« AnteriorContinuar »
GEOLOGY THE PLAINS OF KANSAS. — Six companies of the 10th U. S. cavalry marched from Fort Riley, Kansas, on the 15th of April, 1868, under orders to encamp for the summer near Fort Wallace. The route is along the line of the Union Pacific Railroad, eastern division, which is now completed to within thirty miles of Fort Wallace. This is known as the Smoky Hill route.
It is very generally believed that the plains are level prairies like those of Illinois; but this is not so. By the plains, frontiersmen mean the country west of the settlements, to the base of the Rocky Mountains. Along the line of the Smoky Hill River, the country is rolling and constantly broken by ravines. My notes commence at Fort Harker. This post is situated on the Smoky Hill, eighty-five miles west of its junction with the Republican, and two hundred miles from the Missouri River.
The soil in the river valley is deep and rich, as is also that of the numerous creeks flowing into it. The bluffs are mostly unsuited for cultivation, being formed of gravel and clay, covered with a soil but a few inches thick. The buffalo grass, with which the high ground is covered, does not grow more than three or four inches high, but is very sweet and nutritious, and is preferred by animals to the longer grasses found in the river bottoms. It is said by those who have been on the plains for many years, that as the buffalo is driven westward, the buffalo grass is replaced by others of more vigorous growth, especially by the blue-joint grass, which reaches a height of two or three feet. I was led to believe this true by personal observation, and it is probable that as the ground becomes covered and shaded by grasses of more luxuriant growth, and as forest trees obtain a more extensive foothold, the climate will be benefited, and there will be a more equitable fall of rain throughout the year, Very little rain falls from July to March, and a large proportion of that is carried off within a few hours by the numerous creeks, which are dry at other times in the dry season.
Timber is found on the plains along creeks and in ravines, where it is protected from prairie fires by the abrupt banks which are bare of grass in consequence of the constant falling away of the earth along their steep sides. The principal varieties of timber about Fort Harker are cotton-wood, oak, elm, ash, black-walnut, hackberry, box-alder, coffeebean and willow. Timber becomes more scarce as you go westward, until approaching the mountains, where it becomes quite abundant, pine and cedar taking the place of oak and other hard wood.
One of the earliest flowers is the Prairie-pea (Astragalus Mexicanus). The fruit is about the size of a green gage plum, and is very abundant, the fleshy pod being the part eaten. It tastes like the pod of the common pea, but when cooked is insipid and rarely eaten. A wild Hyacinth is found in the lowlands, and the Poppy-mallow (Malva Papaver), which a little later in the season is found in extensive beds, with its purple blossoms and dark green leaves, forms one of the most brilliant figures in the prairie carpet. The blue flowers of the Spiderwort are scattered over the bluff's, and a variety of Sida, with rose white flowers, form bright patches on the buffalo wallows. Along the steep banks of the creeks and ravines, the sensitive Brier (Schrankia) is to be found, not blossoming, however, till late in May. The blossom is unique and beautiful. It is a round composite head; the numeroas long purple Allaments make of it a silken tassel, the anthers tipping each thread with gold. The Prickly Poppy (Argemone) looks now like a common thistle, but in July it will put forth its large pure white blossoms.
The rock about Fort Harker is a sandstone of the Cretaceous period. It varies from a soft white stone, that may be broken up into sand by the hand, to a hard dark red stone, according to the amount of oxide of iron it contains. Where it has the right proportion of iron it is easily worked and makes an excellent building stone. The quarters at Fort Harker are built of it. While the quarry was being worked a large number of impressions of leaves of trees of existing species were found, the willow and oak most abundantly. Near the mouth of Wilson's Creek, twenty-two miles west of Harker, is a bed of lignite, which is being worked by a joint stock company. I was not able to visit it, but saw some specimens of the coal, and doubted if the sanguine expectations of the stockholders would be realized. At Fossil Creek, fifteen miles from Wilson's Creek, there is exposed a stratum of limestone, filled with a large fossil conchifer unknown to me. At Big Creek, near Fort Hays, we found antelope and buffalo abundant, and several buffalo calves have been caught and are being raised on cow's milk. They soon become quite tame.
I have had a serenade every morning and evening from a mocking-bird which has located himself in a large elm tree in the rear of my tent, the only mocking-bird I have heard in this State. There are beaver dams all along the creek, and numerous trees, recently cut down by sharp teeth, show that they are still plentiful.
