Alexander County

1897 How Cairo Was Named

The Citizen
Cairo, Illinois, Thursday, July 15, 1897

Called For Its First White Settler, Louis F. Cairo,
Who Came Here In 1780 — His Son, the First White Person
Born at This Place, Returns and Tells "The Citizen" a Remarkable Story
Trunk of Gold Buried Here

Cairo has been entertaining a distinguished person unawares during the past two weeks. It is none other than Dr. Louis N. Cairo, the first white person born at the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and son of the man, Ouis F. Cairo, for whom our city was named.

Hearing that Cairo harvored a gentleman bearing the name of Egypt's capital city, a Citizen reporter called on him at the Farmer's Hotel, where he had been stopping for a couple of weeks since his arrival from New Orleans.

Dr. Cairo was quite ready to tell the story of his early life. He is a large man, looking to be about sixty years of age, although he ways he was born here August 20, 1823, which would make him nearly 74 years old. He wears glasses and bears a striking resemblance to Dr. Paul G. Schuh.

Dr. Cairo commenced by giving a sketch of his father's career. The elder Cairo was born in Cairo, Egypt, of French descent, with an intermixture of German. When a lad he was bound out to a carpenter to learn the trade, and had to serve an apprenticeship of seven years. His master was a quarrelsome, drinking man, so young Cairo ran away and sailed to London and then went to France. He joined the French army, but not liking the severe discipline, he again ran away, coming to America and landing at New Orleans. He soon worked his way up the Mississippi and …

This was in 1780. The point of land between the two rivers was very sharp then, and was covered by a heavy growth of timber through which there were no roads, only a path from the Mississippi to the Ohio a short distance above the point. A tribe of Indians called the (Seguina Indians were the only inhabitants) and they lived along the banks of both rivers, and were engaged in fishing. There were seven families of this tribe living on the point.

Mr. Cairo was engaged in getting out logs for a New Orleans mill and this brought him up the Mississippi. While here he got hurt and was cared for by an Indian named Ostiva Mongol, as near as these sounds can be translated into English. During his period of convalescence, he came to the conclusion that his point would be an excellent trading point. Accordingly he built a shanty boat and went to St. Louis and purchased a supply of provisions and liquors. Returning, he established his trading post in the Mississippi just a little way above the point. He also built himself a house midway between the two rivers.

It soon became noised abroad up and down the rivers that whisky could be secured at this point and it became a popular resort for both the Indians and the river men who then passed up and down between St. Louis and New Orleans. Every Sunday they would gather to drink and carouse and the expression ''' "Let's Go Down to Cairo's" soon gave the name of Cairo's, and afterward Cairo, to this point.

After living here for a time, Cairo married the daughter of a farmer living near Evansville, and on August 20, 1823, Louis Jr., was born. His parents continued to live here until he was thirteen or fourteen years of age, and though a small lad many of the thrilling scenes of those early days were plainly photographed upon his memory.

Cairo Run Away From Cairo

At that time a severe penalty was imposed for selling liqor to the Indians. The violent acts which were a weekly occurrence at Cairo's became noised abroad. One Indian in a drunken frenzy murdered his entire family, and this came to the ears of the federal authorities. Two officers were sent down here to arrest Cairo and stop traffic, but Cairo was in St. Louis at the time laying in a fresh supply of whiskey. Upon his return he was told of what was in the wind before he reached home, and immediately he hid and sent his cargo of fire water down by some of his Indian friends. So watchful were the officers of Cairo's movements that it was with great trouble that he kept open communication with his wife and arranged for her to sell out and leave. The officers were suspicious that something was in the wind, so Mrs. Cairo's departure had to be made upon a very dark night. Dr. Cairo recalls very plainly the incidents of that terrible night. Dr. Cairo recalls creeping down to the water's edge to enter a canoe. The lad was placed in the bow and his mother was about to enter when she stumbled over the limb of a tree which broke with a crash and threw her headlong into the water. Young Cairo sent up a loud howl but was summarily silenced, the woman pulled into the canoe and away they went. By much work they eventually reached Cincinnati, where they met Mr. Cairo. But the officers did not let the man rest even here, and he had to leave and his son never saw or heard of him again. The mother lived less than a year and young Cairo was compelled to shift for himself.

Trunk of Gold Buried Here

Dr. Cairo relates one incident which occurred when he lived there for a time. He had considerable money which he kept in a small iron trunk. Before he left he took it away and buried it, being absent about three house. Cairo asked him why he did not leave it in his care, but he replied he had put it in a safe place. Cairo told the Frenchman he would keep the money if he found it and the answer came that he could have it if he discovered it. But the trunk was never found and the Frenchman never returned to secure his treasure.

From Cincinnati young Cairo drifted over to France and studied medicine. He practiced his profession for a time, but it was not to his liking, and he learned the trade of saw hammering. He has been around the world considerably and has re-visited the place o fhis birth twice before his present visit, but he has not been here since the war until he arrived two weeks ago. He is a most interesting talker and takes well merited pride in the fact that although he had so ill-favored a start in life, by integrity and application he has acquired a character as well as a portion of the world's goods. Even though he does shatter a popular belief that our city was named for Cairo, Egypt, his story will interest every Cairoite.

Contributed 25 Aug 2019, by Deborah McGee Cox, as a part of the McGee Collection.

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