Start Game Trading Post Activity Yesterday & Today Activity Timeline Activity

You may think Illinois is a wild place to live today. Let’s go back to some of its wildest days – before Europeans settled the land, when Native Americans hunted the prairies, forests and rivers.

Bonjour. My name is Toussaint Bouchard. I am an explorer and adventurer. My father came across the Atlantic Ocean from France to make his fortune in the New World. I have come down to the Illinois Territory from Ontario where I was born.

Here, I am free to hunt, trap and trade. In the old world, only the rulers are allowed to hunt. The wildlife here belongs to everyone.

I am a "coureurs de bois." I do not owe allegiance to any fur trading company. I trade with Native Americans and whomever I like.

It is difficult to survive, but I am a hearty, brave man . . . and I have learned to survive from the people who live here – the Shawnee, Potowatami, Peoria and Iliniwek Indians. To the natives, “Iliniwek” means “men.” We Frenchmen call them the Illinois people.

Courtesy of Peabody Museum

The State of Illinois, where you live today, has changed a lot since I paddled in. I have learned about wildlife from the Illinois people. Come with me on a short voyage. I will teach you about the animals I have seen, and we’ll talk about how Illinois wildlife is different in your day.

Show me your trapper and trader skills, and I will teach you how to make a “possibles” bag like this one. You can use it to carry “everything possible.”

Let's get started . . .

I have paddled the Mississipi, Fox, Illinois, Wabash, and Kankakee rivers. Everywhere I have seen signs of beaver. There are lodges along the banks, dams across streams and gnawed trees by the riverside. Beavers are very valuable to the Illinewek. They use beaver for many things.

Tap the different parts of the beaver to find out how beavers were used by Native Americans and early pioneers.
head back body tail feet teeth

In your day, beavers are abundant again. They are common throughout Illinois. Trappers help keep beaver populations under control and use the pelts and other parts.

Click next to learn more about how beavers are used today.

Tap the different parts of the beaver to find out how beavers are used in Illinois today.
head back body tail feet

There are no cars, trains or even roads in the Illinois Territory like you have in your day. There are foot trails made by many generations of Native Americans that I use to guide my way, but mostly I travel by canoe.

I take the furs that I trap to trading posts and forts. I trade them for food, tools, clothes and money. The Native Americans also travel to the posts to trade. They trade furs for knives and silver.

From the trading posts, furs are carried by canoe or barge to the fur companies in Canada. After many trades, they are taken by ship to Europe for use in making felt hats, coats and other garments.

Many of these trading posts eventually turned into towns and then into cities. Some of Illinois’ main cities began as trading posts.

Next, you will need to know where to find Illinois' rivers and early trading posts so you can get around. Study this map before you move on.

If you need to look at the map again tap the back button.

Fur Trading Posts and Water Highways

Many of Illinois' cities started as fur trading posts. Rivers were the main travel routes -- like highways are today.

Find the following Rivers and Cities on the Map:

Big Muddy Try Again

Big Muddy River

Because I carry everything that I own in my canoe and on my back, I do not own much. My clothes are made of woven cloth. The cloth was made on looms in Canada or Europe. Native Americans and some French trappers wear buckskin. Buckskin is leather made from deer hide.

My shoes are like the moccasins worn by the Native Americans. They are also made from deer hide. I start cooking fires with my tinder box. The tinder box contains flint and steel that I strike together to make a spark.

My canoe is made out of birch bark from the forests of Canada. It is sealed with pitch. Pitch is made from pine tree sap.
Some of my tools are made from animal bones. Native Americans use bones for knives, arrows and other tools.

I have a few steel traps like these. They are expensive and hard to find, but they help me capture beaver, muskrat and fox. Beaver traps have smooth jaws. I have one large trap with teeth that I use to trap bears. The traps in your day are somewhat different than mine.

Which items were used for hunting or trapping in the past? Which are used today? And which were used both in the past and today?
Tap the basket where you think each item best belongs.

Toothed Trap

The more animals I trap, the more money I make. In my day, there are so many animals it seems they will never run out. This economic resource seems endless, so I trap and hunt as much as I can.

A large male beaver is known as a “buck.” For me, a buck pelt is money. I can exchange it for a silver “buck,” which has the same value as a pelt. Don’t you have a similar word for money in your day? Perhaps that’s where the term came from.

As you now know, people like me and the many people who followed me here to the Illinois Territory trapped and hunted so many animals that some animals almost disappeared.

When people cleared land for farming and industry, the animal habitat was destroyed. Beaver, coyote, deer, otter and turkey almost disappeared from the state. Big predators like wolf and bear were completely eliminated from Illinois.

Attitudes about use of wildlife and use of the land began to change. People like John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold presented new ideas about conserving habitat and wildlife.

Tap on the pioneers to learn more

Today, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources limits the number of animals that can be hunted, and limits the trapping seasons so that young animals are not killed. Money to pay for wildlife research in Illinois comes from the fees hunters and trappers pay for licenses.

As a result, many animals have been restored to Illinois, and some populations have grown to be even larger than when I paddled into the Illinois Territory.

You are nearing the end of the voyage! You have only one more activity to complete.
Click the triangle next to the year or time period when you think the event below occurred.

Lewis and Clark start their trip from Illinois


1600's and before




Late 1800's





I live in a time when there is a great abundance of wildlife – and so do you.

On this voyage you have learned some about the history of the Illinois people and its wildlife. And you have compared uses of and ideas about wildlife from past to present.


You have been a hearty traveler. An adventurer like you needs something to carry your valuables. I use my leather bag to carry silver bucks. Tap the bag below to download instructions on how to make one of your own.

Get your Possibles Bag PDF