Indian trails along the shores of Lake Michigan and on the ridges west of the lake and its swamps were marked by bent trees and worn deep into the ground by bare feet and moccasins. The lower limbs of the marker trees were bent to grow parallel to the ground. White oaks were used as marker trees in the Evanston area, but farther north, the markers were white elms.
The Pottowatomie appear to be the last tribe in the Evanston area. They were hunters and were called by early Evanston writers “prairie Indians,” as distinguished from their eastern brethren, the “Pottowatomies of the Woods.”
Through a series of treaties between Native Americans – including the Pottowatomies – and the U.S. government, the land in what is now Evanston was ceded to the government. The final treaty was signed in 1834.
In gratitude for the help of the Pottowatomie chief in bringing about the 1829 treaty, the federal government granted land in what is now Wilmette and the north part of Evanston to Archange Ouilmette, the Pottowatomie wife of Antoine Ouilmette. Mr. Ouilmette, a French trader and one of the earliest settlers of Chicago, moved to this area at some time between 1826 and 1829. Their wedding – the first North Shore wedding of which there is any history – took place in 1796 or 1797 in what is now Wilmette.
The Evanston part of the Ouilmette land was the site of at least two Pottowatomie chipping stations: One is said to have been on the Northwestern campus, where in the 1880s the Dearborn Observatory stood. A second is marked by a plaque on a boulder near Evanston Hospital. The chipping station was abandoned in 1835, when by treaty the Pottowatomie were relocated from the Evanston area north to Wilmette and beyond.
Archange Ouilmette and other Pottowatomie were sent to Iowa, and Antoine Ouilmette accompanied them. The treaty allowed the sale of her land only by permission of the President of the United States, so in 1844, seven of the eight Ouilmette children petitioned to allow the land to be sold. Since few or none of the family members resided in the area and since the trees – the main asset of the land – were being cut down (stolen), the family requested the U.S. government to repurchase the land for $1.25 per acre.
The government bought the reservation and resold it in several parts, the Evanston portion bringing $1.50 per acre. This repurchase allowed white settlers to populate what is now the northern part of Evanston.
The Daughters of the American Colonists erected a plaque along Sheridan Road in front of the Grosse Point Lighthouse, describing the treaty and the gift of lands to Archange Ouilmette and her descendants.
Mayor Stephen Hagerty has proclaimed November “Native American Heritage Month” in Evanston.
This story first appeared in the 2013 RoundTable magazine “15 Stories, 150 Years.”