Explorers Stephen Long and Edwin James Declared Modern Day Oklahoma Could Never be Settled

Following is an excerpt from (Edwin) James's Account of S. H. Long's Expedition, 1819-1820, Volume 16, by Stephen Harriman Long, Thomas Say, Edwin James.


We had travelled more than one hundred and fifty miles along the bed of this river, without once having found it to contain running water. We had passed the mouths of many large tributaries, but they, like the river itself were beds of naked sand.


All our clothing had become so dirty as to be offensive both to sight and smell…We had kept ourselves in comfortable condition as long as we had met with water in which to wash our clothes. This had not now been the case for some weeks…The utmost we had been able to accomplish, when we had found it necessary to dig for water, was to scoop a wide and shallow excavation…but in so small a quantity, that not more than a pint could be dipped up at a time…and so turbid as to be unfit for use. The excessive heat of the weather aggravated the inconvenience resulting from the want of clean clothing, and we were not without fears that our health might suffer…

We met with nothing interesting, except the appearance of running water in the bed of the river. Since the 13th of the preceding month, we had travelled constantly along the river, and in all the distance passed in that time, which could not have been less than five hundred miles, we had seen running water in the river in one or two instances only, and in those it had evidently been occasioned by recent rains, and had extended but a mile or two, when it disappeared…


It would appear that all the water which falls in rains, or flows from springs, in an extent of country far greater than Pennsylvania, is not sufficient to supply the evaporation of a surface of naked and heated sands…The intervening space, occupying the extent of near twelve degrees of longitude, is a wide and desolate plain, destitute of timber; scorched in summer by the reverberation of the rays of the sun, howled over in winter by the freezing west winds from the Rocky Mountains…


In regard to this extensive section of country, we do not hesitate in giving the opinion, that it is almost wholly unfit for cultivation; and of course uninhabitable by people depending upon agriculture for their subsistence. Although tracts of fertile land, considerably extensive, are occasionally to be met with, yet the scarcity of wood and water, almost uniformly prevalent, will prove an insuperable obstacle in the way of settling the country.

 

(Present day Oklahoma and the American Southwest were) providentially placed to keep the American people from ruinous diffusion . . . We have little apprehension of giving too unfavorable an account of this portion of the country. Though the soil is in some places fertile, the want of timber, of navigable streams, and of water for the necessities of life, render it an unfit residence for any but a nomad population. The traveler who shall at any time have traversed its desolate sands, will, we think, join us in the wish that this region may forever remain the unmolested haunt of the native hunter, the bison, and the jackall.

--Edwin James, botanist accompanying American explorer Stephen H. Long

 

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