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Face of the Country, Soil and Geological Features

The natural features peculiar to Wisconsin, is the uniformity of its elevation, and shape of its surface, which is neither mountainous, hilly or flat, but gently undulating. The country west of Sugar river and south of the Wisconsin, is somewhat broken, principally by the dividing ridge upon which the road from Madison to Prairie du Chien passes. In this section, known as the Mines, are several peculiar elevations called Mounds. West of the Wisconsin River, are a range of high hills, being the only elevations in the State, either deserving or assuming the dignity of mountains. The southeastern portion of the State is marked by ravines at the streams but little depressed below the surrounding level. Its prominent features are the Prairie, destitute of tree or shrub, covered only by a luxuriant growth of grass, interspersed with flowers of every hue; the Oak Opening; the Lake; the woodland, on the border of streams, and the natural meadow. Proceeding north, to the Fox and Wisconsin rivers, and Green Bay, the timber increases, and the soil gradually changes from the vegetable mold of the prairie to a sandy loam. The surface also becomes somewhat depressed and uneven, diversified with timber, rolling prairie, large marshes and extensive swamps, having an abundant growth of cranberries and wild rice. Still north, and west, the surface becomes more uneven, and the streams rapid, affording an abundance of water power for the manufacture of lumber from the immense forests of evergreen, scarcely surpassed on the western continent.

The soil of the prairie consists of a dark brown vegetable mold, from one to two feet in depth, very mellow, and entirely destitute of stone or gravel, and for fertility and agricultural properties, cannot be surpassed. The sub-soil is a clayish loam, similar to the soil of the timbered lands, and is also suitable for cultivation. The soil of the timbered land is less rich than the prairie, not so deep, and contains less carbonate of lime, which enters into the composition of the latter in the proportion of from 20 to 40 per cent. The mining region, unlike that of any other mineral district, promises a liberal reward, as well to the farmer as to the miner. The soil of the evergreen district is mostly sandy, and not so rich as in other portions of the State. It is nevertheless, well adapted to agriculture and grazing.

The prairies of Wisconsin are not so extensive as those of other states, and are so skirted and belted by timber, that they are well adapted to immediate and profitable occupation.

The openings, which comprise a large portion of the finest land of the State, owe their present condition to the action of the annual fires which have kept under all other forest growth, except those varieties of oak which can withstand the sweep of that element.

This annual burning of an exuberant growth of grasses and of under-brush, has been adding, perhaps for ages, to the productive power of the soil, and preparing it for the plough-share.

It is the great fact, nature has thus "cleared up" Wisconsin to the hand of the settler, and enriched it by yearly burnings, and has at the same time left sufficient timber on the ground for fence and firewood, that explains, in a great measure, the capacity it has exhibited, and is now exhibiting for rapid settlement and early maturity.

There is another fact important to be noticed in this connection. The low level prairie, or natural meadow, of moderate extent, is so generally distributed over the face of the country, that the settler on a fine section of arable land, finds on his own farm, or in his immediate neighborhood, abundant pasturage for his stock in summer, on the open range; and hay for the winter, for the cutting, the bounty of Nature supplying his need in this behalf, till the cultivated grasses may be introduced and become sufficient for his use.

The limestone, underlying the coal fields of Illinois, forms the immediate basis of the allusion of Southern Wisconsin. This geological district, in addition to that portion of the State which lies southerly of the valley of the Wisconsin River, comprises the whole of the slope towards Lake Michigan.

In many portions of this district, the lime rock disappears, and the out-cropping sand stone furnishes a fine material for building.

The lead bearing rock of the mineral region, is a porous lime stone, prevailing throughout Grant, Lafayette and Iowa Counties, comprising four-fifths of the "Lead District" of the upper Mississippi; the remaining one-fifth being in the States of Illinois and Iowa.

Deposits of iron ore, water lime stone, and beds of gypsum, together with other varieties of minerals, are found in localities more or less numerous, throughout the lime stone region.

All of that section of the State, which lies between Lake Superior on the North, and the falls of St. Anthony on the Mississippi, and the falls of the other rivers flowing southerly, is primitive in its prevailing geological character; and it is within this primitive region, that the copper mines of Lake Superior are found, probably the richest in the world, and apparently inexhaustible.

In all that portion of the State, lying between the primitive region just described, and the lime stone formation of the South and East, the transition sand stone prevails; interspersed with lime stone, and more sparsely, with rock of a primitive character. This formation comprises that section of the country drained by the Wisconsin and other rivers tributary to the upper Mississippi, and below the falls of those streams. "Within this Geological District, are found quarries of white marble, which promise to be abundant and valuable.

Source: Wisconsin Gazetteer,  By John Warren Hunt. Madison: Beriah Brown, Printer, 1853

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