Online Version Transcribed By Nancy Piper
There is scarcely a grove or point of timber in Bureau county, but what is more or less identified with its early history. At some of these places material enough might be collected to form a history of its own. One of the most noted land marks of early days was Boyd's Grove, which is located in the town of Milo, and in the south part of the county. This beautiful belt of timber, extending out into the prairie, cone-shaped, occupied for many years a conspicuous place on the State map, and it was generally known by travelers throughout the west. With this grove many incidents are connected, some of which are so much identified with the early settlement of the county, as to be of interest to the reader. In the summer of 1828, John Dixon, then a resident of Peoria, built a cabin at the head of the grove, where Mrs. Whipple now lives and soon afterwards he occupied it with his family. Three years previous, Mr. Dixon was carrying on the tailoring business in Springfield, when the Governor appointed him Recorder, and the Circuit Judge gave him the clerkship of the new county of Peoria, and he moved thither to assist in its organization. At the first election, Mr. Dixon was made County Clerk, Judge of Probate, and Justice of the Peace, which position he held for some years.
Nothwithstanding Peoria county, at that time, included within its jurisdiction all the north part of the State, with Chicago and other trading posts of the lake, extending east as far as the Indiana State line, and west to the lead mines at Galena. With this vast territory, the proceeds of these county offices only averaged thirty-eight cents per day. The six offices which were held by Mr. Dixon, did not support his family, but he made up the deficiency by the needle and goose, as he was a tailor by trade. At the present time, the holders of county offices give them up only when compelled to, but it was not so with Mr. Dixon; he readily exchanged them for a claim at Boyd's Grove, where he contented himself in cultivating the soil.
About this time, an Indian trader at Chicago, by the name of Bowen, wished to enter into matrimonial bonds, and being obliged to make a trip to Peoria, a distance of one hundred and sixty miles, to procure the license, conceived the novel idea of taking the intended bride with him, on a wedding tour. The wedding party, consisting of four persons, left Chicago in a small trading boat, ascended the Chicago river to the portage in flats, which were crossed in high water into the Desplaines river, and down that stream and the Illinois to Peoria, reaching their destination on the eighth day from Chicago. Mr. Dixon issued a license to these candidates for matrimony, and John Hamlin, then acting as Justice of the Peace, married them, when the wedding party returned to Chicago the same way they came.
About the time Mr. Dixon settled at Boyd's Grove, the great north and south road, connecting Peoria with the lead mines, was opened, and his cabin was made a place of entertainment. Mr. Dixon had a contract for carrying the mail from Peoria to Galena, once in two weeks, but this line was soon afterwards changed to a tri-weekly mail. In addition to farming and keeping tavern, Mr. Dixon spent much of his time on the road in the capacity of a stage driver. The travelers to and from the lead mines experienced great difficulty in crossing Rock river, as the Indians were in possession of the ferry, and their only method of taking wagons across, was by placing two canoes together so as to support the wheels. In this way they were paddled across while horses and cattle were made to swim the river. The second year after the road was opened, a Frenchman, by the name of Ogee, who had a squaw for a wife, and a number of half-breed children, came in possession of this ferry, but as he was drunk most of the time, his accommodations were but little better than the Indians.
In the spring of 1830, Mr. Dixon moved to Rock river, bought out Ogee, and built a good ferry boat, hence the origin of Dixon's ferry. Mr. Dixon is still living in the city of Dixon, and although far advanced in life, he still retains much of the vigor of manhood.
In April, 1830, Charles S. Boyd, having bought Dixon's claim at the grove, moved to it with his family, and resided here for fourteen years. His nearest neighbors for many years were Henry Thomas, who lived sixteen miles north, and J. B. Merrideth twenty miles south. A post office called Boyd's grove, was established here, and it was a kind of a head center for travelers, in passing from north to south. In those days but few travelers passed the grove without stopping for refreshments or lodging.
