Illinois History

Nathaniel Pope: Giving Illinois Its Shape

Fall brings many rituals to the state line area of northern Illinois. Weekends are filled with raking leaves, apple ciders, apple orchards, bon fires, hay rack rides, pumpkin festivals, and football; Ah, yes…football. I live in a town that is filled with half Packers fans, half Bears fans. The school where I teach is the same. However, there are times when I think northern Illinois has more in common with Wisconsin than it does with the rest of Illinois. Once one gets south of Interstate 80, Illinois has a different feel to it. The pace of life is slower and the land is flatter (until the tip of southern Illinois and the Illinois and Mississippi River valleys). I sometimes wonder if I am in different state than I should be. If it wasn’t for Nathaniel Pope in 1818, I would be.

For over a 100 years, Illinois was known as the Illinois territory and controlled by the French. A scattering of French trading forts existed along the Mississippi, Ohio, and Illinois rivers. Father Pierre Marquette suggested a canal connecting Lake Michigan to the Illinois River seemed like a natural idea for the economic benefit of the interior of the continent. At the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, the territory was ceded to the British. For a whopping 15 years, the British took little interest in the area and had just a few forts. During the Revolutionary War, George Rogers Clark and the Long Knives invaded from what is now Kentucky and took Fort Massac and Kaskaskia and proceeded to march across the territory to Vincennes securing the upper Midwest for the new United States of America. During the War, Virginia would control the land for a while. After the war, the Illinois Country became part of the Northwest Territory.

In 1800, Illinois then became part of the Indiana Territory under the governance of a young William Henry Harrison. Due to geographic circumstances and the lack of technology, Illinois and Indiana both grew northward starting at the Ohio River. In order to trade goods, both were initially dependent on southern river traffic to exist.

In 1809, Illinois became its own territory that extended all the way to the northern tip of Wisconsin into eastern Minnesota.

The settlement of the territory was slow due in fact to its isolation on the western frontier, but also in part to the climate, access, and the inability to plow the thick prairie  soil, not to mention Indians in its northern portions.

Nathaniel Pope would change the Illinois territory. Born in Kentucky, Pope’s brother, John, was a U.S. Senator from Kentucky. John Pope used his connections to appoint Nathaniel secretary of the new territory.

Nathaniel Pope

Nathaniel then helped get his cousin, Ninian Edwards, appointed Governor of the territory. Before Ninian assumed his role, Nathaniel appointed others that supported Ninian to government positions in the territory.

In 1812, the territory was progressing slowly. After the War of 1812 ended, a portion of what is today western Illinois was designated as the Military Tract for payment for veterans of the war in lieu of a cash payment. However, Illinois was only at 30,000 in population despite the tract. Nathaniel Pope wanted to be more than just the secretary of the territory. He ran to be the delegate to Congress for the territory. He felt he could do more for the territory to help make it a state. A Kaskaskia newspaper said of him,

It would be doing injustice to Mr. Pope were we not to recommend him to our fellow citizens as a man in all respects deserving public confidence …. His mind is also unbiassed [sic] by party prejudices; for it is well known that he has always stood aloof from those party disputes. . . .The general interest would therefore be more likely to be his polar star in the discharge of his duties ….

Here is a map of Illinois before Pope began the push to statehood.

Notice the northern border of the territory

The boundaries of Illinois were basically set by three rivers on the south, east, and west borders. The Wabash, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers hemmed in the slowly growing populace. The northern border of the territory was initially set at the southern end of Lake Michigan. Pope, saw this as a disadvantage should Illinois become a state. While Illinois was populated in the south, very few residents lived north of Vandalia in 1818. But as the Illinois delegate to Congress, Pope was determined to put Illinois on the map, even if it meant rearranging the map.

The Northwest Ordinance originally called for the border to be at the southern tip of the Lake. But when Pope began his push, the border shifted. First, Pope asked for the border to moved 10 miles north of the southern tip. Then after a census was taken to assure 40,000 residents lived in the state (When it was closer to 30,000), Pope submitted his second proposal, eloquently making his case for a new border in the north for two reasons.
1. Economic – Pope argued that if Illinois was given more of the lakefront, the trade in the state would be more connected with northern states by way of the lakes. Trade would flow through the north rather than along the rivers of the south. It would make the great lakes the center of commerce rather than the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.
2. The cause of Union – Slavery, while in the back of some minds, was most likely an issue. Although it was never explicitly stated by Pope, the growing sentiment of the time that would be reflected in the Missouri Compromise two years later in 1820, it can be inferred from tying the new state to the north economically through the Great Lakes, was an astute accomplishment in hindsight. Illinois would be in the center of the Union come 1860. While many in Southern Illinois would be sympathetic to the Confederate cause, the state would not.

Illinois in 1818 with its new northern border

Today, Pope’s shifting of the border to 42 degrees and 30 minutes north latitude has had a profound effect economically on the state and the culture of the region. There still lingers animosity between Illinois and Wisconsin over the moving of the border. Wisconsin would not join the Union until 1848 largely because of its small population. By ceding 8,500 square miles of lakefront property to Illinois, Pope and Congress shifted the fortunes of the two states. Wisconsin would become part of the Michigan territory. In 1837, Chicago was officially founded. And after a railroad and a canal connected the lakefront to the rest of the state, Chicago’s fortunes forever changed. Even today, while the largest city in the state, and half its population, Chicago does not consider itself part of the state. It is its own entity culturally and economically.

For Pope, he would go on to be judge for the United States District Court for Illinois. His son, John, was commander of Union forces at the second battle of Bull Run. Nathaniel Pope has Pope County named after him in southern Illinois.


The Haymarket Riot: Impeding to the Labor Movement

By Amanda Hamrick
Amanda graduated high school in 2012. She will be attending the University of Minnesota this fall. In addition to her school record 7 superior ribbons at the state history fair, Amanda participated in Dance, the Academic Team, and Band. She was co-Valedictorian for her class. In 2008, she was one of 14 students named a Young Historian by the State of Illinois. This is her second published paper. Previously, her paper on the Lincoln-Douglas Debate at Galesburg was published by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.


