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America's Deadliest Twister

The Tri-State Tornado of 1925

Geoff Partlow

Disaster relief as we know it did not exist when the deadliest tornado in U.S. history gouged a path from southeast Missouri through southern Illinois and into southwestern Indiana. The tri-state tornado of 1925 hugged the ground for 219 miles, generated wind speeds in excess of 300 miles per hour, and killed 695 people. Drawing on survivor interviews, public records, and newspaper archives, America’s Deadliest Twister offers a detailed account of the storm, but more important, it describes life in the region at that time as well as the tornado’s lasting cultural impact, especially on southern Illinois.

Author Geoff Partlow follows the storm from town to town, introducing us to the people most affected by the tornado, including the African American population of southern Illinois. Their narratives, along with the stories of the heroes who led recovery efforts in the years following, add a hometown perspective to the account of the storm itself.

In the discussion of the aftermath of the tornado, Partlow examines the lasting social and economic scars in the area, but he also looks at some of the technological firsts associated with this devastating tragedy. Partlow shows how relief efforts in the region began to change the way people throughout the nation thought about disaster relief, which led to the unified responses we are familiar with today.

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The Civilian Conservation Corps in Southern Illinois, 1933-1942

Kay Rippelmeyer

Drawing on more than thirty years of meticulous research, Kay Rippelmeyer details the Depression-era history of the simultaneous creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois. Through the stories of the men who worked in CCC camps devoted to soil and forest conservation projects, she offers a fascinating look into an era of utmost significance to the identity, citizens, wildlife, and natural landscape of the region.

Rippelmeyer outlines the geologic and geographic history of southern Illinois, from Native American uses of the land to the timber industry’s decimation of the forest by the 1920s. Detailing both the economic hardships and agricultural land abuse plaguing the region during the Depression, she reveals how the creation of the CCC under Franklin Delano Roosevelt coincided with the regional campaign for a national forest and how locals first became aware of and involved with the program.

Rippelmeyer mined CCC camp records from the National Archives, newspaper accounts and other correspondence and conducted dozens of oral interviews with workers and their families to re-create life in the camps. An extensive camp compendium augments the volume, featuring numerous photographs, camp locations and dates of operation, work history, and company rosters. Satisfying public curiosity and the need for factual information about the camps in southern Illinois, this is an essential contribution to regional history and a window to the national impact of the CCC.

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Colonial Ste. Genevieve

An Adventure on the Mississippi Frontier

Carl J. Ekberg

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The Flag on the Hilltop

Mary Tracy Earle. Introduction by Herbert K. Russell

Early in the Civil War, two young brothers boldly flew the Union flag from a tree atop a hill between Makanda and Cobden. This was a towering act of courage in an area teeming with Copperheads.

Theodore and Al Thompson, 18 and 20 years old at the time, raised the flag in defiance of the Knights of the Golden Circle, a secessionist group that operated throughout the Midwest. Controlling its membership through terror, this secret society condemned betrayers to death by torture. The Knights, whose goals included capturing a Union prison and liberating the rebels, triggered the Civil War riot in Charleston, instigated anti-draft movements, and aided Northern deserters.

Theodore Thompson, who later owned much of Makanda, Giant City, and the land that became Southern Illinois University describes the tree as a "tall tulip poplar between 3 and 4 feet in diameter at the trunk and some 60 feet to the first limbs. This noted tree could be seen in some directions 15 or 20 miles away."

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Giant City State Park and the Civilian Conservation Corps

A History in Words and Pictures

Kay Rippelmeyer

This is a photographic and documented history of the Civilian Conservation Corps at Giant City State Park during the Depression era, complete with maps, lists of enrollees, and oral interviews of men who worked there 1933-1942.    

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Growing Up in a Land Called Egypt

A Southern Illinois Family Biography

Cleo Caraway

In Growing Up in a Land Called Egypt: A Southern Illinois Family Biography, author Cleo Caraway fondly recalls how she and her siblings came of age on the family farm in the 1930s and 1940s. Like many others, the Caraways were affected by the economic hardships of the Great Depression, but Cleo’s parents strived to shelter her and her six siblings from the dire circumstances affecting the nation and their home and allowed them to bask in their idealistic existence. Her love for her family clearly shines from every page as she writes of a simpler time, before World War II divided the family.

Caraway revels in the life her family lived on a southern Illinois hilltop in Murphysboro township, marveling at the mix of commonplace and adventure she experienced in her childhood. She remembers her first day of school, walking three miles to the wondrous one-room building with her siblings; reminisces about strolling through the countryside with her mother, investigating the various plants and flowers, fruits and nuts; and recollects her fascination with the Indian relics she found buried near her home, a hobby she shared with her father. She also writes of seeing Gone with the Wind on the big screen at the Hippodrome in Murphysboro, of learning to sew dresses for her dolls, and of idyllic life on the farm—milking cows, hatching chicks, feeding pigs. Along with her personal memories Caraway includes interviews with neighbors and many fascinating photographs with detailed captions that make the images come alive.

