VII. Shabbona’s Grove: Survey and Sale.


The lands of Shabbona’s Gove were sold at public auction by the General Land Office in 1850. The General Land Office (GLO) was established by Act of Congress on April 25, 1812 as part of the Treasury Department. This office was headed by the Commissioner of the General Land Office. In 1836, GLO was placed directly under the control of the President.  In 1849 it was transferred to the Department of the Interior where it stayed until 1946 when it became part of the newly created Bureau of Land Management (BLM) presently located in Springfield, Virginia.


The first district land offices in the Illinois region were established at Kaskaskia and at Vincennes (Indiana). Later, other offices were established at Shawneetown, Vandalia, Palestine, Edwardsville, Springfield, Quincy, Chicago, Danville, and Dixon. The last two covered the region that included Shabbona’s Grove, in Dekalb County.


Sales of Government lands under the jurisdiction of GLO were initially offered at public auction. After July 1, 1820 all such purchases were required to be paid in cash at the time of purchase, with a minimum purchase of eighty acres (it was reduced to forty acres by Act of Congress in 1832), after which a federal patent to the purchaser would be provided by the Commissioner’s Office in Washington.


Working with GLO was the Office of the Surveyor General which was established under the Ordinance of 1785. This office, formally established as the Geographer of the United States by Act of Congress on April 25, 1796 under its director, was tasked to survey such government-owned lands into regular parcels that could be auctioned off by GLO in order to provide funds for the U.S. Treasury Department. This work was performed by Deputy Surveyors who performed rectangular surveys, replacing the old ‘metes and bounds’ system that had caused so much conflict. The surveying of government-held lands was a three part process. The first step was to survey base lines and principal “meridians” upon which all later surveys were based. The second step was to survey township lines usually at six mile intervals. Each row or tier of townships was numbered. In the case of DeKalb County they were numbered T37N-T42N. [1]Columns of townships (range) were numbered R3E, R4E, R5E. Thus Shabbona Township was tier T38N and range R3E. The third, and final step, was performed on Shabbona’s Grove in December of 1842. In this final survey townships were divided into sections. These lines were at one mile intervals, thus creating one mile squares. Each section contained approximately 640 acres or in the case of Shabbona’s Grove which contained two sections, 1,280 acres. Thus Shabbona’s Grove had a formal definition as,


                                                 Section 23

                                                The W ½ of Section 25 &

                                                E ½ of Section 26

                                                T38. N.R. 3 East 3d P.M. Illinois[2]


A question raised earlier in this research was, if the lands were a federal reservation as claimed by the Prairie Potawatomi Band, would not the lack of surveyed bounds preclude the existence of such a reservation? We find in the course of research that a Presidential proclamation[3] allowing for the sale of the lands in the region was not issued until November of 1838. Notification to the Danville Agency was not sent by the Commissioner of the General Land office until January 19, 1839. The step three sectional survey was finally conducted in December of 1842[4], thirteen years after the 1929 Prairie du Chien treaty, and five years after Shabenay’s band had abandoned Shabbona’s Grove and had removed to Council Bluffs, Missouri. The first lands within Shabbona Township were sold by the Dixon Land Office, now the administrative agency for the area, on March 2, 1842.[5]


 One year prior to this (1841), Shabenay tried to sell the lands of the Grove to the Federal Government,



  The enclosed letter from Shab-eh-ney, a chief of the Potawatamies of the Council Bluffs Sub-Agency, purposing to sell his reservation of land to the Government, was yesterday received under cover of a communication from Major Cummens Indian Agent…



The situation concerning Shabenay’s attempts to sell the Grove lands becomes even more interesting. Evidently two years prior (1839) Shabenay attempted to sell the land in question to an individual named Wilbur Walker. The situation is explained in a letter from Coalman Olmstead[6] to President Polk,[7]



  In the year 1839, Wilbur F. Walker purchased of Shabbona or Shambele an Indian Chief of the Ottawa tribe, the west half of section twenty five, being part of the reserve granted to said Shabbona by government treaty.

