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The Great Plains (french: Grandes Plaines), sometimes simply "the Plains", is a broad expanse of
flatland ''Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions'' is a satire, satirical novella by the English schoolmaster Edwin Abbott Abbott, first published in 1884 by Seeley, Service, Seeley & Co. of London. Written pseudonymously by "A Square", the book used th ...

flatland
in
North America North America is a continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven geographical regions are commonly regarded as continen ...

North America
. It is located west of the
Mississippi River The Mississippi River is the second-longest river and chief river A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, sea, lake or another river. In some cases, a river flows into the ground and b ...

Mississippi River
and east of the
Rocky Mountains The Rocky Mountains, also known as the Rockies, are a major mountain range A mountain range is a series of mountains ranged in a line and connected by high ground. A mountain system or mountain belt is a group of mountain ranges with similari ...

Rocky Mountains
, much of it covered in
prairie Wheatfield intersection in the Southern Saskatchewan prairies, Canada. Prairies are ecosystem An ecosystem is a community (ecology), community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment, interact ...
,
steppe File:Steppe of western Kazakhstan in the early spring.jpg, Steppe in Kazakhstan In physical geography, a steppe () is an ecoregion characterized by grassland plains without trees apart from those near rivers and lakes. Steppe biomes may ...

steppe
and
grassland Grasslands are areas where the vegetation Vegetation is an assemblage of species and the they provide. It is a general term, without specific reference to particular , life forms, structure, extent, or any other specific or geographic ...

grassland
. It is the southern and main part of the
Interior Plains 300px, The Interior Plains are highlighted in red. The Interior Plains are a vast physiographic region Physiographic regions of the world are a means of defining Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object ...
, which also include the
tallgrass prairie The tallgrass prairie is an ecosystem An ecosystem is a community (ecology), community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment, interacting as a system. These Biotic component, biotic and abiotic ...
between the
Great Lakes The Great Lakes also called the Great Lakes of North America or the Laurentian Great Lakes, is a series of large interconnected freshwater lake A lake is an area filled with water, localized in a basin, surrounded by land Land ...

Great Lakes
and
Appalachian Plateau The Appalachian Plateau is a series of rugged dissected plateau A dissected plateau is a plateau In geology Geology (from the Ancient Greek γῆ, ''gē'' ("earth") and -λoγία, ''-logia'', ("study of", "discourse")) is an Earth scie ...
, and the Taiga Plains and Boreal Plains ecozones in
Northern Canada Northern Canada, colloquially the North or the Territories, is the vast northernmost region of Canada variously defined by geography and politics. Politically, the term refers to the three territories of Canada The provinces and territories of ...

Northern Canada
. The term Western Plains is used to describe the
ecoregion An ecoregion (ecological region) or ecozone (ecological zone) is an and geographically defined area that is smaller than a , which in turn is smaller than a . Ecoregions cover relatively large areas of land or water, and contain characteristic ...
of the Great Plains, or alternatively the western portion of the Great Plains. The Great Plains lies across both
Central United States The Central United States is sometimes conceived as between the Eastern Eastern may refer to: Transportation *China Eastern Airlines, a current Chinese airline based in Shanghai *Eastern Air, former name of Zambia Skyways *Eastern Air Line ...
and
Western Canada Western Canada, also referred to as the Western Provinces and more commonly known as the West, is a region In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth description") is a field of science devoted to the study ...
, encompassing: * The entirety of the
U.S. state In the , a state is a , of which there are currently 50. Bound together in a , each state holds al jurisdiction over a separate and defined geographic territory where it shares its with the . Due to this shared sovereignty, are both of t ...
s of
Kansas Kansas () is a U.S. state, state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern United States. Its Capital city, capital is Topeka and its largest city is Wichita, Kansas, Wichita. Kansas is a landlocked state bordered by Nebraska to the north; ...

Kansas
,
Nebraska Nebraska () is a in the region of the . It is bordered by to the north; to the east and to the southeast, both across the ; to the south; to the southwest; and to the west. It is the only triply landlocked U.S. state. Indigenous pe ...

Nebraska
,
North Dakota North Dakota () is a U.S. state In the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contiguous United States, primarily located in North America. It c ...
and
South Dakota South Dakota () (Sioux The Sioux or Oceti Sakowin (; Dakota Dakota may refer to: * Dakota people, a sub-tribe of the Sioux ** Dakota language, their language From this origin, Dakota may also refer to: Places United States * Dakot ...

South Dakota
; * Parts of the U.S. states of
Colorado Colorado (, other variants) is a state in the Mountain states, Mountain West subregion of the Western United States. It encompasses most of the Southern Rocky Mountains, as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the weste ...

Colorado
,
Iowa Iowa () is a U.S. state, state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern region of the United States, bordered by the Mississippi River to the east and the Missouri River and Big Sioux River to the west. It is bordered by six states: Wiscon ...

Iowa
,
Minnesota Minnesota () is a U.S. state, state in the Upper Midwest, upper Midwestern United States. It is the List of U.S. states and territories by area, 12th largest U.S. state in area and the List of U.S. states and territories by population, 22nd m ...

Minnesota
,
Missouri Missouri is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper in ...

Missouri
,
Montana Montana () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper ...

Montana
,
New Mexico ) , population_demonym = New Mexican ( es, Neomexicano, Neomejicano, Nuevo Mexicano) , seat = Santa Fe , LargestCity = Albuquerque , LargestMetro = Greater Albuquerque , OfficialLang = None , Languages = English English usually refer ...

New Mexico
,
Oklahoma Oklahoma () is a U.S. state, state in the South Central United States, South Central region of the United States, bordered by the state of Texas on the south and west, Kansas on the north, Missouri on the northeast, Arkansas on the east, New ...
,
Texas Texas (, ; Spanish language, Spanish: ''Texas'', ''Tejas'') is a state in the South Central United States, South Central region of the United States. At 268,596 square miles (695,662 km2), and with more than 29.1 million residents in 2020, ...

Texas
and
Wyoming Wyoming () is a U.S. state, state in the Mountain states, Mountain West subregion of the Western United States. The List of U.S. states and territories by area, 10th largest state by area, it is also the List of U.S. states and territories b ...
; * The southern portions of the
Canadian provinces The provinces and territories of Canada are sub-national divisions within the geographical areas of Canada under the jurisdiction of the Constitution of Canada, Canadian Constitution. In the 1867 Canadian Confederation, three provinces of Britis ...
of
Alberta ("Strong and free") , image_map = Alberta in Canada 2.svg , Label_map = yes , coordinates = , official_lang = English , capital = Edmonton , largest_city = Calg ...

Alberta
,
Saskatchewan ("From Many Peoples Strength") , image_map = Saskatchewan in Canada 2.svg , Label_map = yes , coordinates = , official_lang = English language, English , capital = Regina, S ...
and
Manitoba Manitoba ( ) is a Provinces and territories of Canada, province of Canada at the Centre of Canada, longitudinal centre of the country. It is Canada's Population of Canada by province and territory, fifth-most populous province, with a population o ...

Manitoba
. The term "Great Plains" usually refers specifically to the United States portion of the ecozone while the Canadian portion is known as the
Canadian Prairies The Canadian Prairies (usually referred to as simply the Prairies in Canada) is a region in Western Canada Western Canada, also referred to as the Western Provinces and more commonly known as the West, is a region In geography Geogra ...
. In Canada it covers southeastern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan and a narrow band of southwestern Manitoba, these three provinces collectively known as the "Prairie Provinces". The entire region is known for supporting extensive
cattle Cattle, taurine cattle, Eurasian cattle, or European cattle (''Bos taurus'' or ''Bos primigenius taurus'') are large domestication, domesticated Cloven hoof, cloven-hooved herbivores. They are a prominent modern member of the subfamily Bovinae ...

cattle
-
ranch A ranch (from es, rancho) is an area of landscape, land, including various structures, given primarily to ranching, the practice of raising grazing livestock such as cattle and sheep. It is a subtype of a farm. These terms are most often appl ...
ing and
dryland farming Dryland farming in the Granada region of Spain Dryland farming and dry farming encompass specific agricultural Agriculture is the practice of cultivating plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentar ...
. Grasslands are among the least protected biomes. Humans have converted much of the prairies for agricultural purposes or to create pastures.


