HISTORY OF FORT DARNELL

by Mary Adelaide Dixon

Transcribed by James A. Cavanaugh


On a dark and rainy night in May 1832 the settlers of Sandy Creek were warned that Blackhawk, chief of the tribe of Sac Indians, had crossed the Mississippi River near the mouth of the Rock River and was sending out his scalpers not only up the river but south into Fox and Illinois River territory. The word spread fast as possible and a meeting was called to be held in a log cabin in Roberts Township. It was decided at this meeting, "Indian or no Indian" they would not leave but would build a fort to protect themselves.

The site chosen was on the farm of Benjamin Darnell now the site of Cumberland Cemetery. Next morning every able bodied man and boy came with axe, wedge, maul, and saw and construction was begun. Large trees were cut down, sawed to proper length, split and were ready to use. The exact size of the fort is not known, but it must have been of considerable size, for cabins were built inside of sufficient size to house 70 persons, with room for covered wagons, implements, supplies and many possessions of the inmates. While working feverishly to complete the fort, on May 20th, 1832, word reached them that the Indians were only eight miles north of Ottawa. Shabbona, a Pottawatomie chief, friend of the white people, influenced the Pottawatomies to remain neutral during the Blackhawk War. He joined his son in a Paul Revere midnight ride to warn white settlers of an impending attack. He warned the settlers at Davis' farm to no avail. They did not reach the safety of the fort but were massacred near the fort. Fifteen were killed and two girls were made captive. Shabbona rode on up the Fox River and when he stopped at the home of George Hollenback, whose mother was a sister to Elizabeth Ann Hunt, wife of Cornelius Hunt, his horse dropped dead. He borrowed another horse form Hollenbacks and continued his 85 mile ride to Fort Dearborn. John, Richard and Cornelius, brothers, all helped to bury the Davis family and others who had been killed.

A story is told of friendly Indians camping out side the fort for protection from hostile Indians who might come. Haws Rangers were formed and lived in and operated from the fort. The time the fort was actually occupied was from May 1832 to late spring of 1833. During the winter a cabin was fixed up for a school taught by a Mr. Bryant. Friendships of lasting nature were formed at Fort Darnell, and several of the young people contracted marriages which proved long and lasting. One marriage was that of Richard Hunt and Ruth Horrom who were married Jan. 1, 1833. Richard Hunt was Justice of the Peace of Sandy, LaSalle County and married Thomas Hollenback and Susan Darnell at the fort. Other Hunts who lived in the fort were Enoch and Catherine Hunt; John S. Hunt and wife Margareta and their children James, Catherine, Richard, Mary Ann, and Rebecca; Cornelius Hunt and his wife Ann and children Mary, Caroline, Catherine Ann, and John Sidle Hunt; and a daughter of Enoch and Catherine's Catherine Eliza Camp and her husband. The men took their turn in hauling supplies from Peoria and Chicago. They hauled wheat to Chicago which sold for $0.50 a bushel and brought back salt for which they paid $5.00 a barrel.

While the fort was built in haste and for protection and not for conquest, it has never found a place in history. It was used for a short time and fulfilled its purpose. It has long since disappeared and no trace is left except the well to tell posterity that it was ever made. We seek to perpetuate its memory.

A granite monument was erected and dedicated near the site of the fort near the entrance to Cumberland Cemetery in 1951 by the descendents who still live around Wenona. The inscription on the marker reads:

Ft. Darnell

1832

Black Hawk War

600 feet S.E. Stood

Log Stockade for Protection of

Pioneers

Erected by Darnell and Judd

Descendants

1951

Sealed in a box at the base is placed a history of the fort, a copy of the Wenona Index dated June 21, 1951, Indian Head penny dated 1903, 70 years after the fort was vacated, an Indian arrowhead found along Sandy Creek, and several commemorative stamps. We hope coming generations will ever cherish this historical marker as a symbol of courage and bravery of all the people and their descendants who sought refuge in the fort during 1832 and 1833.

Italics indicate added passages taken from Adelaide Dixon's History of the Hunt Family or factual corrections. Transcribed by James A. Cavanaugh


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