Schoolcraft's Ozark Journey

Matney's Cabin

Thursday, January 14th, 1819

Here we concluded to lend our canoe to Mr. Yochem, who in addition to his own, stood in need of it, to carry down bears bacon and pork, to a trader lying at the mouth of the Great North Fork, of whom he had made some purchases. The distance was computed at thirty-five miles by water, and included some of the most difficult navigation in the river, while by land it was only fifteen. Leaving our baggage therefore to be brought down in the canoe, we took a foot or horse-path leading across the country, and arrived a little before night on the banks of the river, opposite Matney's, at the mouth of the Great North Fork. But we were separated from his house by the river, which was wide and deep; and having no canoe to cross, there seemed no hesitation between lying in the woods, and wading through the river, which we found about four feet deep in the shallowest place, and reached Matney's just at dusk, wet and chilly. Our canoe did not arrive that night. This we attributed to the difficulty in passing two formidable shoals above. The first is situated fifteen miles below J. Yochem's, and is called the Crooked Creek Shoals, being immediately at the mouth of Crooked Creek, along and devious stream, coming in on the right or south side of the river. The second shoal is five miles lower, and is called the Buffalo Shoals, being situated at the mouth of the Buffalo Fork of White River. This is a large stream, also entering on the south side of the river. It originates near the north banks of the Arkansaw, and is about 180 miles in length. Its banks afford some rich alluvion, and it is a region much resorted to by hunters on account of the abundance of game it affords. The shoals at its mouth are considered the most formidable obstacle to the navigation of White River, and although boats pass and repass at certain stages of water, it may be reckoned an effectual interruption to navigation for all boats over eight tons. From the foot of these shoals, however, to its junction with the Mississippi, the navigation of White River is unobstructed, and the largest keel-boats, barges, and even steam-boats, may in safety ascend, particularly up to the Great North Fork, which enters on the north, about half-a-mile below the spot where we now tarry. There is now a keel boat lying here, which ascended a few weeks ago on a trading voyage among the hunters and farmers. It is a boat of thirty tons burthen, built at Pittsburgh, and decked and painted off in the neat and convenient style of the generality of Ohio and Mississippi boats of her class, but is prevented from going higher by the Buffalo Shoals. The articles brought up in it, for the purposes of exchange, were chiefly flour, salt, and whiskey, with some coffee, calico, and a few smaller articles. In return, beaver, deer, otter, bear, and raccoon skins, bears' bacon, fresh pork, and beef, in the gross, venison, bees'-wax, honey, and buffalo beef, are taken. From the rates of exchange noticed, I concluded a trading-voyage on this stream is attended with immense profit.

-Henry Schoolcraft

Friday, January 15th, 1819

Compelled, by the non-arrival of our canoe, to spend the day at this spot, I determined to improve the time by a ramble through the adjacent country, and to seek that amusement in the examination of rocks, and trees, and mountain-scenery, which was neither to be found in conversation with the inmates of the house, nor in any other way. The natural appearances of surrounding objects wore an interesting character, and though detained here by accident, a diligent search of the whole river could not in all probability have afforded a point uniting, in the circle of a few miles, so many objects calculated to please the eye, or to instruct the understanding. To a geographical situation, the most important in the whole course of the river, it united scenery the most bold and enchanting, and embracing so many objects calculated to awaken and invite attention, that the inquiring traveller could scarcely be disappointed, be his studies or pursuits what they might. Here were beautiful views for the landscape-painter, rocks for the geologist, minerals and fossils for the mineralogist, trees and plants for the botanist, soil for the agriculturist, an advantageous situation for the man of business, and a gratifying view for the patriot, who contemplates with pleasure the increasing settlement, and prospective improvements of our country. Here, the innumerable streams which originate in a district of country 400 miles long, by 200 in breadth, collected into two large and beautiful rivers, unite, and from this point forth to the Mississippi, form a river navigable at all seasons, for boats of the largest burden. From the north, from the south, and from the west of this tract, from the most noted, and from its most unfrequented corners, we here behold the assembled tributaries, flowing in a smooth, broad, deep, and majestic current, between banks of the richest alluvion, covered with the most vigorous growth of vegetable life, and skirted at a short distance by mountains of the most imposing grandeur. But although composed of streams, which originate in sections of country, differing widely in point of fertility, and other natural properties, yet there is a remarkable agreement in that character, most obvious to the sight, its extreme limpidity and want of colour, and which was early seized upon by the French traders on first visiting this stream, in calling it La Riviere Blanche, in allusion to the purity of its water.

