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Robert E. Warren Historical Research and Narrative

In the summer of 1673, when Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette explored the Mississippi River, the Illinois Indian nation was one of the largest and most powerful ethnic groups in the American Midwest. The Illinois were composed of as many as twelve affiliated tribes and had a population of more than ten thousand people. Their territory, which the French called Le Pays des Illinois—the Illinois Country—encompassed one hundred thousand square miles of prairies, forests, and wetlands in the central Mississippi Valley. The Illinois were economically self-sufficient, supporting themselves with hunting, gathering, and agriculture. They also maintained trade relationships with distant Indian tribes and were embarking on a new political and economic alliance with French-Canadians that would last for five generations.

If we turn the calendar forward 159 years, to the summer of 1832, the scene is quite different. Most striking, perhaps, is that 98 percent of the Illinois Indian population has vanished. Warfare and disease have reduced the nation to two tribes totaling fewer than two hundred people. The Illinois no longer control the Illinois Country As their population declined, competing Indian tribes occupied much of their original territory. Now, all but a few square miles have been ceded by treaty to the United States government. The Illinois have become partially dependent on the government for economic support, receiving annual payments in compensation for their land. The political landscape has also changed. Euro-American claims to the Illinois Country have passed from France to Great Britain to the United States. In a matter of months, the last remnants of the Illinois Indians will abandon their homeland for a reservation in Indian Territory.

The story of the Illinois Indians is a remarkable tale of human endurance and survival. As a people, they overcame challenges that brought them perilously close to extinction. They also played key roles in the early history of Illinois—as economic partners

Illinois Indians Visiting New Orleans, 1735 Detail of colored pen-and-ink drawing by Alexandre de Batz. Courtesy Peabody Museum, Harvard University. Photograph by Hillel Burger. ©Pres. and Fellows of Harvard College.

in the French fur trade, as military allies in the French and Indian War, as scouts and suppliers in the American Revolution, and as warriors who fought alongside United States troops in the Black Hawk War. They gave their name to the state of Illinois. And yet, their story has been minimized or ignored in general state histories, some of which are blatantly racist and ethnocentric. The Illinois Indians deserve a place in Illinois history.

At the time of contact, the Illinois or Illiniwek nation was a loose confederation of independent American Indian tribes who spoke a single Algonquian language (Miami-Illinois), had similar ways of life, and shared a large territory. The Illinois called themselves inoca. French explorers and missionaries generally referred to them as "Ilinois," but also used such terms as "Eriniouai," "Liniouek," and "Aliniouek." According to Marquette, Illinois meant "the men." However, a recent study of the Illinois language indicates the name may have instead come indirectly from the Illinois word irenwee-wa, which means "he speaks in the ordinary way."

In the late 1600s there may have been as many as twelve different tribes of Illinois Indians. By the end of the century, however, seven of these—Chepoussa, Chinkoa, Coiracoentanon, Espeminkia, Maroa, Moingwena, and Tapouaro—had disappeared or merged with other Illinois tribes. Five principal tribes survived into the eighteenth century: the Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Michigamea, Peoria, and Tamaroa. Only the Kaskaskia and Peoria continued to exist in the nineteenth century.

In the days of Jolliet and Marquette, Illinois territory consisted of a large triangular section of the central Mississippi River valley The Peoria, Moingwena, and several other tribes occupied the northwestern part of the region in what is now eastern Iowa. The Kaskaskia were settled to the northeast in the upper Illinois River valley. The Cahokia and Tamaroa occupied the central part of the region in western Illinois and eastern Missouri, while the Michigamea and Chepoussa lived in northeastern Arkansas. The Illinois' territory shrank dramatically during the 1700s and early 1800s as their population declined.

Much of what we know about traditional Illinois culture is based on French accounts written in the late 1600s by Marquette and a fur trader who lived among them named Pierre Delliette. Most available records pertain to the Peoria and Kaskaskia tribes; little is known about the Cahokia, Michigamea, and Tamaroa. Other information comes from archaeological excavations at Illinois village sites and from records maintained by the Illinois' living descendants.

