Who is Henri de Tonti?

Henri de Tonti is considered the founder of Peoria. In the fall of 1691, Henri de Tonti founded a French fur trading outpost along the western shore of Lake Pimiteoui. This fur trading outpost established the beginnings of the French and, eventually, the American village which developed into the city of Peoria. In 1676, at the age of 26, de Tonti fought with French naval forces against the Spanish and lost his right hand in a grenade explosion. From that time on, he wore a prosthetic hook covered by a leather glove, thus earning him the nickname “Iron Hand.” Two years later, de Tonti first traveled to New France with La Salle. He quickly gained the trust of La Salle and accompanied the explorer on his first expedition to the Illinois Territory in 1679. They arrived at Lake Pimiteoui on January 5, 1680 and proceeded to build Fort Crevecoeur, the first fort constructed by Europeans in the Illinois Territory. Two years later, La Salle and de Tonti finally reached the mouth of the Mississippi River and claimed the entire river drainage system in the name of the King of France. On their return trip, they built a fort on Starved Rock along the Illinois River. De Tonti managed a fur trading operation for La Salle from the Starved Rock fort for the next eight years. After the death of La Salle in 1690, the King of France granted Henri de Tonti and his cousin exclusive trading rights for the entire Illinois Territory. The following year they abandoned the Starved Rock location and established a new outpost and headquarters located along the western shore of Lake Pimiteoui, just south of the narrows which separated the upper and lower portions of the lake. De Tonti continued to manage the fur trading operation from the Peoria outpost for another twelve years. As the operation became increasingly unprofitable, de Tonti eventually left the Illinois territory and moved south to New Orleans. He served as an ambassador to the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indian tribes until, at the age of 54, he contracted yellow fever, died and was buried in August of 1704 at a location near Old Mobile.

Judy Earleson