Illinois Indian Tribes
I had the vague idea that Illinois/Illini Indians inhabited the Prairie State after the Mound Builders disappeared from the scene. But actually, the Illinois was a confederation of tribes. According to Annals of the West:
There was no particular tribe called Illini. The word Illinois is partly Indian, and partly French. The confederacy under the generic name Illinois, consisted of five tribes; the Kaskaskias, Cahokias, Tamarouas, Peorias, and Mitchigamias…This confederacy are said to have been numerous, and before the visit of Marquette and Joliet, to consist of ten or twelve thousand souls.
Through time, the Illinois confederation, like all Native American populations became greatly reduced. In fact, by 1800, the total Native population of the present-day United States had declined to approximately 600,000, and only 250,000 Native Americans remained in the 1890s. This was due, in part, because the Indians had no immunity to the small pox, chicken pox, and measles the whites had brought with them from Europe. And the situation only got worse in 1830 when Andrew Jackson signed into law the infamous Indian Removal Act.
I am sympathetic to the Indians’ plight. They were shamefully treated with trickery,** outright lies, broken treaties, the wholesale displacement of the Cherokee Nation and their forced march down the Trail of Tears, the intentional use of alcohol and small pox as weapons. Government oversight transformed proud, independent people into poverty-stricken wards of the State. It makes my blood boil.
But sometimes Indians have been romanticized as the “noble savage” to the point that we forget a few key points.
Inter-tribal warfare killed more Indians than whites ever did. The main reason the Illinois Confederation population declined was because of their wars with the Iroquois and the Chickasaws from the south and Sauks, Foxes, Kickapoos, Ottawas, and Pottawatomies from the north. By the time of my story in 1788, the Kickapoo and Pottawatomies were the tribes prevalent in the American Bottom.
The British encouraged, even incited inter-tribal warfare. In preparation for the Battle of St. Louis in 1780, Captain Charles Gautier visited all the tribes in the region, stirring up old grudges and offering tantalizing trade deals for scalps. He misled them into thinking they would be attacking Americans instead of the primarily French citizens of St. Louis, their long term allies. Broken Hand, a Sauk Chief, saw through the lies and tried to warn the tribes that the British were trying to “destroy the Indians through drink and war.” (Captains of the Wilderness 131). Later, he signed a treaty of friendship with the Americans and refused to participate in the raids.
His warnings fell on deaf ears, proving that most Indians were just as political and greedy as any other members of the human race. At various times they made alliances with the British, the French, and the Americans for their own purposes—sometimes hoping to preserve their territories and sometimes hoping to wipe out their tribal enemies. When Gov. Henry Hamilton, a.k.a. “The Hair Buyer” from Detroit offered to pay for American scalps they took the job. It was a win-win decision. They rid themselves of the encroaching settlers and got paid to do it.
I was horrified to learn that “The Hair-Buyer” even paid for women’s and children’s scalps. I feel the same hearing about Afghan terrorists using women and children as human shields or as suicide bombers. I don’t believe those Indians or today’s Afghan terrorists are inherently more brutal or violent than anyone else (just read the news). They just didn’t sign on to the rules of “civilized warfare” (an oxymoron?) like the Geneva Convention. But who was more savage? The Indians? Or Sir Henry Hamilton, a gentleman who presumably subscribed to the rules? By the way, the British continued to pay those bounties even after the war ended and the peace treaty was signed, just not directly, but through intermediaries. And thus, the Garretsons and other settlers lived in constant danger.
Back in 1776, the British in their red coats were equally horrified by the rebel colonists’ barbaric style of warfare. They didn’t wear easily identifiable uniforms and they failed to maintain proper battle formation, fighting instead from the ditches and trees. The clever Colonials had learned the advantages of guerrilla warfare from the Indians. Lest we forget, it was this “barbaric” style of war that helped us win the Revolutionary War.
War in the Illinois Country
In the future, I’ll be writing a story from the Indian’s perspective. But Once Again is obviously written from the point of view of the Garretsons and the other white settlers. To them the Indians swooping down on them with scalping knives must have seemed like terrorists on horseback.
