Historic Native Americans of the Calumet Region


Prior to the arrival of the Europeans in the Calumet region in 1673, the area was inhabited by multiple Native American tribes, predominantly the Illinois, Miami and Potawatomi. These tribes were all part of the Algonquian language group and were closely connected through their heritage and interactions with each other. This paper is meant to describe the lifestyle of these people, detailing their interactions with each other, their village life, agriculture and food, spirituality, government, and some of their early interactions with the first Europeans in the area. We focus mainly on the people living in the region from the 16th through 19th centuries, touching on events outside of this timeframe only to help contextualize the setting.  By describing the lifestyles of the Native Americans of the Calumet we hope to both show the importance of  the historical presence of these tribes in shaping the current condition of the area and to provide an overview of the rich history of the region prior to European settlement and industrialization.


We use a range of sources that reference specific areas and tribes within the Calumet region. Due to the lack of documentation and difficulty finding credible sources for specific populations in the Calumet region, we apply information relevant to the Great Lakes and Midwest region. We made a specific effort to use primary sources, such as memoirs, maps, and treaties, recognizing these sources to be a potential source of bias. Among these is the late seventeenth-century memoir by Frenchman Pierre Deliette, who also assumed the name Degannes. For the purpose of simplicity, this paper will refer to him as Deliette. Another valuable source used in our preliminary research were historic maps from the University of Chicago Map Collection. These sources range in date from 1721 to 1939, and mark the shifting nature of tribes and land boundaries in the Calumet.


The Calumet region has long served as a home for tribes belonging to Algonquin groups around the Great Lakes. The primary inhabitants of the region were the Miami and Potawatomi, while nearby tribal groups that whose range did not include the Calumet region instead interacted with resident groups through trading or during the course of migration. These groups include the Illinois Confederation, a group of thirteen or so Algonquin tribes associated with Cahokia (including but not limited to the Peoria, Kaskaskia, Tamaroa, Cahokia, and Michigamea); the Mascouten and Sauk to the east and northeast; the Ojibwa and Ottawa, located in the northern  Great Lakes; the Winnebago to the northwest; and the Kickapoo, Shawnee, and Wyandot, located primarily to the east and southeast. (Cite map? How?)

It is important to note that since these tribes were affiliated with the Algonquin group through heritage and language, interaction between groups was fairly fluid, especially before competition for trade and resources such as the beaver became commonplace. The Miami were closely related to the Illinois, in terms of language and of ancestry. However, the Miami maintained a tribal identity distinct from the groups of the Illinois Confederation, and was often hostile to the Illinois, especially when French trade with the Illinois threatened Miami stability.  The Potawatomi were primarily affiliated with the Ojibwa and Ottawa, which had a separate heritage from the Illinois and Miami tribes These tribes identified themselves as a group of “three brothers” or “three fires” under a common ancestor, and were closely linked politically (Sultzman 1999; Edmunds 1978; Clifton 1977).

Village Life

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth century, Native American tribes of the Calumet region, specifically the Miami, Potawatomi, and Illinois, had unique cultural identities. Their cultural identities were built upon several aspects of their village life. Based on available historical records and accounts, the group selected the topics of housing clothing, gender dynamics, and pastime activities to address village life.


Over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, villages of the Native American tribes of the Calumet region varied in size, with lodge numbers ranging from the teens to the hundreds (Templeton 59, 84). Although architecture throughout the Calumet region “…was not uniform, Indian designed buildings universally were constructed of pole frame covered over by large sheets of elm or birch bark, or rush mats” (Tanner 5). Some specific structures include longhouses, wigwams, and the more recent log cabin. By the seventeenth century, multiple family dwellings were used, specifically by the Illinois (Tanner 5). A longhouse could accommodate up to ten families, while wigwams and log cabins were typically used for individual families (Tanner 5). While Native American villages served as home base for tribe members, they were rarely fully occupied throughout the year (Tanner 5). For the agriculturally dependent southern Great Lake tribes, including the Miami, Potawatomi, and Illinois, villages were fully held the most number of people during the summer cultivating and harvesting seasons (Tanner 5). Customarily, by fall the village would split into smaller groups for winter hunting, spring sugar making and fishing, before returning to the village for the summer agriculture season (Tanner 5).


