DANVILLE WAS BUILT ON THE SITE OF THE OLD INDIAN VILLAGE OF PIANKESHAW
Source: History of Vermilion County, Illinois By Lottie E. Jones
Transcribed for Genealogy Trails by Barbara Ziegenmeyer
Few people who walk the streets of Danville, the county seat of Vermilion County, Illinois, realize that they are walking upon historic ground of another race; that the present city is the second one upon this site; that long before the white men who are credited with its discovery and settlement had seen this favored location, and other people had an important town established here which attracted notice and comment from early writers.
This Indian village, to which reference is made, is frequently mentioned in early memoirs and treaties, and it is always described in such a way as to leave no doubt of its location.
Mention has already been made of the fact that the Miami Confederacy of Indians were the first known dwellers in the Wabash Valley. After their immigration thither the Miamis proper resided about Fort Wayne on the St. Mary's and St. Joseph's rivers, near their confluence which forms the Miami river. They also lived on the upper Wabash. The Ouatonons, or Weas, as the English called them, lived further down ; their principal villages being on the Wea Plains, between what is now Attica and Lafayette.
When the French first came down the Wabash, the Piankeshaws were found on both sides of the river, from the Vermilion down to the Ohio, and westward into Illinois to the ridge which divides the tributaries of the Wabash from those of the Illinois. No claim had ever been made to this territory by any other tribe, nor was made until about 1770, when that part lying west of White river in Indiana, was granted to the Delawares by the Piankeshaws on condition that they would settle on it, and assist in a war with the Kickapoos, which was at that time taking their interest.
At that time the Miamis and the Weas (or Ouatonons) had their habitat separate and distinct, extending from the Maumee and its tributaries through the course of the Wabash Valley as far south as near Vincennes where Chippecoke, or the town of Brushwood, the ancient Capital seat of the Piankeshaws was located. The bands about Vincennes were called Lower Piankeshaws, while members of the tribe residing higher up and nearer the Vermilion river were designated as Upper Piankeshaws. Later these latter were known as Piankeshaws of the Vermilion, and their villages on the stream were called Vermilion towns.
The Miami name for the river, known as the Vermilion, was Piankeshaw. This word is to be found spelled in many different ways; such as Pyankashaw, Pionkashaw, Peanquichias, and otherwise. This dissimilarity was owing to the different style of spelling by the English, the Americans and French authors; each making more or less successful effort to approximate the sound of the word as the Miami Indian pronounced it. Following the well established rules of Indian etymology, as to the manner of places and things, it may be the tribe living along the Vermilion, were called Piankeshaws from the name of the river, rather than the river being given the name of the tribe; just as the tribes
of the Miamis residing at the Wea Plains were called Weas, those at the Tippecanoe river, were called Tippecanoes, and those higher up on Eel river we recalled Eel Creeks.
Official document covering the treaty of Vincennes (1792), conducted by General Rufus Putnam, to be found at Marietta College, give Piankeshaw as the name of the river now known as the Vermilion.
This name for the river was not the one universally used, apparently, by the Indians. It evidently was a name given by the Miamis, alone. In Colonel George Croghan's journal of 1765, the river is mentioned by the same name it has at present, that of Vermilion, and the explanation made that "it is so called from a fine red earth found here by the Indians, with which they paint themselves." This red earth, a red chalk, generally known under the provincial name of "red keel" was constantly noticed by the early settlers, and is to be seen
now along the bluffs of the Vermilion in the shales over-laying the outcrop of the coal. The exposed coal taking fire, burns the shale above, turns it red and makes it soft. Carpenters used it to chalk their lines in early times, and, time after time, successive generations of boys gathered their pockets full and painted their hands and faces with it.
The passion of the Indian for paint, and especially for red paint, made this red earth of importance, and caused them to, according to Croghan in 1765, call the river after the red earth. It is further known that another river by the same name in the state has the same red earth on its bluffs. This same river, which the Miamis called the Piankeshaw, was marked on a map published in the early years of the eighth Century with the name of Red river. About this time English geographies, and not a few American writers, tried to give this river yet another name.