Usage

The term "Great Plains" is used in the United States to describe a sub-section of the even more vast
Interior Plains 300px, The Interior Plains are highlighted in red. The Interior Plains are a vast physiographic region Physiographic regions of the world are a means of defining Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object ...
physiographic division, which covers much of the interior of North America. It also has currency as a region of
human geography Human geography or anthropogeography is the branch of that is associated and deals with humans and their relationships with communities, cultures, economies, and interactions with the environment by studying their relations with and across loca ...
, referring to the
Plains Indians Plains Indians or Indigenous peoples of the Great Plains and Canadian Prairies are the Native American Native Americans may refer to: Ethnic groups * Indigenous peoples of the Americas, the pre-Columbian peoples of North and South America ...
or the
Plains states The midwestern United States, often referred to simply as the Midwest, is one of four census regions of the United States Census Bureau The United States Census Bureau (USCB), officially the Bureau of the Census, is a principal agency of ...
. In Canada the term is rarely used;
Natural Resources Canada The Department of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan; french: Ministère des Ressources naturelles Canada; RNCan), is the department of the federal Government of Canada The Government of Canada (french: gouvernement du Canada) is the body responsi ...
, the government department responsible for official mapping, treats the Interior Plains as one unit consisting of several related plateaux and plains. There is no region referred to as the "Great Plains" in the ''
Atlas of Canada The Atlas of Canada (french: L'Atlas du Canada) is an online atlas Blaeu's world map, originally prepared by Joan Blaeu for his ''Atlas Maior">Joan_Blaeu.html" ;"title="world map, originally prepared by Joan Blaeu">world map, originally prep ...
''. In terms of human geography, the term ''prairie'' is more commonly used in Canada, and the region is known as the
Canadian Prairies The Canadian Prairies (usually referred to as simply the Prairies in Canada) is a region in Western Canada Western Canada, also referred to as the Western Provinces and more commonly known as the West, is a region In geography Geogra ...
, Prairie Provinces or simply "the Prairies". The ''
North American Environmental Atlas The ''North American Environmental Atlas'' is an interactive mapping tool created through a partnership of government agencies in Canada Canada is a country in the northern part of North America. Its Provinces and territories of Canada, ten ...
'', produced by the
Commission for Environmental Cooperation The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC; es, Comisión para la Cooperación Ambiental; french: Commission de coopération environnementale) was established by Canada, Mexico, and the United States to implement the North American Agreeme ...
, a NAFTA agency composed of the geographical agencies of the Mexican, American, and Canadian governments, uses the "Great Plains" as an
ecoregion An ecoregion (ecological region) or ecozone (ecological zone) is an and geographically defined area that is smaller than a , which in turn is smaller than a . Ecoregions cover relatively large areas of land or water, and contain characteristic ...
synonymous with predominant prairies and grasslands rather than as physiographic region defined by topography. The Great Plains ecoregion includes five sub-regions: Temperate Prairies, West-Central Semi-Arid Prairies, South-Central Semi-Arid Prairies, Texas Louisiana Coastal Plains, and Tamaulipas-Texas Semi-Arid Plain, which overlap or expand upon other Great Plains designations.


Extent

The region is about east to west and north to south. Much of the region was home to
American bison The American bison or simply bison (''Bison bison''), also commonly known as the American buffalo or simply buffalo, is an American species of bison that once roamed North America in vast herds. Its historical range, by 9000 BC, is described as t ...

American bison
herds until they were hunted to near extinction during the mid/late-19th century. It has an area of approximately . Current thinking regarding the geographic boundaries of the Great Plains is shown by thi
map
at the Center for Great Plains Studies,
University of Nebraska–Lincoln A university ( la, universitas, 'a whole') is an institution Institutions, according to Samuel P. Huntington, are "stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior". Institutions can refer to mechanisms which govern the behavior Behavio ...
. This definition, however, is primarily ecological, not physiographic. The Boreal Plains of Western Canada are physiographically the same, but differentiated by their tundra and forest (rather than grassland) appearance. The term "Great Plains", for the region west of about the 96th and east of the
Rocky Mountains The Rocky Mountains, also known as the Rockies, are a major mountain range A mountain range is a series of mountains ranged in a line and connected by high ground. A mountain system or mountain belt is a group of mountain ranges with similari ...

Rocky Mountains
, was not generally used before the early 20th century. Nevin Fenneman's 1916 study ''Physiographic Subdivision of the United States'' brought the term Great Plains into more widespread usage. Before that the region was almost invariably called the High Plains, in contrast to the lower Prairie Plains of the Midwestern states. Today the term " High Plains" is used for a subregion of the Great Plains. The term still remains little-used in Canada compared to the more common, "prairie".


Geography

The Great Plains are the westernmost portion of the vast
North America North America is a continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven geographical regions are commonly regarded as continen ...

North America
n
Interior Plains 300px, The Interior Plains are highlighted in red. The Interior Plains are a vast physiographic region Physiographic regions of the world are a means of defining Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object ...
, which extend east to the
Appalachian Plateau The Appalachian Plateau is a series of rugged dissected plateau A dissected plateau is a plateau In geology Geology (from the Ancient Greek γῆ, ''gē'' ("earth") and -λoγία, ''-logia'', ("study of", "discourse")) is an Earth scie ...
. The
United States Geological Survey The United States Geological Survey, abbreviated USGS and formerly simply known as the Geological Survey, is a scientific government agency, agency of the Federal government of the United States, United States government. The scientists of the ...
divides the Great Plains in the United States into ten physiographic subdivisions: * Missouri Coteau or Missouri Plateau (which also extends into
Canada Canada is a country in the northern part of North America North America is a continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, ...

Canada
), glaciated – east central South Dakota, northern and eastern North Dakota and northeastern Montana; * Coteau du Missouri, unglaciated – western South Dakota, northeastern
Wyoming Wyoming () is a U.S. state, state in the Mountain states, Mountain West subregion of the Western United States. The List of U.S. states and territories by area, 10th largest state by area, it is also the List of U.S. states and territories b ...
, southwestern North Dakota and southeastern Montana; *
Black Hills The Black Hills ( lkt, Ȟe Sápa; chy, Moʼȯhta-voʼhonáaeva; hid, awaxaawi shiibisha) is a small and isolated mountain range A mountain range is a series of mountains ranged in a line and connected by high ground. A mountain system or ...

