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Some Things I Remember of Chief Shabbona

by

Laura Allen Bowers of Sycamore, Illinois

written 1908 or before


 

The first thing I knew about Shabbona my father went to his wigwam to buy enough trees of him to build a long house.  He told him who he was.  Then Shabbona introduced himself and family thus:

       "This me Shabbona" (laying his front finger on his breast).

       "This me Pokenquay" (meaning his squaw), and then he pointed to SIBOQUAY as his papoose' The introduction over, my father made known his business, but the old chief thought it beneath his dignity to sell trees to a Shemokaman and would not let him have a single tree.  Consequently he bought the trees of PETER MILLER, and we had a shanty to cover our heads made from them, in which we lived five years.

       Shabbona was generous with the white people and he would bring a quarter of a venison to his neighbors frequently, and once in a great while a wild goose and a duck.  Often he would go house to house and eat with anyone that would ask him.  One Saturday he came to our house and father asked him to sit up to the table and have some breakfast.  He looked around the table and made the remark, "Me no see um, me no eat um."  We had eaten every bit of bread that there was in the house for our breakfast and were going to bake that morning, but that did not help us out for the meal.  he had asked Shabbona to eat, so I frowningly said in a whisper, "We have not a particle of bread in the house."  The keen-eyed old fellow saw the maneuvering and said. Lazy squaw."  He thought I did not want the trouble of getting his breakfast, but father said, "Bake him some pancakes."  So I did and it proved to be the very thing he liked best, and I retained my good name in his opinion, which I have highly valued, being only about sixteen years old.

       The Indians in those days would not work.  They would hunt and the squaws did all of the drudgery, such as cutting the wood and hauling it by hand, and they had to keep the fires in the wigwam, and they cooked the succotash to eat, and the corn and beans were some of their own planting and harvesting the summer before.  The Indians furnished the meat for them.

       They generally had a tame skunk running around for a pet and they would play with them as we play with kittens.  the government gave each of Shabbona's children a pony and they never went on foot anywhere.  They never provided anything for the ponies to eat during the winter, so the ponies had to steal what they ate.  as none of us had barns we had to stack the hay outdoors.  the ponies used to eat nights.  The boys of the neighborhood would catch them and ride them down as far as Somonauk creek, ten miles away.  They would drive all they did not ride and leave them in the woods and would keep about three ponies and then get on their backs and come home.  In about three days Shabbona would come along and ask, "You no see um ponies?"  Then we would innocently ask, "How long have they been gone, Shabbona?" and he would say, "Maybe snee days; Ite know know." But they always managed to find their way back in a few days and then there would be more fun for the boys.

       Shabbona understood the geography of the United States and Canada to perfection.  Just give him a piece of chalk and start him on some stream or lake, say Lake Superior, and he would mark every bit of water and tell you what it was named and what the Indians called it.  In fact, he would make over a whole floor and tell us just where the different bodies of water were located.  One time he told us he was TECUMSHE's aid and saw JOHNSON kill him with a little gun that went "Ping!"  My brother, HARVEY ALLEN, was there when he was telling it and he said, "Why didn't you rush in between them and kill JOHNSON?"  "Oh" said Shabbona, "two big men, let um fight."  Then he shook his sides with silent laughter, as though he always liked the white man best.  He had the faculty of going through gestures in all his talk, which made it doubly interesting to his hearers.

       For a few years the white men came from he east, so many in number and all wanted a few acres of timber to fence their farms and get wood for their fires that Mr. WARHAM GATES, of paw Paw, bought the grove of Shabbona and he persuaded Uncle Sam to sell it at one dollar and a quarter an acre.  Then poor old Shabbona felt as though this grove was no longer his.  He never would live in the log house that Mr. GATES had built for him.  He wanted to go way (his old place is now owned by WILLIAM RUSK) and my brother took them to Chicago in a double wagon and when half-way there they stopped and camped out all night.  They had brought a hog with them and proceeded to kill and dress it Indian fashion.  They built a big fire made from rails which they took from the farmers' fences and killed the hog, and four of the Indians tied it by the legs and tossed it through and through the blase until every bristle was singed off.  They then took out the intestines and old POKENOQUAY took them and run them between her thumb and front finger and they were ready to cook without a particle of water having been on them until they were in the kettle over the fire, and that was all they had for their supper.  They offered my brother some of the stew, but he declined it, for he had brought his own lunch with him.  Then they told him to get some of the meat from the hog, which he did, and after taking off the skin and broiling it on the end of a sharpened stick he took some of the butter off his biscuits and spread it on the meat.  He called it delicious.  You know the Indians never eat salt on any occasion.  When Shabbona and his family came back to their place my father had passed away.  I had married and I had never seen any of the Indians since their return.  I met the old chief just turning in at our back gate.  He was on his pony and sat there like a statute.  I hurried up to him and held out my hand and said, "How do you do, Shabbona?" and he said "Show-in" (which meant No), "me no Shabbona"  "Yes, you are Shabbona," I said.  "I know you."  He still kept his face straight and kept saying "Show-in" for  for five minutes and then he gave in and said I was right.  I asked him to come into the house, where my mother was.  He shook hands with her and said, "Me no see um big Injun."  We told him he was dead, but he would not believe it and wanted to go upstairs to see if we were fooling him, so we gratified him and at last convinced him of the truth.  He seemed to feel bad and kept saying, "Dead, dead."  We had a good visit with him, but he wanted to see my Indian and I told him he had gone east.  Then he laughed and said, "Ite know know maybe, Ite know, me no see um."

       You all know Shabbona was gone from here a few years and then came back, thinking it would be home again, but he didn't like it, for it was so changed.  He felt as though the white man didn't want him any more and he want to Morris, Grundy count, and died.  I do not know any of the dates of his going away or the death of him or his squaw, POKENOQUAY.


       The following is from the Aurora Beacon for September 12, 1908:

       "Sitting upright, with bony hands folded in contentment, as they had died more than one hundred years ago, Pottawattomie Indians were found recently in what appears to have been an Indian burying ground on the C.M.VanDervogan farm, two miles east of St.Charles and about thirty feet south of Ferson creek on a bluff above the water's edge."

       "The discovery was made by CHARLES VanDERVOLGAN, son of Mr. and Mrs. FRANK M. VanDERVOLGAN, of West Second street, St.Charles, and a grandson of the owner of the farm.

Source: Kane County History, by Joslyn & Joslyn, 1908


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