The Illinois had a diverse economy based on agriculture, hunting, fishing, and the gathering of wild foods. Subsistence activities were divided based on gender; women were responsible for agriculture and gathering, while men did the hunting and fishing. Maize (corn) was the most important crop, but the Illinois also raised beans, squash, pumpkins, and watermelons. Women prepared their fields and began planting maize in early May. The first of two maize harvests came in late July, when ears were in the green stage. Green maize was usually preserved by scraping the tender kernals from the cobs using mussel shells, boiling them, and then spreading them out on reed mats to dry. The second harvest occurred in late August when the maize had ripened. Women stored vast quantities of dried maize in underground pits to be eaten during the lean winter months.

Hunting expeditions generally were undertaken by individuals or small groups. However, in June most people left the villages for communal bison hunts in the prairies. Upon finding a herd, runners would surround the bison on foot and firing their guns and arrows drive them toward the remainder of the hunting party where they were shot. After skinning and butchering the animals, women and girls would preserve the meat by placing it on wooden drying racks and heating it with small fires. Pierre


Delliette accompanied the Illinois on a communal hunt in the summer of 1688 that yielded more than twelve hundred bison, as well as bears, deer, elk, turkeys, bobcats, and mountain lions. In the fall, when prairie grasses were dry and flammable, the Illinois used fire as a bison-hunting strategy. Hunters would partially encircle a herd with a C-shaped ring of fire and station themselves at the opening where bison would attempt to escape the flames.

The Illinois occupied three types of settlements during the year. Summer villages, located near rivers, were inhabited during the planting season in April and May and again when the crops were harvested from mid-July to mid-October. The summer villages were semipermanent and quite large, some including as many as 350 mat-covered longhouses. The Illinois established summer hunting camps in the prairies during communal bison hunts. These camps were occupied briefly and consisted of temporary bark-covered lodges. After the fall harvest, residents of a summer village would divide into smaller groups and establish winter villages. These villages were located in river bottoms where good hunting was expected, often many miles away from the summer villages. Typically, each winter village contained five to twenty oval mat-covered lodges called wigwams.

Traditional Illinois technology included a variety of structures and objects that served their physical needs or had value in the society's economic, social, and belief systems. Prior to French contact, all technological materials were obtained by the Illinois from their natural environment or from Native American trading partners.

The largest of their residential structures was the longhouse. This was a long rectangular structure with a bent-pole framework that measured as much as fifty-eight feet long, twenty-four feet wide, and perhaps fifteen feet high. Walls and ceilings were covered with one or two layers of woven reed mats, which were waterproof and provided insulation. The interior was subdivided into separate living quarters for different families. Four or five hearths were placed down the midline of the structure, each fire serving the needs of two families. Wigwams were much smaller than longhouses and probably housed only one or two families.

Tools and utensils were made of wood, bone, horn, antler, shell, and stone. Wooden objects included serving platters, carved animal-effigy bowls, and handles for knives and other tools. A variety of objects were made of bison parts, including scoop-shaped horn ladles, bone hoes, bone arrow-shaft wrenches, and bone needles for weaving reed mats. Spears and arrows were tipped with cone-shaped antler points or triangular points made of chipped stone. Containers included shell-tempered clay pottery vessels and cloth bags made of spun bison hair.

Prior to the introduction of the horse in the early 1700s, the Illinois traveled either by walking or by floating in dugout canoes. Dugouts were made from the trunks of cottonwood trees, which were cut down and hollowed out using stone axes and controlled fires. According to Claude Dablon, a Jesuit priest, these dugouts were up to fifty feet long and three feet wide, and could carry thirty people with their baggage.

At the time Delliette lived among the Illinois, men married at about age twenty and women at eighteen. A man could initiate a marriage proposal by presenting gifts directly to his intended wife's brother, or by urging his father to present gifts to her family. Lacking any objections by the girl or her brother, the woman's family would accept the gifts and escort her, adorned with "glass beads, porcelain, and bells," to the man's lodge. After a series of visits and gift exchanges among the families lasting up to four days, the bride would remain in the lodge of her husband. Successful hunters often had more than one wife, usually including the wife's sisters, aunts, or nieces.