During the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the way in which the Miami, Potawatomi and Illinois Native Americans dressed was not confined to the stereotypical wardrobe of Western depiction, but much more versatile as Indian clothing reflected the varying conditions of the environments they lived in. However, “popular artists…ignored the Indians of Michigan and Indiana because they did not dress in the romanticized manner that artists believed represented the ‘genuine’ Indian” (Smith 125). For example, men and women wore cloth leggings, decorated with silk ribbons and embroidering after Europeans arrived (Smith 125). Notable features of Miami and Potawatomi way of dress included pieces of small cloth stitched together and highly refined beadwork (Smith 125). A common occurrence throughout many tribes was men who would dress as women. The Miami referred to these men as wapingwatah (Rafert 20). The men would even go beyond just dressing similarly, but would also take on female occupations such as planting, harvesting, and domestic work (Rafert 19-20).


Such gender dynamics are exemplary of the overarching framework in historic Native American society of the Calumet Region.  It was observed that “the mother was responsible for the immediate care of the children, and the father’s duty was to supply food and other items necessary for daily comfort and survival” (Rafert 18).  However, this quote does not encompass the full extent of women’s or men’s roles. The female tribe members were responsible for several vital aspects of village life, most importantly food. Women managed the sowing, cultivation, and harvesting of crops (Rafert 12). In order to do so, this would involve protecting the village crops from large flocks of birds (Rafert 12). On the hunting trips, women would accompany the men. It was the woman’s responsibility to build the cabin at their temporary camp sites. This process was strenuous, being described as women running “…each with an axe, into the woods to cut poles and to peel bark for their summer hunting cabin…working morning to night while men sat…” (Deliette 308, 351). Despite this enduring process, the women could accomplish such a feat in a mere two hours (Rafert 14). After returning from the hunt, their kills must be given the proper honors and thanks must be given to the Master of Life (Deliette 314). The Leading this ceremony, was but one of the tasks given to the men of the tribe. Men were expected to assist with the clearing of fields, harvesting, hunting, and fishing. All tribe members, men, women, and children, gathered wild fruits, berries, nuts, and medicinal plants (Rafert 13).

Romantic Relationships

Through the seventeenth and eighteenth century, gender roles persisted throughout all aspects of village life, most prominently relating to romantic relationships. Typically, a women would get married anywhere from 18-25 years old, while men married anywhere from 20-30 years old. Men were expected to be a good hunter and experienced warrior before asking for a woman’s hand in marriage (Deliette 330). Upon reaching this threshold, the man would tell his father who he wished to marry, and then it became the father’s duty to gather his prized possessions which were delivered to the potential fiancée by the man’s female relatives (Deliette 330-331). Polygamy was common throughout many of the tribes in this time period. Miami men, in particular, were allowed as many wives as they could support, which served as a symbol of wealth and status (Rafert 17). It was reported that there was “no formality to divorce” (Rafert 17). The most typical cause of divorce was adultery, which was considered “criminal for the husband as well as the wife” (Rafert 17). However, women faced even more extreme consequences for acts of infidelity. The most notable punishment was scalping the unfaithful wife and displaying it outside of their cabin (Smith, 23-24). Acts of ambush group rape on the unfaithful woman were observed in public settings (Deliette 335). More specifically, the Miami frequently cut the noses off of the female adulterer (Deliette 335). Supervision of behavior was not just limited to marriage though. If a woman became a widow, she was expected to grieve for a year. If the widow did not remain faithful to her deceased husband for a year or married within that year time frame, she was subject to the extreme punishments previously mentioned (Deliette 334-335). Historical accounts report that “female oppression and abuse were not unusual among the Illini” and thought to be a “consequence of skewed sexual rations”, as there were four women to every man (Smith 23-24). Despite the overwhelming accounts of female punishment, men were punished as well. If a husband divorces his wife without reason or becomes a widow and does not respect the one year wait period to remarry, the female relatives invade the man’s cabin and destroy all of his property (Deliette 361).

