As a kid growing up in Galesburg, I had an abiding Interest In Indians. After all, wasn't Knox County part of the Old Northwest frontier? Didn't we Blaine Avenue boys often play Cowboys and Indians in our backyards and in the Jungle (where the old Lincoln School used to be on North Street)?
But who were the Indians of Knox County? I didn't get much help on that in school. Oh, I heard about Starved Rock and Black Hawk and I seem to remember a field trip to Dickson Mounds to look at old bones. Farnham School once showed a movie about Indians and the frontier, but it turned out to be John Ford's ''Drums Along the Mohawk'' and when farmer Henry Fonda outran some obviously better-conditioned braves, we boys hooted.
I don't remember anything about Indians at Lombard Junior High or in Ted Mansager's GHS American History class. Did we discuss Custer? If we did, I don't remember. It was not until Knox College that I got some insight from John Collier into the First Peoples' lives and thinking. But even he didn't have anything to say about those who lived In Knox County.
Even today, there isn't much in the local libraries about the Inhabitants of this area before the White Man arrived.
There's a good reason: Knox County didn't have any permanent Indian villages.
What Indians there were camped seasonally along the Spoon River near Maquon. In fact, Maquon is an Algonquin word for ''spoon.'' The bottomland there is great for corn and squash, and there once were fresh water mussels to be shelled for food, jewelry and utensils (hence ''spoon''). Trails led away from it toward other, more permanent villages along the Illinois, Rock. Fox and Mississippi. One of those trails supposedly led through Knoxville and contributed to its creation and growth.
Wataga, Oneida and Ontario have Indian names, but they're named for other places, not local tribes. Dahinda was named after the bullfrog In Longfellow's ''Song of Hiawatha,'' and the word Itself is Ojlbway. Kewanee (Potawatomie for ''prairie chicken'') was also an occasional camp; but it's in Henry County.
Apparently, a lot of different tribes traveled through Knox County, but the only place they spent much time was near Maquon. Who were these travelers? Sauk, Fox, Potawatomie, Winnebago mostly. An occasional party of Sioux from Iowa or Ottawas and Miamis from Indiana. The tribes of the Six (Iroquois) Nations raided this far west.
The major tribes of this area, however, were the Illinois Confederacy -- the Illiniwek -- which means tribes like the Peoria or Kaskaskia, who controlled the Illinois River country until the Kickapoos came along and drove them south of Beardstown to the protection of the French forts in the Illinois bottom.
The Kickapoos were nasty customers. Relatives of the Sauk and Fox, they wandered much more than either and created trouble wherever they went because of their stubborn, feisty, independent ways. The Kickapoos resisted French and English settlement and had little patience with any tribe -- like the Illini -- who sought to trade or come to terms with Whites. The Kickapoos resisted American settlement from the beginning and fought against Americans at Tippecanoe and during the War of 1812. These wars scattered them, but as late as the early 1800s, the Kickapoos still dominated the prairies between the Sangamon and Lake Peoria. It was obvious when Illinois became a state in 1818 that if this area was to be settled, the Kickapoos had to leave.
In the 1820s, Illinois and the federal government tried both the carrot and the stick on remaining central Illinois tribes. By Black Hawk's War in 1832, few allies among the Kickapoos and Fox were left to help. By 1835, there were almost no Indians at all between the Illinois, Rock and Mississippi. White settlers came in to fill the empty land. In 1836, Galesburg was born.
So, although Knox County was ''Indian Country,'' there were never any permanent villages here. This was basically hunting territory with the nearest permanent villages at Lake Peoria and Rock Island.
But all kinds of tribes hunted and camped here -- from distant tribes like Iroquois and Sioux to ''locals'' like the Illini and Kickapoos. And the names they used still linger to remind us of their contributions to Knox County's heritage.