This blog post was written for tumblr user howoddnichole, who requested some information about Kaskaskia history. Most of the information comes from Richard White’s The Middle Ground, Wayne C. Temple’s Indian Villages of the Illinois Country, and the Peoria Tribal webpage.
The Kaskaskia people were one of the primary tribes of the Inoka (Illinois) Confederacy of the 1600s and onwards. They were one of the Algonquian peoples attacked by the Haudenosaunee in the 1600s Beaver Wars, forcing them to take refuge in Wisconsin and Illinois. In the mid-1600s, refugees from a variety of tribes lived in multitribal villages, and it was probably around then that people of similar languages formed the Inoka Confederacy, with large numbers residing at a place called Starved Rock. The conditions people lived in were hard, as corn often failed and hunters competed intensely for game.
In 1680, the Haudenosaunee started another wave of attacks, destroying the Kaskaskia Great Village. This sparked an initial Algonquian-French alliance, and the French began to maintain posts at Starved Rock, where a large number of Kaskaskia resided. Along with them came large numbers of missionaries. Among the people of the Inoka Confederacy, young women in particular were attracted to Christianity and the cult of the Virgin Mary. In some ways, it had a similar function to a women’s religious society by providing them with a source of validation for power. Other women married French coureurs de bois, creating formal trade relationships through marriage, which ultimately led to the French essentially freaking out about miscegenation and removing all their western posts.
In 1694, a Frenchman named Michel Accault tried to get married to a devout Christian Kaskaskia woman who was also the daughter of a chief, Aramepinchieue. Her father wanted the marriage to happen to strengthen the trade ties, but Aramepinchieue refused, drawing on both Kaskaskia ideas of sexual sovereignty and Catholic notions of piety. Her father ejected her from his house and tried to stop the church services; she and fifty women persisted, defying the male authorities. Eventually they compromised, and the two were married and Aramepinchieue’s father agreed to let the priests in, resulting in the Kaskaskias becoming almost universally Catholic, at least in name, by 1711.
The Inoka confederacy was also engaged in long-term war with the Meskwaki nation, and they allied with the French to nearly destroy the Meskwaki in the 1730s. It may have been due to these wars and disease that during the 1700s the population of the Inoka declined significantly. The Kaskaskia resettled from Starved Rock to the place where the Kaskaskia River meets the Mississippi, where they continued to intermarry with Frenchmen. Their relationship with the movement led by Pontiac in the 1760s was touchy, and ended with Pontiac being killed by some Peoria for an attack he made on an Inoka chief.
By the time of the American Revolution, the Kaskaskia had mostly relocated to the Mississippi, but a group of them, along with other Indians, allied with the British and moved into the Ohio country to attack the Americans to prevent their entrance into the area. By the late 1700s, the Inoka confederacy’s population was devastated, and the United States negotiated a treaty with them at Vincennes in 1803 in which the Kaskaskia ceded their territory in Illinois Country and received two reservations.
In 1832, the remaining Kaskaskia signed a treaty leaving Illinois and Missouri to settle with Peoria, Piankeshaw, and Wea in Kansas, with whom they officially formed the Confederated Peoria tribe in 1854. After the Civil War, most signed the Omnibus Treaty to relocate to Indian Territory, while some remained and became US citizens. The Dawes Act of 1898 divided the Peoria’s land into allotments and dissolved the traditional government; this was reinstated with the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1939. In 1959, the Peoria tribe was terminated, and achieved federal recognition once again in 1978.