Plant and Animals:
Mammals - Bison

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The importance and abundance of bison in the tallgrass prairies of Illinois are subject to debate. Bison were present in the region of Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie prior to European settlement. While travelling down the Kankakee River in 1680, Fr. Jean Louis Hennepin (1938) remarked:

This vast prairie region seems to be the natural habitat of the buffalo. Scattered here and there are groves where these animals retire to chew their cud and avoid the heat of the sun.

That the buffaloes are usually very numerous here is apparent from the bones, horns, and skulls to be seen on all sides.

Pierre Deliette (Pease and Werner, 1934), upon reaching present-day Joliet via the Chicago and Des Plaines rivers in 1680, wrote:

Here you ordinarily begin to see the buffalo you begin to see the beauty of this country, both for the soil, which yields bountifully, and for the abundance of animals.

Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de LaSalle traveled up the St. Joseph River and portaged to the Kankakee in 1680 on his way to the Illinois River. According to Parkman’s (1980) history of La Salle’s voyage down the Kankakee:

Far and near the prairie was alive with buffalo; now like black specks dotting the distant swell, now trampling by in ponderous columns or filing in long lines, morning, noon, and night, to drink at the river -- wading, plunging, and snorting in the water; climbing the muddy shores, and staring with wild eyes at the passing canoes.

In 1721, Father Pierre Francois-Xavier de Charlevoix, a Jesuit priest portaging between the St. Joseph and Kankakee Rivers wrote:

The country becomes beautiful; prairies as far as you can see, where the buffalo travel by herds of two or three hundred (as quoted in Balesi, 1996).

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Illinois State Museum State of Illinois IDNR Search, Last modified September 1st 2011, 08:13PM.