PRAIRIE (Fr. meadow) was the name given, by the early French explorers of the northern portion of the Mississippi valley, North America, to the vast fertile plains which extend from western Ohio and southern Michigan, across the states of Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and Dakota territory, includ ing the southern portions of Wisconsin and Minnesota. These great plains or savan nas are sometimes flat, but oftener rolling like the long swells of the ocean, and rise in gradual elevation from 800 to 1500 ft. above the level of the sea. They arc drained by numerous rivers; branches of the Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri, or empty ing into lake Michigan, whose channels seem to have been worn to the depth of 50 to 300 ft., with vertical walls or bluffs of limestone, sandstone, displaying in some places banks of clay, sand, and loam, 200 ft. in thickness. Beneath the prairies n.w. of the Ohio are extensive coal-fields, with deposits of iron, lead, etc. The soil is finely com minuted, rich, and extremely fertile, varying in thickness from 1 or 2 ft., to the bottom lands on the borders of the rivers, which are of great depth and inexhaustible fertility.
These plains are destitute of trees. except in isolated groves. a few rocky ridges. and the borders of streams. They are covered with fine grasses, and brilliant flowers of various species of the helianthoid composite. Water is found from 15 to 30 ft. below the surface. These great prairies, covering an area of about 400,000 sq.m., formerly fed vast herds of buffalo, deer, wild turkeys, prairie-hens or grouse, prairie-dog, squirrel, etc. In the autumn, the dried grasses, tired by the Indians, converted them into seas of flame. The lack of timber is attributed by some to 'the fineness of the soil. Remains of ancient mounds, fortifications, and cities show that they were, at some distant period, inhabited by a more civilized race than the Indians found by European discoverers. These great rolling •plains, or natural pastures, with only the labor of plowing, produce large crops of wheat and maize, and, penetrated by navigable rivers, and crossed by cheaply built railways, they form one of the most easily cultivated and prolific regions of the world, and are capable of sustaining immense populations.