Calhoun County

1934 History of Calhoun County

Chapter 1 ~ The Indians, the First Inhabitants


The Illinois Confederation of Indians was divided into five tribes. They were the Peorias, living near the present site of Peoria; the Cahokias and the Tarmarias, living about Cahokia; the Kaskaskias near Kaskaskia, and the Mitchagamies near the Great Lakes.

The area of the original country of the Illinois Indians included most of the territory now within the State of Illinois. But this territory was continually reduced by wars with the Sioux and Dakota Indians from west of the Mississippi River, and with the Sacs, Foxes, and the Kickapoos who lived north of the Illinois Confederation. From the east came the Iroquois, who were the fiercest of all of the Indian warriors. The power of the Illinois Indians was decreasing when the French first came to Illinois.


The raids of the Iroquois are the most important from the standpoint of Calhoun history because they effected the Peoria Indians, and because of the massacres that occurred in this county. Some years before 1680, the Iroquois sent an expedition against the Illinois Indians and forced them to flee from their territory. The Iroquois returned to their home in the east and the Illinois tribes returned to their villages along the Illinois River.

In 1680, the Iroquois returned and made another attack upon the Illinois tribes and this time the results were very disastrous to the Illinois Indians. One of the best accounts of this attack is told by LaSalle, who was passing through the Illinois country in search of his lieutenant, Tonti. As LaSalle and his companions neared Starved Rock they found everything in ruins. Instead of the flourishing village LaSalle says:

"Their town had vanished and the meadow was black with fire. Parts of bodies and charred buildings remained. Even the graves had been robbed, and the bodies flung from the scaffolds, where they had been placed."


As LaSalle continued down the river, he found six places where the Illinois Indians had camped, and on the opposite side of the river, six places where the Iroquois had also camped. He realized that the Illinois Indians were fleeing and were being pursued by their old enemies. When he neared the mouth of the Illinois River, he found that part of the Illinois tribe had been overtaken. Parkman, the historian, gives us the following description which he wrote after reading LaSalle's diary:

"As the French drew near to the mouth of the Illinois, they saw a meadow to the right, and, on the fartherest verge, several human figures erect, yet motionless. They landed and cautiously examined the place. The long grass was trampled down and all around were strewn the relics of the hideous orgies which formed the ordinary sequel of an Iroquois victory. The figures they had seen were the half consumed bodies of women still bound to the stakes where they had been tortured. Other sights there were, too revolting for record. All the remains were of women and children; the men, it seems, had fled, and left them to their fate. The French descended the river and soon came to the mouth."

This massacre, the date of which was the last week of November, 1680, took place in the southern part of the county, about a mile above the present site of the Deer Plain ferry, at a place now known as Marshall's Landing. Many skulls, parts of skeletons, and weapons have been found near this spot in the last seventy-five years by farmers who were plowing the land.

M. DuChesneau, a Canadian official, tells about this flight of the Illinois Indians in an account which he wrote in December, 1681. He says that about 1200 men, women, and children were killed by the Iroquois on this expedition, and that the survivors of the Illinois tribes crossed the Mississippi River.


A part of the Illinois tribes returned to Illinois after their defeat at the hands of the Iroquois. They were not bothered again by the Iroquois, but the Indians of the north made war upon them year after year. When the French government took a census of the tribes of the west, in 1736, they found that the Illinois tribes had been reduced to about 600 warriors.

In an official letter to the Secretary of War, of date of March 22, 1814, General William Henry Harrison says:

"When I was appointed Governor of the Indiana Territory (1800), these once powerful tribes were reduced to 30 warriors, of whom 25 were of the Kaskaskias, 4 of the Peorias, and a single Metchigamian."


Thus we can see there were few Indians in the western part of Illinois when the first settlers arrived. One early Calhoun settler said, "The Indians were as thick as blackberries," but that was probably an exaggeration. There is little evidence to show that more than a few hundred Indians ever lived in this county at any one time.

There are many Indian mounds in different parts of the county and in recent years these have been opened and skeletons and weapons taken from them. But these mounds do not prove that there was a large permanent Indian population since they might have been built over a period of several hundred years.

The early explorers said that the region that is now a part of Calhoun County was supplied with wild game in great abundance, and there is the possibility that many Indians that lived in the prairie section of the state came to this region to hunt and fish at certain seasons of the year, but were not permanent residents. We can be safe in saying that there were few, if any, Indians living in the county when the first white settlers arrived. Those that were seen by the settlers were just bands that were passing through the country on hunting expeditions or Indians who came to get supplies from the white traders.


There are just two cases of the Indians bothering the first settlers of the county. One of these cases was the kidnapping of a three year old son of Jacob Pruden. Mr. Pruden settled in the county in 1829 near the old Squier place, about five miles below the present site of Hardin. The boy was recaptured from the Indians five days after he had been taken, and had not been harmed.

Another case was the kidnapping of Joe DeGerlia, the son of Antoine DeGerlia, Sr., the first settler in the "French Hollowā€¯ neighborhood. Mr. DeGerlia had not yet finished building his home, when his small son, Joe, was taken. Nearly thirty years later a man who was acquainted with the history of the DeGerlia family was traveling among the tribes of the Indian Territory, and there he heard the story of a white boy that had been kidnapped many years before from a place not far from where the Illinois River flows into the Mississippi. He investigated the story and found that the white boy was Joe DeGerlia of the Calhoun family. Joe had been taught the Indian language and had grown to manhood among the remnants of the tribe that had taken him away with them on their way to the southwest. Joe returned to Calhoun, married, and lived in the "French Hollow" neighborhood for a number of years. But he was never satisfied in the county and finally he took his family and returned to the Indian Territory. He spent the remainder of his life there and his descendants are living in that section of the country today.


In 1813 the Indian tribes of the northern part of the state went on the war path and some of the fighting was done in the southern part of Calhoun. The fighting was between the Indians who came down the Mississippi River and soldiers from the fort which was built in Missouri, opposite the present site of West Point ferry, in Richwoods precinct. In the summer of 1813 from sixty to eighty Indians appeared near this place and a battle took place between them and thirteen soldiers who had crossed the river from the fort. Twelve of the soldiers were killed, the only survivor being John Shaw who later became a prominent official in Calhoun County.

In the summer of 1814, the Indians again appeared in that neighborhood and fought with the soldiers and settlers from the Missouri side of the river. On this expedition the Indians were accompanied by Black Hawk, who later became famous in an Indian war in the northern part of the state. We have no record of these Indians bothering any of the settlers in the lower part of the county. Their whole attention seemed to have been directed against the soldiers and settlers in Missouri.

Although most of the Illinois Indians had moved from the territory between the Illinois and the Mississippi Rivers before 1800, they still had a claim to the land. In 1803 part of the tribes ceded their rights to the government, but it was not until 1816 that the last of the tribes signed the agreement which gave the land to the government of the United States.

Extracted 20 May 2017 by Norma Hass from History of Calhoun County, pages 5-8.

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