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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 2

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Iowa As It Is in 1856

N. Howe Parker

Chicago and Philadelphia, 1856

The text is in the public domain.

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Chapter 4

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 p22  Chapter III

The Soil

It is well known to the scientific farmer, that the land best suited to wheat and most small grains, and in which the earthy, saline, and organic matters are distributed in the proportion best adapted to impart fertility and durability, is generally a soil based on the calcareous and magnesio-calcareous rocks. This condition particularly characterizes the country bordering on the Mississippi and its tributaries, between the 41st and 45th degrees of latitude, which has an  p23 average width of 20 to 30 miles west of the line of that river. In this State, it includes the Dubuque District, the country watered by the Des Moines, and the two Iowas. In Owen's Geological Report, we find the following:

"The prairie country, based on rocks belonging to the Devonian and carboniferous systems, extending up the valley of the Red Cedar, Iowa, and Des Moines, as high as latitude 42°31′, presents a body of arable land which, taken as a whole, for richness and organic elements, for amount of saline matter, and due admixture of earthy silicates, affords a combination that belongs only to the most fertile upland plains. Throughout this district the general levelness of the surface, interrupted only by gentle swells and moderate undulations, offers facilities for the introduction of all those aids which machinery is daily adding to diminish the labor of cultivation, and render easy and expeditious the collection of an abundant harvest."

Again, in speaking of the physical and agricultural character of the State, bordering on the Mississippi, near the foot of the lower rapids, Owen says:

"The carboniferous rocks of Iowa occupy a region of country which, taken as a whole, is one of the most fertile in the United States. No country can present to the farmer greater facilities for subduing, in a short time, wild land. Its native prairies are fields, almost ready made to his hands. Its rich, black soil, scarcely less productive than that of the Cedar Valley, returns him reward for his labor a hundredfold. The only drawback to its productiveness is that, on some of the higher grounds, the soil, partaking  p24 of the mixed character common to drift-soils, is occasionally gravelly, and that, here and there, when the upper members of the coal-measures prevail, it becomes somewhat too siliceous.

"The future farms of Iowa, large, level, and unbroken by stump or other obstruction, will afford an excellent field for the introduction of mowing-machines, and other improved implements calculated to save the labor of the husbandman, and which, in new countries, reclaimed from the forest, can scarcely be employed until the first generation shall have passed away.

"After passing latitude 42° 30′, and approaching the southern confines of the Couteau des Prairies, a desolate, barren, knobby country commences, where the higher grounds are covered with gravel and erratic masses, supporting a scanty vegetation, while the valleys are either wet and marshy, or filled with numerous pools, ponds, and lakes, the borders of which are inhabited by flocks of sandhill cranes, which fill the air with their doleful cries, and where the eye may often wander in every direction towards the horizon without discovering even a faint outline of distant timber.

"This description of country prevails for about three-quarters of a degree of latitude, and between three and four degrees of longitude; embracing the watershed, where the northern branches of the Red Cedar and Iowa, and the eastern branches of the Des Moines, take their rise."

"The drift-soils west of the Mississippi, except near the northern boundary of Iowa, are much superior to the drift- p25 soils of the interior of the Chippewa Land District, in Wisconsin; the materials that compose them being not only more comminuted, but more generally mixed with argillaceous, saline, and calcareous ingredients, and less encumbered by erratic blocks."

More full and minute descriptions of the soil in various localities in the State may be found in the series of articles upon "the Counties and Towns of Iowa."a

Thayer's Note:

a I.e., Chapters 16 thru 20 of this book.

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Page updated: 3 Sep 11