Where our magnificent courthouse now stands, fifty years ago Indian children joyfully played.. At first the Indians were pleased to see the whites, from whom they were able to procure many luxuries. Among these was pork, of which they were very fond, which they called "kokoosh"
But they soon found out that the new people possessed the soil, and in a few years afterward, with much sorrow and many tears they had to leave the graves of their relatives and friends and were sent by the government to new homes in Kansas.
I will relate an incident of my acquaintance with these Indians.
In the winter of 1842, I, with a friend, visited an Indian camp near the banks of the Kankakee River. We struck the moccasin tracks late in the afternoon of a cold, damp, misty day in January, when the snow was about eight inches deep. Following the tracks of the Indian hunters, in their zig-zag meanderings through the Kankakee bottom lands, we at length came to a well-beaten path which soon brought us to the camp, consisting of seven wigwams occupied by several branches of one family. In the midst was a log trading house, and the French trader, who had an Indian wife, kindly offered us the hospitalities of his cabin, which we, tired and hungry, gladly accepted. Conducting us to the entrance he raised a blanket which served as a door and welcomed us inside. Here we found an apartment about nine feet square; a space, three feet wide running through the center from the door was the kitchen and the dinning room. In the center of this was a fire, the smoke passing up through an aperture left for it in the roof; on each side were the "bunks" or the sleeping compartments, but nicely partitioned off from the kitchen by a pole lying flat on the ground. The bunks were made comfortable, first there was a laying of willows and fine brush, then dried grass and leaves over which was spread an abundance of Indian blankets etc., looking exceedingly inviting to us tired hunters.
The trader could talk English and informed us that we were to occupy the left-hand side. The evening was dark and foggy, but inside the cabin the fire burned bright and cheerful. The blanket door was suddenly drawn aside and there entered, under a back breaking load of muskrats, a squaw, the trader's wife. She was large, stout and broad-shouldered. Throwing down her load of muskrats and two mink, the fruits of her hard day's toil, she took a seat on the opposite side from us and seemingly oblivious of our presence, began arranging her long black tresses of hair, and commenced a loud and spirited tirade with the Frenchman.
Imposed upon sharp sticks, one end stuck in the ground, leaning over the hot fire, were two muskrats, divested only of their skin and tails. They were roasted brown, dripping with rich gravy. Drawing from his belt a large hunting knife the host caught up one of those well-cooked morsels and began peeling off and eating with a greediness and hearty relish of a half-starved wolf. The novelty of the situation and the barking of the dogs kept me awake to a late hour, and the next morning when I opened my eyes, it was broad daylight. Our kind hostess was up and dressed and busily engaged in preparing breakfast. This she did, no doubt, in the best manner she knew. We had the choice venison fried in coon's grease and such a short cake [that] would make any man's mouth water. It was made of flour and raccoon's oil mixed to the proper consistency and baked in a "bake-kettle." When the cake was done it looked rich and good, the grease stood on top; but the coon's oil I could never stand. I had formed a great dislike even to smell it. It was a common practice at this time among the settlers to use coon oil for lights and I could smell it as soon as I entered the house.
After breakfast several Indians came into the cabin, bringing books that were printed in the Potowatomi language. They were all religious books, some hymn books out of which they sang; all going to show that they claimed and desired to be looked upon as Christians.
Like the autumn leaves, the pioneers were silently dropping away. A few more years and none will be left who saw these prairies in their natural beauty. The privations and hardships of the pioneers will be forgotten or will appear in books like those of romance.
"The Old Homestead," a clapboard home built by pioneer Clark on South Court Street near the Square in Crown Point in 1847, is now undergoing a complete restoration project by the City and the Old Homestead Preservation Society. It will soon be open to the public for tours.
The Clark family has been featured in several Pioneer History columns available at the Lowell Public Library web site.
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