Sociology, Department of


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Published in Dryland Agriculture, Edited by H.E. Dregne and W.O. Willis, Madison, Wisconsin, 1983. Copyright (c) 1983 by the American Society of Agronomy, Inc., Crop Science Society of America, Inc., and Soil Science Society of America, Inc. Used by permission.


The physical environment of the Great Plains region in the USA is unique to the nation. It presents a set of climate and land conditions so extreme that for many years it was known as the "great American desert." As late as 1823, Major Long of the Army Engineers reported that most of the land between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains "is almost wholly unfit for cultivation, and of course uninhabitable by a people depending on agriculture for their subsistence." Today, by adapting techniques to fit a semiarid location and through the development of new technologies, the Great Plains has become one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world. This chapter will examine important social characteristics of the people living on the Great Plains. The guiding question in the preparation has been whether the physical nature of the region and subsequent pattern of settlement has led to any significant differences between the inhabitants of the area and those living elsewhere in American society. How, if at all, has living in a semiarid or dryland region affected the quality of life of its people? Do they have any special problems? Do they have any special advantages?

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