Reminiscences of Bureau County : in two parts.
Matson, N.. Princeton, Ill.. Republican Book and Job Office. 1872.

Online Version Transcribed By Nancy Piper

Chapter XX

Settlers Return To Look After Their Cattle

Page 184-189

On the 17th of June, seven persons, named Elijah Phillips, J. Hodges, Sylvester Brigham, John L. Ament, Aaron Gunn, James G. Forrestall, and a boy of sixteen by the name of Ziba Dimmick, left Hennepin for Bureau settlement, in order to look after their cattle, which had been left to run at large on the prairie.*

*A week or two previous, the same party came over to Bureau, after their cattle, with the intention of driving them east of the river. While at Ament's cabin, they had a controversy as to the propriety of remaining all night; some favored returning to Hennepin, and others remaining. Failing to agree, Mr. Phillips, who was somewhat of an eccentric character, placed a clapboard in an upright position, saying, "This must decide our cause; if it falls to the north, we are safe, and will remain; but if to the south, we must be off." The board fell to the south, and by common consent, they prepared to leave forthwith. Their cattle, however, became unmanageable, running towards the timber, which the settlers wished to avoid for fear of Indians, and leaving their cattle near Mr. Musgrove's they returned to Hennepin.

Many thing relating to the killing of Phillips, and an attack on Ament's cabin, was communicated to John L. Ament, some years after it occurred, by a French Indian trader, who obtained his information from those engaged in this affair. From this account many facts are taken, as well as from statements made to the writer by one of the Indians present at the time. On this authority, incidents are given which were unknown to the early settlers.

On arriving at Ament's cabin they prepared and ate their dinner, after which they made preparations to return to Hennepin. Ament's cabin was situated in the edge of the timber, about one and a half miles north of the present site of Dover, and on the farm now occupied by Matthew Taylor. After dinner was over, it commenced raining, so they concluded to stay all night. They believed it perfectly safe to do so, as no Indians, nor Indian signs had been seen in the vicinity for some time. Accordingly they barricaded the door and window of the cabin, with heavy puncheons, and with their loaded guns by their side, they laid down on the floor to sleep.

Immediately west of Ament's cabin, was a place known by the settlers as "Big Sugar Camp," a part of which was included within his claim. This sugar camp had been for many years a kind of headquarters for the Indians, and here lived during the winter and spring of each year, a petty chief by the name of Meommuse, who had in his band ten or twelve lodges or families. They and their ancestors had made sugar here for forty-two years in succession, and they were very much displeased at the whites settling so close, regarding them as trespassers on their rights. A bad feeling existed between these Indians and some of the settlers. Between some of these Indians and John L. Ament, angry words had passed, and to make the matter worse, Ametn had killed one of their dogs.

A few days before the incident occurred which we area about to relate, the Indians, who were encamped in the bend of the creek, above the crossing of the Princeton and Dixon road, moved to this big sugar camp, in order that their ponies might have better range on the little bottom prairie close by. Spies, who were on the lookout for victims, discovered this party of settlers as they approached the timber, and they immediately gave notice to their comrades, who made a hasty preparation to attack and murder them. Accordingly they approached with great caution, crawling on their hands and knees among the hazel brush, until they came within a few rods of the cabin, with the intention of firing on the settlers as they came out of the house, and kill them all at one stroke. After the settlers had ate their dinner, some in the cabin, others around it, talking and laughing, unconscious of danger, not dreaming that a deadly foe was concealed within a few rods of them. While thus engaged, it commenced raining, when the settlers went into the cabin, and seated themselves around a blazing fire. Notwithstanding the rain, the Indians remained in ambush until they were satisfied that their intended victims were going to remain over night, when they left for their camp.

Among this band of warriors, were a number of Pottawatamies, who had been raised on Bureau, one of whom was a son of Meommuse, the chief above alluded to. This young chief was well acquainted with this party of settlers, who were now selected, as their victims. Two of these, Sylvester Brigham and James G. Forristall, he had received presents from, and therefore wished to spare their lives. Towards John L. Ament and Elijah Phillips, bad feeling were entertained on account of former difficultiy, and these two only, the young chief wished to kill, and let the others escape. Girty, whose savage nature knew no difference between former friends and former foes, was in favor of killing the whole party, and to this proposition all the warriors finally agreed.

Page 189-192

Phillips Killed and Ament's Cabin Attacked

The Indians had decided to make an attack in the dead hour of night, while the inmates were asleep; set the cabin on fire, and kill all within, but it continued to rain all night, which defeated their plans. For two hours the Indians remained around the cabin, devising plans to murder the inmates without endangering their own lives. The doors and windows were examined and found so well barricaded that they could not enter without awakening their intended victims. Next morning, their moccasin tracks were seen around the cabin, and mud was noticed on the walls of the house, where they had climbed up to look through a crack between the logs. After holding a consultation among themselves, the Indians decided to abandon further operations that night, and returned to their camp, with the intention of attacking the settlers next morning, as they would leave for Hennepin. To carry out this plan, the Indians concealed themselves in the thick hazel brush, the same as they had done the day before. Phillips being the first one to leave the cabin, came upon the Indians as they lay in ambush, and was in the act of turning around to run back, when the report of many rifles was heard, followed by as shrill war whoop, and poor Phillips lay a corpse, pierced by two balls. The Indians with deafening yells, rushed forward from their hiding places, tomahawked their victim, and surrounded the cabin. The settlers, in great haste, closed the door, and pointed their guns at the Indians through the cracks in the wall. A gun in the hands of J. Hodges, coming in contact with Girty's breast, caused him to break for the timber, and he was followed by all of his comrades. Young Dimmick called a horse to the window, caught, mounted, and put him at the top of his speed for Hennepin, sixteen miles distant, at which place he arrived safely.

