The January 14, 2010, meeting of the Madison County Genealogical Society was held at the Edwardsville Public Library in Edwardsville, Illinois.
President, Robert Ridenour, called the meeting to order.
In the absence of our
Treasurer LaVerne Bloemker, Secretary, Barbara Hitch presented
the financial reports for the months of November and December
Dues for 2010 are
now being accepted. We would very much appreciate receiving your
renewal checks by ASAP. Present members will receive one more
Newsletter in February.
Do you have a family
member that is interested in (or even obsessed with) genealogy?
A membership in the Madison County Genealogical Society would
be a very thoughtful gift. A gift card will be sent to the recipient
of any gift membership.
The following memberships are available:
Individual/Family Annual Membership $20.00
Patron Annual Membership $30.00
Life Membership $250.00
Contact our Secretary, Barbara Hitch, at firstname.lastname@example.org, about a gift membership.
Librarian, Elsie Wasser, reported that we had
received a new book: Celebrating 150 Years: 1860-2010, History
of Salem United Church of Christ in Alhambra, Illinois.
Elsie also reported that she had a conversation with Ms. Amy Pulliam of Glen Carbon concerning her thesis. Ms. Pulliam's subject is Cholera Epidemics in St. Louis and Edwardsville. Part of the thesis relates how the citizens of Edwardsville learned to protect themselves from cholera by the things that were done in St. Louis. We will receive a copy of the thesis when it is in its final form.
On January 14, 2010, due to rescheduled prior
commitments, our speaker, Bill Wilson, was unable to attend our
meeting. However, his co-author and literary collaborator, and
President of the Bond County Genealogical Society, Kevin Kaegy,
presented the program on Hill's Fort - The Tales Continue.
Mr. Kaegy talked about the connection of the area, especially Edwardsville, to the War of 1812. The Illinois Territorial Governor, Ninian Edwards, was based at Fort Russell, just north of Edwardsville, near present day Illinois Route 159. Governor Edwards was calling for an increased military presence in the Territory. At this time, there were 5,000 - 7,000 white settlers in the Illinois Territory, along with as many as 100,000 Native Americans. Most of the Indians had moved from Southern Illinois to the north central portion of the territory.
During the War of 1812, there was no standing army in the Illinois Territory but groups of volunteer soldiers. Almost every landowner in what is now Madison, Bond, and St. Clair Counties all served terms in the regiments. As a show of strength, they would march from fort to fort and the Indians would not attack. In that time period, Indians would very rarely attack an armed fort. Hill's Fort in Bond County was one of the unique instances where that happened.
In September of 1814, 26 members of the Illinois Rangers had gathered at Hill's Fort because signs of Indians had been seen in the area. It was decided to ride out of the fort and drive off any roving bands of Indians.
When the Rangers were about a half-mile west of the fort, they walked into an ambush of about 80 Pottawatomie Indians hiding over the ridge. Gunshots rang out and four of the Rangers fell dead (they were buried on that ridge and have had burial markers placed there). Several others were injured. One man shot off his horse was Tom Higgins.
It was a cool damp September morning and the black powder smoke hung in a heavy cloud over the hillside. Under cover of the cloud of smoke, Tom got to some trees and got his horse, with the intention of riding back to the fort to safety. As he was mounting his horse, one of his wounded comrades, called out to him and asked Tom not to leave him behind. Tom told him to get on the horse and they both could ride. His fellow Ranger, William Burgess, said he could not because his leg was broken from the wound he had received. While Tom was trying to help his friend get on the horse, the horse spooked and ran away. So Tom and William are stranded on the hillside under a cloud of smoke.
Tom told his friend to crawl towards the fort while he led the Indians off in a different direction. Having been shot once, Tom ran out of the cover of the brush and smoke towards the fort. About half way there, he saw two Indians running from the fort towards him. They had been watching the fort. Another Indian was coming from the side - he now had three Indians closing in on him. Tom realizes that he is going to have to take a volley of fire and hopefully he can kill one of the Indians. Tom stopped and the Indians fired. By turning his body, Tom was able to reduce the effect of the Indians' shots. He took three bullets to the thigh but nothing vital was hit. He kept running toward the fort, stumbling and falling occasionally. The Indians stopped to reload. Tom then received another bullet wound.
As the Indians closed in, they realized that Tom has not fired his rifle, and they assumed it must not be loaded. The largest of the Indians rushed Tom and, at point blank range, Tom fired and killed him. The other two Indians, now knowing Tom's rifle was unloaded, charged him with knives, spears, and tomahawks, stabbing and cutting Tom. They threw a tomahawk at him, cutting off his ear. One of the Indians stabbed Tom with his spear and Tom fell to the ground. When the Indian tried to pull the spear out for another attack, he lifted Tom to his feet, whereupon Tom clubbed the Indian with the butt of his rifle, killing him. Now it is down to Tom and one Indian.
The remaining Indian decided he could not let an injured man get away, so they engaged in hand-to-hand combat with knives. The fighting continued until both men were out of breath. They were crawling around looking for the Indians' guns.
In the meantime, in the fort about a quarter mile away is a lady by the name of Lydia Pursley. She is telling the Rangers that they cannot let the Indians kill a man as brave as Tom Higgins. They must go rescue him. The men tell her they cannot risk going out because there are too many Indians. While this argument is going on, the cloud of smoke has cleared and the Indians are running to the aid of their comrade engaged in combat with Tom.
Lydia Pursley grabbed a gun from one of the men, threw open the gate, and ran out to help Tom. The men, not to be outdone by a woman, took off after Lydia. They got to Tom before the Indians; he had finally passed out. They threw him over a horse and brought him back to the fort. When they closed the gate, the Indians retired from the field of battle. This was the last Indian battle of the War of 1812 in the Illinois Territory.
Tom Higgins recovered from his wounds. He married and moved near present day Vandalia, north of where the prison is now located. He became the doorkeeper for the Illinois House of Representatives. He moved to Galena when the lead mines opened, about 1826-27. Tom was pretty much a hell-raiser. He got into a dispute with another man in Galena and they fought a duel. Tom chose rocks. The two men stood 20 feet apart and threw rocks at each other. The other guy fled for his life because Tom was an expert rock thrower. You will find tales of Tom Higgins in the Clinton County history books, the Fayette County history books, and the Jo Davies County history books - usually lawsuits following wherever he went.
Tom was always referred to as "Old Tom Higgins." He was 36 years old when he died. Tom has a burial marker in front of the warden's home at the prison at Vandalia on Illinois Route 51.
William Burgess also survived the Battle of Hill's Fort.
Mr. Kaegy also spent some time discussing the formation of the Illinois War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission. He mentioned the website: http://illinoiswarof1812bicentennial.org/ and requested people visit the website and see what they could do to help.
This presentation was very well received by the audience.