Thursday, December 1, 2016

Fort de Crévecoeur and Fort Pimiteoui in the Illinois Country.

On January 5, 1680, eight canoes passed through the Narrows of the Illinois River above Peoria and came upon the Peoria Indians camped on both sides of the Pimiteoui Lake. With René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (Sieur de La Salle being a title only)  canoe on the right and Henri de Tonti on the left, eight canoes in total formed a line to cover the width of the river, signaling the Indians that they came in peace. The Indians were frightened at first, but, upon realizing that the white men meant no harm, welcomed them with a feast of bear meat, buffalo fat, and porridge. 
Antique French map of North America in 1681 by Claude Bernou, showing Fort de Crevecoeur location. Click for a jumbo sized map.
Fort Crevecoeur (broken-heart) was the first public building erected by white men within the boundaries of the modern state of Illinois and the first fort built in the West by the French. It was founded on the east bank of the Illinois River, in the Illinois Country near the present site of Creve Coeur, a suburb of Peoria, Illinois, in January 1680. It was destroyed on April 16th of that same year by members of La Salle's expedition, who were fearful of being attacked by the Iroquois as the Beaver Wars extended into the area.
Fort de Crévecoeur
La Salle paid the Indians for the corn taken from their village by what is now Starved Rock, Illinois, presented the chiefs with gifts of axes and tobacco, and smoked the calumet pipe. The Indians rubbed the bare feet of the priests with bear's grease to stimulate their fatigued muscles.
Map of Fort de Crévecoeur in 1680
That night, the Peoria Indians were visited by Monsoela, chief of the Maskouten nation, who, accompanied by a party of Miami Indians and their enemies, the Iroquois. Frightened by the sudden change in attitude on the part of the Peoria Indians, six of La Salles' men deserted the camp the following day.

Fort de Crévecoeur
This fort is known variously as Fort Saint Louis II, Fort Saint Louis du Pimiteoui, Fort Pimiteoui, and Old Fort Peoria (Pimiteoui, was the name of what is today's Peoria Lake).

On April 15, 1680, Tonti left Fort Crévecoeur with Father Ribourde and two other men to begin fortification of what is today called Starved Rock; Fort Saint Louis du Rocher. The following day, the remaining seven men at Fort Crévecoeur pillaged the fort of all ammunition and provisions, set it ablaze destroying it, and fled back to Canada.

In order to reassure the Indians, La Salle agreed to help defend them against the Iroquois. The Illinois River had frozen over during the night, but as soon as the river began to thaw, LaSalle and his men began the building of Fort Crévecoeur one league downstream and across the river from the Pimiteoui Village.

According to La Salles' journals, translated by Pierre Margry;
"On January 15, toward evening a great thaw, which opportunely occurred, rendered the river free from ice from Pimiteoui as far as there (the place destined for the fort). It was a little hillock about 540 feet from the bank of the river; up to the foot of the hillock the river expanded every time that there fell a heavy rain.
Two wide and deep ravines shut in two other sides and one-half of the fourth, which I caused to be closed completely by a ditch joining the two ravines. I caused the outer edge of the ravines to be bordered with good chevaux-de-frise (a series of heavy timbers placed in a line, interlaced with other diagonal timbers which were often tipped w/ iron spikes), the slopes of the hillock to be cut down all around, and with the earth thus excavated I caused to be built on the top of a parapet capable of covering a man, the whole covered from the foot of the hillock to the top of the parapet with long madriers (beams), the lower ends of which were in the groove between great pieces of wood which extended all around the foot of the elevation; and I caused the top of these madriers to be fastened by other long cross-beams held in place by mortise and tenon with other pieces of wood that projected through the parapet.
In front of this work I caused to be planted, everywhere, some pointed stakes twenty-five feet in height, one foot in diameter, driven three feet in the ground, pegged to the cross-beams that fastened the top of the madriers and provided with a fraise at the top 2½ feet long to prevent surprise. I did not change the shape of this plateau which, though irregular, was sufficiently well flanked against the savages[1]. I caused two lodgments[2] to be built for my men in two of the flanking angles in order that they be ready in case of attack; the middle was made of large pieces of musket-proof timber; in the third angle the forge, made of the same material, was placed along the curtain which faced the wood. The lodging of the recollects was in the fourth angle, and I had my tent and that of the sieur de[3] Tonti stationed in the center of the place."
Fort St Louis du Pimiteoui 
Reestablishing a more lasting presence, Fort St Louis du Pimiteoui was established nearby in 1691, a center of trade during the colonial period. Henri de Tonti was a primary founder of both the Crevecoeur and Pimiteoui posts.
Fort Pimiteoui (Old Peoria) circa 1702
Two of the men who had been at the fort joined Tonti at Starved Rock and told him of the fort's destruction. Tonti sent messengers to La Salle in Canada to tell him what had happened and returned to Fort Crévecoeur to collect those tools that had not been destroyed and take them to the Kaskaskia Village at Starved Rock.

On the tenth of September 1680, six hundred Iroquois warriors, armed with guns, came upon the Kaskaskia village. Both the Iroquois and the Illinois Indians accused Tonti of treachery. He tried to mediate their differences and detain the Iroquois until the old people, women, and children could flee the village. Tonti was wounded by an Iroquois who stabbed him with a knife. The Kaskaskia village was burned and the Iroquois built a fort on the site. Tonti, with his companions, fled for Green Bay.

Fort Crévecoeur By Arthur Lagron, Civil Engineer and Ex-Officer of the French Genie Militaire. (This article was published in the early 1900s and in a Historical Journal housed at the Peoria Library. Transcribed by Kim Torp) 

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

[1] "SAVAGE" is a word defined in U.S. dictionaries as a Noun, Verb, Adjective, and Adverb. Definitions include:
  • a person belonging to a primitive society
  • malicious, lacking complex or advanced culture
  • a brutal person
  • a rude, boorish or unmannerly person
  • to attack or treat brutally
  • lacking the restraints normal to civilized human beings
Unlink the term "RED MEN," dictionaries like Merriam-Webster define this term, its one-and-only definition, as a Noun meaning: AMERICAN INDIAN (historically dated, offensive today).

The term Red Men is used often in historical books, biographies, letters, and articles written in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.

I change this derogatory term to "INDIANS" to keep with the terminology of the time period I'm writing about.

[2] Lodgments: A place in which a person or thing is located, deposited, or lodged.

[3] Sieur de: {French}; French nobility.

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