Marquette and Jolliet met the "great Captain," or chief, of the Peoria Tribe at his


village on the Des Moines River in 1673. At that time, each tribe evidently had its own village or its own part of a multi-tribal village. Political leadership was provided by peace chiefs, who were highly respected by tribal members and who were responsible for interacting with the leaders or representatives of other ethnic groups.

Raids against other tribes were organized by successful war chiefs, usually beginning in the month of February. The war chief would invite about twenty warriors to a feast, where each man would pray to his own bird spirit-represented by the skin of a falcon, crow, duck, parrot, or other bird—for such speed in running as to strike fear in the hearts of his enemies. After closing on the enemy, the chief would offer a prayer to the warriors' birds, which he carried with him, and each man would attack voicing the cry of his bird. Capturing prisoners was more highly esteemed than killing enemies. Some prisoners were killed; others were adopted or kept as slaves.

The Illinois worshiped one preeminent deity (Kitchesmanetoa) above all others, which they considered the maker of all things. They also honored the sun and thunder, deities of the Upper World that maintained life and the earth's fertility. Shamans—men or women with supernatural healing powers—appealed to animal spirits for knowledge of special medicines and healing rituals.

Man Who Tracks (Pah-me-cow-ee-tah), a Peoria Illinois Chief, 1830.
Oil on canvas by George Catlin in the Fort Leavenworth area. Courtesy of Smithsonian
American Art Museum, Washington, D.C. Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.

Also important in the Illinois belief system was the calumet pipe. This was a highly revered tobacco pipe that could be used to end disputes, strengthen alliances, and ensure peaceful relationships with strangers. The pipe's bowl was often carved from a red stone, called Catlinite, which was attached to a wooden stem. The stem was decorated with the heads and necks of various birds and with large red and green feathers.

The Calumet Dance was an important Illinois ceremony performed to strengthen peace with other tribes or to unite themselves for war. Participants would form a circle around a large painted mat, and the principal dancer would dance with the calumet, keeping time with the songs being sung. Then a drum would sound, beginning a mock battle between the calumet and an armed warrior. At the end of the dance the chief would present the calumet to the honored guests as a token of everlasting peace. Marquette was the recipient of a Peoria calumet, which he used as a passport when he encountered other tribes.

The Illinois are justifiably famous for their artwork, which included hide paintings applied to the skins of bison, deer, and other animals. They applied the paint—made of red, yellow, and black pigments—using sponge-like paintbrushes made from the cancellous tissue of bison leg bones. Design elements include patterned arrangements of narrow triangles and abstract or naturalistic depictions of arrows, thunderbirds, and bison.

As we have seen, the size and power of the Illinois Indian population declined precipitously between 1673 and 1832. At the same time, their traditional way of life transformed as they adapted to new social and physical environments. The ultimate cause of the Illinois transformation was European colonial expansion. As France sought to establish a fur-trade empire in Canada, British colonies grew along the Atlantic seaboard and Spain established footholds in Florida and Texas. The Illinois were caught in a vise that applied pressure from all directions. Warfare and disease caused massive depopulation, while the adoption of European beliefs led to the abandonment of cultural traditions.

The Illinois had a number of traditional enemies, including Siouan tribes to the northwest, the Osage, Pawnee, and Ankara to the west, and the Quapaw to the south. Beginning in the 1650s they also came under attack from Iroquois war parties, whose earlier acquisition of firearms gave them a strategic advantage. In 1680, for example, the Iroquois killed or


captured more than seven hundred Tamaroa near the mouth of the Illinois River. The threat of Iroquois raids subsided in the early 1700s, but then hostilities emerged with such northern tribes as the Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo, Dakota, and Potawatomi. Pressure also came from southern tribes, including the Quapaw, Shawnee, and Chickasaw. Some conflicts were inspired not by the tribes themselves, but by French, British, and American forces that enlisted Indian warriors as allies.

