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Illinois Genealogy Trails

Prairies of Jefferson County Illinois

Arm of the Grand Prairie was in Jefferson County eight miles northeast of Mt. Vernon. The soil was tolerably good.
Casey’s Prairie in Jefferson County, near Mt. Vernon, was five miles long and two miles wide with a tolerably level surface and second rate soil.
Gun Prairie in Jefferson county, south of Mr. Vernon. was two miles long and a mile wide.
Jordan’s Prairie in Jefferson County, six miles north of Mr. Vernon, was five miles long and over a mile wide with a second rate soil.
Long Prairie in Jefferson County, five miles west of Mt. Vernon, was four miles long and over a mile wide.
Moore’s Prairie in Jefferson County, six to twelve miles southeast of Mt. Vernon, was eight miles long and two to three miles wide.
Walnut Hill Prairie in Marion and Jefferson Counties was four miles long, three miles wide, flat and wet.
[Source: Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Division of Natural Heritage]

by Alfred Brunson
A Methodist Circuit Rider traveling in Illinois in 1835

"The last 12 miles was traveled after sundown and by firelight over the prairie, it being on fire. This was the grandest scene I ever saw, the wind blew a gale all day, the grass was dry, & the fire being in the prairie at a distance. Where we entered it some men were kindling a fire to burn it away from their fences & then let it run - no odds who it burnt up. As the dark came on the fire shone more brilliantly. A cloud of smoke arose on which the fire shone below, and the reflection could be seen for miles, - in high grass it sometimes burns 30 feet high if driven by fierce winds. By the light of this fire we could read fine print for 1/2 mile or more. And the light reflected from the cloud of smoke, enlightened our road for miles after the blaze was out of sight. Till I saw this, I could never understand one part of the scripture, "the cloud which overspread the camp of Isreal and kept off the rays of the sun by day, was a pillar of fire by night." The reason why the cloud over the camp of Isreal gave light, was because the glory of God which rested in the tabernacle, shone upon it. "

When the settlers first came into this area they were surrounded by prairies, but once the prairie sod was broken other plants crowded in to replace the native prairie plants and the prairie no longer existed. In a few places a strip of unbroken prairie sod still grows along the fence rows, and there can be found some of the original prairie plants. A few such places are described below.

Remnants of Horse Prairie: The are stretching south and east from where Floyd Hartley lives was once a part of Horse Prairie. Some prairie plants grow in the area. Especially east of Emmerson crossing. The space between the railroad and route #148 on the south side of the crossing usually has some tall stalks of grass growing in late September and October. This is Turkey Foot,the botanical name is Andropogon. Traveling down the road east you will find more of the same, plus another tall grass with a head bearing rather heavy seeds. It is called Indian Grass, or Buffalo Grass as well as just plain Prairie Grass. It is the grass on which deer and buffalo used to fatten in the fall. If you have read of settlers seeing as many as a hundred deer feeding on one small prairie in the fall it was upon this grass that they were feeding. The botanical name is sorphastrum nuttans. Examine that same roadside in August and early September and you will see a tall plant with yellow flowers and deeply cleft leaves that always point north and south. Sniff it and you will find that it has a pungent odor like turpentine. This is called rosin weed, or compass plant. The botanical name is Sylphium laciniatum. Other prairie plants found growing there and along the railroad were liatris, or gay feather.
A tall weed three to five feet tall with a purple spire at the top when in bloom in August. Watch along the roadside a quarter mile east of the site of Old Williamsburg and you will find a tall stalk with yellow flowers growing up from some large, stiff, fan shaped leaves. This is Prairie Dock. The botanical name is Sylphium terebinthaceum. It is also called rosin weed. This is a small remnant of Knob Prairie and is one of the few places where Prairie Dock still grows, in this area.
Go east of Antioch curve for a quarter mile and you will find both Turkey Foot and Indian Grass growing along the fence row in September. This is a remnent of Elk Prairie.
In Minson Cemetery and south along the roadside can be found Turkey Foot and Indian Grass, a remnant of Grand Arm Prairie. It is an arm of Grand Prairie which wanders from Grand Prairie Township over into Washington County and back into Blissville Township.
Go north of Waltonville and turn east at the first road north of Big Muddy bridge. Go east to the first road north (in front of Opal Ellistons house). You will see both Prairie Grasses growing along the roadside and in August a profusion of liatris also grows there. This is a small remnant of Long Prairie. Go along route 148 toward Mt. Vernon until you pass the Drive-In Theater. Look in the flat area just north of the theater and you will see tall prairie grasses growing. This is a remnant of
Wolf Prairie.

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