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from Washington City. Its extreme length is three hundred and eighty miles, its breadth in the north one hundred and forty-five miles, but it extends in its centre to two hundred and twenty miles, , from whence it contracts towards the south to a narrow point.

The whole area of the State is fifty-nine thousand square miles, of which fifty-five thousand square miles, or about thirty-five million acres, are capable of cultivation. The act of Congress admitting this State into the Union prescribes boundaries as follows: Beginning at the mouth of the Wabash river, thence up the middle of the main channel, thereof to a point where a line drawn due north from Vincennes last crosses that stream, thence due north to the northeast corner of the State of Indiana, thence east with the boundary line of the same State to the centre of Lake Michigan, thence due north along the middle of said lake to latitude forty degrees thirty minutes, thence west to the centre of the Mississippi river, thence down the middle of the main channel thereof to the mouth of the Ohio river, thence up the latter stream, along its northern or right shore to the place of beginning.

The outline of the State is in extent about one thousand one hundred and sixty miles, the whole of which, except three hundred and five, is formed by navigable streams and waters. As a physical section Illinois is the lower part of that inclined plane of which Lake Michigan and both its shores are a higher section, and which is extended into and embraces the greater part of Indiana. Down this plane, in a very nearly southwestern direction, flows the Wabash and its confluents, the Kaskaskia, the Illinois and its confluents, and the Rock and Wisconsin rivers. The lowest section of the plane is also the extreme southern angle of Illinois, at the mouth of the Ohio river, and is about three hundred and fifty feet above the level of the sea. Though the State of Illinois does contain some low hilly sections, as a whole it may be regarded as a gently inclining plane in the direction of the rivers, as already indicated. Without including minute parts, the extreme arable elevation may be safely stated at eight hundred feet above sea level, and the mean height at five hundred and fifty feet above the sea. Next to Louisana and Delaware, Illinois is the most level State in the Union. A small tract in the southern portion of the State is hilly, and the northern portion is also somewhat broken. There are likewise considerable elevations along the Illinois river, and the bluffs of the Mississippi in some places might almost pass for

mountains. But by far the greater portion of the State is either distributed in vast plains, or barrens, that are gently rolling like the waves of the sea. We may travel on the wide prairie for days without encountering an elevation that is worthy to be called a hill. In no part of the peopled portion of the United States are there such vast sections of prairie country. One vast prairie, with but little interuption, spreads from the shore of the Mississippi to that of Lake Michigan. Undoubtedly, the most remarkable feature of the State of Illinois is its vast prairies, or unwooded plains. They begin on a comparatively small scale in the basin of Lake Erie, and increase as we proceed westward, already form the bulk of the land about Lake Michigan, the Upper Wabash and the Illinois, but west of the Mississippi they are still more extensive, covering the whole country, interspersed with groves of timber, or patches of wood land, chiefly confined to the river vallies and the borders of streams. The characteristic peculiarity of the prairies is the absence of timber; in other respects they present all the variety of soil and surface that are found elsewhere. Some are of inexhaustable fertility, others are of hopeless sterility. The latter condition, the exception, and by no means the rule. Some spread out in a vast boundless plain, others are undulating or rolling, while others are broken by hills. In general, they a re covered with a rich growth of grass, excellent natural meadows, from which circumstance they take their name.

Prairie is a French word, signifying meadow, and is applied to any description of surface that is destitute of timber, and clothed with grass. Wet, dry, level or undulating, are terms of description, merely, and apply to prairies in the same sense they do to forest lands. Indians and hunters annually set fire to the prairie grasses to dislodge their game; the fire spreads with tremendous rapidity, and presents one of the grandest and most terrible spectacles in nature. The flames rush through the long grass with a noise like thunder; dense clouds of smoke arise; and the sky itself seems almost on fire, particularly during the night. Travel on the prairies, during the burning season, is extremely dangerous, and when pursued by the fires the only escape is to fire the grass around them, and taking shelter on the burnt part, where the approaching flames must expire for want of fuel.

The groves and belts of timber bordering on the prairies have frequent springs of water, and are covered with bushes of hazel

and furze, small sasafras shrubs, festooned with the wild grape vine and the amepolopsis, and in the season of flowers becomes beautifully decorated by a rich profusion of gaily colored herbaceous and perennial flowers. In March, and early in April, the forests are in bloom. The brilliant red bloom of the cercis canadensis, handsomely exhibits its charms. The yellow blossoms of the fragrant leonicera diffuses its fragrance, and the jasminum fruticans impregnates the air with its delicious odors, and a vast variety of other odoriferous plants are passively engaged in the faithful discharge of their offices, either of the display of gay colors or the emission of rare odors. The prairies are thus referred to by one of the early western poets

“Travelers entering here, behold around

A large and spacious plain on every side,
Strewed with beauty, whose fair grassy mound

Mantled with green, and goodly beautified

With all the ornaments of Flora's pride.” The deep, rich, black soils of the prairies are of exhaustless fertility, and equally adapted to the growth of vegetables, corn, wheat, rye, barley and oats. All the fruits of this latitude are grown with extraordinary success.