A variety of wild mustard found here in damp places, makes excellent grass. In addition to those found at Fort Harker, there are a variety of Anemone with white and blue flowers, and a delicate pink Verbena. A variety of Penstemon (P. grandiflora and P. Digitalis) are found at Fort • Harker later; and two varieties of Allium, the flowers of one, if crushed, giving out a delightful fragrance, while the stem, if crushed, emits a strong odor of garlic; and also Castilleja sessiliflora, Ellisia Nyctelæa, and a great variety of plants belonging to the order Leguminosæ. The rock about Hays is a soft chalky marl, unfossiliferous as far as I could learn.
On the 25th of May we resumed our march westward, on the second day passing through a swarm of grasshoppers, extending about two miles. These plains are, doubtless, the breeding places for the immense swarms, which at times devastate portions of the State farther east. We encamped the 29th near Castle Rock, forty-nine miles west of Hays. This rock at a little distance looks like an immense old castle in ruins. It is ninety-one feet high, and about three hundred in circumference. It is composed of a bluish, friable, argillaceous shale about one third of the way up, and above this of a light yellow compact marl. It was evidently, at one time, continuous with some bluffs of the same character a mile south of it. The 30th we encamped at Monument Station, which receives its name from a number of columns of the same character as Castle Rock. There is a company of Infantry stationed here under command of Brevet. Lt. Col. Cunningham. As I rode up, in front of Col. Cunningham's quarters, the first thing that met my eye was a pile of fossil vertebræ, and the jaw of an immense Saurian. The jaw is over three feet long and is well preserved. The Colonel has already dug out sixty vertehræ. He estimates the length of the reptile at thirty feet. He was lying in a stratum of brick-red clay, below which is the shale and above the marl, which is described as forming Castle Rock. By hunting in the same locality I succeeded in finding a large number of shark's teeth, and the tooth of a Saurian. On the day following I found a place where the shale I have spoken of was uncovered, and on its surface picked up a quantity of fishes vertebræ, and some teeth. I found also the jaw of some small reptile, and just as I was returning, stumbled upon a pile containing about two bushels of fragments of fossil bone. The bones were badly broken up, but still sufficiently preserved to show that some unfortunate Saurian had been buried there. Between this place and Fort Wallace I obtained numerous specimens of fishes' vertebræ, and three vertebræ of a smaller Saurian. I am informed by Ass't Surgeon Turner, U. S. N., that he has forwarded to the Museum of the Academy of Natural Sciences, at Philadelphia, a very perfect specimen of a Saurian, which he estimates to have been fifty feet long. It was found in the blue shale of which I have spoken. Fort Wallace is situated near the extreme western boundary of Kansas,
within two or three miles of the Colorado line. The post is built of a light yellow marl, which may be readily sawed into blocks with a common hand-saw. A variety of Spanish Dagger (Yucca) is very abundant here, and is now in bloom, as is also the Mammilaria macromeris, which has a beautiful rose colored blossom, and the prickly-pear is beginning to put forth its large yellow blossoms.
We have in camp three young antelopes caught upon the march. They have become quite tame. The black-tailed deer is found in this vicinity, which is about as far east as it ranges. I have slighted the centipedes and the rattlesnakes, but it is not because they are scarce. One of the officers shook a large centipede from his boot the other morning, and nearly every one can produce a handful of rattles as proof that rattlesnakes are becoming scarce. - Dr. G. M. STERNBERG, U. S. A.
MICROSCOPY. A NEW PROCESS OF PREPARING SPECIMENS OF FILAMENTOUS ALGÆ FOR THE MICROSCOPE. — The working microscopist well knows how little really valuable information, of a practical character, is to be found in books professing to treat of the subject of preparing and mounting specimens of the lower families of Algæ, so as to exhibit in a satisfactory
manner the characters which distinguish them in a generic or specific
This remark also applies, although with not so much force, to other branches of microscopic manipulation, as there are really many valuable hints to be found in the books descriptive of preparing. woods, bones and other hard tissues, and the subject of injecting has received much attention, so that the labors of the student are very materially lightened by the perusal of the works of the German, English and French manipulators. But in microscopic botany our information is woefully deficient and old. The microscopist is therefore driven to the necessity of experimenting, and, as a consequence, discovering for himself. As the students of the lower families of plants are at the present time somewhat numerous, the result has, of course, been the development of many extremely valuable processes tending to simplify their study; but it is to be regretted that, whether from extreme modesty, or perhaps from some other cause, such as the fear that their processes are not new, or would not be appreciated, these gentlemen have, unfortunately, failed to publish. It cannot be denied that this mode of action is wrong, and that no one has a right to withhold the knowledge he may possess on such points. For my part I have taken every opportunity of publishing, or otherwise making known, any little point in manipulative microscopy which I have found of value, and which I have thought would in any way be of use to others.
