DAVENPORT'S FIRST CITIZEN.
ANTOINE LE CLAIRE PROMINENTLY IDENTIFIED WITH THE CITY, TERRITORY AND STATE - THE OWNER OF A HALF-DOZEN SECTIONS OF LAND GIVEN HIM BY INDIAN FRIENDS - GENEROUS TO ALL - MARGUERITE LECLAIRE, HIS WIFE WHO SHARED HIS PLEASURE IN MAKING OTHERS HAPPY - A TRIBUTE BY PERE PELAMOURGUES - LECLAIRE AND DAVENPORT - NAMES INSEPARABLE.
(Pictures included with this chapter are: Antoine LeClaire - Antoine Le Claire Treaty Site Home As It Now Looks At 420 West Fifth Street - Marguerite LeClaire - Antoine Le Claire's Old Residence, First Railroad Depot West of the Mississippi River - Third Home Of Antoine Le Claire)
Scattered throughout these pages, here and there, the name of Antoine LeClaire appears. He was a man so prominently identified with the territory, state and city of Davenport in their early stages of development, was so broad-minded, liberal in his views, enterprising, generous to friends and enthusiastic and helpful in the promotion of the city's advancement, and always at the head of and a liberal contributor to every public enterprise of his day, that necessarily his name was more frequently and respectflly used than any other man of this community. Many incidents of his life are noted herein by those who knew him intimately, which leave the writer of this sketch naught to do but give a general outline of the life of that great pioneer.
Antoine LeClaire was born December 15, 1797, at St. Josephs, Michigan. He was the son of Francois LeClaire, who immigrated from France to Canada and eventually took up his residence in Detroit. Francois LeClaire married the granddaughter of a Pottawattamie chief, who became the mother of Antoine. At this time the territory of the northwest, out of which a half dozen mighty states have been formed, was peopled almost solely by the redmen, with here and there one of a different race, fearless enough to brave the perils of the frontier life among the dusky denizens of the wilderness. Francois LeClaire was one of these. In 1808 he established a trading post at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, exchanging manufactured articles for various kinds of furs. In 1809 he engaged to some extent in the business in connection with John Kinzie, at Fort Dearborn, now Chicago, Illinois. In 1812, though surrounded with the Indian tribes with whom he was trading and who through the influence of British emissaries were generally hostile to the United States, Francois LeClaire espoused the American cause, engaging actively in the service, and was in the contest at Peoria, where with others he was taken prisoner. The prisoners were confined at Alton, Illinois, but were released druing the same year.
ENTERS GOVERNMENT SERVICE
About this period, at the solicitation of Governor Clark of Missouri, Antoine LeClaire enteered the service of the government and was placed at school that he might acquire a proper knowledge of the English language. At that time he could speak French and Spanish fluently. In 1818 he was sent to Fort Armstrong and there acted as interpreter under Captain Davenport, and the same year returned to Peoria, where in 1820 he married the granddaughter of Acoqua (The Kettle), a Sac chief. The same year he was sent to Arkansas to watch the movements of Indians in that locality. He was returned to Fort Armstrong in 1827 and was present as interpreter in 1832 when the treaty was made by which the United States purchased of the Sac and Fox tribes the territory west of the Mississippi river. The treaty, on account of the presence of cholera among the soldiers at Fort Armstrong, was entered into on the Iowa shore opposite to the island. Here the great chief of the Sacs, Keokuk, whose admiration for LeClaire could never be concealed, made a reserve of a section of land which he donated to Mr. LeClaire's wife, requiring as the only condition that Mr. LeClaire should build his house on the section and on the spot then occupied by the marquee of Genreal Scott in making the treaty, which condition Mr. LeClaire afterward fulfilled to the letter. The Sacs and Foxes also, gave him another section of land at the head of the rapids, where the village of LeClaire now stands. The Pottawattamies in the treaty of Prairie du Chien reserved two sections on the Illinois side which they presented to Mr. LeClaire. On this reservation now stans the thriving city of Moline. The treaty was ratified by congress the following winter. In the spring of 1833 Mr. LeClaire erected a small building in the then Fox village, "Morgan," which had occupied this ground for years previous. Of the tribe havng this as their headquarters Ma-que-pra-um was the head warrior and Poweshiek the head chief. In the fall of 1834 the Sacs and Foxes left here for the Cedar river.
In 1833 Mr. LeClaire was appointed postmaster of Davenport, the first one to occupy that position in the town, and also justice of the peace, to settle all matters of difference between the whites and Indians. His jurisdiction extended over all the territory purchased of the Sacs and Foxes west of the Mississippi from Dubuque on the north to Burlington on the south. The population of Burlington at that time was about 200 - that of Dubuque, about 250. Antoine LeClaire was an accomplished linguist. As has been stated, he spoke French and Spanish, understood thoroughly and conversed in fourteen Indian dialects, and by reason of this mainly was present as interpreter at many other treaties, that of the Great and Little Osages, in St. Louis in 1825; that of the Kansas at St. Louis, in 1825; of the Chippewas at Prairie du Chien in 1829; the Winnebagos at the same place in August, 1829; at the same place with the Sacs and Foxes in 1826; also at Prairie du Chien with the Winnebagos in 1832; at the treaty of Fort Armstrong held on the Iowa side with the Sacs and Foxes at Davenport in 1836; at Washington with the Sacs and Foxes in 1837; and with the Sacs and Fox tribes at Agency, now Wapello county, Iowa in 1842.
