ILLINOIS IN 1837
A sketch descriptive of the Situation, Boundaries, Face of the Country.
Prominent Districts, Prairies, Rivers, Minerals, Animals, Agricultural Productions, Public Lands, Plans of Internal Improvement, Manufactures,
&c. of the STATE OF ILLINOIS
also, Suggestions to Emigrants, Sketches of the Counties, Cities, and Principal Towns in the State:
Together with A Letter on the Cultivation of the Prairies,
By the Hon. H. L. Ellsworth
Source: Illinois in 1837; by S. Augustus Mitchell, Published by S. Augustus Mitchell, and by
Grigg & Elliot, No. 9, North Fourth Street, 1837, Entered according to the act of congress, in the year 1837,
by S. Augustus Mitchell, in the office of the district court for the eastern district of Pennsylvania;
Transcribed by Genealogy Trails Transcription Team
Table of Contents
-- Grand Prairie
-- American Bottom
-- Situation and Extent
-- Rapid Settlement of
-- Wild and Cultivated Fruits
Table of the Area and Population of the Counties
-- System of Surveys
-- Colleges, &c
To which are annexed The letters from a rambler in the west.
It is a goodly sight to see
What Heaven hath done for this delicious land!
What fruits of fragrance blush on every tree!
What goodly prospects o'er the hills expand!
The vine on high, the willow branch below,
Mixed in one mighty scene, with varied beauty glow.
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage.
The immense resources of the Western Country, the vast increase of wealth, population, and influence in the New States, have long been, but are more particularly at the present time, topics of great and increasing interest throughout the whole of our vast Republic, and are arresting the attention not only for our own citizens, but of the inhabitants of foreign countries. Such are the admirable facilities of the West for trade, such the variety and fertility of its soil, the number and excellence of its natural products, the genial nature of its climate, and the rapidity with which its population is increasing, that it has become an object of the deepest interest to every American patriot. To this region the speculator is attracted by the increasing value of property; the politician anticipates the time when, through the ballot-box, the West shall rule; the young and enterprising, turning from the eager competition of the industry and talent in the older states, see here a less occupied field of action; the philanthropist feels a benevolent anxiety for the intellectual, moral, and religious condition of the population thus collecting and increasing, and destined to fill the measure of our national glory. The greatness and importance of this region is bursting into vision in a manner scarcely less wonderful to the present generation than was American prosperity to the slowly progressing European.
A single glance at the Map of the United States will show, that the direction of our government will shortly be in the in the hands of the people of the West. The thirteen old states have an area of about 390,000 square miles; while only eight of the new number about the same, and the whole region, stretching westward to the Pacific Ocean, contains not less than 1,700,000 square miles of territory.
No state in the Western Country has attracted more attention and elicited so many inquires from those who desire to avail themselves of the advantages of a settlement in a new and rising country, as that of Illinois; and none is so filling up so rapidly with an industrious and intelligent population, from every part of our extensive country. When the public works, which are now advancing with all possible speed, are completed and in successful operation, Illinois will vie with any state in our republic, and no doubt excel any in the West, in the amount and importance of those artificial channels of intercourse which serve to connect the extremities of our wide-spread territory, and bind our population by links stronger than iron, by lines extending thousands of miles.
This state is undoubtedly the richest in soil of any in the Union, and of course holds out the greatest prospect of advantage to the agriculturist. Here is ample room for farmers, there being still vast quantities of first-rate land extending in every direction, uncultivated, which may be had not only at a reasonable but a cheap rate, and one acre of which will in a majority of cases produce at least twice as much as the same amount of land in most of the eastern states. If rural occupations are pleasant and profitable anywhere in our country, they must be peculiarly so in Illinois; for here the produce of the farmer springs up almost spontaneously, not more than one-third of the labour being necessary on the farms here that is required on those in the east.
To be able to judge of the extent and power of vegetation in this region, one must reside here through the summer, and observe with what luxuriance and vigour the vegetable creation is pushed on, how rapidly the grain and fruits grow, and what a depth of verdure the forests assume. This state, having a vast extent of the most fertile land, must of course raise with the greatest ease all the articles to which her soil and climate are favouable. By her long line of coast on the Mississippi, rarely hindered from being navigable by the lowness of the water, Illinois has facilities for conveying her products to market which the states situated on the Ohio have not. From her immense prairies, and boundless summer range for stock, she has advantages for raising cattle and horses superior to those of the other western districts.
A gentleman traveling in the state of Illinois remarks, in a letter to a friend from Springfield of March 2, 1837: - Our 'far west' is improving rapidly, astonishingly. It is five years since I visited it, and the changes within that period are like the work of enchantment. Flourishing towns have grown up, farms have been opened, and comfortable dwellings, fine barns and all appurtenances, steam-mills and manufacturing establishments erected, in a country in which the hardy pioneer had at that time sprinkled a few log cabins. The conception of Coleridge may be realized sooner than he anticipated: 'The possible destiny of the United States of America, as a nation of a hundred millions of freemen - stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, living under the laws of Alfred, and speaking the language of Shakspeare and Milton, is an august conception - why should we not wish to see it realized? On the subject of internal improvements the young giant of the West is making Herculean efforts. A bill passed the legislature, a few days since, appropriating eight million of dollars for rail-roads, canals, &c.; works which when completed will cost twenty millions. On Monday last another bill was passed, transferring the seat of government from Vandalia in Fayette county to this place - near Springfield - which is in the fertile district of Sangamon county, and as near as may be the geographical centre of the state, and soon will be the centre of population. There will be but one more session at Vandalia.
The state of Illinois has probably the finest body of fertile land of any state in the Union, and the opportunities for speculation are numerous. Property will continue to advance, admirable farms and town-lots may be purchased with a certainty of realizing large profits. The country here is beautiful - equal in native attractions, though not in classic recollections, to the scenes I visited and admired in Italy. The vale of Arno is not more beautiful than the valley of Sangamon, with its lovely groves, murmuring brooks and flowery meads -
'Oh Italy, sweet clime of song, where oft, The bard hath sung thy beauties, matchless deemed, Thou hast a rival in this western land!'
To give, at the least possible expense, a brief and yet satisfactory account of Illinois, its prominent natural features and productions, plans of internal improvement, prospects and advantages for emigrants, political subdivisions, cities, towns, traveling routes to and from various points, &c., is the object of the following sketch. Those who are about to remove to this state, or who, for business, pleasure, or health, intend to visit it, or who are interested in its welfare and expect to profit by its prosperity, will probably find "ILLINOIS IN 1837" occasionally useful as a work of reference. Individuals well acquainted with the state, who have traveled extensively through it, and whose opportunities have enabled them to become conversant with its districts, counties, towns, &c., may not meet with any thing that they did not know before. Those less informed, however, will, it is hoped, find a perusal of the work add something to the stock of information already acquired respecting the region in question. Such are now the facilities of intercommunication between the eastern and western states, and to the most prominent points in the Mississippi valley, that thousands are visiting parts of this interesting section of the Union, every month and week. Some knowledge of the different traveling routes that lead to the various portions of it will no doubt be desirable to all who mean to journey in that direction.
The bulk of the information hereafter detailed is quite recent, being derived in part from the lately published and valuable Gazetteer of Illinois, and the Emigrant's Guide, by the Rev. J. M. Peck; also, from Flint's Geography and History of the Western States, Beck's Gazetteer of Illinois and Missouri, Schoolcraft's Travels, and the works of Darby, Hall, Long, &c. The work contains, likewise, extracts from different correspondents, and from various gazettes printed in the state, some of them only a few weeks before its publication; particularly the Peoria Register and North-Western Gazetteer, the attention bestowed by the editor of which in distributing recent geographical and local information calculated to be useful to emigrants, renders it undoubtedly the most interesting print of the kind in the state.
The accompanying Map of Illinois is, for its scale, probably the most complete yet published; it contains, it is believed, all the United States surveys available at this time; the whole of the counties, seventy in number, organized in the state; and will be found, on examination, to correspond with the descriptive part of the book - a desideratum not always found in publications of this kind.
The first 72 pages are devoted to the illustration of the Natural Geography, Minerals, Animal and Vegetable Productions of the State, also its Civil Division, Public Lands, Plans of Internal Improvements, Manufacturers, Education, &c., Suggestions to Emigrants, Travelling Routes, Remarks on Location and Manner of Building in newly-settled Countries. The next 58 pages are occupied with a descriptive sketch of the Counties, Cities and Towns in Illinois; the remainder of the work is filled up with a Letter from the Hon. H. L. Ellsworth on the Cultivation of the Prairies, together with the Letters of a Rambler of the West. The latter are from the pen of a talent young Philadelphian, who travelled in Illinois in the early part of the present year; they are written in a pleasing and spirited manner, and contain a great deal of local information, interspersed with piquant remarks and interesting observations. The information in Mr. Ellsworth's letter on the advantages and cultivation of the prairie lands in the Western States, is well calculated to interest those who views are turned in that direction; and the remarks and statements are declared by those editors of Western papers who have republished the letter, to be the most valuable and accurate that they have seen.
GENERAL VIEW OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
Situation, Boundaries, Extent, &c.
The rich and highly favoured region forming the State of Illinois is bounded on the north by the Territory of Wisconsin, east by lake Michigan and the states of Indiana and Kentucky, south by the latter state, and west by the states of Missouri and the Territory of Wisconsin. It extends north and south from 37 to 42 30' north latitude, and east and west from 10 32' to 14 33' longitude west from Washington City. Its extreme length is 380 miles; its breadth in the north is about 145 miles, but it extends in the centre to 220 miles, whence it contracts towards the south to a narrow point. The area of the whole state, including that part of Lake Michigan belonging to it, is about 59,000 square miles, of which 50,000 square miles, or thirty-two millions of acres, are considered to be capable of cultivation.
The Act of Congress admitting this state into the Union prescribes the boundaries as follows: beginning at the mouth of the Wabash river, thence up the middle of the main channel thereof to the point where a line drawn due north to Vincennes last crosses that stream, thence due north to the north-west corner of the state of Indiana, thence east with the boundary line of the same state to the middle of Lake Michigan, thence due north along the middle of said lake to north latitude 40 30', thence west to the middle of the Mississippi river, thence down the middle of the main channel thereof to the mouth of the Ohio river, thence up the latter stream along its northern or right shore to the place of beginning. The outline of the state is extent about 1,160 miles, the whole of which, except 305 miles, is formed by navigable waters.
As a physical section, Illinois occupies the lower part of that inclined plane of which Lake Michigan and both its shores are the highest sections, and which is extended into and embraces the much greater part of Indiana. Down this plane, in a very nearly south-western direction, flow the Wabash and its confluents, the Kaskaskia, the Illinois and its confluents, and the Rock and Wisconsin rivers. The lowest section of the plane is also the extreme southern angle of Illinois, at the mouth of the Ohio river, about 340 feet above tide-water, in the Gulf of Mexico. Though the state of Illinois does contain some low hilly sections, as a whole, it may be regarded as a gently inclining plane in the direction of its rivers, as already indicated. Without including minute parts, the extreme arable elevation may be safely stated at 800 feet above tide-water, and the mean height at 550.
"In some former period," observes Mr. Schoolcraft, "there has been an obstruction in the channel of the Mississippi, at or near Grand Tower, producing a stagnation of the current at an elevation of about 130 feet above the present ordinary water-mark. This appears evident from the general elevation and direction of the hills, which for several hundred miles above are separated by a valley from 20 to 25 miles wide, that deeply embosoms the current of the Mississippi. "Wherever these hills exhibit rocky and abrupt fronts, a series of water-lines are distinctly visible, and preserve a remarkable parallelism uniformly presenting their greatest depression towards the sources of the river; and, at Grand Tower, these water-lines are elevated about one hundred feet above the summit of the stratum in which petrifaction of the madrepora and various fossil organic remains are deposited. Here the rocks of dark-coloured limestone, which pervade the country to a great extent, by their projections towards each other, indicate that they have, at a remote period, been disunited, if not by some convulsion of nature, by the incessant action of the water upon a secondary formation, and that a passage has been effected through them, giving vent to the stagnant waters of on the prairie lands above, and opening for the Mississippi its present channel.
The bank of the Mississippi from the vicinity of Grand Tower, extending upwards on the Missouri side of the river, is sufficiently elevated above the surface of the State of Illinois to have formed a western shore of an expanse of water, covering its present area. And the alluvial deposits of which the prairies are formed, are composed of fine, hard, and compact layers of earth, similar to those at the bottom of mill-ponds of water long stagnant.
FACE OF THE COUNTY
Next to Louisiana and Delaware, Illinois is the most level state in the Union. A small tract in the southern part of the state is hilly, and the northern portion is also somewhat broken. There are likewise considerable elevations along the Illinois river, and the bluffs of the Mississippi in some places might pass almost for mountains. But by far the greater portion of the state is either distributed for vast plains, or in barrens, that are gently rolling like the waves of the sea after a storm. We may travel on the wide prairies for days, without encountering an elevation that is worthy to be called a hill. In no part of the peopled divisions of the United States, are there such great sections of prairie country. One vast prairie, with very little interruption, spreads from the shores of the Mississippi to those of Lake Michigan.
On the route from Cincinnati to St. Louis, the great road passes through this state, in its whole extent of width. More than 100 miles of it is high, dry, and rich prairie. In all this distance, the margins of the streams are almost the only places where timbered land is found; and the streams have only narrow skirts of wood. The first stratum of soil in this wide extent of country, is a black, friable, and sandy loam, of from two to five feet in thickness. The next is a red clay, mixed with fine sand, and from five to ten feet in thickness. The third is a hard blue clay of a beautiful appearance, and a greasy feeling, mixed with pebbles, and, when exposed to the air, emitting a fetid smell. The soil is of the finest quality. In the season of flowers, the eye and all the senses receive the highest gratification. In the time of strawberries, thousands of acres are reddened with the finest quality of this delicious fruit.
Between Carlisle and St. Louis, an extent of 50 miles, we meet with woods, streams, lime-stone ledges, and a rolling country; although we cross an occasional prairie, quite to the American Bottom. On the north of this road, and between it and the Illinois, the surface is generally more irregular. Much of the country may be termed broken. The hills abound with stone-coal. A range of heights commences at the bluffs that bound the American Bottom, near Kaskaskia, and stretches north-eastwardly through the state towards Lake Michigan. A noble limestone bluff breaks off, almost at right angles to this chain, and stretches along the margin of the American Bottom to the point nearly opposite Missouri. This bluff has, in many places, a regular front of perpendicular limestone, not unfrequently 300 feet high. Another line of river bluffs commences opposite the mouth of the Missouri, and reaches the mouth of the Illinois. Opposite Portage des Sioux, these bluffs shoot up into detached points and pinnacles, which, with the hoary colour of the rocks, have, at a distance, the appearance of the ancient spires and towers of a town. This chain of bluffs marks the limits of the alluvion of the Illinois. As along the Mississippi, the face of this grand work of nature is frequently perpendicular. When the limits of the alluvion are marked on one side by this wall, on the opposite they are bounded by a succession of singular hills, parallel to each other, called by the French mamelles. What is singular is, that a beautiful prairie is seen on that side which is bounded by the perpendicular bluffs; and a thick, tangled, and heavily timbered bottom on the side of the river that is marked with the mamelles. When the prairie is found on the right or the left of the river, so are all these accompaniments: and they regularly alternate, being found first on one side and then on the other.