“Ungrateful hyenas!” they cried. “Foreign savages!” they shouted. “Hang them first and try them afterwards!” they cheered. It wasn’t until decades later they called out “martyrs,” but it was too late. Five major labor agitators had been hung without any real evidence of their guilt. What started out as a peaceful rally became a riot, turning the already suspicious public against all labor organizations and radicals. Counterproductive to the labor movement, the Haymarket riot delayed the adoption of the eight hour workday.

The atmosphere of the labor movement in the 1800s was volatile. The full force of the Industrial Revolution affected everything across the nation. Urbanization was on the rise, as was Chicago, Illinois. As Chicago grew, it transformed from a trading center into an international manufacturing giant, but it did so on the back of a seemingly endless supply of workers. Most of these workers were foreign. In 1850, half of all Chicagoans came from abroad; at the time of Haymarket, approximately three-fourths of Chicago residents were from another country or had a least one foreign parent. Overall, the most common trait shared by Chicagoans in the late nineteenth century was they were not actually from Chicago.

Each Chicagoan’s experience in the city depended on his or her background. Those of foreign birth occupied jobs in skilled or unskilled blue-collar areas; the native-born residents dominated professions and office jobs. The conditions in blue-collar work were appalling with little concern for safety. The workers received low pay and absolutely no benefits. The workday was ten to twelve hours, six days a week. Because of these conditions, a unionization movement began, but internal divisions prevented any true progress.

The industrialization and immigration brought about a widening division between capital and labor. For the most part, capital which included stockbrokers, executives and managers controlled the labor, those who earned their living by selling their physical skill and effort. The goal of unions was to close this gap, and much of the late nineteenth century was a battle between capital and labor over who controlled wages, hours and the process of production.

Industrial capitalism caused many shifts in production: larger workplaces with layers of supervision, increased use of technology, and the division of the manufacturing process into discrete parts that required limited skills and training. As if conditions weren’t bad enough, these trends caused the worker to be interchangeable, cheap and readily replaced. The idea of unionization became more popular as the threat to the individual worker increased, but union organizers faced powerful resistance from the middle-class public. 

As economic downturns persisted, class divisions intensified and attempts by workers to resolve inequalities increased. Widespread unemployment and reduction in wages led to angry protests, some resulting in violence from the police. Tensions reached a peak when a railroad strike swept across the country during the summer of 1877. The trains were running again in just a few days, but the deadly encounters between protesters and the law enforcement stayed in the minds of the workers as a source of continued resentment.

At this time, two of the most influential men of the labor movement came into the public eye. The first, Albert Parsons, had arrived in Chicago from Texas in November 1873. What he called his “interest and activity in the labor movement” began shortly after his arrival, and he soon became the most prominent English-speaking spokesmen for both the socialist and labor movements. The second, August Spies, had arrived in the city from central Germany the same year as Parsons. Both men supported the union movement and spoke out for the eight-hour workday, a major cause most unions were fighting for.

Foremost among emerging unions was the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor (KOL). The KOL listed more than 700,000 members by the mid-1880s. Founded in 1869, the KOL was not a new organization. It had merely come out of the shadows to hold its first national assembly a few months after the 1877 railroad strike. Soon after joining the union, Parsons founded the first Chicago assembly of the Knights. He believed, along with many others, the Knights could create a “brotherhood of toil” among men of different trades, religions and races.

Along with their devotion to the labor movement, both men shared a devotion to radicalism, an international development of the 1880s. Many middle-class and native-born Chicagoans took pride in the fact they could not differentiate between the different forms of radicalism, but socialists, communists and anarchists all had very different views about what path the labor movement should take. The only thing they agreed on was capitalism and the wage system exploited the worker, and they had to take ownership of the means of production out of current hands and return it to the people.

Albert Parsons

Anarchists like Spies and Parsons advocated cooperating with organized labor. This idea was practical, and they believed they could eventually use

August Spies

unions to help overthrow the current political and economic systems. This combination of anarchism and unionism became known as the “Chicago idea.” Extreme anarchists like George Engel, Adolph Fischer and Louis Lingg rejected the “Chicago idea” because they believed it compromised true anarchist principles.

Another depression hit in late 1883. A series of angry confrontations occurred throughout the country. The anarchists in Chicago put on demonstrations repeatedly to announce their cause. On Thanksgiving 1884, the anarchists helped organize a “poor people march” to point out that want rather than plenty was the workers’ lot. A few thousand demonstrators assembled downtown to hear radicals Parsons, Fielden, Spies and Schwab speak. They then marched through the cold streets past the homes of the wealthy carrying the emblem of hunger, the black flag. They repeated this demonstration a year later. Then, on May 4, 1885 (exactly a year before Haymarket), striking stoneworkers in Lemont threw stones at troopers protecting strikebreakers. The troopers fired into the crowd, killing two men instantly and wounding many others. While this outraged anarchists and other labor leaders, it wasn’t until three months later that Chicago citizens also became angry after the police clubbed innocent bystanders during a strike against the West Division Railway Company.

As unemployment and union agitation increased thorough the first half of 1886, more workers joined the revived eight-hour movement, and labor agitators made a plan for a walkout across the country on Saturday, May 1, 1886. The walkout was a huge success. Hundreds of thousands of workers across different trades and across the country and 40,000 in Chicago went on strike. Demonstrations took place without incident throughout the city, among which was a parade along Michigan Avenue.

On Monday, May 3, 1886, the first working day since the national eight-hour walkout, August Spies spoke at a rally of the Striking Lumber Shover’s Union near the main factory of the McCormick Reaper Works. As he spoke, the non-union strikebreakers ended their shift at the nearby factory. Some of his audience left the rally to join the McCormick strikers in heckling the strikebreakers. A fight broke out between the two groups. The police arrived as the strikers moved to throwing stones, forcing the strikebreakers back into the factory. The police pushed their way through the crowd with their clubs. The strikers began to throw stones at the officers who responded by firing into the crowd. The gunfire seriously injured many workers and killed two.
Angry and disgusted, Spies returned to the office of the Arbeiter-Zeitung, the leading German-socialist paper of which he was editor. He created a bilingual leaflet titled “Workingmen to Arms!” However, a compositor added the heading “REVENGE” without consulting Spies.

