One hundred years ago, the Illinois country formed the far western edge of the wave of American civilization which was slowly advancing across the continent from the Atlantic seaboard. Less than a third of the area included within the boundaries of the state of Illinois, when admitted to the Union in 1818, was occupied by permanent settlements of white men. North of an east and west line drawn through the mouth of the Illinois River, the vast treeless prairies, interspersed with wooded valleys along the streams, were still the domain of the Indian and the fur trader. The irresistible westward movement of the American people, seeking new homes in the wilderness, had carried them across the Alleghanies, down the Ohio valley, and into the region of mingled forest and prairies in southern Illinois. Already extensive cessions of land in the northern part of the state had been secured from the Indians; and, although they continued to live and hunt in the ceded as well as the unceded districts, their elimination as a factor in Illinois history was soon to be completed. Nevertheless, no account of Illinois in 1818 would be complete without some consideration of these remnants of the aboriginal inhabitants and their relations with the white men.
When the French explorers first came to the Mississippi valley, they found a confederacy of five tribes inhabiting the country which was named, after them, the Illinois. During the eighteenth century, these tribes were almost annihilated by the surrounding peoples. By 1818, the Cahokia, Michigamea, and Tamaroa had disappeared as distinct tribes; the Kaskaskia, much weakened, lingered on in a reservation of 350 acres left them by the whites near the town of Kaskaskia; while the remnants of the Peoria still lived near the former habitat of the confederacy on the Illinois River.
Next to the Kaskaskia, the nearest neighbors of the white settlers in the south were the Kickapoo, who were scattered p6along the valley of the Sangamon from the headwaters of the Kaskaskia River to the Illinois. They also appear to have had one or two villages west of the Illinois. Farther north were the Sauk and Fox, who, although not completely amalgamated, mingled with each other a great deal and sometimes lived in the same villages. In spite of the nominal cession of all their land in Illinois, the principal villages of these tribes were still located near the mouth of the Rock River with other villages extending along both banks of the Mississippi and into the interior. Generally speaking these tribes may be said to have occupied the western part of the triangle between the Mississippi and the Illinois and between the Mississippi and the Rock rivers. The greater part of the domain of the Winnebago was in what is now Wisconsin, but a small wedge-shaped portion of it extended into Illinois between the Rock River and the eastern watershed of the Mississippi. Some of the villages of this tribe were located on the Rock. The whole northeastern part of Illinois was occupied by the Potawatomi with the associated bands of Ottawa and Chippewa. They had villages on the Rock, the Fox, the Kankakee, the Illinois, and also in the interior between these streams and in the neighborhood of Chicago.1
The best available evidence as to the population of the Indian tribes living in Illinois in 1818 is an estimate made by the Secretary of War in 1815, but unfortunately the figures refer to the tribes as a whole and not merely to the groups living in Illinois. According to this estimate the Potawatomi were the most numerous, having 4,800 souls. The Sauk numbered 3,200 and the Fox 1,200, making a total of 4,400 for the two tribes. The Winnebago were credited with 2,400 souls but only a few of these lived south of the boundary line. Nearly all of the 1,600 Kickapoo, on the other hand, were within the limits of Illinois. The Kaskaskia tribe had been reduced to 60 souls and the Peoria were not included p7in the count at all. In each instance it was estimated that about one-fourth of the members of the tribe were warriors.
All these tribes belonged to the Algonkin linguistic group with the exception of the Winnebago, who were of Dakota stock. The material culture, social organization, and religious beliefs of the different tribes were fairly uniform. They were people neither of the forest nor the plain, but lived along the water courses and in the groves much as did the first white settlers. Their time was divided about equally between hunting and agricultural life. "They leave their villages," says Marston,
as soon as their corn, beans, etc., is ripe and taken care of, and their traders arrive and give out their credits and go to their wintering grounds; it being previously determined on in council what particular ground each party shall hunt on. The old men, women, and children embark in canoes, and the young men go by land with their horses; on their arrival they immediately commence their winter's hunt, which lasts about three months. . . . They return to their villages in the month of April and after putting their lodges in order, commence preparing the ground to receive the seed.2
The principal crop was Indian corn, of which they often had extensive fields. Speaking of the Sauk and Fox near Rock Island, Major Marston says: "The number of acres cultivated by that part of the two nations who reside at their villages in this vicinity is supposed to be upwards of three hundred. They usually raise from seven to eight thousand bushels of corn, besides beans, pumpkins, melons, etc. . . . The labor of agriculture is confined principally to the women, and this is done altogether with the p8hoe."3 While corn formed the staple of the Indians' diet, they made some use of wild vegetables and roots. They ate meat of many varieties, preference being given to venison and bear's meat. They cared little for fish but ate it when other food was scarce. "They most generally boil everything into soup," says Forsyth in his memoir. "I never knew them to eat raw meat, and meat seems to disgust them when it is not done thoroughly. . . . The old women set the kettle a boiling in the night, and about day break all eat whatever they have got, they eat in the course of the day as often as they are hungry, the kettle is on the fire constantly suspended from the roof of the lodge, every one has his wood dish or bowl and wooden spoon or as they call it Me‑quen which they carry along with them when they are invited to feast."4
The ordinary garments of the Indian men were a shirt reaching almost to the knees, a breechclout, and leggings which came up to the thigh and were fastened to the belt on either side. In earliest times all their clothing was made of leather, but by 1818 this material had been generally replaced by trade cloth. The shirt and leggings were often dyed a deep blue or black, while the breechclout was usually of red cloth; all were more or less elaborately decorated with bead and quill work. The women wore a two-piece garment, short leggings reaching to the knees, and moccasins; they also employed the customary Indian ornamentation of quills and beads. Both sexes wore the robe, and later the trade blanket. The men painted their faces in various ways, while the women painted very little or not at all. Except when on the warpath the men of most of the tribes let their hair grow long, wearing the scalp lock braided and a band of otter skin or a woven sash bound around the brows. The women ordinarily wore their hair in a single braid down the back.
The principal manufacturing operations of these tribes were tanning, weaving, and the making of pottery; although the last named industry had practically been given up by 1818. The p9central Algonkin were not familiar with the use of the loom, but they twisted a twine from the inner bark of the linden, and with this wove excellent bags of various sorts, which they used for a great variety of purposes. These were decorated by weaving in geometric designs and conventional representations of animals. They also made reed mats sewed with twine, which were used as covering for the floors, and as roofing for the winter houses. The pottery was of a rather inferior sort, burned in an open fire, or simply sun-dried, and decorated with a few incised lines. With the coming of the whites, this native ware was rapidly replaced by the trade kettle.
