My thoughts this week have turned to the upcoming Thanksgiving celebration.
In addition to the turkey-baking and pumpkin pie-making, my thoughts also turned backward to past celebrations with our family over the past 60 years.
In the Beck family story, preserved by George Beck, is found the earliest account of a feast of thanksgiving in Fayette County stretching back to the year 1816.
George wrote, “The first white people to come among the Indians in what is now known as Shelby and Fayette counties was our great-grandfather, Paul Beck, who with his family, came up from Kentucky and to the Big Spring.
“Upon arriving at the Kaskaskia River, at the present site of the city of Vandalia, a search was made for a spring of water and one was found under the bluff just south of where the old trail crosses the river.
“Some of our folks claim that he stopped here for some time and built a cabin on the bluff above the spring, but my step-father claims he only tarried here a few days and then moved on up to the Big Spring, where he made his future home.
“In all pioneer settlements among the Indians, the one indispensible equipment for the whites was a fort for protection against the treachery of these wild men, and any location for a settlement must also include a good site for a fort.
“Grandfather made reconnoitering trips up the river looking for the most favorable location for a settlement and fort site. During one of these trips, he discovered a large creek emptying into the river from the west. He followed the creek around the large hill and came upon the big spring about a mile from the mouth of the creek.
“The spring had a flow of water about five or six inches deep and about three feet wide and is the largest spring that we ever saw.
“This creek and spring was named in his honor and has since been known as Beck Creek and Beck Spring. Here he met a prominent Indian chief, who bid him welcome and professed great friendship for him and invited him to come and make his home among them.
“Our people lived among these Indians for several years before any other white people came to Fayette County territory. Our ancestors were never molested in any way by these Indians because of certain agreements made when he came to live among them.
“Along with other things, he agreed to accept the Indian tribal government as his government, agreed to not cut down large trees and protect, preserve game and fish. And as a special privilege for living at the big spring, he was to spread a feast of thanksgiving once a year for all the tribe.
“This feast was held annually and lasted until all the grub was consumed – the eats consisted of three or four deer, several wild turkeys, corn pone, pumpkin, squash and many other pioneer delicacies.
“Aunt Rachel (Guy Beck’s wife) cooked the venison and other meat in a large iron kettle, which the Indians enjoyed hugely, saying as they danced around, 'Aunt Rachel heap good cook.'
“Black Hawk’s War brought to a close Indian wars east of the Mississippi River. Some of these Indians took part in Black Hawk’s War, and when they returned to their old Kaskaskia grounds, they found the whites up in arms against them. They huddled together around big lake and over on big creek.
“When the time came for the Indians to move on west of the great father of waters, the old chief remembered his friend, Uncle Guy Beck, and begged him to go with the tribe to see that the solders who were taking them west did not kill them for the part they took in the Black Hawk War.”
In the continuation of the story, George Beck said that in about the year 1833, Guy Beck accompanied the Indians as far as the Mississippi River.
The Beck family is given credit for being the first white men to make a settlement in what is now Fayette County. Thanks to the family stories of George Beck, we now learn that just as with the Puritans, the neighboring Indians befriended them – thus insuring their survival in the Illinois territory.