Black Hills
– western South Dakota; * High Plains – southeastern Wyoming, southwestern South Dakota, western Nebraska (including the Sand Hills), eastern Colorado, western Kansas, western Oklahoma,
eastern New Mexico Eastern New Mexico is a physiographic subregion within the U.S. state In the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contiguous United States, primari ...
, and northwestern Texas (including the
Llano Estacado The Llano Estacado (), commonly known as the Staked Plains, is a region in the Southwestern United States that encompasses parts of eastern New Mexico and northwestern Texas. One of the largest mesas or tablelands on the North American continent, t ...
and
Texas Panhandle The Texas Panhandle is a region of the U.S. state In the , a state is a , of which there are currently 50. Bound together in a , each state holds al jurisdiction over a separate and defined geographic territory where it shares its with ...
); * Plains Border – central Kansas and northern Oklahoma (including the
Flint Flint is a sedimentary Sedimentary rocks are types of rock (geology), rock that are formed by the accumulation or deposition of mineral or organic matter, organic particles at Earth#Surface, Earth's surface, followed by cementation (geology ...
,
Red Red is the color at the long wavelength end of the visible spectrum of light, next to orange and opposite violet. It has a dominant wavelength Image:dominant wavelength.png, frame, Dominant/complementary wavelength example on the CIE color ...
and
Smoky Hills The Smoky Hills are an upland region of hills in the central Great Plains of North America. They are located in the Midwestern United States, encompassing north-central Kansas and a small portion of south-central Nebraska. The hills are a dissect ...
); *
Colorado Piedmont The Colorado Piedmont is an area along the base of the foothills of the Front Range The Front Range is a mountain range of the Southern Rocky Mountains The Rocky Mountains, also known as the Rockies, are a major mountain range in western Nor ...
– eastern Colorado; * Raton section – northeastern New Mexico; * – eastern New Mexico; *
Edwards Plateau The Edwards Plateau is a geographic region at the crossroads of Central, South South is one of the cardinal directions or compass points. South is the opposite of north and is perpendicular to the east and west. Etymology The word ''south'' ...

Edwards Plateau
– south central Texas; and *
Central Texas Central Texas is a region in the U.S. state In the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contiguous United States, primarily located in North ...
section – central Texas. Further to this can be added Canadian physiographic sub-regions such as the * Manitoba Plain *
Manitoba Escarpment The Manitoba Escarpment, or the Western Manitoba Uplands, are a range of hills along the Saskatchewan ("Strength from Many Peoples") , image_map = Saskatchewan in Canada 2.svg , Label_map = yes , coordinates ...

Manitoba Escarpment
* Saskatchewan Plain * Missouri Coteau (shared) * Alberta Plain * Cypress Hills *
Rocky Mountain Foothills The Rocky Mountain Foothills are an upland area flanking the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, extending south from the Liard River into Alberta. Bordering the Interior Plains system, they are part of the Rocky Mountain System or Eastern System ...
all of which fall into the traditional "Canadian prairies". As well, the
Atlas of Canada The Atlas of Canada (french: L'Atlas du Canada) is an online atlas Blaeu's world map, originally prepared by Joan Blaeu for his ''Atlas Maior">Joan_Blaeu.html" ;"title="world map, originally prepared by Joan Blaeu">world map, originally prep ...
includes the as the extensive Boreal Plains and Taiga Plains regions, and their sub-regions: * Anderson Plain (NWT) * Horton Plain (NWT) * Peel Plain (NWT) * Peel Plateau (NWT) * Coleville Hills (NWT) * Great Bear Plain (NWT) * Great Slave Plain (NWT) * Alberta Plateau (Alberta), which is actually a grouping several smaller, non-contiguous hills and plateaux ( Birch Mountains, Caribou Mountains,
Swan Hills Swan Hills is a town in Alberta, Canada. Part of Northern Alberta, it is located in the eponymous Swan Hills, north of Whitecourt and northwest of Fort Assiniboine. The town is at the junction of Alberta Highway 32, Highway 32 and Alberta Highway ...
, etc.) * Fort Nelson Lowlands (BC and Alberta) * Peace River Lowlands (BC and Alberta) The Great Plains consist of a broad stretch of country underlain by nearly horizontal
strata In geology and related fields, a stratum (plural: strata) is a layer of sedimentary rock or soil, or igneous rock that was formed at the Earth's surface, with internally consistent characteristics that distinguish it from other layers. The "str ...
extends westward from the
97th meridian west The 97th meridian west of Prime Meridian, Greenwich is a line of longitude that extends from the North Pole across the Arctic Ocean, North America, the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Ocean, the Southern Ocean, and Antarctica to the South Pole. The 9 ...
to the base of the
Rocky Mountains The Rocky Mountains, also known as the Rockies, are a major mountain range A mountain range is a series of mountains ranged in a line and connected by high ground. A mountain system or mountain belt is a group of mountain ranges with similari ...

Rocky Mountains
, a distance of from . It extends northward from the
Mexican Mexican may refer to: Mexico and its culture *Being related to, from, or connected to the country of Mexico, in North America ** Being related to the State of Mexico, one of the 32 federal entities of Mexico ** Culture of Mexico *** Mexican cuisi ...

Mexican
boundary far into Canada. Although the
altitude Altitude or height (also sometimes known as depth) is a distance measurement, usually in the vertical or "up" direction, between a reference and a point or object. The exact definition and reference datum varies according to the context (e.g. ...

altitude
of the plains increases gradually from 600 or on the east to 4,000–5,000 or near the mountains, the local relief is generally small. The
semi-arid climate A semi-arid climate, semi-desert climate, or steppe climate is the climate Climate is the long-term average of weather, typically averaged over a period of 30 years. More rigorously, it is the mean and variability of meteorological variables ove ...
excludes tree growth and opens far-reaching views. The plains are by no means a simple unit. They are of diverse structure and of various stages of
erosion In earth science Earth science or geoscience includes all fields of natural science Natural science is a branch of science Science (from the Latin word ''scientia'', meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that Scientific ...

erosion
al development. They are occasionally interrupted by
butte __NOTOC__ In geomorphology incised into shale at the foot of the North Caineville Plateau, Utah, within the pass carved by the Fremont River and known as the Blue Gate. GK Gilbert studied the landscapes of this area in great detail, forming ...

butte
s and
escarpment An escarpment is a steep slope In mathematics, the slope or gradient of a line Line, lines, The Line, or LINE may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Films * ''Lines'' (film), a 2016 Greek film * ''The Line'' (2017 film) * ''The ...

escarpment
s. They are frequently broken by valleys. Yet on the whole, a broadly extended surface of moderate relief so often prevails that the name, Great Plains, for the region as a whole is well-deserved. The western boundary of the plains is usually well-defined by the abrupt ascent of the mountains. The eastern boundary of the plains (in the United States) is more
climatic Climate is the long-term average of weather, typically averaged over a period of 30 years. More rigorously, it is the mean and variability of meteorological variables over a time spanning from months to millions of years. Some of the Meteorology, ...

climatic
than
topographic Topography is the study of the forms and features of land surfaces. The topography of an area could refer to the surface forms and features themselves, or a description (especially their depiction in maps). Topography is a field of geoscience ...
. The line of of annual
rainfall Rain is liquid water in the form of droplet Rain water flux from a canopy. Among the forces that govern drop formation: cohesion, Van der Waals force">Cohesion_(chemistry).html" ;"title="surface tension, Cohesion (chemistry)">cohesion, ...

rainfall
trends a little east of northward near the 97th meridian. If a boundary must be drawn where nature presents only a gradual transition, this rainfall line may be taken to divide the drier plains from the moister prairies. However, in Canada the eastern boundary of the plains is well defined by the presence of the
Canadian Shield The Canadian Shield (french: Bouclier canadien ), also called the Laurentian Plateau, is a large area of exposed Precambrian The Precambrian (or Pre-Cambrian, sometimes abbreviated pꞒ, or Cryptozoic) is the earliest part of History of the Ea ...

Canadian Shield
to the northeast. The plains (within the United States) may be described in northern, intermediate, central and southern sections, in relation to certain peculiar features. In Canada, no such division is used: the climatic and vegetation regions are more impactful on human settlement than mere topography, and therefore the region is split into (from north to south), the taiga plains, boreal plains,
aspen parkland Aspen parkland refers to a very large area of transitional biome between prairie Wheatfield intersection in the Southern Saskatchewan prairies, Canada. Prairies are ecosystem An ecosystem is a community (ecology), community of living ...
, and regions.


