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Character of Country between lat. 49o and 50° west of
Description of Moose Mountain-Plain from its Top West side of Moose Mountain
Timber on the Mountain View from High Hill-Souris Plain-West of Moose Moun tain-Character of Soil—of Vegetation-of Surface–Great Clay Plain-Its Rough Surface-Scarcity of Water-Wild Roses-A Visit to the Coteau-Cactus PlainWood in the Cotean—Description of Coteau-Resemblance to Turtle Mountain-Absence of Wood-Plateau of Lignite Tertiary-Wood Mountain-Disappearance of the Buffalo.
In the preceding chapter we described that part of the Souris Plain lying east and south of Moose Mountain. This “Mountain ” is part of an elevated group of drift hills that extend to the northwest, under the name of Weedy, Wolf, and Squirrel Hills. In the distance it presents the same appearance as Turtle Mountain, and forms a blue line on the horizon of considerable length. The distribution of wood upon these hills and their environs, presents an exact counterpart of that on Turtle Mountain. The east end of Moose Mountain rises into a somewhat conical peak 340 feet above the general level, and from it a wide view over the plain to the south and west is obtained. Far as the eye can reach stretches the naked plain, characterized a few short years ago as a barren desert, but now known to be of wonderful fertility. Like Turtle Mountain this group of hills is composed altogether of drift, and incloses numerous lakes of considerable size; these lakes are the sources of a few small streams, but in most instances they have no outlet, and in the autumn their water becomes brackish and unfit to drink,
Moose Mountain, as seen from the prairie on the east side, rises with a gentle slope and is flanked by marshes extending some miles to the east. Towards the south two or three rounded points are seen rising to a considerable elevation,
but when the base is reached nothing to be called a hill is visible. On a westerly course we travelled twenty-one miles along the hills, about three miles from the green timber Having penetrated it nearly four miles, I am safe in stating that there are at least 100 square miles of good timber, nearly all balsam and aspen poplar. Occasionally a few small ash and ash-leaved maple appear, but these are of no value. There is abundance of water in the hills, nearly one-fourth of the surface being covered by it, but the greater part of it is brackish, being in isolated ponds like those in the Touchwood Hills. Whenever the ponds are connected by an outflow they are invariably good. The others are not, unless fed directly by springs. The whole country to the north of the continuous wood consists of ridges, ponds, lakelets, and hay marshes, with very little level land, but the soil is always good, even on the tops of the ridges, which show gravel on the surface. Pits were frequently dug and the black loam was never less than nine inches in depth. Often with pebbles on the surface first-class soil was found for a depth of eighteen inches.
From the top of the highest hill, at the northern end of the continuous green wood, a very extensive view of the whole country to the west and north was obtained. To the west the view was bounded by our powers of vision, while to the north numerous bluffs and ridges showed that some of the timber still remained, which had been seen by Palliser and Hind twenty years before.
Southwestward of this region lies the western part of the great Souris Plain, which to the old explorers was a howling wilderness destined to sterility, on account of its light rainfall, scarcity of water, and total absence of wood. This immense treeless expanse, extending from the Souris River, on the 101st Meridian, northwesterly to Moose Jaw Creek, in nearly the 106th Meridian, we crossed diagonally from Moose Mountain to the confluence of Moose Jaw and Thunder Creeks.
After leaving Moose Mountain, the country, for a few miles, is rather broken by occasional ponds of brackish water and ridges containing a large percentage of gravel. Proceeding westward, the country becomes more level, the soil better, but water scarcer; almost imperceptibly, the traveller enters upon a vast plain, extending to the west and south into the horizon, without a bush or mound to break its uniformity. At first, blue hills are seen to the north, but as days pass, these disappear, and that sense of utter loneliness comes irresistibly upon him, that travellers crossing
. the “Great Plains" of the United States have noted.
