Saturday, October 20, 2018

Historical accounts report a slave named Manuel burned to death for witchcraft in Illinois in 1779; Is it true?

As reported throughout history: In the Northwest territorial government’s first execution, a slave named Manuel is burned to death for witchcraft. Manuel is the first and only alleged witch executed in Illinois, and the only man put to death by fire on June 15, 1779.
In fact, it is often alleged that nobody has ever been burned at the stake for being a witch in the United States. But that’s demonstrably not true. At least one man was — and it happened in Kaskaskia, Illinois.

Col. John Todd (Mary Todd Lincoln, President Lincoln's wife, was the great-niece of Col. John Todd.) was the first civil governor of what was then the Northwest territory. According to his record book, a black slave named Manuel, “who made a dishonorable sign at the door of the church,” was arrested for practicing Voodooism. He was sentenced June 13, 1779, by Todd to be chained to a post and burned alive with his ashes scattered. Two days later, Sheriff Richard Winston carried out the ghastly execution.

The true story: Around 1878 Edward G. Mason, the secretary of the Chicago Historical Society at that time, found the record book kept by the county Lieutenant, John Todd, in the year 1779, when Todd came to govern the Northwest territory that had been occupied by George Rogers Clark and his Virginians during the Revolutionary War. In this record book Mason found the copy of a 'warrant for the death of a negro, named Manuel, by burning at the stake, which burning was to take place after consolation to the criminal had been given by the parish priest. The copy of the warrant had been crossed out by drawing lines through it. Please bear this fact in mind, since it should have suggested a correct interpretation

Naturally this warrant aroused the imagination of Mr. Mason, and he began to search for an explanation and discovered that about that time in history there was an outbreak of Voodooism among the Illinois slaves and that two slaves had been put to death. He drew the natural conclusion therefore that Manuel had been burned at the stake for the practice of witchcraft. Basing his interpretation upon Mr. Mason's find, a well-known ex-president, Theodore Roosevelt, who among other occupations has dabbled in history, wrote at some length upon this episode and drew a comparison between eighteenth century Catholic Illinois, where for the practice of witchcraft men were burned at the stake with the sanctions of the parish priest and in accordance with French Catholic law, with a similar episode in the history of Puritan Massachusetts in the seventeenth century. 

Fortunately the full record of the court's proceedings by which Manuel was condemned were also located. The judges in the case, although they were obliged to listen to the superstitious accusations of negro slaves, were careful to determine the fact that Manuel and another negro had been guilty of murder by poisoning their master and mistress, Mr. and Mrs. Nicolle, and that it was for this act the two negroes were condemned to death.

Naturally, it might be supposed as Roosevelt did, that this was French law, but there was another possibility, namely that Virginia law in criminal cases would be used by a Virginian magistrate, such as John Todd, per the law of the land at that time period. The Virginia law in the case of murder of a master by a slave was death by burning at the stake so that in the case of Manuel you see that the condemnation was strictly in accordance with Virginia law and not with French law. 

It certainly was a surprise that another warrant for the death of Manuel, issued at a later hour in that day, but by this later warrant the death penalty was changed from burning at the stake to hanging by the neck.

To summarize: Manuel was not condemned for witchcraft but for murder; he was not condemned to be burned at the stake in accordance with French law, but in accordance with Virginia law; and finally he was not burned at the stake at all, but was hung by the neck.

This is an excellent example of the danger of drawing inferences in regard to historic events without enough research and information. There was one fact which both Mr. Mason and Mr. Roosevelt ignored in their interpretation of the warrant. The copy of the warrant was found in a carefully kept record book, and was crossed out by lines being drawn through it. That fact should have made them suspicious of their own interpretation. Records such as this condemnation to death would not be lightly erased by the keeper of a record book. An historical Sherlock Holmes would not have been misled.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 


Question: How many witches were burned during the infamous trials in Salem, Massachusetts?

Answer: None. Nineteen were hanged, and one, Giles Corey, had heavy stones piled on him to try to force a plea. After two days, he died — a week after his 81st birthday. 

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Hanging of Elizabeth "Betsey" Reed in 1845. Illinois' First Female Serial Killer.


In historical writing and analysis, PRESENTISM is the introduction of present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. I believe presentism is a form of cultural bias, and it creates a distorted understanding of the subject matter. Reading modern notions of morality into the past is committing the error of presentism. I'm well aware that historical accounts are written by people and can be slanted, so I try my hardest to present articles that are fact based and well researched, without interjecting any of my personal opinions.


The commotion coming from inside a dilapidated cabin in the heart of the forest near Lawrenceville, Illinois, on the Embarras River in late December 1824 was loud enough to keep all manner of wildlife at bay. A clay pitcher shattered through a dirty window, and the sound of two people arguing echoed over the ancient mass of pine and fir trees surrounding the crude dwelling.

Elizabeth Fail, a painfully thin, fifteen-year-old girl, flung the door of the cabin open and tried to exit. Her face was swollen and bruised, and her lip was bleeding. She was halfway outside when she was jerked back into the cabin by an unshaven brute of a man with eyes inflamed by whisky. He knocked Elizabeth onto the floor and kicked her hard in the side. She struck a table filled with dishes, food, and a kerosene lamp, and they fell onto the floor as she struggled to crawl to a corner of the shabby, one-room structure. The plates, cups, and lamp broke into pieces when they hit the hard ground and the kerosene spilled out of the busted glass dome. 


The enraged man picked up a Barlow style pocket knife protruding out of a hunk of cooked deer meat lying on the floor and advanced toward Elizabeth. Her eyes were wide with terror. She screamed as he carved the left side of her face with the knife. Blood gushed everywhere. In between stabbings Elizabeth managed to punch him in the throat with all the strength she had. The out of control thug grabbed his throat and dropped the knife. His knees buckled and he gasped for air. Elizabeth quickly made her way to the stone fireplace and snatched up a long, iron rod, the end of which had been lying in the fire and was flaming red hot. She held the piece of metal out in front of her, ready to strike the man should he get on his feet again and come after her. 

Antique Barlow Pocket Knife.
Elizabeth was a fountain of blood as she raced to the door. The injured man caught her leg before she could leave, and she hit him over the head with the iron rod. He let go of her and slowly sank into the floor. Elizabeth anxiously waited for him to come to, but he was unconscious and motionless. She threw the iron rod down next to the table and the spilled kerosene. The heated end ignited the liquid and set the table on fire. Panicked, Elizabeth turned and hurried out the cabin.  

