North-South-East-West: American Indians and the Natural World

The Great Plains

Sea of Grass

A sea of grass sweeps across the Great Plains. This area serves as the home for a wide variety of species including elk, pronghorn antelope, deer, wild turkey, prairie dogs, coyotes, and Golden and Bald Eagles.

Once these grasses and the buffalo assisted each other. The native grasses nourished abundant herds of buffalo and stabilized the soil. In return the buffalo aerated the soil with their sharp hooves and turned seeds and plant mulch deep into the earth to regenerate the plants.

Prairie fires are renowned for sweeping quickly across the open grasslands, flamed by the ceaseless winds. Plains people used this phenomenon to their advantage. They intentionally set fires in the spring to allow new grass to sprout early, thereby assuring feed for their herds of horses. At the same time, the fires helped to maintain the grasslands by burning off dead plant matter and invasive woody plants while returning nutrients to the soil.

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