When Dimmick arrived at Hennepin with the sad tidings, it created a great panic among the people, and rumors were circulated that Black Hawk's whole force was about to attack the frontier settlements. On the west side of the river, and feeding along Bureau creek, were seen about three hundred ponies, and it was thought as many Indians were secreted in the thick bottom timber, with the intention of attacking the town. (It was afterwards ascertained that these ponies belonged to Atkinson's army then on Rock river, having ran off, and were making their way south to their former grazing grounds.)

On that day a part of two companies of rangers were in Hennepin, for the purpose of being mustered out of service, and among them a call was made for volunteers to go to the rescue. Timid men were in favor of leaving the settlers at Ament's cabin to their fate, as an attempt at their rescue would only result in further sacrifice of life. Some of the women commenced ringing their hands and crying, beseeching the men not to leave them unprotected, to be tomahawked by the Indians; while others, of more courage, urged their husbands and sons on to the resue, while they set about running their pewter spoons into bullets, to supply them with cartridges.

About thirty persons volunteered to go the rescue, among whom were Capt. Haws, Capt. Willis, Lieut. Garvin, and other resolute men, who were willing to risk their lives to save their friends. Amont these volunteers, was Dave Jones, who was always full of fight when under the influence of liquor; with hat and coat off, he would jump up and down, cracking his heels together, swearing that he would go alone to the rescue, if he was certain of encountering all of Black Hawk's army.

The small ferry boat would only carry six persons, with their horses, at a time, and as soon as all the volunteers were landed on the west side of the river, they put their horses on a gallop for Ament's cabin. Before reaching their destination, the horse on which Dave Jones was mounted, gave out, but Jones continued the race on foot, keeping up with those on horseback. On the arrival of the rangers, they found the remaining five safe in the cabin, not having ventured out since the murder. When the rangers came within a short distance of the cabin, they called a halt, now knowing but it was full of Indians. On seeing this, John L. Ament made an opening through the roof of the cabin, and displayed a white cloth, a signal that all was right.

The body of Phillips, undisturbed since his death, was lying in the door-yard, with his face turned upward. One bullet had entered his breast in the region of the heart, and another had pierced his stomach. There were marks of tamahawk strokes across his temples and also on the neck. In their haste to leave, the savages had failed to scalp him.*

*There are several incidents connected with this affair, one or two of which could not be credited, if they were not well authenticated. Brigham and Phillips, being the first up in the morning, stood for a moment on the porch, engaged in conversation, when Phillips said he would go over to his own cabin, which was about a half mile distant, and write a letter. Mr. Bringham said he would go along, but from some cause unknown to himself, he turned and entered the house, while Phillips stepped off the portch, and was shot dead. Mr. Brigham has often said that it appeared to him a striking providential circumstance, that he entered the cabin as he did, instead of going immediately with Phillips, having no errand whatever within. Had he not entered the cabin then, he would in all probability have shared the same fate on his companion.

The horse that Dimmick rode to Hennepin, belonged to Sylvester Brigham, and could not be caught on the prairie, at other times, but on this occasion, it was called to the cabin window, and allowed itself to be bridled and mounted.

About one hour after Phillips was killed, a very remarkable incident occurred, which is vouched for by Forristall and others. The cattle belonging to the settlers came to the dead body of Phillips, and commenced smelling it. Among the cattle was a yoke of steers, which belonged to the deceased, and was afterwards owned by James G. Forristall.

Those steers appeared to stand guard over the body of their master, and as other cattle came nigh, they would drive them away. After which these steers lay down, one on each side of the corpse, and so close to it that the slobbers from their mouth was found on the clothes. After laying here about two hours, the steers got up and went with the other cattle on the prairie to feed.

Page 192-194

Flight of the Indians - Pursuit by the Rangers

The Indians did not notice young Dimmick leave the cabin for Hennepin, to give the alarm, and therefore regarded themselves as perfectly safe. They remained in ambush, watching the cabin, until the rangers came in sight, then they left in such haste as to leave many of their blankets at their hiding place. They fled to their camp which was distant about three quarters of a mile, and on arriving there they picked up their camp equipage, and left for a place of safety. Part of the Indians having charge of their ponies scattered themselves through the timber in various directions, so their trail could not be followed by their pursuers, while the larger portion of the warriors, left on foot, and in a northwest direction. After crossing the creek, they came to a thick cluster of undergrowth, which they considered a proper place to make a defense. Here they lay in ambush, concealed by the thick brush, awaiting the arrival of the rangers.

The rangers remained at the cabin sometimes, undecided what to do; some were in favor of pursuing the Indians, while others opposed it. At last Capt. Willis, called for volunteers, and about twenty-five came forward, who were willing to undertake the hazardous task of following the Indians.

At the big sugar camp, they took their trail, and followed it across the creek, and within one hundred yards of the place where the Indians were concealed. Here they held a parley, being undecided which way to go, and by mere chance turned their course, and thereby avoided the ambush. Had they continued on their course, the probabilities are most of the rangers would have lost their lives, as the Indians were so well secreted in the thick undergrowth, at short range, but few, if any could have made their escape.

The rangers continued on a short distance, in a northwest direction, but having lost the trail of the Indians, they gave up the pursuit, and turned back. On returning to Ament's cabin, they immediately left for Hennepin, taking with them the remains of Phillips, which was prepared for interment at the house of Hooper Warren. A large number of citizens and soldiers, attended the funeral, which took place next day. Elijah Phillips, was a young man of industry, and enterprise, and his loss was much regretted by the settlers on Bureau. The year before, he had left his parents and friends in Massachusetts, to seek his fortune on the prairies of the west, where he met his death at the hands of savages, as above stated.

Back to Bureau County Illinois History and Genealogy