FOUNDER OF DAVENPORT
As stated elsewhere in this work, Mr. LeClaire assisted in the formation of a land company that laid out the town of Davenport, and he became one of its most active, progressive and influential business men. On this spot where Davenport now stands there was once an Indian village, of which no data is now at hand whereby it can be described. Doubtless it was the camping place or village of the Indians centuries before this continent was discovered by Columbus, and it is said also, although it is a matter of dispute among historians, that here, too, Father Marquette landed in June, 1673, and that he was the first white man whose foot ever touched the soil of Iowa. When Keokuk so generously presented to Marguerite LeClaire the section of land whereon Davenport now stands he little dreamed that a thriving, prosperous city would be built upon it. The first hosue having been built by Antoine LeClaire, and he having been so closely associated with all movements that led up to the city's existence, it is easy to feel that it should have received his name. But being of a generous and modest mind, he named the city in honor of his friend, Colonel George Davenport.
Antoine LeClaire became possessed of great wealth for a man of his day. His every desire seemed to be centered in the future and welfare of Davenport. Everything that would advance the city in any way appealed to his generous spirit and by a liberal expenditure of money and by gifts, churches, schoolhouses, hotels and other public buildings came into existence at his expense. The first cathedral of the Scared Heart (St. Marguerite's) was built and furnished with bell, organ, paintings, statuary and fonts complete, with eighty acres of ground for a cemetery, by his munificence. The church and cemetery were named St. Marguerite's in honor of his wife, with its imposing appearance and lofty spires standing on a large city block of ground, crowning the hilltop overlooking the majestic Mississippi. In early days he also gave a block of ground between Fourth and Fifth, on Brady and Main streets, and erected thereon St. Anthony's church, school house and rectory complete. This block is now partially occupied by business buildings which bring a large revenue to the diocese. Mr. LeClaire was a devout Catholic, and as the word implies, was broad in his views, as he not only gave of his substance to his own church but also as well to the Protestant churches of that time, donating grounds and contributing liberally to the buildings erected thereon.
FROM BLOCK HOUSE TO MANSION
His first home was a small log house soon replaced by a more pretentious structure from which he eventually removed into a splendid mansion on the bluffs, which commanded a beautiful view of the Misssissippi and the three cities. After the death of Mrs. LeClaire it passed into the possession of the Catholic diocese and was used as a residence for Bishop McMullen, and at his death it was the residence of his successor, Bishop Cosgrove, who also died there. Then came Bishop Davis, who disposed of the residence, which still stands on its original site.
As Mr. LeClaire grew older his avoirdupois increased materially from his former small frame to a portly embodiment which made his physique noticable wherever he appeared. In fact, his weight was something over 300 pounds. He died September 25, 1861, suddenly from a third attack of paralysis. His funeral was attended on the 26th of September by a multitudinous procession of citizens and old settlers of the county, on foot, walking mournfully to the church and the grave, attended by Rev. Pelamourgues and two other priests. The funeral sermon was subsequently preached by Rev. John Donlan. The body was interred in the yard close to St. Marguerite's church, a costly monument was placed at the grave by his widow, and when she died, her body was interred beside that of her husband. Subsequently when the costlier monument to the memory and generousity of Antoine LeClaire, St. Marguerite's church, was razed to the ground, to give way to the Sacred Heart cathedral, the bodies of these noted pioneers were disinterred and found their last resting place in St. Marguerite's cemtery, where the monument purcheased by Mrs. leClaire was also removed.
Mrs. Marguerite LeClaire, wife of Antoine LeClaire, died at the family residence, in Davenport, October 18, 1876.
Mrs. LeClaire was born at Portage des Sioux, St. Charles county, Missouri, October 16, 1802. She was the daughter of Antoine LePage, a Canadian, and the granddaughter of the Sac chief, Acoqua (The Kettle), the leading chief of his nation. Her early life was spent in her native village where her education was superintended by one of the orders of nuns, under whom she studied French and English. In 1820 she was married to Antoine LeClaire in Peoria, who was then acting as interpreter between the Indians and the government, and frequently accompanied her husband on his excursions among the Indians in Arkansas, whom he was sent to watch, when acting as scout or interpreter for the government, during seven years. During her residence in Davenport and before and since the death of her husband, delegations of the Sac and Fox Indians visited her place very year, where they were always made welcome, entertained as long as they wished to remain, and when leaving, always carried away as a free gift what necessaries they required - corn, flour, etc.
