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Mythbusting Local History: 'Trail of Tears' routes west

<p>Chief Shabbona &nbsp;| Submitted</p>

Chief Shabbona  | Submitted

Most residents already know that the Burr Ridge area was home to indigenous communities long before Europeans arrived. Our streets have names like “Shabbona” or imply with the mere preface “Indian…” that this land was once home to Native Americans. In our area, Potawatomi, Ojibwe, and Ottawa were the primary tribes who lived here. And before these, prehistoric Native Americans that hunted game and gathered plant-based foods were well established. There is no question of these facts. 

However, it’s that period when European settlers--after the primarily French fur-traders had left and Native Americans were pushed farther West beyond the Mississippi River—where we find hear folks’ understanding of history getting a bit muddled. This week, we take on another misperception.

Myth: When settlers arrived, the Army removed the Potawatomi, marching them out along Plainfield Rd. and that’s what became known as “The Trail of Tears."

Fact: No. Plainfield Rd. was not at all “The Trail of Tears," which was much farther south. There was no forced march at gunpoint; no column of wagon trains rolling west in one en masse removal. 

The 1838-1839 forced march by the U.S. Army of Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole, and Chicksaw nations to reservations in the Oklahoma Territory that we now call “The Trail of Tears” is in far Southern Illinois in Union County. That dark trek is commemorated by Trail of Tears State Park in Jonesboro, Illinois. The Illinois segment of the Trail is a part of the larger National Park Service Historic Trail that preserves the corridor of this tragic forced march by the removal and includes Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. It is estimated that about 9,000 Cherokees passed through Southern Illinois during the November-January period. Imagining the cold, desperate conditions—based on first-hand accounts of Rev. John S. Butrick, a missionary who travelled with the Cherokee during this removal—coupled with local family histories—paints an accurately inhumane portrait. According to one primary source, “…there was silence and stillness of the voice that betrayed sadness of the heart.”  

While our Burr Ridge area was inhabited by Native Americans and more permanent European settlers did arrive in the early 1800s, our local story of eventual removal was quite different. 

Our immediate area was home to primarily Potawatomi, Ojibwe, and Ottawa. As eastern Native American tribes were displaced farther and farther into the midwest area, tensions grew between eastern and midwestern tribes for territory rights. During the same time, the War of 1812 created tensions, with eastern and native midwestern tribes negotiating sides between Americans and British.  

When the U.S. Army ordered the Army to evacuate Fort Dearborn, August 15, 1812, in the midst of extremely high tensions among eastern and midwestern Native Americans with no unified alliances during America’s battle with the British, the settlers were at high risk. Nonetheless, they left Fort Dearborn; and were attacked by some of the Native American tribes that had been gathering near the fort. 

In the aftermath of that attack, Chief Shabbona—a great-nephew of Ottawa chief Pontiac—represented the Potawatomi in peace negotiations; and in 1816 began a series of negotiated treaties with the U.S. government. Chief Shabbona became a crucial liaison to European settlers in our immediate area: convincing Winnebago from attacking, and preventing Potawatomi from joining Sauk in the Black Hawk War of 1832.  

Pragmatic, and wise, Shabbona understood the military’s force and tactics; and chose to lead a path of friendship and co-existence. Shabbona became a welcomed visitor to many pioneer families, including Joseph Vial (whose second son, Robert Vial, built the house in which the Flagg Creek Heritage Society resides on Wolf Road).

If you want us to “myth bust” a piece of area history, we may select it to be featured! Send it to us at: info@flaggcreekheritagesociety.com 

The Society operates the Flagg Creek Historical Museum and the Robert Vial House located on the grounds of the Pleasant Dale Park District at 7425 S. Wolf Rd., Burr Ridge IL

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This content was submitted by a member of the community. We'd like to hear from you, too! To share stories, photos, video or events for our calendar, please email Community News Manager Michael Cronin at michael.cronin@wrapports.com or use the online submission tool. 

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