Chad's Garden: Twelive Mile Prairie & the Prairies Around It 200 Years Ago

I have mapped out the prairies surrounding the Twelve Mile Prairie ecosystem & what is there in these areas today.

Posted: Aug 23, 2019 5:59 PM
Updated: Aug 23, 2019 10:49 PM

Taking early land survey notes & pioneer notes & maps, I have mapped out the prairies surrounding the historic Twelve Mile Prairie. 

Twelve Mile Prairie was named for it being, on average, 12 miles wide.  However, it stretched solidly from north of Newtown & west of Odell to far western Tipton County.

Outliers of it were seen east of Attica & south of Rob Roy & east of Michigantown to around Goldsmith.

One of these outliers, Shawnee Prairie (east & southeast of Attica), is referenced in Fountain County history as where prairie chickens were in "great numbers" formerly.

Twelve Mile's soild peninsula of solid prairie & is still known for its black, loamy, fertile soils, through imperfectly drained in many areas made up of Wisconsin glacial till & also some lake deposits in a flat plain with lack of any elevation change.

This prairie & zone is best seen along Route 28 around Odell & through Clinton County.

Most prairies in the area were named from early pioneers, large & small.

Some communities were named for their proximity to the prairies.  For example, Forest in Clinton County was named for the community being on the edge of Indian Prairie & solid, deep forest.

Shadeland was named for that community being founded on the edge of the Wea Plains prairie, the edge between the deep forests in the Lafayette ravines & the open prairie with a few groves & spotty oaks & hickories.

Stoney Prairie south of Mulberry is on a well-drained, more stony or gravelly moraine.

Twelve Mile Prairie was an average of 12 miles wide with coal-black, loamy soils.

Wea Plains were sandy to sandy loam prairie.

Grand Prairie was part of the solid Benton County to northwest Tippecanoe County black loam prairie ecosystem.

Rolling Prairie was on rolling topography north of Hillsboro.

Shawnee Prairie was found east, southeast of Attica & near Rob Roy, straddling creeks with woodland along those creeks.  Shawnee Prairie was a nearly direct extension of Twelve Mile Prairie.  The gene flow & species composition was likely identical to that of Twelve Mile.

Named after an early settler, Osborn Prairie, was found east-northeast of Covington.

At the southern tip of Warren County, Mound Prairie was found on a long, low mound or hill south & southwest of I-74 & Indiana 63 interchange.

Wea Plains today:

Wildcat Prairie

Twelve Mile Prairie

Shawnee Prairie

Osborn Prairie

Mound Prairie

All of these prairies bled into one ecosystem with a mix of barrens, savanna, groves, ribbons of timber, a few scattered trees & deep forest with all showing very wet, wet, mesic or mesic-dry sites.  Low sand dunes on the Wea Plains support dry sites.

Native Americans burnt these areas for hunting frequently to attract game after prairies became established in a series of dry periods followed the last glaciation.  They had a symbiotic relationship with them, as did numerous animal species.

Flat areas were much easier to burn & saw much larger swaths of game attracted.

Some areas, like that on Twelve Mile & Shawnee Prairie, had grass +10' in height.  Meanwhile, barrens at Black Rock & dry sites on the Wea saw grass of only 2' in height.

Fall or spring prairie fires may have looked something like this (pics from Jen Benson Hughes).  It is hard to imagine the prairie fires in Benton County, on the Tippecanoe County Wea Plains or Wildcat Prairie or Twelve Mile Prairie 700, 300, 200 years ago.

These occurred with varying frequency due to weather, climate & Native American groups, for thousands & thousands of years.

"Prairie Meadows Burning" George Catlin, 1832"

Native Americans & Prairie Dock (one of my favorite paintings!), Mary Louise Polk

Best place to view this environment is Prophetstown State Park, but even there, you can see it is not "old growth" prairie or "virgin" prairie.  Celery Bog is another great area.  However, it will take a very long time for it to develop the characteristic virgin sod of the original tallgrass prairies in our area.

There are still a few small prairie remnants around in pioneer cemeteries, along railroads & old original pioneer routes. 

There are remnant species in our area along the railroad/US 52 from West Lafayette to Fowler & beyond.  Spinn Prairie is a great spot that is a protected tallgrass prairie in White County.  A pioneer cemetery neat Clark's Hill still have some species from the original Twelve Mile Prairie in it, but is becoming degraded due to too much mowing.

In all of these areas of former prairies, you can occasionally find an orginal plant or group of plants trying to hang on & not be sprayed, mowed too much or destroyed.

Granville Barrens preserved some original Wea Plains prairie.

Twelve Mile Prairie probably looked much like this (NRCS photos):

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