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  • Writer's pictureLawrence Lore

What Happened Here?

This week we will be posting a series of blogs called What Happened Here. Focusing on one area in the county we will try to list all the historical events that have occurred there during the last 300 years. This week will be the land where the Embarras joins the Wabash River on the east side of the county.

A short history lesson first, just in case you were sleeping in class that day in high school when your teacher taught you about the early explorers. In the last half of the 17th century Marquette, Hennepin, Joliet and LaSalle explored the county drained by the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and their tributaries and claimed the land for the French Empire in the New World. (And, No, we haven’t found any trees with their initials carved on them yet….but they might have tramped around the mouth of the Embarras since it is shown on early maps. )

In 1742, a treaty with the Native Americans as rightful owners, transferred all land in present day Knox County, Indiana, a southern portion of Sullivan County, Indiana, and some lands on the west side of the Wabash to the French. This was known as the Vincennes District and included the land along the old channel of the Embarras to iwhere it flows into the Wabash, in what would later become Lawrence County, Illinois. A few roving bands of Winnebago, Miami, Pottawatomie and Shawnee tribes remained in this territory in spite of the territorial treaty.

In 1765 the Vincennes District came under the rule of the British. However, this ended with George Rogers Clark’s Expedition on July 4, 1778. Clark's army probably camped somewhere near present Billett on their march to take Vincennes. Clark may have been planning to use the Mussel Shoals ford across the Embarras River, but was stymied by high flood waters. He diverted to near present St. Francisville and waited on his boat, the Willing, which didn’t arrive in time to help with the recapture of Vincennes. He was forced to resume the march to Vincennes through the icy waters.

Engineering survey levels have disclosed a slight rise in the ground west of the Wabash. This single ridge, invisible to the naked eye, begins where George Rogers Clark probably plunged across the Embarras river. Researchers believe Clark and his men marched through the ice water along this ridge which brought the water surface down from their necks to their waists. This ridge runs through the area we will be discussing all this week.

After Clark’s ‘conquest’, the land became part of the new American Republic. Illinois during this period was a wilderness. Because of the threat of attack by hostile Native Americans not many people settled very far from the Wabash River and Fort Sackville. But one man saw the possibilities. His name was John Small.

Tuesday-- A Mill

Wednesday-- A Massacre

Thursday --A Forgotten Town

Friday -- A Return to Nature


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