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THE PRAIRIES.

The most remarkable and striking feature, distinguishing the State of Illinois from the other States of the Union, consists in her extensive prairies, which, covered with a luxuriant growth of grass, and forming excellent natural meadows, by reason of which circumstance they received their present name from the earlier French settlers, commence on a comparatively small scale, near Lake Erie, and occupy the chief part of the land about Lake Michigan, the upper Wabash, and the Illinois, predominating in the vicinity of the Mississippi; so that this entire region is, properly speaking, nothing but a vast prairie, intersected by strips of woods, chiefly confined to the banks and the valleys of the rivers. The prairies are characterized by the absence of timber; they present, in other respects, the same varieties of soil and surface that are found elsewhere ; some extend in immense level plains, others are rolling, others again broken by hills, while nearly all of them possess an inexhaustible-fertility, and but few are sterile.

The prairies of Illinois may be divided into three classes : the alluvial, or wet, the dry, or undulating, and the bushy.

Those denominated alluvial, or wet prairies, are generally on the banks of the rivers, though sometimes at a distance from them; their soil, consisting of a deep stratum of alluvial land upon clayish ground, is black, friable, and of unsurpassed fertility, admirably adapted to the culture of Indian corn and wheat, and even of grapes, as may be judged from the specimens of wild grapes, which in these prairies exhibit a very luxuriant growth, and from the results hitherto known attending the attempts at vine culture, made in several parts of the State.

The dry or undulating prairies have but few springs. In general, the undulations are so slight, that if it were not for the ravines made by freshets, one might suppose that there was no inclination at all. Their fertility varies greatly, the prairie being in general considered the more productive, the more undulating its surface.

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The bushy prairies have an abundant supply of wholesome water, and are covered with hazel and furze bushes, together with small sassafras shrubs, interspersed with grape-vines. Many species of gardensage, mug-wort, dogwood, and an exhaustless variety and exuberance of gay, herbaccous plants, also grow on these prairies. Early in March the forests begin to blossom-the Loncera Flava, L., or yellowflowered honeysuckle, and the Jasminum fructicans, or yellow jasmine, diffuse their delicious fragrance through the air, while the red-tufts of the Judas-tree (Cercis Canadensis), unfold their brilliant charms to the eye of the admiring lover of nature.

Of the prairies, the following lines by Captain Basil Hall, an intelligent English traveller, are highly descriptive:

The charm of a prairie consists in its extension-its green, flowery carpet, its undulating surface, and the skirt of forest whereby it is surrounded; the latter feature being of all others the most significant and expressive, since it characterizes the landscape, and defines the form and boundary of the plain. If the prairie is little, its greatest beauty consists in the vicinity of the encompassing edge of forests, which may be compared to the shores of a lake, being intersected with many deep, inward bends, as so many inlets, and at intervals projecting very far, not unlike a promontory, or protruding arm of land. These projections sometimes so closely approach each other, that the traveller passing through between them, may be said to walk in the midst of an alley overshadowed by the forest, before he enters again upon another broad prairie. Where the plain is extensive, the delineations of the forest in the far background appear as would a misty coast at some distance upon the ocean. The eye sometimes surveys the green prairie without discovering on the illimitable plain a tree or bush, or any other object, save the wilderness of flowers and grass, while on other occasions the view is enlivened by the groves dispersed like islands over the plain, or by a solitary tree rising above the wil. derness. The resemblance to the sea which some of these prairies exhibited, was really most striking. I had heard of this before, but al. ways supposed the account exaggerated. There is one spot in particular, near the middle of the Grand Prairie, if I recollect rightly, where the ground happened to be of the rolling character above alluded to, and where, excepting in the article of color, and that was not widely different from the tinge of some seas, the similarity was so striking, that I almost forgot where I was. This deception was heightened by a circumstance which I had often heard mentioned, but the force of which perhaps none but a seaman could fully estimate; I mean the appearance of the distant insulated trees as they gradually rose above the horizon, or receded from our view. They were so exactly like strange sails bearing in sight, that I am sure, if two or three sailors had been present, they would almost have agreed as to what canvass those magical vessels were carrying. Of one they would all have said, “Oh! she is going nearly before the wind, with top-gallant studding, sails set.” Of another, “she has got her canvass hauled up, and is going by the wind.” And of a third they might say, " she is certainly standing toward us, but what sail she has set is not quite clear.”