Undoubtedly the most remarkable feature of the state of Illinois is its extensive prairies, or unwooded tracts. They begin on a comparatively small scale in the basin of lake Erie, and already form the bulk of the land about lake Michigan, the Upper Wabash, and the Illinois; but on the west of the Mississippi they are more predominant; or rather, the whole of this tract may be described as prairie intersected by patches of woodland, chiefly confined to the river valleys. The characteristic peculiarity of the prairies is the absence of timber; in other respects, they present all the varieties of soil and surface that are found elsewhere; some are of inexhaustible fertility, others of hopeless sterility; some spread out in vast, boundless plains, others are undulating or rolling, while others are broken by hills. In general, they are covered with a rich growth of grass, forming excellent natural meadows, from which circumstances they take their name.
The Indians and hunters annually set fire to the prairies, in order to dislodge the game: the fire spreads with tremendous rapidity, and presents one of the grandest and most terrible spectacles in nature. The flames rush through the long grass with a noise like thunder; dense clouds of smoke arise; and the sky itself appears almost on fire, particularly during the night. Travellers then crossing the prairie are sometimes in serious danger, which they can only escape by setting fire to the grass around, and taking shelter in the burnt part, where the approaching flame must expire for want of fuel. Nothing can be more melancholy than the aspect of a burnt prairie, presenting a uniform black surface, like a vast plain of charcoal. A prejudice at one time prevailed against the prairies, as not being fit for cultivation; but this was found to be erroneous, and they are more in request, as it is a most important object to save the labour of clearing the wood.
Prairie is a French word, signifying meadow, and is applied to any description of surface that is destitute of timber and brushwood, and clothed with grass. Wet, dry, level, and undulating, are terms of description merely, and apply to prairies in the same sense as they do to forest lands.
The prairies of Illinois may be classed under three general division - the healthy, or bushy; the alluvial, or wet; and the dry, or undulating. Those designated healthy, have springs of water, and are covered with bushes of hazel and furze, small sassafras shrubs, interspersed with grape-vines, and in the season of flowers become beautifully decorated by a rich profusion of gay herbaceous plants. Early in March the forests are in blossom, and the brilliant red tufts of the Judas tree (cercius canadensis) handsomely exhibit its charms. The Lonicera Flava, or yellow-flowered honeysuckle, diffuses its pleasing fragrance, and the lovely yellow jasmine, or Jasminum fruticans, impregnates the air with its delicious perfume; and a vast variety of other odoriferous plants are passively engaged in the faithful discharge of their offices, either of display, or of the emission of their well-flavored odours. The bushes are often over-topped with the Humulus Lupulus, or common hop.
Of the healthy prairies these lines of the poet are highly descriptive.
Travellers ent'ring here behold around A large and spacious plain on every side, Strewed with beauty, whose fair grassy ground, Mantled with green, and goodly beautified, With all the ornaments of Flora's pride.
The alluvial, or wet prairies, are generally on the margins of the great water-courses, though sometimes they are at a distance from them; their soil is deep, black, friable, and of exhaustless fertility; excellent, in apposite latitudes, for wheat and maize, but grapes hitherto have not been cultivated with much success, yet, as those that are wild grow luxuriantly, it can hardly be doubted that a hybridous species formed from a union of one of these natives and the exotic vine, would prove prolific of estimable fruit.
From May to October, the prairies are covered with tall grass and flower-producing weeds. In June and July, they seem like an ocean of flowers of various hues, waving to the breezes which sweep over them. The numerous tall flowering shrubs and vegetables which grow luxuriantly over these plains, present a striking and delightful appearance.
The dry or undulating prairies are almost destitute of springs and of all vegetation, with the exception of weeds, flowers, and grass. The undulations are so slight that, to the eye, the surface has almost the appearance of an uninterrupted level, though the ravines made by freshets show that there is a considerable degree of inclination. In the prairie region there are numerous ponds, formed some from the surface water, the effect of rain, and the melting of the snows in the spring, and other near the rivers from their overflowing. In these are deposited great quantities of the various kinds of fishes common in the western streams, which, after the waters subside, are frequently taken away by cart-loads, affording to the residents in the vicinity abundance of animal food almost without labor: those that are left, when their element becomes evaporated, attract thousands of buzzards, who prey on and devour them. Herds of deer bound over these plains.
These are the Gardens of the Desert - these
The unshorn fields, boundless and beautiful,
And fresh as the young earth ere man had sinned.
The Prairies ! I behold them for the first,
And my heart swells, while the dilated sight
Takes in the encircling vastness. Lo ! they stretch
In airy undulations, far away,
As if the ocean, in his gentlest swell,
Stood still, with all his rounded billows fixed,
And motionless forever - Motionless ? -
No - they're all unchained again. The clouds
Sweep over with their shadows, and beneath
The surface rolls and fluctuates to the eye:
Dark hollows seem to glide along, and chase
The sunny ridges.
In the southern part of the state, the prairies are comparatively small, varying in size, from those of several miles in extent, to those which contain only a few acres. As we go northward, they widen and extend on the more elevated ground between the water-courses to a vast distance, and are frequently from six to twelve miles in width. Their borders are by no means uniform, but are intersected in every direction by strips of forest land advancing into and receding from the prairie towards the water-courses, whose banks are always lined with timber, principally of luxuriant growth. Between these streams, in many instances, are copses and groves of timber, containing from 100 to 2,000 acres, in the midst of the prairies, like islands in the ocean. This is a common feature in the country between the Sangamon river and Lake Michigan, and in the northern parts of the state. The lead-mine region, both in this state and the Wisconsin Territory, abounds with these groves.
The largest tract of prairie in Illinois is denominated the Grand Prairie. Under this general name is embraced the country lying between the waters which fall into the Mississippi, and those which enter the Wabash rivers. It does not consist of one vast tract, boundless to the vision, and uninhabitable for want of timber, but is made up of continuous tracts, with points of timber projecting inward, and long arms of prairie extending between the creeks and smaller streams. The southern points of the Grand Prairie are formed in the north-eastern parts of Jackson county, and extend in a north-eastern course between the streams, of various widths, from one to ten or twelve miles, through Perry, Washington, Jefferson, Marion, the eastern part of Fayette, Effingham, through the western part of Coles into Champaign and Iroquois counties, where it becomes connected with the prairies that project eastward from the Illinois river and its tributaries. A large arm lies in Marion county, between the waters of Crooked creek and the east fork of the Kaskaskia river, where the Vincennes road passes through in its longest direction. This part alone is frequently called the Grand Prairie.
Much the largest part of the Grand Prairie is gently undulating, rich, and fertile land; but of the southern portion, considerable tracts are flat, and of rather inferior soil. No insurmountable obstacle exits to its future population. No portion of it is more than six or eight miles distant from timber; and coal in abundance is found in various parts. Those who have witnessed the changes produced upon a prairie surface within twenty or thirty years, consider these extensive prairies as offering no serious impediment to the future growth of the state.
On the origin of the prairie lands it is difficult to decide: various speculations have arisen from this subject, giving rise to a diversity of opinions. The level surface of the state of Illinois (according to the ideas of many) was formed by inundations. The whole of the state, from a few miles north of the Ohio river, where the prairies commence, affords tolerably conclusive evidence of having been once covered with water, forming probably a large lake similar to Lake Michigan, Erie, &c. When the lowest point near the Grand Tower perhaps was worn away, so as to drain the waters off, it was left with a rich soft muddy surface nearly level, as we may suppose is the case in the present lakes. When this soft soil was drenched with rains, the waters, gathering into little rills as they descended to the lowest parts, would intersect the soft soil, and finally wear away much of the rich surface: hence we see the elevated parts the fertile, while the lower and more broken and timbered land is the poorest soil.
From whatever caused the prairies at first originated, they were undoubtedly perpetuated by the autumnal fires that have annually swept over them from an era probably long anterior to the earliest records of history. Along the streams, and in other places where vegetation does not suffer from the drought of the latter part of summer and autumn, and of course becomes sear and combustible less soon than it does in the plains which are drier, the fire does not encroach much; consequently the forests prevail there, and probably gradually increase in some places upon the prairies. As soon as these are ploughed, and the heavy grass kept under, young timber begins to sprout, particularly such as is produced by winged seeds, as cotton-wood, sycamore, &c. Were the soil is either too poor or too wet to produce a heavy annual growth of grass sufficient to make a strong, fire, there is no prairie.
It is well known that in the richest and most dry and level tracts, the aboriginal inhabitants, before they had the use of fire-arms, were in the habit of enclosing their game in circular fires, in order that it might bewilder and frighten the animals, and thus rendered them an easy prey.
When Captain John Smith visited the Chesapeake, he found extensive prairies, and first bore witness to the practice of circular fires as a mode of hunting among the savages. These tracts having been early inhabited and cultivated by the colonists, the prairies have long since disappeared. Probably one-half of the earth's surface in a state of nature consisted on prairies or barrens; much of it, like our western prairies, was covered with a luxuriant coat of grass and herbage. The steppes of Central Asia, the pampas and llanos of Buenos Ayres and Venezuela, the savannahs of Louisiana and Texas, and the prairies of the Western States, designated similar tracts of country. Mesopotamia, Syria, and Judes, and their ancient prairies, on which the Patriarchs fed their flocks. Missionaries in Burmah, and travelers in the interior of Africa and New Holland, mention the same description of country. The late Mungo Park describes the annual burning of the plains of Manding, in Western Africa, in the same manner as the prairies of the Western States; and the practice is attended with the same results, the country being, in short, covered with a luxuriant crop of young and tender grass, on which the cattle feed with avidity.
Where the tough sward of the prairie is once formed, timber will not easily take root; destroy this by the plough or by any other method, and it is soon converted into forest land. There a large tracts of country in the older settlements where a number of years ago the farmers mowed their hay, that are now covered with a forest of young timber of rapid growth.
As soon as timber or orchards are planted in the prairies, they grow with unexampled luxuriance. A correspondent writes from Adams county, that "locust trees planted, or rather sown, on prairie land near Quincy, attained in four years a height of twenty-five feet, and their trunks a diameter of from four to five inches; these grow in close crowded rows, affording a dense and arboury shade. In a few instances where the same kind of trees had been planted out 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."
Dr. Beck, in his Gazetteer of Missouri, published in 1823, describes the uplands of St. Louis county as "generally prairie;" but almost all of that tract of country thus described is now covered with a young growth of fine thrifty timber, and it would be difficult to find an acre of prairie in the county. This important change has been produced by keeping the fires out of the prairies.
The first improvements are usually made on that part of the prairie which adjoins the timber; and thus we may see, at the commencement, a range of farms circumscribing the entire prairie as with a belt. The burning of the prairies is then stopped the whole distance of the circuit in the neighbourhood of these farms, to prevent injury to the fences and other improvements. This is done by ploughing two or three furrows all round the settlement. In a short time the timber springs up spontaneously on all the parts not burnt, and the groves and forests commence a gradual encroachment on the adjacent prairies; by-and-by you will see another tier of farms springing up on the outside of the first, and farther out in the prairie; and thus farm succeeds farm, as the timber grows up, until the entire prairie is occupied.
The correspondent quoted above says: - "In breaking up prairie land, &c., for cultivation, we usually plough with three or four yoke of oxen; the shear plough turning up about eighteen to twenty-four inches of turn at a furrow, in breadth, and from three to four inches deep, the sod turning entirely over, so as to lay the grass down, and it fits furrow to furrow smoothly enough to harrow and sow wheat. It is usual to break it up in May, and drop corn along the edge of every fourth row. This is called sod corn. No working or ploughing is necessary the first season. The sod is left lying for the grass to decay; and after the next winter's frost, it crumbles and becomes light and friable. The sod corn does not make more than half a crop, and is cut up, stalk and all together, and stacked up for fodder for stock. The next year the crop of corn is most abundant, averaging 50 bushels per acre; well cultivated wheat, 25 to 30 bushels; rye, 25 to 35; and oats from 40 to 60 bushels per acre. Potatoes (Irish), hay (timothy), and all the different garden vegetables yet tried, yield most abundantly. A man here can double the quantity of corn that he can in newly settled timbered countries, there being no stumps to obstruct the plough or hoe.
The cost of breaking up an acre of prairie is from one dollar and fifty cents to two dollars; fencing, say forty acres, eight rails high, stake and rider, 6,000 rails and stakes, $100; cabin, $20; say, forty acre field broke up and fenced, and cabin, $200, cost of the land $50; total, $250: then worth, in my opinion, $500. Timber, it is feared, will be scarce; but I think differently. No one has yet felt the want of it; nor will they, because it grows so fast, and also because the quantity at present is sufficient for twenty million acres of prairie, being the estimated quantity of good prairie land in this state. The prairies are generally from one to six miles in width; of course, about three miles is the farthest distance from timber, and the prairie constitutes the finest natural road possible to haul on. The settlements are at present chiefly confined to the margins of the timber and prairie.
"The prairie lands are undoubtedly worth from $10 to $15 per acre more for farming than those that are timbered, not only because they are richer, but because it would take at least that sum per acre to put the timbered lands of Ohio and Indiana in the same advanced state for cultivation."
The prairies are the highest as well as the most level land, and the roads generally pass through the middle of them, from whence there is an easy slope on each side, at first barely sufficient to drain the waters towards the sides of the prairies, or to the nearest point of timber. Here all around you, in the proper season, may be seen the rich luxuriant grass, from two to three feet high, suitable for hay, and mowed by the farmers for that purpose. In the midst of the prairie, the houses and fields of the settlers are seen diminished like a picture along the skirts and points of the forest.
But few have as yet settled out in the middle of the prairie, unless where the road crosses, on account of the distance from timber to build fence, &c. Those who have done so have invariably found it to their interest; and the practice will no doubt in a short time become general, until the whole of the extensive prairies of Illinois will be covered with valuable and productive farms. The middle of the prairie is not only the highest and most level, but is greatly the most fertile land. As the surface descends towards the timber, it has an increased unevenness and ruggedness, and the greater the descent in perpendicular depth, the less fertile is the soil.
Early in the mornings, when a mist is on the ground, the fog appears all around the skirts of the timber in the lowest places. Hence it is not so healthful on the edges of the prairie, or in the forest, as on the middle or highest part of the prairie. Another advantage possessed by residents on the latter is the facility with which excellent water is procured at a depth of from not more than 15 to 20 feet; whereas, along the broken borders and spurs near the timber, the common depth of the wells is from 40 to 50 feet.
The grass which covers the prairies in great abundance is tall, and course in appearance. In the early stages of its growth, it resembles young wheat; and in this state furnishes a succulent and rich food for cattle. They have been seen, when running in wheat-fields, where the young wheat covered the ground, to choose the prairie-grass on the margins of the fields in preference to the wheat. It is impossible to imagine better butter than is made while the grass is in this stage. Cattle and horses, that have lived unsheltered and without fodder through the winter and in the spring, scarcely able to mount a hillock through leanness and weakness, when feeding on this grass, are transferred to a healthy and sleek appearance, as if by a charm.
A description of country called "barrens," or "oak openings," prevails to some extent in Illinois. This term is used in the west to designate a species of land which partakes, as it were, at once of the character of the forest and prairie. The surface is generally dry and more uneven than the prairies, and is covered with scattered oaks, interspersed at times with pine, hickory, and other forest trees, mostly of stunted and dwarfish size, but which spring from a rich vegetable soil, admirably adapted to the purposes of agriculture. They rise from a grassy turf, seldom incumbered with brushwood, but not unfrequently broken by jungles of rich and gaudy flowering plants, and of dwarf sumach. Among the oak openings you find some of the most lovely landscapes of the west, and travel for miles and miles through varied park scenery of natural growth, with all the diversity of gently swelling hill and dale; - here trees grouped or standing single, and there arranged in long avenues, as though by human hands, with strips of open meadow between. Sometimes the openings are interspersed with numerous clear lakes, and with this addition become enchantingly beautiful. But few of these reservoirs having apparent inlet and outlet, they are fed by subterraneous springs, or the rains, and lose their surplus waters by evaporation.
