Friday, May 14, 2010

Early Champaign County and its Native Peoples

Potowatamie Camp Scene, Crooked Creek, George Winter, artist. Image courtesy of the Tippecanoe County Historical Association, Lafayette, Indiana. To see more about the collection, click here.

Spring weather, with its warm, windy conditions, can be evocative of an earlier era here in Champaign County. One only has to travel back in time 175 years to find a landscape virtually untouched by development. When one central Illinois traveler gazed upon the long grass prairie for the first time,

I was struck, as is every traveller [sic] at first view of these vast plains, with the grandeur, and novelty, and loveliness of the scene before me. For some moments I remained stationary, looking out upon the boundless landscape before me. The tall grass-tops waving in the billowy beauty in the breeze; the narrow pathway winding off like a serpent over the rolling surface, disappearing and reappearing till lost in the luxuriant herbage; the shadowy, cloud-like aspect of the far-off trees, looming up, here and there, in isolated masses along the horizon, like the pyramidal canvass of ships at sea; the deep-green groves besprinkled among the vegetation, like islets in the waters; the crimson-died prairie-flower flashing in the sun — these features of inanimate nature seemed strangely beautiful to one born and bred amid the bold mountain scenery of the North, and who now gazed upon them “for the first”.

Historically there are no known major native settlements within the boundaries of present-day Champaign County. The area was well-known to native peoples, however, who frequented the local prairies, groves, and river valleys in hunting and foraging parties. The Urbana Democrat published this reminiscence in the December 21, 1867 edition:

During the spring and autumn, the Indians (Delawares, Kickapoos and Pottawatomies), occupied themselves in hunting through the county, killing squirrels and wild turkeys in the groves, deer and grouse on the prairies and bear on the Little Wabash River. About the first of March they usually returned toward the Kankakee for the purpose of making maple sugar.
Click here to view materials in the collections of the Champaign County Historical Archives regarding native peoples in Champaign County listed in our Local History Online index.

Additionally, click here to view a list of publications and web sites devoted to the native peoples of Illinois, many of which may be borrowed by Urbana Free Library patrons.

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