Lori Osborne is the Archivist at the Evanston History Center. This is the fourth and final post in a series on very early Evanston history, from millions of years ago to Evanston’s earliest settlers.
Archange Ouilmette and her husband Antoine had a presence in our area until the 1840s, long after European settlers began to arrive. Archange was from an influential Potawatomi family. Her mother was Potawatomi and her father was a French fur trader. Antoine was a French fur trader who first came to the area in 1790. Between Archange’s family connections and Antoine’s trading connections, they were well-known and influential in the early history of the Chicago area. The family had a cabin and small farm near Fort Dearborn when it was first established. They helped supply the fort with produce and livestock, offered guide services as needed, and were an integral part of the early community. Both Archange and Antoine Ouilmette were instrumental in saving American lives when tensions between the British and Americans escalated leading to the Battle of Fort Dearborn in 1812. Because of their actions in support of the Americans, Archange was given the land as the Ouilmette Reservation in the Treaty of 1829.
The Ouilmettes built a cabin for their family of eight children at Lake Street and Lake Michigan in what is now Wilmette (named for them, though the spelling was changed). Their home was a well-known stopping place for traders and travelers, and their farm continued to supply the growing settlement in Chicago. Archange and Antoine lived on the reservation until about 1838 when they joined fellow Potawatomi that had been removed to Council Bluffs, Iowa. It was there that Archange died in 1840 and Antoine in 1841. In 1844 their heirs petitioned the U.S. Government to sell the reservation’s land. The government purchased the land (640 acres) for $1,000 and then gradually re-sold it to real estate developers.
The first European settlers who came to Evanston beginning in the 1830s thus lived in a place where the Indian presence was still strong. As U.S. government policies shifted and full removal was required, this presence was reduced though not entirely extinguished. In these years, the community was informally called Grosse Pointe Territory. The Ridge Road shifted from military to commercial use. Mail delivery, farm products, and commercial goods began to move up and down the road, linking the growing community of Chicago and the settlements north stretching into Wisconsin. It is not surprising that the earliest permanent settlers built log homes and businesses along this road and slowly began dotting the landscape on the high ground with small truck farms and taverns, a log school and community buildings used for political and religious gatherings. They were following a settlement pattern already established by the Indians.
By the 1850s when the community we now recognize as Evanston begins to take hold, the Indian presence could still be found in the trails that had by then become roads and the occasional discovery of remnants of Indian life, including village and camp sites, burial mounds and trail marker trees, and many artifacts found when digging foundations for new homes or plowing fields for growing crops. The township of Ridgeville was organized in 1850, marking the importance of those glacial ridges, Indian trails and early roads that now defined the community.