Rapid flow of the Des Moines lobe of the Laurentide ice sheet may have been related to its unlithified substrate. New reconstructions of the lobe, based on moraine elevations, sediment subsidence during moraine deposition, and flow-direction indicators, indicate that the lobe may have been ∼3 times thicker than in previous reconstructions. Nevertheless, implied basal shear stresses are <15 kPa, so internal ice deformation was not significant. Instead, the lobe likely moved by a combination of sliding, plowing of particles through the bed surface, and bed shear. Consolidation tests on basal till yield preconsolidation stresses of 125–300 kPa, so effective normal stresses on the bed were small. A model of sliding and plowing indicates that at such stresses most particles gripped by the ice may have plowed easily through the till bed, resulting in too small a shear traction on the bed to shear it at depth. Consistent with this prediction, measurements of orientations of clasts in basal till yield a weak fabric, implying pervasive bed shear strain less than ∼2, although some stronger fabrics have been reported by others. We infer, tentatively, that movement was principally at the bed surface by plowing.