Rock Island County, Illinois Genealogy Trails

Excerpt from
"A summer in the wilderness; embracing a canoe voyage up the Mississippi and around Lake Superior."
By Charles Lanman, 1847

Transcribed by K. Torp, ©2007

Charles Lanman (1819-1895) was a Michigan-born landscape painter, sportsman, and writer who studied under Asher Durand and published several books about his journeys through the wilderness and newly developing areas of the northern Midwest and Canada. This book shares highlights of his 1846 trip by steamship and canoe north from St. Louis to Rock Island, Nauvoo, Prairie du Chien and onward to Lake Pepin and the mouth of the St. Peter's (Minnesota) River. Lanman continued to Itasca and Elk Lake, which he considered to be the actual headwaters of the Mississippi, by way of Lake Winnipeg and Cedar Lake, eventually reaching Lake Superior after traveling along the St. Louis River to Fond du Lac. Lanman writes about nature from a romantic perspective, recreating woodland scenes with plunging cataracts, picturesque bluffs, and sparkling waters. He spends considerable time describing various Native American peoples and passes on some legends associated with the places he visited. As an artist, he was deeply impressed with Seth Eastman whom he met at Fort Snelling. He also devotes a few introductory pages to the artistic and architectural treasure of St. Louis, where his journey began. The last chapter is a nostalgic recollection of the author's childhood in an arcadian Michigan he sees receding into distant memory.

We provide an excerpt from this book relating to Rock Island County, its people and history

Rock Island, whence I date this paper, and which lies in the river midway between the villages of Davenport and Rock Island, is one of the most picturesque points I have yet seen during my journey. It is literally speaking a rocky island, and is surmounted by the dilapidated walls of an ancient fortress, and was, in former days, the scene of many a struggle between the red man and his brotherly oppressor. But the place is greatly changed. Where once the gayly dressed officer quaffed his wine cup at the midnight hour, the lonely shriek of the owl is now heard even until the break of day; and the rat, the toad, and the spider have usurped the place where once the soldier hummed his thoughtless song, or was heard the roar of his artillery.

Rock Island, July, 1846.

Starved Rock is the unpoetical name of a singular spot on the Illinois river about sixty miles east of this place, and eight miles south of Ottawa. It is a rocky bluff, rising from the margin of the stream to the height of more than a hundred feet, and is only separated from the main land by a narrow chasm. Its length might probably measure two hundred and fifty feet. Its sides are perpendicular, and there is only one point where it can be ascended, and that is by a narrow stair-like path. It is covered with many a cone-like evergreen, and, in summer, encircled by luxuriant grape and ivy vines, and clusters of richly colored flowers. It is undoubtedly the most conspicuous and beautiful pictorial feature of the sluggish and lonely Illinois, and is associated with the final extinction of the Illinois tribe of Indians. The legend, which I listened to from the lips of a venerable Indian trader, is as follows.

Many years ago, the whole region lying between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi was the home and dominion of the Illinois Indians. For them alone did the buffalo and antelope range over its broad prairies; for them did the finest of rivers roll their waters into the lap of Mexico, and bear upon their bosoms the birchen canoe, as they sought to capture the wild water fowl; and for them alone did the dense forests, crowding upon these streams, shelter their unnumbered denizens.

In every direction might be seen the smoke of Indian wigwams curling upwards to mingle with the sunset clouds, which told them tales of the spirit land.

Years passed on, and they continued to be at ease in their possessions. But the white man from the far east, with the miseries which have ever accompanied him in his march of usurpation, began to wander into the wilderness, and trouble to the poor red man was the inevitable consequence. The baneful "fire water," which was the gift of civilization, created dissensions among the savage tribes, until in process of time, and on account of purely imaginary evils, the Pottowattomies from Michigan determined to make war upon the Indians of Illinois. Fortune, or rather destiny, smiled upon the oppressors, and the identical rock in question was the spot that witnessed the extinction of an aboriginal race.

It was the close of a long siege of cruel warfare, and the afternoon of a day in the delightful Indian summer. The sunshine threw a mellow haze upon the prairies, and tinged the multitudinous flowers with deepest gold; while, in the shadow of the forest islands, the doe and her fawn reposed in perfect quietness, lulled into a temporary slumber by the hum of the grasshopper and wild bee. The wilderness world wore the aspect of a perfect sabbath. But now, in the twinkling of an eye, the delightful solitude was broken by the shrill whoop and dreadful struggle of bloody conflict upon the prairies and in the woods. All over the country were seen the dead bodies of the ill-fated Illinois, when it was ordered by Providence that the concluding skirmish between the hostile parties should take place in the vicinity of Starved Rock.

The Pottowattomies numbered near three hundred warriors, while the Illinois tribe was reduced to about one hundred, who were mostly aged chiefs and youthful heroes--the more desperate fighters having already perished, and the women and children of the tribe having already been massacred and consumed in their wigwams. The battle was most desperate between the unequal parties.

The Illinois were about to give up all for lost, when, in their frenzy, they gave a defying shout, and retreated to the rocky bluff. From this, it was an easy matter to keep back their enemies, but alas! from that moment they were to endure unthought-of suffering, to the delight of their baffled, yet victorious enemies.

