Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Quarterly GPQ 8 (Spring 1988): 69-78. Copyright 1988 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska—Lincoln.


During the decades of exploration and settlement of the trans-Mississippi West, travelers and emigrants encountered a new kind of landscape on the Great Plains. Aside from dramatic geological formations like Courthouse Rock, this landscape lacked many of the visual qualities conventionally associated with natural beauty in the nineteenth century. "It may enchant the imagination for a moment to look over the prairies and plains as far as the eye can reach," Sarah Raymond wrote in her diary in 1865, "still such a view is tedious and monotonous. It can in no wise produce that rapturing delight, that pleasing variety of the sublime and beauty of landscape scenery that mountains afford." Although Raymond used romantic standards in evaluating the plains, others judged the setting in terms of what it might become. As Alexis de Tocqueville had noticed, some Americans seemed "insensible to the wonders of inanimate nature" because "their eyes ... [are] fixed upon another sight . . . draining swamps, turning the course of rivers, peopling solitudes, and subduing nature. 1