As noticed elsewhere, there are, throughout a large portion of the Mississippi Valley, the remains of a former race of inhabitants found, of whose origin and history we have no record, and who are only known to us by the relics that are found in the tumuli which they have left. The Mound-Builders were a numerous people, entirely distinct from the North American Indians, and they lived so long before the latter that they are not known to them, even by tradition.
The Indians of Illinois
As told by John Reynolds and adapted from his book, The Pioneer History of Illinois.
It is difficult to give to the history of the Indians of illinois anything like authenticity. The information we obtain on this subject is frequently founded on Indian tradition, which is often destitute of truth.
The explorers of the country from Canada, in the year 1673, found certain Indians southwest of Lake Michigan, whose generic name was known as Illinois, or Illini, as Hennepin wrote it. Those Indians having that name, and residing on the banks of the river, gave that name to the Illinois river, and to the whole country, down to the mouth of the Ohio.
We are informed that Illini means, according to the Indian understanding of that word, "real men" or "superior men." The Delaware Indians attach the same meaning to Lenni, and indicates, in their language, "real, or superior men."
The writes on this subject state:that almost all the indians of North America are of the Algonquin race, except the Iroquois. We may therefore conclude that the Delaware name of Lenni, or Lenni-Lenape, is the same as the Illini, which gave the same of Illinois. If we take Indian tradition for our guide, we may conclude that the Delawares and the Illinois Indians are of the same family. Many of the western tribes call the Delawares their "Grandfathers."
It is an Indian tradition, that the Indians inhabiting the country between Virginia and Canada were of two races -- the Lenni-Lenape and the Mengwe. The Lenni-Lenape were the Delawares, and the Mengwe the Iroquois, or Five Nations. The tradition states further, that the Lenni-Lenape emigrated from the Far-West, to the Namae-si-sipu (Mississippi or Fish River) and there they found the Mengwe, who also came from the West, and inhabited the country toward the sources of the Mississippi. These migrating tribes found a great warlike nation of the Allewige, located in the country between the Mississippi and Alleghany mountains. This nation gave the name of Alleghany to the river and mountains of that name. The Delawares and Iroquois united and conquered the country from the Allewige. This Indian story is fortified by the missionaries Heckewelder and Zeisberger. It is a fact, which is better than tradition, that the Iroquois conquered and drove out West the Delawares. The Delawares being relations of the Western Indians, and being forced out amongst their cousins, they may have given the name Illini to the Indians inhabiting the banks of the Illinois river.
The Illinois confederacy embraced five tribes; the Peorias, Cahokias, Tammarais, Mitchagamies, and Kaskaskias. The Mitchagamies at first occupied the shores of Lake Michigan, and gave the name to that Lake. Afterwards, we find them located on the Mississippi near Fort Cartres, in the present county of Monroe, Illinois. They inhabited this tract of country before the year 1720, as the French Government reserved their lands from the whites from that date. Afterward they became extinct as a nation, and the remnants merged into the Kaskaskia tribe. The Peorias, Cahokias, and Kaskaskias occupied respectively the villages of Peoria, Cahokia, and Kaskaskia, and the country adjacent. The French continued the names of these villages, which they retain to this day. The Tammarais inhabited also the village of Cahokia, and the "country 'round about." They have left no name of any locality indicating their residence in Illinois, except perhaps, the Twelve-Mile prairie, in St. Clair County. In olden times, this prairie was called "Prairie Tammarais." The tribe may have had a village in or near this prairie; but it has been swept off by time, so that their existence is only known in history.
These were the confederated tribes of Illinois Indians, who were gradually drive off by their enemies from the north to the south, untile they took refuge amongst the whites, near the villages of Kaskaskia and Cahokia. They diminished for more than one hundred years, and left the country at last, being a remnant only of their former greatness.
A melancholy reflection forces itself on us: that the nearer the Indians reside to the white population, so much the worse it is for the Indians; and all the attempts heretofore made by the most worthy and pious men to Chistianize and civilize the nations have produced an injury rather than a blessing to them. There may be some exceptions to this statement; but they are only exceptions which do not disprove the statement. Theh policy of the United States to remove the Indians as far as possible from the white population is the only course to preserve their existence. And it is doubtful, even if this humane policy will secure them from annhilation.
The Piankeshaws inhabited the country on both sides of the Wabash toward its mouth, and between the sources of the Kaskaski and Sline rivers, to the Ohio. They have left no name in the country they occupied.
The Shawnee Indianshad a village, in ancient times, on the north bank of the Ohio river, and inhabited the adjacent country. The same site is now occupied by Shawneetown, in Galatin County, Illinois.
The Miamis inhabited the northeastern section of the present State of Illinois; but their country mostly lay east of that.
The Pottawatomie Indians occupied in modern times a large portion of the northeast section of Illinois. They were a branch of the great Chippeway nation, and were also connected with the ancient Miamis. They extended their hunting and fishing almost the whole length of the Illinois river. But toward Chicago was their main residence. Branches of this nation extended to Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana. They were the largest nation of the West in modern times, and figured ferociously in the wars against the whites.