Leaves from low hanging tree limbs smacked Elizabeth’s arms and bleeding face as she ran away from the violent scene. A flash of light and the sound of roaring flames prompted her to stop and look back. The cabin was engulfed by fire. The man Elizabeth left behind staggered out the door of the cabin, brutally burned. She watched in horror as he collapsed, still burning, and died.


Elizabeth "Betsey" Reed
A Daguerreotype (1840s and 1850s)
photograph which came before Tintype photos.
Elizabeth “Betsey” Fail was born in Purgatory Swamp[1], south of Palestine, Illinois, in the fall of 1807. She was the youngest among seven children her parents Abraham and Sarah had, and history records her life as difficult from the moment she entered the world. The Fails were poor farmers. The fertile land near the Wabash River where they lived was stubborn and could only be subdued with vigorous cultivation. Crops were often washed away by flood waters or overtaken by insects. Abraham struggled to keep his family clothed and fed. By the time Elizabeth turned nine her parents decided that anyone in the home unable to strenuously work the fields as needed would have to go. A peddler traveling through Lawrence County in 1815 offered to take Elizabeth with him if the Fails were willing. Sarah agreed but demanded a cast-iron skillet and five pounds of lard in exchange for her daughter. 

The green-eyed, auburn-haired girl scarcely understood what the peddler expected of her when she was traded again to another man at a make-shift camp near the Embarras River. Elizabeth’s new guardian was a gambler who mistreated her. After several years of being abused, she fought back. The physical altercation resulted in the gambler’s death. Elizabeth fled the burning cabin where he lay and hid herself in the woods at various points along the river’s bank. In time the deep cuts on her face healed; a long scar that extended from her left cheekbone to the center of her chin bore witness to the struggles she had endured. 


Elizabeth found employment at a boarding house in Logansport, Indiana, some one hundred and eighty miles from the place she was born. The establishment was a frequent stop for immigrants traveling up and down the Wabash and Eel Rivers that converged near the town. Historians speculate this is where she met her first husband John Stone. The couple was married for ten years. Stone had a series of odd jobs. Elizabeth educated herself in the practice of midwifery and learned how to cure a variety of ailments using herbs and other natural remedies. Quiet and aloof, she kept her pale and scarred face covered with a bonnet and handkerchief style veil. Her conspicuous manner of dress and reserved demeanor made her a mysterious figure to those she came in contact.


It is not known how old Elizabeth was when Stone left her, only that she returned to Lawrence County after he departed. She then met and married Leonard Reed a native of Barren County, Kentucky, who owned a small farm south of Palestine, Illinois. According to the August 18, 1932, edition of the Lawrence County News, Reed was a “thin, frail man with salt and pepper hair, an oversized nose and a perpetual smile.”  Born in 1795, Reed was twelve years older than Elizabeth. In addition to raising wheat and corn he was also a trapper. The pair lived in a rustic cabin and apart from Leonard’s niece, sixteen year old Eveline Deal; few knew much of anything about the Reed’s personal life. It wasn’t until the summer of 1844 that the pair became the focus of attention. (
Some newspaper accounts of the incident state that Eveline Deal was not related to the Reeds but that she was simply a neighbor and friend helping to care for Leonard.)
Elizabeth was peculiar to most in the community. Because she concocted treatments for various sicknesses using items such as bark from trees and bits of the internal parts of animals, and because she kept her face mostly hidden, some believed she was a witch. When Reed was not seen for a long period of time working his land or tending to his traps, it was rumored that Elizabeth had put a hex on him to make him violently ill. Reed was sick, but Eveline told curious neighbors that dark magic was not to blame. She did suspect her aunt was responsible. She claimed that Elizabeth and her uncle had quarreled and that Elizabeth had poisoned him. After Reed languished for three days, a Lawrence County doctor named James Logan was called to the home to examine him.  The doctor determined the man was close to death but could not find a reason for his declining health. He prescribed some medicine for Reed and asked his wife and niece to make sure he took it. Doctor Logan promised to call on his patient again in a few days to monitor his condition. 

Eveline sat beside her uncle on the bed and dabbed beads of sweat off his tortured face with a damp cloth. Elizabeth prepared a pot of sassafras tea and helped her husband drink a cup of the brew. His situation did not improve. He died on August 19, 1844.


Arsenic Powder
According to the Mt. Vernon Register News, Reed’s funeral was well attended. Neighbors expressed their sympathy to his widow. Elizabeth nodded politely but said very little about her husband and his passing. After the ceremony she returned to the cabin alone. She barely had a time to adjust to life without Reed when Eveline made a public accusation that her aunt poisoned her uncle and that she had witnessed the crime. The teenager told law enforcement officials that Elizabeth slipped some white powder into Reed’s tea. Eveline suspected the powder to be arsenic, and she gave police a small piece of butcher paper she said contained the deadly powder. When tested by authorities the paper proved to have contained arsenic. 

Elizabeth looked on in silence as Eveline escorted the sheriff and his deputies into the cabin and walked them through what occurred the night she believed her uncle was given the dose of poison that took his life. She said her aunt kept paper filled with arsenic in the cupboard. After depositing the fatal dose into Reed’s tea, Eveline noticed Elizabeth toss the paper out of the cabin. Eveline’s suspicions were greatly aroused, and she snuck outside after dark and retrieved the paper. The authorities searched the crude home thoroughly and found a similar piece of paper with a small amount of arsenic left inside. 


According to court records, authorities decided to arrest Elizabeth after two county physicians had Reed’s body exhumed, examined, and then determined he had died as a result of chronic arsenic poisoning. In order for physicians to establish that he had been poisoned, they had to convert body tissue and fluids into arsenic gas. It was estimated that Reed was poisoned over the course of a week and died in great agony. The doctor’s report combined with the witness’ statement was enough to take Elizabeth into custody. Further investigation led to the discovery of the location where Elizabeth purchased the arsenic. The druggist at a mercantile in Russellville, a village in Lawrence County, Illinois, remembered selling Elizabeth the poison. He claimed she was in disguise when she came into the store, but authorities believe he mistook her natural state of dress, the low hanging bonnet and kerchief style veil over her face, as a disguise. 


Court records show that all evidence compiled by authorities was presented to a grand jury, and they found that Elizabeth was responsible for Reed’s death. According to their report, “Elizabeth Reed, not having the fear of God before her eyes but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil” had murdered her husband with a mixture of white arsenic and sassafras tea.”  The motivation for the crime was not clear, and Elizabeth did nothing to help the case that was against her. She offered no defense and refused to speak to anyone who asked her questions about her late husband. Public sentiment was not in her favor either. Many of the people in the area saw her as cold-blooded and unfeeling. They didn’t doubt she murdered Reed. 


