Schoolcraft's Ozark Journey

Mays Bend

Henry Schoolcraft and Levi Pettibone camped near this location during their 3-month exploration of the Ozarks in the winter of 1818-1819. During the journey, Schoolcraft documented the geology, plants and animals he encountered. The journal that Schoolcraft kept provides one of the earliest European accounts of the Ozarks in the early 1800’s.

Friday, December 11th, 1818

A singular species of deception has occurred to us in the course of this day's journey. We had been told, that in travelling a due north-west course for eighteen miles, we should strike Beaver Creek, which we were to pursue down to its mouth, where a couple of hunters had located themselves. We had, however, deviated too far to the west, and arrived at about two o'clock on the banks of White River, which we mistook for Beaver Creek, and fording it, at waist deep, pursued our course about two miles beyond, when we became sensible of the error, turned back, and pursued up on the west bank of the river until evening. We now found ourselves on a gravelly barren point of land, encompassed on both sides by water, without wood, and exposed to a keen air blowing down the river. The day-light had already disappeared; on the west bank was a high bluff of lime-stone rock rising perpendicularly from the water's edge, and so precipitous that it could not be passed; on the east was an extensive bottom of rich alluvion land, covered by forest-trees and cane, and separated from us by the main channel of the river. The very idea of wading through it, at this late hour, and cold as we were, made us shiver, yet we could not long hesitate between remaining without a stick of wood to kindle a fire, and fording the river, at this place 300 yards in width, with a depth of from four to five feet. On gaining the opposite shore, we were so chilled, that it was with difficulty a fire could be raised, and I confess this to have been one of the most cheerless nights we experienced on our tour. Distance sixteen miles, weather windy and cold.

-Henry Schoolcraft

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