Saturday, November 21, 2015

Bioregional Animism of the Great Nemaha Country (Northeast Kansas, Southeast Nebraska, Northwest Missouri), part 1

When I lived in Montana, I developed information on the bioregion and spirits of place there, based on the ecology and biology of the region (bioregion, or ecoregion) and the ancient traditions of the indigenous peoples of the region. Those posts and background can be read about here.

Now I am going to take those principles and apply them here, to the Iowa Reservation specifically and the Big Nemaha Country and its associated Missouri River Valley segment. This is a different kind of challenge, because although it is much smaller than all of Montana, it is in portions of three different states: northeastern Kansas, southeastern Nebraska, and northwestern Missouri. Sources are at the end of this post.

1. The primary focus is the land within the 1861 boundaries of the Diminished Iowa Reservation, or the Iowa Reservation we know today, bounded on the north by the Big Nemaha River, which are the same as the boundaries today, but are heavily checker boarded as to actual ownership, much of our reservation alienated and lost to nonIndians due to the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887.

2. The secondary area is the land of the original 1836-1861 boundaries of the Iowa Reservation, which extended further south, past Highland, KS. The purpose of the concern with these lands which were lost is that we have old village and burial sites within this lost portion of the reservation. Associated towns include White Cloud, Rulo, Falls City, Hiawatha, and Highland.

3. The lands directly north of the Big Nemaha will be addressed as well, for two reasons. First, those lands were part of the Nemaha Halfbreed Tract, a reservation for the mixed-blood descendants of French fathers and Indian mothers of various tribes, including the Iowa, which existed from 1830-1860. After that reservation was extinguished, many of the people married into the families on the Iowa Reservation just across the river, to whom many were already related. Second, those lands north of the river are part of the bioregion. Some locations in the Halfbreed Tract include Barada and Indian Cave State Park.

4. Finally, because this is a natural geography that underlies the cultural geography, a broader sense of the natural setting in which the reservation was located, centered on the hydrogeography of the Big Nemaha River, its tributaries and its outflow into the Missouri River. After all, while the cultural history of the indigenous people reflects the beliefs associated with this land, the rivers form the primary organizing structures of this bioregion. And across the river in Missouri, the Platte Purchase country was the home of the Iowa just before we were removed to our reservation, and the tribe still has interests in that country as well.


Physiographic Region according to the Kansas  Geological Survey:
"Glaciated Region - This area is bounded by the Kansas and Blue rivers. There are rounded hills and broad valleys with glacial deposits of quartzite on some of the hills."


EPA Ecoregions:
"Western Cornbelt Plains, including Missouri Alluvial Plain, Nebraska Kansas Loess Hills, Glacial Drift Hills." In Kansas this extends south past Atchison, all the way to Leavenworth. Complete information from :

47. Western Corn Belt Plains

47d. Missouri Alluvial Plain [Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri]
Square Miles: 559
Physiography: Glaciated. Level floodplain alluvium. Riparian wetlands largely drained.
Geology: Alluvial deposits over Cretaceous sandstone and shale (Carlile shale through Dakota sandstone) in the north, and Pennsylvanian shale, sandstone, and limestone to the south [The latter is the case here].
Potential Natural Vegetation: Northern floodplain forest: cottonwood, green ash, boxelder, and elm, with lowland tallgrass prairie: big bluestem, prairie cordgrass, switchgrass, and sedges.
Land Use and Land Cover: Intensively farmed for corn and soybeans. Transportation corridor with most areas drained by surface ditches, land grading, or protected by dams or levees.

47e. Loess Hills and Rolling Prairies [Missouri]

47f. Rolling Loess Prairies [Missouri]

47h. Nebraska Kansas Loess Hills [Kansas, Nebraska]
Square Miles: 3333
Physiography: Glaciated. Deep, rolling loess covered hills. Perennial streams.
Geology: Loess mantle with underlying calcareous glacial till on Pennsylvanian shale, sandstone, and limestone.
Potential Natural Vegetation: Tallgrass prairie: big bluestem, Indiangrass, switchgrass, and little bluestem. Scattered oak hickory forests and some floodplain woodlands along rivers and streams: bur oak, basswood, black walnut, green ash, plains cottonwoods, and willows.
Land Use and Land Cover: Principally in cropland except on the steep slopes, which are in trees and pasture. Corn, soybeans, small grains, and alfalfa are typical crops.

47i. Glacial Drift Hills
Square Miles: 6460
Physiography: Glaciated. Rolling low hills. Perennial streams.
Geology: Loess and clay loam calcareous glacial till. Loess is variable. Generally loess depth decreases with distance from source rivers. Pennsylvanian shale, sandstone, and limestone and Permian shale and limestone.
Potential Natural Vegetation: Tallgrass prairie with cottonwood dominated forests along floodplains and oak hickory forests on bluffs.
Land Use and Land Cover: Predominately cropland on the flatter loess hills with main crops of wheat and corn, and some areas in grain sorghum, soybeans, and alfalfa. Pastureland is more extensive on till soils.

47m. Western Loess Hills (Missouri)


The land cover today is almost entirely used for agricultural cropland and pasture, with some tracts in conservation (CRP), and some remnant portions so rugged and dissected through erosion they are considered nearly useless for anything other than hunting.

However the potential vegetation does remain in these eroded areas, though much has also been logged or damaged through invasive plant species. Potential vegetation of the bioregion includes Floodplain Vegetation, Oak-Hickory Forest, Tallgrass Prairie, and mixtures of these.