Mammals of Early Chicago
Nature Bulletin No. 126 October 11, 1947
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
William N. Erickson, President
Roberts Mann, Supt. of Conservation
MAMMALS OF EARLY CHICAGO
When the white man came to Chicago -- when it was only an Italian
portage between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi valley, with trails
leading to it from all directions -- there were a number of large
mammals which lived or visited here. Largest of these was the bison,
or American buffalo. The bull bison sometimes weighed more than a
ton and his shoulders stood as high as a man' s head.
The bison roamed and grazed the Great Plains, the short grass
prairies, which they preferred because of the short yet highly nutritious
grasses there. But there are tales, handed down by the Indians, of huge
herds migrating through this Chicago region, as far south as the Ohio
River, followed by the Sioux Indians for whom they were the chief
source of food, clothing and shelter.
Next in size was the wapiti, or American elk. We have a herd of elk in
a fenced pasture at Elk Grove Preserve. In the Sag valley swamp,
perfectly preserved beneath six feet of peat, a very large pair of elk
antlers was recently found. There were many white-tailed or Virginia
deer, and these have been re-introduced into the Palos and Deer Grove
forest preserves where they again roam wild.
There were porcupines and snowshoe rabbits here as late as 1822.
There were four animals famous for their fur the beaver, the otter, the
marten, and the fisher. The beaver was most important. Beaver hides,
with their valuable fur, were used instead of money. It was beaver that
lured trappers and traders to explore and settle this region, part of the
There was black bear, timber wolves, and the panther -- also called the
painter or puma or cougar or mountain lion. There were the Canada
lynx and the bobcat or bay lynx. The bobcat is still found in the
timbered bluffs along the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. All of
these took toll of the pioneer' s livestock.
These days our wolves don't howl. They whistle.
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Update: June 2012