Excerpts from Iowa District of the Wisconsin Territory By Albert M. Lea

Exploring the Prairie

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THE GENERAL APPEARANCE of the country is one of great beauty. It may be represented as one grand rolling prairie, along one side of which flows the mightiest river in the world, and through which numerous navigable streams pursue their devious way towards the ocean. In every part of this whole District, beautiful rivers and creeks are to be found, whose transparent waters are perpetually renewed by the springs from which they flow. Many of these streams are connected with lakes; and hence their supply of water is remarkably uniform throughout the seasons. All these rivers, creeks, and lakes are skirted by woods, often several miles in width, affording shelter from intense cold or heat to the animals that may there take refuge from the contiguous prairies. These woods also afford the timber necessary for building houses, fences, and boats. Though probably three-fourths of the District is without trees, yet so conveniently and admirably are the water and the woods distributed throughout, that nature appears to have made an effort to arrange them in the most desirable manner possible.

The Winter is generally dry, cold, and bracing; the waters are all bridged with ice; the snow is frequently deep enough to afford good sleighing, and it is considered the best season for traveling, by those who are able to bear exposure to a cold atmosphere. The winter usually commences about the 1st of December, and ends early in March; though in the southern part of the District, we often have fine pleasant weather in mid-winter. There is never so much snow, even as far north as Prairie du Chien, as to interrupt the traveling; and as every prairie is a high road, we scarcely feel the obclusion of the icy season.

The Spring is any thing but what we have been taught to expect from that usually delightful season. It is a succession of rains, blows, and chills: and if the sun happen to shine, it does so gloomily, as if boding a coming storm. The whole country becomes saturated with water; the low lands are overflowed; the streams are swollen: and locomotion is rendered difficult except by water. But as this means of traveling is greatly facilitated and extended by the floods, we even contrive to pass comfortably enough the six weeks of rain, and fog, and wind that changes the freezing winter into the warm and genial summer. We have no gradual gliding from cold to warm; it is snowy - then stormy- then balmy and delightful. There is great difficulty in planting and sowing the grains of the Spring; and sometimes even after the seeds are in the earth, the rains are too great to admit of proper culture. But with experience in the climate, the agriculturists will learn to adapt themselves of crops worthy of the soil they have to cultivate.

The Summer is generally of sufficient warmth to produce rapid vegetation; and yet it is seldom oppressively hot. I have, in fact, ridden through grass six feet high, in the month of July, when, for weeks together, I scarcely experienced the sensation of excessive heat. During this season, the appearance of the country is gay and beautiful, being clothed in grass, foliage, and flowers.

Of all the seasons in the year, the Autumn is the most delightful. The heat of the summer is over by the middle of August; and from that time till December, we have almost one continuous succession of bright clear delightful sunny days. Nothing can exceed the beauty of Summer and Autumn in this country, where, on one hand, we have the expansive prairie strewed with flowers still growing; and on the other, the forests which skirt it, presenting all the varieties of colour incident to the fading foliage of a thousand different trees.

From: "Notes on the Wisconsin Territory; Particularly with Reference to the Iowa District, or the Black Hawk Purchase," by Albert M. Lea. Published in The Book that Gave Iowa its Name (A Reprint), Published at Iowa City Iowa in 1935 by the State Historical Society of Iowa. (Reproduced by permission.)

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