PRAIRIES OF ILLINOIS


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PRAIRIE PLACE NAMES

From 1818 to approximately 1870, it was a common practice to name the prairies much like we refer to different towns or cities today. The origin of some of these names was based upon the presence of a certain animal or plant, their length or shape, or they took their name from the first permanent settler. This era, when Illinois was the frontier, was a colorful time, and this is certainly reflected in their names. A few of the more colorful examples are as follows:

"Froggy Prairie"

The principal prairie of Honey Creek (Adams County) is called Froggy. The why and wherefore of the name is thus explained by an old settler: ‘it originated at one of the old-fashioned spelling bees, where a school district from the west of the prairie was pitted against the home district. Schoolhouse, a log cabin on the prairie; time, March 25, 1844, at candle lighting, present both schools in full force; wild grass taller than a man; water, bootleg deep full of frogs, which made so much noise that the teacher was compelled to pronounce the words at the top of his voice in order to be heard at all. A school girl from the west district called the place froggy; and Froggy it has been ever since' (Wilcox 1919)."

"Macoupin Prairie"

The naming of places has long been a practice of man, and prairies and prairie groves are no exception. In Illinois, some prairie names were associated with Native Americans, such as Macoupin Prairie in Greene County. Its name was derived from the Indian name "Macoupin," an aquatic plant (American lotus) whose root was harvested by the Indians for food.

"Crow, Horse, and Bull's Eye Prairies"

Sometimes prairies were named after an animal that was particularly abundant at the site. Such is the case with Crow Prairie in Putnam County and Horse Prairie in Randolph County. The latter received its name from the wild horses inhabiting the prairie that had escaped from the French. There was a Bull's Eye Prairie along the Sangamon River in Mason County; the origin of this name is unknown. In Coles County, Goose Nest Prairie became quite famous as the home of Thomas Lincoln, the father of Abraham Lincoln. No one knows for sure if there were geese there or not.

Walnut Prairie in Clark County received its name from the abundance of walnut trees at the edge of the prairie. Buckeye Prairie in Christian County was so named because the people who settled it were from Ohio, the Buckeye state. Prairies were also named after the first pioneer to settle there. Examples include Dolson's Prairie in Clark and Cumberland counties, and Hart's Prairie in Morgan County, which was named after Rev. William A. Hart, a Baptist preacher.

"Looking Glass Prairie"

We can only speculate about the origins of the names of some prairies, such as Looking Glass prairie in what is now St. Clair and Madison counties. This prairie was described in the writings of the Englishman William Oliver, who traveled southern and central Illinois.

The names associated with the prairies of pioneer times have nearly disappeared. A few remain, like Belle City Prairie in Hamilton County, and Burnt Prairie in White County. In other cases, prairie has been dropped from the name, like Oblong in Cumberland County, Carthage in Hancock County, and Canton in Fulton County. There were hundreds of names for the prairies of Illinois. The attached list (Appendix 1) contains a few prairie place names that have been discovered from old books, letters, and manuscripts. Look for the ones in your area.


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