A Revolutionary Battle at the Sac Village

In the spring of 1780 Captain Hesse, a former British soldier, then Indian trader, assembled at the portage of the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers, a body of Menominees, Winnebagoes and Sacs and Foxes, in all about six hundred and fifty Indians, and with fifty white traders came down the Wisconsin River in canoes and thence down the Mississippi River to St. Louis, and attacked that then Spanish post. The British and their Indian allies on May 26th, made their attack, but were repulsed by the inhabitants and the small Spanish garrison. They then crossed the Mississippi River and attacked the American post at Cahokia. Colonel John Montgomery was American commandant of the Illinois, and he having heard of the enemy’s movements, was prepared. General George Rogers Clark had while at the Falls of the Ohio learned of the threatened British-Indian invasion, and hurried to the Illinois, arriving on the night of the 25th, and assisted in the defense. The British and Indians were repulsed although one American was killed. General Clark now ordered Colonel Montgomery to pursue the enemy, and Montgomery at the head of an army of three hundred and fifty soldiers, mostly Virginians, including a company of Illinois French Militia and some Spanish, marched to where Peoria now is and destroyed the Indian village on the Illinois. He then took up his march across the prairies to the Sac village near the mouth of Rock River. It was in the first part of June, early accounts do not mention the day of the month, but it was during the season that the Sacs and Foxes were always at their village cultivating their fields of corn. Black Hawk does not mention this American visit, due probably to the fact that an Indian seldom if ever mentions defeat. Colonel Montgomery himself makes scant mention of his journey, save in a letter written in 1783 to the Board of Commissioners for the Settlement of Western Ac-counts in which he defends his actions while in the Illinois. He speaks of desiring a leave of absence and says, “It was then he (General George Rogers Clark) informed me of his resolution; and that the Public Interest would not permit of my request being granted, that I must take command of the expedition to Rock River.” He then says: “After giving me instructions, he (Clark) left Kohos (Cahokia) the 4th of June with a small escort for the mouth of the Ohio on his route to Kentucky. I immediately proceeded to the Business I was ordered and marched three hundred and fifty men to the lake open on the Illinois River, and from thence to the Rock River, Destroying the Toles and Crops proposed. The Enemy not Daring to fight me as they had so lately Been Disbanded and they could not raise a sufficient force ” James Aird, an early British trader, speaking of this matter in 1805, said that the Sac village was burnt, “by about three hundred Americans, although the Indians had assembled 700 warriors to give them battle.” Aird from 1778 on was engaged in trade with the Sacs and Foxes made annual visits to their village and for weeks maintained on Credit (now Suburban) Island a trading post or station. The French Militia who accompanied Montgomery undoubtedly expected to capture rich booty from the Indians and were greatly disappointed. In a lengthy declaration to M. Mottin de la Balm, pensioner of the King of France and French Colonel, etc., the inhabitants of Cahokia complain grievously of the Virginians. They say in speaking of the Rock River Expedition: “Oh; Colonel Clark, affecting always to desire our public welfare and under pretext of avenging us, soon formed with us and conjointly with the Spaniards a party of more than three hundred then to go and attack in their own village the savages who had come to our homes to harass us, and after substituting Colonel Montgomery to command in his place, he soon left us. “It is, then, well to explain to you, sir, that the Virginians, who never employed any principle of economy, have been the cause by their lack of management and bad conduct, of the non-success of the expedition and that our glorious projects have failed through their fault; for the savages abandoned their nearest villages, where we have been, and we were forced to stop and not push on further, since we had almost no more provisions, powder and balls, which the Virginians had under-taken to furnish us.” Thus at the Sac village at the mouth of Rock River was fought a battle during the War of the Revolution. How long it lasted, were there any killed or wounded, or if British soldiers took part, our early records do not state, but in this farthest west of the Revolutionary engagements, American soldiers like their brothers in the east, triumphed.

The Sac and Fox Indians of Illinois 

 

Source: Historic Rock Island County, pub. Kramer & Company, Rock Island, Illinois, 1908