NIU Libraries Digitization Projects
Lincoln/Net Prairie Fire Illinois During the Civil War Illinois During the Gilded Age Mark Twain's Mississippi Back to Digitization Projects Contact Us
BACK

Iles, Elijah. Sketches of Early Life and Times in Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois . Springfield: Springfield Printing Co., 1883. [format: book], [genre: memoir]. Permission: University of Chicago
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=iles.html


Previous section

Next section

Chapter IV. Indian Wars.

Indian Wars — The Black Hawk War — Stillman's Defeat — On the Scout — An Indian Fuse — Opening Communication with Galena — Meeting with Col. Taylor — Preparations for an Attack — An Exciting Chase — Home Again — The Result of the War.

In 1827 I was elected major in the command of Col. T. McNeal, which was intended to take part in the war against the Winnebagoes. We had no fighting, and the hostilities were stopped by the treaty of Prairie du Chien.

In the Indian war of 1832, known as the Black Hawk war, I enlisted as a private in Capt. Dawson's company. We marched to Rock Island, where a Mr. Davenport was located as an Indian-trader. We then marched up Rock river to the crossing of the road from Springfield to Galena. Here John Dixon resided, to accommodate the travel to Galena. His family had then been sent to Galena for safety. About fifteen miles above Dixon's, on Rock river, was a large Indian village. Gen. Stillman, with his command, advanced to within three miles of the village, when he was attacked, whipped, and routed, having seventeen of his men killed. The next day Gen. Atkinson, with his army marched to the battle field, buried the dead, and returned to camp.

-- 43 --

After the dead were buried, and before returning to camp, we took our lunch. The army was scant of provisions, and my mess had for rations only a small piece of fat bacon and some parched corn. I was selected to cut the bacon into eight equal parts — the number in my mess. The boys watched me closely. We took our seats on the grass by the side of a pool of water thick with wrigglers, and ate our lunch. The boiling of the water for coffee fixed the wrigglers. We were more particular with what we drank, straining that through our pocket handkerchiefs. We got back to camp after dark, very tired, and lay down on sloping ground with our saddles for pillows. I slept soundly until a heavy rain fell which almost covered me in water before I awoke. My mess are now all dead but Major John T. Stuart, to whom I have before referred.

The object now was to find out the route the Indians had gone to make their escape. William S. Hamilton (a son of Alexander Hamilton, of Burr memory) and myself, with three other men, undertook the task. On our route we passed around the village at a distance of eight or ten miles. We found a large trail going in the direction of the Illinois river. The second night we were out we were alarmed by Indians. We had noticed in the afternoon Indian pony tracks crossing our way in the timber; the leaves turned up by their feet were still moist. When we camped for the night we left two men half a mile back to guard our trail. They soon came up almost breathless, and reported Indians on our trail. We mounted and struck out single file until we got some distance in the prairie, then halted, and the report was that while they were watching from the roots of a large tree they saw the

-- 44 --

bushes move and then three objects advancing. The moon shone dimly, but they saw the objects plainly.

We continued our course until we struck Rock river above the village, and camped for the night. In the morning we followed down Rock river to the Indian village, which we found deserted, and there we halted for rest and lunch. We found the . Indians had left their canoes and much other Indian property. After lunch and rest, we set out on our return to the army, and just as we ascended to the top of a ridge we met the troops on the other side, and such a shout was never heard. They thought we had been killed, for just after we had left on this trip news came that the Indians were murdering the people on the Illinois river and had taken two girls prisoners. Their going in the direction of the Illinois river, to our rear, on leaving their village, was found to be a ruse; for after going some distance the most of them, with their women and children, diverged in a northerly direction, so as to escape by crossing the Mississippi above Galena, while a few were sent to commit the murders on the Illinois river to divert our army in that direction while the others made good their escape.

The army was now on its march to the Illinois river, and had diverged so as to come by or near the deserted village to try to learn our fate, thinking we were no doubt killed. When the army reached the Illinois river, where Ottawa is now situated, the term for which the volunteers had enlisted expired, and they were disbanded. A few companies from the disbanded troops again enlisted for twenty days, to. remain and protect the settlers until new troops could assemble. I

-- 45 --

was elected captain of one of these companies, although there was hardly a man in it but what was better suited to be a commander. It was made up of generals, colonels, captains, and distinguished men from the disbanded army. I was proud of it.

