Monday, April 1, 2024

Elizabeth, Illinois, home to the Apple River Fort State Historic Site.

The Village of Elizabeth, population 695 (2022), was incorporated in 1868. It is located in the center of the rolling hill country of Jo Daviess County in northwestern Illinois. 

In the 1820s, rich lead deposits were discovered in the Galena region in northwestern Illinois. This attracted miners and settlers, leading to the growth of small communities. The Apple River Settlement was established in 1827. Several families set up homes, stores, and a general store that formed the core of the settlement.

President Andrew Jackson's administration supported a series of actions against the Indians, including the Indian Removal Act of 1830. 
Apple River Fort State Historic Site, 311 East Myrtle Street, Elizabeth, Illinois.

Black Hawk, a leader of the Sauk, disputed the validity of the treaties and attempted to return to their ancestral lands in Illinois. Conflicts erupt between settlers and Black Hawk's band. Amidst rising fear in 1832, area settlers built the Apple River fort in less than a week. Along with other fortifications hastily built in the region, they all served as shelters during the war.

Black Hawk led a resistance movement against forced removal from their ancestral lands. The tribes included the Sauk (Sac), Meskwaki (Fox)Ho-Chunk (Winnebago), and Kickapoo warriors.

Black Hawk's warriors attack the Apple River Fort, resulting in an hour-long battle (Battle of Apple River Fort; June 1832). The settlers successfully defended the fort, leading Black Hawk's forces to withdraw. This battle is notable as one of the few forts directly confronted by Black Hawk.

Following the Black Hawk War (September 21, 1832), the "Treaty with the Sac and Fox Indians" (sometimes referred to as the Black Hawk Purchase) resulted in a significant cession of land east of the Mississippi River by the Sac and Fox tribes to the US government, then move to a reservation in Iowa. The Sac and Fox Nation in Iowa, now known as the Mesquakie Indian Settlement, purchased back a portion of their ancestral land in the 19th century. This area is called Meskwakiinaki.

Around 1847, the fort was dismantled, and its timbers were used to construct a barn.

The Three Elizabeths Folklore
As legend has it, three women, all named Elizabeth, stood shoulder-to-shoulder, successfully defending the Apple River Fort during the 1832 Black Hawk War. In their honor, what had been known as the Apple River Settlement was renamed  the village of Elizabeth.
The anecdote states that three women, all named Elizabeth, bravely defended the Apple River Fort during the Black Hawk War in 1832. 
  • Elizabeth Armstrong was particularly praised for her leadership and courage, motivating and assisting those inside the fort.
  • Elizabeth Van Volkenburg (incorrect: Von Voltinburg)
  • Elizabeth Winters
These women undoubtedly played important roles. They assisted in helping anyway they could. Reloading weapons, molding musket balls, nursing, etc. They showed unwavering resolve during the attack.

Today's Elizabeth is home to five museums, numerous gift shops, the largest antique mall in northwestern Illinois, and the Apple River Fort State Historic Site. Visit the Chicago Great Western Railway Depot Museum and the Elizabeth History Museum. 

Elizabeth has been described as the "undiscovered treasure" of northwestern Illinois.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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