John Hope Henderson and The Account of the Massacre at Indian Creek , LaSalle County, Illinois by Thomas J. Henderson
Donated by Marilyn Goodman

Marilyn writes "I received it through a cousin of my fathers who is no longer living. The person that compiled the information is Elsie M. Pollock of Billings, Montana. The Martha that the story mentioned was my ggrandmother."


John Hope Henderson, son of John and Nancy Henderson, was born Dec. 11, 1607 in Garrard County, Kentucky. His childhood home was on the Dix River opposite Clark's Run. In 1822, he along with his family moved to Haywood County, Tennessee. It was here he met Elizabeth E. Powell, daughter of Henry A. Powell. They were married on the 3rd of Sept., 1829. It was also here that their first child, Mary E., was born on the 12th of May, 1831.

Mary Henderson was still an infant when John H. Henderson and family along with his parents, brother Singleton and a hired man, Robert Norris, set out for Indian Creek in Lasalle County, Illinois to settle on land previously selected by William H. Henderson, another brother. They arrived in the fall or early winter of 1831-1832. The rest of the Henderson and Howard migration spent the winter in Sangamon County and went on to LaSalle County in the early spring. John's brother Rollins and his family stopped in Union County, Illinois and settled there.

The Henderson's settled on Big Indian Creek which emptied into the Fox River. It was very good farming land with a good stand of timber and plenty of water. The following account of what happened next was taken from letters written by Thomas J. Henderson, nephew of John H. Henderson and son of William H. Henderson:

"I shall not attempt any history of the Black Hawk War. That has been written by others long ago, who knew much more about it than I do, and I shall only attempt to give some account of the Indian Creek Massacre in which our relatives from Tennessee were involved and which occurred at the Indian Creek Settlement on the 21st day of May, 1832.

The account that I shall give is one that was given to me by my uncle John Hope Henderson, then living in the settlement, on the occasion of my first visit at my uncle's house in the fall of the year 1840. He took me to the grave at or near Davis' Old Mill on Indian Creek in which, as he told me, the fifteen men, women and children killed by the Indians were buried. From the account of the massacre which my uncle gave me on the occasion of my visit, as I remember it, there were three white families living on Indian Creek, where they settled, when our relatives arrived there and commenced their settle ment in the tall or early winter of 1831-1832. There were William Davis and family, and William Pettegrew and family. How long they had lived there I do not remember, if I ever knew, but not very long I think.

William Davis had constructed a mill dam across the creek and had either built or was building a mill at the dam. The building of this dam across the creek had caused great dissatisfaction to some Pottawattamie Indians who lived at a small Indian village at Paw Paw Grove, some eight or ten miles above the dam on the creek, in so much as it prevented the fish fron getting up the creek to their village. And they had made some threat, at least against Mr. Davis who built the dam, if not against the other white settlers who lived near the mill.

But though dissatisfied, many of them came down to fish below the dam, and more or less of them were there every day fishing for some time. But finally few came and then they dropped all together and not an Indian was seen at or below the dam for several days; and my grandfather who was an old man and who knew something of the Indian character, having lived in Kentucky in the early settlement of that state and having served under General Wayne in some of his campaigns against the Indians, became alarmed and he told Mr. Davis that he was afraid that the Indians were preparing to give some trouble to the settlers, as none of them had been down to fish below the darn for some time, and he thought Mr. Davis and two of my uncles had better go up to the Pottawattamie village at PawPaw Grove and see what the Indians were doing and why they had not been down to the mill dam to fish as usual.

And so Davis and my uncles John H. Henderson and Alien Howard, I think, started for the Indian village at PawPaw Grove very early the next morning, but on their arrival at the village not an Indian was to be seen, rnan, woman or child. The village was abandoned and they could get no trace of where they had gone. They finally took the Indian trail and followed it across the country in an easterly or north-easterly direction and went as far as Somonauk, a small stream now in DeKalb County, but getting no trace or information as to the Indians or where they had gone, and, as night was coming on, they concluded to turn back to the settlement and give up the pursuit.