Like many other Native American groups, the Illinois suffered from deadly European illnesses that were transmitted by viruses or bacteria and often had catastrophic effects. The Illinois had no natural immunity to infectious diseases like smallpox, influenza, or measles, which European traders and colonists unintentionally transmitted to them time and again. Populations lacking immunity to such diseases can experience mortality of 30 to 100 percent upon initial exposure. Smallpox epidemics occurred in the Illinois Country in about 1704,1732, and 1756. There were also several epidemics of unidentified diseases, one of which killed at least two hundred Kaskaskia Indians in 1714. A Jesuit priest named Gabriel Marest tells the story of Henri, an Illinois Indian whose family was attacked by smallpox. The disease killed his wife and several children and left the others blind or disfigured.

Although the Illinois Indian population became precariously small in the early 1800s, the Kaskaskia and Peoria tribes did survive, and in 1832 they settled on a joint reservation in what is today eastern Kansas. They merged with their neighbors, the Wea and Piankashaw tribes, in 1854 and became known as the Confederated Peoria Tribe. In 1867, under the leadership of Chief Baptiste Peoria, they moved to a new reservation in present-day Oklahoma.

Today, the living descendants of the Illinois Indians are represented by the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma. The Peoria Tribe maintains its headquarters in Miami, Oklahoma, and currently has about 2,640 members living throughout the United States. The tribe is governed by an elected chief and business committee. It hosts a stomp dance each Spring and an intertribal pow wow in June. The tribe sponsors a variety of programs that support the health, welfare, and education of tribal members. It is also actively engaged in preserving its cultural heritage in the Illinois Country.


Joyce A. Williams


Main Ideas

One way to study history is to look at a series of related events that occur sequentially through time. When these events are looked at from a time in the future (now), they can be put together as a cause-and-effect study.

Lesson 1: The current trend in fashion and music, which are a large part of the lives of the modern teenager, is retro. Wearing fashions of the 1970s and listening to rock groups of the 1960s and 1970s puts them into their mothers' and fathers' generation. This is a representation of a generation event. However, they have a harder time relating to the things that their grandfathers and greatgrandfathers did or were witness to.

One of the lessons of history, they say, is to make sure we do not make the same mistakes that were made before. The students should be able to find this lesson in the article fairly easily.

Lesson 2: It is evident that the French were responsible for much of the trouble that the Illinois Indians had to cope with. But were the events and their effects good or bad? Events in history are not always planned but occur because of a decision made at the time. No single event displaced the Illinois Indians. The series of events and their effects caused the eventual decline in their population. What if these events had different outcomes? Europeans came to the New World looking for furs; it was the same reason the Indians of the Northeast overran the Indians in the Midwest. The Iroquios wanted the Illinois Indians' hunting territory so they could get more furs to trade. This caused one effect. Another event caused an effect. The French did not start the French and Indian War to lose it; they had every intention of winning the war. Should we be concerned about such things as events and their cause and effect?

Connection with the Curriculum

The discussions resulting from the answering of the questions within the lessons are ways of addressing goals of the Illinois Learning Standards 16.A.4a and 16.A.4b and 16.A.5aand 16.A.5b.

Teaching Level

Grades 10-12


Materials for Each Student

• The map of the Illinois Indian Territory

• Access to the Illinois State Museum web site on this period in Illinois history:


Objectives for Each Student— Lesson 1

• Each student should have an understanding of his own history.

• Each student should be able to make a list of the events that occurred within their family during different generations.

Objectives for Each Student— Lesson 2

• The student should be able to understand how events cause effects.

• The student should be able to construct a time line of the Illinois Indian events, and be able to relate it to other events going on in the world at the same time.

• The students should be able to understand that a technologically superior culture, such as the French at the time they interacted with the native peoples, would cause trouble, unrest, and perhaps even armed conflict among the people of non-technological cultures.



Opening the Lesson

Have the students read the narrative portion of the article. Focus their reading on the passage of time and events, and note when they happened. How many lifetimes are represented?

Developing the Lesson:

Personal Time Line

The tumultuous time for the Illinois Indians lasted for close to five generations. In your family, this includes you, your father, your grandfather, your great-grandfather, and your great-great-grandfather. A time line gives you a perspective of chronological events. This activity may also be done in groups since most of the students would have been born during the same year or two. Have each group/individual produce a time line and answer the following questions. During your generation, what would you mark as an event that was memorable? What about your father, your grandfather, your great grandfather, and great great grandfather? What other events in those five generations could be viewed as having had an impact that could not have been foreseen? What about technological inventions or fashions?

