Hello and welcome to our visitors! In the summer of 2015 the Pekin Public Library debuted this new weblog spotlighting our Local History Room collection. The weekly “From the Local History Room” column that is published in the Saturday Pekin Daily Times will be posted here. We welcome your comments and questions and research queries.
By Jared Olar
As we saw in this column last time, the vast Illinois Country – encompassing far more than the land of the future state of Illinois – passed from British to American control as a result of Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark’s Illinois Campaign of 1778-1779.
But Clark, as a patriotic citizen of Virginia, didn’t seize the Illinois Country simply to increase the size of the nascent United States of America. As a Virginian, Clark achieved his conquests on behalf of his native state – he had this vast territory organized as “Illinois County,” a part of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia Gov. Patrick Henry – of “Give me liberty or give me death” fame – appointed Col. John Todd as the military commandant and first county administrator, governing from the county seat at Kaskaskia (future first capital of the state of Illinois). As a reward for the help they gave Clark during his campaign, Virginia granted full citizenship to the French Canadiens and Indians of Kaskaskia and Vincennes (in the future state of Indiana).
While Clark’s exploit effectively neutralized the threat of Britain opening a western front against the United States during the Revolutionary War, nevertheless the leaders of the other 12 states – who also harbored hopes and ambitions to expand their states westward – resented Virginia’s land-grab.
So it was that in 1784 Virginia’s leaders were persuaded to cede Illinois County to the government of the U.S., which was then organized and loosely linked under the Articles of Confederation, which was the constitution of the U.S. prior to 1789. Virginia’s Illinois County thus ceased to exist after a mere six years. Not only Virginia but every state gave up their expansionist dreams and agreed to allow the Congress of the confederated states to determine what was to be done with the newly acquired lands between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River.
Congress made that determination on July 13, 1787, when the Congress of the U.S. Confederation passed the Northwest Ordinance, erecting the Northwest Territory, a vast area encompassing the future states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota. The Northwest Ordinance – the one lasting achievement of the Confederation Congress – set up a process to enable parts of the Northwest Territory to be formed into smaller territories that could then later become new states of the union. The new territory’s first governor, appointed in 1788, was Arthur St. Clair (1737-1818), who had served as President of the Confederation Congress when the Northwest Ordinance was passed.
The Northwest Territory was made up of land that the British king had set aside as the Indian Reserve – a region for Native Americans forbidden to American colonists of European descent. Despite the king’s proclamation, however, settlement in the Indian Reserve still went on. When the United States secured their independence in 1783, Britain ceded all of that territory west to the Mississippi to the new nation, and the movement of land-hungry settlers soon increased, inexorably dispossessing the native peoples.
Nevertheless, Britain continued to maintain forts in the Northwest Territory. With British help the Indians of the Ohio and Illinois countries valiantly resisted American control of the Northwest Territory during a 10-year conflict known as the Northwest Indian War (1785-1795). In 1785, a group of nine tribes and tribal confederations in the Northwest Territory – including tribes from Illinois – banded together for mutual defense, forming the Western Confederacy. The confederacy included warriors from the Huron, Shawnee, Lenape (Delaware), Miami, Kickapoo, Kaskaskia, Cherokee, the Council of the Three Fires (Ojibway, Ottawa, and Pottawatomi), and the Wabash Confederacy (whose members included the Piankeshaw). The Western Confederacy’s objective was to maintain the Ohio River as the boundary between themselves and American settlers.
Most of the fighting in this war took place within the future state of Ohio, but the prospects for further European-American settlement in the Illinois Country depended on the war’s outcome. The most memorable event during this conflict was the Battle of the Wabash on Nov. 4, 1791 – more usually known as St. Clair’s Defeat or the Battle of a Thousand Slain. Historian Landon Jones has dubbed this battle “the most decisive defeat in the history of the American military.”
As the Northwest Indian War continued, in the fall of 1791 Northwest Territorial Gov. St. Clair mustered a force of 2,000 poorly-trained men for a planned attack on Kekionga, capital of the Miami tribe, located near modern Fort Wayne, Ind., but by the start of November desertion and supply problems had shrunk St. Clair’s forces to about 1,120. On Nov. 3, St. Clair’s army encamped near modern Fort Recovery, Ohio, and the headwaters of the Wabash River. Meanwhile the Western Confederacy’s chiefs – Little Turtle (Mihšihkinaahkwa) of the Miami, Blue Jacket (Weyapiersenwah) of the Shawnee, and Buckongahelas of the Lenape – gathered a force of 1,000 Indians, and on Nov. 4 they led a surprise pre-dawn attack on St. Clair’s camp, inducing a panic in the U.S. Army’s troops that quickly turned into a total rout. When the battle was over, a thousand of St. Clair’s men were dead and only 24 of the survivors were uninjured, while the Western Confederacy lost only 50 warriors – the greatest victory Native Americans would ever achieve against the U.S.