The Winnebagoes, or Puants, as the French called them, from their unsavory and "ancient fishy smell," inhabited the country west of Green Bay. The old French maps often call this bay Le Baie des Puants, for these Indians.
The Winnebago Indians occupied a section of the northern part of Illinois, on Rock river; but their country, for the most part, lay north and east of that in Illinois. They were a tolerably large nation; but dirty and savage in their habits. If we can say anything of the Indians, that they advanced in civilization, it will be nearer to say, "The Winnebagoes advanced backward."
There is a tradition amongst the Winnebagoes, and other nations, that the Winnebagoes emigrated from the West, and settled near the lakes. They claim no connection with the other Indians. Their language is different from any other near them. Almost all the nations in the west have some affinity in their language, except the Winnebagoes. They speak a gutteral language, and it is very difficult to learn or speak it. An interpreter must be raised with them, to be able to speak or understand their language. They are stout, robust people, and about the copper color of their Indian neighbors. Their cheek bones are higher, and they are generally a degree more uncouth and savage than the other tribes near them.
A small but energetic tribe of Indians, the Kickapoos, resided on the east side of the State of Illinois, between the Illinois and Wabash rivers, and including the Sangamon river and the country thereabout. Some lived in village near the Elk-Heart grove, and the Mackinaw river. They claimed relationship with the Pottawatomies, and perhaps the Sauks and Foxes, also. This nation was the most bitter enemy the whites ever had. It may be said in truth of this tribe, that they were the "first in a battle, and the last at a treaty with the Americans." They were more civilized, and possessed more energy and talents than the other Indians in their vicinity. They were also more industrious and cleanly. They were better armed for war of the chase. This energy, and their implacable enmity to the United States, caused them to be first and the most effiicient in all the indian battles with the whites inthe Northwest. They bore a conspicuous part against Harmar, St. Clair, and Wayne; and at Tippecanoe they were first in all the bloody charges of that savage battle. The Kickapoos dislike the United States so much, that they decided that when they left Illinois, that they would not reside within the limits of our Government; but settle in Texas. What will they do now? Texas is annexed, and forms a part of the Union. The northern tribes of Indians waged a destructive war against the Illinois Indians for ages, and at last nearly exterminated them. The last hostile attack was made by the Kickapoos, in 1805, against the poor Kaskaskia Indian children. These children were gathering strawberries in the prairie above Kaskaskia, in this year, and their relentless enemy captured and carried away a considerable number of them. The Kaskaskias followed the Kickapoos, to recapture the children a long distance; but failed to overtake them. The enemy escaped with the children to their towns, and thus ended this outrage.
Power in the hands of frail man, Indian or white, is apt to be abused. The Northern Indians destroyed the Illinois tribes, because they had the power; and then the white many destroys the Indian, and occupies his country because the civilized man has the power.
"Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn."
The Sauks and Foxes emigrated from the lakes west, and occupied the country on both sides of the Mississippi, of whose residence in Rock Island was about the center. These Indians extended their hunting ground toward Peoria, and to Galena and Wisconsin. They are a large, stout, well-made people, and not so dark as the southern Indians. It was a band of these natives, called the British , or Black-Hawk Band, that caused so much trouble and expense to the United States, in the years 1831-2. Not only the expense, but many valuable lives were lost in this war, commonly known as the Black-Hawk War.
The Sauks and Foxes drove back the weaker nation, the Iowas, and occupied the country wherein the State of Iowa is established.
In the year 1778, Julien Dubuque, a Canadian and a man of talent and great enterprise, established a trading post, near the present city of Dubuque, in Iowa. This trader was in fact a talented man, and was as such recognized by the Indians. All grave and important matters they submitted to his decision. The Indians, in a drunken frolic, caught a horse near the post of Dubuque, two got on the horse and run him through the prairie. The horse fell and killed one of the Indians. This homicide caused a bitter quarrel between the families of the two Indians. The family of the deceased insisted on revenge, and that was to be blood. The other side contended it was an accident, and blood should not be shed for it. The parties submitted the case to Dubuque, for his decision. After hearing the statements, Dubuque in a grave and serious manner, pronounced judgment; that it was just and right to have blood for blood, that no man had a right to shed his borther's blood without having blood shed for it. But Dubuque, in a most solemn and severe manner, also pronounced; that two Indians, one of each family, should mount the same horse, and run him through the prairie, until one or the other Indian be killed. This judgment reached the common-sense of the Indians and quieted the parties; and also raised Dubuque high in the estimation of the nation.
The city of Dubuque is called for this man, whose grave is situated near it. For years after Dubuque's death, the Indians kept a lamp burning at his grave every night, in honor of his memory. He was much esteemed by the whites as well as by the Indians.