Elizabeth was held at a jail in Palestine, Illinois. Those who believed the dark, brooding woman was guilty of the crime of murder stood outside the building and demanded that the authorities release Elizabeth to them so they could lynch her. She watched the angry crowd from her cell window, never voicing an objection.


Although she did not display any emotion to the public over her desperate circumstances, she was anxious to escape the ordeal. The proof of that came when she attempted to break out of jail by setting fire to it. The blaze was subdued before it got out of control and Elizabeth could get away. Deputies who had searched the prisoner before placing her in the cell claimed to not know how she started the fire. Supposedly she had nothing in her possession that could set off even a spark. When news that she apparently started a fire from nothing reached Palestine, residents were all the more convinced Elizabeth was a witch. Court records note residents believed Elizabeth was “practicing in the art of the occult and had summoned flames from the pit of hell.”  

People were afraid of Elizabeth, and her attorneys, August French and Usher Linder, did not believe any impartial individuals could be found in Palestine to serve on a jury. They petitioned the court for a change of venue. Before it was granted authorities kept Elizabeth chained to a bed in the sheriff’s cabin. Since she attempted to burn down the jail there was no other place to keep prisoners. 
After more than a nine month wait, Elizabeth was transferred to Lawrenceville. The prosecution and defense teams estimated the hearing would take three days to complete. According to the Mt. Vernon Register News, Judge William Wilson oversaw the case, and the prosecuting attorney was Aaron Shaw. Wilson was a farmer as well as judge from Carmi, Illinois. He was a well-respected chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court and the father of ten children. 

News of Elizabeth’s trial spread throughout Illinois and even reached papers in the New York area. Readers of the article were shocked by the tale of such calculated murder and followed the case closely as it progressed. According to the court records witnesses testifying against Elizabeth were James Logan, the attending physician, Eveline Deal, and the two physicians who examined Reed after his death. Logan was the first to take the stand when the trial started in late April 1845. He told the jury that Reed died of “inflammation of the stomach, induced by some poisonous drug.”  He reported that when he examined Reed the day he passed away that his stomach was in a state of “incipient mortification.”  Although he had no personal knowledge that Elizabeth purchased arsenic from the store in Russellville, he felt certain she did acquire poison from the location.


Eveline Deal’s statement about Elizabeth’s actions leading up to her uncle’s alleged murder proved to be most damning. “I saw Mrs. Reed take a small paper of white powder and she put it in a cup of sassafras tea and she gave it to Mr. L. Reed,” she testified. “That seemed to make him very sick and caused him to vomit immediately…she emptied the powder from the paper. I believe she intended to throw it out of the door but it fell on the doorstep. I took up the paper and looked between two glass tea plates that sat in the cupboard and the same place that I saw her take the powder from and there I found another paper… the same kind of paper… along with pieces of an old book leaf that was considerably smoked. The first opportunity I gave them [the pieces of paper] to authorities.”


Once Eveline left the stand the two physicians that examined Reed after his demise were called to tell what they knew. Both testified that Reed’s death was caused by the internal use of arsenic. Court records do not show that anyone was called to champion Elizabeth. She was not allowed to take the stand because her lawyer felt she might incriminate herself, but she vehemently declared her innocence from the defendant’s table where she sat during the trial. No amount of protesting could sway the opinion of the judge and the all-male jury. On April 29, 1845, Elizabeth was found to be guilty of murder and sentenced to be hanged. Confined to the small jail cell until the date of her hanging on May 23, 1845, Elizabeth decided the wait to be intolerable. In an effort to expedite her death she began eating rocks and pieces of mortar from the cell walls. The desperate actions did not bring about her death; it only caused her to become sick.


Her confession was published in a small pamphlet which was not distributed until after her death. The pamphlets were sold, but not a copy can now be found.

Victims (according to “confession” report):
1. Child No. 1, starved to death.
2. Child No. 2, starved to death.
3. Unknown name adult No. 1, poisoned to death.
4. Unknown name adult No. 2, poisoned to death.
5. Nephew, murdered.
6. August 15, 1844 – Leonard Reed, husband, died

Just after daybreak on May 23, 1845, Elizabeth was led to the gallows located a mile from the courthouse where her trial was held. According to eye witnesses at the scene Elizabeth was transported to the spot she was to be hanged on the back of a wagon. She was dressed in a long, white robe given to her by the local minister and his wife. The garment was reported to have once belonged to one of the members of a religion known as the Millerites. The Millerites, who lived and worshipped in the Lawrenceville area, believed the second coming of Christ was to occur in 1843. They each made white robes for their journey. When the event did not come about on that exact date the group disbanded. The minister who attended to Elizabeth’s spiritual needs during her incarceration felt it was fitting she wear one of the robes to meet her Maker. It was his contention that Elizabeth had “confessed her crimes to him, sought and was granted forgiveness from the creator.”

The Mt. Vernon Register News reported that more than twenty thousand people were on hand to witness the execution. They watched Elizabeth ride to the scene seated on the very coffin in which she was to be buried. It was a bright and balmy morning, and Elizabeth was singing hymns of praise as she was led to the gallows. 


John Seed, a well-known Methodist preacher, delivered a ninety minute sermon to the crowd of on-lookers about the need for their salvation. At the conclusion of the message a noose was placed around Elizabeth’s neck and a black hood was draped over her head. When the executioner activated the lever attached to the trap door, the accused fell through to her death. The Mt. Vernon Register News noted that she “revolved several times, but did not struggle much.”  


After Elizabeth’s passing the community debated over a motive for why she killed her husband. According to the Mt. Vernon Register News, some insisted she was involved with another man and wanted Leonard out of the way so she could live a new life. Some stated that Leonard found out Elizabeth was an outlaw who had murdered a man and burned his remains, and still others maintained it was Leonard that was involved with another, and Elizabeth had caught him in the act. 


Betsey's body was moved to a small cemetery, called Baker, outside of Heathsville. She was buried next to her husband Leonard and they share a headstone. Under Leonard's name, it reads 'death by murder', while under hers, it reads 'death by hanging'.

Elizabeth Reed was the first woman in the United States to be publicly executed and the only woman executed by hanging in Illinois. 

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.



[1] Purgatory Swamp was flooded land between the Wabash and Embarras Rivers. It was difficult and dangerous to pass through at any season of the year. The building of levees to confine the waters of these rivers successuflly drained the prairie land leaving the land with very fertile soil.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Fort LaMotte (1812-1817) and Fort Foot (1813-?), Palestine, Illinois.

