Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
Great Plains
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Great Plains

The Great Plains or High Plains are the elevated plains which lie east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States of America and Canada, covering the states of New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota and the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta.

The region is arid and generally characterized by rangeland or marginal farmland. Generally it lies west of the 100th meridian, which roughly corresponds with the line west of which there is 20 inches (500 mm) of rainfall a year or less. About every 25 years the region is subject to drought and may be subject to devastating duststorms. The region roughly centered on the Oklahoma Panhandle, including southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas, the Texas Panhandle, and extreme northeastern New Mexico was known as the Dust Bowl during the late 1920s and early 1930s. The effect of the drought combined with the effects of the Great Depression, and many farmers were forced off the land thoughout the Great Plains. Another drought has struck the area in recent years.

The southern portion of the Great Plains lies over the Ogallala Aquifer, a vast underground layer of water-bearing strata dating from the last ice age. Center pivot irrigation is used extensively, but the aquifer is being depleted at a rate that is not sustainable.

Historically the Great Plains were the range of the bison and of the Great Plains culture of the Native American tribes of the Blackfeet, Crow, Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche and others. The tribes of the Great Plains have been found [1] to be the tallest people in the world during the late 1800s, based on 21st century analysis of data collected by Franz Boas for the World Columbian Exposition. Anthropometric historians usually equate the height of populations with their overall health and standard of living.

After the near-extinction of the buffalo and the removal of the Native Americans to Indian reservations, the Great Plains were devoted to ranching and were open range, that is, anyone was theoretically free to run cattle. In the spring and fall, roundups were held and the new calves were branded and the cattle sorted out for sale. Ranching began in Texas and gradually moved northward. Texas cattle were driven north to the railroad, especially to Dodge City, Kansas, then shipped eastward by rail. Many foreign, especially British, investors financed the great ranches of the era. Overstocking of the range and the terrible winter of 1886 eventually resulted in a disaster with many cattle starved and frozen. From then onward, ranchers generally turned to raising feed in order to winter their cattle over.

The Homestead Act of 1862 provided that a settler could claim up to 160 acres (650,000 m²) of land provided he lived on it for a period of years and cultivated it. This was later expanded to include a homestead of an entire section. Hundreds of thousands of Americans and immigrants proved up homesteads, sometimes building sod housess out of the very turf of their land. Many of them were not skilled dryland farmerss and failures were frequent. Germans from Russia who had previously farmed in similar circumstances in what is now Ukraine were marginally more successful than the average homesteader. The Dominion Lands act of 1871 served a similar function in Canada.

Regions of the United States
Census Bureau Regions
U.S. Midwest | U.S. Northeast | U.S. South | U.S. West
Non-Census Bureau Regions
East | Eastern Seaboard | Gulf States | Great Lakes States | Mid-Atlantic | Mountain States | New England | North | Pacific Northwest | the Plains States | South Central States | Southeast | Southwest | Upper Midwest | West Coast

Further Reading

See also