The Sac and Fox Indians

Before this section of county had been discovered by the white man, it was inhabited by the Sac and Fox Indians. The Sacs and Foxes were descended from the great Algonquin family. These tribes were known to the old French missionaries and traders as the Saukies and Cutagamies.

The earliest written information on the Sac and Fox in this area is that found in the journal of Lieut. Zebulon Pike, of the United States Army, who was sent on an expedition up the Mississippi in 1805. Their principal villages then were situated as follows: The Sacs had three cillages - one on the west bank of the Mississippi, just above the Lower Rapids; another on the opposite side a little further up; the third and principal village was on the banks of the Rock River, about three miles from the mouth. The Foxes also had three villages - the first was situated above the Upper Rapids, on the Illinois side of the Mississippi; the second was on the Iowa side, back of the Dubuque lead mines, and the third on the same side near the mouth of the Turkey River. The whole population of these villages amounted to about 5,000.

Events from 1804 to 1812

The first official act of the government of the United States touching the area of Rock Island County, was the acquisition of the territiry in which it is included, by treaty made at St. Louis on the 3rd of November, 1804. This treaty was made by William Henry Harrison, then Governor of the Territiry of Indiana, and the chiefs and head men of the Sacs and Foxes of the Rock River. The land was sold for the paltry sum of two thousand two hundred and thirty-four dollars and fifty cents, with an annuity annually thereafter of one thousand dollars.

It was common for Black Hawk and his people to travel to St. Louis to trade furs and other articles for supplies for their hunting excursions. Black Hawk speaks of how he and his people were affected by the transfer of the country to the Americans.

"That spring we went down to St. Louis to see our Spanish father. I found many sad and gloomy faces because the United States were about to take possession of the town and country. Soon after the Americans came I took my band and went to take leave of our Spanish father. the Americans came in to see him, also. Seeing them approach, we passed out of one door as they entered another, and immediately started in our canoes for our willage on Rock River, not liking the change any more than our friends appeared to at St. Louis. On arriving at our village we gave the news that a strange people had arrived at St. Louis, and that we should never see our Spanish father again. The information made all our people sorry."

Black Hawk was born at the Sac willage on Rock River in 1768. Probably the first knowledge he ever had of the americans was in 1781, when he was a boy thirteen years of age; for, according to Lieutenant Pike, a party of three hundred Americans destroyed the Sac village on the Rock River at or about that date. It is by no means certain that Black Hawk saw any Americans, and if he did it can be assumed he did not get a very favorable impression of them. More likely, the Indians of this area got their first sight if white men when Lieutenant Pike arrived here in 1805.

Events During the War of 1812-14

The declaration of war between the United States and Great Britain, on the 18th of June, 1812, developed the latent British sympathy already strongly existing amoung a portion of the Sacs and Foxes. As soon as the news of the war had reached the West, a large body of Sacs and Foxes descended to St. Louis and offered their services to our government. It was deemed best that they should remain neutral. However, Black Hawk and his followers were already committed, not merely to the British, but to Tecumseh and his confederates on the Wabash, who had combined their forces to drive all the Americans out of the country. Therefore, when the British agent arrived at Rock River in August, 1812, with a message from his government and presents for the savages, he found it no difficult task to persuade Black Hawk and his followers to enlist in the British service.

Black Hawk's army consisted of about two hundred braves. Additionally, his band appears to have been engaged in two battles; the attack on Fort Stephenson, August 2, 1813, and the battle of the Thames, which followed on the 5th of October.

By the summer of 1814 The British had captured the garrison at Prairie du Chien and sent to Black Hawk, at Rock River, cannon, artillery-men, munitions of war, and a commanding officer. The sudden fall of the country into the hands of the Bristish was unknown to the military authorities below, who proceeded to fit out an expedition intended to sweep both shores clean of their Indian inhabitants, burn their villages, and establish a fort in the heart of their country. It was quite formidable, with the exception of the needed artillery, consisting of eight barges and four hundred and fifty men, under command of Major Zachary Taylor, of the 26th Infantry. It left St. Louis on the 12th of August, 1814. Ascending the river in reel-boats, Major Taylor arrived opposite the mouth of the Rock River and found a large force of British and Indians, under command of a British officer, assembled to give him battle. He had taken the precaution to anchor his fleet out in the Mississippi, near Willow Island, about half a mile above Rock River. During the night the artillery was planted in range of him on the shore below the city of Rock Island, and early the following morning opened fire. Major Taylor could not return the fire, having no artillery on board, and was compelled to retire, with the loss of several of his men.

