The following stories were recorded by historians from the 1800s, and reflect the viewpoint of the writers during those times. These accounts are included on Southern Illinois Pioneers to give context to the challenges faced by our pioneer ancestors, and as seen from their perspective. An attempt to provide the Native American perspective will also be included in a separate article.
James Curry and Levi Teel
A little colony of pioneers -- some of whom were soldiers under Col. Clark -- made a settlement on the east side of the Kaskaskia river, three miles from town, as early as the year 1780. The name of these settlers were John Montgomery, Joseph Anderson, John Dodge, John Doyle, David Pagon, M. Augustus, James Curry, and Levi Teel. They erected a few rude cabins, and made small farms. John Montgomery located upon the identical spot where Stace McDonough settled when he came to the contruy twenty years later. The settlement was almost broken up before the year 1790.
These pioneers experienced all the incidents common to frontier life, and encountered perilous adventures of a character so thrilling as to assume the air of fiction. One day, James Curry and Levi Teel were out hunting, and being overtaken by nightfall, they encamped in a new house just erected by David Pagon, but not yet occupied. During the latter part of the night, the house was besieged by a band of sixteen Piankashaw Indians. Teel proposed to surrender, lest a worse fate should befall them. To this proposition Curry resolutely demurred. He was brave, even to desperation; and knowing the house had been built substantial, and that the door was strongly barred, he determined to give battle. Teel went to the door, either to open it, or reconnoitre, and while standing near it, the Indians stuck a spear through a hole in the door into his foot, which fastened him to the floor. Instinctively he seized the spear to pull it out, when another spear was driven into his hand. His heartless enemies now had him fast, and they jagged and cut his hands ina most shocking manner. Curry, fearing lest Teel should open the door, mounted the loft and commenced firing upon the assailants. He fired three shots in rapid succession, each time bringing a warrior to the ground. Still fearing that Teel would open the door, he descended to the floor, and finding him disabled, he again sprang to the loft and renewed his despearate defense. Discovering that the indians had huddled close against the house to avoid his destructive shots, he tumbled the weight-poles of the roof down upon them, killing their chief, and wounding some others. This intrepid feat, and the approach of morning light, drove the Indians from the house, leaving Curry the victorious champion of the siege. By his fearleass daring he save himself and companion from Indian captivity, and probably death at the stake.
Curry was one of Clark's favorite soldiers, and distinguished himself in the capture of Forts Gage and Sackville. He was foremost in every perilous enterprise, and never quailed before danger. His life was one of thrilling adventures, and fate doomed him to a tragic end. In company with Joseph Anderson, he went out hunting and never returned. The presence of lurking, hostile savages, left no doubts about the manner of his death.
Joseph Curry, now an old man, living at Mr. Riley's Mill, is a grandson of the pioneer hero.
n the year 1783, Thomas Hughs, from Kentucky, came to the Territory to select a place with a view of bringing out his family. He marked a place for settlement in the eastern side of the Kaskasia river, in the Montgomery neighborhood, and then returned for his family in Kentucky. On his return to that State, he persuaded some friends to accompany him, and a small party started for Illinois. While crossing the Ohio river, they were attacked by Indians, and Hughs and three others of the party were killed. Mrs. Hughs was sitting in the boat with her child at the breast, and a ball from one of the savages' guns spattered its brains in her face.
The balance of the party escaped and returned to Kentucky. Some years afterward, Mrs. Hughs married James Pillars, and with his two sons, John and Richard, and the surving son of Hughs, James, they resolved to resume the journey to the wilds of illinois, which had been so suddenly interrupted by the death of Hughs.
