Visitors Guide to
Cahokia
St. Clair County, Illinois


"Illinois' Oldest Town"

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Cahokia, which translates to "wild geese," derives its name from the Cahokia Indian tribe, who were members of the Illini Confederation. With the Tamaroa tribe they inhabited this wooded strip of land along the Mississippi River gathering there in the summer for their councils, and in the winter they ranged the prairies on hunts. The town of Cahokia in was founded 1699, the same year as the founding of Williamsburg, the colonial capitol of Virginia, and predating New Orleans by nearly 20 years and St. Louis by 65 years. By 1735 the Cahokia mission listed only twelve adult Canadian males in a census, but Cahokia soon became the most populous of the French colonial Mississippi Valley villages. By the 1740’s Cahokia became the center for the French trade in Native American goods and furs with a French government representative setting trade prices and giving gifts to insure that the tribes traded with the French rather than the British.

French control of the Middle Mississippi Valley was lost to the British in a series of colonial wars that ended in 1763 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Under terms of the Treaty the French ceded all their territories east of the Mississippi River and the Louisiana Territory and New Orleans to the Spanish. Preferring not to live under British rule, many of the French settlers crossed the river to Ste. Genevieve or to the newly established settlement of St. Louis.

During the American Revolution Cahokia became a part of the United States. After the town of Kaskaskia surrendered to George Rogers Clark and his "Long Knives” on July 4, 1778. The next day an expedition led by Captain Joseph Bowman, took Cahokia without resistance. The small stone fort was renamed Fort Bowman and was the westernmost American fort in the Revolutionary War. Cahokia was named the county seat of St. Clair County following passage of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which directed that a "courthouse, county jail, pillory, whipping post, and stocks" be built in every county. Instead of erecting a new building, the judges of the common pleas court of St. Clair County in 1793 purchased the Saucier home to serve as the courthouse.

The Lewis and Clark Connection
As Cahokia was the local seat of American government in the region and contained the westernmost post office of the United States, the Cahokia Courthouse was used often by the Expedition to send official communications as well as personal correspondence as noted by Clark in this December 13, 1803 entry: “…Sent off C Floyd to Koho [Cahokia] with Letters for Capt Lewis to put in the post office…
 
 
Visit our special Lewis and Clark Section to learn more about the Corps of Discovery’s experience during their stay in the Middle Mississippi River Valley. greatriverroad.com’s special coverage includes information on all of the region’s sites and events as well as supplemental articles relating to the expedition’s experience during the winter of 1803-04. 

The size of St. Clair County fluctuated throughout the years and by 1818 the county's jurisdiction had decreased to its present size. Constantly threatened by floods at Cahokia, the county seat was moved to Belleville. The Courthouse was used for a variety of purposes and was dismantled and rebuilt at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. After the Fair the Courthouse was relocated to Chicago being returned to Cahokia in 1939.

Today’s visitors to Cahokia can get a feel of colonial life in the Middle Mississippi Valley by visiting the Colonial Cahokia State Historic Sites complex. This complex is operated by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and includes the Cahokia Courthouse, the Jarrot Mansion, the Martin-Boismenue House, and a Visitors Center. Information can be obtained at the Visitors Center about the Holy Family Log Church and other area attractions.
 
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