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River Men



Part VI




~ Researched and Transcribed by Sue Rekkas


 The Davenport Democrat and Leader, July 20, 1924, page 83.


High Lights on Early History of Davenport Show How From 1814 on Civilization Unfolded.



..”The thing that is interesting, however, is the first years of Davenport’s existence, Major Zachary Taylor, later president, had been in charge of the soldiers, who came on an expedition for the purpose of establishing forts on the Upper Mississippi.  Three armed boats had left Cap au Gris under orders, to destroy the Indian settlements near Rock Island.  The plan was frustrated by a combined force of Indians and British.  Taylor retreated from a superior force that had positions of strategic character on the neighboring island known chronologically as Credit, Offerman’s, Grand, Suburban park and Credit Island.”



The Saturday Evening Post Burlington Iowa, November 7, 1914



One hundred years ago, in September, 1814, British bullets sang through the woods not far from the present site of the city of Davenport, when the so-called battle of Credit Island was fought between a small company of British and Indians and a force of Americans.  “In July,” says the writer of an article recently published by the State Historical Society of Iowa “an American force under Lieutenant John Campbell was checked three miles above Rock Island by a party of Sacs and Foxes under the command of Black Hawk, suffered a bloody repulse, and retreated with a loss of nine killed, sixteen wounded, and one boat of stores captured.  To destroy the village and crops of these hostile Sacs and Foxes upon the Rock River, Major Zachary Taylor set off from St. Louis with about 350 men in August.  On the 6th day of September, as Taylor’s armed keel-boats were preparing to ascend Rock Rapids, an English artillery officer with thirty men welcomed Taylor’s force with a brass three pounder and two swivels; these were handled so dexterously with co-operation from the Sacs and Foxes on shore that the American boats hastily retired down-stream.”



The Davenport Democrat and Leader, July 20, 1924, page 100.





Few of the Davenporters to whom Campbell’s Island is a familiar place realize that one of the most important events of the city’s history took place there when Lieutenant Campbell, traveling up the river to Prairie Du Chein, was attacked by Indians under the command of Chief Black Hawk.


The battle was one of the most exciting in the long record of those early encounters, when the settlers warred with an unfriendly race besides with the unfriendly elements.


Early in July, 1814, an expedition under the command of Captain John Campbell, First United States Infantry, left St. Louis and proceeded to Prairie du Chien to strengthen the garrison at that place.  The expedition, consisting of 42 regulars, 66 rangers and about 21 other persons, including boatmen, women, and the sutler’s establishment, went up the river in three keel-boats as far as Rock Island, near which place the expedition was attacked by Indians and nearly destroyed.



Expedition Reaches Rock Island.


Lieutenant Campbell commanded the boat with the regulars, and Captain Stephen Rector and Lieutenant Riggs the other two barges manned by rangers.  The expedition reached Rock Island in peace, but the Sac and Fox Indians, in great numbers swarmed around the boats while still professing peace.  The barge commanded by Rector was navigated by the French of Cahokia, who were sailors and soldiers.  During the night, while the boats lay still at Rock Island, the Indians were making hollow professions of friendship.  Many of the French, knowing the Indians too well, informed Lieutenant Campbell of their treachery.  But the Lieutenant could not be convinced that the Indians were anything but friendly.  Not without reason were the fears of the French; the Indians wanted them to leave the Americans and go home.  They would squeeze the hands of the French, pulling their heads down the river, indicating to leave.  The Indians disliked to fight their old friends the French.


  “Campbell’s Island.”


When the fleet set sail in the morning the wind above Rock Island blew so hard that Campbell’s boat was forced on a lee shore and lodged on a small island near the mainland, known from the circumstance as “Campbell’s Island.”  Commanded by Black Hawk the Indians began an attack on the boat as soon as it hit the shore.  Ahead, the boats of Rector and Riggs could see the smoke of the fire arms but could not hear the report of the guns.  The two ships returned to assist Campbell, but the wind was so high that their barges were almost unmanageable; they were forced to anchor at some distance from Campbell, unable to help him, because the storm raged so severely.


