Submitted by scott on Fri, 05/08/2020 - 13:59

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

From Burton:

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. (p17)

1. Leave St Joseph, Missouri . Cross Missouri River by steam ferry. Five miles of bottom land, bend in river and settlements. Over rolling prairie 2,000 feet above sea level. After 6 miles Troy, capital of Doniphan Co, Kansas Territory about a dozen shanties. Dine and change mules at Cold Spring - Good water and grass. Road from Fort Leavenworth falls in at Cold Spring, distant 15 miles. From St Jo to Cold Spring there are routes, one lying north of the other, the former 20, the latter 24 miles in length.  [20-24 miles; Start: 9:30AM; Arrive: 3PM; Aug. 7th]

As we sped onward we soon made acquaintance with a traditionally familiar feature, the "pitch-holes," or "chuck-holes" --  the ugly word is not inappropriate -- which render traveling over the prairies at times a sore task. They are gullies and gutters, not unlike the Canadian "cahues" of snow formation: varying from 10 to 50 feet in breadth, they are rivulets in spring and early summer, and -- few of them remain perennial --  they lie dry during the rest of the year.

Passing through a few wretched shanties called Troy-- last insult to the memory of hapless Pergamus-- and Syracuse (here we are in the third or classic stage of United States nomenclature), we made, at 3 PM,  Cold Springs, the junction of the Leavenworth route. Having taken the northern road to avoid rough ground and bad bridges, we arrived about two hours behind time. The aspect of things at Cold Springs, where we were allowed an hour's halt to dine and to change mules, somewhat dismayed our fine-weather prairie travelers.

2. After 10 miles Valley Home, a whitewashed shanty. At Small Branch on Wolf River, 12 from Cold Spring, is a fiumara on the north of the road, with water, wood, and grass. Here road from Fort Atchinson falls in. Kennekuk Station, 44 miles from St Joseph. Sup and change mules.  [22-23 miles; Start: 4PM; Arrive: 8PM; Aug 7th]
Two miles beyond Kennekuk is the first of the three Grasshopper Creeks, flowing after rain to the Kansas River. Road rough and stony: water, wood, and grass. Four miles beyond the First Grasshopper is Whitehead, a young settlement on Big Grasshopper; water in pools, wood, and grass. Five and a half miles beyond is Walnut Creek, in Kickapoo Co,, pass over corduroy bridge; roadside dotted with shanties. Thence to Locknan's or Big Muddy Station. [25 miles; Start: 9PM; Arrive: 1AM; Aug 7-8th]