Long before Joliet and Marquette accidentally discovered the Illinois, its banks were inhabited by abundant wildlife and Amerindians (judging from spearheads 8,000-12,000 years old). With the coming of first the French, then the British and Americans, the scene began to change, and here the narrative begins to wander from the banks to the land beyond them. La Salle and his French colleague Tonty spent what seems like years missing one another and leaving wooden tablets tacked to trees. The Illini (""Iliniwek"" means ""the men"") were the unfortunate victims of the fur trade, alcohol, the white man's diseases; Pontiac, fighting for organized Indians, nevertheless died ignominiously and Black Hawk was unsuccessful also. But there were some who made better names than the greedy land grabbers: Peter Cartwright and the Methodist circuit riders, abolitionist Lovejoy, Lincoln (and Douglas) were there. The 1848 canal that would have brought goods from Lake Michigan was superseded by the railroad, and by 1911 the Illinois was heavily polluted with Chicago's wastes; today conservationist efforts have reserved some of the land for wildlife refuges and parks and started to clean up the river (you can canoe with special instructions). An easy-going meander through some of Illinois' history.