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

Online Version Transcribed By Nancy Piper

Chapter XII:

Pages 104-115


At the south end of Bulbona Grove, where the residence of David A. Jones now stands, is a slight eminence, skirted on three sides by trees, while the fourth side opens out on the prairie. On this spot Bulbona built a cabin, in the summer of 1828, and occupied it as a residence for a number of years. Bulbona was born of French parents, and was reared and spent his youthful days among the Indians, in the wilds of the west. He was a large, raw-boned, dark complexioned man, and had a coarse bass voice, and at the time we refer to was far advanced in life. His wife was an Indian squaw, of the Pottawatamie tribe, with whom he had lived many years, and raised a number of half-breed children. Their habits and dress, as well as their language, was a cross between the French and Indian, understanding and speaking the English language very imperfectly. For many years Bulbona was employed by the American Fur Company, on the Illinois river: and on leaving them, he commenced trade on his own footing. After establishing himself at the Grove, he had a large trade, as Indians from a distance would patronize his trading house, in preference to that of the Fur Company. He built a cabin for a store room, on the west side, adjoining his dwelling, some of the logs of which, I believe, are still to be seen, or were a few years ago.

Bulbona was thought to be wealthy, and among the Indians he exercised great influence. Black Hawk, aware of his influence over the Indians, visited him on one occasion, and with arguments and bribes, tried to induce him to favor a union of the Pottawatamies with the Sacs and Foxes, for the purpose of making war on the frontier settlers. But Bulbona would not listen to these entreaties, as he was on friendly terms with the settlers, and did much to save them from the tomahawk of his red friends.

The Fair Maiden and Her Two Lovers

Bulbona had a daughter named Zeffa, who was at this time about eighteen years of age, and a girl of remarkable personal attraction. Being tall and graceful, with large, expressive black eyes, ruby cheeks, and beautiful long wavy hair, inheriting from her white father and red mother some of the best qualities of each. Zeffa had two lovers, one of whom was a young half-breed, who lived at Indiantown, and the other a French trader, of Peoria. Between the rival suitors bad feeling existed, each claiming exclusive right to the young maiden. The father favored the suit of the Frenchman, while the mother that of the Indian. The girl appeared to have an equal attachment for both, and could not decide in her own mind which of the two to marry. While things were in this condition, the two suitors, by chance, met at Bulbona's.

The Frenchman was a small, dark-complexioned, hump-shouldered man, unprepossessing in appearance, but was dressed in a new suit of clothes, corresponding with the fashion of the day. The Indian was the opposite in personal appearance, being tall and straight, and his manly form was decorated in a buckskin hunting shirt and leggings, while around his head was a wreath of eagle feathers. In his belt he always carried his tomahawk and scalping knife, and a rifle on his shoulder, which caused him to look more like going to war than a courting. Things had now come to a crisis, and it must be decided, as each insisted on marrying the maid.

The Indian proposed to fight a duel with the Frenchman, using rifles at ten paces, and let powder and ball decide their respective claims. Mrs. Bulbona favored this method of settling the matter, as she contended that the world was not large enough to hold both of them, and if one was killed, her daughter would be a liberty to marry the other. At the proposed duel, the Frenchman shrugged his shoulders, believing his chances poor with and adversary who had handled the rifle from his boyhood. In return, the Frenchman offered to compromise the matter with the Indian, and buy out his claim to the girl, and thereby save the effusion of blood. This proposition was agreed to, and the arrangements were made in the presence, and by the consent of, the whole family. The price and pay agreed upon consisted of twenty-one blankets, and fifty strings of beads, to be delivered at the Frenchman's trading house in Peoria.

The rival suitor being now disposed of, they set about making preparations for invited, and gread preparations made to celebrate the nuptials. On the day of the wedding, Col. Stowbridge, Dad Joe, and Henry Thomas, on returning from Peoria, where they had been on business, called at Bulbona's house, and, being old friends, they were invited to stay and witness the marriage ceremony, which invitation was accepted.

