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The attempt to give in a succinct manner a truthful history of Vincennes from its first settlement has been a difficult one, since so few authentic records of facts exist; and any one essaying it must rely upon facts gleaned here and there, and from uncertain traditions to make a connected whole. This statement should not be wondered at, since more than a century and a half of time presents itself as the field from which the grains of truth must be gathered, often from the chaff of hearsay. Hence, the task at the start assumed herculean proportions, and, if mistakes are not made, the gleaner must be considered infallible as to opportunities in gathering facts. And, if preconceived opinions are antagonized and cherished mythical images be shattered by stern and rugged facts, the possessors of them must draw consolation from the thought that myths of traditions are ephemeral, while truths must abide.
Letter of Dedication.
To the Vincennes Historical Society:
Nearly three years ago you were kind and complimentary enough to invite me to read a paper before your body on the history of Old Vincennes. My reply was that I was then not familiar enough with the subject to furnish you any valuable information about it, but that I would write a paper on “Vincennes and Its People as I Knew Them Fifty Years Ago," which I did; and the effort was flatteringly received and published by the local press. The commendation given that paper was the inspiration for an investigation of the founding of the town, and the result has been the production of the present volume, after much thought and research. It embraces, I believe, valuable information and incidents not hitherto published in consecutive and permanent form suitable for libraries, and which I now take the liberty of dedicating to your honorable body.
Your most obedient co-worker,
HUBBARD MADISON SMITH, M. D.
Vincennes, Ind., October, 1902.
OLD VINCENNES-ITS SETTLEMENT.
The historian in his disposition must be patient of labor, persevering, inflexible in his love of truth and justice, and free from every prejudice.-Mosheim.
INCENNES is situated on the site of the old
Che-pe-ko-ke, Piankeshaw Indian village, on the
east bank of the Wabash river, one hundred and fifty-one miles east of St. Louis, Mo.; one hundred and ninety-two miles west from Cincinnati, Ohio; one hundred and seventeen miles southwest of Indianapolis, and about fifty miles from Evansville, on the Ohio river, south, and Terre Haute on the Upper Wabash to the north; being so centrally located between the leading cities named, studded with railroads reaching in all directions, it occupies an ideal location for a large city in the coming near future.
The site on which Vincennes is situated seems to have been a favorite location for the habitation of the human race for many hundred years, its beginning reaching far back into the distant past, and how many will never be known. From the heaps of shells, some even from the seashore, and skeletons found in this vicinity, some historians have suggested that the first race of inhabitants here were the Fishers, and the next the Mound Builders, as is evidenced by the many mounds in the immediate vicinity, and others scattered over a large area in the county. Then followed the Red Men, who continued to occupy it until dispossessed by the stronger, more enlightened Caucasian race.
This location, being so ideal in character, surrounded by beautiful forests, wide-spreading prairies, abounding in game, from grouse to buffalo, and dotted over in the summer season with its myriads of gorgeous flowers, like the stars of the firmament; broad savannas bordered by the gently flowing crystal waters of the placid Wabash river, swarming with the finny tribe, was well calculated to appeal strongly to less æsthetic tastes than those characteristic of the higher civilization of the Europeans. But it is not the purpose of the author to try to solve the question of the time of the first occupation of this place prehistorically, and by whom, but to seek a solution of the questions, when was the first advent of the white race to the Piankeshaw Indian village, Che-pe-ko-ke,* and the time when Vincennes was founded.
The date of the first settlement or founding of Vincennes has been a mooted question for many years, owing to the inaccessibility of the earliest records concerning the subject, they being located in Paris, France, and the number of years intervening since its occurrence. The discussions have been many, often based upon misconceptions received from various sources of information, hence traditions have been, in many instances, recorded as veritable history. Then, in seeking solutions of the problem presented, recorded facts must be relied on as far as they exist, as bases, aided by reason and corroborating circumstances germane to the question, and by legitimate inferIn discussing the first settlement of Vincennes we must enter upon it dispassionately and without prejudice produced by preconceived opinions formed on misinformation, and statements made should not rest upon the ipse dixit of any one, but should have for their bases well-authenticated facts, not traditions.
*Meaning Brushwood, in English.
“To hold their claim upon the Mississippi valley the French, in 1702, determined to establish some posts along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and M. Juchereau did erect a fort at the mouth of the Ohio. Some writers have attempted to claim that Vincennes was the site of this fort, but the records oppose such a view."*
In his Memoirs (to the French Government) in 1702 De Iberville asked possession of the River Ohio, and that the Illinois Indians might be colonized. He said: “The Illinois, having been removed, I could cause it to be occupied by the Mascoutens and Kickapoos. Very little of these removals occurred as planned, but one tribe of the Mascoutens came to the mouth of the River Ohio and settled near the fort.”+
After Lamotte Cadillac founded a permanent settlement at Detroit and about the close of the year 1702 the Sieur Juchereau, a Canadian officer, assisted by the missionary, Mermet, made an attempt to establish a post on the Ohio near the mouth of the river. The contentions that Vincennes was the objective point of Sieur Juchereau and his Canadian settlers is disproved in many ways, the error occurring through early writers in using the name of the Wabash for the Ohio river. Judge Law, in his his
* W. H. Smith's Hist. Ind., p. 12. + Minn. Hist. Society, Vol. I, pp. 341-313, 1 Dillon Hist. Ind., p. 21.