Cahokia Precinct – 1881
THIS is indeed historic ground, its settlement beginning just about mid way between the land ing of Columbus upon American shores and the present time. It is situated in the western part of the county. and bounded on the north by the precincts of East St. Louis and French Village, on the east by French Village: and Belleville, on the south by Centerville, and west by Prairie du Pont and Mississippi river, and contains upwards of 22,000 acres of rich arrival soil of the American Bottom, except a portion of the south and south-east, which extends into the bluff for some distance. The drainage of the bottom land is necessarily poor, on account of being so nearly on a plane with the Mississippi. The few streams empty into the sloughs or Big Lake, and thence through a large artificial ditch to Prairie du Pont creek, and into the Mississippi. It is said, and is probably true, that the American Bottoms can never have an adequate system of drainage without lowering the bed of the Mississippi. The drainage question of the Bottoms has for many years been an unsolved problem, and will probably remain so until some freak of nature shall settle the vexed question. Back to top
The soil of the Bottoms is not surpassed in fertility anywhere on the globe. That it is inexhaustible has been proved by over a century and a half’s tillage. This is largely due to the deposits of silt left after the overflowing of the Bottoms by the river. There have been several of these inundations within the last century, some of which have proved very disastrous to the villages and productions of the farmers. These occur usually in June, when the snow and ice of the mountain regions melt and flow back to the gulf. The first great rise in the river of which history gives any account, occurred in 1770; and in 1772 the whole bottom was under water. Again, in 1784, a deep inundation took place. Cahokia was several feet under water, and the inhabitants fled to the bluff south-east of the village for safety during the flood. A considerable inundation occurred in 1826, but no very great damage was done. The deepest and most destructive overflow was in 1814. Large steamers plied from bluff to bluff. Villages, orchards, fences and nearly every improvement made was swallowed up and swept away by this flood. The villages of Cahokia, Prairie du Pont and Illinoistown (now East St. Louis), were almost destroyed, from the effects of which the former two have never recovered. In 1851 and 1858 there were very destructive floods, doing much damage to real and personal property. The dikes at East St. Louis and the government dikes midway between the above city and East Carondelet have been auxiliary in preserving what is left of Cahokia village. Many years ago, Cahokia creek emptied into the river just north of the village; its old bed is plainly visible to this day. Peck says, in his Gazetteer, that “Cahokia creek formerly passed the village of Cahokia and entered the Mississippi further down, but a mischievous Frenchman, having a pique against the village, cut a channel from the creek to the river, and formed its present outlet.” But there is no evidence to sustain the theory that the creek ever emptied into the river below the village. No sign of a channel or creek-bed can be discovered south of the village, and the oldest inhabitants informed us that there had been no history or tradition among them to sustain Mr. Peck’s theory. It is true that a Frenchman turned the course of the stream at a point about midway between Cahokia and East St. Louis. This was done by cutting a ditch through a rise of ground that lay between the creek and a slough not far from the river. The stream wore its way through the high ground into the depression or slough, and thence into the river. This was its course until the construction of the Pittsburg dike at East St. Louis, when its course was diverted to its present mouth, just north of the dike. Back to top
Portions of the Bottom, especially along the creeks, Cahokia and Prairie du Pont, were formerly covered with heavy timber, such as black walnut, cottonwood, elm, oak and other varieties; but the most of it has been cleared away to give room to civilization. Many ancient mounds were, and a few may yet be seen near the borders of these creeks. In these as in all others, when excavated, are found human bones, shells and pottery that were deposited at some period by a pre-historic race.
Wheat is the chief product of the farmers, though much corn is cultivated, and with excellent success. There are many fine orchards, but mainly confined to apples. Cabbage and other vegetables are cultivated quite extensively and marketed at St.: Louis.