This expedition practically closed the war in the West. Peace was concluded at Ghent, December 24, 1814.

Old Fort Armstrong

The events which led to the building of Fort Armstrong on Rock Island have already been partially described. The government had practically no established military post by which to enforce its authority or to afford protection to its citizens. The river was a highway of the nation, which must be kept guarded by suitable military stations along its banks. The situation at Rock Island was central, accessible, and in near proximity to the most dangerous body of Indians on the river. At the time the fort was built, there were ar least 10,000 Indian living on the main shores and adjacent island.

In 1816, Fort Armstrong was built on the lower point of Rock Island. A bake-house and oven was the first building finished on the island. The erection of the fort and its accompanying buildings soon followed, and was named Fort Armstrong, in honor of the Secretary of War.

Early Settlers

The first white man who came to this county as a settler, was Col. George Davenport, who came with the garrison in 1816, and built his house on the lower end of the island. For about thirteen years he and his family were the only white persons, aside from the soldiers and officers of the garrison, in this vivinity.

Col. Davenport was noted for his humanity; he was of a very free and generous disposition, and his life was a remarkably active and eventful one. His death is remembered as the most tragic event that ever cast its shadow over this community. He was murdered by John and Aaron Long and Granville Young, members of the "Banditti of the Prairies," on the 4th of July, 1845, while alone in his house, his family having gone to attend the Fourth-of-July celebration.

As early as 1824, Russell Farnham, who founded the town of Warsaw, Illinois, where he resided, came to Rock Island. In that year he formed a partnership in the fur trade with Colonel Davenport. In 1826, they built the house afterwards so noted in the first records of the county as the "house of John Barrell," which was the first county seat of Rock Island County.

In his "Reminiscence of Pioneer Life," John W. Spencer spoke of the settlers in Rock Island in 1828.

We found here two white families, near where the Farnham house stood, onr of them Capt. Clark, father of Capt. Lewis Clark, of Buffalo, Scott County, Iowa, the other a discharged soldier, by the name of Haney; Judge Pence at Rock River; and at the rapids, where Rapids City now stands, were John and Thomas Kinney, George Harlan, Conrad Leak and Archibald Allen. This constituted all the white settlement on the main main.

In 1829, others came. Loudon Case, Sr. and his three sons, Jonah, Loudon and Charles settled at the old Case place. Rinnah Wells and his four sons, and Joshua Vanruff and sons settled at Rock River. Joel Wells had settled near Hampton and Joel Wells, Sr. and Levi and Huntington Wells settled at Moline; Joseph Danforth, a son-in-law of Rinnah Wells, a mile above Moline, and Michael C. Bartlett, a son-in-law of Joel Wells, Sr. about where the Quilt Factory stands now (1877). Mr. Goble and his son Benjamin settled above Joseph Danforth's and William T. Brashar settled on a farm bearing his name.

By 1831, quite a little settlement had gathered. So at the commencement of the Black Hawk trouble of that year, a company of fifty-eight men was organized as the Rock River Rangers. The following is a list of the member of that company.

Rock River Rangers -- 1831

OFFICERS: Benjamin F. Pike, Captain; John W. Spencer, First Lieutenant; Griffith Aubrey, Second Lieutenant; James Haskell, Leonard Bryant and Edward Corbin, Sergeants; Charles French, Charles Case, Benjamin Goble and Henry Benson, Corporals.

Allen, Archibald Johnson, Moses Vanruff, Henry
Brashar, Wm. T. Kinney, John W. Vanruff, Samuel
Bane, John Kinney, Samuel Vanatta, Benjamin
Bartlett, Michael Leek, Conrad Vanatta, Gorham
Been, Joseph Levit, Thomas Varner, Edward
Case, Jonah H. McNeal, Henry Wells, Levi
Danforth, Joseph Miller, George Wells, George
Davis, Thomas McGee, Gentry Wells, Joel, Sr.
Dance, Russell Noble, Amos C. Wells, Joel, Jr.
Frith, Isiah Syms, Thomas Wells, Huntington
Gardner, Thomas Syms, Robert Wells, John
Harlan, Geo. W. Sarns, Wm. F. Wells, Samuel
Hultz, Uriah S. Smith, Martin W. Wells, Rinnah
Hubbard, Thomas Stringfield, Sevier Wells, Asaph
Hubbard, Goodridge Thompson, Joel Wells, Eri
Henderson, Cyrus Vanruff, Joshua Wells, Ira

Events Leading to the Black Hawk War

The Black Hawk War did not actually take place in Rock Island County. However, many of the event leading to the war did. This is a summary of those event.