Organizing the Militia
People on the border settlements, being apprehensive or (on) further trouble with the Indians, thought it best to organize companies under the state militia law, so they would be prepared to make a defense in case of war. A meeting of the citizens of Bureau was called, and it was agreed to unite with Spoon river and Crow Meadow settlements, and form a battalion on the west side of the river, which would consist of two or more companies. In accordance to the decree of the meeting, runners were sent to the different settlements, which are now included within the limits of Bureau, Stark, Putnam and Marshall counties, notifying all persons liable for military duty to meet at Boyd's Grove, on the 18th of April, 1833, for the purpose of organizing militia companies, and receive instructions in training. On the day appointed, people were seen in various directions on the prairie, heading towards Boyd's Grove, some in wagons, others on horseback, or on foot, and all carrying guns on their shoulders. Many of them were provided with camp equipage, including tents, provisions, &c., as it was thought that the training would last two or more days. The meeting was well attended by people from the various settlements, a large portion of whom were aspirants for military honors. Two skeleton companies were formed, one for Spoon river and the other for Bureau settlement. After a spirited contest, officers were elected for each: Nathaniel Chamberlin, who lived one mile south of Princeton, was elected major, and was therefore the commanding officer of the battalion. The captain elected for the Bureau company was Abram Musick, who afterwards owned a blacksmith shop, four miles north of Princeton, and Dr. William O. Chamberlain was made lieutenant. The drummer of the company was Alexander Boyd, who was at that time a lad of fifteen years of age, and is at present a resident of Princeton.
The election of Musick as captain, gave great offense to the part of the company, it being alleged that he was an escaped convict from the penitentiary, and had therefore forfeited his citizenship. Some refused to obey the captain's orders, which threw his company into confusion. When orders were given to halt, they would go ahead; when ordered to file to the right, they would file to the left, and vice versa. Notwithstanding the animating peals of the fife and drum, and the loud commands of the officers for the men to follow the martial music in military array, some would lag behind, others go ahead, swearing that they would not be lead by a penitentiary convict. The major, having no swoard, had supplied its place by a small cottonwood cane, and with this deadly weapon waving over his head, he was seen running to and fro, giving orders to those out of line. With his heavy bass voice keyed to its highest note, he warned them of the consequence of disobeying a military officer, and in the excitement of the moment, he threatened to run his sword (cottonwood cane), through any man who doubted his authority to command the battalion. But his efforts were all to no purpose, some of the men swore they would not muster under Capt. Musick; much quarreling and a number of fights was the result, when all broke up in a row, and further training was abandoned.
Before the battalion separated, a speech from the commanding officer was called for, and in compliance with this call, the major, while using a rail fence for a rostrum, made a speech, which was much applauded. It was expected that he would reprove the men for their bad conduct, telling them how disgraceful they had acted, but he done no such thing. On the contrary, he eulogized them for their good discipline, military knowledge as well as their gentlemanly conduct towards their officers, telling them if they continued in the discharge of their duty as they had began, it would certainly lead them to military fame. In conclusion, he exhorted them to further deeds of heroism, by saying "With such troops as now stand before me, the women and children on the west side of the Illinois river, are in no danger of suffering from an attack of ruthless savages."
Commissions were issued by the Adjutant General to all the officers elected, but the battalion never met again, and on that day all these brave officers finished their military career.
Arrival of the Potato Brigade
About the 20th of May, 1832, a company of rangers from the south part of the State, arrived at Boyd's Grove, while on their way north to join Akinson's army. This company was commanded by Capt. Posey, and was called the "Potato Brigade," on account of the foraging propensity of some of the soldiers. During the night, the guards on duty discovered what they believed to be an Indian crawling on his hands and knees, in order to get a good shot at them. Three of the guards fired, and the supposed Indian fell dead, after which the guards ran into camp to give the alarm. The soldiers who were asleep in their blankets, were thrown into a panic at the presence of the supposed Indians, and they made a hasty preparation for an attack, a defense, or a flight, as the case might demand. When the company were under arms, Capt. Posey, his voice husky from fright, gave orders to charge on the enemy, who were believed to be lying in ambush. With their guns cocked, ready to fire, they advanced cautiously, until they came to the late scene of action, but instead of finding the remains of an Indian warrior, they found a dead dog. Old Bounce, a dog belonging to Mr. Boyd, with a large bone in his mouth, was on his way to hide it, when he was mistaken for an Indian and shot. After making this discovery, the soldiers were ordered back to camp, and had no further excitement during the night.
During the Black Hawk war, every settler within the limits of Bureau county, left the country for a place of safety, except Charles Boyd. When hostilities commenced, Mr. Boyd sent his wife and small children to Peoria, while himself and three sons, ranging in age from twelve to seventeen, remained at home to raise a crop. The great Galena road, which passed by the house, was now deserted, and the welcome sound of the stage horn was no longer heard in the grove. The only mail route from north to south was over this road, but it was now discontinued, as no person could be found willing to risk his life in carrying it.
