The reader has perhaps observed on the maps of this State two lines running parallel to each other and diagonally across the townships, and called the Indian Boundary. The land included between these lines – a strip twenty miles wide – was surveyed in 1821-22 (the Indian title having been extinguished to this in 1818) for canal purposes, as hereafter explained. The land lying outside of this was surveyed in 1837-38. Consequently the portion lying between these lines was brought into market earlier than the other. At the time of the first survey, the parties who did the work were obliged to go to Fort Clark, as Peoria was then called, for their supplies.
To each of the townships the same act which provided for the survey gave the sixteenth section for school purposes. Another section, the thirty-sixth, is also set apart for the same purpose by a later act, but this was too recent to benefit our State.
At the time of the first settlement of our county the title to the land (the Indian title having been purchased by treaty) was in the United States. Acts of Congress had, however, been passed for the purpose of encouraging settlement, by which actual settlers were allowed to gain a preemption right, as it was called, or a right to purchase, to the exclusion of all others, 160 acres of land, or a quarter-section, at $1.25 per acre, whenever the same should be brought into market. Land offices were established where settlers could prove up their rights and receive certificates in the form of receipts for the purchase money, for which patents were afterward given by the United States. In cases where the whole amount could not be secured in one place, or when prairie or timber could not be secured contiguous, a right to locate one eighty on unclaimed lands was given, which was called a “float.” After the lands had been opened to preemption for a time, public sales were held, and outside parties, not actual settlers, were allowed to purchase. Early settlers will recall how conflicting claims often occurred between “squatters” and other claimants, and how neighborhoods often established a kind of mock court for their settlement. These were without any authority of law, but their decisions were generally received without appeal. Certain acts were required by the law to entitle a person to preemption – such as a certain amount of fencing, a cabin and actual residence for a certain period. When public sales occurred, however, “squatters’ rights” were enforced by the combined settlers against speculators, whether the claimant had done what the law required or not. Many actual settlers also had not secured their preemption by reason of their not having the money to pay for the land. Speculators and squatters often compromised by the speculator paying for the whole claim and giving the squatter one-half. These various terms, preemption, float, claim, squatter, etc., have now become obsolete in this region, but they were, forty or fifty years ago, words of great significance.
Another act had been passed by Congress, in 1826, giving to the State every alternate section of land in a strip ten miles wide, lying along and each side of the contemplated route of a proposed canal. This act appropriated 300,000 acres of land for the purpose of constructing the canal, and laid the foundation for the Illinois and Michigan Canal, a brief history of which is given further on. It was, no doubt, this act, as well as the natural beauty and fertility of the region, which gave rise to the tide of immigration which set in hither forty to fifty years ago.
In tracing up the history of any locality or people, it is always pleasing to go back to the beginning of things, and to learn who first trod its soil and voyaged upon its streams. Such an investigation in reference to Will County carries us back to 1673, when Louis Joliet, a French trader, and James Marquette, a Jesuit missionary, started out from Green Bay on their successful voyage for the discovery of the great river which, the Indians informed them, flowed to the Great West. Going up the Fox and across the “divide” into the Wisconsin, they came, in due time, to the great river, on whose ample bosom they floated as far as the Arkansas. This was far enough to satisfy them that it emptied into the Gulf of Mexico, and they retraced their steps. Coming to the mouth of the Illinois, they returned by that stream to Chicago, having learned from the Indians that it was a shorter route, passing, of course, up the Des Planes. Tradition says that they encamped upon the mound below Joliet. However this may be, it has borne the name of Joliet Mound from earliest times. This was probably the first time that the region now known as Will County was trodden by a white man. A few years after, two other early French explorers – La Salle, a trader and explorer, and Father Hennepin, another Jesuit missionary – passed from the St. Joseph River into the Kankakee, and down it into the Illinois. These facts and the following incident from Indian history, ought to make the Des Planes and the Kankakee classic rivers. In a very interesting work published a few years since by N. Matson, of Bureau County (and who, by the way, seems to be one of our indefatigable searchers after the Indian history of this region), we find the following tradition respecting the mound:
“One of the most celebrated Indians of history was Pontiac, the chief of the Ottawas, of Michigan. After the surrender of the Northwest by the French to England, in 1763, Pontiac for a while contested the claims of the English, and was known as their most able and bitter enemy. When he could no longer maintain the contest, he left the vicinity of Detroit, where he was born and had always lived, and with the remnants of his once powerful tribe (about two hundred warriors and their families), found a refuge on the banks of the Kankakee, in this county, somewhere in the vicinity of Wilmington. He merged the remnants of his tribe into that of the Pottawatomies. This region was claimed by the Illinois, and a conflict arose between the tribes, especially in reference to the right to hunt the buffalo to the west of the Illinois River. After fighting over the matter awhile, a council was agreed upon to settle the question. This council met at Mound Joliet, in 1769. During a speech which Pontiac was making in support of his side of the question, he was treacherously assassinated by “Kineboo,” the head chief of the Illinois. This act of treachery led to the bloody war which resulted in the destruction of the great Indian city “La Vantam,” which stood on the site where the paper city of Utica was afterward built, and to the tragedy of Starved Rock, and to the ultimate extinction of the great nation of the Illinois.”
After the visits of Joliet, Marquette, La Salle and Hennepin, there is no record of these regions having felt the tread of the white man for nearly one hundred and fifty years. But it was no doubt a favorite hunting and fishing ground for the Indians; and many a tale of peace, of the chase and of war could be woven from the imagination, without doing violence to the facts. The portage from the South Branch of the Chicago River to the Des Planes was easy and short, and the canoes of the Indian and of the Indian trader made frequent passages up and down the Des Planes. The next white man who explored this route, of whom we have any certain knowledge, was Gurdon S. Hubbard, now the oldest white settler of Chicago, and who was an Indian trader there, as early as 1824, and who entered the employ of the great American Fur Company much earlier. He, no doubt, and other white men in their employ, used to convey goods along this route and gather up furs in exchange. We have a record of one such trip (the first), made in 1818. Mr. Hubbard is still living, and we think the world might be challenged for another such experience as his. To have seen Chicago, the mere outpost it was, in 1818, and for some years after, and then to have lived to see its morasses transformed into a well-built city of half a million inhabitants! Old Methuselah, in his nine hundred and sixty-nine years, saw nothing like it.
In high water then, as even now occasionally, the Des Planes emptied through Mud Lake a portion of its surplus waters in the Chicago River. Thus the practice of the Indians and of the earliest traders seems to have been prophetic of that great traffic which it was decreed that future years should open up through this beautiful valley, and which, immense as it is, has not yet probably reached its acme. No doubt many now living, if not those who are called old settlers, will yet see the steamers plying busily up and down an enlarged canal and river.
The peace of Paris, in 1763, terminated the rule of France over the Northwest, and it passed into English possession, a fact which was destined to secure to this region another type of civilization and of Christianity. Of course, many of the early explorers, traders and missionaries remained, and of these and their descendants it was estimated that two thousand remained within the limits of our State when (1818) it was admitted into the Union. Now, however, there are only the names of a few localities to remind us that the mercurial Frenchman once exercised the right of eminent domain here. By the Revolution of 1776 and the treaty with England, the country passed into the domain of the United States, and, by the treaty of 1833, at Chicago, with the Pottawatomies, the Indian surrendered his domain, also. In 1835, the Indians to the number of five thousand, were assembled at Chicago, received their annuity, danced their last war dance in Illinois, and took up their march for new hunting grounds on the far Missouri.