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Character of Country between lat. 51° and 52° West of
Country West of the Assiniboine-Beaver and Touchwood Hills-Heavy Forest-Rich
and Lovely Country-Great Salt Plain-Immense Plain to the South—Tract North of the Qu'Appelle-Rich Soil and Rank Grass—Last Mountain—Water Scarce on Surface-Broken Country, Twenty-two Miles Wide-Fine Pasture Lands—No Bad Soil in Eighty Miles-Lines of Boulders, near Humboldt-Cause of Wood at Certain Points-Extensive Plain Southwest of Touchwood Hills-Salt Marshes-Little Touchwood Hills Mission at this point—File Hills South Saskatchewan, Voyage Down It-Moose Woods—North of Moose Woods—Land East of River-Soil of Great Depth ---Aroline, or Telegraph Crossing-Rich LandCountry West of River—Fine Level Tract-Eagle Creek—Eagle Hills, Fine Country for Stock.
AFTER passing above the mouth of Shell River the land on the right bank of the Assiniboine becomes exceedingly rich, and in every respect as good as that east of the river. All travellers and surveyors speak in the highest terms of the land west of Fort Pelly and south of the telegraph line, and although much of it is wet and generally covered with forest or brush it is a very desirable country. The Beaver and Touchwood Hills farther to the west are covered in part with heavy forest, and although not suitable for present settlement, owing to the forest and marsh which predominate in some places, yet there are large areas covered with a wealth of tall grass, pea vine, vetch, and lovely flowers that will tempt the pioneers of the next few years to locate in the park like country both north and south of these so-called hills.
Extending west from the Touchwood Hills, is a level plain without wood for thirty miles on the line of the Carlton trail. This plain has been erroneously called the Great Salt Plain, whereas the part of it to which the term applies, is scarcely twelve miles wide on the trail. Stretching westerly from the hills, a plain over 120 miles wide extends to the South Saskatchewan For nearly the whole distance, the surface is undulating or quite level with occasional waves a mile or two apart. Scarcely a twig exists on the whole plain. Fresh water and excellent soil are found everywhere. In the southern part, near the head of Little Arm Creek, the country is broken into rolling hills, but the soil is very rich.
The following description of this tract was written on the ground, and gives a general picture of this section. The country described is generally on the 106th meridian from the Qu'Appelle River north.
Our course was now due north for eighty miles, so as to traverse the great plain, extending northward from the Qu'Appelle, in its greatest length. The soil of this plain was thought to be generally sandy, so I resolved to examine it every mile for the whole distance. We did not expect to find any wood and but very little water on the journey, 80, after filling our kegs and piling a week's wood on our carts, we started north.
Ascending out of the valley we found that the upper part of the slope and the outer margin of the plateau, were covered with boulders just as we had found them on the southern side. As we receded from the river, the plain crossed on September 11th began to assume the appearance of a range of hills, but we knew it was only the undulations rising slightly one over the other, and that no hills existed in that direction. This is the Eye Brow Hill Range of Hind's Report. For sixteen miles from the river, the plateau was almost level, with a slight rise to the north. The soil near the river was a light sandy loam with short grass, but this soon changed for the better and the grass became taller.
From the crest of the plateau, spoken of above, we could see an immense distance to the west and north over a boundless plain. Apparently about forty miles off, Last Mountain rose from the plain, standing alone being a very prominent object on the horizon in the northeast. Our course led us along the edge of the plateau, and occasionally "cut banks” could be seen in the distance, showing the course of Little Arm Creek. All day we travelled over a level prairie, covered with good grass, and having excellent soil but not a drop of water except at the creek. Another day, over the same level prairie, with Little Arm Creek flowing through it, brought us to the margin of a broken, hilly country which extended east and west as far as we could see, and was twenty-two miles from south to north.
As we proceeded north, the soil constantly improved; the grass was always tall, water abundant and good, and this tract although rough and much broken by lakelets, ponds, hay-marshes, and hills, had a rich soil and was well suited for pasture everywhere. Near the head of Little Arm Creek, clumps of bushes were observed nestling along the margin of some lakelets. These showed that, if fires could only be stopped, bushes suitable to shelter stock would soon grow up.