The priest, wearing on his head a gold-laced cap, and his body wrapped in a ruffled white robe, with a red ribbon around his neck, on which was suspended and hanging on his breast, a heavy gold cross. With all the pomp an dignity of his position, he was about to celebrate the sacred rights of matrimony, according to the Catholic church. While standing, leaning against the wall, engaged in prayer, a dog came into the room and seated himself in front of the priest, and probably being astonished at his fine regalia, commenced barking. Four or five other dogs, that were standing at the door, on hearing the dog barking in the house, no doubt thinking that some wild animal was treed within, rushed in, and all commenced barking at the priest, as though he was a stag at bay. Bulbona commenced kicking the dogs, in order to drive them out but it only set them to fighting; and, in the melee, they threw down the priest, soiled and tore his robe and scratched his face. This affair threw the wedding party into confusion. Much loud talk and hard words were used toward the dogs. The priest, in particular, gave vent to his feelings in loud denunciations against the brutish curs, but everything was said in French or Indian dialect, which was not understood by Col. Strowbridge and others of his party. Things were again put to rights, and the marriage ceremony performed, after which came

The Wedding Dinner

Mrs. Bulbona was a good cook, and knew how to prepare a sumptuous dinner, but she still adhered to the Indian method of serving it up. Her Indian friends had previously furnished her with various kinds of game for the occasion, so that her guests could have their choice of meats. In the center of the table was placed a large tine pan, filled with soup, and in which were various kinds of meat. In this soup pan were the feet of prairie chickens, ducks, squirrels, and coons, cooked with the claws and hair on. In this way they were served out to the guests, according to Indian custom. Col. Strowbridge, who was always full of fun, took the ladle, and fishing in the soup until he brought up a chicken's foot; then addressing Dad Joe, he said: "Dad, shall I help you to some of the fowl?" to which Dad replied: "No, God bless you!" Again fishing up a foot of a coon, with the hair and claws on it, sang out: "Dad, shall I help you to some of the coon?" "No, God bless you, Colonel; I will wait on myself."

Four Travelers Arrive

On the wedding eve, preparations were made to celebrate the nuptials with a dance; and, in order to have music on the occasion, a fiddler was brought from Peoria. The store room was converted into a dancing hall, and the dancers were a motley set, consisting of French, Indians and half-breeds. The bride and groom took part in the dance, enjoying themselves very much, being the centre of attraction, and were the gayest of the gay. In addition to the invited guests, Bulbona had sent invitations to many of his Indian friends, to visit the house on the wedding evening, for the purpose of receiving presents, a treat, etc. And as soon as it was dark, the cabin was surrounded by some fifty Indians, who were furnished with all the whiskey they could drink, and many of whom soon became drunk and noisy.

It was now after dark, being a beautiful September night, and the wedding party at Bulbona's was about to commence the dance, when a light covered wagon was drove up to the door, and the travelers, four in number, requested entertainment. Bulbona did not keep a hotel, but as his residence was a half-way house between Boyd's and Thomas', travelers sometimes stopped with him. The host informed the guests that his house was full, and he could not entertain them; but seeing by their uniform that they were army officers, he invited them in to take something to drink, and see the wedding party. The invitation was accepted, and the party entered the house, where they remained several hours.

For the names and description of the travelers, and what was done at Bulbona's house, the writer is indebted to Mr. Kilgore, who was one of the party, being along with them as teamster. Mr. Kilgore was at that time living near Peoria, but at the present time lives, or was a few years ago, living west of Dixon. The travelers were dressed in United States uniform and the straps on their shoulders showed their rank to be a follows: A Lieutenant, a Captain and a Colonel. The Colonel was a middle aged man, heavy set, broad shoulders, dark complexion, prominent nose, under lip projecting, which indicated a person of great decision and force of character. This man was Zachariah Taylor, late president of the United States. The Lieutenant was a young man, tall and slim, with a high forehead, a large Roman nose, irregular, but prominent features, and had the appearance of a man with fine mental faculties. This young man was no other than Jeff. Davis, ex-president of the late Southern confederation. The Captain, whose name was Smith, belonged to Col. Taylor's regiment, at Prairie du Chien, but nothing is known of his history.

These officers were on leave of absence, in order to visit friends at the south, and were now on their return to their regiment, then quartered at Prairie du Chien. There were but few steamboats running on western rivers in those days, and the party had ascended the Illinois river, as far as Peoria, in one of these. Here they employed Mr. Kilgore to carry them, in a two-horse wagon, to Galena, from which place they intended to take a boat for their destination, which was a common way of traveling from the south to north in those days. Bulbona was always very polite to strangers, but on the present occasion he was unusually so, introducing the officers to the wedding guests, and presenting them with various kinds of drinks, which had been prepared for the occasion, and the officers, as well as the wedding party, were soon under its influence.

