The War of 1812 and the Indian Threat
Some of the challenges of life in Kaskaskia were not the result of nature. One of the largest challenges was the danger of confrontations with Indians. The normal antipathy between American settlers and the Indians was caused by the issue of control of the land. The normal tensions between the two groups were greatly increased by the clandestine activities of the British merchants and military personnel. The British hoped to stir up trouble among the American Indians, and slow, or stop, the expansion of American settlement beyond the Appalachian Mountains.
When Ninian Edwards became territorial governor in 1809, one of his first major endeavors was the organization and strengthening of the territorial militia. Benjamin Stephenson was appointed Brigade Major and later as Adjutant. To protect the frontier, Edwards commissioned the construction of a line of block houses across the territory from east to west. The line was anchored by the construction of Fort Russell just north of Edwardsville. Throughout the period, Edwards had negotiated with the Pottawatomie chief, Gomo. The breakdown of negotiations with Gomo made the prospect of peaceful relations with the Indians almost impossible. Continuing raids and confrontations between small groups of settlers and Indians throughout 1811 culminated in August 1812, with the fall of Fort Dearborn in the Chicago area. The Indian massacre of the defenseless military garrison, and a number of civilians, after surrender galvanized public opinion. Governor Edwards then decided to undertake a campaign against the Indians at Peoria Lakes. The campaign was supposed to include a large contingent of soldiers from Kentucky, but the Kentucky troops failed to appear. Thus, the force led by Governor Edwards was anchored by the mounted rangers under Colonel Russell, a hero of the Revolutionary War battle of King’s Mountain. The force also included mounted militia volunteers commanded by Charles Rector and the newly promoted Colonel Benjamin Stephenson.
On the 18th of October 1812, Edwards and nearly 400 mounted troops marched north out of Fort Russell. Near present-day Springfield, the force burned two Kickapoo villages on the Saline Fork of the Sangamon River. From there they turned west and marched to Peoria where they attacked villages associated with the Kickapoo, Miami, and Pottawatomie. According to Edward’s report to the Secretary of War, they burned the villages and large amounts of provisions and other valuables. They also captured about 80 head of horses, took four prisoners, and killed from 24 to 30 Indians. The troops then returned to Fort Russell on the first of November. Governor Edwards subsequently released the militia believing that most of the problems had been settled.
Throughout the first part of 1813, however, scattered Indian attacks continued in both the Illinois and Missouri territories. Governor Howard of Missouri resigned his position of governor and took a general’s commission in command of the rangers of both territories. By August 1813 General Howard had gathered the Illinois and Missouri rangers augmented by a large number of militia from both territories. Colonel Benjamin Stephenson commanded the Illinois militia. The army of nearly 1400 men marched north along the Mississippi with Stephenson commanding the militia east of the river; Howard commanded the troops west of the Mississippi. Nearing modern day Quincy, they took a large deserted Sac camp. They then marched east from the Mississippi to the Illinois River and made their way to Peoria. They then marched north from Peoria to Gomo’s Pottawatomie village, which was found to be deserted. While the entire campaign involved no battles, it served to disperse the Indians and forestalled later attacks. Having established several small forts to control the area, the entire army returned to Fort Russell by late October 1813.