Later in the evening, a few dozen of the most extreme anarchists, including George Engel and Adolph Fischer, met in Greif’s Hall on Lake Street. After hearing the news of the riot at the McCormick factory, they decided to hold an outdoor public protest meeting the next evening. They chose the Haymarket as the meeting place. Fischer, after preparing a poster announcing the meeting, went on a hunt for good speakers. He asked August Spies, who accepted the offer. However, after seeing Fischer’s poster entitled “Workingmen Arm Yourselves and Appear in Full Force,” Spies refused to speak unless Fischer changed the poster for fear it would encourage a police presence that could cause violence. Fischer conceded and edited all but a few hundred of the twenty thousand posters before distribution.

The organizers planned to begin the rally at seven-thirty the following evening, but it did not begin until over an hour later. Spies expected to address the crowd in German, and as German speakers usually spoke last, he didn’t believe it was necessary to arrive at the beginning of the rally. When he arrived sometime between eight-fifteen and eight-thirty, no meeting had started and no other speakers were present. A crowd of two to three thousand people, smaller than expected, was already beginning to disperse. Spies searched the area for Parsons, who he had expected to start the rally, but could not find him. Hoping to salvage the situation, Spies made a makeshift podium out of a nearby hay wagon and called the meeting to order. Before beginning his speech, Spies sent one of his newspaper employees back to the office where he heard Parsons, Fielden and Schwab were attending a meeting. Exhausted and disappointed by the small crowd, Spies decided to speak briefly in English:

Let me tell you at the beginning that this meeting is to explain the general situation of the eight hour movement and to throw light upon various incidents in connection with it.

He continued to speak until he saw Parsons make his way through the crowd.

Meanwhile, the authorities, concerned the Haymarket rally might cause trouble, had Chief Inspector John Bonfield assemble a force of 176 patrolmen a half a block away in the Desplaines Street Station. Bonfield sent officers to the meeting in civilian clothing with orders to report back to him if the speeches became dangerous. Back at the rally, Parsons spoke for nearly an hour:
In the light of these facts and your inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it behooves you, as you love your wives and children, if you would not see them perish with want and hunger, yourselves killed or cut down like dogs in the streets− Americans, as you love liberty and independence, arm, arm yourselves!

Mayor Carter Harrison, who was also in attendance to prevent violence, found the speeches to be tame by current standards. He left while Parsons was still speaking to confer with Bonfield about the peacefulness of the meeting. He returned to the meeting to hear a few minutes of Samuel Fielden’s speech, decided there was no reason for him to stay and went home.

Mayor Harrison

By the time Samuel Fielden mounted the wagon to speak, only about 600 people remained in the crowd. It was not much before ten o’clock when he began, warning the crowd to prepare for the worst. He claimed that since the police had shown no mercy, they should receive no mercy in return. “Keep your eye on the law,” Fielden cried. “Throttle it. Kill it. Stop it. Do everything you can to wound it− to impede its progress.” After hearing these words, one of Bonfield’s disguised officers reported back to him that the speaker was making dangerous threats.

About ten minutes into Fielden’s speech, the wind picked up and the crowd, anticipating rain, diminished even more. Parsons interrupted to propose the meeting reconvene at the nearby Zepf’s Hall, but Fielden announced he only needed a few minutes to finish, and the meeting would be over. Nevertheless, Parsons, Fischer and several others departed the rally for the warmth of the hall.

As Fielden winded up his speech, Bonfield decided to act. He marched his force of 176 patrolmen in formation up Desplaines Street and though the crowd to the speakers’ wagon. It was about ten-twenty at night, and the crowd was now only a mere 500 people.

“I command you in the name of the people of the state of Illinois to immediately and peaceably disperse,” ordered Captain William Ward.

“But we are peaceable,” replied Fielden. When Ward angrily repeated his order, Fielden said, “All right, we will go,” and got down from the wagon. Suddenly, a bomb rose out of the crowd on the east sidewalk. It arched about 20 feet in the air before landing in the middle of the street among the police. The bomb sat on the ground for a few seconds and then exploded. Shrapnel from the bomb ripped through the body of Officer Degan, severing a major artery in his left leg. He died on the scene.

Although often reported otherwise, evidence and testimony point to the officers initiating fire. Terrified and confused from the blast, the police fired everywhere and anywhere, including into their own ranks. The gunfire continued for two minutes straight. If the crowd fired back, it was a feeble response. Everyone ran for their lives, but many were hit before they could escape. In all, the riot took the lives of seven policemen and at least four workers. The bomb and bullets wounded about sixty officers along with an unknown number of civilians.

A period of panic and overreaction followed in Chicago. A trial ensued, and the jury found anarchists Adolph Spies, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Oscar Neebe and Louis Lingg guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. Four of the defendants were hanged in November 1887. One committed suicide before the hangings, and Illinois governor John Altgeld later pardoned the remaining three. The trial and hangings are notoriously considered one of the largest miscarriages of justice in American history as the prosecution provided no evidence connecting any of the defendants to the bomb-throwing. The widespread fear of unionism and radicalism influenced most of the public to support harsh and unjust treatment of the accused.

The Haymarket riot was a pivotal event in the early history of American labor. The effect of the riot on the labor movement was immense, and it would take decades to recover. Unions lost the little public support they had gained. In the minds of the public, all unionizers were anarchists, and all anarchists believed in violence. The anarchist was not only an alien to America but also to all things decent, rational and humane.

The riot was largely responsible for delaying acceptance of the eight-hour day as workers deserted the KOL to avoid suspicion and harassment from the general public and moved to the more moderate American Federation of Labor. With the major labor agitators of the day gone, the forceful revival of the eight-hour movement they brought about came to a stop.

