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Present Day Forests
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Pre European Settlement
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      The forest as a source of food
The forests provided the settlers and their livestock with the necessities of daily life. Diverse and abundant game species (deer, quail, and turkey, for example) occupied the forest. European settlers used many of the same plants as Native Americans for food. Settlers and their livestock ate pecans, walnuts, and wild fruits such as pawpaw and wild plum. They made sugar maple syrup and used it as a trade item. 

The forest as a resource for medicines
Both Native Americans and settlers used forest plants for medicines. For example, the inner bark of slippery elm medicinally was used to treat sore throats, and the sweet gum sap was used to treat a variety of ailments in both humans and livestock. For more information on the uses of trees for medicinal purposes, se the "uses" heading under each tree description.

The forest as a resource for fuel and building
The forests provided the timber for buildings, fences, tools, utensils, and domestic furnishings. The Decorative Arts collection of the Illinois State Museum has many wooden objects that were made by settlers from local trees.

Access to water
The forested regions of southern Illinois attracted settlers because of their access not only to timber, but also to water. Streams and rivers were important for 

  • transporting goods between settlers and urban centers in the east until 1850.
  • running mills that ground wheat into flour. 
  • watering livestock. 
Cabin Cabin at Cache River Natural Area near the southern tip of Illinois

When European settlers first moved out onto the prairies in the 1830s, they initially chose smaller prairies with groves or savannas for wood as home sites. By this time, another center of settlement developed in the northeastern part of the state and spread south and west toward the advancing settlers from the south. Groves were especially popular among the European settlers. 

They provided the needed wood for houses and fences, and served as wind breaks against the harsh winter winds. Groves were also protected from fire because of their nearness to water or other land surface features. They became early social centers, and were named for their location, particular features, or for the people that lived there. 

Visit the Cache River Natural Area online at

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