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Indian History and Lore


The Story of Piasata          The Legend of the Piasa Bird


Source: Alton Telegraph, March 28, 1838
(From the Western Pioneer, the History of Illinois)
Marquette and his companion [Joliet] found a river [Mississippi River] much large and deeper than it had been represented by the Indians. Their regular journal was lost on their return to Canada, but from the account of Joliet, they found the natives friendly. They soon reached an Indian village near the mouth of the Illinois, where they were hospitably entertained. Here, they were told of a tradition of the existence and residence of a "Man-e-to," or Spirit, farther down the river, which they could not pass. The legend of the Piasau, and the rude hierogliptrical representations on the precipices above Alton, are connected with Indian tradition. Discouraged with farther progress among unknown tribes along the "Great Waters," the explorers turned their course up the Illinois river, and were highly delighted with this placid stream and the woodlands and prairies through which it flowed. They were hospitably received and kindly treated by the Illinois, a large confederacy of Indians who are represented by the travelers as destitute of the cruelty of ordinary savages.



From the book "Settler's Guide in the United States" by Thomas Spence, Land Surveyor, written in 1862
[Concerning Illinois] "The name of the State is the name of a tribe of red men who once enjoyed its spreading groves and sea-like prairies. They were noted for their hospitality to strangers and their bravery and skill in war. The word Illinois, also in the vernacular of the tribe, signifies 'a proper, full-grown man'; and it is said the tribe of the Illinois were fine specimens of the savage race as regards athletic form and noble bearing."



Source: Jersey County Democrat, November 8, 1867/As printed in the Springfield Republican
William Thompson, a telegraph repairer along the line of the Pacific railroad, has had a novel experience. He has been scalped by the Indians, and yet lives to tell the tale. He lost his hair just before the capture of the train at Plum Creek Station, recently reported, and this is the story he tells to the wondering citizens of Omaha, where he now is: About nine o'clock Tuesday night, myself and five others left Plum Creek Station, and started up the track on a handcar to hunt up where the break in the telegraph was. When we came to where the break proved to be, we saw a lot of the ties piled upon the track, but at the same moment Indians jumped up from the grass all around and fired upon us. We fire two or three shots in return, and then, as the Indians pressed on us, we ran away. An Indian on a pony singled me out and galloped up to me. After coming to within ten feet of me, he fired, the bullet entering my right arm. Seeing me still run, he "clubbed his rifle," and knocked me down. He then took out his knife, stabbed me in the neck, and then making a twirl around his fingers with my hair, he commenced sawing and hacking away at my scalp. Though the pain was awful, and I felt dizzy and sick, I knew enough to keep quiet. After what seemed to be half an hour, he gave me the last finishing cut to the scalp on my temple, and as it still hung a little, he gave it a jerk. I just thought then that I could have screamed my life out. I can't describe it to you. I just felt as if the whole head was taken right off. The Indian then mounted and galloped away, but as he went he dropped my scalp within a few feet of me, which I managed to get and hide. The Indians were thick in the vicinity, or I might then have made my escape. While lying down, I could hear the Indians moving around whispering to each other, and shortly after placing obstructions on the track. After lying down about an hour and a half, I heard the low rumbling of the train as it come tearing along, and I might have been able to flag it off, had I dared.




Source: Alton Telegraph, May 29, 1868

On Saturday morning about eleven o'clock, the branch of the Winnebago tribe of Indians, which has been for some time encamped on the island opposite the city, passed this place, bound up the river. They were stored away in ten large canoes, and numbered some sixty individuals. The canoes were heavily laden, and the progress of the expedition was necessarily slow, as it had to contend with the strong current of the river.



Source: Alton Telegraph, July 30, 1874
Mr. Ed Rodgers (whose extensive farm and fine residence, east of Upper Alton, attracts the attention of passersby) often finds large numbers of Indian relics, especially arrowheads, upon his premises. A portion of the farm lying in the Wood river bottom is very fruitful of antiquities, and Mr. Rodgers there raises quite a crop of relics whenever he plows. The neighborhood of a large spring on the place seems to have been a favorite camping ground of the Indians. Mr. R.'s farm was also an early pioneer battleground, and the ruins of an old fort can still be seen on the brow of the hill, nearly opposite his residence.



Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, April 27, 1901

Mr. D. Lu Roe, foreman of Golike quarries, brought a curious formation which he found in the quarries at Hop Hollow the other day. It is a perfectly formed, and part of a human leg. The heel and ankle show very distinctly, as does the calf of the leg, which appears to have been pulled away from the rest of the leg. There are no toes visible on the foot, which appears to be encased in a moccasin. Mr. Roe says the place where the foot was blasted out is at least 80 feet from the top of the quarry, and 22 feet from the bottom. It must have gotten there ages ago, and goes to show that the science of "pulling a man's leg" is no new one. The foot and leg found are on exhibition at Stiritz's.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, April 9, 1902

Go-Won-Go-Mohawk, the Indian actress who left so favorable an impression here last season, will appear at the Temple Saturday, April 12th, in Lincoln J. Carter's interesting play, "The Flaming Arrow." She is supported by an excellent cast, numbering some forty people, including the Government Indian brass band, and the clever acting horses, Wongy and Buckskin. Seats for this attraction now on sale. A special ladies matinee will be given at 2:30.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, July 23, 1902

The discovery was made Tuesday night by an Alton man who is much interested in the Indian pictures on the bluff at Hull's Hollow, above Hop Hollow, that two of the most distinct antique Indian paintings on the face of the bluff there have been chiseled and carved out of the bluffs, and have been carried away by an Alton collector or curios who has added them to his own private collection, it is supposed. The pictures quarried and carved out of the bluffs represent an owl and an animal which is supposed to be either a dog or a wolf, the meaning of the savage artist being not very plain. The owl was on the face of the cliff, and to get it out the vandals chiseled behind the picture and after making a deep cut, split the piece of stone bearing the painting out of the bluff. The picture of the dog or wolf has been quarried from a stone which had been lying on the ground for ages, where it fell long after the painting was put upon it by the Indian artist. Both stones were carried away. The pictures were taken out of the stone some time within a few days, as the scraps of luncheon eaten by the workmen were still lying around and were fresh. Fresh tracks led up to the ledge high on the bluffs where the paintings were made, and every indication was that the act of vandalism had been perpetrated within a few days before its discovery. The perpetrator of this act may claim that it was done to preserve the paintings, but whether it was done with permission or not the taking of the two best examples of Indian art is certainly inexcusable. Many people have traveled to see these paintings, and all have agreed that the two which were carved from the bluffs were the best and most distinct of all of the redman's paintings. Others remaining are indistinct from weathering and fading processes, and could not have been removed, which probably accounts for the fact that only two paintings were taken.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, January 13, 1903

Henry Hendricks, the well known East Alton farmer, was in the city today with a small box filled with curious specimens of the handiwork of Indians, or more intelligent race preceding even the Indians in the occupancy of this country. Mr. Hendricks made the find, which is one of the most interesting made in years in this locality, while grading on his farm - the old Dan Gillham farm - below East Alton, and they were about six feet below the surface of the earth. There are two copper axes and a copper wedge, all showing skill in manufacture and all showing evidences also of having been used a great deal. There was a large piece of red paint rock, and it is wonderfully full of vitality yet, although it must have lain where found ages upon ages. With its power to color, the piece found is large enough to paint a fairly large town pretty red. Among the articles is a curiously shaped and wonderfully fashioned something, its surface being smooth as glass. A hole is bored clear through it at the thickest part, but what its uses were could not be imagined by those who saw the curios. Mr. Hendricks will have the find investigated further by experts and it is possible that many other articles may be found in the same locality - articles that may serve to throw some light on the problem of nationality or race of the peoples who once populated these valleys and disappeared in some mysterious manner, leaving neither history nor tradition behind them.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, February 21, 1903