Pastime Activities

In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, Native Americans of the Calumet region, particularly the Miami, Potawatomi, and Illinois, partook in several pastime activities. The most popular of such activities involved gambling. Men played a game known as straws, in which the best player was the one who best deceives (Deliette 351). A bundle of 200 straws was roughly divided in half, and then each half was divided into exactly 6 pieces. Bets would be placed on the remaining number of straws using beans. It was observed that “they were addicted to this fame in a degree that cannot be exceeded” (Deliette 352). Women played a game known as plum-stone, in which half-marked half-blank plum stones were tossed and caught in a small bowl (Rafert 20). Points were assigned based on the number of plum stones with marked surfaces showing. The winner was the player to first accumulate the most points. It was observed that women would sometimes play for several days in a row (Rafert 20). Aside from gambling, a popular inter-tribal and inter-gender game was lacrosse. The objective of the game was to score goals by throwing and catching a knotted wood with a three foot long racket outfitted with a buffalo sinew cradle (Deliette 341). The violent nature of the game has left many to be thought dead (Deliette 342). Overall, games were important in passing time and connecting tribal communities.

Food and Agriculture

The Native Americans of the Calumet Region collected food by means of hunting, fishing, foraging, and cultivating the land.

One agricultural practice employed by the Native Americans was burning, the use of fire to clear the landscape to “facilitate hunting and game drives, clear village and agricultural lands” (Gartner 334). Historically, the Miami lit tall grasses on fire for annual hunts in Illinois and Wisconsin, while a controlled fire for agriculture was lit in the spring, giving nutrients to the soil and destroying pests (Gartner 334). Burning took place once or twice a year, and is today the practice is seen as crucial in preserving healthy ecosystems (Japsen I-3).

Historically, in June and July the Illinois would embark on a trek to hunt (Deliette 308). Animals of prey included: buffalo, bears, does, stags, bucks, turkeys, lynxes, and Quinousaoueia. Meat was cooked in the kindled part of reeds, and often smoked and dried for storage. An account of the Miami in Indiana before European settlement says that large village hunting parties left in the late fall, and members of the tribe sometimes killed as many as two hundred bison in a day (Rafert 2). In Wisconsin, many deer and elk were hunted in the fall and spring when there was not a plentitude of plants available. The Miami also hunted many birds, including passenger pigeons, prairie chickens, quail, wild geese, and turkeys.

While, according to Rafert, the Miami did not rely on fishing, archaeological evidence, particularly around Lake Michigan, shows that it was essential for other Native Americans in the Calumet Region (Gartner 336). Techniques of Wisconsin Native Americans included: spearing and torchlight fishing, net fishing with seines and set gill nets, fish weirs and traps, decoy fishing, fish hooks and toggles, and fish poisoning (Gartner 336). According to Deliette, the Illinois could spear up to 60 carp in a day.

Historically, Native Americans supplemented their diets with cultivated plants. Some of the staple crops included corn, which was planted in June and harvested and dried at the end of July, watermelons, squash, beans, and pumpkins, which were also dried and could be stored for up to a year. The Miami of Indiana moved to summer villages from April through October, where they cultivated corn, melons, squashes, pumpkins, and gourds (Rafert 12). Corn was perhaps the most important crop for the Native Americans of the Calumet Region, becoming a spiritual food associated with honoring the deceased (Rafert 13).

One agricultural innovation that the Native Americans of the Calumet Region made was the use of ridged fields, or garden beds (Gartner 339). The benefits of ridged fields include: “draining water at the planting surface, storing water at the base of the bed, minimizing temperature fluctuations, draining radiation frost, enhancing nutrient cycling, slowing disease and pest vectors, and improving tilth (Gartner 339). Additionally, the Native Americans of the Calumet Region–and Wisconsin in particular–created tools to aid them in cultivation, some of which resembled hoes (Gartner 339).

