Shawnee National Forest

By Liliana Usvat


Shawnee National Forest is one of 155 national forests of USA.

The Shawnee National Forest, located in the Ozark and Shawnee Hills of Southern Illinois, consists of approximately 280,000 acres (1,100 km²) of federally managed lands. In descending order of land area it is located in parts of Pope, Jackson, Union, Hardin, Alexander, Saline, Gallatin, Johnson, and Massac counties.Forest headquarters are located in Harrisburg, Illinois. There are local ranger district offices in Jonesboro and Vienna.The Shawnee National Forest is also the single largest publicly owned body of land in the state of Illinois.

Designated as the Illini and Shawnee Purchase Units, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared these purchase units to be the Shawnee National Forest in September 1939.

Most of the land added to the Forest in its first decade of existence was exhausted farmland. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the Civilian Conservation Corps planted pine trees to prevent erosion and help rebuild the soil. However, the Forest is also home to many hardwood trees and other plant and animal species characteristic of the region.

In the 1980s and 1990s, there was an active history of conservation and protest efforts by local, regional, and national environmental groups and individuals ranging from radical movements such as Earth First! to mainstream organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Green Party. The wise use movement once played an active role in lobbying for its vision of the Shawnee National Forest.

Little Grand Canyon is located within the Shawnee National Forest.

Designated Wilderness Areas


The Wilderness Act of 1964 established the National Wilderness Preservation System and a process for 

Federal land managing agencies to recommend Designated wilderness areas to Congress.

People value wilderness for its wildlife; scenery; clean air and water; and opportunities for solitude, personal growth experiences, and a sense of connection with nature and values beyond themselves.

Wilderness, as defined by the Wilderness Act, is untrammeled (free from man’s control), undeveloped, and natural, and offers outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation. The National Wildlife Refuge System manages Designated Wilderness Areas to secure an enduring resource of wilderness and to accomplish refuge purposes in a way that preserves wilderness character.

As former Senator Frank Church said about the Wilderness Act, “The great purpose is to set aside a reasonable part of the vanishing wilderness, to make certain that generations of Americans yet unborn will know what it is to experience life on undeveloped, unoccupied land in the same form and character as the Creator fashioned it …It is a great spiritual experience. I never knew a man who took a bedroll onto an Idaho mountainside and slept there under a star-studded summer sky who felt self-important that next morning. Unless we preserve some opportunity for future generations to have the same experience, we shall have dishonored our trust.”

Interesting Statistics


USA Congress has designated 75 wilderness areas on 63 units of the National Wildlife Refuge System in 26 states. About 90 per cent — or 18.6 million acres — of Refuge System wilderness is in Alaska. The remaining 2.5 million wilderness acres are in the lower 48 states. This represents approximately 22% of the National Wilderness Preservation System (over 106 million acres), that the Refuge System administers in coordination with the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the  National Forest Service.

Forty-two per sent of Illinois was once forested. Today 10 per cent of the state’s area is left to timber, and the amount grows smaller every year.

Shawnee Mythology


The Shawnee creation myth is similar to other Algonquin creation myths in maintaining that the people who are now the Shawnees originated from a different world- an island balanced on the back of a giant turtle-and traveled to this one. According to Shawnee myth, when the first people were on the island, they could see nothing but water, which they did not know how to cross. They prayed for aid and were miraculously transported across the water.

The Shawnees are the only Algonguin tribe whose creation story includes the passage of their ancestors over the sea, and for many years they held an annual sacrifice in thanks of the safe arrival of their ancestors to this country.


The Shawnees were also unigue among the Alonquin peoples in believing their creator was a woman, who they called [Inumsi Ilafewanu] “Kokumthena”, which means “Our Grandmother.” Kokumthena” is usually depicted as an anthropomorophic female with gray hair whose size ranges from gigantic to very small. According to Shawnee myth, the idea of creation came from the “Supreme Being”, who is called “Moneto”, but the actual work of creation was performed by Kokumthena the “Great Spirit”, and she is the most important figure in Shawnee religion.


Another creature in Shawnee tradition is the Misignwa. The spirit lives in the forest and protects the animals around it. Some northern tribes claim the spirit is what people call Big Foot. The Misignwa watches all hunters and if they are disrespectful or wasteful he will cause them to have an accident as punishment. During the Bread Dance the Shawnee have a man who dresses in a suit of bearskin, wearing a wooden mask and carrying a cane and turtle shell rattle to impersonate Misignwa. This impersonator will seek out children who are disruptive and frighten them, hence teaching them a valuable lesson. Misignwa carvings were found on poles in the village plaza’s, in council houses and carved into pipes until the 19th century.

Shawnee tradition has three figures that control weather. Each of these was created by the Grandmother Spirit and was so instucted not to cause harm to the Shawnee.


  1. One of these is Cyclone Person, a female face with braids of hair that cause tornadoes. She is given great respect by the Shawnee for not harming them. The Shawnee are not afraid of these storms.
  2. The second weather spirit which is actually four separate spirits is called the four winds. The four winds are often called upon to witness prayers, and they have colors associated with them.The winds were told by Grandmother Spirit to respect all women and not to stare at them. Shawnee women will pull their skirts up to their waist to embarass the winds, thus causing clouds to retreat
  3. The third spirit and most well known are the Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds cause storms when they fight with the Great Horned Serpent and other evil creatures. Lightening is caused by blinking their eyes. The Shawnee believe that the Thunderbirds guard the entrance to heaven and are honored by Kispoko during the war dance as the patrons of war.


The most important object in Shawnee religion was the sacred bundle, called ‘mishaami.’ Each tribe had its own bundle, which was believed to contain the welfare of not only the tribe but the entire universe.

People sometimes had their own personnal sacred bundles that protected them and enabled them to cast spells.


The rituals, contents and history of the mishaami are considered sacred mysteries and are kept in secrecy even to this day. According to Shawnee legend, all the mishaami were given to the Shawnees by “Kokumthena,” who can still control them and will inform a chosen prophet if she desires a change in either the contents of a bundle or a ritual surrounding a bundle.



This forest is sometimes referred to as the “Devil’s Kitchen”, a designation left behind by the Native Americans and the early settlers to explain strange sights and sounds like unexplained balls of light, apparitions, screams in the night and various other unsettling types of phenomena. The Native Americans often considered such sites as “sacred” but the settlers usually believed them to be “cursed”, or at least well avoided.


Shawnee National Forest is one the most Bigfoot-active parts of my Illinois USA. If you’re out in the woods enough, especially at night, you’ll hear sounds of animals you may have never heard before.

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