Northern Great Plains

The northern section of the Great Plains, north of latitude 44°, includes eastern Montana, north-eastern
Wyoming Wyoming () is a U.S. state, state in the Mountain states, Mountain West subregion of the Western United States. The List of U.S. states and territories by area, 10th largest state by area, it is also the List of U.S. states and territories b ...
, most of
North North is one of the four compass points The points of the compass are the vectors by which planet A planet is an astronomical body orbiting a star or Stellar evolution#Stellar remnants, stellar remnant that is massive enough to be Hydro ...
and
South Dakota South Dakota () (Sioux The Sioux or Oceti Sakowin (; Dakota Dakota may refer to: * Dakota people, a sub-tribe of the Sioux ** Dakota language, their language From this origin, Dakota may also refer to: Places United States * Dakot ...

South Dakota
, and the Canadian Prairies. This is one of the best examples of its kind. The strata here are
Cretaceous The Cretaceous ( ) is a geological period A geological period is one of the several subdivisions of geologic time enabling cross-referencing of rocks and geologic events from place to place. These periods form elements of a hierarchy of division ...

Cretaceous
or early
Tertiary Tertiary ( ) is a widely used but obsolete term for the geologic period The geologic time scale (GTS) is a system of chronological dating that classifies Geology, geological strata (stratigraphy) in time. It is used by geologists, paleontology ...

Tertiary
, lying nearly horizontal. The surface is shown to be a plain of degradation by a gradual ascent here and there to the crest of a ragged escarpment, the escarpment-remnant of a resistant stratum. There are also the occasional
lava Lava is magma Magma () is the molten or semi-molten natural material from which all s are formed. Magma is found beneath the surface of the , and evidence of has also been discovered on other and some s. Besides molten rock, magma may al ...

lava
-capped
mesa A mesa is an isolated, flat-topped elevation, ridge or hill, which is bounded from all sides by steep escarpments and stands distinctly above a surrounding plain. Mesas characteristically consist of flat-lying soft sedimentary rocks capped by ...

mesa
s and
dike Dyke or dike may refer to: General uses * Dyke (slang), a slang word meaning "lesbian" * Dike (geology), a subvertical sheet-like intrusion of magma or sediment * Dike (mythology), the Greek goddess of moral justice * Dikes, diagonal pliers, diag ...
formed ridges, surmounting the general level by or more and manifestly demonstrating the widespread
erosion In earth science Earth science or geoscience includes all fields of natural science Natural science is a branch of science Science (from the Latin word ''scientia'', meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that Scientific ...

erosion
of the surrounding plains. All these reliefs are more plentiful towards the mountains in central Montana. The peneplain is no longer in the cycle of erosion that witnessed its production. It appears to have suffered a regional uplift or increase in elevation, for the upper
Missouri River The Missouri River is the longest river A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, sea, lake or another river. In some cases, a river flows into the ground and becomes dry at the end of its ...
and its branches no longer flow on the surface of the plain, but in well graded, maturely opened valleys, several hundred feet below the general level. A significant exception to the rule of mature valleys occurs, however, in the case of the Missouri, the largest river, which is broken by several falls on hard sandstones about east of the mountains. This peculiar feature is explained as the result of displacement of the river from a better graded preglacial valley by the
Pleistocene The Pleistocene ( , often referred to as the ''Ice Age'') is the geological Epoch (geology), epoch that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the earth’s most recent period of repeated glaciations. Before a change finally ...
ice sheet In glaciology Lateral moraine on a glacier joining the Gorner Glacier, Zermatt">Gorner_Glacier.html" ;"title="moraine on a glacier joining the Gorner Glacier">moraine on a glacier joining the Gorner Glacier, Zermatt, Swiss Alps. The moraine is ...

ice sheet
. Here, the ice sheet overspread the plains from the moderately elevated Canadian highlands far on the north-east, instead of from the much higher mountains nearby on the west. The present altitude of the plains near the mountain base is . The northern plains are interrupted by several small mountain areas. The Black Hills, chiefly in western South Dakota, are the largest group. They rise like a large island from the sea, occupying an oval area of about north-south by east-west. At
Black Elk Peak Black Elk Peak is the highest natural point in South Dakota South Dakota () is a U.S. state in the Upper Midwest region of the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or Ame ...
, they reach an altitude of and have an effective relief over the plains of 2000 or This mountain mass is of flat-arched, dome-like structure, now well dissected by radiating consequent streams. The weaker uppermost strata have been eroded down to the level of the plains where their upturned edges are evenly truncated. The next following harder strata have been sufficiently eroded to disclose the core of underlying
igneous Igneous rock (derived from the Latin word ''ignis'' meaning fire), or magmatic rock, is one of the three main The three types of rocks, rock types, the others being Sedimentary rock, sedimentary and metamorphic rock, metamorphic. Igneous rock i ...
and
metamorphic Metamorphic rocks arise from the transformation of existing rock Rock most often refers to: * Rock (geology) A rock is any naturally occurring solid mass or aggregate of minerals or mineraloid matter. It is categorized by the mineral ...
crystalline rocks in about half of the domed area.


Intermediate Great Plains

In the intermediate section of the plains, between latitudes 44° and 42°, including southern South Dakota and northern
Nebraska Nebraska () is a in the region of the . It is bordered by to the north; to the east and to the southeast, both across the ; to the south; to the southwest; and to the west. It is the only triply landlocked U.S. state. Indigenous pe ...

Nebraska
, the erosion of certain large districts is peculiarly elaborate. Known as the
Badlands Badlands are a type of dry terrain where softer sedimentary rocks and clay-rich soils have been extensively Erosion, eroded by wind and water."Badlands" in ''Chambers's Encyclopædia''. London: George Newnes Ltd, George Newnes, 1961, Vol. 2, p. ...

Badlands
, it is a minutely dissected form with a relief of a few hundred feet. This is due to several causes: * the dry climate, which prevents the growth of a grassy turf * the fine texture of the Tertiary strata in the badland districts * every little rill, at times of rain, carves its own little valley.


Central Great Plains

The central section of the Great Plains, between latitudes 42° and 36°, occupying eastern
Colorado Colorado (, other variants) is a state in the Mountain states, Mountain West subregion of the Western United States. It encompasses most of the Southern Rocky Mountains, as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the weste ...

Colorado
and western
Kansas Kansas () is a U.S. state, state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern United States. Its Capital city, capital is Topeka and its largest city is Wichita, Kansas, Wichita. Kansas is a landlocked state bordered by Nebraska to the north; ...

Kansas
, is mostly a dissected fluviatile plain. That is, this section was once smoothly covered with a gently sloping plain of gravel and sand that had been spread far forward on a broad denuded area as a
piedmont it, Piemontese , population_note = , population_blank1_title = , population_blank1 = , demographics_type1 = , demographics1_footnotes = , demographics1_title1 = , demographics1_info1 = , demographics1_title2 ...
deposit by the rivers which issued from the mountains. Since then, it has been more or less dissected by the erosion of valleys. The central section of the plains thus presents a marked contrast to the northern section. While the northern section owes its smoothness to the removal of local gravels and sands from a formerly uneven surface by the action of degrading rivers and their inflowing tributaries, the southern section owes its smoothness to the deposition of imported gravels and sands upon a previously uneven surface by the action of aggrading rivers and their outgoing distributaries. The two sections are also alike in that residual eminences still here and there surmount the peneplain of the northern section, while the fluviatile plain of the central section completely buried the pre-existent relief. An exception to this statement must be made for the southwest, close to the mountains in southern Colorado, where some lava-capped mesas ( Mesa de Maya, ) stand several thousand feet above the general plain level, and thus testify to the widespread erosion of this region before it was aggraded.


