By Audrey L. Muschler
The Illinois Indians ((Iliniwek) occupied the Chicago region as far back as history records. The Illinois were driven from the area by the Iroquois. The Miami took their place in the Chicago region and were crowded southward by the Pottawatomi as they began migrating south from the Green Bay area in Wisconsin shortly after 1678.
The Pottawatomi were the most powerful tribe at the foot of Lake Michigan from near the close of the 17th Century until they were forced across the Mississippi River in 1835, never to return in numbers.
As the Indians left no written records, Indian history is incomplete and their presence here seems almost a myth. Materials for the history which exists have been exhumed from one-sided military reports, missionary narratives, a few personal journals, fragmentary newspapers sketches and correspondence accidentally preserved.
Early fur traders followed trails of the Indian villages but preserved no record of their business tours to answer inquires of the present day.
The French were the first white people known to these tribes. When the bitter competition for the furs and lands began between the French and British, both sides attempted to win over the Indian tribes, or to incite them to acts of hostility against the other. While neither the British nor the French considered the welfare of the Indians themselves, the Pottawatomi joined the French and maintained an unswerving loyalty to them.
In 1769, the Pottawatomi joined with the Ottawa in warfare against the Illinois to avenge the death of Pontiac, an Ottawa chief. The Illinois, who had not recovered from the earlier siege of the Iroquois, were almost completed exterminated in the battle of Starved Rock.
Ten years after the Treaty of Paris in 1783, which recognized the independence of the United States, the British seemed to have no intention of giving up forts and leaving American soil. The fur trade was highly profitable. In order to maintain themselves in their posts, the British kept the Indians supplied with liquor, trinkets and arms. Consequently, after 1783, the Indians, egged on by the British, often attacked the frontiersmen.
The border troubles continued to the close of General Anthony Wayne's successful campaign against the confederated Indian tribes at the Battle of Fallen Timbers (near Toledo) in 1794. As a result of the defeat, the Pottawatomi and the Miami took part in the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, which resulted, along with other cessions, in the ceding to the government of a plot of ground six miles square at the mouth of the Chicago River.
When war was declared in 1812 between Great Britain and the United States, the Pottawatomi joined the British. On August 15, 1812, the Pottawatomi massacred the occupants at the garrison at Fort Dearborn after promising the inhabitants safe escort to Fort Wayne.
In 1816, at St. Louis, the Pottawatomi, Ottawa and Chippewa ceded a long strip of land twenty miles in width southwestward from Lake Michigan to the Kankakee River to provide for a canal between the lake and the Illinois River for $1,000. This strip was to provide safe passage for the white man and for construction eventually of the Illinois-Michigan canal which was completed in 1848.
In Oak Brook, the northern "old Indian Boundary Line" runs diagonally through Yorkshire Woods, the Oak Brook Central Park and the Mayslake Forest Preserve.
In the Chicago Treaty of August 29, 1821, the Pottawatomi gave the Americans five million acres of land along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. In 1829, the Pottawatomi signed a treaty that ceded the lake front from Kenilworth to the Indian Boundary Road to the government.
In 1832, when Black Hawk urged the Pottawatomi to join him in the resistance to the white settlers in the Rock River region, Shabbona, then chief of the Pottawatomi, opposed his appeal and prevented his warriors from joining. Shabbona warned the settlers in the Downers Grove and Naperville area of impending Indian attacks during the Blackhawk War.
Thousands of Indians gathered at Chicago in the fall of 1833 at the request of Governor Lewis Cass to consider cessions of the last of their lands east of the Mississippi River. Most of the Indians present were Pottawatomi. A treaty was signed on September 26, 1833 which gave the government five million acres of land along the western shore of Lake Michigan extending northward to Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin. In exchange, the Indians were to receive an equal amount of land beyond the Mississippi River. They agreed to leave within three years. In the fall of 1835, five thousand Indians gathered again at Chicago to receive their annuities and to hear reports from their advance parties concerning the new reservation. Eight hundred took part in the last war dance.
The Indians last march to the west passed along Ogden Avenue through Brush Hill (Fullersburg) and across the Mississippi River, from which there was to be no return.
Between 1789 and 1837, the Pottawatomi made no less than 38 treaties with the United States government, either singly or with other tribes. All except two or three were treaties of peace only. The rest were for sale of lands claimed wholly by them or in common with other tribes. These lands extended from Cleveland, Ohio westward to the Mississippi River, portions of Michigan and Wisconsin and an area covering a large part of the valleys of the Illinois, the Wabash and the Maumee Rivers and their tributaries.
A few of the Pottawatomi remained, and for years mingled on friendly terms with the white settlers in northern Illinois.
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