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Native peoples


I noted in a 1983 Illinois Times column that even though what we now call Illinois has been occupied continuously for perhaps 12,000 years, even though there existed near modern East St. Louis an Indian metropolis of as many as 40,000 people which outshone anything white settlers were to build for another 700 years, and even though the state itself bears an Indian name, the series of twelve dioramas unveiled in the 1940s at Springfield’s Illinois State Museum entitled "The Story of Illinois" begins with a scene depicting the arrival of the first white Europeans in 1673.


Remains of the  long occupation of Illinois by native peoples are everywhere underfoot, but for decades Indians were less present in history books. Depending on the era, the long Indian interregnum was offered as a preface to the main story of white occupation, an exotic interlude, or a savage struggle for dominance against the primitive.


Some of this was owed to indifference, some of it to racism, some to ignorance of the Native American past. Happily for anyone curious about Illinois, more recent historians of the region have restored native peoples to their human complexity and their social significance.

Nevertheless, the great history of the Indian peoples in Illinois has yet to be written. Until it is, one can learn from several works of quality. Koster: Americans in Search of Their Prehistoric Past by Stuart Struever and Felicia Antonelli Holton (Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1979) recounts the discovery and exploration of that important archeological site in Greene County. At the time the book set a new standard for popular works on anthropology.

​The Indian city of Cahokia figures prominently in the history of Illinois. It has been the subject of many technical studies. One of the best accounts for the layperson is Cahokia: The Great Native American Metropolis by Biloine Whiting Young and Melvin L. Fowler (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000). Easily its match is Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi by Timothy R. Pauketat (Penguin Books, 2009).

Shift forward several hundred years and you find yourself in the Illinois that is the subject of Empire by Collaboration: Indians, Colonists, and Governments in Colonial Illinois Country by Robert Michael Morrissey (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015). Morrissey, who teaches at the U of I at Urbana, is especially good on the ways that climate shift altered the lifestyles of the Illini nation, obliging them to adopt ways of hunting, indeed a whole economy, from Indians from the drier grasslands to the west.​ Judith A. Franke’s French Peoria and the Illinois Country 1673–1846 (Springfield: Illinois State Museum, 1995) is another authoritative account of that very interesting period.

​Historian John Mack Faragher accords the Indian her proper place in the narrative of Sugar Creek: Life on the Illinois Prairie (Yale University Press, 1986). The book examines the frontier era through that Sangamon County settlement south of Springfield where the Kickapoo had a sugaring camp. The fate of the Kickapoo in Illinois also features significantly in Kristin Hoganson’s The Heartland: An American History (Penguin Press, 2019).

While not at all a scholarly account, my history of mid-Illinois has rather a lot about the Indians. 

Revised 03/01/2021

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Stone Magic 

A trek across a cornfield and hundreds of years  "Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times November 13, 2014  

Oh, For a Prairie Thucydides   

People shaped Illinois, and vice versa

"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times  May 18, 2017           

In the Place of the Dead

Young author, old graves at Dickson Mounds

Focus  March 11, 1971

Dealing with the Dead

Learning respect at Dickson Mounds

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  1999

Guilty Consciences
The fantasy of the innocent Native American Eden

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  May 19, 1994

Because We're Curious

Illinois history did not begin with the whites

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  October 5, 1983

Old Bones

Sacrilege and science at Dickson Mounds

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  May 23, 1990

Dance a While in His Moccasins

Chief Illinwekmascot, symbol, or insult? 

See Illinois  (unpublished)  2005

Times Square, A.D. 1100

The Indian metropolis at Cahokia

See Illinois (unpublished)  2007

The Sauk in Illinois

The whites' war on Indian country

See Illinois  (unpublished)  2004

Shadow of a Cloud

Chief Black Hawk in life and legend

See Illinois  (unpublished)  2004

The Message from the Graves

What do the Oneota teach us about ourselves?

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times  July 19, 2012

“Plenty of Neighbors”

Native Americans in presettlement Chicagoland

See Illinois (unpublished)  2007

“Heathen names”

Indian places names in central Illinois

See Illinois (unpublished)  2002

Mounds of History

Native peoples in western Illinois

See Illinois (unpublished)  2005

Trails of Tears

Native peoples in southern Illinois

See Illinois (unpublished)  2007


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John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

See Home Page/Learn/

Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago


The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.

Illinois Great Places

The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our  shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.

McLean County Museum

of History

A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.

Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois


Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."

Illinois Digital Archives


Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards,  posters, and videos.

The Illinois State Museum


The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and  history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.

Chronicling Illinois

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.


I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered." 

Illinois Labor History Society

The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like. 

Illinois Migration History 1850-2017

The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories  (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly. 

History on the Fox

An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than

2,000 words.)




Southern Illinois University Press 2017

A work of solid history, entertainingly told.

Michael Burlingame,

author of Abraham 

Lincoln: A Life 

One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.

Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018

A lively and engaging study . . .  an enthralling narrative.

James Edstrom

The Annals of Iowa

A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

as well as local historians generally.

John Hoffman

Journal of Illinois HIstory

A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

Harold Henderson 

Midwestern Microhistory

A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.

Greg Hall

Journal of the Illinois

State Historical Society

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the book 

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Southern Illinois University Press

SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.

University of

Illinois Press

The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog  (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more.  Of particular note are its Prairie State Books,  quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.

University of

Chicago Press

The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to

Vivian Maier.

Northern Illinois University Press

The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.


Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order

by book title. 


Illinois Center for the Book

Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.

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