The Sangamo Frontier: History and Archaeology in the Shadow of Lincoln

By Robert Mazrim | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
The Arrival of Archaeology
and the Shadow of Lincoln

How travelers and immigrants interpreted what they encountered in the West varied. Regardless of how appalled or enchanted they were by what they found on the frontier, what they took time to write about in their journals was not usually the prosaic, but the novel. Meanwhile, the newspapers recorded the big events, and the lawyers recorded the deeds. Thus, we are left with few written records that include descriptions of the fundamental elements of everyday life. That written record, however, has never really provided a complete picture of culture, society, or the daily life of the individual. How accurately and detailed would our very modern records depict our individual daily lives, interests, habits, concerns, and traditions today? On the other hand, think of how many of these things are reflected in the debris that we place into the garbage can each week. It is the prosaic that is first uncovered by the trowel.

Shortly after their bell-ringing celebration in the summer of 1778, the Americans at Kaskaskia received a bill from a local merchant for twenty bottles of rum “for a refreshment after their taking possession of the Illinois Country.”1 With that bill begins the creation of the archaeological record of the American frontier of Illinois, and somewhere in the Mississippi valley lay the remains of those mundane but very historic rum bottles.

From that day forward, Americans came to Illinois, bought things from stores, and dutifully emptied or broke many of them. Goods be-

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