Being an earnest and devout Catholic, her own church and sect were recipients of her charity to a very large degree; but as said before, when called upon for aid to any public or philanthropic enterprise, she never stopped to inquire as to creed or sect, all alike being partakers of her bounty. She died about nine in the morning, after recieving at the hands of Father Cosgrove the solemn rites of the church of which she was a devout and consistent member. The funeral sermon was preached by Father Cosgrove, in St. Marguerite's church, of which she was a member and which was built and furnished by her husband during his lifetime. Her remains were deposited in the burial lot beside her husband at the entrance of the church.
A PICTURESQUE PERSONALITY
"One of the picturesque personalities that will lend charm to the history of Davenport," said the Democrate in its issue of June 17, 1899, "will be Antoine LeClaire, the Indian's friend, companion, protector, incorporator of Davenport and for a quarter of a century one of its most public-spirited citizens, esteemed and loved by redmen and white till the day of his death. The banished tribesmen no longer make their annual pilgrimage here to seek his counsel and companionship, his activity no longer contributes to our civic life or his benevolence to the good works that others are carrying on in his stead, but his memory continues fresh in the minds of those who knew him. That his name lingers all over our city map in addition after addition, attaches to one of our streets and to a city at the head of the rapids is because he faithfully served the friends of his childhood, the Indians, who years ago made their abode in this vicinity, counted by them, as it may still lay claim to be, the garden spot of the west. In connection it may be noted that the removal of the Indians from this neighborhood onto a reservation further west did not prevent them from showing, their affection for and remembrance of LeClaire in after life. For years large delegations of the tribesmen came here every fall, whole villages at a time, and camped near his house and enjoyed the hospitality of the family. When Colonel Davenport was murdered on the island here Indians came back from interior Iowa to guard the LeClaire home. Yearly the delegations grew smaller as the lines of civilization drew tighter about the Indian reservations, pushing the redmen farther west, while death thinned the ranks of those whose hunting grounds had been here and who owned to having a friend in the government interpreter of former days. Their pilgrimages hither continued, however, up to the time of LeClaire's death, and his widow received visits from many of the Indians afterwards. Before Antoine's death it had been agreed that the surviving relatives of himself and wife should take their property in equal shares and fifty-seven of their kindred therefore shared equally under his will after the decease of his widow."
A TRIBUTE BY FATHER PELAMOURGUES
Father Pelamourgues spoke at the third banquet of the Scott County Pioneer Settlers association to the toast: "Antoine LeClaire - the pioneer of pioneers in this county, and the first president of the pioneers' association - identified with our city and county by almost every old-time memory, and by every association of feeling and interest - may he live long to bless the festive occasions with his great presence, and to witness the full rearing of these corporate structures, Davenport and Scott county, whose corner stones his hands laid."
"Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen: I am afraid that in responding to this toast I shall do injustice to Mr. LeClaire, and to the Old Settlers association, before which I have the honor to speak, and I am sorry that a more competent person than myself was not selected to stand in my place. It is true a countryman of the great Lafayette is always welcome in an American gathering, let his merits be ever so little. I have so often, since my residence among you, experienced the kindness of our first president and of the old settlers, who always tendered me the hand of friendship, that I am encouraged to say a few words. My task is rendered light from the fact that all of you are well acquainted with Antoine LeClaire, all of you having been like myself welcomed to the home of your choice by the pioneer of pioneers of Scott county. Many of you found, perhaps, a shelter under his roof - for it is well-known fact that he tendred always to the stranger that benevolent hospitality which was rendered especially pleasant by the unaffected kindness of her who presided over his log cabin, who encouraged him in his hours of trial, and who more than any one else has pointed to him the good that was to be done.
"LeClaire and Davenport! Those two names are and will be for a long time to come, inseparable. Davenport, though destined to be a city, might have languished if it had not been for the enterprising genius and liberal mind of Antoine LeClaire. He is not a man of one idea; he seems to be made on purpose for being the founder of a city. Liberal in his views, he never inquired of a man from what country he was coming, or to what creed he belonged. He was kind to all and encouraged all; he tried to be a benefactor to all; he encouraged the mechanic and the professional man; he was the friend of the poor as well as the rich. He always knew how to accommodate himself to circumstances and he was as cheerful trying his musical skill on a three stringed fiddle, and amusing some of the old settlers - who perhaps now listen to me - as he is now in his elegant mansion surrounded by all those comforts that can render a man happy if happiness can be found upon earth.
"Davenport and LeClaire! Names inseparable. He built the first log cabin, and in it every newcomer became his guest; he built the first church, in which he continued for many years to lead in singing the praises of God till his means permitted him to rear an edifice more suitable for the worship of the Almighty. He erected that hotel which for many years attracted the attention of all who passed in front of our village. He was instrumental in building the first foundry, helped that great benefactor of our town and county, A. C. Fulton, to erect the first mill, and passing over many other good deeds, he was the first man who worked on a railroad west of the Mississippi river.
"I will close, Mr. President, by saying: May he long live to bless these festive occasions with his great presence and witness the full rearing of those corporate structures. Davenport and Scott county, whose corner stones his hands laid."