June 27, 2018

Just Saying…

By Q.C. Jones

A July Picnic of Historical Events

Picnics and July walk hand in hand down the twisted path of American lore. Nothing is better than gathering the kiddos and heading out of the house to enjoy the end of a long day with a picnic basket in tow. My grandmothers were masters of outdoor eating. To this day, I still possess the wonderfully worn basket used to haul a portion of the feast to some remote spot for these late afternoon events.

Because our town was short on fast food spots and our family even shorter on greenbacks, it was a do-it-yourself adventure. The picnic fare was a potpourri of favorites ranging from pies to potato salad and on to piping hot bluegill cooked the old-fashioned way in bacon grease. The meal was a gumbo of different tastes all firmly linked by their presence in the basket and mosquitos.

Keeping with this picnic theme, let’s toss a few things in our basket and set the table with some tasty tidbits of July’s long past.

Teenage boys on warm July days…

Proving that youngsters get out of control, we discovered a couple of prominent Quad-Cities kids got out of hand
during a July long ago. According to rather vague accounts which managed to leave out the years, rival Chiefs Black Hawk and Keokuk have something in common. They both killed their first brave in battle at age 15. Here’s the quote: “At the age of fifteen Black Hawk killed a brave in a battle with the Osage Indians, and two years later he was the leader of a war party. Keokuk, too, at the age of fifteen killed a Sioux warrior, and was admitted to the circle of the braves.” Kind of makes you wonder if the violent computer games they were playing influence their behavior. And, this makes for a lovely tale while sitting around the campfire as the evening sun goes down.

The day after the Fourth is a good time for starting a county…

In February of 1831, the Illinois legislature took the steps necessary to create Rock Island County. Either through some massive bit of procrastination or because they were busy with the Black Hawk War, the Rock Island County Fathers didn’t get around to completing the task until July 5, 1833. Quoting a contemporary writer: “At the time of the establishment of the county there were but 350 inhabitants within the proposed confines, but the Government recognized that as soon as the embargo was removed, colonists would flock in to claim the rich lands of the Sacs which had long attracted the eyes of the white men. The county was properly organized on the last mentioned date at the house of John Barrel by sixty-five legal voters who elected county officers.”

Stephenson, Illinois was founded in July, 1835…

Ft. Armstrong, built on what is now Rock Island was started in 1816. The fort served as both a trading post and
military installation. It attracted white settlers. Within a few years, the town across from the trading post became a thriving and growing frontier river town of several hundred families. The original City plat was filed on July 10, 1835, and was named Stephenson. But somehow the name didn’t stick. In a moment of marketing genius, Stephenson was renamed Rock Island in 1841. Can you imagine what would have happened to American music if there was no “Rock Island Line” to weave through the chorus?

Crime Stopper Tip, Don’t let people know you are heading out of town for the Fourth…

It was July 4th, 1845. Colonel George Davenport stayed home but sent the rest of his family off to the big Independence Day celebration in town. The crooks thought the house was empty, but alas poor Davenport was still there. Members of what newspapers called the “Banditti of the Prairie” brutally murdered him in his home which is located on what we call Arsenal Island. Perhaps the Colonel would have been better off enjoying some of the other Colonel’s famous fried chicken at a picnic in town. By the way, I have had KFC at the Davenport Colonel’s house.

Battle Fields can make great picnic spots…

If there is one place perfect for a quick summertime picnic it has to be Campbell’s Island. On the river side of the island, there stands a century-old monument commemorating The Battle of Campbell’s Island. It occurred July 19, 1814, with Black Hawk and his warriors facing off against three barges manned by thirty-three regular soldiers and sixty-five rangers. Lieutenant Campbell led the soldiers.

Reinforcing the coolness of Campbell’s Island, a streetcar company bought the island back at the turn of the last century and in 1904 opened a resort/amusement facility there. The place was very popular through the first third of the 20th Century. If your family is from the QCA, there is a good chance you might suffer from the ancestors of the ants who plagued your great-grandparents outing a hundred years ago.

Too, hot for a picnic you say?

Back on July 14th, 1936 Rock Island (which was the official reporting station) reported the highest temperature of our area, 111 degrees. Most folks didn’t have air conditioning. The house was hot, very hot. What did people do? They went on a picnic.

Just saying…

Filed Under: History, Humor