In the early settlements of Kentucky, much of the country below and south of Green river presented a dwarfish and stunted growth of timber, scattered over the surface, or collected in clumps, with hazel and shrubbery intermixed. This appearance led the first explorers to the inference that the soil itself must necessarily be poor, to produce so scanty a growth of timber, and they gave the name of "barrens" to the whole tract of country. Long since it has been ascertained that this description of land is amongst the most productive soil in the state. The term "barren" has since received a very extensive application throughout the west.
Wherever timber barely sufficient for present purposes can be found, a person need not hesitate to settle in the barrens. These tracts are almost invariably healthful; they possess a greater abundance of pure springs of water, and the soil is better adapted for all kinds of produce, and all descriptions of seasons, wet and dry, than the deeper and richer mould of the bottoms and prairies.
When the fires are stopped, these barrens produce timber, at a rate of which no northern emigrant can have any just conception. When timber begins to grow on the prairies, they assume the character of barrens, first hazel, and other shrubs, and finally a thicket of young timber covers the surface.
FOREST OR TIMBERED LAND
In general, Illinois is abundantly supplied with timber, and were it equally distributed through the state there would be no part wanting. The apparent scarcity of timber where the prairie predominates, is not so great an obstacle to the settlement as has been supposed. For many of the purposes to which timber is applied, substitutes are found. The rapidity with which the young growth pushes itself forward, without a single effort on the part of man to accelerate it, and the readiness with which the prairie becomes converted into thickets, and then into a forest of young timber, shows that, in another generation, timber will not be wanting in any part of Illinois.
The growth of the bottom lands consists of black walnut, ash of several species, hackberry elm (white, red and slippery), sugar-maple, honey-locust, buck-eye, catalpa sycamore, cottonwood, pecan, hickory, mulberry; several oaks - as, overcup, burr-oak, swamp or water oak, white, red, or Spanish oak; and of the shrubbery are red-bud, papaw, grape-vine, dogwood, spice-bush, hazel, greenbriar, &c. Along the margin of the streams the sycamore and cottonwood often predominate, and attain to an amazing size. The cottonwood is of rapid growth, a light, white wood, sometimes used for rails, shingles, and scantlings; not lasting, and of no great value. Its dry, light wood is much used in steamboats. It forms the chief proportion of the drift wood that floats down the rivers, and is frequently converted into planters, snags, and sawyers. The sycamore is the buttonwood of New England, is frequently hollow, and in that state procured by the farmers, cut at suitable lengths, cleaned out, and used as depositories for grain. They answer the purpose of large casks. The size of the cavity of some of these trees appears incredible in the ears of strangers to the luxuriant growth of the west. To say that twenty or thirty men could be comfortably lodged in one, would seem a monstrous fiction to a New Englander, but to those accustomed to this species of tree on the bottoms, it is nothing marvelous.
The uplands are covered with various species of oak, amongst which is the post-oak, a valuable and lasting timber for posts; white oak, black oak of several varieties, and the black jack, a dwarfish gnarled looking tree, good for nothing but fuel, for which it is equal to any tree we have: of hickory, both the shagbark and smoothbark, black walnut in some parts, white walnut or butternut, Lyn, cherry, and many of the species produced in the bottoms. The black walnut is much used for building materials, and cabinet work, and sustains a fine polish. The different species of oaks, walnuts, hackberry, and occasionally hickory, are used for fencing.
In some parts of the state the white and yellow poplar prevails. Beginning at the Mississippi, a few miles above the mouth of the Muddy river, and extending a line across the state to the mouth of the Little Wabash, leaves the poplar range south, interspersed with occasional clumps of beach. Near the Ohio, on the low creek bottoms, the cypress is found. No poplar exists on the eastern borders of the state till you arrive at or near Palestine; while on the opposite shore of the Wabash, in Indiana, the poplar and beach predominate. Near Palestine, in Crawford county, the poplar again commences, intermixed with beach and all the varieties of timber, and extends northward further than has been explored. A spur of it puts into the interior of the state, on the Little Wabash, above Maysville. Occasional clumps of stunted cedar are to be seen on the cliffs that overhand the bottoms, but no pine, unless it exists in the wild regions west of Lake Michigan.
Timber not only grows much rapidly in this country than in the northern states, but it decays sooner when put in buildings, fences, or is in any way exposed to the weather. It is more porous, and will shrink and expand, as the weather becomes wet or dry, to a much greater extent than the timber of New England. This may be owing partly to the atmosphere, but it is unquestionably owing in part to the quality of the timber. The fences require to be newly laid, and one third of the rails provided anew, in a period of from seven to ten years. This, however, may not be a fair estimate, because most of the timber is prepared hastily, and in a green state. Doubtless with proper care in the seasoning and in the preservation it would last much longer. Timber is ordinarily required for four purposes: fencing, building, fuel, and mechanical operations. Rails is almost the only article used for fencing. In making a plantation in this mode, there is a great waste of timber; nor will a man with a moderate capital, and with the burden of an increasing family, stop to make experiments. He must have fields enclosed, and takes the quickest and cheapest method by cutting down the most convenient timber and making rails.
The first buildings put up are cabins made of logs, slightly hewn on two sides, and the corners notched together. They are made single or double with a space between, according to the enterprise, ability, or taste of the owner; and the chimney is built of sticks of wood plastered with mud or clay mortar. The next step in advance is a log house. This is also made of logs more accurately hewn on two sides than those of the cabin, with a framed or shingle roof, and a brick or stone chimney; all the out-houses are at first put up in the same manner. It is perfectly obvious that this mode of building sweeps off vast quantities of timber, that by a more judicious and economical plan would be saved for other purposes. In a few years brick, and in some instances stone, will take the place of these rude and misshapen piles of timber. This begins to take effect, to a considerable extent, in those counties where the people have obtained the means, for brick and frame houses are fast erecting. The substratum of the soil in any place is excellent for brick, and in many of the bluffs inexhaustible quantities of limestone exist. The waste of timber for buildings then will be greatly lessened, as the country advances in improvement, population, and wealth.
As in all countries where the population have been accustomed to burn excessive quantities of wood before they emigrate, and where they live in cold and open cabins, there is a great waste of timber for fuel. This will be remedied as the people obtain close and comfortable dwellings, and make use of proper economy in this article. In almost every direction through the country there are inexhaustible stores of stone-coal near the surface of the earth. There is fuel for domestic purposes and for steam-engines, without limits.
It will be perceived that Illinois does not labour under as great inconveniences for timber, as many have supposed. If provision is made for the first fifty years, future supplies will be abundant. Timber may be artificially produced with little trouble or expense, and to an indefinite extent. The black locust, a native growth of Ohio and Kentucky, may be raised from the seed with far less labour than a nursery of apple-trees; and as it is of very rapid growth, and a valuable and lasting timber for fencing, buildings, and boats, it must claim the attention of farmers. Already it forms one side of the cleanliest and most beautiful shades, and when in blossom presents a rich prospect, and a most delicious fragrance.
BOTTOM LANDS, OR ALLUVION
The term "bottom" is used throughout the west to denote the alluvial soil on the margin of rivers, usually called "intervals" in the eastern states. Portions of this description of land are flowed, for a longer or shorter period, when the rivers are full. Probably one tenth of bottom lands are of this description; for though the water may not stand for any length of time, it prevents settlement and cultivation, though it does not interrupt the growth of timber and vegetation. These tracts are on the bottoms of the Wabash, Ohio, Mississippi, Illinois, and all the interior rivers.
When the rivers rise above their ordinary height, the waters of the smaller streams which are backed up by the freshets of the former, break over their banks, and cover all the low grounds. Here they stand for a few days, or for many weeks, especially towards the bluffs; for it is a striking fact in the geology of the western county, that all the river bottoms are higher on the margins of the streams than at some distance back. Whenever increase of population shall create a demand for this species of soil, the most of it can be reclaimed at comparatively small expense. Its fertility will be inexhaustible, and if the waters from the rivers could be shut out by dykes or levees, the soil would be perfectly dry. Most of the small lakes on the American Bottom disappear in the summer, and leave a deposit of vegetable matter undergoing decomposition, or a luxuriant coat of weeds and grass.
As the prairies mostly lie between the streams that drain the country, the interior of the large ones is usually level. Here are formed small ponds and lakes after the winter and spring rains, which remain to be drawn off by evaporation, or absorbed by the soil. Hence the middle of the large level prairies are wet, and for several weeks portions of them are covered with water. To remedy this inconvenience completely, and render all this portion of soil dry and productive, only requires a ditch or drain of two or three feet deep to be cut into the nearest ravine. In many instances, a single furrow with the plough would drain many acres. At present this species of inundated land offers no inconvenience to the people, except in the production of miasm, and even that, perhaps, becomes too much diluted with the atmosphere to produce mischief before it reaches the settlements on the borders of the prairie. Hence the inference is correct that the inundated lands present fewer obstacles to the settlement and growth of the country, and can be reclaimed at much less expense, than the swamps and salt marshes of the Atlantic states.
The surface of the alluvial bottoms is not entirely level. In some places it resembles alternate waves of the ocean, and looks as though the waters had left their deposit in ridges, and retired. The portion of bottom land capable of present cultivation, and on which the waters never stand, if, at any extreme freshet, it is covered, is a soil of exhaustless fertility; a soil that for ages past has been gradually deposited by the annual floods. Its average depth on the American Bottom is from twenty to twenty-five feet. Logs of wood, and other indications, are found at that depth. The soil dug from wells on these bottoms, produces luxuriantly the first year.
The most extensive and fertile tract, of this description of soil, in this state, is the American Bottom, a name it received when it constituted the western boundary of the United States, and which it has retained ever since. It commences at the confluence of the Kaskaskia river with the Mississippi, and extends northwardly to the mouth of the Missouri; being bounded on the east by a chain of bluffs, which in some places are sandy and in other rocky, and which vary from 50 to 200 feet in height. This bottom is about 80 miles in length, and comprises an area of about 450 square miles, or 288,000 square acres. On the margin of the river is a strip of heavy timber, with a rank undergrowth: this extends from a half to two miles in width, and from thence to the bluffs is generally prairie. No soil can exceed this in fertility, many parts of it having been under cultivation for more than a century without the least apparent deterioration.
The only objection that can be offered to this tract, is its unhealthiness. This arises from the circumstance of the lands directly on the margin of the river being higher than those under the bluffs where the water, after leaving the former, subsides, and forms ponds and lagoons, which during the summer stagnate and throw off noxious effluvia. These, however, might at a trifling expense be drained by lateral canals communicating with the rivers.
The first settlement of this state was commenced upon the tract of land above described, and its uncommon fertility gave emigrants a favorable idea of the whole country. Cultivation has no doubt rendered this tract more salubrious than formerly: and the extension of agriculture, together with the construction of drains and canals, will make it one of the most eligible in the States. The old inhabitants advise the emigrants not to plant corn in the immediate vicinity of their dwellings, as its exuberant foliage prevents the sun from dispelling the deleterious vapors.
Coal exists in abundance on this alluvion, and the bluffs which bound it. It has been mined to some extent for several years past, and carried to St. Louis. The quantity hauled there in wagons in 1836 amounted to about 300,000 bushels. A rail-road is now making from the coal-mines to the Mississippi river opposite St. Louis, for the purpose of expediting the transportation of the mineral to that city. At the mine a new town is about to be laid out, called Pittsburg. Besides the American Bottom, there are other tracts which resemble it in its general character, but which are much less extensive.
It would lead to a particularity beyond the limits of this sketch, to go into a detailed description of all the bodies of excellent land in Illinois. For not only here, but all over the Western Country, the lands seem to be distributed in bodies, either of rich or sterile, level or broken lands. The Military Bounty Tract, the country on Rock river, the Sangamon country, &c., are all familiarly spoken of for their beauty and fertility, and have each their advocates, who, swayed by various predilections, extol the advantages of that section to which they are attached. On the Illinois, the Kaskaskia, the Fox river, on the Kankakee, and the Embarras, between the Great and Little Wabash, and on all the considerable streams of this state, there are large bodies of first-rate lands. On the Grand Prairie, the Mound Prairie, the prairie upon which the Marine Settlement is located, and that occupied by the society of Christians from New England, are exceedingly rich tracts. The following description of the Military Bounty Lands, the Rock river country, and the region on the Sangamon river, will give some idea of the situation, natural features, productions, capacities for settlements, &c., of each district.
MILITARY BOUNTY TRACT
The region generally denominated the Military Bounty Tract, was surveyed during the years 1815 and 1816, and the greater part subsequently appropriated in bounties to the soldiers of the regular army, who served in the late war between the United States and Great Britain. It is situated between the rivers Mississippi and Illinois, and extends from their junction due north by a meridian line, denominated the fourth principal meridian, 169 miles, presenting an irregular curvilinear triangle, the acute angle of which is at the junction of these two rivers. From this point the two rivers diverge, so as to make a distance of 90 miles between the extreme points of the northern boundary. Half-way between the extremes, the width is 64 miles. The base line running due east and west, and commencing seven miles above Quincy on the Mississippi, and terminating at the Illinois, about four miles below Beardstown, intersects the fourth principal meridian at right angles 73 miles above the junction of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, and is 52 miles long. The whole tract, according to the public surveys, containing 207 entire townships, of six miles square, and 61 fractional townships, containing together 5,360,000 acres, of which 3,500,000 have been appropriated in military bounties. The residue consists partly of fractional sections, bordering on the rivers, partly of fractional quarter-sections, bordering on the township lines, containing more or less than 160 acres, and partly of lands that were returned by the public surveyors as unit for cultivation; but there are also large reservations not coming within the above exception, being the overplus of lands after satisfying the military claims, subject to entry and purchase as other congress lands.
This tract of country lies between 38 54', and 41 40' of north latitude, and 13 west longitude from Washington City, and is bounded on the north-west for 255 miles by the Mississippi river, and for about the same distance on the south-east by the Illinois. Thus do these two great rivers, in their diverging course, with Rock river approximating from the north, for a spacious peninsula, furnishing a border to the bounty lands by a sheet of navigable waters for steamboats more than 500 miles in extent, leaving no part of the tract more than 45 miles, and the greater part not exceeding 20 miles from steamboat navigation.
The water communication now about to be completed between the Mississippi and the lakes, by means of the Illinois and Chicago canal, must eventually greatly increase the value of the bounty lands, by affording a choice of markets for their products, either at Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo, New-York, Montreal, or Quebec, by was of the Illinois canal and the lakes, or by the natural channels of the rivers at St. Louis and New-Orleans.
In the interior of the tract, and traversing it in various directions, are several rivers and creeks of less consequence, in a commercial point of view, than those great water-courses which form its boundary lines, but nevertheless of great utility in other respects to the settlements in their vicinity. Of these, Spoon, Henderson, Edwards, and Pope's rivers, and Crooked, Kickapoo or Red Bud, Copperas, Otter, M'Kee's, M'Craney's, Hadley's, Mill, and Bear creeks, are the most considerable. There are also many other smaller streams, generally tributaries to those already mentioned, affording sufficient power for mills and other machinery.
