Oh, the joy we had making plans for this trip!!! It all began with the desire to have a warm and homey visit with family in the Prairie States. The plan was to visit relatives in Nebraska and Montana; view those houses, towns, cities, and places of importance to our forebears throughout the Great Plains; and then return to some national parks and historic places that we have loved and admired and visited over the decades. We flew into Denver and then set off by car for Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and back to Colorado.
But wait, what exactly are Prairies? What is the Great Plains?
A prairie is an extensive, level or slightly undulating, mostly treeless tract of land characterized by a highly fertile soil and originally covered with coarse grasses. A prairie is like pampas or savanna or steppe. So says dictionary.com!!!
The Great Plains refers to a broad expanse of flatland in North America; west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains, that consists mostly of prairies. This is the land of ranches and farms.
And why is this important?
Actually, there are many reasons. But let’s start with the land bridge, Beringia, that formed across the Bering Strait between North Asia and the Americas sometime around 45,000BC and existed to around 12,000BC allowing animals, followed by humans, to migrate into the interior of North America. By 11,500BC the Paleo-Indian culture was established throughout the Americas!!! These early settlers were hunter-gatherers but as the glacial ice continued to melt, they relied less on hunting/gathering and started to fish and harvest plant foods. Regionalization became common as the Paleo-Indians settled on the Great Plains in Tribes of Blackfoot, Crow, Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, and others. By 800AD, corn was a harvested crop and trade flourished across the Great Plains. Then, the Age of Discovery sent explorers from Europe out into the world and over to the Americas. In the 1500s, horses were introduced to the area by adventurers and explorers such as Francisco Vazquez de Coronado and Hernando de Soto. By the 1700s the Plains Indians culture was mature and buffalo hunting on horseback was the norm. Fur trappers made their way to the Great Plains and in 1803 the United States acquired the Louisiana Purchase. In August of 1803 to September 1806, Lewis & Clark set out to explore the Northwest. Settlers migrated from the East to the Great Plains. The railroad came. Ranches prospered and the cattle roamed the open ranges. And in 1862 the U.S. passed the Homestead Acts. Game changer!!!
What happened next???
Our forebears homesteaded on the Great Plains!!! The point of Homesteading was to encourage agricultural development of the Great Plains and house a growing population. A settler could claim up to 160 acres of land, provided he lived on it for a period of 5 years and cultivated it. Oh yeah, lots of folks claimed such homesteads. They built homes, planted crops, created communities, and raised families. But then an extended drought, inappropriate cultivation, and the financial crisis of the Great Depression forced many farms into ruin. Known at the Dust Bowl, this period of American history saw many Great Plains farmers pack up their families and move away. But that is another story for another time.
For now, let us show you what we saw as we traversed the Great Plains!!!
This was a great trip!!!
We learned a lot about our families and gained a new respect and admiration for them.
Thank you letting us share the adventure with you!!!