Concluding the Lesson

Lesson 1 personalizes history, giving students a way to relate to the passage of time. Some students may have slave forbears.

Extending the Lesson

It is interesting to compare what has happened and when it happened in the United States and in the rest of the world. For instance when the Illinois Indians were living in houses made of logs, the people in London, England, already had cities with two-story brick homes in a fully operational city.

Assessing the Lesson

The students should be able to think of other ways that a time line could be used to study history. For instance the development of food from weeds to crops, or the development of the industrial revolution. If they can project the simple concept of their personal time line into other historical events, they will have taken a step towards the understanding of history.


Opening the Lesson

• Have the students read the narrative portion of the article again. This time have them focus on clues that indicate a change in the lives of the Illinois Indians. Have them concentrate on events that caused the turmoil.

• Lesson 2 should follow Lesson 1. The concept of a time line should be familiar to the students for this lesson.

Developing the Lesson:

Cause and Effect Time Line

The story of the Illinois Indians can be put on a time line. Dates of prehistoric (prior to contact with Europeans) events can be documented in several ways, including carbon dating and by comparing recovered materials with materials from other sites with known dates. The construction of a time line is as easy as


taking the dates from the article and placing them in chronological order and comparing the dates and see what was happening elsewhere (Europe or other parts of the world) at the same time.

Lesson 2 asks the students to make a Cause and Effect Time Line.

Teenagers tend to do things without thinking of the consequences of their actions. The Cause and Effect Time Line is a way for them to look at the end of events that were not planned to end that way. The concept can be related to them as a cause of beginning to smoke or take drugs. The cause of this activity, be it peer pressure or personal desire, will have an effect on their lives. Have them think of other personal examples.

History has many examples of this. For instance, the events that led up to the United States Revolutionary War followed one another chronologically until the result, the liberation of the country from colonial control by England. Was this liberation a planned result of the events that preceded it, or was it the result of unplanned circumstances that eventually led to the liberation? Some would say that the protest about the taxes was planned to lead to the liberation; others would say that that one event, the protest against taxes, led to another event and that event led to the next event eventually leading to the liberation.

The study of past events is usually done after the ending has happened. In the case of the Illinois Indian nation, it was not studied until the Illinois Indians had been driven from their homeland and almost eliminated. The ways the events are linked chronologically help us understand how the ethnic group, while trying to survive in their changing world, actually was headed toward extinction.

The information presented below was taken in part from the main article and a web module developed by the author of the narrative portion of this article for the Illinois State Museum. The web module named "Illinois Country" can be found on the Illinois State Museum Web site:

Lesson 2: The Cause and Effect Time Line, based on historical documentation, begins ca. 1650. The Illinois Indians inhabited a very large part of the Midwest. Boundaries were set, and often arguments about these boundaries brought about disputes. However, during the mid-1600s the Iroquois Indians of the northeast (now New York and the Great Lakes area) were invading lands to their west. The Iroquois Indians were interested in obtaining hunting grounds for trapping activities. They were driven by the desire to obtain more animal furs to trade with the French trappers from Europe. For the furs, the French traded glass beads, metal pots, woven blankets and material, and guns. Prehistoric Indians, of course, did not have glass, woven material, metal pots, and certainly not guns. Once contact was made with Europeans, their world became much more interesting. The Iroquois were some of the first people the French traded with; it was natural that the Iroquois after getting a taste of these wondrous new materials, would look for new territory in which to trap. They moved to the west toward the Illinois Country.

The second significant date on our time line would be 1663 when the French declared their holdings in the New World as New France. The French laid claim to the Illinois Country eight years later. The whole of the Illinois Country came under French rule. After the claiming of the Illinois Country by France, the unexplored territory piqued the interest of French explorers and missionaries. The exploration of Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette of the Mississippi River area brought them into the Illinois Indian Territory in 1673. These explorers met Illinois Indians as they traveled the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers.