John Lively's Family in Washington County
In Washington County, the family of John Lively, a relative of those of that name who had settled in this county, fell victims to savage barbarity. One afternoon, when all the family but two were gathered within the cabin, the Indians came, brutally murdered everyone in the house, and then set fire to it, and consume the freshly made corpses with the timbers of the building. As no one present was left to tell the particulars of this horrible tragedy, they have never been known. A son of Mr. Lively, William, who was then a small boy, was out at the time of the murder, hunting horses. On returning he discovered the flames and smoke rising from his father's cabin, and fearing lest the sad reality be true, he went away to a neighbor's house and gave the information of what he had seen. They went and found only the criped and charred forms of their friends smoulding in the ashes of the cabin. William and Jane, a litle girl who happened to be visiting some of her little friends in the neighborhood, escaped the terrible fate of their parents, and brothers and sisters, and are yet living. William is one of the oldest citizens in Washington County. Jane married William Caudle, of this (Randolph) county and is the mother of a large family, and still living at an extreme old age.
The following stories are adapted from Combined History of Randolph, Monroe, and Perry Counties, Illinois pages 79.
The Vengeance of John Moredock
In the year 1786, while Mr. Huff, who had married the widow Moredock, was coming to Illinois from Western Pennsylvania with the Moredock family, the party was attacked by the Indians of the Mississippi near Grand Tower, and Mrs. Huff, one of her sons, and some others were killed. The rest managed to escape in the boat. The body of Mrs. Huff was mangled in a shocking manner before the eyes of her husband and family. One of her sons, John Moredock, swore vengeance against the Indian race, and was afterward one of the foremost leaders in inflicting punishment on the savages. A few years afterward, Mr. Huff, himself, was killed by the Indians on the road between Prairie du Rocher and Kaskaskia. Many years afterward his watch and some other articles were found on the spot where he had been killed.
James Andrews and the Kidnap of his Daughter
Before this, in the year 1783, James Flannary had been killed, but the settlers were not much apprehensive of danger till a general war commenced in 1786. That year, James Andrews, who lived two miles north of where Waterloo now stands, was attacked by the Indians, he and his wife massacred, and his child taken captive. Andrews was an adventurous young Virginian, who had come to Illinois with the American immigration, and had settled at Bellefontaine in 1782. Shortly afterward he married the daughter of Captain Joseph Ogle, and settled at the head of Andrew's run at a spot now included in claim 507, survey 721. The window of his cabin was a square hole cut into the side of the building, which could be securely closed in times of danger. Andrews had neglected to close this opening on retiring for the night, and just before dawn while reposing peacefully by the side of his wife and child there came the sharp, clear report of an Indian's rifle, and a bullet penetrated his body. He instantly leaped from the bed, and sprang out through the opposite door, believing that the savages would be satisfied with plundering the house, and would not injure his wife and child. After ransacking the house, and loading themselves with such articles as they could carry, the prepared to depart, taking Mrs. Andrews with them, when the little girl at that time three years old, who had before remained perfectly quiet and unobserved, called out, "Don't take my mamma." Upon hearing the cry, they returned and seized the child, and carried her with them. After traveling about a quarter of a mile, Mrs. Andrews, who was in a delicate state of health, expecting soon to become the mother of another child, became unable to proceed farther, when her inhuman captors took the unhappy woman behind a tree and murdered her, leaving the body on the scene of the outrage. The body of poor Andrews was discovered some days later, far down the creek, where in weakness and delirium he had sunk down and died. Captain Ogle, the father of Mrs. Andrews, went to St. Louis, then a French trading port, and offered a liberal reward for the recovery of the child through the French traders and trappers. The little girl had been carried by the Indians as far north as Prairie du Chien, but after a short captivity, she was brought back to St. Louis by the French trappers. She was raised in the family of James Lemen, at New Design. Her name was Drusilla, and on arriving at womanhood whe became the wife of Henry Mace. Soon after her marriage she and her husband settled on teh Andrew's tract, but a short distance from where the old house had stood. One on occasion, while sitting with her infant in her arms, and aged Pottawatamie Indian entered the house, and addressed her in broken English, "House no here long time ago," and then taking her by the arm led her to where her father's house had stood, and said, "Long time agon you papoose, heep Indian came and kill you mother." Mrs. Mace was much agitated. The Indian, without doubt, was one of the band that massacred her father and mother. She became the mother of a large family of children.
