History In The Soil
Look across the landscape. Imagine standing here in 1850. There were no farms, no roads - only tallgrass prairie, shimmering in the wind as far as the eye could see.
The lifecycle of these southern Minnesota prairies developed some of the world's richest and deepest top soils. In the mid 1800s, settlers came here to claim a plot of land. These pioneers farmed the deep, rich soils that fed the growth of a new state. Minnesota's population grew from 5,000 in 1850 to 172,000 in 1860, despite how difficult and risky pioneer life was.
In 1873, George and Mary Carpenter left a rented farm outside Rochester, Minnesota for Lyon County. The couple and their small children made the 200-mile, two-week journey by covered wagon, herding their livestock alongside. Many of their belongings were shipped separately by train. The couple staked a claim on 80 acres.
Early settlers used wooden plows to till the deep prairie topsail. Created in 1837, the John Deere steel moldboard plow greatly eased work of converting tallgrass prairie to farmland. Within a few decades, most of
"Life is seething in this soil, which hat been millions of years in the making." - Joe Paddock, From Earth TonguesTending Straw Fires
Mary Carpenter, a prolific letter writer, wrote to relatives elsewhere about her days living on the prairie in Lyon County during the late 1800s. "We camped in our wagon & cooked our meals by a camp fire,” Mary wrote, "I was not romantic enough to enjoy it much, but endured it better than I feared.” She was six months pregnant.
Mary wrote frequently about life at the new farm. "I got up before four, got breakfast, skimmed milk, churned, worked over the churning already on hand, did a large washing, baked six loaves of bread, & seven pumpkin pies, while I was baking put on the irons & did the ironing got supper ... besides washing all the dishes, making the beds [and] sweeping."
"Those who live where wood is cheap, & plentiful, little know the inconveniences that many prairie settlers have to put up with. I call tending straw fire one sort of slavery, for someone must stay right by the stove & feed it constantly. It makes life seem long sometimes."
We tend to think of Minnesota's once vast prairies as dry, but they were dotted with shallow ponds and wet and moist prairies. Today's landscape looks different. Many prairie wetlandswere drained and converted to crop land. Wildfire suppression and planting of windbreaks allowed trees to invade the once treeless prairies. Visit a tallgrass prairie for a glimpse of the vastness of the prairies of our past.
Listen.... If you're here in the summer, you might notice insects humming. Among them, several species of bees and other flying insects are hard at work collecting nectar and spreading pollen. Take a few minutes to visit the prairie path at this site and investigate.
Each time bees visit a flower, pollen granules cling to their legs and bodies. Flying from flower to flower, they distribute the pollen and fertilize plants. Flowering plants rely on this process to reproduce. Bees deserve most of the credit, but butterflies, moths, wasps, and hummingbirds also pollinate.
Bees are important to our food supply.
Some estimate one-third of all human
food depends on insects or animals to
help with fertilization. When in bloom,
agricultural crops feed pollinators for
only a few weeks in the summer. The
wide variety of prairie wildflowers
provide nectar from spring through fall.
(Side 2) TALLGRASS PRAIRIE
Tallgrass prairie gets its name from some species of grass that reach more than six feet tall by late summer. Some call it an upside-down forest, because roots can reach more than 15 feet underground.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: Settlements & Settlers.
Location. 43° 38.117′ N, 95° 4.983′ W. Marker is near Jackson, Minnesota, in Jackson County. Marker is on the eastbound rest area (Interstate 90 at milepost 69) east of State Highway 86, on the right when traveling east. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Jackson MN 56143, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 1 other marker is within 4 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Government Ditches (approx. 3.2 miles away).
Credits. This page was last revised on February 7, 2021. It was originally submitted on December 6, 2020, by TeamOHE of Wauseon, Ohio. This page has been viewed 15 times since then and 5 times this year. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on December 6, 2020, by TeamOHE of Wauseon, Ohio. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.