Indians have lived within this park since 8000 BC. The first inhabitants were called the Archaic Indians. Through the centuries, Woodland, Hopewellian, and Mississippi Indian cultures have flourished in this area. The Indian culture we have the most knowledge about is the historic Illinois Indians because they were here and written about in the diaries of the first Europeans that came to this area.
In 1673, Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet found the Village of the Kaskaskia on the north bank of the Illinois River. The French called the village “La Vantum”. It had a population which fluctuated from 1,200 to 15,000 from 1673 to the early 1700’s. The Kaskaskia village was an unusually large Indian concentration. Its size increased rapidly due to the influx of other Illinois and related Algonquin tribes who all were under the relentless attacks of the Iroquois.
The Kaskaskias, the leading tribe of the Illinois, were a people of medium build, with long legs, straight white teeth and tattoos covering most of their bodies. They were primarily hunters, hunting bison, wild turkey, bear, elk, deer, raccoon, and beaver. They also gathered food and had a simple garden-type agriculture. It was the women who were the farmers, planting maize, beans, melons, and various vegetable crops. A prime area farmed in this immediate area was Plum Island, the large island that can be seen out in the river.
During the summer they stayed near their gardens, but after the harvest and storage of the crops, they left for the hunt to the south and the west where the climate was milder and game more plentiful. Their homes were formed from a framework of two parallel rows of saplings bent together and lashed at the top, so as to form a series of arches. They were roofed and floored with mats made of rushes which were referred to as “apacoyas”. Inside were cooking fires and storage pits. Six to twelve families were housed in each structure. Their utensils and tools were made of wood, bone and skulls, stones and shells. They had simple pottery; copper and iron were unknown. They did not reach above the level of a modified Stone Age culture.
The French missionaries were active here until 1700. French trading rights were suspended and in 1702, Fort St. Louis was abandoned. The Kaskaskia Indians, losing the military protection of the French and their source of trade goods, decided to follow them further south. The Kaskaskias moved their village to the mouth of the Kaskaskia River and called it “Rounesac”. In 1764 their number was given as 600 and rapidly declining. After losing their land rights along the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, the survivors of the Illinois Nation moved to Kansas in 1832. Today, the survivors of the Illinois Indians live in Oklahoma where they have been incorporated as the “Peoria Tribe of the Indians of Oklahoma” since 1940.