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Free Press Newspapers | Wilmington, IL

home : columnists : time was August 28, 2014

1/22/2013 9:55:00 AM
He who burned coal, the first coal miner
AFTER FIGHTING General “Mad Anthony” Wayne’s soldiers at Fallen Timers during the war of 1812, Shabona vowed never to lead his braves into certain death by fighting against overwhelming odds on the white man’s side. He remained true to his word, and when his friend and the Sauk Fox chief Black Hawk decided to go war against the whites in 1832, Shabona refused to join him. Instead, Shabona warned the whites of the pending uprising. Many heeded the warning and left the area. When the Native Americans were relocated to Iowa, only Shabona was allowed to remain, on 10 acres of land near Morris that his white neighbors purchased for him.
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AFTER FIGHTING General “Mad Anthony” Wayne’s soldiers at Fallen Timers during the war of 1812, Shabona vowed never to lead his braves into certain death by fighting against overwhelming odds on the white man’s side. He remained true to his word, and when his friend and the Sauk Fox chief Black Hawk decided to go war against the whites in 1832, Shabona refused to join him. Instead, Shabona warned the whites of the pending uprising. Many heeded the warning and left the area. When the Native Americans were relocated to Iowa, only Shabona was allowed to remain, on 10 acres of land near Morris that his white neighbors purchased for him.
GURDON HUBBARD, who worked as a fur trader on the Illinois River in 1818, was considered a lifelong friend of Shabona. He described the s war chief in his diary: “He was fully six feet in height, finely proportioned, with a countenance expressive of intelligence, firmness and kindness.”
+ click to enlarge
GURDON HUBBARD, who worked as a fur trader on the Illinois River in 1818, was considered a lifelong friend of Shabona. He described the s war chief in his diary: “He was fully six feet in height, finely proportioned, with a countenance expressive of intelligence, firmness and kindness.”

Sandy Vasko
Columnist


It has been put about in historical circles that coal was first "discovered" on a farm near Braidwood. And after that Braidwood sprung into life. But like all history, that was written by the winners.

Let's set the way back machine to the late 18th century. The area that is now Braidwood was part of a vast prairie populated by various tribes of Native Americans. No white man lived there. But white men in the form of French fur traders did visit, bringing trade goods like needles, beads, metal cooking pots, bright calico cloth and liquor. They were welcomed cautiously.

Around the time our country was springing to life in the East, a man named Shabona was born to an Ottawa tribe somewhere near the Kankakee River. His name would be spelled many ways. The French called him Chaubonner, which means "the coal burner." Some Indians called him "the stone burner."

In the book Swift Walker, by Lloyd Wendt, the author says that this was because he was the first man to burn coal in the Illinois Country. That's right. Coal was not really "discovered" in the 1860s, Native Americans knew it was here all along, and knew how to use it.

Shabona excelled at hunting and war sports, and was allowed to paint (a sign of manhood) when he was only 14. By the time he was 18 he wore the single eagle feather of a war chief.

He visited the Pottawatomie village where Chicago is now after a hunting trip and fell in love with and married Wiomex Okono, the daughter of a chief. After, he lived with the Pottawatomie and became their war chief. Because of his wisdom he was also an okama, or judge, traveling to the various tribes to sort out their disputes.

In 1809 he came to the attention of the great chief Tecumseh, who was traveling around trying to unite the tribes under one banner. And then the plan was to eliminate the Americans, who were taking Indian lands at an alarming rate.

Tecumseh, along with 12 of his best and bravest warriors, canoed down the Kankakee to meet this up and coming young man. They immediately felt a great friendship and it was Shabona who led the Indians against General "Mad Anthony" Wayne at Fallen Timbers during the War of 1812. It was Shabona who stood next to Tecumseh when he received the fatal blow.


And it was Shabona who vowed never again to lead his braves into certain death by fighting against the overwhelming odds on the white man's side. He also vowed never to behave in any way as the white man did. He never slept under a roof, and he never learned to write his name. He only made his mark on treaties and letters until the day he died.

In the spring of 1818 Gurdon Hubbard, working as a fur trader on the Illinois River, met Shabona for the first time. In his diary he says, "He was then about 25 and was, I thought, the finest looking man I had ever seen. He was fully six feet in height, finely proportioned, with a countenance expressive of intelligence, firmness and kindness."

Hubbard was asked to be the adopted son of Chief Waba of the Pottawatomie, who was a close friend of Shabona's. Hubbard agreed and Chief Shabona took a flint point to Waba's wrist and then to Hubbard's. By mixing the blood Hubbard became a Pottawatomie and a lifelong friend of Shabona.

Another friend of Shabona's was Black Hawk, the Sauk Fox chief. When Black Hawk decided to go to war against the whites in 1832 he sent his advisor and prophet Neopope to Shabona asking him to join in the uprising.

But Shabona was true to his vow. He would not lead his warriors against overwhelming odds. He told this to Neopope, but Neopope insisted. He said that if they joined they would be "as many as the trees of the forest." Shabona nodded and said, "Yes, but the whites will be as many as the leaves on the trees of the forest. You cannot win."

Shabona went on to warn the whites in the area, all of whom had become his friends. His warning went unheeded in one case in Bureau County, but for the most part, the earliest settlers were saved by Shabona's warning.

By 1836 all of the Native tribes in Illinois were sent to lands in Iowa. Only one legal Indian remained with his wives. That was Shabona. He lived out the rest of his life among the whites, in a wigwam on 10 acres of land near Morris that was purchased for him by his white neighbors. They also built him a cabin, but he refused to live in it. He lived instead in a traditional wigwam.

On July 26, 1859 the Joliet Signal wrote, "He (Shabona) died at his wigwam near Morris, on the evening of the 18th inst. He had been indisposed for several days but on the day before his death had gone fishing, and got a wetting from which he took a severe cold, causing his death in twenty-four hours. He was about ninety years old. Upon his death being announced in Morris, the bells were tolled, and the citizens generally attended his funeral."





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