Considerable bodies of timber are to be found on the margins of all these streams, with but few exceptions, the lands of which are generally broken, and the soil not so productive as that of the adjacent prairies. And it may be remarked in general, in relation to the bluffs of the Mississippi and Illinois, as well as those upon the smaller rivers, that they exhibit a surface too rough to be cultivated, and a soil too thin for successful tillage. The hills, or bluffs as they are called in this country, which are everywhere to be seen on the margins of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, are generally neither very high nor precipitous, and very rarely approach the water's edge. The bottoms between the river and bluffs are generally alluvial, and expand from one to five miles in width. Two-thirds of these bottom lands are subject to occasional inundation from high water; and when this happens, the river is seen gradually to rise for several successive days, until the channel within the banks is no longer capable of containing the immense accumulation of waters from above, at which time they burst over the banks in all directions, extending themselves from bluff to bluff in all the terrific grandeur of a mighty river. Again they gradually recede, until they are confined within the ordinary channel. When these inundations occur as late as the months of June and July, a sickly season, arising from the noxious vapours engendered by a decay of vegetation, may be expected in these and contiguous parts of the country; but if early, and the bottoms become dry before the hot season commences, no difference in the health of the inhabitants is expected to ensue on that account.
On the military tract, about two-thirds may be set down as prairie land, and the remaining one-third as timber land. The detached groves, or those which are found occasionally as islands in the prairies, and those at the heads or sources of the streams, generally produce the finest timber, with a soil mostly of good quality, and not unfrequently very rich. The soil on the prairies is good, and a large portion of it may be considered as first-rate, having either a black vegetable mould, or a dark sandy loam, from 15 to 30 inches deep, generally bedded on a stiff yellow clay. Many of the prairies are of convenient dimensions for farming operations, others too large at present, and again we find many only large enough for a single farm.
The emigrant, in traveling over this delightful region in the spring and summer months, will generally see timber either before him or to the right or left, within a few miles, but he will occasionally, after descending one of our beautiful slopes to the verdant valley beneath, through which the gentle rivulet is meandering its course with its flowery border, get as it were out of the sight of land, while his vision is bounded only by the blue horizon above, and not a tree can be discovered as far as the eye can reach. Again, when he approaches the summit of the opposite slope, his vision is relieved with the green forests upon his right and left, and a cluster of beautiful island groves immediately in the advance, with their varied shrubbery in full bloom, scattering its fragrance for many a mile around: the prairie, in the mean time, being covered with a smooth green coat of grass, and innumerable flowers of every variety and hue, which blossom and decay in succession, from the first opening of spring until the severe frosts of winter.
The bounty lands extend from north to south over about two and a half degrees of latitude, the medium of which exceeds forty degrees north, and afford a climate not uncongenial to the constitution of men from the northern and middle states. The climate seems also to be well adapted to the constitution of emigrants from Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Carolinas, who, in the general, enjoy as good health as those from the more northern states. It is a fact, however, which ought not to be disguised, that a large portion of the lands on the margins of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, as well as those upon the banks of the smaller streams, including such as border upon the large, flat, wet prairies, may be reckoned among the situations most unfavorable to health. The stagnant waters which sometimes remain after the overflowings of these rivers, not unfrequently produce pestilential vapours, proceeding from putrescent vegetable substances, which very often engender malignant fevers and agues, and prove destructive to the health and vigour of the newly settled emigrant and his family. Habitations should, therefore, at the commencement of a settlement be as far removed as convenient, from stagnant waters, and low, rich, alluvial grounds, which are thickly shaded by forest trees, and located on more open and elevated ground, where air and water can be enjoyed in their native purity. Lands of this description, which, in a state of nature, prove most injurious to health, when drained, opened to the sun, and cleared of the trees and rank weeds, which generally grow upon them, have often become salubrious places of habitation. But the new comer should be aware before he is acclimated, that it is a dangerous experiment to attempt the improvement. But of this quality, there is a small part only of the whole tract, most of the residue furnishing situations as healthful as any part of the Western Country, old Kentucky not excepted.
Taking all the Bounty Tract together, and there is no region of country in the west more eligibly situated for all the purposes of agriculture and commerce. The lands everywhere, with but few exceptions, are of the best quality, and in a manner surrounded by a sheet of navigable waters; and the country exhibits a climate of great variety for the space occupied; whereby its productions are varied, and the means of traffic greatly increased and facilities. Lands of excellent quality may yet be had at the government price of $1.25 per acre, in desirable parts of the country, so that means of wealth, or at least of a comfortable competence, are still within the reach of the poor as well as the opulent. What motives of advancement are here held out to the industrious and skilful cultivator of the soil - what prospects of wealth to the industrious mechanic and enterprising merchant - what a wide field of speculation is not in fact here presented to the view of the whole people of the west!
In this region there are but few springs; but water may be plentifully obtained anywhere on the smooth prairies, by digging from fifteen to forty feet below the surface. The well water is pure and salutary, and generally preferred to the spring water. The surface of the ground everywhere in this country is remarkably free from stones, except on the rivers, creeks, and branches, in which many good quarries are found both of lime and sandstone. With the exception of stone-coal, there are no mines on the Military Tract. Some specimens of iron, lead, and copper ore have occasionally been picked up, but not in sufficient quantities to justify the belief that any discoveries will be made worthy of pursuit.
The agricultural productions of this part of Illinois are Indian corn, wheat, rye, oats, barley, potatoes, hemp, flax, &c. The tame grasses, such as timothy, red clover, red top or herd's grass, and blue grass, are also now cultivated to some extent, and so far succeed well. The principal articles produced for exportation consist of horses, beef cattle, milch cows, live hogs, barreled beef and pork, bacon, lard, hides, butter, Indian corn, wheat, and flour. Some of the backwoodsmen, also, still continue to carry on a considerable traffic with the merchants, in deerskins and furs, such as otter, muskrat, and raccoon, and in honey and beeswax. Some farmers have been frequently known to make more money in this way, than from the product of their farms.
The disposition of so much of this fine country for military rewards, has very much retarded its settlement. Most of the titles have long since departed from the soldiers for whose benefit the donations were made. Many thousand quarter sections have been sold by the state for taxes, and are past redemption. Much of it is in the hands of non-residents, who hold it at prices too exorbitant to command sale. Some have doubted the legality of these sales at auction for taxes; but able lawyers, and those who have investigated the business, have expressed the opinion that "tax titles" are valid. Within the last two years the Military Tract has received a great accession to its population. A large quantity of these military lands are now owned by a company, who have a land-office opened at Quincy, and offer tracts at from three to ten dollars per acre. About three-fifths of the quarter sections have been appropriated as military bounties. The remainder is to be disposed of in the same manner as other public lands. South of the base line, which passes across the tract through Schuyler and Adams counties, the public lands have been offered for sale. North of that line there is much excellent land yet for sale.
A scientific gentleman, who has recently examined the central parts of the Military Bounty Tract, has given the following as the geological structure of the upland prairies in that region. That the same general structure prevails throughout the entire peninsula (between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers), and all the central and northern parts of the state, is most probable. 1st. Vegetable mould, formed by the decomposition of grass upon the original clay soil, 8 to 30 inches: 2nd. Pure yellow clay, 3 to 8 feet: 3d. Gravelly clay, mixed with pebbles, 4 to 10 feet: 4th. Limestone rock, 2 to 12 feet: 5th. Shale, covering a stratum of bituminous coal generally 4 to 5 feet thick: 6th. Soapstone: then sandstone. The bed of limestone seems to be universal in this region, it having been discovered in all the wells that have been dug, and in all the banks of water-courses of any magnitude.
An opinion is entertained by some persons at the east, that, the prairies here are of a light, spongy nature, without solidity or firmness. The notion has probably been gathered from the boggy prairies of Ohio. But no land of this sort, we are assured, is to be found in the Military Tract, if we except the marshes upon the margins of rivers. The substratum being clay, the surface is as firm and dry as any of the limestone lands of Pennsylvania or Maryland, and in many respects is of a similar character to be the best in Frederick county, in the later state.
ROCK RIVER COUNTRY
That portion of Illinois, situated in the northern part of the state, watered by Rock river and its branches, is known by the appellation of the Rock River Country. It is a fertile agriculture region, combining all the advantages of a rich and fruitful soil, a healthy and temperate climate, a fine navigable river, and clear perennial streams, affording excellent mill-seats, together with many of the most useful and important minerals.
Rock river rises in Wisconsin Territory, about midway between Lake Michigan and the Wisconsin river. Its course in Illinois is nearly 180 miles in extent. It receives its most important tributary, the Pekatonica, from the lead-mine region of Wisconsin Territory, a few miles below the northern boundary of the state. The Rock River Company may be considered as embracing not only the parts which border immediately upon that stream, but all those portions of the surrounding territory that may contribute directly to the development and employment of the resources of the Rock river valley.
In this view may be included the mineral wealth and agriculture advantages of the Pekatonica and its branches, the products of which must eventually find their way to market on the bosom of Rock river; but also the mineral region around Galena and Dubuque, which will, sooner or later, be connected by close links of interest and necessity with the inexhaustible beds of coal and general manufacturing advantages in the neighborhood of the mouth of Rock river. Under the same general head we may also include the fine agricultural country on the west bank of the Mississippi, extending from the Indian reservation on the Iowa to the waters of the Wabepisipimecon, which will look to the east bank of the Mississippi and the town located near the mouth of Rock river for its market.
The bottom-lands of these streams, most usually about a mile and a half wide, cannot be surpassed in fertility. Besides other causes which have combined for centuries to produce the same result, the wash of the bluffs enriches the plain below by its deposit, to such an extent that the depth of soil in places is almost incredible. Like the great American Bottom below the mouth of the Illinois river, which has been cultivated for more than a hundred years, the fertility of most of the Rock river and Upper Mississippi bottoms is indestructible. On such a soil, under proper cultivation, 100 bushels of corn and 40 bushels of wheat to the acre could be raised with facility. With the most careless kind of culture, where the farmers do not think of applying the hoe after planting, and run the plough through but twice, the average corn crop is about 50 or 60 bushels per acre. The soil on the brow of the bluffs, as might be expected from the unceasing washing of ages, is thin and unproductive; but when you ascend to the elevated table-land - which is generally characteristic of the bluffs after you leave the breaks, gullies formed by springs and drains on the edge of the bluffs, - you will find, most usually, a soil of the richest kind - high and dry, and fanned, in the warmest days of summer, by breezes of the most refreshing character. These breezes, however, are converted into pretty cold winds in winter.
The greatest object made to the Rock river country is the alleged scarcity of timber. What is termed the "grand prairie," commencing in the lower part of Illinois and reaching to Lake Superior, touches Rock river in several places, and some of its wide-stretching arms partially separated from the parent prairie by occasional groves, cross that stream. These extensive meadows form an obstacle at this time to the dense settlement of those portions where the predominance of prairie over timber is too great; but the time will come, and the day is not far distant, when emigrants will rush to the large prairies with almost as much eagerness as they now avoid them.
But without reference to the prospective settlement of the prairies, the existence of these large meadows in the neighborhood can form no reasonable objection to the settlement of such portions as are timbered. Of these there are thousands of situations in the Rock river country, where plenty of timber in proximity to prairies will give settlers the advantages of timber and prairie united; and if the argument be a good one that the large prairies cannot be settled without recourse to the woodlands, that very fact should form a strong inducement for the early settlement of the more favorable portions. But reflecting and experienced men way that no apprehensions need be felt about the supply of timber for the wants of the country, and that so far as Rock Island county is concerned, it has a greater proportion of timber than the counties in its vicinity.
The portion of country south and south-east of Rock river is comparatively deficient in timber, except where the waters of Green river, Edwards, and Henderson, carry belts of it along their various windings. Up Rock river the timber is in many places of the finest character, and convenient of access to the river, down which it could be rafted with ease.
The bluff which forms the principal portion of the strip of land between Rock river and the Mississippi, from Albany in Whiteside county down to near the mouth of the former stream, a distance of 35 miles, is, with one or two slight exceptions, covered plentifully with good timber. This woodland, although broken in many places by gullies which carry off water to the prairie bottoms, is in general excellent wheat land.
On the west bank of the Mississippi, for about ten miles above Rock Island, and twenty or thirty below, the bluff falls gently into bottoms of about a mile wide - frequently intersected with spurs and groves of timber; and altogether forming a succession of farm-sites as beautiful as the eye ever saw or the heart could desire. Immediately back of these sloping bottoms, the bluff is covered with the dense foliage of stately timber, forming a rich bordering for the picture of scenic loveliness below. This skirt of timber varies from one to two miles in width. Back of it, the timber is scattered into little patches of foliage, dotting the interminable prairies as they sweep off in beautiful and ocean-like undulations, westward to the waters of the Iowa. The timber of this region comprises the usual variety of the latitude - white and black oak, ash, hickory, elm, lynn, cherry, white and black walnut, maple, sugar tree, &c. In provision for building materials, nature has been bountiful to the Rock River country. Clay for brick, limestone of the finest quality, and freestone, can be found in almost any neighborhood.
The products of this region are the same as those of the adjoining districts, and are raised with the same facility as in the most favoured part of the state. A correspondent writes, "I have not seen in any place this season, crops of wheat, corn, and oats to surpass, and but few to equal, what I saw near Stephenson, the seat of justice of Rock Island county. The size to which esculent roots have grown there is almost incredible."
Besides the agricultural advantages of this region of country, it must for ever be connected with, and interested in the mineral regions above it. The extent of the lead region will perhaps never be determined. The mines are considered inexhaustible, and each succeeding year developes new treasures, inviting the hand of enterprize, and exciting the eager appetite of discovery.
The mines mostly wrought at this time, are in the vicinity of Dubuque, Galena, and Mineral Point on the Pekatonica. Taking Rock river on one side of the Mississippi, and the Iowa on the other, for the northern limits of the mineral region (although it is believed to extend much farther south), north of these streams, for perhaps hundreds of miles west, reaching to Lake Michigan on the east, and a thousand miles to the north until you reach the ocean-like shores and pure water of Lake Superior, you have an immense territory, already known to possess mines of lead, iron, copper, saltpetre, &c., the value of which will be beyond calculation.
Lead and copper ore have been found upon other tributaries of Rock river besides the Pekatonica. Upon the latter, mines of the richest character are wrought with industry and success. Copper ore has been raised already from the mines on the Pekatonica, to the extent of about 200,000 pounds. Lead has been found by the Indians in several places west of the Mississippi, not far from Rock Island. Near the Wabepisipimecon, which empties into the Mississippi about 30 miles above that island, cooper and iron ore, saltpetre, epsom salts, and a fine species of variegated alabaster, have lately been found. On the shores of Lake Pepin, up the Mississippi, near the Falls of St. Anthony, iron ore exists in such masses that the lake may almost literally be called "iron-bound." Iron ore and stone-coal are found in several places along the Upper Rapids of the Mississippi. The latter article, of a good quality, pervades the Rock river bluffs extensively, and will, before long, become a very important article of trade with the lead-mines, where the country is destitute of it. The recent improvement in smelting furnaces, and the contemplated introduction of steam-engines to drain the mines on the plan of the miners of Cornwall, England, which must take place before long, will cause the consumption of an immense quantity of stone-coal. They now send to St. Louis for it, and freight it up stream 500 miles. It will not be many years before the business of smelting will be done near the mouth of Rock river for nearly all the lead regions above, from the circumstance that the mineral can be much easier floated down to the fuel, than the feel can be freighted up to the mineral. This will throw into the lately located seat of justice of Rock Island county an immense trade, which is not generally looked upon as being alienable from the immediate neighbourhood of the mines.
The time will come when the facility with which lead can be obtained, will cause it indirectly to enter into the consumption of the country in a thousand different shapes now not thought of; and the demand becoming comparatively limitless, will cause every hill and valley where there are signs of "mineral" to be explored; and infinite developements of the resources of the country, now entering only into the dreams of the visionary, will greet the acute eye of enterprize. When we reflect that for a century and a half the gold-mines of the southern states lay hidden from a comparatively dense population, it should rather be a matter of astonishment that so much has already been discovered by the sparse settlements of the lead region.