Following this setback, the U.S. mustered a new, well-trained army, and the tide of war turned in the U.S.’s favor. The Western Confederacy was decisively defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in August 1794 – and Britain declined to help Blue Jacket’s fleeing warriors. The following year, the native tribes of the Northwest Territory signed the Treaty of Greenville, recognizing U.S. control of the Northwest Territory and giving the U.S. most of Ohio and a part of the Illinois Country (including important sections of land at the future sites of Chicago and Peoria and the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers). The same year, Britain signed the Jay Treaty, agreeing to give up their forts in the Northwest Territory.
With the end of the Northwest Indian War, the Ohio Country was rapidly flooded with new American settlers, and the way was prepared for inevitable expansion into Native American lands in the future states of Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin. As Ohio’s population soared, the Northwest Territory was divided: on July 4, 1800, only five years after the war’s end, the Indiana Territory was formed, encompassing territory that included the future states of Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, part of Minnesota, and half of Michigan. The first territorial governor was future War of 1812 hero and U.S. President William Henry Harrison, who negotiated numerous treaties with the Indians while he was governor. The remainder of the old Northwest Territory, encompassing a part of Michigan, would continue to be known as “the Northwest Territory” for only three more years – in 1803, the state of Ohio was admitted to the Union, and the rest of the Northwest Territory was reassigned to the Indiana Territory.
As a part of the Indiana Territory, Illinois was included in three counties – Knox County (made up of Indiana and eastern Illinois), Randolph County (southern Illinois), and St. Clair County (the remainder of Illinois as well as Wisconsin and Minnesota). The Illinois Country was then peopled mainly by Native Americans and relatively small groups of French settlers, but territorial leaders and land speculators were laying the groundwork for further westward expansion. In the period from 1773 to 1819, a series of land purchases and treaties were made with the Illini, Piankeshaws, Kaskaskias, and Kickapoos that extinguished Native American title to most of the lands of future state of Illinois, opening the land to further European-American settlement. The future Tazewell County was included in the lands ceded to the U.S. by an Aug. 13, 1803 treaty with the Kaskaskias and a July 30, 1819 treaty with the Kickapoos (in the year after Illinois became a state).
By Jared Olar
The British had possession of the Illinois Country for a mere 12 years when the unrest began in the Thirteen Colonies that soon would break out into the American War of Independence – the Revolutionary War – which would last for eight years, ending with Britain’s recognition of the independence of the United States of America in 1783.
Naturally, most of the action in the war took place within the 13 colonies that had declared themselves to be independent states. In the years 1778 and 1779, however, an officer in the militia of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark (1752-1818), led a small and swift military force which executed a daring campaign that wrested control of the Illinois Country from Britain. As we saw previously, Britain’s hold on the sparsely-populated Illinois Country was then still rather tenuous, and neither the Indians nor the French settlers living there nurtured strong ties of loyalty to Britain.
Clark himself almost lived long enough to see Illinois statehood, and it is thanks to Clark and his men that Illinois and its neighboring states are parts of the United States of America today. (Clark County in southeastern Illinois, on the Indiana border, established in 1819, is named in honor of George Rogers Clark.) However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Clark was fighting as much for his home state of Virginia as he was for the newly-minted confederacy of upstart English colonies that were claiming the dignity of sovereign states – states that each had hopes and plans for their own westward expansion in the Indian Reserve.
Consequently, when Clark completed the conquest of the Illinois Country, he immediately organized it as a new – and immensely vast – county of the Commonwealth of Virginia: Illinois County, which included not only Illinois but also Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, with the county seat at Kaskaskia, an arrangement that, as we shall see next time, was to last a mere five years.
The story of Clark’s Illinois Campaign was told in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” pages 51-55, in these words:
“The hero of the achievements by which this beautiful land was snatched as a gem from the British Crown, was George Rogers Clark, of Virginia. He had closely watched the movements of the British throughout the Northwest, and understood their whole plan; he also knew the Indians were not unanimously in accord with the English, and therefore was convinced that if the British could be defeated and expelled from the Northwest, the natives might be easily awed into neutrality. Having convinced himself that the enterprise against the Illinois settlement might easily succeed, he repaired to the capital of Virginia, arriving Nov. 5, 1777. While he was on his way, fortunately, Burgoyne was defeated (Oct. 17), and the spirits of the colonists were thereby greatly encouraged. Patrick Henry was Governor of Virginia, and at once entered heartily into Clark’s plans. After satisfying the Virginia leaders of the feasibility of his project, he received two sets of instructions, — one secret, the other open. The latter authorized him to enlist seven companies to go to Kentucky, and serve three months after their arrival in the West. The secret order authorized him to arm these troops, to procure his powder and lead of General Hand at Pittsburg, and to proceed at once to subjugate the country.