FORT LAMOTTE
This area reminded Frenchman John LaMotte of Palestine, the land of milk and honey. While a member of the René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (or: René-Robert de La Salle) exploring party, he became separated from the group, traveled down the Wabash River, and first gazed upon the region in 1678. Other French settlers came during the 18th Century. John's property was known as the LaMotte Prairie.
There were two Fort LaMottes. When the first settlers moved into this area they would have constructed a blockhouse for their safety. There are letters from William Henry Harrison Sr., the future 9th President of the United States, dated 1807, the Governor of the Indian Territory (1801-1812) requiring all settlements to have a small fort or blockhouse constructed.
A typical settlement fort and blockhouse from the turn of the 19th century.
Fort LaMotte recreation - Palestine, Illinois.
The first American settlers arrived on LaMotte Prairie in the Palestine area in 1809. Palestine was chartered in 1811 making it one of the oldest communities in the state of Illinois.

The earliest benchmark we have of a defense on LaMotte Prairie is in the John Tipton papers. Tipton was part of Spire Spencer’s mounted rifle corps known as the Yellow Jackets. They were from Harrison County, Indiana. They protected the west flank of Harrison’s army as it moved from Vincennes up to Tippecanoe and protected the barge that was going up the Wabash River with heavy supplies.

Tipton kept a diary and noted that on Sept. 28, 1811, they crossed LaMotte Creek and saw a blockhouse on the prairie. This was day two of the Tippecanoe campaign. So there was a settlement in the Palestine area at least prior to Sept 28, 1811. The blockhouse was burned on Sept. 21, 1812.

Then, in 1812, the westward moving Americans began constructing Fort LaMotte which was a fort built by Baptists at Palestine, Illinois, for protection from hostile Indians. It was a durable, sturdy stockade enclosing approximately 100 feet x 100 feet with a single blockhouse in one corner, a commander's cabin, two lean-to shelters, and a water well. 

The pioneers farmed the adjoining land but stayed within easy reach of the protective walls. It was the site of the Battle of 'Africa Point'[1] in the War of 1812, one of few battles of the war in the Illinois Territory. During the War of 1812 there were 26 families living in Fort LaMotte, and 90 rangers under the command of frontier officer Captain Pierce Andrews.
Fort LaMotte has been re-created at Palestine in Crawford County.
Settlers families only "Forted" during Indian scares. One of the undesirable "agonies" of the time was moving to and from away from the Fort in responses to succeeding alarms. They also had to move their livestock, pets and personal belongings -- back and forth. The life of settlers on the frontier was one of constant peril and alarm.

Considering frontier conditions, Fort LaMotte occupied a vital position nearby, two common routes of travel. One route was by the Wabash River and the other by an old buffalo trail used by Indians and whites, which had been in existance far back in time. That was "The Vincennes Trace." There was another related trail sometimes called the same name, between Vincennes and the Mississippi but it has possibly been referred to by other names more often. The two trails merged into one at Vincennes, extending with branches again, far into the south. Buffalo crossed the Wabash at about the site of the Clark Memorial Bridge, some of the beasts going west and others taking a fork going north towards salt licks around Danville on the Vermillion River and tempting prairie grasses all along their path to Lake Michigan for the Buffalo. The only reminder of "The Vincennes Trace" is in Chicago where a street on the old path is named "Vincennes Avenue." In this connection a short street in Palestine, called "Vincennes Avenue" may also stand in tribute to the old buffalo road.

The Fort LaMotte was in use through 1817. After the War of 1812 ended in 1815 and the Indian threat diminished, the inhabitants of the fort became the nucleus of Palestine.


The exact location of Fort LaMotte has never been marked, however, the approximate location has been well established. It was on farmland east of Leaverton Street, Palestine's current eastern corporate boundary; and it was a short distance east and slightly south of that end of East LaMotte Street. LaMotte Street must surely have been given its name because it led to Fort LaMotte although no record can be found supporting this speculation.


Platted in 1818 by Joseph Kitchell and Edward Cullom, the settlement served as the Crawford County Seat 
until 1843. The growth of the town lagged until a United States Land Office, opened in 1820 and operated until 1855. Settlers from as far as Chicago came here to file on Homesteads.

Young Abraham Lincoln passing through Palestine in 1839 with his family in emigrant wagons. At Palestine, on the Illinois side of the Wabash, Lincoln remembered seeing a large crowd around the United States Land Office, and a travelling juggler performing sleight-of-hand tricks. The Lincoln family stayed over night, then moved on to Decatur, Illinois.
The Lincolns crossed the Wabash River from Vincennes, Indiana to Palestine on the Illinois side; known as "The Vincennes Trace." Looking west across the Wabash River towards Illinois.
The Land Office continued to give prominence to Palestine. Robert A. Kinzie (the son of John Kinzie) came in 1831 to purchase 102 acres for $127.68, an area which became the nucleus of Chicago. Augustus C. French (1808-1864) served as a Receiver in the Land Office from 1839 to 1843. A native of New Hampshire, he was the first "Yankee" to be elected Governor of Illinois. Chosen in 1846, French was forced to stand for re-election under the new Constitution of 1848 and won.

The railroad came through Palestine in the 1870s bringing increased traffic and trade to the area. The village grew and prospered. In addition to the railroad, Palestine possessed a depot, roundhouse, a busy train yard, a river port and a grain mill.

FORT FOOT

As Fort LaMotte filled with settlers quickly, a second fort was completed in the spring of 1813. The William Eaton family and other pioneer families desiring more room moved a few miles to the Northwest and established the "LaMotte Station," or as written in territorial papers "Fort Lemot," which was constructed on a site at IL-33 (East Main Street) at the west city limits. It's unknown when Fort Lemot became know as Fort Foot.

The family trait of the Eatons was large feet which led to the name of Fort Foot.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.



[1] Battle of Africa Point - On April 18, 1813, during the fortification phase of Fort LaMotte, two barrel coopers Isaac Brimberry and Thomas Kennedy went up 'Africa Point,' a knoll surrounded by swamp on the Wabash River, to procure some wood suitable for making barrels. They came across Indian canoes pulled on the shore of the river. Both Brimberry and Kennedy reported their sightings to the Fort LaMotte commander, Captain Pierce Andrews.


