The Decline of the Illini and the Era of Treaties & Lies
The decline of the Illiniwek seemed to begin with the arrival of the French
but it is not correct to assume cause and effect. Even though the
French initially quarreled with the Iroquois Confederacy
which hounded the Illiniwek, the French eventually came to
terms with the Five Nations. More complicated factors were at work.
In the middle of the Seventeenth Century, the Illini lost five hundred
warriors to a Winnebago plot that was later avenged. This was
a significant loss that could not be easily replaced.
At the time Marquette and Joliet first encountered the Illini,
the latter were living in eastern Iowa. Some have since argued
that the Illinois had fled across the Mississippi to escape
the Iroquois. That is not unreasonable because that is precisely
what happened during Tonti's residence on the Illinois
River at Fort St Louis. Others contend that the Illini whom
Marquette and Joliet met in Iowa were in fact in hunting
camps, and that they had not fled Iroquois predation. In either
event, the Illiniwek fought a series of wars against the Iroquois
that reduced the population of the Illinois and limited their
military effectiveness. In one incident alone, the Iroquois carried
off 700 Illini, many of whom were women and children. Most
were tortured and killed; a few were adopted. While the loss
of warriors limited military effectiveness and made the Illinois
villages unsafe, the loss of so many women and children
made it virtually impossible for the Illini population to
regain its former numbers.
The Illini constantly warred with the Fox. This warlike Wisconsin
nation made continual forays against the Illini which the
Illini were glad to return. The illini lost not only
warriors but as often women and children to these raids.
Even though the Fox were greatly
reduced in the
Battle of the Fox Fort, the Illini also lost warriors whom could not be
replaced. When the Illini entered into their final decline
in the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Century,
the rejuvenated Fox, their Sauk kinsmen, the Kickapoos and
the Potawatomi occupied the Illinois river
valley that was once the heart of the Illini country.
The Sioux, then resident in Minnesota and Wisconsin, also
continually warred with the Illinois. These Lakota, Dakota,
and Nakota people were given the name "Sioux" from a
corruption of the Algonquin term "nardessioux" which means
"enemy". These men who later become among the greatest
mounted plains warriors, then used the canoe rather
than the horse. They traveled down the Mississippi in
powerful flotillas to make war with the Illinois. Needless
to say, this too took a serious toll.
In the Eighteenth Century when even the Illinois themselves
must have realized that constant warfare was decimating
them, they continued to engage in warfare with other
native nations. The French actively encouraged the Illini,
then settled near Fort de Chartres in what is now
southwestern Illinois, to raid the Chickasaws of western
Tennessee and northern Mississippi. The Chickasaw were
alligned with the British and threatened French
communication lines between New Orleans and Montreal.
Once more the Illini lost not only warriors on
the warpath, but women and children to the reprisal raids of
the Chickasaw. The Illini population now was greatly reduced
over the numbers encountered by early French explorers.
Centuries of brutal warfare had taken an inevitable toll. And now with
their populations reduced and their ability to protect themselves
greatly hampered, the tribes of the Illini Confederation faced a danger
greater than the Sioux, Fox, Chickasaw and Iroquois combined.
An invasion force gathered itself just across the Appalachian Mountains.
The Great White Fathers
The Illiniwek had alligned themselves with the French since first contact
with Marquette and Joliet. In 1754, a young Virginian named George Washington
led a force of Virginia troops and Native American auxilliaries in what
Vietnam veterans would call a reconnassaince in force. They surprised
a small French detachment. Its commander, Sieur de Jumonville,
was killed and scalped. The French later defeated Washington
at nearby Fort Necessity and forced him to surrender.
Those incidents led to the French and Indian War.
When the French went to war against the British,
the Illiniwek remained loyal to France.
Illinois warriors went as far afield as Virginia in service
of the French king. But with the defeat of the Marquis de Montcalm
on the Plains of Abraham above Quebec, the world of the
Algonquin nations--the Illiniwek included--was changed forever.
