The following paper — with that of Col. Hubbard's — will present very fully all the facts connected with what is known as the "Winnebago Scare." It is published by us under the following circumstances: —
Mr. Beckwith called upon the publishers in company with Col. Hubbard, who came to the office to obtain a proof of his narrative. On being introduced to Mr. Fergus, Mr. Beckwith remarked that he was also engaged in writing up the Winnebago War, from manuscript notes taken by him at interviews with Col. Hubbard, Mr. Cunningham, and others; and that he had taken considerable pains with details not embraced in Col. Hubbard's narrative. Whereupon Mr. Fergus desired him to prepare a manuscript to be published in the same pamphlet with Col. Hubbard's, so as to give completeness to the whole campaign; and the manuscript herewith is furnished in compliance with his promise in response to Mr. Fergus' request.
GENTLEMEN: — At your request, I herewith send my manuscript on the so-called Winnebago War, omitting the portion of it covered by the narrative of Col. Hubbard, which you already have upon the same subject. The two accounts, taken together, will give a very accurate and interesting detail of the hitherto unpublished History of the "Winnebago Scare," so far as it relates to the eastern part of Illinois. The account which follows I have condensed from notes taken at several very lengthy interviews with Mr. Hezekiah Cunningham. I have reduced it to narrative form, for convenience in reading, taking much pains with detail, and paying no attention to rhetorical embellishment whatever, believing that the former is paramount and the latter of trifling import in gathering material for the use of the future historian.
As for the narrator, Mr. Cunningham, was born in 1803, in Pittsylvania Co., Va.; he settled on the "North-Arm-Prairie," near Paris, in what was then Clark, and which is now Edgar County, this State, in 1819. In 1825, he removed to the Little Vermilion River, within the present limits of Vermilion County. He resided here until 1828, when he came to Danville, in which place he has resided for almost half a century. He is now in his seventy-fifth year, hearty and active in both body and mind. His health has always been good; his habits temperate and that of a Christian in every particular; he is remarkable for his tenacious memory, recollecting facts, dates, names, and events which he recalls with a, readiness and accuracy possessed by very few men, at any time of life. He has never been a reader of books, and is well known for his truthfulness, and full confidence may be reposed in his statements.
H. W. BECKWITH.
Danville, Ill., Dec. 7th, 1877.
Here follows the narrative of Mr. Cunningham: I was out in the Winnebago War. Myself, Joshua Parish, now living at Georgetown, Abel Williams, living near Dallas, and almost ninety years old, and Gurdon S. Hubbard, of Chicago, are the only survivors, according to the best of my present information.
In the night time, about the 5th or 20th of July, 1827, I was awakened by my brother-in-law, Alexander McDonald, telling me that Mr. Hubbard had just come in from Chicago with the word that the Indians were about to massacre the people there, and that men were wanted for their protection at once. The inhabitants of the County capable of bearing arms had been enrolled under the militia laws of the State, and organized as "The Vermilion County Battalion," in which I held a commission as Captain. I dressed myself and started forthwith to notify all the men belonging to my company to meet at Butler's Point, (six miles southwest of Danville), the place where the County business was then conducted and where the militia met to muster. The Captains of the other companies were notified the same as myself, and they warned out their respective companies the same as I did mine. I rode the remainder of the night at this work, up and down the Little Vermilion.
At noon the next day, the Battalion were at Butler's Point; most of the men lived on the Little Vermilion River, and had to ride or walk from six to twelve miles to the place of rendezvous. Volunteers were called for, and in a little while fifty men, the required number, were raised. Those who agreed to go, then held an election of their officers for the campaign, choosing Achilles Morgan, Captain; Major Bayles, First Lieutenant; and Col. Isaac R. Moores, as Second. The names of the private men, as far as I now remember them, are as follows: George M. Beckwith, John Beasley, myself, (Hezekiah Cunningham), Julian Ellis, Seaman Cox, James Dixon, Asa Elliot, Francis Foley, William Foley, a Mr. Hammers, Jacob Heater, a Mr. Davis, Evin Morgan, Isaac Goen, Jonathan Phelps, Joshua Parish, William Reed, John Myers, ("Little Vermilion John") John Saulsbury, a Mr. Kirkman, Anthony Swisher, George Swisher, Joseph Price, George Weir, John Vaughn, Newton Wright, and Abel Williams. Many of the men were without horses, and the neighbors who had horses and did not go, loaned their animals to those who did; still there were five men who started afoot, as there were no horses to be had for them. We disbanded, after we were mustered in, and went home to cook five days' rations, and were ordered to be at Danville the next day.
