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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 17, 2003 - Issue 87


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Dedicated to His Memory
The Grave of Shabbona in Evergreen Cemetery is Marked by an Appropriate Monument

From November 2, 1903 - Chicago Tribune
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

habbona (1775-1859)
SHABBONA (1775-1859)

Friday, October 23, 1903, about fifty people gathered in Evergreen cemetery to witness the dedication of a monument to the memory of one, who in the early days of civilization in Northern Illinois saved his white brothers from massacre at the hands of hostile Indians.

The monument is a block of granite, suggestive of the character of the one over whose grave it is placed. It is the culmination of year of toll and energy on the part of those interested to pay a last tribute of respect to one of nature's noblemen. On the face of the huge boulder is the simple inscription, 'Shabbona, 1775-1859.' Although the weather was very disagreeable, yet the ceremonies attending the dedication were very impressive. The opening exercises began with the formal dedicatory address made by the Honorable P.A Armstrong, The Shabbona Memorial Association, through whose earnest efforts the monument became a reality. The monument was draped in a large American Flag and at the proper time this was drawn aside by two little girls, (aged 5 and 6), Eileen Armstrong, granddaughter of P.A Armstrong, and Loretta McCambridge. Ex-Congressman Henderson, of Princeton: R.C. Jordan, and M.N. Armstrong of Ottawa made addresses. All spoke along the same lines and paid glowing tribute to the memory of Shabbona.

In dedicating the monument, President Armstrong used corn, beans, pumpkin and tobacco, instead of corn, wine and oil, stating that they were native products of North America and according to Indian legend, viz: away back in the early Indian life three young hunters having killed a nice young deer, built a fire and began to roast a part of the meat, when a beautiful young maiden descended from the clouds and seated on the ground nearby. They were frightened and about to flee when she said to them 'be not afraid, I am flesh and bone like yourselves and I smelt the meat cooking and being hungry I alighted to ask for some of it.' They immediately gave it to her and when her hunger was satisfied she thanked them for their hospitality and told them return to that place in a year and they would find a suitable reward for their kindly treatment and she then ascended to the clouds. On their return home they related this to their friends and were soundly jeered for their visionary dream. But at the end of the one year they returned to the place and found corn and beans growing where her right hand had rested on the ground and pumpkins growing where her left hand rested and tobacco growing where she sat. Corn and beans were their staff of life, pumpkin and squashes were their relishes, and tobacco their solace. They smoke it in their pipes, but never chewed it.

The speech of Mr. Jordan was as follows:

"Character speaks louder than words. A great man never dies and great enough to know what is great.

Man has shown innate goodness by his disposition in all ages to laud the good deeds of his fellows. And that he has ever cherished ideals higher than self is proven is proven by the tributes offered to the memory of his dead. These tributes have pictured the highest ideals of his time.

As clouds that encircle the mountain melt away in the sunlight; so in the halo of the grave, misdeeds pass out of sight and the ideals stands clearly defined by the tributes offered.

Thus the tombs of a people become teachers and are among its richest legacies.

This one speaks of a great hero who helped to make history here.

It weakens our faith in the old dogma that man is born in sin and prone to do evil, for it speaks of a child of nature who had a divine inspiration.

In critical transitions of society, when at times there has been imperative need of wise counsel and brave leadership, the man who with will power, conscience, capability and courage has come promptly into action, has been the great man of the hour. He may have had calm reflections previously, but he has not stopped for meditation when duty called.

His performance has been as sudden as the exigency that provoked it.

I need not repeat to you the story of that May day in 1832 never to be forgotten by the inhabitants of this valley, when a great horde of bloodthirsty Indian warriors determined to massacre the early settlers of this region.

These savages, when acting from a sense of outraged justice, dealt terrible blows. In their warfare, they were no respecters of persons. Innocent women and children fell before them without mercy.

Bent upon slaughter they had completed their organization. They had engaged in the war dance. They had unsheathed their knives. The war paint was upon their faces; and with blood in their eyes, with hellish yells, they ere about to start on their ungodly mission. When there came from their midst - A Man! A man of commanding appearance, lines of firmness upon his face, yet slight touched with gentleness, giving him the stamp of hero.

He was the chief of three tribes. He had fought by the side of the great Tecumseh.

On the evening of that memorable day, he sorrowfully turned his back on his people. His heart was filled with great purpose. He stood there ready for the emergency. Back of him stretching into the centuries was a wild romance. There were the happy hunting grounds over which had roamed the buffalo and the deer. There had live his people. There they had sailed their canoes upon the rivers and pitched their tents upon the banks. There they had warred. There they had wooed. There they had worshiped. The night was closing on that picture. Before him a grander civilization was developing and there were innocent lives to save.

He stood on the dividing line between two civilizations. It would appear that for him there was no part in either. But true to his purpose he dashed into the night to rescue people of another race. Our people, this act made him the white man's friend and by it he became a factor in the greatest development the world has ever known.

