Letter/IconN THE long run physical environment, such as soil, climate, and topography, shape the man and the society; but human character and social propensities, formed in older states and in other and older countries, have been transplanted into this new state, and while, according to a marked American instinct or characteristic, the people have been quick to adapt themselves to a somewhat important change of conditions, yet the time during which they have been subject to them has been too short appreciably to change their character or social aspect. If they had only the richest and most easily tillable soil in the world to conjure with, this might tend to breed mental and esthetic dullness; but they have been saved from this influence by the rarefied and bracing atmosphere, by the sunshine in which they are almost perennially bathed, as well as by certain adverse climatic conditions which challenge their vigilance and ingenuity. While the people of the Plains have missed the comforting companionship of brooks and hills and groves, whose friendly presence sustained the courage and inspired the esthetic sense of the settlers of the Mississippi valley, yet these Plains have a beauteous aspect of their own which often inspired the limiting pen of Irving and engaged Cooper's romantic eye. The illimitable expanse of landscape, the unrivaled beauty of morning and evening lights and shades, the marvelous clearness of the air, however monotonous, do not fail to excite the esthetic sensibility and widen the spiritual vision of the people.
   But when Irving undertook to estimate the material value, and to picture the future usefulness and development of this vast prairie empire, he looked with blindfold eyes and painted a dismal black:
   It is a land where no man permanently abides. . . Such is the nature of this immense wilderness of the far West, which apparently defies cultivation and the habitation of civilized life. Some portions of it along the rivers may partially be subdued by agriculture; others may form vast pastoral tracts like those of the East; but it is to be feared that a great part of it will form a lawless interval between the abodes of civilized man, like the waters of the ocean and the deserts of Arabia; and like them be subject to the depredations of the marauders.1
   And then, as this polished poet-historian continues to contemplate the lugubrious prospect, his style, in general the refinement of grace, dignity, and self-control, breaks into an almost grotesque delineation of the fate of a land which was destined within the space of a man's life to become "the home, the portion fair" of nearly ten million prosperous and happy people. And Cooper, the leading romanticist of that day, observes in The Prairie that the plains are "in fact a vast country incapable of sustaining a dense population in the absence of the two great necessities" -- wood and water. This great story-teller affected a knowledge of geology, but it was not pro-

   1Astoria, pp. 258-259.



found enough to penetrate to the inexhaustible sheet of subterranean water which, fed by the eternal snows of the Rocky mountains, is coextensive with the great slope between these mountains and the Missouri river and within easy reach of the modern and post-Irving-Cooper windmills which now dot these plains in such profusion that they would set a whole legion of Don Quixotes in simultaneous frenzy. Nor could the lively imagination of


Morrill Geological Expedition, 1900.

Ten miles east of Valentine, Neb., fed by Sand Hill springs and leaping over a wall of Arikaree sand rock. First plunge, eighty-five feet; second, fifteen feet. These are the loftiest falls in the state.

these great romancers foresee the practicability of the substitution for the lacking wood, of the great deposits of coal in the adjacent mountains and underlying a large part of these vast plains, because railroad transportation was beyond Irving's ken or fancy and Cooper's practicable view. As to this, Cooper skeptically remarks: "It is a singular comment on the times that plans for railroads across these vast plains are in active discussion, and that men have ceased to regard these projects as chimerical."
   And Long, in the story of his expedition of 1819, gives the following hopeless characterization to the Nebraska plains, which, in their easterly portion at least, for prolific production of live stock and of the forage which sustains them, including the staple cereals, and for ease of cultivation and lasting fertility, excel any other region of so large an area in the world:
   The rapidity of the current (of the Platte river) and the great width of the bed of the river preclude the possibility of any extensive inundation of the surrounding country. The bottom lands of the river rise by an imperceptible ascent, on each side, extending laterally to a distance of from two to ten miles, where they are terminated by low ranges of gravelly hills, running parallel to the general direction of the river. Beyond these the surface is an undulating plain, having an elevation of from fifty to one hundred feet, and presenting the aspect of hopeless and irreclaimable sterility.
   Logically Long's conclusion as to the hopeless sterility of the plains of the Platte should be an inference from the misstatement of fact by Marbois, made as late as 1830, in his history of Louisiana (p. 350): "On the two sides of the river 'Plate' are vast plains of sand from an hundred to an hundred and fifty leagues in extent where no indication of living creatures is to be found." The ignorance of Marbois is not as inexcusable or remarkable as the lame logic of Irving and Long, for the abundance of wild animals with which they perceived the plains were stocked, would have suggested to them that the region would be peculiarly adapted, under cutlivation (sic), for the sustenance of domestic animal life.
   When some phenomenon which may have




Photograph, Morrill Geological Expedition, 1895.

