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Full text of "The Story of Nom-a-Que: Court Records Tell Interesting Story of Peoria County's First Murder Trial"

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THE STORY OF NOM-A-QUE. 



Court Records Tell Interesting Story of Peoria 
County's First Murder Trial. 

By Bill Moon. 

A red man in buckskins, shoulders erect and rifle hang- 
ing loosely in the hollow of his left arm, passed back and 
forth on the sandy beach of the river. To his right a num- 
ber of other Indians lolled in the sun. To his back rose high 
hills covered with a forest, while in front the shining stream 
like polished silver, stretched away to an unexplored north. 

His tread was slow and measured like the movements 
of a clock, his feet falling noiselessly on the white sand. 
His head drooped as if he were tired. A soft breeze played 
a ripple across the surface of the river and fanned the 
cheeks of the Indian. The water lapped the shore with a 
gentle rhythm. Now and then the quietness of the place 
was disturbed by the uproarious drum of a woodpecker on 
a hollow and whitened tree that stood near the stream. 

The red man shifted his rifle to his other arm and stopped 
near a pack he had thrown to the ground from his back 
nearly an hour before. His eyes traveled across the river, 
and he looked wistfully at a small cluster of log cabins, the 
homes of white men, and the ruins of a log fort on the 
opposite bank, west and north of him. The day was a 
glorious one in late September, but was filled with the sad- 
ness of fall. Leaves were dying. Birds were restless, 
banding together preparatory to their flight to the south. 

Nom-a-que, for such was the red man's name, a member 
of the Potawatomie tribe, had traveled long that day, 
coming from the east. Nom-a-que was tall in stature, 
muscular and a hunter. During the early part of the 
summer he had met fur traders, who told him of plenty of 

246 



247 

fur to be had near Opa (Wesley City), where the American 
Fur company had established a post seven years before, 
but which had been moved across the river to Peoria, a 
white settlement. After weeks of traveling through deep 
forests and over prairies, Nom-a-que had at last arrived 
at the deserted post and was now waiting an opportunity 
to get across the river. 

Suddenly the attention of the Indian was arrested by the 
sound of a canoe paddle. Coming up the river was a 
canoe paddled by a man clad in the garb of a white hunter. 
The hunter, when he saw the red man, changed his course 
and shot his canoe toward the place where the Indian was 
standing. When the canoe grated on the beach, the hunter 
threw his paddle across the gunwales of the boat and 
greeted the Indian. To the delight of Nom-a-que the 
greeting was in the language of the Potawatomies. 

Nom-a-que told the hunter he had traveled long and 
hard, that he wanted to go to the settlement and that he 
intended to locate there for the winter. Later, as the canoe 
bearing the Indian and the hunter glided gracefully up the 
river toward the village, the hunter told Nom-a-que that 
his name was Joseph Ogee, that he had come to the trading 
post in 1818, and that his wife, who was now waiting for 
him, was a Potawatomie squaw. As the canoe drew near 
the village beach Ogee pointed out a large log cabin that 
stood near the river, which he said belonged to him and 
which was his home. After hauling the canoe high upon 
the bank, Ogee led Nom-a-que to his cabin, where the 
Indian was given a cordial welcome by the half-breed's 
squaw. 

As Nom-a-que refreshed himself with meat and drink the 
squaw prepared for the evening meal and he felt welcome 
in the humble cabin with his new found friends. He little 
dreamed that a few weeks later he would be tried for mur- 
der in the same room and cabin. Yet this is what happen- 



248 

ed, for he was the first man tried for murder *in Peoria 
county after the circuit court was organized on November 
14th, 1825. 

The story of the trial of Nom-a-que, an Indian, for mur- 
der, as set out in the musty records of the circuit court, 
the first record of the court and still on file, is an interesting 
one. 

Nom-a-que, according to some historians, was a bad 
Indian. He was tried and convicted of the murder of 
Pierre Laundri, a Frenchman whom he stabbed in the ab- 
domen with a scalping knife during a drunken brawl. 
Just what led up to the murder, history does not say. 

The records of the court show that Nom-a-que was tried 
and convicted and sentenced to be hanged. He was 
defended by William S. Hamilton, a son of Alexander 
Hamilton, r/ho was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr in 
1804, and who followed Burr to St. Louis and challenged 
him to a duel to avenge the death of his father. 