Arrowsmith, who subscribes himself as no less a personage than "Geographer to His Majesty," lays it down on his map frenchified into "Rejoicing-Jaune" and in "Emigrants Western Guides for 1817, 1819 and 1821, it is called the "Rejoicing" while, in Flint's History and Geography of the Western States, published in 1828, it is called the "Rejoicing." However, that name is forgotten; the name of Piankeshaw was never generally used ; and the river which, is the principal one of this county and gave it its name, remains an expression of the Indian's pleasure, and keeps the spelling of the Frenchman. It is possible, that the name of "Rejoicing" was but an expression of the joy the red man felt in finding the means of decoration in the Vermilion earth, and either name would have perpetuated the sentiments of this people who had first possession of its waters. A memoir, or official report to headquarters, made by the French officers as early as 1718, and which lay in the royal library at Paris, France, until transcribed and translated into English by J. R. Broadhead under the authority of the State of New York, contains matter of deep interest concerning the Indians between Lake Erie and the Mississippi river. After speaking of the Miamis, the village of the Ouatonon are described, and the writer tells of the village by the name of Piankeshaw. This is not all the proof that this village was upon the site of present day Danville, nor the most convincing. After the change in the government of the Wabash Valley, in 1759, because of the defeat of the French by the British at Quebec, the Indians became restive. These Indians had always been the friends of the French ; no wonder they were suspicious of the British, who had ever been the foe to their friends. The British officers proved to be haughty and overbearing, whereas the French had always been kind and conciliatory. The French had adapted themselves to the ways of the Indians ; had taken to themselves wives of the various tribes, and shared their interests. The Englishman was reserved and selfish and wanted the land exclusively for himself.
Pontiac was a great Chief of the Ottawas, and was a man of great discernment. He saw the inevitable result of the coming of the British to his people, and determined to make a bold attempt to hold the land for the red man. His plan failed, but his efforts forced the British to conciliation and diplomacy. George Croghan, an old Indian trader, and a man in whom the Indians had confidence, was sent to make peace where force had failed. George Croghan had spent his life among the Indians, and was well versed in their language and ways and habits of thought. He enjoyed the advantage of a personal acquaintance with many of the chiefs and principal men of the Wabash tribes who had formed strong attachments toward him. He was a veteran up to all the arts of the Indian Council House and had already conducted many important treaties, with the Shawnees, the Delawares and the Iroquois, further eastward. He had fared ill at the hands of the French, whose officers had captured his trade and confiscated his goods. Col. Croghan was closing a treaty at Fort Pitt when he was sent to the Indians of the Wabash Valley. He left Fort Pitt, May 15, 1765, going down the Ohio with two bateaux. He floated down the river to Shawneetown, where he halted at break of day, June 8, and was attacked by a party of eighty Kickapoo and Musquattimes, and two of his men together with three Indians were killed; Croghan himself, was wounded and carried to their village near Ouatonon which was on the west bank of the Wabash river, between Attica and La Fayette. The then went on foot to Vincennes, where they remained several days. Here Croghan made a purchase of "some little apparel" for himself and his companions and proceeded, still a prisoner, in company with his captors, toward their village. They crossed the river at Vincennes, and journeyed over the prairies, their route from the description of the country as preserved in Croghan's journal, being, without doubt, up through what is now Crawford, Edgar and Vermilion counties. Quoting from his journal : "
June 17, 1765. At mid-day we set out from Vincennes, traveling the first five miles through a fine thick wood. We traveled eighteen miles this day, and encamped in a large, beautiful, well watered meadow. "
18 and 19. — We traveled through a prodigious large meadow called the Piankeshaws' hunting grounds. Here is no wood to be seen, and the country appears like an ocean; the ground is exceedingly rich, and partly overgrown with wild hemp; the land is well watered and full of buffalo, deer, bears, and all kinds of wild game. "
20 and 21. — We passed through some very large meadows, part of which belong to the Piankeshaw, on the Vermilion river ; the country and soil much the same as that we traveled over these three days past. Wild hemp grows here in abundance; the game here is very plenty; at any time in half an hour, we kill as much as we wanted. "
