A Brief Snapshot Of Southern Illinois History

Like most of the United States, Illinois was home to Native Americans for thousands of years before European settlers ever arrived. What you might not know is that they were there as far back as 8000 B.C. — and they had a distinct culture and way of life. They included tribes like the Kickapoo, Fox, Sauk, Ottawa, Ojibwa, Potawatomi, Peoria, Kaskaskia, Tamaroa and Cahokia. In other words? Many, many people lived and died in this historic region.

The land looked much different as well. Around 22 million acres (or 60 percent of present-day Illinois) of the land was described as prairie. For comparison’s sake, only 2,000 acres of prairie are still around. This has drastically changed how life is lived in the region — especially for wildlife.

Most of what we know about Native American history prior to the arrival of European settlers is fragmented. This is because Native Americans shared stories and oral versions of historical events, which results in changed details. They didn’t write it all down. Still, we have a better understanding of what happened in the centuries immediately before settlement.

For example, the Cahokia tribe of Native Americans was thought to be comprised of tens of thousands of individuals before it mysteriously vanished in the 15th century A.D. 

Theories present a number of possible reasons for this disappearance. There were famines, earthquakes, and the Little Ice Age, all of which may have resulted in external and internal conflicts. For example, belief systems may have been challenged when the environment changed due to natural reasons. 

The area was also home to the Illiniwek Confederation, which was a huge alliance between many tribes. This alliance presented an obstacle to the region’s settlement, especially during the 17th century Beaver Wars. This conflict displaced thousands of Native Americans from Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana, which forced Europeans to react. Other tribes were destabilized as a result.

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