1: Who Were the First People in Illinois?
- The French explorers were the first white men to discover the
inhabitants named the “Illiniwek” in the 1600’s. The
name “Illiniwek” means “the best people.” This
translated into “Illinois” due to the
French man’s translation, and is why Illinois is named so.
- The Illini tribe, as they were called, were the original people
in what is now Illinois, Indiana, Missouri
- In the 1700’s, the Illini tribe was nearly wiped out by war. Survivors fled to the areas now known as Kansas and Oklahoma.
- There are still Indians living in Oklahoma today.
One such tribe is called the Peoria Tribe of Oklahoma and is
made up of original Illinois Indians.
- Today, the Peoria Tribe of Oklahoma has its own government made
up of elected officials, its own laws, and its own police.
However, they still must also obey US laws because they are
citizens of the United
- Before they migrated, each Illini village had its own chief and
was independent of others. Tribes did come
together every so often to make joint decisions at long councils.
- Just like different countries have their own languages, so did
the Illini. It was called Miami-Illinois
language because the Miami
and Illini tribes spoke the same language, but they had different
- Some words of the Illini
- The Indian children would play, go to school and help around the
house. Some toys they played with were
bows and arrows and cornhusk dolls. Teenagers
played lacrosse and other sports. Children
were expected to help out a lot around the house and had lots of chores.
- Normally, we would picture tee-pee’s, but this is a misconception. Not all Indians lived in tee-pees. The Illini lived in villages of large,
rectangular houses made of wooden reeds.
- Women wore skirts and leggings. Men
wore breechclouts, which were long rectangular pieces of cloth or
buckskin worn between the legs and tucked under a belt so that it fell
in front and behind.
- The Illini tribe did not wear long headdresses.
Instead, they sometimes wore a beaded headband with a few
colored feathers, and women wore their hair in braids.
The men also shaved their heads in a Mohawk style and wore
a porcupine roach. They also would paint
their faces for different occasions and tattoo themselves with more
- Of course, there were not any cars during this time, so the
Indians had to find other ways to travel. They
would hallow out large trees to make dugout canoes to travel by water. They also used dogs as pack animals to travel
over land. The dogs would carry backpacks
or pull wooden drag sleds called travois.
- The Illini were hunters and gatherers. The
women did most of the farming and harvested corn, beans and squash. The men were the hunters and hunted deer, wild
turkeys, and small game, like rabbits. They
would use bows and arrows, spears, clubs, and even shields made out of
buffalo hide when they would go out to hunt. Large
communal buffalo hunts occurred in which a ring of fire was used to
herd buffalo toward a group of hunters. They
used what they gathered and hunted to make soups, cornbread and stews.
- Religion and ritual is very sacred and complicated.
One ritual called dream-seeking occurs when a male is
fifteen. His face is painted, and he goes
off to a secluded area to fast and pray in hope of a vision that would
reveal a spirit guardian to them who would be their helper throughout
- One tradition Indians are famous for is storytelling. The stories and legends passed down through
the generations taught about life and how the world around them came to
be. One such story is “Rabbit and Possum,”
which we will read briefly.
- You are all probably wondering, if our theme is Lincoln, why are
we learning about Indians? Well, when Lincoln moved to Illinois with his family in 1830,
there were still tribes of Indians living here. Not
all of them migrated or were forced out. One
such tribe was called Black Hawk, which we mentioned in the skit. We will be learning more about this tribe in
the coming weeks. However, the Illini
tribe is important to Illinois
history because it is responsible for the naming of our state and also
puts into perspective what life what life in different parts of the
state when Lincoln
came here as a young man.