The traffic signal, to me, gives pause as I reflect upon the past. Reminded of the history of my family, through the bloodlines of my mother, I am sure we must be rooted to this region as far back in time as America itself.
Julius Surprise is busy serving customers at his neat ice-cream concession and his brother Roy is equally busy managing the Surprise Hardware Store and Garden Center. Their childhood days were spent at this same area and they recall the time in 1928 when their Uncle Glen placed a wooden archway over the entrance of the Surprise Park subdivision, located north of the old William Surprise Homestead.
The sign read: "Indian Reservation," but it was not there for long. Quiet protest from earlier generations caused the sign to be removed.
Problems of the Indians were too real, acutely felt and sorely remembered to be taken lightly.
Glen was proud of his heritage through his Cadi-Mohican grandmother. Her strong Indian countenance, possessed by himself and his many Lake County cousins, could not be denied. But in deference to the feelings of older family members, he removed the sign. (At this same time the big Surprise Park golf course was established, and this deserves a separate feature story.)
It all started back in time, in the year 1608, when a boat-load of Frenchmen, with Champlain as their leader, landed at L'Acadie and set up the very earliest Port Royal Fortress on the island known today as Nova Scotia.
Prior to that era in history the Cadi-Indian tribe of the Mohican regions occupied land reaching from the St. Lawrence River to the eastern coast lines of America and southward to include today's Delaware, a name belonging to another Mohican family in Pre-American times.
These native inhabitants and their coastal island were called L'Acadie by the incoming Frenchmen.
As England and Scotland fought the French, pushing them into Canadian Quebec, the island became Nova Scotia. Those native Indians were exiled into what was later called Louisiana Territory, as well as other regions of the wild westward lands of the United States. These people were to become known as "Cajuns," a corrupt word derived from the combined Cadi- Injun mixture of blood when the French married Indians in the early years of 1650.
The original Indian word "Cadi" meant "abounding in life's provisions," and it originated in the lands of the Mohicans.
Enough Frenchmen had been getting off the boat for over fifty years to accumulate a population strong enough to establish a government of Canada by 1663. To offset the need for women in this pioneering region of explorers, fur traders and woodsmen, the government of France sent over a boat load of girls, some who were called the "daughters of the King." These were poor good girls raised in France, in an institution subsidized by the King. They were sent to Canada, there to wed some deserving colonist. This procedure was handled by church authorities adhering to strong Christian principles to build strong French family life in the earliest villages of Three Rivers and Quebec.
In 1675 word was reaching established French colonies of a man named Cavalier de LaSalle, who intended to voyage into the western Great Lake regions. By 1679 the discovery of Lake County and the Kankakee regions had been accomplished.
And Then Came Surprenant
In the year of 1675, on the coast of L'Acadie, Jacques Surprenant (1650- 1710) was stepping off a French sailing ship. He had left his parents Jacques and Louise Boquet Surprenant in Perche, France, where they lived their entire lifetime. Perche was a town on the Normandy Coast whose people were called "Percherons." (This area is known also for world famous Percheron horses.)
Jacques Surprenant met and married Jeanne Denote in 1678 at LaPrairie P.Q.
In 1667 she had, at Quebec, married a Spaniard named Andre Robidou and had become the mother of six children, when she was widowed. She then married Jacques Surprenant and they had four sons and four daughters. A son Laurent (1685-1752) married Jeanne Beauvais, and they had two sons and eleven daughters. Their second son Jean Baptiste (1725-?) married Mary Anne Perras in 1749, and they had six boys and six girls.
This family of Jean Baptiste gave impetus to the name Surprenant and from here these children caused descendents to filter into the regions from Quebec, Montreal, LaPrairie, Iberville, St. Jeans to Henryville of the Lake Champlain regions.
With the changing years ahead there came variations of the original French family name of Surprenant. By 1700 it was listed in marriage records as Surprenant, Supernon, San Soucy and St. Louis.
