A local historian has chronicled much of the known history of Native American tribes in Wabash County and southern Illinois.
Audrey Hinderliter of Mount Carmel cited sources such as the 1682-1883 Combined History of Edwards, Lawrence and Wabash Counties, the Edwards and Wabash County Historical Societies, the Historical Sketch of Wabash County and the Illinois Historical-Wabash County Biographical in a 2018 paper she wrote on the topic of Native American tribes which once lived in the area now known as Wabash County, Ill. She began that paper by detailing the two primary tribes to settle into the state of Illinois during the 1500s and 1600s: the Illini and the Miami.
“During the 1700s and 1800s, the territory of the Illinois Indians shrank and the Miami tribe moved eastward and southward,” she explained. “Other tribes then moved into Illinois to take over land formerly occupied by the Illinois and Miami tribes.”
The tribes which moved in to replace the Illinios and Miami included the Mesquake, Ioway, Kickapoo, Mascouton, Pinkashaw, Potawatomi, Sauk, Shawnee, We and Winnebago, according to Hinderliter. That’s not to say that things were always peaceful between the tribes residing along the rivers of southern Illinois.
“Because of the environment, the dense Indian population in (what is now) the state of Illinois grew up along the Wabash and Illinois Rivers,” she wrote. “Nowhere else could the Indians find such an abundance of game, fish and fowl, so easy of procurement, and live in such lavage affluence o find a more congenial home.
“This plenteous land was coveted by many tribes, and fierce and bloody were the numerous wars waged by contending tribes for its possession.”
Also moving in on the Illinois territory were the Iroquois tribe, centered in the area which would become New York state.
“The renowned Iroquois of New York had heard romantic tales fo Illinois and its natural charms and rich abundance,” Hinderliter noted. “And in the 17th century (1683), with a band of hand-picked warriors, they invaded and defeated the northern Illini, who left.
“The Iroquois, however, did not attack the Indians along the lower Wabash area, who consisted of the Miami to the north, and who had an important at what is presently known as Hanging Rock.”
Hanging Rock is located along the banks of the Wabash River just three miles to the northeast of Mount Carmel. During that same period, the Pinkishaw tribe had set up villages on McCleary’s Bluff, which is situated near Cowling off of the Wabash.
But it was a full decade before the Iroquois war party set foot in Illinois that the first Europeans set foot in the region, embraced by the native peoples already inhabiting it. Hinderliter explained that French settlers “were well-adapted by their peculiar traits of character for intermingling with their fierce neighbors of the forest and lived on terms of peace and friendship, and even intermarried.”
It were these French explorers that gave Illinois its name, due to the presence of the Illini tribe.
Due to warfare amongst the tribes of the northern part of Illinois in 1683, the French chose to focus their exploration more on the rivers flowing downstate.
“Because of the increasing Indian unrest of 1683 and warfare northern Illinois, the French concentrated along the Mississippi, Ohio and Wabash Rivers at the southern end of the state,” said Hinderliter. “Their settlements became important way stations and supply depots between Canada and posts on the lower Mississippi River.”
Following the French defeat at the hands of the British colonies during the French and Indian War in 1756, the English gained control of the lower Great Lakes Region. However, in 1778, during the American Revolution, the state of Virginia backed a military expedition commanded by George Rogers Clark, who was a mere 23 years of age at the time.
The Miami tribes of Wabash County played a critical role in that campaign, according to Hinderliter.
“Clark’s force of 175 soldiers, known as the ‘Long Rifles of Kentucky,’ landed at Fort Masaac, Ill., marched across southern Illinois and defeated the English at Fort Kaskaskia, Ill.,” she wrote. “This small band then marched across the state of Illinois, and with the aid of the Wabash County Miami Indian Nation, captured Fort Vincennes in western Indiana in 1779.
“This laid claim by the Americans to this territory, and when news of the conquest by Clark reached Virginia, it claimed Illinois as one of its counties.”
That claim would not last, however, as Virginia ceded Illinois to the newly created United States Federal Government in 1784, “when it realized that it could not properly govern a so sparsely populated and distant land,” Hinderliter noted. Three years later, Illinois, along with Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin, were included in the federal government’s Northwest Ordinance.
By 1800, Illinois was considered part of the Indiana territory and had a population of less than 2,000 non-Native Americans.
That changed soon after 1800, however, when settlers from Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and the Carolinas, descended primarily from English, German, Scottish and Irish ancestry, moved into the territory.
“The first white men found a thickly populated region of Indians, for there was ample game, water for drinking, food, transportation and bluffs for good wigwam sites,” explained Hinderliter. “More incoming whites, though, meant more outgoing Indians.
“As tribes were pushed backward into other tribes’ lands, inter-tribal warfare often took place.”
While Wabash County was originally a part of Edwards County, the first white settlements stayed within he confines of what is now Wabash County.
“Almost every bluff, knoll or height above high water on the Wabash River within Wabash County has been the site of an Indian village,” Hinderliter said. “There are more than 100 mounds, most of which are scattered along the river.”
The abundance of native peoples on the land, combined with the influx of settlers from other territories, led to violent confrontations, according to Hinderliter.
“When the whites first came to this vicinity at about the beginning of the 1800s, they found it thickly inhabited by roving bands of hostile and treacherous Indians as late as 1816 and 1817,” she stated. “The murderous Indians drove the settlers into forts or block houses, or even across the Wabash River into Indiana, for protection from the tomahawk and scalping knives.
“As the settlers became more numerous, the Indians slowly disappeared until about 1818, when a large number gathered at Rochester and left in one large group.”
While she noted that the Native American presence in Wabash County all but evaporated by 1828, it wasn’t until 1867 that the federal government removed all native peoples from Illinois to the southwest.
Hinderliter cited the 1809 Herriman Massacre of Lawrence County and the Joseph Boltinghouse Massacre of 1816 in Edwards County as examples of Native American brutality against early settlers of the area. The Cannon Massacre at Campbell’s Landing in Coffee Precinct in 1818, which saw settlers not only murdered and mutilated, but taken hostage and ransomed as well, according to Hinderliter’s notes.
“Wabash County has a recorded massacre in 1815 of two hardy and adventurous young Frenchmen, Joseph Burway and Joseph Pichinant, who had joined the numerous little colony at Rochester,” she said of an attack in Wabash County. “They were both killed by the Indians near Baird’s Pond.”
But some settlers also earned the respect of the tribes of the region. Hinderliter pointed to French brothers August, William, Joseph and Francis Tougas, also referred to as Lauvelette or Lovellette as an example of this.
“They were large of stature and feared and respected by the Indians,” wrote Hinderliter. “August, who was said to be six and one-half feet tall, was particularly respected by the Pinkishaws, as he had the boldness to punish thieving members of the tribe.
“The Indians massacred other settlers, but remained at peace with the four daring and stalwart brothers.”
Hinderliter attributes much of the information retained about Native American artifacts, lore and location of their camps to Jacob Schneck Sr., a widely regarded local botanist.
“As a student of the Indian and his prehistoric ancestors, he located most of the known mounds, fully explored them and carefully wrote detailed and interesting records,” she said of Schneck. “His field of exploration was mostly the McCleary’s Bluff area.”