By Christopher B. Daly
Thanks to TNR and this terrific piece by Susan Schulten about two very powerful maps that could have (and should have) shaped the settlement of the United States. Essentially, they tell the same story: do not attempt European-style agriculture west of the long-grass Great Plains.
Here’s a map made by the great one-armed Western explorer John Wesley Powell for the U.S. Geological Survey:
In it, he drew a north-south line from the middle of North Dakota to Houston and warned against even attempting to farm those areas (except for the far West Coast). The wonderfully colored areas depict the watersheds of the region’s major rivers.
And here’s an earlier map showing rainfall totals across the country. Again, the message is pretty clear.