V30-1 Native Americans in the Chicago Area

Vol. XXX No. 1 - WINTER 2019

By Kathy Gemperle

The history and memory of Native Americans in Chicago

Professor Ted Karamanski of Loyola University spoke at our Fall General meeting at the Edgewater Library on November 10, 2018. This was the Wyman Lecture for 2018.

His talk focused on the events of history and how the native peoples were treated in the 18th and 19th centuries in America. Two points of view were in operation; one was based on the ideas of the constitution held that all people have rights. The other reflects the European desire to acquire more land and is sometimes called Manifest Destiny.

The idea of forcing natives off the land was strongest in the East. In the Midwest there was a slightly different attitude due to the French traders who had been trading with many tribes for decades, and intermarrying with them. Trading and living near many early peoples continued, and leaders emerged from among the tribes in Ohio. Perhaps the most well know was Tecumseh who, with his brother Tenskwatawa, gathered tribes in a move to Prophetstown, Indiana, where over 3000 native peoples of various tribes lived.

With a tribal confederacy formed in 1808, Tecumseh challenged Gen. William Henry Harrison that the treaty of Fort Wayne in 1810 should be nullified, or he would join the British in their war against the Americans. With British supplied weapons, the two sides met in a confrontation in 1811, and Prophetstown was burned to the ground. Negotiations continued but with the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1814 the native people divided between those who wanted to retain their lands and live together and those who were willing to accommodate to the European peoples.

Karamanski then went through the many treaties that were signed by smaller tribes while the leader of the Tecumseh worked to unite the tribes and prevent small treaties. In particular we learned about Leopold Pokagon who purchased land in Silver Creek township Indiana to live there. It later became the land for the University of Notre Dame. His son Simon became an author and spokesperson for the many tribes of the area.

In a publication originally titled Red Man’s Rebuke, and subsequently Red Man’s Greeting, Simon wrote:

“On behalf of my people, the American Indians, I hereby declare to you, the pale-faced race that has usurped our lands and homes, that we have no spirit to celebrate with you the great Columbian Fair now being held in this Chicago city, the wonder of the world. No sooner would we hold the high joy day over the graves of our departed than to celebrate our own funeral, the discovery of America. And while… your hearts in admiration rejoice over the beauty and grandeur of this young republic and you say, ‘behold the wonders wrought by our children in this foreign land,’ do not forget that this success has been at the sacrifice of our homes and a once happy race.”

Further events in the Chicago region included the signing of the Second Treaty of Prairie du Chien in 1829 that pushed the tribes beyond the established boundary lines and deeded land to well known Native American leaders. Negotiator Billy Caldwell received land just to the northwest along the Chicago River. A Frenchman Antoine Ouillmette and his native wife Archang received land north of Chicago along the lakeshore, and another leader Shabbana, received land in LaSalle County. It was this treaty that sent the local tribes around Chicago and in Wisconsin on a forced march to Council Bluffs Iowa. This march has been called the Pottawatomie Trail of Tears.

Some are familiar with the Indian Boundary Line and photos of the Pottawatomie who were here in the late 19th century. Caldwell’s land is a familiar part of the Cook County Forest Preserve. But perhaps the least well known is the land in LaSalle county that was deeded to Shabbona. Squatters took it over while he was visiting in Iowa.

When the Indian Removal Act was signed by President Jackson in 1830, and the tribes who had been farming saw their corn ready to harvest back in Illinois, Chief Black Hawk lead them back to collect their food since they were without a livelihood in Iowa. The fear of these tribes signaled the beginning of the Black Hawk wars in 1832.

The 1833 Treaty of Chicago opened up the land for sale in the Chicago area.

The history in the 20th century is brief. In 1914 a lawsuit was filed for the ownership of the lake bottom land which had never been ceded to the U.S. government. The Supreme court ruled against that in 1917.

In 2006 the relatives of Shabbona purchased back the land that had been taken from them without a deed and declared it a reservation.

Various leaders have risen to take up the cause of the American Indian. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is known for its many failures. There is also the Society of the American Indian.

In Chicago, the American Indian Center, which was on Wilson Ave for many years, has just moved to a new location at 3401 W. Ainslie. In 1956, the Indian Relocation Act sought to move Indians to urban centers where it might be easier to earn a livelihood. While many were relocated, there was not much government assistance in this transition. In 1854, 8% of Indians were located in urban areas. By 2000 68% of Indians had moved to cities.

In the Chicago area there are about 100 different tribes encompassing about 50,000 people.

If any conclusions were reached in this talk, it was that the native peoples were treated badly in the alliances with the U.S. government. The question remains: Had the Europeans not been so intent on taking the land and had the French accommodation of living among the native peoples held sway might we have had a different country? A different city? We will never know.