Northern Illinois was once inhabited by the Native American tribe known as the Potawatomi. The major chief for this area was Chief Big Thunder, supposedly named this for the sound of his thundering voice. Before he passed away, he requested to be placed facing the West. Big Thunder foretold of a great battle between his tribe and another. He told his people that when the time came for this battle, he would come back and lead them to victory. Big Thunder died sometime around 1800, and his people placed him on a bench on the highest spot around and surrounded his body with a fence. Though the battle he foresaw never happened, and Big Thunder never rose from the dead, his people continued to honor him by placing tobacco in his lap as an offering.
During the early 1800s, Big Thunder’s burial place was on the main stagecoach trail between Chicago and Galena, and his grave and body soon fell victim to relic hunters. These white men took the chief’s bones and placed them on display in their homes or businesses. The people of the area considered Big Thunder a tourist attraction of sorts, and when actual relics became scarce, started using pig bones instead of Big Thunder’s bones in their displays. Big Thunder’s skull was supposedly taken by Dr. Josiah Goodhue, and is rumored to have ended up in the Rush Medical College and then lost during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
Dr. Goodhue was well known in Rockford. Josiah was born in Putney, Vt., in 1803, and moved his family here from Chicago in 1838. He graduated from the Yale School of Medicine and then started a practice in St. Thomas in upper Canada. It was here that he met his wife Catherine Dunn. They had 13 children, five of whom died before reaching the age of 5 years old.
Dr. Josiah Goodhue had many achievements to his name by the time he reached Rockford; he was instrumental in organizing the Rush Medical College and served on the first board of trustees. He also designed the first city seal for Chicago.
The townspeople of Rockford claimed that Dr. Josiah Goodhue was “one of the most eccentric people that this town had ever known.” He is still remembered today for his work as a doctor and for changing the name of the city to “Rockford” from “Midway,” as it was previously known.
Unfortunately, Josiah is best known for his demise, which was said to be the result of a curse by Big Thunder’s tribe. The Potawatomis heard of the desecration of their beloved chief’s final resting place and swore revenge against anyone who had taken his bones, especially the man who had stolen his skull.
Dec. 31, 1847, Josiah, then just 44 years old, was attending to a patient at the house of Richard Styles about 4 miles west of the city on “State Road.” When he was finished treating his patient, he decided to walk a neighbor woman, Mrs. Stoughton, to her house. It was dark, and though he was warned by Mrs. Stoughton about the danger, Josiah fell head-first into a freshly dug well. He died shortly after his rescue.
The stories of the curse of Big Thunder escalated after Josiah’s death. Many insisted that Big Thunder had finally received his revenge. The City of Belvidere honored Chief Big Thunder by placing a rock with a plaque at his final resting place, in front of the courthouse.
One other thing that Josiah left the city of Rockford was the cemetery that he fondly named “Cedar Bend,” which later became “Cedar Bluff Cemetery.” He was buried there on the top of a small hill.
Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events