14. Speech of Kennekuk (1831)

Background: In the early 1800s two major Kickapoo groups lived in central Illinois. The Prairie Band was based near the Illinois River and the Vermilion Band was located to its east. The Prairie Band of Kickapoo resisted western expansion and followed traditional customs. The Vermilion Band adopted many western practices, including in agricultural methods and style of dress. Kennekuk (1790-1852) was a prophet and leader of the Vermilion Band. Although Kennekuk advocated co-existence and non-violence, as more Americans entered Illinois there came an increased pressure to remove all Native Americans to land west of the Mississippi River. General William Clark, of Lewis and Clark fame, served as the regional Superintendent of Indian Affairs. He was generally sympathetic to Native American tribes. However, once the Black Hawk War broke out in 1832 between the Americans and the members of the Sauk, Fox and other tribes, the pressure to remove all Native Americans from Illinois proved to be too much. After the war, Clark had Kennekuk sign a treaty requiring the peaceful tribe to give up its land and leave Illinois.

The Document: This document is a handwritten transcription, and possibly a translation, of remarks Kennekuk gave in response to a July 23 1831 talk of General William Clark, who was the regional Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Dated August 4, 1831, Kennekuk's speech was made before the Black Hawk War but at a time of increasing tensions between Illinoisans and Native Americans. In his response to Clark, Kennekuk says that complaints about his tribe are unfounded. He writes, "God tells me to advise my people to do good; I remember and can never forget what he has told me." The prophet also addresses concerns about relocation, stating, "God has not told me to go on the other side of the Mississippi but to stay here and mind my religion." Three times in his talk he refers to Clark as "my friend," twice as "my brother," once as "my elder brother" and once as "My friend the Red head." However, following the Black Hawk War Clark had Kennekuk sign a treaty that required his band to immediately move to Kansas.

Note: The speech is available at the Illinois State Archives as part of Secretary of State Record Series 103.062, "Executive Section. Executive Files."