“With these instructions Col. Clark repaired to Pittsburg, choosing rather to raise his men west of the mountains, as he well knew all were needed in the colonies in the conflict there. He sent Col. W. B. Smith to Holstein and Captains Helm and Bowman to other localities to enlist men; but none of them succeeded in raising the required number. The settlers in these parts were afraid to leave their own firesides exposed to a vigilant foe, and but few could be induced to join the expedition. With these companies and several private volunteers Clark commenced his descent of the Ohio, which he navigated as far as the falls, where he took possession of and fortified Corn Island, a small island between the present cities of Louisville, Ky., and New Albany, Ind. Here, after having completed his arrangements and announced to the men their real destination, he left a small garrison; and on the 24th of June, during a total eclipse of the sun, which to them augured no good, they floated down the river. His plan was to go by water as far as Fort Massac, and thence march direct to Kaskaskia. Here he intended to surprise the garrison, and after its capture go to Cahokia, then to Vincennes, and lastly to Detroit. Should he fail, he intended to march directly to the Mississippi river and cross it into the Spanish country. Before his start he received good items of information: one, that an alliance had been formed between France and the United States, and the other, that the Indians throughout the Illinois country and the inhabitants at the various frontier posts had been led by the British to believe that the ‘Long Knives,’ or Virginians, were the most fierce, bloodthirsty and cruel savages that ever scalped a foe. With this impression on their minds, Clark saw that proper management would cause them to submit at once from fear, if surprised, and then from gratitude would become friendly, if treated with unexpected lenity. The march to Kaskaskia was made through a hot July sun, they arriving on the evening of the 4th of July, 1778. They captured the fort near the village and soon after the village itself, by surprise, and without the loss of a single man and without killing any of the enemy. After sufficiently working on the fears of the natives, Clark told them they were at perfect liberty to worship as they pleased, and to take whichever side of the great conflict they would; also he would protect them against any barbarity from British or Indian foe. This had the desired effect; and the inhabitants, so unexpectedly and so gratefully surprised by the unlooked-for turn of affairs, at once swore allegiance to the American arms; and when Clark desired to go to Cahokia on the 6th of July, they accompanied him, and through their influence the inhabitants of the place surrendered and gladly placed themselves under his protection.
“In the person of M[onsignor] Gibault, priest of Kaskaskia, Clark found a powerful ally and generous friend. Clark saw that, to retain possession of the Northwest and treat successfully with the Indians, he must establish a government for the colonies he had taken. St. Vincent, the post next in importance to Detroit, remained yet to be taken before the Mississippi valley was conquered. M. Gibault told him that he would alone, by persuasion, lead Vincennes to throw off its connection with England. Clark gladly accepted this offer, and July 14th, in company with a fellow-townsman, Gibault started on his mission of peace. On the 1st of August he returned with the cheerful intelligence that everything was peaceably adjusted at Vincennes in favor of the Americans. During the interval, Col. Clark established his courts, placed garrisons at Kaskaskia and Cahokia, successfully re-enlisted his men, and sent word to have a fort (which proved the germ of Louisville) erected at the falls of the Ohio.
“While the American commander was thus negotiating with the Indians, [Col. Henry] Hamilton, the British Governor of Detroit, heard of Clark’s invasion, and was greatly incensed because the country which he had in charge should be wrested from him by a few ragged militia. He therefore hurriedly collected a force, marched by way of the Wabash, and appeared before the fort at Vincennes. The inhabitants made an effort to defend the town, and when Hamilton’s forces arrived Captain Helm and a man named Henry were the only Americans in the fort. These men had been sent by Clark. The latter charged a cannon and placed it in the open gateway, and the Captain stood by it with a lighted match and cried out, as Hamilton came in hailing distance, ‘Halt!’ The British officer, not knowing the strength of the garrison, stopped, and demanded the surrender of the fort. Helm exclaimed, ‘No man shall enter here till I know the terms.’ Hamilton responded, ‘You shall have the honors of war.’ The entire garrison consisted of one officer and one private.
“On taking Kaskaskia, Clark made a prisoner of Rocheblave, commander of the place, and got possession of all his written instructions for the conduct of the war. From these papers he received important information respecting the plans of Col. Hamilton, Governor at Detroit, who was intending to make a vigorous and concerted attack upon the frontier. After arriving at Vincennes, however, he gave up his intended campaign for the winter, and trusting to his distance from danger and to the difficulty of approaching him, sent off his Indian warriors to prevent troops from coming down the Ohio, and to annoy the Americans in all ways. Thus he sat quietly down to pass the winter with only about eighty soldiers, but secure, as he thought, from molestation. But he evidently did not realize the character of the men with whom he was contending. Clark, although he could muster only one hundred and thirty men, determined to take advantage of Hamilton’s weakness and security, and attack him as the only means of saving himself; for unless he captured Hamilton, Hamilton would capture him. Accordingly, about the beginning of February, 1779, he dispatched a small galley which he had fitted out, mounted with two four-pounders and four swivels and manned with a company of soldiers, and carrying stores for his men, with orders to force her way up the Wabash, to take her station a few miles below Vincennes, and to allow no person to pass her. He himself marched with his little band, and spent sixteen days in traversing the country from Kaskaskia to Vincennes, passing with incredible fatigue through woods and marshes. He was five days in crossing the bottom lands of the Wabash; and for five miles was frequently up to the breast in water. After overcoming difficulties which had been thought insurmountable, he appeared before the place and completely surprised it. The inhabitants readily submitted, but Hamilton at first defended himself in the fort. Next day, however, he surrendered himself and his garrison prisoners-of-war. By his activity in encouraging the hostilities of the Indians and by the revolting enormities perpetrated by those savages, Hamilton had rendered himself so obnoxious that he was thrown in prison and put in irons. During his command of the British frontier posts he offered prizes to the Indians for all the scalps of the Americans they would bring him, and earned in consequence thereof the title, ‘Hair-Buyer General,’ by which he was ever afterward known.
