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From 19th Century Tinderbox To 21st Century Descendents

Wagner Discusses Lively Family Massacre With Packed House At Historical Society Banquet

By Alex Haglund

The Washington County Historical Society packed the house at The Original Springs Hotel in Okawville on the evening of Thursday, April 19, when they held their annual banquet, featuring SIUC archaeology professor Mark Wagner speaking about the 1813 massacre of the John Lively Family.
Wagner set the stage for the massacre by saying that relations between white settlers and Indians were coming off of a nearly-200-year period of, if not peace, at least one marked by diplomacy and trade.
This situation changed, with the War of 1812 and the westward encroachment of American settlers into land that had been Indian-controlled previously. In the early 19th century, Wagner said that there were three main native tribes in Illinois – the Sauk, the Potawatomi and the Kickapoo. Of these, Wagner said the Kickapoo, members of whom were responsible for the Lively attack, was certainly the most war-like.
At that point, these groups possessed almost all of the northern two-thirds of Illinois, with American settlers residing mainly in southern Illinois. “The Indian population is much larger than the settlers at the beginning of the War of 1812,” said Wagner.
Also contributing tho the situation in southern Illinois was a period of strife between Indians and settlers known as “The 20 Year’s War For The Northwest Frontier”. The Northwest Frontier, at that point, was Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, and this time immediately after the Revolutionary War saw native populations pushed ever further to the west.
All told, “the Lively Family are in a bad spot,” Wagner said. Along with the larger conditions in the area, the Lively Massacre happened in the peak year for Indian attacks, 1813, and was carried out by the tribe responsible for the most attacks, again, the Kickapoo.
On top of all this, Wagner recounted that one of the events making Indians so violent in this area at this time was an attack on an Indian village near Peoria by American militia – one which John Lively was recorded as having taken part in, and one which another famous attack, the Wood River Massacre, was also tied to.
In the attack near Peoria, the militiamen “killed a lot of Kickapoo women and children,” Wagner stated. Given the Indian honor code and the nature of warfare in their culture, this was a slight that one way or another, had to be addressed.

SIUC Archaeology Professor Mark Wagner discussed the killing of John Lively Family in 1813 at the Washington County Historical Society Banquet held on Thursday, April 19. Some of those in attendance at the banquet claimed lineage from Lively or those who survived the massacre.

“I’m not excusing them,” Wagner said, “I’m just explaining why they did what they did.”
The nature of the frontier before this time of strife began, meant that almost everyone knew everyone. “there’s a lot of knowledge of who’s on each side,” said Wagner. Killed in the attack were John Lively, his wife, and three children.
Escaping the attack were a son, who escaped with a hire hand and the family’s horses, and a daughter who was staying with another relative.
“I suspect some of you may know more about the family than I do,” Wagner said to the crowd. Many of those present had studied the family as part of their own genealogical research and there were some among them that could trace their own lineage back to the Lively Family, or at least, the members of the family who survived.
“We do know who the hired hand was,” said Jeanne Herzig, a guest to the event, who stated that she was related to the Moore and Scott families (The Moore family was targeted in the Wood River Massacre mentioned above). “He was either a cousin or a nephew of John Lively. His name was Reuben.”
Among those present at the banquet were Bob and Emma Lou Irwin, who stated that Reuben’s daughter, Jane Lively, married John Orlando Irvin, Jr., and was Bob Irwin’s great-grandmother.
The boy who escaped with the hired hand had a name as well, said another guest, who stated that he was Jesse Lively.
Sitting next to the Irwins was Terry Morrison, who stated that the young girl survivor (staying with a relative during the attack), Jane Lively, was his great-great-great-grandmother.
While many in the audience wanted to talk more and know more about the family, Wagner focused on the archaeological end of things, addressing what might be done next at the site, if possible.
One of the ideas mentioned by Wagner was a non-invasive, non-destructive survey of the Lively Cemetery. He spoke about an 1890s-era Catholic cemetery located underneath the National Guard Armory in East St. Louis, which he had surveyed (and which was eventually just left there, rather than being moved).
Using techniques like gradiometry or ground penetrating radar, “to do a survey on the Lively Family Cemetery,” would be very quick. “It’s so small, it would only take a couple of hours.”
Wagner stated that he wanted to see if the accounting of the graves present there, and thus, the number of people killed in the massacre, was accurate.

Editor’s Note:

I have tried to make the family lineages mentioned here in the story as clear and accurate as possible from the information I was given at the banquet. If there was an error in the retelling, please send me an email at and I will add a correction if necessary
– Alex Haglund

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