More than harvesting plants that had been cultivated, the Native Americans of the Calumet Region foraged from the land. Nut and fruit trees were abundant; Gartner refers to orchards of plums and grapes, and De Gannes mentions apples, grapes, pawpaws (a sweet, mango-like fruit), and walnuts. Also available was wild rice, whose seeds were dispersed by Native Americans through their collection, strawberries, blackberries, onions, and roots like macopine. Miami women and children gathered wild fruits, berries, nuts, and medicinal plants (Rafert 13). Roots, fruits, leaves, and berries were especially used for medicinal purposes.

Religion and Spirituality

The Native American tribes of the Calumet region had similar religious beliefs and practices. The Illinois, Miami, and Potawatomi tribes had developed centuries of myths and rituals, which greatly affected the way in which they interpreted events and saw the world around them. They believed that the general structure of the universe was divided into three levels: the Upper World, which was inhabited by gods, the Middle World, which was inhabited by people, plants, and animals, and the Lower World, which was inhabited by serpents and underwater monsters (Illinois State Museum np). While many creation and origin myths were similar between tribes, there were also stories unique to each tribe. For example, the Illinois believed that the earth rested on the back of an otter (Illinois State Museum np). The Miami believed that their tribe came into existence by emerging from a pool of water at Sakiwayungi, meaning “coming out place,” near what is presently South Bend, Indiana (Rafert 15).

For the Illinois, Miami, and Potawatomi many of their myths and rituals were structured around a belief in a master spirit of life, called Kitchesmanetoa, and the means in which they interacted with Kitchesmanetoa (Illinois State Museum np). Their main form of interaction with Kitchesmanetoa was through their manitous, or personal spirits. Manitous could take a variety of shapes, usually animals. Manitous were determined through vision quests that were undertaken by individuals at the age of puberty. During these vision quests, individuals would journey out into the woods alone and not eat or drink for several days (Bilodeau 358). The lack of sustenance was supposed to encourage dreams. Whatever figure the individual dreamt of became their personal manitou, which would guide them throughout the rest of their lives and symbolize their identity (Bilodeau 358). Personal manitous were frequently animals such as bears, cats, buffaloes, bucks and lynxes (Deliette 363).

In addition to personal manitous there were also general manitous that resided in natural objects, such as the sun, stars, trees, and rocks. These manitous helped everyone and were of the same ontological make-up as humans but were more powerful because they could take different forms (Bilodeau 357). The Native Americans of the Calumet also had special manitous for war situations, usually birds such as stone falcons, crows, carrion crows, turtledoves, ducks, swallows, martins, and parrots (Deliette 375). Not all manitous were helpful, however, and some were greatly feared by the Native Americans. One of the manitous feared most by the Miami was the Underwater Panther, or Lennipinja, which resided in lakes or deep pools of water and was the cause of turbulent water and drowning. The Miami would offer gifts of tobacco to Lennipinja in order to lessen their chances of drowning when out on the water (Rafert 15). Regardless of whether they were feared or revered, manitous served as an incredibly important lens through which the Native Americans of the Calumet understood the relationship between the spiritual and physical worlds.

Once European missionaries came to the area and exposed the tribes to Christianity, the concept of manitous helped to shape the ways in which the Native Americans associated with and understood Christianity. Some of the first written accounts of the tribes in the area were written by Jesuit missionaries. The first extended account of the Illinois was found in the journal of Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit missionary who explored the Mississippi River along with Louis Jolliet and five Illinois men in 1673 (Temple 15). Also in the mid-1600s, Father Claude Jean Allouez had extended interactions with both the Illinois and the Miami (Temple 14-16). Father Allouez, among others, remarked at how enthusiastic the Illinois seemed to be about Christianity (Bilodeau 352). However, the Illinois, as well as the Miami and Potawatomi, understood Christianity in a very different way than the French did. They linked the sun manitou to the Christian God and possibly even understood the missionaries as manitous inhabiting human bodies (Bilodeau 358). They also understood various Christian objects, such as the chapel, to be manitous (Bilodeau 358). In addition to incorporating Christian elements into their own spiritual beliefs, many members of the Illinois, Miami, and Potawatomi tribes may have turned to Christianity in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in hopes of gaining protection against their wars with the Iroquois and Sioux. By worshipping the Christian God, those who converted may have hoped to find protection with the French (Bilodeau 353). It is possible that many of the Native Americans may have seen the turn to Christianity as a  means of preserving their culture, rather than a way of altering it.