For many years, the public regarded the policemen of the Haymarket riot as martyrs and the workers as violent anarchists. This view set the labor movement back. However, over time this view has changed, and history has judged the defendants to be the martyrs. In a time when unions are once again the scapegoats, the bloodshed that occurred to give the individual worker rights and power must be remembered. It must be remembered that there are fights worth fighting, but also that violence seldom helps advance a cause.

Amanda’s Exhibit on the Riot

Wild Bill Hickok: From the Backwoods to the Wild West

If you have ever been to Troy Grove, Illinois, you more than likely would not have known it. It is a “blink and miss it” kind of town. It is nestled in the flat plains of northern Illinois, just south of Mendota, and just north of LaSalle. In the early 1800s, the land north of the Illinois River was slow to settle.  The thick, black, and rich prairie soil was tough to plow, and the winters even tougher. When settlement did spread north, most settlers came with a church. Many towns throughout northern Illinois were settled in such a manner. The land, filled with deer and other wild life, would produce one of America’s greatest legends, Wild Bill Hickok. Hickok would partake in some of America’s greatest events over the next 40 years.

Born James Butler Hickok in 1837 in what was then called Homer, Hickok grew up in an abolitionist and religious home. The family was purportedly known to have helped escaped slaves northward to Lee County and DeKalb County and eastward to Grundy County and Kendall County. Young James was known to explore the countryside and became an expert marksmen in doing so. Hickok also was a voracious reader. Hickok read as many adventure stories as he could get his hands on. He became enamored with the legends of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone.

At the age of 15, James went south to nearby LaSalle to become a mule boy on the newly opened I & M Canal. He would care for the mules and walk the mules pulling barges up and down the canal. Most days were filled with apples, long walks, and foraging through the nearby forests for game. Hickok and one of the mule boys, Charles Hudson, did not get along. Hudson thought Hickok was challenging him for the head mule boy position. In the ensuing fisticuffs, Hickok won the fight but he thought he had killed Hudson when they fell in to the six foot deep canal. As a result, young James took off for the west.

First Hickok went to Arkansas before he went to Kansas. At the time, the newly minted Kansas territory was in turmoil over whether Kansas was to be slave or free. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 determined that popular sovereignty would decide the matter. Free-soilers began to pour into Kansas just as Pro-slavery settlers arrived. The result was “Bleeding Kansas.” First hooking up with General Jim Lane, then later a 12-year-old Buffalo Bill Cody, Hickok’s skills of riding and shooting came into need. Hickok soon went to work for what would become the Pony Express driving a wagon.Odd jobs in the west were common for Hickok. He never stayed in one place very long, and he never stayed in one profession either. Whether it was fighting a bear, delivering mail, or law enforcement, Hickok was a natural drifter.

In 1861, Hickok was involved in an incident of much dispute. Hickok shot and killed David McCandles at Rock Creek Station. McCandles had come to collect a second payment on the property owned by Russell, Majors, & Waddell and their stagecoach company. Court records referred to him as “Duck Bill.” After the incident, Hickok would grow a mustache to cover his lips, which protruded out like a duck’s bill.

The Atchison Daily Champion newspaper reported the fight this way:

The McCandlas gang consisted of only the leader and three others, and not of fourteen as stated in the magazine. Of these “Wild Bill,” in the fight referred to, shot McKandlas through the heart with a rifle, and then stepping out-of-doors, revolver in hand, shot another of the gang dead; severely wounded a third, who ran off to a ravine near by, and was found there dead, and slightly wounded the fourth, who ran away and was not heard of afterwards. There was no grudge existing between the McKandles gang and “Wild Bill,” but the former had a quarrel with the Stage Company, and had come to burn the station “Bill” was in charge of.

Hickok was said to have killed McCanles during a dispute over funds from the sale of the station. Eventually, Hickok was found not guilty. He did not stay in Rock Creek Station. His next adventure saw him joining the Union Army during the Civil War.

Hickok’s time in the service had him doing many things: Wagon master, teamster, packer, property master, driver, and scout. It is also where Hickok got the name “Wild Bill” rescuing a bartender from a fight. It is rumored, but not substantiated, that Hickok spent all of 1863 in south as a spy. His whereabouts for the year 1863 to this day have not been confirmed.

In 1864, Hickok reappeared and the next few years saw him once again taking odd jobs here and there. But in these years, Hickok’s fame began to spread. His ability to “quick draw” his pistols still became the stuff of legend. Several times during his life, Hickok would be tried for murder, yet he never was convicted. In 1865, David Tutt became one of Hickok’s victims. Like so many other incidents of the time period, gambling debts played a role in the confrontation. The Missouri Weekly printed the following:

David Tutt, of Yellville, Arkansas, was shot on the public square, at 6 o’clock on Friday last, by James B. Hickok, better known in Southwest Missouri as “Wild Bill.” The difficulty occurred from a game of cards. Hickok is a native of Homer, Lasalle County. Illinois, and is about twenty-six years of age. He has been engaged since his sixteenth year, with the exception of about two years, with Russell, Majors & Waddill, in Government service, as scout, guide, or with exploring parties, and has rendered most efficient and signal service to the Union cause, as numerous acknowledgments from the different commanding officers with whom he has served will testify.

After Hickok had taken Tutt to the cleaners in a card game, Tutt brought up a previous debt. Hickok agreed Tutt’s claim forthright. Hickok gave Tutt the balance due. For Tutt, this was not enought. Tutt brought up another debt but Hickok disputed the debt. In the pursuant discussion, Davis took Hickok’s pocket watch. Tutt claimed he would hold it as collateral until Hickok paid the sum in full. Hickok was incensed. However, Hickok did nothing at the time. Tutt was surrounded by his cronies. Had Hickok attempted any retribution, Wild Bill would have met his end right then and there. Hickok agreed Tutt he could keep the watch, but said if Tutt ever wore the watch in public, Wild Bill would shoot him on the spot. Tutt did not scare easily.

