Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Old Sauk Trail
Nature Bulletin No. 436-A   December 4, 1971
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

Sauk Trail Road crosses the extreme southern part of Cook County. From Richton Park it runs due west on a section line to Harlem Ave. and then, in Will County, angles slightly northwest to Frankfort. From Richton Park easterly to Dyer, Indiana, where it joins the Lincoln Highway (U.S. 30), it is different from most roads in this region. This appears to be a narrow winding survivor from the horse-and-buggy days. Actually, it is a remnant of the famous Great Sauk Trail.

Originally, the Sauk Trail ran easterly across Illinois from Rock Island to the Illinois River at about where Peru is now, paralleled the north bank of that river to Joliet, and thence easterly to Valparaiso, Indiana. From there it angled northeasterly to LaPorte and on across southern Michigan -- passing through or near Niles, Three Rivers, Jonesville, Clinton and Ypsilanti -- to Detroit.

For centuries, bands of red men traveled it in single file, on missions of peace or war, until they had beaten a narrow pathway deep in the soil. The Indian, traveling overland, picked the shortest safest route for easy trotting, often following paths worn by deer or buffalo. He was partial to low ridges but went around hills, lakes, swamps and places thick with thorny underbrush, That is why the Sauk Trail is so crooked. When the white men came they followed it -- LaSalle and other explorers, fur traders, missionaries, and parties of soldiers. The early settlers traveled it on horseback. Eventually it became a road used by stage coaches, buggies, farm wagons and now, finally, by automobiles.

The Sauk Trail crossed several very important Indian trails and many others joined it at various points. It crossed what became Hubbard's Trace and the Vincennes road at South Chicago Heights (Brown's Corner). Some historians believe that LaSalle made at least one trip over the Sauk Trail to Fort Miami which he and Tonty had built in 1678 near the mouth of the St. Joseph river in Michigan. It undoubtedly was used by the French after 1697 when they built Fort St. Joseph at Niles. A few miles south of there, at a place they called Parc aux Vaches (the "cow pen" or buffalo yard" ), was where Sauk Trail crossed the St. Joseph river and several important trails radiated from that crossing.

The Sauk (or Sac) and Fox Indians, like the Iroquois, hated the French and sided with the British. That alliance continued during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The British made them an annual payment of goods at Fort Malden, Canada, near Detroit. Later the United States government, in exchange for lands, annually paid $600 to the Sauk and $400 to the Fox in goods delivered at Fort Detroit. So Chief Blackhawk and his two tribes -- men, women, children, ponies and dogs -- traveled each year from Rock Island to Detroit over the Sauk Trail, as their painted braves had swiftly traveled it to make war on the French and Americans.

In 1781 an expedition of Spanish soldiers came up the Illinois river, east on Sauk Trail, seized Fort St. Joseph, flew their flag over it for 24 hours, and hastily retreated to St. Louis. In 1803 a company of American soldiers marched over it from Detroit to LaPorte and thence to Chicago where they built Fort Dearborn. About 1838 the Potawatomi in Michigan., Indiana and Illinois sadly traveled it to the Mississippi and their new homes farther west.

Like the Cumberland, Santa Fe and Oregon trails, the Great Sauk Trail made history. Four flags have been carried over it: French, Spanish, English and American. The Indians had no flags.

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