Andrews sent up a squad of skirmishers with the timber party to keep an eye on the Indians. The rangers divided themselves into two groups, a six-man party going in advance while the others stayed back and acted as a reserve. On 'Africa Point' the advance group was ambushed and fired upon by the Kickapoo Indians. During the ensuing battle, the American party retreated suffering 4 dead and the 2 badly wounded who escaped back to the fort. Upon hearing rifle fire, the rear guard fell back to the fort as well. Five Indians were killed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Fort Johnson (1814), and Cantonment Davis (1815-1816), Warsaw, Illinois.

Nestled high upon a bluff within Warsaw, Illinois, and overlooking the former confluence of the Des Moines and Mississippi rivers lies a large residential yard dotted with a few evergreen trees. Hidden within the sod of this tranquil setting are remnants of two American military posts dating to the  War of 1812 period. These military posts are known today as Fort Johnson and Cantonment Davis[1].

There are letters from William Henry Harrison Sr., the future 9th President of the United States, dated 1807, the Governor of the Indian Territory (1801-1812) requiring all settlements to have a small fort or blockhouse constructed.
Established in the late summer–early fall of 1814 to defend what was then the western frontier of the United States against the British and their Indian allies, Fort Johnson was constructed by future president Zachary Taylor under the watchful eye of Sauk leader Black Hawk, who were hiding on a nearby hill. Fort Johnson was a U.S. Army post and stockaded fort about 100 feet square with two timber blockhouses, a stone powder magazine, and several barracks and quarters.

The commander of the fort, James Callaway, was the grandson of Kentucky legend Daniel Boone. Despite its initial association with these historic figures, the fort would last only a matter of weeks before it was destroyed and abandoned by the same soldiers who had labored to build it. Almost exactly one year later, the site hosted the winter encampment of a large contingent of soldiers charged with the establishment of several forts along the upper Mississippi River. This camp, christened "Cantonment Davis," served as the soldiers’ home and base of operations until June of the following year. The location is identified in the May 13, 1816, treaty with the Rock River Sauk as the place where all property “plundered or stolen from the citizens of the United States” by the Sauk since the Treaty of Ghent be returned. 

Little, however, has been written regarding the fort and the cantonment, with the few contemporary accounts—be they civilian, military, British, or  American—even occasionally contradicting one another. A brief background of the two military posts is therefore presented below, which establishes the occupation length of each and estimates the number of military men that may have been present. A history of the then-undiscovered Fort Johnson and Cantonment Davis can also be found in Talbot (1968). The personal letters of Captain Callaway are published by Wesley (1927).

Fort Johnson
In early September 1814, just a week before the British navy bombardment of Fort McHenry that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen “The Star Spangled Banner,” Brevet Major Zachary Taylor led a retreating group of army regulars and militia down the Mississippi River after their defeat at the Battle of Credit Island. Stopping at the confluence of the Des Moines and Mississippi rivers, they established Fort Johnson upon a high bluff overlooking that strategic juncture. 
Upper Mississippi Valley, September 1814, with locations mentioned in the text.
While there is some debate as to the number of soldiers originally with Taylor on his Credit Island expedition and therefore initially present at Fort Johnson, citing the September 3, 1814, edition of The  Missouri Gazette, states that Taylor was accompanied by 430 militia and rangers. The newspaper article actually reads “Eight barges containing about 400 rangers and militia left Capeau Gray on the 22nd.” In October 1814, other newspapers were circulating a similar article, which reported that “the Major’s command consisted of about 400 men, including regulars, rangers, and militia.” Taylor, however, in his September 6, 1814, account of the battle, recorded that the American forces consisted of “334 effective men, officers, non-commissioned officers and privates.” Taylor’s use of the word “effective,” in addition to referencing the number of men available to fight, may also imply that there could have been nonmilitary personnel associated with his Credit Island expedition. In any case, as Taylor should have known the number of men in his command, 334 is believed to be the number of Americans taking part in the Credit Island battle. Of this total, 40 soldiers belonged to the 7th Regiment of Infantry. Taylor, perhaps in an attempt to vindicate himself regarding what would be his only military defeat, later wrote that his force of men was “principally” of the militia. This statement is generally corroborated by Callaway, who wrote his wife that there were “about forty five Regular Troops” at the fort during its construction with members of the militia and rangers comprising the remaining men.

Three Americans were killed during the Credit Island battle and eight were seriously wounded. On September 10, 1814, just five days after the battle, a barge with the sick and wounded arrived back in St. Louis. As such, there would have been approximately 323 soldiers initially present at Fort Johnson. 

In a letter dated September 25, 1814, Captain James Callaway wrote his wife that “we have the fort finished” and that he was ordered to remain at the fort with “fifty of my own men and fifty of Capt Whiteside’s company.” He further writes that “we have not more than ten Days of provisions for the troops” and that if provisions “does not reach this place against the last of this month that the post will be evacuated.” Those provisions never reached “this place,” and in October 1814 Callaway dismantled and burned the fort, abandoning the frontier of west-central Illinois and embarking for Fort Cap au Gris (aka: Cape au Gres or Capo Grey) near Troy, Missouri.

While the exact length of time Fort Johnson was occupied is not recorded, a reasonable estimate can be constructed utilizing three primary sources: (1) Captain Callaway’s letters to his wife; (2) the journal of Captain Thomas Anderson, who was the British commander of Fort McKay in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, during the fall of 1814 ; and (3) an October 20, 1814, letter from 7th Regiment and District Commandant Colonel Wil-liam Russell in St. Louis to Secretary of War James Monroe.

The Battle of Credit Island[2], which was fought near present day Davenport, Iowa, and from which Taylor’s U.S. forces were retreating, occurred by American accounts on 4–5 September 1814 and by British accounts on 5–6 September of that year. Given that both Taylor and Callaway agree on the dates, the American timeline will be followed herein. In a letter dated September 6, Callaway writes his wife “we are on our return from Rock River and at this place we have to build a fort” indicating that the troops had already arrived at the mouth of the Des Moines River where the fort was to be constructed. As mentioned previously, on September 25 he wrote his wife that construction of the fort was finished and included a sketched map of the fort, but went on to note that the fort had only 10 days of provisions left, or enough to last until October 5. After that date, if additional supplies were not obtained, Callaway noted that he believed the fort would have to be abandoned. In the same letter, Callaway continued to express hope that the provisions  would arrive in time, telling his wife “I expect to be Relieved in twenty or twenty five Days,” which would be approximately October 15–20, 1814. Therefore, based on Callaway’s letters, the troops arrived at the proposed location of the new fort on September 6, with construction completed by September 25. Immediately following, Taylor took most of the men and continued on to St. Louis, leaving Callaway in charge at Fort Johnson. Taylor arrived in St. Louis on October 1, which suggests that he left Fort Johnson around September 29th.

