Natural History of Marshall County

The western half of the county lies in the Jim River Valley and is comparatively level, while the eastern half lies on a plateau and includes a part of the Coteau Hills, which are rather broken and stony and extend from southwest to northeast, making an angle of 90 degrees in Pleasant Valley. Windy Peaks in Victor Township are said to be 2,026 feet above sea level. Although the hills are stony and broken in localities, there are many excellent pieces of farming lands and meadows and numerous coulees or gulches containing timber and springs.

The buffalo, once so numerous, has long since disappeared and his skeleton only remains to point to his existence. A few antelope and deer still remain in the hills; foxes, coyotes, wolves, badgers, skunks, jack and cotton tail rabbits, gophers, squirrels and field mice include all of the native animals, large and small. Rats have as yet failed to put in their appearance.

The following is a list of birds noticed by the writer:

The osprey eagle or fish-hawk, swans, pelicans, cranes, wild geese, brants (a small species of the goose), ducks, mud hens, curlews, prairie chickens, owls, hawks, crows, wood-peckers, blackbirds, cow birds, meadow larks, robins, king-fishers, wild pigeons, plovers, snipes, and apparently two species of, snow-birds, and the bobolink, or rice bird; the wild canary or yellow bird is ft and in the timber. Mr. Owens, of Waubay, has seen a few quails, abut is of the opinion that the climate is too severe. Of the above list only the prairie chicken and snow-bird remain during the winter. Robins are only occasionally seen. This is truly the sportsman’s paradise in the spring and fall; ducks and geese come in swarms, and in their flights from the lakes to the valleys afford fine shooting. The lakes are well stocked with pickeral, perch and catfish, and in the summer time the lakes on the military reservation are favorite resorts for fishing parties, who usually camp there several days.

The writer has observed only harmless snakes, such as are common to Iowa and Illinois, but not so plentiful. Lizards, swifts and turtles are occasionally seen. Batrachia, frogs and toads are not very numerous, while the large bull frog, of our boyhood days in eastern states, is wanting.

Box-elder, ash, bur-oak, elm, iron-wood, quaken asp, bass-wood, maple, willow, butternut and cotton woods are native trees. The box-elder, when planted on our prairies, grows rapidly and is a hardy tree; it is the favorite for tree-claims. The ash is hardy, but much slower growth.

Currants, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, wild cherries, plums, crab apples and grapes are abundant in the timber gulches and ravines.

There is no reason why the above named fruits will not yield abundantly when cultivated in our gardens.

Perhaps more has been said concerning the climate of central Dakota which is applicable to Marshall County, than any other territory or state in the Union.

Eastern newspapers seem to have a stock of Dakota “blizzards” ready for immediate use, and from time to time let them loose-on their readers. This is an injustice to us Dakotaians, and to the patrons of such newspapers.

The writer can but give his observations and experience, covering a period of five years in the territory.

Spring usually sets in about April 1st, and frequently seeding commences two weeks sooner. The summers are truly delightful; the nights are always cool, and a blanket does not come amiss during a heated term when our eastern friends are seeking for a breath of fresh air. Our horny-handed sons of toil can peacefully slumber, and arise refreshed the next morning. The fall weather, always fine, usually extends into November, and sometimes lingers later.

During the winter we never have rain or sleet, so common in milder latitudes, and detrimental to stock. The thermometer may go down into the twenties or thirties, yet man or beast will not suffer from the cold. The dry cold atmosphere is not so penetrating as the damp cold of Iowa and Illinois.

The winter of ’81-2 was especially fine with little or no snow and continual sunshine. March 21st the writer was caught in a “blizzard” on his way to Huron. It impeded all railway travel for several days, and was severe on immigrants and their stock; in a few days, however, the snow had disappeared and some seeding was clone the latter part of March. The winter of ’82-3 was a severe one so far as snow is concerned, still there was no suffering nor loss of stock. ’83-4 gave us plenty of the beautiful snow and cold weather, yet fifty teams were out every day hauling lumber to the embryo city of Britton p ’84-5 was cold with but little snow and cattle were out feeding nearly every clay. Last winter we had a few occasional cold snaps but little or no snow to speak of.
As to the healthfulness of our climate there is no question. Invalids from other states coming here in delicate health usually regain their old-time strength if not already too far gone.

There is generally less snow here than in Iowa or Minnesota; eon the 16th of October, 1880, there was a terrible snow-storm in Iowa, while in the valley here, prairie fires were burning. Mr. S. A. King, of Lowell Township, was at the time in Oak Gulch, in Day County, where some snow fell, and could see, in a westerly direction, the flames for miles, leaping skyward. In Iowa there was considerable loss of live stock caused by this early “blizzard.”

The prevailing soil of Marshall County is a dark calcareous loam with an intermixture of clay abounding in mineral salts and organic matters, better known as vegetable mold. In some localities there is an admixture of black sand which, however, is earlier soil, and apparently as productive as the heavier soil.

The subsoil is heavy clay, and all together the writer has never seen better and more productive soil than we have here. The wild grasses grow to perfection in our latitude and are the most nutritious in the world. There are varieties of native grasses-gramra or buffalo grass soon disappears after settlement; bunch grass and blue joint prevail. Native grass cut for hay will winter stock better than tame hay in the eastern states.

The years of 1884-5 were productive ones; the yield of wheat varied, due no doubt to the manner and time of breaking the prairie the previous year. The yield of 25 bu. and even more was common, while the average was, perhaps, about 17 bu. per acre; oats yields from 30 to 100 bu. per acre, the yield depending on the variety and the soil; barley and rye yield largely; corn of the early varieties matures, while (lent corn does well some seasons; pumpkins, etc., grow to perfection.
The prices have been discouraging, ranging from 50c to 75c per bu. At present the price is lower than for years.

The yield of cereals and, vegetables is simply incredible; all that is necessary is to take a hoe and tickle the soil, and behold, you have a head of cabbage; and potatoes that weigh 2 lbs. each; beets weighing 24 lbs. each, or three of them to the bushel’ and no Dakota lie either.


Hickman, George; History of Marshall County, Dakota: Its Topography and Natural History, and Sketches of Pioneer Settlers, with the Names of Actual Settlers where They are From, and where They Live; Also the Military and Sisseton Reservations; J.W. Banbury, 1886.

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