A Glimpse of Iowa in 1846 by J.B. Newhall

"A Glimpse of Iowa in 1846; or, the Emigrant’s Guide, and State Directory; with a Description of the New Purchase: Embracing Much Practical Advice and Useful Information to Intending Emigrants, also The New State Constitution"

By J.B. Newhall, Second Edition, Burlington, Iowa, W.D. Skillman, Publisher, 1846


An Excerpt from Page 16

Prairies

Beauty of the landscape similar to many views in England, France, and Belgium. Erroneous notions of their susceptibility for cultivation.

"These, the unshorn fields, boundless and beautiful,
For which the speech of England has no name –
The Prairies." - Bryant

Undoubtedly one of the most captivating features in the landscape scenery of a great portion of the upper Mississippi valley, is the unique and beautifully diversified Prairies, or unwooded tracts. They are, in fact, the gardens of nature. And who that has been an eye witness can ever forget the impressions made upon his feelings, when, or the first time, he gazed with rapturous delight upon the boundless prairie? The characteristic peculiarity of the prairies, is the entire absence of timber; in other respects they present all the varieties of soil and surface that are found elsewhere. Sometimes they are spread out in boundless plains; at other times they are gently rolling, like the swell of the sea after a subsiding storm. A diversity of opinion exists as to the origin of prairies. Their undulating and finished surface, crowned with the richest alluvial mould, bears ample proof, (in the writer’s mind) of their having been, at some anterior period, submerged beneath the waters of vast lakes, or inland seas; and these, subsequently receding, have formed the natural channels through which our vast and numerous rivers flow. Hence the rich alluvial deposit, and fossil remains that so frequently occur; also, the laminae formation of secondary lime rock; and successive strata of soil, are all evidences of a once submerged country.

These meadows of nature are covered with a rich coat of natural grass, forming excellent grazing for cattle; and, in the season of flowers, present the most captivating and lovely appearance. The traveler now beholds these boundless plains, untouched by the hand of man, clothed with the deepest verdure, interspersed here and there with beautiful groves, which appear like islands in the ocean. The writer has often traveled amidst these enchanting scenes, on horseback, for hundreds of miles, long before civilization commenced; sometimes threading a narrow defile made by the "red man," through the tall grass, and again suddenly emerging to a broad expanse of thousands of acres covered with ever variegated flowers.

It has been urged by some that, however our prairies may have added to the beauty of the landscape, they are impediments to the settlements of a country. Ten years ago, this objection was urged much more strenuously than at present. For in that length of time may prairies, both in Illinois and Iowa, have been converted into highly cultivated farms. Upon which the "croakers" of early times predicted that no settler would ever venture; and in ten years more, that such an objection ever did exist will be a matter of wonder. A little calculation would convince the most skeptical that it is cheaper, in the proportion of four to one, to haul fencing (rail) timber two or three miles (which is about the extent that any Iowa or Wisconsin farmer need go,) than to expend eight or ten years of toil and labor in clearing the heavily timbered lands of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Canada.

I have often inquired of those individuals who reason against the settlement of the prairies, if they ever knew a man to leave the Prairie for the Timber? I have always inquired in vain. But we do know that tens of thousands annually leave the Timbered countries to settle upon the Prairies.

A popular error has prevailed, to a considerable extent, in the Atlantic States, that our prairies were universally low, wet, swampy lands! Prairie does not imply wet or flat lands. Our rolling prairies present all the undulating features and diversity of surface that are to be met with in many other countries.

The associations of the New Englander, and most of the inhabitants of the Atlantic States, (respecting a new country,) are woods – interminable woods. The English, the French, and the Belgians, have a better simile of comparison with their own landscape. I will remember my first impressions, some three years ago, the first hour I set my foot upon the shores of old England , landing upon the shore of a beautiful bay on the coast of Sussex.I involuntarily exclaimed, (casting my eyes over the bright and verdant landscape,) how much the scenery of Britain reminds me of the prairie scenery of America. Subsequently, I was often forcibly reminded of the striking similarity of scenery. For instance, the vale of Worcestershire and Herefordshire; likewise the scenery of the Thames above London, affords a striking resemblance of many beautiful spots upon the banks of the Des Moines. And that charming panoramic view from "Richmond Hill" may justly be compared to the scene which the traveler beholds from the grave of Julien Dubuque, or from the "Cornice Rocks" above Prairie du Chien.

The American tourist who has or ever may travel over that pleasant road, from Brussels to the Field of Waterloo, along the forest Soigoine, will have an admirable standard of comparison for much of the scenery of Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. Performing a pedestrian tour through that picturesque and highly cultivated country, in the summer of ’44, I often stopped by the road side to contemplate the scene before me. It required no stretch of the imagination to shadow forth many of the identical spots that I was wont to look upon in my native land.