And now to describe in words the scene that followed and was prolonged for several days, were utterly impossible. Those stout-hearted Indians, in whom a nation was about to become extinct, chose to die upon their strange fortress, by starvation and thirst, rather than surrender themselves to the scalping-knife of their exterminators. And, with a few exceptions, this was the manner in which they did perish. Now and then, indeed, a desperate man would lower himself, hoping thereby to escape, but a tomahawk would cleave his brain before he touched the ground or water.

Day followed day, and those helpless captives sat in silence, and gazed imploringly upon their broad beautiful lands, while hunger was gnawing into their very vitals. Night followed night, and they looked upon the silent stars, and beyond, to the home of the Great Spirit, but they murmured not at his decree. And if they slept, in their dreams they once more played with their little children, or held converse with their wives, and roamed the woods and prairies in perfect freedom. When morning dawned it was but the harbinger of another day of agony; but when the evening hour came, a smile would sometimes brighten up a haggard countenance, for the poor, unhappy soul, through the eye of an obscure faith, had caught a glimpse of the spirit land. Day followed day, and the last lingering hope was utterly more desperate fighters having already perished, and the women and children of the tribe having already been massacred and consumed in their wigwams. The battle was most desperate between the unequal parties.

Rock Island, July, 1846.

On my way up the Mississippi, I tarried a few hours at the far-famed city of Nauvoo: and when I resumed my course, I felt like one just awakened from an incomprehensible dream. Surely, surely Fanaticism is a most foul fiend, and we ought to rejoice with exceeding joy that He who ruleth the armies of heaven, is yet the protector of earth, and its inhabitants, and will not leave all mankind alone to the mercy of their idols.

The Mormon City occupies an elevated position, and, as approached from the south, appears capable of containing a hundred thousand souls. But its gloomy streets bring a most melancholy disappointment. Where lately resided no less than twenty-five thousand people, there are not to be seen more than about five hundred; and these, in mind, body and purse, seem to be perfectly wretched. In a walk of about ten minutes, I counted several hundred chimneys, which were all at least that number of families had left behind them, as memorials of their folly, and the wickedness of their persecutors. When this city was in its glory, every dwelling was surrounded with a garden, so that the corporation limits were uncommonly extensive; but now all the fences are in ruin, and the lately crowded streets actually rank with vegetation. Of the houses left standing, not more than one out of every ten is occupied, excepting by the spider and the toad. Hardly a window retained a whole twelve preparation rooms besides. On the first floor are three pulpits, and a place for the choir; and on either side eight Roman windows. Over the prophet's pulpit, or throne, is this inscription: "The Lord has beheld our sacrifice: come after us." Between the first and second floors are two long rooms, appropriated to the patriarchs, which are lighted with eight circular windows each. The room of the second floor, in every particular, is precisely like that of the first. Around the hall of a spacious attic are twelve small rooms, with circular windows and a massive lock on each door. At the two front corners of the edifice are two winding stairways, which meet at the base of the tower and lead to the summit,--while the roof of the main building is arranged for a place of promenade; and the walls of the noble edifice vary from four to six feet in thickness.

Estimating the manual labor at the usual prices of the day, it is said that the cost of this Temple was about $800,000. The owners now offer to sell it for $200,000, but it will be a long time, I fancy, before a purchaser is found.

The Mormon, who took me over the Temple, and gave me the above information, was nearly broken hearted. Like the majority of his brethren, remaining in the city, he was without money, and without friends, and yet, it was to be his destiny, in a few days, to push his way into the wilderness, with a large family depending upon him for support. It was in a most melancholy tone, indeed, that he spoke to me the following words: "Mine, sir, is a hard, hard lot. What if my religion is a false one, if I am sincere, is it not cruel, in the extreme, for those, who call themselves the only true church, to oppress me and my people as they have done? My property has been stolen from me, and my dwelling been consumed; and now, while my family is dependent upon a more fortunate brother for support, my little children cannot go into the streets without being pelted with stones, and my daughters cannot go to the well after a pail of water, without being insulted by the young and noble among our persecutors. I do not deserve this treatment. I am not a scoundrel or a foreigner;--far, far from the truth is this supposition. My grandfather, sir, was killed at the battle of Yorktown, as an officer of the glorious Revolution; my own father, too, was also an American army officer during the last war; and all my kindred have ever been faithful to the upright laws of the government. Knowing, therefore, these things to be true, and knowing, too, that I am an honest man, it is very hard to be treated by my fellow countrymen as a 'vagabond.' O, I love this sacred Temple, dearly, and it makes me weep to think that I must so soon leave it to the tender mercies of the Christian world."

Thus far had this poor man proceeded, when his utterance was actually choked with tears,--and I was glad of it, for my own heart was affected by his piteous tale. I gave him a dollar for his trouble, when he was called to attend a new arrival of visitors, and I was left alone in the belfry of the Temple.

Then it was that I had an opportunity to muse upon the superb panorama which met my gaze upon every side. I was in a truly splendid temple,--that temple in the centre of a desolate city,--and that city in the centre of an apparently boundless wilderness. To the east lay in perfect beauty the grand Prairie of Illinois, reaching to the waters of Michigan; to the north and south faded away the winding Mississippi; and on the west, far as the eye could reach, was spread out a perfect sea of forest land, entering which, I could just distinguish a caravan of exiled Mormons, on their line of march to Oregon and California. As before remarked, when I went forth from out the massy porches of the Mormon Temple, to journey deeper into the wilderness, I felt like one awakened from a dream.

Rock Island County, Illinois
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