Historic Markers Across Alabama

Alabama's Native Prairie

Marker ID:  
Location: in the Cahawba Archaeological Park (nominal fee required), 9518 Cahaba Rd, Orrville, AL
County: Dallas
Coordinates: N 32° 19.185    W 087° 6.274
  32.31975    -87.10456666
Style: Interpretative Sign **
Waymark: None


Alabama's Native Prairie

Waist-high grasses billowing in the wind. Rolling prairie expanses. Most people connect these images with the Midwest's Great Plains. But for thousands of years, tallgrass soils of Alabama's Black Belt. Along prairie—25 miles across at its widest people connect these images with prairies covered the lime-rich clay the margins of this long ribbon of point—oak-hickory forests grew in more acidic soils. Both humans and wildlife thrived in this mosaic of open, fire-maintained grasslands edged in woodlands.

Today, scientists estimate that less than 1% of Alabama's tallgrass prairie remains. That's bad news for the countless species of plants and wildlife that depend on prairie—habitat from northern bobwhites to prairie kingsnakes. Alabama has developed a State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) that details a strategy to conserve wildlife by protecting their habitat. Alabama's SWAP encourages prescribed burning as one key way to restore and maintain tallgrass prairie. It lists Old Cahawba as a priority site for prairie conservation work.

Changing Culture and Landscape
"I see the Indian fires going out. Soon they will be cold.... I leave the graves of my fathers, for the Indian fires are almost gone."
-Yoholo-Micco Chief of Eufaula Town, speaking to the Alabama Legislature, 1836

When Herando de Soto passed through Alabama in 1540, his men carried diseases that decimated native communities. As Europeans and then Americans began to settle this region in the 18th and 19th centuries, a tightening vise of treaties and land policy slowly squeezed the remaining native people from the land. After the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the federal government relocated most of Alabama's surviving indigenous people west of the Mississippi. Settlers initially avoided the Black Belt's thickly-sodded grasslands, because they mistakenly believed the treeless prairie was unproductive. But by the 1830s, planters coveted the region's fertile soils. Across the Black Belt, tallgrass prairie gave way to cotton fields.

Precious Fragments
Sites like Old Cahawba protect Alabama's remaining tallgrass prairie. This and other prairie fragments harbor rare plants like celestial lily, Great Plains ladies'-tresses, and white lady's slipper. Some, like the newly discovered Old Cahawba rosinweed, grow nowhere else in the world. Many rare and declining wildlife species—including the loggerhead shrike, northern bobwhite, and lark sparrow—inhabit these remnant grasslands.

2013 by the Alabama Black Belt Nature & Heritage Trail..

Photographs of the marker can be found on HMDB.org

End of Alabama's Native Prairie