Perkins says in Annals of the West:
The Kickapoos were the most formidable and most dangerous neighbors to the whites, and for a number of years kept the American settlements in continual alarm. At first, they appeared friendly; but from 1786 to 1796, a period of ten years, the settlements were in a continual state of alarm from these and other Indians.. . The Indians frequently stole the horses and killed the cattle of the settlers. . . This was a period of considerable mischief.
Perkins says that when James Flannery was murdered while on a hunting expedition in 1783 “it was not regarded as an act of war.” But then in 1786, the Kickapoos “commenced their course of predatory warfare.” He goes on to give a summary of the hair-raising (so to speak) attacks on the settlers.
James Smith was one of the fortunate ones. When he was taken captive, he began to pray aloud. The Indians figured he was ‘great medicine’ and didn’t kill him. As a matter of fact, when one Indian wanted to kill him, his companions killed him instead. The inhabitants of New Design settlement (south of present day Waterloo) scraped together one hundred and seventy dollars and ransomed Smith back.
Others weren’t so lucky. The history books tell snippets of their misfortunes: John Ferrel, David Waddel, James Turner, James Worley (whose scalped head was cut off), the unfortunate Mrs. Huff (see below), Joel Whiteside, John Moore, Andrew Kinney, Thomas Todd, etc. etc. The names go on and on.
Hold the Fort
About ten percent of the white population in the American Bottom were lost to Indian attacks during the ten-year time “period of mischief.” Families were obliged to built blockhouses for protection. “While laboring in the cornfield, they were obliged to carry their rifles, and often at night had to keep guard. Under these embarrassments, and in daily alarm, they cultivated their corn-fields.” (Pioneer History)
Some Settlers Suffered Multiple Attacks
As seen in Once Again, the Ogle family had more than its share of heartache. It’s not surprising they would become so fiercely antagonistic to the Indians. Captain Joseph Ogle’s niece Elizabeth and her husband James Andrews lived out on Andy’s Run (a creek about a mile from my house). Indians gained access to their cabin one night when the Andrews neglected to shut a window. They killed the husband first, then took the Andrew’s baby girl from her cradle and scalped her.
After ransacking the house, and loading themselves with such articles as they could carry, they prepared to depart, taking Mrs. Andrews with them, when the little girl at that time three years old, who had before remained perfectly quiet and unobserved, called out, “ Don’t take my mamma.” Upon hearing the cry, they returned and seized the child, and carried her with them. After traveling about a quarter of a mile Mrs. Andrews, who was in a delicate state of health, expecting soon to become the mother of another child, became unable to proceed farther, when her inhuman captors took the unhappy woman behind a tree and murdered her, leaving the body on the scene of the outrage.
–The Combined History
According to Baldwin, there were two daughters taken captive. And Captain Ogle, their uncle, through two years of skillful detective work discovered their whereabouts and was able to ransom one of the girls with the help of French traders. The other girl had not survived captivity.
Another time, Joseph and Benjamin Ogle along with William Biggs and John Vallis were attacked by the Indians while “passing from the station on the hills to the Block-house fort in the bottom.” Joseph and Benjamin escaped unhurt, but Vallis was killed and Biggs taken prisoner. Biggs was was well-treated, even offered a wife and membership in the tribe. As the author of The Combined History so delicately wrote, “he was a large and ﬁne-looking man, and was greatly admired by the Indian maidens, who were his warm friends during his captivity. He wrote and published a narrative of his adventures in 1826 and went on to become a legislator and judge.
It didn’t end so well for Rachel Moredock, a most unlucky woman. Her husband Daniel was killed by Indians in Kentucky. Undaunted, she brought her two sons to Illinois country in 1789 where she married John Ferrel. He was killed by Indians the same year. Then she married Michael Huff. Third time charmed? Not so much. They lived within the protection of Fort Piggot until he was banished for stealing from his neighbors. He was scalped “beside the Kaskaskia trail, between Prairie du Rocher and Kaskaskia.” Then Rachel married Abraham McFall, undoubtedly a brave man. Only a few weeks later, he too was scalped. Rachel gave up and headed back to Kentucky. An Indian war party attacked near Vincennes and she was killed. (Captains of the Wilderness). You can’t make this stuff up.