All the tribes living in Illinois used two types of houses, one for summer, the other for winter. The summer houses, as described by Forsyth, were
built in the form of an oblong, a bench on each of the long sides about three feet high and four feet wide, parallel to each other, a door at each end, and a passage thro the center of about six feet wide, some of those huts are fifty or sixty feet long and capable of lodging fifty or sixty persons. Their winter lodges are made by driving long poles in the ground in two rows nearly at equal distances from each other, bending the tops so as to overlap each other, then covering them with mats made of what they call puc-wy a kind of rushes or flags, a Bearskin generally serves for a door, which is suspended at the top and hangs down, when finished it is not unlike an oven with the fire in the center and the smoke omits thro the top.5
The basis of the social organization and government of these Indians was the clan, all the tribes being divided into a large number of gentes or groups based on descent in the male line and strictly exogamous. Each clan took its name from some special animal or thing to which the members thought themselves related. Thus the gentes of the Kickapoo were Water, Bear, Elk, Bald Eagle, Tree, Berry, Fox, Buffalo, Man, Turkey, and Thunder. The heads of these clans acted as civil chiefs, although the braves or principal men had considerable influence in matters of war and peace. The authority of the chiefs was hereditary, descending to the oldest male of the family, but it p10was not by any means absolute. So loose was the organization of a tribe that the office of chief entailed more trouble than advantage and was sometimes refused. Indeed the power of an individual chief depended primarily on his personal influence rather than on the prestige of the office. The function of the council appears to have been not so much judicial as administrative — the determination of matters of tribal policy — and in its deliberations substantial unanimity was necessary for a decision. "There is no such thing," says Forsyth, "as a summary mode of coercing the payment of debts, all contracts are made on honor, for redress of civil injuries an appeal is made to the old people of both parties and their determination is generally acceded to."6 Atonement for murder was made in the manner customary among primitive people, usually by payments or presents to the relatives of the dead. Even war was a matter of individual initiative rather than of tribal concern. Any individual might become a war chief for the time being, if he had sufficient influence to induce a party of warriors to follow him.
Most of the tribes were also divided, without regard to clans, into two great phratries, the Blacks and the Whites. This division was applied to both sexes, and the phratry was fixed at the time of birth. Usually the first child of a Black was a White, the second a Black, and so on, but there was no fixed rule. The explanation given by Indians for this division was that it tended to promote emulation within the tribe. The two colors always played against each other in athletic games and in gambling. They seem to have had some ceremonial significance also, for at clan feasts the Whites took the south and the Blacks the north side of the loge; and certain offices were definitely assigned to each.
The religion of the Algonkin Indians was essentially a nature worship, pure and simple. An object around which associations had clustered would become the recipient of adoration, and either the object itself or an interpreted manifestation of the object would be looked upon as a manitou capable of bringing pleasure p11or inflicting pain. In everyday life the elaborate ritual of the Indians' religion centered about the medicine bundle — a collection of charms, amulets, or fetishes sometimes thought to have a consciousness of its own and to enjoy offerings. Some of these bundles were used in clan ceremonies connected with the naming of children, others were thought to give magical protection and help in battle, while still others were supposed to aid their owners in various affairs of life, such as hunting, love, friendship, sickness, athletic sports, gambling, and witchcraft. Frequently the same bundle would be used for several purposes, but there was always an elaborate ritual in connection with it.
In addition to the cult of the medicine bundles, the Indians of Illinois, in common with other central Algonkin, had the society of the Midewin, or grand medicine lodge. This was a secret organization, varying in its minor details with the different tribes, but having certain fundamental features common to all. Admission was on the recommendation of some member, or in the place of some member who had died. Membership was open to both men and women, and in some tribes even children were taken to succeed deceased members. The applicant had to pay a certain fixed sum for admission, and at the same time buy from some member a certain number of formulae and charms. Among several of the tribes the society was divided into four degrees, admission to each one of which had to be bought. The initiation seems to have been little more than a notification to the public that the initiate was qualified to practice magic, the scope of his power becoming greater with each succeeding degree. The badge of the order was a medicine pouch, usually made of the skin of an otter tanned whole, and always containing the megus — a small white shell which was supposed to be the carrier of the magic power. Usually there were also other magicians and witches, not members of the same medicine lodge, whose powers were supposed to result from some special dispensation of the manitous.
It is evident that the Indians had nothing that could be called a formal civil government. Most affairs were left to individual initiative; the love of freedom was one of the Indians' chief characteristics; p12and they suffered their personal liberty to be only slightly limited even by the authority of the chiefs and sachems. This lack of political organization among the Indians inevitably caused many complications in dealing with the whites, complications which were increased by the fact that the whites with whom the Indians first came in contact were generally the most lawless and unruly representatives of their race.
The fur traders, who were always the first to penetrate the Indian forests, were usually hardy adventurers whose one concern was to secure as large a profit as they could from their traffic with the savages. The Illinois country had long been a fertile field for these rovers, and the problem of their control had been one of the most serious which had been handed down first by the French to the British, and then by the British to the Americans. The advent of the pioneer farmer, however, was an even more prolific source of friction than the irregularities of the fur traders, for the Indians regarded with the most jealous disfavor the permanent clearance and settlement of the hunting grounds over which their ancestors had roamed in perfect freedom. The whites, on the other hand, regarded the land as theirs by a sort of racial right and considered that they were justified in using every means to wrest it from the aborigines.
In 1818, the Indians in Illinois retained but little of the independence and self-sufficiency of their forefathers. Their agriculture was of a rude and primitive sort, and they had come to rely upon the white trader for a large number of articles which, once unknown, had become necessities of life; and these they secured in exchange for the returns of their hunts. Their resources not having kept pace with their growing wants, their condition was a rather wretched one; and they were regarded by the government as wards to be cared for as well as possible enemies to be feared. Governor Cass of Michigan Territory, speaking of the Indians in 1816, said: "Since the establishment of the National Government provisions have always been gratuitously distributed to them, and more recently goods to a considerable [amount] have been given. Without these annual gratuities, it is difficult to conceive how they could support and clothe themselves. Even with all this assistance their condition is p13wretched, their wants increasing their feelings disponding and their prospects dreary."7
While the Indians of Illinois and the adjoining frontier were comparatively peaceful and quiet in 1818, there was always a danger that they might take up the hatchet and wage war against the whites, and this ever-present danger was never lost sight of by the United States government. A complicating factor in the situation was the influence which the British still exerted over the tribes of Illinois and the Great Lakes region as late as 1818. The great majority of these tribes had sided with the British in the War of 1812; and, after peace was concluded between Great Britain and the United States, it was necessary to conclude treaties with the Indians likewise. Thomas Forsyth was sent as agent to invite various tribes, including the Chippewa, Menominee, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, and Sauk and Fox, to send deputations to meet with Governor Clark of Missouri Territory, Governor Ninian Edwards of Illinois Territory, and Auguste Chouteau, who had been appointed commissioners by the President to conclude treaties of peace and amity.8 In the course of time, formal peace was established between the United States and the various tribes which had taken up the hatchet on the British side in the war, but the problem of British influence still remained. The proposal of the United States government after the close of the war to establish military posts at Chicago, Green Bay, and Prairie du Chien aroused considerable opposition among the Indians; in this they had a certain degree of moral support from the British, who naturally were not anxious to see the military forces of their late enemy occupy the frontier region resorted to by the British traders.9
p14 During the period following the war, the British endeavored to preserve the good will of the Indians of the northwest by a lavish distribution of presents at Drummond's Island, not far from Mackinac, and at Malden, at the mouth of the Detroit River. In the summer of 1817, Major Puthuff, agent at Mackinac, reported that a considerable band of Sauk and Fox from the lower Mississippi, of Winnebago from the Wisconsin River and Prairie du Chien, as well as some Potawatomi and other tribes from the Illinois, had visited Mackinac and Drummond's Island that season. At the latter post, the British had distributed presents, and it was reported that large quantities of arms and ammunition had been given out. Two years later, Governor Cass said in a letter to Calhoun, then Secretary of War: "The British Indian headquarters are at Malden at the mouth of this River, and to that place the Indians east of Lake Michigan, many west of that Lake, and those upon the Wabash & Miami Rivers and their tributary streams make an annual journey to receive the presents, which are distributed to them and to confer as they express it, with their British father."10 Needless to say, the practice was most objectionable to the United States, and in 1819, Calhoun gave Governor Cass instructions to prevent any Indians living within the United States from passing into Canada, save as individuals. Still, as late as 1820, certain of the Sauk and Fox living in the vicinity of Fort Armstrong on Rock Island had British medals in their possession and were displaying British flags considerably larger than the American army standards.