While 20 days may seem like an exceptionally quick time to build a fort, this was evidently not unusual for American forts during the War of 1812. Captain Anderson, describing the construction of Fort Johnson in his 1814 journal, relates, “The forts they build are constructed in such a manner, that three or four hundred men knock up one in the course of three weeks.” This suggests that Brevet Major Taylor was likely at Fort Johnson with his 323 men from at least September 6 through September 25 (i.e., the length of time of fort construction stated in Callaway’s letters), plus a few more days. As previously noted, Taylor then took all but 100 of the men and returned to St. Louis, arriving there on Oc-tober 1. The population of the fort over the rest of its short existence (about 18 days) was therefore approximately 100 soldiers, with most, if not all, composed of militia and rangers, as opposed to the regular army.

Callaway does not record the exact date of the fort’s abandonment, but it can be reasonably estimated to within a day or two of that event. In his history of the fort/cantonment, Talbot, appearing to quote directly from Peck (1850), states, “It is reported that in ‘Late October (about the 22nd) of 1814, citizens of St. Louis were astounded to learn that the troops at Fort Johnston [Johnson] had burned the blockhouses, destroyed the works, and retreated down the river to Cap au Gris.’” Peck’s actual sentence, however, reads, “And in the month of October, the people of St. Louis were astounded with the intelligence, that the troops stationed in Fort Johnston, had burnt the block-houses, destroyed the works, and retreated down the river to Cape au Gres.” No mention of a specific abandonment date is listed in Peck’s account, but he was likely referring to the October 22, 1814, edition of The Missouri Gazette, which mentions the arrival of the Fort Johnson troops at Cap au Gris.

Wesley also had earlier championed the October 22 date for the abandonment of Fort Johnson: “The supplies evidently failed to arrive, for the post was evauated and burned about October 22.” While  Wesley also does not cite a source for the October 22 date, he too was likely referring to the October 22, 1814, edition of The Missouri Gazette mentioned above. The Missouri Gazette was a weekly newspaper published on Saturdays, thus October 22 presumably refers to the date of the newspaper’s publication, not the date of the fort’s abandonment.

British Captain Thomas Anderson, writing in his 1814 journal, does provide a somewhat more specific date for the abandonment: “Three Sauk canoes arrived, bearing each a flag. They bring word that the American fort, at the foot of the Riviere des Moines Rapids, was abandoned about the 20th of October. The Americans had burnt the fort, and proceeded to the Illinois.”

An even more precise date of abandonment, however, can be estimated from a letter written from Colonel William Russell on October 20, 1814, to Secretary of War James Monroe: “I have to apprize you, that fort Johnson, resently built by Maj Taylor, up the Mississippia is evacuated, the troops and all the stores, have arrived here on yesterday.” Interestingly, an article relating the abandonment of Fort Johnson was circulating among newspapers in November 1814. Usually titled “Fort Johnson Evacu-ated and Burnt” and dated “St. Louis, October 18,” the article begins “A few days ago the troops who were stationed at the new fort, [Johnson at the foot of the Rapids of Lamoin] arrived at Cape aux Grei, having burnt the Block houses and otherwise destroyed the works,” implying that the troops arrived in St. Louis before October 18, 1814. The “few days ago” likely refers, however, to the period immediately prior to the October 22, 1814, publication of The  Missouri Gazette, where the article originally appeared, and not the October 18 byline published in the November 1814 papers. As the later articles in all likelihood misrepresented the actual return date of the troops, Russell’s October 20 letter will serve as the primary source regarding the date of their return.

While we now know the date of the troops’ arrival at Fort Cap au Gris, which was October 19, we still don’t know the date of their departure from Fort Johnson. This can be estimated by examining the rate of travel of Taylor’s retreat from Credit Island in 1814, as well as a journal kept by noted U.S. Army explorer and engineer Major Stephen Long in 1817.

Taylor’s troops left Credit Island, which is located at River Mile 480, around noon on September 5, following a 6-hour battle that began at day-break. Traveling in keelboats, they stopped at least once about 3 miles south of Credit Island to attend to the wounded and repair the boats. They arrived at the Fort Johnson location, which is located approximately at River Mile 360, sometime on September 6. On the same day, both Taylor and Callaway wrote letters detailing the Credit Island battle. Interestingly, Taylor’s letter to General Benjamin Howard is dated “Fort Madison,” which had been burned late in 1813 or approximately one year before the Credit Island battle, while the locational reference in Callaway’s letter is less specific, other than to note that “at this place” the troops are to build a fort. Whether Taylor stopped briefly at the former location of Fort Madison to write his report or was simply referring to Fort Madison as a point of reference while writing his report from the yet unnamed location of Fort Johnson, is unknown. It should be noted that in his letter to General How-ard Taylor does not mention stopping again after repairing the boats; also Fort Madison is located approximately 22 miles upriver from the site of Fort Johnson. Nevertheless, it is apparent that Taylor’s men traveled approximately 120 miles downriver in slightly more than 24 hours and presumably the retreating soldiers may also have sailed at night.

Fort Cap au Gris is located approximately at River Mile 240, a distance of 120 miles downriver from Fort Johnson. In 1817, Major Stephen Long left Fort Edwards, which is located approximately one-half mile north of Fort Johnson, at 2:00 p.m. on August 11 in a skiff and “Arrived at Little Cape Gris about dark” on August 13. Long stopped sailing for about 5 hours the night of August 12 due to “an unfavorable wind accompanied by rain” and also stopped at “Burr’s Tavern” early in the morning of August 13. Other than these two layovers, Long appears to have continuously sailed for the two days and nights. Considering the rate of travel downriver by both Taylor and Long, Callaway and his men therefore should have easily made the journey downriver from Fort Johnson to Fort Cap au Gris in two days if they also sailed at night, suggesting they left Fort Johnson on October 17.

A reasonable estimate for the construction, occupation, and abandonment of Fort Johnson is therefore from September 6 through October 17, 1814, or a total of only 42 days.

