Did You Know Southernmost Illinois Is Known As “Little Egypt?”

Southernmost Illinois is known more for its sightseeing opportunities (Shawnee National Forest, for example) than anything else, but we also have a distinct heritage that involves a number of myths and legends. Many residents might be aware of one of the most popular pieces of lore behind why our region is also sometimes referred to as “Little Egypt.” It all goes back to when the first settlers arrived and began to communicate with Native Americans who already lived in the area.

Because these people were very Puritan (i.e. religious), they often looked for signs from God whenever and wherever they could. It should come as little surprise, then, that they believed the way they lived in Illinois was similar to how ancient Israelites lived in Egypt. Both peoples would travel along waterways to buy and sell grain, which was a staple of life in each community. 

Also, some believe the lore arose because of the geography of the region. The Native Americans created mounds (many of which can still be found throughout the state) which seemed similar to the Egyptian pyramids.

Others believe “Little Egypt” was the result of the many Egyptian names in Illinois. Cities like Thebes, Cairo, Karnak, Goshen, etc. lend credence to this theory, but point in fact: the settlers themselves probably named these cities because of the aforementioned signs and similarities they already saw in the ways of life. So everything is interconnected, we think.

The tradition of comparison to Egypt has lived on throughout the centuries. For example, Southeastern Illinois College was built in 1960, and took a sphinx as the official college seal. Later, the pyramids were used as inspiration for the college’s official logo. The college’s sports teams also decided to use the falcon as the official mascot, which was meant to resemble Horus, who was a falcon-headed god in Egyptian mythology.

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