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The Rocky Mountains are the great line of demarcation, in reference both to climate and to the means of subsistence which the country in its natural state affords to its inhabitants. The difference between the climate of the Atlantic shores of North America and the opposite European coast, is well known. It consists less in that of the summer heat, which, though greater on the American than on the European side of that ocean, does not vary essentially under the same latitudes, than in the intensity of the cold in the American winters. This is such as to make a difference equivalent to one of more than ten degrees of latitude. Neither the Alleghany Mountains, nor the less elevated transversal chain which seems to extend from the river Saguenay to the sources of the Saskachawin, produce any sensible change in that respect. The comparative observations, made at several military posts, show on the contrary, that the excess both of heat and cold respectively is greater, in the valley of the Mississippi and the adjacent prairies, than on the shores of the Atlantic. * It may be said generally, that, with variations arising from local causes, the same climate prevails from the seacoast to the Rocky Mountains. But the country lying west of that chain, and more particularly that portion which lies along the Pacific, enjoys a climate similar to that of Western Europe.
Since it is also ascertained, that the climate of Pekin is the same with that of Philadelphia, and that the temperature both in summer and winter of the eastern coast of Asia, north of the Torrid Zone, corresponds generally with that of the eastern coast of North America, under the same latitudes, it appears certain that this difference of climate arises from the respective exposure of the seacoasts. Those which face the west enjoy a much more temperate climate than those which have an eastern exposure.
In order to account for such a general result, we must seek for an equally general cause. Apart from the
* This may perhaps be accounted for, by the winds, which, whether from the south or from the north, sweep that immense valley, without being intercepted by any sufficient transversal chain of mountains.
variations produced by a different configuration of the surface of the earth, and by the difference in the general course of the great chains of mountains in the two hemispheres, the most probable general cause will be found in the great prevalence of the western winds throughout the Northern Temperate Zone. The fact is fully ascertained, and is the cause of a difference amounting to about one third in the length of the passages between Europe and Ainerica. Those winds reach the western coasts of both, after having crossed the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean, and with a temperature corresponding with that of the sea.
The same winds, on the eastern coasts of Asia and of America, are land winds, and bring with them, especially in winter, when they come from the northwest, the temperature of the country where they originated.
If the trade-winds of the Torrid produce a counter-current in the atmosphere of the Temperate Zone, the rotatory motion of the earth and the effect of the solar heal may be assigned as the primary cause of the difference of climate to which we allude. Whatever that cause may be, there cannot be any expectation of a permanent change in that respect. It is not indeed perceived, how cultivation could make any sensible alteration; and it is ascertained that the absence of trees produces none.* But the difference between the forest and the prairie country had a greater influence on the means of subsistence and the habits of the Indians, than even that of climate.
The whole country, east of the Alleghany Mountains, was covered with a dense and uninterrupted forest, when the European settlers landed in America. South of the fortieth degree of latitude, it extends in the same manner, as far west as the Mississippi, without any other considerable exception, than a tract called “ the Barrens," situated in the vicinity of the river of that name in the State of Kentucky. But, between that latitude and Lake Erie, some intervals of land destitute of wood, and called “ Prairies,” begin to appear, as you approach the Scioto, and even more eastwardly in the vicinity of the Lake. These prairies gradually increase in size and in number as you proceed westwardly, and are nearly equal in extent to the forest land, in the northern part of the State of Illinois
* It would seem that the climate of Rome was formerly colder in winter than now. The account given of that of Paris by the Emperor Julian would nearly answer for the present time. VOL. II.
and of the adjacent country on the north. North of the Lakes, the forest continues uninterrupted, at least in their vicinity, as far west as Lake Winnipek. Beyond the Mississippi, the prairies continue to encroach rapidly on the woodland, until at last an immense plain, bounded on the west by the Rocky Mountains, extends from the vicinity of the Arctic Sea to the Gulf of Mexico, leaving only narrow strips of wooded land along the banks of the rivers and water-courses. The forest makes again its appearance in the Rocky Mountains, in the secondary ridges, and in the intervening valleys. Beyond the mountains vast prairies are again found, extending as far west as the northern continuation of the Californian chain of mountains, and known by the name of Columbia Plains. Their extent to the north is not known, but southwardly, and assuming a different character, they reach the Gulf of California. great portion of the Mexican dominions is equally destitute of trees. The tract of land, contained between the Pacific and the Californian chain, does not exceed one hundred and fifty miles in breadth, and is well timbered.
But there is a vast difference, in the means of subsistence they afford to the Indians, between the Columbia Plains and the Prairies of the Missouri. These are the native country of the bisons, or buffaloes, as they are universally called in America, and through which they range, from the fifty-fifth degree of latitude to the sources of the rivers that empty into the Gulf of Mexico between the Mississippi and the Rio Norte.