The presence of British traders among the Indians of the northwest was also a source of considerable uneasiness to the Americans. In 1818, many of the private traders in Illinois, as well as throughout the entire Great Lakes region, were British in their political allegiance and in their sympathies; many of them had taken an active part against the Americans in the War of 1812. The correspondence of the time is filled with complaints concerning the evil influence of these British traders. p15Jacob Varnum, who had charge of the government trading factory at Chicago in 1818, said: "The indiscriminate admission of British subjects to trade with the Indians, is a matter of pretty general complaint, throughout this section of the country. There are five establishments now within the limits of this agency, headed by British subjects."11 Governor Cass likewise had little love for these traders. "They systematically seize every opportunity of poisoning the minds of these Indians," he wrote. "There is no doubt but they report every occurrence of any importance to their Indian Department, and the Indians are taught to consider our Government as their enemies and the British as their friends."12 It is very probable that American army officers and Indian agents somewhat overestimated the danger to be anticipated from the influence of British agents and traders with the savages. At the same time, in the light of experience, and in view of the actual situation of affairs on the frontier, the government of the United States was certainly justified in exercising the greatest diligence in its efforts to check all intercourse between the Indians and the British.
The United States government had, then, three ends in view in its administration of Indian affairs upon the northwestern frontier during this period: to preserve peace between the red man and the white settler; to destroy British influence and to render the Indians dependent upon the United States; and, last, to improve the condition of the savages or, if possible, to civilize them. There was a rather widely spread feeling that the whites owed a certain moral obligation to the Indians on account of the occupation of so goodly a portion of their best hunting grounds. The government sought to carry out its policy by means of three separate and distinct agencies; the military posts upon the frontier, the Indian Department, and the system of government fur-trading factories.
p16 The principal military establishments upon the northwestern frontier in 1818 were at Detroit, Mackinac, Fort Wayne, Green Bay, Prairie du Chien, and Chicago. Fort Dearborn, it will be remembered, was destroyed during the War of 1812, but it was re-established in 1816. There were three other posts in Illinois in 1818, besides the one at Chicago: Fort Armstrong, on Rock Island; Fort Edwards, opposite the mouth of the Des Moines River; and Fort Clark, on the Illinois River near the outlet of Peoria Lake. The last-named post was abandoned, however, in the same year. These posts were located at strategic points upon the water communications of the northwest and were designed to overawe the Indian tribes in their vicinity and to act as a check upon foreign interference. In addition, they gave aid and protection to the Indian Department and to the government trading factories.
The Indian Department, under the supervision and direction of the United States Department of War, had its agencies at Mackinac, Green Bay, Prairie du Chien, Chicago, Vincennes, Fort Wayne, and Piqua. There was a special agent for the Illinois Territory, with headquarters at Peoria, besides scattered sub-agents. Before Illinois was admitted into the Union, Governor Edwards was ex officio superintendent of Indian affairs in the greater part of the territory and as such directed the administration of affairs at the different agencies within his jurisdiction. Thus the agent for Illinois Territory, as well as the one stationed at Prairie du Chien, was prior to 1818 responsible to Governor Edwards. The agents at Green Bay and Chicago, however, although within Illinois Territory, were under the direction of Governor Cass of Michigan Territory. The reason for this arrangement was that Chicago and Green Bay were more easily accessible from Detroit by way of the lakes than from Kaskaskia. After Illinois became a state, the agency at Prairie du Chien and that for Illinois Territory became independent establishments, responsible directly to the War Department; Chicago and Green Bay remained under the supervision of Governor Cass.13 In 1818 Charles Jouett was in charge p17of Indian affairs at Chicago, while Richard Graham acted as "agent for Illinois Territory"; the two sub-agents within the limits of Illinois were Pierre Menard and Maurice Blondeau.
The Indian agents and sub-agents were entrusted with the duty of supervising the political relations between the various tribes and the United States. They discharged treaty obligations on behalf of the United States government, and acted as the medium of communication with the Indians. They granted licenses for the Indian trader and generally supervised its conduct. One of the most important of the duties regularly performed was the payment of the annuities due the Indians. These were usually paid in goods and were delivered in accordance with treaty stipulations, most often as the price agreed for the cession of lands by the Indians. The amounts paid over in this way, however, were very modest. The annuity due the Kaskaskia in 1818 was $1,000, while an equal amount was paid the Ottawa, Chippewa, and Potawatomi residing upon the Illinois River. The Kickapoo received only $900.
Another important service rendered by the Indian agents was the distribution of presents, which was of the utmost importance as a means of securing the attachment of the savages. The lavish distribution of presents by the British agents at Malden and at Drummond's Island dictated a similar policy on the part of the United States, for the Indians usually bestowed their favor on the party which bid highest for it. The annuities were divided among the different villages of the various tribes in proportion to their numbers, while the presents were usually bestowed upon the principal chiefs and other influential individuals. Those familiar with the state of affairs upon the frontier were almost unanimous in advocating a liberal distribution of presents as the most effective and the cheapest means of controlling the savages. Governor Edwards in 1816 recommended that presents be distributed to the Indians of the Illinois River and vicinity with a free hand, for a few years at least; "nothing less," he said, "can wean them from British influence to which they more than any other Indians in those territories have long been devoted."14 p18The giving of presents may also be regarded as the price of peace along the frontiers, and of freedom from petty annoyance, such as cattle and horsethieving. A threat to withhold presents was a much more effective argument with the Indians than any appeal to their higher sensibilities. It was also considered necessary to distribute presents in order to give dignity and prestige to the agent himself. Invoices sent out by Thomas L. McKenney, superintendent of Indian trade, in 1818, indicate that merchandise to the value of $2.000 was destined for Kaskaskia for distribution among the Indians, while equal amounts were sent to Peoria and Prairie du Chien.
Besides the presents which were distributed among the Indians each year, it was also customary to feed those who visited the various posts from time to time for business or other purposes. It took nearly as much food to supply the visiting savages as the regular garrisons. Governor Cass described the situation in the following words:
A long established custom, a thousand wants real or imaginary, and the recklessness and impatience of their mode of life send them in upon us. They come with trifling articles to barter, they come to get their arms repaired, to get their farming utensils, to enquire about their annuities, to complain of injuries from some of our Citizens and messages of every kind from their chiefs. It would [be] equally troublesome for me to enumerate and for you to read the various causes which influence them to make these visits. They generally bring with them their women & Children, and they are so importunate in their applications, and their necessities so obvious, that an Agent must frequently yield to them.15
The agents of the Indian Department also performed a number of small services, often trifling in themselves, but important for the maintenance of friendly relations. They received all visiting Indians, endeavored to secure such information from them as might be of value to the United States, attempted to prevent the introduction of liquor into the Indian country, and in fact did anything which might operate to secure the good will or promote the welfare of the Indians. Blacksmiths were sometimes maintained at the agencies to repair the tools and p19weapons which the savages brought in from their villages and hunting grounds. In 1820, Pierre Menard, sub-agent at Kaskaskia, expended $13 "for ferriage of the Delaware chief and his party over the Mississippi"; $19.50 "for supper and breakfast furnished thirteen Indians, corn and hay for their horses"; and $23 "for four hundred pounds of beef, and making a coffin for a Delaware Indian who was accidentally killed."16 In the performance of their various duties the agents usually had the assistance of interpreters, whose knowledge of the languages and intimate associations with the Indians enabled them to secure information of value to the department.
