IAGenWeb Project

 Iowa History

       An IAGenWeb Special Project


Join the IAGenWeb Team



River Men



Part V

~ Researched and transcribed by Sue Rekkas



The Davenport Democrat and Leader--New Home Edition, July 17, 1924, page 19.





Credit Island, Now Greatest of Davenport Pleasure Grounds,

 Scene of Hot Battles Between British and Indians Century Ago



CREDIT ISLAND, that beautiful Davenport municipal pleasure ground on the Mississippi which has been known by almost as many names as Peggy Hopkins Jones, was once the scene of a hard-fought hand to hand battles between the pioneer American soldiers of this vicinity and the British and Indians in an aftermath of the War of 1812.  Today the element of competition, the less hostile, continues in the same locale between golf partners.


Pervious to his presidency of the United States, Zachary Taylor was a visitor to Davenport and Credit Island, and it was he who as Major Zachary Taylor, U. S. A. was in command of the troops at the battle of Credit Island.


On Aug. 21, 1814, the British were informed by the Fox Indians that an expedition larger than preceding expeditions had left St. Louis for the upper river.  Six days later, Captain Anderson sent Lieutenant Duncan Graham to meet this new force with a command of 20 British soldiers, a bass three-pounder, and two swivels, with instruction to harass the Americans and if possible compel a return to St. Louis.  Thus was brought about an engagement within the corporate limits of Davenport known as the battle of Credit Island.  The unwieldy nature of the keel boats, the inadequate  means of propulsion or maneuver, brought disaster to the American arms.  These were not battle ships but rather transports, and of the most primitive sort.  The issue of the conflict brought reproach in the officer in command, Major Taylor, later the hero of the Mexican War.


Reports On the Battle


Under the date of Fort Madison Sept. 6, 1814, Major Taylor reports to General Howard:  In obedience to your orders, I left Fort Independence on the 2d wit, and reached Rock River, our place of destination, on the evening of the 4th inst., without meeting a single Indian or any occurrence worthy of relation.  On my arrival at the mouth of Rock River the Indians began to make their appearance in considerable numbers; running up the Mississippi to the upper villages and crossing the river below us.


After passing Rock River, which is very small at the mouth, from an attentive and careful examination as "I proceeded up the Mississippi I was confident it was impossible for us to enter its mouth with our large boats.  Immediately opposite its mouth a large island commences, which together with the western shore of the Mississippi was covered with a considerable number of horses; which were doubtless placed in those situations in order to draw small detachments on shore.


But in this they were disappointed and I determined to alter the plan which you have suggested--which was to pass the different villages as if the object of the expedition was Prairie du Chien--for several reasons; first, that I might have an opportunity to viewing the situation of the ground to enable me to select such a landing as would bring our artillery to bear on the villages with the greatest advantage.


I was likewise in hopes a party would approach us with a flag, from which I expected to learn the situation of affairs at the Prairie, and ascertain in some measure their numbers and perhaps bring them to a council, when I should have been able to have retaliated on them for their repeated acts of treachery; or, if they were determined to attack us, I was in hopes to draw them some distance from their towns toward the rapids, run down in the night and destroy them before they could return to their defense.


But in this I was disappointed--the wind which had been in our favor, began to shift about at the time we passed the mouth of Rock River, and by the time we reached the head of the island, which is about a mile and a half long, it blew a perfect hurricane, quarterly  down the river, and it was with difficulty  we made land at a small island containing six or eight acres covered with willows, near the middle of the river, and about 60 yards from the upper end of the island.


In this situation I determined to remain during the night.  If the storm continued, as I knew the anchors of several of the boats in that event would not hold them and there was a great probability of their being drifted on sand bars, of which the river is full in this place, which would have exposed the men very much in getting them off, even if they could have prevented them filling with water.


The First Casualty.


It was about 4 o'clock in the evening when we were compelled to land, and large parties of Indians were on each side of the river, as well as crossing in different directions in canoes, but not a gun was fired from either side.  The wind continued to blow the whole night with violence, accompanied with some rain, which induced me to order the sentinels to be brought in and placed in the bow of each boat.


About daylight, Captain Whiteside's boat was fired on at the distance of about 15 paces, and a corporal who was on the outside of the boat was mortally wounded.  My orders  were if a boat was fired on, to return it, but not a man to leave the boat without positive orders from myself.


So soon as it got perfectly light, as the enemy continued about the boat, I determined to drum them from the island, let their numbers be what they might--provided we were able to do so.  I then assigned to each boat a proper guard, formed the troops for action, and pushed thru the willows to the opposite shore; but those fellows who had the boldness to fire on the boats cleared themselves as soon as the troops were formed, by wading from the island we were encamped on to the one just below us.


Captain Whitesides, who was on the left, was able to give them a warm fire as they reached the island they had retreated to.  They returned the fire for a few moments when they retreated.   In this affair we had two men badly wounded.  When Captain Whitesides commenced the fire, I ordered Captain Rector to drop down with the boat to ground and to rake the island below with artillery, and to fire on every canoe he should discover passing from one shore to the other  which should come in reach.


In this situation he remained about one hour, and no Indians making their appearance, he determined to drop down the island about 60 yards and destroy several canoes that were laying to shore.  This he effected, and just on getting his men on board the British commenced a fire on our boats with a six, a four , and two swivels, from behind a knoll that completely covered them."