The buffaloes constituie the principal article of food of the erratic tribes, as well as of the cultivating Indians whom we have designated by the name of Missouris ; and their undiminished numbers prove, that the Indian population has not quite reached the extent, of which, in that state of nature, it was susceptible. The Columbia Plains, on the contrary, are as destitute of game as of trees. The buffalo has never penetrated there; the principal and cheapest article of food of the European and American traders was, at least till very lately, horse flesb ;* and doys were a luxury. The Indians who did
* The horse is not a native of America. The wild herds of Texas are entirely of Spanish origin. They have been obtained by the Indians either directly or by internal exchanges among themselves, and are now abundant in a domesticated state on both sides of the Rocky Mountains, as far north as they can subsist without the aid of food supplied by man.
not live immediately on the shores of the Pacific, or in the Rocky Mountains, derived their means of subsistence almost exclusively from the salmon, which ascends the rivers to their sources, and from various species of native roots, some of which are very unwholesome. They cultivate absolutely nothing; and it is therefore evident that their population must be less, in proportion to territory, than that of the Indians east of the mountains.
The bisons are found, in the Missouri plains, in flocks of several thousands. They generally migrate in winter to the country south of the Arkansa. Many however find during that season, even in high latitudes, an asylum in the valleys of the mountains, or wherever a detached iract of forest land is to be found. Their bulk, shape, and habits render mountains a formidable obstacle to their progress. Wherever a buffalo path is found in a mountainous or billy country, it is a sure guide for the most practicable way of crossing the mountain. It was such a path, which, for a number of years, became the inain route across the Cumberland Mountains, between the southwest parts of Virginia and Kentucky. In the same manner the buffalo has pointed out the most practicable route, across the ridge which divides the sources of the Yellow Stone and the river Platte, from that of Lewis's River, a southern branch of the Columbia, and from those of the Rio Colorado of California. They have penetrated down the last river as far south as the fortieth degree of latitude, and down Lewis's River as far west as the one hundred and fifteenth degree of longitude. Beyond those points they have been arrested in both directions by impassable mountains. Toward the east they had crossed the Mississippi, and, before they were driven away by the American settlements, they bad ascended the valley of the Ohio within one hundred miles of Pittsburgh, and that of the Tennessee to its sources. They were but rarely seen south of the ridge which separates that river from the sources of those which empty into the Gulf of Mexico, and nowhere, in the forest country, in herds of more than from fifty to two hundred. The bison is but a variety of the European ox; and the mixed breed will again propagate.
* As doubts have lately been raised upon that point, I must say that the mixed breed was quite common fifty years ago, in some of the northwestern counties of Virginia ; and that the cows, the issue of that mixture, propagated like all others. No attempt that I know of was ever made by the inhabitants to tame a buffalo of full growth.
But calves were occasionally caught by the dogs and brought alive into the settlements. A
is very intractable, and is not known to have ever been domesticated by the Indians.
Some unforeseen circumstances have prevented General Ashley of Missouri, from communicating to me in time, as he intended, some further information respecting the country, which he explored in the Rocky Mountains, and thence in a southwesterly direction beyond Lake Timpanogo. But he has transmitted to me a manuscript map, accompanied with numerous explanatory notes, the materials for which consist of various journeys and explorations by some of our enterprising traders and hunters. Ii is on that authority, and subject to such corrections, as more complete explorations and scientific observations will hereafter render necessary, that several geographical innovations have been introduced in the small map annexed to this Essay.
It will be seen by ibis, that the sources of the Mulinomah do not reach farther south than the forty-third degree of latitude; that some rivers, which had been believed to belong to it, are southern branches of Lewis's River; that the sources of the Rio Colorado of California are as far north as almost the fortythird degree of north latitude, wbilst those of the Rio Norte do not reach the thirty-ninth degree; and that the river commonly called Rio Rojo, that heads nearly opposite to Taos and Santa Fé on the Rio Norte, is a branch, not of the Red River of the Mississippi, but of the Canadian fork of the Arkansa. The most important discoveries, however, relate to the country between the Rio Colorado of California and the Pacific Ocean south of the forty-second degree of north latitude.
The Lake Timpanogo has been found, and is laid down, in the same latitude and longitude nearly, as had been assigned to it by Baron Humboldt. It receives iwo rivers from the east,
bull thus raised was for a number of years owned in my immediate vicinity by a farmer living on the Monongahela, adjoining Mason and Dixon's line. He was permitted to roam at large, and was no more dangerous to man than any bull of the common species. But to them he was formidable, and would not suffer any to approach within two or three miles of his own range. Most of the cows I knew, were descended. from him. For want of a fresh supply of the wild animal they have now merged into the common kind. They were no favorites, as they yielded less milk. The superior size and strength of the buffalo might have improved the breed of oxen for draught; but this was not attended to, horses being almost exclusively employed in that quarter for agricultural purposes.