There can be no doubt of this region being eminently healthy. The country is supplied bountifully with water from good springs, and the air is second only to mountain air in purity. It is even thought that the neighbourhood of Rock Island will one day be the resort of rich invalids, and the man of leisure from the south, on account of its double charm of salubrity of atmosphere, and picturesqueness of scenery. The existence of a copious white sulphur spring near Rock Island, of medical virtues equal perhaps to the waters of any of the celebrated springs in the United States, gives strength to the idea.
The navigation of Rock river is obstructed principally by the rapids, 3 1/2 miles from its mouth; upon which, however, there is never less than about 18 inches water, which is more than the Ohio river affords at its lowest stages, in places. Several enterprizing individuals have it in contemplation to build a steamboat expressly for navigating Rock river, which may for a considerable portion of the year.
A circumstance with the recent survey and settlement of the country on the Upper Rock river has but lately brought to view, may and will, if taken advantage of, no doubt, have an important bearing on the prosperity of the Rock River Country. It is ascertained that the distance from the city of Milwaukee on Lake Michigan to the navigable waters or Rock river, is only about 50 miles, and over a country well calculated for making either a canal or a rail-road. The improvement of this region by the construction of one or both of the above public works would open a medium of communication from the Mississippi to the Lakes, and afford an outlet to the northern markets that would be of incalculable benefit to the upper part of Illinois, and add another link to the mighty chain that is binding together the extremities of our widely-extended republic.
With the present possession and prospective control of advantages like all these, it does not require sanguine calculations to determine the future condition of this country. Easy access to market will always insure to the farmer the rewards of industry; and a rich agricultural community ever promotes the steadiest and purest prosperity to all other classes. Mechanics are always demanded by the wants of an improving country; and the lack of competition in a new country, guaranties to such as emigrate the best of prices and the best of pay.
The boundless resources of the great west spread out their harvest for the sickle of the young and the enterprising. "The harvest is plenty, but the labourers few." He that would carve out his own fortune at the expense of temporary sacrifices, in preference to frittering away his existence in the slavish occupancy of an overstrained competition, should turn his eyes and his footsteps westward.
The country traversed by the Sangamon river and its branches is a region seldom equaled in fertility. It is high and undulating, well watered with creeks and springs, and is beautifully interspersed with timber and prairie, the former of which consists of those descriptions which grow only on the richest soil, being principally locust, black walnut, hickory, maple, &c.
The prairies frequently contain fine groves of timber: these are generally elevated about the surrounding country, and are most advantageous situations for settlement. The inhabitants reside chiefly in the margin of the timber, extending their plantations to any distance in the prairie.
This desirable tract was settled with such rapidity, that it contained 5,000 inhabitants before a single section had been sold; and farms of considerable size, even of a hundred acres of cultivated land, had been made. It is now divided into several counties, containing a population of at least 40,000. The first white inhabitants settled here in 1819, and the first sale of public land was in November 1823. At the present time, the borders of the prairie are covered with hundreds of smiling farms, and the interior is animated with thousands of domestic animals; the rough and unseemly cabin is giving place to comfortable frames or brick tenements; and plenty everywhere smiles upon the labours of the husbandman.
The objection often made by those unacquainted with a prairie country against the great extent of the prairies and a want of sufficient timber in the Sangamon and other districts in Illinois, offers no serious inconvenience for the present; as timber in sufficient quantities has been found without difficulty, to meet all the demands of the population. With regard to the prairies, many persons are beginning to understand the superiority of that description of land for agricultural purposes; and the day is not far distant when, no doubt, it will be generally preferred to all others.
Late scientific examinations, as well as the practical results of settlement and cultivation, have determined the fact that the prairies are richer as you approach their middles, and in some measure in proportion to the distance from timber; and that the carbonate of lime, so rich a nourisher of grasses and grains, is found in the soil of the prairies to an extent of from 20 to 42 per cent. In timber lands it is found in a much smaller proportion, and in many cases does not exist at all. This fertilizing property, which renders the prairie lands so desirable, in appealing to the esteem of the farmer, has only to struggle against his ideas of convenience to timber. His apprehensions will be broken down by degrees. Coal, which exists in the bluffs of the rivers and streams in almost every part of the state, will be his fuel, and he will grow the hedge-thorn and the black locust for his fencing. There is also a certainty of the gradual self-introduction of timber of the ordinary growths, where the fires are kept out of the prairies. In the southern part of the state, which has been settled for 15 or 20 years, and where they once had the same apprehensions about the prospective scarcity of timber which is now felt at the north, they now have a greater abundance of timber than they had 20 years ago, not withstanding all the consumption of a comparatively dense population; and timber has sprung up and grown large enough for farming purposes, where at the time of settlement were extensive and monotonous prairies.
Above all countries, this is the land of flowers. In the season every prairie is an immense flower-garden. In the early stages of spring rises a generation of flowers, whose prevalent tint is peachblow. The next is a deeper red. Then succeeds the yellow; and to the latest period of autumn, the prairies exhibit a brilliant golden hue.
The Sangamon country is one of the finest stock districts in the Western states, the summer range for cattle is inexhaustible, and the amount of excellent hay that may be made every season from the rich prairies almost without limit. Horses, cattle, sheep, and hogs, can be raised here with but little trouble and expense, compared with the eastern states. The mildness of the climate has not unfrequently relieved the owners from all care and expense of feeding them through the whole year; but it is generally necessary to feed from the commencement of December until the latter part of March. When cattle are fed and attended to in the best manner by provident farmers, the expense is less by one half, than wintering the same species of stock in the eastern states.
The shortness and moderation of the winter seasons, and the abundant forage which may as yet be gathered from the wild prairies, render the raising of stock both cheap and easy. The grass, when cut from the upland prairies and well cured, makes excellent hay; and cattle will keep in good order the whole winter on this food alone. It has also been frequently remarked, that both horses and cattle fatten quite as fast in the spring and summer, on the wild grass of the prairies, as upon the tame pastures of the east. And the richness and flavour of the beef thus fattened, has been much esteemed at St. Louis and New-Orleans, and generally reckoned of the finest quality.
This region is almost admirably adapted from the cultivation of the sugar beet root, which besides its great value in the manufacture of the best sugar, is about to become a most important article in the feeding of cattle.
The following account of what has been accomplished in this way by a single individual, is extracted from a western paper of late date. "Lot Pugh, Esq. of Cincinnati, has cultivated most successfully the sugar beet, on his farm near that city. Last year he raised 50 tons of beets to the acre, and his crop is much better the present season. The manager of the farm says, that it requires but little more labour to raise 50 tons of beets than fifty bushels of corn, while the former is quite as good for horses, much better for cattle, and rather better for stock hogs. He also asserts, that sucking calves preferred beets, when properly prepared, to milk. Although cattle and hogs will eat beets in a raw state, still they are much better when boiled. The apparatus and fixtures use by Mr. Pugh for boiling or rather steaming, food for 300 hogs and 40 or 50 cows, with other stock, cost about $150, and consumes a quarter of a cord of wood per day."
The above will show that a new item of national wealth is about to be introduced into the United States. The culture of the beet root has produced important results in France. It is well known that land in those districts where its growth has become general has increased in value from 50 to 150 per cent; and the clear annual income per acre, after paying all expenses, ranges from 35 to 40 dollars. The profits would be equally great in this country; for, although the price of labour is cheaper in France, the difference would no doubt be amply compensated the superior fertility of the Illinois prairies, and the circumstance of dispensing with manure, which the great depth and richness of the soil of the Sangamon and other districts in this state will render unnecessary for a long period. A very considerable diminution of the annual profits in Europe, consists in the expense of manuring the land so as to make it sufficiently rich to produce a remunerating crop.
The prodigious impulse which the prosperity of a country may receive from the introduction of a single new plant, is illustrated by the following historical fact.
In an early part of the reign of George the First, the culture of the turnip was limited in England to as few gardens as that of the beet is now with us, and used almost exclusively for culinary purposes. That monarch, in one of his visits to his Electorate of Hanover, was attended by his Secretary of State, Lord Townsend; whilst residing there, this nobleman was struck by the appearance of extensive fields devoted to the culture of turnips as food for cattle and sheep. Impressed with the belief that this method might be introduced with advantage into his own country, he, before leaving Germany, took good care to provide himself with seed, and, on his return, earnestly recommended to his tenants a practice, which, in Hanover, had been found to produce the most favourable results. His wishes were attended to, and the experiment spread through the county of Norfolk, which from that period dates its high reputation as an agricultural district. Lands which rented for one or two shillings an acre, soon brought 15 or 20; and sterile barrens, on which were to be seen only a few half-starved rabbits, were reclaimed and are now covered with rich harvests of grain. Colquhoun, in his Statistical Researches, computes that the annual value of a crop of turnips in Norfolk alone, amounts to not less than 14 millions sterling! When it is considered that that this root has been the means of bringing under culture lands which without it must have remained valueless; that it leaves the soil in a good condition to receive a crop of grain or grass, and that the latter is a good preparation for wheat, we may safely consider the benefits resulting to England from the culture of the beet as incalculable. If it was now asked, said Colquhoun, who was the man in modern times who rendered England the most signal service, no one should hesitate to say it was the nobleman, whom shallow courtiers nicknamed in derision "Turnip Townsend." In half a century the turnips spread over the three kingdoms, and their yearly value at this day, says the same author, is not inferior in amount to the interest of the national debt!
A body of lands perhaps equally extensive, and nearly as fertile and productive, with that on the Sangamon, lies along the course of the Kaskaskia, or Okau. This river has a long course through the central parts of the Illinois, and a country happily diversified with prairie and forest. The streams that flow into it, have sufficient fall to be favorable for the site of mills. Some well-settled parts of the state are watered by this river. On its banks in Kaskaskia, formerly the seat of government, and Vandalia, at present the metropolis.
Although there are extensive bodies of sterile and broken lands in Illinois, yet take the whole of its wide surface together, it contains a greater proportion of first-rate land, than any state in the Union; and probably as great in proportion to its extent, as any country on the globe. One of the inconveniences connected with this extent of rich country is too great a proportion of prairies, with which two-thirds of the surface are covered; but the prevalence of coal and peat, and the ease and rapidity with which forest trees may be raised, will rendered even the extensive prairies not only habitable but desirable places of residence.
It is only necessary to look on the map of this great state, to see what astonishing advantages for inland navigation nature has given it. On its northern borders it has for some distance the waters of Lake Michigan and the various streams that empty into it; and by this vast body of waters a communication is opened with the northern parts of Indiana and Ohio, with New-York and Canada. On the north-west frontier it has Rock river, a long, beautiful, and boatable tributary of the Mississippi. On the whole western front it is washed by the Mississippi, and on its southern by the Ohio. On the east it is bounded by the Wabash. Through its centre winds in one direction the Illinois, connecting the Mississippi with Lake Michigan by the Des Plaines and the Chicago rivers; and in another direction the beautiful Kaskaskia flows through the state. Besides these, there are great numbers of boatable streams penetrating the state in every direction. Such is the intersection of Illinois by these waters that no settlement in it is far from a point of boatable communication, either with Lake Michigan, the Mississippi, the Ohio, or the Illinois.
The Mississippi forms the western boundary of the state through its whole length from north to south, a distance by the meanders of the stream of not far from 600 miles.
One hundred and fifty years from the time of its discovery by La Salle, Mr. Schoolcraft first reached the source of the Mississippi, in the little lake Itasca, on a high table-land, 1,500 feet above the Gulf of Mexico, and 3,160 miles from its mouth by the windings of its channel. Its source is in about 47 , and its mouth in 29 north latitude; and it consequently traverses 18 degrees of latitude. This great river is in some respects the noblest in the world, draining a larger valley, and irrigating a more fertile region, and having, probably, a longer course, than any other steam. It commences in many branches, that rise, for the most part, in wild rice lakes; but it traverses no great distance before it becomes a broad stream.
Having acquired, in a course, following its meanders, of three hundred miles, a width of half a mile, and having formed its distinctive character, it precipitates its waters down the Falls of St. Anthony. Thence it glides alternately through beautiful meadows and deep forests, swelling in advancing march with the tribute of a hundred streams. In its progress it receives a tributary, which of itself has a course of more than a thousand leagues. Thence it rolls its accumulated, turbid, and sweeping mass of waters through continued forests, only broken here and there by an axe, in lonely grandeur to the sea.
No thinking mind can contemplate this mighty and resistless wave sweeping its proud course from point to point, curving round its bends through the dark forests, without a feeling of sublimity. The hundred shores laved by its waters - the long course of its tributaries, some of which already flow through the abodes of cultivation, and others pursue an immense course without a solitary dwelling of civilized man on their banks - the numerous tribes of savages that now roam over its borders - the affecting and imperishable traces of generations that are gone, leaving tombs that rise at frequent intervals along its banks - the dim, but glorious anticipations of the future, - these are subjects of contemplation that cannot but associate themselves with the view of this river.
With the common propensity of travellers to exaggerate, the Falls of St. Anthony, until very recently, have been much overrated. Instead of the extravagant estimates of the first French writers, or the fall of fifty feet assigned to them by more modern authorities, the real fall of the Mississippi here is between sixteen and seventeen feet on perpendicular descent. Though it has not the slightest claim to compare with that of Niagara in grandeur, it furnishes an impressive and beautiful spectacle in the loneliness of the desert. The adjoining scenery is of the most striking and romantic character; and, as the traveller listens to the solemn roar of the falls, as it sinks into feeble echoes in the forests, a thrilling story is told him of the love and despair of a young Dacotah or Sioux Indian woman, who, goaded by jealousy towards her husband, who had taken another wife, placed her young children in a canoe, and, chanting the remembrances of love and broken vows, precipitated herself and her infants down the falls. Indians are always romancers, if not poets. Their traditions say, that these ill-fated beings so perished, that no trace of them was seen; but they suppose that her spirit wanders still near this spot, and that she is seen on sunny morning, carrying her babes in the accustomed manner bound to her bosom, and still mourning the inconstancy of her husband.
Below this point it is bounded by limestone bluffs, from 100 to 400 feet high, and first begins to exhibit islands, drift-wood, and sand-bars; its current is slightly broken by the Rock river and Des Moines rapids, which, however, present no considerable obstruction to navigation; and 843 miles from the falls its waters are augmented by the immense stream of the Missouri from the west: the latter has, indeed, the longer course, brings down a greater bulk of water, and gives its own character to the united current; yet it loses its name in the inferior stream. Above their junction, the Mississippi is a clear, placid stream, one mile and a half in width; below, it is turbid, and becomes narrower, deeper, and more rapids.
Between the Missouri and the sea, a distance of 1,220 miles, it receives it principal tributaries, - the Ohio from the east, and the Arkansas and Red river from the west; and immediately below the mouth of the latter, gives off, in times of flood, a portion of its superfluous waters by the outlet of the Atchafalaya. It is on this lower part of its course, where it should, properly speaking, bear the name of the Missouri, that it often tears away the islands and projecting points, and at the season of high water, plunges great masses of the banks, with all their trees, into its current. In many places it deposits immense heaps of drift-wood upon its mud-bars, which become as dangerous to the navigator as shoals and rocks at sea.
Below the Atchafalaya, it discharges a portion of its waters by the Lafourche and Iberville; but the great bulk flows on in the main channel, which here has a south-easterly course, and, passing through the flat tract of New-Orleans, reaches the sea at the end of a long projecting tongue of mud, deposited by the river. Near the Gulf of Mexico, it divides into several channels, where called passes, with bars at their mouths of from 12 to 16 feet of water. The water is white and turbid, and colours those of the Gulf for the distance of several leagues.
