ComPortOne Home Page

The Battle of Stillman's Run
Stillman Valley, Illinois 14 May 1832

www.ComPortOne.com
Genealogy Article Section


The following work was written by Hon. John. A. Atwood of Stillman Valley, Illinois. It was read before the 1904 meeting of the Ogle County Old Settlers' Association, held at Mount Morris, Illinois, August 25, 1904. Permission to reprint given from James L Meissen, Ogle County Historian, Stillman Valley, Illinois

The Story of the
Battle of Stillman's Run

Stillman Valley, Ogle County, Illinois 14 May 1832

The story of the Battle Stillman's Run, fought at Stillman Valley, May 14, 1832, between a detachment of 275 Illinois soldiers under the command of Major Stillman, and a band of bloodthirsty savages led by Black Hawk, the intrepid Indian chieftain, makes a thrilling page in American history; and the brave men who sacrificed their lives in that engagement are as worthy of the honors due to heroes as any who ever fell in a holy cause. They were not banded together to win honor, or fame, led on by the inspiring strains of martial music and the shouts and cheers of the populace. They did not enlist because of their love for the "old flag," determined to carry it to victory against a foreign foe, but they did rally at the call of Governor Reynolds for volunteers to defend their homes and all they held dear, and to "coerce into submission" the organized bands of Indians who had left the reservation and were roaming up and down the Rock River Valley, terrorizing the early settlers of Illinois, and murdering men, women and children in their humble homes.

I have thought it no inappropriate in passing to briefly review some of the incidents that led up to the opening of hostilities between the Whites and Redskins, and the cause of the conflict known in history as the Black Hawk War.

Origin of Black Hawk War
The Treaty of 1804, by which certain chiefs of the Sac and Fox Indians ceded to the U.S. Government their lands on Rock River and elsewhere, was confirmed by other chiefs of the same nations in 1815, but Black Hawk, who was a leader by nature if not a chief by birth, bitterly opposed the sale and declared that the deal was a swindle, that the chiefs were a lot of boodlers, that the Indians were intoxicated and insisted that the sale was not made by the consent of the whole nation and he was in favor of what is known in modern times as the initiative and the referendum.

Black Hawk and his people were, however, in 1831, compelled to leave the beautiful Rock River Valley for a reservation in Iowa. Early in 1832, encouraged by the false promises of the Prophet Neopope, of support from Pottawattamies and Winnebagoes, Black Hawk with a thousand braves and their women and children, recrossed the Mississippi and again took possession of their old cornfields and former hunting grounds. He was warned to return to Iowa, but indignantly refused. Friendly Indians who lived in various places in Central Illinois suddenly became restless and sullen, and blockhouses and forts were hastily built to afford the settlers protection in the event of war. A call was made for volunteers and the army consisting of 2500 men under Generals Atkinson and Whiteside rendezvoused at Dixon's Ferry. Major Stillman and Bailey, neither of whom had ever seen any fighting, asked to be sent forward on some perilous mission. To gratify them, they with their two battalions of mounted volunteers, consisting of 275 men, were ordered up Rock River to spy out the Indians and report to headquarters. Pursuing their way on the east side of the river they came to Sycamore Creek, or Old Man's Creek, as it was then known, now called Stillman Creek, on May 14, 1832, and camped in the grove on the north side of the creek, the exact spot being about eighty rods Northwest of the C.M. & St. Paul Railway depot, at Stillman Valley. As the men were preparing their evening meal, three Indians were observed by the guards coming from over the range of hills to the north and they were taken prisoners, and one of them was ruthlessly shot while the other two managed to escape.

