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History of Chouteau Township, Madison County, Illinois

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser


Chouteau Township (Township 4, Range 9) lies wholly in the American Bottom, and was once covered with heavy timbers of oak, elm walnut, hickory, and ash. Long Lake enters the township in section 4, and extends southward through the territory. In the History of Madison County, 1882, it is stated that it is a theory that Long Lake was once the original bed of the Wood River, and that it emptied its waters into the Mississippi further down.

Chouteau Island
Chouteau Island lies at the southwest, and comprises about 4 sections - one half of which extends into Venice Township. The island was formed by the Chouteau slough, or swamp, on the east, and the Mississippi River on the west. The passage from the mainland to the island was by a dike built across the slough.

The French established a small settlement on Chouteau Island, in Chouteau Township, as early as 1750. This was the first white settlement in Madison County.

Amos Atkins was born in about 1821 on Chouteau Island. When he was a boy, he remembered apple and pear orchards where the trees were so large that they must have been planted many years before. One pear tree was at least a foot and a half in diameter. It was near this orchard that the French settlers buried their dead. When the river flooded and water reached the cemetery, many skeletons were washed from their burial place. The citizens of the island gathered up the remains as best they could, and re-buried them in what was later a corner of Amos Atkins’ pasture in section 19.

The only French name recorded in history that lived on the island was that of La Croix, who later moved to Cahokia, where he died. Many years ago, the island was known as Big Island, but was later called Chouteau, in honor of Pierre Chouteau. It is from this island that the township received its name.

The First Settlements
The first settlement made in Chouteau Township by Americans was by the Gillhams, in about 1802. Thomas, a native of Ireland, immigrated to American prior to the Revolutionary War. He and his sons served during the war for the independence of the Colonies. His family consisted of five sons and two daughters. Thomas, the eldest, was never a citizen of Illinois, but his sons all moved to this state and settled in the American Bottom. The sons were: Thomas, James, William, John and Isaac.

James, the second son, was born in South Carolina, where he married and then moved to Kentucky. He and his wife had three sons and one daughter. In the summer of 1790, while James Gillham and his son, Isaac, were at work in the field, a band of Kickapoo Indians from Illinois came to their cabin, and took the mother and children captive. Mrs. Gillham was so traumatized, that she could remember nothing of the capture, until her son, Samuel, exclaimed, “Mother, we are all prisoners!” Mrs. Gillham and her children were marched through the wilderness, until they reached the Kickapoo village in Logan County, Illinois. James Gillham, upon discovering his wife and children missing, understood that they were taken captive and still unharmed, as there was no blood about the premises. He sold his farm and placed his son, Isaac, in the family of a friend, and began the long, almost hopeless search. He traveled through the Western frontier, visiting Vincennes, Kaskaskia, and later Fort Washington, Cincinnati, to talk with General St. Clair – then Governor of the Northwest Territory. Here he learned that the Indians were about to go on warpath against the white settlement. The General persuaded James not to venture further into Indian territory alone. Five years passed, and then Mr. Gillham learned from some French traders that the Chief of the Kickapoos had promised to give up all American captives for a ransom. Gillham took two guides with him and proceeded to the Indian village on Salt Creek. He found his family alive and well. The youngest son, Clement, was unable to speak a word of English, nor did he recognize his father. Later, settlers stated Clement always acted, and had more the general appearance of an Indian than that of a white man. The family returned to Kentucky where they lived about two years, but Mr. Gillham couldn’t forget the beautiful prairies of Illinois. In 1797, he and his family moved to Illinois, and located in the American Bottom, not far from Kaskaskia. He remained there until about 1802, when he moved to Chouteau Township. Three children were born after the reunion of the family – James H., David, and Nancy. The family remained in the township and multiplied. By 1824, it was said this family could poll over 500 votes.

Andrew Emert was one of the early settlers. He was born in Pennsylvania, and came to the American Bottom in about 1807. He located on section 33, near the southern boundary of the township. His children were: Elizabeth, Andrew, Sarah, Henry, Polly, and Rose A. He was married twice. From the second marriage, Rachel, Eliza, William, and James were born.

Other early settlers include the Hickles, Bridges, Ribolds, Pettingills, and the Days.

By an act of Congress, one hundred acres of land were given to each militiaman enrolled and serving in the Illinois Territory of August 1, 1790, within the district of Kaskaskia, Chouteau Township. Claimants include: Jean Brugier, Nicholas Jarrott, Charles Hebert (alias Cadien), Baptiste Lecompete, Louis Menard, Joseph Ives, David Waddle, and Alexander Waddle.

The first land entry was made by David Stockton on September 13, 1814. He settled on several acres in section 4. James Gillham entered 75-100 acres in section 1. Samuel Gillham entered 37-100 acres in section 17, on September 17, 1814. John McTaggon entered several acres in section 3 on September 20, 1814. On September 29, 1814, James Gillham entered 160 acres in section 15.

In 1812 the Indians became hostile. They had already murdered one of the settlers, and wounded another near Hunter’s Spring near Alton. This caused great excitement among the settlers, and they erected a blockhouse on section 1 in Chouteau Township. The settlers knew that if there was any sign of Indian hostility, the news was to be spread throughout, and the settlers were to flee to the fort. In later years the blockhouse was used as a school. No sign of the old fort now exists.

The first marriage in Chouteau Township was probably that of James Gillham and Polly Good, in January of 1809. One of the oldest places of interment was in a neighborhood burial ground, located on the property of Samuel Gillham. It was at his home that church services were held in an early day, and his land was also the campground for the militia when they were called to muster.

The First Schools
The first school was taught in the summer of 1813 by Vaitch Clark. The schoolhouse was the little for or blockhouse, located in section 1. The second teacher was M. C. Cox, who taught in the summer of 1814. It seems that there was an interruption of school until the winter of 1817-18, when it was revived again. Mr. Campbell taught in the same old fort for nearly two years.

The First Churches
There were several pioneer preachers who met with their congregation frequently – usually in the homes of the settlers. The earthquake of 1811 caused many to join the church, as many felt the world was about to end.

Near the store of Moses Job the first church was built in about 1840 by the Baptists. It was a small frame building.

This township was so sparsely settled, that Justices of the Peace were unknown. Those having business before a magistrate would take their cases before Samuel Squiers in Nameoki. Those in the Gillham settlement would go to Alton, and those in the northeast of the township would go to Edwardsville.

Among the early physicians were Doctors Tiffin, Claypole, and White.

The first post office was established at “Old Madison,” in 1839. Moses Job was the postmaster. At that time a stage line extended from Galena to St. Louis, and Madison was on the route.

The first mill was built by Mr. Dare, in about 1819 or 1820, and located on section 32. It was propelled by oxen, and a small distillery was connected with it. In about 1837, the property was purchased by Samuel Kinder, who ran it only for a short time.

Moses Job kept the first store at Old Madison in 1839. He also handled the mail for the people in that vicinity.

Mitchell Station
Mitchell Station was laid out by the C. & A. Railroad, and was located in section 33. The history of this small village can be read here.

Salem – Gillham - Wanda
Salem another hamlet, was located in section 1. It received its name from the old Salem Church, just across the line in Wood River Township. The place was subsequently named Gillham, and later, Wanda. The history of this village can be found here.

Bush Corner
Bush Corner is located in section 16, and contained two grocery stores – one kept by Mrs. H. Marsh, and the other by Henry Oldenburg. Saloons were conducted in connection with the stores.


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