The river begins to rise in the early part of March, and continues to increase irregularly to the middle of June, generally overflowing its banks to a greater or less extent, although for some years these have not been inundated. Above the Missouri, the flooded bottoms are from five to eight miles wide, but below that point, they expand, by the recession of the river hills from the channel, to a breadth of from 40 to 50 miles. From the mouth of the Ohio, the whole western bank does not offer a single spot eligible for the site of a considerable town, and hardly affords a route for a road secure from overflow; on the eastern side, there are several points where the hills approach the river, and afford good town-sites; but from Memphis to Vicksburg, 365 miles, the whole tract consists of low grounds, subject to be inundated to the depth of several feet; and below Baton Rouge, where the line of upland wholly leaves the river, and passes off to the east, there is no place practicable for settlement beyond the river border, which is higher than the marshy tract in its rear.
The Mississippi is obstructed by planters, sawyers, and wooden islands, which are frequently the cause of injury, and even destruction, to the boats which navigate it. Planters are large bodies of trees firmly fixed by the roots in the bottom of the river, in a perpendicular manner, and appearing no more than about one foot above the surface of the water, when at its medium height. So firmly are they rooted, that the largest boats running against them will not move them; but, on the contrary, they materially injury the boats. Sawyers are likewise large bodies of trees, fixed less perpendicularly in the river, and rather of a less size, yielding to the pressures of the current, disappearing and appearing at intervals, and having a motion similar to the saw of a saw-mill, from which they have taken their name. These obstructions to the navigation have been partially removed by the enterprising captain Shreve, and his snag-boat, in the employment of the general government; and a great portion of the trees that form them have been cut away from its banks. Wooden islands are places, where, by some cause or other, large quantities of drift-wood have been arrested and matted together in different parts of the river. Formerly, all these various impediments were the cause of heavy losses to the merchant, and danger to the traveller; but since the introduction of steamboats, and the improvement of the channel to which we have just alluded, accidents of this nature are not of such frequent occurrence.
The Mississippi and its mighty tributaries, which form so striking a natural feature of this region, give to the mode of travelling and transportation in general, a peculiar cast, and have created a peculiar class of men, called boatmen. Craft of all descriptions are found on these waters. There are the rude, shapeless masses that denote the infancy of navigation, and the powerful and magnificent steamboat which marks its perfection; together with all the intermediate forms between these extremes. The most inartificial of all water-craft is the ark, or Kentucky flat, a huge frame of square timbers, with a roof. It is in shape a parallelogram, and lies upon the water like a log; it hardly feels the oar, and trusts for motion mainly to the current. It is 15 feet wide, from 50 to 80 feet long, and carries from 200 to 400 barrels. These arks are often filled with the goods and families of emigrants, and carry even the carriages and domestic animals. They are also used for shops of various kinds of goods, which are sold at the different towns; and some of them are fitted up as the work-shops of artificers. Sometimes, also, they are used as museums of wax-figures, and other raree-shows, or for travelling libraries.
There are also keel-boats and barges, which are light and well built; skiffs, that will carry from two persons to five tons; "dug-outs," or pirogues, made of hollowed logs, - and other vessels, for which language has no name, and the sea no parallel. There are a few small boats that are moved by a crank turned by a single man: these are on the principle of steamboat paddles. Since the use of steamboats, numbers of the other craft have disappeared, and the number of river boatmen has been diminished by many thousands. The first steamboat on these waters was built in Pittsburgh, in 1811; since that time, in a period of 25 years, abut 600 have been built at different places, some of which are from 400 to 500 tons burthen; but the greater number are from 90 to 150, 200 and 300 tons; there are at present not far from 300 steamboats on the Mississippi and its tributaries, making an aggregate of about 60,000 tons.
The Mississippi is at all times navigable, except when obstructed by ice, by steamboats drawing three feet water, as far up as Prairie du Chien; and frequently they run up to the Falls of St. Anthony, a distance of 800 miles above St. Louis. There are only two permanent obstructions to the early navigation of this river, except a very low water, throughout this whole distance; and they occur opposite to different points in Illinois. The first is the Des Moines rapids, beginning a few miles above the outlet of the river of that name, and extending up about 14 miles, to a point nearly opposite the town of Commerce. In this distance there is a fall of 25 feet; but the current is never too rapid for boats to stem it, and there is seldom less than three feet of depth in the channel. When the water gets very low, it is the practice to unload the steamboats, pass them light over the rapids, and take the freight over in keel-boats of less draught. These boats, when ascending, are towed up along the western shore by horses moving along the natural beach. This rapid is a source of great annoyance, expense, and delay; and yet it is susceptible of being so easily improved, as to make it matter of surprise that it has not already been done.
The second obstruction is the Rock Island rapids, very similar in character to those below. They commence at Rock Island, just above the mouth of Rock river and extend eighteen miles up the Mississippi. The navigation of these rapids is about to be improved by the general government, for which purpose an appropriation was made at the last session of Congress.
The principal tributaries of the Mississippi within the state of Illinois, are Rock, Illinois, Kaskaskia, and Big Muddy rivers. About one hundred miles below the northern boundary of the state, and in 41 30' north latitude, Rock river enters the Mississippi. It is a beautiful limpid stream, with a course of near 400 miles, and is celebrated for the purity of its waters, the excellence of its fish, and the fertility of the lands on its banks. At a distance of from fifty to seventy miles lower down, on the lands on its banks, Edwards, Pope's, and Henderson's rivers enter: these flow through fertile prairie-lands in the northern part of the Military Bounty Tract, and, though unavailable for the purpose of navigation, furnish fine mill-seats.
In latitude 39 comes in the Illinois from the north - a noble, broad, and deep stream, 400 yards wide at its mouth; having a course, including its head tributaries, of 450 miles, and being navigable for a great distance. It is the most considerable tributary of the Mississippi above the Missouri.
Nearly in 38 , and almost 500 miles below the north line of the state, following the windings of the Mississippi, the Kaskaskia river enters. It runs through a fertile and beautiful country, is 150 yards at the mouth, and has a course of nearly 300 miles in length.
Upwards of forty miles lower down the stream of the Mississippi, the Big Muddy comes in from the north. It is a considerable river, flowing through 120 miles of country, and remarkable for having on its shores fine coal-banks.
At 37 north latitude, comes in the magnificent Ohio. It is by far the largest eastern tributary of the Mississippi. At the junction, and for 100 miles above, it is as wide as the parent stream.
The importance of a good town-site at the union of these mighty steams, have for many years excited the attention of the enterprizing. It is a feature in the rivers of the western country, with few exceptions, that at and near their junction the land is alluvion, of a recent formation, and, at the high annual floods, usually inundated to the depth of several feet. This is the case, particularly, at the mouth of the Ohio. For twelve miles along that river above its mouth, and a farther distance along the Mississippi, and across the point to Cash river, the country is subject to annual inundations. Had the Author of Nature formed here an elevated situation, nothing could have prevented this spot from becoming the central commercial emporium of the great western valley. The immense trade of the Ohio and Mississippi, at some future day, will warrant the expense of forming an artificial site at this point for a commercial town. The termination of the great central rail-road through the state of Illinois will greatly facility this object, and, with the commerce of these great rivers, build up a splendid city. In due time, art, enterprize, and perseverance, will triumph over nature at this place, and a large commercial city will no doubt exist where now the waters of the Ohio and Mississippi occasionally spread.
Rock River is one of the most clear and beautiful tributaries of the Mississippi. It has its source in Wisconsin Territory, a little to the north of latitude 43 30', immediately south-west of Winnebago lake, and about 130 miles, by the meanders of the stream, beyond the northern boundary of the state. Its general direction is south-west, and it enters the Mississippi not far from the commencement of the Military Bounty Lands, after a course of about 300 miles. It is said to be navigable for upwards of 200 miles; and receives in its course, about 170 miles from its mouth, its most important tributary, the Pekatonica river; down which stream, one individual, some three or four seasons since, shipped nine flat-boats containing about 1,200,000 lbs. of lead.
A little above the mouth of this stream, in the Mississippi, is the beautiful island, called from the name of the river, on which is a military station of the United States, presenting one of the finest prospects on the whole range of the Mississippi.
The country towards the head of Rock river is made up alternately of swamps and quagmires, ridges of sand and scrubby oaks, with tracts of rich, dry, undulating lands. The Terre Tremblant, or trembling lands, is in this region, and is so called from the shaking of the surface, while crossing over it. The militia of Illinois suffered much, in passing their horses through this country, in 1832, while pursuing the army of Black Hawk. Much of the country through which this river flows in Illinois is prairie. About the mouth of Turtle and Sycamore creeks are large bodies of timber. It generally passes along a channel of lime and sandstone rock, and has several rapids of some extent that injure the navigation at low water. The first is three or four miles above its mouth, the second, twelve or fifteen miles below Dixonville: the next is just below Pekatonica river. These will all furnish a great amount of water-power, applicable for manufacturing purposes.
The country generally, along Rock river north to the boundary line, is among the most desirable in Illinois. It is beautifully undulating. The soil is rich and fertile; but the timber is rather deficient. This, however, will not prevent it from becoming an extensive agricultural region.
The Kaskaskia river is a considerable stream, and is navigable, in those portions of the year when the water is high, to Vandalia, 150 miles from its mouth; and was ascended by a steamboat last spring to Carlyle, 100 miles from the Mississippi. It rises in Champaign county, and, after a south-west course of about 300 miles, enters the Mississippi, six miles below the town of Kaskaskia. Its banks, and those of its tributaries, are generally fertile, and contain some rich and flourishing settlements. The country is mostly undulating, and is well adapted to the cultivation of corn, wheat, rye, oats, and tobacco. Cotton is sometimes raised on its banks, in the lower part of its course.
The Kaskaskia is about 150 yards wide at its mouth. The left bank is high, and affords a fine situation for a town; but in many places the shores are low and subject to inundation, which is a fruitful source of disease.
The legislature, in its system of internal improvements, appropriated $50,000 to improve the navigation of the Kaskaskia river. The chief obstructions are logs and sand-banks, and short bends. The chief tributaries of the Kaskaskia are the Hurricane, Crooked, Prairie, Long, Silver, and Shoal creeks. Its lower course is know to the French people by the name of the Okau.
The Big Muddy river (Riviere au Vase ou Vaseux), discovered and named by the French, is a considerable stream in the south-western part of the state. It rises in Jefferson county, between the waters of the Little Wabash and Kaskaskia rivers, and, after a south and south-western course of about 120 miles through Jefferson, Franklin, Jackson, and Union counties, flows into the Mississippi, about 25 miles below the Kaskaskia river, and 8 miles below the Grand Tower; being fed by several considerable branches, the chief of which are, Little Muddy river, Beaucoup creek, and Middle Fork or Racoon creek. It is rendered boatable for 40 or 50 miles through a fine grazing and agricultural country. Its bluffs generally are abrupt. The land along its borders and branches is undulating, and for most of its length well timbered. Valuable salines exist on its banks, and are worked about Brownsville, where there is an inexhaustible bed of bituminous coal. Native copper has been found on its banks, in detached masses.
The Ohio river, which constitutes the southern boundary of the state of Illinois, commences at Pittsburg, where it is formed by the junction of the Alleghany and Monongahela.
This stream, from the beauty of the country on its banks, early obtained from the French traders the name of La Belle Riviere, or beautiful river. From its commencement it affords most delightful prospects; rivers, of romantic and beautiful character, come in almost at equal distances as lateral canals. Its bottoms are of extraordinary depth and fertility, generally high and dry, and for the most part healthy. Between Pittsburg and the mouth, it is diversified with 100 considerable islands. Some of these are of exquisite beauty, and afford most lovely situations for retired farms. The passages between them, and the sand-bars at their heads, are among the difficulties of the navigation of this river.
The Ohio at Pittsburg is 600 yards wide, at Cincinnati a little more, and below the Cumberland its average breadth is 1,000 yards. It is bounded in its whole course by bluffs, sometimes towering sublimely from the shores of the river, and sometimes receding two or three miles. The rapidity of its current is found, according to the different stages of the water in autumn, a floating substance would probably not advance a mile an hour. It is subject to extreme elevations and depressions. The average range between in high and low water is fifty feet. Its lowest stage is in September, and its highest in March; but it is subject to sudden and very considerable rises through the year. It has been known to rise twelve feet in a night. When these sudden elevations take place, at the breaking up of the ice, a scene of desolation sometimes occurs: boats, and everything in its course, are carried away by the accumulated power of the ice and the water.
The elevation of the river at Pittsburgh is 678 feet, and that of low water, at its confluence with the Mississippi, 283 feet in 949 miles, the length of the intermediate channel making an average descent of a little over five inches in a mile. Since the Louisville and Portland canal has been completed, steamboats of small draft can descend at all times from Pittsburgh to the Mississippi. Flat and keel boats descend the river at all seasons, but in periods of low water with frequent groundings on the sand-bars, and the necessity of often unloading to get the boat off.
From the mouth of the Wabash to its confluence with the Mississippi, a distance of nearly 200 miles, the right bank of the Ohio forms the southern boundary of the state of Illinois. In this distance, its banks are generally low and subject to inundations; but they are very fertile.
These inundations, as on the Mississippi, are occasionally sources of disease, and in many cases impediments to improvement. There are, however, some elevated situations which afford good town-sites, and which must become places of considerable importance. It is much to be regretted, that at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi there is an extensive recently formed alluvion, which is annually inundated, and which cannot, without immense expense, be made an eligible town-site. At the mouth of the Wabash, the land is similarly situated. Below this, no stream of any considerable size empties into the Ohio within this state. The largest are Cash river, and Saline and Big Bay creeks.
The Saline creek is the largest tributary of the Ohio within the limits of the state. It enters that river a few miles below Shawneetown, after a course of about 75 miles; and is formed of the North, Middle, and South Forks. The salines, or salt springs, from which the stream takes its name, are in the vicinity of the town of Equality, and are sources of wealth to the country, furnishing large quantities of salt for home consumption. To Equality, 20 miles from the Ohio, the Saline is navigable for steamboats of a small class. This stream and its branches water the counties of Gallatin, White, Hamilton, Franklin, and Johnson.
The Wabash river rises in the northern part of Indiana, and running first a south-west and then a south course, empties into the Ohio nearly 200 miles above its confluence with the Mississippi. It is a beautiful stream about 600 miles in length, with but one considerable fall or rapid, which is near the junction of White river, below Vincennes. In low water, it obstructs the navigation very considerably. An act was passed in 1819, to raise funds for the purpose of improving the navigation at this place, by means of a canal. For more than 200 miles, the Wabash forms the eastern boundary of the state. The character of the lands bordering on it is similar to that on the Ohio and Mississippi, although the alluvions of the Wabash are more extensive, and the inundations more formidable. The bottoms of the Wabash, are an intermixture of prairie and woodland. The principal tributaries of the Wabash, in this state, are the Big and Little Vermillion, Embarras, and Little Wabash rivers. As a navigable channel, the Wabash is a most important stream: its course seems to be almost artificially drawn to form a part of the line of commercial connexion between the Mississippi river and Lake Erie, by the most direct route.
The chief branches of this river in the state of Illinois, are the Embarras and the Little Wabash. The Embarras rises in Champaign county: it runs at first south, and then south-east; and, after a course of about 140 miles, enters the Wabash about six miles below Vincennes. The country on the Embarras is of various qualities, though there is much good land. Towards it head the prairie greatly predominates, the timber being in groves, and in narrow strips along its banks. It soon widens to an extent of from two to six miles, and in the lower part of its course, frequently from eight to ten miles. Generally the prairies through which it flows are second-rate for more than half its length from its mouth. Its bottoms are inundated in very high floods. The main stream and its branches afford many good mill-seats.
