Recently someone asked me which Indians tribes lived in the Marengo area. I quickly answered that it was the Potawatomi in the Marengo area, and to the west in the Rockford area it was the Winnebago, and farther west in the vicinity of Rock Island the Sac and Fox made their home. After briefly thinking on the answer I corrected myself, and added the qualifier that these were the Native American nations that were in the area in the 1830’s when the first settlers arrived.

Prior to that no one is really certain; I know people who have found artifacts (stone tools) in the Marengo area that were declared by experts to have been manufactured several centuries before the first white settlers arrived. It is possible that the people who are referred to as Moundbuilders trod the land that today is McHenry County. The idea is not far-fetched if you consider that these people left behind the feature that is known as the Turtle Mound which located in what today is known as Beattie Park in Rockford. It is estimated that this mound was constructed sometime around 700 A.D. to 1100 A.D.

Illinois’ written history dates back to 1673, when Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette explored the Mississippi River – a major Indian trading route. Near the mouth of the Des Moines River the expedition encountered people who called themselves the Illini, and were a confederation composed of five tribes; the Tamaroa, Michigamie, Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and the Peoria. This confederation claimed as their hunting ground a majority portion of the modern State of Illinois. There were other tribes present; mostly north of the Illini hunting ground. These were the Kickapoo in far northwestern part of the state, and the Miami in modern day Lake and Cook Counties. At this time the Potawatomi were still living in present day Wisconsin.

From 1650 to about 1700 the Illini experienced hostilities from Iroquois war parties that came from the east. In 1680 a savage attack on the Illini town south of modern day Ottawa, Illinois, took its toll on the Illini. The confederation tribes were driven west to the Mississippi River, and its warrior ranks were decimated. With the confederation weakened the tribes from the north put additional pressure on the Illini and took possession of their hunting grounds. The Kickapoo moved south of the Rock River, and the Sac and Fox moved into northwestern Illinois; to the east the Winnebago and the Potawatomi filled the void. This was the alignment of tribes west to east in 1835 when the first white settlers came to McHenry County.

Two years prior, in September of 1833, a treaty was signed in Chicago that ceded most of the remaining lands east of the Mississippi River to the US Government. The Indians had until August of 1836 to remove themselves to a reservation in Missouri, and the treaty prohibited settlers from moving into the area prior to 1836.

There was a handful of zealous pioneers who disregarded the treaty and moved into the Marengo area in 1835, and crossed paths with the Potawatomi inhabitants. William Hamilton of Ohio moved into Coral Township in November of 1835. He built his shelter near the present day location of Coral village. Located just to the west of his home was an Indian village that consisted of a group of bark wigwams. Amongst this collection of dwellings stood a large conical structure that was used as a council house. Hamilton and some of his fellow settlers believed that this Indian town was abandoned, and they pulled the bark off the wigwams to use in the construction of their own shelters. Hamilton also procured some copper pots that he found.

In the spring of 1836 the Potawatomi returned to Coral and discovered that their village had been raided. The Indians had wintered at another location and came back to their ceded land to plant a final crop. One of the first tasks that they performed was to open a pit that contained the seed corn from the previous year’s harvest. Another task was a visit to Hamilton’s shelter to re-procure their copper pots. The Indians went about their lives in Coral alongside their new neighbors. Eventually they yielded to the swarm of pioneers that moved into the Marengo-Union area. Their departure is not documented, but one thing is for certain, and that is that Hamilton didn’t see them leave. He died that spring in 1836 from an injury that he sustained the previous fall from a falling timber while helping Calvin Spencer, the founder of Marengo, build a log structure. The Illinois Potawatomi were removed to Nebraska, and today the various bands live in several states; Kansas, Oklahoma, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin.


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