“The services of Clark proved of essential advantage to his countrymen. They disconcerted the plans of Hamilton, and not only saved the western frontier from depredations by the savages, but also greatly cooled the ardor of the Indians for carrying on a contest in which they were not likely to be the gainers. Had it not been for this small army, a union of all the tribes from Maine to Georgia against the colonies might have been effected, and the whole current of our history changed.
“In October, 1778, after the successful campaign of Col. Clark, the assembly of Virginia erected the conquered country, embracing all the territory northwest of the Ohio river, into the County of Illinois, which was doubtless the largest county in the world, exceeding in its dimensions the whole of Great Britain and Ireland. To speak more definitely, it contained the territory now embraced in the great States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. On the 12th of December, 1778, John Todd was appointed Lieutenant-Commandant of this county by Patrick Henry, then Governor of Virginia, and accordingly, also, the first of Illinois County.”
By Jared Olar
Previously in this column, we reviewed the period from the early 1600s to 1763, when the Illinois Country was a part of France’s colonial empire in North America. However, with the conclusion of the French and Indian War in 1763, Britain acquired about half of France’s territories on the North American mainland, while France’s vast territory of Louisiana was given to Spain.
At that time France handed over all of its forts and outposts in Illinois to British control. There then ensued a brief period of 15 years when the Illinois Country was governed as a part of the British province of Quebec.
During the period of French rule, the Illinois County at first had been administered by a series of five military commandants stationed at Fort St. Louis du Roche (Starved Rock) who answered to the Governor General of New France in Canada. In 1718, the French king transferred the Illinois Country to Louisiana, and Illinois was then renamed Upper Louisiana. From that time until the end of French control, the territory was administered by a series of 10 military commandants stationed at Fort de Chartres on the Mississippi, located near Prairie du Rocher in Randolph County (in the general area of the French colonial villages of Cahokia and Kaskaskia). The commandant at Fort de Chartres reported to the French governor in New Orleans. Following Britain’s victory in the French and Indian War, Fort de Chartres was handed over to the British.
British rule brought major changes to the Illinois Country. To begin with, the British king George III issued a royal proclamation on Oct. 7, 1763, that forbade any colonial settlement to territory west of the Appalachian Mountains. The territory from the Appalachians to the Mississippi was erected as the Indian Reserve, and European settlers already living in the Indian Reserve were required to obtain special licenses if they wished to remain there. In addition, grants of land west of the Appalachians that previously were given to English colonists as rewards for their service in the French and Indian War were invalidated, causing the first of several grievances that led to the revolt of the 13 colonies in 1775-76.
Britain began its occupation of the Illinois Country in 1764, taking possession of Fort de Chartres on Oct. 10, 1765, and renaming it Fort Cavendish. The Catholic French settlers were ordered to leave the area, now a part of the Indian Reserve. However, most of the Catholic French settlers in Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Prairie du Rocher – unwilling to buy licenses for permission to remain in Illinois, and probably preferring Catholic Spanish rule to being under a regime that discriminated against Catholics – elected to cross the Mississippi and found new settlements such as St. Louis and Ste. Genevieve in the Spanish territory of Louisiana. The British subsequently rescinded the expulsion order, offering the French colonists the same rights they had under French rule, but most remained in their new homes west of the Mississippi.
British rule over the Illinois Country during these years was informal and disorganized. The territory was administered as a part of the British province of Quebec in Canada, but there was little in the way of formal governmental structure, apart from a common law Court of Justice set up in Sept. 1768. The British king approved the Quebec Act of 1774 which would have formally set up a government in the Illinois Country, but the act was never implemented prior to the Revolutionary War. Around that time, flooding of the Mississippi River in 1772 convinced the British to abandon Fort de Chartres and build a new outpost at Kaskaskia, called Fort Gage. (Most of Fort de Chartres subsequently fell into ruin, but the gunpowder magazine survived – the oldest remaining European structure in Illinois. Fort de Chartres was reconstructed as a historical site in the 1920s and 1930s.)
While the erecting of the Indian Reserve signaled that the British Crown wished to be fair to the native nations of North America, a few months before that several tribes in the Great Lakes area, the Ohio Country, and the Illinois Country used the hiatus of effective European control west of the Appalachians that ensued in the immediate aftermath of the French and Indian War as an opportunity to attempt to expel all of the European interlopers.