On the 10th of December, 1788, while Benjamin Ogle and James Garretson were hauling hay from the bottom, they were fired upon by two Indians. A ball lodged in Ogle's shoulder and remained there. Garretson escaped in the woods. While engaged in stacking this same hay, Samuel Garretson and a man name Reddick were killed and scalped. On account of his wound, Mr. Ogle was granted a pension by the government.
William Biggs and the Kickapoos
On the 28th of March, 1788, William Biggs, who then resided at Bellefontaine, in company with John Vallis, set out for Cahokia, to sell some beaver fur. When within six miles of Piggot's fort they heard the report of two guns, which they thought had been fired by hunters. Soon afterward, sixteen Indians made their appearance and presented their guns in readiness to fire. Biggs and Vallis whipped their horses and attempted to escape. The bullets of the Indians killed Biggs' horse and pierced his overcoat with four holes, though his person escaped injury. With his furs and saddle he fell from his horse, and after running some distance, was made prisoner. Vallis was shot in the thigh, but clung to his horse, which carried him to the fort. He died six weeks afterward from his wound. As soon as Vallis reached the fort a swivel gun was fired to alarm the neighborhood. When the Indians heard this gun they ran with Biggs for six miles. They were without horses, but traveled forty miles the first day. One of the Indians attempted to kill Biggs, but his comrades would not permit, and killed the Indian himself. The Indians were Kickapoos, and traveled with Biggs to their town on the Wabash. After some time he effected his release by agreeing to pay a Spaniard, named Basedone, two hundred and sixty dollars ransom money, and thirty seven more for neccesaries to enable him to make the journey home. He reached Kaskasia by way of the Wabash, Ohio, and Mississippi rivers, and from there came to Bellefontaine. He was a large and fine-looking man, and was greatly admired by the Indian maidens, who were his warm friends during his captivity. He wrote and published a narrative of his adventures in 1826.
David Waddle Scalped Alive and Survived
Ten Percent of Population in 1780s Massacred
During the years 1789 and 1790, the Indians grew more bold and troublesome, and numerous murders were committed. No family or individual was safe, night or day, from their attacks. It is estimated that in these two years one-tenth of the inhabitants of the county were massacred. The Kickapoos were mostly the agressors. They were better armed and more vigorous than the other Indian tribes, and prosecuted their war against the Americans with great ferocity. The French settlers of Illinois almost entirely escaped. The enmity of the savages was directed altogether against the American population. In the American Bottom, not far from where Fountain creek flows from the bluff, three boys were attacked by six Indians in 1789. One, David Waddle, was struck with a tomahawk in three places and scalped, but still made his escape and recovered from his wounds. His companions ran to the neighboring fort and were uninjured.
James Dempsey Scalped Alive and Survived
James Turner and John Ferrel were killed the same year. James Dempsey was scalped and left for dead, but recovered. In the Winter of 1789-90, a party of Osage Indians crossed the Mississippi and stole some horses from the settlers in the American Bottom. A party was hastily organized to pursue them toward the river. James Worley, being in advance of the others, was turned upon, and killed and scalped by the Indians, before his companions could come to his rescue. It is said that the Indians cut off the head of Worley, and threw it toward the whites as they advanced. It was seldom that the Osages, who lived west of the Mississippi, crossed the river to commit depradations in Illinois.