Sr. Peter Surprenant (1760-1837), one of the six sons of Jean Baptiste and Mary Anne Perras Surprenant, married Lacouse Salebacas and they had one son Peter, born to them in 1794.
At the age of 22 this young Frenchman of pioneer American lineage met and married LaRose Taylor, whose blood lines show that her mother was a full blood Acadi Indian of the Mohican region now called Nova Scotia.
Peter was of the Catholic faith and LaRose was outside the church. In 1816 the young couple slipped over the New York line to Cooperville to be married by civil authorities, thus avoiding the strict requirements of his church.
They lived for a few years in St. Jeans, and for five years they farmed land at Chester town. Peter's many Surprenant cousins were living at the same time in the Henryville and LaPrairie region. Peter and LaRose suffered extreme misfortune when through illness they lost their first born children and then their home burned, destroying all of their worldly goods.
In 1832 little Henry was born. Peter traded his land for a stock of boots and shoes and some money. Leaving the area, he followed a party of French relatives and neighbors, and they started their trek to a place called the Kankakee Valley in lower Lake County.
The Kankakee Region
From the year LaSalle discovered the Kankakee River region until the year 1800 the only white people visiting the valley were hunters, trappers and fur traders. They dealt with the Potawattomi (Algonquin) Indians who were very hospitable and permitted the whites to go about as they pleased.
Then by Oct. 2, 1832, the Kankakee Valley territory was open for public entry and it was at that time that the French families came in rapid succession.
In 1834 Peter and his relatives, also trappers and fur traders, found the wild prairie and its acres of marshlands inhabited by buffalo, deer, beaver, fox, wolf and muskrats as well as other fur bearing animals.
For food they hunted prairie chicken, quail, grouse and pheasants in the uplands. The marshlands at that time reached into the regions of south Lake County as far as what we know today as Route 2 and Lowell.
In the spring of 1835 Peter and LaRose Surprenant brought their infant Henry, wrapped in a coarse woven blanket, to live in a log cabin built in a thick wooded area located southeast of Cedar Lake where now we speak of the Lake Dale Carlia settlement. It was earlier known as Pleasant Grove.
As a squatter on the Indiana and Lake County 200 acres government claim, he separated his family from the regions of his relatives who had settled at St. George, Momence and southward. He then was known by the revised name of Surprise.
And again their cabin burned! So, like the testy, bold pioneer family they were, undaunted, they built again.
This early American combined French and Indian family who had come a long way would not turn back now. They had withstood the hardship of a long voyage and came into Chicago, the port of entry from Canada via the Great Lakes. From Chicago they proceeded south over trails and traces, some over the Vincennes Trail, though most of their party of migrants came through Bourbonnair by way of Blue Island over that Portage trail.
These trails and traces in the Kankakee Valley, in most cases were paths made by the deer and buffalo in their search for better feeding grounds or water. The Indians used these paths, and later white man, both profiting by the instinct of wild animals. The trip was long and the toll was heavy. Much sickness and hunger was experienced.
Before Peter and LaRose came northward they attended the funeral of an uncle Emilian Surprenant. He was buried at St. George in 1834, this recorded as a first burial on the family's arrival. (In 1960 Amidie and Roselda Surprenant passed away and they were buried atop the grave of Emilian, their early ancestor.)
After the second fire there was no time to lose at Pleasant Grove in the Surprise bailiwick. Another child was on the way and the family needed shelter. Another log home replaced the first, and it was here that the rest of their fourteen children were born.
Their home was patterned after the homes left behind in St. Jean's Province of Canada. All of the furniture was hand made to fit spaces in the rooms. The table for all purposes was long with a bench on each side for the children and a wooden rocking cradle was in a corner. The rooms were lighted with hand made candles and light came through openings covered with greased or oiled paper. Crude ladders served as a stairway to the loft above, where the older children slept. The Surprise family eventually numbered eight children, six having been lost in infancy.
America owes its progress in primitive years to the strength of its women, and the womenfolk of the Surprise family are deserving this acclaim.
Mid-wives delivered babies and all sickness was administered to by friendly neighbors who cured with herbal potions, superstition, love and kindness.
