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  Folklore Pre-Contact
Illinois Country
The Illinois
Art and Music
How Do We Know?
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Teacher Orientation
George W. Finley There was never in the whole world a stranger man than Wiskatchekwa. He was everywhere, in season and out of season, running about and putting his hand into whatever was going forward. He could be very foolish or very wise, very weak or very strong, very rich or very poor, just as it happened to serve his humor best. Whatever anyone else did he would attempt without a moment's reflection. He was a match for any man he met, and there were but few spirits who could get the better of him. By turns he would be very kind or very cruel. He would pose as an animal or a bird, a man or a spirit, and yet in spite of all these gifts, Wiskatchekwa was always getting himself involved in all sorts of troubles. More than once, in the course of his adventures, he was driven to his wit's end to escape with his life. (George Washington Finley, Peoria Indian, 1916)
George Washington Finley or Ta-wah-quah-ke-non-guah (1858-1932), United Peoria and Miami Tribe. (photograph)

At the time of European contact, the Illinois, like all Native American groups, had a rich set of oral traditions that included many folk tales. These stories were told and retold in wigwams throughout the Illinois Country. They were important because they described the origins and beliefs of the Illinois people, they explained why nature looks and acts the way it does, and they reinforced moral guidelines for appropriate human behavior. They also provided entertainment on long winter evenings when everyone gathered around the hearth. Unfortunately, many of these tales were lost during the historic period when the Illinois suffered a drastic population decline and erosion of their cultural traditions. Some stories did survive, however, and were recorded in 1916 by Truman Michelson for the Illinois Centennial Commission.

Rabbit and Possum. This tale recounts a struggle between Rabbit and Possum. It explains the origin of daylight and the shape of a rabbit's upper lip.

The Snake Husband. This is the story of a woman who falls in love with a handsome man who whistled at her in the woods. She marries him but later discovers that appearances can be deceiving.

The Painted Turtle. In this story, a turtle falls in love with a beautiful girl and strives to win her affection. The tale explains the origin of a women's name.

How Wisakatchekwa Got Into Some Trouble. Wisakatchekwa (wis-ah-KATCH-eh-kwah) was a cult hero in the folklore of several Algonquian-speaking tribes, including the Chippewa, Cree, Ottawa, Miami, and Peoria. Different tribes had different names for him. He was commonly identified as "The Great Hare," a mythological creature who was responsible for the origin of land and the creation of people. Wisakatchekwa was also an entertaining character who got into all kinds of trouble.


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