Twelve Mile Grove
Twelve Mile Grove, what is today Wilton Center, was a notable landmark in Will County. According to the History of Wilton Illinois, 1907, “There was no part of Will County that was better known in early times than ‘Twelve Mile Grove’. . . . True there was prairie all around, but that was not thought of. It was at Twelve Mile Grove where everybody in that section lived, and it was there that all went, who went in that direction. It was a famous locality in many respects. It was a large one, covering some square miles in its original state, and furnished lumber and fuel for all who wanted it. In the early days of the grove, it was one of the finest tracts of timber in all northern Illinois . . . in the beauty and size of its black walnuts, oaks and hickories, and they furnished the early settler with all the timber and fuel needed for a year. Then it was a famous hunting ground for deer and wild turkeys, while the prairies abounded in chickens and other small game. It was an Indian reservation and the trail to the Des Plaines timber in the Kankakee River led directly through it, and thus it was a great highway of the natives in their journeys to the south and east, the grove furnishing to them an excellent camping place, in which to erect their tepees and replenish their stock of provisions. A branch of Forked Creek runs through the grove. . .and no better camping place could anywhere be found than on the smooth banks of that stream.”
The village referenced in the Treaty of Tippecanoe, Na-be-na-qui-nong, existed in Twelve Mile Grove at the time of the treaty.
Even though the treaty granted natives rights to Twelve Mile Grove, the Potawatomi voluntarily left four years later, in 1836.
“They simply abandoned their lands here, not because of any encroachments by the whites, nor because of their inability to hold the title to the land. . .but, perhaps, because they did not like the idea of being separated so far from others of their race” who had already moved to new lands west of the Mississippi River, speculates the History of Will County, 1878.
The concept of reservations must have been difficult for the Potawatomi to grasp. According to the Prairie Band website, “During this time of advancing settlement, the Potawatomi people held no real concept of land ownership. Their beliefs taught them that land belonged to all living things alike. However, the U.S. Government, in its first treaties with the Indians, established boundaries for tribal land.”
Traces of History
Having been occupied for many generations of Potawatomi, Twelve Mile Grove contained “many traces of the former occupation” by the native tribes when the first settlers arrived, records the History of Will County, 1878. “Among the most interesting of these, illustrating their methods of sepulcher [burial], were the tombs of three Indians, supposed, from the profusion of their decorations, to be chiefs. The sepulcher. . . consisted of a little pen, built up of small sticks, laid one upon the other, to the height of above four feet, being from four to five feet square. The whole was covered with sticks, weighed down with heavy stones. And therein, on a kind of stool, sat the three ‘poor Loes,’ looking lonesome and ghastly enough. The cracks between the sticks composing the pens were sufficiently wide to admit of inspection, while being too small to allow of their being disturbed by wild animals. In this position, these ghastly remains sat in all of their feathers, beads and jewelry, with the flesh decaying from their bones, for a number of years, till at length a foolish lad, who lived in the neighborhood, upset their bones about the surrounding country.”