Human Interactions:
European Settlers

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During the 1820s settlement along Mississippi and Illinois Rivers expanded (McManis, 1968) and the population crept northward. By about 1830, the fertility of the prairie soil was recognized and this, according to Poggi (1934), initiated a wave of immigration into the state. During the 1830s another center of settlement developed in the Chicago region and spread south and west toward the advancing front of settlers from the south (McManis, 1968). According to Smith (1990), the interior prairie of northeastern Illinois was the last of the areas to be settled. A major reason for the delay was a lack of transportation. Farmers could not easily move their crops to market, nor could they easily obtain necessities for farming, such as steel for plows from the cities where they were produced. Roads were of poor quality and often impassable during the wet seasons. Boggess (1908) wrote regarding the lack of good roads:

Really good roads were entirely lacking. Most of the settlements were connected by roads that were practicable at most seasons for packers and travelers on horseback, but in times of flood the suspension of travel by land was practically complete (Boggess, 1908).

Two factors played a major role in the rapid settlement of the prairie in the early to mid 1800s. The first was the development of the self-scouring plow by John Deere in Grand Detour, Illinois in 1837. The prairie sod was difficult to break with the cast-iron plows that the settlers brought with them from the south and the east. The soil clung to the plow rendering it useless. The soil had to be scraped off periodically, slowing the laborious task of breaking the sod. The self-scouring plow eliminated the need to clean the plow after every few steps, and was more effective at breaking the prairie sod. Not only was the plow a success, but John Deere was a master marketer. Unlike the other craftsmen of the time, he produced plows before he had orders for them, and took them to farmers out on the prairie to demonstrate their effectiveness, thereby ‘selling’ the product. Ten years after he produced his first plow, he was producing a thousand plows a year. The second important factor in the rapid settlement of the region was the building of railroads across the prairie from 1850 to 1860. The railroads allowed the exchange of goods between the farmers and the urban markets to the east.

  John Deere demonstrating plow
Self-scouring plow
John Deere and Co.
John Deere demonstrating self-scouring plow
John Deere and Co.



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