Stephenson County, Illinois Genealogy
Native American History in the Region
When the first white men visited the region it had long been the hunting grounds of the Sac and Fox Indians whose principal villages were on the plain between the Rock and Mississippi Rivers. The valley of the Pecatonica was allotted to the Winnebago Indians whose chief, Old Winneshiek, had his village at the mouth of Spring Creek within the present limits of Freeport and their cornfields extended across the plain on the opposite bank. The hills from which grew their maize were clearly discernable until a quite recent date and may not all have entirely disappeared even now.
It may never be definitely known whose was the first eye of a white man to gaze upon the enchanting landscape within the present county lines. The early French voyageurs in their
journeys between the lakes and the south went by way of the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers or by the longer portage between the Chicago and the Des Plaines, which makes it highly improbable that any of them ever set foot on Stephenson county soil.
In 1824 Col. James Johnson came on horseback from Kentucky to the lead mines at Galena and may have crossed a part of the county at that time. Two years later Col. E. H. Gratiot with one companion crossed the county on his way from Jacksonville to Gratiot's Grove, Wisconsin, and in the spring of the same year a man by the name of Kircher, from St. Louis, built a cabin at Burr Oak Grove, probably the first domicile of white man on Stephenson county soil. Late in the autumn of that year when Oliver W. Kellogg, a native of the Empire State, arrived upon the scene he found the cabin deserted. Here he lived until he could erect a more commodious dwelling which was to figure quite prominently in history as the scene of one of the battles of the Black Hawk War. But Kellogg, like Kircher, moved on and it remained for William Waddams, a citizen of Jo Daviess county, to make the first permanent settlement in Stephenson county. He had for several years been living at Galena, probably interested in the mines, and in the fall of 1832 with his two sons staked a claim three miles northwest of Lena. The following summer he built a small log house and cleared four acres of timber and fenced it without the use of a team. The house is still doing service as a dwelling defying, apparently, the ravages of time. During the Indian troubles that made Black Hawk famous, Mr. Waddams bore his part, and but for that unpleasantness would probably have built his cabin a year before he did.
The troubles that culminated in the Black Hawk War in the summer of 1832, had been brewing many years. The same policy of insincerity and fraud that marked our intercourse with the Red Men at that time, we are sorry to say, too strongly tinctures our dealings with them even now. There is nothing so sacred to American Aborigines as the dust of their honored dead. When in 1804 several wandering members of the Sac and Foxes were arrested and imprisoned at St. Louis for an alleged crime, a party of lesser chiefs went down the River to that settlement to secure their release. Of what occurred there they could give but little account. It is known that they were most liberally entertained with spirits that have no place in Paradise, and from the primitive Indian standpoint they had a royal good time. Just how it happened they did not know. They had a vague idea that they had sold some land and came back loaded down with the
tawdry trinkets that were current at that period for defrauding the guileless Red brother. As to the result of their mission they could only say that they had been promised that the prisoners should be released-which was done but before they could reach a place of safety were shot down while they ran.
As there was no move to take possession of the country, so wrongfully claimed to be ceded, nothing farther occurred in the matter until twelve years later when the treaty was, after a fashion, confirmed by part of the tribes and by others the following year, but to these arrangements Black Hawk strenuously demurred when it became known that they must abandon the fields and villages that had for more than a century been their homes, and more grievous than all, the graves of their fathers.
Under protest that the treaty of 1804 was void he made vigorous resistance to the order of the government to remove the band to the west side of the Mississippi but at last acquiesced. Seeing the graves of their dead dese crated, their villages laid waste and their fertile fields appropriated by the white man, his indignation and resentment could endure no longer. In the spring of '31 with some three hundred warriors of his own and allied tribes, their women and children, Black Hawk re-crossed the Father of Waters to resume his own. The white settlers that were there, he ordered away on pain of death and proceeded to destroy their cabins, fences and crops. On the approach of the militia under Gen. Gaines, Black Hawk hastened with all his people to the west bank of the stream and under threat of the General to follow and destroy them gave an unwilling assent to the treaty of 1804. Brooding through the long winter over their grievous wrongs, finding arduous the task of breaking new fields in the wilderness while their patrimony of more than a century-their fertile fields-was appropriated by an alien race, their anger and resentment burned beyond control. In the spring of '32 the tactics of a year before were adopted and the war paint put on to avenge the wrongs their nation had endured. The result is known to all. The wheels of Saxon progress were not to be stayed even when blood stains marked their course. After a summer's terror the settlers of northern Illinois resumed the arts of peace and the rights of the original owners of the soil were extinguished forever. The history of that short war is of especial interest to the inhabitants of Stephenson county as one of the minor battles occurred within its borders. On the 25th of June Major Dement of Dixon, was reconnoitering near Burr Oak Grove and discovered a band of the hostiles in the timber far outnumbering his little band. He retreated to the house built by Kellogg near the site of Kircher's cabin and prepared to defend himself to the bitter end. Two couriers mounted on two of the swiftest horses that had escaped the bullets of the foe were sent to procure reinforcements of Gen. Posey at Buffalo Grove. Divining their intention Black Hawk withdrew his forces and another event in history was made. The losses were nine on each side while the commander of the defending forces had a narrow escape-a bullet piercing the major's commission which he carried in his hat. A stone shaft marks the site of this engagement to remind the coming generations of some of the terrors endured by the forefathers in winning a garden from a wilderness.
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