Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Fort Miami (Le Fort des Miamis) on the Illinois River, near Starved Rock.

On the northside of Illinois River bank, near the center of the Village of La Vantum ("the washed"), was the Illinois tribe village on what was called Buffalo Rock. About a mile west of Buffalo Rock, on the south side of the Illinois River, was Fort St. Louis du Rocher, rising from the water's edge like a castle wall to the height of one hundred and fifty feet, that could be ascended at only one point.
In the year 1686, La Barre, Governor of Canada, being jealous of René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (Sieur de La Salle is a title only: translating to "Lord of the manor") power and influence, concocted a plan to defeat his enterprise, and thereby appropriate to himself and friends the great wealth to be derived from the fur trade. Under a plea that La Salle had forfeited his charter by granting other parties permits to trade with the Indians, sent an army officer, Captain De Bougis, to Illinois with authority to take command of Fort St. Louis du Rocher. Henri de Tonti being in command of the fort surrendered it to the usurper, who also took possession of all the goods and furs at the trading post. A few months after Captain De Bougis assumed command, he became convinced that he was holding the fort without authority, consequently, he gave it up to Tonti and returned to Canada.

On the following year after De Bougis had relinquished his command of Fort St. Louis du Rocher, a tall, spare man, calling himself Captain Richard Pilette, made his appearance at the garrison service, and in order to retrieve his fortune came west. Pilette remained at the fort a number of days without letting his business be known, but when the proper time came he drew from his pocket a commission, under the governor's seal, authorizing him to take command. Tonti denied the power of the governor to appoint a commander, as the fort was private property-having been built and maintained by La Salle at his own expense, in accordance with a charter from the King of France. In a pompous manner, Pilette proclaimed himself commander of Fort St. Louis du Rocher by virtue of his commission, and addressing the soldiers in a tone of authority, ordered them to take hold of Tonti and place him under guard.

Without making any reply Tonti, with his iron hand, knocked down the would-be commander, and at the same time relieving him of three of his front teeth. Before the usurper could regain his feet, the soldiers carried him outside of the gateway, setting him on the rock, and gave him a start downwards. The rock is covered with sleet, Pilette could not recover his footing or stop his descent, but in that position slid to the bottom, tearing his pantaloons into fragments, and bruising himself on the sharp crags of rocks.

Captain Pilette, bruised and bleeding, his clothing torn almost off him while sliding down the rock, made his way to La Vantum, where he found sympathy among his countrymen and their Indian friends. While here he concocted a plan to gain power over the Indians, and secure their trade, in defiance of La Salle's charter and Fort St. Louis. With eighteen Frenchmen and about fifty warriors he went to Buffalo Rock, and on its summit commenced building a fort. Here they built a block-house, a store-house, and surrounded them with earthworks and palisades. Pilette promised the Indians to supply them with goods, war implements, etc., in exchange for furs, and protect them from the Iroquois. Acting upon this promise, a large number of Indians came here and built lodges within the stockades, as well as around it, and in a short time, it became a large town. The place took the name of Le Fort des Miamis and was occupied by the Indians long after the French left the country. The remains of this fort were plain to be seen in the early settlement of the country and were mistaken for the relics of Fort St. Louis.

Next year after the fort was built, Captain Pilette collected from the Indians two canoes loads of pelts and furs, which he contemplated shipping to Canada and paying for them in goods on his return. The captain, with three companions, was about to start on this journey when both French and Indians were collected on the river bank to bid them adieu. But as their canoes were about to leave the shore, Tonti, with a file of armed soldiers, made his appearance and forbid them going until the duty authorized by La Salle's charter was paid. Pilette protested against being robbed in this way, as he termed it, but knowing that Tonti with his armed soldiers would enforce his demand, consented to pay the tribute. Accordingly, the required number of buffalo, beaver and otter skins was counted out, after which the canoes departed on their way.

Pilette married a squaw, raised a large family of half-breed children, to whom he left a large fortune, which he had made in the fur trade. When he died they buried him on Buffalo Rock and raised a mound over his remains.

In August of 1689, the peaceful Illinois tribe was massacred by the Iroquois at the Village of La Vantum. {read more at The 1689 La Vantum Village Massacre of the Illinois Indians by the Iroquois.}

A short distance from the site of the old fort and town, are a number of small artificial mounds, raised over the remains of distinguished persons. For years these mounds have been plowed over by A. Betger, the owner of the land, but still, their outlines are plain to be seen. The largest one of the group, and standing some distance from the others, is, in all probability, the one raised over the tomb of Captain Pilette.

After Pilette's death, his family moved to Peoria Lake, and one of his grandsons, Louis Pilette was a claimant for the land on which Peoria is built. Many of the descendants of this old fur trader are now living on the American Bottom, all of whom show strong marks of Indian origin. One of these descendants, Hypolite Pilette, a great-grandson of the Captain, has in his possession a number of articles that once belonged to his distinguished grandson. 

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

1 comment:

  1. I received this comment in my "Living History of Illinois and Chicago®" Facebook Group - https://www.facebook.com/groups/LivingHistoryOfIllinoisAndChicago on November 21, 2018 - "I'm the education conservation representative at Buffalo Rock State Park and I barley had any information on this. Thank you for sharing." J.M.


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