Black Hawk, Shabbona, and the Clearance of Illinois’ Native Americans

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

As previously noted in this column, the city of Pekin was established at the site of a Native American village of about 100 wigwams located on Gravel Ridge along the eastern shore of Pekin Lake (near the location of the Pekin Boat Club). Pekin’s first European settler, Jonathan Tharp, built his cabin in 1824 to the south of that village, at or very near the spot where the former Franklin School stands today, at the foot of Broadway.

The Indians who lived along Gravel Ridge in the 1820s and 1830s were primarily Pottawatomi, but much of Tazewell County also was home to Kickapoo bands. In a letter dated in May 1812, Illinois Territorial Gov. Ninian Edwards wrote, “At Little Makina, a river on the south side of [the] Illinois, five leagues below Peoria, is a band, consisting of Kickapoos, Chippeways, Ottaways and Pottowottamies. They are called warriors, and their head man is Lebourse or Sulky. Their number is sixty men, all desperate fellows and great plunderers.”

While Sulky was a Kickapoo, his other name “Lebourse” is French, for he was, like many Native Americans in Illinois during that period, partly of French descent, even as his own band was made up of warriors from three other tribes besides the Kickapoo. The name of the river that Gov. Edwards said was the location of Sulky’s village – “Little Makina” – might suggest that they were living on the shores of the Mackinaw River south of Pekin. However, the distance “five leagues below Peoria” indicates a spot about 17 miles downriver from Peoria Lake, which is the river distance between Peoria and Pekin, so “Little Makina” must refer to a stream or creek that flows into the Illinois (perhaps Lick Creek?). That would mean Sulky and his band were living at the future site of Pekin around May of 1812.

Another Kickapoo chief in Tazewell County, mentioned by Gov. Edwards in a letter written July 21, 1812, was Pemwotam (or Pemwatome), whose village was at the northeast end of Peoria Lake in Fondulac Township, to the north of the McClugage Bridge. On his raid of the Indian villages of Peoria Lake in Oct. 1812, Gov. Edwards destroyed a Kickapoo village that is said to have been Pemwotam’s. In his 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” Charles C. Chapman gives a somewhat lengthy account of Edwards’ raid, describing the destruction of the Kickapoo village in Fondulac Township and of Pottawatomi chief Black Partridge’s village in Woodford County.

Chapman mentions another Kickapoo chief of Tazewell County named “Old Machina,” whose name is also spelled “Mashenaw.” Machina’s village was near Mackinaw, and Chapman related the pioneers’ recollections of Chief Machina’s displeasure at the new wave of settlers who arrived in the 1820s.

Another Native American name associated with early Pekin history is that of a Pottawatomi leader named Shabbona, whose name is also spelled Shaubena and Shabonee. He was prominent in the early history of Pekin and Tazewell County and played a significant role in the wider history of Illinois, the Midwest and the U.S. At the time that Jonathan Tharp settled at the future site of Pekin, Shabbona’s camp was in the vicinity of Starved Rock, but Pekin pioneer historian William H. Bates indicates that around 1830 Shabbona and his family had set up a small village of Pottawatomi just south of Tharp’s cabin, between McLean Street and Broadway. But not much later, during the Black Hawk War of 1832 Shabbona and his family were camped in northern Illinois.

Pottawatomi leader Shabbona, shown in a daguerreotype printed in John Leonard Conger’s “History of the Illinois River Valley,” 1932.

A member of the Ottawa tribe, Shabbona was born about 1775, but his place of birth is uncertain. In his 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” Charles C. Chapman said Shabbona “was born at an Indian village on the Kankakee river, now in Will county,” but others say he was born in Ontario, Canada, or on the Maumee River in Ohio.

Shabbona was the grandnephew of the great Ottawa Chief Pontiac, and his father had fought alongside Pontiac in Pontiac’s War of 1763. His name comes from the Ottawa word zhaabne (related to the Pottawatomi word zhabné) which means “hardy” or “indomitable,” and interpreted by white settlers as “built like a bear.” The Ottawa originally lived in Ontario, Canada, but were driven out by the Iroquois, moving to Michigan where they joined with the Ojibwa and Pottawatomi, and afterwards migrating with their kinsmen the Pottawatomi to Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Around 1800, Shabbona married Pokanoka (Coconako), daughter of a Pottawatomi chief in Illinois named Spotka (Hanokula), and upon the death of his wife’s father he succeeded him as leader of Spotka’s Pottawatomi band.

Chapman devoted a few pages of his 1879 history to the life of Shabbona, whom he praised as “The kind and generous Shaubena” and “that true and generous hearted chief.” In his account of the Black Hawk War of 1832, Chapman wrote:

“At the time the war broke out he, with his band of Pottawatomies, had their wigwams and camps on the Illinois within the present limits of the city of Pekin. Shaubena was a friend of the white man, and living in this county during those perilous times, and known by so many of the early settlers, that we think he deserves more than a passing mention. . . . While young he was made chief of the band, and went to Shaubena Grove (now in De Kalb county), where they were found in the early settlement of that section. In the war of 1812 Shaubena, with his warriors, joined Tecumseh, was aid to that great chief, and stood by his side when he fell at the battle of the Thames.”

Shabbona’s experiences in the War of 1812 convinced him of the futility of armed resistance to white encroachment, and for the rest of his life he strove to live in peace with the white settlers who were flooding into Illinois. Many Native Americans in Illinois called him “the white man’s friend” – and they didn’t mean it as a compliment.