In the spring of 1829 the Indian were notified by the agent at Fort Armstrong that the govenment wanted allow settlement of the lands in this section and were requested to remove to the west side of the Mississippi. Keokuk and the majority of the Sac and Foxes complied, but Black Hawk and many of his warriors refused. They were determined to remain in possession of their village.

In the spring of 1831, white settlers began to encroach upon the Sac village at Rock River. Black Hawk made clear t the settlers that after the end of the season they must go south of Rock River or above Pleasant Valley. He said the district between the rivers should be occupied exclusively by the Indian. Reasons he gave for this were that they could not leave their pleasant hunting grounds, they were safe from their enemies in this location, the area abounded with game and fish, and it was suited to their mode of living.

Petitions were immediately sent to Governor Reynolds, then Governor of the State, asking his interference for the protection of the settlers at Rock River. The Governor, in response, called for seven hundred mounted militia, and at the same time requested General Gaines, then at Jefferson Barracks, to repair to Fort Armstrong with the sixth regiment under his command. General Gaines and his company arrives first and ordered the Indians to leave Rock River and remove to the west side of the Mississippi. Black Hawk and his party did not positively refuse to leave Rock River, but the conclusion reached by General Gaines was that they would fight before they would give up their village.

On the following day General Gaines left Fort Armstrong with ten companies of United State infantry, two pieces of artillery, and Captain Pike's company of Rock River Rangers, and preceeded to the Indian village on Rock River for the purpose of driving the Indians off. The Indian town was found evacuated, the Indian having crossed the river during the night. The retreating Indians were summoned to Fort Armstrong and the came reluctantly. A treaty of peaceful surrender of their lands was agreed upon on the 10th of June, 1831. This treaty was signed by Major General Gaines and Governor Reynolds on the part of the United States, and by Black Hawk, Pashapaho and other, on the part of the Indian of the British Band.

After the Indians had been driven to the west side of the Mississippi River, their conditions were deplorable; many of them actually died of hunger. For they had left their cornfields before the time of harvest. Their famishing condition and the indignities which some of them suffered, exasperated the animosity of Black Hawk, and induced him to violate the treaty he had made. Early in the spring of 1832, he returned with his band and with his women and children in canoes, and ascended Rock River, for the purpose of regaining his lost territory.

The principal engagements of the war were at Stillman's Run, May 13, 1832; Pe Ratonia, June 24; Wisconsin Heights, July 21; and the battle of Bad Axe, which closed the war, August 2. Black Hawk fled, but was returned by Pottawatamie chiefs to Prairie du Chien. He was sent to Washington and imprisoned at Fortress Monroe. He returned to the West, making a tour of the eastern cities, and died at the Sac and Fox Agency, Iowa, October 3, 1838.

Organization of the County

Rock Island County prior to its organization was included in the jurisdiction of Jo Davies County. In 1833 the Legislature passed an act declaring that all the territory embraced within the current county boundaries be known by the name of Rock Island.

In pursuance of the provisions of this act, due notice was given to the legal voters to meet at the house of John Barrell, in Farnhamsburg, on Monday, the 5th day of July, 1833, to elect three County Commissioners, one Sheriff, one Coroner, three Justices of the Peace and three Constables. The following were voted into office that day.


Commissioners George W. Harlan
  John W. Spencer
  Col. George Davenport
Sheriff Benjamin F. Pike
Coroner Levi Wells
Justices of the Peace George W. Harlan
  J. B. Patterson
  Joel Wells, Jr.
Constables George V. Miller
  Huntington Wells
  Edward Corbin

County Firsts

Court House
Post Office
John Barrell's house in Farnhamsburg, where the first county business was transacted was the first that was built on the main land in this part of Illinois. It was built by Davenport and Farnham in 1826.
Jail The first jail in Stephenson was built in 1836. It was in this building that the murderers of Col. Davenport were confined.
Ferries George Davenport, Joshua Vanruff and Rinnah Wells were issued licenses for ferries across the Rock River in 1834.
Jonah H. Case, Antoine Le Claire and W. F. Brashar were granted a license to run a ferry across the Mississippi in 1835.
Marriages 1) James L. Burtis and Angeline Beardsley, July 13, 1833
2) Benjamin Goble and Barbary Vandruff, August 22, 1833
3) Adrian H. Davenport and Hariet Sibley, April 1, 1834


"Historial Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Rock Island County, Vol. II", 1914, Munsell Publishing Company, Chicago.

"Past and Present of Rock Island County, Ill.", 1877, H.F. Kent & Co., Chicago.