Indian Mounds of Grundy County Illinois

It is the opinion of antiquarians that three distinct races of people lived in North America prior to the present one inhabiting it. Of these, the builders of the magnificent cities whose remains are found in Central America, were the most civilized and the most ancient. These broken columns, ruined arches, and crumbling walls of palaces, temples, and pyramids, strew the ground for miles, and indicate that these cities must have been of great extent, and point to a people with a civilization equal to that of Balbec, Palmyra, Thebes and Memphis. The second race, as determined by the character of their works constitutes by far the most interesting class of antiquities found within the limits of the United States. Were they the ancestors of our Indians? They left no record save these mounds, and from them we can only conjecture that they were villages, temples, monuments, camps, and fortifications. The Indians never erected such works. Their tombs even are empty of all signs upon which we can base a conclusion.Oblivion locked their records, and fixed its seal upon their past.

Where the city of Morris now stands there were, as late as 1845, nineteen separate mounds, which are conceded to have been erected by the Indians. These mounds differed very materially from those erected by Mound Builders. They were simply circular elevations, from three to five feet in height, and from seventeen to thirty feet in diameter. They extended from east to west in a straight line. They were opened at various times, and bones and skeletons, with many trinkets, and some silver ornaments, found therein. But the most singular object connected with these mounds was a red cedar pole in the centre of the largest and highest of the mounds. The pole was from 10 to 12 inches through at the base, and some thirty feet in height. In 1837 this mound was opened by a party of men employed by the engineers upon the canal, and eight skeletons found therein. One, a female, was wrapped in a blanket, which was perfectly intact, even the outlines of the threads could be seen, but it crumbled, upon the slightest touch, to dust. One skeleton was found in a canoe, or dug-out. These were numerous trinkets and silver rings set with green glass. The pole was covered with rude cuts and carvings. Engineer A. J. Mathewson, learning of the opening of the mound, and fearing the Indians would resent this sacrilege to their dead, ordered the relics restored, and the mound placed in its original condition. Some years afterward, the pole leaning over it was taken down, and a stone wall erected around its base. This was covered with a limestone slab with an aperture surrounding the pole, which was again erected. It was also surrounded by an iron fence as a further protection. The cedar pole is believed to be the only monument ever erected by the Indians. Shaboneh or Waponseh could not tell anything regarding the pole or the mounds, but an old Indian Chief named Clark, well known to most of the old settlers, and employed by Mr. Mathewson, related to him this legend regarding the pole. A chief of the Pottowattomies named Nuc-quette was killed in battle on that spot, and the pole was erected to his memory, the carvings being a history of his life and deeds. We know nothing of the manner in which the mounds were erected. There were no excavations near them, and this would seem to indicate that the earth was brought from some distance. As to the pole, there is no red cedar near here, and it must have been brought from some other locality. I hardly think the evidence sufficient to warrant the conclusion that these mounds were erected as a burial place for the warriors slain in a battle, as the bones indicate that some of them have been much longer time in the ground than others, and it appears to me improbable that a Pottawattomie chief would have been buried in an Illini cemetery. I am of the opinion that the pole and mounds are both much older than they are usually supposed to be. Clark’s story, it must be remembered, is traditional, although it may nevertheless be true. Be it as it may, the cedar pole still stands, though the purpose for which it was erected is unknown. All traces of the mounds have disappeared, eradicated by the paleface. Now and then the plow turns up some relic of the race, but that is all. The cuts and carvings are all worn away from the pole, and in the lapse of years the time will come when it will turn to dust, as have the hands that placed it there.

At the time of Robert Cavelier de La Salle’s visit in 1679-80, all this country was the home of the great Illini nation, or confederation. Over these plains they chased the bison and deer; in these waters they fished, and in the soil of these prairies their dust and bones are mingled. After the extermination of the Illini, the Pottawatomies located here, and remained until their removal by the government in 1837. These Indians became well known to the early settlers, and a short notice of two of their chiefs – Shaboneh and Wauponseh – will not be out of place here. The latter was engaged in the battle of Tippecanoe, and there, in a night attack, received a musket ball in his right breast which passed completely through his body, and, as he survived the effects, the Indians considered it an omen from the Great Spirit that he should become their war chief. He was a giant in size, and of a fierce, passionate nature. His last act of fiendish cruelty here, before he left for his home beyond the Mississippi, was the murder of a captive Winnebago squaw, to whom had been assigned the care of his papooses. Hated by the squaws of the tribe, constantly abused, her life one long torture, this poor creature attempted to escape by flight. She was pursued, recaptured, brought back, and nearly beaten to death with clubs by the other squaws; then bruised and bleeding she was placed upon her back in a newly-ploughed field, when the old demon, Wauponseh, gave her a jargon lecture of some kind, and then caused another Winnebago squaw, also a captive, to brain her with a tomahawk, thus inflicting the most degrading death penalty known to the Indian, that of being killed by a squaw. Her body was carried to the edge of the river, covered lightly with sand and left to the mercy of the wolves. Mr. James McKeon, who witnessed the transaction, and waiting until the murderers were out of sight, dug a grave and placed the body therein giving her a decent burial. These are the facts as gathered from his lips. Whatever became of Wauponseh is not known; fitting indeed it is, that silence should close over such a monster, and oblivion blot out even his grave.