Thus, in May 1763 a conflict began usually known as Pontiac’s War, called after an Ottawa chief named Pontiac (Obwandiyag) who, along with Seneca leader Guyasuta, was one of the prominent Native American chiefs in this war, which was provoked by the racist contempt that Gen. Jeffrey Amherst, British commander-in-chief in North America, and his soldiers and many English colonists had for the Indians. The American Indians seized eight British forts in present day Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Indiana, and Pontiac, with the aid of warriors of the Pottawatomi, Ojibway, and Huron, besieged Fort Detroit in Michigan. The British soon got the upper hand and the Native American forces dispersed, with most hostilities ending in 1764. By this time, the European disease smallpox was decimating the native peoples of eastern North America.
In 1764 the British had not yet taken possession of the Illinois Country, where the anti-British Shawnee chief Charlot Kaské wielded great influence and sought to enlist the aid of French colonists in further war. The British made diplomatic overtures to Chief Pontiac, however, who went to New York and signed a treaty of cessation of hostilities in 1766. Kaské, meanwhile, though unable to wage a war, nevertheless refused to submit to the British, and instead moved west across the Mississippi with his people and his French compatriots.
Pontiac himself settled with his people in the Illinois Country, where, as we noted previously, he was killed by a Peoria chief in Cahokia on April 20, 1769.
By Jared L. Olar
When French missionaries and explorers first came to the Illinois Country in the 1600s, they encountered the group of 12 or 13 Algonquin-speaking Native American tribes who are most commonly known today as the Illiniwek or Illini, and the French gave their land the name “Pays de Illinois” – the Illinois Country.
The Illiniwek first appear in the written record in 1640, when French Jesuit missionary Father Paul LeJeune listed a people called the “Eriniouai” who were neighbors of the Winnebago. Then in 1656, another Jesuit missionary, Father Jean de Quen, mentions the same people by the name of “Liniouek,” and in the following year Father Gabriel Druillettes called them “Aliniouek.” About a decade later, Father Claude Allouez told of his meeting some “Iliniouek.” In the 1800s, American writers began to adapt the spelling of the name to “Illiniwek.”
The French missionaries also noted in their American Indian language dictionaries that the Illiniwek’s own name for themselves was Inoka, a word of unknown meaning and derivation. According to the historical records of the French missionaries, however, the ethnic designation “Illinois” meant “the men.” The 1674 journal of Father Jacques Marquette’s first voyage says, “When one speaks the word ‘Illinois,’ it is as if one said in their language, ‘the men,’ – As if the other Indians were looked upon by them merely as animals.”
About two decades later, Father Louis Hennepin observed, “The Lake of the Illinois signifies in the language of these Barbarians, the Lake of the Men. The word Illinois signifies a grown man, who is in the prime of his age and vigor . . . The etymology of this word ‘Illinois’ derives, according to what we have said, from the term Illini, which in the language of this Nation signifies a man who is grown or mature.”
That is all that historical sources have to say about the meaning of “Illinois.” More recently, linguistic scholars of the vanished Algonquin dialects have speculated that “Illiniwek” may in fact have derived from a Miami-Algonquin term that means “one who speaks the normal way,” and that the French throughout the 1600s and 1700s misunderstood the name that the Inoka’s Algonquin-speaking neighbors gave them as their own name.
Be that as it may, it is thought that when the French first encountered the Illiniwek tribes, there were perhaps as many as 10,000 of them living in a vast area stretching from Lake Michigan out to the heart of Iowa and as far south as Arkansas. In the 1670s, the French found a village of Kaskaskias in the Illinois River valley near the present town of Utica, a village of Peorias near modern Keokuk, Iowa, and a village of Michigameas in northeast Arkansas.
The Kaskaskia village near Utica, also known as the Grand Village of the Illinois, was the largest and best known village of the Illinois tribes. A French Catholic mission, called the Mission of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, and a fur trading post were set up there in 1675, causing the village population to swell to about 6,000 people in about 460 houses. It was not long, though, before European diseases and the ongoing Beaver Wars, which we recalled previously in this column, brought suffering and tragedy to the Illiniwek, causing their population size to plummet over the coming decades.
In the early 1690s, the expansionist wars of the Iroquois League of New York, which sought to control the fur trade, forced the Kaskaskias and other Illiniwek to abandon the Grand Village and move further south to the areas of the present sites of Peoria, Cahokia, and Kaskaskia. At the height of Iroquois power, the League was able to extend its reach as far as the Mississippi and most Illiniwek fled from Illinois to escape, while some Illiniwek groups accompanied the Iroquois and fought as their allies against their enemies. The Iroquois did not have enough people to hold the Illinois Country, however, and before long the Illiniwek were able to reclaim their old lands. Other tribes also found it necessary or advantageous to move into the Illinois Country during this period and soon after, however, such as the Pottawatomi, Kickapoo, Ottawa, and Piankeshaw.