For years I have been engaged in the study of the lower families of Algæ, more especially the Diatomaceæ, and for the purpose of eliminating their characters, I have at different times experimented upon the preparation and preservation of these beautiful forms, so as to be enabled at any future time to exhibit them in the best manner for showing their peculiarities. I have already published processes for obtaining the siliceous loricæ of Diatomaceæ from guano, and also several modes of collecting, preparing and mounting for the microscope these organisms. It is now my intention to make known a process I have contrived by means of which the filamentous forms of Diatomaceæ, Desmidiæ and Con. fervæ, can be preserved and mounted so as to show many of their characters, although, as is always the case, something has to be sacrificed. However, it is in my opinion the best process that has been as yet made public, and even if it is of no other value, I trust it will have the effect of drawing from others records of their modes of manipulation, so that searchers after truth, like myself, may learn something of value to them in their investigations.
It is well known that the Desmidiæ and the filamentous Algæ, generally found growing in fresh water, have never been preserved in a satisfactory manner, and this has arisen from the fact that their cell-walls are com· posed of a substance of a pe hable matter, and will not, like that of the Diatomaccæ, which is siliceous, bear boiling in corrosive liquids so as to remove the always readily decomposable cell-contents, and leave the object clean and transparent, while the Diatomaceæ, after such treatment as poiling in acid can be mounted in Canada balsam, by means of which
they are presented in such a state that the finest sculpture of their siliceous epidermis can be observed, and they are at the same time held within a preservative substance which does not permit of their movement and consequent danger of fracture; the Desmidiæ and the filamentous Algæ in general cannot be preserved so, and several means have been devised to keep them, all of which have been to a certain extent unsatisfactory. Besides there are some Diatomaceæ which grow in chains, as the Fragillaria, the frustules of which are united by means of a substance that will not bear the contact of acid necessary to remove the cellcontents; and again there are others, as the Gomphonema, which are attached to submerged substances by means of a flexible stalk called a stipe, which would dissolve under the same circumstances. Such Diatomaceæ have been generally merely placed in a cell formed of cement or other suitable substance, and preserved in a preservative solution consisting either of pure distilled water, or water containing creosote, camphor, or other substance possessing antiseptic properties. And the same plan has been followed with the filamentous Desmidiæ and other Algæ, but such specimens become, after a short time, unsightly. It is true that the general outline is preserved, but the cell-contents either contract or change in form and color, so as to injure the appearance of the specimen, or the same effect is brought about by the colored matter generally accompanying gatherings of such organisms.
My plan then is essentially as follows: Supposing I have a gathering consisting for the most part of a filamentous Desmid, as Desmidium Swartzii, which is a common species around New York city at certain periods of the year, I place a small quantity of it in a test tube, and pour over it, so as to about quarter fill the tube, a strong solution of the so called “chloride of soda,” which I prepare for the purpose in the following manner. Those, however, who have not the facilities for doing so, or do not desire to prepare their own solution, can use that sold by the apothecaries under the name of "Labarraque's Solution of Chloride of Soda,” which is, however, rather weaker than it is best often to use. My solution I make by adding to the water a large excess of the common chloride of lime of the shops, which is fresh and has not stood for : time in an open vessel exposed to the air, by means of which much of it becomes decomposed and useless for this purpose. After stirring well, and then allowing such a mixture to stand for a short time, until all that will not dissolve falls to the bottom, I pour off the clear liquid and add to
I it a concentrated solution of carbonate of soda, the common “washing soda,” until the white precipitate of carbonate of lime, or chalk, ceases to form. The clear solution is now poured off preferably through a good paper filter, and preserved in a well-corked bottle, away from the light. This is my solution of chloride of soda. The Alga is now boiled for a few minutes in the solution, but not so violently or for such a length of time as to break up the filaments, and then well and thoroughly washed with pure filtered or distilled water. It can thereafter be preserved in weak spirits, or, what I have found still better, water to which a few