A DeKalb County Thanksgiving Story
by Mac McIntyre
Reaching to the sky, as if to speak directly with the Creator, old Shobney cried, "We are all alike. All alike!"
With these words the man, the village of Shabbona is named after, realized that at least for the time being, he had lost the land where his ancestors were buried and the home that he and his family lived in. He had returned from an extended visit with his band of Ottawa and Potawatomi, who had been forced to move from their land near what is today Shabbona Lake State Park and Indian Oaks Country Club, with the Prairie Band Potawatomi to first Iowa and then Kansas.
Settlers had moved into his home which had been declared vacant in his absence and sold. Shobney inquired as to why these people were living on his land and where he and his family were supposed to live. One of the settlers called him a big dumb Indian and told him to get out.
Shobney fought alongside Tecumseh and with the British against the Americans in the War of 1812. After witnessing the total defeat of Tecumseh, he knew what a formidable military power the Americans were. It's quite possible that he was influenced by the spiritual teachings of Tecumseh's prophet brother, Tenskwata, who preached against vices, especially those of the whites such as whiskey. It was then, at an age of around 19, that Shobney decided to try to show his people how to coexist with the white man.
Shobney saw to it that his village not only welcomed but traded with white settlers to the area. Early on he served as a guide for those in need of such services. He worked to prevent the killing of some soldiers and their families during the Fort Dearborn Massacre. He was often the mediator when disagreements or misunderstandings occurred between the settlers and the native Americans.
But in 1832 came Shobney's greatest test. Sac war chief Black Hawk's attempted to reclaim his land near the Quad Cities and tried to rally a Tecumseh style allegiance of Sac, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Kickapoo and Winnebago warriors to confront the United States government.
"Join me," Blackhawk said at a meeting of the various tribes near what was Sauk-e-nuk (near Rock Island), "and our warriors will be as numerous as the trees in the forests."
"Yes," replied Shobney, "but the whites will be like the leaves on those trees."
This statement effectively prevented an allegiance from taking place. But Shobney knew that many white settlers were in imminent danger, not only from Black Hawk, but from disgruntled young braves from even among his own people, who would see the drums of war as an excuse to exact revenge for mistreatment with blame given to Black Hawk.
In an attempt equal to Paul Revere, Shobney and a son rode ponies to death warning many settlers of impending danger when the rumors of war began. Not all settlers heeded Shobney's warning. 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 by braves not associated with Black Hawk 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.
But many more settlers moved from harm's way thanks to Shobney's efforts. Several never forgot this act of bravery and kindness.
For his actions, Shobney, was given the title of "Friend of the Whites." He was also 'given' (again) his land that was treatied to the Potawatomi in the 1829 Prairie Du Chein Treaty. He was later seated as guest of honor, invited by Abraham Lincoln, at the Lincoln-Douglas debate held in Ottawa.
But having the title of "Friend of the Whites" wasn't much good for Shobney among many native Americans. There were those among Black Hawk's band that saw him as a traitor.
Shobney, himself, survived numerous assassination attempts by those loyal to Black Hawk. The son who rode with Shobney to warn the settlers was not so fortunate. He was murdered in revenge.
Because he made several trips from his home in Illinois to his people in Iowa and Kansas -- to try and help ease their suffering -- Shobney's land was declared 'abandoned' and taken from him. He found that out after arriving home, with his wife and children, only to be chastised and chased away by settlers who had moved into his land.
Shobney was stunned. He had spent much of his life trying to blend with the settlers and live a life of peaceful co-existence. He had sacrificed much. He had helped many.
There he stood. His immediate family homeless. He was too old to attempt to move to Kansas. And a trespassing settler dared to call him a "big dumb Indian."
"Why do you call me a big dumb Indian?" asked Shobney. "I don't call you a big dumb white man.
"Up there!," he pointed. "We are all alike. All alike!"
Some good people of Morris remembered why he was called, "Friend of the Whites," and provided him with a cabin to live out his final days. They later erected, at his grave in the Morris Cemetery, a monument in his memory dedicated to his service.
His descendants and his people today are still trying to get his land back. The land where their ancestors are buried. Occasionally their efforts make the news.
Remember Shobney this Thanksgiving. Remember DeKalb County's native American roots, history and traditions.