This Day in History – December 3rd, 1818

Seal_of_Illinois.svgHappy Birthday Illinois! On this day in 1818, Illinois became the 21st U.S. state . . . so here’s some facts, details, and general trivia about Illinois:

“Illinois” is the modern spelling for the early French missionaries and explorers’ name for the Illinois natives, a name that was spelled in many different ways in the early records.

American scholars previously thought the name “Illinois” meant “man” or “men” in the Miami-Illinois language, with the original iliniwek transformed via French into Illinois. This etymology is not supported by the Illinois language, as the word for ‘man’ is ireniwa and plural ‘men’ is ireniwaki. The name Illiniwek has also been said to mean “tribe of superior men”, which is a false etymology. The name “Illinois” derives from the Miami-Illinois verb irenwe·wa “he speaks the regular way”. This was taken into the Ojibwe language, perhaps in the Ottawa dialect, and modified into ilinwe· (pluralized as ilinwe·k). The French borrowed these forms, changing the /we/ ending to spell it as -ois, a transliteration for its pronunciation in French of that time. The current spelling form, Illinois, began to appear in the early 1670s, when French colonists had settled in the western area. The Illinois’ name for themselves, as attested in all three of the French missionary-period dictionaries of Illinois, was Inoka, of unknown meaning and unrelated to the other terms.

American Indians of successive cultures lived along the waterways of the Illinois area for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. The Koster Site has been excavated and demonstrates 7,000 years of continuous habitation. Cahokia, the largest regional chiefdom and urban center of the Pre-Columbian Mississippian culture, was located near present-day Collinsville, Illinois. They built an urban complex of more than 100 platform and burial mounds, a 50 acres (20 ha) plaza larger than 35 football fields,[19] and a woodhenge of sacred cedar, all in a planned design expressing the culture’s cosmology. Monks Mound, the center of the site, is the largest precolumbian structure north of the Valley of Mexico. It is 100 feet (30 m) high, 951 feet (290 m) long, 836 feet (255 m) wide and covers 13.8 acres (5.6 ha). It contains about 814,000 cubic yards (622,000 m3) of earth.

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It was topped by a structure thought to have measured about 105 feet (32 m) in length and 48 feet (15 m) in width, covered an area 5,000 square feet (460 m2), and been as much as 50 feet (15 m) high, making its peak 150 feet (46 m) above the level of the plaza. The civilization vanished in the 15th century for unknown reasons, but historians and archeologists have speculated that the people depleted the area of resources. Many indigenous tribes engaged in constant warfare. According to Suzanne Austin Alchon, “At one site in the central Illinois River valley, one-third of all adults died as a result of violent injuries.”

The next major power in the region was the Illinois Confederation or Illini, a political alliance. As the Illini declined during the Beaver Wars era, members of the Algonquian-speaking Potawatomi, Miami, Sauk, and other tribes including the Fox (Mesquakie), Ioway, Kickapoo , Mascouten, Piankashaw, Shawnee, Wea, and Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) came into the area from the east and north around the Great Lakes.

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Lincoln SteampunkThree U.S. presidents have been elected while living in Illinois: Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and Barack Obama. Additionally, Ronald Reagan, whose political career was based in California, was the only US President born and raised in Illinois. Today, Illinois honors Lincoln with its official state slogan, Land of Lincoln, which has been displayed on its license plates since 1954. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is located in the state capital of Springfield.

Several active Steampunk groups are located in Illinois; click HERE for our listings for that state.

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