Southern Great Plains

The southern section of the Great Plains, between latitudes 35.5° and 25.5°, lies in western
Texas Texas (, ; Spanish language, Spanish: ''Texas'', ''Tejas'') is a state in the South Central United States, South Central region of the United States. At 268,596 square miles (695,662 km2), and with more than 29.1 million residents in 2020, ...

Texas
, eastern
New Mexico ) , population_demonym = New Mexican ( es, Neomexicano, Neomejicano, Nuevo Mexicano) , seat = Santa Fe , LargestCity = Albuquerque , LargestMetro = Greater Albuquerque , OfficialLang = None , Languages = English English usually refer ...

New Mexico
, and western
Oklahoma Oklahoma () is a U.S. state, state in the South Central United States, South Central region of the United States, bordered by the state of Texas on the south and west, Kansas on the north, Missouri on the northeast, Arkansas on the east, New ...
. Like the central section, it is for the most part a dissected fluviatile plain. However, the lower lands which surround it on all sides place it in such strong relief that it stands up as a table-land, known from the time of Mexican occupation as the
Llano Estacado The Llano Estacado (), commonly known as the Staked Plains, is a region in the Southwestern United States that encompasses parts of eastern New Mexico and northwestern Texas. One of the largest mesas or tablelands on the North American continent, t ...
. It measures roughly east-west and north-south. It is of very irregular outline, narrowing to the south. Its altitude is at the highest western point, nearest the mountains whence its gravels were supplied. From there, it slopes southeastward at a decreasing rate, first about , then about 7 ft per mile (1.3 m/km), to its eastern and southern borders, where it is in altitude. Like the High Plains farther north, it is extraordinarily smooth. It is very dry, except for occasional shallow and temporary water sheets after rains. Llano is separated from the plains on the north by the mature consequent valley of the
Canadian River The Canadian River is the longest tributary A tributary, or affluent, is a stream or river that flows into a larger stream or main stem (or parent) river or a lake. A tributary does not flow directly into a sea or ocean. Tributaries and the m ...

Canadian River
, and from the mountains on the west by the broad and probably mature valley of the
Pecos River The Pecos River ( es, Río Pecos) originates in north-central New Mexico and flows into Texas, emptying into the Rio Grande. Its headwaters are on the eastern slope of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Sangre de Cristo mountain range in Mora County n ...

Pecos River
. On the east, it is strongly undercut by the retrogressive erosion of the headwaters of the Red, Brazos, and Colorado rivers of Texas and presents a ragged escarpment approximately high, overlooking the central denuded area of that state. There, between the Brazos and Colorado rivers, occurs a series of isolated outliers capped by limestone that underlies both the
Llano Uplift The Llano Uplift is a geologically ancient, low Dome (geology), geologic dome that is about in diameter and located mostly in Llano County, Texas, Llano, Mason County, Texas, Mason, San Saba County, Texas, San Saba, Gillespie County, Texas, Gilles ...
on the west and the Grand Prairies escarpment on the east. The southern and narrow part of the table-land, called the
Edwards Plateau The Edwards Plateau is a geographic region at the crossroads of Central, South South is one of the cardinal directions or compass points. South is the opposite of north and is perpendicular to the east and west. Etymology The word ''south'' ...

Edwards Plateau
, is more dissected than the rest, and falls off to the south in a frayed-out fault scarp. This scarp overlooks the coastal plain of the
Rio Grande The Rio Grande ( and ), known in Mexico as the Río Bravo del Norte and as the Río Bravo, is one of the principal river A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, sea, lake or another r ...

Rio Grande
embayment A bay is a recessed, coastal body of water that directly connects to a larger main body of water, such as an ocean, a lake, or another bay. A large bay is usually called a Gulf (geography), gulf, sea, sound (geography), sound, or bight (geogr ...
. The central denuded area, east of the Llano, resembles the east-central section of the plains in exposing older rocks. Between these two similar areas, in the space limited by the Canadian and Red Rivers, rise the subdued forms of the
Wichita Mountains Wichita ( ) may refer to: People *Wichita people The Wichita people or Kitikiti'sh are a confederation of Southern Plains Native Americans in the United States, Native American tribes. Historically they spoke the Wichita language and Kichai la ...

Wichita Mountains
in
Oklahoma Oklahoma () is a U.S. state, state in the South Central United States, South Central region of the United States, bordered by the state of Texas on the south and west, Kansas on the north, Missouri on the northeast, Arkansas on the east, New ...
, the westernmost member of the Ouachita system.


Other terminology

The term "Western Plains" is used to describe the
ecoregion An ecoregion (ecological region) or ecozone (ecological zone) is an and geographically defined area that is smaller than a , which in turn is smaller than a . Ecoregions cover relatively large areas of land or water, and contain characteristic ...
of the Great Plains, or alternatively the western portion of the Great Plains.


Paleontology

During the
Cretaceous The Cretaceous ( ) is a geological period A geological period is one of the several subdivisions of geologic time enabling cross-referencing of rocks and geologic events from place to place. These periods form elements of a hierarchy of division ...

Cretaceous
Period (145–66 million years ago), the Great Plains were covered by a shallow
inland sea Inland may refer to: Places Sweden * Inland Fräkne Hundred, a hundred of Bohuslän in Sweden * Inland Northern Hundred, a hundred of Bohuslän in Sweden * Inland Southern Hundred, a hundred of Bohuslän in Sweden * Inland Torpe Hundred, a hundred ...
called the
Western Interior Seaway The Western Interior Seaway (also called the Cretaceous Seaway, the Niobraran Sea, the North American Inland Sea, and the Western Interior Sea) was a large inland sea Inland may refer to: Places Sweden * Inland Fräkne Hundred, a hundred of Bohus ...
. However, during the
Late Cretaceous The Late Cretaceous (100.5–66 Ma) is the younger of two epochs into which the Cretaceous The Cretaceous ( ) is a that lasted from about 145 to 66 (Mya). It is the third and final period of the , as well as the longest. At around 79 millio ...
to the
Paleocene The Paleocene, ( ) or Palaeocene, is a geological epoch In chronology 222px, Joseph Scaliger's ''De emendatione temporum'' (1583) began the modern science of chronology Chronology (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language bel ...
(65–55 million years ago), the seaway had begun to recede, leaving behind thick marine deposits and a relatively flat terrain which the seaway had once occupied. During the Cenozoic era, specifically about 25 million years ago during the
Miocene The Miocene ( ) is the first geological epoch In geochronology, an epoch is a subdivision of the geologic timescale that is longer than an age (geology), age but shorter than a period (geology), period. The current epoch is the Holocene Epoch of ...
and
Pliocene The Pliocene ( ; also Pleiocene) epoch (geology), Epoch is the epoch in the geologic timescale that extends from 5.333 million to 2.58niche Niche may refer to: Science *Developmental niche{{third-party, date=October 2020 The developmental niche is a theoretical framework for understanding and analyzing how culture Culture () is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behav ...

niche
for mammals, including many
ungulate Ungulates ( ) are members of the diverse clade A clade (), also known as a monophyletic group or natural group, is a group of organisms that are monophyly, monophyletic – that is, composed of a common ancestor and all its lineage (evoluti ...
s and
glires Glires (, Latin ''glīrēs'' 'dormice A dormouse is a rodent of the family (biology), family Gliridae (this family is also variously called Myoxidae or Muscardinidae by different taxonomists). Dormice are nocturnal animals found in Africa, Asi ...