Religion also structured daily routines and rituals. For example, the formation of Midewiwins in the early 1800s, which literally means “spirit doings” but were actually medicine lodges, formed as a way to cope with illness and establish social control on a pantribal level (Rafert 19). This was especially useful as the tribes of the Calumet region faced extreme depopulation and devastation during the wars with the Iroquois. The Mide priests who ran the Midewiwins were very important figures and assumed the highest rank in the religious hierarchy (Rafert 19). Shamans, who were believed to have supernatural powers with which they could identify spiritual causes of illness and help to heal these illnesses, were also important religious figures (Milwaukee Public Museums np).

When illnesses could not be cured and individuals died, there were also rituals associated with helping the deceased on his or her journey to the spirit land. Food, tobacco, and other personal items were buried with the deceased to facilitate its travel onto the spirit world. The Miami believed that the Milky Way, which they referred to as the “spirit path”, led to the spirit land and that during the deceased’s journey they were accompanied by guardian spirits, or paisaki, who helped to protect them against any evil spirits that might tempt them on their way (Rafert 18). From birth to death, the spiritual beliefs of the tribes of the Calumet greatly impacted the way in which they experienced the world.

Representation of a piasa (“the bird that devours men”), first found by Marquette painted on the river bluffs upstream from Alton, Illinois. The Piasa was a manitou that was greatly feared by the Illinois (Illinois Department of Natural Resources np).


Thunderbird motif painted on deerhide by Illinois (Illinois State Museum np).


Historically, the governmental organization of the most prominent Native American tribes in the Calumet region was quite similar. . In his time with the Illinois tribe, Monsieur Deliette was able to observe the interactions that occurred within the group he was living with, and described in detail the type of power the medicine men and women had. Both feared and respected, the healers were able to exert their will over other tribe members in order to control, partially, the decision-making process. The fear and respect that these people held was key in maintaining their power, and they would actively cultivate the reputations necessary to maintain the reverence of their tribe members. Deliette described a ritual he witnessed in which the medicine men and women of the village would gather together and stage a fake healing. In this process, a victim would “die” and, after consuming copious amounts of medicine and undergoing an intensive treatment process by the medicine men and women, be shaken to the point of vomiting. The healers would throw a snake to the ground at the same time the victim vomited and declare the snake was an evil spirit that had been removed from the body of the “dead” tribe member, who had been miraculously revived (Deliette 369-71). However, because he was only an outside observer, Deliette only had a partial understanding of the ceremony, and many details may have been missing or misunderstood. This ritual was repeated several times a year and Deliette believed that this was done in order to ensure that the medicine men and women retain the respect of the younger tribe members (Deliette 371) (Hauser 52). Almost all of the old male tribe members that Deliette encountered were medicine men, creating a power hierarchy in which age brought respect and influence in the daily goings-on of the tribe (Deliette 363).

Within the tribe itself, during hunts or wartime, there would be many smaller groups, each with their own leader chosen from among the tribe members. Each party leader had the ultimate say within his smaller group, but was still under the orders of the chief of the tribe. It was the duty of these leaders to make the quick decisions necessary to have a successful hunt or successful raid. Leaders were considered solely responsible for the success or failure of their expedition. If there were deaths among the expedition party, the leader was required to proclaim the deaths and pay reparations to the family of the fallen tribe member. In addition, it was the duty of the party leader to seek revenge for any deaths that had occurred. If the same person continued to lose members of his party on any expedition, he would either be unable to lead in the future, or simply have trouble when trying to recruit others to join him. This essentially made continual success when hunting or at war a requirement if one wished to have political power within the tribe (Deliette 381).

The Europeans would trade guns and other goods for beaver skins or other animal products the Native Americans obtained from hunting in order to create a mutual political alliance. In his memoir, Deliette describes how Monsieur de Tonti was able to recruit Illinois warriors to go do battle with the Iroquois. When de Tonti left for a short time, he left Deliette to share his wishes with the tribe. Deliette believed that both he and de Tonti had political power over the tribe (Deliette 323). However, since he was not a member of the tribe, and given the tone of his memoir, it seems more likely that this was a mutual alliance.

