Illinois Indian Tribes

In the 1600s, when American Indians first came into contact with Europeans in the Great Lakes region, two Native American ethnic groups inhabited the land that would eventually become the State of Illinois: the Illinois Confederation (also known as Illiniwek Indians) and the Miami tribe.

The first group–known to French explorers and missionaries as the Illinois or Illiniwek Indians–was a confederation of twelve tribes that occupied a large section of the central Mississippi River valley, including most of what is today Illinois.

The second group, the Miami tribe, lived in villages located south and west of Lake Michigan.During the 1700s and early 1800s, the territory of the Illinois Indians shrank and the Miami tribe moved eastward.

Other tribes then moved into Illinois to take over land formerly occupied by the Illinois and Miami. Some of the newly arrived tribes included the Fox (Mesquakie), Ioway, Kickapoo, Mascouten, Piankashaw, Potawatomi, Sauk, Shawnee, Wea, and Winnebago.


(Federal List Last Updated 5/16)


(Not recognized by the Federal Governemnt)



The People of the Mountains. Letter of Intent 6/3/2004


The Illinois confederacy of Algonquian tribes, formerly occupying south Wisconsin, northern Illinois, and sections of Iowa and Missouri, included the Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Michigamea, Moingwena, Peoria, and Tamaroa.

Their exact location when first heard of by the whites can not be determined with certainty, as the tribes and bands were more or less scattered over southern Wisconsin, northern Illinois, and along the west bank of the Mississippi as far south as Des Moines river, Iowa.

The whites first came in actual contact with them (unless it’s true that Nicollet visited them) at La Pointe (Shaugawaumikong), where Allouez met a party in 1667, which was visiting that point for purposes of trade.

It appears that some villages were situated on the west side of the Mississippi, in what is now Iowa, but the major portion of the tribes belonging to the confederacy resided at points in northern Illinois, chiefly on the Illinois River.

The Cahokia and Tamaroa were at this time living at their historic seats on the Mississippi in south Illinois.

The Illinois were almost constantly harassed by the Sioux, Foxes, and other northern tribes.

About the same time,the Iroquois waged war against them, which lasted several years, and greatly reduced their numbers, while liquor obtained from the French weakened them further.

About the year 1750 they were still estimated at from 1,500 to 2,000 souls.

Then the murder of the celebrated chief Pontiac, by a Kaskaskia Indian, about 1769, provoked the vengeance of the Lake tribes on the Illinois, and a war of extermination was begun which, in a few years, reduced them to a mere handful, who took refuge with the French settlers at Kaskaskia, while the Sauk, Foxes, Kickapoo, and Potawatomi took possession of their country.


In addition to the principal tribes or divisions above mentioned, the following are given by early writers as seemingly belonging to the Illinois: Albivi, Amonokoa, Chepoussa, Chinko, Coiracoentanon, Espeminkia, and Tapouara.

In 1800 there were only about 150 Illinois left.

In 1833 the survivors, represented by the Kaskaskia and Peoria, sold their lands in Illinois and removed west of the Mississippi, and are now in the northeast corner of Oklahoma, consolidated with the Wea and Piankashaw.

In 1885 the consolidated Peoria, Kaskaskia, Wea, and Piankashaw numbered only 149, much of them with mixed white blood.


10,000 BC- 8000 BC – Paleo Indians roam the area, briefly occupying small camps in coniferous forests and subsisting on large game and wild plants.

8000 BC- 500 BC – Archaic period Indians inhabied deciduous forests in small groups, hunted deer and small game, weaved baskets, and ground seeds with stones.

500 BC- AD 900 – Woodland culture Indians developed a maize agriculture, built villages and burial mounds, invented the bow and arrow for hunting, and began making pottery.

900- 1500 A.D. – Indians of the Mississippian culture improved agricultural methods, built temple mounds and large fortified villages. Most of the settlements were abandoned prior to the historic period.

Indians hunted in Illinois as far back as 5000 B.C. and today you can still view the remains of their civilization at places such as Cahokia Mounds – North America’s largest and most valuable prehistoric earthwork relic.

The earliest inhabitants of Illinois were the prehistoric Mound Builders. Dickson Mounds Indian Museum near Lewiston features special exhibits which chronicle the Indian’s valuable place in Illinois history.

