Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Great Plains Indians in Illinois before the French Colonization of the Mississippi Valley in the mid-1600s.

The Illiniwek Indian tribe was a Confederacy of tribes [aka: Illini and Illinois (pronounced as plural: Illinois')]; consisted of the KaskaskiaCahokiaPeoria, Tamaroa, Moingwena, Michigamea, Chepoussa, Chinkoa, Coiracoentanon, Espeminkia, Maroa, and Tapouara tribes. These three former bands of tribes, the Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Peoria, occupied villages bearing their respective names, and the two latter lived north of Peoria Lake.

Much of what we know today about the early history of the Great Plains Indian tribes is from the French explorers recording some of the Indian tribes' verbal history that are passed down through specially trained storytellers who were forbidden from changing a single word.
Great Plains Indians west of the Mississippi River.
According to the statements of early French explorers in the mid-1600s, these Indians were the most numerous of all the tribes of the western frontier in the Mississippi Valley, occupying almost the entire territory now included within the State of Illinois boundaries.

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 were their hunting-grounds, including the area known as Chécagou or Chicagou. Over this country herds of buffalo, elk and deer roamed for their benefit, and the many rivers were navigated only by their bark canoes. The French arrived in Chicago in the latter quarter of the 1600s.

The smoke from their camp-fires could be seen ascending, and the lonely forest groves reechoed their wild war screams. These Indians had many villages on the Illinois River, the largest and most important one, called La Vantum, which was located near the present site of Utica (Starved Rock). On account of the abundance of game (Illinois was known as the buffalo country), neighboring tribes frequently made this their hunting-ground, and although the Illinois Indians were not a warlike people, they would still resent an encroachment on their rights, consequently, many bloody battles were fought with the aggressors. More than 350 years 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 in the American Bottom.

Near the village La Vantum, on the banks of the Illinois River and partly surrounded by a marshy outlet, 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 gathered here engaged in religious exercises, while squaws with their children in papooses (used to carry a child on one's back) 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 the ways of holiness, and receiving their annual offerings. While engaged in their services they were suddenly attacked by a large body of Potawatomi. Being taken by surprise, and unarmed, defense or escape appeared impossible, and many a brave warrior sang his death song and submitted to his fate. A few escaped by swimming the river, but most of them, including the women and children, fell as easy prey to the victorious enemy. Most of them were slain.
In 1493, on Columbus’ second voyage to the Americas, Spanish horses, representing Equus ferus caballus, were brought to North America, first in the Virgin Islands, and then in 1519, they were reintroduced on the continent, in modern-day Mexico, from where they radiated throughout the American Great Plains, after escape from their owners or by pilfering.
The victors collected all the valuables of the vanquished, including arms, clothing, camp equipment, furs, pelts, etc., loading them on horses, and with their spoils left for their homes on the Wabash River. The date of this tragical affair is not known, but it was before the French arrived or the future 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 reportedly strewn with human bones.

The Seneca Iroquois, a part of the Six Nations or Iroquois League (Haudenosaunee) moved down from the Ontario region to New York well before the American Revolution.
Famous Seneca Chief of the Union of Six Nations (Iroquois League), Red Jacket.
The Iroquois made frequent raids on the tribes of the Illinois prairie, destroying their villages, killing women and their children, and carrying away large quantities of pelts, furs, etc., which they sold to English traders. According to tradition, in one of those raids, they imprisoned 800 Indians, mostly women and children, marching them to their village on the bank of Seneca Lake in New York and then burning them to death. 

The Iroquois, having been trading with the British (or "English," as they call them) at Albany, New York, had armed themselves with muskets, which gave them a target distance advantage over the Illinois, who used only bows and arrows at this time period. 
NOTE: The Great Plains Indians could shoot six arrows to every one shot from a musket. {{Matchlock guns, used in the 1400s, were fired by holding a burning wick to a "touch hole" in the barrel igniting the powder inside. In 1509 the wheel lock was invented, generating a spark mechanically. With no wick to keep lit, the wheel lock was easier to use, and more reliable than the matchlock. The flintlock ignition system, beginning in 1630, reigned for two centuries, with virtually no alteration.}}
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 Illinois were rich in horses, furs, pelts, trinkets, etc., and the robbers would return loaded with the spoils of battle. One time they brought back over 300 horses loaded with valuables. It is said the traders at Albany encouraged these robberies by furnishing the Iroquois with war implements, liquor, and buying the stolen goods.

On account of the frequent raids on the Illinois tribes, they became reduced in numbers, which caused them to fall easy prey to the neighboring tribes for some years after. A number of tribes combined, forming an alliance against the Illinois Indians, which resulted in near annihilation, and the occupation of the prairie country by the victors.

The Great Plains tribes formed the "Illinois Confederacy(aka: Illiniwek or Illini), to strengthen their numbers. The tribes included the Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Peoria, Tamaroa, Moingwena, Michigamea, Chepoussa, Chinkoa, Coiracoentanon, Espeminkia, Maroa, and Tapouara.

Additional Reading: Click on the hyperlinks provided in the article.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

1 comment:

  1. Well done! It's a tough era to research in this area. Most will call it "pre-history" and move on. Thank you for taking the time to dig!.


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