Naperville's Military History

Learn more about the contributions Napervillians have made to military history and the impact military conflicts have had on Naperville.

Blackhawk War

Long before white men settled the prairies and woodlands of Northern Illinois, Native American tribes hunted and roamed the countryside. In what would become DuPage County, the Potawatomi Tribe was predominant. This tribe and two others, the Ottawa and the Chippewa, formed a confederation called, "The Three Fires," for protection and support. Originally, these tribes were located east of Lake Michigan, but were driven to Wisconsin and Illinois by the Iroquois and their allies. The tribes of The Three Fires journeyed as far west as Iowa where they met with the Sioux tribes, who promptly defended their hunting grounds leaving the three tribes the lands of Wisconsin, Illinois and parts of Indiana.

For hundreds of years, the Potawatomi, Ottawa and Chippewa tribes seasonally migrated north and south along the Illinois, Fox and Rock rivers from as far north as Minnesota to as far south as Lake Peoria in the center of Illinois. Numerous instances have been recorded of friendly relations between the tribes of The Three Fires and white settlements. However, in 1809, an aggressive Potawatomi chief, Main Poche, turned his war path of pillaging and destruction attentions from Osage and Piankashaw tribes of southern Indiana toward pioneer settlements along the Illinois River towards Missouri. These actions led to a series of treaties and restrictions against all tribes in the Illinois Territory, especially as the question of statehood approached.

During the War of 1812 in which the British tried to return America to its fold, Native American tribes took sides. One of the bloodiest days in Northern Illinois occurred when the Potawatomi learned of the abandonment of Fort Dearborn on August 9, 1812. A band of Potawatomi warriors, 500 strong, descended on 66 regular and militia troops as they left the fort. 38 men were slaughtered. This event nearly stopped the future settlement of Northern Illinois.

During the 1820s, the Sauk and the Fox tribes were also in conflict with the Potawatomi. The Three Fires, through a series of treaties and agreements, agreed to vacate land to the settlers provided annuities would be paid thru 1828. These treaties and agreements gave the tribes of The Three Fires protection from hostile tribes, guaranteed annuities and nearly 5 million acres west of the Mississippi River. Joseph Naper began surveying Cook County in 1829 in anticipation of the land sales that the government could now conduct freely.

It was during one of these survey assignments that Naper, a ship builder, owner and captain, came in contact with the Potawatomi still living in the area. Many tribe members had intermarried with white settlers and adopted "white man's ways." Some continued to live traditionally in and around Chicago and in 1835 a newspaper notice asked for "10 to 40 ox teams" for the removal of Indians. The Potawatomi were friendly toward Naper and realizing this, among other reasons, such as a ready water supply and fertile land, Naper set about to build a town along the DuPage River. Naper and his party of about 60 settlers arrived in the summer of 1831, which coincided with the time period when Chief Black Hawk was mobilizing the Sauk and Fox tribes against white settlement and the federal government.

During the Black Hawk War of 1832, the Potawatomi tribe favored and even protected white settlers. Chief Shabbona, though a member of the Ottawa tribe, was a powerful, respected leader of The Three Fires. He persuaded Chief Waubansee of the Potawatomi not to join Black Hawk and his warriors. Shabbona even went so far as to send his son to warn the settlers at the new Naper's Settlement of attacking Fox tribes. For many years, Shabbona lived near Morris, Illinois, and would frequently travel to see the wonders of Chicago or to visit his friends in Naperville.

Today, the history and memory of these Native Americans individuals is preserved still in the various place-names, schools and parks located in and around Naperville and DuPage County.

Utah War

A carefully preserved letter housed in Naper Settlement's archives is written by the 15th president of the United States, James Buchanan. But what do President Buchanan, Brigham Young, Delana Eckels and Naperville Judge Robert Murray have in common? Why, the Utah War (May 1857-July 1858), of course. The letter written by the president was found among Robert Murray's files, so it is presumed that the letter was sent from his office in Washington, D.C., on behalf of Napervillians.

Just 10 days after his inauguration on March 14, 1857, President Buchanan sat down at his desk and wrote a letter to a "committee" of "gentlemen" regarding their petition to have the new president replace Brigham Young as the governor of the Utah Territory. In this short letter, President Buchanan addresses his petitioners with his reasons for not appointing Mr. Eccles [sic] to the governor's chair. Buchanan's letter also alludes to the impending military conflict with the Mormons. Two months after the letter was written, Buchanan would send 2,300 United States military troops into the Utah Territory to stop a "perceived" Mormon rebellion.

The letter reads:


The decision in regard to the appointment of a Governor for Utah was delayed mainly because there is no existing vacancy, Young still continuing Governor under the terms of the law creating his office. It was postponed for the present for public considerations; and not at all because of the opposition of any person to the appointment of Mr. Eccles.

Your friend
Very respectfully
James Buchanan

14 March 57 

There is no envelope with this letter that would indicate to whom the letter was addressed, nor how it was addressed as Naperville was not incorporated as a village until May 1857. Additionally, the relationship between Delana Eckels and Naperville is not known, but both Eckles and Robert Murray were young attorneys and personal friends of Sen. Stephen A. Douglas, who had proposed the idea of popular sovereignty.

No other extant sources indicate Naperville's position during this "conflict" in Utah. Nationally, antiMormon sentiment had been on the rise since the 1840s. It was during the presidential campaign of 1856, however, that Republicans accused Democrats of holding onto the "twin relics of barbarism - polygamy and slavery" via their platform of popular sovereignty.

World War II

At the close of World War II, thousands of GIs returned home. Some married their high school sweethearts and some returned with brides. By 1947, the United Sates was experiencing one of the largest housing shortages in its history. Naperville was no exception. In fact, the presence of North Central College (NCC) created an even greater demand for housing as young soldiers wishing to use the benefits of the GI Bill flocked to Naperville.

To answer this demand, contractors quickly built 12 barrack-style duplexes, two dwellings per unit, on South Loomis. One newspaper account stated, "Although the barracks are identical on the outside and they contain the same basic furniture, the personalities of the occupants give each an individuality. They have worked out different color schemes and have added pieces of furniture and knick-knacks." These were young 24 year olds with at least one baby. Most of the GIs worked for Kroehler and a few moms and dads attended North Central College.

To supplement the $105 a month to attend college ($120 if you had children), some GIs had to work second jobs at Prince Castle, local golf courses or selling children's books door-to-door. Households were expected to pay the government 22% of their income or a maximum of $40 per month, which did include water, lights and gas.

Dale Schultz, a Navy veteran, and his wife moved into their new home in 1946. By 1948, they had two children, Brad, 22 months, and Laura 10 months. "Dale and I sleep on the 'Davenoe' and let the youngsters have the bedroom. Of course, we can hear the neighbors through the thin partition, but the children are used to noise and it never bothers us." Dale helped pay the bills while working at a gas station, selling cleaning products door-to-door, and playing the piano in a band. He graduated from NCC in 1950 with a music degree.

Before Richard and Gladys Smith were able to move into the barracks on Loomis, they lived for 16 months in the old Adolf Hammerschmidt home, formerly on the corner of Chicago and Sleight. The three-bedroom duplex was welcome after sharing a bathroom and kitchen with several other couples in the old house. Richard graduated from NCC in 1948 and immediately took a position as director of parks in Glen Ellyn. While on campus, he was the captain of the basketball, football and baseball teams.