The exact date of the first settlement at Cahokia seems to be an unsettled question among historians. According to Peck, the village of Cahokia was founded in 1683, by members of La Salle’s party who were left behind on his return to France. Reynolds says, “That in the year 1686, Tonti, then chief and captain-general, in conducting the war against the British and Iroquois, heard of his friend La Salle being in the West Indies, and descended to the mouth of the Mississippi in search of him, but returned without him. On the route he established the post of Arkansas, and I presume the settlements of Illinois, Peoria, Cahokia, and Kaskaskia may date their existence from the same period, 1686, or before.” Another author says, “Cahokia, first called Notre Dame des Kahokias, from good authority appears to have been a trading post and mission station earlier than Kaskaskia, and that both were settled ..
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by missionaries as early and perhaps before 1690.”He further says, “That it is stated on good authority that a missionary known as Father Pinnet, founded Cahokia, and was successful in converting many of the Indians to Christianity.”Let it be as it may, not far from two centuries ago a few zealous French missionaries established themselves among the savage Kahokians for the pure purpose of teaching them the doctrines of Christianity. These formed the nucleus from which Cahokia grew and became the first settlement on the Mississippi.
The Indian traders soon followed the missionaries, and built stone houses, and commenced traffic with the natives. The emigration excitement grew in intensity, and in a few years Cahokia became a place of thrift and civilization by a white population mostly emigrants from Canada. Their style of living at that early period was but little better than that of the natives; but about 1700 they commenced to cultivate the rich bottom land around the village, and to erect buildings suitable for white habitation. A church was built by the missionaries, and located on the very spot where the church now stands; indeed, it is said that a part of the old structure composes a portion of the frame of the present house. They had no organized government until the establishment of the Company of the West. Reynolds in his pioneer history says “that the small number of inhabitants, and their destitution of wealth, made a government entirely useless. The leaders of the first French settlements of Illinois were men of talent, and for the most part of classic education, while the common classes were innocent, honest and kind, and obedient to their commanders or leaders. They had no itching for wealth, and if provided with a scanty supply of clothes, corn and deer’s tallow, or meat to eat, they would sing and dance, and were in fact happy, whether they were in the snows of the Rocky Mountains or in the dancing saloons of Quebec.
“The community thus constituted needed little or no government: in fact they had none until the Company of the West was established in the country.” Back to top
The early settlements of these people were usually in the form of small, compact, patriarchal villages, living as one great family assembled around their old men and patriarchs. The houses were plain and uniform in style. Usually each homestead was surrounded by its own separate inclosure of a rude picket fence. The lots of Cahokia were laid out uniform in size, being 300 feet square. For many years, on account of mutual protection from the Indians, the people did not live on the lands they cultivated, but had their abode in the village, and went forth from day to day to perform their farm labor. In order that the reader may more fully understand the customs and rights of the early settlers of Cahokia, we quote from Judge Breese’s decision, found in the Report of 27 Illinois, which relates to the inhabitants of Cahokia and the Cahokia Commons
“The villagers were granted two tracts of land at convenient distances, for’common fields’ and ‘commons.’ The former was a tract of land containing several hundred acres, enclosed under one fence, each family possessing an individual interest in a portion of the field bounded from the rest. These lands were owned in fee simple, and could be conveyed like any other landed property. The ‘commons’ was situated outside and around the ‘common fields.’ It was a tract of land granted to the town for wood, pasturage, etc. In this each had a right in common, not an individual right.” This tract sometimes embraced several thousand acres.
By an Act of Congress dated March 3d, 1791, a tract of land including the villages of Cahokia and Prairie du Pont, and used by the inhabitants as a common, was appropriated to their use as such, until otherwise disposed of by law. It will be seen from the above, that the limits of the commons were left undefined by the Act of Congress of 1791. This, and subsequent questions relating thereto, induced congress to appoint commissioners to inquire into and adjust the same. The following is a synopsis of their report, which was made Dec. 3, 1809: Back to top
On examination, they find that a tract of land four leagues square was granted to said villagers with title, etc., as above described; but as the limits of the commons were left undefined by the act of 1791, it became a subject of compromise between the villagers and the acting governor (St. Clair) of the territory, about 1797, and by their consent two tracts, in all 5,400 acres, were ordered to be laid off for this purpose. Accordingly, Gov. St. Clair appointed a surveyor, and the land was located.