One of the most important functions of the Indian agents was the supervision of the fur trade and the enforcement of such regulations as the President or Congress might prescribe from time to time. In 1816, Congress passed an act excluding foreigners from engaging in the fur trade unless granted special permission by authority of the President. The power of determining who were to receive licenses was delegated by the President to the Indian agents, inasmuch as they were in a better position to decide what foreigners might with propriety be allowed to trade within the limits of the United States. Since the American capital employed in the industry was not sufficient to supply the needs of the Indians, it was not thought wise at this time to exclude foreigners entirely, but the agents were allowed to grant passes only "under such regulations as shall subject them [the traders] to a strict observance of the laws of the United States upon this subject; secure their exertions in maintaining peace between the Indian tribes, and this government, and between themselves; and present additional inducements to respect the laws against smuggling."17 More stringent regulations were prescribed in 1818, when the President gave orders that no foreigners were to be licensed to trade with the Indians, nor were American traders to be allowed to take with them foreign engagés. But as it was almost impossible for American p20traders to dispense with the services of the French-Canadian voyageurs and interpreters, there was later a slight relaxation from this strict ruling, and permission was given to employ foreign engagés under certain conditions, one of which was that none should be employed who were obnoxious to American citizens by reason of their conduct during the War of 1812. The various agents did not hesitate to refuse licenses to foreigners on occasion. In 1816, Charles Jouett, agent at Chicago, announced that he had refused to one Beauveaux a license to trade because of "his having held up to odium those Indians who are remarkable for their attachment to the American Government."18 In the following year, Governor Ninian Edwards, believing that the hostility of the Winnebago and other Indians living along the Mississippi was due to the influence of British traders, declared his intention of refusing all British traders permission to enter Illinois Territory. The regulations looking to the exclusion of foreigners, however, do not appear to have been very effective. Licenses were taken out in the names of American citizens, but often as soon as the outfit in question entered the Indian country, a foreign trader who was nominally an engagé in the expedition took charge and directed the commerce with the Indians.
As a means of destroying the influence of the private traders, particularly the British, and of attaching Indians to the American government, the United States placed great confidence in a system of government trading factories which had its origin as far back as 1795. These factories were not intended to be money-making enterprises but were designed rather to supplement the Indian Department in the administration of the frontier. Certain provisions of an act of 1811, which was still in force in 1818, will serve to illustrate the general nature of the plan. The president was given authority to establish factories at such places on the frontier as he might deem most convenient and to appoint a superintendent of Indian trade who should manage the business on behalf of the government. The agents p21appointed to take charge of the various factories were to be responsible to the superintendent and render their accounts to him. The prices of the goods employed in the trade were to be regulated in such a manner that the original capital stock furnished by the United States should not be diminished, no effort being made to secure a profit in the conduct of the business. The furs, skins, and other articles obtained from the Indians in the course of trade were to be sold at public auction under the direction of the President at such places as should be deemed most advantageous.19
In 1818, the United States maintained four factories in the northwest, at Chicago, Green Bay, Prairie du Chien, and Fort Edwards. Before the War of 1812, there had been government trading houses at Mackinac, Chicago, Fort Madison, and Sandusky; but during the course of hostilities all were lost to the British, together with their buildings, supplies, and furs. In 1816, shortly after the close of the war, factories were established at Green Bay and at Prairie du Chien, both of which places were within Illinois Territory, and at Chicago. This last was placed under the supervision of Jacob B. Varnum. Matthew Irwin and John W. Johnson were appointed factors at Green Bay and Prairie du Chien, respectively. A trading house was built at Fort Edwards in 1818, as a branch of the establishment at Prairie du Chien, with Robert Belt as the assistant in charge; but the next year this was made an independent establishment. It was designed to supply the tribes between Prairie du Chien and St. Louis, and to drive out the unprincipled private traders operating in that quarter, who, the superintendent of trade declared, had during the past two years supplied the Sauk and Fox Indians with no less than 50 barrels of whiskey.
The goods used at the government factories were all purchased under the direction of the superintendent of Indian trade, Thomas L. McKenney, who had his headquarters at Georgetown, District of Columbia. The articles designed for Fort Edwards and Prairie du Chien were generally sent to Pittsburgh to be p22shipped down the Ohio to St. Louis. There they were received by James Kennerley, who acted as forwarding agent and sent them up the Mississippi to their respective destinations. The peltry received from the Indians at Fort Edwards in 1818 included deer, bear, beaver, otter, raccoon, and muskrat. A portion of the goods was also traded for lead, obtained by the Indians from the mines below Prairie du Chien, and for beeswax, tallow, and Indian mats. These furs and other goods were sent to Kennerley at St. Louis and forwarded by him up the Ohio to Pittsburgh. The trade at Chicago and Green Bay was conducted in a manner very similar to that at Fort Edwards and Prairie du Chien, with the exception that the goods were forwarded to the factories and the returns shipped back by way of the Great Lakes. Not all the goods received at the trading houses in the northwest were exchanged directly with the Indians by the factors. At times some of them were made up into outfits and sold to private traders, who carried them out into the interior. Sometimes the factors at the government houses sold the peltry which they received to private traders, but in December, 1818, strict orders were issued by the superintendent that it was all to be forwarded to the Indian trade house at Georgetown. The furs from the posts in the northwest were generally disposed of at Georgetown by means of annual public sales.20
Insofar as the object of the government in establishing the factory system was to destroy the influence of the private trader and attach the Indians to the United States, the plan must be pronounced a failure. The power of the private trader increased, rather than diminished, while the tribes of the northwest still regarded the United States with suspicion and distrust. The system was likewise a failure from a business point of view. Taking into consideration the cost of maintaining the factory at Chicago, the trade there was conducted at a loss estimated, by March 31, 1818, at nearly $2,000. In December of that year the factor reported that he had hardly done sufficient business that season to clear the wages of his interpreter.21 Two years later the superintendent p23of trade, in a letter to the Secretary of War, wrote, "I conceive it proper to make it known to you for the information of the President that the u. s.º factory at Chicago has ceased, almost to do business."22 The trade at Fort Edwards in 1818 was somewhat more prosperous than that at Chicago, but even there the returns in furs and skins obtained by the government factor were probably insignificant in comparison with those secured by the private traders who operated in the region.
Many reasons for the failure of the government factories in their competition with private traders were advanced by persons supposedly familiar with the situation. The factories were so few in number and so widely scattered that it was often necessary for the Indians who wished to deal with the government agents to make long journeys with their furs. The private trader, on the other hand, went out into the wilderness, carrying his goods to the Indians at their hunting grounds or villages. The government factors, moreover, were not allowed to give credit in their dealings with the Indians. When cold weather approached, the savages were usually without money or fures, but it was necessary for them to secure many articles, such as guns, ammunition, traps, kettles, and blankets, before they could set out for their wintering grounds. Since these articles could not be obtained at the factories, the Indians were obliged to resort to the private traders, who were more than willing to supply their needs on credit. The obvious result was that the private trader obtained by far the larger share of the returns of the winter's hunt. Furthermore, it is certain that the private traders were able to evade the vigilance of the government agents and make extensive use of liquor in their trading operations, and this gave them a decided advantage over the factors, although it was in the long run injurious to the trade as a whole. The Indian would give up everything he possessed, including furs and even clothing itself, for a little whiskey. In spite of the fact that it was not the intention of the government to derive any profit from the trade, it appears that the goods supplied by the factors usually sold at prices higher than those charged by the p24private traders and were often of inferior quality. Thus, notwithstanding the benevolent intentions of the government in establishing trading houses, the Indians could derive no advantages from dealing with the factories.
