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may be found, presenting a spectacle of unrivalled splendor. A rich soil is covered with innumerable turnsols (Helianthus tuberosus), great euphorbias, and purple lupines, intertwined with the rosy blossoms of the wild mallow, and the brilliant orange-tawny vermilion poppy, while the ground is literally crowded with beautiful violets. The traveller on horseback then looks down upon a sea of flowers, over which float thousands of the most sumptuously colored papilios and scarabees, with the many variegated buzzing insects, while he is nearly overpowered by the penetrating, delicious perfume, with which the immense multitude of blossoms impregnate the air.
In the north the prairies widen, and frequently extend from six to twelve miles in width, intersected in every direction by groups of forests and woods, alternately advancing into and receding from the prairie towards the water courses, the banks of which are usually to be found lined with timber, principally of magnificent growth. Between these rivers, in many instances, are groves of timber containing from 100 to 2000 acres, in the midst of the prairie, like islands in the sea, this being a common feature of the country between Lake Michigan and the Sangamon River, and the northern parts of the State.
As to the origin of the prairie-lands, various speculations bave been indulged, giving rise to a diversity of opinions, the least tenable of which is that, according to which stately forests once covered these plains, afterwards being destroyed by fire; for nothing is better established than the fact, that the travellers who first entered upon these plains, 200 years ago, and gave them their present name, found them destitute of woods and forests; and, moreover, evidence may be adduced to the effect of showing, that wherever those dangerous enemies of the forests, the Indians and buffaloes, were expelled, and the settlers com menced planting trees, as well as in the vicinity of extensive in labited
grass will at once recede, giving free scope for the forest to develope itself. In proof of our position, that these prairies were not formerly covered by forests, we may also refer to the immense savannahs and Llaños of South America and Middle Africa, where traces of former forests have yet to be discovered. Thus the late distinguished English traveller, Mungo Park, speaks of the plains of Mandingo, in Western Africa, as having probably existed there since the earliest times; he also describes their annual burning in the same manner in
which that of the prairies in the Western States would be described now; the practice there, according to his account, being attended with the same results as here, the country there being also within a short time covered with a luxuriant growth of young and tender grass, on which the cattle feed with avidity.
According to another opinion, the truth of which is highly probable, the level surface of the State of Illinois was formed by inundations. The whole of the State, from a few miles north of the Ohio, where the prairies commence, affords tolerably conclusive evidence of having been once covered with water, which, having forced itself a passage, whereby it was drained off, the ground was left with a rich, soft, muddy, level surface, much of which was afterwards successively worn off by waters formed from the effect of rain; whence it will not be difficult to account for the greater dryness of the more elevated undulating prairie lands.
From whatever cause the prairies took their origin, they are no doubt perpetuated by the annual fires that have swept over them, from an era probably long anterior to the earliest records of history, and still often continue, lit by the hunters, in order to frighten and bewilder the game that bounds over these prairies, and thus render them an easy prey, or to replace the old grass by a luxuriant growth of tender herbage, which might serve as nourishment for the deer. Where the soil is too wet to produce a heavy annual growth of grass sufficient to sustain a strong fire, there is no prairie. Forests prevail along the streams, and in other places where vegetation does not suffer from the drought of the latter part of summer and early autumn, and, therefore, is less combustible than in the open plains. And the prairies themselves, wherever they do predominate, as will be found invariably the case on dry level regions, exposed to the heat of the sun, may be easily converted into wooded land, by destroying with the plough the tough sward which has formed itself on them. There are large tracts of country, where a number of years ago the farmers mowed their hay, that are now covered with a forest of young, rapidly growing timber.
As soon as the prairies are ploughed, and the heavy grass kept under, timber or orchard trees, when planted in them, will grow with unexampled luxuriance. A resident of Adams County testifies to the
effect, that locust trees planted, or rather sown, on prairie land near Quincy, attained in four years a height of twenty-five feet, and their trunk a diameter of from four to five inches; these grew in closely crowded rows, affording a dense shade. In a few instances, where the same kind of trees had been planted in a more open manner, they grew in the same period to a thickness of six inches, and in from seven to ten years from their planting, have been known to attain sufficient bulk to make posts and rails. In a like manner, the uplands of St. Louis, which were, in 1823, principally prairie lands, are now covered with a young growth of fine and thrifty timber, so that it would be difficult to find an acre of prairie in the county.
The first efforts to convert prairies into forest land, were usually made on the part of the prairie adjoining to the timber. A range of farms, which girded the entire prairie along its circumference, baring been established, three furrows were ploughed all round the settlements, in order to stop the burning of the prairies, for the whole distance of the circuit in the neighborhood of these farms, and prevent injury to the fences and other improvements; whereupon the timber quickly grows up spontaneously on all the parts not burnt, the groves and forests commencing a gradual encroachment on the adjoining prairies, so that one after another concentric circle springs up inside of the preceding, and thus the entire prairie is steadily narrowed from all sides, until it is finally occupied, forming a vast region covered with timber and farms.