On examination the commissioners discovered that the surveys were inaccurately made, that of Cahokia in particular. Instead of 4,000 acres, it ought to have contained 20,000 acres. An account of the situation and circumstances of the said tracts not accommodating the inhabitants, the board thought it best to permit a new location to be made for commons for each of the said villages, on lands more conveniently situated for them. The action of the commissioners was acceptable both to the people and congress. Accordingly congress, on the 1st of March, 1810, passed an act confirming the decisions made by the board of commissioners. The lands included in the common fields retain their former boundaries, the board not having them under consideration. And thus stands the status of the commons at this time.
Prior to 1841 the commons of Cahokia were used by the inhabitants only for the common purpose of pasturage, fuel, etc. Here was a large and valuable tract of land, from which the villagers were reaping but a small advantage. Accordingly they appealed to the state to legalize by act of the legislature the leasing of the common, or so much as should be deemed expedient, the proceeds to be devoted to a common school fund for the use of the villagers. Back to top
An act was passed, in accordance with their expressed desire, dated Feb. 17th, 1841. This act empowers the supervisor elected by the inhabitants of the village, to cause lots to be surveyed out of the commons, and to lease the same for a term not to exceed one hundred years. From this fund school-houses have been built, teachers employed, and all other expenses defrayed appertaining to a free school system. They do not draw any of the state fund, nor do they need it, as the income from the commons is more than a equate to their wants.
Families moving from the village to the common fields, or elsewhere, forfeit their rights to this common fund. On the other hand, parties moving into the village, and becoming citizens, in accordance with the customs of the inhabitants, acquire an equal right to the benefits of said fund, the same as those who may have always been natives of the village.
The first house built in the precinct outside of Cahokia village was erected about 1834, by Louis Pensoneau. It was a small log structure, a story and a half in height, and, situated near where the Illinois and St. Louis railroad crosses the highway leading to Papstown; and a mile and a half south-east of Jarrot’s station. The old stone chimney still stands as a landmark to inform the passerby that this is the oldest relic of its kind belonging to the common fields of Cahokia.
From the date of the foregoing, and what has already been stated with regard to the customs of the first settlers, relative to their clustering together in villages for mutual protection, etc., it will readily be seen that this chapter’s history is confined almost entirely to the ancient.
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Village of Cahokia
That it is nearly two centuries old, and the first built on the banks of the Father of Waters, as well as the first in the Mississippi valley, has already been established. The village lies entirely within what is known as survey No. 759, which was originally a part of the commons. The plat is very nearly in the form of the outline of the boundaries of the State of New York. The larger portion of the site of the old village is now contained in the river slough, west of the present village. At the time of its settlement it was a perfect wilderness. Heavy timber of oak, elm, sycamore, and walnut covered the entire tract. New-comers were hailed with warmth, and the custom was to measure them off 300 feet square for a house, garden and stable-lot. This of course had to be cleared of the timber before it could be occupied. Parties were appointed by the citizens to perform the work of laying off the lots. The chain was constructed from strips of paw-paw bark, knotted together to the desired length. Early deeds were made by giving boundaries from point to point, naming the persons who lived adjacent to the property surveyed. In fact, lots were not numbered until about 1850, when the people of the village, for the convenience of making deeds and recording the same, employed the county surveyor to make a plat of the town and number the lots. No changes, however, were made in the former location and direction of the streets. The deeds all read: “Three hundred feet square, more or less.” Prior to 1850, but few deeds were made, and then rarely ever put on record. The villagers frequently bought or traded property, but it was merely a verbal swap, after the manner of trading chattels. The custom was the same relative to exchanging, or selling arpents of land in the common fields. At that time there was no bickering, no feelings of distrust between neighbors, their word was equivalent to their bond. The same spirit prevailed toward one another in their farm labors. Their arpents or farms lay side by side, and any friendly assistance that was needed by a neighbor, was always cheerfully given. This spirit of unselfishness will be better understood when it is explained that these farms were, in the main, but eleven and sixty-seven hundredths rods wide, and from three to four miles in length. No division fence separated them, they lay side by side, enclosed by one fence, in one common field; and yet, for more than a hundred years, they cultivated their arpents in harmony, and without the aid of the courts to settle any difficulties. For several years, however, they have been pretty well Americanized, and suits at law are no rarity among the Cahokians. Back to top
In speaking of Cahokia as it was in 1765, Captain Pitman, who was officially employed by Great Britain to survey the forts and villages in the English territories, after it had passed from the French dominion, says: “It is long and straggling, being threefourths of a mile from one end to the other. It contains forty-five dwellings, and a church near its centre. The situation is not well chosen, as in the floods it is generally overflowed two or three feet. This was the first settlement on the Mississippi. The land was purchased of the savages by a few Canadians, some of whom married women, of the Kaoquias nation, and others brought wives from Canada, and then resided there, leaving their children to succeed them. The inhabitants of the place depend more on hunting and their Indian trade, than on agriculture. They have plenty of poultry and good stocks of horned cattle. What is called the fort is a small house standing in the centre of the village. It differs nothing from the other houses, except being one of the poorest. It was formerly closed with high palisades, but these were torn down and burnt.”