Factors and agents alike complained frequently and loudly of the evil influence of foreign traders until one is almost tempted to believe that the British were made the scapegoats for all the misfortunes which attended the efforts of the United States to regulate Indian affairs and to carry on the fur trade. Referring to the Chicago factory in 1820, the superintendent of trade wrote: "The causes [sic] which has so successfully prostrated the once flourishing hopes this establishment, is so notorious, as hardly to need referring to. It lies deep in the influence (principally British,) which is spread so generally over that region; and in the combinations which have been entered into to do away, from amongst the Indians inhabiting the Country, whatever controllº the u. s.º may essay to acquire over them, either by the Factory or any other system."23 There is no direct evidence, however, that the British traders were any more active than the American traders in prejudicing the minds of the Indians against the government factories. It was the American Fur Company, in fact, which finally gave the death blow to the factory system.
A most important reason for the failure of the factories to accomplish their purposes is to be found in the attitude of the Indians themselves toward them. Governor Cass, as early as 1814, wrote: "Our trading factories, and our economy in presents have rendered us contemptible to them. The Government should never come in contact with them but in those cases where its dignity, its strength or its liberality will inspire them with respect or fear."24 In fact, the savages seem to have misconceived entirely the nature of the factory system and the purpose of the government in inaugurating it. Major Marston, who commanded at Fort Armstrong, on Rock Island, revealed the attitude of the p25Indians living in that vicinity. If mention were made to them of their Great Father, the President, supplying them with goods, they would reply, "You are a pash‑i-pash‑i‑to, (a fool) our Great Father is certainly no trader; he has sent those goods to be given to us, as presents; but his Agents are endeavouring to cheat us, by selling them for our peltries."25 Needless to say, this attitude was fostered by the private traders, who did everything in their power to drive the factories out of existence. In this opposition the lead was taken by the American Fur Company, and its influence was strong enough to nullify all efforts to strengthen the system, and finally brought about its abolition in 1822.
The government factories are of interest chiefly from the political rather than from the commercial point of view, for it was in the hands of the private concerns that the fur industry attained its highest development. The Indian trader in Illinois had a long and varied career and the story of his picturesque wilderness traffic constitutes an alluring phase of the history of the state. For over a century the smooth-flowing streams of Illinois were disturbed by the paddle of the French-Canadian voyageur and the hills on either side re-echoed his melodious songs, while during part of that period the prairies and forests recognized the semi-feudal authority of a great fur company. Controlled in turn by the French, the English, and finally by the Americans, the fur trade, as it was carried on in Illinois in 1818, bore traces of both the French and the British regimes. The engagés who performed the menial labor connected with the industry, as well as many of the traders who bartered with the Indians, were, in some instances, descendants of the coureurs de bois who had come while the fleur-de‑lis still waved over the region of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi valley. The influence of the British period, on the other hand, may be traced in the business organization of the trade.
It is difficult for the present inhabitants to realize the extent to which wild game once abounded in the state, and the enormous p26quantities of peltry which were annually exported. The valley of the Illinois River was, at the close of the territorial period, one of the important fur-bearing areas of the northwest. In 1816, the furs sent out from the various posts upon the Illinois River included 10,000 deer, 300 bear, 10,000 raccoon, 35,000 muskrat, 400 otter, 300 pounds of beaver, 500 cat and fox, 100 mink. The total value of this peltry was estimated at $23,700. The merchandise imported into the region during the same year was estimated to be worth $18,000. Chicago was an important trade center, and the furs exported thence in the same year were estimated to be worth more than $8,000.26 In considering the Illinois fur trade, it should be remembered that it constituted only one part of an industry of enormous proportions, covering the Great Lakes region, and extending westward far beyond the Mississippi, an industry which at one time or another has made its influence felt in almost every part of the North American continent.
By far the largest and most important of the trading concerns operating in Illinois and the northwest in 1818 was the American Fur Company. At the close of the War of 1812, a large part of the trade of the Great Lakes region was in the hands of two associations, the Northwest and Southwest companies. The former was a British concern, in which were included a number of the most powerful trading firms of Montreal, but it had several posts south of the boundary line, within the territory of the United States. The Southeast Company was owned by John Jacob Astor and certain Montreal traders, Astor having a two-thirds interest in the trade carried on within the United States.
The act of Congress of 1816 excluding foreigners from the fur trade unless specially licensed made it difficult for the Canadian firms to operate their trading posts upon American territory. Immediately upon passage of this act, Astor, who cherished the design of obtaining control of the entire fur trade within the limits of the United States, formed a concern which he called the American Fur Company and purchased not only the interest p27of the Montreal merchants in the Southwest Company but a number of posts of the Northwest Company on American soil as well. Besides the posts, Astor was able to secure the services of a large number of traders and engagés formerly attached to them who would otherwise have been thrown out of employment. The act of 1816 was interpreted so as not to exclude foreign engagés, and thus it was possible for the new company to make use of the services of these British subjects, without whose assistance, indeed, success in an enterprise of such magnitude as was contemplated would have been almost impossible.27 In order that the manner of conducting the business might have an appearance of legality, licenses were taken out in the names of young American clerks, while the actual conduct of the trade was in the hands of those who had formerly been in the service of the British merchants, and who possessed the necessary experience.
The American Fur Company began operations in 1817, and in the following year its trade covered a wide range of territory, stretching from the eastern shores of Lake Huron to the Missouri River and from the Canadian boundary to the frontier line of settlements in Illinois and Indiana. Traders supplied by Astor's company were to be found along the shores of Green Bay, in the valley of the Fox and Wisconsin rivers, and also upon the upper reaches of the Minnesota River, then called the St. Peter's; they coasted along the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, trading with the Indians from such posts as Milwaukee and Fond du Lac; they descended the Mississippi from Prairie du Chien, exchanging goods for furs with the Indians living in Illinois and Missouri territories; and every year their brigades visited the Illinois and Wabash rivers, to reap the rich harvest of peltry in their valleys.28
p28 Astor and his agents entered upon the conduct of the northwest trade with the avowed intention of driving all competition from the field. Such a task necessarily required some time, but the spirit of this undertaking is revealed in the words of Ramsay Crooks and Robert Stuart, agents of the company, who wrote to Astor in the summer of 1817: "Next year our exertions must be more general and effort must be made to embrace every section of the trader and not leave the[m] [the competitors] a corner to repose in — this summer it was impossible to effect everyth[ing]."29 The following season, Stuart was able to report that his colleague had, after much effort, secured the services of nearly every good trader in the whole region in the interests of the company. He added that while their rivals had carried on a vigorous competition in every section of the interior, there was good reason to believe that they were secretly disheartened. In 1819, Astor was considering the advisability of contracting somewhat the range of the company's operations, but Crooks advised against it, pointing out that victory over their rivals was almost within their grasp and that to yield any ground at that particular time would strengthen the opposition by just so much.30
The arbiter of the destinies of the American Fur Company was its founder, John Jacob Astor. He directed the general policy of the concern, and superintended the conduct of the business at its headquarters in New York. The management of affairs in the Indian country itself, as well as along the communications to New York and Montreal, was entrusted to the two young Scotchmen already named, Ramsay Crooks and Robert Stuart. These agents gathered merchandise and provisions for use in the trade and arranged for transporting them to Mackinac Island, the general rendezvous of the company in the northwest. It was their business to see that a sufficient number of engagés was hired to perform the labor of carrying goods and furs, as well as enough clerks and traders to carry on the business p29in the interior. They organized the different departments in which the traffic was conducted, assigned the traders and engagés to their wintering grounds, and directed the preparation of the outfits. When the peltries came in from the Indian country in the spring, the agents saw to it that they were properly sorted and packed and prepared for shipment to the eastern market. Ramsay Crooks's headquarters were nominally at New York, but he spent a great deal of his time at Mackinac, and occasionally made visits to the interior.