This stone speaks of the thrilling midnight ride. It calls our children to cherish the spirit back of that ride with its purpose as noble as that of Paul Revere.

It speaks of the remnant of a great people mournfully wandering from Canada and Plymouth Rock towards the setting sun.

It tells of folded tents. Of bows that have been broken and fires that have gone out.

It speaks of a real romance that in its pathos and heroism eclipses the incidents of ordinary fiction.

It is a sermon against man's damnable inhumanity to man.

It is fitting that Shabbona's monument should consist of a great boulder. It is typical of the life that it is intended to commemorate.

It has had a checkered career. It has been through the ice and snow and terrific gales. It has been amid scenes of savagery and civilization. It roamed with the wild elements over our prairies to find a resting place amid the homes of the white man.

It is like a diamond in the rough. Its imperishable character came fresh from nature as did that of the hero over whose grave it rests. In helping to dedicate it I freely offer my tribute."

The grave of Shabbona is in a lot upon a rise near the front gate of Evergreen cemetery, which was unmarked for so many years by any sign. He was buried there in 1859 and by his side slumber his wife Canonka, Mary, his daughter, Mary Okonto and his neices, Metwetch, Chicksaw, and Soco.

At the 29th annual reunion of the Old Settlers of LaSalle County, Illinois, held at Ottawa on August 19, 1897, where there were several thousand people present, Charles F. Gunther of Chicago, entered a motion for the appointment of a committee of Old Settlers to devise ways and means for the erection of a suitable monument to the memory of Shabbona, to be placed where he is buried, which motion was unanimously carried, and C.F. Gunther, P.A. Armstrong, S.R. Lewis, R.C. Jordan, E.Y. Griggs, L.M. Sawyer, M.N. Armstrong, L.A. Williams, Joseph Boyd, R.E. Barber and G.M. Hollenback, were elected as such committee. This committee organized by P.A Armstrong as president, G.M. Hollenback as vice-president, L.A. Williams as secretary and E.Y. Griggs as treasurer, and adopted the name and became corporated under the statute as 'The Shabbona Memorial Association,' and determined to raise funds by voluntary contributions and to admit to membership all persons who contribute one dollar or more, and issue to them a certificate of membership as a souvenir and evidence of their aiding in the construction of a monument in the memory of this noble chief; who was modest as he was brave and as true to the dictates of humanity as the sun. This movement lagged in progress and it appeared to be a long time before the necessary funds would be secured. The large boulders designed to be broken up and used in the erection of the Presbyterian church in this city, when seen by P.A. Armstrong, was at once purchased, and in an incredible short time Shabbona's grave was surmounted by a monument and a more appropriate one could not have been chosen.

Shabbona, or 'Built Like a Bear' was born at the principal village of the Ottawas in Canada, in 1775. He was raised and educated there, but moved with a branch of his tribe into what was then a part of Michigan Territory in 1800. He was a born leader of his tribe and race and it is doubtful if he was ever sick in his life up to a short time before his death. He was five feet, eight inches in height, broad shouldered and chest and weighed about 200 pounds, although a short time before his death his weight increased to 240 pounds. Shabbona married a daughter of the principle chief of the Potawatomi, whose village was located where Chicago now stands. Their wedding was an elaborate affair according to the Indian idea. Shabbona being Ottawa chief and his wife a Potawatomi, he was estranged by this act from his own tribe. He tried however to remain Ottawa, though living with a 'foreigner.' He was made second in command to Tecumseh and in the terrible Battle of the Thames he fought side by side with that warrior. When his warriors were ordered to retreat, Shabbona fleeing through the underbrush registered an oath to the Great Spirit never to again make war against the white people and he kept his word. By this act, however, he soon lost his good standing with his people until he finally was bereft of his high position.

Although Shabbona was a large man, his wife was almost twice his size and weighed 400 pounds. She became the mother of four sons and four daughters. About 30 years after his first marriage, Shabbona took another wife, Nebebaqua, a Kickapoo squaw. She bore him one son, Obnesse, who is now a prominent farmer in Jefferson County, Kansas. The second wife died in 1878, nearly 20 years after Shabbona had been called hence.

Shabbona's refusal to join Blackhawk in his uprising against the whites and his super-human efforts in warning the settlers of the proposed raid are all matters of history and have been rehearsed in song and story, but never become tiresome. For his good act in saving many white lives, he was despised and driven out by his own people and his lands confiscated by the government. Driven from post to pillar with no place to call his own, friends in Ottawa started a subscription paper and succeeded in raising enough to purchase him 20 acres and upon it erected a story and a half frame house. This was located in the township of Norman, Grundy County. The old chief, however, and his wife refused to occupy the house but chose to live in a wigwam in a ravine close by. Shabbona died in this home at the ripe age of 84 years, overburdened by the sorrows bought on by the treachery of those whom he aided.

editor's note: to read more about Chief Shabbona

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