On July 21, 1865, Tutt proudly wore the watch in public in downtown Springfield, Missouri. When the two men met face to face, Tutt drew first and missed. Wild Bill did not. He shot Tutt in the heart. The account became the stuff of legend. At the trial, the judge instructed the jury not to decide guilt or innocence based on the facts, but instead to base their decision on whether it was a “fair fight.” Wild Bill was found not guilty.

Hickok’s legend only grew larger in the coming years. The St. Louis Missouri Democrat wrote the following in 1867:

James Butler Hickok, commonly called “Wild Bill,” is one of the finest examples of that peculiar class known as frontiersman, ranger, hunter, and Indian scout. He is now thirty-eight years old, and since he was thirteen the prairie has been his home. He stands six feet one inch in his moccasins, and is as handsome a specimen of a man as could be found. We were prepared, on hearing of “Wild Bill’s” presence in the camp, to see a person who might prove to be a coarse and illiterate bully. We were agreeably disappointed however. He was dressed in fancy shirt and leathern leggings. He held himself straight, and had broad, compact shoulders, was large chested, with small waist, and well-formed muscular limbs. A fine, handsome face, free from blemish, a light moustache, a thin pointed nose, bluish-grey eyes, with a calm look, a magnificent forehead, hair parted from the centre of the forehead, and hanging down behind the ears in wavy, silken curls, made up the most picturesque figure. He is more inclined to be sociable than otherwise; is enthusiastic in his love for his country and Illinois, his native State; and is endowed with extraordinary power and agility, whose match in these respects it would be difficult to find. Having left his home and native State when young, he is a thorough child of the prairie, and inured to fatigue. He has none of the swaggering gait, or the barbaric jargon ascribed to the pioneer by the Beadle penny-liners. On the contrary, his language is as good as many a one that boasts “college laming.” He seems naturally fitted to perform daring actions. He regards with the greatest contempt a man that could stoop low enough to perform “a mean action.” He is generous, even to extravagance. He formerly belonged to the 8th Missouri Cavalry.

Over the next ten years, Hickok lived off this reputation in newspapers and Harper’s Magazine. He was a lawman, showman, and gambler. He lived mainly in Kansas and southwest Missouri during these years. Whether he was tracking or working as a lawman, Hickok’s reputation preceded him. Hickok favorite set of pistols were a set of 1851 Ivory plated Colt Navy 36 caliber Revolvers. He often wore them backwards in holsters, sashes, or belts. Even Hickok’s horse, Black Nell, was the stuff of legend. It was said to lay down just by Hickok’s touch. It was even rumored to come on command and even jump up on a pool table. George Ward Nichols wrote in 1867:

Bill whistled in a low tone. Nell instantly scrambled to her feet, walked toward him, put her nose affectionately under his arm, followed him into the room, and to my extreme wonderment climbed upon the billiard-table, to the extreme astonishment of the table no doubt, for it groaned under the weight of the four-legged animal and several of those who were simply bifurcated, and whom Nell permitted to sit upon her. When she got down from the table, which was as graceful a performance as might be expected under the circumstances, Bill sprang upon her back, dashed through the high wide doorway, and at a single bound cleared the flight of steps and landed in the middle of the street

illustration from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, February, 1867

In the early 1870s Hickok’s health began to wane. It was rumored that his eyesight was beginning to go. Then again, his mental capacities were not in full effect either after accidentally killing one of his deputies. After a brief stint in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, he left show business, something he for which didn’t care too fondly.

When gold was discovered in the Black Hills in the Dakotas, Wild Bill made  his way north to Deadwood, South Dakota in 1876. An outlaw town, Hickok tried to make it in gold but he soon set up shop mainly as a gambler in the town – set up illegally in Indian territory. Hickok was said to be night blind during this time. The saloons soon became the place for him to search for gold by gambling. Hickok had frequently talked of a premonition that Deadwood would be his last camp. In saloon Number 10, Hickok would meet his fate. With his back facing the back door, Jack McCall walked in and shot Hickok dead. His last words, “It looks like you got me and I’m broke.” His cards, Aces and 8s, the dead man’s hand, fell on the table. McCall faced a kangaroo court in Deadwood and was found not guilty. McCall claimed Hickok had killed a family member of his in Kansas. The Kangaroo Court agreed with McCall that the killing was justified in the lawless town. However, The government later tried McCall in a real court. He was found guilty of the murder of Hickok and executed.

The newspaper simply read about Hickok’s death,

“Died in Deadwood, Black Hills, August 2, 1876, from the effects of a pistol shot, J. B. Hickock [sic] (Wild Bill) formerly of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Funeral services will be held at Charlie Utter’s Camp, on Thursday afternoon, August 3, 1876, at 3 o’clock P. M. All are respectfully invited to attend.”

For further reading…Wild Bill Hickok Gunfighter: An Account of Hickok’s Gunfights by Joseph G. Rosa

Here is the entire Harper New Weekly Magazine article here.

The Mormons In Illinois: The Dream of Heaven

For me, there has always been something intriguing about the time of the Mormons in Illinois. Both glorious and tragic, the events which unfolded in western Illinois would reshape the church for the next 150 years. For Illinois, it was both an exercise in tolerance and intolerance. From a historical perspective, to study the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the 1800s is to study America in the 1800s. It is a study of westward expansion, religious fervor, and intolerance present in the time period.

America at the time…
When the founding fathers thought of freedom of religion, the intent of this freedom was two-fold. First, no government approved religion would ever exist in the United States. Second, Jefferson and Madison saw religion like a business. They saw religions competing in a marketplace of sin, salvation, theology, and social contracts. For the first two hundred years of life in North America, religions started in Europe and spread here through immigration. In the early 1800s, the US was a very religious place with a variety of philosophies expounding courses to salvation. Upstate New York was no different. Some religions were local, some national. Some came and went like the breeze. Some, were sent out of town, tarred and feathered. And some ended up in the fire or in jail. For every pious man, there was a swindler. Out of this religious fervor comes Joseph Smith.

