The Reservation

Some think Marquette landed at Grosse Point on December 3, 1674 when forced ashore by fog. That he knew the point and passed by more than once is certain. Grosse Point is within the two square miles granted Archange Ouilmette by the treaty of Prairie du Chien in 1829. She was the Potawatomi wife of Antoine Ouilmette a Frenchman born in Montreal. Anyone living north of Central Street in Evanston to Elmwood Avenue in Wilmette and west from the lake almost to Central Park is living on an Indian reservation.

To say the Ouilmettes were Indians gives an unclear picture. They spoke English and French and lived in a cabin. Like her husband, the father of Archange was a Frenchman and her children appeared to be European. Their 1280 acres was a reward for helping remove the tribes west of the Mississippi in 1829. Frank Hill knew Ouilmette. "As I remember him, he was a small man, very old looking, wore a little turban cap, dressed as much like an Indian as he could, acted as much like an Indian as he could, ate anything that an Indian would eat, as much as possible - and that was quite possible at that time - and he had a nice little pair of ponies."

Ouilmette lived on the lake bluff not far from the signal station. Charles Westerfield remembered seeing the abandoned Ouilmette cabin as a child. He described an Indian mound there fifteen feet long and four feet high. Both cabin and mound disappeared into the lake by 1882. Also lost was an Indian cemetery and whole sections of the Green Bay trail through Wilmette and Winnetka. Philo Judson estimated that lake waves destroyed thirty-three feet of the shore each year before breakwaters were built.

The wealth of Ouilmette's land was in timber for at that time everything north from Ridgeville and west to the Chicago River was known as the Big Woods. Forest was scarce and valuable in Illinois with scattered groves on an otherwise treeless plain. Each year the prairie fires came and consumed everything. In fact, there are more trees today in the Prairie State than in the time of the Indians. Tempered by Lake Michigan, the North Shore climate is moist and cool like that of New England. The great Skokie marsh formed a permanent firebreak to the west.

Living remnants of a pre-settlement time may even now be seen in the few surviving Indian trail trees. They are gone from Evanston although there was one on Davis Steet at Hinman and also one at the gates of Calvary Cemetery just west of the railroad tracks. Trail trees were made by tying down the top of a young tree so that the trunk grew along the ground. The Calvary tree was especially interesting because three of its branches grew straight up as normal trees from the one trunk. In 1926 it was moved to a lakefront park where it was preserved until 1955. Frank Grover describes eleven of these oddly shaped trees, all white oaks, leading from the old Indian village in Highland Park northwest for several miles "in perfect alignment".


Evanston Antiquity by John Epler