The old fort has long since disappeared; no vestige of it can now be seen. The church still stands, and is probably the oldest house of worship west of the Allegheny [Allegheny] mountains. The village, instead of being “near the side of the Mississippi,” is nearly a mile to the east of it. This change was mainly wrought by the general flood of 1814. Back to top
Early Setters.–From the fact of the antiquity of Cahokia, but few of the names of the earliest settlers have been preserved. From the early marriage records, we are able to glean a few names, but nothing relating to their character or calling; they could be of but little interest to the reader. We shall, therefore, only mention those who have figured more prominently in the history of the village.
Among the early immigrants was the famous Mrs. La Compt, who came to Cahokia about the year 1770. She was of French birth, the family name being La Flamme. She was born at St. Joseph, on Lake Michigan, in 1734. She was a widow when she married M. La Compt of Cahokia, from which marriage proceeded one of the largest French families in the state. She was a great at favorite among the friendly Indians, and through their aid and information, she succeeded in saving the early settlers from many a bloody massacre at the hands of the hostile savages. After the death of her second husband, La Compt, she married the celebrated Thomas Brady, who was also a citizen of Cahokia. She outlived Brady, and died in Cahokia in 1843, at the advanced age of one hundred and nine years. Thomas Brady, third husband of Mrs. La Compt, was a native of Pennsylvania, and came to Cahokia in a very early day. He was a brave and daring man, as many of his exploits in history attest. He was among the first to offer his services in the war of the Revolution. As early as 1777 he raised a small company of men from the villages of Cahokia and Prairie du Pont, marched through the wilderness to the fort at St. Joseph, Michigan, then called the Cow Pens, and captured the fort with the loss of but one man. After the organization of St. Clair county by Gov. St. Clair, in 1790, known as a part of the Northwest Territory, he was appointed the first sheriff of the county. He died in Cahokia several years afterward, lamented by many warm friends. Back to top
Another pioneer and patriot was Charles Gratiot, who established an Indian trading store in Cahokia as early as 1774. He carried on an extensive trade with the Indians, so that his business operations embraced several of the present western States, but his grand depot for supplies was located at Cahokia for many years. Although educated in England, at the commencement of the Revolution he embarked his all in the cause. He lived to see his country free, when he retired to private life. In 1781 he married a Miss Cheauteau [Chouteau], a sister of Pierre Cheauteau, of St. Louis. Members of this family were the founders of St. Louis, which occurred in 1764. Mr. Gratiot lived to a good old age, and died in St. Louis in 1817. Capt.. McCarty was one of the old pioneers of the village. He headed a company of the French in the Revolution, and did good service at the conquest of Fort Sackville and Vincennes, and performed his duty to the satisfaction of his commanders. History does not give any account of when he died.
