Prairies and Plains is a bibliography of materials relating to the region called the Great Plains and to the tallgrass prairies that touch the Plains. The site has several purposes. We hope to draw together as great a number of citations as we can to primary sources and to studies relating to the prairies and plains, in the hope that having a body of materials together will help students who are investigating the history and culture of the Plains, and will stimulate study of the Plains region.
We also hope that this project will serve to celebrate the prairies and plains region, making students aware of its special place in the history, culture, and development of the United States. Everyone knows something about the Plains from years of gunfighter, cattle drive, covered wagon, and cowman-farmer movies (most of them filmed elsewhere), and from decades of Gunsmoke, whose episodes show ranges of hills in the background that are utterly foreign to Dodge City. But apart from its setting for the nation's most enduring myth, we hope to help students understand that the Plains were the last region of the continental United States to be colonized by whites; that it is the most thinly populated region of the continental U.S.; that in spite of that it has a thriving culture; that the Plains are the site of some of the largest Indian reservations, making acute the struggle of Plains Indians to find ways to preserve their native civilization; and that of all the regions in the U.S., the climate of the Plains determines in specific ways the lives that its residents, white or Indian, have been able to make for themselves. We also regard the Plains as a distinct region, and hope Prairies and Plains will help students take a broad view of the region. Almost every Plains state has its own semiofficial history, but the history of the Plains as a region has yet to be written. Even Walter Prescott Webb's famous The GreatPlains concerns itself with some specific aspects of Plains life-the six-shot revolver, barbed wire, sign language - but gives no picture of the region in its entirety.
Finally, most of us who work on the project were born and reared on the Plains or now live there, and have over the years grown weary of tourists (usually Easterners) who complain about the ordeal ahead of them when they point the noses of their cars west in Kansas City or Fargo or Omaha, determined to get across the Plains as fast as they can. The Plains, they say, are unending, monotonous, featureless, and, God knows, flat - there's nothing out there. William Least Heat - Moon tells of a family of Pennsylvanians in the 1950s who in Independence loaded their car with snacks and their window air cooler with water and drove across at night so as to avoid the necessity of actually having to see anything. We hope that this project will help raise the consciousness of those who regard the Plains as an endurance test to be gotten through as quickly as possible. We find in the Plains a region of absorbing, continuing interest, where people and nature are in close contact, views are limitless, weather is variable and sometimes savage, and people often live at great removes from one another in isolation and hardship. We hope this site will communicate some of that perception to readers.
The Prairies and Plains region is defined less by rivers, seacoasts, or other geographic features than by flora, fauna, and rainfall. In general, the region consists of the areas lying between the eastern fringes of the Missouri River basin that are treeless and grow prairie tallgrass, and extends west to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, south to the toe of Texas and eastern portions of the state of Tamaulipas in Mexico, and north into the prairie provinces of Canada as far as the granite outcroppings of the Canadian Shield. The eastern boundary of the region is somewhat hazy, since it involves some western counties in Iowa and Minnesota but not Arkansas or Louisiana, but at the western edge, the region halts abruptly at the mountains, where it meets a very different physiographic region. In the western portion of the region (roughly west of the 98th meridian, itself an indistinct boundary) rainfall is undependable, often falling below twenty inches per year, and vegetation consists principally of prairie shortgrass.
In greater detail, the region consists of:
- the states of Kansas, Nebraska, and North and South Dakota in their entirety
- western portions of Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota
- Oklahoma, Tulsa and west, including the Panhandle
- the toe and western portions of Texas from roughly San Antonio west including the Edwards Plateau, Llano Estacado, and the Panhandle, as far west as the Big Bend of the Rio Grande and the Davis and Sacramento Mountains
- New Mexico east of the Guadalupe and Sandia Mountains
- Colorado east of the Front Range
- eastern portions of Wyoming east of the Laramie and Bighorn Mountains
- eastern Montana on a line angling northwest from the Bighorn Mountains to Glacier National Park
- the prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba west and south of the Canadian Shield and east of the Canadian Rockies, as far north as Edmonton
- the Missouri River basin in its entirety.
In the study of this region, we believe, state boundaries are artificial political divisions, of which the nineteenth century was especially fond. A proper understanding of the region requires focusing on its entire extent, Kansas City and Omaha west to the Rockies. To see a map of the region, click the MAP button.
We are attempting to bring together as comprehensive a collection as we can of citations to works relating to the Prairies and Plains region. We are discovering that the body of literature relating to the region is very large, and we may at some point need to limit bibliographic activity, but for the present we find it useful to cast as wide a net as possible.
Language. We set no theoretical limits as to language, but find it unusual to encounter materials other than in English, Spanish, or French. Occasional texts in other languages (e.g., the Norwegian of Giants in the Earth) are nearly always available in English translation. The only other language limitation we envision lies in the collective linguistic fluency possessed by the compilers.
Time period. The effective time period we cover begins with the early Spanish explorations, roughly 1540 CE, to the present. The region is far older than that, and we expect to include geological, physiographic, paleontological, archaeological, or geographic studies that cover earlier periods. The Spanish explorers were by no means the first people to inhabit or observe the region, but written records left by Indians who lived in the Prairies and Plains before the arrival of whites are all but nonexistent. Like any bibliography, this site is concerned chiefly with written and therefore accessible records. Much of what we see concerning the culture, civilization, social activity, economic life, and the like of Plains Indians before 1540 has been set down recently; while we include these, we warn that texts written by Indians who lived before whites arrived to take their land in effect do not exist. We cite materials published as recently as yesterday to emphasize our concern with all topics bearing on the Prairies and Plains, and to note that the history of the Plains continues to the present.
Topics. We regard everything written about the Prairies and Plains as eligible for inclusion. We cover geology, anthropology, agriculture, literature, art, religion, and especially history. We believe that we can contribute to an understanding of the region only by cov ering as large a range of subjects as possible. The best way to see the extent of coverage of the site is to click on the CLASSIFICATION tab. The classification will show both the range of topics we hope to cover and their relation to one another. Many titles will have something in passing to say about the region, but we will limit inclusion to works concerned principally with the geographic region of the Prairies and Plains. For example, Dictionary of Art will include articles having to do with Plains artists like John Steuart Curry and George Catlin, but its concern is with the world of art, where the Prairies and Plains has a small place; hence we will not list it. The various encyclopedias of the West and Midwest, on the other hand, cover the Prairies and Plains region because it is an integral part of the region with which they are concerned; we will include them
Forms of Publication. We will list books, journal articles, journals in their entirety when we index the entire run, reference titles (bibliographies, encyclopedias, atlases, and the like), electronic sources (principally Web sites), newspapers, government publications, and unpublished materials (diaries, journals, letters, etc.).