In the early decades of the 1700s, the Illiniwek became involved in a feud with the Meskwaki (Fox), during the series of battles between the French and the Meskwaki known as the Fox Wars. In 1722, the Meskwaki attacked the Illiniwek in retaliation for the killing of the nephew of Oushala, one of the Meskwaki chiefs. The Illiniwek were forced to seek refuge on Starved Rock, and they sent a messenger southwest to Fort de Chartres asking their French allies to rescue them, but by the time the French leader Boisbriand and his men had arrived, the Meskwaki had retreated, having killed 120 of the Illini. Four years later, the Marquis de Beauharnois, Governor of New France, organized an attack on the Meskwaki in Illinois in which 500 Illini warriors agreed to take part, but the Meskwaki escaped. The feud between the Illini and the Meskwaki culminated in early September 1730, when the Meskwaki were all but annihilated by an allied force of French, Illini, Sauk, Pottawatomi, Kickapoo, Mascouten, Miami, Ouiatenon, and Piankeshaw warriors.
By the middle of the 1700s, the original 12 or 13 Illiniwek tribes had been reduced by the wars and diseases of the 17th and 18th centuries to only five: the Cahokia, the Kaskaskia, the Michigamea, the Peoria, and the Tamaroa. According to legend, the Illiniwek suffered their most grievous defeat after the French and Indian War, when the great Ottawa chief Pontiac (Obwandiyag) was killed by Kinebo, a Peoria chief, in Cahokia on April 20, 1769. In revenge, the Ottawa and Pottawatomi banded together in a war of extermination against the Illini of the Illinois River valley, a large number of whom again sought refuge on Starved Rock. The Ottawa and Pottawatomi are said to have besieged the Illini on Starved Rock, where most of the Illini died of starvation (hence the name Starved Rock).
There is no contemporary record to substantiate that the Battle of Starved Rock, as it has been called, ever really took place. However, an elderly Pottawatomi chief named Meachelle, said to have been present at the siege as a boy, told his story to J. D. Caton in 1833, while an early white settler in the area, named Simon Crosiar, is said to have reported that Starved Rock was covered with the skeletal remains of the Illini in the years after the siege.
Whether or not that is really how the Illiniwek met their end, their numbers did drastically decline throughout the 1700s. By the early 1800s, only the Kaskaskia and Peoria tribes remained, about 200 people living in an area of southwestern Illinois and eastern Missouri near the Mississippi. In 1818, the Peoria, then in Missouri, ceded their Illinois lands, and in 1832 they ceded their Missouri lands and moved to Kansas. The descendants of the Illiniwek are today known as the Peoria Tribe of Indians, with their reservation in Ottawa County, Oklahoma.
As we continue our series on the early history of Illinois, here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in January 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .
Founding, and finding, Fort Crevecoeur
By Jared Olar
Among the earliest written records of Illinois and Tazewell County history are found in the journals of the French explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (1643-1687), who is best known in Tazewell County for building a fort at the future location of Creve Coeur in January of 1680. The Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room has resources that can help to bring that story to life.
No one can say for sure exactly where La Salle’s “Fort Crevecoeur” was, though La Salle described the general area in his journals. He wrote, “On January 15, toward evening a great thaw, which opportunely occurred, rendered the river free from ice from Pimiteoui as far as [the place chosen for the fort]. It was a little hillock about 540 feet from the bank of the river; up to the foot of the hillock the river expanded every time that there fell a heavy rain. Two wide and deep ravines shut in two other sides and one-half of the fourth, which I caused to be closed completely by a ditch joining the two ravines.”
“Pimiteoui” was the Native American name for the area where the Illinois River widens to become what we now know as Peoria Lake. It was also the name of a Native American village located at the future site of Peoria. In his 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” p.33, Charles C. Chapman locates the fort “at the lower end of the lake, on its eastern bank . . . The place where this ancient fort stood may still be seen just below the outlet of Peoria lake.”
As we saw last time, the purpose of Fort Crevecoeur and the other forts the French built in the Illinois Country was to help France control the fur trade. The most likely place where this fort stood is in the low areas of Creve Coeur or possibly East Peoria, between Peoria Lake and the bluffs. Others have argued the fort was much further up the river, or far down river in the area near Beardstown, but neither of those locations fits La Salle’s description very well.
In a 1902 essay, “Historic Pekin!,” Pekin’s early historian W. H. Bates tells how La Salle and his party “landed at what is now Wesley City, Pekin Township, five and a half miles due north from Pekin, and built a large stockade fort on the high bluff above which he named Creve Coeur. “ Wesley City later was renamed Creve Coeur in memory of La Salle’s fort, and until recently the community has looked back to those days every spring and fall with events at Fort Crevecouer Park.
The fort did not last long. La Salle had to return to Canada in February, leaving Henri de Tonti (1649-1704) and a small garrison at the fort. In April, Tonti departed to consider the possibility of building a fort on Starved Rock, but during his absence, most of the garrison mutinied and destroyed the fort. The story of La Salle’s explorations and the brief existence of Fort Crevecoeur is related in some detail in John L. Conger’s 1932 “History of the Illinois River Valley.”
As for La Salle himself, he later founded a French colony on Garcitas Creek, Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico, but La Salle’s men mutinied and he was murdered by one of the mutineers on March 19, 1687, near modern Navasota, Texas.