The New York Era…
In 1820, Joseph Smith began his path to martyr. God was said to have visited Joseph and told Joseph that all religions were false and that Joseph was to create a new, true church. In 1823, Joseph Smith claimed to have been visited by the Angel Moroni and been given the location of gold plates and the tools (seer stones) with which to read the plates. It took Smith another four years to find the plates and three years to decode them. The plates, when translated, became the book of Mormon – the foundation of the church. What made Mormons different than every other church in the US was the Book of Mormon. It was not a fly-by-night pamphlet to get salvation in one night. The book, first published in 1830, made its way overseas. In fact, throughout the 1830s and 1840s, there were always more Mormons in England than there were in the United States.

The Movement Moves…
Smith, like most religions of the time period, moved – by choice, by God, and by fear for his life. Beginning in 1831, Smith and church moved to Kirtland, Ohio. For seven years, Smith tried to make a go of building a church, a temple, and to stay our of jail. He would be tarred and feathered, ran out of town, and out of money. In Missouri, the Mormons faced persecution on a larger scale. An actual war against the Mormons. Smith would end up in jail and the Governor of Missouri issued an extermination order against the Mormons. Somehow, Illinois would take them in.

In Illinois…
Settling in Hancock County in Illinois in 1839, the Mormons began to build a community they could not build in Missouri, New York, or Ohio. For five years, the town of Nauvoo (Hebrew for beautiful) became a shining beacon along the Mississippi. It became a center for commerce, trade, and agriculture. It quickly grew to be one of the largest cities in Illinois. Its power grew out of Joseph Smith.

Smith’s power was almost omnipresent. He was the leader of the church, the mayor, and the head of the local militia. For every convert, Smith had made an equal number of enemies. In 1843-44, Smith could not hide from the enemies anymore. Some were spurned former members of the church, some were his friends, and some were neighboring towns wary of the power and the increasing size of Nauvoo.

For former Church President, William Law, Smith’s actions were more than he could take. On June 7, 1844, Law published a 4 page newspaper called the Expositor. On these four pages, Law and his editors spilled the beans on plural marriage within the church. Smith had the printing press of the Expositor destroyed.
The proclamation reads,

To the Marshal of said City [Nauvoo], greeting.

You are hereby commanded to destroy the printing press from whence issues the Nauvoo Expositor, and pi the type of said printing establishment in the street, and burn all the Expositors and libelous handbills found in said establishment; and if resistance be offered to your execution of this order by the owner or others, demolish the house: and if anyone threatens you or the Mayor or the officers of the city, arrest those who threaten you, and fail not to execute this order without delay, and make due return thereon.
By order of the City Council,

The nearby communities were outraged at not only the destruction of the printing press but also rumors about plural marriage and baptism for the dead. What had seemed like five years in heaven for the Mormons would quickly convert to hell. Smith became a wanted a man by the state. A series of letter that summer between Smith and the Governor of Illinois, Thomas Ford, arranged for not only Smith’s arrest but also for Smith’s protection.

In a letter to Smith, Governor Ford Writes in the introduction

To the Mayor and Council of the City of Nauvoo:
GENTLEMEN.-After examining carefully all the allegations on the part of the citizens of the country in Hancock county, and the defensive mat­ters submitted to me by the committee of your citizens concerning the ex­isting disturbances, I find that there appears to be but little contradiction as to important facts, so that it may be safely assumed that the immedi­ate cause of the existing excitement is the destruction of the press and Nauvoo Expositor, and the subsequent refusal of the individuals accused to be accountable therefore according to the general laws of this state, and the insisting on your parts to be accountable only before your own municipal court, and according to the ordinances of your city.

The letter continued to place the events beyond the legal confines of the city of Nauvoo. Smith who could control any events in Nauvoo would be taken out Nauvoo.

Smith’s Arrest Warrant

Writ of Arrest on the Charge of Treason – Joseph Smith.

The people of the State of Illinois, to all sheriffs, coroners and constables of said state greeting:

Whereas complaint has been made before me, one of the justices of the peace in and for said county aforesaid, upon the oath of Augustine Spencer, that Joseph Smith, late of the county aforesaid, did, on or about the nineteenth day of June. A. D. 1844, at the county and state aforesaid, commit the crime of treason against the government and people of the State of Illinois aforesaid.
These are therefore to command you to take the said Joseph Smith if he be found in your county, or if he shall have fled, that you pursue after the said Smith into another county within this state, and take and safely keep the said Joseph Smith, so that you have his body forthwith before me to answer the said complaint and be further dealt with accord­ing to law.
Given under my hand and sea1 this 24th day of June, A,D. 1844.
R. F. SMITH, J. P.

The trial would be held in nearby Carthage. Smith, along with his brother Hyrum were taken to the jail in Carthage. Their stay was not long.
A mob, dressed in black face, came for Joseph and Hyrum and killed them. A witness recounts,

When President Smith had been set against the curb, and began to recover, from the effects of the fall, Col. Williams ordered four men to shoot him. Accordingly, four men …made ready to execute the order. While they were making preparations, and the muskets were raised to their faces, President Smith’s eyes rested upon them with a calm and quiet resignation. He betrayed no agitated feelings and the expression upon his countenance seemed to betoken his only prayer to be: “O, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

The ruffian…now secured a bowie knife for the purpose of severing his head from his body. He raised the knife and was in the attitude of striking, when a light, so sudden and powerful, burst from the heavens upon the bloody scene, (passing its vivid chain between Joseph and his murderers,) that they were struck with terrified awe and filled with consternation. This light, in its appearance and potency, baffles all powers of description. The arm of the ruffian, that held the knife, fell powerless; the muskets of the four, who fired, fell to the ground, and they all stood like marble statues, not having power to move a single limb of their bodies.

On June 27, 1844, the Smith brothers were dead. The Mormons in Illinois were dead. But the church was not. In the coming years, 2 trials would be held and no one convicted for the murders. Brigham Young would take charge of a divided church and lead them west in the winter of 1846 on a trip to a place the Mormons would want to be a new state called Deseret.