James Smith Ordeal
A Baptist preacher from Kentucky, James Smith, while journeying to the village of St. Phillips, in company with a Frenchman and a Mrs. Huff, on the 19th of May, 1790, the party was fired on by a band of Kickapoo Indians who were concealed in a thicket near Bellefontaine. The horses of the preacher and Frenchman were shot, and the woman was wounded. Mrs. Huff was at once killed on falling into the hands of the indians; the Frenchman made his escape, and Smith was taken prisoner. His saddle bags were found the next day in a thicket where he had thrown them at the time of the attack. He was a large, heavy man, and the Indians loaded him with a pack of plunder they had secured from the settlements, and set out toward their town on the Wabash. His march through the prairies, with a heavy load, and under a hot Sun, was excessively fatiguing. Some of the Indians proposed to kill him, and pointed their guns at his breast. Having observed him praying and singing hymns, they concluded that he was a good medicine man, and held intercourse with the Great Spirit, and must not therefore be killed. Through the agency of the French traders at Vincennes, he was released, the people of the New Design settlement paying one hundred and seventy dollars for his ransom. He came back to Illinois, obtained his saddle bags, which contained valuable papers relating to the titles of land belonging to his friends, and then returned to Kentucky.
Jack Dempsey Attacked Again
In May 1791. John Dempsey, who two years before had been scalped by the Indians and left for dead, was again attacked, and this time succeeded also in effecting his escape. A party of eight men hastened in pursuit of the indians, who were double the number of the whites. Captain Nathaniel Hull led the party, of whom the other members were James Lemen, Joseph Ogle, Benjamin Ogle, Josiah Ryan, William Bryson, John Porter, and Daniel Raper. The Indians were overtaken and a hot battle fought in the timber at the Big Spring, about five miles north of the present town of Waterloo, and a short distance east of the St. Louis road. The fight was kept up from tree to tree, the Indians endeavoring to escape and the white pursuing. Five of the Indians were killed, and not one of the whites was injured.
The Whiteside Family Struggles with the Kickapoos
In the year 1793. a band of Kickapoo Indians stole some horses from the American Bottom near Eagle Cliffs, and an expedition was organized to pursue the Indians. William Whiteside was captain, and he was accompanied by Samuel Judy, John Whiteside, Samuel Whiteside, William Harrington, William L. Whiteside, John Porter, and John Dempsey. They followed the Indian trail, passing near the site of the present city of Belleville, towards the Indian camp on Shoal creek. One of the party generally went before on the trail to prevent the others from rushing into an ambuscade. It was considered better that one should be killed than all the party. They came up with the Indians on Shoal creek, and found three of the horses grazing in the prairie. These horses were secured, and then arrangements were made to attack the Indian camp. Captain Whiteside divided his force into two parties of four men each. These parties attacked the camp from opposite sides at the same time, the firing of the captain's gun being the signal for the commencement of the battle. One Indian, the son of the chief, was killed, and several wounded. The Indians ran off, leaving their guns and everything else behind. The old chief, Pecon by name, surrendered, and gave up his gun to Whiteside. He supposed from the bold attack that the whites were numerous, but when he found their entire number consisted of only eight men, he called in a loud voice for his men to return, and at the same time attempted to wrench his gun from Whiteside's hands. Whiteside was a large man of extraordinary strength and easily retained the gun. While the struggle was going on the whites were afraid to shoot at the Indian lest they might kill their captain. Whiteside would not permit his men to injure an unarmed foe, and the chief was suffered to escape. Captain Whiteside was famous for his prudence, as well as his courage, and with the horses they had caught, started back, and neither ate nor slept till they reached Whiteside's station. His wisdom was verified, for the very night of his arrival at the station Pecon and seventy warriors, in pursuit, camped near Cahokia. The next year, 1794, Pecon and his band shot Thomas Whiteside near the station, and tomahawked a son of Captain Whiteside, who had wondered some distance from the fort to play.