James Dempsey also had a rough time of it. He lost his scalp when he was attacked in 1789, surviving only because of Frances Ballew’s excellent treatment. Then in May 1791 he was almost caught again by a party of Kickapoos. He made it safely to Hull’s Fort, and then:
A party of eight men hastened in pursuit of the Indians, who were double the number of the whites. Captain Nathaniel Hull led the party, of whom the other members were James Lemen, Joseph Ogle, Benjamin Ogle, Josiah Ryan, William Bryson, John Porter, and Daniel Raper. The Indians were overtaken and a hot battle fought in the timber at the Big Spring, about five miles north of the present town of Waterloo, a short distance east of the St. Louis Road. The fight was kept up from tree to tree, the Indians endeavoring to escape, and the whites pursuing. Five of the Indians were killed, and not one of the whites was injured. (Combined History)
According to Baldwin, Benjamin Ogle got revenge for the musket ball in his shoulder by scalping one of the five dead Indians. At least I presume he was dead at the time.
Peace in the Illinois Country
Finally the ten-year war came to an end.
The subjugation of the Indians . . . by General Wayne, in 1794, and the treaty that grew out of it the following year, brought peace to the borders of Illinois, and the settlers remained unmolested from these daily alarms. A few horses were stolen from time to time, and in 1802, Joseph Vanmeter and Alexander Dennis were killed on the American bottom, but no attack was made upon the settlements. Families again took up their abodes in the borders of the prairies; emigrants from the States clustered around them, and the cultivation of the soil was pursued without fear or interruption.
–Annals of the West
Reynolds says that afterward the American Bottom experienced a golden era. With peace, the settlers finally found time to laugh and enjoy life. The settlements grew into villages and then towns. Illinois Country became the Illinois Territory and then reached statehood in 1818.
The Indians who had terrorized the Garretsons, Ogles, and other settlers migrated and then migrated again. Until 1832 when Sauk Chief Black Hawk and his tribe crossed back over the Mississippi into Illinois, hoping to resettle there. The Black Hawk War that ensued, marked the end of Indian armed resistance to U.S. expansion in the Old Northwest. And the war gave Andrew Jackson the impetus to pass the Indian Removal bill, forcing Indian tribes to sell their lands east of the Mississippi River.
Much more detailed information about Indian tribes in Illinois may be found HERE.
Annals of the West by James Handasyd Perkins and James R. Albach. (1852)
Captains of the Wilderness. Carl R. Baldwin. (1986)
The Pioneer History of Illinois by Illinois governor John Reynolds. (1887)
The History of the Lemen Family of Illinois and Virginia by Frank B. Lemen (1898)
Echoes Of Their Voices” A Saga Of The Pioneers Who Pushed The Frontier Westward To the Mississippi by Carl R. Baldwin
* Lest I be considered a politically incorrect barbarian, I am aware that “Native American” is the more accepted label for most. It is, however, totally inappropriate for use in Once Again. For one, in 1788 the term hadn’t been invented yet. For another, it really clogs up an otherwise fluid fictional sentence. Most importantly, many Native Americans today say they actually prefer the term “Indian.” And since that’s what I grew up with, that’s what I’ll use here. No disrespect is meant at all. As a matter of fact, I myself have Indian blood from both sides of my family.
** While researching for Every Hill and Mountain, I was saddened to discover that my hero Thomas Jefferson employed a cruel means of taking the Equality salt springs away from the Shawnee. He didn’t send soldiers with guns as his cabinet members suggested. Instead, he advised his Illinois Country representatives to sell goods to the Indians on easy credit. Eventually, they racked up enough debt that they couldn’t pay, and they were forced to forfeit the land.It would be so nice of you to share!