Page images
PDF
EPUB

abundant.

SOUTHERN KANZAS.

At Bent's Fort there is but little timber.

113

Tim

ber sometimes appears in small sections; but, in general, for several hundred miles the river is most of the year a broad sand-bed, over which a few threads of water glide along, occasionally expanding into wide shallows. In the autumn, the water sometimes sinks into the sand and disappears altogether. At the "Big Timbers," about thirty-five miles below Bent's Fort, the river widens, and the banks on each side fall towards it in gentle slopes. The "timber" is a thinly-scattered growth of large cotton-woods, not more than three-quarters of a mile wide, and three or four miles long.

66

'The bed of the river," says Col. Emory, "is seldom more than one hundred and fifty yards wide, and, but for the quicksands, is everywhere fordable. The bottom-land, a few feet above the level of the water, varies in width from half a mile to two miles, and is generally covered with good, nutritious grass. Beyond this the ground rises by gentle slopes into a wilderness of sand-hills on the south, and into prairie on the north. There are one or two exceptions; for instance, at the great bend, the sand-hills from the south impinge abruptly on the course of the river; at Pawnee rock, a long swell in the ground terminates in an abrupt hill of highly ferruginous sandstone; and ten miles above Chouteau's island the hills along the river are vertical, as if the river had cut a passage through them; and, as you approach Bent's Fort, the hills generally roll in more boldly on the river, and the bottoms become narrower, and the grass more precious.

[ocr errors]

'At these places the geological formation can be seen distinctly. On the lower part of the river it is a conglomerate of pebbles, sometimes shells cemented by lime and clay overlying a stratum of soft sandstone, which in turn overlies a blue shale, and sometimes the richest description of marl.

"Higher up the river we find the same formation, but in addition argillaceous limestone, containing ammonites and other impressions of shells in great variety, and in more than one instance distinct impressions of oyster shells. The dip in both cases about 6° and a little north of east.

"The soil of the plains is a granitic sand, intermixed with the exuviæ of animals and vegetable matter, supporting a scanty vegetation. The eye wanders in vain over these immense wastes in search of trees. Not one is to be seen. The principal growth is the buffalo grass, cacti in endless variety, and very rarely that wonderful plant, the Ipomea leptophylla, called by the hunters man-root, from the similarity of its root in size and shape to the body of a man. It is esculent, and serves to sustain human life in some of the many vicissitudes of hunger and privation to which men who roam the prairies as an occupation are subjected.

“The narrow strip which I have described as the bottomland of the Arkanzas, varying from half a mile to two or three miles wide, contains a luxuriant growth of grasses, which, by the judicious selection and distribution of the camps, sustained all the animals of the army of the west

[blocks in formation]

whilst on the river. The only tree of any magnitude found on its course is the cotton-wood (Populus Canadensis), and it frequently happens that not one of these is seen in a whole day's journey, and the buffalo-dung and wild sage constitute the only fuel to be procured."

The droughts described render the Arkansas river a very uncertain reliance for communication. It is said, however, that a steamboat can ascend at full water within twenty-four miles of the Great Bend, the point where the river gains its greatest northern latitude.

Having thus given a general account of the northern region of Kanzas, the plains and mountains of the west, and the sandy valley of the Arkansas on its southern frontier, we may now speak, in more detail, of the eastern part of the territory; the basin of the Lower Kanzas river, which will be the resort of settlers from all parts of the world, and offers indeed the most remarkable attractions.

For nearly two hundred miles west from Missouri, a rich vegetable soil, sufficiently wooded, is found through the whole of this valley. It is the region of which the eastern part has been principally occupied by the Shawnees, Delawares, and Pottawatomies, whose indolent farming, even, produces there the most remarkable results. The soil produces wheat, corn, or hemp in great abundance, and is, to all appearance, inexhaustible. Every variety of timber

known in the western forests is found there in sufficient

!

quantity to answer the purposes of settlers. Ash, burr oak, black walnut, chestnut oak, black oak, long-leaved willow, sycamore, buck-eye American elm, pignut hickory, hackberry, and sumach are named by Col. Emory, whose botanical skill is well known. The general appearance of the country, he says, is that of vast rolling fields, enclosed with colossal hedges. It is not till you approach the meridian of 99° that the growth of exclusive cotton-wood begins.

Every letter and memoir written regarding this remarkable valley confirms the accounts of its surprising loveliness and fertility. The following sketch is by Mr. Parkman:

[ocr errors]

"We were passing through the country of the half-civilized Shawnees. It was a beautiful alternation of fertile plains and groves, whose foliage was just tinged with the hues of autumn, while close beneath them rested the neat log-houses of the Indian farmers. Every field and meadow bespoke the exuberant fertility of the soil. The maize stood rustling in the wind, matured and dry, its shining yellow ears thrust out between the gaping husks. Squashes and enormous yellow pumpkins lay basking in the sun, in the midst of their brown and shrivelled leaves. Robins and blackbirds flew about the fences; and everything, in short, betokened our near approach to home and civilization. The forests that border on the Missouri soon rose before us, and we entered the wide tract of shrubbery that forms their outskirts. We had passed the same road on our outward journey in the spring, but its aspect was totally changed. The

[blocks in formation]

young wild apple-trees, then flushed with their fragrant blossoms, were now hung thickly with ruddy fruit. Tall grass flourished by the road-side in place of the tender shoots just peeping from the warm and oozy soil. The vines were laden with dark purple grapes, and the slender twigs of the maple, then tasselled with their clusters of small red flowers, now hung out a gorgeous display of leaves stained by the frost with burning crimson. On every side we saw the tokens of maturity and decay where all had before been fresh and beautiful. We entered the forest, and ourselves and our horses were checkered as we passed along by the bright spots of sunlight that fell between the opening boughs. On either side the dark rich masses of foliage almost excluded the sun, though here and there its rays could find their way down, striking through the broad leaves, and lighting them with a pure transparent green. Squirrels barked at us from the trees; coveys of young partridges ran rustling over the leaves below, and the golden oriole, the blue-jay, and the flaming red-bird, darted among the shadowy branches."

A recent letter thus describes a journey up the valley and across the northern "divide."

"We landed at the mouth of the Kanzas river, and travelled up it, on the south side, for a distance of one hundred and twenty miles. We then crossed over, and proceeded about seventy miles in a north-westerly course. Here we changed, and went in a north-easterly direction until we struck the Missouri river

We had now travelled not far

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »