Submitted by scott on Fri, 05/08/2020 - 12:49

From Orion's Journal:  July 26.—Left St. Joseph. Started on the plains about ten miles out. The plains here are simply prairie.

Differing from the card table surfaces of the formation in Illinois and the lands east of the Mississippi, the Western prairies are rarely flat ground. Their elevation above sea level varies from 1000 to 2500 feet, and the plateau's aspect impresses the eye with an exaggerated idea of elevation, there being no object of comparison, -- mountain, hill or sometimes even a tree -- to give a juster measure. Another peculiarity of the prairie is, in places, its seeming horizontality, whereas it is never level: on an open plain,  apparently flat as a man's palm, you cross a long ground-swell which was not perceptible before, and on its farther incline you come upon a chasm wide and deep enough to contain a settlement. The aspect was by no means unprepossessing. Over the rolling surface, which, however, rarely breaks into hill and dale, lay a tapestry of thick grass already turning to a ruddy yellow under the influence of approaching autumn. The uniformity was relieved by streaks of livelier green in the rich soils of the slopes, hollows, and ravines, where the water gravitates, and, in the deeper "intervales" and bottom lands on the banks of streams and courses, by the graceful undulations and the waving lines of mottes or prairie islands, thick clumps and patches simulating orchards by the side of cultivated fields. The silvery cirri and cumuli of the upper air flecked the surface of earth with spots of dark cool shade, surrounded by a blaze of sunshine, and by their motion, as they trooped and chased one another, gave a peculiar liveliness to the scene; while here and there a bit of hazy blue distance, a swell of the sea-like land upon the far horizon, gladdened the sight -- every view is fair from afar. Nothing, I may remark, is more monotonous, except perhaps the African and Indian jungle, than those prairie tracts, where the circle of which you are the centre has but about a mile of radius; it is an ocean in which one loses sight of land. You see as it were the ends of the earth, and look around in vain for some object upon which the eye may rest: it wants the sublimity of repose so suggestive in the sandy deserts, and the perpetual motion so pleasing in the aspect of the sea. No animals appeared in sight where, thirty years ago, a band of countless bisons dotted the plains; they will, however, like the wild aborigines, their congeners, soon be followed by beings higher in the scale of creation. These prairies are preparing to become the great grazing grounds which shall supply the unpopulated East with herds of civilized kine, and perhaps with the yak of Tibet, the llama of South America, and the koodoo and other African antelopes.

 

Citations

Burton, Richard. 1861. The City Of The Saints. London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts.

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