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Full text of "Lydia Gundy: The Facts about the Last Indian Resident of Wayne County, Illinois"

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LYDIA GUNDY. 

THE FACTS ABOUT THE LAST INDIAN RESIDENT OF WAYNE 
COUNTY, ILLINOIS. 



Communicated by E. B. Evans, of JejBfersonville, HI. 

The writer having been familiar for years with the 
most important facts in the following narrative, has, of 
late, interested himself in the story and obtained details 
of interest of J. B. Brown, of Orchardville and Wm. 
Brown, of Zenith, 111., sons of John Brown mentioned in 
this narrative. 

In the winter of 1835 some hunters in the vicinity of 
Mill Shoals, White county, found in a cave or cavern an 
Indian squaw in a starved and frozen condition. She had 
hidden herself away for protection against the frost and 
snow, but in vain. She was badly frozen. Her feet in 
particular, and in her starved condition she presented a 
pitiful sight to the hunters, who in their uncultured man- 
ner were kind hearted and soon brought relief to the 
distressed woman. 

The good people of the community came as the good 
Samaritan. They fed and clothed her until spring, when 
her feet having healed sufficiently for walking, she dis- 
appeared from the Mill Shoals neighborhood. Wandering 
up Skillet Fork river she was next seen in Wayne county 
in the region of the juncture of Nicholas creek and Paddy 
creek with Skillet Fork. 

This Indian woman was wild and avoided meeting any 
of the settlers, but was occasionally seen running away 
to hide when any one approached too near her camp. 
Often the camp fire was found, but the Indian would not 
be seen. 



344 

This Indian woman lived in the forest as best she 
could, with only her hands to obtain her food. She made 
frequent invasions of the settlers' truck gardens and 
helped herself to any kind of food that suited her fancy. 

This locality seemed to appeal to her more than any 
other and not knowing the way to her tribe she lingered 
here until winter was approaching. No one had ever 
succeeded in getting speech with her, and fearing she 
would starve and freeze during the winter, Philip Hen- 
son, being of a romantic disposition, organized a search- 
ing party to find her and prevail on her to adopt one of 
their homes and be cared for in a civilized way. 

The men searched the forest in vain for days and all 
but Philip Henson gave up the search. He continued to 
ride through the forest day after day with his gun and 
finally came upon the woman secreted in a clump of 
bushes. She started to run away, but was soon over- 
taken by Mr. Henson on horseback who leveled his gun at 
her and called ''halt!" The woman ceased running and 
faced her pursuer with both arms extended upward ex- 
pecting to be shot. Mr. Henson explained his motive to 
her and insisted that she mount the horse behind him 
and go to his home. This she did and always seemed 
grateful for a home. 

This forlorn woman told her benefactor in broken 
English that she was a Cherokee Indian; that her name 
was Lydia Gundy and that she, in company with a young- 
er squaw had been enticed away from her people in the 
south by a white man who had promised ''to wife her," 
but instead he had deserted her in the neighborhood of 
Mill Shoals, disappearing with the younger squaw. 

Lydia Gundy lived in the Henson family as one of the 
household. She was kind hearted and industrious, always 
ready to perform any duty assigned her. 

After the Henson children had all married and had 
homes of their own Philip Henson deserted his invalid 
wife and emigrated to Missouri, leaving her and Lydia 



345 

Gundy alone in possession of the farm. Mrs Henson 
was confined to her room all the time so all the labor fell 
upon Lydia, which she did without a murmur. There 
were but few men who could wield an ax or a hoe better 
than she could. 

John Brown who married Sis (Narcissa) Henson, was 
a generous hearted man and responded to the call of duty 
when there was wood to haul or other work which Lydia 
could not do. This labor finally became burdensome to 
John Brown, as he lived several miles from Mrs. Henson. 
He then requested Mrs. Henson to move to his home 
where he could better care for her ; but she declined the 
generous offer unless he take Lydia Gundy also. This he 
readily consented to do and the two women were moved to 
John Brown's home and Sis (Narcissa) Brown cared for 
her mother and Lydia being relieved of that duty assisted 
in the fields with her hoe. She thought a crop could not 
be planted without her aid. She did her work well and 
the Brown boys knew they would have no easy task when 
they were pitted against Lydia in any kind of outdoor 
labor. Labor saving machinery was unheard of in those 
days and it was a custom that the women assist in the 
fields. The soil was productive and yielded an abund- 
ance. The pioneers of Wayne county were like the 
Acadian peasants whom Longfellow describes as 

'*The richest were poor and the poorest lived in abund- 
ance.** 

In personal appearance Lydia' Gundy was a typical 
Cherokee Indian. She had the upper part of the lobe 
of each ear cut off, but whether for ornament or as a 
punishment could not be ascertained. 

The habits and customs of a people can not be changed 
in a generation. Lydia Gundy 's love for the forest clung 
to her all her life. On days when there was no necessary 
work and of Sundays she would appear restless and would 
soon disappear and be gone most of the day and upon her 
return would tell of her trip which often extended over 



346 

several miles. Lydia called all of the Henson relatives 
**our folks'' and would visit them and was talkative, but 
there was only one stranger who ever succeeded in gain- 
ing her friendship, that was Uncle Billy Harrison, a 
Baptist minister, who often preached at Mr. Brown's. 

Lydia Gundy had seen the trees drop their leaves many 
times before she came to Wayne county, yet during the 
thirty-two years of her life here she always enjoyed good 
health. But one day in the winter of 1867 she complained 
of being sick and was given some of the home remedies 
kept in the house. That night she left her own room 
and came into the sitting room where Mr. Brown and 
other members of the family were sleeping. She sat 
down by the fire and seemed in great agony when Mr. 
Brown asked, **What is the trouble, Lydia?" She ex- 
claimed, '^0 John I die!" Before any one could reach 
her, her spirit had flown to the Happy Hunting Ground of 
her forefathers. 

The Henson cemetery in the north western part of 
Wayne county, contains an unmarked mound and only a 
few of the older people know that Lydia Gundy sleeps 
beneath its sod.