Nom-a-que's case was appealed to the supreme court, 
the first one appealed from Peoria county. The case 
was remanded back for another trial. Nom-a-que was in- 
dicted again, retried and sentenced to death. In the end 
he made his escape and was last heard from in 1832 when 
Black Hawk invaded Illinois. At that time Nom-a-que 
was present with Black Hawk at Stillman's Rim and was 
badly wounded. He was found by several Peorians, who 
humanely shot him to put him out of his misery. 

At the time Nom-a-que was tried, the trial was held in 
a log cabin on the bank of the river near where the T. P. & 
W. bridge lands on this side of the river. The jurors slept 
at night in their blankets on the floor. 

Prior to the organization of Peoria county the judges of 
the supreme court held the circuit court. At a session of 
the legislature held in December, 1824, the judiciary of the 
state was reorganized. The state was divided into five 
judicial districts. Five judgeships were created for the 
circuits. The first court was composed of the counties of 



249 

Sangamon, Pike, Fulton, Morgan, Green and Montgomery. 
The new judges were elected by the general assembly, and 
their commissions were dated on the 19th of January, 1825. 
John York Sawyer was assigned to the first circuit, to which 
Peoria county, upon its organization, was attached. 

The first term of the circuit court began on November 
14, 1825. Judge John York Sawyer presided and was the 
judge who was on the bench when Nom-a-que was tried 
for his life. John Dixon was clerk and Samuel Fulton was 
sheriff. 

Judge Sawyer was a man of large proportions physically. 
He was a terror to evil doers and was severe upon criminals 
convicted in his court. He was born at Reading, Windsor 
county, Vt., March 15, 1787. When the war of 1812 
broke out he enlisted in the army and was appointed an 
ensign and afterwards was appointed adjutant of Colonel 
Aiken's regiment and served until the close of the war. 
He came to Illinois in the year 1816 and settled at Ed- 
wardsville. He was probate judge and recorder of Madison 
county for several years. He died at Vandalia from an 
attack of pneumonia in 1836. 

When Nom-a-que's case was called for trial all the in- 
habitants of the village and the entire country surrounding 
attended the trial. Whiskey flowed freely and at the open- 
ing session of court a visitor would have thought the event 
was in celebration of a holiday or a gala day. 

********* 

The first complaint, according to the records, made 
against Nom-a-que was made by Joseph Ogee before Jacob 
Wilson, justice of the peace, on October 4, 1825. The 
record is as follows : 

Peoria county, state of Illinois — ss. 

This day came personally before me Jacob Wilson, one 
of the acting justices of the peace in and for said county, 
Joseph Ogee, Indian interpreter, who, being duly sworn, 
deposeth and saith that he has good reason to suspect and 
does verily believe that Nom-a-que, an Indian of the Pota- 



250 

watomie Nation of Indians, did on the second day of Octo- 
ber instant, stab and kill Peter Laundri. And further this 
deponent saith not. 

His 
Joseph x Ogee 
Mark 

The warrant for the arrest of Nom-a-que was issued and 
reads as follows: 

State of Illinois, Peoria county — ss. 

The people of the state of Illinois to any constable of said 
county, greeting. 

You are hereby commanded to take the body of Nom-a- 
que, a Potawatomie Indian, and bring him forthwith before 
me to answer the complaint of Joseph Ogee against said 
Nom-a-que for the murder of Peter Londri by stabbing 
him several times with a knife, which caused his death this 
day. Hereof make due return as the law directs. 

Given under my hand and seal this fourth day of October, 
one thousand eight hundred and twenty-five. 

Jacob Wilson (Seal). 
Justice of the Peace. 

Evidently Nom-a-que was apprehended and bound over 
to the grand jury, which body was summoned to appear 
the -second Monday in November at 10 a. m. The first 
grand jury was composed of the following: Stephen 
French, Abner Cooper, George Love, Joseph O'Brien (dead) 
E. P. Avery, Thomas Dillon, Jesse Dillon, Henry Thomas, 
George Harlin, Isaac Waters, Augustus Langworthy, 
George Sharp, William Holland, Seth Wilson, John Kline, 
George Kline, John Hamlin, Archibald Allen, Nathaniel 
Cromwell, Isaac Perkins, James Latta, Joseph Smith, John 
Phillips, Major Donahue. 