A Slander Refuted
Some writers tell us that these Indians were bearing a white flag and had come to negotiate terms of peace. Both Brown's and Edward's Histories of Illinois, on file in the State Historical Library at Springfield, deny the charge and declare with a great deal of emphasis the story to be maliciously false. Another squad of five warriors who had been sent to watch the first part, hearing the shooting and seeing their comrades fleeing, started back in great haste to the camp of Black Hawk, near the mouth of the Kishwaukee, a few miles to the northeast of Stillman Valley, to give the alarm. A dozen soldiers, without orders or commander, followed in hot pursuit and succeeded in overtaking and killing two of the fleeing Indians. Nearing the Indian camp, the war whoop was raised, and Black Hawk with all his savage band then in camp, advanced to meet the Whites. It was then that our troops began a retreat as quickly as possible, followed by the Sacs on their ponies and instead of drawing rein when they reached their own camp, the Terrified soldiers gave the alarm that hundreds of savages were at their heels. In the dusk of evening it was impossible to tell with any degree of accuracy how many Indians were pursuing Them and panic stricken the men leaped upon their horses and in great disorder crossed the ford and dashed southward over the wild unbroken prairies and some never halted until they reached Dixon's Ferry, twenty-five miles away. On reaching the rising ground on the south side of the creek, Capt. John G. Adams made an attempt to rally his men but it was of little avail. With about a dozen others he heroically covered the retreat of their companions and checked the advance of theIndidans. But Capt. Adams and eleven solders paid the price with their lives. Brown's History of Illinois says: "Eleven men were found on the field the following day, shamefully mutilated, some iwth their heads and some with their hands cut off, some with their tongues and some with their hearts torn out, some with their feet cut off, and some with their intestines scattered about the country, and their mutilated remains were gathered up and buried in a common grave near the center of the battlefield."

Some writers give credence tot he story that Stillman's soldiers were intoxicated and because of their drunk the fight was precipitated. Armstrong's History of Illinois in discussing this point says: "Some of the men were drunk, but there were many exceptions, for some never touched, tasted or handled the soul-damming stuff." It must be remembered, however, that our men were raw and undisciplined soldiers, that less than thirty days had intervened since their enlistment, and that it is not an unusual thing for men unaccustomed to war to become stampeded in times of imminent danger. The warwhoop of a single painted savage will bring consternation to an entire community and the blood-curdling yell of a hundred savages in the gathering twilight is sufficient to bring terror to the stoutest hearts and may appear to the excited imagination to number a thousand.

Heroism of Volunteers
I have said that the men who fell at Stillman's Run were heroes. Let me give you a few illustrations. Corporal Bird W. Ellis was a young man of but twenty years. but he was as brave as a Colonel Ellsworth. Knowing full well that a cruel death was inevitable he cheerfully gave his horse to an old man, a neighbor and comrade, whose steed had been killed under him, and took the almost hopeless chance of saving his own life on foot. Three miles south of Stillman Valley, on the farm now owned by Chester Brown, his mutilated body was afterwards found and near it lay two dead Indians, a pony and a dog which he had slain in a hand-to-hand contest that finally cost him his life. Joseph Draper, who enlisted at Bloomington, was also of heroic mould. He was mortally wounded and crawled away in a lonely and secluded spot to die. After many days of intense suffering from gunshot wounds, the cold, damp air, hunger, thirst and loneliness with no covering but the canopy of the heavens, his brave spirit finally took its flight and his flesh became the prey of hungry wolves. He narrated his adventures on his canteen and it was indeed a story of courage hardship and patient suffering. His bones were gathered together and deposited in the bosom of Mother Earth six miles south of Stillman Valley, where beneath the spreading branches of a friendly willow they are moldering back to their original elements.

Capt. John Adams and Family
Capt. John Adams, who was probably better known than any of the victims of Stillman's Run, was nearly 40 years old when he left his family consisting of wife, four sons and four daughters, the youngest a babe in its mother's arms, to fight for home and native land. He was born near Nashville, Tenn., Dec. 2nd, 1792, and was the son of an Indian fighter. He came to Illinois in 1828 with an ox team, and settled near where is now located the city of Atlanta, and where his old log cabin is still standing. Owing to the tragic death of her husband and the care of so large a family of small children, Mrs. Adams' reason became dethroned and for thirty-nine years she watched and waited in her delirium for the one who same not. The last one of their children joined the brave father and devoted mother on the other side, in December 1899. No one familiar with the circumstances can doubt for a moment that but for the courage and indomitable will of Capt. Adams in covering the retreat at STillman'r Run, the entire command would have been as effectually annihilated as was that of the brave General Custer and his regulars at the Little Big Horn.

