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Sugar Creek: Life On The Illinois Prairie

March 2023
1min read

by John Mack Famgher; Yale University Press; 280 pages, $25.00.

The first settler in Sugar Creek was Robert Pulliam, who came with five others in 1817 to hunt, trap, and, early the following spring, tap the great sugar maples of the area for their sap. The following year the Pulliam family moved there permanently.

The sugar bush they claimed had always been harvested by the Kickapoo Indians, whom the settlers pushed out in the seemingly inevitable way of westward expansion. The region’s sugar crop was so rich that the sweetening became legal tender, an early settler recalled.

The families that followed—first the men and later the women, children, and livestock—mostly acquired their farms illegally by squatting on lands held in the public domain. And they came in clans—siblings and cousins and in-laws of the first pioneers lured to the Sangamon River area by the tales sent home of its bounty.

Faragher’s unusual study of how this small town started, grew, and formed itself into a community illustrates the whole process of frontier settlement. He is particularly perceptive about the life of women; nor does he neglect the Indians who were there first. Though many of the early settlers were illiterate, the author has assembled land deeds, court records, and any other written records that exist into an astonishingly intimate picture of the first sixty years of an American community.

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