Daily Archives: March 12, 2013
“It is hopeless for the occasional visitor to try to keep up with Chicago. She outgrows his prophecies faster than he can make them.” – Mark Twain, 1883
Trying to put together a brief history of the city of Chicago isn’t an easy undertaking. The city is so deep in rich and colorful history that a writer could spend entire weeks trying to capture it all, and still feel as though it wasn’t complete. I suppose that I should get used to that feeling, considering that the next few cities that I poke around at are generally in the same historical boat. With Chicago, I decided that the Illinois Indians were the perfect place to start.
The Illinois Indians
The name “Illinois” itself is an Algonquian Indian word. It comes from the Miami-Illinois tribal name Illiniwek, which means “the people.” The Illini Indians were not the only Native Americans in Illinois, however, despite the fact that no nationally recognised tribes exist within the state of Illinois today. The state of the Illinois Indian tribes today is not due to extinction, but rather to forced relocation. Like many other native tribes, they were forced to move to Indian reservations in Oklahoma by the American government.
At the time of the first white settlement the Potawatomi Indian tribe inhabited the Chicago region.
Illinois is often remembered for the beauty and intrique of the natural earthen formations found within her region, the mounds being one of the main objects of curiosity and controversy. The narture of these mounds has been a rousing debate and heated point of conversation for even the first settlers in the territory. For many years theories of all sorts have been thrown around, some attributing the mounds to a race of “mound-builders” who were supposed to have come from Asia, Mexico, or even more remote places. Others theories often linked them to some sort of “faerie” mound, or possible burial sites.
The Bureau of American Ethnology undertook a survey of the mounds in the eastern United States late in the 20th century. The reports which resulted from this work helped to offer some much less speculative and more scientific views of the anomallies. The following general facts were uncovered by the project…
While many of the mounds are obviously prehistoric, some of them have been proved by their contents to be post-Columbian. According to the pamphlet Indians of the Chicago Region, With Special Reference to the Illinois and the Potawatomip, “...a great amount of historical evidence, moreover, clearly shows that the Indians occupying the mound region at the time they were visited by the first explorers, were actually “mound builders,” and raised both towns and places of worship on these artificial eminences. The human remains found in the mounds that have been excavated to date, are all of the American Indian type, and represent only the recent period of geologic time.”
Several types have been found, but the most interesting (to me) are the effigy mounds which seem to represent animals of several varieties. Ancestors of the Winnebago, and nearby peoples of Siouan stock seem to be the closest in origin.
In 1682, René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle had claimed a large territoryof the Illinois area, including what is now Chicago , for France. In 1763 the French ceded this area to Great Britain’s Province of Quebec following the French and Indian War. Great Britain then ceded the area to the United States at the end of the American Revolutionary War.
Chicago’s first permanent resident was a trader named Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, a free black man apparently from Haiti, who came here in the late 1770’s. He traded furs with the Indians on the north bank of the Chicago River, where he lived with his wife Catherine until 1796. He and his family then left with their children and moved to Peoria, Illinois.
A United States fort built in 1803 beside the Chicago River in what is now Chicago, Illinois, Fort Dearborn was constructed by troops under Captain John Whistler and named in honor of Henry Dearborn, then United States Secretary of War. Settlers thought it would keep them safe from invading forces, but they were wrong, it didn’t. In 1812, the U.S. had another war with England, except this one was unique in that the English joined the Native Americans to try to win back their territory.
When the war of 1812 broke out between Great Britain and the United States, the government ordered for the abandonment and closure of Fort Dearborn, and because of this, onn August 15, 1812, many soldiers and settlers left Fort Dearborn to go to Fort Wayne in Indiana. As the last of the travelers were in process of relocating , over 500 natives attacked. About half the people in the group were killed by natives, the rest were taken prisoner. Natives then burned Fort Dearborn to the ground.
The Fort lay unoccupied and in ruin, until 1816 when American soldiers rebuilt Fort Dearborn.
Fort Dearborn was rebuilt in 1816, and slowly, settlers started to come back, but settlers were still afraid of the Native Americans. In 1818 Illinois became a state. South parts of Illinois had a population of about 40,000 people. Around then, only about 100 people lived in Chicago.