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Formerly chief tribe of the confederacy of Illinois Indians (q. v.). The name is of uncertain etymology, but may possible have reference to a "hide scraper." With the other Illinois they probably made their first acquaintance with the French at the Jesuit mission station of Chegoimegon (Lapointe near Bayfield, Wisconsin), established by the noted Father Claude Allouez in 1667. In 1673, Father Marquette, on his return from the lower Mississippi, was kindly received at their village, and on their earnest request returned later and founded among them in April, 1675, the Mission of the Immaculate Conception, the first of the Illinois missions, apparently about the present site of Utica, Lasalle Co., Illinois. On his death, a month later, the work was suspended until taken up again in 1677 by Allouez, who remained until the arrival of Lasalle in 1679, by whom the mission was turned over to the Recollects, Fathers Gabriel de la Ribourde and Zenobius Membré. In consequence of the opposition of the Indian priests, the attacks of the Iroquois, and the murder of Father Ribourde by the Kickapoo, the Recollect tenure was brief. In 1684 Allouez returned, but withdrew a second time on the rumoured approach of Lasalle from the south in 1687. In the latter year also the Jesuit Father James Gravier visited the tribe.
In 1692 the celebrated Jesuit Father Sebastian Rasle restored the mission, which continued thenceforward under Jesuit auspices for a period of eighty years. In 1693 Gravier (q. v.) took charge and with Binneteau, Pinet, Marest, and others laboured with much success until his death in 1706 from a wound received at the hands of an unconverted Peoria. He compiled the first grammar of the language, and about the year 1700 was instrumental in settling the tribe in a new village about the present Kaskaskia, Illinois, near the mouth of the river of the same name, which remained their principal town and mission station until their final removal from the State. When visited by Charlevoix in 1721 the Kaskaskia were considered Christian, although a considerable portion of the other Illinois still adhered to their old forms.
Notwithstanding the apparent success of the mission, the whole Illinois nation was in rapid decline from the hostilities of the northern tribes and the wholesale dissipation introduced by the French garrisons. In 1764 the Kaskaskia, who may have numbered originally 2000, were reported at 600, and in 1778 at 210, including 60 warriors. In 1762 the Jesuits were suppressed by the French Government, and any later work was carried on by secular priests. In 1795 the Kaskaskia first entered into treaty relations with the United States, and in 1832, together with the kindred Peoria, they ceded all of their remaining original territory in Illinois and were assigned to a reservation in what is now north-eastern Oklahoma, were they still reside, the entire confederated band, including Kaskaskia, Peoria, and other representatives of the old Illinois, together with the remnant of the Wea and Piankishaw of Indiana, numbering only 200 souls, not one of whom is full-blood, and not more than a dozen of whom retain the language.
Indian Commissioner s Annual Repts.; Jesuit Relations; Illinois Missions; KAPPLER, Indian Treaties (Washington, 1903); SHEA, Catholic Missions (New York, 1854).