Lyon County, which is about thirty-seven miles from east to west, and seventeen miles from north to south, is made up chiefly of rolling prairie land, not excelled in beauty and fertility in all the far famed West.  There are but few hills or stones to interfere with the most successful tilling of the land, and yet enough elevation and depression of surface to admit of perfect drainage.  Nowhere can there be found flat land or stagnant water, the entire country being gently undulating, or a succession of broad plateaus, usually sloping to the southward.  The county is well watered and drained by rapid running streams.  Unlike many of the Iowa streams, they have pure, clear waters.  The smaller ones meander through all portions of the county, making the landscape ever a feast to the eye, and furnishing excellent stock water, and a supply for pasture, meadow and field purposes.  These streams abound in good fish, and in many places are fringed by a fine border of natural timber. 

Excellent water power is had at many points along the larger of  these streams.  The Rock and Big Sioux rivers are the water courses which, together with a score of smaller tributaries, drain and supply water for the entire county.  Rock river and its branches drain the eastern part of the county.  It has its source about eighty miles to the north, in Minnesota.  It derives its name from a bold outcrop of red "quartzite" rock called the "Blue Mounds," near Luverne, Minnesota, from which the Yankton Indians gave it the name of "River of the Red Rock," but in recent times it is known as Rock.  Passing through the central portion of Lyon County, it unites with the Big Sioux about fifteen miles below its south line.  The length of this stream is about one hundred miles and it drains over a million acres of farming lands.  It is a clear, rapid, rocky and gravel-bed bottom stream of about an average weight of eighty feet.  Between the line of highest overflow and the prairie beyond there stretches  a continued level plain, upon which the lines of railway have been built their fine tracks. 

The chief tributaries of the Rock are the Little Rock, Otter creek, West Branch, Kanaranzi and Tom creeks.  These are clear, sparkling streams, fed by springs.  The Big Sioux, which forms the western boundary of Lyon County, received its name from Lewis and Clarke, who passed its mouth August 21, 1804, on their great exploring expedition to the Northwest.  It is somewhat larger than the Rock, but partakes of the same general description.  It has its source near Big Stone Lake, Dakota, and forms confluence with the Missouri at Sioux City.  Its valley is fertile in the extreme and is from three to six miles wide.  On the Lyon County side the valley is guarded by a chain of bluffs from one to two hundred feet high, which renders the scenery picturesque and beautiful.

The streams of Lyon County abound with many varieties of fish, and up to the rapid growth of the country, the valleys were inhabited by elk, deer, beaver, otter and other game, and by flocks of wild geese, cranes, ducks, swan and other less valuable wild fowls which afforded a fine opportunity for sportsmen.

Here and there throughout the county may be found small prairie lakes, which differ materially from those farther to the east in Iowa, as they are fed by never failing springs and always retain a supply of clear, cold water.  But the beauty and sublimity that no pen can describe, is to be found in the real prairie lands of the county.  The scene now-a-days has come to be one of fine farm houses, tame pastures and sightly artificial groves of valuable timber.  The contrast with a glimpse of Lyon County in 1866 is truly striking.  A local writer said of this prairie land county, in 1870; "From April to October, there is one vast sea of green, varied in hue with myraids of wild, sweetly perfumed flowers.  Away, as far as the eye can reach, stretches a boundless expanse of rolling prairie, till fading imperceptibly into the distant horizon.  The esthetic beholder is lost in wonder and admiration, and mourns that there is no hand to turn these green slopes and rich valleys into productive farms and happy homes."  But it may be said many year ago this desired transformation was made, and while Lyon County has "prairie land," she has no prairies with the carpeting of grass and wild flowers nature once gave to her surface.

The general altitude of this county above the sea level is about fourteen hundred feet, while that of Sioux City is but one thousand and ninety feet.

The soil is generally a drift deposit covered with a black sandy loam from two to four feet deep, but in the valleys partakes more of an alluvial character and is frequently ten feet deep with a gravelly sub-soil.  Formed largely from the decaying vegetation which has flourished on these prairies for unnumbered years, the soil is exceedingly rich and easily cultivated.  In writing on Lyon County soil and minerals, Dr. C.A. White, former state geologist for Iowa, remarks:

"This fortunate admixture of soil-materials gives a warmth and mellowness to the soil which is so favorable to the growth of crops that they are usually matured even in the more extreme north latitudes as easily as they are upon the more clayey soils of the southern part of the state, although the latter are two hundred miles farther southward.  Such a soil has also the additional advantage of becoming sufficiently dry to cultivate sooner after the frosts of early spring have ceased, or the rain showers of summer have ended, than those do which contain a greater portion of clay."

It is for these and other geological reasons that the capacity for enduring extreme draughts is very great here.  The looseness of the soil and the nature of the sub-soil, which in many places extends down from seventy to two hundred feet, is very porous allowing the moisture to work up through it from an indefinite depth.  Thus it was that in the great draught of 1870, which extended over the entire West, while in Kansas there was a total failure of crops and pasturage, the few farms then under cultivation in Lyon County produced abundantly and the prairie was clothed in luxurious verdure.  While the northern Iowa counties have as excellent soil as Lyon, there are none blessed with the number of character of its beautiful streams.

The prairies of Lyon County have no stone.  A farm of a thousand acres may be cultivated without so much as touching a stone with plow or hoe.  Plenty of boulders were originally found along the banks of the Rock, Little Rock and Big Sioux rivers, many of which the pioneer settlers converted into walls for cellars, wells, cisterns and foundations.  Lime stone abounds on the Sioux and from it an excellent lime is burned.  The location of an extensive and valuable quarry is in the extreme northwest corner and crops out at various points over an area of about two square miles.  It is a hard stratified rock of a peculiar and beautiful reddish color.  The State Geologist, who visited the place in 1868, gave it the name of "Sioux Quartzite," and ascribes its formation to the Azoric age.  He states that it is the only output of this rock in Iowa and pronounces it "absolutely indestructible."  As a material for building and works of art, this is invaluable.  While Lyon is a prairie county, originally, there were seven hundred acres of fine natural timber within her borders.

Early in the settlement of Lyon County, the people saw the need of more timber, especially for wind breaks and shade during the heated months of the year.  They profited by settlers in better advanced settlements in the West and at once commenced the planting of forest trees, both from the seed and from slips and small saplings.  Many a beautiful artificial grove now adorns the once bleak prairie lands, which could have been carried on a man's back in the early seventies and eighties.  Cottonwood, soft maple, box elder, willow and black walnut and ash and elder all came in for their favorites in choice.  The first ten years of their growth was indeed wonderful to behold.  The shade and protection afforded as against the severe storms of both summer and winter, paid a hundred-fold all the original outlay of time and money.  This has changed the entire landscape of the county.  Many of the towns and hamlets did the same and today have beautiful and shady streets.  Larchwood, the sprightly town in Larchwood township, is especially so gifted.  Larch was the early favorite there and from this comes the name of the town.


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Webization by Kermit Kittleson - Aug. 2006