The Little Wabash river rises in the large prairies towards the head-waters of the Kaskaskia, and, running south, enters the Wabash in the north-east corner of Gallatin county. It is about 110 miles in a direct line from its heads to its mouth, though about 150 miles, to follow its meanderings. It is navigable for flat-boats and small craft, at a full stage of water; about forty of the former leaving it annually, from the Wayne and White counties, with beef, pork, corn, cattle, and some tobacco, for the New-Orleans market. The timber upon the banks of the Little Wabash is mostly heavy, and of a good quality, and is several miles in width. The country adjoining is fertile, but the bottoms are subject to inundation at high floods. Several valuable mills have been erected on this stream, in White county.
The Illinois, which gives name to the state, may be considered the most important river, whose whole course is in it. It is formed by the junction of the Kankakee and the Des Plaines rivers, near the towns of Dresden and Kankakee. Thence it flows nearly a west course, until a short distance above Hennepin: here it curves to the south, and then to the south-west. Passing Peoria, Pekin, Havanna, and Beardstown, it reaches Naples. Hence to its mouth, its course is mostly due south. It enters the Mississippi 20 miles above the Missouri. At high floods the river overflows its banks, and covers its bottoms for a considerable extent. The Mississippi, at extreme high water, backs up the Illinois about seventy miles to the mouth of the Mauvaiseterre creek.
The commerce of the river is extensive, and increasing with a rapidity known only to the rich agricultural regions of the Western States. Several steamboats are constantly employed in its trade, and many others make occasional trips: about thirty-five different boats passed and landed at Beardstown in 1836, making the arrivals and departures 450. The year 1828 was the commencement of steam navigation on this river.
Forty miles below the junction of the Kankakee and Des Plains, the Illinois receives the Fox river from the north. Both above and below the mouth of this stream, there is a succession of rapids in the Illinois, with intervals of deep and smooth water. From the mouth of Fox river to the foot of the rapids is nine miles, the descent, in all, eight feet; the rock soft sandstone mixed with gravel and shelly limestone. Nine miles above Fox river, the grand rapids commence, and extend ten or twelve miles. They are formed by ledges of rocks in the river and rocky islands. The whole descent from the surface of Lake Michigan at Chicago to the foot of the rapids, a distance of 94 ¼ miles, is 141 87/100 feet.
At the foot of the rapids the Vermillion river enters the Illinois from the south, by a mouth of about fifty yards wide: it is an excellent mill-stream, and runs through extensive beds of bituminous coal. About 60 miles down the Illinois from the termination of the rapids, commences Peoria Lake, an expansion of the river, and about twenty miles in length by two in width. Such are the depth and regularity of the bottom, that it has no perceptible current whatever. Its waters are very transparent, its margin exhibits a beautiful scenery, and its surface is frequently covered with innumerable flocks of pelicans, swans, geese, and ducks. It also abounds with every variety of fish to be found in any of the western waters.
A few miles below Lake Peoria, the Mackinaw river comes into the Illinois on the east side from the south: it is about 100 miles in length, and is boatable a considerable distance. It rises in the prairie, near the eastern part of M'Lean county; and, running south-westwardly through Tazewell county, enters the Illinois about three miles below Pekin. About twenty-five miles below, and directly opposite the town of Havanna, the Spoon river enters the Illinois from the west: it is a beautiful stream, the most considerable of those which water the interior of the Military Bounty Tract. It is navigable only a short distance. It has a course of about 140 miles.
About eight miles above Beardstown the Sangamon river enters the Illinois from the east. It is one of the most prominent branches of the Illinois, and has a course of about 180 miles, with a boat navigation of 120 or 130 miles. From its position, and the excellence of its lands, it is one of the most important streams of the state. Crooked creek, next to Spoon river, is the most considerable stream that waters the Military Bounty Tract. From its volume and length of course, it deserves the name of river, but is mostly designated by the inferior title. It enters from the west, a few mile below Beardstown, and has a course of about 100 miles.
Below Crooked creek, and on the east side of the river, are Indian, Mauvaiseterre, and Sandy creeks in Morgan, and Apple and Macoupin creeks in Greene county: these are all beautiful streams, and meander through some of the best populated and fertile tracts of country in the state. M'Kee's creek, emptying on the west side, is the lowest of the tributaries of the Illinois of any note that waters the Military Bounty Tract: the land on this creek and its branches is excellent, and well proportioned into timber and prairie, which is gently undulating, and rich. The settlements are already large, and increasing from emigration.
In the Illinois river there are but few sand-bars and impediments of any consequence until we reach the Starved Rock, about one mile above the town of Utica. Here we meet with the first permanent obstruction, being a ledge of sandstone rocks immediately at the foot of the lower rapids, and extending entirely across the bed of the river. This point is 210 miles by the course of the Illinois from the Mississippi. The town of Utica may therefore be justly considered as the head of steamboat navigation of the Illinois river, although steamers at high water frequently ascend nine miles farther to Ottawa. The sum of 100,000 dollars has been appropriated by the legislature of the state to improve the navigation of the Illinois, which may be good at all stages of the water.
For a great distance above its mouth, the river is almost as straight as a canal. It has in summer scarcely a perceptible current; and the waters, though transparent, have a marshy taste, to a degree to be almost unpotable. The river is wide and deep, and, for the greater part of its width, is filled with aquatic weeds, to such a degree that no person could swim among them. Only a few yards width, in the centre of the stream, is free of them. It enters the Mississippi, through a deep forest, by a mouth 400 yards wide. Perhaps no river of the Western Country has so fine a boatable navigation for the same distance, or waters a richer and more luxuriant tract of country.
On the banks of this river the first French emigrants from Canada settled themselves; and here was the scenery on which they founded their extravagant panegyrics upon the Western County.
By the Chicago and Illinois Canal, now in progress, the waters of this stream will be united to those of Lake Michigan, and will form one of the most important links in the chain of internal navigable waters of the United States. Nature seems to have accomplished a great share of the necessary labour to effect at this grand improvement. The canal distance from the foot of the rapids to Lake Michigan will be near 100 miles.
The principal tributaries of the Illinois river are the Kankakee, Des Plaines, Fox, Spoon, and Sangamon rivers. These are all considerable streams, and are, after the Illinois, Kaskaskia, and Rock river, the most important in the state.
The Kankakee, or Theakiki, is the eastern head branch of the Illinois. It rises in the north-east part of the state of Indiana, two or three miles from the south bend of St. Joseph's river, from whence running in a westerly and north-westerly direction through the north-eastern part of Illinois, it unites with the Des Plaines and forms the Illinois, forty miles above the mouth of Fox river. The Kankakee has a course of about 150 miles, and is upwards of 200 yards wide at its mouth. The prairie country through which it passes is generally of good soil. This river was discovered at an early period by the French, and was one of the principal routes used by them in passing to the Mississippi. Navigation for small craft can be effected, in high stages of the water, from the St. Joseph's river into the Kankakee. The latter, for the first fifty miles of its course, flows through an extensive swamp.
The Des Plaines river is the northern head branch of the Illinois. It rises in Wisconsin Territory, a few miles west of the town of Racine, on Lake Michigan, and flowing through the north part of the state, it joins the Kankakee at the boundary line between La Salle and Will counties, where they form the Illinois river. The Des Plaines, in its course of 150 miles, runs generally over a bed of limestone. The country along its borders is populating rapidly, notwithstanding the apparent deficiency of timber. About forty-two miles above the mouth of this steam is a swamp connecting it with the Chicago river, through which boats of some burden have often been navigated into Lake Michigan. This route was used by the traders as a medium of communication between the great lakes and the Mississippi, from the first discovery of the country by Europeans; - this circumstance first suggested the idea of an artificial connexion by means of a canal at this point. In the bed of the Des Plaines, about forty rods above its junction with the Kankakee, there is a fossil tree, of a very considerable size. It is a species of phytolites, and is embedded in a horizontal position in a stratum of newer floetz sandstone, of a gray colour and close grain. There are fifty-one feet six inches of the trunk visible. It is eighteen inches in diameter.
The Fox river is one of the principal tributaries of the Illinois, and rises in Wisconsin Territory, about twenty miles north-west from Milwaukee, on Lake Michigan. Its general direction is south, inclining to the west; and, after a course of about 170 miles, it enters the Illinois river at Ottawa, 219 miles from the Mississippi.
At the rapids, five miles above its mouth, are extensive water-privileges. Here the river is from 80 to 100 yards wide. The rapids are sixteen feet descent, and both sides of the stream will admit of mills and machinery for three-fourths of a mile, with inexhaustible supplies of water. This stream flows through a fine prairie country, of a dark rich soil. Nearly the whole range of Fox river in Illinois is through unsurveyed land: for nearly the entire distance, it is thickly settled. Towns and villages are springing up as if by magic. Its chief tributaries are Indian, Somonauk, Rock, and Blackberry creeks.
The Sangamon is one of the most important tributaries of the Illinois: it enters that river about 100 miles above its mouth, and ten miles above Beardstown. It rises in the attached part of Vermillion county, and heads with the Mackinaw, the Vermillion river of the Illinois, the Big Vermillion, and other streams. Its length of course is about 180 miles, and it is navigable for small steamboats, when the waters are high, to the junction of the north and south forks, a distance from the Illinois of about 75 miles; and, at a small expense in clearing out the principal branches, they might be made boatable for small craft a considerable distance further than they have yet been navigated. In the spring of 1832, a steamboat of the larger class arrived within five miles of Springfield, and discharged its cargo. Arrangements are in progress for running permanently, this fall (1837), a small class steamboat from the towns of the Illinois to Petersburg, on the left bank of the Sangamon, and about 45 miles from its mouth.
All the streams that enter this river have sandy and pebbly bottoms, and clear and transparent waters. The Sangamon bottoms have a soil of extraordinary fertility, and rear from their rich black mould a forest of enormous sycamore and other forest trees; huge overgrown masses, towering to a great height above the head of the passer-by. The Sangamon river and its branches flow through one of the richest and most delightful portions of the great West. The beautiful and fertile prairies on its bank will afford range for thousands of cattle, for many years. The general aspect of the Sangamon county is level; yet it is sufficiently undulating to permit the water to escape to the creeks. It will soon constitute one of the richest agricultural districts in the United States, the soil being of such a nature that immense crops can be raised with little agricultural labour.
The principal branches of the Sangamon are the South Fork and Salt creek. The latter is a fine stream of about 90 miles in length: it heads near the main stream of the Sangamon, and receives in its course several considerable tributaries, of which the chief are Kickapoo and Salt creeks. The South Fork is about 70 miles in length of course. It rises in Shelby county, and, flowing west and north-west enters the Sangamon about seven miles east of Springfield.
Spoon river is a considerable tributary of the Illinois, and is the largest stream that waters the Military Bounty lands. It rises in the north-eastern part of the tract, and after a course mostly south-west, through the counties of Putnam, Peoria, Knox, and Fulton, of about 140 miles in extent, it enters the Illinois river by a mouth 40 yards wide, directly opposite the town of Havanna in Tazewell county, and about 125 miles from the Mississippi. The lands on Spoon river and its branches are considered among the most eligible for settlement in this section of the state; being high, undulating, well watered, and handsomely diversified with prairie and timber. Of the latter, large bodies line the banks of the river and its tributaries. They also furnish many excellent mill-seats. This stream can be navigated for only a few miles; but, at a trifling expense in clearing out the trees and rafts of timber, it might be made navigable for one-half of the year to the Forks. These, which are the principal head branches of Spoon river, are called the East and West Forks, and constitute, with the South Fork, the chief tributaries of this steam.
The East Fork rises in the western part of Putnam county, and, after a course of between 40 and 50 miles, is joined by the West Fork. There is much excellent land on this fork and its branches; prairie predominates, but it is generally dry and rich, with groves and points of timber, and many fine springs.
The West Fork rises in the south-east part of Henry county, runs a south-easterly course, and unites with the East Fork near the boundary line between Putnam and Peoria counties. The country adjoining is similar to that on the East Fork, except that the surface is more undulating. The timber is good, and in considerable bodies. Near the junction of these streams is much excellent timber, with a strip of fertile prairie between. Here is a considerable settlement, called Essex's Settlement, containing a grist and saw-mill, and a post-office.
The South Fork rises in Warren county, near the head of Ellison creek, runs a south-easterly course, and unites with the main stream about 50 miles from the Illinois river. Some of the best land in the state lies on this stream. This is frequently called the West Fork.
Coal, salt, lime, lead, iron, and copper, are among the known mineral productions of Illinois; but the soil has not yet been much explored for its hidden treasures. Coal, secondary limestone, and sandstone, exist in almost every quarter.
Lead is found in the north-western part of the state in vast quantities: the lead diggings extend from the Wisconsin to the vicinity of Rock river, and on both sides of the Mississippi. The Indians and French had been long accustomed to procure small quantities of the ore, but it was not until 1822 that the process of separating the metal was begun to be carried on. Since that time, up to the end of 1835, 70,420,357 pounds of lead have been made here, and upwards of 13,000,000 pounds have been smelted in one year; but the business having been overdone, the product has since been much less. In 1833, it was 7,941,792 pounds; in 1834, 7,871,579; and in 1835, only 3,754,200. This statement includes the produce of Wisconsin Territory, as well as of Illinois. The rent accruing to government for the same period, is a fraction short of 6,000,000 pounds. Formerly, the government received ten per cent in lead for rents. Now it is six per cent.
A part of the mineral land in the Wisconsin Territory has been surveyed and brought into market, which will add greatly to the stability and prosperity of the mining business. It is expected that the mineral lands in Illinois will soon be in market.
Iron ore has been found in the southern parts of the state, and is said to exist in considerable quantities in the northern parts.
Native copper, in large quantities, exists in the northern part of the state, especially at the mouth of Plum creek, and on the Pekatonica. It is also found in small quantities on Muddy river, in Jackson county, and back of Harrisonville, in the bluffs of Monroe county. A shaft was sunk 40 feet deep in 1817, in search of this metal, but without success.
Silver is supposed to exist in St. Clair county, two miles from Rock Spring, whence Silver creek derives its name. In the early times, by the French, a shaft was sunk here, and tradition tells of large quantities of the precious metal being obtained. In the southern part of the state, several sections of land have been reserved from sale, on account of the silver ore they are supposed to contain. Marble of a fine quality is found in Randolph county. Crystallized gypsum has been found in small quantities in St. Clair county. Quartz crystals exist in Gallatin county.
Bituminous coal abounds in this state, and may be found in nearly every county. It is frequently perceived without excavation in the ravines and at the points of bluffs. Vast beds of this mineral exist in the bluffs adjacent to the American Bottom in St. Clair county, of which large quantities are annually transported to St. Louis for fuel. A rail-road is now constructing by a private company, from the bluffs to the ferry, six miles, for the purpose of transporting coal to St. Louis.
A large vein of coal, several feet thick, and apparently exhaustless, has been struck in excavating the Illinois and Michigan canal, a few miles below Ottawa. A bed of anthracite coal, it is said, has been discovered on Muddy river in Jackson county.
Muriate of soda, or common salt, has been found in various parts of the state, held in solution in the springs. The manufacture of salt by boiling and evaporation is carried on in Gallatin county, 12 miles west-north-west from Shawneetown; in Jackson county, near Brownsville; and in Vermillion county, near Danville. The springs and land are owned by the state, and the works leased. A course freestone, much used in building, is dug from quarries near Alton, on the Mississippi, where large bodies exist.
