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Hibbard, Benjamin Horace, 1870-1955 / The history of agriculture in Dane County, Wisconsin

Chapter I: Introductory,   pp. [77]-85 PDF (2.0 MB)

Page 84

without doubt find these oak openings and the prairies alternately
advancing and receding over the same spots. This is shown con-
clusivelv in the changes that have taken place within the past half
century: in places where the scattered woods have succumbed to
ax and fire the prairie grass has come in and flourished; while,-
and this more frequently,-the oaks have sprung up like magic
and made fine groves where not a tree was to be seen until the
settlers stopped the annual course of the fires.9 A great many
fields are to be seen which have the appearance of having been
wrested from veritable forests, if one is to judge by the trees
around the border. Usually this ground was broken by the
powerful ox teams hitched to plows of immense proportions, and
only occasionally was it necessary to turn aside for some oak, or
to use grub-hoe and ax to remove roots too large or too hard to
be cut by the share.
  For the most part the prairies were featureless; the principal
grasses were short and thin on the ground, but the sod was tough.
This grass was of great value to the settler, providing pasture
for his teams and cows in summer and hay in winter. In quality
it compares favorably with cultivated grasses but when mowed
for a number of years. decreases very much in yield, and if
pastured, soon disappears altogether. To one familiar with the
broad prairies" of the \Vest these little patches of grass seem
hardly worthy' to be called by the same name, and there is in
fact a wide difference between them, other than in size. Here
the prairie soil is shallow, the grass rather scant, it being almost
altogether on high dry land with the intervening depressions ap-
propriated by woods, and any considerable area of wet land being
invariably a swamp or marsh. In the West, for example in north-
'From the home of Mr. Amos Chase of Dane, there are now extensive stretches
of woods to be seen; these groves are largely of black oak and are of fair
size, often measuring from eight to eighteen Inches In diameter, yet Mr.
tells me that when he moved to his farm In 1853 he could count every tree
In sight without any difficulty. A few miles from here Mr. Bobert Steele,
in about 1849 or '50, plowed through a half mile or more of hazel brush and
grubs (oak roots grown to great size, but with almost no tops because of
peated burning) for the purpose of making a permanent wagon road. The road
Is still in use, and of the usual width, yet the oaks, in places, almost
over the traveler's head,
"Prairie In a prairie region Is used to denote wild, uncultivated land,
not merely land which at one time was covered with grass instead of woods,
as It Is made to mean In Wisconsin.

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