Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
It’s always a tragedy when a massacre happens in the world; it brings a small depression. However, for small town Robinson they perform a re-enactment of the Huston family massacre.
The townspeople speculated the family to include father/husband, Isaac Hutson, his wife, a teenage daughter, two or three smaller children, and Isaac’s brother-in-law, Dickson.
The story didn’t rise until reporter J.K. Rardin published in the “Saturday Evening Herald” on June 19, 1886 and reporter Polly Kellogg published in the Mattoon Gazette on May 17, 1915, when both wrote on what happened on the massacre.
Elizabeth Winters, writer of the pageant, took it upon herself to write a play about the event. The first time the play ran was on August 3, 1968. Although, some parts are not historically accurate, Winters tried her best to be as accurate.
However, Director of the play for four years, Tom Compton, said, “I think its kind of cheesy.”
The play runs on August 1, every even year. The townspeople would set up lawn chairs or blankets to sit and watch the performance. On the first day of the play, is mainly where the characters gather in the middle of the field and have a celebration and everyone is having a good time; but there is a conflict between two boys fighting over one girl, which beefs up the play.
Second day, of the play, the father, Isaac, goes out to mill and leaves behind the family. The mother and teenage daughter are most likely weaving, making candles, or other female tasks. During the evening, Indians come and attack the family killing the mother, children, and brother-in-law, and throwing the baby into a pot.
When the father arrives back he witnessed the murders and sadly could not find his teenage daughters body anywhere. Presumably, the Indians tied her up and carried her away with them.
Later in that scene, there is a short intermission where the crew clean up the area for the last scene. Which includes the father going into the war against the Indians; in which he dies. The overall play can be a little more than an hour long.
After the massacre and death of Isaac Hutson, the townspeople struggled to come up with a new for the new village, until they thought of Hutsonville.
This play has become a large historical event for the people. Compton stated, “It is real history and the town is named after this.” Other historical events bring the town together.
For example, Newlin Beach has been a hot spot for the River Fest. Back then the river used to be used for fairy boat rides to get across (since there was no bridge), baptisms in the river, and fishing.
The Hutson Massacre Pageant has become a big part of the people in Hutsonville and it is practically a tradition for them to perform this play every other year. Compton said, “It’s something that is tangible, it’s history.”