One of the most prominent settlers of Cahokia was Nicholas Jarrot. He probably did more to build up and perpetuate the village than any of his day. He was a native of France, but the troubles of that country in 1790 induced him to emigrate to this country. He reached Cahokia in 1794, and prepared to make it his residence for life. His means were limited when he came to this country, but through his indomitable energy and perseverance he soon acquired a large fortune. At an early day he was elected major in a
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battalion of the St. Clair militia, and was known until his death as Major Jarrot. His first operations were as a partial Indian trader; he also kept a retail store of goods suitable to the market of the village. He afterwards became possessed of a large landed estate, wrought out by his own energy and foresight; also, at one time, owned the greater portion of the Wiggin’s Ferry Landing, opposite St. Louis. His life was an eventful one, the history of which would fill a large volume. Major Jarrot brought up a large and respectable family, one of whom is still living in the village of Cahokia–Mrs. Ortance Brackett, at the advanced age of eightythree years. Mrs. Brackett is a native of the village, and the oldest person in Cahokia. She is very active, notwithstanding her extreme age. Two of her sons are living at the old homestead with her, Nicholas McCracken and James Brackett. Another son, George Brackett, attorney-at-law, resides in St. Louis, and a daughter, wife of Jno. O. Butler, lives in East St. Louis.
Major Jarrot died in Cahokia in 1823, lamented by a large circle of friends. His remains repose in the old cemetery, just under the shadow of the ancient church building.
Among other pioneers are Jean Francais [Francois] Perry, who settled in the village in 1792; John deMoulin, in 1790; John Hays, in 1793; John Hay, same date; Julien Dubuque, founder of Dubuque, Iowa, in 1783; William Arundel, the same date; and William Morrison, in 1800. Isaac Darnielle was the first resident lawyer, and came to Cahokia in 1794. He was the second professed lawyer that emigrated to Illinois, John Rice Jones being the first. Jones also practiced law in Cahokia, but resided at Kaskaskia. Back to top
Dr. Lyle was probably the first regular physician who practiced medicine in the village. He came to Cahokia in an early day, and was considered a very good physician, but was unpopular on account of his exceeding ill-nature.
Gov. Reynolds first tried the mettle of his legal bow and spear in Cahokia in 1814. How well he succeeded every citizen of Illinois is abundantly able to answer.
In 1809 Samuel D. Davidson, a lawyer, and native of Kentucky, settled in the village. His talent did not run in the direction of the law, and he abandoned the practice and taught school. He was the first teacher, and taught in one of the rooms of Maj. Jarrot’s house, and was paid $400 a year. This salary was paid from the private purse of Maj. Jarrot. Davidson entered the military service in 1812. Some time after the war he left the village, and drifted to parts unknown.
Among other historic events of this ancient village was the assassination of the Napoleonic Indian chief, Pontiac. He was stabbed by a Peoria Indian in the streets of Cahokia in the year 1765, and was buried within the limits of the village. The spot where tradition says he was buried is still pointed out by the oldest citizens. The place indicated is about sixty feet south-east of the lots owned and occupied by Dr. Illinski, upon which is situated the oldest house in the village. His body was subsequently buried in St. Louis by St. Ange, then commandant of that place, who had been a warm friend of the Indian chieftain. Back to top
The following inventory gives some interesting information relative to the articles in use among the early French at Cahokia and the price which they commanded. It will be seen that they are possessed of many of the conveniences, and even the luxuries, of life; while the sums obtained for the goods, at a forced sale, show that there must have been considerable ready money in the community.
