SIU Department Name | Page Title

siu logo siupress logo

SIU logo


Main Content Area

Illinois Trails & Traces

Illinois Trails & Traces

Portraits and Stories along the State’s Historic Routes

Add to Cart

Text by Gary Marx and photographs by Daniel Overturf, with a foreword by Dick Durbin


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
294 pages, 10.75 x 8.25, 113 illustrations


Additional Materials

  • News / Publicity

About the Book

WINNER, 2023 Illinois State Historical Society Superior Achievement Award in “Books, Other”!
FINALIST, 2023 Society of Midland Authors Award in Adult Nonfiction!

Exploring Illinois history through the paths we travel

Illinois Trails & Traces partners the deft writing of Gary Marx with vivid photography by Daniel Overturf to illuminate ever evolving patterns of travel and settlement. Taking the reader on a journey down early buffalo traces and Native American trails, this book shows how these paths evolved into wagon roads and paved highways. Marx and Overturf explore historic routes ranging from Route 66 to the Underground Railroad, all the way back to post-Ice Age animal migration trails followed by Paleo-Indian people. The authors also examine how rivers, canals, and railroads spurred the rapid rise of Illinois as a modern state.

Marx and Overturf bring history into the present by including over forty photographic portraits and written profiles of individuals who live along these routes today. Many of the people you will meet on these pages work to preserve and honor the history of these passages. Others profiled here embody the spirit of the old roads and provide a vivid link between past and present. Through this journey, we discover that we’ve all been traveling the same road all along.


Gary Marx is a journalist whose work has appeared in the Kansas City Star and numerous other publications. Daniel Overturf, an exhibiting photographer and professor emeritus of photography at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, has coauthored Artificial Lighting for Photography (2009) with Joy McKenzie. Together Marx and Overturf are the authors of A River Through Illinois (2007).


"This remarkable new release straddles the line between a travel documentary and a collection of truly inspirational portraits. Along with the scenic images you’d expect, Illinois Trails & Traces also incorporates the narrative potential of the environmental portrait. . .[This book] celebrates a foundational American experience—the mystique of the road, the wanderers and free spirits among us, and winding stretches of hard dirt and asphalt."—Rangefinder

“When we think of the Illinois landscape, we may primarily think of the things made by modern people—shopping malls, skyscrapers, highways, and cornfields. But in a lyrical combination of archeological and historical research, personal stories, and startling photographs, Gary Marx and Daniel Overturf remind us that the territory of Illinois long predates the coming of white settlers. They reveal how today’s roads and railbeds were once buffalo traces and Native American trading routes, and tell a deep, layered, and uncommon history of the prairie state.”—Mary Wisniewski, author of Algren: A Life

“Daniel Overturf doesn’t glorify his subjects; he appreciates them; warmly, respectfully introducing you to them while literally presenting them in their best light. Then you read Gary Marx’s thoroughly engaging historical narrative, and the dance begins—you bounce back and forth between the words and the pictures, again and again. Their combination brings the past alive. This book is a treasure to be passed on to future generations.”—Gregory Heisler, author of Gregory Heisler: 50 Portraits

Illinois Trails & Traces, along with the state highway map, is the Illinois traveler’s best companion for exploring the nooks and crannies; the sheltering rocks, moraines, and river valleys; the forgotten ferries, winked-out towns, and lost highways of the Prairie State. If you go anywhere in Illinois, you have to start here.”—William Furry, Executive Director, Illinois State Historical Society

Illinois Trails & Traces takes readers on an enjoyable ramble through Illinois history via the state’s backroads and byways. From prehistoric buffalo traces to Abraham Lincoln’s circuit-riding to Route 66, Illinois has long been a state in motion. This book tells the story of how those roads made the Prairie State. The portraits tell the story of unheralded residents who preserve the state’s history and make Illinois such a memorable place.”—Jeffrey T. Manuel, author of Mining North America: An Environmental History since 1522

“Gary Marx and Daniel Overturf seem destined to be a team. Marx’s prose is clean and evocative, and Overturf is a master at capturing the blended textures of a place where the hardscape of civilization—a bridge, a roadside shanty, a sawmill—touches the green fringe of rural Illinois. Perhaps more important, Overturf is a virtuoso of the environmental portrait, which he uses with surgical skill throughout the book. His story-telling images of the people who live and work along these meandering roads and watercourses, add humanity and depth. Illinois Trails & Traces was made to be on your coffee table or at your bedside.”—Jim Cornfield, author of Environmental Portraiture: A Complete Guide to the Portrait Photographer’s Most Powerful Imaging Tool

“This is a delightful work. The text is engaging, the photos are splendid, and the interviews and place-name portions are well conceived and executed additions. It is easy to pick this book up, start paging through it, and then get lost in the text and photos—rather ironic as the book is about roads and trails! The many stories come to life for the reader, be they from the great flood of 1993 or legends from centuries earlier.”—Jeffrey Schramm, H-Environment

“Does a good job helping readers visualize the remnants of routes and how they impacted Illinois’s development throughout history and even prehistory. The authors have done well in writing . . . and illustrating these route remnants. Overall, the book is excellent in appearance and approach to this sort of history.”—Illinois State Historical Society Awards Selection Committee