America - The Great West
( Originally Published 1900 )
Progressing westward, the timbered prairie gradually changes to the grass-covered prairie, spreading everywhere a great ocean of fertility. Across the Wabash is the "Prairie State" of Illinois, its name coming from its principal river, which the Indians named after themselves. The word is a French adaptation of the Indian name "Third," meaning "the superior men," the earliest explorers and settlers having been French, the first comers on the Illinois River being Father Marquette and La Salle. At the beginning of the eighteenth century their little settlements were flourishing, and the most glowing accounts were sent home, describing the region, which they called "New France," on account of its beauty, attractiveness and prodigious fertility, as a new Paradise. There were many years of Indian conflicts and hostility, but after peace was restored and a stable government established, population flowed in, and Illinois was admitted as a State to the Union in 1818. The capital was established at Springfield in 1837, an attractive city of about thirty thousand inhabitants, built on a prairie a few miles south of Sangamon River, a tributary of the Illinois, and from its floral development and the adornment of its gardens and shade trees, Springfield is popularly known as the " Flower City." There is a magnificent State Capitol with high surmounting dome, patterned somewhat after the Federal Capitol at Washington. Springfield has coal-mines which add to its prosperity, but its great fame is connected with Abraham Lincoln. He lived in Springfield, and the house he occupied when elected President has been acquired by the State and is on public exhibition. After his assassination in 1865, his remains were brought from Washington to Springfield, and interred in the picturesque Oak Ridge Cemetery, in the northern suburbs, where a magnificent monument was erected to his memory and dedicated in 1874. About sixty miles north of Springfield, the Illinois River expands into Peoria Lake, and here came La Salle down the river in 1680, and at the foot of the lake established a trading-post and fort, one of the earliest in that region. When more than a century had elapsed, a little town grew there which is now the busy industrial city of Peoria, famous for its whiskey and glucose, and turning out products that annually approximate a hundred millions, furnishing vast traffic for numerous railroads. It is the chief city of the " corn belt," and is served by all the prominent trunk rail-way lines.
Like the pioneers of a hundred years ago, we have left the Atlantic seaboard, crossed the Allegheny Mountains and entered the expansive " Northwest Territory," which in the first half of the nineteenth century was the Mecca of the colonist and frontiers-man. This was then the region of the " Great West," though that has since moved far beyond the Mississippi. Its agricultural wealth made the prosperity of the country for many decades, and its prodigious development was hardly realized until put to the test of the Civil War, when it poured out the men and officers, and had the staying qualities so largely contributing to the result of that great conflict. Gradually overspread by a network of railways, the numerous " cross-roads " have expanded every-where into towns and cities, almost all patterned alike, and all of them centres of rich farming districts. Coal, oil and gas have come to minister to its manufacturing wants, and thus growing into mature Commonwealths, this prolific region in the later decades has been itself, in turn, contributing largely to the tide of migration flowing to the present " Great Northwest," a thousand miles or more beyond. It presents a rich agricultural picture, but little scenic attractiveness. Everywhere an almost dead level, the numerous railways cross and recross the surface in all directions at grade, and are easily built, it being only necessary to dig a shallow ditch on either side, throw the earth in the centre, and lay the ties and rails. Nature has made the prairie as smooth as a lake, so that hardly any grading is necessary, and the region of expansive green viewed out of the car window has been aptly described as having "a face but no features," when one looks afar over an ocean of waving verdure.