History of American Towns: Oquawka, Illinois

Oquawka, Illinois

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Inscription on Norma Jean memorial

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Memorial

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Norma Jean Monument

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It’s been quite a few years since we had made the trips along the Mississippi River in Illinois. At the time I worked in Rock Island, Illinois at the Rock Island Arsenal. I commuted from a small town named viola about 25 miles south of where I worked. Sometimes, for a scenic ride we would drive to the town of New Boston, IL which was on the riverside. From there we would follow the river and sometimes cross over to Burlington, Iowa. The trip to Burlington and back made a nice day trip. There were no other bridges but there were a number of interesting towns and the river bluffs were impressive.

On one such trip we followed the river road and came to the town of Oquawka. We passed a wharf that had restaurant advertising catfish dinners. I thought it would be a nice place to stop and eat one day. Driving up from the river we passed a town square with a small monument and something about an elephant. That elephant is sort of the town’s claim to fame, although there are some other attractions.

The elephant, Norma Jean According to the website “Find A Grave” the elephant Norma Jean was born August 10, 1942 and died July 17, 1972 in Oquawka, Henderson County, Illinois. She was the main attraction for the Clark and Walters Circus. Roadside America.com reports Norma Jean as a 6,500 pound elephant and the star of the circus. Her life ended when she was struck by a bolt of lightning and her trainer was knocked 30 feet by the lightening. Since Norma Jean was the star of the circus, it went out of business within a year.

The elephant was buried where she died, according to a Roadside America Report. Weighing over 6,000 lbs., it would have been difficult to move her. The town was willing to leave it go at that, but a local pharmacist by the name of Wade Meloan raised enough money to give Norma Jean a monument and the town allowed it to be placed in the town square.

The town now has a celebration each August in honor of the Elephant killed by lightning.

Covered Bridge

Wagon Bridge

Another landmark of Oquawka is the covered Bridge referred to as the Wagon Bridge. It is about 2 ½ miles south of the town in Henderson County. It replaced a bridge called the Eames Bridge. It is made of wood and was built in 1866. Until 1935 it was part of the road over Henderson Creek. It became a footbridge when the road was moved by the state. February 24, 1975 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. (Wikipedia)

Henderson County

Oquawka is the county seat of Henderson County, which was formed in 1841 County which was formed from Warren County, according to e-referencedesk.com. Many immigrants to this area came from Henderson County, Kentucky and their influence led to naming the county after their Kentucky home county. Parts of Warren County, Pike County, Madison County, and St. Clair County were included in the present Henderson County. Kentucky’s Henderson County was named for Richard Henderson who founded the Transylvania Company. (E-referencedesk.com)

“The first settlements were made about 1827-28 at Yellow Banks, now Oquawka,” according to e-referencedesk.com. The Blackhawk war stopped much of the immigration to the area. It started again after the war and the removal of Indians from the area. In 1841.

Delabar State Park

Oquaka, Illinois

A markerOquaka, IL -
Oquawka, IL, USA
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© 2014 Don A. Hoglund

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16 comments

Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 24 months ago from The Beautiful South

Very interesting story. Thanks for sharing it. Sounds like a great place to travel through. I love the covered bridges. First place I ever saw any of those were in Massachusetts years ago and always wondered what they were for. For a time out of the weather? Up and sharing.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 24 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Hi Jackie! I really don't know too much about covered bridges, but my guess is that they were covered to keep rain and snow from getting on the road part of the bridge. That would probably help to keep it from becoming slippery.

Thanks for reading, voting and sharing.


Suhail and my dog profile image

Suhail and my dog 24 months ago from Mississauga, ON

Well, I have traveled throughout Illinois, including small towns like Monmouth, but haven't been to these small towns. A great article on small town Illinois.

Btw, that video is a great add. It is very informative on the state park.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 24 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Suhail, thanks for reading and commenting. This town is probably not too far from Monmouth.


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 24 months ago from Asheville, NC

It sounds like an interesting place. I also love old covered bridges. Good Hub!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 24 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

suziecat, Thanks for commenting. Covered bridges are cool.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 24 months ago from Houston, Texas

It is always interesting to learn about these small towns and what makes them unique. The story of that elephant being struck by lightening and the monument is certainly far from the norm! Enjoyed the video regarding Delabar State Park. I will bet it is pretty with the autumn leaves at this time of year. Up votes and sharing.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 24 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for reading and commenting, Peggy. There are a number of small towns along the Mississippi River there. There is something about river town. Thanks for the votes and sharing.


aesta1 profile image

aesta1 19 months ago from Ontario, Canada

Enjoyed reading about this town with a unique name. It is always interesting to go exploring and discover some of these places.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 19 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

aesta1. I think there is something special about a town that honors a circus elephant because it died there. Thanks for reading and commenting.


Joe tucker 10 months ago

i live hear


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 10 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for reading, Joe.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 10 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for reading, Joe.


midwest 4 months ago

People forget the real history of the town. Yellow banks known as Oquawka, was the first place Fr. Marquette met the Native Americans on the Mississippi river in May of 1673, as he and Joliet explored all the way to the Arkansas River. Upon their return the Native Americans told them of a shortcut up the Illinois river back to the Great Lakes. As they went up the Illinois River, they discovered the same Native Americans on Lake Pimiteoui, (fat lake) Peoria Lake at Peoria,IL. Black Hawk wrote his autobiography with the editor of the Oquawka newspaper and said he was born at Yellow Banks. Also, Oquawka was one of the first outposts of the West, or Illinois Territory. The Phillips Bros. bought a house built by a Captain and local Native Americans. It was a trading outpost. Stephen A. Douglas, of the famous Lincoln debates, often stayed in the house during his visits to Oquawka. Stephen A. Douglas, frequently presided over the once Warren County Circuit Court , now Henderson County. The house was also rumored to be a stop on the Underground Railroad. It is registered on the National Register of Historical Places.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for the historical information.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for the historical information.

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