Schoolcraft's Ozark Journey

Near Ashley's Cave

Ozarks explorer Henry Schoolcraft and his companion Levi Pettibone camped near this location early in their exploration of the Ozarks in 1818. Schoolcraft described an abundance of game, including ducks, squirrels, wild turkeys and deer. Figuring that a nearby wolf pack would be well-fed, Schoolcraft’s fear of attack was somewhat reduced, but he kept a strong campfire going overnight nevertheless.

Wednesday, November 11th, 1818

While lying before our camp-fire last night, the wolves set up their howling, apparently within 200 yards of us. We had already been long enough in the woods, and were sufficiently conversant with the hunter life, to know that this animal will only attack men in cases of the most extreme hunger; and as we knew their common prey, the deer, was abundant in that quarter, we had little apprehension for our safety. We thought it prudent, however, to be on the watch; a thing, indeed, which we did almost every night, particularly when the cold was such as to render it necessary to keep up a fire. In these cases we slept and watched alternately, as well from a regard to safety as to mend our fire. Such, however, was the fatigue of a day's long march, that we both fell into a sound sleep for the greater part of the night, and found our fire nearly out, and ourselves chilled with cold when we awoke, the wolves being still on an adjacent hill. A short time before day-light we arose, renewed our fire, and prepared breakfast, and commenced our journey at an early hour, holding a south course across the prairie of Little Lakes. At the distance of two miles we passed a stream running south-east, and originating in the prairie of lakes. Ducks are in great plenty on this stream as well as upon the lakes. I take this to be the origin of Black River. Our route lay for the first eight miles across a barren prairie country, with little wood and no water; we then entered into lofty forests of pine, and after winding along through valleys and deep defiles of rocks for several miles, found ourselves on the banks of Current's River, in a deep and romantic valley, the soil rich, and covered with a heavy growth of trees.

Current's River is one of the principal tributaries of Black River, and is a stream of 250 miles in length, and affords, in its whole course, extensive bodies of fertile land. Near its junction with Black River, about 200 miles below, are several settlements, and a ferry is kept ten miles above its mouth, where the Arkansaw road crosses it, and where a town is in contemplation. The waters of this stream are very clear and pure, and ducks are very common upon it. The wild turkey and grey squirrel are also seen on its banks. Five miles beyond Current's, night overtook us, and we encamped on the banks of a creek, near Ashley's salt-petre cave, in a dark, narrow, and lonesome little valley, where the rocks hung in terrific piles above our heads. Course of travelling south-west. Weather mild and smoky. Distance twenty 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.