Saturday, August 4, 2018

The Kaskaskia Indian Reservation in Illinois.

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The Kaskaskia Indian Reservation, just west of Murphysboro in Jackson County, Illinois, has been all but forgotten.

The name Kaskaskia is the anglicized version of the tribal term "Kaskaskahamwa," which means "he who scrapes it off using a tool." The Kaskaskia tribe was part of the once-powerful Illinois Confederacy.

The Illinois (aka Illiniwek or Illini) is pronounced as plural: (The Illinois') was a Confederacy of Indian tribes consisting of the Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Peoria, Tamarais (Tamaroa, Tamarois), Moingwena, Mitchagamie (Michigamea), Chepoussa, Chinkoa, Coiracoentanon, Espeminkia, Maroa, and Tapouara tribes that were of the Algonquin family. They spoke Iroquoian languages. The Illinois called themselves "Ireniouaki" (the French word was Ilinwe).

In 1673, representatives of the French government came to The Illinois County and observed where the native tribes were living. They discovered that the Kaskaskia were living in the vicinity of the present-day city of Peoria; the Peoria were living on the western, or Missouri, side of the Mississippi River, just south of Alton; the Cahokia was near Wood River; the Tamaroa lived between East St. Louis and Alton, and the Mitchigamie lived in the southern tip of the state.

Jean Baptiste Ducoigne, Kaskaskia chief, was born in 1750 to a French father and a Tamoroa Indian mother. He was baptized as an infant at the Church of St. Anne outside of Fort de Chartres (after whom the Perry County town of DuQuoin is named). Ducoigne was made chief of the Tamaroas in 1767. It was the same year the Illinois Confederacy dissolved when Indians from the Michigan tribe murdered notable Chief Pontiac. In retaliation, the other tribes drove the Michigans onto Starved Rock (<--- fact or fiction?) and starved them to death.
Chief Jean Baptiste Ducoigne was born in 1750. At 17, he was named the chief of the Kaskaskia Indian tribe. As chief, he actively participated in the Revolutionary War by traveling from Illinois Country to Virginia to meet with Thomas Jefferson and General Marquis de Lafayette. He was also instrumental in negotiating treaties with the government to secure land for the Chaokias, Tamaroas and Kaskaskia Indian tribes. The city of DuQuoin is named in honor of him.
The tribes of the Illinois Confederacy were rivals of the Iroquois, Sioux, and, most notably, the Shawnee. The best-known battle between these tribes occurred in 1802 and was fought between the Kaskaskia and Shawnee. Both tribes constantly fought over hunting grounds. It was mutually decided to hold one final battle, with the winner dominating the contested grounds. The Shawnee, who lived along the Wabash River, met the Kaskaskia at the Big Muddy River in present-day Franklin County. The battle ensued, and the Shawnee drove the Kaskaskia within twenty miles of the old French city to which the latter tribe gave its name.

The Kaskaskia were nearly annihilated. After the defeat of the Kaskaskia, the supremacy of the Illinois Confederacy over their rivals continued to diminish. By 1832, almost 70 years after moving from Peoria to Fort de Chartres to seek protection, the Illinois Confederacy barely numbered 300. Those who remained were on a half-mile wide by two-mile-long reservation along the Big Muddy River in Sand Ridge Township -- The Kaskaskia Reservation.

Their stay at Sand Ridge was a short one. After a few months along the banks of the Big Muddy, the surviving members of the Kaskaskia, Peoria, Cahokia, Tamaroa, and Mitchigamie tribes signed a treaty on October 27, 1832, with the United States at Castor Hill, near St. Louis. The treaty was signed by William Clark, Co-Captain of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. He was then employed as the government's western Indian agent after his return from the Voyage of Discovery. Clark was regarded by natives and the government as being very fair and honest. Among others who signed on behalf of the government were Pierre Menard and Clark's son, Meriwether Lewis Clark.

In this treaty, the Confederacy ceded all lands the tribes held in Illinois. In exchange, the tribes received 96,000 acres in northeastern Kansas, promised to be theirs forever. Besides this land in Kansas, the Peoria, the name the tribes collectively adopted after signing the treaty, received an annual payment of cash or farm supplies, whichever they preferred, for improvements to the land at Sand Ridge and the area surrounding Fort de Chartres. 

Chief Ducoigne's daughter, Ellen, could keep 350 acres in northern Ora Township, given to her and her white husband by Ducoigne.
The Jean Baptiste Ducoigne house at Kaskaskia.
Shortly after the treaty was signed, the ragged Indians were rounded up and led west by a local man known only by the name of Worthen. In Kansas, the renamed Peoria were given farm implements as foreign to them as the land itself. The tribes of the former Illinois Confederacy never fully adjusted from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to that of farmers. On the Great Plains, they continued to decline. In 1950, only 439 Indians remained out of the twelve native tribes of Illinois.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 


  1. I must question your account of the 1802 battle between the Shawnee and the Kaskaskia, although a marker does commemorate the alleged location near West Frankfort. Are you aware of any contemporary mention of this supposed event? I have found none. During this time the letters of Governor WH Harrison complain of incessant raids on the Kaskaskia by the Kickapoo of central Illinois, but documentation of any presence by the Shawnee in southern Illinois is very sparse. I suspect that the legend of southern Illinois as the domain of the Shawnee dates to a time after the Civil War, when the tribes were long gone from Illinois, the early settlers who had known them were all dead, and their descendants offhandedly dubbed any Indians remembered in family lore as “Shawnee.” The Shawnee were in fact primarily an Ohio and Northern Kentucky tribes, and when they moved west they hopped over Illinois directly to Missouri. It is possibly significant that when the tribe filed for compensation for lost lands before the Indian Claims Commission, they did not make any claim for former lands in Illinois. It is by no means impossible that Shawnee hunting or even war parties wandered into Illinois, and this story, which seems to have originated in the county histories of the 1870s, might possibly have some basis in fact, but until some contemporary documentation is discovered, it should be regarded as suspect.

    1. Read more: Native tribes of Southern Illinois. Shawnee National Forest.
      An official website of the United States government.


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