Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

USA Midwest Region

The Midwest region of the United States is often referred to as America’s ‘heartland’. It is known for its rich agricultural traditions. This region is home to some of the country’s most productive farmland, and is a major producer of grains, livestock, and other agricultural products. The Midwest is also home to a number of major US cities, including Chicago, Minneapolis and Indianapolis. From the Great Lakes to the Great Plains, the Midwest region offers a diverse and dynamic blend of natural beauty, urban amenities, and rural charm. 

A close up of ne of the bronze lion sculptures at the original entrance to the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois.


The Midwestern state of Illinois takes its name from that of a confederation of Algonquian-speaking indigenous peoples once resident in the region. Among the pre-Columbian communities based here were members of the Mississippian Culture, responsible for creating the major religious centre at Cahokia, the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. French explorers entered the area in the 1670s, but the French and Indian War of 1754 to 1763 resulted in the British assuming dominance over it, with British settlers gradually outnumbering the Algonquian-speaking natives. Having become a state in 1818, Illinois forms part of the country’s industrial belt and is home to Chicago, the nation’s third most populous city.


Part of the Midwest, Indiana is a state with a name recalling the former dominance of its indigenous peoples – ‘land of the Indians’. This memory can also be seen at its state capital, Indianapolis, erected atop a village of the indigenous Delaware people. Various indigenous communities were once predominant in Indiana, among them the Iroquois and Algonquin-speaking groups like the Miami and the Potawatomi. European explorers and trappers moved into the area late in the 17th century, with early French dominance supplanted by the British after 1763. Following its formation, the United States assumed control over the area through the Peace of Paris treaties, after which Indiana received growing immigration from southern states before securing its own statehood in 1816.


The heavily agricultural Iowa lies in the American Midwest. Siouan-speaking indigenous peoples formerly predominated but by the 17th century were being pushed out of eastern areas by incoming Algonquian-speaking groups. European explorers entered Iowa in the late 17th century, with France claiming ownership before selling the area to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. European Americans began to establish permanent settlements in the 1830s, driving out the indigenous peoples largely through treaties and land purchases. In 1846, Iowa became the 29th state of the Union. Today, the state has over 2000 listings on the National Register of Historic Places and 27 National Historic Landmarks.


Part of the American Midwest, Kansas takes its name from the Kansa, a Siouan-speaking people who lived in the central part of the modern state. Kansas is home to the most northerly pueblo ruins in North America, reflecting a society that existed from around 1200 to 1500, before being replaced by more mobile populations. Spanish explorers arrived in the 16th century, while France claimed the territory in the late 17th before selling it to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The U.S. classified Kansas as part of ‘Indian Territory’ where it sought to relocate indigenous peoples, before opening it up to European American settlement and giving it statehood in 1861. Today, this major agricultural state encompasses the geographical centre of the coterminous United States.


Part of the Upper Midwest, Michigan became a state in 1837. Prior to European settlement, the area was home to Algonquian-speaking groups like the Ottawa, Ojibwa, Miami, and Potawatomi, as well as the Iroquoian-speaking Huron. The name of the state comes from an Ojibwa term, michi-gama, meaning “large lake” – a reminder that Michigan borders four of the country’s Great Lakes. The French began to claim the area as their own from the 17th century, before the British assumed control in the 1760s. In 1783, ownership transferred to the United States, although parts of the state would again be temporarily captured by Britain in the War of 1812. During the 20th century, the automotive industry became key to Michigan’s economy, especially that of its largest city, Detroit.


The Upper Midwestern state of Minnesota takes its name from the Minnesota River, the latter’s name deriving from a Dakota term meaning “sky-tinted water”. The Dakota are one of two indigenous groups that once predominated here, the other being the Ojibwe. Spearheaded by French explorers, Europeans entered the region in the 17th century, after which it came under United States control in the late 18th century, initially as part of the Northwest Territory. In 1858 Minnesota became a state, with its population growing in large part due to immigration from Germany and Scandinavia, leaving a clear impact on Minnesotan culture. Growing pressure on the Dakota population sparked the Sioux Uprising of 1862.


Geographical differences mark this state, from the woodlands in the east and the open plains in the west. It was settled by the French in the 18th century and became a US state in 1821. In the 1830s, much of its indigenous population was forcibly relocated to Oklahoma. Missourians fought on both sides in the Civil War, but largely remained with the Union.

Reconstructed skeletons of the mammals recovered from the Agate Fossil Beds.


Nebraska is known for its open plains. It became a state in 1867 and was once home to indigenous groups like the Omaha, Oto, Pawnee, and Oglala. The area was claimed by Spain in the 18th century and later by France, before being sold to the US in the Louisiana Purchase. European Americans began settling in Nebraska in the 19th century to farm, and in the 1870s the US government relocated many of the state’s indigenous communities to reservations.

North Dakota

North Dakota takes its name from one of the Siouan-speaking peoples who lived there. The area, home to a diverse range of indigenous groups, was colonized by European fur traders in the late 18th century. The US purchased the land in the early 19th century and established the Dakota Territory in 1861. European American farmers began settling the area in the 1880s, and in 1889 the Territory was divided into two states.


Ohio is the smallest state west of the Appalachian Mountains, located in the Midwest. It gained statehood in 1803 and takes its name from the Ohio River. Pre-Columbian inhabitants included the Adena and Hopewell cultures, while the 18th century saw communities like the Huron, Delaware, and Shawnee. Ohio was a key battleground during the War of 1812 and saw significant industrialization in the 19th century.

South Dakota

South Dakota is known for its open prairies and the Black Hills. It was once inhabited by indigenous groups like the Dakota, Mandan, and Arikara, and was later colonized by the French before being sold to the US in the Louisiana Purchase. European American settlers and indigenous people clashed in the 19th century, culminating in the Massacre at Wounded Knee. Gold was discovered in the Black Hills in the 1870s, leading to increased European American settlement and statehood in 1889.


Wisconsin is a state in the Midwest that became a state in 1848 and takes its name from the Wisconsin River. Indigenous groups like the Ojibwa, Kickapoo, Menominee, and Miami inhabited the area at the time of European contact, and the area was later settled by Europeans, including Scandinavian and Finnish migrants. The state has a history of farming and lead mining.