My company was mustered in by young Lieut. Anderson, a graduate of West Point, acting as adjutant (of Fort Sumter fame). While the other companies were ordered to scout the country, mine was held by Gen. Atkinson in camp as a reserve. One company was ordered to go to Rock river (now Dixon) and report to Col. Taylor, afterwards president, who had been left there with a few U. S. soldiers to guard the army supplies. The place was also made a point of rendezvous. Just as the company got to Dixon, a man came in and reported that he and six others were on the road to Galena, and in passing through a point of timber about twenty miles north of Dixon they were tired on and the six killed, he being the only one to make his escape. One of the number killed was Col. Savre, Indian agent. Col. Taylor Ordered the company to proceed to the place, bury the dead. go on to Galena, and get all the information they could about the Indians. But the company took fright and came back to the Illinois river, helter-skelter.

Gen. Atkinson then called on me and wanted to know how I felt about taking the trip; that he was exceedingly anxious to open communication with Galena, and to find out, if possible, the whereabouts of the Indians before the new troops arrived. I answered the general that myself and men were getting rusty and were anxious to have something to do, and that nothing

-- 46 --

would please us better than to be ordered out on an expedition; that I would find out how many of my men had good horses and were otherwise well equipped, and what time we wanted to prepare for the trip. I called on him again at sunset and reported that I had about fifty men well equipped and eager, and that we wanted one day to make preparations. He said go ahead and he would prepare our orders.

The next day was a busy day, running bullets and getting our flint locks in order — we had no precussion locks then. Gen. Henry, one of my privates, who had been promoted to the position of major of the companies, volunteered to go with us. I considered him a host, as he had served as lieutenant in the war of 1812, under Gen. Scott, was in the battle of Lundy's Lane and in several other battles. He was a good drill officer, and could aid me much. Mr. Lincoln, our late president, was a private in my company. After Gen. Atkinson handed me my orders, and my men were mounted and ready for the trip, I felt proud of them, and was confident of our success, although numbering only forty-eight. Several good men failed to go, as they had gone down to the foot of the Illinois rapids to aid in bringing up the boats of army supplies. We wanted to be as little encumbered as possible, and took nothing that could be dispensed with, other than blankets, tin cups, coffee pots, canteens, a wallet of bread, and some fat side meat, which we ate raw or broiled.

When we arrived at Rock river we found Col. Taylor on the opposite side, in a little fort built of prairie sod. He sent an officer in a canoe to bring me over. I said to the officer that I would come over as soon as

-- 47 --

I got my men in camp. I knew of a good spring half a mile above, and I determined to camp at it. After the men were in camp I called on Gen. Henry, and he accompanied me. On meeting Col. Taylor (he looked like a man born to command) he seemed a little piqued that I did not come over and camp with him. I told him we felt just as safe as if quartered in his one-horse fort; and besides, I knew what his orders would be, and wanted to try the mettle of my men before starting on the perilous trip I knew he would order. He said the trip was perilous, and that since the murder of the six men all communication with Galena had been cut off, and it might be besieged; that he wanted me to proceed to Galena, and that he would have my orders for me in the morning, and asked what outfit I wanted. I answered nothing but coffee, side meat, and bread.

In the morning my orders were to collect and bury the remains of the six men murdered, proceed to Galena, make a careful search for the signs of Indians, and find out whether they were aiming to escape by crossing the river below Galena, and retail information at Galena of their probable whereabouts before the new troops were ready to follow them.

John Dixon, who kept a house of entertainment here and had sent his family to Galena for safety, joined us and hauled our wallets of corn and grub in his wagon, which was a great help. Lieut. Harris, U. S. army, also joined us. I now had fifty men to go with me on the march. I detailed two to march on the right, two on the left, and two in advance, to act as look-outs to prevent a surprise. They were to keep in lull view of us and to remain out until we camped for the night.

-- 48 --

Just at sundown the first day, while we were at lunch, our advance scouts came in under whip and reported Indians. We bounced to our feet, and having a full view of the road for a long distance, could see a large body coming toward us. All eyes were turned to John Dixon, who, as the last one dropped out of sight coming over a ridge, pronounced them Indians. I stationed my men in a ravine crossing the road, where any one approaching could not see us until within thirty yards; the horses I had driven back out of sight in a valley. I asked Gen. Henry to take command; he said no, stand at your post, and walked along the line talking to the men in a low, calm voice. Lieut. Harris, U. S. A., seemed much agitated; he ran up and down the line and exclaimed, "Captain, we will catch hell." He had horse pistols, belt pistols, and double-barrelled gun. He would pick the flints, reprime, and laid the horse pistols at his feet. When he got all ready he passed along the line slowly, and seeing the nerves of the men all quiet — after Gen. Henry's talk to them — said, "Captain, we are safe, we can whip five hundred Indians." Instead of Indians they proved to be the command of Gen. Dodge, from Galena, of one hundred and fifty men, en route to find out what had become of Gen. Atkinson's army, as since the murder of the six men communication had been stopped for more than ten days. My look-out at the top of the hill did not notify us, and we were not undeceived until they got within thirty steps of us. My men then raised a yell and ran to finish their lunch.