The Dance And Tragedy

The style of the dance was partly French and partly Indian, and with the dancers, all was joy and mirth. Above the sound of the violin, and the merry laughs of the guests, the dancer's feet were heard to rattle on the rough puncheon floor. The Indians, on the outside of the house, fronting the doors and windows, becoming animated by the music within, carried on a dance in their own way, jumping up and down, and yelling at the top of their voices. Lieut. Davis took part in the dance, and soon became the leading spirit of the party. His tall form was conspicuous among the dancers, sometimes imitating the French style of dancing, then the Indian, then again going it on his own footing, like at an old-fashioned Kentucky hoe-down.

Among the wedding party was a niece of Mrs. Bulbona, a young squaw of great attraction, and she danced in her Indian style with much grace. Lieut. Davis was fascinated with her charms, and danced with her in almost every set. Being under the influence of liquor, he would do many remarkable things; sometimes changing the order of the dance, to suit his fancy. When quadrilles were danced, he would change it into a waltz, so he could have his arm around the waist of the young squaw. Then freeing himself from her, he would dance with all his force, causing his tall form to wriggle as it swayed to and fro; sometimes jumping up and down in quick succession, and yelling at the top of his voice, in imitation of the Indians at the door. Col. Taylor and Capt. Smith took no part in the dance, but sat in one corner of the room, looking on, and almost splitting their sides with laughter.

Lieut. Davis was now under the influence of liquor, and being fascinated with his fair partner in the dance, made to her a dishonorable proposition, which was resented with contempt. Notwithstanding this resentment, the Lieutenant took improper liberties with her; such liberties as politeness will not tolerate in a ball room. The young squaw considered herself insulted, in the presence of the company, and told her brother of the insult. Her brother, who was a tall, athletic Indian, was very angry on account of the insult to his sister, and was determined to punish the offender. Being quite drunk, and his brain frenzied by anger, he went up to Lieut. Dais, and in broken English, accused him of insulting his sister; and, at the same time, pulled his nose. Lieut. Davis, who never lacked courage, pushed the Indian from him, and drew forth a pistol. The Indian, with a fiendish smile, drew his long knife. The dancing stopped, the women screamed, and all was confusion, as it was expected in a moment to see the death of one or both of the parties. But in an instant Col. Taylor sprang between the combatants, and thereby prevented the effusion of blood.

It was no doubt from acts like the one above narrated, that caused Col. Taylor to denounce Jeff. Davis as a wild, unscrupulous profligate, and unfit to be a husband for his daughter. But notwithstanding the Colonel's dislike to Davis, forbidding him ever again to enter his house, in less than one year from that time, he ran off with, and married his daughter. In this act, Davis left his regiment, forfeited his commission in the army, and settled in the State of Mississippi. Col Taylor did not become reconciled to the conduct of Davis, and for fifteen years they never met or corresponded.

On the battle field of Buena Vista, Davis at the time commanding a regiment of Mississippi volunteers, stormed and took possession of the Mexican batteries, and thereby saved the battle. Then, for the first time since Davis left Prairie du Chien, Gen. Taylor rode up to him, and taking him by the hand, expressed his approbation of his heroic conduct, saying after all his daughter was a better judge of his ability than himself.

After the trouble between Lieut. David and the Indian, the travelers left Bulbona's for Henry Thomas', which was on their road, and about six miles distant. Here they remained over night, and next morning they continued their journey towards Galena. At the commencement of the Black Hawk war, Bulbona left the grove, and never returned to it again, but settled in the eastern part of the State, in Kankakee county, at the grove which still bears his name.

The little hump-backed Frenchman, who married Bulbona's daughter, was a successful Indian trader, and accumulated a large fortune. Soon after his marriage, he went to St. Paul, where he continues to live, and by whom many of the incidents related in this story will be confirmed.

Chapter XIII:

Pages 116-123

Military Force Organized

Forty years ago Putnam county was not such a diminutive affair as it now is, but included within its boundaries the territory which at present constitutes Bureau, Stark and Marshall counties. Within this vast territory, there was not over five hundred inhabitants, who were scattered along the principal groves, known as settlements. But two towns had been surveyed within the limits of Putnam county - Hennepin and Columbia, (now Lacon); each of these contained but a few log cabins. Not one frame building, school or meeting house, nor one surveyed road could be found within the limits of Putnam county. On two occasions only the placid waters of the Illinois river had been ruffled by a steamboat, its commerce having been carried on by keel boats and bateaux. Such was the state of affairs at the commencement of the Black Hawk war, when people were compelled to leave their cabins, rude though they were, and take refuge in block houses called forts by courtesy.