But there were those who joined in that wild and inglorious retreat who afterwards proved that they were brave men. We find that Lieut. Gridley, who was one of the first to reach a place of safety, fourteen years later at the breaking out of the Mexican War, was a brigadier-general in command of the three regiments of Illinois state militia and that he served with distinction in many positions of trust and responsibility.

Another was Wm. McCullough who thirty years afterwards at the outbreak of the Civil War became Lieutenant Colonel of the Fourth Illinois Cavalry, having first served his county several times as sheriff and circuit clerk. He was a brave and dashing officer, and retrieved his good name on many a bloody field of carnage. He fought at Ft. Henry, Ft. Donaldson, Shiloh, and Corinth. and at the battle near Coffeeville, Mississippi, Dec 5, 1862, while covering a retreat and refusing to surrender, he fell dead from his horse, pierced by many rebel bullets.

Black Hawk a Patriot
It may be of interest in passing to give a few incidents in the career of that unique character in American history, Black Hawk, the great Indian chieftain. And first he was a native Illinoisian, and was born in an Indian village near the mouth of Rock River in 1767. Here he lived sixty-four years, a period nearly as long as that covered by our earliest white settler who succeeded him. Here he spent his boyhood days, here he grew to manhood, and here he won distinction among his people because of his valor and statesmanship. He was by birth a Pottawattamie and at the age of fifteen was ranked as a brave, and at twenty-one he became a chief of the Sacs and Foxes. During the War of 1812 he joined the British Army, with 500 of his warriors, and won the title of General. His presence with the English army was a constant menace to the U.S. soldiers, who dreaded his barbarous methods of warfare, but his repulse in the battle near Detroit made the Indians forsake the cause of Great Britain and he left the army. Returning from his campaign in 1813, his first act was to visit his home as quickly as possible. And referring to this event in his autobiography, we get a glimpse of his domestic character when he ways, "I then started to visit my wife and children. I found them well and my boys growing finely. It is not customary for use to say much about our women as they generally perform their part cheerfully and never interfere with the business belonging to the men. This is the only wife I ever had or ever will have. She is a good woman and teaches my boys to be brave." Of his religion, he says: "We believe in one great and good Spirit who controls and governs all things," and makes this confession. "We thank the Great Spirit for all the benefits He has conferred upon us, for myself I never take a drink of water from a spring without being mindful for His goodness." In August, following the battle of Stillman's Run, Black Hawk surrendered to General Atkinson. Afterward he was taken to Washington and the Eastern Cities and visited Niagra and other places of interest and returning was asked what was the grandest sight he had ever witnessed. His reply was, "An Illinois prairie on fire." He was above all things a patriot. In the year before his death he made a speech to a company of whites, who were making a holiday hero of him when he uttered this sublime sentiment: "Rock River was a beautiful county. I liked my town, my cornfields and the home of my people. I fought for them." And who would not make great sacrifices for so goodly a heritage. He died on the Des Moines River bottoms in Davis County, Iowa, October 3, 1838, in the seventy-first year of his age and was buried at Keokuk, Iowa, in a sitting posture, facing the Father of Waters.


Solemn Burial Rites
I would that I could tell you something of the impressive burial rites over the victims of Stillman's Run which took place at Stillman Valley, May 15, the day following that tragic event. Suffice to say that the army at Dixon, marched to the battlefield 2,000 strong. Captain Abraham Lincoln, afterward the Great Emancipator and Martyred President, was among the number. It was here he learned his first lessons in warfare that fitted him to so skillfully guide the ship of state as President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of our armies and navy, during the bloody years of the great Civil War. While Mr. Lincoln was a member of Congress he referred to the fact in one of his speeches that he was present and assisted at the burial of the dead at Stillman's Run. The service was performed in the early evening, a trench first having been dug 16 feet long and nearly four feet deep and into this hastily improvised grave, nine uncoffined Illinois soldiers, whose blood was the first shed in the Black Hawk war, were tenderly wrapped in their blankets by their comrades and with military honors given a soldiers' burial, the firing of a salute being their only eulogy.

