Schoolcraft's Ozark Journey

Merrimack River

Monday, November 9th, 1818

The sleep of the hunter is not sound, neither is his vigilance to be eluded; and the anxiety he is kept in, from the fear of the Indian on the one hand, and the approach of wild animals on the other, produces constant wakefulness during the night. His horse and baggage also demand occasional notice during the darkness of night, and he lies down with his rifle in his arms, to be prepared for emergencies. An instance of this vigilance occurred last night, and prevented a loss which would, in our situation, have been irreparable. Our packhorse, who, as usual, was turned loose to graze, accompanied by that of the hunter, strayed off from our camp, but was not long gone, when missed by Roberts, (the hunter) who awoke me, and we pursued, and overtook them about three miles off, and brought them back to camp before day-light. All this serves to increase our caution; and the farther we proceed, the more serious would be any loss we might sustain, either in our horse, guns, locks, ammunition, or any other article necessary to our safety or subsistence. During the night we had several times been disturbed by the approach of elk and deer, and as soon as the day dawned, Roberts went out a short distance and killed a fine fat doe, which he brought in on his shoulders, and we made a breakfast, for the first time, on roasted deer's meat, with appetites sharpened by exercise, which, while it invigorates the body, as we experience, increases its alimentary capacities. Our route this day has been over barrens and prairies, with occasional forests of oak, the soil poor, and covered with grass, with very little under-brush. As evening approached we entered the valley of Merrimack, which we followed up for several miles, and encamped in a prairie near its source. Some good bottom lands are found on its banks, but the adjoining hills are stony and barren, covered with little timber and high grass. Within a mile of its banks, on the Indian trace, we passed over large beds of iron ore, accompanied by the black oxyd of manganese, specimens of which I take along. The Merrimack is the only considerable stream which enters the Mississippi on the west from the mouth of the Missouri to the mouth of St. Francis, a distance of nearly 500 miles. It is 200 miles in length, and joins the Mississippi, eighteen miles below St. Louis, where it is 200 yards in width. Its depth is not great, being only navigable fifty miles with common-sized boats, except in the spring and fall, when its principal tributaries may be ascended. It waters the country of the lead-mines, and affords some facilities for the transportation of lead to the Mississippi, which do not appear to be generally known or appreciated, and have not been improved.

The weather this day has been mild and pleasant, with a light breeze from the south-west, and a smoky atmosphere. Course of travelling south-west, until we struck the Merrimack; then due-south, to the place of our encampment. Distance eighteen miles.

-Henry Schoolcraft

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