What has an American Indian-based name in Illinois?
Editor’s note: The weekly Illinois Bicentennial series is brought to you by the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors and Illinois Press Association. More than 20 newspapers are creating stories about the state’s history, places and key moments in advance of the Bicentennial on Dec. 3, 2018. Stories published up to this date can be found at 200illinois.com.
Centuries ago Illinois was home to the largest and most influential city in what would become the United States, rivaling the size of European cities at the time.
As many as 20,000 people — double that if surrounding communities are included — lived about 1,000 years ago in the elaborate planned city that now lies within the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.
Cahokia, east of St. Louis, includes woodhenges — large sun calendars that were built of red cedar posts — and at least 120 mounds and pyramids used to support important buildings and for burials.
Yet, Cahokia is only part of Illinois’ rich American Indian heritage.
What has an American Indian-based name in Illinois?
Although 101,451 Illinoisans identify themselves as being fully or partly of American Indian descent, the tribes themselves are gone from Illinois, mostly moved west by the federal government in the 1800s, said Bill Iseminger, assistant manager of the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. What’s left are the remains of native cemeteries, villages, cities and mounds, onetime Indian routes that became the basis for many of our modern roads and highways and the names of many things, beginning with our state itself, named for a powerful American Indian group that once called Illinois home.
Many different groups occupied Illinois in the centuries before Christopher Columbus set foot on North America.
Archaeologists estimate people came here about 12,000 years ago after migration from Asia over a land bridge began to populate the continent, according to the Illinois State Museum. Over thousands of years, people adapted to a changing climate and became less nomadic as the Ice Age came to a close.
Cahokia was built during the Mississippian Age, which began around 900 A.D. and lasted about 550 years. The city was the political and religious center of Mississippian life, but eventually its influence faded. It was largely abandoned by 1350 A.D., though no one knows precisely why.
Wood, game and other food sources might have been depleted, Iseminger said. There is evidence of long droughts and the climate was cooling.
Where did they go? Probably in many directions, joining other communities or establishing new ones, Iseminger said. The Osage, Ponca, Omaha and Quapaw people are believed to be descended from the city’s builders.
About 700 years ago, as Cahokia was fading, a people called the Oneota emerged in the Illinois River valley. Excavations in Fulton County show half of those buried in an Oneota cemetery died as a result of violence, though it’s not known why, according to the Illinois State Museum.
Were the two cultures at war? It’s hard to say, though there’s evidence of Oneota culture in the Cahokia area. And Cahokia had a large palisade enclosure, indicating a need for defense, Iseminger said.
“The Oneota, as they migrated south, may have been the final blow of the Mississippian culture,” he said.
By the time French traders and priests arrived in the 1600s, there were two main American Indian groups in the area: the Illiniwek, or Illinois, and the Miami. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the Illiniwek territory shrank, the Miamis moved eastward, and other tribes moved in.
As Europeans and other outsiders arrived, the Indians traded with them. They allied with the French and the British, at different times. American Indian federations and tribes fought each other, with the Iroquois being notorious for battles against the Illiniwek.
Starved Rock State Park near Utica is named for a stone formation where, legend has it, members of the Illiniwek starved to death in 1769 during a siege by the Ottawa and Potawatomi, who sought to avenge the killing of the Ottawa chief, Pontiac.
By 1818, a War Department study estimated there were at least 10,860 native people living in this area, not counting the Peoria band of Miami Indians. Tribes had already ceded a strip of land at the mouth of the Chicago River to the U.S. government, as well as land near Kaskaskia.
In 1821, the tribes gave up more of northern Illinois.
In 1832, some members of the Sac and Fox nations agreed with a chief named Black Hawk that their land had been illegally taken from them. They tried moving back into northwestern Illinois and western Wisconsin, leading to the unsuccessful Black Hawk War.
The 1833 Treaty of Chicago took care of the largest swath. In exchange for handing over 5 million acres, tribes including the Potawatomi, Ojibwe, Odawa, Sac and Fox agreed to move west of the Mississippi River, according to an 1918 article about the treaty in the Wisconsin Magazine of History. Many would eventually be pushed farther, which is why the Peoria Tribe of Miami Indians is now headquartered in Oklahoma.
When the French and other Europeans arrived, they learned the tribes’ languages and began naming places and landmarks using the natives’ words. French or English versions of the names stuck.
The settlers also might have been influenced by the Romantic movement of the late 1700s and early 1800s, which placed a high value on nature and folk legends, so the names might have been meant to memorialize the dwindling numbers of natives and their cultures.
