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Some years back, Leo Marty of Ramsey asked me to write a column about the creeks of Fayette County. I had written about the villages, schools, people and roads, but nothing on the creeks and branches that run through the valleys of Fayette County.
Turning my attention to this subject, I put together an article that appeared in this column. Several months ago, I received a telephone call from Jesse McClary, locally known singer/songwriter who told me that the story of the creeks, especially Hurricane Creek, had inspired him to write a song.
For those who were fortunate to be listening to the local radio station, WKRV, this past Friday morning, you were treated to a live version of the song, “Hurricane Creek.” It can also be heard on YouTube, and on the soon-to-be-released CD of the group, "Old Capitol Square Dance Club."
What an honor! To think that my words would light a spark for a songwriter. This is not the first song that Jesse has written that includes mentions of his hometown (Vandalia), and the places of his childhood (Elm Street, the Madonna statue in the song “Statue Guards,” the Old State Capitol and the Cumberland Trail).
This is a good time to revisit the creeks and streams of Fayette County, using the oldest primary source in my collection, a map drawn by Charles Barbeau in 1803.
Of the creeks in Fayette County, Hurricane Creek, with its branches and tributaries, is the mightiest. Barbeau platted Hurricane Creek and Hurricane Brook ("Huricaux Pourche" and "Huricaux Ruisseau") on his 1803 Chart of Rivers of the Illinois Land.
Barbeau also platted the village of the Kaskasky Indians south of the mouth of the Eau Carrie (an early name for Kaskaskia River), showing it was seven days "journee" to reach the mouth of the Hurricane Creek. Eau Carrie becomes Ocar on the 1810 Isaac Hill Map.
Hurricane Creek enters our county in Section 8 of South Hurricane Township from Montgomery County and cuts through Shafter, Bear Grove, Seminary and Pope Townships before emptying into the Kaskaskia River.
Charles Barbeau noted that it took four days' journey to reach the mouth of Hurricane Creek from the river. He also charted that it would take six days' travel to reach St. Louis, with the journey starting at the mouth of Hurricane Creek.
The creeks and streams were major guide points to the indigenous people, as well as the early trappers, traders and surveyors entering the vast forest and prairie lands of interior Illinois.
The Barbeau map of 1803 indicates that except for a few English Traders (Anglais Pelleteru) and several Indian villages in the northernmost parts of the territory, there were no settlements in this area.
He shows that the Indians near the English trader along the Eau Carrie River did not have guns (sans fusil), while the inhabitants of the other village to the west had both horses and guns.
The earliest settlements began along the watercourses. Howard’s Point had its beginnings along Sugar Creek. The village of Hurricane in the township of the same name, was strung out for about a half mile along the Dry Fork of the Hurricane.
Hickory Creek, southeast of Vandalia, had enough water to run Dutee Jerauld’s mill, built in 1834 at Middle Frogtown (Loogootee), as did the William James' mill on Boaz Creek near the original site of Ramsey. However, Guy Beck’s mill on Beck’s Creek in Carson Township oftentimes did not have enough water to run.
Fayette County was the hunting grounds for the northern Indian tribes, including Potawatomie, Kickapoo, Sauk and Fox, and some of our place names reflect this. Camp Creek, east of Vandalia, was originally named Indian Camp Creek, and is shown with this name on an old map. The name of Sauk Creek in Sefton Township has degenerated over the years into Suck Creek.
The creek due west of my house is Hoffman Creek (pronounced Huffman), and has its beginning southeast of Bayle City. The naming of the creek confused me for several years until I found 40-year-old Michael Huffman living in Sharon Township on census records for 1820.
Lee Creek in Kaskaskia Township is named for the Lee family. Lemuel Lee built the first mill at Vandalia with his brothers, who were all here before statehood. Bolt Creek in Ramsey Township identifies the Bolt family, and there is a cemetery of the same name in Section 25.
Eli Forbis, considered the first settler in Sefton Township, has a cemetery and a creek named for him. The Mitchells have a creek, as do the Linns; Scipio Petitt didn’t get a creek, but has Petitt Branch in Bowling Green Township.
Checking the plat book, Loudon Township appears to have the most creeks, streams and branches: Hog and Bacon creeks merge before emptying into the Kaskaskia River; then there’s Wolf, Cedar, Fanny, Riley Run and Moccasin (Indian).
Wild panthers or catamounts gave the name to Panther Creek in South Hurricane Township, as did bears, wolves and raccoons to their creeks. Maggot Creek in Pope Township runs along the upper reaches of Carlyle Wildlife Management area. We won’t go into that.
Dismal Creek in LaClede Township matches its name, and is not a main feeder stream, although LaClede Township is important in its own right. The 1878 Fayette County History book has this to say: “There are no streams of importance in LaClede Township, it being the dividing line for the waters running east and west into the Wabash and Kaskaskia Rivers.”
Wilberton Township was first called Richland, and Richland Creek took its name from the township. This creek runs from Wilberton Township through Kaskaskia before exiting near Pecan Island on the Kaskaskia River.
My mother’s childhood home was along Flat Creek in southern Wilberton Township, and I remember my oldest brother, Ed, running trap lines there years ago. Wheatland Township was watered by Walnut, Stone and Little Hickory creeks. Casser Creek, south of Shobonier, has one of the more unusual names.
If I’ve counted correctly, I have mentioned 32 Fayette County creeks and streams, of which the Hurricane is the mightiest.