Inventory of the goods and chattels of J. J, R. Hanson, sold in pursuance of an order of the court of committees of Cahôs, made on the 20th of November, 1778, for the sum of 2,232 livres in silver, due to the minor children Pancrasse, payable in May next, and to satisfy a judgment in favor of Jean B. De Corte, payable in March next. Sale took place at Cahôs, November 23,1778, three days after the order was given:
|A tract of land, 2 arpents front (this may have been 200 acres)||400 livres||$30.00|
|1 plow with a plow share||41 liveres||$8.20|
|1 oxcart||101 livres||$20.20|
|1 milch cow and calf||148 livres||$29.60|
|1 cow and yearling calf||133 livres||$26.60|
|2 yearling calves.||…||$7.20|
|1 pair of boots of Russia leather||…||$8.00|
|1 feather bed||…||$34.10|
|8 earthen pots||…||$1.60|
|9 tin plates||…||$5.40|
|1 dozen hens and a cock||…||$6.80|
|2 china dishes||…||$1.80|
|1 dozen small china plates||…||$2.80|
|1 table deal||…||$1.00|
|2 copper chandeliers||…||$9.40|
|1 frying pan||…||$1.20|
|1 large iron kettle||…||$5.20|
|1 small iron kettle||…||$2.80|
|1 set of shovel, tongs and poker||…||$7.00|
|2 old cauldrons||…||$1.10|
|1 old harness||…||$16.20|
|13 spoons and 2 ladles||…||$1.85|
|1 couch, featherbed and 2 straw pillows||…||$27.60|
|3 bed sheets of Russia linen||…||$8.80|
|1 bed spread, 5ft. wide, and 1, 2 ½ ft. wide||…||$7.10|
|1 coffee mill||…||$6.20|
|1 table cloth||…||$1.20|
|1 horse cart||…||$4.80|
|1 silver mounted pistol||…||$5.60|
|65 empty bottles||…||$2.80|
|1 empty barrel||…||$0.80|
|2 cotton shirts||…||$3.86|
|1 pair cotton pants||…||$1.50|
|1 pair of velveteen pants||…||$5.15|
|1 red silk handkerchief||…||$3.00|
|1 scarlet waistcoat||…||$9.00|
|1 cocked hat||…||$7.00|
|Gunpowder, per lb.||…||$1.40|
|1 yoke of steers, 3 years old||…||$58.00|
|1 carrot of tobacco||…||$1.00|
|4 sailing crafts||…||$428.00|
The above is a translation of one of the 1,300 French sale bills which were turned over to W. St. Clair, and are now on file in the court house. The Hanson sale was, however a forced one and may therefore, not be a proper criterion of prices. We shall quote now, prices obtained at an administrator’s sale held in February, 1791.
Household and kitchen articles :–China plates, $6.40 per dozen; cream pots, 80c.; soap dish and cover, $7.20; 30 picture frames at 80c. each; coffee kettle, $2.20; common cupboard, (larder) $9.50; milk-board, $14.50; pewter plates, 80c. each; tin pans, 60c. each; silver candlesticks, $9.00 each; coffee mill, $4.40; sad irons, 90c. each; iron stove, $4.20; a fine mirror, $28.50; 1 clock, $55.00; 1 complete bed and bedstead, $76.00; 1 folding table, $4.00; chairs, common, $1.40; 1 candle mould, 50c.; 1 grand sideboard, $151.00.
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Tools :–An axe, new, $2.95; old axe, used, 70c.; pickaxes, $1.90; hatchets, $2.10; iron to toast bread on, $1.90; a scythe, $2.95; a saw, $1.90; 1 hammer, 85c.; 1 faucet, $1.40.
Farming articles and stock :–1 plow, complete, $14.30; saddle and bridle, $17.40; horse cart, $10.00; ox cart, $19.00; 1 chain and rigging, $31.90; 1 set of harness, $18.40; a 1½ bushel measure, iron hoops, $1.60; 1 wheat fan, $22.00; 17 large hogs, averaging $10.10; 27 small hogs, averaging $2.00 each; 30 head of cattle of various ages brought $644.55 ; prices of cows (10 were sold) range between $23.00 and $38.00 each; bulls, and there were 18 of them, brought from $6.00 to 26.00 each; steers broken to the yoke, were sold for $79.00 per pair; there was only one horse sold, it brought $54.00; chickens sold for $5.00 and $6.00 per dozen; corn brought 19c. per bushel; corn meal, 3c. per lb.; wheat brought 42c.; lard, of which 95 lbs. were sold, is quoted at 19c. per lb., an enormous price; 9 bushels of peas are sold at 98c. per bushel; and 47 bushels of wheat, sown in autumn previous, bringing $1.30 per bushel, or $1.65 per acre. [end 1791 administrator’s sale.]
