The Great Sauk Trail is now called West State Road and East State Road divided by Illinois Route 78. Some call it Stage Coach Road from the 1800s. It runs along the top of an ancient glacier moraines (hills), now the western Illinois watershed. They were caused by the halt of the Wisconsin Glacier, about 25,000 years ago. Rainfall flows north to the Green River and Mississippi River and south to the Illinois River.
This ancient superhighway was first used by prehistoric mastodons walking on the high, dry ground. Their bones have been found nearby. After the mastodons, came the buffalo, Native Americans, pioneers in their Conestoga wagons heading west, stagecoaches and now cars and trucks. There are untilled areas where one can still see the narrow, single-file trails used by Native Americans traveling the area.
More evidence is everywhere in artifacts and diaries. By the 1700s, the road was part of the route the used by the Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo and Potawatomi Native American tribes traveling from the central Illinois to Detroit, Michigan. Saukenauk (present day Rock Island) was at the western end of the Sauk trail. It had an estimated population of 21,000.
To the south was a vast, rolling, 4,000-acre forest called Barren Grove stretching from Kewanee to Mineral. All around Barren Grove one could see only vast marshland and virgin prairie, a barren view. It supplied lumber for early cabins and later towns.
Two cabins are still standing, the Little cabin (1837) in Wethersfield and the Bowen cabin (1846), two miles south of the Sauk Trail on U.S. Route 34. On the trail is a stone monument noting the Studley cabin (1837), the first in Neponset Township, Bureau County.
To the north, in northern Cornwall, Annawan and Mineral townships, is some of the most productive farmland in the world. The land, first covered by the Wisconsin glacier, then by the melting waters, was called it Lake Wenno or “place of great abundance” by Native Americans.
Avangrid from Portland, Ore. has proposed forty 500-foot wind turbines in this area. We want to preserve it from this visual pollution.
Dick Wells, Neponset
Note to readers: Mr. Wells is a property owner on the Sauk Trail and a member of Sauk Trail Organization for Preservation, or STOP.