It is impossible to ascertain the precise dates of Indian migrations. there are no records kept of the movements of Indians. Not long after the first whites came to the country in 1673, the Illinois Indians were started south by their enemies, and in 1720 the Mitchagamia band was located on teh Mississippi near Fort Chartres. Before the year 1730, the most of the Illinois Indians were forced south from the Illinois river. Kaskaskia was the last place of refuge for the whole of the Illinoid confederacy, united into the Kaskaskia band, and from this place the tribe migrated west. About the year 1800, the whole confederated tribes amounted to about one hundred and fifty warriors. At this time, the Kaskaskia tribe had for their chief, Ducoign, who was a cunning man, and had considerable talents. He was a half-breed, and was well qualified to take charge of his nation in their present condition. He boasted of never, he or his nation, shedding white blood. This was no doubt true; but the reason was that he and the nation depended on the whites for support and protection. He had visited President Washington at Philadelphia, and wore a medal received from his great father, as he called the President. He had two sons, Louis and Jefferson Ducoign, who were drunken, worthless men.
A Peoria Indian, being bribed by the British, stabbed to death, in the streets of Cahokia, the celebrated Pontiac, the greatest Indian warrior, perhaps that ever existed. This was one main reason the northern Indians were so bitter against those of Illinois.
These Kaskaskia Indians were afraid to venture out far from the white settlements, on account of the hostility of the other Indians. This almost forced them to starvation. Their spirt and national character were destroyed; and they became a degenerate people, always drunk, when they could obtain the liquor. By these means, they diminished, not only in numbers, but also in standing or character, until a few years agon the remnants of them moved to the Southwest.
Although it may seem hard, to force the Indians from their own country to accommodate the white population, yet it is the only wise and humane policy that can be adopted. The two classes of people cannot live in peace together. The tide of white population is flowing on, and the Indians must recede from it. It is a heart rending sight to see the poor natives driven from their own country. Their tears and lamentations on leaving Illinois would pierce a heart of stone.
We must submit to the decrees of Providence. It is quite possible, that these same tribes drove off the peaceable occupants of the country, and then took possession of it by force, as we have done. Moreover, I think Providence will be best pleased in having a greater number of the human family in existence that a few. A white population can sustain more numbers on the same territory than the Indian mode of living will permit. Neverheless, it is difficult to find good reasons for the expulsion of the Indians from their own country. But, with or without reason, the indians must emigrate, leaving Illinois; the finest country on Earth, for the peaceable occupation of the white man.
There is another etimology of the name of Illinois. It is said, it is derived from teh Isle au Noix, the "Island of Nuts," in English. It is well known that when the French first discovered the country, they were excited and enchanted with its fertility, climate, products, grapes, etc., etc.; and no doubt it was also blessed with nuts. And as the country was almost surrounded by rivers, the Mississippi, the Ohio, Wabash, Illinois, and Lake Michigan on the Northeast, the country, in fact, was nearly an island; so that it was not unreasonable that the country should be called Isle au Noix. The sound of Isle au Noiz in French, is almost similar to that of Illinois.
Further Reflections from a Modern Perspective
The above history of the Illinois Indians was written around 1850 by John Reynolds, a pioneer and the fourth Governor of Illinois. His considerable knowledge and direct experience is valuable, and is also a trustworthy account of the Native American people who were displaced by European settlers. It is noteworthy that he expressed a deep sorrow, and perhaps a sense of guilt, for being part of the force that drove the Indians off their homeland; Indians, many of whom he had known personally. Yet still, John Reynolds' perspective is that of a European settler, and not that of a Native American.
From our modern understanding of climate change, we now understand that the Maunder Minimum, a period of deep solar slumber, occurred in the early 1600s. As we witness today, an even deeper solar slumber is driving the North American continent's climate, again. Again, we are seeing unusually cold Winters, extreme changes in weather, earlier blizzards in the High Plains, and who knows what other disasters await us. Today, we have well-built homes, strong and well-fueled machinery to till the Earth, a global economy from which to share the injury of crop failures, a strong medical network with modern cures and treatments, and many other tools to enable our survival during extreme climate change. The Native Americans of the High Plains did not have these luxuries, and they were left with no alternative than to migrate to other areas of the continent with more hospitable climate.
Coincidentally, the modern United States is also experiencing a new influx of people emigrating from distant lands and with customs alien to the present natives of the country. Unlike the 1600s, there is an established government with a functioning law enforcement infrastructure. For the time being, the legal system remains efficient in integrating the different cultures. However, history shows us that the trajectories of a nation can change on a whim. A civil war, a repeat of the New Madrid earthquake, an uncontrollabe disease outbreak, or perhaps some other disruption could once again ignite the shifting of cultures. Will the descendants of the European settlers repeat the mistakes of the "Indians" and try to exterminate or drive off the newcomers? Will the European descendants be just as unwilling to change their culture for the newcomers as the "Indians" were to change for us? Is it even possible for cultures to merge?
No one person can provide the answers to these questions, and neither is there a person who can know how the future will play out. The past is gone, the future never arrives; all we have is the present. Our choices are made right now. We can, however, learn how the events of the past, and the decisions that were made, have given us our present moment. We can imagine that life is cyclical, and that decisions that did not work out well in the past, will likely not work out well in the present. Likewise, we can reflect on the past decisions born of good character, and which paved the way for peaceful existence.