Mackinac was in 1818 the great entrepôt of the northwest fur trade, the place of rendezvous of the traders and engagés of the region. When the goods from New York and Montreal arrived, they were made up into outfits, which were supplied to the traders on various terms. Some were turned over to clerks and traders in the regular employ of the concern, who were paid a stipulated wage and instructed to exchange the goods entrusted to their care to the best possible advantage, on the account of the company. Other outfits were traded on shares; that is to say, the company received a certain proportion of the returns and the remainder belonged to the trader who bartered with the Indians. Still other traders purchased their goods outright from the company, which had no interest in them thereafter, save to collect the amount for which they were sold.
The three principal regions of fur-trading activity of Illinois interest were that portion of the Mississippi between Prairie du Chien and St. Louis and the Illinois and Wabash river valleys. In 1817, a clerk named Russell Farnham was sent out from Mackinac with an assortment of goods to be traded along the Mississippi and its tributaries below Prairie du Chien. The goods were to be traded on the account of the company, Farnham being merely a salaried employee. The instructions made it clear that while the outfit was nominally under his charge, the business of dealing with the Indians was to be supervised by one St. Jean, a trader of long experience, to whose judgment was left the choice of a spot in which to spend the winter. Before setting out, Farnham was given a license issued by Major Puthuff, Indian agent at Mackinac, authorizing him to trade in any p30part of the Indian country. He was instructed to proceed to St. Louis, where he was to obtain a territorial and United States license, which would permit him to sell goods on both the Illinois and Missouri sides of the river, in territory which had been ceded by the natives.31
Upon arriving at Prairie du Chien, Farnham and Daniel Darling, another trader who accompanied the outfit, were ordered by Lieutenant Colonel Chambers, who commanded at Fort Crawford, to have no dealings with the Indians until new licenses had been obtained from the governor of Missouri territory. The traders defied Colonel Chambers, who thereupon sent them to St. Louis under military escort. Though this mishap injured the trade to a considerable extent, Farnham succeeded in opening up a traffic with certain Indians lying west of the Mississippi, and did fairly well, considering his handicap. In the following year, 1818, Farnham once more returned to the Mississippi, carrying with him an outfit to be traded with the Sauk, in which he himself had an interest. Though some further difficulties were experienced on this second voyage, the reports indicated that the trade in the department was successful. There was at this time strenuous competition on the Mississippi between the American Fur Company and a group of traders with headquarters at St. Louis, and this spirit of rivalry may have partially accounted for the difficulties which Farnham experienced during the course of his operations in that quarter.32 The Department of the Mississippi was on the whole quite productive, the Sauk and Fox being the principal nations from which returns were secured.
The commerce of the Department of the Illinois River was under the supervision of Antoine Deschamps, an experienced p31trader, who selected the sites for the various posts and assigned the clerks and engagés to their winter quarters. From a list of the employees of the American Fur Company in 1818 and 1819 it appears that some 30 clerks, traders, interpreters, and boatmen were located upon the Illinois River; the reports of Crooks to Astor show that the trade of the Illinois posts was fairly successful during this period. The number of men engaged in the trade for the company upon the Wabash, according to the same list of employees, was 16 or 17, and it is probable that some of these occasionally penetrated into Illinois. There were also scattered traders of the concern upon the Desplaines and Kaskaskia rivers, and at least two traders at Chicago in 1818, James Kinzie and Jean Baptiste Chandonnais, were equipped by the American Fur Company. Jean Baptiste Beaubien was transferred from Milwaukee to Chicago about this time. The Detroit firm of Conant and Mack also maintained an establishment at a place known as "Hardscrabble" on the south branch of the Chicago River. A trader by the name of John Crafts was in charge and his strategic position enabled him to intercept the Indians on their way to Chicago from the Illinois, the Desplaines, and the Kaskaskia rivers. It is said that Crafts also sent outfits to the Rock River and other places within a range of about 100 miles.33
The men engaged in the fur trade fell into two distinct classes, the voyageurs or engagés, who performed the menial labor,34 and the traders who directed operations — the bourgeois of the French regime. Many of the voyageurs were halfbreeds, descendants of the coureurs de bois who had taken to the wilderness p32in the early days of the French occupation of Canada. Others were native-born Canadians and had left wives and children in the little parishes in the neighborhood of far-away Montreal, to come into the wilderness and eke out a difficult and precarious livelihood. All observers agree in describing the voyageurs as a happy, carefree lot, cheerfully performing their arduous labors and taking no thought for the morrow the its possible dangers and privations. "These people," wrote Crooks,
are indispensable to the successful prosecution of the trade, their places cannot be supplied by Americans, who are for the most part are [sic] too independent to submit quietly to a proper control, and who can gain any where a subsistence much superior to a man of the interior and although the body of the Yankee can resist as much hardship as any man, tis only in the Canadian we find that temper of mind, to render him patient and persevering, in short they are a people harmless in themselves whose habits of submission fit them peculiarly for our business.35
The voyageur stood in a sort of feudal relation to the trader who was in command of the brigade, whose word was law, both with regard to the property of the company and the persons in its employ. James H. Lockwood, a former employee of the American Fur Company, said of the voyageurs: "They are very easily governed by a person who understands something of their nature and disposition, but their burgeois or employer must be what they consider a gentleman, or superior to themselves, as they never feel much respect for a man who has, from an engagee,º risen to the rank of a clerk."36
In spite of the carefree and irresponsible existence which he led, the lot of the voyageur was not a particularly happy one. His average salary was less than $100 a year, and his daily ration was a soup made of hulled corn seasoned with tallow. The yearly outfit furnished him by his employer consisted of perhaps two cotton shirts, a triangular blanket, a portage collar, and a pair of heavy shoes. All luxuries, such as pipes and tobacco, he was obliged to furnish himself. The toil to which the p33voyageur was subjected was arduous in the extreme. To drive a heavily laden canoe or Mackinac boat through the water was in itself no task for a weakling, but this was a trifle in comparison with the labor which confronted him at the portage or at the rapids or falls which occasionally interrupted the streams. Here the craft must be unloaded, and the merchandise carried to the point where the expedition was to re-embark. The older voyageurs were often wrecks, broken down by the labor which they were obliged to perform and the exposure to which they were subjected.
The traders in the employ of the American Fur Company in 1818 were partly experienced hands, many of whom were French-Canadians like Antoine Deschamps, in charge of the Department of the Illinois River, and partly young clerks, most of whom were Americans. These clerks were carefully watched by the agents of the company, for it was upon their initiative and industry that the future prosperity of the concern depended. The advice which Ramsay Crooks gave to Edward Upham, a young clerk located upon the Illinois and Kaskaskia rivers in 1819, is of interest in this connection. He was told to be industrious, cautious, and enterprising and to spend his time in acquiring a knowledge of the country and its people rather than in dozing away the winter in his hut.37 The great event in the trader's life was the annual voyage to Mackinac. According to one observer who visited the rendezvous in 1820, "The trader, or interior clerk, who takes his outfit of goods to the Indians, and spends eleven months of the year in toil, and want, and petty traffic, appears to dissipate his means with a sailor-like improvidence in a few weeks, and then returns to his forest wanderings; and boiled corn, pork, and wild rice again supply his wants."38
The goods which the wilderness trader carried to the Indians in exchange for their furs included a great variety of objects, and by no means consisted entirely of trinkets designed to satisfy p34the vanity of the savage. The assortment of the trader in the Illinois country in 1818 included such goods as blankets, strouds, handkerchiefs, tools of all sorts, guns, ammunition, and kettles — articles which were really useful or even indispensable to the savage in his everyday life. On the other hand, the outfit usually contained some luxuries, such as ribbons, jewelry, wampum, tobacco, pipes, vermilion, earbobs, and even jew's-harps.
