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10 1 The Land and Its People A n explanation attributed to “Indian lore” in southern Illinois is that Giant City was a battleground between the fire god and the water god. If the sun is the fire and rain the water, this is not a bad metaphor for the geological processes that took place there. Whereas Stone Fort still begs questions about its human origins, the story of Giant City’s creation is laid wide open in the rocks and can be read by scientists and those with sufficient imagination. Southern Illinois was covered for over 200 million years—from 570 to 345 million years ago—by a warm, shallow sea that extended over much of the midcontinent. What was essentially the Gulf of Mexico extended this far north. What we see today in the rock structures of Giant City and throughout the southernmost region of Illinois are the layers of limestone and sandstone that formed on top of each other at the edges of the water as the sea’s shorelines fluctuated northward The southernmost quarter of an Illinois landforms map on which a line has been drawn showing the approximate southern extent of glaciation just north of Giant City State Park. Source: “Landforms of Illinois” by James A. Bier, 1956, publ. by Illinois State Geological Survey, Urbana, Illinois. 5LSSHO&KUHYLQGG $0 the land and its people 11 and southward hundreds of miles for millions of years. Then, from 1 to 2 million years ago, as the climate cooled, an extensive polar ice cap developed in the northern hemisphere. This ice advanced southward and then retreated, repeating the cycle over hundreds of thousands of years. Four major glacial advances occurred over the land we now call Illinois. The third of these, appropriately named the Illinoian, came some 200,000 years ago and ultimately covered almost the entire state—reaching farther south than any glaciation in North America. In southern Illinois, the southernmost reach of the Illinoian created a glacial limit line, a geological-geographic line that runs approximately from the mouth of the Wabash River on the east to the vicinity of Harrisburg, then southwest near Creal Springs and west along Cedar Creek valley, then northwest paralleling the Mississippi River. In Jackson County, this glacial line runs just north of Makanda and crosses Devil’s Kitchen and Little Grassy lakes. Little if any glacial ice reached what is now Giant City State Park. North of this line, the land has been scraped and covered over by extensive glacial deposits that formed soil sometimes a mile thick. But south of this line, the ancient rocks created under the shallow sea are in many places still visible on the surface of the land. They escaped being covered by the windblown loess that blanketed most of the land to the north. In these rocks may be found fossils of the simple animal and plant life that existed along the shores of the old sea and in coal beds that formed under the sea—evidence of the life in southern Illinois before the glaciers.1 Meltwater from receding glaciations created the great river valleys that form the southern boundaries of Illinois. These, together with the glacial limit line of the Illinoian ice, frame a distinct geographic and cultural region of Illinois that encompasses the present-day counties of Alexander, Pulaski, Massac, Union, Johnson, Pope, Hardin, Jackson, Williamson, Saline, and Gallatin—a region known by some historians as “Egypt.” Rather than the prairie grasslands that eventually grew up in the deeper soil of central Illinois, southern Illinois grew tall trees on its ridges, in its deep hollows, and along its canyoned streams and waterfalls. A tremendous deciduous forest, primarily of oaks and hickories, extended river-to-river and was home to great herds of animals and eventually to Native Americans who thrived there for over ten thousand years. Southern Illinois’s cultural history parallels that of much of the Midwest in each phase: prehistory , European American settlement, Civil War turmoil, and eras of resource exploitation, industrialization, depressions, and recovery. But some areas of southern Illinois, because of their peculiar geography, have not been easy to change from their natural state. Geographically , as in the Appalachian regions, some ground was too steep, full of canyons and waterfalls, useless for cultivation, or too difficult for the loggers’ reach. Some of extreme southern Illinois was too swampy and malaria-ridden for easy habitation, so some lands were left alone. Fortunately as well, some southern...


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