As I mentioned in a previous post, the Bellefontaine House stands along the Kaskaskia-Cahokia trail, and was often a stopping point for travelers. In fact, the nearby Bellefontaine Bridge connects the only intact and visible portion of the trail today. But first I should probably tell you about the Kaskaskia-Cahokia Trail (or the “KCT”) itself. I hope you’re ready for another Illinois history lesson!
As we know, indigenous peoples lived in the area thousands of years prior to European colonization, and the KCT served as an overland footpath for groups traveling along the river in the middle Mississippi River Valley. It’s impossible to know when this footpath was first used – and it may have even begun as a deer path prior to human use. But we do know that indigenous nations belonging to the Illiniwek Confederation of Tribes introduced the trail to French settlers and traders in the 1700’s, and over time forts and settlements were built along the route following the east side of river between Kaskaskia and Cahokia in Illinois.
Here’s a scan of one of the older maps documenting the KCT. Can you see “Belle Fontainn” near the center? The KCT was used well into the 19th century, and appeared in more than a few historical narratives, serving as a roadway to George Rogers Clark, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and military regiments during the War of 1812. Use of the trail petered off in the early 1900’s, when traveling by horse began to give way to the automobile, demanding the construction of modernized roads. By year 2000, the trail was in disrepair and several parts had disappeared entirely. Thankfully, in recent decades several Illinois communities worked together to promote awareness of the KCT, identify it as a State Historic and Scenic Route, and establish signage marking various points of the trial.
In the fall of 2016, awareness of the KCT increased when the “Friends of the Kaskaskia-Cahokia Trail” embarked on a three-day ride along the trail. Employing mule-hitched wagons, horse-drawn carts, and stagecoaches, the group of 20 or so traveled the length of the 60 mile trail, using modern roads when parts of the original trail could not be traveled. I’m sure the most meaningful bit of that journey took place when the group crested Breezy Hill and reached the Bellefontaine House via the Bellefontaine Bridge, which was the portion I explored.
And that brings us back to my very short, but no less worthwhile journey on the KCT. I took this photo just before crossing the Bellefontaine Bridge en route to Potter’s Field, which sits atop the very aptly named “Breezy Hill.” You can just make out the stone bridge walls on the left and right. The bridge dates back to 1877 and had deteriorated over the years since the KCT was abandoned, however the community restored the bridge in 2015 and it is usable today.
It was gorgeous day to walk the trail and admire the wheat field.
At the top of the hill is Potter’s Field, an old cemetery dating back to the late 19th century. It’s clear why this site is called Breezy Hill, right?
This cemetery is not named after a person called Potter, but rather a “potter’s field” refers to a burial place for unknown or indigent people. The term actually originates from The Bible, referring to a place to dig clay for pottery, to be later used as a burial ground as it would be unfit for agriculture. Potter’s fields were kept separate from cemeteries for the wealthy or those of a particular faith, and were typically used as common graves for strangers, criminals, or the poor.
The nature of this potter’s field is a bit different, as we know at least 66 of the 82 individuals buried here, and many of the tombstones sill bear inscriptions.
And given the ornateness of several tombstones, I’m guessing this was more of a community cemetery, rather than a true potter’s field.
This location also has a great view of the nearby farm. I do miss seeing so much sky.
And we finished our journey by finding wild strawberries growing atop the hill!