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Plum River Raid

Upton's Cave 1907
Bob Upton's Cave in 1907 photo.

Chief Blackhawk of the united tribes of the Sacs and Foxes claimed and held all territory in western Illinois and Wisconsin, from the mouth of the Wisconsin River on the north to the Portage des Sious, near the mouth of the Missouri River. He claimed this entire area under a treaty of 1804 but was ordered to move his tribes across the Mississippi River into Iowa but he refused to do so. The Black Hawk War broke out in 1831 and government officers and the settlers all though the valley were warned to provide places of safety.

In the spring of 1832, the settlers erected a blockhouse between the Davidson and Pierce cabins. They stored provisions and ammunition and prepared it as a place of refuge for women and children in case of an outbreak of the Indians.

Shortly after the blockhouse was finished, a solider came riding on horseback from Fort Armstrong at Rock Island, warning all settlers that Black Hawk was on the war path and they should seek safety in a fort. The men loaded up the women and children in a wagon and made the trip to Galena without incident.

When they returned to their cabins they passed the time working the fields and begin to lose their fear of the Indians. That all changed on May 21, 1832, in what is know as the “Plum River Raid”.

The following is a recount of the events as told by Alice Bowen in “The History of Savanna” written in 1928.

“It was a beautiful afternoon in midsummer Sunday and the men were resting lazily about the settlement. Vance Davidson had gone over the hills looking for a horse which the Indians had stole from him. William Blundell was in Galena checking on family and Bob Upton had gone hunting north of town.

Aaron Pierce was the lookout at the time and was in the blockhouse shaving. Suddenly the dogs began to bark and looking out, he saw an Indian head rising slowly above the rank of cordwood standing along the river bank. He gave the alarm, a man by the name of Hays and Leonard Goss, who were the only men left in the settlement, ran for the blockhouse.

Hays ran for the door and in his excitement fell just as he reached it. Two Indians fired on him, the bullets striking  the door on each side of him. Goss wasted no time, climbed down the chimney and reaching Hays, pulled him inside and fastened the door.

During the day, the Indians kept an intermittent firing from behind the pile of wood, while the men fired away through the port holes in the blockhouse. Neither side accomplished very much as there was no bloodshed.

After being unable to breach the blockhouse, the Indians “satisfied their savageness” by going down into the fields, destroying the crops and killing the stock.

They also took revenge in cutting loose two skiffs belonging to the settlers, so they would float away down river but fortunately for the men, a strong west wind blew them back ashore.

All of the stock was killed with the exception of a old white horse, which was so frightened it ran past the block house and took refuge in the river. When the men saw the intelligence of the animal, they decided to take to the river also. Under the cover of darkness, the men reached the river unobserved and getting into a skiff started for Galena.

They had rowed up the river a short distance when they heard a call from shore. Fearing it may be Indians they hesitated about going nearer but a second and louder call convinced them it was Bob Upton. He waded out as afar as he could go and then swam to to skiff where he was pulled aboard. He had quite a tale to tell the three men.

He said he was nearing home that afternoon when he heard firing in the direction of the blockhouse. He turned about wondering which way he should go when suddenly seven Indians appeared from nowhere and started in pursuit of him.

He ran down the side of the bluff and hid in the crevice of the rock, thus evading his enemies. The cave has since been known as Bob Upton’s Cave. He remained hidden until after dark when he heard the three men from the settlement and joined them in the skiff. The men rowed all night and by 9 a.m. the next morning they had reached Galena.

The day following the Plum River Raid, Vance Davidson and John Bernard started for home from the Apple River. When they reached the blockhouse and saw bullet holes, the dead stock, and burnt fields they were horrified. They returned to Galena and were overjoyed to find everyone safe and sound.

The attack was determined not to be part of the Black Hawk War but a small raid party made up of some independent minded braves from Keokuk’s village or the Fox village at Dubuque Mines.

The settlement was abandoned as the settler remained in Galena until next spring. Vance Davidson served throughout the war and was in all the engagements with the Indians under the Black Hawk War. Aaron Pierce offered his services and was engaged in handling provision for the soldiers.

The year 1833 saw the end of the Black Hawk War but before the treaty was signed, the pioneers returned to the settlement and things started to boom.