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Bremer's Prairie

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Fredricka Bremer, the Swedish novelist touring America in 1849, knew that Americans talked big and thought big, but she was hardly prepared for Chicago's garden. Her first encounter with Chicago had not been a good one. She found the Queen of the Lake to be ugly and full of greedy shopkeepers out to make money. Before she left, however, several of her new acquaintances pointed out that Chicago also called itself "The City in the Garden." When she accepted their invitation to spend a day in the garden, they drove her eighteen miles west of the city. "There it is," they said, pointing out across the Great American Prairie stretching across Illinois and Iowa for some six hundred miles.

The sight took her breath away. The bright blue sky, the sun of purest gold, an ocean with waves of asters, gentians, and sunflowers. Niagara Falls paled by comparison, she wrote.

And then, of course, there was the dark, handsome young—and single—pioneer hunter who had been invited along. Now and then, when the party stopped, he would shoot a prairie chicken. As Miss Bremer rode further into the prairie, it grew more immense. A few farmers gathering in hay in the distance looked like children at play. Flowers nodded in the wind, she wrote, "as if inviting millions of beings to the festival set out on this rich table of earth.

The young hunter, a man of few words but evidently strong feelings, noticing her mood, leaned on his gun in a quite handsome, casual way, and said, softly, "Here I often stand for hours and gaze on creation."

It made no difference that the gun slipped as he posed and shot one of the horses in the ear. Fredricka Bremer had already forgiven Chicago for being so market oriented. It made up for its greed by this splendid garden, in which she wished she could spend an entire year, thinking, perhaps, that the handsome young hunter might come out and shoot a prairie chicken now and then.

I doubt it. If I know Chicago, that little city of markets had learned to market itself as well. Don't you suspect that handsome hunter was an actor hired by the Chicago Chamber of Commerce?

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.