In the meantime my grandfather Henderson being a prudent old man and becoming somewhat alarmed on account of the prolonged absence of Mr. Davis and my uncles, who ought to have been back - if there had been no trouble - early in the day, and hearing some rumors of Indian troubles on the creek below towards Fox River, thought it prudent for all our relatives - as wall as the families of Mr. Davis, Mr. Hall, and Mr. Pettegrew to go at once to the tort at Ottawa and not await the return of Mr. Davis and my uncles. And all took his advice and started the same day to Ottawa, for safety.

And so when Mr. Davis and my uncles got back to the settlement late in the night, they found no one there, all were gone. They were satisfied that they had become alarmed and had gone to Ottawa, and Mr. Davis was very angry about it and swore that he was not afraid of the Indians and that he would sleep in his own cabin that night, and he did so. But my uncles went to Ottawa, where they supposed our relatives and the other families living in the settlement had gone for safety.

The next morning Mr. Davis started early in the morning for Ottawa to bring back his family to the settlement and to persuade the rest of the settlers to return to their homes. He overtook the families of William Hall and William Pettegrew, who had not reached Ottawa, but had camped out on the way, and he induced them to turn back to their homes, telling them that there was no danger to be feared from the Indians.

Then he went on to Ottawa where he found his own family at or in the fort and took them home. And he tried to persuade my grandfather to have all our relatives return to the settlement. But my grandfather would not consent to it. He was fully satisfied that the Indians intended hostilities and said it was not prudent or safe to take their families back to Indian Creek until they knew more about the movement of the Indians and what their intentions were. He said the men might go up and work in the fields in the daytime, as they were planting their corn. But they should return to the fort at Ottawa at night, and the women and children should remain at Ottawa until the trouble which he was certain the Indians intended, was over.

And so our relatives all followed my grandfather Henderson's prudent advice and all the women and children remained in safety at Ottawa, and my uncles and a cousin, and the hired man Robert Norris, went up daily to the settlement, and worked in the fields during the day and then returned at night to Ottawa. This they did for several days and until the 21st of May, when my uncle John H. Henderson and uncle singleton J. Henderson, uncle Allen H. Howard and his son Albert Howard, and a young man by the name of Hall, a son of William Hall, - who in the morning had exchanged work with Robert Norris, and had gone into the field to work, while Norris went to the blacksmith shop to work in Hall a place - were at work planting corn in a field some distance from the buildings.

Shabbona, a Pottowattamie Chief and friend of the white man, came to the field and told than if they wanted to save their lives they must go to the fort at Ottawa as soon as possible. He told them that thirty armed warriors were on the warpath and would be at the settlement within an hour and they must flee for safety. They did not know what to do, or how much to rely on what he said, and told him they ought not to go off and leave their friends and neighbors to be murdered without an effort to save their lives.

But Sabbona said - "these Indians are all well armed and you can do your friends no good. If you attempt to help them you will only lose your own lives". And he finllly got then started. Uncle Singleton broke for the timber On Indian Creek and ran down under its cover to Fwc River, and down it to Ottawa. and being young and athletic was the first to reach the fort. the rest of those in the field ran across the prairie and reached the fort in safety.

Robert Norris, my father's hired man, unfortunately for him, exchanged work in the morning with young Hall, who went to the field to help plant corn. And Norris, who was a strong man, went to the blacksmith shop to help do some heavy blacksmithing, and thereby lost his life. He evidently, when the Indians cammenced firing, seized his gun, and ran to the door of the blacksmith shop, and was shot down with his gun still grasped in his hand. All the Davis family were killed, all the Pettegrew family were killed, and all the Hall family were killed, but two daughters who were taken prisoner, and two sons, one at work in Norris's place in the field, and another, who, when the firing commenced jumped down the bank and running down the creek, made his escape.