Poet Walt Whitman extolled the practice, in “An American Primer:” “All aboriginal names sound good. I was asking for something savage and luxuriant, and behold, here are the aboriginal names. I see how they are being preserved. They are honest words, — they give the true length, breadth, depth. They all fit. Mississippi! — the word winds with chutes — it rolls a stream three thousand miles long. Ohio, Connecticut, Ottawa, Monongahela, all fit.”
There are six counties in Illinois that have Indian-themed names, at least 60 towns, and scores of schools and other places, from Aptakisic Road in Lake County to the town of Wetaug in Union County.
Many other roads now have more prosaic names but trace the paths American Indians once used, from the east-west U.S. Route 6, which generally follows the onetime Sauk Trail, to the North Shore’s Green Bay Road, thought to have been a Potawatomi trail.
NORMAL — The pace at which Illinois high school graduates are leaving the state to attend college is accelerating at the same time most public universities are struggling to maintain enrollment — and that has state higher education officials worried.
“It's deeply troubling and I choose those words carefully,” said Al Bowman, executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education and former president of Illinois State University.
State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, sounded an alarm at a recent McLean County Republican Party breakfast, saying higher education needs to be “retooled” and “left unchecked for the next four years, entire campuses are going to close.”
Rose and state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, have introduced legislation calling for a comprehensive overhaul of higher education. It prompted the creation of a bipartisan working group that has had several meetings.
“Business as usual can't go on” in higher education, Brady said.
BLOOMINGTON — A bipartisan working group of lawmakers is digging deep into challenges facing higher education, from declining enrollment to financial concerns, to find solutions before matters get worse.
Forty-six percent of the members of the high school class of 2016 in Illinois who headed to four-year schools enrolled out of state, according to figures from the Illinois State Board of Education. That compares to 29 percent in 2002.
“Illinois has had a history of out-migration for many, many years,” Bowman said. “The difference is it has accelerated during recent years, particularly during the budget impasse,” when Illinois went without a full-year budget in fiscal years 2016 and 2017 and higher education saw significant funding cuts.
At the same time, overall enrollment in the state's public universities is declining, from 204,781 in fall 2009 to 188,405 in fall 2016.
Rose notes that enrollment is growing at only four of the 12 public university campuses.
“Where's our plan to protect our strengths and shed our weaknesses … so everyone has a chance at a world-class education?” asked Rose. “Let's not wait until the inevitable happens.”
A couple of factors are at play, explains Bowman.
The pool of 18-year-olds in the Midwest is shrinking and the composition of the pool has changed. More are students from underrepresented groups with historically lower college participation rates than the general population, he said.
“It's a highly competitive marketplace,” Bowman said. “Some universities have learned how to compete in that environment. For others, it's a learning curve.”
One campus that's seen growth, although it had a slight dip in enrollment last fall, is ISU.
ISU President Larry Dietz said the school has fared well because “we have a strong brand. Our academic programs are strong.”
He said the faculty invests time and energy to make sure academic offerings are up to date and the university works to “stay on the edge of innovation.” Strong retention, graduation and loan repayment rates also help reassure parents and students about investing in ISU, Dietz said.
Eastern Illinois University has been focusing on identifying students at risk of dropping out and offering the intensive services needed to help retain them.
Randy Dunn, president of the Southern Illinois University system, which has campuses in Carbondale, Edwardsville and Springfield, has experienced both sides of enrollment issue.
While Carbondale has seen enrollment drop considerably, Edwardsville's enrollment is growing.
Spring enrollment at Southern Illinois University Carbondale declined 8.81 percent from the previous spring semester, according to a news release from the university.
“The Edwardsville campus has a very strong, edgy, forward-looking recruiting and marketing program,” Dunn said, adding it's been able to invest money in marketing because stronger enrollment gives it more resources.
More aggressive recruiting is one of the solutions to keeping Illinois students in Illinois, Bowman said.
But that's not all. “Money talks,” Bowman said.
Dietz agrees. “Students and parents will respond to financial incentives,” he said.
Schools such as ISU have put money into institutional financial aid.
Among ideas under discussion at the state level is revamping the Monetary Awards Program that is based on financial need, and looking at merit-based aid.
When out-of-state schools recruit Illinois students, they are generally targeting those with higher grade-point-averages and standardized test scores.
“We're losing our intellectual brainpower,” Dietz said, noting that students who attend college out-of-state are less likely to return to Illinois than those who stay here for school.
“We understand the state is in a financial pickle and we're not immune to that,” Dietz said. “But we need to get back to a reasonable amount of investment.”