In the small cabin quarters there was always another quilt on the frame or a braided rug near completion.
Great Grandpa Peter and Great Grandmother LaRose knew the rigors of an Indiana winter. The wind howled through the chinks in the log walls and snow filtered in on the patched coverlet on the rickety beds. Sometimes food was limited to side meat and beans in the winter, side meat and greens in the spring, and the eternal fear of consumption hovered over until the summer sun came round again.
The material things as we know them today were mostly unknown, so this poverty of material things was not a poverty of the soul, so these strong people persevered.
Clothing for these early families had to be home spun, and Peter Surprise was skilled at making shoes. In fact, he became a boot and shoe merchant along with his many other means of making a livelihood.
He was a charcoal runner, bedding the huge burning logs into a pit located deep into the woods. The exact location of his primitive enterprise was across from the old Henry Surprise farm house about 2 miles north of Route 2 on the Holtz road as we know it today. This woods was full of hickory trees and was always a favorite place to gather a winter store of nuts when autumn came.
Land had to be cleared, farmed and gardened to support the fast growing Surprise family. The sharp-eyed, black-tressed, tall, thin Indian maiden who became Mrs. Peter Surprise fit well into her role as a wife and mother. Her natural ways allowed her children easy identification with the peaceful Indian neighbors who lived in the Cedar Lake-Lowell regions and Pleasant Grove, known later as the Jones School area.
Sometimes problems came up in dealing as neighbors with the Indians. The Surprise family raised hogs. They made tall forts to contain the animals, protecting them from the hunters in the woods. The fences were made by cutting 15 foot saplings for sides. The height was necessary to keep the hogs in and the Indians out.
The family ate fresh game daily, but in winter they often had to be content with a lot of "lard salet" and home baked bread. Baking was done in the French way with built up ovens in the house and some was done with baking ovens outside. This manner of baking was done in a similar way in Quebec. A batch of ten to fifteen loaves of bread were baked at one time in these ovens.
For fruit they picked wild plums and cherries, grapes, elderberries, blueberries, raspberries, black and huckleberries. Before containers were used as a means of storing winter foods, wild fruits had to be dried for winter use.
One by one the sturdy Surprise children grew up and came to know as friends their Indian neighbors. There were no schools but the children of these families learned from their parents and from their natural surroundings as they toiled in the fields or romped in the Pleasant Groves. They learned to trap, hunt, and fish. They fished often in the waters of Cedar Creek and along the shores of the big blue sheet of water called the Lake of the Red Cedars by the native red man of the vicinity.
It was but a few years after settling that Peter Surprise had to apply for naturalization papers in the newly set up county seat at Crown Point. He became a citizen in 1837.
The Indians were being moved westward to Kansas. Peter and his native American wife could stay as long as they lived quietly, so for years the Surprise family kept their Indian heritage suppressed.
The famous Potawattomi half-breed Indian Chief Chee-chee-bing-way met with his tribe in Chicago. They signed a pact with the government that started their movement to the west of the Mississippi river.
Indian neighbors at southern Cedar Lake were packing covered wagons to go westward. Harvey Surprise, a boy about 10 years old, helped them load up their belongings. Sadness, the weeping of men, women and children, and a deep feeling of loss came over the Indian families who had to leave forever their homes, their region and most of all the graves of their forebears.
Night came, in that year of about 1846, and the covered wagons lumbered quietly away into the western darkness.
By morning one boy was missing in the Surprise household. Harvey had gone westward to help shoulder the burdens of his friends with whom he had identified so closely in the woods and fields of Pleasant Grove, Indiana.
News from Cousin Rebecca
In the passing of 1855 Mose and Rebecca Surprenant Gervais left Canada with a movement of French friends and relatives to join the pioneer families who had previously settled along the marsh regions of the Kankakee River of St. George and Momence, Ill.
