Houses of the Illinois Confederacy

Although the tribes of the loosely constituted Illinois confederacy claimed and occupied a wide region east of the Mississippi, in later years centering in the valley of the Illinois River, nevertheless certain villages are known to have crossed and re-crossed the great river. Thus, in the early summer of 1673, Père Marquette arrived at a village of the Peoria then standing on the right Mississippi, at or near the or west bank of the later it had removed to the upper Illinois. Two months passing the Peoria, Marquette discovered another of  the Illinois tribes, the Michigamea, living near the northeastern corner of the present State of Arkansas, and consequently west of the Mississippi. On the map of Pierre van der Aa, circa 1720 two small streams are shown flowing into the Mississippi from the west, a short distance south of the Missouri. The more northerly of the two is probably intended to represent the Meramec and a dot at the north side of the mouth of the stream bears the legend: “Village des Ilinois et des Caskoukia “probably the Cahokia. This stream forms the boundary between Jefferson and St. Louis Counties, Missouri, and a short distance above its junction with the Mississippi are traces of a large villages with many stone-lined graves, probably indicating the position of the Illinois village of two centuries ago. Also on the d’Anville map, issued in the year 1755, an “Ancien Village Cahokias” is shown at a point corresponding with the mouth of the small Rivière des Pères, a stream which joins the Mississippi and there forms the southern boundary of the city of St. Louis. Until covered by railroad embankments many small mounds were visible near the mouth of the Rivière des Pères indications of old settlements were numerous, and graves encountered on the neighboring hills. These were evidently the remains of the “Ancien Village Cahokias.” The many salt springs found on the Missouri side of the Mississippi served to attract the Indians from the eastern shore.

Establishing their camps in the vicinity of the springs, they would evaporate the waters and so obtain a supply of salt, the process which continued long after the French had settled in this part of upper Louisiana.

The villages of the Illinois tribes have been described in a former publication 1

About the close of the eighteenth century many scattered bands of various tribes whose habitat was east of the Mississippi sought new homes to the westward. Especially was this true after the signing of the treaty of Greenville, Ohio, August 3, 1795. But two years before the signing of this important treaty small groups of Shawnee and Delaware crossed the river, and by the year 1793 had established a village on Apple Creek, near the Mississippi and some 40 miles south of the French settlement of Ste. Genevieve. A few years later these, or others of the same tribes, had small towns not far west of St. Louis and only a short distance south of the Missouri. Within another generation many of the remaining tribes were removed from east of the Mississippi by the Government to lands set apart for them just west of the western boundary of Missouri. But for many years after the beginning of the nineteenth century the western part of the Ozarks was occupied, or frequented, by bands of several tribes.

It seems quite evident that with the removal of the tribes from the east came certain changes in their customs and ways of life. And it is doubtful whether all attempted to erect their native form of habitations. Again, before leaving the east they had seen and constructed the log cabin of the pioneers, and it is evident similar structures were reared by them in their new homes, or at least by some of the tribes, among them the Delaware. An interesting account of one of these later settlements has been preserved, but it is very brief. It was mentioned in the journal of a dragoon, one of the command then crossing the wilderness from St. Louis to the valley of the Arkansas, and was prepared about the beginning of December, in the year 1833 “It was drawing towards the close of the day, when at a little distance we descried a cluster of huts that we imagined might be a squatter settlement, but upon a nearer approach, found it to be the remains of a log-town long since evacuated, that had formerly been the settlement of a tribe of the Delawares. The site was a beautiful one: and the associations that were connected with it as well as the many vestiges of rude art that remained about it, invested this spot with many pleasing sources of reflection. As we entered the town, our regiment slackened their pace, and slowly rode through this now silent ruin. A small space of cleared land encompassed the settlement, but scarce large enough to relieve it from the deep gloom of the lofty and surrounding forest of aged Oaks. The huts were small, containing; but one apartment, built of logs, many of which had become so decayed as to have fallen to the ground, and the whole was covered with a rich coat of moss. 2 Scattered throughout the settlement, near and between the ruined houses, stood many large oaks. On the trunks of some of these had been cut various figures and symbols by the Indians.

This Delaware village evidently stood not far from the present town of Springfield, Green County, Missouri. Just beyond it began the “Kickapoo prairie, which is the commencement of that immense chain of prairie land that extends in broken patches to the Rocky Mountains.” 3

The preceding reference to various figures cut on the trees near the deserted village tends to recall a somewhat similar allusion by Irving. On November 2, 1832, during his “Tour on the Prairies,” so he wrote: “We came out upon an extensive prairie, and about six miles to our left beheld a long line of green forest, marking the course of the north fork of the Arkansas. On the edge of the prairie, and in a spacious grove of noble trees which overshadowed a small brook were traces of an old Creek hunting camp. On the bark of the trees were rude delineations of hunters and squaws, scrawled with charcoal; together with various signs and hieroglyphics, which our half-breeds interpreted as indicating that from this encampment the hunters had returned home.” 4

It is to be regretted that all such figures should so soon have disappeared, as slid the frail structures of the native villages, leaving only fragments of pottery and bits of stone, ashes, and occasional animal bones to indicate where they had once stood.


Bushnell, David Ives. Villages of the Algonquian, Siouan and Caddoan Tribes West of the Mississippi. Published in Bulletin 77, Bureau of American Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution. Washington. 1922.

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  1. Bushnell, D. I. Jr., Native Villages and Village Sites East of the Mississippi. 69, Bureau of American Ethnology. Washington, 1919.[]
  2. Hildreth, James, Dragoon Campaigns to the Rocky Mountains. New York, 1836, pp. 70-71.[]
  3. Hildreth, James, Dragoon Campaigns to the Rocky Mountains. New York, 1836, pp. 70.[]
  4. Irving, Washington, A Tour on the Prairies. New York, 1856, p. 187.[]

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