Driven ashore by the wind, Campbell’s men began cooking their breakfast.  But in spite of the sentinels that Campbell had placed out, the enemy rushed in on them by the hundreds, killing many on the spot.  The survivors took rescue in the boat where, on and around it, the warriors kept up a continuous attack until they succeeded in setting the boat on fire.


Rector to the Rescue.


Campbell’s men had almost ceased firing when Rector and his men came to the rescue.  The bottom of the burning boat was covered with the dead and the wounded.    Campbell himself lay wounded in the midst of his men.  Rector and his men, unable to remain inactive spectators to the destruction of Campbell and his men, had raised their anchor in a tempest of wind and, in the face of almost a thousand Indians, had imperiled their lives to rush to the scene of action.

During the rest of the war in the west, no act of daring and bravery surpassed the rescue of Campbell.  The French rangers under Rector were well acquainted with managing a boat in such a crisis, while neither the commander nor his men lacked in chivalry and patriotism.

Rector’s boat had first been lightened by casting overboard quantities of provisions.  Many of the crew then actually got out of the boat into the water, and leaving the vessel between them and the fire of the enemy, pushed their boat against fire, the entire distance to Campbell’s boat, which was in the possession of the Indians.  Rector and his 40 men made a steady advance until, forcing their barge to the burning boat they faced nearly a thousand of the enemy and carried the wounded and living soldiers, together with their commander, to safety.


Return to St. Louis.


By his superior knowledge of the management of a vessel, a saltwater sailor by the name of Doadley did gallant service in the daring enterprise.


Rector took all the live men from Campbell’s boat into his, while his men, in the water, hauled their own boat out into the stream.  The Indians fasted on the abandoned boat of Campbell.


With his boat crowed with wounded and dying, Rector rowed night and day until they reached St. Louis.  The boat of Riggs was supposed to have been captured by the enemy, but the vessel, strongly fortified, lay in the hands of the enemy for several hours, the enemy in possession of the outside, the whites the inside.  In the evening the wind subsided so that Riggs got his boat off, leaving the Indians in the lurch.


There was a general jubilee in St. Louis when Riggs, without losing many men, arrived in safety.  But Rector and Riggs, with their troops, presented a distressing sight, those who were not wounded were worn down to skeletons by labor and fatigue.




Iowa, The First Free State in the Louisiana Purchase:

From Its Discovery To The Admission of the State Into the Union, 1673-1846. 

William Salter, Chicago A. C. McClure & Co 1905, pages 94-96.


In order to break up a nest of British traders and hostile Indians on the upper Mississippi, Governor Clark early in May, 1814, went up the river with a gunboat and barges, and one hundred and fifty volunteers and sixty regulars, and built a fort at Prairie du Chien.  The Governor returned to St. Louis, leaving the troops to hold the fort; but an overwhelming force of British and Indians compelled its capitulation on the seventeenth of July.  About the same time, troops on the way up the river with reinforcements and supplies, under Captain John Campbell, met with a furious assault form the Sacs and Foxes at Rock Island.  The savages were marshaled by Black Hawk, and swarmed about the boats on both sides of the river.  They killed nine, wounded sixteen of the Americans, captured one of the boats with its stores, and compelled a retreat.  The British commander at Prairie du Chien reported it as “perhaps the most brilliant action fought by Indians only, since the commencement of the war.”


To chastise those Indians and destroy their villages and corn-fields, another force was sent from St. Louis in August under Major Zachary Taylor.  Approaching Rock Island, a British flag was seen flying, and a cannon-shot that struck Major Taylor’s boat gave him the first warning that a British force would dispute his passage.  A Lieutenant from Prairie du Chien had come in answer to an appeal from the Indians, bringing a brass three-pounder and two swivels.  They were posted on the west side of the river.  At the same time bands of Foxes, Winnebagoes, and Sioux came down the Mississippi to help the Sacs.  Black Hawk again marshaled the Indians on both sides of the river.  The guns were well handled.  The Indians dragged them from one position to another with high glee, and drowned each report of the guns with yells and acclaims.  After fatal skirmishing (eleven men were badly wounded, three mortally), finding it impossible to dislodge the enemy without endangering his whole command, Major Taylor retired down the river.  This was on the sixth of September, 1814.



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