Louison, Etienne and Louis Pensoneau, three brothers, emigrated from Canada, and settled in Cahokia in 1798. They all married in the village, and stood high in the estimation of their neighbors. Louis conducted the first ferry established between Cahokia and St. Louis. The landing was situated west of the village, and a little below where Cahokia creek formerly emptied into the river. It !must be remembered that at that time, Cahokia was the metropolis and that St. Louis was but a young and sparsely settled village. The oldest person now living in Cahokia, Mrs. Brackett, informed us that she can remember well when the village of Cahokia contained twenty-four stores, and upwards of three thousand inhabitants, and that the people of St. Louis made it their principal trading place. Verily, time works wonders in this world of ours; only little more than half a century has passed, and St. Louis is the sixth city in the United States, while Cahokia contains not more than three hundred inhabitants. Back to top
The first mill constructed in Cahokia was built by Nicholas Boismenue about 1771. It was a horse grist mill, of the primitive style, and located on the village lot now owned by Dr. Illinski, just south of his dwelling. Some years after the construction of the mill, a man by the name of :Peyrot was engaged in building a fence close by the mill. In sinking a post hole he struck a bucket that had been buried there. On examining it, what was his surprise to find it contained $800 in Spanish gold sovereigns. There were none to claim it, neither could the oldest inhabitant throw any light upon the circumstance of the hidden treasure.
There are three houses yet standing in the village, [circa 1880] that are built after the old, primitive French style: Dr. Illinski’s dwelling, the church, and the old court-house. These are the oldest houses in the village, and probably the oldest in the west. They are constructed from cedar and walnut logs, placed upright with a space of a few inches between, which is filled in with a kind of cement or mortar. The inside is plastered with cement, and the outside is weather-boarded. The dwelling-houses are supplied with a verandah, extending around the entire building. It is said among the villagers that Dr. Illinski’s house is the oldest, and was built about the year 1700. The church is not far from the above in antiquity. It has a small cupola and bell. The earthquake of 1811 so rocked the church that the bell gave forth several distinct taps. Back to top
The old courthouse was built in 1795, or thereabouts in that year Randolph County was formed by taking off the southern portion of St. Clair, and at which time Cahokia became the county seat. In 1814, the county seat was removed to Belleville. Many years ago, the village extended more than half a mile west of the court-house; but at this time, “the old court,” as it is called, occupies the extreme north-western part of the village proper. For several years past, it has been utilized for a saloon.
The first marriage on record in Cahokia, was performed by L. Gibault, missionary, on the 10th of June, 1790. The contracting parties were Jean Baptiste Chartran, and Marie Rocheleau, widow of Michael Girardin.
The first brick house built in the Mississippi Valley, except one at Kaskaskia, was constructed by Nicholas J arrot, and situated in the eastern limits of Cahokia village. We are informed that it was commenced prior to 1800, and completed in 1805. It is a two-story building with attic, and 38 by 50 feet on the ground. It rests on timbers of black walnut with about two feet face, imbedded several feet under ground. These timbers rest on beds of charcoal, which are separated from the earth beneath by a layer of sand and gravel. The partition walls of the house are sixteen inches thick, and composed of solid brick masonry. The outer walls are eighteen inches in thickness, and are also solid brick. The hall of this mansion is sixteen feet in width, and all of the belongings are of the quaint, aristocratic style of long ago. It has withstood the elements of three-quarters of a century. The earthquake of 1811, only shook down two of the chimneys, and produced two small seams in the rear wall. In the flood of 1844, water stood ten feet in depth around the house; ingress to the building could only be effected through the upper portion of the high door by means of a canoe. It has withstood four other floods besides the one mentioned, but none were so disastrous to the country and village as this. Back to top
It may sound strange, but this house was completed sometime before a brick building was constructed in St. Louis. It is today a good house, and looks as though it might last for centuries.
The first schoolhouse in the village was built in 1841, and was situated on the site of the present brick school-house, near the center of the village. It was destroyed by fire some years ago, and the present house erected in its place.
