The History of Joliet – Chapter 2

By John Whiteside of The Herald News (used with permission)

Submitted by Nancy Vargo

Sisters’ kidnapping the beginning of Joliet

“Although they never lived here, Sylvia and Rachel Hall could be thought of as the mothers of Joliet. Or rather, the mothers of Juliet.”

By John WHITESIDE of The Herald News

Although they never lived here, Sylvia and Rachel HALL could be thought of as the mothers of Joliet. Or rather, the mothers of Juliet.

Juliet was this city’s first name.

Sylvia and Rachel HALL were part of a family of settlers living along Indian Creek near Ottawa during the 1830s when the Black Hawk War started.

Black Hawk, chief of the Sauk and Fox tribes, and his warriors, who had been forced into land west of the Mississippi River, were attempting to stop the westward movement of white settlers. They returned to do battle in Illinois.

On May 20, 1832, a war party attacked with fury a small settlement along Indian Creek near Ottawa, some 30 miles from Joliet. Three families were massacred on that spring day as the men worked in their fields planting corn. The women were preparing supper.

The hostile band left their ponies a mile from the settlement and crept up on foot. At about 4 p.m., the attack started suddenly and was over in a few minutes.

Fifteen men, women and children from the three families, whose names were DAVIS, PETTEGREW and HALL, were killed. The PETTEGREW baby, who was 5 months old, was picked up by the feet and his head smashed into a tree trunk. A small boy, Jimmy DAVIS, age 7, was taken prisoner but later shot because he couldn’t keep up with the escaping war party.

John HALL, 15, escaped death when he fell down a creek bank and stunned himself. He broke away and made his way to Ottawa on foot with news about what had happened.

But Sylvia, 15, and Rachel HALL, 17, were taken as prisoners. Some of the war party wanted to kill them right away. Other warriors in the group helped to save the lives of the girls.

Meanwhile, the news of the massacre at Indian Creek made its way through the settlers here. The fearful settlers built Fort Nonsense in Joliet and Fort Beggs in Plainfield. Other settlers in Homer Township fled to a fort in Chicago.

The teen-age HALL sisters endured a terrible ordeal as prisoners. Several local histories have been written about their experiences with the war party.

Sylvia and Rachel were held prisoner for 13 days. They rode for hours on horses during the escape. During a rest stop for the horses, the sisters watched warriors dressing the scalps by stretching them on willow hoops. They recognized their own mother’s scalp.

When the war party finally reached Black Hawk’s camp, near what is today Madison, Wis., the girls watched the warriors erect a 25-foot tall pole holding the scalps of those killed at Indian Creek. The sisters saw the scalps of both their parents as well as friends on that pole.

They had ridden some 90 miles in less than 28 hours.

To the beat of drums and rattling gourds, 50 warriors danced around the scalp pole. The dancing continued every day during their captivity at that camp. Rachel and Sylvia eventually became prisoners of a band of Winnebagos, who took them by canoe down a river for several days.

The Winnebagos took the girls near a fort, where negotiations were started for their freedom.

On June 3, 1832, two chiefs, whose names were WHITE CROW and WHIRLING THUNDER, negotiated for the HALL sisters’ freedom.

A young chief who wanted to claim Rachel as his wife said he would rather kill her than let her go. But he sold out for 10 horses. Before she was turned free, he cut off two locks of Rachel’s hair as a trophy.

The ransom paid for the HALL sisters included $2,000 cash, 40 horses and a variety of blankets and beads.

The girls were taken to Galena where they met their brother, John HALL, who had escaped from the massacre. From there, they rode on a steamship to St. Louis to become the guests of the Illinois governor.

The state’s population had become fascinated by their story. The HALL sisters received many gifts including $470 donated to them. But the best gift was from the state Legislature.

The legislators awarded each of the HALL sisters land grants to any vacant land in the state. These grants, called floats, were sold by the HALL sisters, who went to live with their brother in Bureau County.

And the buyers of those two grant floats both came to Joliet to claim some land and build the beginning of a city.

A city called Juliet.

Published April 7, 2001