Monday, April 27, 2009

Grasses of the Nebraska Prairies, 1903

Grasslands of Brown County, Nebraska

The Charlie Youngman Ranch, Brown County, Nebraska,
about 1900. Photographer: Solomon Butcher

In a century-old book digitized by Google, I found an interesting fact about Brown County, Nebraska.

At the 1903 state fair, Brown county exhibited over 160 varieties of native grasses, which was twenty-five more than were shown by any other county. For the most part these were forage grasses, and they indicate that Brown county was intended by nature to be the home of cattle and horses. It is not uncommon for them to go through the winter entirely upon the range, though this is not to be depended upon. Probably, the largest single interest in the county is its cattle, and for several years past they have brought to the county a large income.

Source: Resources of Nebraska (page 25), by the Nebraska Bureau of Labor and Industrial Statistics, published in 1904.

It should be noted that buffalo, elk, deer, antelope and many other forms of wildlife made good use of Brown County's grasslands long before they were "intended by nature" as a home for cattle and horses.

Science, a 1901 publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, states that 170 different species of grass had been identified in the Nebraska Sandhills. What a wealth of grass! Brown County's exhibit of over 160 different grasses may have represented a variety of Sandhills grasses along with other native grass species. The terrain of Brown County is varied.

Brown County is located in north central Nebraska, near the South Dakota state line. It borders on the east with Rock County, where I grew up. My father grew up at Moon Lake, in southwestern Brown County.

2.4 MB high definition version of the Solomon Butcher photo at the top of this post
Photos from the O'Hare Ranch in western Brown County

These photo tours have some nice shots of the Sandhills prairie, though no images from Brown County:
Photo tour of the Sandhills and northwestern Nebraska
Another photo tour of the Sandhills

The primeval prairies of Brown County are described in a little book published in 1937, Days of Yore, Early History of Brown County, Nebraska, compiled by Lillian L. Jones. The following quote is from the section about "Early History".

Let us try to imagine what this portion of Nebraska was like before the coming of the white settlers. A great expanse of prairie, slightly rolling, spread out on every side as far as the eye could reach, most of it covered with a rich growth of grass. Some varieties of this grass were tall with stiff, straight stems, some of low growth with delicate, curling blades. Here and there were running streams which were hidden in canyons or ravines where trees and shrubs were found, but until the edge of the canyon was reached the entire country appeared to be "a sea of grass," which stretched ever on and on toward the setting sun.

In the section titled "Ainsworth, Reminiscent", Jones mentions another first prize won at the State Fair for a native grass collection. The winning collection of "nearly one hundred varieties of native grasses found in this county" was made by C. W. Potter, W. H. Peck and J. E. Stauffer.

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