The frontier era is among the state's most popular Illinois history subjects. The Office of Education Services receives as many requests from teachers for material about that era as any other in the Prairie State's past. Perhaps the enduring fascination with "origins," the "first," or "pioneers" stimulates those requests. Then, too, Americans generally are drawn to the story of "the West," and Illinois was part of that fabled region during its frontier era.
The following selections invite you and your students to delve into facets of the Illinois frontier. A subject so rich in meaning deserves exploration. We think that you will find the personal experience of fifteen-year-old Sarah Aiken a helpful way to ease your students into the adventure. Next, look across a cultural divide from the Kickapoo experience into the frontier. The author rightly calls the Kickapoo the state's first pioneers. The curriculum materials should excite some lively discussions about the Kickapoo. Chicago's pivotal role in transforming Illinois from a frontier requires attention to how the Windy City itself was changed. For another cross-cultural insight on the frontier, you and your students should find the fourth selection very helpful. Not only is the Pin Oak Colony a virtually unknown chapter in our state's past, it kindles questions about the direct interchange between African Americans, Indians, and whites living in a single community. Newspapers have contributed vitally to Illinois' life from the outset. Time will be well spent seeing how and where newspapers developed and challenging your students to think about those subjects.
The famous Illinois historian Clarence Alvord sounds wrong today when we read his introductory treatment of Illinois in the first volume of the state's centennial history:
To the prairies came men of the north, men of the south, men from Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany; they built cabins side by side, and in the same manner as they gave assistance to each other in raising their dwelling houses, they worked shoulder to shoulder in building the structure of the American state which is called Illinois' a monument to democracy.
We now appreciate that the frontier was not entirely harmonious. Indians were pushed out. African Americans did not all come of their own volition, although some, such as the settlers of Pin Oak Colony, sought refuge from slave-holding states. Our state's complexity is clearer than it was to Alvord and yet we can share at least one goal from his work. Alvord's "monument of democracy" is possible, we should add, by educating ourselves about our diverse past.