Milo Quaife

The story of the southern road to Galena is closely bound up with the history of Kellogg's Trail. Prior to 1825 residents of lower Illinois who desired to visit the lead mines had followed a circuituous route to the Mississippi and thence along its banks to Galena. In the spring of 1825 Oliver W. Kellogg of Peoria set out for Galena with a team and wagon. Instead of pursuing the usual route he followed an ancient Indian trail which led from the mines to Fort Clark. Blazing the way as he went, Kellogg crossed Rock River about three miles east of Dixon and passed through the prairie lying between Polo and Mount Morris, touching the western part of West Grove and continuing northwestwardly to Galena. Other travelers to the mines quickly followed the path which Kellogg had blazed, and thus the famous Kellogg Trail came into existence.

Although Kellogg had opened a fairly direct route from Peoria to Galena it was soon perceived that it bore too far to the east. This defect was corrected by John Boles, who came over the trail in the spring of 1826. Leaving the beaten track some distance south of Rock River, he crossed the river just above the present Illinois Central Railroad bridge at Dixon, passed northward about a mile east of Polo, and through White Oak Grove, about a half mile west of Foreston, and Crane's Grove to Galena. This rectification of Kellogg's track was adopted by others, and the site of Dixon at once sprang into importance.

This importance was primarily due to the fact that the heavy traffic which quickly developed over the Kellogg Trail must here find passage over a broad, deep river. The Winnebago Indians who dwelt hereabout were the original ferrymen. For a suitable consideration they were willing to put travellers across the river, although their equipment for doing so was somewhat meager. Two canoes placed side by side were made to do duty for a ferry boat, the two wheels of one side of the wagon being placed in one canoe and the other two in the other. The teamster's horses or oxen were made to swim the stream.

But the Indians were frequently absent, or indisposed to labor, and an enterprising resident of Peoria concluded to establish a regular ferry at Dixon. To this end he sent up a man to erect a small shanty on the bank, and following him a carpenter to build the boat. The red men, however, who regarded the ferry privilege as their own peculiar monopoly, watched the proceedings with sullen gaze; when the boat was about half completed they set it on fire and urgently advised the workmen to betake themselves to Peoria.

The advice was acted upon without delay, and for a year or two longer the natives continued to enjoy their monopoly. In 1828, however, a half-breed Frenchman, Joe Ogee, who had long associated with the Indians, and had taken to wife the half-breed daughterof the trader Lasaliere, started a ferry at Dixon, and him the natives permitted to continue unmolested. Considered as a business man Ogee was not a conspicuous success. His ferry boat was propelled by poles, the passengers generally taking poles and assisting in the work. It started from the south bank of the river and landed wherever luck and the strength of the current might combine to dictate. Ogee, too, was addicted to liquor, and his attendance upon the ferry, like that of the red man before him, was somewhat irregular.

This situation was doubtless partly responsible for bringing to the place in 1830 John Dixon, one of the most remarkable men of his day in Illinois. Dixon was a native of New York who in 1805 had located in New York City as a merchant tailor. He was a religious man, and throughout a long and busy life maintained a character above reproach. In 1820 Dixon came west by ox team and flat boat to Illinois, locating in Madison County. He later removed to Peoria, where in addition to holding numerous county offices he engaged in business as a mail contractor. Dixon was a brother-in-law of Charles S. Boyd who settled Boyd's Grove in Bureau County, and to this point Dixon himself removed in 1828. About this time he had taken the mail contract between Peoria and Galena, the mail being carried by his son. In 1830 Ogee transferred the ferry to Dixon, who removed to the place and from whom it received its permanent name. Meanwhile Oliver Kellogg had located at Kellogg's Grove in Stephenson's County and later at Buffalo Grove on the site of modern Polo. The Boyds, Kelloggs, and Dixons were the first permanent white settlers between Peoria and Galena, and their places of settlement were all points on the Galena Road.

Of the importance of Kellogg's Trail, and of Dixon in particular, in this early period, Stevens, the historian of the Black Hawk War, thus writes: "Famous old days were those in the West, and famous men traveled that trail in those old days! From the miner and prospector to the merchant; from the mail carrier to the soldier; from the circuit preacher to the circuit law rider following a peripatetic court. From Peter Cartwright the energetic Methodist preatcher who swam swollen streams and rivers to keep his word, and who, if rumor be true, brought in more than one obstreperous recruit with a flogging, to Col. James Strode, the then noted but erratic criminal lawyer of Galena; from Lieut-Col. Zachary Taylor, who afterwards became president of the United States, and Gen. Winfield Scott, who wanted to be, to Lieut. Jefferson Davis who was president of the southern Confederacy, and Capt. Abraham Lincoln, who dissolved it, we find them all associated with the old trail and eating and lodging with mine host Dixon, singly and together; those who were later to become cabinet ministers, United States senators, representatives, governors and soldiers, and statesmen without number.

"White men and Indians alike made their pilgrimages along that trail, stopping over with Mr. Dixon to strengthen the inner man and replenish their stock of supplies. With the Indians he was particularly popular, insomuch that he became their counselor and arbitrator, and likewise their banker. In turn, as a recognition of his many and friendly offices, the Winnebago adopted him into their tribe, naming him Nachusa (Long-white-hair)."


Chicago's Highways Old and New by Milo M. Quaife
D. F. Keller & Company, Chicago, 1923 pages 100-103