A descent of 100 feet brought us to a plain, which extended far to the north, while the hills we had just left, ran almost due east and west. Fifteen miles over the plain brought us to our most northern limit, latitude 51° 43'
In travelling the eighty miles just described, I never observed bad soil. No sandy soil was seen except close to the Qu'Appelle. The greater part of the surface was level or gently rolling, and where it did rise into hills, the soil was always good. I constantly dug into the dry knolls and found excellent soil, although pebbles were on the surface and boulders were frequently seen.
For the first thirtyfive miles water was scarce, but after that it was always plentiful. Brackish water was
water was never detected, except once, until we descended from the line of hills. After that occasional pools were seen in circular depressions or narrow valleys. For the last fifteen miles boulders on the knolls were of constant occurrence. Occasionally the country became more rolling and a few willows and small poplars about two years old were seen around the hollows, but not large enough to use as fuel.
Turning east we travelled for twenty-five miles over either a level or undulating prairie, with a clay loam surface soil, having numerous boulders at times scattered over it. The high ground left on Saturday, Sept. 11th, was seen in the south, but to the north a high undulating country alone was visible, with occasional patches of small wood.
We now crossed a stony tract about five miles wide, running north and south, and afterwards entered on a level sandy loam plain, which extended to Wolverine Creek, a distance of six miles. This plain showed signs of alkali, and was the poorest land we had seen since leaving Strong Current Creek. After getting a supply of wood and communicating with Humboldt so as to fix our longitude, I turned south for the purpose of traversing what is known as the Great Salt Plain. Had the country in the vicinity of Humboldt continued as good as farther south, no wood would be found here either, but the stony tract referred to with numerous marshes, ponds and long narrow lakes, lying south of the woods, stops the fires and saves the wood. The soil near the margin of the woods was a dark colored sandy loam, containing a very large percentage of silica.
This sandy and alkaline soil vanished as soon as we crossed Wolverine Creek, which is here nothing but a series of pools connected by sloughs. Proceeding south we entered upon a very level plain, which continued without change, except for the better, for thirty miles. Many clumps of small poplars of from one to six years growth were passed, and occasionally a narrow ridge or roll in the prairie, but nothing like a hill was seen for many miles. Near the
centre of this tract we crossed a fine creek twenty feet wide, with two feet of flowing water in it, which is probably the discharge of Quill Lakes, and is the middle creek that enters the head of Long Lake. The creek merely runs in a slight depression, with banks nowhere more than four feet high, margin always dry and no signs of alkali. For many miles a higher tract could be seen to the west, with many prominences covered with trees or brushwood, but this disappeared or merged into the high country which lies to the southwest, and which is a continuation of the elevated region described as extending east and west from the head of Little Arm Creek. In the direction of the Touchwood Hills high rolling land could be seen, with occasional patches of wood.
On this whole plain the greater part of the grass was tall enough for hay, water was abundant and always good, the soil invariably a rich sandy or clay loam, and no gravel except in the subsoil. The only poor land observed was a narrow strip on each side of Wolverine Creek.
Crossing a small stream flowing nearly west we passed for six miles through a very fine country with rich soil, but all the depressions were alkaline and the marsh water generally brackish. The country at this point seemed to be covered on the higher ground with a thin coating of drift, but this in the lower places gave place to Cretaceous clay, which here took the form of white mud swamps instead of the hard baked clay flats of the southern prairies, where the rainfall was light. Having reached a small creek flowing to the west, and seeing Last Mountain lying southeast of us, we changed our course to the southeast before crossing the creek, and very soon entered on another part of the plain spoken of above, which was much more difficult to cross owing to numerous white mud swamps that lay in our course. Reaching the creek again, now flowing in a valley about half mile wide, and crossing it with extreme difficulty, we entered on a fine undulating country of great extent.