Around the time white settlers began flooding into Tazewell County in the 1820s, Potawatomi War Chief Senachwine compared the settlers’ numbers to the blades of grass on the prairie, while the chief could take all of his people and “place them in the hollow of my hand.” After futile efforts at resistance and co-existence, the native tribes of our area finally were expelled in the mid-1830s. Some of the stories and memories of the original peoples of Pekin and Tazewell County will be recalled this Columbus Day by Pekin Public Library’s Local History Specialist Jared Olar, who will present a program titled “In the Hollow of my Hand” in the library’s Community Room at 9:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 10. The library also has a display that spotlights Central Illinois’ Native Americans in the Local History Room.
Tag Archives: Illinois Country
The Illinois Country under the British
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.
The decline of the Illiniwek
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 Country of the Illini, or 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.