Dekalb County, Illinois
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Chief Shabona Biography

Newspaper article from the Illinois Valley WEEKLY August 18, 1976.
Submitted by Karen Swegle Holt

Chief Shabona

Grateful settlers rewarded Shabona, then Whites took his Land

Grateful settlers gave Chief Shabona a tract of land in DeKalb county in 1832 for warning families to seek protection in Ottawa because the Pottawatomies, Sac and Fox were out to seek revenge for their treatment at the hands of whites.

Less than 20 years later, speculators and the land commissioners in Washington took the land away from him.

Shabona was born an Ottawa Indian along the Ottawa river in Canada about 1775. As a young man he joined Tecumsah, his Shawnees and the English in the war of 1812 against the United States. Tecumsah was killed and the Shawnees and the English defeated in the Battle of the Thames in 1813, and Shabona traveled west.

He joined the Pottawatomies in Illinois, married a Pottawatomie, and, his warrior days over, became the peace chief of the tribe, which then ranged over north central Illinois.

After risking his life to save the settles at Indian creek, Shabona and his family settled on the land given him.

A few years later, he took his family, then numbering about 30, and rejoined the Pottawatomies in Iowa, But near the Pottawatomies were a tribe of Sac Indians, “in whose souls there lingered the memory of Shabona’s kindliness to the white settlers in Black Hawk’s war, and who took their revenge by killing his favorite son and nephew.”

Sorrowed by the loss, Shabona took his family and began the trip back to his land. A white settler met Shabona on the old Sac-Fox trail and later wrote:

“…He inquired after his many white friends but said he could not see them now, for his heart was full of trouble…he (said) he could not live in Iowa; the Sauks (Sac) and foxes had killed his son and nephew, and hunted him down as though he were a wild beast, and to save his life he had fled from home during the darkness of night and … all (his family) had large stripes of black paint on their forehead showing they were in mourning for departed loved ones…”

In 1845 Shabona decided to visit the Pottawatomies again, who by then had moved as far west as Kansas. He sold all but 100 acres of his land to the Gates brothers, who agreed to a down payment, payments in the future, interest and also to pay rent for the use of improved acres.

Shabona returned in 1850 to collect rents, interests and payments. He was told the government had never made a land grant to him, that anyhow, he had forfeited any rights by going west, and that therefore the government had appropriated his land and sold it to the Gates brothers for $1.25 an acre.

The contemporary accounts quote Shabona as saying, “I have nothing.” They also agree he literally collapsed, then painted his face black and sent into the wilderness alone for days, inspiring one sympathetic writer to describe him as “…outcast and scapegoat of his nation…a stranger…among natural enemies…”

And another:

“The story of Shabona is a severe commentary on the barbarism of civilized man, who would sweep the red man from existence, and who say there are no friendly Indians but dead ones.

“That vindictive cruelty which characterizes the savage under real or fancied provocation, still actuates, with increased intensity, those pretended sharers of our boast Christian civilization who would strike with remorseless effect a fallen race, and extinguish at a blow the sad and melancholy remnant of a once powerful people, brought to the verge of extinction by the diseases, vices and wrongs of a pretended Christian people.”

Shabona then simply traveled the Middle West for years, always receiving a kindly welcome when settlers realized who he was and what he had done.

He returned to Ottawa in 1857 where he no doubt saw settlers whose lives he had served. The settlers remembered, and arranged a benefit, on July 4, to buy Shabona a home and a plot of ground.

The sponsors raised enough to buy 20 acres of land in Grundy county for Shabona and to build him a home.

At the benefit, Shabona was asked to judge a beauty contest whose candidates included a 400-pound wife. Shabona amused guests by having young Indian girls parade back and forth while he watched. Then he made his decision. He walked up to his wife, patted her on the shoulder and said, “Much big, heap prettiest squaw.”

Shabona enjoyed his home two years, then died at the age of 84. He’s buried beneath a large boulder inscribed “Shabona-1775-1859.”

This is from a eulogy when the marker was dedicated to Shabona:

“This stone speaks of that thrilling midnight ride. It calls to our children to cherish the spirit back to that ride with its purpose as noble as that of Paul Revere. It speaks of a remnant of a great people wandering from Canada and Plymouth Rock toward the setting sun. It tells of folded tents, of bows that have broken and fires that have gone out. It speaks of a real romance that in its pathos and heroism eclipses the incidents of ordinary fiction; it is a sermon against man’s damnable inhumanity to man.”

Chief Shabona and some his family are buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Morris, Grundy Co. IL


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