Captain Whiteside, however, had his revenge next year. A Frenchman of Cahokia informed him that a considerable number of Indians had camped under the bluff in St. Clair County, near where the road from Belleville to St. Louis now passes. Captain Whiteside gathered a company of fourteen, among which were Samuel Whiteside, William L. Whiteside, Johnson J. Whiteside, Samuel Judy, and Isaac Enochs, and attacked the camp just before the break of day, killing all the Indians except one who ran off, and was killed, it is said, by the other Indians for his cowardice. For many years afterward the bones of these Indians could be seen whitening the ground. In the battle Captain Whiteside was wounded, and he supposed mortally. He fell to the ground, but still continued to exhort his men to stand their ground and never permit an Indian to touch his body when he was dead, as he supposed he would be in a short time. His son, Uel, was also wounded in his arm so that he could not use his gun. He examined his father's wound, and found that the ball had not passed through the body, but had struck a rib and glanced off toward the spine. The bullet could be felt under the skin. Every pioneer in those days was a surgeon, nad with is butcher knife he cut it out, remarking, "Father, you are not dead yet." The old man jumped to his feet, and continued his fight with the Indians. On their return to Whiteside's station the party halted in Cahokia, at the house of Mrs. Rains, to care for the wounded. This lady had two beautiful and intelligent daughters, and this accidental meeting finally led to their marriage to Uel and William B. Whiteside.
The Massacre of Robert McMahan's Family
The most serious and dreadful tragedy that ever occurred in the county, or indeed, in the State, was the murder of the wife and four children of Robert McMahan, in January 1795, three miles southeast of the New Design station. McMahan was a native of Virginia, from which he emigrated to Kentucky where, at Crab Orchard, he married Margaret Cline. In the year 1793 he came to Illinois, and settled at New Design. In 1794 he lived in a house near the station belonging to James Lemen; he had selected a location in the prairie, and desiring to improve a farm had moved on the land which was part of the northeast quarter of section nineteen, township three south, range nin west. No other house was in sight. He made preparations to defend himself and family from an attack by the Indians. He had a rifle, and only a week before the tragedy, had run two hundred rifle balls. He also kept at the house a blunderbuss loaded with six charges of powder and nine balls. "When you hear the report of my blunderbuss," said he to his friends at the station, "you may be certain that I am attacked." The door of his house was so constructed that it might be strongly barred, and port holes were made in the walls through which he might shoot any one who should attempt to ascend to the roof. The murders took place on the twenty-sixth of January, 1795. On the morning of that day, McMahan went out to hunt for his oxen, when he perceived that his horse, which was confined in a pen, appeared to be frightened. He cast his eye over the prairie in every direction, but saw no enemy. A lone hickory tree, one hundred and fifty yards from the house, had been blown down the previous fall while in full leaf, and thus furnished a convenient hiding place for an attacking party. Unfortunately, he did not think a deadly enemy might be hid behind this convenient covert.
He entered his house, but had not been indoors more than two or three minutes, when four Indians, frightfully painted black and red, entered the house, two by two, saying, "Bon jour! Bon jour!" (good day!, good day!) a salutation they had evidently learned from their intercourse with the French. They stood motionless a few seconds, when one of them attempted to take down McMahan's rifle from the hooks, and McMahan too down his blunderbuss; but this wife took hold of it and begged him not to resist as she hoped their lives might be spared if they submitted peaceably, but otherwise they would be killed. The Indians then seized the blunderbuss, and wrenched it from his hands. Every one then made for the door. Mrs. McMahan ran halfway around the house, when she was shot in the left breast and scalped. McMahan was then pulled back into the house, thrown on the floor, and his hands pinioned close behind him, with deer sinews. Sally McMahan, the oldest daughter, then less than three years old, remained in the house, and saw one of the Indians knock her brother and two of her sisters on the head with the pole of his tomahawk. It was a light blow, only sufficient to stun them. This Indian was proceeding to open the cradle where lay a female infant, only one month old, when Sally rand out of the house, and once around it, when she was also seized by him. Three of the children were scalped. The infant likewise was murdered.