Numerous pits were dug into the soil each day, as we proceeded. As we passed west from Moose Mountain, the country became drier, the grass shorter, and the surface soil more difficult to penetrate. We never failed to find firstclass soil, but about eight inches of it was almost entirely roots and often very hard and dry, but beneath this, at a depth of two feet, it was quite soft. Roots penetrated much beyond this depth. Fire passes over the country every year, and, in 1879, in many places, burned the life so completely out of the roots of the various grasses which have a tendency to grow in clumps, that the following year, scarcely a blade was seen. Although the grass is short the rainfall is quite sufficient, as there is abundance of fresh water ponds, and yet not a shrub over six inches high exists in the country. I speak of the region east of the Qu'Appelle trail, which we crossed in lat. 50°03'..
Before crossing the Qu'Appelle trail, the character of the soil changed. Instead of being a black loam on the surface, of varying depth, with a light colored clay sub-soil, it became more homogeneous, and was generally a strong friable clay with scarcely any water on the surface, but covered with a crop of tall, rich-looking grass, which was remarkably green and fresh. The soil was precisely the same as that I had noted on the great plain, south of Battleford, in 1879. For
forty-five miles, we passed over a region which was almost a dead level, and yet so rough, throughout the greater part of it, that our carts were nearly shaken to pieces. Patches of skin were jerked off the necks of the horses, by the twisting caused by the hummocks and hollows. By digging pits into the soil, we ascertained the reason of this extraordinary roughness. Although the ground appeared hard and dry, it was not so. In reality, about eighteen inches of the surface was quite soft, and so easily penetrated, that almost without an effort, a spade could be thrust into it up to the head. Beneath this, however, the clay was very hard and dry. All the spring and summer, rain enters the soil quite easily, by means of the cracks surrounding each hummock. These are well described by Dr. Robert Bell, when speaking of another part of this region :-“ The clayey ground, in this part of the country, is rendered hummocky and difficult to travel over by carts, owing to the fissures produced by drying, in former years. These fissures divide the ground into spaces, usually five-sided, from one to two yards in width. The edges of the fissures, by falling in, have gradually converted the intervening spaces into dome-shaped mounds, which are hard and unyielding. These principal hummocks are again divided by minor fissures of more recent date.. This kind of surface extends alike over the flat-bottomed hollows and low-swelling hills.” The moisture descends almost at once into the soil, by means of these cracks, and owing to the imperviousness of the clay, is retained near the surface, or just below where the soil is friable. The winter's frosts expand this moist soil, and instead of these cracks being caused by the sun, they are frost cracks, produced by the heaving of the soil. Clay taken out at a depth of two feet, was generally in little cubes, and it was between the crevices of these that roots penetrated to an unknown depth. With all our exertions, water was obtained on the surface only four times in crossing this forty-five miles, and yet the
whole air was odorous with roses which grow on bushes a few inches in height. The prevailing grass of the region was a species of wheat grass (Triticum), closely related to the quick, quack or couch grass of Ontario, a grass known to be sweet and nutritious.
Southwest of this tract, blue hills began to show themselves, but instead of water becoming more plentiful it became scarcer, and with our utmost exertions we could not obtain a drop, so that it was ultimately necessary to deviate from my instructions and proceed to the north. Before I was compelled to do this, however, I left the party encamped at a water pool, and with two others went thirty miles to the south to locate the blue hills seen in that direction, Ten miles over such a country as I have been describing, brought us to Moose Jaw Creek flowing to the northwest, with banks about ten feet in height, and breadth about twelve feet The water was very muddy. After crossing it, we came upon another creek of pure sparkling water, which came from the Coteau and emptied into the first, a little to the west of our crossing. Nearly twenty miles over a perfectly level plain, which in places was covered with a profusion of cactus, brought us to the base of the Coteau, at a point near the Cactus Hills. The plain between the creek and the hills was principally Cretaceous clay, and occasional patches of it were without any vegetation, except that peculiar to arid soil. The ravines along the Coteau were filled with wood of small size. Ash, elm, maple, and poplar were the prominent species, but numerous shrubs were likewise seen. Along the creeks, willow clumps were common but no trees.
The lift from the plain to the top of the hills was about 400 feet, and seemed to be the “ruins of an escarpment,” as the whole face consisted of a series of slides with the strata tilted at various angles. The plain crossed south of the