Indian Cemetery

Grover and Seymour Currey interviewed James Carney who came to Evanston in 1835. Carney told them of a mound at the intersection of Lincoln and Ridge where today the CTA elevated tracks pass overhead. This is how Grover recorded Carney's recollections given in 1901.

"In the early days, when I was a small boy, there stood a little Southwest of the St. Paul viaduct, on Ridge Boulevard, a house called by the early settlers an Indian Mound. And the tradition always was that there had been a battle in that neighborhood and that the Indians killed in battle, with their implements, were buried there. The old settlers claim that this happened many, many years ago, and long before any white men ever lived in Evanston. I remember the neighbors stating that Joel Stebbins, Paul Pratt and James Colvin dug into the mound and found a lot of 'war instruments and skeletons'. This occurred, as near as I can remember, when I was 12 or 15 years old."

The ridge from Evanston Hospital north to the ravine that is now Wilmette harbor was an Indian village and burial ground. Carney said, "Soon after arriving there was on the lake shore, where Sheridan Road turns to the West, immediately North of Ingleside, an Indian Village, consisting, as nearly as I can recollect, of 15 or 20 wigwams... I do not know much about the tribes the Indians belonged to at the Indian Village, but they lived in wigwams, built of mats and rushes, and there was a great lot of them, squaws, men, children, dogs, etc., etc., all crowded in together."

Benjamin Franklin Hill was another early settler whose recollections were recorded by Grover and Currey. Frank Hill, as he was called, came to Evanston in 1836. We have his description of the burial ground just north of the village. The historic Indians of the area did not bury their dead and did not build mounds. Bodies were set out to decompose above the ground in small wooden enclosures. Hill describes one of these as "a neatly built pen, perhaps four feet by six, made of poles laid closely and neatly withed together". Those of high rank were "sewed up in deer skin and hung in the branches of the trees".

The dead was placed with all his possessions including his dog killed for the purpose. Viola Reeling in her history of Evanston relates the interesting observations of the Jesuit traveller and historian Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix. "Charlevoix also tells how surprised the Indians were at the French not burying articles that belonged to the dead, with the dead. They did not consider the white man's way honest, and thought the living had no right to the dead man's possessions."

Hill said, "Every year, in the early Fall, the Indians returned to this spot to mourn their dead. At that time they took down the bodies that were sufficiently dried, burned them on the funeral pyle and then scattered the ashes over the sacred ground." He elsewhere says, "This was the burial place of the Indians - a sacred spot to them, where they were wont to meet annually from time immemorial, to mourn their departed. To this day I walk over this spot instinctively feeling that I tread on sacred ground".

Prehistoric burials were unearthed in Fountain Square downtown and on the grounds of Vice President Dawes house at Greenwood and Sheridan Road. While digging the foundation of Heck Hall at Northwestern University in 1866 two skeletons were found. According to Grover the size of the leg bones gave them both a height of seven feet, he elsewhere describes them as of more than ordinary stature. He knew first hand because his father, Aldin J. Grover, supervised the work crew that found them.

Cemeteries of the early settlers have also gone lost and found. Greenleaf and Ridge was the burying ground of Evanston until the 1880s when it was removed to Rose Hill. Work crews widening the street discovered later that not all the bodies had been taken out. In south Evanston there was an old burying ground just north of Main and Chicago where the elevated tracks are.


Evanston Antiquity by John Epler