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Of Prairie, Woods, and Water

Two Centuries of Chicago Nature Writing

In the literary imagination, Chicago evokes images of industry and unbridled urban growth. But the tallgrass prairie and deep forests that once made up Chicago’s landscape also inspired musings from residents and visitors alike. In Of Prairie, Woods, and Water, naturalist Joel Greenberg gathers these unique voices from the land to present an unexpected portrait of Chicago in this often charming, sometimes heart-wrenching anthology of nature writing.

These writings tell the tale of a land in transition—one with abundant, unique, and incredibly lush flora and fauna, a natural history quite elusive today. Drawing on archives he uncovered while writing his acclaimed A Natural History of the Chicago Region, Greenberg hand-selected these first-person narratives, all written between 1721 and 1959. Not every author is familiar, but every contribution is distinctive. From a pioneer’s hilarious notes on life in the Kankakee marsh to Theodore Drieser’s poignant plea for conservation of the Tippecanoe River to infamous murderer Nathan Leopold’s charming description of a pet robin he kept in prison, the sources included are as diverse as the nature they describe.
The excerpts conclude with insightful biographical essays and traverse a wide area of greater Chicagoland, from the Illinois River to southwest Michigan, from southern Wisconsin to the Limberlost swamp of northeastern Indiana. A fascinating record of Chicago’s changing environmental history, Of Prairie, Woods, and Water captures the natural world in a way that will inspire its continued conservation.
Errata: We have learned the title of a book by the Chicago ecologist and writer May Theilgaard Watts has been incorrectly rendered in the selections attributed to Mrs. Watts. The correct title of her book is Reading the Landscape of America (Nature Study Guild Publishers, see This will be corrected in the next printing. We very much regret the error.

424 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Biological Sciences: Botany, Ecology, Natural History

Chicago and Illinois


“I had trouble putting it down. The letters, articles, journal entries and other writings presented a wonderful window on our past. . . It was like seeing Illinois for the first time—a strange and wild foreign land that is difficult to reconcile with what we see here today.”

David L. Thomas, Chief of the Illinois Natural History Survey

“At its best, nature writing invigorates, educates and motivates. Joel Greenberg’s Of Prairie, Woods, and Water is nature writing at its best. This unprecedented anthology of literature about Chicago’s environmental beauty inspires our wonder and spurs us to imagine the world at its best, which in turn can lead us to take action to help make it so.”

Senator Richard J. Durbin

“A powerful historical context for contemporary conservation concerns. I would recommend Of Prairie, Woods, and Water to anyone interested in the natural history of the Chicago region.”

Gerard T. Donnelly, President and CEO, The Morton Arboretum

“Greenberg’s selections. . . range across the entire Chicago Wilderness region. Some of the jewels in this trove possess a sacred-text gravitas, filled with the secret delight of discovery in an untouched landscape.”

Joe Walsh | Chicago Wilderness

“Worthy of broad-based audiences. . . . Of Prairie, Wood, and Water grew out of the decades of research Greenberg put into A Natural History. I know from conversations with him that Greenberg loved digging into original texts for his research. . . . In some ways, I envy the job. The stories I most enjoyed described the old days when the Kankakee Marsh was a rich place, and the tales of hunting prairie chickens and golden plover, things I can’t imagine doing, especially in the Chicago area.”

Dale Bowman | Chicago Sun-Times

"[Greenberg] revels in the insights of these writers from the past, then makes you want to call for more because there is great value in having historical perspective to make wise decisions about the health and future of our natural environment."


Table of Contents

The Chicago Region—Introduction


Letters to the Dutchess of Lesdiguieres
Pierre-François-Xavier de Charlevoix

William Johnston’s Tour from Fort Wayne to Chicago, 1809
William Johnston

A Visitor to Chicago in Indian Days: "Journal to the Far-Off West"
Colbee Benton

Talk of the Town
Robert P. Saunders

A Summer Journey in the West
Eliza Steele

Berrien and Cass Counties
G. F.

Sketches of My Own Times
David Turpie

Rats! Rats! Rats!
Carl Schurz

Prince of Wales in Canada and the United States
Nicholas A. Woods

Breeding habits of Ardea heroias as Seen During a Visit to Crane Town

The Shooting Clubs of Chicago—No. IX: The Grand Calumet Heights Club
Emerson Hough