Not all Europeans were attempting to use trade and the ensuing political power to force the Native Americans into battle. Some viewed the Native Americans solely as trading partners, others saw them as a large group of potential converts to Christianity, while others viewed them as a fighting force or potential allies. Often it was difficult for the Native Americans to know the end goals of the Europeans they encountered, and as a result even with the advantage of an unfair trade balance, the Europeans would be limited in their political power within the tribe (White 7, 28).

Interestingly, even the chiefs of some tribes would only have limited power within the tribe. In many tribes within the Algonquin language group, the chief had non-coercive political power given to him by a powerful spirit called a Manitou. Due to the non-coercive nature of his power, the chief had significant amounts of responsibility, but not very much deciding power or other benefit. He was able to make suggestions but the members of the tribe did not have to obey. Despite the lack of decision-making power, it was the responsibility of the chief to ensure the well-being of all of the members of the tribe. Fortunately for the children of the chief, this thankless task was not passed down through birthright. Instead, the tribe member chosen to be the chief would be picked largely based on success and ability on the battlefield (White 38).

Historically in the Potawatomi tribe, since the governmental structure of the tribe was much more localized than centralized, a chief had much more political power than a chief from other Algonquin tribes. This resulted in the creation of many largely autonomous local groups throughout the tribal territory. One very interesting consequence of this type of government was that certain local tribes would sign a land treaty with the government regarding a tract of land that another local tribe may have been unwilling to cede. This would occasionally result in disputes between different local tribes (Bowers 60-61).

The Miami tribe also had smaller local tribes within the larger tribe, although the government was significantly more centralized. There were ten main groups within the larger tribe, with delineation coming from geographic location as opposed to heritage.  Each village in the Miami tribe would have several official heads per village, all older members of the tribe, who would have the greatest say in any decision to be made. This group of leaders would be composed of both male and female tribe members, although the power was not evenly divided. While women were able to be a part of the group, they did not have the same sort of authority that the men within the group were. Additionally, there were two chiefs for the local tribes. There would be a chief of war and a village chief. The village chief was in charge of the day to day life of the tribe, while the war chief was solely in charge of battle. The village chief would be chosen based upon their wisdom and ability to ensure that peace and prosperity within the tribe were maintained. The war chief however, was chosen on their ability to organize raids and carry them out successfully. The standing of the war chief was entirely dependent on the success of the raids he organized. The village chief could be male or female, although female chiefs were much more rare (Ricky 1151-1152).

Tribal Interactions/European Interactions

Members of the Dakota-speaking group occupying the plains west of the Great Lakes, and the Iroquois tribal group (whose range extended from the eastern Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean) interacted more frequently with Miami and Potawatomi in the context of war, especially when Potawatomi and Miami were forced to migrate westward in order in search of trade resources. Iroquois raids on Chicago-area settlements of Potawatomi and Miami became more commonplace as the European settlement of the Atlantic coast and the area east of the Appalachians intruded on the historic range of the Iroquois group, forcing the Iroquois west into lands dominated by Algonquin tribes, who were culturally and linguistically distinct. However, this effect is not the entirely to blame for Iroquois aggression against the central Algonquin groups: before the formation of the Iroquois League in 1570, Iroquois tribes had been engaged constantly with one another in blood feuds and warfare. The unifying peace gave the tribes that became the Iroquois League enough power to drive unrelated tribes out. As the Algonquin groups of the Great Lakes were pushed westward by the Iroquois (around 1650), violent interactions between the Miami, Potawatomi, and the Dakota became more common as well. (Quaife, 1913; Sultzman, 1998; Sultzman, 1999; Edmunds, 1978; Birzer, 2005)