These groups of Native Americans left behind more than 10,000 temple and burial mounds throughout the state. Monk’s Mound, near present-day Cahokia, is the largest prehistoric earthen structure in the United States.

Before white men entered the region, it was occupied by a group of six united tribes known as the Illiniwek or Illini, a native word meaning “superior men.”

The Illini consisted of the Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Michigamea, Moingwena, Peoria and Tamarosa tribes. They were all part of the Algonkian family.

Some of the other tribes that played a part in the state’s early history were the Chippewa, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Winnebago, Kickapoo, and Shawnee.

In 1680, the Iroquois entered the region to attack the Illinois tribes. Many were killed in the conflict. By 1800 few Natives remained.

Sources of records on US Indian tribes


Article Index:

Illinois Tribe was the most numerous tribe of Illinois

Excerpted from The Indian Tribes of North America, by John R. Swanton

The primary Indian group in the state of Illinois was the Illinois, a large native group made up of several related tribes. Their tribal name “Illiniwek” means “men” or “people.” They were of the Algonquin linguistic group and were most closely related to the Miami and Chippewa tribes.

Illinois Confederation

The tribal members of the Illinois confederation were made up of the:

  1. Cahokia, found in southwestern Illinois near the town that is now their namesake;
  2. the Kaskaskia, living in LaSalle County before 1700 and later at Kaskaskia in southwestern Illinois;
  3. the Michigamea, from Arkansas;
  4. the Moingwena, from Iowa;
  5. the Peoria, from northeastern Iowa and later settling at Peoria;
  6. the Tamaroa, living on both sides of the Mississippi River near the mouths of the Illinois and Missouri rivers;
  7. the Chepoussa, a band associated with the Michigamea and living on the Kaskaskia River.

Early writers from the 17th century mention other Illinois bands such as the Albivi, Amonokoa, Chinko, Coiracoentanon, Espeminkia, and Tapouaro, but not much else is known about them.

The earliest sightings of the Illinois were by French explorers in the 1660s and 1670s. From the 1680s and into the next century, the Illinois tribes were at war with various other tribes including the Iroquois, Kickapoo, Saulk, Foxes and Potawatomi.

After being defeated and dispossessed of much of their land in these wars, the remainder settled at Kaskaskia near the French settlement. In 1800, there were only about 150 left and their descendants sold their lands in 1832 and moved to Kansas.

They moved again in 1867 to Oklahoma (Indian Territory), and united with the Wea and Piankashaw tribes of the Miami to form the Peoria Nation.

Estimates of the population of the combined Illinois tribes by early explorers was 8,000 in 1650, and between 1,500 and 2,000 in 1750. In 1778, the Michigamea, Kaskaskia and the Peoria combined numbered about 380 persons.

In 1885, the Illinois in Indian Territory were enumerated with the Wea and Piankashaw tribes of the Miami and included a total of 149 individuals. In 1905, the group was up to 195.

The 1910 census enumerated 128 individuals, 114 of whom were in Oklahoma. The 1930 census again includes the Illinois with the Miami and gives a figure of 284. In 1937 there were 370 individuals identified as “Peoria” in Oklahoma.

Other influential tribes in the state of Illinois:

  1. The Kickapoo were from Wisconsin, and they settled on the Illinois and Vermilion rivers after vanquishing the Illinois tribe from that region. They ceded this land to the United States in 1819.
  2. The Miami of Indiana had an early settlement in what is now Chicago and their territory also extended into some of eastern Illinois.
  3. The Ottawa tribe of Michigan extended their territory down into northern Illinois in the 1800s.
  4. The Potawatomi replaced the Miami in Chicago and then spread down into northern Illinois, driving out the Illinois tribes.
  5. The Sauk and the Foxes were related tribes of Wisconsin. They expelled the Illinois tribe from the Rock River region and then settled there.
  6. The Shawnee of Kentucky and Tennessee occupied lands for a while in southern Illinois.
  7. Both the Wyandot (of Ohio) and the Winnebago (of Wisconsin) ceded their claims to lands in Illinois to the whites in treaties of 1795 and 1829.