glires
, that switched from browsing diets to grazing diets. Traditionally, the spread of grasslands and the development of grazers have been strongly linked. However, an examination of mammalian teeth suggests that it is the open, gritty habitat and not the grass itself which is linked to diet changes in mammals, giving rise to the " grit, not grass" hypothesis.
Paleontological Paleontology, also spelled palaeontology or palæontology (), is the scientific study of life that existed prior to, and sometimes including, the start of the Holocene The Holocene ( ) is the current geological epoch. It began approximate ...
finds in the area have yielded bones of
mammoth A mammoth is any species In biology, a species is the basic unit of biological classification, classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity. A species is often defined as the largest group of organ ...

mammoth
s,
saber-toothed cats A saber-tooth (alternatively spelled sabre-tooth) is any member of various extinct groups of predatory Predation is a biological interaction In ecology Ecology (from el, οἶκος, "house" and el, -λογία, label=none, "stud ...

saber-toothed cats
and other ancient animals, as well as dozens of other
megafauna In terrestrial zoology Zoology ()The pronunciation of zoology as is typically regarded as nonstandard, though it is not uncommon. is the branch of biology that studies the animal kingdom, including the anatomy, structure, embryology, evolutio ...

megafauna
(large animals over ) – such as ,
horses The horse (''Equus ferus caballus'') is a Domestication, domesticated odd-toed ungulate, one-toed ungulate, hoofed mammal. It belongs to the taxonomic family Equidae and is one of two Extant taxon, extant subspecies of wild horse, ''Equus ferus ...
,
mastodon A mastodon ( Greek: μαστός "breast" and ὀδούς, "tooth") is any proboscidean belonging to the extinct genus ''Mammut'' (family Mammutidae) that inhabited North and Central America during the late Miocene The Miocene ( ) is the first ...

mastodon
s, and
American lion The American lion (''Panthera atrox''), also known as the "North American lion", or "American cave lion", is an extinct Extinction is the termination of a kind of organism In biology, an organism (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ὀργ ...

American lion
– that dominated the area of the ancient Great Plains for thousands to millions of years. The vast majority of these animals became extinct in North America at the end of the
Pleistocene The Pleistocene ( , often referred to as the ''Ice Age'') is the geological Epoch (geology), epoch that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the earth’s most recent period of repeated glaciations. Before a change finally ...
(around 13,000 years ago).


Climate

In general, the Great Plains have a wide range of weather, with very cold and harsh winters and very hot and humid summers. Wind speeds are often very high, especially in winter. The 100th meridian roughly corresponds with the line that divides the Great Plains into an area that receives or more of rainfall per year and an area that receives less than . In this context, the High Plains, as well as
Southern AlbertaSouthern Alberta is a region In geography, regions are areas that are broadly divided by physical characteristics ( physical geography), human impact characteristics ( human geography), and the interaction of humanity and the environment ( environm ...
, south-western Saskatchewan and
Eastern MontanaEastern Montana is a loosely defined region of Montana. Some definitions are more or less inclusive than others, ranging from the most inclusive, which would include the entire part of the state east of the Continental Divide, to the least inclusive, ...
are mainly
semi arid A semi-arid climate, semi-desert climate, or steppe climate is the climate Climate is the long-term average of weather, typically averaged over a period of 30 years. More rigorously, it is the mean and variability of meteorological variables ove ...
steppe land and are generally characterised by
rangeland Rangelands are grassland Grasslands are areas where the vegetation Vegetation is an assemblage of species and the they provide. It is a general term, without specific reference to particular , life forms, structure, extent, or any ...
or marginal
farmland Agricultural land is typically land ''devoted to'' agriculture Agriculture is the science, art and practice of cultivating plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentary Image:Family watching televis ...

farmland
. The region (especially the High Plains) is periodically subjected to extended periods of
drought A drought is an event of prolonged shortages in the water supply, whether atmospheric (below-average precipitation In meteorology Meteorology is a branch of the (which include and ), with a major focus on . The study of meteorolog ...

drought
; high winds in the region may then generate devastating
dust storm A dust storm, also called a sandstorm, is a meteorological phenomenon common in arid A region is arid when it is characterized by a severe lack of available water, to the extent of hindering or preventing the growth and development Deve ...

dust storm
s. The eastern Great Plains near the eastern boundary falls in the
humid subtropical climate A humid subtropical climate is a zone of climate characterized by hot and humid summers, and cool to mild winters. These climates normally lie on the southeast side of all continents, generally between latitude In geography Geograp ...
zone in the southern areas, and the northern and central areas fall in the
humid continental climate A humid continental climate is a climatic Climate is the long-term average of weather, typically averaged over a period of 30 years. More rigorously, it is the mean and variability of meteorological variables over a time spanning from months t ...
. Many
thunderstorm A thunderstorm, also known as an electrical storm or a lightning storm, is a storm characterized by the presence of lightning Lightning is a naturally occurring electrostatic discharge Electrostatic discharge (ESD) is the sudden fl ...

thunderstorm
s occur in the plains in the spring through summer. The southeastern portion of the Great Plains is the most
tornado A tornado is a violently rotating column of air File:Atmosphere gas proportions.svg, Composition of Earth's atmosphere by volume, excluding water vapor. Lower pie represents trace gases that together compose about 0.043391% of the atmos ...

tornado
active area in the world and is sometimes referred to as .


Flora

The Great Plains are part of the floristic North American Prairies Province, which extends from the Rocky Mountains to the
Appalachians The Appalachian Mountains, often called the Appalachians, are a mountain range, system of mountains in eastern North America. The Appalachians first formed roughly 480 million years ago during the Ordovician, Ordovician Period. They once reache ...

Appalachians
.


History


Original American contact

The first Peoples (
Paleo-Indians Paleo-Indians, Paleoindians or Paleo-Americans, were the first peoples Indigenous peoples, also referred to as First people, Aboriginal people, Native people, or autochthonous people, are culturally distinct ethnic groups who are native to a ...
) arrived on the Great Plains thousands of years ago. Historically, the Great Plains were the range of the
Blackfoot The Blackfoot Confederacy, ''Niitsitapi'' or ''Siksikaitsitapi'' (ᖹᐟᒧᐧᒣᑯ, meaning "the people" or " Blackfoot-speaking real people"), is a historic collective name for linguistically related groups that make up the Blackfoot or Black ...
,
Crow A crow is a bird of the genus ''Corvus ''Corvus'' is a widely distributed genus Genus /ˈdʒiː.nəs/ (plural genera /ˈdʒen.ər.ə/) is a taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of extant taxon, living and fossil organisms ...

Crow
,
Sioux The Sioux or Oceti Sakowin (; Dakota Dakota may refer to: * Dakota people, a sub-tribe of the Sioux ** Dakota language, their language From this origin, Dakota may also refer to: Places United States * Dakota, Georgia, an unincorporated ...

Sioux
,
Cheyenne The Cheyenne ( ) are an Indigenous people of the Great Plains Plains Indians or Indigenous peoples of the Great Plains and Canadian Prairies are the Native Americans in the United States, Native American tribe (Native American), tribes and ...

Cheyenne
,
Arapaho The Arapaho (; french: Arapahos, ) are a people of Native Americans Native Americans may refer to: Ethnic groups * Indigenous peoples of the Americas, the pre-Columbian peoples of North and South America and their descendants * Native American ...

Arapaho
,
Comanche The Comanche or Nʉmʉnʉʉ ( com, Nʉmʉnʉʉ; "the people") are a Native American Native Americans may refer to: Ethnic groups * Indigenous peoples of the Americas, the pre-Columbian peoples of North and South America and their descendants ...

