Pondering the Past: Tales Lost in Time

As a person moves about McHenry County and glances at the landscape, it can be difficult to imagine that this place was once a desolate and rolling prairie. It may be even harder to imagine that Native American communities once existed here. Northeastern Illinois was home to several Native American tribes until 1836. In September of 1833, a treaty was signed in Chicago that ceded all of the remaining lands east of the Mississippi River to the US Government. The Indians that called present day Coral Township home had until August of 1836 to remove themselves to a reservation in Missouri. The treaty also prohibited any settlers from moving into the area prior to 1836. This agreement didn’t stop a handful of zealous pioneers, who are described in the 1885 book History of McHenry County, Illinois as, “anxious to test the soil of the new country,” from disregarding the treaty and moving into the Marengo area.

William Hamilton of Ohio was the first settler to move into Coral Township in November of 1835. He built his shelter near the present-day location of Coral. Located just a short distance west of his home was an Indian village consisting of a group of wigwams constructed of bark. Amongst this collection of dwellings was one large conical structure used as a council house. Hamilton and some of his fellow settlers must have believed that this Indian town was abandoned. They pulled the bark off the wigwams and used the material to construct their own shelters. Hamilton also procured some copper pots from the village. In the spring of 1836, the inhabitants of the village returned and found their settlement to be in disarray. They wintered at another location and returned to Coral to live out their allotted time in Illinois. One of their first activities, to the settlers’ amazement, was to open a pit that contained corn from the previous year’s harvest. They also visited Hamilton’s home and re-procured their copper pots. The Indians went about their lives in Coral near their new neighbors. Eventually, they yielded to the swarm of pioneers that moved into the Marengo-Union area. Their departure is not documented; but one thing is for certain-- Hamilton didn’t see them leave. He died that spring in 1836 from an injury that he sustained the previous fall. He was injured by a falling timber, while helping Calvin Spencer, the founder of Marengo, build a log structure.