Stillman’s Run Battle Site

Photo by Michael Kleen

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A majestic monument marks the scene of the opening salvo in the Black Hawk War.

The Battle of Stillman’s Run (or Battle of Old Man’s Creek) was fought on May 14, 1832 between 275 Illinois militia and Sauk leader Black Hawk and approximately 40-50 warriors from his mixed-nation group of American Indians called the “British Band”. The engagement was a humiliating loss for the militia. It was the first battle in the Black Hawk War, which would ultimately end in Black Hawk’s defeat.

In April 1832, Black Hawk moved his British Band to Illinois, believing he would find friendly tribal allies. The Illinois militia was organized to confront him, and 275 militia under the command of Majors Isaiah Stillman and David Bailey camped near Old Man’s Creek, about three miles east of the Rock River. Black Hawk’s pleas for assistance were rebuked at every turn, so he sent emissaries and scouts to negotiate a truce.

Seeing the Indian scouts, Stillman and his militia thought they were under attack and opened fire (there are allegations some of his men were drunk). They pursued the retreating scouts back to Black Hawk’s camp, where they were ambushed and fled in terror. A dozen militiamen under Captain John Giles Adams fought a nighttime rearguard action on a hill south of their camp, while the others escaped to Dixon’s Ferry. All twelve were killed. Black Hawk estimated he lost three to five men.

The Black Hawk War, fought between the United States and Sauk leader Black Hawk’s British Band from April 6 to August 27, 1832, resulted in total victory over Black Hawk and the end of Native American resistance to American expansion east of the Mississippi. Fighting was primarily confined to northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.

Stillman’s Run Battle Site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The park is less than an acre in size, in the shadow of the town water tower. There’s a small gravel pull off and a parking lot for Valley Evangelical Covenant Church across the street. A sidewalk and stairs lead to the 50-foot monument (erected in 1901), and graves of nine of the twelve militia killed at the battle. A large metal sign tells the story of “Stillman’s Defeat.”

Stillman’s Run Battle Site (also known as Stillman’s Defeat Memorial Site or Battle Ground Cemetery) is located at 225 Spruce Street, off East Roosevelt Street, in Stillman Valley, Illinois. There are no posted hours, but it’s probably open from dawn to dusk.

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Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

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