Medicinal waters are found in different parts of the state. These are chiefly sulphur springs and chalybeate waters. There is said to be one well in the southern part of the state strongly impregnated with the sulphate of magnesia, or Epsom salts, from which considerable quantities have been made for sale, by simply evaporating the water, in a kettle, over a common fire. There are several sulphur springs in Jefferson county, to which persons resort for health.
There are several kinds of wild animals in the state of Illinois: of these, the principal and most numerous are deer, wolves, raccoons, opossums, &c. Several species formerly common have become scarce, and are constantly retreating before the march of civilization; and some are no longer to be found. The buffalo has entirely left the limits of the state, and indeed all the settled parts of the Western Country, and is now found only on the head-waters of the Mississippi and its tributaries, and on the vast prairies west of the Missouri river. This animal once roamed at large over the plains of Illinois; and, so late as the commencement of the present century, was found in considerable numbers; and traces of them are still remaining in the buffalo paths, which are to be seen in several parts of the state. These are well-beaten tracks, leading generally from the prairies in the interior of the state to the margins of the large rivers, showing the course of their migrations as they changed their pastures periodically, from the low marshy alluvion, to the dry upland plains. Their paths are narrow, and remarkably direct, showing that the animals travelled in single file through the woods, and pursued the most direct course to their places of destination.
Deer are more abundant than at the first settlement of the country. They increase, to a certain extent, with the population. The reason of this appears to be, that they find protection in the neighbourhood of man from the beasts of prey that assail them in the wilderness, and from whose attacks their young particularly can with difficulty escape. They suffer most from the wolves, who hunt in packs, like hounds, and who seldom give up the chase until the deer is taken down.
Immense number of deer are killed every year by the hunters, who take them for the hams and skins alone, throwing away the rest of the carcase. Venison hams and hides are important articles of export. Fresh hams usually sell at from 75 cents to $1.50 a pair, and when properly cured, are a delicious article of food.
There are several ways of hunting deer, all of which are equally simple. Most generally the hunter proceeds to the woods on horseback, in the day-time, selecting particularly certain hours which are thought to be most favourbable. It is said, that during the season when the pastures are green, this animal rises from its lair precisely at the rising of the moon, whether in the day or night; such is the uniform testimony of experienced hunters. If it be true, it is certainly a curious display of animal instinct. This hour, therefore, is always kept in view by the hunter, as he rides slowly through the forest with his rifle on his shoulder, while his keen eye penetrates the surrounding shades. On beholding a deer, the hunter slides from his horse, and while the deer is observing the latter, creeps upon him, keeping the largest trees between himself and the object of pursuit, until he gets near enough to fire. An expert woodsman seldom fails to hit his game.
Another mode is, to watch at night, in the neighbourhood of the salt-licks. These are spots where the earth is impregnated with saline particles, or where the salt-water oozes through the soil. Deer and other grazing animals frequent such places, and remain for hours licking the earth. The hunter secretes himself here, either in the thick top of a tree, or, most generally, in a screen erected for the purpose, and artfully concealed, like a masked battery, with logs or green boughs. This practice is pursued only in the summer, or early in the autumn, in cloudless nights, when the moon shines brilliantly, and objects may be readily discovered. At the rising of the moon, or shortly after, the deer, having risen from their beds, approach the lick. Such places are generally bare of timber, but surrounded by it, and as the animal is about to emerge from the shade into the clear moonlight, he stops, and stops again, smells the ground, or raises his expanded nostrils, as if he 'snuffed the approach of danger in every tainted breeze.' The hunter sits motionless, and almost breathless, waiting until the animal shall get within rifle-shot, and until its position in relation to the hunter and the light, shall be favorable, when he fires with an unerring aim. A few deer only can be thus killed in one night, and after a few nights these timorous animals are driven from the haunts which are thus distributed.
Many of the frontier people dress deer-skins, and make them into pantaloons and hunting-shirts. These articles are indispensable to all who have occasion to travel in viewing land, or for any other purpose, beyond the settlements, as cloth garments, in the shrubs and vines, would soon be in strings.
It is a novel and pleasant sight to a strange, to see the deer in flocks of eight, ten, or fifteen in number, feeding on the grass of the prairies, or bounding away at the sight of a traveller.
The elk has disappeared. A few have been seen in late years, and some taken; but it is not known that any remain at this time, within the limits of the state.
The bear is seldom seen. This animal inhabits those parts of the country that are thickly wooded, and delights particularly in the cane-brakes, where it feeds in the winter on the tender shoots of the young cane. The meat is tender and finely flavoured, and is esteemed a great delicacy.
Wolves are numerous in most parts of the sate. There are two kinds - the common or black wolf, and the prairie wolf. The former is a large fierce animal, and very destructive to sheep, pigs, calves, poultry, and even young colts. They hunt in packs, and after using every stratagem to circumvent their prey, attack it with remarkable ferocity. Like the Indian, they always endeavour to surprise their victim, and strike the mortal blow without exposing themselves to danger. They seldom attack man, except when asleep or wounded. The largest animals, when wounded, entangled, or otherwise disabled, become their prey; but in general they only attack such as are incapable of resistance. Their most common prey is the deer, which they hunt regularly; but all defenceless animals are alike acceptable to their ravenous appetites. When tempted by hunger they approach the farm-houses in the night, and snatch their prey from under the very eye of the farmer; and when the latter is absent with his dogs, the wolf is sometimes seen by the females lurking about in mid-day, as if aware of the unprotected state of the family.
The smell of burning assafoetida has a remarkable effect upon this animal. If a fire be made in the woods, and a portion of this drug thrown into it, so as to saturate the atmosphere with the odour, the wolves, if any are within reach of the scent, immediately assemble around, howling in the most mournful manner; and such is the remarkable fascination under which they seem to labour, that they will often suffer themselves to be shot down rather than leave the spot.
The prairie wolf is a smaller species, but little larger than a fox, and takes its name from its habit of residing entirely upon the open plains. Even when hunted with dogs, it will make circuit after circuit round the prairie, carefully avoiding the forest, or only dashing into it occasionally when hard pressed, and then returning to the plain. In size and appearance this animal is midway between the wolf and the fox, and in colour it resembles the latter, being a very light red. It preys upon poultry, rabbits, young pigs, calves, &c. The most friendly relations subsist between it and the common wolf, and they constantly hunt in packs together. Nothing is more common than to see a large black wolf in company with several prairie wolves.
The fox abounds in some places in great numbers, though, generally speaking, the animal is scarce. It will undoubtedly increase with the population.
The panther and wild cat are occasionally found in the forests. The open country is not well suited to their shy habits, and they are less frequently seen in the neighbouring states.
The beaver and otter were once numerous, but are now seldom seen, except on the frontiers.
There are no rats, except along the large rivers, where they have landed from the boats.
Wild horses are found ranging the prairies and forests in some parts of the state. They are small in size, of the Indian or Canadian breed, and very hardy. They are caught in pens, or with ropes having nooses attached to them, and broken to the saddle and harness. The French, who monopolize the business of catching and breaking these horses, make them an article of traffic; their common price is from 20 to 30 dollars. They are found chiefly in the lower end of the American Bottom, near the junction of the Kaskaskia and Mississippi rivers, called the Point. They are the offspring of the horses brought there by the first settlers, and which were suffered to run at large. The Indians of the West have many such horses, which are commonly called Indian ponies.
The gray and fox squirrels often do mischief in the corn-fields, and the hunting of them makes fine sport for the boys. It is a rule amongst the Kentucky riflemen to shoot a squirrel only through his eyes, and that from the tops of the highest trees of the forest. It is evidence of a bad marksman, for a hunter to hit one in any other part.
The gophar is a singular little animal, about the size of a squirrel. It burrows in the ground, is seldom seen, but its works make it known. It labours during the night, in digging subterranean passages in the rich soil of the prairies, and throws up hillocks of fresh earth, within a few feet distance from each other, and from 12 to 18 inches in height. They form these by removing the earth from their holes, by means of a pouch with which nature has furnished them on each side of their mouth; a dozen of these hillocks has been seen, the production of one night's labour, and apparently from a single gophar. The passages are formed in such a labyrinth, that it is difficult matter to find the animal by digging. They are very mischievous in corn and potatoe fields, and in gardens they prey upon all kinds of bulbous roots. Their bite is said to be poisonous.
The polecat is very destructive to poultry.
The raccoon and opossum are very numerous, and extremely troublesome to the farmer, as they not only attack his poultry, but plunder his corn-fields. They are hunted by boys, and large numbers of them destroyed. The skins of the raccoon pay well for the trouble of taking them, as the fur is in demand.
Rabbits are very abundant, and in some places extremely destructive to the young orchards and to garden vegetables. The fence around a nursery must also be so close as to shut out rabbits, and young apple-trees must be secured at the approach of winter, by tying straw or corn stalks around their bodies, for two or three feet in height, or the bark will be stripped off by the mischievous animals.
The ponds, lakes and rivers, during the spring and autumn, and during the migrating season of water-fowls, are literally covered with swans, pelicans, cranes, geese, brants, and ducks, of all the tribes and varieties. Many of these fowls rear their young on the islands and sand-bars of the large rivers. In the autumn, multitudes of them are killed for their quills, feathers, and flesh.
The prairie fowl is seen in great numbers on the prairies in the summer, and about the corn-fields in the winter. This is the grouse of the New-York market. They are easily taken in the winter, and when fat are excellent for the table.
Partridges (the quail of New-England) are taken with nets, in the winter, by hundreds in a day, and furnish no trifling item in the luxuries of the city market.
Bees are to be found in the trees of every forest. Many of the frontier people make it a prominent business, after the frost has killed the vegetation, to hunt them for the honey and wax, both of which find a ready market. Bees are profitable stock for the farmer, and are kept to a considerable extent.
Poisonous reptiles are not so common as in unsettled regions of the same latitude, where the country is generally timbered. Burning the prairies undoubtedly destroys multitudes of them.
The domestic animals are the same as elsewhere in the United States. The wild prairies, everywhere covered with grass, invite the raising of cattle. Many of the farmers possess large droves, and they may be multiplied to an almost indefinite extent.
The neat cattle are usually inferior in size to those of the old states. This is owing entirely to bad management: the cows are not penned up in pasture-fields, but suffered to run at large over the commons. Hence all the calves are preserved, without respect to quality, to entice cows homeward at evening. They are kept up through the day, and oftentimes without much pasture, and turned to the cows for a few minutes at night, and then permitted to graze through the night over the short and withered grass around the plantation. In autumn their food is very scanty, and during the winter they are permitted to pick up a precarious subsistence amongst fifty or a hundred head of cattle. With such management, is it surprising that the steers and cows are much inferior to those of the old states?
Common cows, if suffered to lose their milk in August, become sufficiently fat for table use by October. Farrow heifers and steers are good beef, and fit for the knife at any period after the middle of May. A cow in the spring is worth from twelve to twenty dollars. Some of the best quality will sell higher. Cows, in general, do not produce the same amount of milk, nor of as rich a quality as in older states. Something is to be attributed to the nature of the pastures, and the warmth of the climate, but more to causes already assigned. If ever a land was characterized justly as "flowing with milk and honey," it is Illinois and the adjacent states. From the springing of the grass till September, butter is made in great profusion. It sells at that season in market for about twenty cents, and in the interior of the state for twelve cents per pound. With proper care, it can be preserved with tolerable sweetness for winter's use. Late in autumn and early in the winter, sometimes butter is not plenty. The feed becomes dry, the cows range further off, and do not come up readily for milking, and dry up. A very little trouble would enable a farmer to keep three or four good cows in fresh milk at the season most needed.
Cheese is made by many families, especially in the counties bordering on the Illinois river. Good cheese sells for eight and sometimes ten cents, and finds a ready market. The most important arrangement for the dairy business in Illinois, and especially for cheese-making, is to persuade a few thousand families, from the dairy regions of New England, to emigrate, and continue their industrious habits after settling here.
The beef of this state is the finest in the world. It bears the best inspection of any in the New-Orleans market. By the first of June, and often by the middle of May, young cattle on the prairies are fit for market. They do not yield large quantities of tallow, but the fat is well proportioned throughout the carcase, and the meat tender and delicious. Nothing is more common than for an Illinois farmer to go among his stock, select, shoot down, and dress a fine beef, whenever fresh meat is needed. This is often divided out amongst the neighbors, who, in turn, kill and share likewise. It is common at camp and other large meetings, to kill a beef and three or four hogs for the subsistence of friends from a distance. Limits can hardly be placed upon the amount of beef cattle that Illinois is capable of producing. A farmer calls himself poor, with a hundred head of horned cattle around him.
But little has been done to improve the breed of horses in Illinois: common riding or working horses average about fifteen hands in height. When the same attention is bestowed here upon raising the finest kind of horses that is given to the subject by the Pennsylvania farmer, that noble animal will be raised in the greatest perfection. Horses are much more used here than in the eastern states, and many a farmer keeps half-a-dozen or more. Much of the travelling throughout the western country, both by men and women, is performed on horseback; and a large proportion of the land-carriage is by means of large wagons, with from four to six stout horses for a team.
Breeding mares are profitable stock for every farmer to keep, as their annual expense in keeping is but trifling, their labour is always needed, and their colts, when grown, find a ready market. Some farmers keep a stallion, and eight or ten brood mares. Horses are more subject to diseases in this country than in the old states, which is thought to be occasioned by bad management, rather than by the climate. A good farm-horse can be purchased for fifty dollars. A great proportion of the ploughing in Illinois is performed by horse labour.
Mules are raised in Missouri, and are also brought from the Mexican dominions into Illinois. They are hardy animals, grow to a good size, and are used by some both for labour and riding.
Sheep generally thrive well in this country, especially in the older settlements, where the grass has become short, and they are less molested by wolves. But few are kept. The people from the south are more accustomed to cotton for clothing, than to wool, which sells for fifty cents per pound. Little is said or done to improve the breed of sheep, or introduce the Merino or Saxony breed.
Swine may be called a staple in the provision of Illinois. Thousands of hogs are raised without any expense, except a few breeders to start with, and a little attention to hunting them on the range, and keeping them tame. This kind of pork is by no means equal to that raised and fatten on corn, and in a domestic way. It is soft, oily, and will not bear inspection at New-Orleans. It usually sells for three dollars per hundred. Pork that is made in a domestic way, and fatted on corn, will sell for from four to five dollars, according to size, quality, and the time when it is delivered. With a pasture of clover or blue grass, a well-fitted corn-crib, a dairy, and slop-barrel, and the usual care that a New-Englander bestows on his pigs, pork may be raised from the sow, fatted, and killed, and weigh from two hundred to two hundred and fifty, within twelve months, and this method of raising pork would be profitable.
Few families in the west and south put up their pork in salt pickle. Their method is to salt it sufficiently to prepare it for smoking, and then make bacon of hams, shoulders, and middlings or broadsides. The price of bacon, taking the hog round, is about ten or twelve cents. Good hams command twelve cents in the market. Stock hogs, weighing from sixty to one hundred pounds, alive, usually sell for from two dollars to two dollars and fifty cents per head. Families consume much more meat in Illinois, in proportion to numbers, than in the old states.
Poultry are raised in great profusion, and large numbers of fowls taken to market. It is no uncommon thing for some farmers' wives to raise three or four hundred fowls, besides geese, ducks, and turkeys, in a season. Young fowls, butter, and eggs, are the three articles usually mustered from every farm for the market. Eggs, when plenty, as at the close of winter and spring, usually sell for ten and twelve cents per dozen.
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