Much of what we know about the Kickapoo Indian Tribe in Illinois comes from an archaeological investigation that took place prior to a road-building project in the 1970s. This copper or brass kettle was one of the artifacts uncovered from the Rhoads village site. Excavations revealed a mix of traditional stone tools, arrow points, pottery, and other objects mixed with items of European origin including glass beads, silver crosses and jewelry, ceremonial smoking pipes, and this kettle.
After thousands of years of using stone, and to a lesser extent mussel shell digging tools, some Native people transformed the bison’s shoulder blade, or scapula, into digging tools to tend their gardens.
Even a piece of bone adapted for use as a tool is an opportunity for artistic expression. In this case, an arrow straightener, made from a bison’s rib bone, serves as a tiny canvas. It was found at the Kaskaskia Village site in Randolph County and collected in 1952.
Despite the best efforts of archaeologists, serendipity often plays a role in the most significant finds. In the case of the Mackinaw Cache, a group of boys hauling gravel on a farm near Mackinaw in 1916 uncovered about 40 spectacular “bifaces” on the slope of a hill just a quarter of a mile from the Mackinaw River. A biface is a stone implement that has been worked on both sides.
Clothing worn by Native American men and women was often colorfully decorated, as is the case of this beaded vest made between 1880 and 1900. Beads were first strung together before attaching them to the surface, allowing the maker more freedom in creating curved designs. The floral patterns probably indicate a strong, French colonial influence. The Ojibwa, or Chippewa people, lived in the northern United States and Canada around Lake Superior.
In the 1720s, Le Page du Pratz visited a Natchez village near New Orleans and observed men playing games with a disc-shaped stone. In one game, a man rolled a stone across the ground. When the stone came to rest, other men wagered on who could cast a spear closest to the stone. Du Pratz published his account of the game and other aspects of Natchez life in a book titled The History of Louisiana.
Like the detailed Staffordshire transfer print plates used for dining, residents on the Illinois frontier also imported other goods from Europe, including toys. This porcelain doll head, along with other pieces, was recovered from a cistern at the Huggins Farmstead Site in Perry County.
This plate fragment came from the home site of Alexander Clark, an African American blacksmith living in New Philadelphia, Illinois, in the mid-1800s. It shows a portion of a bridge and person bridling a horse, an image that can also be found near the center of a transfer print plate with the image “Rural Scenery.”
Well before Illinois became a state, Native American tribes (the Sac and Fox) living in the area mined galena ore (lead sulfide), the source of lead. Pioneer settlers also exploited the area’s lead resources, eventually displacing the Native Americans who first mined here. In the 1820s, galena ore became the focus of the first major “mineral rush” in the United States. By the end of the 1820s, the city of Galena rivaled Chicago in size.
These fragments were discovered during an investigation of a well that had been filled in at the Williams Fort site in southeastern Illinois. The site was the location of a farmstead occupied by the family of Aaron and Tabitha Williams from about 1811-1838. To defend against the possibility of attack by Native Americans during the War of 1812, a stockade was constructed. A tavern was operated at the site in the years following the war.