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The Great Plains and Lower Rio Grande Region 102

hills, cattle, plain, feet, fig and ranch

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THE GREAT PLAINS AND LOWER RIO GRANDE REGION 102. The ranch and the plain.—What regions bound the Great Plains? (Fig. 91.) In this vast region one may often see only wide plains without a house or a crop or a tree. Here and there a wire fence runs in a straight line to such a great distance that one can not see the end of it. A man on horseback comes riding along beside the fence. He wears a broad-brimmed hat and leggings, and on his hands are gauntlets. Tied to his saddle are a coil of wire, a hammer, a bag of staples, and a pair of pinchers. He is a ranchman, riding around his fences to see if they need to be mended. His ranch covers four square miles, but it has only about 160 cattle on it. His house is down in a little valley protected from the wind. A well has been dug and a wind mill pumps water. Every day the cattle come to drink, and then go back again to pick their living on the distant pasture. The ranch is sometimes divided into three fields: two large ones used for graz ing, and a smaller field in the valley where grass is allowed to grow. This cut in summer for hay, and used to feed the cattle when snow covers the range.

Why does it take so large a farm to sup port one family? (Fig. 158.) Why is the plain treeless from Canada to Mexico, except near the streams and in the Black Hills? (Sec.

109.) The grassgrows in bunches, rather than in a thick turf as it does in the Corn Belt and on the Ohio Valley hills, and is commonly called "bunch grass." 103. Indians and buffaloes.—White men have not been long in this region. In 1869 came the first transcontinental railroad, from Omaha to San Francisco, built over wide plains and high mountains by the aid of the United States Government. (Fig. 309.) At that time the Great Plains were almost entire ly without white settlers. Roving bands of Indians, living in buffalo-skin tents, camped here and there, hunting deer, antelope, and buffalo, millions of which made their home on these pastures. Like birds, the buffaloes migrated south in autumn, and north in spring.

No one knows for how many thousands and thousands of years these animals had traveled up and down the plains before the white man, the great destroyer of nature, made a sudden change in things. At first vast herds

of buffalo sometimes stopped the trains on the new railroad; but the re peating rifle had just been invented, and in a short time the hunter, the cow boy, and the farmer had slaughtered so many buf faloes that they were almost extinct. There still remains one small, wild herd, numbering about 300, which ran away into the forested country around Great Slave Lake in Canada, beyond the country of the white man, and away from the repeating rifle. The only other buffaloes left are those protected by men and kept like cattle in zoological gar dens, private parks, and government pre serves. There is a large preserve in Canada, and one in Yellowstone Park, Wyoming. The buffaloes are now increasing, and may some day become again the beef cattle of the plains.

101. Surface and streams.—Much of the surface of the plains is so level that it seems absolutely flat, yet careful surveys show that it slopes up toward the Rocky Mountains a few feet in every mile. The eastern edge of the plain is about 2000 feet in height. At the base of the Rockies it is from 5000 to 6000 feet high. At places in the plain, layers of nearly level stone come to the surface, making long lines of hills, or breaks like huge steps, with the plain several hun dred feet higher to the west of the step than it is to the east (Fig. 123).

In parts of the Dakotas and Montana are thousands of square miles, areas larger than New Jersey or Maryland, where the land consists of rolling hills with clay soil. In western Nebraska is another large area with hills of sand called the "Sand Hills." Good grass grows there on the sandy soil. Near the corner of Ne braska and South Dakota is another kind of country called the "Bad Lands," the soil of which is hard clay. Much of it is en tirely bare, because most of the falling water runs off quickly before plants can get it.

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