Comanche
, and others. Eastern portions of the Great Plains were inhabited by tribes who lived at
Etzanoa Etzanoa is a historical Wichita city, located in present-day Arkansas City, Kansas, near the Arkansas River, that flourished between 1450 and 1700. Dubbed "the Great Settlement" by Spanish explorers who visited the site, Etzanoa may have housed 20 ...
and in semi-permanent villages of earth lodges, such as the
Arikara Arikara (), also known as Sahnish,
''Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation.'' (Retrieved Sep 29, 2011)
,
Mandan The Mandan are a Native American tribe of the Great Plains who have lived for centuries primarily in what is now North Dakota North Dakota () is a U.S. state In the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly k ...

Mandan
,
PawneePawnee initially refers to a Native American people and its language: * Pawnee people * Pawnee language Pawnee is also the name of several places in the United States: * Pawnee, Illinois * Pawnee, Kansas * Pawnee, Missouri * Pawnee City, Nebraska * ...
, and
Wichita Wichita ( ) may refer to: People *Wichita people, a Native American tribe *Wichita language, the language of the tribe Places in the United States * Wichita, Kansas, a city * Wichita County, Kansas, a county in western Kansas (city of Wichita is ...
. The introduction of corn around 800 CE allowed the development of the mound-building
Mississippian Culture The Mississippian culture was a Native American Native Americans may refer to: Ethnic groups * Indigenous peoples of the Americas, the pre-Columbian peoples of North and South America and their descendants * Native Americans in the United Sta ...
along rivers that crossed the Great Plains and that included trade networks west to the Rocky Mountains. Mississippians settled the Great Plains at sites now in
Oklahoma Oklahoma () is a U.S. state, state in the South Central United States, South Central region of the United States, bordered by the state of Texas on the south and west, Kansas on the north, Missouri on the northeast, Arkansas on the east, New ...
and
South Dakota South Dakota () (Sioux The Sioux or Oceti Sakowin (; Dakota Dakota may refer to: * Dakota people, a sub-tribe of the Sioux ** Dakota language, their language From this origin, Dakota may also refer to: Places United States * Dako ...
.


Arrival of Horses

The first known contact between Europeans and Indians in the Great Plains occurred in what is now Texas, Kansas, and Nebraska from 1540 to 1542 with the arrival of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, a Spanish conquistador. In that same period, Hernando de Soto crossed a west-northwest direction in what is now Oklahoma and Texas which is now known as the De Soto Trail. The Spanish thought that the Great Plains were the location of the mythological ''Quivira and Zuni-Cibola Complex, Cíbola'', a place said to be rich in gold. People in the southwest began to acquire horses in the 16th century by trading or stealing them from Spanish colonists in New Mexico. As horse culture moved northward, the Comanche were among the first to commit to a fully mounted nomadic lifestyle. This occurred by the 1730s, when they had acquired enough horses to put all their people on horseback. The real beginning of the horse culture of the plains began with the Pueblo Revolt, Pueblo Revolt of 1680 in New Mexico and the capture of thousands of horses and other livestock. In 1683 a Spanish expedition into Texas found horses among Native people. In 1690, a few horses were found by the Spanish among the Indians living at the mouth of the Colorado River (Texas), Colorado River of Texas and the Caddo of eastern Texas had a sizeable number.Haines, Francis. "The Northward Spread of Horses among the Plains Indians. ''American Anthropologist'', Vol 40, No. 3 (1988) p. 382 The French explorer Claude Charles Du Tisne found 300 horses among the Wichita (tribe), Wichita on the Verdigris River in 1719, but they were still not plentiful. Another Frenchman, Étienne de Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont, Bourgmont, could only buy seven at a high price from the Kaw (tribe), Kaw in 1724, indicating that horses were still scarce among tribes in
Kansas Kansas () is a U.S. state, state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern United States. Its Capital city, capital is Topeka and its largest city is Wichita, Kansas, Wichita. Kansas is a landlocked state bordered by Nebraska to the north; ...

Kansas
. By 1770, that Plains Indians culture was mature, consisting of mounted buffalo-hunting nomads from Saskatchewan and
Alberta ("Strong and free") , image_map = Alberta in Canada 2.svg , Label_map = yes , coordinates = , official_lang = English , capital = Edmonton , largest_city = Calg ...

Alberta
southward nearly to the
Rio Grande The Rio Grande ( and ), known in Mexico as the Río Bravo del Norte and as the Río Bravo, is one of the principal river A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, sea, lake or another r ...

Rio Grande
. The milder winters of the southern Plains favored a pastoral economy by the Indians. On the northeastern Plains of Canada, the Indians were less favored, with families owning fewer horses, remaining more dependent upon dogs for transporting goods, and hunting bison on foot. The scarcity of horses in the north encouraged raiding and warfare in competition for the relatively small number of horses that survived the severe winters.


Fur Trade

The fur trade brought thousands of colonial settlers into the Great Plains over the next 100 years. Fur trappers made their way across much of the region, making regular contacts with Indians. The United States acquired the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and conducted the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804–1806, and more information became available concerning the Plains, and various pioneers entered the areas. Fur trading posts were often the basis of later settlements. Through the 19th century, more settlers migrated to the Great Plains as part of a vast United States territorial acquisitions, westward expansion of population, and new settlements became dotted across the Great Plains. The settlers also brought diseases against which the Indians had no resistance. Between a half and two-thirds of the Plains Indians are thought to have died of smallpox by the time of the Louisiana Purchase.


Pioneer settlement

* Fort Lisa (North Dakota), Fort Lisa (1809), North Dakota * Fort Lisa (Nebraska), Fort Lisa (1812), Nebraska * Fort Atkinson (Nebraska) (1819), Nebraska * Fontenelle's Post (1822), Nebraska * Cabanne's Trading Post (1822), Nebraska * Fort Kiowa (1822), South Dakota * Fort Laramie National Historic Site, Fort Laramie (1834), Texas * Fort Parker Massacre, Fort Parker (1834), Texas * New Braunfels, Texas, Zinkenburg (1845), Texas * Fort Kearney (1848), Nebraska * Fort Martin Scott (1848), Texas * Fort Croghan (1849), Texas * Fort Gates (1849), Texas * Fort Graham (1849), Texas * History of Fort Worth, Texas, Fort Worth (1849), Texas * Fort Belknap (Texas), Fort Belknap (1851), Texas * Fort Mason (1851), Texas * Fort Chadbourne (1852), Texas * Fort McKavett State Historic Site, Fort McKavett (1852), Texas * Fort Phantom Hill (1852), Texas * Coleman, Texas, Camp Colorado (1855), Texas * Fort McPherson, Nebraska, Fort McPherson (1863), Nebraska * Fort Mitchell, Nebraska, Fort Mitchell (1864), Nebraska * Fort Concho (1867), Texas * Fort Griffin (1867), Texas * Fort Richardson (Texas), Fort Richardson (1867), Texas * Fort Sidney (1867), Nebraska * Fort Omaha (1868), Nebraska * Fort Hartsuff State Historical Park, Fort Hartsuff (1874), Nebraska * Fort Sill (1869), Oklahoma * Fort Robinson (1874), Nebraska * Camp Sheridan (Nebraska), Camp Sheridan (1874), Nebraska * Fort Niobrara (1880), Nebraska * Fort Elliott (1875), Texas Beginning in 1821, the Santa Fe Trail ran from the Missouri River to New Mexico, skirting north of Comancheria. Beginning in the 1830s, the Oregon Trail led from the Missouri River across the Great Plains. After 1870, the new railroads across the Plains brought hunters who killed off almost all the American bison, bison for their hides. The railroads offered attractive packages of land and transportation to American farmers, who rushed to settle the land. They also took advantage of the homestead laws to obtain farms. Land speculators and local boosters identified many potential towns, and those reached by the railroad had a chance, while the others became ghost towns. Towns flourished if they were favored by proximity to the railroad. Much of the Great Plains became open range where cattle roamed free, hosting ranching operations where anyone was free to run cattle. In the spring and fall, ranchers held roundups where their cowboys branded new calves, treated animals, and sorted the cattle for sale. Such ranching began in Texas and gradually moved northward. Between 1866 and 1895, cowboys herded 10 million cattle north to rail heads such as Dodge City, Kansas and Ogallala, Nebraska; from there, cattle were shipped east. The U.S. passed the Homestead Acts of 1862 to encourage agricultural development of the Great Plains and house a growing population. It allowed a settler to claim up to of land, provided that he lived on it for a period of five years and cultivated it. The provisions were expanded under the Kinkaid Act of 1904 to include a homestead of an entire section. Hundreds of thousands of people claimed such homesteads, sometimes building houses out of the very turf of the land. Many of them were not skilled farmers, and failures were frequent. The Dominion Lands Act of 1871 served a similar function for establishing homesteads on the prairies in Canada. File:Homesteader NE 1866.png, Homestead Acts, Homesteaders in central
Nebraska Nebraska () is a in the region of the . It is bordered by to the north; to the east and to the southeast, both across the ; to the south; to the southwest; and to the west. It is the only triply landlocked U.S. state. Indigenous pe ...