Bad Lands of Brule formation (Oligocene) two and a half miles west of the Burlington & Missouri railway station at Adelia, Sioux county, Nebraska, looking northwest.


Photograph, Morrill Geological Expedition, 1895.


North face of Pine Ridge at Warbonnet canyon looking north across the Hat creek basin toward the Black Hills outlined in the distance. The pine covered cliffs are Arikaree formation. The white Patch in the distance is the Brule clay of the Little Bad Lands, Sioux county, Nebraska. Beyond the Brule clay the Pierre formation begins.



been an eternal fact or is a manifestation of an eternal law of nature, but which has been hidden from our imperfect understanding, is, from the changing point of view or in the natural course of events, suddenly revealed, we call it Providence, And so this vast hidden reservoir of water and the man-wrought miracle of the steam railroad, which opened the way for the waiting millions, were the Providence of these Plains. Because Irving and Cooper and their compeers failed mentally or physically to penetrate to the one and to divine the coming kingdom of the other, they consigned the whole region to the doom of eternal desolation. God indeed moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform. This "wilderness which apparently defies cultivation and the habitation of civilized life" is the granary as well as the shambles of the world. Of two typical states -- Iowa and Nebraska -- which cut through the heart of the Plains, the first is the imperial agricultural commonwealth of the richest farming country of the world, and in the production of the great food staples the other lags but little behind.
   During incalculable numbers of centuries there was a like providential preparation on the surface of these plains of the richest soil in the world to cover so wide an area.

    GEOLOGY.2 From a geological standpoint Nebraska doubtless stands as the most distinctly agricultural state in the Union, yet it is not without other resources of economic importance, Its rocks are undisturbed sediment, and its geology is apt to be regarded as simple in the extreme and its topography as that of an undiversified plain; but investigation shows the state to be diversified and interesting and even startling in the boldness of certain physiographic regions. The altitude varies from a general level of about a thousand feet along the Missouri river to that of over five thousand feet some four hundred miles further west in the state. At this distance the prairie lands of the eastern portion, which are sometimes level but often rolling, begin to merge into the tables and lofty buttes of the western edge of the state. The climatic conditions vary somewhat with the distance westward, and are comparable with those of Ohio and Indiana. In general the atmosphere is dry and considered quite as favorable to health and longevity as the more famous air of Colorado.
   The rainfall of the eastern portion is about twenty-three inches and the evaporation four feet, while the precipitation of the western portion may fall as low as twelve to fifteen inches with an evaporation of six feet. The geology of Nebraska is seemingly complex, chiefly because the strata are so deeply buried that they are not exposed for study. First, the strata sag or dip to the west, not appearing again until the flanks of the Rocky mountains are reached, thus forming a deeply buried trough. Second, the beds are covered by loose surface materials which are very distinct and generally recognized as bluff deposit or loess, glacial drift, and sand-hills. All of the southeastern half of the state is covered more or less deeply by loess, which is a sandy loam of glacial origin of a light yellow color and of inexhaustible fertility. The northwestern half is covered largely by sand-hills resulting from the action of wind in transporting and piling up the disintegrated sand of Tertiary rock. The loess being as thick in many places as one hundred feet, and the sand-hills as thick as three hundred, it is plain that Nebraska rocks are concealed, and that they are not to be found except where streams have trenched the superficial beds.
   Along the streams of southeastern Nebraska the limestones are found, which are well known because they are extensively quarried. These belong to the Coal Measure or the Carboniferous age, the oldest rock in the state. Though rich in beds of limestone and productive beds of valuable clays and shales, our Carboniferous rock is poor in coal, the best seam being scarcely more than eighteen inches thick and encased in tenacious shale. Exposures of Carboniferous rock are common along the streams in Richardson, Pawnee, Nemaha, Johnson, Otoe, Cass, Sarpy, Douglas,

   2For this description of the geology of Nebraska we are indebted to Erwin Hinckley Barbour, Ph.D., professor of geology in the University of Nebraska; state geologist and curator of the state museum.-ED.



