Robinson Family Burial Ground

If you’re driving down East River Road, along another of the county’s forest preserves, make a stop at the pullout just north of Lawrence Avenue.  Follow the paved footpath a few hundred feet into the woods.  You’ve just found the Robinson Family Burial Ground.

Alexander Robinson

Alexander Robinson

Much like the history of early Chicago, the story of the family patriarch is liberally salted with legend.  Alexander Robinson was probably born near the straits of Mackinac in 1787, the son of a Scottish trader and a Chippewa woman. His tribal name was Chee-chee-pin-quay, which translates as “blinking eye”—he was said to have poor vision.

Some time after 1800 Robinson settled on the banks of the Chicago River and engaged in the fur trade. He is credited with helping rescue Captain Heald and other Americans after the destruction of Fort Dearborn in 1812. When the fort was rebuilt, Robinson found additional employment as an interpreter. For a while he also operated a tavern.

In 1829, through some convenient maneuvering, Robinson became one of the Potawatomi chiefs. He then helped negotiated the two treaties in which the native tribes ceded their local lands. In recognition of his services, the federal government granted him a 1280 acre reserve on the Des Plaines River, near today’s Schiller Park. He also received a lump-sum cash payment and an annual pension.

Though his colleague Billy Caldwell moved out of the area, Robinson decided to settle on his land.  He built a house near the banks of the Des Plaines and eventually raised a family of fourteen children.  One of the early city directories lists him as a “farmer.”

Path to the Robinson Family Gravesite

Path to the Robinson Family Gravesite

From time to time, history buffs and curiosity seekers trekked out to the homestead, and Alexander Robinson delighted in telling the familiar old stories. He died at his home on April 22, 1872, and was buried on the property.

Members of the Robinson family continued to live on the homestead after Alexander’s death. At various times portions of the reserve were sold off.  Questions arose whether the sales were legally executed.

At length the Robinson heirs became involved in a dispute with the Cook County Board, which wanted the land for a forest preserve. The result was a court decision conveying the land to the county, but guaranteeing Alexander Robinson’s descendants the right to continue their residence. The old homestead was destroyed in a 1955 fire, after which the last heirs vacated the property.

Memorial Boulder

Memorial Boulder

By then eleven members of the Robinson family had been laid to rest in the family plot.  Because of vandalism, the county later removed the headstones and placed them in storage.  Today the graves are unmarked, lying beyond a large memorial boulder.  The homestead site is deeper in the forest, closer to the river.

In 1991 legal proceedings were begun by persons claiming descent from Alexander Robinson’s first marriage. They believe they have a claim on part of the reserve.  As of this writing the matter is unresolved.



3 Responses to “Robinson Family Burial Ground”

  1. 1 PTG December 24, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    Interesting summary/article. The land claim you speak of was resolved through Supreme Court Case Pickering Versus Lomax. As a result the land was legally conveyed/partitioned by Alexander Robinson himself to his children. This was legally approved through a retroactive sanction by President Hayes. Evidence was produce in the Fall of 2013.

    The Potawatomi have no legal claim to the land. The only land still in dispute from the 1829 Treaty of Prairie du Chien is in Wilmette and the Caldwell Reserve.

  2. 3 Thomas W. Atkielski January 9, 2017 at 8:25 pm

    How many times I criss-crossed through the old Robinson reserve! On one occasion, upon breaking my way through the heavy brush, near where Foster Avenue runs, I broke through the brush, which was heavy on all sides, and low and behold, I came upon and old Bee hive installation, which was so trampled down from continuous use, that no vegetation was ever able to grow! Inside that about 10′ by 10′ area was a metal screen netting bee housing, (I supposed it was a Bee/Honey production spot ,) in the form of a 3 feet high, or so, rectangular structure about 7-8 feet long, that looked like it could’ve been used yesterday! Totally mystified by its apparent pristine appearance, I assumed that it was operable until sometime in the last 50 years or so? Remember, it was totally, I mean totally, encased all the way around, in thick vegetation, which I had a hard time breaking through! Anyone ever see that structure? I tried to find it some time later, but couldn’t find it! Now living in Fullerton, Ca., I wish I was back in the Chicago area, where I could lead a small expedition to find it? But in that area, it is so thickly forested, would take maybe 5 people to cover the area completely!!! Thanks Tom…

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