The case against Nom-a-que was presented to the grand 
jury, and it is in the indictment returned by that body that 
a record is at hand of how the Indian killed Pierre Laundri. 
The indictment is interesting, as well as of value as an his- 
torical relic. It reads as follows : 



251 

State of Illinois, Peoria county circuit court, November 

term, eighteen hundred and twenty-five. 

The grand jurors of the people of the state of Illinois, 
good and lawful men, residents of the county of Peoria 
aforesaid, elected, empaneled, sworn and charged to in- 
quire for the body of the county of Peoria aforesaid, in 
the name and by the authority of the people of the state of 
Illinois, upon their oath present that one Nom-a-que, an 
Indian of the tribe of Indians called Puttawatomiee, not 
having the fear of God before his eyes, but being moved 
and seduced by the instigation of the devil, on the second 
day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand 
eight hundred and twenty-five, in the county of Peoria 
aforesaid, with force and arms in and upon one Pierre 
Laundri, in the peace of God and the people of the state of 
Illinois, then and there being, feloniously, wilfully and of 
his malice aforethought, did make an assault, and that the 
said Nom-a-que, an Indian as aforesaid, with a certain 
knife, commonly called a scalping knife, made of iron and 
steel, of the value of fifty cents, which, the said Nom-a-que, 
in his right hand then and there had and held, him the said. 
Pierre Laundri in and upon the left side of the belly of him 
of the said Pierre Laundri then and there feloniously, wilful- 
ly, and of his malice aforethought, did strike, thrust, stab 
and penetrate, giving unto the said Pierre Laundri then and 
there with the knife aforesaid, in and upon the left side of 
the belly of him the said Pierre Laundri, one mortal wound 
of the breadth of one inch and one-fourth of an inch, and 
the depth of five and one-half inches, of which said mortal 
wound he the said Pierre Laundri, in the county of Peoria, 
aforesaid, from the said second day in October, in the year 
aforesaid, until the fourth day of the same month and the 
same year, did languish and languishing did live, on which 
said fourth day of October in the year aforesaid, the said 
Pierre Laundri, in the county of Peoria aforesaid, of the said 
mortal wound did die; and so the jurors aforesaid, upon 
their oath aforesaid do say that the said Nom-a-que him the 
said Pierre Laundri in manner and form aforesaid, felon- 



252 

iously, wilfully, and of his malice aforethought, did kill and 
murder to the evil example of all others in like cases offend- 
ing, contrary to the form of statute in such cases made and 
provided, and against the peace and dignity of the same 
people of Illinois. 

John Turner, Attorney General Pro tern, John Hamlin, 
Foreman. 

*^ 1* *F *!* 1* 1* *n *F ^h 

The circuit court convened November, 14, 1825, with 
Judge York Sawyer presiding, and Nom-a-que's trial was 
held on the 15th and 16th. The verdict of the jury is as 
follows : 

State of Illinois, Peoria county Circuit court, November 

term, eighteen hundred and twenty-five. 

We, the traverse jury in and for the county aforesaid, 
do find Nom-a-que, an Indian of the Puttawattamie 
tribe, guilty of the murder of Pierre Laundri. 

November 17, 1825. 

After the reading of the foregoing verdict Attorney Ham- 
ilton, counsel for Nom-a-que, made a motion for a new trial 
for the Indian, which was overruled by Judge York Sawyer. 
He then asked leave to file a bill of exceptions to the opin- 
ion of the court, which was granted and made a part of the 
record. 

Nom-a-que was then called to the bar of justice and was 
asked by the court if he had anything to say why the 
judgment of the law should not be pronounced against him 
according to the finding of the jury. Nom-a-que answered 
that he had not, so the court ordered that he be confined in 
some safe jail or safe place until the third Saturday in 
January, next, when between the hours of 12 and 3 o'clock 
he was to be taken to some convenient place by the sheriff 
and hanged by the neck until dead. 

The case was then appealed from the circuit court to the 
supreme court of Illinois and was the first case appealed 
from Peoria county. On February 2, 1826, the opinion of 
the supreme court was given reversing the case in the cir- 



253 

cuit court here. A supercedeas was granted and the court 
further recommended that the prisoner be held in custody 
for thirty days to enable the local authorities to again bring 
him to trial. The case was reversed on a writ of error. 

All the time the proceedings were before the supreme 
court Nom-a-que had been held a prisoner under guard. 
His guards consisted of various townsmen, who received 
from $8 to $15 each for their services, according to the 
length of time they were on duty. On March 9, 1826, 
he was taken to Springfield under the guard of Elijah 
Hyde, who was paid $7.30 for guarding the prisoner. In 
June he was taken to Edwardsville for safe keeping because 
of no facilities here. 