The craft in which the fur traders conveyed their outfits on lakes and streams of the northwest were mainly of two sorts, the bateau, or Mackinac boat, and the canoe. The former was a light boat, some 30 feet long, cut away at both bow and stern. It was navigated by five men, four of whom propelled it with oars, while the fifth steered. The canoe in which one employee of the American Fur Company navigated Lake Michigan in 1818 was made of birch bark and was 33 feet long by 4½ feet broad, tapering toward the bow and stern posts. The bark was sewed with wattap,a and pine gum was used for the seams. The canoe was propelled by paddles, with the occasional assistance of a sail. There were eight voyageurs to each canoe, those stationed at the bow and stern being men of particular skill, who received double wages. Two or more canoes or boats formed a brigade, which was under the charge of a guide or brigade commander. Each man was allowed to carry a sack containing 40 pounds of baggage. The entire cargo of the canoe, including goods, provisions, crew, and baggage, was about four tons. In propelling these boats, the voyageurs moved their oars or paddles to the rhythm of their French-Canadian boat songs, in which the bourgeois often took the lead. Every five miles or so, the bourgeois might shout "Whoop la! à terre, à terre — pour la pipe!" and the whole brigade would pause to rest while the men smoked a welcome pipe of tobacco. Thus distances on the lakes and streams of the interior came to be measured in "pipes" rather than miles.
As the trader advanced into the interior, he gave out goods to the savages whom he passed, the Indians promising to bring in the returns of their winter's hunt in exchange for them. Arrived at the post, the trader unpacked his goods and gave credit to the Indians in the vicinity, who thereupon departed for their hunting p35grounds. The average value of the goods advanced to each man was about $40 or $50, calculated at cost prices, but the honesty and ability of the individual hunter were taken into consideration. The amounts were carefully entered in the books and the trader aimed to secure in exchange furs valued at at least twice the cost of the goods advanced. Of course, bands came in from time to time with furs to be bartered on the spot, while during the winter the trader usually made occasional visits to the Indians at their hunting grounds. In the wilderness trade, the unit of exchange was the plus, originally the value of a pound of beaver skin, but later the equivalent of one dollar. Whiskey, the curse of the fur trade, was used extensively in spite of the vigorous efforts of the United States authorities to keep it out of the Indian country. When the trader and the Indian came together, it was customary to use some liquor to facilitate the traffic, with the result that the proceedings at these meetings were sometimes rather uproarious. Under the stress of competition whisky flowed more freely and the disorder increased.
The policy of the great company in its dealings with the savages is indicated by the advice which Crooks gave to a young trader in 1819. He was told to bear in mind that with the Indian as with the civilized man, "honesty is the best policy." If the Indian could be convinced that the trader was always just, his own disposition to cheat would gradually disappear, particularly when he discovered that the trader, being just himself, would not suffer others to defraud him. Nevertheless, the Indian trade was not regarded as an appropriate field for the application of idealistic principles. When free from the interference of rival traders the Indians could usually be relied upon to fulfill their contracts but the presence of competition was always a demoralizing factor. Traders would sometimes induce the Indians to steal the credits of their rivals; that is, they persuaded them to give up the furs which they had already pledged to another trader in return for goods advanced to them. There was bound to be more or less uncertainty in the collection of credits so that the traders were obliged to regulate their price in such a way as to compensate themselves for possible losses. On the whole, however, when p36the lack of facilities for communication in the Indian country and the roving character of the natives was taken into account, the degree of influence which the trader exercised over his Indian customers was really most remarkable.
One of the young American employees of the fur company, Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard by name, has left a narrative of his experiences with the Illinois brigade which presents a vivid picture of the fur trade as it existed in northern Illinois in the year in which the state was admitted to the Union.39 On the morning of May 13, 1818, the brigade which Hubbard accompanied to Mackinac departed from Lachine, a little village just above Montreal, the oars keeping time to the rhythm of the Canadian boat song. Nearly two months later, July 4, the brigade reached Mackinac, where it was warmly welcomed by Crooks and Stuart, the agents of the company, together with a host of voyageurs and clerks. At Mackinac Hubbard found all the traders and their engagés from the interior gathered on the island, where they added some 3,000 to the population. Indians numbering some 2,000 or 3,000 more lined the entire beach with their wigwams. These Indians, he says, made day and night hideous with the yells they emitted while performing their war dances and other sports. There were also frequent fights between the champions or "bullies" of the various brigades.
After the traders had disposed of the returns of the past season and secured new outfits, preparations were made for the departure of the brigades for the various posts of the interior. "A vast multitude assembled at the harbor to witness their departure, and when all was ready the boats glided from the shore, the crews singing some favorite boat song, while the multitude shouted their farewells and wishes for a successful trip and a safe return; and thus outfit after outfit started on its way for Lake Superior, Upper and Lower Mississippi, and other posts."40
p37The Illinois and Wabash outfits were among the last to leave, being followed by the smaller expeditions bound for the shores of Lakes Huron and Michigan. At about noon on September 10, the Illinois brigade left the harbor at Mackinac in 12 boats, with Antoine Deschamps, who was in charge of the outfit, leading the boat song. Many of the traders were accompanied by their Indian wives, and the brigade must indeed have presented a motley appearance. The boats proceeded down the east shore of Lake Michigan, making about 40 miles a day, under oars, but when the wind was favorable, square sails were hoisted by means of which it was possible to make 70 or 75 miles a day.
On the evening of September 30, just 20 days after the departure from Mackinac, the expedition arrived at the mouth of the Calumet River, where it was met by a party of Indians returning from a visit to Chicago. They were drunk and started a fight among themselves in which several of their number were killed, necessitating the removal of the trading party to the opposite side of the river for safety. The members of the brigade spent a portion of the night in preparation for their arrival at Chicago. "We started at dawn," says Hubbard. "The morning was calm and bright, and we, in our holiday attire, with flags flying, completed the last twelve miles of our lake voyage."41 The brigade spent a few days at Chicago repairing the boats, and then passed up the south branch of Chicago River into Mud Lake, a sort of marsh, which drained partly into the Chicago River and partly into the Desplaines. The boats were half dragged, half floated, through this marsh to the waters of the Desplaines, while the goods were carried on the backs of the engagés. After three days of such labor, the portage was crossed, the boats were reloaded, and the voyage to the Illinois was begun. The water being very low, the progress of the brigade was slow and difficult, and it was three weeks before the expedition reached the mouth of the Fox River. Two days more brought the party to the foot of Starved Rock.
From this point on, the voyage was less difficult, and the brigade p38floated down the river, stopping occasionally to barter powder and tobacco for Indian corn. The first trading house was located at the mouth of the Bureau River near the present site of the town of Hennepin. It was placed in charge of a trader named Bibeau, who, though illiterate, had a wide experience in the Indian trade. Hubbard was assigned to this post to keep the accounts and perform the general duties of clerk. The next post was located •three miles below Peoria Lake and was placed in charge of another old trader, who was well acquainted with the Indians in the vicinity. The brigade proceeded on down the river, establishing posts every •60 miles or so, the last one being •some 50 miles above the mouth of the stream.