Governor Reynolds issued a proclamation, notifying the frontier settlers that they must defend themselves, as all volunteers would be needed in active service.

In accordance with this proclamation, runners were sent to the different settlements in the county, notifying all persons fit for military duty, to meet at Hennepin, on the 20th of May, to organize military companies.

Previous to this meeting, John Strawn had received a colonel's commission, and had been notified to call for volunteers, under the militia law. On the day appointed, people from various parts of the county appeared at the place of redezvous, all of whom were clothed in their working dresses, and carrying guns on their shoulders. Col. Strawn made his appearance among them, in full military dress, wearing a laced coat with epaulets on his shoulders and a cocked hat of the Bonaparte pattern. Volunteers were numerous, and three companies of rangers were organized, among whom were many of the early settlers of Bureau county. Col. Strawn made a speech to these volunteers, exhorting them to deeds of bravery, and threatened to shoot down the first man that turned his back on the painted foe. For the first time in Putnam county was heard the fife and drum, and much enthusiasm was manifested among the rangers, some of whom sang patriotic songs. Dave Jones passed through the crowd, slapping his hands on his thighs, and dancing "Jim Crow." The rangers were all mounted on horseback, finding their own horsed, arms, provisions, camp equipage, &c., and were on duty about one month. Some twenty years after the war, these rangers received for their services, a military land warrant.

It was agreed at the first meeting of the rangers that the Illinois river should be the line of defense, and an order was issued, forbidding all persons crossing the river without permission from the proper officers. Hennepin was made the headquarters for military operations, and a fort was ordered to be built for that purpose. Hartzell's old trading house was torn down, and its timbers used in the construction of a foart. This fort was located on the river bank opposite the ferry, (now Front street), and consisted of a two story block house. The upper story projected over the lower one, and above and below were port holes, so the inmates could fire on the enemy, in case they were attacked. Within this fort, or encamped around it, were the families of many of the first settlers of this county, among whom were the families of Dr. N. Chamberlain, Roland Moseley, John Musgrove, Joel Doolittle, and Widow Electa Smith.

Fort Thomas

About the 20th of May, two companies of mounted rangers, principally from St. Clair county, under the command of Maj. Baxter, came to Bureau, and built a fort. The fort was located on Henry Thomas' claim, and occupied the very spot where Thomas Vaughan's house now stands, being about four miles north of Wyanet. Fort Thomas consisted of a block house, surrounded with barricades, which was constructed of puncheons, set into the ground, and about fifteen feet high. One the southwest angel of the fort, there was an entrance through the barricades, guarded by a heavy swing gate. While the fort was being built, a file of soldiers stood guard over the workmen, to prevent their being surprised by the Indians. The horses belonging to the rangers, were hobbled during the day time, while feeding on the prairie, and at night they were tied to posts around the fort. There were about one hundred and forty men belonging to this battalion, and they remained on duty until the war was over. During their stay, they killed and ate some of Thomas' cattle, used his crib of corn, and burned his rail for fuel, besides robbing the cabins of some of the settlers. It is said while here they drank two barrels of whiskey, had seventeen fights among themselves, and returned to their homes without having seen an Indian.

Scare at Hennepin - A Search For Indians

It was near sundown, on the 25th of May, 1832, when a steamboat came down the river from Fort Wilburn, and landed at Hennepin. The captain and crew of the boat said, about two miles above, on the east side of the river, they saw a body of Indians run into the woods, and skulk behind trees. This report created a great panic among the people, and preparations were made for defense. The fort, at that time, was in an unfinished condition, and therefore would afford but little protection. The women and children were put on board of an empty keel boat, which lay at the wharf, with three men to manage it. The men having the management of the boat, were instructed to push it out into the middle of the stream, and let it float down stream, should the town be attacked. In this boat were the families of Mr. Moseley, Mr. Musgrove, Widow Smith and others belonging to Bureau settlement. During the excitement, Mr. Blanchard and wife unobserved by any one, went on board of a pirogue, and started down the river. After going a short distance, and hearing no fighting at the fort, they laid to; and about daybreak next morning, returned up the river to Hennepin. Those on board of the keel boat, heard Blanchard rowing his craft, and believed that the Indians were coming. Through the dim morning light they saw the red bow of the pirogue, which was mistaken for Indian blankets. The men prepared themselves for defense, while the women and children commenced crying, thinking their time had come. A challenge was given from the boat, but it was not heard by those in the pirogue; a second one was given, and the men in the boat were about to fire, when Blanchard let himself be known.

