Custer George Armstrong - My life of the plains


Author : Custer George Armstrong
Title : My life of the plains
Year : 1874

Link download : Custer_George_Armstrong_-_My_life_of_the_plains.zip

AS a fitting introduction to some of the personal incidents and sketches which I shall hereafter present to the readers of the Galaxy, a brief description of the country in which these events transpired may not be deemed inappropriate. It is but a few years ago that every schoolboy, supposed to possess the rudiments of a knowledge of the geography of the United States, could give the boundaries and a general description of the Great American Desert. As to the boundary the knowledge seemed to be quite explicit: on the north bounded by the Upper Missouri, on the east by the Lower Missouri and Mississippi, on the south by Texas, and on the west by the Rocky Mountains. The boundaries on the northwest and south remained undisturbed, while on the east civilization, propelled and directed by Yankee enterprise, adopted the motto: Westward the star of empire takes its way. Countless throngs of emigrants crossed the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, selecting homes in the rich and fertile territories lying beyond. Each year this tide of emigration, strengthened and increased by the flow from foreign shores, advanced toward the setting sun, slowly but surely narrowing the preconceived limits of the Great American Desert, and correspondingly enlarging the limits of civilization. At last the geographical myth was dispelled. It was gradually discerned that the Great American Desert did not exist, that it had no abiding place, but that within its supposed limits and instead of what had been regarded as a sterile and unfruitful tract of land incapable of sustaining either man or beast there existed the fairest and richest portion of the national domain, blessed with a climate pure, bracing, and healthful, while its undeveloped soil rivalled if it did not surpass the most productive portions of the eastern, middle, or southern states. Discarding the name Great American Desert, this immense tract of country, with its eastern boundary moved back by civilization to a distance of nearly three hundred miles west of the Missouri River, is now known as the Plains, and by this more appropriate title it shall be called when reference to it is necessary. The Indian tribes which have caused the Government most anxiety and whose depredations have been most serious against our frontier settlements and prominent lines of travel across the Plains, infest that portion of the Plains bounded on the north by the valley of the Platte River and its tributaries, on the east by a line running north and south between the 97th and 98th meridians, on the south by the valley of the Arkansas River, and west by the Rocky Mountains-although by treaty stipulations almost every tribe with which the Government has recently been at war is particularly debarred from entering or occupying any portion of this tract of country. Of the many persons whom I have met on the Plains as transient visitors from the States or from Europe, there are few who have not expressed surprise that their original ideas concerning the appearance and characteristics of the country were so far from correct, or that the Plains in imagination, as described in books, tourists' letters, or reports of isolated scientific parties, differed so widely from the Plains as they actually exist and appear to the eye. Travellers, writers of fiction, and journalists have spoken and written a great deal concerning this immense territory, so unlike in all its qualities and characteristics to the settled and cultivated portion of the United States; but to a person familiar with the country the conclusion is forced, upon reading these published descriptions, either that the writers never visited but a limited portion of the country they aim to describe, or, as is most commonly the case at the present day, that the journey was made in a stage-coach or Pullman car, half of the distance travelled in the night time, and but occasional glimpses taken during the day. A journey by rail across the Plains is at best but ill adapted to a thorough or satisfactory examination of the general character of the country, for the reason that in selecting the route for railroads the valley of some stream is, if practicable, usually chosen to contain the road-bed. The valley being considerably lower than the adjacent country, the view of the tourist is correspondingly limited. Moreover, the vastness and varied character of this immense tract could not fairly be determined or judged of by a flying trip across one portion of it. One would scarcely expect an accurate opinion to be formed of the swamps of Florida from a railroad journey from New York to Niagara. After indulging in criticisms on the written descriptions of the Plains, I might reasonably be expected to enter into what I conceive a correct description, but I forbear. Beyond a general outline embracing some of the peculiarities of this slightly known portion of our country, the limits and character of these sketches of western life will not permit me to go. ...

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