            A delightful follow-up to her father’s popular Foothold on a Hillside: Memories of a Southern Illinoisan, Caraway’s book is a pleasant change from the typical accounts of southern Illinois before, during, and after the Great Depression. Instead of hardscrabble grit, Growing Up in a Land Called Egypt offers a refreshingly different view of the period and is certain to be embraced by southern Illinois natives as well as anyone interested in the experiences of a rural family that thrived despite the difficult times. The author’s lighthearted prose, self-deprecating humor, and genuine affection for her family make reading this book a rich and memorable experience.

 

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History as They Lived It

A Social History of Prairie du Rocher, Illinois

Margaret Kimball Brown, Foreword by Carl J. Ekberg

“His­tory as They Lived It deserves to be placed within the rich context of Illinois Country historiography going back more than a century. . . . It brings together the fully ripened thoughts of a mature scholar at the very moment that students of the Illinois Country need such a book.”—from the foreword by Carl J. Ekberg

Settled in 1722, Prairie du Rocher was at the geographic center of a French colony in the Mississippi Valley, which also included other villages in what is now Illinois and Missouri: Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Fort de Chartres, St. Philippe, Ste. Genevieve, and St. Louis.  Located in an alluvial valley near towering limestone bluffs, which inspired the village’s name—French for “prairie of the rock”— Prairie du Rocher is the only one of the seven French colonial villages that still exists today as a small compact community.

The village of Prairie du Rocher endured governance by France, Great Britain, Virginia, and the Illinois territory before Illinois became a state in 1818. Despite these changes, the villagers persisted in maintaining the community and its values. Margaret Kimball Brown looks at one of the oldest towns in the region through the lenses of history and anthropology, utilizing extensive research in archives and public records to give historians, anthropologists, and general readers a lively depiction of this small community and its people.

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Land of Big Rivers

French and Indian Illinois, 1699-1778

M. J. Morgan

Land of Big Rivers is an environmental study of how diverse groups of people – Indians, French, and British – lived in pre-American, 18th century Illinois. Their lives, interactions, and recorded histories were shaped by both the abundant rivers and extraordinary upland prairies.

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Lives of Fort de Chartres

Commandants, Soldiers, and Civilians in French Illinois, 1720–1770

David MacDonald

Fort de Chartres, built in 1719-1720 in the heart of what would become the American Midwest, embodied French colonial power for half a century. Lives of Fort de Chartres, by David MacDonald, details the French colonial experience in Illinois from 1720 to 1770 through vivid depictions of the places, people, and events around the fort and its neighboring villages.
 
In the first section, MacDonald explores the fascinating history of French Illinois and the role of Fort de Chartres in this history, focusing on native peoples, settlers, slaves, soldiers, villages, trade routes, military administration, and the decline of French rule in Illinois. The second section profiles the fort’s twelve distinctive and often colorful commandants, who also served as administrative heads of French Illinois. These men’s strong personalities served them well when dealing simultaneously with troops, civilians, and Indians and their multifaceted cultures. In the third section, MacDonald presents ten thought-provoking biographies of people whose lives intersected with Fort de Chartres in various ways, from a Kaskaskia Indian woman known as “the Mother of French Illinois” to an ill-fated chicken thief and a European aristocrat. Subjects treated in the book include French–Native American relations, the fur trade, early Illinois agriculture, and tensions among different religious orders. Together, the biographies and historical narrative in the volume illuminate the challenges that shaped the French colonies in America.
 
The site of Fort de Chartres, recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1966, still exists today as a testament to the ways in which French, British, Spanish, and American histories have intertwined. Both informative and entertaining, Lives of Fort de Chartres contributes to a more complete understanding of the French colonial experience in the Midwest and portrays a vital and vigorous community well worth our appreciation.

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The State of Southern Illinois

An Illustrated History

Herbert K. Russell

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In The State of Southern Illinois: An Illustrated History, Herbert K. Russell offers fresh interpretations of a number of important aspects of Southern Illinois history. Focusing on the area known as “Egypt,” the region  south of U.S. Route 50 from Salem south to Cairo, he begins his book with the earliest geologic formations and  follows Southern Illinois’s history into the twenty-first century. The volume is richly illustrated with maps and photographs, mostly in color, that highlight the informative and straightforward text.

Perhaps most notable is the author’s use of dozens of heretofore neglected sources to dispel the myth that Southern Illinois is merely an extension of Dixie. He corrects the popular impressions that slavery was introduced by early settlers from the South and that a majority of Southern Illinoisans wished to secede. Furthermore, he presents the first in-depth discussion of twelve pre–Civil War, free black communities located in the region. He also identifies the roles coal mining, labor violence, gangsters, and the media played in  establishing the area’s image. He concludes optimistically, unveiling a twenty-first-century Southern Illinois filled with myriad attractions and opportunities for citizens and tourists alike.

The State of Southern Illinois is the most accurate all-encompassing volume of history on this unique area that often regards itself as a state within a state. It offers an entirely new perspective on race relations, provides insightful information on the cultural divide between north and south in Illinois, and pays tribute to an often neglected and misunderstood region of this multidimensional state, all against a stunning visual backdrop.

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