Nebraska
in 1886 File:"Wheat field on Dutch flats near Mitchell, Nebr. Farm of T.C. Shawver." - NARA - 294480.tif, Wheat field on Dutch flats near Mitchell, Nebraska File:Cowboy1902.jpg, Cattle herd and cowboy, c. 1902


Social life

The railroads opened up the Great Plains for settlement, making it possible to ship wheat and other crops at low cost to the urban markets in the East and overseas. Homestead land was free for American settlers. Railroads sold their land at cheap rates to immigrants in the expectation that they would generate traffic as soon as farms were established. Immigrants poured in, especially from Germany and Scandinavia. On the plains, very few single men attempted to operate a farm or ranch by themselves; they understood the need for a hard-working wife and numerous children to handle the many responsibilities. During the early years of settlement, farm women played an integral role in assuring family survival by working outdoors. After approximately one generation, women increasingly left the fields, thus redefining their roles within the family. New technology encouraged women to turn to domestic roles, including sewing and washing machines. Media and government extension agents promoted the "scientific housekeeping" movement, along with county fairs which featured achievements in home cookery and canning, advice columns for women regarding farm book keeping, and home economics courses in the schools. The eastern image of farm life in the prairies emphasized the isolation of the lonely farmer and wife, yet plains residents created busy social lives for themselves. They often sponsored activities which combined work, food, and entertainment, such as barn raisings, corn huskings, quilting bees, The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, Grange meetings, church activities and school functions. Women organized shared meals and potluck events, as well as extended visits among families.


20th century

The region roughly centered on the Oklahoma Panhandle was known as the Dust Bowl during the late 1920s and early 1930s, including southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas, the
Texas Panhandle The Texas Panhandle is a region of the U.S. state In the , a state is a , of which there are currently 50. Bound together in a , each state holds al jurisdiction over a separate and defined geographic territory where it shares its with ...
, and extreme northeastern New Mexico. The effects of an extended drought, inappropriate cultivation, and financial crises of the Great Depression forced many farmers off the land throughout the Great Plains. From the 1950s on, many areas of the Great Plains have become productive crop-growing areas because of extensive irrigation on large land-holdings. The United States is a major exporter of agricultural products. The southern portion of the Great Plains lies over the Ogallala Aquifer, a huge underground layer of water-bearing strata. Center pivot irrigation is used extensively in drier sections of the Great Plains, resulting in aquifer depletion at a rate that is greater than the ground's ability to recharge.


Population decline

The rural Plains have lost a third of their population since 1920. Several hundred thousand square miles of the Great Plains have fewer than , the density standard that Frederick Jackson Turner used to declare the American frontier "closed" in 1893. Many have fewer than . There are more than 6,000 ghost towns in Kansas alone, according to Kansas historian Daniel Fitzgerald (writer), Daniel Fitzgerald. This problem is often exacerbated by the consolidation of farms and the difficulty of attracting modern industry to the region. In addition, the smaller school-age population has forced the consolidation of school districts and the closure of high schools in some communities. The continuing population loss has led some to suggest that the current use of the drier parts of the Great Plains is not sustainable,Amanda Rees, ''The Great Plains region'' (2004) p. xvi and there has been a proposal to return approximately of these drier parts to native prairie land as a Buffalo Commons.


Wind power

The Great Plains contributes substantially to wind power in the United States. T. Boone Pickens developed wind farms after a career as a petroleum executive, and he called for the U.S. to invest $1 trillion to build an additional 200,000 MW of wind power in the Plains as part of his Pickens Plan. He cited Sweetwater, Texas as an example of economic revitalization driven by wind power development.


See also

* 1837 Great Plains smallpox epidemic * Bison hunting * Conservation of American Bison * Dust Bowl * Great American Desert * Great bison belt * Great Plains Art Museum * Great Plains Conservation Program *
Llano Estacado The Llano Estacado (), commonly known as the Staked Plains, is a region in the Southwestern United States that encompasses parts of eastern New Mexico and northwestern Texas. One of the largest mesas or tablelands on the North American continent, t ...
* Northern Great Plains History Conference * Territories of the United States on stamps


International steppe-lands

* Eurasian Steppe * Kazakh Steppe * Pampas, in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil * Pontic–Caspian steppe * Puszta


References


Further reading

* Bonnifield, Paul. ''The Dust Bowl: Men, Dirt, and Depression'', University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1978, hardcover, . * Courtwright, Julie. ''Prairie Fire: A Great Plains History'' (University Press of Kansas, 2011) 274 pp. * Danbom, David B. ''Sod Busting: How families made farms on the 19th-century Plains '' (2014) * Eagan, Timothy. ''The Worst Hard Time : the Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl''. Boston : Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006. * Michael Forsberg, Forsberg, Michael, ''Great Plains: America's Lingering Wild'', University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, 2009, * Gilfillan, Merrill. ''Chokecherry Places, Essays from the High Plains'', Johnson Press, Boulder, Colorado, trade paperback, . * Grant, Michael Johnston. ''Down and Out on the Family Farm: Rural Rehabilitation in the Great Plains, 1929–1945'', University of Nebraska Press, 2002, * Hurt, R. Douglas. '' The Big Empty: The Great Plains in the Twentieth Century'' (University of Arizona Press; 2011) 315 pages; the environmental, social, economic, and political history of the region. * Hurt, R. Douglas. ''The Great Plains during World War II.'' University of Nebraska Press. 2008. Pp. xiii, 507. * Mills, David W. ''Cold War in a Cold Land: Fighting Communism on the Northern Plains'' (2015) Col War era
excerpt
* Peirce, Neal R. ''The Great Plains States of America: People, Politics, and Power in the Nine Great Plains States'' (1973) * Raban, Jonathan. ''Bad Land: An American Romance''. Vintage Departures, division of Vintage Books, New York, 1996. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. * Rees, Amanda. ''The Great Plains Region: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Regional Cultures'' (2004) * Stegner, Wallace. ''Wolf Willow: A History, a Story, and a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier'', Viking Compass Book, New York, 1966, trade paperback, * Wishart, David J. (ed.). ''Encyclopedia of the Great Plains'', University of Nebraska Press, 2004,
complete text online


External links


Kansas Heritage Group: ''Native Prairie, Preserve, Flowers, and Research''



University of Nebraska-Lincoln: ''Center for Great Plains Studies''
*
Oklahoma Digital Maps: Digital Collections of Oklahoma and Indian Territory
{{Authority control Great Plains, Ecoregions of the United States Physiographic provinces Plains of Canada Plains of the United States Regions of Canada Regions of the United States Regions of the Western United States Temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands in the United States