OTTAWA WOMAN SOLE SURVIVOR OF THOSE WHO SOUGHT REFUGE FROM INDIANS AT FORT HERE
Ottawa, Republican-Times, January 10, 1922
Of all the people who made the trip down the Fox river from Dayton to seek refuge in Fort Johnson, at Ottawa, from the murderous Indians under the leadership of Black Hawk, on a May day ninety years ago, there is now but one living – Mrs. Barbara Jackson, of this city. Mrs. Jackson, 92 years of age, resides at No. 2 [error, hand corrected to 4] Gridley place, in East Ottawa. She was but two years of age when her parents received word of the impending danger and made the trip to safety.
This is one of the interesting features developed in some very valuable accounts of the events of early days in this vicinity, brought out as a result of a paper written by Dr. E. W. Weis and read at a recent meeting of Illini chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, fixing the exact location of Fort Johnson. The Republican-Times has secured permission to publish the story of the exciting experiences of these pioneers in 1832, from notes gathered by Mrs. Frances Strawn and Miss Maude Green, of Ottawa, Samuel Grove, of Utica, and other descendants of the history makers. Publication is here given for the first time to some of the incidents.
It was on the second day of November, 1829, that “Green’s Company,” consisting of twenty-four people, started westward from Newark, Licking county, Ohio, for the place in La Salle county now called Dayton, but formerly known as Green’s Mills. This “company” consisted of John Green, his wife, Barbara Grove Green, and their eight children; David Grove and family; Rezin Debolt and family; Henry Brumbach and family; Samuel, Joseph and Jacob Grove, Harvey Shaver, Jacob Hite and Alexander McKee.
In August of the same year John Green had visited this county and selected a site for a mill on the rapids of the Fox river. This site was situated on land subject to entry at that time so he traveled to the seat of government at Vandalia and entered the land on which the water power at Dayton is located. Mr. Green then engaged William A. Clark, the first settler in Rutland township, to put in forty acres of fall wheat and to build another larger log cabin, eighteen by twenty-four feet in size (all in one room) to be finished by the time he should return from Ohio with his family.
At Ottawa Mr. Green found two cabins – one occupied by James Walker, near where the present Boat club building stands, and the other on the south bluff, belonging to Dr. David Walker.
On December 17, 1829, the party reached its destination and early in the spring of 1830 the improvement of the water power was commenced. It was necessary to build a dam, which intersected a small island, this dam being designed to furnish all the power that was necessary at that time. The men worked in their shirt sleeves, making enough rails to fence a quarter section of land that winter. The cabin built be Mr. Clark for the settlers had to accommodate the entire company of twenty-four people for the first winter. In the spring they built a sawmill.
One of the problems they had to solve when spring came and they were ready to start work on the mill was finding stones or boulders of sufficient size and proper shape to make into grind stones. These were found close together on the east side of the river nearly opposite the mill site. They served a good purpose for a number of years, being used at Dayton in three different mills and finally given to Thomas J. Davis, who placed them in a mill along Indian creek.
They were later removed to the cemetery where those unfortunate settlers were buried who were massacred by the Indians along Indian creek. The stones now repose among other relics of early days in the museum at Shabbona park.
Having plenty of lumber the next season, 1831, a frame building to serve as a grist mill was built, separate from the saw mill, to accommodate the increasing immigration, which began when, in the fall of 1830, the following families came from Licking county, Ohio: David Letts and family, William L. George M. and Joseph A. Dunavan, brothers; widow Anna Pitzer, sister of John Green, and her family; Mathias Trumbo and family; David Shaver and family; William Parr and family; Jonathan and Aaron Daniels and family; Edward Sanders and family; Joseph Kleiber and family and Benjamin Fleming and family. All settled in Rutland township, which at that time included most of Dayton township. Many of these names are still represented among the leading citizens of this portion of La Salle county.
The same fall other families from Ohio settled on the south side of the river. Mrs. Elsie Strawn Armstrong was among these, and her brother, Jeremiah Strawn, the father of Mrs. Zilpha Osman, who has lived for many years at 532 Congress street, settled in Putnam county. Col. John Strawn and John Armstrong came in the fall of 1829 and settled near Lacon.
The first intimation of danger from hostile Indians during the Black Hawk war, in 1832, was conveyed to the settlers by Shabbona, who warned them to seek safety, but, instead, they fortified the house of John Green, which stood on the bluff overlooking the woolen mills by digging a trench around the house and inserting slats from the saw mill, doubling them so as to be proof against the bullets from Indian rifles.
