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The preshistoric Native American occupation of southern Illinois began about 10,000 years ago. Many of the village sites have been preserved and interpreted at several forest locations. Learn about people of the Mississippian culture (ca. 900-1450 A.D.) by visiting Millstone Bluff National Register site and walking a one-mile trail leading past a stone fort, cemetery, petroglyphys (rock carvings) and the village area.
The historic period in Illinois began with the Joliet-Marquette exploration of the area in 1673. One tragic episode during the period was the forced march of the Cherokee Nation people to western reservations in Oklahoma during the winter of 1838-1839. The "Nunna-da-ul-tsun-yi" or "the place where they cried" became known as the Trail of Tears because many Cherokee people perished from cold, hunger, and exhaustion during the journey. It is now designated as a National Historic Trail and extends across the Shawnee National Forest from the Ohio River to the Mississippi River.
American westward expansion during the 18th and 19th century brought pioneer farmers seeking homesteads and good, cheap land. Many farmed lands that were not sutiable for the cultivation of row crops and erosion soon destroyed the natural fertility of the land. In 1933 the federal government began acquiring the old, worn-out land that would be designated as the Shawnee National Forest.