The Great Plains

Transformation Wrought by Civilized Man

North Dakota Homesteader about 1909

North Dakota Homesteader about 1909

This is how the Great Plains appeared when first viewed by the eyes of white explorers. To those that came later, viewing the prairie from the windows of express trains, the original desolation of the broad expanse could scarcely be conceived.

By then, farmhouses, growing cities, and prosperous towns dotted the miles, railways annihilating the distance, while foreign trees, transplanted and cultivated with care, beautified the changed landscape. The labor and skill of civilized man, the gradual increase of rainfall, the development of irrigation, all combined to work a modern miracle, redeeming the arid waste. The desert was transformed into a garden.

By that time, only occasional evidence could be seen of what once was — a sterile, savage-haunted desolation, in midst of which, adventurous souls toiled and died, or struggled and achieved.

The American Frontier has ever proven a developer of character, and a scene of a constantly recurring contest against the perils of the wilderness and Indians. But, the Plains produced a peculiar type of pioneer, — brother, indeed, to him of the Eastern woods and mountains, yet changed and marked by the environment amid which he wrought his destiny and lived his life. The story of his struggle and triumph is unsurpassed in the annals of white endeavor.

Written by Randall Parrish. Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated May 2018.

About the Author: This article was written by Randall Parrish as a chapter of his book, The Great Plains: The Romance of Western American Exploration, Warfare, and Settlement, 1527-1870; published by A.C. McClurg & Co. in Chicago, 1907. Parrish also wrote several other books including When Wilderness Was King, My Lady of the North, Historic Illinois, and others. The text as it appears here; however, is not verbatim as it has been heavily edited for clarity and ease of the modern reader.

Also See:

The Great American Desert

Plains Indians

Westward Expansion

Historical Accounts of American History

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