Bison Algonquians: Cycles of Violence and Exploitation in the Mississippi Valley Borderlands

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During climate changes of the early 1600s, a group of Algonquians moved west from the Great Lakes into a distinctive landscape --the tallgrass prairies of the Midwest. Adapting themselves to this cultural and ecological borderland between the woodlands and grassland biomes of North America, these Algonquians created an identity as the Illinois and invented a new lifeway as pedestrian bison hunters. Their bison-based economy encouraged important changes in Illinois social life, including a new division of labor and conflicts with neighbors. When the contact era opened, these changes interacted in devastating fashion with the changes caused by the arrival of European colonists. Like other groups, the Illinois participated in mourning wars, they suffered from disease, and they engaged in trade, which intensified their conflicts. But their actions cannot be fully understood without considering their bison economy, which shaped social and ecological realities for the Illinois. This essay shows how the Illinois's adaptation to their distinctive prairie environment helped influence their history.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)309-340
Number of pages32
JournalEarly American Studies, An Interdisciplinary Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015


  • BISON -- History
  • ALGONQUIANS (North American people) -- History
  • ILLINOIS (North American people)
  • ILLINOIS -- History -- To 1778
  • AMERICAN bison hunting
  • AMERICAN bison hunters
  • HUMAN ecology -- Social aspects
  • ALGONQUIANS (North American people) -- First contact with Europeans


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