The Plains States: World's Breadbasket

May 23, 1980

Report Outline
The People and their Land
Region's Ecology and Economy
Today's Mixed Political Outlook
Special Focus

The People and their Land

The pioneers who first settled the western plains confronted conditions quite unlike those their ancestors had contended with in the East. When the first colonists came to North America from England and central Europe, they found a wilderness which, if not inviting, was in some respects familiar. Aside from New England winters, the climate was temperate. The native tribes cultivated the soil, and wildlife was abundant. The lush forests, which the settlers cleared as they pushed methodically inland, provided building material and fuel, and the stockade afforded protection against Indian attack.

But when the settlers began to cross the Mississippi River in the early 19th century, they found vast, flat grasslands, resistant to the plow, barren to the eye, and above all else exposed to marauding Indian horsemen and ferocious weather. On the prairie, the pioneers confronted the raw elements at their rawest: earth, wind and sky, seldom relieved by hill, meadow or tree.

Many of the traits that historians have come to think of as characteristic of the American pioneer appeared at their starkest in the settlers of this section of the country. The people who fashioned hard sod into productive farms had to be resourceful, hard-working, tolerant of loneliness but willing to help in times of adversity. They had to be stubborn in their dedication to the practical needs of the day. And as for romance, that was provided by the struggle with the Indian, the soil and the weather. In marriage and family life, there was little room for soft-heartedness or flights of fancy.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Agriculture and the Environment
Farm Produce and Commodities
Land Resources and Property Rights