Such a prairie-farm is always conducted on a magnificent scale. The fences, if any there are, do not cut it up in little acre patches, but divide it into large squares. The sight of such a farm on a rolling prairie, partly in grass, partly in corn, partly in grain and garden vegetables, as the sun chases over it the cloudy shadows, and the light breeze waves the distant grove, to a lover of the beautiful is perfectly en. cbanting.
Early in the morning, when a mist is on the ground, the fog appears all around the edge of the timber in the prairies, rendering at times the residence on the circuit of the prairie less healthy than that on the middle or bighest part, which latter is also connected with another advantage, to wit: the facility with which excellent water is procured, at a depth of 15 feet, whereas, along the borders of the timber, the common depth of the wells is 40 feet.
Let it not be supposed, that life on these boundless regions is monotonous and dreary, for nowhere does nature sit more majestically enthroned, overawing man by the terrible grandeur of her phenomena, than on these immense prairies. What can be more beautiful and charming than a summer's day-what more sublime and terrific than a thunder-storm, on these plains ?-what language can convey the faintest idea of the splendor of their conflagration? And even when stern winter has thrown her snow-white mantle over the earth, and the silence of death seems to reign over the far-reaching waste, the apparent illimitation of which deeply impresses the mind of the spectator with the idea of the infinite Being ruling the universe, then the prairie presents a truly magnificent aspect, amply compensating for the hardships of an icy journey. Yielding to our entreaties, an experienced traveller, several spirited letters regarding his journey, written by whom, appeared under the title “A Rambler in the West,” in the columns of the Pennsylvania Inquirer and Daily Courier, thus depicts in lively colors, the events of his seemingly rather dangerous journey :
“ • Now sharp Boreas blows abroad, and brings
The dreary winter on his frozen wings;
Descend, and whiten all the fields below.' “Such was the burden of my song, when I awoke from a most refreshing slumber, and saw large white flakes descending, and the whole country covered with the snowy garb of winter. It is oft-times a very pleasant employment to watch the progress of a snow-storm, but then you must be sheltered from its violence; for I assure you you cannot at all sentimentalize when you are breasting its fury, and have a long and dreary journey before you. However, this morning I was in a peculiarly good humor, and disregarding the solicitations of my friends, who begged me to remain until the storm bad abated, I determined to resume my journey. Soon the merry jingle of the sleigh-bells announced to me that my vehicle was at the door of my
friend's hospitable inansion-into it I sprung with joyous gayety, and away we flew over the broad and boundless prairies. My noble steed seemed to feel
a new excitement, as he inhaled the fresh morning breeze, which lent life and vigor to every nerve.
“A prairie is most beautiful in the spring time of year, for then it is a garden, formed and cultivated by nature's hand, where spring the clustering flowers which bloom in rich luxuriance, and shed their fragrance on the desert air. But when winter binds land and stream in icy fetters, then a prairie is a spectacle grand and sublime, and will well repay for the privations of western travelling. I was compelled, however, to ride against the wind, which whistled around and blew directly in my face. So violent was the storm, that I was almost blinded by the thick flakes that were dashed directly in my eyes. Had I acted with prudence, I should bave discontinued my journey, and made myself comfortable for the remaiuder of the day, at the log hut where I dined --- but I determined, in spite of wind and weather, to reach Peoria by night. Whilst progressing quietly on my way, gray twilight extended her evening shades on earth. Still I drove on, ansious to reach my point of destination. Not a single star peeped out from the heavens to shed its light on a benighted traveller. The storm increased in violence, and the cold winds whistled a wintry tune. I now found I had strayed from the road, and here was I on a broad prairie, without mark or mound, and had lost the track, which was, ere now, covered by the falling snow.
“Unfortunately, I had left my compass behind, and now I was on a broad sea without a chart or compass, and without one stray light in the heavens, whereby to direct my course. The mariner, when tossed upon the billows of the stormy ocean, has at least the satisfaction of knowing where be is, for the needle will always point to the pole, and his chart will tell him of the dangers in his path; but the weary traveller, who has lost his way on a prairie, is on a boundless sea, where he cannot even tell the direction he is pursuing; for oft times he will travel bour after hour and still remain at nearly the same point from which he started. Had even one accommodating star beamed in the heavens, I should not have been the least disconcerted, for then I could have some object whereby to guide my steps. But all the elements combined against me, and I assure you my feelings were by no means comfortable. Memory ran over the sad history of the numerous travellers who had been overtaken by night, and been buried in