Sunday, April 9, 2017

They called him "Nachusa"

In the spring of 1830 a man and his family moved from Springfield, IL. to a lonely spot along the Rock river where there was but one solitary cabin. At 46 years of age his hair was already snowy white from years of hardship and toil and as he unloaded his wagon that chilly April morning a drunken indian rushed at him with a spear. But the man stood his ground fearlessly and the drunkard was held back by clearer headed companions. For his display of bravery that day the Indians named him "Nachusa" which in their language meant white hair. That man was John Dixon.

Dixon was, at the time, the holder of a contract to deliver mail between Fort Clark (Peoria) and Galena and the reason he uprooted his family and came here was the previous ferryman's had fallen down on the job of transporting the mail stage across the river. not to mention the 15-20 wagons that crossed every day on their way to the lead mines of Galena.

The original cabin was only 18 feet square, far too small for Dixon and his family so with the help of his son James he built a second structure, two stories high, with a long connecting hallway in between. One cabin was used for him and his family, the other was used for servants and travelers. Eventually the structure was lengthened to 90 feet and he turns the long hallway into a trading post, bartering with the Indians for furs, and trading with the local frontiersmen that wandered thru.

During the Blackhawk war Dixon's reputation as being fair and honest with the natives paid off  and his trading post was never raided or attacked. During the war the army built a blockhouse on the opposite bank of the river and Dixon made a profit selling beef to the government for the troops. Amongst the soldiers stationed there were no less personages than Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis.

After the war Dixon prospered, helping form churches, businesses, and a great hotel was constructed which was called Nachusa House in his honor. The city started growing and in 1840 through Dixon's efforts the land grant office was moved from galena to Dixon, further inducements for people to settle there. He donated land so a court house could be built and later donated land for a public park. When the town selected it's first mayor he was the obvious choice to fill the role.

Yet for all his good works his prosperity was not to last. In 1843 misfortune struck when he entrusted over 11,000 dollars to a state contractor for the building of a railroad line that would connect Dixon with the rest of the state. But the man gambled the money away. Appalled, Dixon paid back the money out of his own pocket. His riverside cabin burned to the ground in 1845 and in 1847 his wife of many years passed away.

John Dixon died in 1876 at the age of 92. When the people heard the man they had once called "Father Dixon" was dead they draped the entire court house in black bunting. Ten thousand people attended his funeral service.

 Today, Dixon is a thriving, vibrant city that straddles the Rock river. If John Dixon were alive today he might not recognize the bustling town from the humble beginnings when he first arrived. But then again, he just might at that.  My thanks to Laurie Anderson for providing one of the photo's.

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