Rare, early maps of the area show both Lake Pimiteoui and Fort Crevecoeur, but not in enough detail to ascertain the precise location of the fort. One of the earliest of those maps was drawn up in 1688 by Jean-Baptiste Louis Franquelin, who had served as La Salle’s draftsman in France in 1684. Franquelin’s 1688 map was ultimately based on a lost map drawn up by La Salle himself. Fort Crevecoeur and Pimiteoui Lake are also noted on Marco Vincenzo Coronelli’s 1688 map of North America. Coronelli got his information about Fort Crevecoeur from La Salle’s own 1682 Relation Officielle of his discovery of the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Reproductions of these and other early maps of Illinois and North America are included in “Indian Villages of the Illinois Country,” a remarkable atlas kept on file in the library’s local history room.
By Jared Olar
Last week we reviewed what Illinois was like during the latter 1600s, when the French first encountered the Illiniwek Confederation and began to explore and settle the Illinois Country.
France had laid claim to a vast territory in North America, where France’s colonial rivals England, Holland, and Spain also were building empires. As these European powers strove with each other, the ways of life of the native peoples of the Americas were disrupted. Many Native Americans lost their lands and their lives, but some tribes became prominent regional power brokers who made the Europeans sit up and take notice.
The European colonial powers and Native American tribes fought a number of wars in America during the course of the 1600s and 1700s. Often the Europeans fought the Indians, or Native American tribes fought each other. At times the Indian tribes fought as allies of the rival European powers.
One of the main causes of these wars, which affected wide areas of North America – even the Illinois Country – was the desire to control the lucrative fur trade. Early in the French colonization of Canada, France allied itself with the Huron and Algonquin in Quebec and Ontario. These tribes were involved in ongoing feuds and wars with the League of the Iroquois, a confederation of five tribes or nations in New York, the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga, and the Seneca.
France offered their native allies military assistance against the Iroquois because their allies supplied them with fur – especially beaver pelts – for sale in European markets. As early as 1603, French explorer Samuel de Champlain and his companions joined with France’s native allies in a raid on the Iroquois, which quickly led to an escalation of the conflicts in that part of America. This sparked a series of wars starting in 1628 between the Iroquois and the Huron and neighboring tribes in a struggle to dominate the fur trade.
These wars are known as the Iroquois Wars or the French and Iroquois Wars, but they are also called the Beaver Wars. As the wars continued, the Iroquois League, supplied with European weapons by the Dutch and English, attacked both the neighboring tribes and French colonists. The Iroquois managed to subjugate or expel their neighbors, controlling their lands and hunting grounds, and expanding their power and influence as far west as the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. The high demand for beaver pelts severely depleted the beaver population in eastern North America, pushing Native Americans to seek further west and north to find beaver to hunt.
Inevitably, the westward expansion of the Iroquois League reached the Illinois Country, which they had seized by the mid-1600s. When Marquette and Jolliet first explored the Illinois Country in the 1670s, they found the Illiniwek tribes at war with the Iroquois. La Salle signed treaties with the Illini and Miami in 1681. In response to Iroquois expansion, the Miami in the Ohio Country and the Anishinaabe of southern Ontario formed confederacies and alliances with their neighbors. When the Iroquois destroyed a large Miami settlement and took large numbers of prisoners in 1689, the Miami sent to the Anishinaabe for help, and together they set an ambush for the Iroquois near modern South Bend, Ind., where the Iroquois suffered a decisive defeat. Unable to maintain their hold on the Illinois and Ohio regions, the Iroquois retreated and many of the local tribes were able to move back to their former homes.
By the end of the 1600s, the French adopted a new policy toward the Iroquois League, seeking to befriend them as a way to safeguard their control of the northern fur trade and to stop English colonial expansion. This new policy was cemented by the Great Peace of Montreal, signed in 1701 by the French and 39 Indian chiefs, thus bringing the Beaver Wars to an end. In the aftermath, the Ottawa and Pottawatomi tribes moved from Canada to Michigan, and the Illini were able to return to the Illinois Country.
In the late 1600s and the first half of the 1700s, the French in North America were involved in a series of wars with their rivals the British, and Native American allies also were caught up in the conflicts. However, these conflicts did not have much if any direct effect on the Illinois Country, which was never the scene of any military action during the wars. Prior to 1754 all of them – sometimes called the French and Indian Wars, or the Intercolonial Wars – started in Europe and then spilled over to North America.
However, in 1754, for the first time a war broke out in North America between the French and English colonies that then spilled over to Europe. In America, it is known as the French and Indian War since the Native American allies of France and England fought alongside the European colonists – but in Europe it is called the Seven Years War. Although the Illinois Country was again not a scene of battle, the outcome of the war was significant for the future of Illinois, because the French and Indian War resulted in the English conquest of half of France’s colonies on the mainland of North America, including the Illinois Country. (Spain acquired the other half, the vast province of Louisiana.) The French in Canada remember the French and Indian War as “the War of the Conquest.”
