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 DeKalb County History

Shabbona Park - Memorial for Indian Creek Massacre
The monuments and tombstones mark
the location of the Indian Creek Massacre
which took place at what is now Shabbona
Park in LaSalle County, west of Route 23.

The Indian Creek Massacre...

by Mac McIntyre
2000

On Sunday, May 21, 1832, Mr. and Mrs. William Davis and four of their children, Mr. and Mrs. John Hall and one of their daughters, Mr. and Mrs. William Pettigrew and two of their children, Henry George and William Robert Norris were all slaughtered in a massacre that took a little more than 10 minutes to complete.  The site of the Indian Creek Massacre is located just south of the present DeKalb County border in La Salle County at a place now named Shabbona Park.

The massacre was at first thought to be the work of Black Hawk, the Sac war chief who had crossed the Mississippi River from Iowa into Illinois in an effort to either reclaim his land or to renegotiate a treaty with the U.S. government.  Revenge for the massacre was exacted on Black Hawk's band when they tried to surrender to U.S. forces near Bad Axe, Wisconsin.  As delegates from Black Hawk approached the steam war ship displaying the white flag of surrender, cries of "Remember Indian Creek!" rang out from the ship just before the cannons filled with shrapnel fired into the unsuspecting native Americans.  There were few survivors from the onslaught.  One of them was Black Hawk, who as a captive, was able to shed some light at what happened at Indian Creek.

The "Treaty of Friendship and Peace" was signed in 1795 that created the Indian Boundary Line that ran through northern Illinois at about where the Illinois and Michigan Canal was later built.  Land north of the Indian Boundary Line was to belong to the native American tribes who inhabited the area, including the Chippewa, Kickapoo, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Sac and Winnebago nations. Before the ink was dry, white American settlers began moving in.  They were at that time mostly fur trappers, employed by the American Fur Company.  There were already British fur trappers and soldiers in the area.  They had replaced the French who had sought to turn the area into New France.

The area, unknown to the native Americans, was a strategic location in the game of chess that turned into the War of 1812 between America and Great Britain.  What is now Chicago provided access to Lake Michigan.  There was an abundance of lead, used for bullets, near what is now Galena.  And there were the giant Sycamore trees, used for masts on the great ships, in the Kishwaukee country that contained what is now DeKalb County.

When the War of 1812 broke out, the native Americans of this area aligned themselves with the British.  Their allegiance however had more to do with the influence of Tecumseh and the spiritual messages of his brother Tenskwata than it had to do with any regard for the British.  

This allegiance however would prove costly to the native Americans.  When the war ended, which the Americans had won, the natives in northern Illinois were treated with suspicion and disdain.  Especially was this true for Black Hawk and his "British Band" of Sac, who lived in the city of Sauk-e-nuk near what is now Rock Island, Illinois.  Black Hawk had risen to the rank of General in the British army and had earned notoriety for several successful campaigns he led against the Americans.

The War of 1812 influenced a young Ottawa brave in a different way.  Shabbona fought alongside Tecumseh against the Americans.  After witnessing the total defeat of Tecumseh, Shabbona knew what a formidable enemy the Americans were.  When he returned from the war he married a Potawatomi woman, Pokanoka, who was the daughter of the respected chief Spotka.  Spotka named Shabbona chief (what is now the Prairie Band Potawatomi) and cited the 19 year old for his bravery.  But Shabbona would have his people be no longer enemies of the Americans.  He would instead try to lead his people to coexist with the white man.

Another treaty, signed in 1829 in Prairie Du Chein, took more land from the native Americans of northern Illinois.  Shabbona signed the treaty and receive two parcels of land at what is now Shabbona State Park and Indian Oaks Country Club.  Black Hawk did not sign the treaty but his land at Sauk-e-nuk was taken away.  The treaty allowed for settlers to begin moving in north of the Indian Boundary Line.

Enter William Davis.

