Historical Highlights

written by Dave Needham, 1995

Over 160 years ago, in 1830, John Dixon took over the ferry that carried people and wagons across the Rock River. That was the beginning of Dixon, Illinois. The ferry was located at a point that is now between the two bridges in Dixon, and John Dixon's cabin was located on the south side of the river, where the foot of the Peoria Avenue bridge is now.
Dixon's Ferry was very important because it was one of the only places to cross the Rock River for 50 miles in either direction. In those days, the lead mines made Galena the most important town in Northern Illinois. And traffic between Peoria and Galena always went through Dixon. John Dixon became known for hospitality and trading supplies with both the settlers and local Indians.

In April of 1832 a band of Sac Indians, led by a warrior named Black Hawk, crossed the Mississippi River from Iowa, and made their way up the Rock River, causing trouble for the settlers and starting the Black Hawk Indian War. Black Hawk's band passed through what is now known as Prophetstown, and camped at Dixon overnight. Black Hawk actually ate dinner at John Dixon's cabin and admired Mrs. Dixon's courtesy and hospitality. The Indians camped near the fresh water spring on the south side of the river where the Dixon Water Works now stands. In the morning Black Hawk's band moved farther up the river.

On April 16, 1832, a call went out from Governor John Reynolds for volunteers to assist in removing Black Hawk and his warriors from Illinois. One of the companies formed was in Sangamon County where 350 men volunteered, including 23 year old Abraham Lincoln. In those days, military service was more informal than today. Volunteers expected to serve only 30 to 60 days. The soldiers from Sangamon County were able to choose their own captain, and they elected Abraham Lincoln.

This site is the location of Fort Dixon. It contained two blockhouses and was surrounded by a four foot dirt wall. In May of 1832, a group of men under the command of Major Stillman, moved about 30 miles up river from Fort Dixon and started a battle with Black Hawk's band. The Indians wiped out Stillman's group and in a panic, survivors made their way back here to Fort Dixon. The site of the battle was near the town now known as Stillman Valley.

By this time Lincoln's company had made their way to Fort Dixon, and on May 15, went to Stillman Valley to bury the dead. In the following days Lincoln's company searched for Black Hawk near Sycamore, the Fox River and Ottawa. Lincoln's company disbanded and Lincoln re-enlisted for 20 days in Captain Iles' company of Independent Rangers. This group followed the trail to Galena collecting information on the Indians, but saw no action. That company was mustered out of service and Lincoln re-enlisted for 30 days under Captain Jacob Earl. Lincoln's service ended on July 10th, and he made his way down the Rock River towards New Salem, a distance of about 250 miles. He traveled by walking, canoeing, and catching horseback rides with other discharged soldiers who were also returning home. During his service Lincoln never fought in any battles with the Indians.

Black Hawk's band of Indians was eventually chased into Wisconsin, and after suffering defeat in several battles, the Indians surrendered. In August of 1832, military forces captured Black Hawk and the Indian war was over.
The town of Dixon continued to grow and prosper under the guidance of John Dixon and the other early settlers of this area.

In 1916, Mrs. Dorothy N. Law (D.A.R. member) started the effort to establish a Lincoln memorial at the site of Fort Dixon, on the north side of the Rock River, between the two bridges in Dixon. She noted that the only other Lincoln memorial along the Lincoln Highway was at Gettysburg. The D.A.R. purchased a 50 foot by 50 foot lot and fund raising started. Fund raising ceased during WWI, and continued sporadically after. In 1929 state legislators took an interest and formed a committee to continue the project.

The statue by Leonard Crunelle was dedicated Sept. 24, 1930, as part of the Dixon centennial celebration. Many dignitaries such as Charles Walgreen, historian Frank E. Stevens, and the Governor attended the ceremony. Abraham Lincoln is depicted as a young soldier in military uniform. It is one of the only statues of a beardless Lincoln, and remains a popular tourist attraction.

John Dixon was born in Rye, Westchester County, NY, on October 9, 1784. His father was a native of Newcastle on Tyne, England. John married Rebecca Sherwood of Peekskill, NY, at New York City in 1808. In 1820, he came west with his family and his sister Elizabeth Boyd, and her husband, Charles S. Boyd. They settled in Peoria County before coming here to take over the ferry at the Rock River.
John and Rebecca Dixon were the parents of 12 children:
.....7 died in infancy. (No record of names or dates.)
.....Franklin died at age 16.
.....Elijah died at 25 yrs 5 mos, 3-15-1843, unmarried.
.....James Purdy
.....John W.
.....Mary L.
John W. Dixon had 3 children, all died unmarried. The family line was continued by the children of James Purdy Dixon, and Mary L. Dixon who married Isaac S. Boardman.
On February 9, 1847, John Dixon's wife, Rebecca, died at age 57 years, 8 months.
On July 6, 1876, John Dixon died, age 91 years, 9 months. He had outlived his wife and all their children. The courthouse was draped in black and over 10,000 persons attended the funeral. Dignitaries from far and wide attended the ceremony, in honor of this great and generous man.  
The Black Hawk War by Frank E. Stevens, 1903
The History of Lee County, Illinois by Frank E. Stevens, 1914
Lincoln In Dixon by Nancy Gillfillan and Duane Paulsen, 1992
Dixon Telegraph newspaper, 1930: Sept. 5, 7, 12, 17, 22, 25
Copyright 1995. All rights reserved. 
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