The History of the American Bottom
Two of the nations largest rivers meet in the American Bottom. The Mississippi and Missouri Rivers served as channels of change to the area, bringing outside influences of many different peoples to an Indian-inhabited land. Like the constant flow of the rivers, there was a constant change in the American Bottom. The progress eventually developed the area into a center of economic activity and gateway to the west, but also excluded native and long-time residents. The Illinois Indians long dominated the American Bottom. They were a unique and special tribe, who were complex politically, religiously, and socially. They were also an independent people until ...view middle of the document...
War, disease, alcohol, and new ways of life eventually exterminated the Illinois. Although the Illinois were not to make it through the development of the American Bottom, they played a crucial and fascinating role in its history.
The land the Illinois lived was not only beautiful but also abundant with resources. The resources in the area amazed the French missionaries and explorers. Father Claude Allois, a Jesuit missionary, describes an interesting spectacle on a journey south. “The next day, we saw a rock seven or eight feet out of the water and two or three brasses in circumference, named ‘the pitch rock.’ Indeed, one could see the pitch trickling down in little threads on the side on which the sun was warming it. We took some and found it good for pitching canoes; and I make use of it for sealing my letters.” (Relations 159) Here we can see how the Europeans were amazed by the new treasures they were finding in the New World. The weather allowed them to grow a variety of crops including corn and other crops such as pumpkins and squash. This proved to be an important reason why the French and English both wanted control over the land. Control over this land meant control of an abundant amount of resources. More importantly though, the Illinois Country served as an important communication artery between Louisiana and Canada.
(Schmidt 5) This is another reason why their land was in such demand by colonial powers. The French had ruled trade in Illinois Country since 1673 but the English knew how important that land was to colonial success. This was likely the reason that the English supplied weapons and supplies to the Iroquois during the war with the Illinois. Although the intention of the Jesuit missionaries was just, the French traders rarely cared for the Illinois. In fact, it was the exploitation of their people and their land that ended with the eventual fall of the Illinois Confederacy. How did this happen though? What specific factors contributed to this decline and eventual end of Illinois culture?
As stated before, the Illinois were a very autonomous and strong tribe. In other words, the Illinois had always been able to provide for themselves and what they did provide was considerably better than that which other tribes could provide. With the arrival of the French, this was all to change. The French were almost exclusively responsible for the decline of the Illinois. One way in which this occurred was the introduction of Christianity to the Illinois. Christianity is a religion in which there are only monogamous marriages. This contrasted with the Illinois culture as they had always had multiple wives. Having multiple wives produced a great deal of offspring. When many of the Illinois began practicing Christianity the birth rate began to decline because many of them only took one wife. (Hauser 46-56)
Another reason for their decline was the wars that the Illinois fought. The first of which we have record were the wars...