The Treaty of Paris--1763
No longer was King Louis the Great White Father of the Indians of the Middle
Ground. The defeat of France in the New World and Old changed all of that. That honor, together with all of the land that made
up present-day Canada and the present states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin,
went to King George of England. The Illiniwek had lost their only European ally
who had demonstrated any affection for them at all, the French,
and found themselves confronted with the British who coveted
the very ground on which the Illini stood. The slow decline of the
Illiniwek would now snowball. For the full text of the Treaty of Paris,
The Northwest Ordinance of 1787
King George would not enjoy his reign as Great White Father for long.
The defeat of the British at the hands of the colonials and the
establishment of the United States of America ended His
Britannic Majesty's sovereignty south of Canada. The role of
Great White father now passed to whomever happened to be in charge
over the Thirteen Colonies. Of course that first meant George Washington. (For a great
examination of Washington's Indian dealings and attitudes, see Eric Miller's excellent
Caunotaucarius: George Washington and Indians.)
The Ordinance of 1787 could not be faulted in its tone or timber. It
guaranteed perpetual sovereignty to the Indians west of the Appalachians. Their lands could not be taken
without their consent. Furthermore they would never
be "invaded or disturbed." That was theory. Practice proved to
be something else again. They would learn as the Narragansett, the Pequot, the Abenaki
and other eastern nations had learned, that these treaties were never kept.
Full text of the Northwest Ordinance courtesy of the Yale University Law School.
War between the Fifteen Fires and the Nations of the Ohio Valley
The new United States made relentless war against the tribes of the upper Ohio Valley.
A steady stream of settlers had crossed the Appalachians to
settle in Kentucky and along the Ohio River. Never mind that
these lands had been granted "in perpetuity" to the First Nations--
the Shawnee, Miami, Piankeshaw, Wea, and Illiniwek. In spite of the clear aboriginal title (confirmed
with due solemnity by the Northwest ordinance) of the First
Nations to these lands, the fledgling U.S. government for some
reason felt duty-bound to protect the newly arrived settlers from the people
whose lands had been wrongly taken. A series of military
In 1790, General Josiah Harmar made war on the confederacy of First Nations
led by the Miami and their chief Michikinqua (Little Turtle). Constant fighting between the Ohio Valley warriors and the
newly arrived settlers in Kentucky and southern Ohio
demanded a military response, or so the new government of
the United States thought. Little Turtle
routed Harmar's force near the Maumee River in present-day
Ohio, and inflicted very heavy losses on the American troops.
The Thirteen Fires would try again.
Next to march against the Ohio Valley nations was General Arthur St. Clair whom President George Washington
appointed to replace Harmar. St. Clair began cautiously enough. He raided a few
Piankeshaw, Wea, and Kickapoo villages (probably in the lower Wabash River basin)
and quickly developed a false sense of confidence. When he finally met the confederated
warriors under Little Turtle, St. Clair's force was annihilated. General Butler, second in command to St. Clair was killed and
over half of the American troops likewise were killed. St. Clair managed to escape on a
packhorse (after three mounts had been shot from beneath him). Washington still needed
ton find another general.
Enter "Mad Anthony" Wayne
Anthony Wayne was a much wiser man than either Harmar or St. Clair. From
1792 to 1794, Wayne drilled and trained his army. In that day of short
term enlistments, such preparation was very unusual. When at last he considered his
force ready to march, Wayne commande a cohesive, disciplined force.
The Indians too had a change of leaders. Little Turtle realized that Wayne was a
man of much greater ability than Harmar and St. Clair. He advised the nations to
negotiate for peace. His counsel was rejected and Blue Jacket of the Shawnee
was selected to led the Ohio Valley confederation warriors.
When Wayne crossed the Ohio River and marched northward, he proceeded
with caution. He established a series of forts to protect his
lines of communications, something that had not occured to St. Clair.
Wayne likewise maintained discipline on the march. Whereas St. Clair's
army trailed a contingent of camp followers and hangers-on (hoping for goodness
knows what), Wayne's force marched in military order without civilians to encumber
them. At last Wayne's forces clashed with Blue Jacket's warriors at
a ruined woods that had been destroyed by a storm near the present site of Toledo, Ohio.