   In the year 1840 I purchased the same of Wilbur Y. Walker for the sum of fourteen hundred dollars for which I received a deed from said W. F. Walker, he having received a deed from Shabbonna or Shambele for the sum of six hundred dollars.

   But said Walker having failed in the payment of part of said sum to Shabbona, he refused to give up the title to said land until money is paid, what he sais is four hundred dollars, and in order to obtain a title to the land. I offered …to pay what was due to him from Walker provided he would sanction the sale. To this he consented.

   Afterwards, meeting with some designing men who wished to obtain possession of the land he was persuaded not to do it…

  One of those men Mr Gates has gone to Washington, as I understand in company with Shabbona to make out a title to the land and get it sanctioned by your Excellency….



In response to Mr. Olmstead’s letter, the President delegated the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to respond,[8]




  Your communication to the President of the United States of 15 ultimo has been referred to this office-With reference to your statement in relation to your purchase of a portion of the land set apart for the use of Shab-eh-nay and his band- by the 3d. art of the treaty of 1829 with the Chippewas, Ottowas & Potowatomies- and your request to be informed whether the President will “sanction the deed” which you have for the land-on condition that you pay to Shab eh nay the balance he alleges to be due him on account of it. I have to state that as the treaty gives to Shab-eh-nay or his band no authority to sell the land usefrunct as aforesaid- The President cannot give his sanction to any sale that may have been made of it-Shab eh nay & his band under the treaty has only the occupant right- the ---- title is in the United States which can be extinguished by authority of law.


The Commissioner of Indian Affairs wrote the above at the request of the President. It clearly affirmed that their opinions that Shabenay had no previous right to the Grove lands other than usufruct. He or his band never had any authority to sell the lands there.


If that affirmation was not enough, the June 5/17, 1846 treaty at Council Bluffs, Missouri,[9] as noted earlier, removed any remaining interest that the tribe had in any lands anywhere including Illinois. Article two of this treaty stated,


Article 2. The said tribes of Indians hereby agree to sell and cede, and do hereby sell and cede, to the United States, all the lands to which they have claim of any kind whatsoever, and especially the tracts or parcels of lands ceded to them by the treaty of Chicago, and subsequent thereto, and now, in whole or part, possessed by their people…



As noted earlier, the Treaty at Chicago dated September 1833 contained no such cessions to any Indians. Article 3 of that treaty specifically mentioned that the Commissioners rejected all such requests to have lands ceded as reservations to them. It was the Chicago treaty of August 29, 1821 that contained such cessions. Article 2 established lands reserved for use. Article 3 contained outright land grants with no alienation restrictions. This 1821 treaty was the treaty being referred to in 1846.


In the meanwhile, the Gates brothers were still trying to gain ownership of Shabbona’s Grove. Their efforts at a direct purchase came to naught on the basis of the Commissioner’s November 18, 1845 letter. They now tried an end-run through Congress, namely Representative John Wentworth. He contacted the Commissioner of Indian Affairs on their behalf. On May 27, 1848 the Congressman received this response,[10]



  I had the honor to receive your note of 6. instant, in which you ask my attention to the propriety of confirming the three deeds which accompanied it, each executed by Shab-eh-nay, on 1. of December 1845 in this city-one to Ansel A. Gates for 320 acres, one to Orrin Gates for 320 acres, and one to Ansel A. Gates for 640 acres, and conveying the land reserved for the use of said Shab-eh-nay and his band by the 3rd. article of the treaty concluded with the Chippewa, Ottawa and Potowatomie Indians on 29, July 1829.