22. — We passed through a part of the same meadow mentioned yesterday ; then came to a high woodland and arrived at the Vermilion river, so called from a fine red earth found here by the Indians, with which they paint themselves. About half a mile from where we crossed the river, there is a village of Piankeshaws, distinguished by the addition of the name of the river. We then traveled through a high, clear woody country about three hours, soil deep and rich, then came to a meadow and encamped. "
23d. — Early in the morning we set out through a fine meadow, then some clear woods; in the afternoon came into a large bottom on the Ouibache (Wabash) within six miles of Ouicatanon (or Ouatonons). Here I met several Chiefs of the Kickapoos, and Musquattimes." Following the description of the route taken by Col. Croghan in his enforced march from Vincennes, accompanied by his captors, to their villages near Ouatonon, on the west bank of the Wabash river, which we can more exactly locate as being between Attica and La Fayette, there is no doubt that the village, "about half a mile from where we crossed the river," and a three hours' journey through "clear high, woody country and a further half days' journey to reach the large bottom on the Wabash" within six miles of Ouitanon, is at the mouth of the North Fork, the same place where land was given by Beckwith and Guy Smith about sixty years later, upon which to build the county seat of Vermilion County. But one more proof of the identity of this village with present- day Danville will be given here.
In presenting this proof a study of the records of events immediately following the war of the Revolution must be made. Because of the Conquest of the Northwest, by George Rogers Clark, this Wabash Valley was, at the close of the war, a part of a county of Virginia and afterward ceded to the United States. As a part of the United States the Federal Government took charge of it, appointing Gen. St. Clair to be Governor, with headquarters at Fort Washington upon which site is present-day Cincinnati.
The Wabash Indians had taken part with Great Britain in the late war, and still continued sending out hostile parties from this section of the country against the frontier settlements in Kentucky and Eastern Ohio. Loud complaints were made, and earnest appeals sent to Governor St. Clair to have him make an effort to stop these depredations. To this end Antoine Gamelin, a French trader, started from Vincennes, with speeches addressed by Governor St. Clair to the Indians inhabiting the Wabash and its tributaries. These speeches were delivered at all the principal Indian villages laying near the Wabash, as far east as the Miami town of Kikinggan, near the site of present- day Fort Wayne. An entry in the journal of M. Gamelin kept while on this embassy of Governor St. Clair, is of interest in locating the Indian village of Piankeshaw. "
After leaving Vincennes," the journal proceeds "The second village I arrive at was at the River du Vermilion called Piankeshaw. The Chief, and all the warriors, were well pleased with the speeches concerning the place, but they said they could not presently give me an answer, before they had consulted the Miami Nation, their oldest brethren. It must be observed that the speeches had been there in another hand before me. The first messenger could not proceed further than the Vermilion, on account of some private wrangling between the interpreter and some chief men of the tribe. They desired me to proceed to the Miami town Kikinggay and, in coming back, let them know what reception I got from them."
That this peace mission was a failure, does not in any way affect the fact that such a mission included the visit to this Indian village of Piankeshaw "on the River du Vermilion," and is proof of the events of the past which transpired on the land now a part of Vermilion County.
Time passed, the cruel Kickapoos and stronger Miamis swept over this village and, driving out the Piankeshaws, in turn abandoned all claim to the soil, and Nature did her best to win back to herself, this place in the wilderness. A score of years helped in this work, before the busy hands of the white man came into this wilderness, and pushed it aside for the planting of homes representing a higher civilization. The lingering red man did not forget to tell the encroaching white man tales of the pretentious homes of his race on this spot. The Pottowatomies delighted in telling their friend, Gurdon Hubbard, who himself had won relationship with them through marriage with one of their number, the stories of the Piankeshaw village, and Mr. Hubbard in turn, told these tales to the men of his acquaintance, so that the picture of the wigwam in the place of the modern house; the warriors and squaws and papooses in the place of the men and women and children ; the games and Indian customs in place of business and amusements of today; becomes a vivid picture.