For fifty years past the United States government has been trying by every means to enforce upon the Indian the ways of the white man. Most people who are unfamiliar with the copper-colored would consider that by keeping them in schools of modern training from the ages of six to twenty-three or four would be all that was necessary to break the ties that bind them to their native ways. But this is a mistaken idea. The Ponca children [The Ponca are a Native American people of the Dhegihan branch of the Siouan-language group. There are two federally recognized Ponca tribes: the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska and the Ponca Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma. Their traditions and historical accounts suggest they originated as a tribe east of the Mississippi River in the Ohio River valley area and migrated west for game and as a result of Iroquois wars.  Source:  Wikipedia.]  are compelled to attend the agency schools until they are familiar with all the common school branches, then they are sent to the Haskell Indian University located at Lawrence, Kansas, where they remain five and six years or until they complete all the higher branches of the high schools. All of them learn some trade before they are allowed to leave the school. The boys are taught tailoring, bookkeeping, engineering and carpenter work. The girls dressmaking, trimming, music and a number of other trades or professions which qualify them to become self-supporting anywhere they choose to go. This, in addition to the high school training, it would seem, should be all that is necessary to civilize the Indian when he is housed for ten or fifteen years amid cultured people who devote all their time endeavoring to plant in his mind some seeds of modern American doctrines. But strange as it may seem, the battle is hardly begun at this stage. They return to the reservation, where they join their people who live in tepees in winter and under brush sheds in summer. Here, the kettle of stale beef or fat dog is hung over the fire, the pipe passed around, while the old warriors rehearse war stories, denouncing the paleface and his civilized ways. It is only a matter of a short time ere the educated young man or woman lays aside his (or her) tailor-made clothes and polished shoes and dons the blue blankets and beaded moccasins. Not a few Ponca women of today mingles with her tribeswomen, her face concealed by a shawl that covers a head of uncombed hair, while the calico slip that takes the place of a dress hangs in loose folds about a shapeless form; and these same squaws, who refuse to talk English, could gracefully dance their taper fingers over the ivories of a piano, producing strains of music that would make many belles of eastern social circles envious; and the dusky young man who once completed a course in the law school receiving high praise from the government officials when he delivered in polished English an address upon modern training, now fold the long blanket about his stalwart body as he treads stealthily around the wigwam village grunting "no savy."  At this stage, the wayward children become subjects under the protecting wings of the United States Indian agent, who vainly strives to make them become honest and naturalized. These Indians entertain queer ideas about disposing of the dead. The Ponca graveyard is located in a desolate, out of the way place near the Saltfork River, which plows through the reservation. Here for years past, the old war horses have been laid to rest, receiving from their tribesmen a farewell blessing of Godspeed upon their journey to the happy hunting ground. Lumber was issued at the agency for the purpose of building houses, two by seven feet, which represent the tomb. After the house is completed, each member of the tribe is on hand to assist in wrapping the lifeless body of the dead brave in a government blanket, poke it gently into the door of the little house. The key is then turned in the lock and there is one Indian less. The relatives place about the houses old pieces of furniture, pipes, tomahawks and little trinkets that belonged to the departed. Several dishes filled with different kinds of food are set near the door, which is very pleasing to the taste of the fowls and prairie wolves, who pay the sacred place nightly visits. The food is replaced for three days, as they claim that it requires that length of time for the brave to reach the happy hunting ground, and without refreshments he would be unable to make the journey. If it is a woman that dies, the sisters of the tribe run a foot race to see who is to become owner of the belongings. When a buck gives up the ghost, a horse race for a distance of two miles is run, and the first man out takes possession of the dead man's ponies.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, July 20, 1903

The first definite confirmation of the newspaper reports received concerning the shooting of Felix I. Crowe, near Lawton, Oklahoma Territory, was received today by Mr. Albert Howard of Union street [Alton]. His wife gave particulars of the shooting, corroborating the newspaper reports. The report that Mr. Crowe had refused to permit the Indian who shot him to ride is an error. While on the way to Fort Sill with hay, the Indian, who was intoxicated, asked for a ride, which Mr. Crowe granted. When darkness overtook them, Mr. Crowe unhitched his team for the night. This enraged the Indian, as he wanted to go on to Mt. Scott that evening.  However, he said nothing. Later, when Mr. Crowe had mounted his wagon to get feed for his horses, the Indian fired two shots at him. One, the first shot, entered the head above the right eye, and ranging down, passed through the jaw at the articulation, to lodge in the neck. The other bullet entered behind the ear and passed out through the skull. The first bullet was taken out of the neck. The wounded man returned to consciousness the next afternoon. The Indian escaped and had not been captured up to the last news from there. A letter received this morning by Mrs. G. F. Crowe in this city [Alton] from the daughter of the injured man, states that he is in a very serious condition, that, if he should get well, he will be blind in one eye.


[Note: Felix Crowe, formerly living at Summerfield (Godfrey) in 1893, and was a former Alton store owner on Belle Street, did not die from this shooting. He died in 1934 in Oklahoma, and is buried in the Alton Oakwood Cemetery.]




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, October 20, 1904

John Shaw of this city [Alton], recently found an Indian tomahawk while walking along the bluffs between Lockhaven and Elsah. The tomahawk is made of iron, with a hole neatly driven through the head for a handle. The edge of the tomahawk on one side is corroded with a smooth black rust, and is supposed to have been lost by its owner while the blood of the victim was still upon it. The tomahawk was made in France and sold to the Indians by French traders. Tomahawks usually were made of flint, to which handles were attached by binding with some tough, strong skin. This old tomahawk, if it could talk, might unfold many tales of horror, and when one handles it, it is with a shudder of horror as he contemplates the use it was put to.



Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, November 17, 1911
104 years ago

Joe E. Noll's cigar store in east Second Street [Broadway] has been converted into a sort of Indian reservation and exhibition emporium, and many people are calling to look at and admire and wonder about the collection of Indian articles displayed there. The exhibit belongs to W. A. Hoppe, formerly of this city, who is back from Wyoming on a visit, and is valued at $75 actual cash paid therefore. It is not for sale, however, at any price, but anyone who cares to do so is welcome to call and examine.

That there are dudes among the 'Noble Redmen' is attested by the belt and vest of one on exhibition. The vest is of heavy black broadcloth, and is embellished with elaborately worked beaded flowers on the front, as well as the back. Two stars made of vari-colored beads adorn the back of the vest also. Beads of many colors have been stitched into the belt, and make it very attractive looking. The vest cost $25.