   The treaty gave no authority to Shab-eh-nay to sell the land. It was reserved for the use of himself and his band only, and it is the opinion of this office. that when the parties, for whose use it was reserved, left it, that it was competent for the United States to sell it as other lands ceded by that treaty which had not been expressly granted to individuals named therein. This view is confirmed by the fact that 5. article of a treaty concluded with the same Indians on 26 September 1833, which stipulated that the reservation made by the treaty of 1829, should be a grant in fee simple to Shab-eh-nay, his heirs and assigns forever, was stricken out by the Senate.


   It seems to me therefore, that as the lands referred to are no longer occupied by the persons for whose use they were reserved, that it is competent for the Comr. Of the General Land Office to dispose the same as other public lands of the United States….(emphasis added)


Accepting, the conclusions of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, William Gates in 1849, seeking pre-emptive purchase rights, wrote the following to the Commissioner,[11]


                         Dear Sir,


 Some time Last summer the two sections of Land allotted to Shabehnah & his Band was advertised by the commissioner of the general Land office for sale to the highest Bidder and I having Purchased the land of Shabenah and paid him apart of the Purchase money Rote to the commissioner asking the sale postponed and it was done hoping I could get an act of congress Passed to confirm the sale and I failed to do so and the Balance of the mony is now due to Shabenah and it would surely be hard for me to pay him and then the government sell it. I ask you therefore if it is to be sold to bring it into Market as soon as you think Proper as the sale of it would stop any further Payment from me to Shabennah. Pleas answer me as soon as convenient and give me your Views on the subject….”(emphasis added)




In a July 14, 1849 letter to the Commissioner of the General Land Office, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs stated,[12]



   I have received your letter of the 10th. Instant, enclosing me a copy of one you had received from Mr. W. Gates of Paw Paw Grove Illinois, relative to the Reservation for the use “of Shab-eh-nay,” and his band of “two sections at his village, near the Paw Paw Grove,” under the treaty concluded on the 29th July 1829 with the Chippewas and Ottawas;- which reserve is fully laid down on our Township plat, & there designated as


                                                Section 23

                                                The W ½ of Section 25 &

                                                E ½ of Section 26

                                                T38. N.R. 3 East 3d P.M. Illinois


   In connexion with this matter, you refer to the decision of the Indian Office of the 27th May 1848, stated in the transcript of a letter of that date to Mr. Wentworth, as communicated to my predecessor, in which decision it is held that “ as the lands referred to are no longer occupied by the persons for whose use they were reserved, that it is competent for the Commr. Of the General Land Office to dispose of the same as other public lands of the United States.” I find consequently that under date 12 August 1848 these lands had been ordered into market…(emphasis added)



Four days later the Commissioner of Indian Affairs responded to the July 14 letter from the Commissioner of the General Land Office,[13]




   I have received your letter of the 14th inst. Which relates to the usufruct right of Shab-eh-nay and his band, to two sections of land at his village, near Paw Paw Grove, Illinois, as provided by the 3d article of the treaty of 29 July 1829 with the Chippewa, Ottawa and Potowatomie Indians.


 Upon an examination of this case, it is found that on 8th November 1841, “Sha-eh-nay” then at Council Bluffs, made application for the approp   riation by Congress, of $1600 as compensation to him for the two sections of land referred to, but no subsequent action thereon is shown to have been had. It also appears that other persons than Mr. W. Gates have heretofore alleged claims to portions of the said two sections of land by purchase; and in each instance those claimants have been informed that the treaty gave no authority to Shab-eh-nay or his band to sell, and that the President could not sanction any sale that might have been made. If injustice has resulted to the Indians or to the parties claiming under them their remedy is with Congress, where, if their claims are regarded as just ample satisfaction can be made either by the award of other lands, or equivalent in money


   Under these circumstances, and as the original treaty only gave to Shab-en-ney and his band, the use of the land-vesting in them no title by the treaty of 26. Sept. 1833 (such provision therein having been stricken out by the Senate,) and as those of the party now claiming by purchase for the reserve, to procure the passage of a law securing such title, have alike failed; it appears to me that this office should not now go behind its decision of 27th May 1848, referred to in your letter, and reopen the case….