Their names as given in the Adjutant General's report are: Capt. John G. Adams, Sergt. John Walters, Corporal James Milton and Privates Isaac Parkins, David Kreeps, Zadoc Mendinhall, Tyrus M. Childs and Joseph B. Farris, and a scout named Gideon Munson. I have already given the names of Bird Wl Eillis and Joseph Draper, who are interred at more distant points. The body of James Doty was also found some distance from the battlefield, where he had been pursued and where he met his cruel fate. But the exact place of his lonely grave is unknown and will perhaps forever remain a mystery.

The solemn service ended, the army marched away disheartened but not discouraged with "Remember Stillman's Run" as their war-cry and with this shout on their lips and with revenge in their hearts, many a Redskin was made to bite the dust.\

We shall not in this paper attempt to follow our citizen soldiery in their marches and counter-marches, and devious wanderings. But time passes on, the war is ended, victory is with the white men and the broad fertile acres of Rock River Valley are opened to peaceful settlement.

History of Battle Ground
It was four years, however, after this engagement before the first permanent settler located in that part of Ogle County, and fourteen years afterward when the Hon. Joshua White, now deceased, entered the tract of land from the government where the battle of Stillman's Run was fought, and where the dead lie buried. By this time the graves had become sodded, but not difficult to locate. Here a half acre was left that was never broken by the plowshare, the ground being regarded as a sacred spot. After the death of Mr. White in 1890, this half acre with land adjacent was platted and became a part of the Village of Stillman Valley, and then passed into the hands of strangers. As a result the graves were neglected and finally the exact location became unknown and in November, 1890, the owner offered this parcel of ground for sale at public auction. Thinking that perhaps these lots might be bought be someone for building purposes, Rev. R. W. Newlands and the writer of this paper, decided if possible to locate the exact spot where the victims of the massacre laid, and you will pardon me for this personal allusion as told by another:

How Graves Were Found
"On Tuesday afternoon, Nov 14, 1899, we started for the hill with spade in hand. We knew if we were successful that the spot would be identified by the black earth being mixed with sand and gravel. We tested the ground thoroughly at every spot where the grave was supposed to be, but found only the pure black loam. We examined forty or fifty places without a clue. We then went over the western slope of the ridge and tested the ground, though no one supposed the graves to be within one hundred feet of this spot. We finally came to a place where the conditions were as we expected to find them, a little gravel being visible on the top of the ground and in attempting to scrape it off it ran deeper. So digging a hole about 20 inches deep and finding gravel mixed with the black soil, we concluded that the ground here had sometime been disturbed and in all probability it was the long lost grave for which we sought. As it was now evening we decided to continue our excavation the next morning and we were early on the ground accompanied by a number of citizens. Enlarging the hole already made a few inches to the south we came to the end of the trench and proceeded to dig a hole about three feet square and at a depth of three and a half feet one of the phalanges fo the right hand of an Illinois soldier was thrown out, then all of the other bones were carefully removed one by one without breaking. Several buttons were found and a vest buckle and when the skull was exhumed it was found that every tooth was present without a sign of decay, and when the lower limbs and feet were exhumed the calvary boots which the soldier wore were still intact, and the blanket which had become his burial robe, though decayed, was plainly visible. The body had been laid on the back but the face was turned downward showing that the head had been decapitated. For a skeleton that had been in the ground 67 years it was in remarkably well preserved condition, doubtless owing to the sandy nature of the soil and the dry location. The bones were all replace in a suitable box and reinterred in the place whence they were taken. The other bodies were not disturbed, but the limits of the grave or trench were permanently marked.

