National Geographic : 1958 Nov
Atlas Map Charts the Nation's Heartland T HE geographic center of the United States shifts more than 400 miles. Giant man-made lakes swallow the mighty Missouri River and dampen a dust bowl. New towns spring up; old ones die. Recently completed turnpikes radiate from Chicago, while others slash hundreds of miles across Kansas and Oklahoma. The face of the Nation changes, even in a decade. North Central United States, the National Geographic Society's new 10 color map supplement to this issue, reflects these and many more developments since 1948, when Society cartographers last charted this rich heartland. Distributed as plate No. 9 in members' National Geographic Atlas Folios, the 2,300,000 copies of this newest map bring to 14 million the number issued so far in the monumental Atlas Series. Land Bought for 5 Cents an Acre This, the sixth Atlas Map, encompasses nearly a million square miles, including much of the Nation's greatest river system. Most of the territory shown was acquired from France in 1803 through the Louisiana Pur chase, a historic bargain that doubled the size of the young United States. Napoleon would blush with chagrin if he could see today what he sold for about five cents an acre. Here in Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Missouri lie the country's meat market and breadbasket. A vast coal cellar underlies two-thirds of Illinois. Oklahoma's fabulous oil boom may be challenged by that of the rich Williston Basin in the Dakotas, Montana, and adjoining Canadian provinces. Among the map's 6,756 place names (more than on any previous Atlas sheet), Dubuque, Fond du Lac, St. Louis, and dozens more recall the exploits of French explorers. Here, too, eras meshed in the making of America. At Franklin, Missouri, Boone's Lick Road ended and the Santa Fe Trail began. A cen tury ago the marvelous telegraph hummed messages to St. Joseph; there Pony Express riders began the sprint to California, 10 to 17 days away. The region rings with history's echoes. The soft splash of Marquette's paddles on the "Father of Waters" mingles with the hoot of Mark Twain's beloved paddle-wheelers past 648 Hannibal, Missouri. (See "The Upper Mis sissippi," page 651.) The clatter of modern aircraft plants and wheat combines in Kansas cannot quite still the clank of Coronado's armor near Lindsborg-or the cross fire of Coffeyville citizens of the 1890's cutting down the notorious Dalton gang, which was trying to rob two banks at once. The imaginative may still hear echoes of a Lincoln-Douglas debate in Freeport, Illinois ... fiery-eyed John Brown preaching abolition in Osawatomie, Kansas...or Winston Churchill's "Iron Curtain" address in Fulton, Missouri. These states are not only steeped in history; they make it. From South Dakota's Strato bowl-where the 1935 stratosphere flight sponsored by The Society and the U. S. Army Air Corps soared 13.71 miles to break existing records-and from an old mine pit near Crosby, Minnesota, manned balloons poke plastic fingers ever nearer the brink of space. A bleak plain below Two Top Peak in western South Dakota becomes, with Alaska's admission to statehood, the Nation's new geo graphic center, according to U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey calculations. A spot near Lebanon, Kansas, still marks the theoretical balance point of the 48 contiguous States; a place near Devils Lake, North Dakota, that of the entire continent. Alaska's admission also deprives Penasse, in Minnesota's isolated Northwest Angle, of its title as most northerly town in the United States. Eight miles from Olney, Illinois, lies the population center of the United States. In all probability it will shift westward once again with the 1960 census. Giant Dams Tame the Missouri A broad blue vein meandering through the Dakotas mirrors a project that dwarfs Paul Bunyan's fabled exploits. Last summer en gineers bottled up Oahe Reservoir with the fifth of six great dams designed to gentle and harness the fractious Missouri River. Already that muddy giant ("too thick to drink, too thin to plow") relaxes behind mas sive earthworks, forming a chain of sparkling lakes. The water they will hold could sub merge both the Dakotas by 9 inches; Oahe alone nearly links the State capitals of Pierre and Bismarck, 170 miles apart.