Deschamps proceeded with one boat to St. Louis to purchase certain articles needed in the trade and also to obtain flour and tobacco at Cahokia. Hubbard accompanied him on the voyage. About November 20, they started back, distributing various portions of the cargo at the posts along the river. Hubbard reached his station at the mouth of the Bureau River about the middle of December and was given final instructions concerning the keeping of his accounts. "The accounts," he says, "had heretofore been kept in hieroglyphics by Beebeau [Bibeau], my ignorant master, who proved to be sickly, cross, and petulant. He spent the greater part of his time in bed, attended by a fat, dirty Indian woman, a doctress, who made and administered various decoctions to him."42 The cabin in which Hubbard spent the winter was of logs and very much resembled the cabin of the pioneer settler. The duties of the young clerk were to keep the books and to be present when sales were made for furs or when credit was to be given. Leisure time was spent in hunting, trapping, making oars and paddles, chatting and joking with the men at the post, and making ready for departure in the spring. During the winter, Hubbard made two trading excursions into the interior, one to the mouth of the Rock River, and the other to the Wabash, the latter being particularly successful.
Early in March, orders were received from Deschamps to have p39everything in readiness to start for Mackinac on the twentieth. In the forenoon of the day set, writes Hubbard, "we heard in the distance the sound of the familiar boat-song and recognized the rich tones of Mr. Deschamps' voice, and we knew the 'Brigade' was coming. We all ran to the landing and soon saw Mr. Deschamps' boat rounding the point about a mile below; his ensign floating in the breeze. We shouted with joy at their arrival and gave them a hearty welcome."43 On the following morning, the brigade, consisting of 13 boats, started on the long return voyage to Mackinac. The same route was followed as on the outward trip, and the destination was reached without mishap about the middle of May, the brigade being among the first to arrive from the Indian country. Thus was finished one cycle in the life of an Illinois fur trader.
1 For condensed information about the different tribes, consult Hodge, Handbook of American Indians. See also American State Papers, Indian Affairs, vol. 2; Wisconsin Historical Collections, vols. 11 and 20; Morse, Report on Indian Affairs; Blair, Indian Tribes of the Upper Mississippi Valley; Schoolcraft, Narrative of an Expedition; Brown, Western Gazetteer; Michelson in American Anthropologist.
2 Blair, Indian Tribes, 2:148‑151. The most detailed accounts of Illinois Indians in the early nineteenth century are to be found in two memoirs dealing with the Sauk and Fox, published in this volume. The first is in the form of a "Letter to Reverend Dr. Jedediah Morse, by Major Morrell Marston, U. S. A., commanding at Fort Armstrong, Ill., November, 1820," and was first published in Morse, Report on Indian Affairs. The second is "An account of the Manners and Customs of the Sauk and Fox Nations of Indians Tradition," by Thomas Forsyth, Indian agent, January 15, 1827. Much of the material in the following paragraphs is drawn from these memoirs and from Appendix B of the same volume, containing "Notes on Indian social Organization, mental and moral Traits, religious Beliefs, etc." The volume contains also a very comprehensive annotated bibliography. See also Hodge, Handbook of American Indians.
3 Blair, Indian Tribes, 2:151.
4 Blair, Indian Tribes, 2:229.
5 Blair, Indian Tribes, 2:227.
6 Blair, Indian Tribes, 2:186.
7 Indian Office Papers, Michigan Letter Book, 1 (1814‑17):362.
8 Draper Manuscripts, 2M.24, 26, 27, 28, and 29.
9 Wisconsin Historical Collections, 19:430. A smouldering hostility toward the Americans persisted among certain Indian tribes for some little time after the war. When the Illinois fur brigade arrived in the vicinity of Peoria Lake in 1818, the trader in charge of the expedition informed the Indians that Gurdon Hubbard, a young American apprentice just arrived in the Indian country, was his adopted son from Montreal. One young brave insisted that Hubbard was an American and showed him a number of scalps, which he claimed were those of his countrymen. Hubbard, Autobiography, 48.
10 Indian Office Papers, Michigan Letter Book, 3 (1818‑22):80.
11 Morse, Report on Indian Affairs, 46. In Niles' Weekly Register, 8:263, is printed a list of names of traders who sided with the British in the War of 1812. The correspondence in which the list occurs is dated April 29, 1815. There are included the names of three traders who formerly resided at Peoria: "Mitchell" La Croix, Louis Buisson, and Louis Bennett.
12 Indian Office Papers, Michigan Letter Book, 1 (1814‑17):365.
13 Indian Office Papers, Letter Book, D (1817‑20):326 et seq.
14 Letter of Ninian Edwards, September 24, 1816, in Chicago Historical Society Manuscripts.
15 Indian Office Papers, Michigan Letter Book, 3 (1818‑22):105.
17 Wisconsin Historical Collections, 19:406.
18 Indian Office Papers, Michigan Letter Book, (1814‑17):395.
19 Statutes at Large, 2:652.
21 Morse, Report on Indian Affairs, 46.
22 Indian Office Papers, Trade Letter Book, E (1818‑20):496.
23 Indian Office Papers, Trade Letter Book, E (1818‑20):496.
24 Indian Office Papers, Michigan Letter Book, 1 (1814‑17):7.
25 Blair, Indian Tribes, 2:177.
26 The exports from the Illinois River in 1816 also included 10,000 pounds of maple sugar.
28 An idea of the extent of the company's operations may be readily gained from the list of American Fur Company employees, 1818‑19, published in the Wisconsin Historical Collections, 12:154.
29 American Fur Company Letter Book, 1816‑20, p50.
30 American Fur Company Letter Book, 1816‑20, pp109, 260.
31 American Fur Company Letter Book, 1816‑20, p47.
32 Chittenden, American Fur Trade, 1:312. The agents of the company made vigorous protests against the interference which their traders met with at the hands of the United States officers. The nominal ground for the interference appears to have been that Farnham's brigade included foreign traders who were excluded from operating in United States territory by the law of 1816.
33 Andreas, History of Chicago, 1:92 et seq.; Wisconsin Historical Collections, 12:154; American Fur Company Letter Book, 1816‑20, pp28, 123; Hurlbut, Chicago Antiquities, 31.
34 The terms engagé and voyageur, as generally used, are almost synonymous, though the former term includes not only the boatmen or voyageurs, but also those who performed other forms of labor incidental to the trade. The persons employed in the trade were obliged to sign contracts, or engagements, by which they bound themselves to perform certain stipulated services for a definite period of time. There are at the present day a great many of these engagements preserved in the archives of the District of Montreal.
35 American Fur Company Letter Book, 1816‑20, p12.
36 Wisconsin Historical Collections, 2:110.
37 American Fur Company Letter Book, 1816‑20, p169.
38 Schoolcraft, Narrative of an Expedition, 69.
39 The narrative was published first in Incidents and Events in the Life of Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard (1888). It is also to be found in The Autobiography of Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard (1911). For the material on which the following paragraphs are based see Incidents and Events, 11‑67, or the Autobiography, 7‑64.
40 Hubbard, Incidents and Events, 25.
41 Hubbard, Incidents and Events, 31.
42 Hubbard, Incidents and Events, 49.
43 Hubbard, Incidents and Events.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
Illinois in 1818
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 3 Jan 17