more than an hour, (instead of a few hours, as stated above.) Many of the rangers had collected about the fort, for the purpose of being dismissed from service; and a call was at once made for volunteers to proceed to the scene of murder. Men were prompt to offer themselves; and as rapidly as they could be crossed in the very small boat then at hand, they gathered on the opposite river-bank until a party of about thirty were over, when they started with all speed for the Bureau settlement, several horses giving out by the way. The company were under no command, though Captains Stewart and Willis were among the volunteers.— Reaching the house, they found the body of Phillips undisturbed since his death, lying in the door-yard, with face upturned. One bullet had entered his left breast in the region of the heart," and another had pierced his stomach. There were marks of tomahawk strokes across one eye and upon the neck. In their haste to be off, the savages had neglected to scalp him. The remainder of Phillips' party, as stated, were found unharmed within the cabin, whence they had not ventured since the murder but had hung out a little colored flag from the roof, as a signal of distress. A small detachment soon hastened along the Indian trail, which led toward the Winnebago swamp, in the extreme north of the county. The trail was quite fresh, and many articles were found beside it, which had been cast away by the Indians in their flight. The pursuit was continued until within four or five miles of the swamp, which the Indians had doubtless reached ere that time, and where it would be futile to follow them. The rangers returned to Hennepin in the afternoon with the remains of Phillips, which were prepared for interment at the house of Mr. Warren. A large number of soldiers and citizens attended the funeral, which took place the next day.
In the relation of incidents of the war occurring in Putnam, its general history has been lost sight of; and an epitome of its chief events will fitly close this chapter. When information of Black Hawk's second invasion reached the Governor, a new call was made for volunteers, and promptly responded to by eighteen hundred men. With these, under Gen. Whiteside, the Indians were pursued up Rock river. On the 5th of May, a mounted battalion commanded by Maj. Stillman, of Tazewell county, fell in with the enemy at Old Man's Creek, (now Stillman's Run, in Ogle county,) and was ingloriously defeated, losing eleven men, and the whole force being routed, almost without striking a blow. Aaron Pain, of Putnam county, who participated in this affair was thrown from his horse, and remained in the grass all night without "being discovered by the savages, who were killing and scalping in every direction around him.* The little army of Indians now divided into squads, to attack the scattered settlements. One of these war-parties, numbering about seventy, attacked a settlement on Indian Creek, ten miles above Ottawa, and killed fifteen persons, carrying off two young girls into captivity. The Hall family—all of whom were killed except the two girls—are said to have formerly lived in Putnam county, and were intending to remove to the Hennepin Fort the day after they were murdered.** They had been warned and advised to flee by Shau-be-na, a friendly Pottawatamie chief, who had also visited and given timely warning to the settlers of Putnam, early in the season. The murdered persons were found and buried soon after by Capt Stewart's company of rangers.
Several other murders were committed by the marauding Indians; and an
additional force of two thousand, volunteers was called out, to supply the
place of the first levies, who were discharged the last week in May.
Beardstown and Hennepin were appointed places of rendezvous; and for a few
days, while parties of volunteers were coming in, the latter
*The statements of Old settlers of Putnam confirm the assertion of several
historians of the war, and of Black Hawk himself, that Stillman's men fired
upon a white flag sent out by Black Hawk, who wished to avoid a battle.
These raw volunteers were intoxicated and disorderly, and could not be
restrained from displaying their drunken valor by rushing heedlessly upon
the Indians, any more than their disgraceful cowardice in taking flight at
the first onset of the surprised enemy could be checked!
**Contributions of "H.” to the Hennepin Tribune.
place swarmed with men, until they were ordered to Fort Wilburn. Twelve to fifteen hundred soldiers are estimated to have been encamped in Hennepin.
The new army marched toward Dixon, to join the United States force under Gen. Atkinson. Meanwhile an attack was made by Black Hawk and a band of Indians on the Apple River Fort, near Galena, which was successfully defended. Several skirmishes between the whites and Indians ensued, and the scene of war was transferred to Wisconsin in July. From that time the frontier settlements in the latitude of Hennepin were relieved from dread of the savage. The forts had been deserted, and men had returned to their customary avocations.
Black Hawk and his starving train of followers were tracked to the heights of the Wisconsin, where they stood at bay and suffered a disastrous defeat. About sixty Indians were killed, and a great number wounded; the American loss was only one killed, and eight wounded. Unable longer to resist, the old chief retreated in haste to the Mississippi, which he attempted to cross. Before he could accomplish this, however, the battle (or rather massacre) of the Bad Axe nearly annihilated his band, and terminated this famous war. Black Hawk and several other chiefs were taken down to Jefferson Barracks, where a treaty was concluded September 21st, 1832.
Source: History of Putnam and Marshall Counties authored by Henry Allen Ford, published in 1860