Friday, April 5, 2024

Buncombe, Illinois' Amazing Story.

Before European settlers arrived, the land that would become Buncombe, Illinois, was home to Indian tribes. Their presence shaped the landscape, influencing trails and the use of natural resources.

In the early 1800s, European settlers began to arrive in Southern Illinois, drawn by farming opportunities and abundant timber. Johnson County was officially formed in 1812. Seeking to honor a piece of their past, some of these settlers arrived from Buncombe County, North Carolina, and gave their new home a familiar name.

The initial wave of settlers was likely drawn to the area's potential for farming and the proximity of natural resources like timber and, later, coal.
Forced Displacement.
The village of Buncombe holds a poignant place in the tragic history of the Trail of Tears. During the harsh winter of 1838-1839, hundreds of Indians were temporarily encamped at Buncombe, waiting for the frozen Mississippi River to thaw so they could continue to force the Indians to move westward.

In May 1830, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed the Indian Removal Act that authorized the President of the United States to exchange land west of the Mississippi River for Indian land in the east and appropriated $500,000 ($16,866,000 in 2024) to assist tribes in the move west.
Illinois Trail of Tears Southern Illinois Route.
illinois trail of tears
At the beginning of the 1830s, nearly 125,000 Native Americans lived on millions of acres of land in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Florida, land their ancestors had occupied and cultivated for generations. By the end of the decade, very few Indians remained anywhere in the southeastern United States. Working on behalf of white settlers who wanted to grow cotton on the Indians land, the federal government forced them to leave their homelands and walk hundreds of miles to a specially designated “Indian Territory” on the west side of the Mississippi River. This difficult and oftentimes deadly journey is known as the Trail of Tears.
All this occurred as a result of the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

The major detachments (groups) of Indians began moving through Illinois in November 1838. The extremely cold winter conditions slowed their progress significantly and exacerbated the suffering they endured. 

While the overall Trail of Tears encompasses routes through nine states, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma (Indian Territory), and Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma (Indian Territory), and Tennessee, the Southern Illinois segment is known as the Northern Route.

Passage through Illinois continued from January through March 1839, with some groups delayed until spring due to the frozen Mississippi River.

Approximately 100,000 Indians were forcibly moved. An estimated 10,000-15,000 Cherokee traveled the Northern Route in various groups. An estimated 4,000 to 5,000 Indians died in Illinois, including Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole people.

The Bridges family tavern and wayside store became a point of interaction during this time.  Buncombe witnessed the transformative influence of the railroad over time. Its arrival brought new opportunities but also caused some towns to up and move the whole town to new locations to be close to the railroad. Some villages and towns built a depot in exchange for making them a regular stop on the line.

Education has always been important in Buncombe. The Liberty Presbyterian Church, founded around 1850, first held services in a schoolhouse near the town. Buncombe High School served the community until its closure in 1943, but Buncombe Grade School continues to educate the town's youth. Other churches, like Salem Church (later to become the Methodist Episcopal Church of Buncombe), were also founded as the village grew.

In 1871, the township's name was formalized, with Buncombe Township being one of them. The arrival of the Chicago and Eastern Illinois railroad spurred further growth for this small town. Caesar Cohn became an early merchant, and by 1916, Buncombe was incorporated as a village.

While it retains its small-town charm, present-day Buncombe, population 208 (2023), stands as a testament to the pioneering spirit of its founders. Its complex history is marked by interactions with the Cherokee, a resilient community, and enduring respect for education. 

The Yard Skull, Buncombe, Illinois
This unique yard decoration is cemented next to a garage building at a private residence. My husband has owned it since 1992. 
"I married the owner, so the skull came with him. Anyone is welcome to stop by. We get a lot of passersby who stop and take pictures of it. Some leave their vehicles to take each other's picture beside it." (S. Ramsey, 2009)

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

No comments:

Post a Comment

The Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal™ is RATED PG-13. Please comment accordingly. Advertisements, spammers and scammers will be removed.