Most of the victims were scalped. Mrs. Davis was shot through the shoulders while sitting in a chair in the house. Mr. Pettegrew, who was boating gravel for the mill dam (at that time mill dams were constructed of rocks, stones, tree trunks, limbs and brush which was held in place with dirt or gravel. Boating gravel was an expression used when gravel was shoveled on a boat and the boat used to move the gravel to center areas of the dam and was placed on the brush and limbs to hold than in place) had left his rifle standing against the bank where he had loaded the gravel, his body shot in the back of the head and not scalped was found floating in shallow water on the opposite side of the mill pond. The Pettegrew baby, just five months old, had been taken by the feet and it's brains dashed out against a stump. The Indians were evidently in a hurry. They took all the horses they could find and left, and there is little doubt but that they were Pottawattamie Indians who were above on the same creek, who had objected to the mill dam being built, which prevented the fish from ascending the creek to their village.

None of our relatives or Tennessee people were massacred except Robert Norris. And yet, my uncle Stephen Howard, and my cousin Eliza Howard, a daughter of Uncle Allen Howard, came up in a carryrall for some bedding needed at the fort, and left the settlement about an hour before the assault occurred.

The next day after the massacre, some of my uncles, accompanied by soldiers, went to the mill and buried the dead. There were, including Robert Norris, fifteen persons massacred, and all were buried in one common grave. A small boy, Jimmie Davis, was taken by the fleeing Indians and killed on the trail because he couldn't keep up. Thus, making a final total of sixteen deaths. The two Hall sisters were later ransomed by the government from the Indians.

This story I have written entirely from memory, as it was told to me, by my Uncle John Hope Henderson, nearly seventy years ago when he took me over the ground where the massacre occurred, and to the grave, where those massacred were buried. This massacre broke up the settlement of our relatives on Indian Creek, in LaSalle County, Illinois.

Grandfather and Grandmother Henderson went back to Brownsville, Tennessee, and lived and died there. Uncle Stephen Howard and his family returned to Tennessee, as did Uncle Singleton Henderson. John Wimberly Henderson wrote: 'My Uncle Stephen Howard returned by water, and I went with him. We left Ottawa in a keel boat and where Peru is now located, took passage on a steamboat named Carolina, to St. Louis, and thence down the Mississippi River to our home in Tennessee."

Uncle Rollins Henderson received word of the massacre and never came further north than Union County, Illinois. Uncle Allen Howard and his family went back and settled in Johnson County, Illinois and lived and died there.

Soon after the massacre, Colonel Henderson urged his brother, John Hope Henderson, to return to Indian Creek and hold possession of their land claims, but the bloody deaths of his neighbors, then so fresh in his mind, naturally made him shrink from doing so. However, on account of John's deep rooted hostility to slavery, he refused to return to Tennesee, but went into central Illinois and settled on the Sangamon River, where he lived for some years, and then went back to Indian Creek to pass the remnant of his years."

Thus ends the version of the massacre as written by Thomas S. Henderson. This record seems to agree with other written reports of those black days. After the massacre, John and Nancy Henderson did return. to Brownsville, Tennessee where John died in 1833 and Nancy in 1834. Singleton J. Henderson became a Methodist minister and worked out of the Memphis Conference in Tennessee.

John Hope Henderson was a school teacher and fanner by trade, but he had a great deal of knowledge concerning the law, surveying, and business dealings. He was a very respected man and a leading citizen where-ever he lived. He was also a deeply religious man and received a license to exhort (preach the gospel) in Feburary of 1835 from "The Society".

All of the Henderson brothers were well educated men. Rollins, also, was a Methodist minster and served in Union County, Illinois. William H. Henderson was a surveyor and held a number of political posts including state legislature - a leading citizen in his time. He was known as Colonel Wm. H. Henderson, stemming from his service in the War of 1812.

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