The French and Indian War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on Feb. 10, 1763, when France gave up New France in Canada, New Orleans in Louisiana, and their forts, settlements, and fur trading outposts along the Illinois River Valley and elsewhere. Illinois then passed to British control – but French colonists and their families would maintain a presence in Illinois for some time to come.
Cities, towns, and counties across the state of Illinois held ceremonies today to formally inaugurate the Illinois Bicentennial Year, which officially began yesterday, 3 Dec. 2017. The City of Pekin’s ceremony took place this morning at 11:45 a.m. at the foot of the Pekin Municipal Building’s front steps in downtown Pekin, presided over by Pekin Mayor John McCabe and concluding with the raising of the Bicentennial Flag by the Pekin Fire Department Honor Guard. Meanwhile Tazewell County had a simultaneous ceremony nearby on the Tazewell County Courthouse lawn that included a choir, bagpiper, and a 21-gun salute (since Illinois is the 21st state) by the County Sheriff’s Department Honor Guard.
Pekin Public Library staff member Jared Olar was invited by Mayor McCabe to talk for a few minutes about Illinois history at the city’s Bicentennial Year inaugural ceremony. Following is the gist of Olar’s remarks:
I’m honored that the Mayor has invited me to talk about the history of our state. As we take the time today to remember our state’s history, I’d like to talk about what NAMES can tell us about our history.
The history of Illinois can be traced in the names of its rivers, towns, and cities. Place names such as Chicago, Peoria, Mackinaw, Kankakee, Wabash, Kewanee, Kaskaskia (Illinois’ first state capital), Ottawa, Cahokia, Winnebago, Macoupin, and the very name of our state are Native American in origin — relics of the original inhabitants of our state. The name of our state, “Illinois,” is the French version of the designation of the confederation of Native American tribes who inhabited this region when the French first arrived here in the 1600s. In 1640, Father Paul LeJeune, a Jesuit missionary priest, was the first to tell of a nation called the Eriniouai — a name that eventually would be changed into forms such as “Illini” and “Illiniwek,” said by the early French missionaries and colonists who had dealings with them to mean “the men,” but today some linguists speculate that it may have derived from a Miami-Algonquin term that means “one who speaks the normal way.”
Other place names, such as La Salle, Joliet, Marquette Heights, Menard, Bureau, and Creve Coeur, are reminders of the time when Illinois was explored and claimed by France as a part of France’s colonial empire. Illinois passed to British control in 1763 at the end of the French and Indian War, but the French settlers here remained. Here in Tazewell County there was a French fur trading house at the future site of Creve Coeur, existing from about 1775 to the 1830s. The French traders at the house, Tromly and Besaw, who had married American Indian women, were there when Jonathan Tharp built his cabin here in what was soon become Pekin. When Illinois became a state, the trading house was already there — six years before Tharp built his cabin in 1824, twelve before Pekin was founded in 1830.
But, naturally enough, the vast majority of Illinois’ place names testify to the fact that Illinois was established as a territory and state of the United States of America in the early decades of the 1800s by the arrival of vast numbers of people whose ancestors had come from England, Scotland, and Ireland. By far most Illinois place names are English — named for men of English descent, or named after towns and places in Britain.
Occasionally we come across Illinois place names such as New Salem, Zion, and Loami that testify to the Christian faith of Illinois’s pioneers. But sometimes we encounter names that arose from Americans’ old romance or fascination with the exotic, ancient, noble culture of far-off China — names like Canton, and, yes, Pekin.
The Illinois Bicentennial offers everyone in the state a whole year of opportunities to recall our past: but it’s also a perfect opportunity for us to remember the history of our city and our county — even if Tazewell County didn’t come along until nine years after statehood and Pekin wasn’t founded until three years after that.
Events to celebrate the bicentennial will continue in our area up until Dec. 3 next years. The County Bicentennial Committee chaired by Christal Dagit of the Tazewell County Museum is helping to coordinate celebrations for the coming year, and if you hear of something in the works or have an idea, let Christal know and she’d be happy to help you.
The Pekin Public Library has also been making plans for the Illinois Bicentennial, and working for the library I’d like talk a little about that. The library is commemorating the bicentennial all year long with an Illinois Bicentennial Movie Series that will run January to December 2018. On the first Friday of each month at 11 a.m., the library will show a historical video dealing with an aspect of the history of Illinois, Tazewell County, or Pekin. The movies will be shown in the Community Room on the second floor of the library, and admission is free. The movie series commences on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018, with a video on Pekin history.
In addition to the movie series, the libraries “From the History Room” blog is featuring a yearlong series of special articles on Illinois, Tazewell, and Pekin history. The first in the series, “Illinois as the French found it,” was just posted online on the History Room blog on Friday and then published in the Pekin Daily Times on Saturday. New articles in the series will appear each week, first online on Friday and then in the paper on Saturday. The articles will generally follow the historical timeline that you’ve been given, starting with Illinois at the time of the arrival of the French and coming down to the founding of Pekin in Jan. 1830.
We hope the article series will be interesting, informative, and above all, accurate , and everyone is more than welcome to join us for our movie series. Thank you!