Pioneer Evaluation of Vegetation in
TERRY G. JORDAN
DEEPLY INGRAINED IN THE THINKING OF MANY, IF NOT MOST, HISTORI-
ans and historical geographers concerned with the westward ex-
pansion of the American people is the idea that grasslands were shunned
as settlement sites, that pioneers preferred to remain in forested areas
and moved into the prairies only after all wooded districts were occu-
pied. In particular, the practice of prairie avoidance was attributed to
southern Anglo-Americans. This idea has appeared in the writings of
such noted historians as Frederick Jackson Turner, Ray Allen Billing-
ton, Percy W. Bidwell, and John I. Falconer, and they were joined by
the well-known geographers Carl O. Sauer and Harlan H. Barrows.
Only a few scholars have challenged this view, among whom the most
prominent is Merle C. Prunty.1
Certainly the greatest champion of the concept of grasslands as hostile
and forbidding was the late, venerated Walter Prescott Webb, whose
book The Great Plains has been read and admired by historians and
geographers alike.2 The Webbian view was of an American culture
shaped and nurtured in the shade of the dense eastern forests of the
* Mr. Jordan, professor and chairman of the Department of Geography at North Texas
State University, is the author of German Seed in Texas Soil. Research funds for this study
were provided by the Faculty Research Committee of North Texas State University, Denton.
Frederick Jackson Turner, The Frontier in American History (New York, 1921), 134-
136; Ray Allen Billington, Westward Expansion: A History of the American Frontier
(2nd ed.; New York, 1960), 294-296; Percy Wells Bidwell and John I. Falconer, History
of Agriculture in the Northern United States z62o-z86o (Washington, 1925), 158; Carl
Ortwin Sauer, Geography of the Upper Illinois Valley and History of Development (Ur-
bana, 1916), 150; and Harlan H. Barrows, Geography of the Middle Illinois Valley (Ur-
bana, 191o), 66. For the opposing view, see: Merle C. Prunty, "Some Geographic Views
of the Role of Fire in Settlement Processes in the South," Proceedings Fourth Annual Tall
Timbers Fire Ecology Conference (1965), 161-168; Terry G. Jordan, "Between the Forest
and the Prairie," Agricultural History, XXXVIII (October, 1964), 205-216; Bernard C.
Peters, "Pioneer Evaluation of the Kalamazoo County Landscape," Michigan Academician,
III (Fall, 1970), 15-25; Brian Birch, "The Environment and Settlement of the Prairie-
Woodland Transition Belt-A Case Study of Edwards County, Illinois," Southampton
Research Series in Geography, No. 6 (1971), 3-31.
2Walter Prescott Webb, The Great Plains (Boston, 1931) .
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 76, July 1972 - April, 1973. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101202/. Accessed May 6, 2015.