Which Native American Tribes Once Lived In Southernmost Illinois?

There were a number of Native American tribes once thriving in southernmost Illinois before European settlers started to drive them away from their lands. They built surprisingly complex societies, most of which were much bigger and more expansive than we think. North America was home to a vast network of such societies. Sometimes they would war with one another. Sometimes they would set up trade routes with one another. But who were they?

The Chippewa tribe made our history books because they were part of treaties that would give up their claim to the land in southern Illinois in 1795, 1816, 1829, and 1833. They were also found on the outskirts of Lake Huron and Lake Superior, and had settlements in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. They were feared as one of the most war-ready and fearsome tribes.

American settlers often knew the Meskwaki tribe as another name: the Fox. They were a part of the Sauk culture in the same region. They too lived in the area around the Great Lakes, especially in Illinois. In the early eighteenth century they were on the defensive because of wars with the French. When the United States was formed, they were once again put on the defensive by our encroaching settlements.

Europeans probably wouldn’t have happened upon the Kickapoo tribe until sometime near the end of the seventeenth century because of their migrations. First contact probably occurred in the midst of the La Salle Expeditions when the French started to establish fur trading outposts near their lands. After the U.S. was formed, the tribe sold much of their land and migrated yet again.

The Illinois tribe was more of an umbrella with other smaller tribes underneath, most of which would comprise the Illinois Confederation. It was eventually destroyed due to a combination of factors. The two most substantial were infectious disease brought by caucasian settlers and war made on them by other tribes. The Illinois survived until then by settling almost-permanent villages. When the weather turned cold, they would transition to hunting camps.

There were likely tens of thousands of Wyandot tribespeople when contact with caucasian settlers was made in the early seventeenth century. First contact actually occurred about a century earlier when they met Samuel de Champlain during his explorative travels. They too suffered greatly due to European diseases.

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