Tuesday, January 5th, 1819
At an early hour, and before the dawn of day, we arose, and began to prepare the last meal we were to partake of on the banks of James' River, and to put ourselves in readiness to leave a camp, and a country which had already became so familiar to us as to appear, in some measure, a home. After breakfast, the hunters went down the river about a mile to bring up their horses, who had, on our arrival, been turned to feed in a cane-brake at that distance. While they were absent, we arranged our travelling packs both for the horses and ourselves, a service in which we had at this time become adepts; and having leisure, while we awaited their return, which was protracted a considerable time by not finding the horses where expected, we blazed a large tree of the species quercus tinctoria, that stood near to our camp, and engraved thereon our names, with the date of our visit. Other evidences of our visit to, and occupation of the country, were left in the camp we had erected, the trees we had cut, the furnace put up for smelting ore; and the pits sunk in search of it, etc. At seven o'clock we were ready to commence our return, and crossing the river, a little above our encampment, pursued a south course for the Hunters' Cabins on White River. There was still snow upon the ground, apart of which had fallen during the preceding night, and its whole depth was from two to three inches, lying pretty compact, and somewhat moist, so that the tracks of deer and other animals were plainly imprinted upon it, and if our design had been hunting, these traces would have surely directed us in the pursuit. We were surprised, in fact, by the innumerable tracks of the deer, wolf, elk, bear, and turkey, met with, the snow being completely trodden down in many places with them, and affording a perfect map of their movements. In several instances we observed the places where deer had lain down the night of the snow, the shape of the animal in a reclining posture being left upon the dry leaves, while the surrounding country was covered with snow to a depth of two or three inches. It was evident the animal had lain still during the fall of snow, and arose after it had ceased. These places of rest were located in the open woods, and on the declivities of hills. Though several were passed, I observed none in any other situation, and no protection against the wind or weather was afforded by underbrush, the country being of that open nature which is in a great degree destitute of bushes or shrubbery. It is probable, however, that this animal in seeking rest at night, chooses that part of a hill which is situated opposite to the point from which the wind, at the time of its lying down, blows, and which is sheltered by the intervening eminence. I am not in possession of a sufficient number of facts to determine this point; which would give to the deer a degree of sagacity that it had not, heretofore, been supposed to possess; but such facts as I do possess go to establish this position. The resting-spots, here noticed, were uniformly situated on south-west declivities. The snow-storm came from the north-east.
Frequently we crossed wolf-trails in the snow, and in one or two instances observed spots where they had apparently played, or fought with each other, like a large pack of dogs, the snow being trod down in a circle of great extent. The turkey, so numerous in this region, had also been driven out of the adjoining valleys of James and Findley Rivers, by the recent snow, in search of food, and we passed over tracts where, for many acres together, the snow was scratched up by this bird to procure the acorns, and the green leaves, roots, and grass below. Our progress being attended with some noise, the game fled at our approach, and either kept out of our sight, or out of the reach of our guns. The deer, however, which is very abundant, was frequently in view, and we sometimes started droves of twenty or thirty at a time. Being suddenly aroused, no animal surpasses the deer in fleetness, and I have enjoyed a high gratification in surveying a frightened troop of them in full speed across an extensive prairie, or barren open woods, where they could be observed for a mile, or more. They will bound twenty feet at a leap, on a gentle declivity. This I have afterwards measured. The deer, however, has a fatal curiosity, which prompts it, after running five or six hundred yards, to turn around and look back upon its pursuer, and it is at this moment that he is killed. For the hunter, on starting a deer, immediately pursues with all his speed after it, without regarding the noise made among the bushes and upon the earth; for a similar disturbance, excited by the deer itself, prevents it from distinguishing that of its pursuer, and whenever it stops to turn around, at that instant also the hunter is still, and if within shooting distance, say one hundred yards, he fires; but if not, he endeavors to creep up, by skulking behind bushes and trees. If, in this attempt, he is discovered, and the deer takes the alarm, he again follows in the pursuit, assured that it will, in running a certain distance, again turn round and stand still to see whether it is pursued. This extraordinary and fatal curiosity is the cause of so many of these animals being killed, for did they rely unhesitatingly upon that strength and activity of limb with which nature has so admirably provided them for running, no foot-hunter, and no dog, would be able to overtake them.
About noon we reached and forded Findley's Fork, a stream we had encamped upon, in our journey west, on the last day of December. Two miles beyond, in ascending a valley, we discovered a bee-tree, which Mr. Pettibone and myself chopped down. It was a large white oak, (quercus alba,) two and-an-half feet across at the butt, and contained, in a hollow limb, several gallons of honey. This was the first discovery of wild honey which accident had thrown in our way, and as soon as the saccharine treasure was laid bare, by cutting open the hollow limb, we began unceremoniously to partake. And although two months' residence in the woods had left little in our personal appearance, or mode of living, to denote our acquaintance with polished society; and our appetites, by continual exercise, the want of vegetable food, and sometimes the total want of food of any kind for one, two, and even three days together, had become voracious and gross, to a degree that excited our own astonishment; yet, when we retired a few yards to view the beastly voraciousness and savage deportment of the two hunters during this sweet quaternary repast, we could not resist the most favourable conclusions concerning our own deportment, and physical decorum upon that occasion. It should here be remarked, that the white hunters in this region, (and I am informed it is the same with the Indians,) are passionately fond of wild honey, and whenever a tree containing it is found, it is the custom to assemble around it, and feast, even to a surfeit. Upon the present occasion we had no bread, which, although it prevented us from partaking so liberally as we otherwise should, did not seem in any degree to operate as a restraint upon them. On the contrary, they ate prodigiously. Each stood with a long comb of honey, elevated with both hands, in front of the mouth, and at every bite left the semi-circular dented impression of a capacious jaw, while the exterior muscles of the throat and face were swelled by their incessant exertions to force down the unmasticated lumps of honey, which rapidly followed each other into the natural repository-the stomach. When this scene of gluttony was ended, the dog also received his share, as the joint co-partner and sharer of the fatigues, dangers, and enjoyments of the chace; and in no instance have we observed this compact between the dog and the hunter to have been violated, for it is recorded in a manner less subject to obliteration or distinction than our fugitive agreements upon paper; it is recorded among the powerful habits of uncivilized man, corporeally and mentally imprinted. The honey then left was tied up in a wet deer-skin, which communicates no taint; and, appended to the saddle of one of the horses, thus carried along. We now emerged from the valley into a level plain moderately elevated, covered with white and black oak, and some underbrush, with a soil susceptible of cultivation, destitute, however, of streams; and sufficiently open to admit of easy travelling. Toward evening we descried, on our right, a valley heavily wooded, and bending off toward the south; and, presuming it to be the valley of Swan Creek, descended into, and pursued it down for two or three miles, and encamped. Distance twenty miles.
Funding for the Schoolcraft Journey project on Unlock the Ozarks has been provided by the Missouri Humanities Council.