Try to transport yourself back to the late 1820’s. Earlier this day in the 1820’s you had passed through the “block house” village of Blooming Grove and this evening you are camped at the edge of White Oak Grove along the Old White Oak Trail near the Mackinaw River. The several Indian tribes that had frequently camped in this area had moved into northwest Illinois only a year or two earlier. From Blooming Grove to White Oak, the only way you could see over the prairie grass was to be on horseback.
Tonight in your White Oak camp you are contemplating where you want to lay claim to farmland. Should you lay claim to land near The Grove where fuel and building timber are readily available? Should you lay claim to land near The Grove where the dirt is lighter, well-drained, and tillable, or lay claim out on the prairie where the soil is heavy and not well-drained, and cannot be plowed with your cast-iron plow? Should you stay close to the existing trails or claim land out on the prairie where no trails exist?
It should be no surprise that early land records show settlers buying farmland from the U.S. Government near the groves and near the old trails. It was not until about 1850, after the invention of the steel plow, that the early settlers near the groves began to move out onto the prairie and first turn the prairie sod. Unplowed prairie sod still existed in the 1860’s.