The introduction of Europeans to the cultural mix in North America can be counted as an overwhelmingly disruptive event for Native Americans. The introduction  of the European fur trade to North America  (and the uneven arming of Native Americans with metal weaponry)  added a degree of bloodshed to conflicts between Great Lakes Algonquin groups and between Iroquois and Algonquin groups. This is because the fur trade  introduced a new type of demand for a resource that was not driven by the inhabitants of the region, and secondly, was large and persistent enough that it presented the possibility that the demand for the resource in question  could not be met, which allowed the subject of the demand, the beaver, to become scarce, and in places, locally extinct. Native American trappers were forced to travel farther to find beaver to satisfy European demand for fur, and in doing so, often came into conflict with other tribes. This effect, which served to destroy even longstanding alliances, is evident in the changing nature of the relationship between the Potawatomi and the Ottawa. Both tribes had migrated southwest around Lake Huron to settle in what is now Michigan around the year 1400. The Potawatomi occupied most of what is now southern Michigan, while the Ottawa remained farther north. Although the Potawatomi and the Ottawa had interacted on peaceful terms as members of the “three brothers” group until the sixteenth century, the French traders who came into contact with the Ottawa in the early 1600s drafted trade agreements with the Ottawa that meant that the Ottawa were in a de facto competition for tradeable resources with the neighboring Potawatomi. This competitive relationship was threatening to the Potawatomi not only because it made their access to natural resources uncertain but because they did not have a direct relationship with French traders (the French did not actually ever come in contact with the Potawatomi until after trade agreements had been made with the Ottawa), and could therefore not compete directly with the Ottawa for trade. The Potawatomi were forced to migrate farther south and west, into the current Calumet region.(Sultzman, 1998; Clifton, 1977)

Another particularly violent example of the effect the competitive European fur trade had on the relationships between Native American groups was the conflict referred to by the Iroquois as the Beaver Wars. Beginning in 1630, and lasting until 1700, the Beaver Wars were a set of violent interactions between tribes for territory and trapping rights. When trade between the east coast and the Great Lakes was threatened by tribal disputes over resources and trading privileges, the major European powers present in North America began to arm tribes allied with them, and to mediate conflict between tribes in order to form tribal alliances. In order to gain a monopoly over the eastern fur trade, the British, Swedish, and Dutch armed the Iroquois with European weapons and encouraged them to expand their range further west. In response, the French began to arm many of the Great Lakes Algonquin tribes, such as the Huron, the Ottawa, and the Algonkin. This resulted in an extremely bloody series of conflicts, in which many unarmed groups were forced to migrate or settle in refugee camps (such as the Potawatomi-dominated camp at Green Bay, Wisconsin) with members of other tribes. By 1649, roughly 20,000 Native Americans inhabited such areas, which, for the most part, were not in a zone that lent itself to agriculture, so starvation and illness was extremely common among the refugees, who usually relied on a semi-sedentary lifestyle and mixed subsistence farming to avoid depleting sources of game and edible plants. In areas such as these, the mixing of tribes occurred frequently. However, the villages of Potawatomi in refugee camps retained a sense of tribal identity, and thus became the dominant tribe in the region, at least among refugee tribes.. (Sultzman, 1999; Sultzman, 1998; Clifton, 1977; Edwards, 1978)

The Miami were among the very few tribes the Iroquois allowed to (partially) remain in their home range after 1650, probably because the Miami remained hostile to the Illinois, and were therefore seen by the Iroquois as a valuable ally, although two Miami subgroups, the Wea and Piankashaw were pushed west into southern Wisconsin and western Illinois. However, when Miami groups allowed members of the Shawnee tribe (another enemy of the Iroquois) to settle with them, the alliance between the Miami and the Iroquois was broken,  forcing the Miami to make peace with the French and the Illinois for protection. Ultimately, the Iroquois were forced to retreat eastward, and by 1700, the Miami were able to move back to their traditional Indiana range. However, this defeat gave rise to tension between the Great Lake Algonquins and the French, because the French (for the most part) did not participate in the actual fighting, instead arming the Great Lakes Algonquin, and then leaving it to them to defeat the Iroquois. (Sultzman, 1999; Birzer, 2005; Kinietz, 1940)