Nom-a-que was indicted for the second time during the 
October term, 1826. Attorneys for the prisoner at once 
asked that the case against the prisoner be dismissed on 
the grounds that the court did not have jurisdiction, inas- 
much that he was an Indian of the Potawattomie nation, 
and was only so far bound by the laws of the State of Illi- 
nois as his tribe had made him by treaty. Further, that 
the tribe never consented that one of its members should 
be tried for any offense committed on Indian land by any 
tribunal of this state or the United States. 

It seems that Nom-a-que had been in jail a part of the 
time at Edwardsville and a part of the time at Springfield, 
while some of the time he was running at large. 

Nom-a-que's attorney moved that the case be quashed 
as above stated, and counsel for the state demurred. The 
demurrer was sustained by the court, to which counsel for 
the defendant excepted, and the case was again certified 
to the supreme court. 

From that time on until the May term of the circuit 
court, 1828, Nom-a-que roamed at large without hindrance, 
and eventually made his escape, for which Sheriff Fulton 
was indicted on a charge of mal-conduct in office for letting 
the Indian get away. The case against Nom-a-que was 



254 

nolle prossed, or stricken, on May 15, 1828. The case 
against the sheriff had been stricken a year before. 
********* 

John Hamilton, one of the grand jurors in 1826, living at 
Mackinaw, gives an interesting account in connection with 
the case against Nom-a-que. Mr. Hamilton says : 

"Nom-a-que, who had been tried the fall before, was 
kept by Sheriff Fulton at the home of Mr. Allen. One 
•night about a dozen drunken Indians met to rescue him 
and attempted to enter the door for that purpose. Allen 
sprang out of a back window, grabbed a clap board and 
rushed around in front of the house and laid about him 
with great fury. He felled about four of the Indians to the 
ground before they could recover from their consternation, 
when the others retreated. Allen followed close on the 
heels of the hindermost and belabored without mercy 
until he begged for quarters, crying, 'Stop, white man, 
stop, white man, stop/ Felling him also, the five laid 
until morning, when they were able to crawl off." 

Mr. Hamilton further states in his account that the 
jurymen slept in their blankets on the floor of the cabin 
used as a court house because a tavern run by Mr. Bogardus 
was not large enough. 

Another tradition concerning Nom-a-que comes from 
an account written by the late E. C. Stillman, who tells 
a story of Nom-a-que and Lewis Hallock, a fur trader and 
trapper and the man Hallock township is named for. 

According to this story, Hallock befriended Nom-a-que 
during his troubles in Peoria county and the Indian never 
forgot him. It is said that at one time Hallock went his 
bail, and when he did no one believed Nom-a-que would 
ever return. But it seems that Hallock understood the 
Indians and said he would, and Nom-a-que, as good as his 
word, appeared ready for trial on the first day of the court 
term. 

Hallock met Nom-a-que after the Indian had left Peoria 
county at Galena. Nom-a-que said he was going back to 



255 

his band and wanted Hallock to accompany him in his 
canoe. Hallock accepted the invitation and the two 
started to drift down the Mississippi river. 

One day when they were camped on the bank of the 
river, Nom-a-que asked Hallock if he would like to see 
where the * 'white bullets' ' came from. Hallock said he 
would and Nom-a-que promised to show him if he would 
promise not to tell his tribe. Hallock promised. Nom-a- 
que then blindfolded him, the two got into the canoe and 
paddled out into the stream. Nom-a-que turned the canoe 
around and around several times, so that the trapper did 
not know which direction they were taking. 

After an hour on the river the Indian landed the canoe 
and led Hallock into a cave. Hallock said that after the 
bandage was taken from his eyes he was standing in a 
large passage way where there were silver and lead veins. 
After Nom-a-que showed him the lead and silver he 
blindfolded him and led him back to the canoe. He said 
he often tried to locate the place afterward, but could not. 
It was his belief that the cave was on the Iowa side of the 
Mississippi river. 

The last account history has of Nom-a-que says that 
when Black Hawk invaded Illinois in 1832, Nom-a-que 
was present with him at Stillman's Run and was badly 
wounded. He was found in that condition lying in the 
way of some Peoria men, who humanely shot him to death 
to end his misery.