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Among the many hundreds of troops that came to Yellow Bank–Oquawka–on their way to the sea of war, Major S. S. Phelps always spoke in high terms of their good discipline and gentlemanly conduct, except in one instance–that of a few persons in a company from McDonough county, who came over at a time when old chief Tama and his wife, who was noted for being the white man’s friend, came over to get provisions for his little band. On seeing an Indian some of these soldiers, who had been using their canteens rather frequently, were eager to slay him, and not only threatened him but Major P. also, for harboring him. The officers seemed to have no control of these men–and just at a time when their threats were loudest of what they intended to do at the close of three minutes, Major P. and one of his clerks, Mr. Joseph Smart, were standing with their rifles cocked ready to make the first shot, a cry came from outside of the building, by one of the more peaceable soldiers, “Here comes another company, Capt. Peter Butler’s, from Monmouth,” when these would-be braves instantly retreated.
We are assured by one of Capt. B.’s company, Mr. James Ryason, that the foregoing is literally true, and that Major P. and Mr. Smart, afterwards, amid the threats of these same soldiers, escorted Tama and wife to the river bank to take their canoe to cross the river, and stood there with their guns, ready to protect the Indians until they got out of reach of gunshot–Smart threatening all the time to put a ball though the first man that attempted to shoot.
In order to appease the wrath of these soldiers and prevent some of them being killed, Capt. B. advised Maj. P. not to give Tama any provisions; but on the way down, Mr. Ryason says, Smart (who talked their language equal to a native born) told them to meet them at a certain point after night and they would be supplied; and that for the purpose of assisting Mr. Smart in taking supplies to Tama, he got leave of absence from the Captain until next morning.
Messrs. James Ryason and Gabriel Shot, both honorable and highly respected Christian gentlemen, are the only survivors of that company now residing in this county.
Tama’s village, located on South Henderson, half a mile below the farm of Mr. John T. Cook, at Gladstone, was always noted as being the abode of friendly Indians. In the fall of 1829, some write men came in and made improvements on the land in the vicinity, and at the advice of Mr. Phelps, Tama crossed the river and made a new town at the mouth of Flint river on the Mississippi, and at the time of Black Hawk’s raid into Illinois, it was the rendezvous of many young men who had been persuaded by Tama not to join Black Hawk. But when the news reached them of the indignities offered to their good old chief, they secretly determined to go upon the war path, and soon after four young Foxes started to cross the river and avenge the insult. On going up Henderson creek they espied Mr. William Martin while in the act of mowing, at a point near Little York, whom they shot and killed, and for fear of detection, immediately took to the brush. It being late when they got through the woods, they made a fire and camped just at the edge of the prairie.
Some time after the shooting, friends of Mr. Martin discovered his lifeless body and after removing it to the home, started on the trail of his murderers, and followed it some distance through the underbrush, but wisely concluded, as it was growing late, to return and give the alarm. An express was sent to Capt. Butler during the night, who started out with his company early in the morning, and on emerging into the prairie discovered the camp fire of the Indians, add followed their trail to a slough in the Mississippi two miles below Keithsburgh. Here the Indians embarked in their canoes and were probably on the other side of the river by this time. A demand was immediately made upon Keokuk for the murderers, as they belonged to his band of Foxes, who surrendered two men to the commanding officer at Rock Island.
These Indians soon afterwards made their escape, and before the time fixed for their trial, Keokuk delivered four young men to Maj. Phelps, then sheriff of Warren county, to be tried for the offence. Maj. P. and his deputy, Mr. James Ryason, took them to Monmouth jail, where the following proceedings were had before the Circuit Court (for a copy of which we are indebted to George C. Rankin, Esq., now Circuit Clerk).