Friday, January 10, 2020

Natives Americans in Vincennes 1817-1825

The research library has many books about history and/or genealogy of other Illinois counties.  One such book is Prairie Albion, an English Settlement in Pioneer Illinois by Charles Boewe.  The author has selected excerpts from letters and diaries written by the founders, Morris Birkbeck and George Flower, for publication describing their lives in this area. Though the book is primarily about the English settlement of Albion, there are a few references to Lawrence County and Vincennes, Indiana.

If you had ancestors who settled in this area early in its history, you might have expected them to have occasion to interact with the Native Americans, and there are several accounts written about Native American conflicts in the county.   Written between 1817-1825, Birkbeck described the Native Americans he saw when he visited Vincennes.

“Vincennes exhibits a motley assemblage of inhabitants as well as visitors.  The inhabitants are Americans, French, Canadians, and Negroes. The visitors…(include)… Indians of various nations- Shawnees, Delawares, and Miamis, who live about a hundred miles to the northward, and who come here to trade for their skins.  The Indians are encamped in considerable numbers around the town and are continually riding in to the stores and the whiskey shops.

Their horses and accoutrements are generally mean, and their persons disagreeable. Their faces are painted in various ways, which mostly gives a ferocity to their aspect. One of them, a Shawnee, whom we met with this family a few miles east of Vincennes, had his eyes, or rather eyelids, and surrounding parts daubed with vermilion, looking hideous enough at a distance.  But, on a nearer view, he has good features, and is a fine, stout, fierce-looking man, well remembered at Vincennes for the trouble he gave during the last war.  This man exhibits a respectable beard. . . Some of them are well dressed and good-looking people. One young man in particular, of the Miami nation, had a clean light blue cotton vest with sleeves, and his head ornamented with black feathers.  They all wear pantaloons, or rather long moccasins of buckskin, covering the foot and leg and reaching hallway up the thigh, which is bare, a covering of cloth passing between the thighs and hanging behind like an apron of a foot square. Their complexion is various, some dark, other not so swarthy as myself; but I saw none of the copper color I had imagined to be their universal distinctive mark. . . Their hair is straight and black and their eyes dark.  The women are many of them decently dressed and good looking; they ride sometimes like the men, but sidesaddles are not uncommon among them. Few of them of either sex speak English, but many of the people here speak a variety of Indian languages.” 

Ed Note:  This is an interesting book for any student of early pioneer history or any genealogist wanting to know about frontier life from a primary source. Drop by the research library some snowy morning with your cup of coffee and sit a while to read.