Adapted from Pioneers of Illinois pages 24-27
The Illinois Indians were of the Algonquin family, and consisted of five bands or semi-tribes, named as follows: Kaskaskians, Cahokias, Peorias, Tamaroas, and Michigamies.
The three former bands occupied villiages bearing their respectivenames, and the two latter the country north of Peoria Lake. According to the statement of early French explorers, these Indians were the most numerous of all the tribes of the West, occupying almost the entire territory now included within the State of illinois. Along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, from the mouth of Ohio to Lake Michigan, their villages were found at short intervals, and the vast country east and west of these rivers was their hunting grounds. Over this country herds of buffalo, elk, and deer roamed for their benefit, and they many rivers were navigated only by their bark canoes. From the many groves the smoke from their campfires was seen to ascend, and the lonely forest reechoed their wild war whoops. These Indians had many towns on the Illinois river, the largest and most important one, called La Vantum, located near the present site of Utica, and account of which will be given in the succeeding chapter.
On account of abundance of game (Illinois being known as the buffalo country), neighboring tribes frequently made this their hunting ground, and although the Illinois Indians were not a warlike people, still they would resent an encroachment on their rights, consequently many bloody battles were fought with the aggressors.
More than a century ago the northern bands of the Illinois Indians became extinct, therefore most of their traditions are lost, still there are some things relating to them preserved by the French pioneers which are related by their descendants now living on the American Bottom.
Massacre of Indians
According to the tradition, there was a large Indian village on the east side of the Illinois river, a short distance above the head of Peoria lake. Near this village, on the bank of the river and partly surrounded by a bayou, was a place where the Indians held their annual religious feasts. On this ground was erected an altar, containing images of the different gods, and around which the Indians knelt in prayer while offering up sacrifices. At one of these feasts all the warriors of the village and many from neighboring ones were collected here engaged in religious exercises, while squaws and papooses stood looking on, and mingling their voices in songs of praise. The warriors, dispossessed of their arms, were engaged in devotion, the priests exhorting them in ways of holiness, and receiving their annual offerings. While thus engaged they were suddenly attacked by a large body of Pottawatomies and most of them slain. Being taken by surprise, and unarmed, defense of escpate appeared impossible, and many a brave warrior sand his death song and submitted to his fate. A few escaped by swimming the river, but the most of them, including squaws and papooses, fell an easy prey to the victorious enemy.
The victors collected all the valuables of the vanquished, including arms, clothing, camp equipage, furs, pelts, etc., loading them on ponies, and with their spoils left for their homes on the Wabash. The date of this tragical affair is not known, but it was before the advent of the French, or the raids on these Indians by the Iroquois. For some time after the French came to this country, the ground where this massacre took place was strewn with human bones.
Raid of the Iroquois
The Iroquois Indians from the East made frequent raids on the Illinoisans, destroying their towns, killing squaws, and papooses, and carying away large quantities of pelts, furs, etc., which they sold to English traders. According to the tradition, in one of those raids they carried off eight hundred prisoners, mostly squaws and papooses, and burned them at their village on the bank of Seneca Lake. The Iroquois, having been in trade with the English at Albany, had armed themselves with rifles, which gave them great advantage of the Illinoisans, who used bows and arrows only. These frequent raids of the Iroquois were for spoil only, and not for conquest, as they made no effort to take possession of the country. The Illinoisans were rich in ponies, furs, pelts, trinkets, etc., and the robbers would return loaded with spoil, and at one time, they brought back three hundred ponies loaded with valuables. It is said the traders at Albany encouraged these robberies by furnishing the Iroquois with war implements, and buying the stolen goods.
On account of the frequent raids on the Illinoisans they became reduced in numbers, which caused them to fall an easy prey to the neighboring tribes some years afterward. A little over a century ago, a number of tribes combined, forming an alliance against the Illinois Indians, which resulted in their annhilation, and the occupation of the country by the victors.