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Indian Tribes of the Northwest Territory
Nature Bulletin No. 388-A   September 26, 1970
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

The white men found many tribes inhabiting what became the Northwest Territory in 1787, and all but one belonged to the largest and most important Indian family, the Algonquians. The powerful Shawnee occupied most of the Ohio valley and its tributaries extending south into Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee. Tecumseh and his brother, "The Prophet", were Shawnee.

The Iliniwek, called 'Illinois" by the French, was an Algonquian confederacy which had, for a long time, occupied most of this state except the northwestern part and the Wabash valley. In addition to several small bands it included the Kaskaskia, Peoria, Cahokia, Moingewena, and the Michigamea. The latter, whom Father Marquette found living in Missouri and Arkansas, were finally forced to move back into southern Illinois.

The nearest kin of the Iliniwek were the Miami. They shifted around a lot and at times there were big Miami villages at Starved Rock, Chicago, and in Michigan, but their principal territory was in the Wabash valley from the Ohio River to Fort Wayne. They were divided into bands such as the Piankeshaw, Wea, and Eel River.

In Wisconsin were the Winnebago but they belonged to an Indian family with languages radically different from the Algonquians -- The Siouans. Before DeSoto discovered the Mississippi, the Siouans had migrated westward from what is now eastern United States and that must have caused a terrible turmoil ! One main group moved down the Ohio River and then split. The Quapaw or Arkansea (the "downstream people") went south along the Mississippi to the Arkansas River. The Omaha or "upstream people" went north and up the Missouri where they eventually formed four tribes Omaha, Osage, Kansa and Ponca.

The other main group of Siouans took a northerly course along the Great Lakes. The warlike Dakota, or Sioux, continued on into Minnesota. The Iowa, Missouri, Oto, and Mandans went southwest across the Mississippi but the Winnebago stayed in Wisconsin.

Later, four closely related Algonquian tribes -- the Outagami (called Reynards or Foxes by the French), Sauk or Sac, Mascouten and Kickapoo -- were driven west from Michigan into Wisconsin by the Ottawa and Iroquois. The Sauk and Foxes extended their territory into Illinois along the Rock River. The Kickapoo finally established themselves in eastern Illinois.

Extending from the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, southward into Pennsylvania, were the Iroquois "Five Nations" -- Mohawk, Oneida, Onandaga, Cayuga and Seneca -- a powerful warlike confederacy with a highly developed political system. In 1722 they were joined by the Tuscarora of North Carolina who, like the Cherokee, also belonged to the Iroquoian Family. The Iroquois traveled the Great Lakes in war canoes to massacre in the Huron, Ottawa, and especially the Illinois, because these Indians traded with the hated French.

The Potawatomi, Ottawa, and Chippewa or Ojibwa, were three large Algonquian tribes which considered themselves one people. In 1762, led by the Ottawa chief, Pontiac, they captured all of the 13 British forts except Detroit, Pitt and Niagara. They spread until they occupied all the shores of Lake Michigan and, as the Iliniwek became weaker, the upper valley of the Illinois River. It was the Potawatomi who committed the Fort Dearborn Massacre in 1812.

A good classroom project would be to mark, on a map, the territories of these tribes .

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