Origin and History
The Illinois people are an Algonquian-speaking group of Native Americans. They inhabited a region south of the Great Lakes and east of the Mississippi River. It was a loose confederacy of twelve partially nomadic tribes (Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Metchigamea, Moingwena, Peoria, Tamaroa, Chepoussa, Chinkoa, Coiracoentanon, Espeminkia, Maroa, and Tapouara). They used dugout canoes instead of the birch-bark canoes of their neighbours.
When the French first contacted the Illinois in the 1670s, they mostly inhabited along the Illinois River, in present-day Illinois and southern Wisconsin, but some bands lived west of the Mississippi River, in present-day eastern Iowa, Missouri and northeastern Arkansas. Overall, their population was estimated to about 10,000 people. Their hunting territory also extended into western Kentucky. The Metchigamea and Chepoussa were isolated from the other Illinois tribes by the territory of the Osage people.
In 1667, the Iroquois Confederacy forced the Illinois people to take refuge west of the Mississippi. When the Iroquois made peace with the French, the Illinois gradually returned to their former territory east of the Mississippi River. By 1673,most of their villages were located between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, but they sill had villages on the west bank of the Mississippi.
In 1675, the French established a Catholic mission in the main village of the Kaskaskia village on the Illinois River, and a fur trading post nearby. Most Illinois bands gradually relocated on the Illinois River, near this new trading post.
During the 1680s, the Iroquois Confederacy once more attacked the Illinois but they were stopped at Fort Saint-Louis on the Illinois River.
From 1690 to 1700, the Illinois people were driven out of northern Missouri and southeast Iowa by thee Osage and Missouri. Meanwhile, between 1693 and 1698, the Metchigamea and Chepoussa tribes were driven out of northern Arkansas by the Quapaw.
The Illinois people were almost annihilated by the European epidemics and in numerous wars against other Native American peoples. In the early 1700s, they fought along the French against the Meskwaki (aka Fox).
In 1720, the French established Fort de Chartres in Illinois territory.
In 1722, the Peoria tribe suffered heavy losses at the hand of the Meskwaki.
In 1736, the French estimated the Illinois population to only 2,500 people.
By the 1750s, the Illinois people had been reduced to only five tribes: the Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Metchigamea, Peoria, and Tamaroa and were confined to southern Illinois.
After the Seven Years’ War, the Illinois people continued to get involved in several conflicts with other Native American peoples. In 1833, the survivors sold off their land and migrated to Eastern Kansas. In 1867, they resettled in Oklahoma.
Role during the War
By the time of the Seven Years’ War, the Illinois people had fewer than 500 warriors. Some of them took part in attacks against British settlements in Pennsylvania and Virginia.
In 1757, 25 Illinois warriors took part in Montcalm’s expedition against Fort William Henry, and contracted smallpox. That winter, when they returned to their villages, they brought back the disease with them. The epidemic soon spread among North American peoples of the Great Lakes and the Ohio River, which were allied with the French.
We have been unable to find specific characteristics about the dress of this Native American people that would distinguish them from other peoples. If you can suggest sources documenting such characteristics, please do not hesitate to contact us with your suggestions.
Bows and arrows were the traditional weapons of Illinois warriors. They continued to prefer these weapons over muskets, which they considered too slow to use. However, they sometimes used muskets to scare enemies unfamiliar with such weapons.
Sultzman, Lee: Illinois History], retrieved on April 2, 2021
Waldman, Carl: Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, Revised Edition, pp. 96-97
Wikipedia – Illinois Confederation
N.B.: the section Role during the War is mostly derived from our articles depicting the various campaigns, battles and sieges.