Black Hawk described the founding of the fort and a skirmish in his autobiography:
"A party of braves followed to watch where they landed, but they did not stop until they got below the Des Moines Rapids, where they came ashore and commenced building a fort. I did not want a fort in our country, as we wished to go down to the Two River country in the fall and hunt, it being our choice hunting ground, and we concluded that if this fort was built, it would prevent us from going there. We arrived in the vicinity in the evening, and encamped on a high bluff for the night. We made no fire, for fear of being observed, and our young men kept watch by turns while others slept. I was very tired, and was soon asleep. The Great Spirit, during my slumber, told me to go down the bluff to a creek, that I would there find a hollow tree cut down, and by looking in at the top of it, I would see a large snake with head erect—to observe the direction he was looking, and I would see the enemy close by and unarmed. In the morning I communicated to my braves what the Great Spirit had said to me, took one of them and went down a ravine that led to the creek. I soon came in sight of the place where they were building the fort, which was on a hill at the opposite side of the creek. I saw a great many men. We crawled cautiously on our hands and knees until we got to the bottom land, then through the grass and weeds until we reached the bank of the creek. Here I found a tree that had been cut down; I looked in at the top of it and saw a large snake, with his head raised, looking across the creek. I raised myself cautiously, and discovered nearly opposite to me, two war chiefs walking arm in arm, without guns. They turned and walked back toward the place where the men were working at the fort. In a little while they returned, walking directly towards the spot where we lay concealed, but did not come so near as before. If they had they would have been killed, for each of us had a good rifle. We crossed the creek and crawled to a cluster of bushes. I again raised myself a little to see if they were coming; but they went into the fort, and by this they saved their lives. 
We recrossed the creek and I returned alone, going up the same ravine I came down. My brave went down the creek, and I, on raising the brow of a hill to the left of the one we came down, could plainly see the men at work. I saw a sentinel walking in the bottom near the mouth of the creek. I watched him attentively, to see if he perceived my companion, who had gone toward him. The sentinel stopped for some time and looked toward where my brave was concealed. He walked first one way and then the other. 
I observed my brave creeping towards him, at last he lay still for a while, not even moving the grass, and as the sentinel turned to walk away, my brave fired and he fell. I looked towards the fort, and saw the whites were in great confusion, running wildly in every direction, some down the steep bank toward a boat. My comrade joined me, we returned to the rest of the party and all hurried back to Rock River, where we arrived in safety at our village. I hung up my medicine bag, put away my rifle and spear, feeling as if I should want them no more, as I had no desire to raise other war parties against the whites unless they gave me provocation. Nothing happened worthy of note until spring, except that the fort below the rapids had been abandoned and burned by the Americans."
Cantonment Davis
One year later, in October 1815, Colonel Robert C. Nicholas and eight companies of infantry, totaling approximately 825 men, along with Colonel Stephen Byrd and an unknown number of his mounted militia, established a winter encampment, christened “Cantonment Davis,” amid the ruins of Fort Johnson. The mission was to erect a new, more permanent fort to the north of Fort Johnson’s former location, as well as to establish additional forts along the upper Mississippi River.

While the exact date of their arrival is unknown, Talbot reports that, based on military correspondence of that time, the “forces began moving upstream about the 10th or 12th of October toward their appointed objective” and estimates their arrival to be around October 20, 1815. “A number” of the mounted militia, who were employed to drive cattle up the Mississippi River valley to Cantonment Davis, had arrived at and vacated the cantonment prior to October 29, 1815.

In addition to the personnel garrisoned at Cantonment Davis, the facility also served as a staging area for other troops as they moved upriver to establish other military posts. Brevet Brigadier General Thomas A. Smith and an unknown number of men (“part of his command” of 820 officers and men) arrived at the cantonment in April 1816 on their way to establish forts at Rock Island and Prairie du Chien. Smith and his men arrived at Rock Island on May 10, 1816 to construct Fort Armstrong. Newspapers of that time reported “Gen. Smith with about 1000 regular troops, is erecting a fort on Rock Island.” Smith supervised construction at Rock Island for only a short time, arriving in Prairie du Chien in June 1816 to begin construction of Fort Crawford. 

Cantonment Davis’ primary mission, the construction of what would later be named Fort Edwards, commenced in late spring of 1816, after Smith’s soldiers had continued on up the Mississippi River. The probable beginning construction date of Fort Edwards is June 1816, based on an excerpt from Major Stephen Long’s 1817 journal: “They [the fort works] have been wholly executed by the soldiery stationed there since June, 1816.” As late as August 1817, the construction of Fort Edwards was still not completed.

Based upon the previously cited Stephen Long journal, the remaining Cantonment Davis soldiers likely began living at the site of Fort Edwards in June 1816. Thus, the maximum occupation span for the cantonment is eight months, from the end of October 1815 until sometime in June 1816. The population of the cantonment is more difficult to estimate and fluctuated throughout the life of the camp. From October 1815 until April 1816, however, at least 825 soldiers likely lived there, consisting mainly of regular army troops as opposed to militia. That number may have nearly doubled in April 1816 when additional troops were staged at this location, with some leaving in late April or early May to construct forts Armstrong and Crawford. Others, such as the 100+ men of Major White Young’s company, may have remained until the construction of Fort Edwards began in June 1816.

Summary
Based upon a review of the available archival resources, the following can be deduced for the occupation spans and populations of Fort Johnson and Cantonment Davis:

1) Construction of Fort Johnson occurred from September 6th to 25th of 1814, carried out by approximately 323 members of the militia, rangers, and regular army. 

2) Around September 29, 1814, Major Taylor took approximately 223 soldiers and arrived in St. Louis on October 1, leaving Captain Callaway in charge of 100 members of the militia and rangers.

3) Callaway abandoned and burned Fort Johnson on October 17, 1814, arriving at Fort Cap au Gris on October 19, 1814.

4) Around October 20, 1815, Colonel Nicholas, with approximately 825 members of the infantry and an unreported number of militia, arrived at the deserted Fort Johnson location and established Cantonment Davis.

5) The militia, whose primary mission was to drive a cattle herd to Cantonment Davis to supply food for the winter, left the camp prior to October 29, 1815.

6) Additional troops under the command of General Smith arrived at Cantonment Davis in April 1816. Arrival of Smith’s men may have nearly doubled the camp’s population.

7) General Smith’s men left the cantonment in late April–early May 1816 to construct Fort Armstrong on Rock Island, eventually arriving at Prairie du Chien in June 1816 to begin construction of Fort Crawford.

8) The remaining cantonment soldiers, approximately 100 men, likely began living at the location of Fort Edwards in June 1816, bringing an end to Cantonment Davis.

