A Sea of Grass
In its early days Fort Snelling was surrounded by a sea of head-high grass. The vast Minnesota prairie was broken only by small groves of trees—willows, cottonwoods, and oaks that grew near creeks, lakes, and marshes.
Early soldiers at Fort Snelling had limited success farming the prairie. Tools to break the soil and seeds adapted to the climate would not be available until the late 1840's. They did find the prairie hay to be excellent forage for livestock, however, and mowed many acres of the long grass each year.
"Tremendous fires on the Prairies—last night—light enough to pick up the Smallest Substance from the ground.
"Public Wood—20 Cords which had been cut, Corded up and paid for—was entirely consumed by the fireing of the Prairies yesterday evening."
Major Lawrence Taliaferro,
St. Peters Indian Agency Journal
October 24, 1827
"There are many modes by which the fire is communicated to them [the prairies], both by white men and by Indians—par accident; and yet many more where it is voluntarily done for the purpose of getting a fresh crop of grass, for the grazing of their horses, and for easier traveling during the next summer, when there will be no old grass to lie upon the prairies, entangling the feet of man and horse, as they are passing over them."
George Catlin, 1830
Minnesota Historical Society
Historic Fort Snelling