Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Tall Tale of Ozark Prairie Grass

    Over the years I have read excerpt from pioneers from the Ozarks talk about the grasses in Ozarks' prairies grew so thick & tall that a man could get lost in itsthicket. I have also given lectures stating the same thing. There were a few times that questions would arise concerning the subject, and I could see small clouds of disbelief furrowing through their mind.

The Voice of Experience 
  Henry Rowe Schoolcraft was known as the "Lewis And Clark" of The Ozarks. His trek from Missouri into Arkansas was in the latter part of 1818 and last into 1819.  Schoolcraft published his journal from this journey called Journal of a Tour Into the Interior of Missouri and Arkansaw: From Potosi, Or Mine À Burton, in Missouri Territory, in a South-west Direction, Toward the Rocky Mountains; Performed in the Years 1818 and 1819.  

     This was the that was the first exploration of the Ozarks  to have a written account of an and tallgrass prairies of northwest Arkansas.  He elaborated in great detail of the Villages & dwellings of Delaware, Osage, and Osage Indians and he readily explained the conditions of the early white settlers in the rugged Ozarks. At that time of his exploration, many portions of of Southern Missouri & Northern Arkansas did not have the expansive forest of oak, hickory, and pine that we have today. many paces were known as barrens and prairies. Mr. Schoolcraft the following notes in his journal:

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, 1855 
Monday Nov. 9th, 1818
   Our route this day has been over barrens and prairies, with occasional forests of oak, the soil poor, and covered with grass, with very little under-brush. 

Tuesday Nov. 10th, 1818
   One of the greatest inconveniences we experience in  travelling in this region, arises from the difficulty of finding, at the proper time, a place of encampment affording wood and water, both of which are indispensable...This is a difficulty which attends us this evening, having been compelled to stop in an open prairie, where wood is very scarce, and the water bad-general course of traveling south-weather pleasant, the rain having ceased shortly after day-light. Lands poor; trees, oaks; game observed, deer and elk.

Saturday Nov. 14th, 1818.
   In calling this a high- land prairie, I am to be understood as meaning a tract of high-land generally level, and with very little wood or shrubbery. It is a level woodless barren covered with wild grass, and resembling the natural meadows or prairies of the western country in appearance……..The inducements for hunting are, however, great; and large quantities of bear, deer, elk, and beaver skins, might be collected. 

Wednesday, Nov. 25th, 1818.
   The quality of the lands passed over to-day has, in general, been sterile, with little timber. A few strips of good bottom lands have intervened. 

Friday Jan. 1st, 1819 .
   On the west commences a prairie of unexplored extent, stretching off towards the Osage river, and covered with tall rank grass.

Monday Jan. 4th, 1819.
    The prairies, which commence at the distance of a mile west of this river, are the most extensive, rich, and beautiful, of any which I have ever seen west of the Mississippi river. They are covered by a coarse wild grass, which attains so great a height that it completely hides a man on horseback in riding through it. The deer and elk abound in this quarter, and the buffaloe is occasionally seen in droves upon the prairies, and in the open high-land woods.
End of Journal Excerpts

Remnants of an Ozark Prairie 
   Since I live down a county road in Baxter County and only a 1/4 of a mile down from the old Tucker Prairie, I have been keeping an eye pealed on a very special cluster of grass along the side of my road. While coming home from work a few weeks ago, my heart sank when I discovered the Baxter County Road & Bridge Department was mowing the ditch. I quickly pressed on the accelerator of my car and hastened to my cherished clump of weeds. To my joy & surprise they only took one swipe along the ditch. The next evening I had a chance to talk with someone at the county office about their future plans of mowing more of the ditch-line. At first, I think she was probably thinking that she was getting ready to hear a complaint, but that could be further from the truth. She told me that due to financial constraints, one swipe of mowing the ditches was about all the county could do.  Hallelujah for harsh winters that drains budgets.
Baker's Prairie in Harrison, Arkansas
Baker's Prairie in Harrison, Arkansas

Big Blue Stem grass, also known as Turkey's Foot (Andropogon gerardii)

I am stand here in my Israeli Defense Force shirt next to my cherished clumps of grass.
I'm standing in a clump of Big Blue Stem grass, also known as Turkey's Foot (Andropogon gerardii),
and Johnson grass  (Sorghum halepense).
Unfortunately, this Johnson grass is chocking out the Big Blue Stem, and Johnson grass is 
actually not native to the Ozarks, but it sure grows like it does.
Invasive Johnson grass - 10 feet, 5 inches.
Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Journal of a Tour into the Interior of Missouri and Arkansas: From Potosi, or Mine a Burton, in Missouri Territory, in a South-west Direction, toward the Rocky Mountains: Performed in the Years 1818 and 1819. London: Printed for Sir R. Phillips, 1821. Print.

1 comment:

Steve Wiegenstein said...

I highly recommend the edition of Schoolcraft that was edited by Milton D. Rafferty and published by the University of Arkansas Press about 20 years ago. I think it's out of print, but used bookstores have it now and then. Rafferty did a great job of editing and annotating the journals.