The war bonnet of Crazy Moon, a noted Arapahoe Indian chief, was purchased by Mr. Hoppe last Labor day celebration at Lander's, Wyoming, and cost him $35. The feathers in the bonnet, and the long piece of cloth hanging from the headpiece, were taken from wild turkeys and make the bonnet look rather fierce.

There are famous Indian Medicine Stones and Medicine bags among the exhibits, and many strings of beads, moccasins, pipes and other articles, each of which has an interest of its own. Mr. Hoppe also has placed nuggets of silver and gold in the exhibit, and samples of wheat and oats grown in Wyoming indicate that agriculture there must be a paying calling. Many thousands of little beads were used in adorning the various articles exhibited, and the wonder is where do the Indians get all their beads?


Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, May 27, 1921
A business transaction was closed in Alton this week through William Waters of Godfrey, for the Missouri Historical Society, through which the 4 paintings that were carved from the rocks in the Levis Bluff, at Physical Culture farm site, by George Dickson in 1905, passed into the possession of this society. The four paintings which Mr. Dickson took from the bluff were an owl, a sun circle, a squirrel and a piece showing two birds or some kind of animals in a contest. Back in 1905 the paintings were still in a fair state of preservation, and the late Prof. William McAdams got photographs of them for illustration in his book, Records of Ancient Races. The papers that went with the paintings were none other than proof of their authenticity, this being an affidavit signed by George Dickson and William Turk, the affidavit being attested by Edward G. Merriwether. Although there was some criticism at the time the paintings were taken from the face of the bluff, it is perhaps well that they were, for after a hundred or two years of being on the face of the bluff, and after having perhaps, been repainted by the Indians from time to time, they were fast disappearing because of erosion caused by the large amount of salt peter in the stone at that point. There are still three paintings remaining on the bluff, the largest one of all being a great animal, perhaps a lion, and another an animal about as large as a dog. The outlines of the mountain lion are still to be seen faintly. The specimens of Indian painting which pass from Illinois into Missouri, will be housed in a fire proof building, will be protected from the elements and proper drawings of what they were have been made to give one a good idea of what Indian art was in the days when the Red Man roamed the hills of Alton, with none but himself to dispute his holdings and with no tax collector or war taxes to worry him. It is believed by many students of these paintings that the Piasa Bird was painted with the same pigment paint these other paintings were made of, and whatever it was, was that much better than the paint the white man of today makes that it lasted better than perhaps two hundred years, despite the most adverse conditions.

From the Records of Ancient Races by William McAdams, 1887 [Referred to above]:
"Some three or four miles above the city [Alton], high up beneath the overhanging cliff, which forms a sort of cave shelter, on the smooth face of a thick ledge of rock, is a series of painting, twelve in number. They are painted or rather stained in the rock, with a reddish-brown pigment that seems to defy the tooth of time.  These pictographs are situated on the cliff more than a hundred feet above the river. A protruding ledge, which is easily reached from a hollow in the bluff, leads to the cavernous place in the rock; and while one is safe from rain or storms, he has a splendid view, not only of the Mississippi, which flows a mile in width in majesty below, but of the cultivated bottom lands on the opposite shore and beyond, the turbid waters of the Missouri - one of the most magnificent scenes of this romantic locality.
Half the figures of the group are circles of various kinds, probably each having a different meaning. On the left are two large birds, apparently having a combat, in which the larger bird seems about to be victorious. To the right of the birds is a large circle enclosing a globe, and before which is the representation of the human form, with bowed head and inclined body, as if in the act of offering to the great circle something triangular in shape, not very unlike a basket with a handle, which is held in the hand. Among all the ancient pictographs we have seen, this is the only one where the human form is depicted as if in adoration, perhaps to the sun. Counting from the left, the eighth figure in the group seems to be intended to represent some carnivorous animal with a long tail, which is turned over its back. The next figure in the series is a large bird with extended wings, which seem to come from the base of the neck. This curious winged creature seems to be having a combat with a circle or planet with two horns. This is an interesting figure, because it is repeated in other groups, as we shall show; and is quite evidently intended to represent a contest of flying animals over the possession or destruction of a circle or planet. At some little distance then follows in the series the representation of an owl; the whole ending with a smaller red circle.
On the top of the bluff above these pictographs are a number of ancient mounds, not very large ones. Upon excavating in them we found them to contain human remains, in a tolerable state of preservation. The material, of which the mound was composed, being loess, together with the dry and elevated position, was favorable to resist decay. In burial, the bodies had been laid prone on the ground, with limbs extended. Some ornaments from sea shells, with a few rude bone and stone implements, were all of this nature to be found. Nothing was to be seen that might indicate any connection with the pictographs on the face of the rock below."


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