Indian Creek Massacre – Background

Published on February 13, 2013 by Carol

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An 1878 depiction of the massacre

The Indian Creek Massacre occurred on May 21, 1832, when a group of United States settlers in LaSalle County, Illinois, were attacked by a party of Native Americans. The massacre was sparked by the outbreak of the Black Hawk War, but it was not directly related to Sauk leader Black Hawk’s conflict with the United States. Instead, the incident stemmed from a settler’s refusal to remove a dam that jeopardized a food source for a nearby Potawatomi village. After the Black Hawk War began, between 40 and 80 Potawatomis and three Sauks attacked the settlement. Fifteen settlers, including women and children, were killed. Two young women kidnapped by the raiders were ransomed and released unharmed about two weeks later.

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In the aftermath of the massacre, white settlers fled their homes for the safety of frontier forts and the protection of the militia. After the war ended, three Native men were arrested for the murders, but the charges were dropped after witnesses could not confirm that they had taken part in the massacre. Today, the site of the massacre is marked by memorials in Shabbona County Park in LaSalle County, about 14 miles (23 km) north of Ottawa, Illinois.


The Indian Creek massacre stemmed from a dispute between U.S. settlers and a Potawatomi Native American village along Indian Creek in LaSalle County, Illinois. In the spring of 1832, a blacksmith named William Davis dammed the creek to provide power for his sawmill. Meau-eus, the principal chief of the small Potawatomi village, protested to Davis that the dam prevented fish from reaching the village. Davis ignored the protests and assaulted a Potawatomi man who tried to dismantle the dam. The villagers wanted to retaliate, but Potawatomi chiefs Shabbona and Waubonsie managed to keep the peace, convincing the villagers to fish below the dam.

Meanwhile, in April 1832, a Sauk leader named Black Hawk led a group of Sauks, Meskwakis, and Kickapoos known as the “British Band” across the Mississippi River into the U.S. state of Illinois. Black Hawk’s motives were ambiguous, but he was apparently hoping to avoid bloodshed while resettling on land that had been ceded to the United States in a disputed 1804 treaty.

Black Hawk hoped that the Potawatomi people in Illinois would support him. In February 1832, he had invited the Potawatomis to join him in a coalition against the United States. Although Potawatomis had grievances stemming from the expansion of the United States into Native American land, Potawatomi leaders feared that the United States had become too powerful to oppose by force. Potawatomi chiefs urged their people to stay neutral in the coming conflict, but, as in other tribes, chiefs did not have the authority or power to compel compliance. Potawatomi leaders worried that the tribe as a whole would be punished if any Potawatomis supported Black Hawk. At a council outside Chicago on May 1, 1832, Potawatomi leaders including Billy Caldwell “passed a resolution declaring any Potawatomi who supported Black Hawk a traitor to his tribe”. In mid May, Potawatomi leaders told Black Hawk that they would not aid him.

Source: Legendsofamerica Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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