Two of the nations largest rivers meet in the American Bottom. The Mississippi and Missouri Rivers served as channels of change to the area, bringing outside influences of many different peoples to an Indian-inhabited land. Like the constant flow of the rivers, there was a constant change in the American Bottom. The progress eventually developed the area into a center of economic activity and gateway to the west, but also excluded native and long-time residents. The Illinois Indians long dominated the American Bottom. They were a unique and special tribe, who were complex politically, religiously, and socially. They were also an independent people until French colonizers came to settle in the area. The French Creoles became the dominant population in the region, effecting trade and implementing French Creole culture in the region. The French would not be the last group trying to develop and profit from the American Bottom. When the United States gained control of the territory, it changed even further and eventually Americanized into an U.S. State. The importance of the region increased as the U.S. continued to grow westward. The American Bottoms location between the two great rivers made it the ideal location for a center of economic growth.
Prior to the contact period, or the time when the Illinois first came into contact with Europeans, the Illinois were a great and influential tribe. They were a very interesting tribe who had a culture all their own. They were also a very autonomous bunch never having to rely on anyone but themselves for survival. This was all to change with the introduction of European missionaries and traders. The Illinois were dwelling in territory that was in heavy demand by those who wished to exploit these Indians and their land in order to turn over a dollar. The frontier was moving farther west and the Illinois eventually fell into the chaos that followed. War, disease, alcohol, and new ways of life eventually exterminated the Illinois. Although the Illinois were not to make it through the development of the American Bottom, they played a crucial and fascinating role in its history.
The land the Illinois lived was not only beautiful but also abundant with resources. The resources in the area amazed the French missionaries and explorers. Father Claude Allois, a Jesuit missionary, describes an interesting spectacle on a journey south. “The next day, we saw a rock seven or eight feet out of the water and two or three brasses in circumference, named ‘the pitch rock.