The Nauvoo peninsula has yielded artifacts that date back to First Peoples 10,000 years ago. From 550 BC - AD 400, the Hopewell Culture flourished here, and when Cahokia rose to its height ca. 1300, the bands here were part of that civilization.
When French explorers Louis Joliette and Fr. Jacques Marquette passed here in 1673, they found the area inhabited by various tribes of the Hileni Confederation. A century later, the Sauk and Meskwaki tribes took up residence here, having been forced from their homelands around the Great Lakes.
The 1803 Louisiana Purchase included many Sauk and Meskwaki lands. The following year, Indiana Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison coerced their representatives to sign away claim to all their lands in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Missouri. Along with annual payments in food and cash, the U.S. also sent William Ewing here to teach the tribes farming.
When word of the sale came to the tribes, it divided the communities for decades. Most followed Chief Keokuk’s guidance and sought peace. However, in April 1832, about 1,100 followers of Chief Black Hawk crossed the Mississippi River near Fort Madison, intent on returning to their old homes near present-day Rock Island, starting what is known as the Black Hawk War. Over the course of that summer, the group clashed with state militia and U.S. Army. By August, only 500 survived to re-cross the Mississippi River into Iowa.