The Indians took from the house such articles as they wanted, paced a part of them upon McMahan, untying one of his hands so that he might hold the load on his back. They were in a great hurry to get off. Sally McMahan was also taken along as a prisoner. They set out for the Indian town in the northeast part of Illinois. They crossed Prairie du Long creek, not far from its mouth, and camped the first night on Richland creek, about half a mile below the present town of Belleville. McMahan meditated an escape, but did not make known his intention to his daughter. The first night the Indians tied him securely, and took away his sholes and hat and part of this clothes, so that he had no opportunity. They also tied on him a belt, partly wrought with porcupine quills and small bells, so that if he stirred, the bells would rattle and give the alarm. After the journey was commenced the Indians were kind and friendly, fixing the shoes of Sally McMahan, and making here as comfortable as possible. The second night McMahan quietly slipped the cords from his limbs and body, and was about to rise, when one of the Indians raised up his head, and looked around, but laid down again without noticing him. When the Indian had again gone to sleep, McMahan made his escape, without his shoes, hat, and with but little of his clothing. He covered some of his clothing over the belt of bells, so that they made no noise. He slipped back to the camp and tried to get his shoes, or a pair of moccasins from the Indians, but could get neither. He started for the New Design, as well as he could judge of the course. He as nearly famished. While with the Indians a small pittance of dried meat had been his only food. The Indians, themselves, were without provisions, and in almost starving condition. He lay out one night, making his bed of leaves under a large fallen tree, which was held up from the ground by its branches. His feet and elbows were partially frozen, but with the daylight he resumed his journey. He visited the New Design settlement, but near Prairie du Rocher saw Samuel Judy. When he reached New Design, his condition was deplorable. His clothing was torn and tattered, his feet bruised and bleeding, and his limbs partially frozen.
His wife and children lay dead for several days before murder was discovered by the neighbors. A small dog, which had been much admired and petted by McMahan's family, came frequently to the house of James Lemen, whining, and running backward and forward in an unusual manner. No one took any hint from the actions of the dog, though the cause of its distress was plainly enough afterward made manifest. Old Mr. Judy was the first to discover the dead bodies, and shed tears when he told the sad story of the murder. The neighbors went out and buried the dead all in one grave, and on the night of the same day funeral services were held at the house of James Lemen. At nine or ten o'clock, just as the meeting closed, McMahan entered the house from Prairie du Rocher. The little dog at first did not know his master, so changed was he by his hardships and sufferings, but the moment he looked into the his face he leaped into his lap with extravagant demonstrations of joy. The whole assembly was profoundly affected, and McMahan burst into loud lamentations over the fate of his family.
After McMahan's escape the Indians traveled with their remaining captive, Sally McMahan, to the home of the Putawabs, southwest of Lake Michigan. Here she was transferred to an Ottawa Indian named Sukkonok, who had become a chief in the Putawah tribe and whose wife was the sister if the three who had been concerned in the massacre. By the treaty of Greenville, following Wayne's victory over the Indians in 1795, the Indians engaged to bring to the white settlements all the captives in their possession. In accordance with this agreement, Sukkonok, in April 1796, brought Sally McMahan in a canoe, down the Illinois and Mississippi rivers to Cahokia where she was delivered to the white people. It was during the session of the court, and a great many people were present. The Indian chief made a speech in which he said that he had no hand in the massacre and had paid a considerable sum for the captive, and had brought her from a great distance to the white settlements. He therefore appealed to the liberality of the white people to make him a just compensation. A subscription paper was drawn up, and one hundred and sixty-four dollars raised, which amount, in goods, was advanced to Sukkonok by Mr. Arundel, a merchant of Cahokia. Robert McMahan married a second wife, and raised a large family. He lived for some years on Ralls' ridge, near Red Bud, in Randolph County, and was justice of the peace and Judge of the Randolph County Court. He afterward removed to the vicinity of Troy, in Ridge prairie, in Madison County, where he died in the year 1822 at the age of sixty-three. Sally, his daughter, who was born March 1785, married David Gaskill, in Ridge prairie, Madison County, where they greater part of her life was spent. She died in the city of Alton, on the twenty-third of January, 1850.