As reflected in the following letter, the lands at Shabbona’s Grove were sold at auction under the supervision of the Department of the Interior’s General Land Office on November 4, 1849,[14]


I enclose herewith a copy of the letter of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to this office or 29th May1848 and its enclosure as presenting the material part of the history of the reservation and have to state in pursuance of the opinion therein expressed, this office ordered the lands into the market in the year 1849, and that on the 5th November 1849 Mr. Ruben Allen purchased by pre-emption the whole of Section 23, Township 38 North Range 3 East ed principal meridian, and Mr. William Marks the West half of Section 25 and the East half of Section 26, being the whole of the lands reserved, and which reverted to the United States….



On November 5, 1849 Ruben Allen purchased[15]  from the Dixon Land Office the following lands at Shabbona’s Grove:


Township 38, Reuben Allen, #31285, 80A., W ½ of the NE ¼, Sec.23, Range 3.

Township 38, Reuben Allen, #31286, 80A., E ½ of the NW ¼, Sec.23, Range 3.

Township 38, Reuben Allen, #31287, 80A., W ½ of the NW ¼, Sec.23, Range 3.

Township 38, Reuben Allen, #31288, 80A., E ½ of the SE ¼, Sec.23, Range 3.

Township 38, Reuben Allen, #31289, 80A., W ½ of the SE ¼, Sec.23, Range 3.

Township 38, Reuben Allen, #31290, 80A., E ½ of the SW ¼, Sec.23, Range 3.

Township 38, Reuben Allen, #31291, 80A., W ½ of the SW ¼, Sec.23, Range 3.


On the very same day William Marks purchased the remaining acreage at Shabbona’s Grove from the same office at Dixon:


Township 38, William Marks, #31292, 80A., E ½ of the NW ¼, Sec.25, Range 3.

Township 38, William Marks, #31293, 80A., W ½ of the NW ¼, Sec.25, Range 3.

Township 38, William Marks, #31294, 80A., E ½ of the SW ¼, Sec.25, Range 3.

Township 38, William Marks, #31295, 80A., W ½ of the SW ¼, Sec.25, Range 3.

Township 38, William Marks, #31296, 80A., E ½ of the NE ¼, Sec.26, Range 3.

Township 38, William Marks, #31297, 80A., W ½ of the NE ¼, Sec.26, Range 3.

Township 38, William Marks, #31298, 80A., E ½ of the SE ¼, Sec.26, Range 3.

Township 38, William Marks, #31299, 80A., W ½ of the SE ¼, Sec.26, Range 3.



On June 1, 1850, the Northwestern Illinois General land Office[16] issued the following Federal Patents affirming, and confirming, the  legitimacy of these sales of the lands and their title, at Shabbona’s Grove to Allen and Marks


Date of Sale    Number of Receipt     To Whom Patented    Date of Patent          Patent #[17]


Nov. 5, 1849            31284                     Reuben Allen             June 1, 1850        161552

Nov. 5, 1849            31285                     Reuben Allen             June 1, 1850        161547

Nov. 5, 1849            31286                     Reuben Allen             June 1, 1850        161551

Nov. 5, 1849            31287                     Reuben Allen             June 1, 1850        161550

Nov. 5, 1849            31288                     Reuben Allen             June 1, 1850        161548

Nov. 5, 1849            31289                     Reuben Allen             June 1, 1850        161543

Nov. 5, 1849            31290                     Reuben Allen             June 1, 1850        161542

Nov. 5, 1849            31291                     Reuben Allen             June 1, 1850        161544

Nov. 5, 1849            31292                     William Marks           June 1, 1850        165945

Nov. 5, 1849            31293                     William Marks           June 1, 1850        161948

Nov. 5, 1849            31294                     William Marks           June 1, 1850        165946

Nov. 5, 1849            31295                     William Marks           June 1, 1850        165954

Nov. 5, 1849            31296                     William Marks           June 1, 1850        165944

Nov. 5, 1849            31297                     William Marks           June 1, 1850        165943

Nov. 5, 1849            31298                     William Marks           June 1, 1850        165942

Nov. 5, 1849            31299                     William Marks           June 1, 1850        165947


Thus we have a series of communications between the leadership of  Indian Affairs, the General Land Office, as well as primary source documents originating at the regional land office attesting to the Federal Government’s knowledge of, and concurrence to, the sales of the lands at Shabbona to Allen and Marks.