A little exercise of the imagination can remove all the houses, streets and other signs of civilization in Danville, can destroy the bridges over the Vermilion river and North Fork. With the public square obliterated and the ground westward showing patches of hazel and jack oak, of recent growth ; with the northwest part of town, nearly to the bluffs of North Fork, a broad meadow, set in with blue grass, with marks of old corn hills plainly visible over many, acres the picture has its true setting. The sky line along the river bluffs, silhouettes a line of stalwart oaks.
Under the bluff west of what is now Logan Avenue and in the other bottom south of Main street, up to the mouth of North Fork, ancient corn-fields also are overrun with blue grass. Eastward from Vermilion street, is a prairie, with an occasional stunted bush which grows for a season, only to be burned to the ground by the autumnal fires, which sweep through the high grass each year. This is surely a goodly spot. Sheltered on the north and west with a growth of timber its generous soil lies open to the warm summer sun and rainfall. The hillsides on the west and south, hold numerous springs from which pure water bubbles past mossy beds. People this attractive spot with a happy folk. It is home life for a race of children of the forest who have not yet learned to fear the white man's rule.
Tall and lithe, the men are dressed in a garment which extends from their waists to their knees, with moccasins for feet covering, which had been prepared from the buffalo's hide. In the winter, leggings decorated with quills of the porcupine stained in colors of brilliant contrast, together with blankets give the desided warmth. The women wear a garment which would be called at present, a one piece dress. The material from which it is made is woven from the soft wool from the buffalo's hide, or is, perhaps, made from the buffalo's hide itself. When made from woven material, these garments are dyed the most brilliant colors. The women of Piankeshaw are skilled in the choice of material to make these colors and search the bluffs to the west and south, going sometimes a long distance, to find the root or leaf or perhaps blossom that will yield the desired shade or tint. Ellsworth Park held many secrets for them in possible coloring material. The women decorate their own moccasins and do not let their leggings go plain. They are proud of their necklaces, as who would not be, when their value is an expression of the time and care it took to find and assort the clamshells and other hard substances which comprised them. A head dress, usually, is deemed indispensable by the Piankeshaw woman. Petticoats are worn for warmth during the winter. To make these garments the nerves and tendons of deer are subjected to a process that yields good thread. The wigwams along the bluff on the North Fork were busy places when this thread was being manufactured. The deer was dressed, and the nerves and tendons carefully put aside. They were exposed to the sun twice each day until they were in a state that, by beating, they would separate into fine hairs or threads. These threads were very strong and would hold any garment together.
The women, beside making the garments and doing all the household duties, always carry the game and cultivate the soil. The remains of this cultivation was seen in the corn hills overgrown with blue grass on the fields in the northwestern part of town when first Dan Beckwith and the other early settlers were here. The women searched the fields, which now are the streets and home lots of Danville, for edible roots and herbs, berries and any vegetable growth from which to prepare food. Their wooden dishes and spoons made of buffalo hide, comprised their table service.
All along the North Fork, from the present northwestern limit of Danville to Main street, thence along the banks of the Vermilion river to the extreme limit on the east, and extending back in an irregular line a half mile or more from the bluffs of the two streams, the homes of the dwellers of Piankeshaw are placed. They are located in reference to the numerous springs, which bubble out of the hillside. These houses are made by driving poles into the ground and drawing them together at the top, over which there is a mat thrown. This mat is made by the squaws, from flags they have gathered from marshy places near the river.