This enclosure was made large, enough to care for all the neighbors who came in from the surrounding country – about sixty, all told. Several settlers who were delayed seeking this protection were massacred along the banks of Indian creek, about ten miles distant, during the afternoon of May 20, 1832. The Dayton settlers received news of this slaughter about midnight of that night. The informant, Wilburn F. Walker, advised them to leave the fort at once and go to Ottawa, crossing to the south side of the Illinois river, where there had assembled a number of families. He thought they would be safer there and better enabled to defend themselves against an attack.
Some of the Daytonites owned a large perogue – a long canoe-shaped boat hollowed out from the trunk of a tree – which was bought of Gurdon S. Hubbard, on the Iroquois river, when the first settlers came through. Samuel Grove, of Utica, states that his father said that, after buying the perogue, three men brought it down the river loaded with three and one-half tons of mill iron. These three men were Jacob Hite, Joseph Grove and Samuel Grove.
After deciding to heed Mt. Walker’s warning, this perogue was filled with women and children, with two men – William Stadden and Aaron Daniels – the latter two to navigate the unwieldy craft. Nearly thirty humans were crowded into the boat, and the balance of the party walked down the bank of the river.
Among these “hikers” were William Parr and his wife, Sarah Trumbo Parr, whose one and one-half year old son, Henry K. Parr, was one of the first white male children born in La Salle county (he was carried in the perogue); David Grove and wife, Anna Houser Grove; John Green and wife, Barbara Trumbo [hand corrected to Grove] Green; David Letts; Mathias Trumbo and wife, Rebecca Grove Trumbo; Rezin Debolt and wife; William Stadden and wife, Elizabeth Hoadley Stadden; Nancy Green, who later married Albert Dunavan; Jesse Green, who married Isabel Trumbo; David Green, who married Mary Stadden; Cyrus Shaver, who married Elizabeth Hackett, and John Trumbo.
Among the children in the perogue were Katherine Green, who later became the bride of George Dunavan; Joseph Green, Rachel Green, later married to George Gibson; Rebecca Green, who married Oliver Trumbo; Rebecca Shaver, who married Robert Snelling; Josiah Shaver, who married Janet Neff; Harver Shaver, who married Sarah Johnson; Nancy Shaver, who married Sheldon Allen; Kate Shaver, who married John Spencer; Barbara Shaver, who married Joseph Miller; Barbara Debolt, married to David Conard; Henry K. Parr, married to Elsie Armstrong; Lavina Debolt, married to Mr. Bounds; Lavina Trumbo, married to West Matlock; Isabel Trumbo, married to Jesse Green; Eliza Trumbo, married to William Gibson, and her twin brother, Elias, who married Catherine Long; Elizabeth and Katherine Grove and Barbara Trumbo, who later became Mrs. Joseph Jackson.
So far as can be learned, Mrs. Jackson, of this city, now ninety-two years of age, is the sole survivor of this party which fled along the dangerous trail from the blood-hunting braves led by Black Hawk. After reaching Ottawa the party was ferried across the river without mishap and given quarters on the south bluff, where they remained in camp until the following August, when it became safe to return to their homes, Black Hawk, in the meantime, having been captured in Wisconsin, whither he had been pursued by troops.
While in camp on the south bluff the pioneers erected a small fort under the direction of Col. James Johnston, of Macon county. It was built just east of where the east road leads up to the bluff and was named Fort Johnston. The site of that old fort is on the property now owned by Dr. and Mrs. E. W. Weis. False alarms drove the settlers into the fort a few times, but most of the nights they slept undisturbed in their tents.
In 1834 the third mill was built at Dayton, equipped with five pairs of “flint ridge burrs,” obtained in Ohio and used for grinding buckwheat. In 1840 the Greens built the first woolen mill in the state, a building three stories high, thirty-two by sixty feet in dimension, the ruins of which still stand. Samuel Grove, of Utica, now 85 years of age, relates that his father used to tell how the Indians, as well as the whites, used to come to the Dayton grinding mill to buy meals, and they would bring furs to trade for the meal. A certain number of handsful of corn meal were given for a certain number of furs, and he said that after the measuring was done the Indian squaws always grabbed an extra handful of meal for good measure.
The incidents here related are but a very few of the many hardships and dangers with which the pioneers of La Salle county were forced to contend, but they took it all as part of the day’s duties and laid the foundation for the sturdy American citizenship which developed the county into one of the most prosperous and substantial zones in the great Middle West.