This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.
Rock Island County doesn't have to go out of its way to prove that it's special. Just look at an Illinois map. Almost the whole of the state is divided up into neat, square counties stacked on top of each other like a warehouse. Then, squeezed along the Mississippi River at the western edge of Illinois, lies Rock Island county, sixty miles long if you straightened out all the crooks, and some six miles wide, not counting the jagged pieces.
There's got to be a dramatic story behind a county like that. Were we the result of maneuverings by politicians? Was it trying to keep out some undesirable element by sneaking around them? Was it a mystical vision? You're not going to like the answer.
When Illinois became a state in 1818, the part north of the Illinois River was still Indian country. The legislature lumped the whole area into Pike County, named after Zebulon Pike. Within three years, settlers began moving into this territory, especially to the lead mines at Galena. In 1827, a large section of northwestern Illinois became Jo Daviess County. Other groups of settlers arrived, many with dreams of founding a town that would become a thriving county seat. The Illinois Legislature obliged by surrounding these hopes within neat county lines.
Eventually, more than a fourth of the counties in Illinois were carved out of Pike County. Jo Daviess county became nine counties.
By the end of the Black Hawk War in the spring and summer of 1832, most of northern Illinois had already been divided into counties, each with a county seat waiting for good times.
Jo Daviess County had been divided into eight smaller counties. Only the southern tip had not been spoken for—a patch close to the Mississippi where the normal north-south channel turns east and west for fifteen miles. Here was located Saukenuk, the principle village of the Sauk Indians. County builders had left this zig-zag strip alone because of Saukenuk.
Only in 1833, after the Black Hawk War, did this land become Rock Island County, the last county formed from Jo Daviess. So, there's your answer to what makes Rock Island County stand out from all the other counties in Illinois, what makes us so special.
We’re the leftovers.
Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.