The men all had a pint of whiskey, believing it essential to mix a little of it with the slough water we were to drink on our route.
49Abel Williams, however, was smart enough to take some ground coffee, and a tin cup along, using no stimulants whatever; he had warm drinks on the way up to Chicago, and coming back all of us had the same.
We arrived at the Vermilion River about noon on Sunday, the day after assembling at Butler's Point. The river was up, running, bank full, about a hundred yards wide, with a strong current. Our men and saddles were taken over in a canoe. We undertook to swim our horses, and as they were driven into the water the current would strike them and they would swim in a circle and return to the shore a few rods below. Mr. Hubbard, provoked at this delay, threw off his coat and said, "Give me old Charley," meaning a large, steady-going horse, owned by James Butler and loaned to Jacob Heater. Mr. Hubbard, mounting this horse, boldly dashed into the stream, and the other horses were quickly crowded after him. The water was so swift that "old Charley" became unmanageable, when Mr. Hubbard dismounted on the upper side and seized the horse by the mane, near the animal's head, and swimming with his left arm, guided the horse in the direction of the opposite shore. We were afraid he would be washed under the horse or struck by his feet and be drowned; but he got over without damage, except the wetting of his broadcloth pants and moccasins. These he had to dry on his person, as we pursued our journey.
I will here say that a better man than Mr. Hubbard could not have been sent to our people. He was well known to all the settlers. His generosity, his quiet and determined courage, and his integrity, were so well known and appreciated that he had the confidence and goodwill of everybody, and was a well-recognized leader among us pioneers.
At this time there, were no persons living on the north bank of the Vermilion River near Danville, except Robert Trickle and George Weir, up near the present woolen factory, and William Reed and Dan Beckwith; the latter had a little log cabin on the bluff of the Vermilion near the present highway bridge, or rather on the edge of the hill east of the highway some rods. Here he kept store, in addition to his official duties as Constable and County Surveyor. The store contained a small assortment of such articles as were suitable for barter with the Indians, who were the principal customers. We called it "The Saddle-Bags Store," because the supplies were brought up from Terre Haute in saddlebags, that indispensable accompaniment of every rider in those days before highways were provided for the use of vehicles.
Mr. Reed had been elected Sheriff the previous March, receiving fifty-seven out of the eighty votes that were cast at the election,
50and which represented about the entire voting population of the County at that time. Both Reed and Dan wanted to go with us, and after quite a warm controversy between them, as it was impossible for them both to leave, it was agreed that Reed should go and that Beckwith would look after the affairs of both until Reed's return. Amos Williams was building his house at Danville at this time; the sale of lots having taken place the previous April.
Crossing the North Fork at Denmark, three miles north of Danville, we passed the cabin of Seymour Treat. He was building a mill at that place; and his house was the last one in which a family was living until we reached Hubbard's Trading Post, on the north bank of the Iroquois River, near what has since been known as the town of Buncombe; and from this trading house there was no other habitation, Indian wigwams excepted, on the line of our march until we reached Fort Dearborn.
It was a wilderness of prairie all the way, except a little timber we passed through near Sugar Creek, and at the Iroquois.
Late in the afternoon, we halted at the last crossing of the North Fork, at Bicknell's Point, a little north of the present town of Rossville. Here three of the footmen turned back, as the condition of the streams rendered it impossible for them to continue longer with us. Two men who had horses also left us. After a hasty lunch we struck out across the eighteen-mile prairie, the men stringing out on the trail Indian file, reaching Sugar Creek late in the night, where we went into camp on the south bank, near the present town of Milford.
The next day before noon, we arrived at Hubbard's Trading House, which was on the north bank of the Iroquois, about a quarter of a mile from the river. A lot of Indians, some of them half naked, were lying and lounging about the river bank and Trading House; and when it was proposed to swim our horses over, in advance of passing the men in boats, the men objected, fearing the Indians would take our horses, or stampede them, or do us some other mischief. Mr. Hubbard assured us that these savages were friendly, and we afterward learned that they were Pottawatomies, known as "Hubbard's Band," from the fact that he had long traded with and had a very great influence over them.