and Washington counties, and in scattered patches as far west as Lancaster and Gage counties. From an economic standpoint this is the most important geologic formation in the state, since it yields the limestone for lime, rubble, riprap, building, smelting, sugar refining, and flint for ballast, as well as enormous amounts of excellent clay for brick, tile, and terra cotta.
   The Carboniferous is lost west of Lincoln by dipping under beds of the Cretaceous age and by sinking several thousand feet before again coming to the surface in the mountains. If the state could be divested of its great mantle of soil and sand, Cretaceous clays and shales would predominate. As it is, they occur in widely scattered patches along the courses of streams.
   Though enormously thick and broad in extent, our Cretaceous rock is known by small, local patches. The oldest Cretaceous layer, the Dakota, being the water-bearing bed, is the best known as well as the most important. It consists largely of rusty sands and beds of clay which may be traced from Jefferson county northeast to Dakota county and beyond. Economically, this formation of sparsely exposed rock is of the greatest importance to the Plains, yielding excellent water, including


Morrill Geological Expedition, 1900.

Southwest of Valentine, Cherry county, Nebraska, in the Arikaree formation. Plunge, about twelve feet; width, about fifty feet.

artesian water, building stone (which, though ocherous and soft, is often put to use), and beds of superior clay, which furnish brick of all desired colors and kinds. It also furnishes a large amount of sand for building purposes, and, from a layer near its base, the best gravel in the state. Overlying the Dakota is the Benton Cretaceous, consisting essentially of a white layer of chalk rock overlying a layer of black shale. It may be traced along the Republican river from Harlan county to Hebron, Endicott, Milford, Niobrara, and westward along the Niobrara river to Boyd county. Economically this layer may become important. The chalk rock is quarried for lime and building purposes. Being very soft when "green," it is commonly cut into proper shape with ordinary hand-saws, and, after drying and hardening, is laid up with mortar in the usual way. In this layer is found also an undeveloped resource of great promise, in as much as the chalk rock, when properly tempered with the shale, gives an hydraulic cement of excellent quality. Next above the Benton comes the Pierre formation, ordinarily spoken of as Pierre shale because it consists essentially of shale throughout its extent. In western Nebraska it attains a thickness of several thousand feet. Though broad in extent, it is sel-



dom seen save where exposed by the cutting of some river; and though four thousand to five thousand feet thick, it presents nothing of commercial importance, being destitute of water, gas, oil, coal, building stone, or anything else of economic value. At least two thirds of the state consists of Pierre shale, though covered from general view.
   Next above the Pierre come the Tertiary beds, which may be divided into a lower clayey layer eight hundred to one thousand feet thick known as the Bad Lands (Oligocene), and an upper layer five hundred to six hundred feet thick known as the butte sands (Arikaree, Miocene). Like the Pierre, the Bad Lands are without natural resources of the least economic value, save the valuable fossils, in digging and collecting which a considerable number of men are employed. It is necessary constantly to remind the general public that Bad Lands is a misnomer. They are not bad in the sense of sterility; but to drive over they are bad beyond question, being cut and washed into deep gullies and lofty pinnacles. There is a magnificence and grandeur about the Bad Lands which must attract tourists when suitable accommodations and comforts shall be provided. These beds, consisting essentially of marly clays of fresh-water origin, are peculiarly rich in vertebrate fossils and are the classic collecting grounds of America. Where the wash is not excessive the Bad Lands come readily under cultivation, being fertile and productive; but seen as they are by the average tourist, destitute of water and living things, trenched, bare, and baked, they seem to typify desolation and waste. Continuous with, and rising high above the Bad Lands are the butte sands of Arikaree formation.

Picture button

Morrill Geological Expedition, 1895.


Two miles west of Adelia on the Burlington & Missouri River railroad.

   All of western Nebraska has a general altitude approaching five thousand feet. and here the magnificent buttes and tables add diversity and beauty to the landscape. Here also thousands of pine trees flourish and are the chief natural resource of this formation. Being sandy, it is productive of pure water, and its grazing lands are of the best. It lends itself to profitable and easy cultivation, especially where irrigated. In many places in southwestern Nebraska a still younger formation rests upon what is known as the "magnesia" or mortar beds (Ogalalla). All of the remaining beds are still more recent in time -- and con-

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