Davis was a blacksmith and a mill operator.  He did not like "injuns."  And he did not fear them.  He built his homestead just south of what is now Leland on the Indian Creek.  His experience with the native Americans of northern Illinois was limited to those influenced by Shabbona who taught them to oblige the white man whenever they could.  Davis saw this as a weakness.

Keewasee was a young Potawatomi whose family lived upstream from Davis.  A dam built by Davis on the Indian Creek had cut off the supply of fish to his family.  Because of the stress of a growing white American population it was becoming increasingly difficult to provide food for his family.  His children were starving.  Keewasee was also a hot head.

In April of 1832, before Black Hawk had crossed the river, Keewasee had tried to tear the Davis dam down.  He had talked to Davis before but his requests were summarily and rudely dismissed.  Davis caught Keewasee trying to tear his dam apart.  He then proceeded to beat him unmercifully with a hickory stick.  The insult was worse than the injury.

This insult was explained to Davis by J.H. Henderson.  The two men tried to soothe the feelings of Keewasee through presents and gifts.  They thought they had succeeded.  Revenge always looks for opportunity.

Black Hawk then crossed the Mississippi River.  He had been told by Neopope that the British would aid him.  He had been told by the Winnebago Prophet that the Potawatomi, Winnebago and Chippewa would side with him if there was a war.  He was given bad advice.

Shabbona and Waubonsee met with Black Hawk and others.  They tried to persuade Black Hawk from proceeding.

"Join me," said Black Hawk, "and our warriors will number like the trees in the forests."

Shabbona replied, "That is true, but the white men number like the leaves on those trees."

That statement effectively put an end to any mass allegiance to Black Hawk by the tribes of northern Illinois.  But Shabbona knew that he could not speak for all of the people.  He then left the camp and proceeded on May 16, 1832 on a "Paul Reverish" ride through northern Illinois to warn settlers of the impending danger.  He also sent his son to warn as many settlers as possible.

It is recorded that Shabbona and his son both tried to warn Davis.  That would suggest that there was a special need to warn him and his family.  Davis, however, spurned the warnings.  He then persuaded his neighbors; the Halls, Pettigrews and others to come to his homestead where there would be safety in numbers.  If the injuns wanted a fight, so be it.

Keewasee saw the opportunity.  He recruited others to join him.  Among them were Co-mee and Ta-qua-wee.  An inadvertent member was Shabbona's brother-in-law, Mehokee, who had ran into the group as he was looking for Shabbona to find out what was happening.

There were those among Shabbona's people, especially some young braves, who did not agree with the chief.  They were angry that Shabbona would not side with Black Hawk.  Keewasee took advantage of this anger.  He recruited a number of these young warriors to help him exact his revenge on Davis.  He figured they could attack Davis, get his revenge, and do it safely because Black Hawk would get the blame.

Davis and his neighbors were at the Davis homestead on Sunday, May 21, 1832.  The women and children were close to the house.  The men were working the fields since it was the planting season.  At about 4:30 that afternoon, painted warriors entered the property from the west.  The massacre began.

Davis and his men could not reach the house.  It is believed that Davis was able to kill or wound one of the braves before he was killed.  Mrs. Davis, Hall and Pettigrew were killed in the house as were several children.  The massacre of 15 people took about ten minutes to complete. 

Rachel and Sylvia Hall and seven-year-old James Davis were taken captive.  James was brutally murdered when he could not keep up.  It was thought that Black Hawk would welcome the hostages as bargaining chips.  When told of the hostages Black Hawk treated the news with disdain and the two women were immediately released, unharmed, to soldiers at Fort Armstrong.

William Davis, Jr., and J.H. Henderson were able to escape.  Henderson got away immediately.  Davis fell into the creek as if he was shot and was able to have the current take him downstream to safety in Ottawa, Illinois.  The news spread throughout the nation and was used to spread the fear of Black Hawk.  It was also used to justify the Bad Axe massacre of more than 1,000 men, women and children.

A marker with the names of the killed was erected where the massacre took place in 1905.  It still stands today at Shabbona Park in the northern extreme of La Salle County, just east of Route 23.