A Trip to Cahokia.

By Josef Klefman

In the state of Illinois lies the village of Cahokia. It was founded in 1699. In the village there are several interesting sights. The one that this article covers is mostly about the Church of the Holy Family. The reason I decided to write about just one place is that so much history went on in just a small area.

When the Americans came to Cahokia under Captain Joseph Bowman they were under George Rogers Clark's orders to secure the village. They first established their base camp in the stone rectory of the Jesuit priest Father Forget Du Verger. The British army had finished the stone house when they came to occupy Cahokia after the French and Indian War. Father Forget decided to leave with the British coming to Cahokia. The stone house was some 60 feet in length but it width is unknown. The home had several rooms and two chimneys.

Cahokia house
Cahokia Courthouse, (ca. 1766)
At the end of the Revolution the residents of Cahokia stated that the stone home that the American troops were lodged in was ruined. Only four walls were left standing. The roof was gone along with the floor, and chimneys were torn down. The orchard in the rear of the property had been totally destroyed.

The French inhabitants decided to build a Church on the grounds of the old rectory, because the original Church had fallen into disrepair and the congregation was forced to have mass in a rented building. When the new Church was built some of the windows and doors that had been saved from the old rectory were used in the new Church.

During the month of August 1778 Clark was in Cahokia to negotiate treaties with the Indian tribes. The Indians were camping on an area of land belonging to a Mr. Thomas Brady that was N.E. from the fort by 110 meters. Clark was staying in a home that was 100 meters from Fort Bowman. Directly north from fort Bowman was the Rigolet stream which is today still there.

The narrow gray line is the road from Kaskaskia to Cahokia. The path passes St. Philips, Fort Chartres and several springs and Indian villages.

Due to a shift in the main channel of the Mississippi River, the village of Kaskaskia is now on the Missouri side of that river.

On the Third night the Indians camped a group of Puans formulated a plan to capture Clark. They would divide into two parties; both would cross the Rigolet stream on Brady's property and then they would move west until they were across from the fort. Today the stream is about 180 yards from the Church of the Holy Family, which is on the same site as the stone rectory. When the two parties reached this site the first one would fire their guns towards the fort. The second party would cross the knee-deep stream and head towards the fort. The stream today is usually only about ankle deep but the author has seen it waist deep.

The second group would run through the yard of the Nicolle's who had a home on the Cahokia wedge site. Some of the stones of the foundation of the house can still be seen on the site. The Indians who rushed across the yard would subdue the American guards and capture Clark. The Indians would then take him to the English for a reward. When the Indians tried this maneuver the guns fired and the Indians forded the stream but before they got half way one of the sentries spotted them and called the sergeant of the guard. The sergeant in turn called out the guard detail which captured the Indians that were moving towards the fort. The other group of Indians moved towards Mr. Brady's yard where they were camped. When the guard paraded the alarm went out and the entire town was up and under arms.

The Indians now captured were put under guard. The sentry was now questioned by the officer in charge of the guard. The guard stated that these Indians were the same ones that he saw running toward his guard post. When the Officer questioned the Indians they stated that some of their enemies had shot at them from across the stream and they were going to seek protection from the Americans at Fort Bowman. These Indians stated that they weren't on the other side of the stream. Some of the French inhabitants not thinking that well of the Indians called for a light. When the lantern arrived the soldier discovered that the Indians had on wet leggings and muddy moccasins. The Indians immediately changed their story and stated that they had been on the other side of the stream, but only to test the loyalty of the French. They also wanted to see if the French would side with the Americans. Clark now having listened to the entire story replied to the head of the Militia that they could do whatever they want to with these Indians, but he pulled the Captain off to the side and told him to throw the head chief into the Guard house in irons.

There is so much history that happened in just one little area in this town it's unbelievable. Mr. Brady owned the land that the Indians stayed on during the negotiations. He was originally from New England and had settled in Cahokia to become a merchant there. He was married to Marie Larcheveque on May 13, 1779. She was a resident of Cahokia. Brady died on May 10, 1806 and both he and his wife were buried in the cemetery behind the Church.

Across the street from the Church of the Holy Family is the area called the Wedge site. There was a home there owned by Nicolt's Etienne and Angelique. They were both murdered by their slaves in 1779 and later the property was sold at an auction. The home was torn down some time in the early 1840's.

The Holy Family Parish church at Cahokia (ca. 1799)
The Church of the Holy Family is typical of the type of structure that the French built in the Mississippi River Valley. There were two types of structures used. The first was poteaux-en-terre or post in earth and the second was poteaux-en-seuil or post on sill. The first type had the studs put into a trench that had been dug, with a distance of roughly 6-12 inches between them. The trench was then filled and then the house frame completed. The second type also had a trench dug but it had a limestone or rock foundation. The studs were then attached to the foundation and the trench filled. The frame was then completed. The Church is a post on sill structure. The original foundation was 31 x 74 feet. The logs (studs) are beveled to a depth of 2 inches on each side to hold the mortar. The original roof is made of cypress clapboards and the roof timbers are composed of 4 x 4 oak beams. On the entire structure no nails are used -- only wooden pegs. In 1833 the Church was added on to by lengthened in the rear by 9' - 8 1/2" and alcoves were added to each side.

To get to Cahokia take I-55 south to 255 till you come to 157 which runs into Cahokia, Follow 157 and you will see the Church on the left hand side of the road. There are many other sites to see in the area but I don't have the paper to write about all of them so just go and see a piece of history for your self!

SOURCES:

Archaeology at French Colonial Cahokia, by Bonnie L Gums, Studies in Illinois Archaeology No2, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency
Illinois Catholic Historical Review, Vol I No 4, April 1919, by Reverend Robert Hynes
U.S. Department of the Interior Blue prints of the Church of the Holy Family in St. Clair Co, Illinois State Historical Library
Illinois Catholic Historical Review, Vol 6, July-April 1923-1924, papers of Reverend Forget du Verger November 5, 1763, petition of Quebec Seminary to Illinois Commander, Letter from the Inhabitants of Cahokia to Bishop of Quebec June 6, 1787
John Todd's Record-Book and John Todd's papers reprinted from the Chicago Historical Society's Collections, Chicago Fergus Printing Company 1890
George Rogers Clark's personal memoirs
Marriage Record of Cahokia 1763 to 1802 by Icko Iben, in the Illinois State Archives Springfield Illinois.