Native Americans and Early Settlers
Native Americans were the first people to inhabit this region, and they lived here for more than 8,000 years, calling it their homeland. European contact began with the arrival of French explorers three centuries ago. At that time, Potawatomi people were living in the region. However, the arrival of Europeans began centuries of conflict over land. By the late 1700s, brutality toward Native Americans and land grabs of native lands by settlers and by the U.S. government began to dramatically change who lived here. Federal government policies pushed Native Americans out of the region and onto reservations to live in poverty, having taken away their lands and livelihoods.
Among the first residents of Chicago in 1790 was a French-Canadian fur trader named Antoine Ouilmette. His wife, Archange Chevalier Ouilmette (see painting by George Lusk, 1934) was a member of the Potawatomi tribe. In 1829 in the Treaty of Prairie du Chien, Archange Ouilmette and her children were granted 1,280 acres in what is today Wilmette. It was this same treaty whereby three Native American tribes – the Ojibwe, Ottawa, and Potawatomi – yielded a large section of northeastern Illinois to the United States, leading to the eventual removal of tribal members from the region. The Ouilmette land grant, thereafter known as the Ouilmette Reserve, occupied a wooded tract adjacent to Lake Michigan and was bounded by what is presently 15th Street, Elmwood Avenue, and Central Street in Evanston. The Ouilmette family lived in a log cabin near the present site of the Michigan Shores Club until 1838 when they moved west to the Council Bluffs, Iowa, area to join the Potawatomi who had been forced west of the Mississippi. After Archange’s death, most of their land was sold by the Ouilmette children in the 1840s to real estate investors of European descent, although Joseph Ouilmette retained his share until 1871.