When you walk through Beall Woods State Park and along Coffee Creek, you may get a sense of what this area of the state was like 220 years ago. If you travel upriver about 40 miles you will come to the old city of Vincennes, IN, called Post St. Vincent, which at that time was the territorial capital of the Northwest Territory. It was from Vincennes that four brothers of French descent came down river to make their fortune trading with the Piankishaw Indians of the area.
The men, Augustus, William, Joseph and Francis were the sons of Mrs. Tougas. The lady had married Mr. Lavellette and her sons were known by both last names. In 1800 Augustus and William settled and built log homes along the Wabash at Coffee Creek. They were large athletic men, particularly Augustus (said to be 6 foot 6 inches tall) who were on good terms with the Indians and often competed in contests of strength and agility which commanded great respect from the Indians. Other Frenchmen soon came and settled the area also.
Joseph and Francis settled in Lawrence County in the area which became St. Francisville and they were known by the Tougas name. Joseph built a fort there for protection from the Indians (Shawnee). William is said to have been the first to trade with the Indians and he brought his family along when he came to the area. He lived near Coffee Creek several years, went to Lawrence County and started a ferry then returned to Coffee precinct, settling in section 11, the current location of Beall Woods State Park.
In 1816 or 1816 Joseph built a horse-mill for grinding grain, the first in the area. This was a large attraction for other settlers of the time; to have their grain ground into meal to feed their families or to sell. It is said folks came from as far as 60 miles away to do business at this grist mill.
In 1815 William was assessed taxes for this "mansion house". It was the only one in two counties at the time. This was likely a small home made from sawn lumber, as opposed to a log cabin, perhaps only 4 rooms and two stories high.
Augustus was a buyer of local products which he would ship to New Orleans by flatboat, built in Coffee Creek from the local timber, likely by his own hands. After moving down the Wabash, Ohio and Mississippi rivers, his products and the flatboat would be sold and he would walk back home. When we can drive that distance in 12 hours these days, it is difficult to imagine the time it took to make this trek of 717 miles on foot, carrying your own supplies and weapons on poor on non-existent roads and trails. This was the life of the time and local men made this trip many times.
The first plows and chairs ever made in the county were made at Rochester and steamboats visited it regularly before coming to Mt. Carmel. There is a small dam at Rochester which runs from the Illinois bank to Coffee Island at a diagonal and a saw mill was built there in 1838 by Dr. Ezra Baker. The dam prevented steamboats passing upriver except at higher water levels. Dr. Baker platted the village and had several businesses there including a pork packing plant.
When the village was surveyed, the early map shows the positions on the river of the grist mill, then just upriver the water saw mill and steam saw mill just slightly north. These were all
south of the mouth of Coffee Creek. The Indiana side of Coffee Island is called Coffee Chute or channel. Theodore Risley in the 1911 Wabash County Biographical states that a keel boat of coffee pulled into the mouth of Coffee Creek to spend the night and sunk by morning, giving the creek its name.
John Degan, also a Frenchman, came from Detroit to Vincennes and then to the Rochester area shortly after the Lovellette brothers. He brought his step-son Frank Burway. Degan settled in the north half of Section 10 and began farming. Francis Degan, brother to John, came in 1811 or 1812 with a family and settled on the bluff a short distance below Rochester. Old Grandfather Gail was also an early settler whose first name has been lost to time.
In 1815 there were two notable Indian attacks, then Cannon massacre, and the murders of Joseph Burway and Joseph Pinchinaut who lived at the French settlement at Rochester. These two men had gone into the bottoms to find horses and were killed by Indians. Burway's heavy rifle made an unusual report when fired and locals heard the gun fire several times and when to investigate. Both men were found dead and had been scalped.
Some area men were in the bottoms at the time and went to investigate and went in pursuit of the Indians; William Arnold, John Compton and Samuel Simcoe. They were joined by Samuel McIntosh, John Compton, John Decker, Thomas Pulliam, Henry Gambrel, Russel Aldridge, Jarvis Hazelton and George Barney. These men were all living close enough to participate in pursuit of the Indians but at least some were likely from other nearby settlements in the county.
Pinchinaut and Burway were killed near Baird's Pond and buried nearby. Baird's Pond was a long narrow body of water found in Section 22 and south, southeast of modern day Keensburg. It ran from the Wabash, to the northeast almost to Rochester and was named for a nearby landowner.
In 1810 James Campbell began a small settlement on the Wabash near Cowling. Others there were Henry Painter, Henry Gambrel, Mr. Parks, John Cannon, John Starks and John Grayson. Grayson built a water mill on Bonpas Creek. Members of the Cannon family were massacred and some carried off into captivity by Indians.
The Cannon family men crossed the Wabash from Indiana and built a log cabin in Section 26, near the Bonpas Creek, then brought other family members. The day they moved, a bee tree was found and the family was attacked by Indians while harvesting the honey. Mr. Cannon and his son were killed. Mrs. Cannon, two children and son-in-law John Starks were carried away.
Henry Painter and Samuel McIntosh skinned a horse which was killed in the attack and wrapped the victims' bodies in it. These were the first burials in the Painter Cemetery. The captives were carried away about 200 miles to the area where Bloomington, IL is now located. Later Mrs. Cannon and Starks were ransomed by General William Henry Harrison for 7 ponies the chief had fancied.
The Piankishaw Indians were never numerous, having around 1,000 in their tribe and were moved to the Indian Territory much later. Treaty land which extended into Illinois was negotiated in 1804 but not all local natives complied. The Freeman line (named for the surveyor) extends diagonally northwest from the mouth of the Patoka River just beyond the Bonpas then northeast through Lancaster precinct. Wabash 12 Avenue is called the Boundary Line Road or the Freeman Line Road and follows a portion of this line,.
In 1819 Daniel Keen and his wife Mary (Compton) Keen settled in the area around Coffee Creek in Section 9. Their home was the site for organization of the Coffee Creek Church on August 18, 1819. Other charter members were Thomas and Nancy Thompson, William Arnold, Eli Reed and Dennis Sayles (a freed slave brought with the Keens from Kentucky). Later this church moved to Keensburg and became the Keensburg Christian Church. The Coffee Cemetery is still at the location of the early church.