It is proper to state here that we were deficient in arms. We gathered up squirrel-rifles, flint-locks, old muskets, or anything like a gun that we may have had about our houses. Some of us had no fire-arms at all. I, myself, was among this number. Mr. Hubbard supplied those of us who had inefficient weapons, or those of us who were without them. He also gave us flour and salt pork. He had lately brought up the Iroquois River a supply
51of these articles. We remained at Hubbard's Trading House the remainder of the day, cooking rations and supplying our necessities. The next morning, we again moved forward, swimming Beaver Creek, and crossing the Kankakee River at the Rapids, just at the head of the Island near Momence; pushing along, we passed Yellowhead's Village. The old Chief, with a few old men and the squaws and pappooses, were at home. The young men were off on a hunt. Remaining here a little time, we again set out, and going about five miles, encamped at the point of the timber on Yellowhead's Creek. The next morning, we again set out, crossing a branch of the Calumet to the west of the Blue Island. All the way from Danville we had followed an Indian trail, since known as "Hubbard's trace," there was no sign of roads; the prairies and whole country was crossed and re-crossed by Indian trails; and we never could have got through but for the knowledge which Mr. Hubbard had of the country. It had been raining for some days before we left home, and it rained almost every day on the route. The streams and sloughs were full of water. We swam the former and travelled through the latter, sometimes almost by the hour. Many of the ponds were so deep that our men dipped up the water to drink as they sat in their saddles. Col. Hubbard fared better than the rest of us; that is, he did not get his legs wet so often; for he rode a very tall iron-gray stallion, that Peleg Spencer, Sr., living two miles south of Danville, loaned him. The little Indian pony which Hubbard rode in from the Iroquois to Spencer's was so used up as to be unfit for the return journey.
We reached Chicago about four o'clock on the evening of the fourth day, in the midst of one of the most severe rainstorms I ever experienced, accompanied by thunder and vicious lightning. The rain we did not mind, we were without tents and were used to wetting. The water we took within us hurt us more than that which fell upon us, as drinking it made many of us sick.
The people of Chicago were very glad to see us. They were expecting an attack every hour since Col. Hubbard had left them, and as we approached they did not know whether we were enemies or friends, and when they learned that we were friends they gave us a shout of welcome.
They had organized a company of thirty or fifty men, composed mostly of Canadian half-breeds, interspersed with a few Americans, all under command of Capt. Beaubien; the Americans seeing that we were a better looking crowd, wanted to leave their associates and join our company. This feeling caused quite a row, and the officers finally restored harmony and the discontented men went back to their old command.
The town of Chicago was composed at this time of six or seven American families, a number of half-breeds, and a lot of idle, vagabond Indians loitering about. I made the acquaintance of Robert and James Kinzie, and their father, John Kinzie.
We kept guard day and night for some eight or ten days, when a runner came in — I think from Green Bay — bringing word that Gen. Cass had concluded a treaty with the Winnebagoes, and that we might now disband and go home.
The citizens were overjoyed at the news; and in their gladness they turned out one barrel of gin, one barrel of brandy, one barrel of whiskey, knocking the heads of the barrels in. Everybody was invited to take a free drink, and, to tell the plain truth, everybody did drink.
The ladies at Fort Dearborn treated us especially well. I say this without disparaging the good and cordial conduct of the men toward us. The ladies gave us all manner of good things to eat. They loaded us with provisions and gave us all those delicate attentions that the kindness of womans' heart would suggest. Some of them — three ladies whom I understood were recently from New York, distributed tracts and other reading matter among our company, and interested themselves zealously in our spiritual as well as temporal welfare.
We started on our return, camping out of nights, and reaching home on the evening of the third day. The only good water we got going out or coming back was at a remarkable spring bursting out of the top of a little mound, in the midst of a slough, a few miles south of the Kankakee. I shall never forget this spring; it was a curiosity, found in the situation I have described.
In conclusion, under the Bounty Act of 1852, I received a warrant for eighty acres of land for my services in the campaign above narrated.