Next morning, in passing into a grove of timber, my front scouts again came under whip and reported Indians. I asked where. They pointed to my two

-- 49 --

scouts on the right, trying to catch an Indian pony; one had on a red shirt, and they mistook them for Indians. These two men had been in Stillman's defeat, and as their horses were weak and it was easier to march out of line, I had detailed them to go in the road in front. I now ordered them to the rear and to drop behind as far as they chose, and detailed two other men, on whom I could rely, to take the advance.

When we got within fifteen miles of Galena, on Apple river, we found a stockade filled with women and children and a few men, all terribly frightened. The Indians had shot at and chased two men that afternoon, who made their escape to the stockade. They insisted on our quartering in the fort, but instead we camped one hundred yards outside, and slept, what little sleep we did get, with our guns in our arms. Gen. Henry-did not sleep, but drilled my men all night so the moment they were called they would bounce to their feet and stand in two lines, the front ready to fire and fall back to reload while the others stepped forward and took their places. They were called up a number of times, and we got but little sleep.

We arrived at Galena the next day, and found the citizens prepared to defend the place. They were glad to see us, as it had been so long since they had heard from the army. The few Indians prowling about Galena and murdering were simply there as a ruse.

On our return from Galena, near the forks of the Apple river and Gratiot roads, we could see Gen. Dodge on the Gratiot road on his return from Rock river. His six scouts had discovered my two men that I had allowed to drop in the rear. Having weak horses they

-- 50 --

had fallen in the rear about two miles, and each took the other to be Indians, and such an exciting race I never saw until they got sight of my company; then they came to a sudden halt, and after looking at us a few moments wheeled their horses and gave up the chase. My two men did not know but that they were Indians until they came up with us and shouted "Indians!" They had thrown away their wallets and guns and used their ramrods as whips.

The few houses on the road that usually accommodated the travel, were all standing but vacant as we went. On our return we found them all burned by the Indians. On my return to the Illinois river I reported to Gen. Atkinson, saying that from all we could learn the Indians were aiming to escape by going north with the intention of crossing the Mississippi river above Galena. The new troops had just arrived and were being mustered into service. My company had only been organized for twenty days, and as the time had now expired were mustered out. All but myself again volunteered, for the third time. They elected Dr. Early captain, and presented themselves to Gen. Atkinson, who had them mustered in, but attached them to no corps. He used them as scouts and lookouts, and at night located them in the center of the camp. I had had enough of camp life, roaming about after Indians, to satisfy me, and returned to Springfield, where I found one little woman and two little chaps mighty glad to see and welcome me, and where I could enjoy much more comfort with less danger of having my scalp lifted.

The new troops soon got on the trail of the Indians, and by forced marches overtook them on the

-- 51 --

bank of the Mississippi below Prairie du Chien, preparing to cross. In the battle that ensued a number were killed and taken prisoners, we losing but few men. Black Hawk made his escape, but was afterwards captured by friendly Indians.

This was called the Black Hawk war of 1832, which closed up all further trouble with Indians in Illinois, and opened up the country, from a little above Lake Peoria, which was then without a single white inhabitant other than those isolated at Galena working the lead mines, a few Indian traders, and the troops at Fort Dearborn. The latter place was soon afterwards laid out in lots for the beginning of a town called Chicago. At that time there were no settlers either in Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, or anywhere in the northwest, now so well settled with thrifty farmers and containing numerous large towns and cities.

Of all the men in my company in the Black Hawk war, I know of no one now living but John T. Stuart. Major Stuart was elected to congress over Stephen A. Douglas, and was the first and last one who ever beat Douglas in his race for office. Mr. Lincoln was assassinated in Washington, while president; Dr. Early was killed in Springfield; Gen. Henry died in New Orleans: Gen. Anderson, of Fort Sumter memory, who mustered my company in, and out, is dead, and his widow now resides at Green Cove Springs, Florida.

-- 52 --

Previous section

Next section


Iles, Elijah. Sketches of Early Life and Times in Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois . Springfield: Springfield Printing Co., 1883. [format: book], [genre: memoir]. Permission: University of Chicago
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=iles.html
Powered by PhiloLogic