They were married but a year and Rebecca (1829-1898) was expecting their first child. Members of their party aboard ship included brothers Mose and Isaac Gervais and their father Bartholomew. On board also was all of their chattel which included horses, cows, covered wagons, home and farm supplies. Many family members of all ages including children were aboard this heavily laden boat. They had started at Henryville P.Q., went through the portage at Niagara Falls, enroute to Chicago, Ill., via the Great Lakes.
A storm came up on Lake Erie lasting 3 days and 3 nights, causing the old gentleman much difficulty and fatigue as he cared for his horses and cattle. The two sons of Bartholomew persuaded him to get some sleep, promising to look after the animals.
In his slumber the father had a nightmare. He walked on the deck and was washed overboard. The sons Mose and Isaac recovered his body and stopped along the Ohio shoreline to bury it somewhere at a port no one seems to remember.
When the traveling French pioneers came into and located their settlement at L'Erable, Illinois, it was none too soon. Rebecca's time had come. Baby Lucian was born on that chilly day of 11 October in 1855. It had taken them eight months to make the rugged journey to these new lands that were being homesteaded along the Kankakee. Many Surprenant families had already come to that region as early as 1834 and the ensuing years between 1835 and 1865 were challenging beyond belief.
Rebecca re-lived those years in memory again on her son Lucian's wedding day on August 4, 1878, when in Momence, Illinois, he married Ida Comtois. Rebecca learned that her daughter-in-law was born in a covered wagon on the banks of the Fox River on July 13, 1862.
(Rebecca Surprenant Gervais was buried in the St. George, Ill., cemetery in 1898, at age 69.)
This news coming from relatives had a familiar ring when heard by the Surprise family who were cousins of Rebecca and Mose Gervais.
At Pleasant Grove, north of the Kankakee River, in the year ahead the Potawattomi Indians had returned periodically to visit the region. Their trail could be followed, plainly seen from north to south along, the "ridge" through the woods that was then owned by Oliver Surprise.
As the Surprise children became adults they had communications with their brother Harvey and their old neighbors in Buffalo, Kansas.
When daughter Lovina Surprise married she became Mrs. Cohoe of Buffalo, Kansas, thus joining her old acquaintances of these Pleasant Grove and Cedar Lake regions who had been removed from northern Indiana. In resigned, quiet dignity LaRose watched her children solve their social problems by joining their kind and was unmoved when her third child followed the path of the Potawattomi westward.
Daughter Elizabeth married one of the Hardinsons of eastern Cedar Lake, and they too went to live in Oklahoma Territory, another Indian exile.
Lovina and Alvina Surprise were twins. On our research of old family records we find many twins. At fifteen years of age Alvina (1842-1926) Surprise married William Wheeler (1816-1890), a veterinarian from England. He had come through Canada and migrated with the French into the marsh regions of the Kankakee Valley at Momence. Alvina and William Wheeler homesteaded land from the government (now known as the Metz farm, southwest of Creston on 173 Ave. in 1974).
They built a log home and here their eleven children were born. They were replacing the log home in 1890 with a more modern home when the father of this family passed away. This little widow stayed on in the home, caring for her brood and lonely in her new, but fatherless, home. She and her twin sister lived to be the oldest known living twins in the United States by 1926. My memory of this grandmother of mine is her "cookie-jar."
Armenia Surprise (1848-1901) married a neighbor, John Rosenbaur (1844- 1931), and they spent their married years at southern Cedar Lake shores. As citizens of the 1882 established village of Paisley, they raised three sons and two daughters. In 1974 Rosenbaur descendents still live in the area where John and Armenia settled in 1870. (They are buried in the Creston Cemetery.)
Oliver Surprise (1839-1931) farmed land and built his home at what is now 5009 Main St., southeast of Lake Dale Carlia. Oliver had married Carlinda Thompson in 1866 and they raised six children. Full of wit and wisdom, this Civil War veteran rode before cheering crowds down the street of Lowell in Labor Day parades long after his marching days were over. He was a grand old man, tall, astute and possessed great strength of character, truly his mother's son. Their children lived prominent lives on Lake County.
Return to Lowell Biographies.