In spring, when the young grass has just clothed the soil with a . soddy carpet of the most delicate green, but especially when the sun, rising behind a distant elevation of the ground, its rays are reflected by myriads of dew drops, a more pleasing and more eye-benefitting view cannot be imagined. You see the fallow deer quietly feeding on the herbage; the bee flies humming through the air; the wolf, with lowered tail, sneaks away to its distant lair, with the timorous pace of a creature only too well conscious of having disturbed the peace of nature; prairie-fowls, either in entire tribes, like our own domestic fowls, or in couples, cover the surface; the males rambling, and, like turkeys or peacocks, inflating their plumage, make the air resound with a drawled, loud, and melancholy cry, resembling the cooing of a woodpigeon, or still more, the sound produced by rapidly rubbing a tambourine with the finger. The multitude of these birds is so surprisingly great, as to have occasioned the proverbial phrase, “ that if a settler on the prairie expresses a desire for a dish of omelets, his wife will walk out at night and place her bonnet on the open ground, to find it full of eggs on her return next morning.” The plain is literally covered with them in every direction, and if a heavy fall of snow had driven them from the ground, I could see myriads of them clus tered around the tops of the trees skirting the prairie. They do not migrate, even after the prairie is already settled, but remain in the high grass, near the newly-established farms; and I often saw them at no great distance from human habitations, familiarly mingle with the

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poultry of the settlers. They can be easily captured and fed, and I doubt not but they can be easily tamed.

On turning from the verdant plain to the forests or groups of highgrown timber, the eye, at the said season, will find them clad also in the most lively colors. The rich under- and brushwood stands out in full blossom. The andromedeas, the dogwood, the wood-apple, the wild plum and cherry, grow exuberantly on rich soil, and the invisible blossom of the wild vine impregnates the air with its delicious perfume. The variety of the wild fruit-trees, and of blooming bushes, is so great, and so immense the abundance of the blossoms they are covered with, that the branches seem to break down under their weight, and the eye of the spectator comes very near being over satiated.

The delightful aspect of the prairie, its amenities, and the absence of that sombre awe inspired by forests, contributes to forcing away that sentiment of loneliness, which usually steals upon the mind of the solitary wanderer in the wilderness, for although he espies no habitation, and sees no human being, and knows himself to be far off from every settlement of man, he can scarcely defend himself from believing, that he is travelling through a landscape embellished by human art. The flowers are so delicate and elegant as apparently to be distributed for mere ornament over the plain, the groves and groups of trees seem to be dispersed over the prairie to enliven the landscape, and we can scarcely get rid of the impression invading our imagination, of the whole scene being flung out and created for the satisfaction of the sentiment of beauty in refined men. The similarity of the whole frequently reminds the Englishman of the extensive parks of the great aristocratical palaces he used to admire in his country; the grass plots, the shaded walks, groves and bushes, produced there by a designing art, nature has spontaneously created here; and nothing but proud structures of lordly mansions, and the view of distant towns or vil. lages are wanting, to make the resemblance complete.”

In the summer the prairie is covered with tall grass, which is coarse in appearance, and soon assumes a yellow color, waving in the wind like a ripe crop of corn. In the early stages of its growth, it resem bles young wheat; and in this state furnishes such rich and succulent food for cattle, that the latter choose it often in preference to wheat, it being, no doubt, a very congenial fodder to them, since it is impos

sible to conceive of better butter than is made while the grass is in this stage. On the lower, humid prairies, where the clayey stratum lies close to the surface, the middle or principal stalk of the grass, bearing the seed, grows very thick, having long and coarse leaves, and attaining a height of pine feet, so that the traveller on horseback will frequently find it higher than his head. Although the plants are very numerous, and stand alone by each other, they seem to grow up each one by itself, the whole effort of vegetation tending upward. On the undulating prairies the grass is finer, and exhibits more leaves, its roots are interlaced so as to form a compact mass, and its leaves spread in a dense sod, which rarely exceeds the height of 18 inches, until late in the season, when the seed-alk shoots up.

In the earliest stages of its growth, the grass is interspersed with little flowers, the violet, the strawberry-blossom, and others of the most delicate structure. When the grass grows higher, these disappear, and taller flowers, displaying more lively colors, take their place; and still later a series of still higher but less delicately formed flowers appears on the surface. While the grass is green, these beautiful plains are adorned with every imaginable variety of color. It is impossible to conceive of a greater diversity, or discover a predominating color, save the green, which forms a beautiful dead color, relieving the splendor of the others. In the summer, the plants grow taller, and the colors more lively; in the autumn another generation of flowers arises, which possesses less clearness and variety of color, and less fragrancy. In the winter, the prairie presents a melancholy aspect. Often the fire, which the hunters annually send over the prairies, in order to dislodge the game, will destroy the entire vegetation, giving to the soil a uniform black appearance, like that of a vast plain of charcoal; then the wind sweeping over the prairie, will find nothing which it might put in motion, no leaves which it might disperse, no halms which it might shake. No sooner does the snow commence to fall, than the animals, unless already before frightened away by the fire, retire into the forests, when the most dreary, oppressive solitude, will reign on the burnt prairies, which often occupy many square miles of territory.

In the southern part of the State, the prairies are comparatively small, varying in size from those of several miles in width and length. to those which contain only a few acres. Here many flowery prairies

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