Together with a fellow Pottawatomi leader named Wabaunsee, Shabbona kept the Pottawatomi out of the Black Hawk War, despite two attempts of Sauk war leader Black Hawk to persuade him to join the fight. “On one of these occasions,” Chapman wrote, “when Black Hawk was trying to induce him and his band to join them and together make war upon the whites, when with their forces combined they would be an army that would outnumber the trees in the forest, Shaubena wisely replied ‘Aye; but the army of the palefaces would outnumber the leaves upon the trees in the forest.’ While Black Hawk was a prisoner at Jefferson Barracks he said, had it not been for Shaubena the whole Pottawatomie nation would have joined his standard, and he could have continued the war for years.”

This artist’s depiction of Black Hawk was published in From John Leonard Conger’s “History of the Illinois River Valley,” 1932.

The Black Hawk War was the last, desperate attempt of Native Americans living in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin to resist their displacement before the wave of encroaching white settlers. The war is named for a Sauk warrior named Black Hawk (Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, 1767-1838), who had refused to accept the treaties with the U.S. by which the Sauk people had agreed to move from Illinois and Wisconsin to Iowa. Black Hawk repeatedly led hunting parties from Iowa into Illinois, and in 1832 when he was ordered to cease his “incursions,” he attempted to forge a confederacy of tribes to resist white settlement. But by 1832 it was already too late for the Indians of Illinois – though the war opened in April 1832 with a victory for Black Hawk caused by American incompetence at Stillman’s Run (in which Pekin co-founder Isaac Perkins was killed), Black Hawk’s efforts were futile and the war was over in months, having been nothing more than an occasion for whites and Indians to commit some brutal massacres. Black Hawk retreated to Prairie du Chien in Wisconsin, where he surrendered on Aug. 27, 1832, and bringing Illinois’ leaders to the conclusion that all remaining Native Americans should be expelled from the state. How differently things may have turned out for the Indians of Illinois if Black Hawk had taken an approach more like that of Shabbona and of his fellow Sauk chief Keokuk.

Chapman commented, “To Shaubena many of the early settlers of this county owe the preservation of their lives, for he was ever on the alert to save the whites.” But, Chapman said, “by saving the lives of the whites (he) endangered his own, for the Sacs and Foxes threatened to kill him, and made two attempts to execute his threats. They killed Pypeogee, his son, and Pyps, his nephew, and hunted him down as though he was a wild beast.” After the surrender of Black Hawk, for their alliance with the U.S. Shabbona and Wabaunsee were rejected by their people, who instead chose as their leader Kaltoo, also called Ogh-och-pees, eldest son of the late Pottawatomi war chief Senachwine (Sen-noge-wone).

After the Black Hawk War, new treaties were negotiated so Illinois would be cleared of all Native American tribes. The Pottawatomi of Indiana and Illinois, including those who had lived at Pekin, were deported to Nebraska and Kansas, and, and we noted before, the agonizing march of the Indiana bands is remembered as the Pottawatomi Trail of Death. Shabbona, however, was allowed to have a reservation of two sections of land at Shabbona’s Grove. But “by leaving it and going west for a short time the Government declared the reservation forfeited, and sold it the same time as other vacant land. Shaubena finding on his return his possessions gone, was very sad and broken down in spirit, and left the grove for ever,” Chapman wrote.

The people of the town of Ottawa then bought him some land near Seneca in Grundy County, where Shabbona stayed until his death on July 17, 1859. “He was buried with great pomp in the cemetery at Morris,” Chapman wrote. His widow Pokanoka drowned in Mazen Creek, Grundy County, on Nov. 30, 1864, and she was laid by his side. Efforts to raise money for a grave monument were interrupted by the Civil War, so it was not until 1903 that a large inscribed boulder was placed at their final resting place. According to the 1886 compilation “Abraham Lincoln’s Vocations,” some year’s later Shabbona’s daughter and her son, John Shabbona, came from the reservation at Mayetta, Kansas, and visited Shabbona’s Grove, viewing photographs and documents pertaining to Shabbona in DeKalb and Chicago. In 1903, when Shabbona’s monument was laid, John Shabbona again returned to Chicago along with members of several of the expelled tribes of Illinois for a special Indian encampment recognizing the original peoples of Chicago (see “City Indian: Native American Activism in Chicago, 1893-1934,” 2015, by Rosalyn R. LaPier, David R. M. Beck, page 64).

As an epilogue, in 2001 the Department of Interior’s Solicitor wrote an opinion that Shabbona’s Grove was never lawfully forfeited and therefore is a reservation owned by the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. The case is still pending, however.

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The Illinois Country under the British

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

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.

Fort de Chartres in Randolph County was the seat of French rule in the Illinois Country until the end of the French and Indian War in 1763. Most of the fort later fell into ruin, but the powder magazine survived, the oldest remaining European structure in Illinois. The fort was reconstructed in the 1920s and 1930s.

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.

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The decline of the Illiniwek

By Jared L. Olar
Library assistant

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 Illinois Country is shown in this 1688 map of Western New France by Marco Vincenzo Coronelli.

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).

Starved Rock is shown in this photo from John Leonard Conger’s 1932 “History of the Illinois River Valley.” According to legend, the majority of the Illiniwek died atop Starved Rock near Oglesby in La Salle County when they were besieged there in 1769 by their enemies the Ottawa and Pottawatomi.

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.

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