From May to October the prairies are covered with tall grass, and the flower producing weeds. In June and July they seem an ocean of flowers, of various hues, waving to the breezes that sweep over them. The numerous tall flowers that grow luxuriently over these plains, present a striking and delightful appearance. Early in the history of the settlements of these prairies, herds of deer were frequently seen bounding over these prairie undulations.

In the southern part of the State the prairies are comparatively small, varying in size from a few acres to several miles in extent. As we go northward, they widen and extend on the more elevated ground, between the water courses, to a vast distance, and are frequently from six to twelve miles wide. Their borders are by no means uniform, but are intersected in every direction by strips of forest land, advancing into and receding from the prairie towards the water courses, whose banks are always lined with timber, principally of luxuriant growth.

Between these streams are, in many instances, copses or groves of timber, containing from 100 to 2000 acres, in the midst of the prairie, like islands in the ocean. This is a common feature between the Sangamon river and Lake Michigan, the region of Illinois in which our own Mason county, forms so conspicuous and desirable a part. The largest tract of prairie in Illinois is called Grand Prairie. Under this general name is embraced the country lying between the water which fall into the Mississippi, and those which enter the Wabash rivers. It does not consist of one vast tract boundless to the vision, and uninhabitable for want of timber, but made up of continuous tracts, with points of timber projecting inward, and long arms of the prairie extending between the creeks and smaller streams. The southern points of the Grand Prairie are formed in the northeastern parts of Jackson county, and extend in a northeastern course between the streams, of various widths, from one to ten or twelve miles, through Perry, Washington, Jefferson, Marion, the eastern part of Fayette, Effingham, through the western part of Coles, into Champaign and Iroquois counties, where it becomes connected with the prairies that project eastward from the Illinois river and its tributaries. This part alone is frequently called the Grand Prairie.

On the origin of the prairies, it is difficult to decide; various speculations have arisen on this subject, and have given rise to various opinions; the most practical of which is ably set forth by Prof. Winchell, in another part of this work, in the section entitled the “Treelessness of the Prairies.” When Capt. John Smith visited the Chesapeake, he found extensive prairies, and first bore witness to the practice of circular fires as a mode of hunting among the savages. These tracts have been early inhabited and cultivated by the colonists, and the prairies have long since disappeared.

Probably one-half of the earth's surface, in a state of nature, consisted of prairies or barrens; much of it, like our western prairies, were covered with a luxurient coat of grass and herbage.

The Steppes of Central Asia, the Pampas of Buenos Ayres and Venezuela, the Savanahs of Louisiana and Texas, and the prairies, designate identical, or at least similar, tracts of country. Mesopotamia, Syria and Judea had their ancient prairies, on which the Patriarchs pastured their flocks. Travelers in Burmah, in the interior of Africa and New Holland, mention the same description of country. Mungo Park describes the annual burnings of the plains of Manning, western Africa, in the same manner as the prairies of the western States, and the practice is attended with the same results, the country being in short covered with a luxurient crop of young tender grass, on which cattle feed with avidity.


In general, Illinois is abundantly supplied with timber, and were it equally distributed through the State, there would be no part wanting. The growth of timber within the State is such, and its preservation an object with the inhabitants, that it is estimated that there is from one-fourth to one-third more timber in the State than there was forty years ago. The apparent scarcity of timber through the State, where the prairies predominate, is not an obstacle to settlement, as has been supposed. For many of the purposes to which timber is applied substitutes have been found.

The rapidity with which the young growth pushes itself forward, without a single effort on the part of man to accellerate it, and the readiness with which prairies become converted into thickets, and then into a forest of young timber, shows that in another generation timber will not be wanting in any part of Illinois.

The growth of the bottom lands consists of black walnut, seyeral species of ash, three varieties of elm, hackberry, sugar maple, soft maple, and the ash-leaved maple or box-elder, honey locust, mulberry, buckeye, sycamore, cottonwood, pecan, and three or four other varieties of the hickory family, numerous varieties of the oak family, among them the cup oak, burr oak, swamp or water oak, white oak, red oak, black oak; of the shrubbery, we note the redbud, pawpaw, dogwood, two varieties, spice brush, hazel, greenbriar, and many others, even the names of which we have been unable to learn. We have now a collection of the native woods of Illinois, numbering ninety-eight varieties, and we have not all. Perhaps no other State in the Union can furnish such a variety of timber, and shrubs, and vines, as Illinois. Along the banks of streams the sycamore, the cottonwood, the elm and the pecan predominate, and attain to an immense size, and are of rapid growth.

Uplands are covered with various species of timber, among which are the post oak, white and black oak, of several varieties, and the black jack, adwarfish gnarled tree, good for little else than firewood, for which purpose it is equal to any we have, of hickory, both the shellbark and the smoothbark, black walnut, white walnut or butternut, American linn or basswood, several varieties of

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