Shabenay, apparently mistakenly believed that he retained rights to the Grove at Shabbona, and had an attorney make an enquiry on his behalf concerning the Shabbona Grove lands. The response they received was no different from those previously made,[18]


   The Secretary of the Interior, to whom you addressed a communication dated 26th, ult. Asking whether the  “land reserved to the Pottawatamie Chief Shab-eh-nay” under the treaty of 29th, July 1829, has been sold, has referred the same to this Office for answer.


   The treaty under which this reservation was made, gave to Shab-eh-nay, and his band only usufruct right thereto. It did not vest in him, or, with him or his band, a title in fee, and it was decided by this office as long since, as May 1848, that in as much as said land had been abandoned by the Indians for whom it had been reserved, that it was “competent for the Commissioner of the General Land Office to dispose of the same as other public lands of the United States.” It will be seen therefore, that in the opinion of this Office Shab-eh-nay, has no claim upon the United States on account of the reservation referred to.



A letter dated September 24, 1863 from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the Secretary of the Interior best summed up the situation,[19]


In the case of two sections to Sha-eh-nay, at his village near Paw Paw Grove, under treaty of Chippewa and others at Prairie du Chien, it appears from the files in this office that he left the reservation and went West of the Mississippi to live, and by decision of the Department it was held that Shab-eh-nay had only a usufruct right to the land and having left it to live elsewhere the land reverted to the United States to be treated as other public lands-


What the above has demonstrated was that, despite the apparent misunderstanding of an aged ex band okama and the efforts by those desiring to illicitly purchase the Grove lands directly from Shabenay in an effort to circumvent the federal process of land disposal, the system in the end worked. Shabbona’s Grove was sold at public auction in 1849 and it was so done with the direct approval of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the Commissioner of the General Land Office and with the tacit approval of the lands status from President Polk. If nothing else is demonstrated here, the War Department and the Department of the Interior were steadfastly consistent in their opinions pertaining to Shabbona’s Grove. Shabenay’s band held only usufructory rights. When in 1836 the Indian Removal Agent told Shabenay and his band it was time to abandon the Grove and go west, they did. This aptly demonstrated that they were tenants at will of the Federal Government which, as many of the Commissioners acknowledged in their correspondence, was the holder of the fee title to the lands at Shabbona’s Grove. When the lands were declared abandoned, they as the other Government lands in Illinois were declared available for sale, and subsequently sold at auction.


Within six years of the acquisition of the lands located in Sections 23, 25, and 26 of Shabbona’s Grove by Reuben Allen and William Marks, Allen had conveyed all his title interests in Section 23 beginning on November 16, 1849[20]. The last parcel was conveyed on February 9, 1850.[21] Marks, on the other hand conveyed his title rights to Sections 25 and 26 of Shabbona’s Grove beginning December 6, 1849[22] and ending on June 5, 1855 with the sale of his last holding in Section 26 to an Eber Greely.[23] All total there were seventy-one deeds of conveyance from both Allen and Marks for the Grove lands. Each and every deed was affirmed and confirmed by the County Justice of the Peace. The legality of each and everyone of these land conveyances were never called into question by either Dekalb County or the State of Illinois authorities.
























[1] EXH.48. See map Civil Township Boundary, DeKalb County.

[2] Survey Map, Shabbona’s Grove in Dowd, James, 1979, Built Like A Bear:86, Ye Galleon Press

  , Washington.