There are two schools in the village, the white and the colored. The former is a fine brick house, and cost about $5000. But one teacher is employed, and there is in attendance of from 25 to 30 pupils. The latter is a small frame, and cost $800. The average attendance is about 12 pupils. Back to top
Cahokia has two cemeteries, but only one of them is now used for burial purposes, as the old one has been full these many years. Indeed, it is said that the bodies were buried one above another, until the villagers were obliged to abandon it for lack of depth. With the exception of the one at Kaskaskia, it is the oldest in the West. It is situated around and in the rear of the old church, after the custom of the Catholics. The new cemetery is situated about half a mile east of the village, and contains nearly two acres; or, in French parlance, is one arpent wide, and two in length. It has been occupied about thirty-seven years.
The ground was donated to the Cahokians for burial purposes, by Colonel Vital Jarrot, son of Nicholas Jarrot. Mr. Nicholas McCracken has in his possession a head-stone that he ploughed to the surface, in his field a little south of the Jarrot homestead, that bore the date of 1770. It was cut from a soft lime-stone, and was in size about twenty inches in length, by eight in width, and two in thickness. The following is a facsimile of the inscription: [not shown on this web site but appears as follows without the commas or words in brackets:]
j, [upside down] U, L,Y
[next line] AUt. 11
[last line] 1770.
It is said that the “Aut” is the French abbreviation for August. We present it, and will leave it for future generations to decipher. *
The present business of Cahokia is almost a dead letter.That which was once the metropolis of the West, now contains scarcely three hundred inhabititants, about one-fourth of whom are negroes. Not even a post-office exists in the village. The following is the extent of the business :
Groceries.–Peter Godin; Mrs. Melina Ebermann. Wagon-maker and
Blacksmith..–Peter Nadeau. Saloon.-Peter Godin.
Physicians..–A. X. Illinski; W. H. Renois. Supervisor.-Clovis Saucey.
Trustees..–Christian Gerber; W. H. Renois; Louis Lobenhofer.
Land Entries (1) — The following is a list of the first land entered in the Precinct:-Adelaid Perry, March 22, 1815, entered 85.15 acres in sec. 19. Josiah Blakely entered April 26th 1815, the south half of sec. 3, containing 320 acres. On the 27th of April, 1815, Nicholas Jarrot entered 140.38 acres on sec. 3. The heirs of J. B. Jourdin and F. Langloise entered May 1st, 1815, 36.81 acres on sec. 18; December 23d, 1816, George Blair entered the north-east quarter of sec. 15, containing 160 acres. Philip Creamer, Nov. 15, 1817, entered 83.91 acres in sec. 24.
Cahokia Precinct is well supplied with railroads. Four roads pass through a portion of its territory. The Illinois and St. Louis, and the Cairo Short Line on the north and east, and the East St. Louis and East Carondelet, and the Narrow Gauge on the west. The Narrow Gauge runs for Some distance beyond Cahokia with a third rail, on the track of the East St. Louis and East Carondelet railway.
* Many other interesting facts. pertaining to the early history of Cahokia may be found in the Pioneer and Civil chapters and history of the Catholic church in the former pages of this volume. [online – see the citation here]
This is a small way station, situated on the Cairo Short Line railroad, and about midway between the northern and southern boundaries of Cahokia Precinct. It contains but six houses, all farm houses except two, one of which is a small country store kept by Louis Plouder [Ploudre], who is also justice of the peace, and county commissioner. It has a post-office with Andrew Touchette as postmaster. The French Catholic church stands about a quarter of a mile north of the station. It was built in 1863, and cost about $4000. The first officiating priest was Father Douterligne.
Pittsburg is situated on the bluff, in the extreme eastern portion of the precinct, in sec. 3. It was established in 1836, and at one time had a population of upwards of 200 inhabitants, mostly coal miners. Coal was obtained here by drifting into the bluff, where in places it cropped out to the surface. As many as seven drifts have been in operation at one time, and from twenty to thirty cars of coal mined in one day; but for several years the mines have been exhausted and abandoned. At this writing the place contains about seventy persons, all miners, who are now employed in adjacent mines.
Note: This area was settled long before 1800. All claims to land required confirmation, a very lengthy process that concluded in 1820. Settlers claimed land based on various means, e.g., grants from France, Britain, pre-emption, militia rights, and Revolutionary War service. Land remaining was then sold as Public Domain Land by the federal government which issued patents for these parcels.
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