A Late Thank You Note to Potawatomi Chief Shabbona
Updated: Dec 13, 2021
Among the heroic individuals in Chicago's historical past is a Potawatomi chief named Shabbona ("built like a bear") who in 1832 saved numerous white settlers from angry Sauk chief Black Hawk, who attempted to reclaim Illinois land that had been acquired by the government. Black Hawk pressured Shabbona to join his movement at a meeting at Paw Paw Grove near Indian Creek, arriving on his favorite white pony and accompanied by fellow Sauk chiefs Neapope and Pashepaho. An entire band of Sauk warriors accompanied them, beating tom-toms and chanting their war songs. In his book Village on the County Line, historian Hugh Dugan describes the scene as Shabbona faced down Black Hawk:
On the other side of the council circle, the chief of the Pottawattamie sat with
his lieutenants Wauponsee, Shemenon, Shaata, and Meaumese. Shabbona
flatly told Black Hawk that his people would not join in the fight against the
whites, 'because the palefaces will raise an army whose numbers are like the
leaves on the trees' against which the Indians no longer could contend. And
this was the decision, not of a pacifist, but of a shrewd and calculating warrior;
the one who had taken over command at the Battle of the Thames, after Tecumseh
had fallen. Shabbona could not speak for the Fox or the Winnebago, but the
Pottawatomie, the Ottawa,and the Chippewa would not join in the uprising. And
needless to relate, from that time on, Shabbona and Black Hawk were implacable
Shabbona, his son, nephew, and other allies then raced through the countryside to warn the white settlers about the threat posed by Black Hawk. As Dugan states, "Up the ravines, across the prairie, and to the cabins fringing the woods and along the streams rode these Mid-Western Paul Reveres." Historian Luther Hatch writes in The Indian Chief Shabbona, "Shabbona was in his saddle 48 hours. He rode his pony to death, took off the saddle, borrowed another pony of a settler and went on his mission. In his broken English he told the settlers to go. In some cases he rode back to warn them a second time and even begged them to make haste to leave."
On their way to Fort Dearborn, the pioneers of Naper's settlement passed safely through present day Fullersburg, formerly known as Sauganakka, the largest Potawatomi village in DuPage County. General Winfield Scott and his troops subsequently defeated Black Hawk, and the settlers were able to return to their homes. Shabbona, who had sent his people eastward to Indiana to escape Black Hawk's reach, later settled with them in present DeKalb County. They did not find safe haven there. In the fall of 1837, Sauk chief Neapope exacted Sauk revenge on Shabbona by killing his nephew and son in an ambush of their hunting party, and his land was later sold for unpaid taxes. Shabbona passed away in 1859 at the age of 84.
Hatch writes that in 1903, a huge boulder with the inscription "Shabbona, 1775-1859" was dedicated in a ceremony at Evergreen Cemetery in Morris, Il. Dugan notes the tribute to Shabbona given by Gurdon Hubbard, who stated that from the first time he met the future chief in 1818 to his death, he "'was impressed with the nobleness of his character. He was ever a friend to the white settlers, and should held by them and their descendants in grateful remembrance.'"
Fullersburg Historic Foundation agrees with this sentiment and also recognizes the significance of the Native American burial mounds that are well documented in the Fullersburg area along Salt Creek. There is proposal under consideration at the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County to remove the historic Graue Mill Dam in Fullersburg and to alter a mile of the creek above the dam. You can voice your opinion by emailing the DuPage Forest Preserve at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photo of Shabbona from Village on the County Line.
Sue Devick, M.A.