Shaboneh, was in the battle of Thames – was one of Tecumseh’s aids, and near that the chieftain fell; what he saw here of the pale faces convinced him that they were the destined rulers of the red men; he would not war against destiny; he became the firm friend of the whites ever after, loosing no opportunity to warn them, when danger threatened them, from the Indians. When the tribe went west he remained upon a small farm in Norman township. He died July 17, 1859, at the age of 84 years, honored and respected by all. His remains sleep in the cemetery at Morris, and if ever the spirit of the Indian reaches the “happy hunting ground”, that of Shaboneh will. We are glad to learn that steps are being taken to raise a monument to the memory of the noble chief. His name and deeds deserve to live to latest times.

“Hew out the rock, and rear above his tomb the polished stone,

And let it be inscribed thereon, here lies the noblest of God’s handiwork.”

Beside him sleeps his squaw, Wiomex Oquawka, who was drowned while crossing the Mazon, Nov. 30, 1864, and his little grand-daughter, Mary Okamo, drowned at the same time. His daughter, Mary, also lies beside the old chief; she died May 14, 1860. He left several other children, but their fate or history I have been unable to learn.

Shabbona

 

Plaque commemorating Shabbona

Plaque commemorating Shabbona

In attempting to write the military or any history of Grundy and leaving out the name of Shabbona, would be little short of sacrilege, as he and his name were familiar in every home of the earlier settlers of Grundy County and was as much a citizen as any one who enlisted in the United States service.

This celebrated Indian, Chief Shabbona (variously spelled), deserves more than a passing notice. Although he was not so conspicuous as Tecumseh or Black Hawk, yet, in point of merit, he was superior to either of them. Shabbona was born at an Indian village on the Kankakee River, now in Will County, about the year 1775. While young he was made chief of the band and went to Shabbona Grove, now DeKalb County. In the War of 1812 with his warriors he joined Tecumseh and was aid to that great chief, and stood by his side when he fell at the battle of the Thames in 1813. In the Winnebago war, in 1829, he visited almost every village among the Pottowattomies and by his persuasive arguments prevented them from taking part in the war. By request of the citizens of Chicago Shabbona, accompanied by Billy Caldwell (Sanayanash), visited Big Foot’s village, at Geneva Lake, in order to pacify the warriors, as fears were entertained that they were about to raise the tomahawk against the whites.

Here Shabbona was taken prisoner by Big Foot and his life was threatened, but on the following day he was set at liberty. From that time on the Indians (through reproach) styled him “the white man’s friend” and many times his life was endangered.

Before the Black Hawk war Shabbona met in council at two different times and by his influence prevented his people from taking part with the Sacs and Foxes.

List of Shabanna's Family

List of Shabanna’s Family

After the death of Black Partridge and Senachwine no chief among the Pottawatomies exerted so much influence as Shabbona. Black Hawk, aware of this, visited him at two different times in order to enlist him in his cause, but was unsuccessful. While Black Hawk was a prisoner at Jefferson Barracks he said, had it not been for Shabbona, the whole Pottawatomie nation would have joined his standard and he could have continued the war for years. To Shabbona many of the early settlers of Illinois owe the preservation of their lives for it is a well known fact that had he not notified the people of their danger a large portion of them would have fallen victims to the tomahawks of the savages. By saving the lives of the whites he endangered his own, for the Sacs and Foxes threatened to kill him and made two attempts to execute their threats. They killed Pypeogee, his son, and Pyps his nephew, and hunted him down as if he was a wild beast.

Shabbona had a reservation of two sections of land at his grove, but, by leaving it and going west for a short time, it was declared forfeited and it was held the same as other vacant land. On Shabbona’s return and finding his possession gone he was very sad and broken down in spirits and left the grove forever. The citizens of Ottawa raised money and bought him a tract of land on the Illinois River above Seneca, but in Grundy County on which they built a home and supplied him with means to live on. He lived here until his death which occurred on July 17, 1859, when he was in the eighty-fourth year of his age. He was buried with great pomp, in the cemetery at Morris, Illinois. His Squaw, Pokanoka, was drowned in Mazon Creek, Grundy County, on the 30th of November, 1864, and was buried by his side.

In 1861, subscriptions were taken up in many of the river towns for funds to erect a monument over the remains of Shabbona, but the Civil War breaking out at that time caused the enterprise to be abandoned. Only a plain slab marks the resting place of this friend of the white man. The above is no fairy tale. The writer has sold Shabbona woolen blankets for himself and family in Grundy county, and his wife’s grandfather was notified by Shabbona of Black Hawk’s outbreak and was told to flee with his family for their lives, to the old log fort in Ottawa, LaSalle County, which they did. Some who did not heed the warning suffered the consequences and lost their lives.

 

Source: Lawrence & Thompson’s Grundy County Directory, 1877-78. Photos courtesy of Rodney Gould, Copyright 2002, All Rights Reserved.

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