[3] EXH. 53. Illinois State Archives, Record Group 952.280, Letters of the Commissioner to, Danville Land


[4] EXH.31. Temple. Wayne C. undated. Shabbona: Friend of the Whites. Illinois Historical Society

    Publications, Springfield.

[5] Illinois State Archives, RG 952.342 Register of Receipts June 1841-September 1844: John Gilmore,

    Receipt # 12744, 160 Acres, Section 34, Range 1.

[6] According to the General land Office records at Dixon, Olmstead made two purchases of government

    land at Shabbona:  Reciept # 16253, December 20, 1843, 80 acres, SW ¼ NW ¼, Section25, range 3;

    Receipt # 19231, May 27, 1845, 80 acres, E ½ SE ¼, Section25, Range 3.

[7] EXH.50. Letter to President James Polk from Coalman Olmstead of Shabbona’s Grove, October

    15,1845. Dowd, James, 1979, Built Like A Bear:142-143, Ye Galleon Press, Washington.

[8] EXH.50Letter, November 18, 1845, Commissioner of Indian Affairs to Coalman Olmstead, Shabbona’s

    Grove,  DeKalb County, Illinois. Dowd, James, 1979, Built Like A Bear:143, Ye Galleon Press,


[9]  EXH.46. Kappler, Charles J., 1904, Indian Affairs. Laws and Treaties, Volume II, Treaties:557,

     Washington, Government Printing Office

[10] EXH.43 Letter, War Department, Office of Indian Affairs, to Hon. John Wentworth, House of

    Representatives-US. Dowd, James, 1979, Built Like A Bear:146-147, Ye Galleon Press, Washington.

[11] EXH.51. Letter, William Gates to William Madell, Department of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs,

    Dowd, James, 1979, Built Like A Bear:147-148, Ye Galleon Press, Washington.

[12] EXH.34. Letter, J. Butterfield, Commissioner, General Land Office to Orlando Brown Esq.,

    Commissioner of  Indian Affairs. , Dowd, James, 1979, Built Like A Bear:149-150, Ye Galleon Press,


[13] EXH.17. Letter, Orlando Brown Esq., Commissioner of Indian Affairs to J. Butterfield, Commissioner,

    General Land Office. Dowd, James, 1979, Built Like A Bear:151, Ye Galleon Press, Washington.

[14] EXH.52. Letter, September 13, 1864, J. M. Cummings, Commissioner, Department of the Interior,

    General Land Office to E.S. Smith Esq. Attorney at Law, Chicago, Illinois. Dowd, James, 1979, Built

    Like A Bear:164, Ye Galleon Press, Washington

[15] EXH. 54. Illinois State Archives, RG. 952.342, Register of Receipts June 1849-September 1854.

[16] EXH.  55. Illinois State Archives, RG. 952.362, Tract Books of Land Sold within Northwestern District

    Book 2,  Dixon District, 3rd Principal Meridian, Township 38N, Range 3 East

[17] Illinois State Archives, Public Domain Sales Land Tract Record Listing: Patents, Dekalb County,

    Township 38N, Volume 705:133-134.

[18] EXH.35. Letter, October 5, 1854, Chas A. Mix, Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs, to Messrs

    Paddock & Ward Attorneys.  Dowd, James, 1979, Built Like A Bear:154, Ye Galleon Press, Washington

[19] EXH.36.Letter, Charles E. Mix, Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs to J.P. Usher, Secretary,

    Department of  the Interior. Dowd, James, 1979, Built Like A Bear:163, Ye Galleon Press, Washington.



[20] Grantor Index Book A: 1838-1853, Dekalb County Records, Sycamore, Illinois.

[21] Grantor Index Book B: 1853-1858, Dekalb County Records, Sycamore, Illinois

[22] Grantor Index Book A: 1838-1853, Dekalb County Records, Sycamore, Illinois.

[23] Grantor Index Book B: 1853-1858, Dekalb County Records, Sycamore, Illinois