Voices of the Dunes and Other Etchings
Earl Reed

Tales of a Vanishing River [The "Wether Book" by Josiah Granger]
Earl Reed

Most Interesting Interview with Mrs. Druscilla Carr
J. W. Lester

The Tippecanoe River
Theodore Dreiser

An Early Illinois Prairie
Albert W. Herre

The Kankakee in the Old days
F. E. Ling

A Naturalist in the Great Lakes Region
Elliot Downing

A Hoosier Tramp
Samuel A. Harper

The Sand Dunes of Indiana
E. Stillman Bailey


Our Native Grasses
George Vasey

Prairie Woodlands
Ellsworth Jerome Hill

The Plant Societies of Chicago and Vicinity
Henry Chandler Cowles

Round About Chicago
Louella Chapin

Reading the Landscape of America
May T. Watts

On Improving the Property
May T. Watts

Impressions of the Warren Woods
Wendell Paddock

An Annotated Flora of the Chicago Area
Herman S. Pepoon

Dune Boy: The Early Years of a Naturalist
Edwin Way Teale


Darius Cook

Notes on the Ornithology of Wisconsin
Philo R. Hoy

The Quadrupeds of Illinois, Injurious and Beneficial to the farmer
Robert Kennicott

Recollections of Bird-Life in Pioneer Days
Halvor L. Skavlem

Birds of Northeastern Illinois
Edward W. Nelson

Birds of Lakeside and Prairie
Edward B. Clark

Nature Sketches in Temperate America
Joseph Lane Hancock

Months of the Limberlost
Gene Stratton-Porter

A Day Among the Waterfowl and Its Sequel
G. Eifrig

Memoirs of the Naturalist
Herbert L. Stoddard Sr.

Bird Notes from Trailside Museum
Mary Block

[Notes on a Woodcock]
Stephen S. Gregory Jr.

Bird Life of a Roadside Marsh
Alfred M. Bailey

American Egrets in the Lake Region
W. J. Beecher

Green Herons
Donald Boyd

Passenger Pigeon in Northeastern Illinois
Benjamin T. Gault

Reminiscences of Early Experiences in teh Chicago Area
Benjamin T. Gault

Geolycosa, The Wolf of the Dunes
Donald C. Lowrie

The Opossum, Prophet without Honor
D. Dwight Davis

Pyramids of Palos
A. S. Windsor

On the Trail of the Chat
Amy Baldwin

Cliff Swallows
Violet F. Hammond

An Old Colony of Cliff Swallows
Alfred Lewy

Wildlife of Elk Grove Preserve
Gordon Sawyer Pearsall

My Secret Places: One Man’s Love Affair with Nature in the City
Leonard Dubkin

Life Plus 99 Years
Nathan F. Leopold Jr.


Letter to Spencer F. Baird [Regarding Crayfish]
R. P. Stearns

Southern Cook County and History of Blue Island Before the Civil War
Ferdinand Schapper

Sea and River Fishing: Fish in Season in November
S. C. Clarke

Letter [Fish Pot Hunters]

Black Bass Fishing in Fox River
Fred J. Wells

Gleanings from Nature
W. S. Blatchley

The Fish Market of Chicago
Illinois Board of Fish Commissioners

Animal Communities in Temperate North America
Victor Shelford

The Nesting Habits of Certain Sunfishes as Observed in a Park Lagoon in Chicago
Carl L. Hubbs

A River Mussel Parasitic on a Salamander
Arthur D. Howard

A Survey of Fishes in an Illinois Stream
Loren P. Woods

Observations on Lake Michigan Fishes at Chicago
Loren P. Woods


Miscellany [Wolf Hunts]

Six Months with the Indians
Darius B. Cook

Letter in Defense of Snakes
John Kennicott

A History of the County of Du Page, Illinois
C. W. Richmond and H. F. Vallette

A Day’s Hunting in 1871 on the Club’s Ground
South Shore Country Club

Field, Clover, and Trap Shooting
Adam Bogardus

History of Kendall County
E. W. Hicks

Game Hunt

Duck Shooting Around Fox Lake

Then and Now—the Extermination of Game

Prairie Chicken Shooting and Trapping Fifty Years Ago

Plover Shooting on the Prairie
Rock Jr.

Recollections of Calumet
Blue Wing

A Plea for the Wild Duck

Statement Read before the Central Illinois Sportsman’s Association by Its President
George Hayden

Letter from Princeton, Illinois [in Favor of Hunting Hawks]

Letter [Wasteful Hunting on the Des Plaines River]
J. G. Nattrass

Our Hearts were Young and Gay
Edward R. Ford

Skokie Memories
Edward R. Ford

The Naturalist
Edawrd R. Ford

Who Kills the Birds?
Mary Drummond

Colonel Isaac Washington Brown: The Bird and Bee Man
Henry A. Pershing

When the Lotus Are in Bloom
Laura Buchannon

Letter to Illinois Audobon Society
Olga Vrablik

Nature Recreation in Chicago
William G. Vinal

A Prairie Grove
Donald Culross Peattie

Some Scenes Years Ago at the Dunes Recalled with Great Pleasure
Donald Culross Peattie

Chicago Park District vs. Arthur Canfield
Illinois Supreme Court

Jens Jensen

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