For some days it was believes that the Indians were secreted in the river timber, and a company of rangers went in search of them. Some of the rangers ascended the river in canoes, while others pursued their way on horseback. After passing the mouth of Bureau creek, and seeing no Indians, nor Indian signs, the party in canoes concluded to fire off their guns, in order to frighten those on horseback, while the party on horseback had conceived the same idea, and both parties fired almost simultaneously, to the great astonishment of each oterh. The joke was a good one, and both parties acknowledges that they were beaten at their own game.

John Hall, with three hired men, had returned to his claim, to look after his crops, which had been neglected in consequence of the war. As Indians were reported to have been seen in the river timber, it was thought best to notify Hall and his men of their danger.

Consequently, Williamson Durley and Mr. Simpson volunteered for that purpose. The messengers, in a canoe, ascended the river as far as Spring Lake, and from there they went on foot to Hall's cabin. It was after dark when they arrived, and were much surprised to find the cabin deserted. On holloing, they were answered by Hall and party, off in the grove, who had taken quilts and were sleeping some distance from the cabin, so as to avoid being surprised, should Indians attack the cabin during the night.

Fort Wilburn and Ayers' Blacksmith Shop

Many of the early settlers will recollect John Hayes, who kept a store in a log cabin under the bluff, where Peru now stands. Mr. Hayes had a farm here by the side of the river, and had occupied it for three years previous to the Indian troubles. When the war broke out, Hayes, Lapsley and Burton Ayres, with others, commenced building a fort on the present site of La Salle; but on being notified of immediate danger, they abandoned it, boarded their canoes, and went down to Hennepin. A few days afterwards, Mr. Hayes' two boys, Harrison and Jonathan, (the former now living in the town of Manlius), took a canoe, and went up to their farm to finish planting corn. Next day, about four o'clock in the afternoon, the steamer Caroline came up the river, with Capt. Wilburn's company of volunteers on board. When the captain of the steamboat saw the boys at work in the field, he fired off a cannon, rounded to, and sent out a yawl to take them on board. The boat ascended the river as far as the mouth of Big Vermillion, where she lay all night, anchored in the middle of the stream, with steam up, and soldiers with loaded muskets promenading the deck. Next morning, the troops were landed on the south side of the river, and they commenced building Fort Wilburn.

William Tompkins and Sampson Cole, with their families and John Cole, now a resident of Tiskilwa, were the only people at that time living in the eastern part of the country. When the war commenced, they became alarmed at their exposed situation, liable at any moment to be attacked by the Indians. Each night they would take quilts and blankets, cross the river in their caonoe, and sleep in the thick timber of the bottom. In the morning, they would return to their cabins, and spend the day at work on their claims; but at night, cross the river as before. After spending a number of nights in the woods, they became afraid to return to their homes, and in their canoes went down to Hennepin, where they remained for some days. As soon as Fort Wilburn was built, they took quarters in it, where they remained until the war was over.

On the north side of the river, almost opposite Fort Wilburn, now within the limits of La Salle, stood a log blacksmith shop, which was occupied by a young man named Burton Ayres. For three years, Mr. Ayres had done a lucrative business here, as his shop occupied a central position between Bureau and Fox River settlement, and received the patronage of both. Mr. Ayres was a very industrious man, and had accumulated quite a sum of money for those days. On a warm spring morning, the day before the Indian Creek massacre, as Mr. Ayres was engaged in welding a plow share, Shaubena called at his shop, and told him to flee for his life, or he would be killed by the Indians, probably before the setting of the sun. Mr. Ayres at once removed his anvil block, dug a hole in the ground, wrapped his money - which was all in silver - in his leather apron, and buried it; then replacing his anvil block, and closing the door of his shop, he left on foot for the state of Ohio. About six months afterwards, Mr. Ayres returned, resurrected his money, and continued his business as before.

Back to Bureau County Illinois History and Genealogy