William Lee D. Ewing, Governor of Illinois Nov. 3 to 17, 1834, was a native of Kentucky, and probably of Scotch ancestry. He had a fine education, was a gentleman of polished manners and refined sentiment. In 1830 John Reynolds was elected Governor of the State, and Zadok Casey Lieutenant Governor, and for the principal events that followed, and the characteristics of the times, see sketch of Gov. Reynolds. The first we see in history concerning Mr. Ewing, informs us that he was a Receiver of Public Moneys at Vandalia soon after the organization of this State, and that the public moneys in his hands were deposited in various banks, as they are usually at the present day. In 1823 the State Bank was robbed, by which disaster Mr. Ewing lost a thousand-dollar deposit.
The subject of this sketch had a commission as Colonel in the Black Hawk War, and in emergencies he acted also as Major. In the summer of 1832, when it was rumored among the whites that Black Hawk and his men had encamped somewhere on Rock River, Gen. Henry was sent on a tour of reconnaissance, and with orders to drive the Indians from the State. After some opposition from his subordinate officers, Henry resolved to proceed up Rock River in search of the enemy. On the 19th of July, early in the morning, five baggage wagons, camp equipage and all heavy and cumbersome articles were piled up and left, so that the army might make speedy and forced marches. For some miles the travel was exceedingly bad, crossing swamps and the worst thickets; but the large, fresh trail gave life and animation to the Americans. Gen. Dodge and Col. Ewing were both acting as Majors, and composed the “spy corps” or vanguard of the army. It is supposed the army marched nearly 50 miles this day, and the Indian trail they followed became fresher, and was strewed with much property and trinkets of the red-skins that they had lost or thrown away to hasten their march. During the following night there was a terrific thunder-storm, and the soldiery, with all their appurtenances, were thoroughly drenched.
On approaching nearer the Indians the next day, Gen. Dodge and Major Ewing, each commanding a battalion of men, were placed in front to bring on the battle, but the savages were not overtaken this day. Forced marches were continued until they reached Wisconsin River, where a veritable battle ensued, resulting in the death of about 68 of Black Hawk’s men. The next day they continued the chase, and as soon as he discovered the trail of the Indians leading toward the Mississippi, Maj. Ewing formed his battalion in order of battle and awaited the order of Gen. Henry. The latter soon appeared on the ground and ordered a charge, which directly resulted in chasing the red warriors across the great river. Maj. Ewing and his command proved particularly efficient in war, as it seems they were the chief actors in driving the main body of the Sacs and Foxes, including Black Hawk himself, across the Mississippi, while Gen. Atkinson, commander-in-chief of the expedition, with a body of the army, was hunting form them in another direction.
In the above affair, Maj. Ewing is often referred to as a “General,” which title he had derived from his connection with the militia.
It was in the latter part of the same year (1832) that Lieutenant governor Casey was elected to Congress and Gen. Ewing, who had been elected to the Senate, was chosen to preside over that body. At the august election of 1834, Gov. Reynolds was also elected to Congress, more than a year ahead of the time at which he could actually take his seat, as was then the law. His predecessor, Charles Slade, had just died of Asiatic cholera, soon after the election, and Gov. Reynolds was chosen to serve out his unexpired term. Accordingly he set out for Washington in November of that year to take his seat in Congress, and Gen. Ewing, by virtue of his office as President of the Senate, became Governor of the State of Illinois, his term covering only a period of 15 days, namely, from the 3d to the 17th days, inclusive, of November. On the 17th the Legislature met, and Gov. Ewing transmitted to that body his message, giving a statement of the condition of the affairs of the State at that time, and urging a continuance of the policy adopted by his predecessor; and on the same day Governor elect Joseph Duncan was sworn into office, thus relieving Mr. Ewing from the responsible situation. This is the only time that such a juncture has happened in the history of Illinois.
On the 29th of December, 1835, Gen. Ewing was elected a United States Senator to serve out the unexpired term of Elias Kent Kane, deceased. The latter gentleman was a very prominent figure in the early politics of Illinois, and a county in this State is named in his honor. The election of Ge. Ewing to the Senate was a protracted struggle. His competitors were James Semple, who afterwards held several important offices in this State, and Richard M. Young, afterward a United States Senator and a Supreme Judge and a man of vast influence. On the first ballot Mr. Semple had 25 votes, Young 19 and Ewing 18. On the eighth ballot Young was dropped; the ninth and tenth stood a tie; but on the 12th Ewing received 40, to Semple 37, and was accordingly declared elected. In 1837 Mr. Ewing received some votes for a continuance of his term in Congress, when Mr. Young, just referred to, was elected. In 1842 Mr. Ewing was elected State Auditor on the ticket with Gov. Ford.
Gen. Ewing was a gentleman of culture, a lawyer by profession, and was much in public life. In person he was above medium height and of heavy build, with auburn hair, blue eyes, large-sized head and short face. He was genial, social, friendly and affable, with fair talent, though of no high degree of originality. He died March 25, 1846.
Source: “Portrait and Biographical Album of Champaign County, Illinois,” Chapman Brothers, Chicago, 1887.