Origin of Devil Creek’s Name

Midwest Frontier Stories
The probably origin of the name Devil Creek.

About the 1st of November, in the fall of 1834, while I was haying with Giles Sullivan, below Camp Des Moines, we learned that Black Hawk and part of his band had come and camped near the mouth of Devil Creek.  I had some curiosity to see that famous old warrior, and Sullivan wanted to cheat some Indian out of a blanket or two, so we went together, walking about eight miles to the Indian lodges.  I saw the famous Chief.  He was a little old man at that time, with out paint, and dressed in part with white man’s clothing, reticent, but not very dignified; but the scanty furniture about his Wickey-up was neat and clean.  His squaw, for Black never had but one wife, was a paragon of neatness.  His daughter was rather pretty.  His sons were absent at that time.

We next went to the lodge of old Nottoway.  He was an old acquaintance of Sullivan’s and full of talk.  I had a curiosity for knowledge, and got Sullivan to make enquiries for me of him.  The old Indian became eloquent, but I could not understand a word at that time, and must give the story as Sullivan interpreted it to me.

The old Indian reached up both hands, spread out his fingers, slapped his hands together once, then stuck up one finger, then Sullivan said to me, Eleven years; keep still.  The old Indian talked and gesticulated for some time.  His squaw at one time made a vigorous gesture towards me saying, Chewaliski, Mini-ton, See-po.  I was somewhat alarmed, thought she was going to strike me, but I afterwards learned that she was only giving emphasis to the name of the Creek.  Eleven years back from that time would have made it about the year 1823, when most of the Indians lived near the mouth of Rock River, in Illinois.  Quite a large party came down onto this creek to make shee-sepac (Shugar).  Their sugar camps or boiling places extended several miles up the creek.  They had an excellent run for some three days, and still the sugar water kept running.  The weather became sultry, even hot.  A fog came on and seemed to hang in the trees near the surface of the ground, with occasional openings so they could see the clear sky above; yet there was occasional lightning on the underside of the fog, but no thunder.  The fog grew thicker and the lightning increased in brightness, but still no thunder could be heard.  At last the earth began to tremble and a legion of devils came down the creek, riding on a big wave of water that stood up square in front, about ten feet high.  The devils looked like balls of fire and run in every direction caught every Indian they could and carried them off bodily, as their remains were never found.  They also carried off their kettles of syrup, hence the name, Chewaliski, Maniton, See-pa, or Evil-Spirit river; or in other words, Devil Creek.

This finishes the Indian legend.  The probable facts in the case  if there was any fact  was that there was an extraordinary rain out on the head of the creek; that the lightning was where the rain was, but at such a distance that the Indians did not hear the thunder; and as the timber was dense, the Indians did not see the cloud in which the storm was, and the distance also made the lightning seem to be below the fog in their vicinity.

Now for the Devils.  Every old settler knows how the Indians make sugar.  It is by boiling the water  a sap of the sugar maple  in their copper kettles, hung on a pole, with the fire altogether on top of the ground, consuming a considerable quantity of wood  crooked old logs and crooked sticks of all kinds are used.

Their fires were burning brightly; the rise in the creek come on suddenly, overflowing the banks, and floating off the logs.  As they were already on fire, and as many of them were crooked, they remained with the fiery side up. The crooks in the creek made them seem to run in every direction, and a copper kettle, one third full of syrup, will float readily on the surface of the water, and may float many miles away.

Those few facts soberly considered will wipe out all the mysterious and superstitious portions of the story, and when simmered down it only amounts to this: the Indians took a big scare from a sudden rise in the creek; for they were a superstitious people.

This ends the play; but let us have the afterpiece.  Superstition is not confined to the Indians alone.  It is but some three or four years since there was a little excitement amongst the Baptist denomination of Christians in this vicinity.  There were several candidates for the ordinance of baptism.  Most of the converts objected to being baptized in Devil Creek.  One young lady said she would rather risk her salvation without the saving ordinance than to be immersed in Devil Creek. So the preachers held a consultation and informed her that they had permanently changed the name from Devil Creek to Jordan.  That made it all right, and she was immersed in Devil Creek.

Then, again, this creek will likely get on a rampage some other time and carry off some rails, and that will make those old farmers think of Devil Creek.  So I go is for the old name of Devil Creek.  The names of the young lady and the ministers are both withheld out of respect for their feelings.

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