The Memorial Association
The Battle Ground Memorial Association of Stillman Valley was immediately organized by the citizens of Stillman Valley, and incorporated under the laws of the State of Illinois. A sum amounting to $1,000 has been subscribed by our people and paid into the treasury. The lots were purchased and deeded to the Association. Trees were planted, the grounds graded and terraced, and concrete walks laid and the Forty-second General Assembly of Illinois was asked to appropriate $5,000 to mark the site of the battle of Stillman's Run and the last resting place of the men who fell in that conflict. Thanks fo the efforts of Hon. James. P. Wilson and his colleagues of the House and Senator Henry Andrus of the Senate, the bill passed the House with but eight opposing votes and the Senate without opposition, and on the 11th of May 1901, was signed by the Governor and became a law. The bill empowered the trustees of the Stillman Valley Battle GRound Memorial Association to select a design and cause the monument to be erected. This work has been done and a beautiful granite shaft of orginal design 50 feet high surmounted by the heroic statue of a citizen-soldier attracts the attention of the passerby. The monument is ten feet square at the base and weighs fifty tons and is considered by competent judges who have seen it to be a work of art. The material used is first class in every particular and the workmanship is faultless.


Monument is Dedicated
On the 11th day of June, 1902, it was dedicated with imposing ceremonies, Judge Lawrence Y. Sherman of Macomb, that prince of orators and leader of men, delivering the principal address.

Dr. W. D. McAffee of Rockford, a veteran of the Civil War, sang in an impressive manner that inspiring song "Illinois" with the following stanza written for the occasion:

In this mound thy sons are sleeping, -- Illinois, Illinois.
What they sowed we now are reaping, -- Illinois, Illinois.
Dying for the dear home land,
May this shaft long ages stand,
Telling of that noble band, -- Illinois, Illinois
Telling of that noble band, -- Illinois, Illinois.
Among the vast throng who were present were eleven of the grandchildren of Capt. John G. Adams, the hero of Stillman's Run, and William Sopes of Atlanta, Illinois, the last survivor of that historical event, then a hale old man 91 years of age and a most interesting character. It was his first return to Stillman Valley since the time he rode away in hot haste seventy years before, pursued by Black Hawk and his savages. But how, he, too, is gone and the old warrior and Indian fighter sleeps with his fathers. On April 16, 1904, the order came and he was mustered out, sincerely mourned in the community where for nearly a century he had been an honored citizen and where he had witnessed the marvelous progress of these eventful years that had come within the span of his lifetime.

Battle Ground Park
Battle Ground Park is a beautiful spot with its well kept lawn, its walks and terraces, and its trees and flowers. Over the graves of its pioneer soldier dead the flag of our country floats in the storms of winter as well as in the gentle breezes of the summer time, and on Memorial Day floral offerings are lovingly placed there by the trembling hands of our surviving veterans of the Civil War. A thousand strangers visit the park every year because of the interest they take in the historical even it perpetuates who are charmed by the artistic beauty of the monument and its pretty surroundings. Our citizens are faithful to the trust committed to their keeping and generously respond when funds are needed to meet the current expenses of the organization.

The following named gentlemen have served as trustees and officers of the STillman Valley Battle Ground Memorial Association since its organization, towit: Lovejoy Johnson, president; Luke Dickerman, vice-president; J. A. Atwood, secretary; John J. White, treasurer; Wallace Revell, superintendent of park.

But there are other places in Ogle County, that should be permanently marked with tablets of bronze or blocks of enduring granite, before the important events enacted there are forever forgotten or are recalled only as a legend or a misty tradition. Still more important than all this would be the compiling of a record in permanent form telling the story of the deeds of daring. the hardship and privations of the brave pioneers who wrought here when wilderness was king, this paving the way for those who should live after them. A work of this kind, faithfully portraying pioneer life in the thirties, forties and fifties would be a valuable contribution to local history and if only authentically written would be more fascinating than any romance or book of fiction. It seems to me that this association would do well to sponsor such an undertaking and could easily carry it forward to a successful issue. Let it be a labor of love to which all might cheerfully contribute, and for reasons that are obvious do not let it be longer delayed.

I desire in conclusion to express my grateful thanks for your patience and forbearance in listening to me, and to say in conclusion that I believe the "Story of the Battle of Stillman's Run" as here narrated is substantially correct, and that the heroes who fell in that conflict and who sleep within the confines of our county, are worthy of this humble tribute in their behalf. Again I thank you.

Hon. John. A. Atwood, author
Stillman Valley, Illinois


To view the Stillman Valley Monument click here.

More information on the Black Hawk War and Stillman's Run