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In the foregoing township annals, there is frequent reference to the Indians. The following citations are here use to throw further light on the tribes that once lived in this county and their methods of gaining a livelihood.
According to Major Thomas McKee, a pioneer resident of the County: “The Indians most frequently seen in this locality were Foxes, Sacs, Kickapoos and Pottawatomies. They were alike in many particulars. The Kickapoos and Foxes were often in the vicinity of Henderson Grove, which was a favorite sugar camp. They were as kind a people as you ever saw. They were considerate. For instance if you were in a wigwam talking, the rest would keep respectful attention. They did not interrupt you. They made their children act with deference in the presence of strangers. They did not hunt perhaps as extensively as some other tribes. They lived on corn and beans, on berries and other fruits gather in the woods, while a favorite dish was the wild potato or penyon, as it was called. This they found in the bottomlands. It was formerly quite abundant but of late, I have not noted it. They speared and caught fish and now and then secured a deer. The squaws did the work and it was not until they were aroused by injustice and unkindness that they became cruel and warlike. The Pottawatomies retained their identity better than others.”
The language of these Illinois Indians was simple, consisting of but few words, made plain by the most significant of gestures. Their names were long and full of vowels. The following are some of the words used by the Pottawatomies:
Major McKee was one of those who organized a company and served at the time of the Black Hawk War.
About Their Villages
The following facts are gleaned from a paper read before the Knox County Historical Society several years ago:
As to the Indian inhabitants of Knox County, probably the largest Indian village in the county was on the Spoon River bottom, near the site of the present village of Maquon. At different times, this village numbered several lodges and possibly several hundred inhabitants. They raised corn on the second bottom and for many years after they were driven from this country they returned at intervals to plant and raise their crops. It was also the custom to place the bodies of their dead in the forks and tops of trees, but after the advent of the white people, they commenced burying them in the ground. Another village was at the mouth of Court Creek on Spoon River near the present village of Dahinda. Mr. Morgan Reece, who came there in the 1830’s, relates that the lodge poles of the abandoned village were still standing when he came there and a few families of Indians lived in that vicinity on sugar Creek for many years afterwards. The latest family to lie in that section had their wigwams on the northeast quarter of Section 14 of Persifer Township on land now owned by Mr. William Sargent.
Another Old Village
Another old village was situated just southeast of the present village of Henderson and another in Lynn Township at what was called Fraker’s Grove. Persifer Township is especially rich in Indian lore and traditions. For many years the inhabitants of that township have dug in various places for treasure that is supposed to have been buried somewhere in the township by the Indians. One legend is to the effect that the Indians were paid a large sum of money for their land and they quarreled over the division of this money and finally fought for it, until, like the fabled Kilkenny cats, there was none left who knew where it had been hidden, but this was improbable. Another story as related in Chapman’s History of Knox County of 1878 was as follows: “A tribe of Indians settled or located on Court Creek, Persifer Township, whose custom it was to make sugar from the maple trees. They used brass kettles in which to boil the sap. It seems one spring, after they had made considerable sugar, they were compelled to leave. Among the Indians was a squaw and her son called Bill.” This woman had accumulated great wealth. Not being able to carry all her money, she filled one of her kettles with gold and silver and buried it on the bank of the creek. She was afraid of the whites, so after reaching her destination in the West, she sent her son back after her money. Bill made extensive searches up and down the creek, but failed to find it, and the treasure is supposed to be still buried somewhere on Court Creek. On the Taylor farm, in 1841, a cellar was being dug, when at a depth of about four feet three bars of copper were found. These had been forged out by hand. A well was sunk, when down about 22 feet the remains of a campfire were found. Charcoal and rubbish were discovered which plainly proved that at one time, within the life of man here, that was the surface.” An Indian doctor visited that vicinity a few years ago, claiming to be a descendant of Black Hawk and pointed out many places to inhabitants of Dahinda which had been described to him by his ancestors who had formerly lived there and in such a way that those who became acquainted with him were impressed with the truth of his representations.
Claims Made for Village
Mr. Morgan Reece who collected a great any Indian relics claims that the village at the mouth of court Creek was a village of the Sacs and Fox tribes, and that Black Hawk who was of that tribe had visited that locality. Relics have been found in that locality that were different from any others found in this part of the state, but were similar to articles used by the Indians of the Southern states and on exhibit at the St. Louis Exposition of 1904 and were possibly brought to this locality after being captured in war or given as a present by some Southern tribe. One relic was made from a black hard stone. It was about 3 inches long and 2 inches wide and nearly an inch thick at the broadest part, in shape like the roof of a cabin with a hole through it lengthwise about where the ridgepole would be. This was picked up on the banks of Court Creek many years ago.
When Avery Dalton first came to the county, in 1830, there was a Pottawatomie village at what is now Maquon and near the present bridge across the Spoon River; they also had a burying ground near Maquon and large settlements up Spoon River. The Indian cemetery was just east of Spoon River and about on the present right of way of the Burlington Railroad. Until 1832, there were more or less Indians in what is known as Kickapoo Grove near Elmwood. All of the Indians in that vicinity were of the Pottawatomie tribe. One of their chiefs who resided at Kickapoo Grove was a very old man at that time and was known as Captain Hill. He always wore a large silver cross suspended from his neck by a buckskin thong; many of the Indians wore silver rings in their noses and heavy earrings. They were friendly and great beggars. They were in the habit of going to Shabbona Grove in the spring to raise corn, returning in August and September. Mr. Dalton enlisted for the Black Hawk War shortly after the battle of Stillman’s Run and his company with others formed a battalion of 200 mounted men who ranged over Knox, Warren and Henderson counties to keep back the Indians from the Rock River country. During this time they were out the Indians got through the lines but once and on that occasion murdered a settler in Henderson County. The company had no fights with the Indians. Most of the members of his company were from Fulton County.
Many Other Tales
David Dalton, a brother of Avery, was one of the first settlers of Persifer Township and in his day was also a hunter and Indian fighter. There is one locality in the county which should be mentioned and a thorough examination of all that pertains to the earliest explorations of the state might throw some light upon the relics that have been found there. On the northeast quarter of Section 14, in Persifer Township, about two miles north and west from the mouth of Court Creek where the latter emptied into Spoon River, in a place where in past years many evidences of a battle between large numbers or of long duration have been found. The place is on the bank of Sugar Creek and within an area of a few acres; bullets have been plowed up and found lying on the ground by handfuls. Some few of them were once in possession of farmer who resides in the neighborhood and they were of the large, old-fashioned kind, such as were used in the smoothbore Queen Anne muskets of two centuries ago.
I had often heard of this so-called old battlefield from those who lived in that vicinity. What called my attention to this particular locality was a map of the old French trails first traversed in this State. In looking for information the subject of this article I had occasion to consult among other books the very excellent book written by Mr. Randall Parrish entitled Historic Illinois. In this book is a map of the old French and Indian trails and one of them leads from the bend of the Illinois River where it forms the southwestern boundary of Bureau County and about where the principal town of the Illinois Indians were situated, almost in a straight line to a point on the Mississippi opposite the mouth of the Des Moines River. This trail entered Knox County at about the north line of Truro Township and traversed the county in a southwesterly direction passing near the present city of Abingdon and through what are now Truro, Persifer, Orange and Cedar townships and crossed Sugar Creek according to the map at the exact locality of this battlefield on Section 14. No other relics have been found as far as I have been informed, but the large number of bullets would amply justify the belief that a considerable battle was once wage at this place. The absence of other evidences, however, is not surprising.