Fort Johnson therefore had a population of approximately 323 soldiers for 24 days, decreasing to 100 men for the remaining 18 days. While precise dates and population numbers for Cantonment Davis are difficult to determine, at least 825 soldiers were at the camp for a minimum of six months, with a larger number staying there in April 1816. A contingent of around 100 soldiers continued to live at Cantonment Davis between early May 1816 and sometime in June 1816. The maximum total occupation span of the cantonment is therefore eight months. Nonmilitary personnel connected to either the fort or the cantonment could also include sutlers, officers’ wives, and officers’ servants and slaves, as well as washerwomen, nurses, and other camp followers, making the total population of each military post even larger.

Rediscovering Lost History
The initial search for Fort Johnson and Cantonment Davis' footprint began in 1983. More work at the site began again in 2003 targeting several spots before they found the footing of a limestone fireplace. To protect the integrity of the site, the location hasn’t been disclosed to the general public.

Archaelogists speculate that the camp used the foundation of Fort Johnson as a trash receptacle, later covering it with sand to conceal the garbage and level off the area.


Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.



[1] Cantonment - A camp or military quarters, usually large in size, where people are trained for military service. Also the winter quarters of an army.



[2] The Battle of Credit Island 1814 - Credit Island is an island in the Mississippi River on the south west side of Davenport, Iowa within the Quad Cities area. The name was derived by the use of the island as an early Indian trading post. Credit could be obtained on the promise of hides and skins to be delivered at a later time - hence Credit Island.

The Battle of Credit Island occurred on September 4th and 5th of 1814, as American troops tried to take control of the Upper Mississippi away from the British and the Sauk Indians. For the Americans, Major Zachary Taylor led a force of more than 350 U.S. regulars and militia in eight gunboats, to relieve Fort Crawford at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin and evacuate the fort. The American force hoped to destroy the Indian village and crops on the Rock River, upstream from its confluence with the Mississippi River. When Taylor realized his artillery would not be effective from the gun boats and the large number of Indian warriors present would not permit him to disembark his guns, Taylor decided to feint movement upstream, as if his target was the Prairie du Chien. The Americans had just begun this upstream move on the afternoon of September 4, when a strong storm blowing downstream forced the Americans to stop for the night at Pelican Island. At least two of the American boats had poor anchors, and these boats tied off to the island.

At first light on September 5, a number of Indians had waded to Pelican Island from Credit Island, and an American sentry was shot and killed. The Americans disembarked a force and cleared the Indians from Pelican Island. At about this same time, the few British with a 3-pounder and two swivel guns abandoned their position watching the Rock Island rapids, and moved downstream to the western bank of the Mississippi, where they had a clear view of the American boats. 

Taylor had one of his boats drop downstream to cover the channel between Credit and Pelican Islands, to keep the Indians from returning to Pelican Island. Shortly thereafter, the British began an artillery barrage, inflicting serious damage to the American boats.  By one account, 51 of the 54 shots hit American boats. The barrage continued only 45-60 minutes, before Taylor recognized the need to retreat from his untenable position. The Americans retreated downstream. The Indian forces and the British were low on ammunition and supplies, and did not pursue the Americans.

Illinois on the westside of the Mississippi river and Missouri on the eastside of the river?

While it seems natural for the border between Missouri and Illinois to follow the Mississippi river, this has created somewhat awkward situations. The boundary is permanent, but the river is not. Thanks to sudden changes in the river's course following major floods, an event called an avulsion[1], the state boundary is sometimes miles away from the actual river channel.

Below are the eight locations along the Mississippi river that were affected by an avulsion. They are presented from north to south:


Kaskaskia Island: The most well-known avulsion was at Kaskaskia Island, where a sizable chunk of Illinois now sits on the Missouri side. Kaskaskia isn't the only such oddity, though. It's possible to walk across the Missouri-Illinois state line in several places without crossing a bridge, riding a boat, or getting your feet wet.
Note the green Illinois area on the westside of the Mississippi river is Illinois.
 Ste. Genevieve-Modoc Ferry Landing: The ferry crossing north of Ste. Genevieve joins Missouri and Illinois, but only barely. The land immediately north of the Ste. Genevieve-Modoc Ferry landing on the Illinois bank is actually part of Missouri.
Missouri is on the left, Illinois on the right.
Kaskaskia Island: The town of St. Mary was originally a river port called St. Mary's Landing. After a flood in the 1880s, the river shifted a few miles to the east at the opposite side of Kaskaskia Island, leaving St. Mary without any riverfront property (except during 1993). A bridge at St. Mary crosses the old channel, providing the main entrance to this isolated portion of Randolph County, Illinois.
This is the signage along US 61 at the entrance to Kaskaskia Island in St. Mary.
The island does have a second entrance along Cottonwoods Road, a gravel road connecting US 61 with the village of Kaskaskia. The road doesn't cross any bridges -- the old river channel is long gone -- so there's no indication when driving across the state line.
Illinois in the foreground, Missouri is in the background. The actual boundary is unmarked.
Crains Island: This sliver of land south of Chester is on the Missouri side of the river and is protected by a Missouri levee. But it's legally in Illinois.
It's hard to tell from my maps, but this post apparently marks the state line in the middle of a field.
The boundary at Crains Island is quite complicated, shown as "Indefinite" on topographic maps.
Wilkinson Island: If you were to launch a boat from Seventy-Six Conservation Area in Perry County, go straight across the river, and dock on the other side, you would technically still be in Missouri. The island was presumably named for John Wilkinson, the founder of the ghost town of Seventy-Six and the only person who could possibly explain how Seventy-Six got its strange name.
The view from the boat ramp at Seventy-Six, looking from Missouri... into Missouri.
Grand Tower Island: This former island south of Grand Tower, Illinois, is the largest chunk of Missouri territory on the Illinois side of the river. Driving south from Grand Tower along Levee Road, you go from Illinois to Missouri and back to Illinois without passing a single sign or marker.
Looking north along Levee Road from Missouri into Illinois. It appears that the end of the pavement marks the state line.
The old river channel is now a U-shaped lake called Tower Island Chute. It still looks like a river, but is cut off from the modern river channel by a levee.
Marquette Island: This 835-acre island (a sand bar) just south of downtown Cape Girardeau, connected to the Illinois shore when the river is low, is actually part of Missouri. 

Missouri Sister Island: The name is an oxymoron: it's not an island, and it's not in Missouri. Sitting inside a sweeping 'S' bend of the river northwest of Cairo, this piece of Illinois has found itself on the Missouri side. Thanks to the crazy geography, the river actually flows to the northwest here -- and Missouri is east of Illinois. Yes, it's all rather confusing.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 


[1] Avulsion is the rapid abandonment of a river channel and the formation of a new river channel. Avulsions occur as a result of channel slopes that are much less steep than the slope that the river could travel if it took a new course.