Illinois Indians

This article provides a comprehensive overview of the Illinois Indians, a group belonging to the Algonquian linguistic family closely related to the Chippewa and Miami tribes. The Illinois Indians historically lived along the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, with some divisions extending as far south as northeastern Arkansas. The article details the various tribes within the Illinois group, including the Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Michigamea, Moingwena, Peoria, and Tamaroa, along with their respective villages and subdivisions. It recounts significant historical events, such as the French encounters in the late 17th century, wars with neighboring tribes, and the eventual decline of the Illinois population due to conflict and displacement. The Illinois Indians’ legacy includes their contribution to the state’s name and various geographical names across the United States. The article also provides population estimates over time, highlighting the significant reduction in their numbers by the early 20th century.

“Illinois” is a native word signifying “men,” “people.” The people referred by this name were also called:

  • Chicktaghicks, by the Iroquois
  • Geghdageghroano, by the Iroquois
  • Kighetawkigh Roanu, by the Iroquois
  • Oudataouatouat, applied by the Wyandot to the Ottawa and later to the Illinois.
  • Witishaxtanu, the Huron name for the Illinois and Miami, from Ushaxtdno, “Illinois River.”

The Illinois Indians belonged to the Algonquian linguistic family, and were more closely connected with the Chippewa than with any other Algonquian tribe, except the Miami.

Illinois Indians Location

In historic times the Illinois Indians lived principally along the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, one division, the Michigamea, being as far south as northeastern Arkansas. (See also Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.)

Illinois Indians Villages and Subdivisions

The Illinois were in reality a group of related tribes, of which the best known are the following:

  • Cahokia, later home about Cahokia, Ill.
  • Kaskaskia, before 1700 near the present Utica, La Salle County, later at or near Kaskaskia, Illinois.
  • Michigamea, probably on Big Lake, between the St. Francis and Mississippi Rivers, Arkansas.
  • Moingwena, in Iowa near the mouth of Des Moines River.
  • Peoria, their early location probably in northeastern Iowa, later near the present Peoria.
  • Tamaroa, on both sides of Mississippi River about the mouths of the Illinois and Missouri.

The following were perhaps minor Illinois tribes:

  • Albivi, given by only one writer and it is doubtful whether this was a true Illinois band.
  • Amonokoa, mentioned by Hennepin, 1680.
  • Chepoussa, probably a band from Kaskaskia River connected with the Michigamea.
  • Chinko, mentioned by Allouez and La Salle.
  • Coiracoentanon, mentioned by La Salle.
  • Espeminkia, mentioned by La Salle.
  • Tapouaro, mentioned by La Salle.

The villages noted in history are:

  • Cahokia, near the present Cahokia.
  • Immaculate Conception, a mission among the Kaskaskia, near Rockford. Kaskaskia, as given above.
  • Matchinkoa, 30 leagues from Fort Crevecoeur, near the present Peoria. Moingwena, as given above.
  • Peoria, as given above.
  • Pimitoui, on Illinois River near the mouth of Fox River in La Salle County.

History of the Illinois Indians

In 1667 the French priest Allouez met a party of Illinois Indians who had come to La Pointe on Lake Superior to trade. In 1673 Marquette, while descending the Mississippi, found the Peoria and Moingwena west of the river near the mouth of the Des Moines, but before his return they had moved to the neighborhood of the present Peoria, and most of the other Illinois tribes, except the Mitchigamea, were then on Illinois River. In 1700 the Kaskaskia moved to southern Illinois and settled on Kaskaskia River. About the time of La Salle’s visit in 1682 the Illinois were at war with a number of neighboring peoples, and the Iroquois, who were then just beginning raids against them, caused them heavy losses in the succeeding years.

The murder of Pontiac by a Kaskaskia Indian set the northern tribes in motion against the Illinois and in the ensuing wars the latter were reduced to a fraction of their former strength and the Sauk, Foxes, Kickapoo, and Potawatomi dispossessed them of the greater part of their territories. The remnant settled near the French at Kaskaskia, where they continued to decline in numbers until, in 1800, only about 150 were left. In 1832 the survivors sold their lands and removed west of the Mississippi, to the present Kansas, whence they removed again in 1867 and became consolidated with the Wea and Piankashaw in the northeastern corner of the present State of Oklahoma.

Population of Illinois Indians

Mooney (1928) estimated that in 1650 the Illinois numbered about 8,000. About 1680 Hennepin gives 400 houses and 1,800 warriors. Rasles estimated 300 cabins of 4 fires each, indicating a population of 9,000, which is probably excessive. About the year 1750 there were supposed to be from 1,500 to 2,000 souls. In 1778 the Kaskaskia numbered 210 and the Peoria and Michigamea together 170. In 1800 all these were reduced to 150. In 1885 the mixed-blood remnant in Indian territory, including the Wea and Piankashaw, numbered 149, and in 1905, 195. The census of 1910 gave 128, of whom 114 were in Oklahoma, and the census, of 1930, 284 Illinois and Miami. In 1937 there were 370 “Peoria” in Oklahoma.

Connection in which the Illinois Indians have become noted:

The chief claim of the Illinois to distinction is the adoption of its name for an important branch of the Mississippi and more particularly its later adoption as the name of the State of Illinois. The name is also given geographical application in Arkansas, ‘Texas, Oregon, and Oklahoma. The name appears in Illinois Bend, Montague County, Tex.; Illinois City, Rock Island County, Ill.; and Illiopolis, Sangamon County, Ill.

Swanton, John R. The Indian Tribes of North America. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 145. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office. 1953.

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