January 2014
Libby Reuter and Joshua Rowan
Frank Holten State Park
East St. Louis, IL
N38.597198 W090.100014

Between the knees Seven green-glass Cairns hide between the knees of a solitary baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) tree at the edge of Whispering Willow Lake. The woody knees standing up from the roots, stabilizing the trees in the wet, muddy soil, are characteristic of the Baldcypress. The tree’s natural habitat is farther south–so this tree was probably planted here in the Frank Holten State Recreation Area. Baldcypresses naturally grow in wetlands and at rivers’ edges from south of the Kaskaskia River (10 miles north of Chester, Illinois) all the way to the Louisiana Delta.

The park’s fishing and picnic areas and an 18-hole golf course are in an unexpected location: surrounded by the city of East St. Louis and bisected by highway 255. But if we use our imaginations, we can picture a time as recently as the 1800s when a network of lakes and streams connected all the low, flatland of the American Bottom (also called American Bottoms) to the main flow of the Mississippi River. These much smaller contemporary streams and ponds trace the ancient channels the river made as it repeatedly flooded its banks and settled into new channels. At the peak of Mississippian civilization in 1200 AD, more than 200 mounds kept religious buildings and homes safe from the floodwater between the big river and the bluffs. The linked waterways provided the transportation system. Canoes traveled Cahokia Creek from the religious center at Cahokia Mounds, past smaller mounds on the side of Indian Lake, to a mound-city at the place where Cahokia Creek flowed into the Mississippi at what is now East St. Louis.

Learn more about Mississippian artifacts discovered in East St. Louis at: link