Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Nature Bulletin No. 748   March 21, 1964
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roberts Mann, Conservation Editor

SHABBONA: Friend of the White Men
Near the entrance to Evergreen Cemetery at Morris, Illinois, stands a monument on which is carved the name SHABBONA. Beneath it rest the bones of a remarkable man. Of him we may say what has been said about the Shawnee chieftain, Tecumseh: "One of the greatest of American Indians, with a superb body, a powerful mind, and the soul of a hero.

Gurdon S. Hubbard, pioneer citizen of Chicago, spoke of "Chaboneh" as remarkable for his generous and forgiving nature, his integrity, and being always a friend to the white settlers.

Shabbona was a tall burly man, with a wide pleasant face, whose name -- variously recorded as Shau-b-nee, Chaboneh, Chamblee, and several other ways -- meant "strong built like a bear". He and Tecumseh, unlike many Indians, were remarkably temperate: rarely indulging in "fire water" and habitually humane to captives .

Although no orator, he was a wise and courageous leader who foresaw the futility and tragic consequences of battling against the ever- growing tide of white settlers. In 1832, when Blackhawk met with the Potawatomi and Ottawa, urging them to join with the Sauk and Fox tribes in warring upon the whites, Shabbona dissented, saying "And the army of pale faces you will have to encounter will be as numerous as the leaves on those trees .

Shabbona was an Ottawa Indian, an Algonquian tribe driven out of southeastern Ontario by the Iroquois and westward to Michigan. From there, allied with the Chippewa and Potawatomi in a confederation called "The Three Fires", they spread southward into Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, and became closely intermingled with the Potawatomi. Their greatest chiefs were Pontiac and, later, Shabbona.

Two of his white friends and biographers say that Shabbona's birthplace was in Canada. Another quotes him as saying that it was along the Maumee river in northwestern Ohio. The best authorities state that he was born, in 1775 or 1776, in one of the Indian villages along the Kankakee river near where it joins the Des Plaines to form the Illinois river, 10 miles upstream from Morris.

His first wife was a daughter of the Potawatomi chief of a band whose village was along the Illinois river near Ottawa. When he died, Shabbona became the chief. A few years later they moved about 25 miles north of Ottawa to a wooded "prairie island" in the southern part of DeKalb county and there, in what is now a DeKalb county forest preserve, is her grave. In the treaty negotiated by the United States with the Sauk, Fox, Sioux and "The Three Fires" at Prairie du Chien in 1829, grants of land were made to Shabbona, Billy Caldwell (The Sauganash), Alexander Robinson (Che-che-pin-qua) and others as rewards for their good deeds. Shabbona received 1280 acres including that prairie island.

In 1807 he was the one who persuaded most of the Indians in the Northwest Territory to follow Tecumseh in an all-out war, aided by the British, to drive every American from this region. But after Tecumseh was killed and they failed to capture the fort at Detroit, he transferred his allegiance -- permanently -- to the United States. During the Blackhawk War he guided American troops on their westward marches across Illinois; and during the subsequent "Winnebago Scare" he spent days and nights warning white settlers in the Illinois valley and as far as Chicago.

Eventually his title to the DeKalb county lands was forfeited and until he died, in 1859, he lived on a 20-acre tract, south of Morris, donated by patriotic white people. Our Shabbona Woods forest preserve, west of Calumet City and site of the Sand Ridge Nature Center, is named for that heroic friend of the white men.

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