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      What do think of when you see the word Indian or Native American? Men on horses hunting bison with a bow and arrow? Women cultivating corn, beans, and squash? Families living in tepees? Each image is correct, but only for a particular time and place. In fact, only one of these scenes likely occurred in Illinois. Do you know which one?

Men on horses hunting bison with a bow and arrow.

The horse was introduced by the Spanish to North America 500 years ago, but it was not used in Illinois until 300 years ago. A form of bison was present in Illinois during the Ice-Age, but became extinct shortly thereafter. Another type of bison arrived in Illinois after the Ice-Age, but was not regularly hunted until about A.D. 1400. As yet there is no evidence that early Native Americans used horses to hunt bison. Members of the Illinois tribe, for example, hunted bison on foot. The bow and arrow appears in Illinois about A.D. 600. It was the principal weapon, remaining in use until well after the introduction of firearms. To the best of our knowledge, there is no evidence for the scene of men on horses hunting bison with a bow and arrow in Illinois.

Women cultivating corn, beans, and squash.

Cultivated squash is evident 7,000 years ago, but corn is not a significant part of the diet until after 1100 years ago, and cultivated beans do not appear until 990 years ago. Before widespread use of these domesticated plants, Indian people relied on the cultivation of a variety of native plants such as lambsquarters, marshelder, and sunflower and animal foods such as white-tailed deer, other mammals, fish, waterfowl, turtles, and mussels. The scene of women cultivating corn, beans, and squash occurred only relatively recently.

Families living in tepees.

The tepee is a cone-shaped tent made of skins or bark used by North American Indians, especially those living on the Great Plains. There is no evidence of traditional Indians in Illinois using a tepee. In fact, the type of shelter used by Indians in Illinois changed many times and included the wigwam, a dwelling with an arched or conical framework overlaid with bark, hides, or mats, and a longhouse, a long wooden multi-family dwelling.

People often rely on oversimplified or stereotypic images. However, when we take time to learn about others, we discover that we have many things in common. And more important, our differences are interesting.

American Indians or Native Americans, the first Illinoisans, have lived here for at least 12,000 years. During that time their lives changed dramatically. They hunted the enormous mastodon, they built the largest earthen mound north of Mexico, they struggled with arrival of European explorers, and they live today in every part of society. Without their contributions, we would not be as we are today. For example, the corn so important to Illinois agriculture grows from plants domesticated by Native Americans.


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