The Piankeshaws are not without weapons by which they can defend themselves when danger comes, although they are not a people who seek war. They use both the bow and arrow, and the club, yet they would rather take to their heels than to face an enemy, at any time. But they are skillful with their bows and arrows, which they tip with stones. Although on the whole, they are peaceful people, sometimes a warrior finds a wrong, either fancied or real, which must need be avenged, and he goes about through the village asking one and another to go with him for that purpose. When the time of starting comes the line of march is made. One is chosen to carry the War Budget.
This War Budget is a package containing something which belongs to each person in the party that represents some wild animal, such as a snake's skin, a buffalo's tail, a wolf's head, a mink's skin or the feathers of some extraordinary bird. This is called his corpenyomer. This package is always considered sacred, and is carried in front in the march. Under no circumstances can it ever be passed. When the party halts, the Budget is laid on the ground in front of them, and no one may pass it without orders from proper authority. The package must not be laid on a log but on the ground. While on the way to meet an enemy, no one is permitted to talk of women. When on the way to meet an enemy with the War Budget, if a four-footed animal is killed, its heart must be cut into small pieces and burned alongside the sacred charge. Care must always be taken never to step over fire, when upon such a journey, nor around it in any way other than the sun travels. When the enemy is to be attacked, each man takes his "Corpenyomer" from the Budget and ties it on his body, as has been directed by his ancestor. The man who takes the first scalp, or prisoner, carries the War Budget upon the return march. When he returns to the village he will fasten it onto his cabin where it stays for thirty or forty nights. The warriors will come and dance about it, and when the one who called the party out to the war sees fit, he will make a feast. On the occasion of this feast, the War Budget is opened and each man given his Corpenyomer. These "Corpenyomers" are prized highly and well cared for. Every month some men of the family sing religious songs all night, and leave an offering of a piece of tobacco or a kettle of victuals. This feast is partaken with much ceremony, a small piece of food is always thrown into the fire before any of it is eaten.
Should a death occur in this village a ceremony of adoption will take place by the grief stricken relatives. The nearest relatives will fast and black their faces in token of respect.
Great care is taken in training future citizens of this first village on the site of Danville. The children are given tasks calculated to develop courage and self restraint. After childhood is passed, a bath in cold water each day is required and fasting from time to time, in accordance with the strength of the individual. When he is eighteen years old, the boy goes into a long fast, with his face blackened, under the conviction that should he eat while his face is blackened, the Great Spirit would, in some way, punish him.
The moon which shines upon the maid and her lover in the beginning of the 20th Century, as brightly shone upon the same spot when the dusky belle of a hundred odd years listened to the wooing of her fond young brave. The wedding ceremony of those of Piankeshaw was, however more simple. The parents of the youth selected the bride and presents were sent to her. If she accepted him, then her parents dressed her in her best and, procuring a suitable present for him, sent her to his cabin, as they called the wigwams. If, on the other hand, she did not like him, and refused him, the presents were sent back, and that was the end of it. Life was gay, at this village at the mouth of the North Fork, so long ago. Dances, and games were the order for the youth and the Braves. These people were not without knowledge of the white man. A letter written by M. De Longuell, the French Commandant at Detroit, to his superior officer at Quebec in 1752, states that, prior to 1750, there were French traders established on the Vermilion; that English traders persisted in trading here in spite of the fact that their predecessors had been driven off, two years before.
This letter goes on to say that Father De La Richardu, a French Catholic Missionary, had wintered here. A possible tragedy is also on record of the murder of some Frenchmen at a point which seems might have been Piankeshaw. So it is, the old story of man's life, of his loves and his hates, his efforts to higher impulses and his degradation, his pleasures and his distresses, all were here at the time of the possession of the red man, as now, when his white brother lives in the town at the mouth of the North Fork. The Piankeshaws are gone; the race has been scattered and almost destroyed ; the white man dominates the Vermilion river, the town of Piankeshaw has given place to that of Danville but human nature is the same at all times and in all places, and doubtless the people of today, do not differ so much from those of yesterday, despite the changed conditions of race and mode of living.
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