Long before the French traders and pelters discovered the Kaskaskia River and her tributaries, the land encompassed by Fayette County was part of vast hunting grounds for various Indian tribes.
These included the Kickapoo, Sac-Fox and the warlike Potawatomie, among others. They followed the game and came annually in large parties.
It was to these lands that Griffin Tipsword came in 1813, acknowledged as one of the earliest settlers in this part of the territory. He is considered the first white man to settle in Effingham County. His family name had been Sowards, and it is told in the Tipsword family that his wife, Ruth, was Indian.
Born near the Susquehanna River in the state of Pennsylvania on Oct. 10, 1755, Griffin was a son of Isaac and Milliston Soward.
When they first came to the Illinois Territory, the family lived first in White County, moving from there after some "Indian trouble." As told in the family, two braves accompanied Griffin to his cabin and became drunk and unruly. They also became dead, and Griffin took their bodies back to their village with his explanation of what happened.
The Tipsword family immediately packed up their belongings and headed north, settling along the Wabash River in what would become Effingham County.
During his time living among the Indians, Griffin learned many things … their dialect, dances and superstitions. He left his eldest son, Thomas, with them to learn their ways. Thomas later rejoined his family in Effingham County and married Annie Waller. Their descendents live there today.
Griffin also practiced medicine and was remembered as a preacher. In those days, people believed that disease was the work of witches and spells. When people were bewitched, they would send for Tipsword. It was said that he kept his “witchballs” to the day he died.
He would have been in his early 20s when he served in the American Revolution. Records in Coles County indicate that he testified that he had seen military service and "had been wounded by musket shot from the enemy’s gun." He testified that his discharge, issued by Gen. Washington at the close of the war, was "sunk in the Ohio River."
Although Griffin twice applied for a pension and two comrades made affidavits on his behalf, it was adjudged that he could not prove service and did not receive a pension.
It was before 1820 and more settlers were moving into the area, and into the Indian hunting grounds. The Indians along the Wabash issued a warning to all white settlers living in Shelby and Fayette counties that they had three days in which to leave or all would be massacred. They planned on making a sweep from Shelbyville through Vandalia and on to St. Louis.
The whites were terror-stricken. Three days was too short a time in which to get away, yet it was too long a time to wait in dread horror the cruel torture and death they knew awaited them. Many fled with their families.
Several men approached Tipsword and asked him to intercede for them with the Indians, since he knew the language and was accepted among them. Tipsword had also been warned to leave, and did not know what he could do.
On the final day, the Indians held a powwow in the woods, and Tipsword attended as a spectator. He had friends among the chiefs and braves. Several Indians spoke, urging them to adjourn, paint their faces and bodies, and begin the slaughter. These sentiments met with general approval.
Later, speakers told the people that, indeed, they held it in their power to murder all the pale faces. But, suppose they did this – would not the word go to the people of the states and would not an army, numbering as leaves in the forest, come here and kill every Indian in the territory?
The massacre was averted; the settlers spared. We will never know what role, if any, Griffin Tipsword had in this final outcome.