September 8, 2012
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When the Grosvenors gather at Glenn and look out over the Mississippi Valley this year, they will gaze on a scene typical of Illinois, the Prairie State. A flat plain of productive farmland stretches to the river and to the hills beyond. This is a very recent change. When the last ice age scoured the area some ten thousand years ago, it absolutely leveled millions of square miles of middle-west America.
When it retreated, it left a vast plain devoid of vegetation. The melting ice left huge puddles like the Great Lakes and small puddles which fused into ponds, lakes and, because of very small elevation diferences, very sluggish rivers. The "mighty Mississippi" formed. It was wide, shallow and slow-moving. It silted up, formed lakes, overflowed, and changed course, over and over. Vegetation from the south followed the retreating glacier north. Seed configuration dictated the spread of
vegetation. Small, light grass seeds, borne on the wind came first. Small birds followed to feed on the grass seeds bringing with them larger seeds in their droppings which produced larger plants with larger seeds which attracted larger birds. Eventually large tree seeds were carried and trees grew to tremendous size in the rich soil produced by rotting grasses. Contrary to popular belief, the Mississippi Valley forests were not ancient. Tree ring studies indicate that they grew in the last thousand years. But they caused a biological explosion. The Mississippi flyway formed with billions of birds migrating north to the seed fields every spring: ducks, geese and the passenger pigeon which
broke down large trees with the weight of their numbers. The mound-builder Indians undoubtedly were tribes that migrated out of Mexico and followed the flyway north bringing Indian corn, tobacco
and cotton. Woodland animals filtered in from every direction and predators followed. the Mississippi valley eco-system flourished for several centuries. The whole valley became a vast swamp with huge forests teeming with game. Then came the white man. His diseases; measles, small pox and such, probably eliminated the mound-builders who had a different set of immunities. However, the mound-builders possibly struck back with the black plague and syphilis which ravaged
Europe. They are believed to have originated in America. The French came in the early 1700s and established a row of forts with Jesuit Missions down the Mississippi mostly on the west bank. The
British countered with forts on the East bank. Various "Red Indian" tribes infiltrated into the area from the east during the late 1700s. The main population center for the area was at Kaskaskia which was an Indian village and a British fort just a few miles north of present day Chester . It was captured by the Americans during the Revolution.
In 1801 the Kaskaskia Indians fought a war to the death with the Shawnees of Kentucky over hunting rights in Southern Ilinois. The Kaskaskias lost and were almost wiped out. The Shawnees also
suffered heavy losses and retreated to their native Kentucky. Southern Illinois over which the war was fought was abandoned by both sides and was without a population for about 5 years.
When Parker(19) Grosvenor came to the area in 1806 it was a woodland "Horn of Plenty" with the forested swamp stretching from Rockwood to Cairo and 10 miles wide from bluff to river. Flocks of waterfowl, pigeons, and other edible birds darkened the sky. Here and there were fields of wild Indian corn. There were deer, elk, bear, turkeys, and all sorts of smaller fur-bearing animals. There were wild berries, fruits and nuts. There were sugar maple trees, salt licks and timber. There were creeks, ponds and lakes full of fish. There were open pits of coal. There was a ready market for meat, furs, sugar, salt, corn, etc. to the Whites in Kaskaskia, who had lost their Indian suppliers, and to the growing river boat traffic. The huge flocks of birds kept the insect population low and there were no hostile Indians. Traffic on the bluff road furnished a convenient supply chain to Kaskaskia. Parker took up his axe and started clearing timber for his farm. Others followed his lead.
What you see now is the result of two hundred years of "conquering the wilderness", "clearing the land", "draining the swamps" and "taming the river". ---all laudable goals of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.