‘Wigwam tree’ and sulfur spring, Loami

A small stone building, perhaps a receiving vault, stands near the entrance of Sulphur Springs Cemetery near Loami. The sloping vale to the north may have been created by the original sulfur spring. The "wigwam tree" would have been somewhere in the distance. (SCHS photo)

A small stone building, perhaps originally a receiving vault, stands near the entrance of Sulphur Springs Cemetery. The sloping vale to the north may have been created by the spring (which no longer exists). The “wigwam tree” would have been somewhere in the distance. (SCHS photo)

Note: This entry has been edited to reflect additional information about the first burial at Sulphur Spring Cemetery.

The “wigwam tree” was a hollow sycamore near Loami that, according to John Carroll Power in History of the Early Settlers of Sangamon County (1876), was once measured at 18 feet in diameter.

Power wrote that the tree stood “a few yards north of the Sulphur Springs, South of Loami.”

A.E. Meacham took a ten foot rail, held it in a horizontal position against his waist, and turned entirely around inside the tree. It was about eighteen feet in diameter outside, and was long used as a wigwam by the Indians. The entrance was at the east side. It was safe when there were only Indians in the country, but some vandal, claiming to be civilized, set fire to it and burned it down.

“We have some among our oldest citizens that remember the tree, and say that they hid in tree while playing in that vicinity,” according to a note apparently written by Van Graham of Loami in 1938.

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Air Mail Week envelope (SCHS)

The week of May 15-21, 1938, was designated “National Air Mail Week,” and communities large and small throughout the U.S. were given the chance to design their own commemorative postmark. Loami’s cancellation, at Graham’s prompting, was a drawing of the tree, captioned “Site of Indian Home in Tree near Loami, Illinois.”

The nearby sulfur spring also was the source of some Loami lore, according to Power’s description.

The Sulphur Spring spoken of above, bubbles up at the foot of a hill near Lick creek, and in its natural state, when animals approached it to drink the water was a quagmire, but the early settlers made an excavation, eight or nine feet deep, and walled it up, so that the water flows out over the top of the wall, clear and pure. Soon after it was thus improved two old topers, on a very hot day, visited the spring, taking with them a jug of whisky, intending to have a good time laying in the shade near by, drinking their whisky, and, for variety taking an occasional sip at the sulphur water. One of them undertook to cool the whisky by holding the jug in the water, and while doing so let it slip from his grasp. To cut a forked limb from a tree and make a hook of it would be too much work. In order to rescue the jug, the one who let it slip consented that the other should take him by the heels and let him down head foremost. The whisky was secured in that way, at the imminent risk of drowning one or both of the men. It must have been liberally watered or it would not have sunk.

“The Sulphur Spring near Loami was known to the Indians, and was very early a camping ground for the whites,” Power wrote.

Power also noted that the cemetery grew around the first burial site of a person of European descent. Power didn’t name the man, but he apparently was William Hewitt, a U.S. Ranger killed by Native Americans during the War of 1812. Details are here.

The burial site, Power wrote, “was known to the very earliest settlers as the grave of the Indian Ranger, and was the nucleus of the present Sulphur Springs Cemetery.”

schs-logo-2Sulphur Springs Cemetery can be reached by following Main Street/Johns Creek Road south out of Loami; then turn west onto Sulphur Springs Road.

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This entry was posted in Communities, Early residents, Native Americans, Prehistory. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to ‘Wigwam tree’ and sulfur spring, Loami

  1. Stacie Lewis says:

    Can you tell me from where you got the picture of the envelope addressed to Roscoe Nichols? His son, Donald, is wondering about it. He still has the envelope and the enclosed letter.

    • editor says:

      Ms. Lewis: The envelope was on display at the Loami Senior Citizens Dinner earlier this year. I was among the group of ukulele players who entertained at the dinner, and I thought the postmark was an interesting piece of local history. I can redo the photo on SangamonLink so all it shows is the postmark, if Mr. Nichols would prefer.
      Mike Kienzler
      Editor

  2. Bob Cavanagh says:

    Never, ever trust a ukulele player.

  3. Michele Hughes says:

    The Ranger that died at Sulphur Springs was Wm. Hughes.

    • editor says:

      Ms. Hughes: Thanks very much for your note. It led Sam Henderson to add his own comment to this entry, and that, in turn, led to SangamonLink being able to develop a much more informative separate entry about the first burial at Sulphur Spring. It’s linked in the corrected entry above.
      Mike Kienzler, editor

  4. Sam says:

    The State Journal-Register published an article by Chris Young on May 26, 2009, titled “Springing forth: Geologist uses water to study history” [URL omitted to avoid spam filter]. That article identifies the ranger as William Hughes, mortally wounded while returning from a raid near Galena, and gives his date of death as September 7, 1813. The source given in the article is “The Cemeteries of Loami and Maxwell Townships,” an SCGS publication that may (?) still be available from the Decatur Genealogical Society.

    On the other hand, in Illinois in the War of 1812 (2012, p. 181 nn. 92-93), Gillum Ferguson identifies the US Ranger buried at Sulphur Springs as private William Hewitt, who died on November 16, 1814. Hewitt was mortally wounded in a chaotic encounter somewhere in or near Logan County with group of friendly Potawatomi who had been hunting food for the US garrison at Fort Clark (Peoria). A Potawatomi man named Matatah surrendered his gun to Hewitt, whereupon the other rangers opened fire and mortally wounded Matatah, who then seized his gun back and shot Hewitt. The rangers then slaughtered most of the other Potawatomi. They took one woman captive, who told them they were surrounded by hostile Kickapoo, leading the rangers to march south through the night. Hewitt died during that night march. Those events are fairly well-documented thanks to the ensuing court martial. But the identification of Hewitt specifically as the ranger buried at Sulphur Springs, rather than somewhere else in the general vicinity, appears to rest solely on the recollection of Mrs. Elizabeth Harbour as reprinted in the 1881 History of Sangamon County (p. 458) (the only source Ferguson cites on this point).

    Seems a bit of a puzzle.

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