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An artist's rendering illustrates the last council of the Potawatomi Indians before they
signed a treaty to cede their ownership of more than a million acres of land.

April D. Duckworth
Booth Elementary School, Enfield

The Illinois frontier in the early 1800s grew by leaps and bounds. Farms and towns developed overnight. Between 1800 and 1810 the population grew to 12,282 inhabitants. These settlers or pioneers prospered in the southern half of the region that is now Illinois. As the frontier or boundaries were being established with ever-increasing numbers, the settlers began to talk about statehood.

On August 26, 1818, a convention adopted a constitution and on December 3, 1818, Illinois entered the union as the twenty-first state with a total of thirteen counties, all in the southernmost part of the state. The frontiersmen in southern Illinois had already set their boundaries within these thirteen counties, but the northern half of the state was still unsettled except for the many Indians still living there. Northern Illinois did not start to develop economically until after the Erie Canal had opened up a trade route from the east in 1825. The Black Hawk War of 1832 also hindered the prosperity of the north. This Indian raid and murders terrified northwestern Illinois settlers until after the war. Illinois' most prominent residents joined the militia to defeat Black Hawk, a chief of the Sauk tribe. In the end Black Hawk was held prisoner and his Indians were removed across the Mississippi River. Black Hawk died in 1838 at the age of 71.

Illinois settlers wanted to develop the wilderness regions of the northwest As a result Indians were induced to cede or surrender their property in order that the settlers could build and prosper the way they wanted.

In 1833 Chicago, a village of only 350, was incorporated. It was a crowded and noisy environment. In the fall of 1833 commissioners went to Chicago to negotiate a treaty with the Potawatomi Indian tribe in order to get them to move west of the Mississippi River. The commissioners were Governor George B. Porter of the Michigan Territory, Thomas J. V. Owen, an Indian agent, and William Weatherford.

The Indians consisted of three tribes, the Potawatomi, Chippewa, and the Ottawa. During the 1600s they were all members of one tribe that split into three main divisions. The name "Potawatomi" means "People of the Place of Fire." Their ancient home was in southern Michigan. In an earlier negotiation on August 29, 1821, the three tribes had signed a treaty and gave up their claim to all of their land in Michigan south of the north bank of the Grand River, but kept five reservations and certain grants of land for individual Indians. They were paid $5,000 annually for twenty years and an additional $1,000 for a blacksmith and a teacher to help them for fifteen years.

The commissioners now wanted them to surrender the rest of their land in Illinois to the American government. The tribes were camped on all sides of the village of Chicago. The commissioners offered food, whiskey, and other valuables to win their favor. Governor Porter of the Michigan Territory headed the committee. He grew weary as each day passed because the Indians delayed the negotiations. However, on September 26, 1833, both parties signed the Treaty of Chicago. It stated that the Indians had three years to vacate their territory from the Rock River in Illinois to the Grand River in Michigan for a sum of $100,000. These were the last of the Indians to leave Illinois.

From 1795 to 1833 many different tribes ceded more than a million acres of land in Illinois. The grand total ceded to the government during these thirty-eight years was 35,664,034 acres.[From Theodore Calvin Pease and Marguerite Jenison Pease, The Story of Illinois; John Clayton, The Illinois Fact Book and Historical Almanac; William J. Kubiak, Great Lakes Indians; Paul M. Angle, Prairie State-Impressions of Illinois 1673-1968.]


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