With such an assemblage of interesting objects around me, I sauntered out to take a nearer view of the face of nature, and spent the day along the shores of the river, in the contiguous forest, or on the naked peaks of the neighbouring hills. The water of the river, at this season of the year, has retired below its banks to its lowest mark, which is about fifteen feet below its flood height, and exposes a high alluvial shore, and a wide gravelly beach on both sides. Here a margin of clean gravel, washed by the water into fanciful piles, and of every shape and colour, affords a delightful and uninterrupted walk for many miles, and by its ever-winding course, and diversified scenery, keeps the eye in continual expectation of something new or interesting, and lightens the fatigue experienced at every step by sinking shoe-deep into the gravel. I amused myself by considering this a collection of mineralogical and geological specimens, brought together from different sections of country by the waters, and deposited here, to illustrate the physical constitution and character of the country. This idea had no sooner occurred, than I began selecting individual pieces of it for examination, and soon had arranged on the shore a cabinet of river pebbles, which it may be curious and amusing to describe.

No.1. Was a spheroidal pebble of common quartz; colour, grayish white, semi-transparent, and hydrogenous.
No.2. A rounded mass of carbonate of lime; (compact secondary lime-stone;) colour, smoke gray; fracture, fine earthy.
No.3. A similar water-worn mass, with a vein of calcareous spar.
No.4. A pear-shaped pebble of common jasper; colour, a uniform chest-nut brown; fracture, conchoidal; hardness, a little inferior to quartz.
No.5. Granular quartz, rounded by attrition; colour, grayish white; easily crushed between two stones, and falling into fine semi-transparent grains.
No.6. Hexagonal prism of rock crystal, the angles nearly obliterated by attrition.
No.7. Rounded fragment of sand-stone; colour yellowish and reddish white; probably referable to the secondary class of rocks.
No.8. Argillaceous pebble; colour brownish red; easily scratched with a knife.
No.9. Smooth arguled fragment of red granite.
No. 10. Shiver of horn-stone; colour, bluish grey, translucent, and giving fire with steel.
No. 11. Egg-shaped nodule of flint, enveloped by a hard white silico-calcareous matter; colour, yellowish gray, cloudy, semi-transparent, and readily giving sparks with steel.
No. 12. Common jasper; colour, yellowish brown, veined with yellowish white, and harder than quartz.
No. 13. Tabular fragment of compact lime-stone, with an impression of die Turbinite.

Of these the rock crystal was merely accidental, the calcareous spar and flint very rare, the quartz, sand-stone, and granite, less rare, and the jasper and lime-stone very abundant. Other substances probably exist, and I noticed several species of stone, either calcareous or flinty, so disguised with ferruginous colouring, and other matter, that they were not referable by the eye to any particular species, but may be considered rather as ill-characterized varieties of both these rocks. No indurated clay, or pudding-stone, so common to other western streams; slate, particles of mica, or petrified wood, were noticed, from which it may naturally be concluded that clay-beds are not common on the river; that it yields neither mica or slate, and that the waters are not endued with the properties necessary to petrifaction. The absence also of green-stone, mica-slate, sienite, gneiss, etc. in the country in which the river originates, may hence be inferred; and, in fine, from the collection above described, one would be apt to imagine, without knowing that it actually is so, that the river is made up of streams which traverse, for the most part, a rocky region. This is actually the fact; for although there are very rich bodies of alluvial lands along the immediate margin of White River, and some of its tributaries, yet they are not very extensive, and the country is, generally speaking, a stony region.

Here, then, mineralogical science presents a new standard by which the character and fertility of an unexplored country may be with general accuracy determined, by the examination of the stony products brought down by its rivers. At least, some very useful hints may thus be gathered, and there appears no good reason why a reliance should not be placed upon information thus obtained. It is only judging of a country by samples of its earths and stones brought together by the spontaneous operations of water instead of the hands of man; and in this light the banks of a river, near its mouth, may be considered an abstract of the mineral physiognomy of the land in which it originates.