The boats were entirely exposed to the artillery, which was distant about 350 paces from us.  So soon as the first gun fired, I ordered a six-pounder to be brought out and placed, but on recollecting a moment I found the boat would be sunk before any impression could be made on them by our cannon, as they were completely under cover and had already brought their guns to bear on our boats--for the round-shot from their six passed thru Lieutenant Hempstead's  boat and shattered her considerably.


The Attack Continues.


I then ordered the boats to drop down, which was done in order, and conducted with the greatest coolness by every officer, altho exposed to a constant fire from their artillery for more than half a mile.  So soon as they commenced firing  from their artillery the Indians raised the yell and commenced firing on us in every direction, whether they were able to do us any damage or not, from each side of the river.  Captain Rector, who was laying to the shore of the island, was attached the instant the first gun was fired, by a very large party, and in a close and well contested engagement of about 15 minutes they drove them, after giving three rounds of grape from his three-pounder.


Captain Whitesides, who was nearest to Captain Rector, dropped down and anchored nigh him, and gave the enemy several fires with his swivel; but the wind was to hard downstream as to drift his anchor.  Captain Rector at that moment got his boat off, and we were then exposed to the fire of the Indians for two miles, which was returned with interest from our small arms, and small pieces of artillery, whenever we could get them to bear.  I was compelled to drop down about three miles before a proper place presented itself for landing, as but few of the boats had anchors sufficient to stop them in the river.  Here I halted for the purpose of having the wounded attended, and some of the boats repaired, as some of them had been injured by the enemy's artillery.  They followed us in their boats until we halted on a small prairie and prepared for action, when they returned in as great a hurry as they followed us.


Outnumbered 3 to 1.


I then collected the officers together and out the following questions to them:  Are we able, 334 effective men--officers, non-commissioned men, and privates--to fight the enemy with any prospect of success and effect, which is to destroy their villages and corn?  They were of the opinion the enemy was at least three men to one, and that it was not practicable to effect either object.  I then determined to drop down the river to the Lemoine without delay, as some of the ranging(?) officers informed me their men were short of provisions and execute the principle object of the expedition in erecting an fort to command the river.  This shall be effected as soon as practicable with the means in my power, and should the enemy attempt to descend the river in force before the fort can be completed, every foot of the way from the fort to the settlements shall be contested.


In the affair at Rock River I had 11 men badly wounded, three mortally, of whom one has since died.  I am indebted to the officers for their prompt obedience to orders, nor do I believe a braver set of men could have been collected than those who composed this detachment.  But, Sir, I conceive it would have been madness in me, as well as a direct violation of orders to have risked the detachment without a prospect of success.  I believe I should have been fully able to accomplished your views, if the enemy had not been supplied with artillery, and so advantageously posted as to render it impossible for us to have dislodged him without imminent danger of the loss of the whole detachment.

                 ZA. TAYLOR.

Brevet  Major, Commanding, Dement

             Credit Island.


The larger of the two islands referred to in the communication by General Zachary Taylor, a short time after the battle referred to by him had attached to it the name of "Credit" Island, which name has subsequently been often changed to suit the whims or fancies of its several owners.


Just below Davenport, Mr. Downer continues, this beautiful island is situated and contains some 200 acres, one well wooded and now partially farmed (Mr. Downer's history was published in 1910).  It is a very creditable sort of island, indeed well-known all the country around.  It's a queer sort of name for an island; yet nothing discreditable as to name or condition.  It came honestly enough by it and this is how:

In the early days of this section, as far back as 1815 to 1830, the Great American Fur Company, did a thrifty business in this locality, selling goods to the Indians and taking pay in peltries.  It was the custom of the Indians to go on "tick".  They were good pay masters, it is said, but giving cash down was no part of their commercial training.  As a matter of fact, it is a good deal so with people of today who are not purely savage.  It was the custom of the noble red man, as soon as his delicate wives had gotten the corn, beans, and papooses gathered in the fall, to put out on their annual winter hunt after furred animals, but they had not ammunition at that time of year, having used it all the previous season.  Besides, their personal wardrobe was out of repair and their squaws and daughters desired something stunning for the winter gaieties.


Under the circumstances what could an Indian or even a white savage do but "run his face"?  What would you do yourself?  You would not sue your credit if you had any; so did the Indian.


It was the custom of the traders to appear along in September, and for the better protection of their goods and chattels and horses from unforeseen stampeding; invasion they almost invariably betook themselves to the island in question.  There they were visited in canoes by the Indians, who swarmed, hither from all the country round about to trade.  The traders would erect temporary stores in which were exposed for sale or barter vast quantities of goods in every description--dry, hard, and liquid--that were considered useful or ornamental in the proud savage's home.  The average Indian's word was considered gilt-edged,  and on four and six months' promises, generally bought all the powder, lead, guns, traps and dry goods desired, conditioned upon paying a rousing good price in peltries.  So the business, was all one on credit, and from the long duration of the custom here recited "the beautiful island below Davenport gained the well-known name of Credit Island.


On the 24th of December, 1814, peace was concluded at Ghent in Europe; but the act was not known for some months afterward.  Governor Reynolds later saw at St. Louis the boats that were in Taylor's battle--riddled with the cannon balls, which were made of lead.





back to History Index