Schoolcraft's Ozark Journey

Near Huzzah Creek

Ozarks explorer Henry Schoolcraft visited with early settlers and passed through native American villages near here on his three month journey through the Ozarks. On the expedition, assisted by fellow traveler Levi Pettibone, Schoolcraft documented wildlife, geology, human habitation and the beauty of the Ozarks through a journal available in the book Rude Pursuits and Rugged Peaks by Dr. Milton Rafferty.

Sunday, November 8th, 1818

In travelling two miles this morning, we found ourselves on the banks of the Fourche à Courtois, a considerable stream, and one of the principal tributaries of the Merrimack river. The Fourche à Courtois originates in high lands near the head of the river St. Francis, and after running in a serpentine course for sixty miles, through a sterile country, unites with the Merrimack 100 miles from its mouth. Its banks, at the lace we crossed, afford some very rich lands, but they do not extend far, consisting merely of a strip of alluvion running parallel with the river, and bordered by hills, whose stony aspect forbids the approach of the fanner. On this stream are settled several persons, who divide their time between hunting and farming. The district of tillable land is much more extensive, however, than has generally been supposed, and is capable of supporting a considerable population, which will, eventually enhance the agricultural character and importance of that part of Washington county. We had proceeded but a short distance beyond the Fourche à Courtois, when the barking of dogs in a contiguous forest, announced our approach to a hunter's cabin, where we halted to inquire respecting the Indian trace to the country of the Osages, which we were informed ran in the direction we were travelling, and might be pursued for sixty or seventy miles with advantage. The owner of the cabin was not himself in when we first arrived, but his wife very readily gave us every information respecting the direction of the trace, the streams we were to cross, the game we might expect to find for our subsistence, and other particulars, evincing a perfect acquaintance with the subject, adding, that it was dangerous travelling in that quarter on account of the Osages, who never failed to rob and plunder those who fell in their way, and often carried them in captivity to their villages, on the Grand Osage river. She said her husband had contemplated going out on a hunt into that quarter for several days, but was fearful of going alone lest he should fall in with a party of those Indians; but she thought he would be willing to accompany us a part of the way, and advised us to await his return from the woods, as he had only gone a short distance to kill some turkey. While we were waiting his return, she continued to repeat several incidents of robberies and murders committed by the Osages, and unusual hardships which had been encountered in the woods by her husband and others. She told us, also, that our guns were not well adapted to our journey; that we should have rifles; and pointed out some other errors in our dress, equipments, and mode of travelling, while we stood in astonishment to hear a woman direct us in matters which we had before thought the peculiar and exclusive province of men. While thus engaged the husband entered, and readily agreed to our proposal, to accompany us toward White River, where he represented the game to exist in great abundance. In a few moments he was ready. Putting three or four large cakes of corn-bread in a sack, and shouldering a rifle, he mounted his horse, and we all set forward together, mutually pleased with the reciprocal benefits expected from travelling in company. Our path, for the first four miles, lay across a succession of sterile ridges, thinly covered with oaks, when we suddenly descended into the valley of the Osage Fork of the Merrimack, a stream equal in size to the Fourche à Courtois, and having extensive prairies all along its banks. On this stream we passed through a small village of Delaware Indians, who are now all out hunting, except the old men, women, and children. Four miles below the spot where we crossed this stream, is situated a large village of the Shawanees, and three miles above is another settlement of Delawares.

On leaving the valley of Osage Fork, we immediately entered on a hilly barren tract, covered with high grass, and here and there clumps of oak-trees. Soil poor, and covered with fragments of jaspery flint, horn-stone, quartz, and detached masses of carbonate of lime. Such, indeed, has been the character of the small stones under foot from Potosi, but the ledges breaking out on hill sides have uniformly been limestone, stratum upon stratum.

We encamped after dark in a small valley near a spring. Distance eleven 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.