Having descended along the shore of the river a considerable distance, I now determined to return through the forest, and along the mountain-bluffs which bound the valley at the distance of half-a-mile, and descending them toward the east, join my companion at the mouth of the North Fork before dark. One of the most conspicuous objects among the trees and vegetables which skirt the banks of the river, is the sycamore, (platanus occidentalis,) rearing its lofty branches into the air, and distinguished from other forest- trees by its white bark and enormous size. This tree delights to grow on the immediate margin of the river, and overhangs the water's edge on both sides, but is never found to grow in the back part of the forest toward the bluffs, unless there happens to be a pond of water or a small lake there, in which case it is seen skirting its margin all around. So remarkable a fact cannot escape a person of the least observation who descends this river, or indeed any other river in the western states, whose banks are noted for rich alluvial soil, as the Ohio, the Mississippi, Illinois, Wabash, etc. It is never seen on a sterile, or dry soil; on the contrary, it may be considered as the margin-tree of the most recent, moist, black, river alluvion; and the appearance of the one is always a sure indication of the other. Very often it is hollow. This is the same tree called button-wood on the other side of the mountains, (the Alleghanies.) Another vegetable, scarcely less conspicuous, and occupying a similar soil and situation, in the latitude in which it grows, is the reed, called cane in this region, and which I take to be the cinnaarundinacea of botanists. This plant is common to all the streams of the valley of the Mississippi below the 38 deg. of north latitude, and is first noticed on descending the Ohio, about the falls. These two species skirt the banks of this river from its largest: and most remote northern tributary, as high as we have been on James' river: thus far, and probably continue to the Mississippi. The other forest-trees and plants noticed at this place, and which may be set down as composing, the forests of White River generally, are the following:

Cotton-wood, (populus angulata;) white elm, (ulmus Americana;) red elm, (ulmus fulva;) buckeye, (aescuius hippocastanum;) black walnut, (juglans nigra;) white walnut, (juglans tomentosa;) white ash, (fraxinus acuminata;) swamp-ash, (fraxinus juglandifolia;) white oak, (quercus alba;) red oak, (quercus rubra;) sugar maple, (acer saccharinum;) mulberry, (callicarpa Americana;) dogwood, (cornus florida;) sassafras, (taurus sassafras;) persimmon, (diospyros virginiana.)

To these the valleys will add spice-wood, papaw, wild cherry, hemlock, several species of grapes, the wild pea, etc.; and the bluffs and high-lands, white and yellow pine, mountain-ash, post-oak, and cedar. The wild hop is also indigenous to the river alluvion, and the crab-apple, red plumb, and black haw, upon the plains. Many others might be added, but these are the most conspicuous on passing through a White River forest, and such as would readily attract the eye. As I approached the foot of the bluffs, vegetation became more scanty; in my ascent, at the height of one hundred feet above the forest level, the rocks were entirely naked, presenting an almost; perpendicular wall to the river, but the summit was covered by yellow pine and cedar, sustained by a deposite of oceanic alluvion. The height of this bluff may be estimated at three hundred feet above the water. It runs parallel with the river, at the distance of from a quarter to half-a-mile, and is much broken and interrupted by lateral valleys and streams. It is uniformly, so far as could be examined without the labour of digging and clearing away the rubbish at its base, a mass of stratified secondary limestone, with impressions of univalve shells near its summit. On my descent I was surprised to observe, about half-way down, very large angular masses of common white quartz, resting upon the tabular rocks of carbonate of lime, and manifestly out of place. Being discoloured externally by the weather, and by atmospheric dust and moss, I at first mistook these rocks for lime-stone; but on hammering off several corners, perceived them to be quartz. This set me looking sharply round to discover some primitive strata from which they might have been detached, but I was unable to detect any, and I must leave the phenomenon unexplained.

That small pieces of quartz rock should have been detached from primitive strata in distant parts of the country, and deposited upon secondary lime-stone with other alluvial matter by water, excites no surprise, even if the masses weigh a ton, or more; but to see masses of the size of a common house, presenting angles of fourteen to twenty feet, and probably weighing an hundred tons a piece, is certainly extraordinary, and does not admit of a ready explanation upon any principle of alluvial deposits now taught. They could not have fallen from the mountainous heights above, for those heights are composed of shell lime-stone. Have these masses of quartz been ejected by volcanic fire, or is it possible that any power of water could have upborne them to the elevated heights they now occupy?

-Henry Schoolcraft

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Funding for the Schoolcraft Journey project on Unlock the Ozarks has been provided by the Missouri Humanities Council.