Within a generation of the first contact with the French, the Illinois Indians lost their homes in the Illinois Country. The Iroquois drove them out of the area in about 1680. The Illinois Indians were not gone for long, moving back to their homes as soon as it was safe. When Jolliet and Marquette met the Illinois Indians of the Illinois Country, there were four known villages along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. These villages have also been verified as having been occupied by the Illinois Indians based on archaeological evidence found during excavations conducted at the village sites. In the early 1700s, close to seven thousand Illinois Indians are known to have lived in the Illinois Country. In 1717 the Illinois Country, or New France, became a part of the French colony of Louisiana.

The Illinois Indians have lived with the French now for two generations. They are dependent on the French for a large part of their economy. Pressure is still put on the Illinois by other Indian tribes, and one of their villages is burned as a result in about 1753. In 1756 the Illinois Indians become involved in the French and Indian War. The Illinois Indians lose their homeland because of this alliance when the French relinquish their holdings east


of the Mississippi River. The Illinois Indians have been involved with the French for a third generation. The British occupy the land east of the Mississippi River in 1765.

In 1775 the American Revolution begins, and three years later George Rogers Clark defeats the British, who are occupying the Illinois Country. In 1783 England surrenders the Illinois Country to the United States. The next two Illinois Indian generations hold on to their identities with difficulty, but eventually have to leave the Illinois Country for good.

The French identified twelve tribes within the Illinois Country. The Kaskaskia tribe of the Illinois Indians cedes land to the United States in 1803, the Peoria Tribe its Illinois land in 1818. Illinois becomes a state with Kaskaskia as the capital. The Kaskaskia and Peoria tribes, the only tribes left of the Illinois Indians, are settled on a reservation in Kansas. In 1940 the tribes become part of Peoria Indian Tribe of Oklahoma.

Concluding the Lesson

Ask the students to give the meaning in their words to the concept of cause and effect. The students should have an understanding of the terms cause (n.) a reason, a motive, a goal, a procedure for bringing about an effect (n.) result, influence, consequence, outcome. They should understand the relationship of these two things. Start with something scientific such as completing a circuit that makes a light bulb light. Then get into events that may cause an effect. What event that they know has caused an effect? You may get an answer such as the rain (cause) made the field muddy, resulting in a team to lose a football game (effect). Ask if they can think of an event (cause) in recent history that may have resulted in an effect. Ask about the cutting off the production of oil in Kuwait (cause) as being the cause that affected the Gulf War (effect).

Extending the Lesson

The overwhelming sentiment from the students will probably be that the Indians were treated terribly and that the French should not have used them to procure their furs and let them live their lives in their home land without interference.

Do the students really believe that the French intended all of the terrible things that happened to the Indian population to happen when they expanded their fur business? The effect that was caused by the French brought these things about; however, they did not intend to lose their own forts and land to the English during later events.

Have the students discuss what type of things that are now being done when an event is planned that should help minimize the effects. We now have studies (environmental impact statements) that have to be prepared before we cause something to be done, and the impact of the effects of this cause. These studies cover not only natural effects such as flooding, trees and plants, and animals, but effects on prehistoric and historic sites and most of all the people living within the area to be effected.

To learn the effects of early events, archaeology is one of our main tools. Combining the historical records with what is recovered archaeologically presents a more complete picture of what effects are produced. If we took the information from the article and put it into a time line showing technological change, what would be the things that were the results of the events that took place within the Illinois Indians lifeways?

Assessing the Lesson

For the last five generations, we had ways to record in print and picture the events that took place; that was not the case in the first of the five generations represented in the case of the Illinois Indians. How do we know that changes took place within their lives? What do we have as evidence to these changes?

Only when we look at the events from our time does it become clear the result of their actions would have the devastating effect on the Illinois Indians. What is the lesson to be learned from this? Is there a lesson to be learned? The students should recognize that because these events lasted over many generations, the effects could not have been predicted and the results would not be known. But that is why we are supposed to be studying history We are supposed to be learning from these events and their consequences.

Do we, during the twenty-first century, do things differently?


Could the French have handled the events differently and thus change the effect? What would history look like if they did?

Was it inevitable that the Illinois Indians would be displaced?


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