Why the Mormons in Illinois Matter…
The resulting exodus and trek west for the Mormons changed Illinois. For the rest of the 1800s, the Mormons struggled to live within the confines of the United States. Utah would not become a state until 1896. Illinois, on the other hand, continued to find its place in the expansion of the U.S. A new city in northeastern Illinois, only two years older than Nauvoo, would supplant itself as the economic center of the Midwest. Nauvoo never recovered. Today it is still a small, rural town.

Another key way Illinois changed as a result was how Illinois was structured. At a time when lawlessness and vigilantes ruled, it was not uncommon for over a 100 men to sit on a jury in Illinois at the time. Such was the case for Ford – he was powerless to stop the mobs who wanted justice. The conflict in Nauvoo resulted in a constitutional convention giving the Governor more power to deal with such matters. Illinois continued to grow and move northward, away from the Mississippi and more towards the Lake.

The Mormons would set up Utah, and Brigham Young would be the man who made the church what it is today. By the time of his death in the 1870s, the church reached over most of the western U.S. with over 100,000 members. Their trek to what was perceived a wasteland, would pave the way for thousands of Americans on what became known as “The Mormon Trail”.

PBS Video on the Mormons

For further reading

Marquette and Joliet – Exploring the Interior of the Continent

One was a former philosophy student. The other was a Jesuit priest. One was only 27 years old. The other was a few weeks shy of his 35th birthday. Together, their journey of 1673-1675 paved the way for French control of the interior of the North American continent. Their journey from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River and back again paved the way for a 4,000 mile trade network on the waterways of North America.

Voyageurs, as the French called themselves, were a hardy sort. To be a voyageur in the 1600s was to be an explorer, fur tradesman, and a survivalist. The wilderness of the Great Lakes called for it. In fact, it demanded it. To travel up and down the waterways required a constitution like no other. In 1673, Pierre Marquette and Louis Joliet set out with other voyageurs across Lake Michigan to what is now Green Bay, Wisconsin. Their original mission had two purposes:
1. Bring Christianity to the interior of the continent
2. Explore the interior, mainly the Mississippi River, and see if it is suitable to establish a trading post

Marquette had arrived in the new world in 1666 in Quebec. His job was to Christianize the Indians. He found he had a gift for local languages, most notably – Huron. He kept moving westward. In what is the straits of Mackinac, Marquette was given permission in 1673 to travel west to a river the natives talked about as a “fanciful” river. Joliet was a map maker and fur trader. His skill set would come in handy in charting where the two had been. Setting out with five other voyageurs, Marquette and Joliet were unsure of what they would face.

Over the next two years, Marquette and Joliet would travel across what is now Wisconsin to the Mississippi River, down to Arkansas, back up the Mississippi to the Illinois River, portage across what is now Chicago and back into the Great Lakes. All that remains of their journey is small journal Marquette kept. Before the trip he writes:

Above all, I placed our voyage under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Immaculate, promising her that, if she granted us the favor of discovering the great river, I would give it the name Conception, and that I would also make the first mission that I should establish among those new peoples, bear the same name. This I actually have done, among the Illinois.

What Marquette and Joliet would not know until later in their journey was that the Spanish already had discovered it and had been using in what is now Louisiana and Mississippi.

Marquette often describes the Indians, whom he calls people of Folle Avoine, and their new oat – corn. Along the way south, Marquette describes in detail the peoples he meets, their customs, and a botantist’s dream – the plants and animals. He mistakenly refers to Buffalo as cattle. As the voyageurs make their way south, they meet mostly friendly Indians. When they begin to meet Indians with Spanish wares, they turn around and start heading north. But rather than go all the way up the Mississippi to what is now Prairie du Chen, they take a short cut using the Illinois River.

By this time, Marquette has fallen ill with dysentery. It will claim his life. However, it does not stop him from spreading the gospel. All throughout what they called Pays de Illinois, the Jesuit priest continues doing his part of the mission. The voyageurs camped in what is now Kaskaskia, Peoria, and Chicago. Although Marquette and Joliet did not find the elusive Northwest Passage, they did find the mouth of the Missouri. In addition, their expedition had many effects.
1. French Control of the Interior
For the next ninety years, the French would control the interior of the continent. They would set up forts as far east as what is now Pittsburgh to the west in St. Louis and up down the waterways of the Upper Midwest.
2. Fur Trade
By having these forts, the French also controlled the valuable fur trade until the end of the French and Indian War in 1763.
3. A Canal
Joliet dreamed of a canal linking the Great Lakes to the Illinois River thereby linking the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and opening up the interior of the continent for trade. It would not be until the late 1830s when the Illinois & Michigan Canal was built.

4. French Culture
The culture established by the French is still felt throughout Illinois and Wisconsin. From the names of towns to a hunting fur trading and trapping culture, the French are ever present in what they called Pays de Illinois.
5. Furture Voyages of Exploration
LaSalle’s voyages would establish forts up and down the rivers

In the end, the voyages of Marquette and Joliet resulted in Marquette’s death from dysentery. Joliet, who lost all the maps and artifacts but Marquette’s journal, faced hard times before becoming a successful spy against the British. He would live until he was 55. Their effect on Illinois was huge.

Illinois would be settled along the rivers: The Ohio, Mississippi, Wabash, and Mississippi. And it would be settled from the South up. When most people think of Illinois, they think of Chicago. However, Chicago would not exist as a city until almost 20 years after Illinois became a state. In fact, Illinois’ early boundary ended in the north at the Illinois River.

After the voyage of Marquette and Joliet, people slowly arrived in the south of Pays de Illinois. There, in the Garden of the Gods where the Ohio and Mississippi merge, were deer, buffalo, other wild game, fish, fruits, and all kinds of things needed to live in the heavily forested region. A fur trader’s heaven, the forests of southern Illinois, western Kentucky, and southeast Missouri were a haven for wild game and money to be made back in Europe.

