History of Fort Lamotte

Author Unknown
Transcribed by Barbara Dix


The exact location of "Fort LaMotte" has never been marked and so the precise location is not really known. However, the approximate location has been well established. It was on farm land owned at present by Mrs. Opal Carter, east of Leaverton Street, Palestine's eastern corporate boundary; and it is a short distance east and slightly south of that end of LaMotte street.

LaMotte street must surely have been given its name because it led to Fort LaMotte although no record can be found supporting this speculation. Thirty three years ago Perry Brimberry, deceased, who was 81 years old at the time, and Eugene C. Newland, deceased, who was 83, pointed out the site for me, Mr. Brimberry remarking that as the picketed enclosure covered quite an area of ground he did not feel that his judgment could be far wrong. To both of those Civil War veterans and lifelong residents of this vicinity there seemed no doubt about their information. Perry Brimberry's grandfather, Joseph Brimberry, once owned that property. Its sale with the old Fort belonged to an old Brimberry family story often discussed and handed down to succeeding generations.


Crawford County's history of 1883 says Edward N. Cullom bought the land which the Fort stood from "Brimberry." That was Joseph Brimberry, the pioneer, the direct ancestor of Perry Brimberry and a number of his decendants who still live here. Brimberry family traditions relate that Joseph Brimberry originally bought 600 acres at 25 cents an acre. Presumably he was the first owner and might have acquired the land through the Vincennes Land Office. There was no Land Office in Palestine for some years after that.

As I had heard some conflicting speculations as to where the fort was located and wished to confirm my notes written many years ago, I asked the late Joe Brimberry, early last year, to go with me and point out the site, as he recalled what his father had told him. Joe Brimberry led me through the field to about the place his father and Mr. Newland had indicated to me, the higher ground east of Leaverton street and slightly south of LaMotte street. It also may be clearly viewed northward from the Palestine Cemetery. My old notes and recollection, therefore, were upheld.


Mrs. Frank Hudson (Lura Brimberry), daughter of Perry Brimberry as well as John L. Brimberry, another son who is an Illinois Central engineer in active service, did not go with me to the Carter land but both of them knew about the old Fort site. John recalled a lane once leading to an old barn on the site. This lane led off from "the old river road," now Leaverton street, maybe 50 yards south of LaMotte street's present eastern limit. Years ago LaMotte street angled southeast a short distance west of its present terminal and emerged with "the old river road," so Joe Brimberry recalled, about where the lane struck on east to the Fort. Originally, possibly, "LaMotte Street" was the "Fort Road," the lane being part of it. This detail is given to show that, allowing for error of a few yards or feet, place under discussion was the site of Fort LaMotte.


The location as above fixed would have been an ideal site for a Fort, meeting War Department recommendations for an unobstructed view of land surrounding. The creek was not needed for the Fort's water supply as water was available, as Joe Brimberry remarked, a very few feet down beneath the sand loam surface.

A Fort "on LaMotte Creek," as some interpreted it literally, would would have been in high growths of vegetation, with countless places for prowling Indians to hide. Not only were the creek's margins heavily wooded but in that time dense areas of tall grasses and weeds would have favored skulking Indians. Most lands subject to backwater floods were spotted with rank vegetation. No stretching of the imagination is required, therefore, to surmise that in building that Fort was well out of musket range from such growths and safe from possible fires in dry vegetation in fall and winter months.

Fort LaMotte's location, as previously said would seem a reasonable conjecture. It was the highest spot around even more than a hundred years later and after more than a century of cultivation's leveling.


"Almost anyone, taking in the general lay of the land, could guess pretty well the location of one of that time's Forts," said Mr. Brimberry. "If I did not know where Fort LaMotte stood and was asked to venture my guess I would always look for the best elevation with the largest area of level ground around it. That is what they always wanted for a Fort site."

With sane presumptions imagination may be called upon to visualize the setting--a rectuangular palisade of high, deep-set, thick and pointed pickets, dotted with loopholes in the center of a large, open, well cleared field and commanding observation of all approaches for quite a distance.

Within Fort LaMotte, where the usual log structures for shelter of families and belongings as well as a dry, covered and protected "arsenal." In at least two of the corners, perhaps, were "watch buildings" of some sort, if not regulation "blockhouses." The enclosure covered upward of an acre of ground likely, affording an interior "parade" where horses and livestock could be protected and cared for during "forting" periods.


As settlers families only "Forted" during Indian scares one of the undesirable "agonies" of the time was moving to and away from the Fort in responses to succeeding alarms, always moving animals and personal belongings back and forth. Family life had to be unsettled.

Although Fort LaMotte was not a regular army post, it was not without importance in its relation to national defense. Harrison did not build Fort Harrison thoughtlessly while on his way to fight Tecumseh's one-eyed "triplet" brother on the Tippecanoe. By setting up that bastion on the bank of the Wabash at present Terre Haute war parties hurrying downstream to attack Fort Knox or lower settlements could be challenged and delayed, if not vanquished. Harrison's good judgment was well upheld in 1812's September attack on Fort Harrison, previously discussed in this article.

Again, Indians might be deverted and delayed somewhat by defenses of Fort LaMotte and Fort Allison at Russellville. It can be seen that these small Forts and their fighting settlers could have been brought actively into the war's more important white combats. As it was, the British had their hands full elsewhereand were obliged to leave terrorization of the frontier to savages.


Considering frontier conditions in those years Fort LaMotte occupied a vital position nearby, two common routes of travel. One route was by river and the other by an old buffalo trail also used by Indians and whites, which had been in existance far back in time. That was "The Vincennes Trace." There was another related trail sometimes called the same name, between Vincennes and the Mississippi but it has possibly been refered to more by other names. The two trails merged into one at Vincennes, extending with branches again, far into the south.

Coming back north the buffalo crossed the Wabash at about the site of the Clark Memorial Bridge, some of the beasts going west and others taking a fork going north towards salt licks around Danville on the Vermillion and tempting prairie grasses all along their path to Lake Michigan. Between Vincennes and Lake Michigan, however, some of the animals again turned west.


Civilization's only positive reminder of "The Vincennes Trace" is in Chicago where a street on the old path is called "Vincennes Avenue." In this connection it is possible some researcher might reveal that a short street in Palestine, called "Vincennes Avenue" also stands in tribute to the old buffalo road. I have been told that it does and while I am unable to confirm this the substantiation might, possibly, be found in old Village records.


This page last updated on February 05, 2015.