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.
The tribal members of the Illinois confederation were made up of the:
- Cahokia, found in southwestern Illinois near the town that is now their namesake;
- the Kaskaskia, living in LaSalle County before 1700 and later at Kaskaskia in southwestern Illinois;
- the Michigamea, from Arkansas;
- the Moingwena, from Iowa;
- the Peoria, from northeastern Iowa and later settling at Peoria;
- the Tamaroa, living on both sides of the Mississippi River near the mouths of the Illinois and Missouri rivers;
- 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:
- 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.
- The Miami of Indiana had an early settlement in what is now Chicago and their territory also extended into some of eastern Illinois.
- The Ottawa tribe of Michigan extended their territory down into northern Illinois in the 1800s.
- The Potawatomi replaced the Miami in Chicago and then spread down into northern Illinois, driving out the Illinois tribes.
- The Sauk and the Foxes were related tribes of Wisconsin. They expelled the Illinois tribe from the Rock River region and then settled there.
- The Shawnee of Kentucky and Tennessee occupied lands for a while in southern Illinois.
- 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.