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John Dixon

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The hundreds of villages, towns, and cities which appeared on the northern Illinois prairies following the Black Hawk War in 1832 are all monuments to dreamers: to explorers, traders, priests, entrepreneurs, pioneers, steamboat men, and merchants. Add one more occupation to this list: postman.

John Dixon had emigrated from New York to Springfield, Illinois, in 1825. Two years later, he accepted the position of postman on a newly opened mail route: from Galena to Peoria. Galena was only a few years old, but a lead mining boom in the area had already made her the principle town in northern Illinois. Galena was now the land office for the whole area, so mail was important.

When Dixon took the job as postman to Galena, there were no roads anywhere in northern Illinois. The mail route from Peoria to Galena was a narrow horse path over the prairie, across the Rock River, and through woods inhabited by Sauk Indians. Dixon was prepared, as postmen are, for rain and snow and sleet and hail, but he discovered that it was also his responsibility to find a way across the Rock River.

No problem. The mail must go through. In 1830, Dixon moved his family to the Rock River and established a ferry crossing for the mail. The ferry business grew as others began using it: miners headed for the lead mines, settlers going to Galena to file land claims, judges and lawyers heading for court. Dixon's Ferry became one of the most important places in Illinois. Here, over the years, the Dixons hosted such prominent men as General Zachary Taylor, General Winfield Scott, Albert Sidney Johnston, Jefferson Davis, and Abraham Lincoln.

In 1835, John Dixon laid out the site of a town that straddled the Rock River and gave it his name. He was elected to the Illinois legislature, where he successfully lobbied to have the land office moved from Galena to Dixon.

Over the years, the United States Post Office has honored so many important people with their own stamps they have had to stretch to find new honorees: Elvis Pressley, the Beatles, Mickey Mouse. I wonder why they never thought of honoring one of their own, a postman like John Dixon, who saw that the mail went through, no matter what.

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.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.