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DeKalb County History...

The purpose of this section is to remember and celebrate the history and heritage of DeKalb County.  We should remember.  We should celebrate. There are times and events, however, in the history of this county that by themselves are not moments deserving of celebration.  But they certainly serve as landmarks in the progress of the human race. And progress should be celebrated. 

DeKalb County was officially formed on March 4, 1837.  It had first been formalized as part of Kane County a year earlier.  For a long time before that it had  been known as the Kishwaukee country - a land of giant trees, fertile soil, abundant game and many native American villages. 

The popular thought among many historians is that the first non-red Americans to come to DeKalb County were the troops under the direction of General Winfield Scott in pursuit of Black Hawk in 1832.  But within the villages of native Americans in or near what is now Sycamore, Cortland, Kingston, Somonauk, Paw Paw and Shabbona Grove it was not uncommon to find families with surnames such as LeClair, Crouix, Peltier and Caldwell. 

Perhaps it should be remembered that at one time those who were not members of the white race were regarded as less than human or at least not worthy of mention in chronicles of history.  In the earliest of census reports of DeKalb County there were either a couple of African Americans, or lunatics, since both were lumped into the same category. The African Americans were here as early as the late 1700s as some historians have reluctantly had to admit that indeed it was Jean Baptist Pointe DuSable, and not Hubbard and Kinzie, who first settled in the city now called Chicago.  One of Rockford's founding fathers was Lewis Lemons who arrived as a slave and purchased his freedom. 

Certainly after the massacre of Black Hawk's band of Sac at Bad Axe Wisconsin in 1832, DeKalb County and northwest Illinois received a lot of attention in the eastern press.  Reports of rich, tillable soil grabbed the attention of farmers in the east who were longing to have their own farms.  In the Spring of 1835 all the remaining Potawatomi, except Shabbona's village, were gathered at the Paw Paw Grove Rendezvous and forced to march at gun-point to Jacksonville where they joined other Potawatomi in the Trail of Death march to Council Bluffs, Iowa.  After this removal settlers began pouring in. 

The old Galena Trail which ran through Genoa was, in part, also once known as Mound Builders Trail - reflecting a time when the Mississippian culture was dominant in the area.  The Illini, Kickapoo, the Sac, Fox, Potawatomi, Ottawa, Chippewa and Winnebagos all at one time treasured this area for its abundance of game and ease for corn growing. 

The French colonialists once thought so much of this area they deemed it New France.  Their first glowing reports of this area appear in the 1630s.  Not long after they found themselves in competition for fur trade with the British and eventually lost the competition and the French and Indian War of 1763. No sooner had the British established a monopoly in the fur trade with area tribes than did the competition begin with the Americans.  And war soon followed. 

A treaty of peace ending the American Revolution, signed by Britain and America on September 3, 1783, ceded all previously held British territories to the new American government, except existing British forts throughout the northwestern territories, including northern Illinois.  After the Revolutionary War the American government sought to improve relations with the Potawatomi, Sac and Winnebago of this area in hopes of weaning their loyalty to Britain. The Indian Affairs Ordinance of August 7, 1786 banned white settlers, except those with diplomatic credentials or official business with the tribes, from entering or trading in the Indian country.   This effort was undermined by John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company who had by 1808 established an extensive trading network with the tribes of this area - and had introduced whiskey as a form of currency. 

The American Fur Company maps identify the villages in the Kishwaukee country that became DeKalb County as early as 1809. These villages were identified as trading centers so it is likely that white traders indeed were in DeKalb County.  With the population boom of Galena in the 1820s there were many travelers coming through what is now Genoa and Kingston via the Galena Trail.

To learn more about the history of DeKalb County follow the Stories from Our Back Pages links and visit the Local History Resources links.  You'll find the history that helped define this country.

Stories from
Our Back Pages

Shabbona & Black Hawk

DeKalb County Courthouse

Underground Railroad

The First Woman Sheriff

Indian Creek Massacre

How NIU Came to DeKalb

The Canadian Connection

Testimony of an ex-slave

Fish Kills on the Kishwaukee

Local History

Regional History Center at NIU

Joiner History Room

Ellwood House Museum

Gurler House

Stone Mill Museum

Egyptian Theatre

Sandwich Opera House

Olmstead Museum

DeKalb Heritage Square

DeK County Gen Web

Sycamore History Association