The Beaver Wars are especially characteristic of the relationship between tribal groups in the Midwest and the Chicago region that followed the introduction of the European fur trade. Trade alliances based on physical proximity, the actual exchange of goods, and the pursuit of resources eclipsed former tribal alliances based on shared culture and ancestry, and eventually, tribes that had become accustomed to acting as middlemen between other tribes often turned against the French, only to be reunited by new circumstances and newly-found enemies, which often included American settlers encouraged to move west of the Appalachian Mountains by the policy of manifest destiny (that happened to be in direct violation of treaties  such as the Treaty of Greenville (or implemented contradictory “whiskey treaties” such as the Treaty of Mississinawa) signed by Great Lakes Algonquin groups the newly formed American government to reserve all lands west of the Appalachians for Native Americans). From 1700 to roughly 1820, several intercolonial and intertribal wars were fought, including but not limited to the Revolutionary War (where the Potawatomi sided with the Americans against the enemies of the French–the British), the French and Indian War, and the War of 1812, all of which were not primarily thought of as wars among Native American groups, but all of which created massive unrest among Native American groups in the Midwest.

The Battle of Tippecanoe during the War of 1812 is worth mention because it marks an instance of clear resistance against European and American settlers’ and traders’ influence on Native lives, which was (rightly) seen as disruptive and harmful by Tecumseh, the leader of the Shawnee tribe of central and southern Indiana. Tecumseh strove to mobilize many of the central and Great Lakes Algonquin (including the Miami and Potawatomi) tribes in order to push back against the wave of settlers moving into the Midwest. His brother, Tenskwatawa, convinced troops to attack American general William Henry Harrison’s forces prematurely, and the Native Americans were defeated. Tecumseh lost support, and the postwar policy of the American government shifted from a policy of coexistence to one of Native American removal. (Newberry, 2011; Kansas Historical Society, 2013; Clifton, 1977; Tippecanoe County Historical Association, 2014).

In 1832, the Potawatomi leader Menominee was approached, and asked to sign the Treaty of Tippecanoe, which sold Potawatomi lands to the United States and mandated the Potawatomi move west of the Mississippi. Although Menominee at first refused to sign the treaty, the X representing his signature appeared on the treaty, along with the X’s of a coalition of other Potawatomi leaders. In later letters to Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of War, Lewis Cass, Menominee and many of these same leaders claimed they had never signed the treaties (or had been asked to sign while extremely drunk), nor had they any intention to sell their reserves in the Midwest. Even if they had agreed, Menominee stated, the Potawatomi still had not received any of the money they were promised in the treaty. For this reason, Menominee and his followers refused to leave their lands in 1838, the time dictated under the Treaty of Tippecanoe. However, the Potawatomi were forcefully removed from their range in the Calumet and through Indiana. United States troops under General John Tipton took the Potawatomi leaders prisoner and forced the remaining Potawatomi to walk in a procession to Ostawatomi, Kansas. So many Potawatomi died from disease and exhaustion on this forced march that it is currently referred to as the “Trail of Death.” The Miami removal from Indiana to Kansas began in 1846. One key difference between the Miami removal and the Potawatomi removal was that Miami who owned private land were allowed to remain, and forced removal was obtained by threats rather than by a forced march. However, the toll on Miami population was still extremely high. Once the Miami reached their reservation in late 1846 and 1847, disease left the tribal population as low as 300. About half of these were eventually allowed to return to Indiana (Trail of Death Association, 2006; Kansas Historical Society, 2014; Sultzman, 1998)

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The history of the indigenous people of the Calumet region is incredibly complex, which made the construction of a comprehensive report extremely difficult. However, we feel we were able to give a clear, appropriate picture of Native American life and history in the Calumet region. By covering aspects of village life, agriculture, spirituality, government, and tribal interactions we were able to illuminate the lifestyle and cultural identities of the Native American tribes of the Calumet region. It is exceedingly important to recognize the narratives of non-European groups, especially those of Native Americans, in order to accurately represent the structure and traditions of a region. In this report, we feel we have made it abundantly clear that human influence in the Calumet started with Native Americans, not with Europeans.




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Village Life

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