I recently ran across a little gem of a book in a local used bookstore (yes, we have two in the town where I live). It’s called Sunlight and Storm – The Great American Plains by Alexander B. Adams. It was published back in 1977, but because it is something of an encyclopedia of mostly historical events in the plains (the book’s scope does not reach beyond the late 1800s), the information in it remains valid, and also colorfully delivered.
The history is generally the European version, and leaves much to be desired as far as information concerning the Native Americans of the region, but it does a nice job of relaying stories from early trappers such as Henry Kelsey, the search for Quivira (the fabled city of gold that kept the Spanish wandering around the Great Plains for years), the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the westward expansion that immediately followed. For all of this history, the Great Plains serves as the stage. The amazing history of the region is just one more compelling reason to have a National Scenic Trail for this important part of the country. In fact, Adams argues that the Great Plains might actually be the most American part of the country:
“. . . what is typically American? A New England village, looking like a Christmas card in a December snowstorm? A riverboat working its way upstream between the levees that contain the Mississippi? A forest, a desert, a lake? Each of these is typically American, but perhaps one place deserves the designation more than any other – the Great Plains.”
“When we chose a mammal to put on our coins, we did not select a rabbit or a deer, two of our most common. We picked a representative of the vast herds of buffaloes that once roamed our land . . .”
“There in the blazing sunlight or darkening storm, often alone and beseiged by problems and dangers, American men and women developed many of the qualities and traditions we now consider typically American. As a consequence, the Great Plains were the birthplace of much of the American spirit. Harsh and cruel as the area often was, it gave us the gift of being what we are.”