This was called Fallen Timbers.
Much has been written about the Battle of Fallen Timbers. In the end, superior numbers, superior firepower,
and prudent leadership by Wayne resulted in an American victory and defeat of Blue Jacket's
warriors. The defeat of the confederated tribes at Fallen Timbers opened the Ohio Valley to settlement in
spite of the guarantees of the Northwest Ordinance.
The Treaty of Greenville
The Treaty of Greenville marked the end of Native American habitation of the Ohio Valley.
It is a complex document that reaffirmed earlier treaties and
provided for more cessation of lands from the indians to the United States.
The Illiniwek gave up the following land as a result:
six square miles at the mouth of the Chicago River;
twelve square miles at the mouth of the Illinois River (near present-day Alton, Illinois); and
six square miles at the site of the old Peoria fort and the old fort of Massac
on the Ohio River (in present-day Metropolis, Illinois). But
the big loss was 150,000 acres of land to be alloted to American veterans.
For their part, the Kaskaskia received $500. The Treaty of Greenville marked
the conquest of the eastern tribes by the United States. All
that was left was mopping up. That would not be long in coming.
- Speech of Tarhe (The Crane), Wyandot Leader, to the treaty assembly at Greenville, courtesy of the University of Kansas.
The Treaty of Vincennes
Today visitors from Illinois cross the Wabash River on the
Red Skelton Bridge. The town itself lies along and south of U.S. Route 50.
It was here that William Henry Harrison ("Old Tippecanoe") as Governor
of the Indiana Territory met with the leaders of the
Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Michigamea, and Tamaroa. That delegation was headed by Ducoigne,
the Kaskaskia chief. A treaty was concluded that demonstrated
the virtual helplessness of the Illiniwek. They surrendered
gave up all of the territory south of the Illinois River and
east of the Mississippi River, west of the Wabash River, and
north of the Ohio River. That is more than one-third of the present
State of Illinois. In return, the Indians received two tracts
of land of 250 acres and 1280 acres which would belong to them "forever."
The United States agreed to provide for the Kaskaskia and to take the tribe under
the government's "care and protection." Chief Jean Baptiste Ducoigne was
given 100 acres and a house. In all, the Illiniwek had given up title to
about 8,912,000 acres of land. They received in addition to the tracts of land aforementioned,
The Treaty of Edwardsville--1818: The End of the Illini Confederation
Because the Peoria tribe had not been a part of the Treaty of Vincennes,
it was necessary to conclude a separate treaty with them. The other Illini tribes
also took part.
Ninian Edwards and Auguste Choteau conducted negotiations for the
United States. On September 25, 1818, the Peoria agreed to the cessations
of the Treaty of Vincennes. For their part, the Peoria would receive a tract
of 640 acres on the Blackwater River in Missouri. At this time, the
Peoria already lived at that location. The Illinois nation was further
guaranteed a payment of $2000 with an additional annuity to be
awarded to the Peoria. Total cost for the United States: $6,400.
The Treaty of Edwardsville marks the last occasion at which the Illini
acted as a nation and at which all five of the principal
tribes--Kaskaskia, Peoria, Cahokia, Tamaroa, and Michigamea--
The Treaty of Castor Hill--1832
In 1832, the Peoria and Kaskaskia tribes met with United States officials in St. Louis.
Also present were representatives of a united band made up of the remnants
of the Cahokia, Michigamea, and Tamaroa. In exchange for lands
in southeastern Kansas, near the Shawnee Reserve, the Illinois
people gave up all of their lands in Illinois and Missouri.
The Illiniwek were now removed from their ancient homeland and
on their way to "Indian Country." The once mighty Illini would
now be "Strangers in a strange land."
- Scott, J. (1973) The Illinois Nation. Streator Historical
Society, Streator, Illinois.
- Eckhert, Allen The Bloody River (complete citation forthcoming).
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