The Governor of the State, with the volunteers under his command, were at the north, and all communication between them and the settled part of the State was now cut off. An effort was made to keep open a communication between the north and south, and for this purpose two companies of rangers were stationed at Henry Thomas' (four miles north of Wyanet), two at Dixon's ferry and one at Apple river. The stage, guarded by a file of soldiers, made two trips over the road, but on being attacked at Buffalo Grove by Indians, the enterprise was abandoned, and from that time all communication by mail was at an end.
Peculiarities of Old Ben
Mr. Boyd and sons remained at the grove, working on the farm, as previously stated, but they took the precaution to carry their guns with them while engaged in the field. Sometimes one of the boys would stand guard while the others were at work, so he could give warning if the enemy approached. One day while Mr. Boyd was plowing in the field, notice was given him that Indians were approaching the grove. Mr. Boyd and sons picked up their guns and prepared themselves to give the Indians a warm reception. The supposed Indians proved to be two of Stillman's men, on their way from the battle-field, having rode sixty miles without stopping. At night they would leave their cabin, carrying with them blankets and quilts, and sleep in the grove. With their loaded guns by their side, they felt more secure than sleeping in the house.
Mr. Boyd had an old red work ox named "Ben," which became noted on account of some of his peculiarities. Inheriting from his dam, being frightened when a calf, or from some other cause unknown to the writer, this ox had a great dread of Indians. If hitched to a plow or wagon, and an Indian came in sight or in scenting distance, old Ben would raise his head, roll his eyes wildly in their sockets, commence bawling, and start to run, if not prevented. In crossing a trail, where an Indian had recently passed, old Ben, on scenting the track, would jump over it, bawling with all his might. A large bell was put on this ox, and he was allowed to lay by the house at night, so if Indians approached, he would give the alarm.
The Attack and Repulse
A war party, consisting of nine Indians, belonging to Girty's band of cut throats, after having crossed the Illinois river, and scaring the people at Hennepin, continued their scout southeast, until they came to Boyd's grove. Here they concealed themselves in the thick timber, while one of their party reconnoitered the position. That same night, about 12 o'clock the Indians made an attack on Boyd's house, believing that the family were sleeping within. Having collected, and carried with them bundles of dry sticks, with which they intended to set the house on fire, and shoot the inmates as they came out to extinguish the flames, or escape from the burning building, as the case might be. The Indians approached with great caution, until they came within a few rods of the house, when old Ben on scenting them, jumped up with a loud bawl, and rang his big bell at a furious rate. This strange conduct of old Ben frightened the other cattle, and they too jumped up and ran in various directions. The dogs barked, the horses snorted, the Indians thought they had aroused a regiment of rangers, and could not have been more frightened had they encountered all of Atkinson's army. Old Ben's strategy worked like a charm, the repulse was complere; the Indians panic stricken dropped their bundles of sticks, and fled with all haste for their camp. Mr. Boyd and sons were asleep in the grove, some distance from the house, and at the time knew nothing of the fracas between old Ben and the Indians.
Failure of an Indian Raid
The next morning after this affair, an Indian came to Boyd's house, and secreted himself close by, among the thick bushes, in order to shoot the inmates as they came out. The dwelling stood in the edge of the grove, and about three rods from it was a thick cluster of undergrowth. Mr. Boyd had gone on the prairie after his horses, and the boys were in the door yard cleaning their rifles, unconscious of danger. While they were thus engaged, this Indian advanced quietly into the cluster of undergrowth, and seeing the boys' guns were unloaded, he raised his rifle to shoot the largest boy, with the intention, no doublt, of springing forward and tomahawking the two smaller ones. But his rifle missed fire, and the boys, hearing the click of the lock, ran into the house, thus defeating the murderous intentions. When the Indian found that his raid was a failure, he fled for his camp, and by skulking among the brush, he made his way out of the thicket without being discovered by the boys.
On Mr. Boyd's return to his house, and learning these facts, he thought it best to leave the grove immediately, as their lives would be jeopardized by remaining longer. Accordingly they mounted their horses, and rode to Fort Thomas, sixteen miles distant, where they remained over night. Next morning accompanied by a file of soldiers, they returned to the grove to search for the Indians. In the thick timber of the grove, some distance from the house, they found where the Indians had encamped the night before, and the coals of their camp fire were still alive. By the tracks of their ponies, and by the marks on the butt of a tree against when their guns were leaned, it was thought there were eight or ten Indians, but they could not be found, and it was now quite evident that they had left the grove for other fields of depredation.