For Further Reading
Marquette’s Journal

George Rogers Clark – The Forgotten One

His younger brother got most of the glory. Even though George taught William everything he knew, it was always about William. In Indiana, George Rogers Clark got his due. In Kentucky too. In Illinois, he is the forgotten one. Why is that? Why has Illinois never fully given George Rogers Clark his just reward for his efforts? It is hard to fathom.

The Clark family was originally from Virginia. Born in 1752, George Rogers Clark would spend most of his life westward, mainly in Kentucky. When the Revolutionary War broke out, George was 23. At that young of an age, George played a huge role in helping America spread westward to the Mississippi River. George and his allies in what is now Kentucky received appropriations from Virginia Governor Patrick Henry to defend the “Kentucky County” from not only the British and the Indians, but also other settlers determined to turn Kentucky into another colony for the British. Clark’s job was to keep Kentucky in US control, more importantly to Henry, Virginia’s hands.

In his efforts to defend the county, Clark received orders from Governor Henry to attack British forts in what was called “The Illinois Country”. Clark had asked for the orders and he and his men, whom the Indians called “The Long Knives” (for their muskets) set off on a daring raid into British territory in July of 1778.

With 175 men, Clark left Fort Massac  and marched 100 miles to Kaskaskia and without firing a shot took Kaskaskia and the entire Illinois Territory for the State of Virginia and the fledgling United States. The raid itself would play no major role in the war, but it did lead to later raids including the capture of Vincennes later that winter that ended the British presence in the  Northwest. The huge effect of Clark adding not only Kentucky and Indiana but Illinois as well helped to establish the US as major economic power after the Revolutionary War as the fledgling country would control all of the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys. The valuable fur trade along with access to major agricultural regions paid huge dividends for the country.

But Clark is almost unknown as a hero in Illinois. In Indiana he has his own statue and park at Vincennes. In Kentucky, he basically founded Paducah and Louisville along with many other towns along the Ohio River. Is it because he died destitute? Is it because he was overshadowed by his brother? Or is it because he is overshadowed by Abraham Lincoln? I tend to agree with the latter.

The History of Illinois is all about Abraham or at least that what is told. But when one begins to examine the fabric of the state’s history, there are many others who have played just as significant a role as Lincoln in the history of the state. From John Deere to Black Hawk to Joseph Medill to even George Rogers Clark, the past in Illinois is a quilt of many people. It is time to give George Rogers Clark his due and to pull him out from under the shadow of Lincoln and onto his own pedestal. His bravery and foresight helped shape a nation beyond the Revolution.

The author and GRC at the mural along the Ohio River in Paducah, Kentucky.

Charles Deere – The Other Deere

If John Deere the company had stayed in the hands of John Deere the man, the company would have folded a long time ago. Although John Deere was a perfectionist when it came to manufacturing his plows, he was not a perfectionist when it came to business. In fact, it would be his son, Charles Deere, who would put the Inc. in John Deere, Inc.

Some might find it ironic that Charles Deere was born the same year that his father invented the first self-cleaning steel plow. In fact, John had no expectation of Charles one day taking over the business. That job fell to his oldest son, Francis Albert. John’s plow would soon change the course of history. The thick, black, and rich prairie soil of Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana would soon be torn asunder by the plow of John Deere. Other events in the 1830s would also help to spur the growth of farming in the Midwest including the railroad, a new city on the shores of Lake Michigan, a canal linking the Illinois River to Lake Michigan, and the removal of the Indians from the upper Midwest. The population of the state boomed in the north. The Illinois Country would never be the same.

The Deere family continued to live in tiny Ogle County until 1847 and 1848 when John Deere packed up his family and business and moved to Moline to take advantage of the Mississippi River for its trade and travel opportunities. Charles was only 11. That same year, Francis Albert Deere died suddenly in the Ogle County Flu Epidemic and Charles’ life forever changed. He was now expected to go into the family business. But Charles was different from his father. While John liked to tinker with steel and machines, Charles did not.

In 1853, Charles, at the age of 16, graduated from Bell’s Commercial School in Chicago. He joined the company business as a bookkeeper. He quickly advanced up the company ladder to become head of sales. The “Panic of 1857” almost doomed the company. The raw materials and natural resources needed to build the plows was far outstripping their sales. In other words, they had a serious financial problem. While John Deere remained President of the company, he turned the day-to-day running of the business side over to Charles. At the age of 21, Charles Deere was now the one on whom John Deere entrusted his legacy.

Over the next forty-six years, Charles would do more than run a company, he would transform and innovate business in America and the Midwest. His major accomplishment was the branch house.

From selling directly to the dealer, a system of branch stores-which later became branch houses-grew under his direction, till at the time of his death any one of the fifteen or more at Omaha, St. Louis, Minneapolis. Kansas City, Winnipeg, San Francisco and other centers represented a volume of business worthy of the undivided attention of a business genius…His great structure comprehended the entire field of agriculture.1

What Charles Deere had done was to cut out the independent dealer and sell straight to the farmer. What the farmer had done was go to the dealer and tell him what else Deere could make for him. This diversification of industry would soon make Deere, Incorporated (1868) into the world’s leading supplier of farm implements and not just plows. Deere was the forerunner of the corporate franchise of the twentieth century. Charles did not think of this all by himself; he had stolen the idea from Isaac Singer who was selling his sewing machines all over the country.

Charles Deere is still well thought of in Moline. His charitable work and investment in the town and other industries in the town are well known there. Not everything he touched turned to gold though. He once partnered up for an ill fated venture into the automobile industry.

In the end, when you talk about John Deere and Charles Deere, you really can’t talk about the one without the other. Without John Deere inventing the plow, there would be no Charles Deere. However, without the Charles’s business sense, the name of the John Deere has been ensured.

1 – Biographical History of Rock Island County’s Early Settlers and Leading Business Men.

Book to Read
The John Deere Story: A Biography of Plowmakers John & Charles Deere by Neil Dahlstrom and Jeremy Dahlstrom