The Western Illinois Museum is located in the Military Tract or “Bounty Lands.”  This term, commonly used in the early 1800s, has given way to describe the agricultural richness of our region.  While part of the original meaning described land that was fit for cultivation, it was used to describe land that was offered as partial payment to reward soldiers for their service.

The Bounty Lands located in West Central Illinois was offered by lottery to soldiers who fought in the War of 1812 for at least five years.  The awards were for 160 acres located between the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers with a northern boundary in Rock Island County.  Surveying of the lands were completed by 1816 and included 5,000,000 acres from 207 townships, including land in the present Illinois counties of Adams, Brown, Bureau, Calhoun, Fulton, Hancock, Henderson, Henry, Knox, Marshall, McDonough, Mercer, Peoria, Pick, Putnam, Schuyler, Stark and Warren.

Most soldiers or their heirs did not settle on the land they received and much of it was bought up by land speculators who were unable to realize a profit on the land.  Facing increased taxation as the State of Illinois was established in 1818, they often sold the land at a loss.  By 1820 the homestead population of Illinois exceeded 50,000 and by 1830, the year McDonough County was established, it was 150,000.


Our Plans for a new Permanent Exhibit
For over 40 years, the Western Illinois Museum has been passionate about building knowledge about significant events that impact the region, like the distribution of bounty lands.Since relocating in 2002 to our current downtown location there has been an increase in visitors, including school age children. Presenting three thematic exhibits a year from a collection of over 6,000 artifacts, we embrace the task of ensuring that significant events, people, concepts and artifacts are the means to building pride in our community and informing its future.

The distribution of Bounty Land was one of the pivotal events in the area’s development that provides context for most of the museum’s collection.  Creating a high-quality permanent display that set the stage for the rotating exhibits is being planned for 2015.  A three-part exhibit will include: an overview of General Alexander Macomb and Commodore Thomas Macdonough for whom the area is named, along with their role in the War of 1812; an explanation of the Military Tract; and the founding of McDonough County.

The exhibit will be a compelling educational tool that the museum staff will be able to use to enhance visitors’ experience.  Included in the design will be a reproduction of General Macomb’s uniform, and an 1818 Land Grant signed by President James Monroe which will bring the history to life.


Following is an outline of our plans for the exhibit.

Section 1: What’s in a name?
Information about the life and career of both General Alexander Macomb (b. April 3, 1782, d. June 25, 1841) and Commander Thomas Macdonough (b. December 21, 1783, d. November 10, 1825)

  • Their role in the Battle of Plattsburgh (September 11, 1814)
  • Three panels with illustrations of the two men
  • Audio track of Dr. Richard Barbuto, noted authority on the War of 1812, speaking about the Battle of Plattsburg
  • Artifacts, which include a reproduction of War of 1812 uniform

Section 2: What is the Military Tract?
Define the Military Tract and the role it played in the development of West Central Illinois

  • Six panels including a map of the area defined as the Military Tract
  • Artifact: Land Grant Warrant

Section 3: The Beginning of McDonough County and towns in the region
A timeline showing the development of West Central Illinois beginning in 1825 through 1880

  • Six panels including photographs of the early buildings, and courthouses
  • Six panels of the stories of the early settlers including images / line drawings and first-person accounts of their experiences

Proposed Budget
The projected cost of installing this quality exhibit is $4,500. The museum has received seed money from a few local supporters who are dedicated to bringing this history to life for visitors to the museum.  While the major cost for the exhibit is the reproduction of the uniform, it will become a valuable tool in teaching about this era of our history.  Being a copy, it can be brought to classrooms, and community events.

Other features include an audio track of one of the country’s recognized War of 1812 authorities, Dr. Richard Barbuto.  He has agreed to allow the museum to use selections of his recent lecture in the display.  Other expenses include making large scale copies of maps and graphics to create a visually enticing exhibit.  For a more detailed budget for the exhibit, please contact the museum.

The exhibit’s three sections will be installed in phases over the year.  This plan helps distribute the expense and installation time required, making the project compatible with the museum’s regular exhibit and programming schedule. The projected completion dates for the three sections are June, September and December of 2015.

Contributions for the exhibit can be made online via PayPal using the button below. Or download the response card and mail it to the Western Illinois Museum at the address below.

The Western Illinois Museum is a 501(c) 3 corporation and contributions are tax deductible.