Schoolcraft's Ozark Journey

Near Oscar

Sunday, November 15th, 1818

This morning, the sky being clear, and the weather pleasant, we left the cave, and resumed our journey toward the south-west. On quitting the cave, our design was to turn immediately from the valley of the creek, but we found the hills so precipitous, that we were compelled to pursue up the valley, in a north-west course, for a considerable distance, before an opportunity for leaving it presented. We now entered on a high, rough, and barren tract of country, consisting of a succession of ridges running nearly at right angles to the course we travelled, so that for the first six miles we were continually climbing up slowly to the tops of these lofty heights, or descending with cautious tread into the intervening gulfs-an exercise which we found equally hazardous and fatiguing. For this distance the soil was covered thinly with yellow pine, and shrubby oaks, and with so thick a growth of under-brush as to increase, very much, the labour of travelling. To this succeeded a high-land prairie, with little timber, or underbrush, and covered with grass. We found the travelling upon it very good, although it occasionally presented considerable elevation, and inequalities of surface, and we pursued our way with a pace accelerated by the reflection that we had emerged at last from the region of stony precipices and brambled valleys, through which we had been tearing our way, at the two-fold expense of great bodily fatigue, and such parts of our clothing as were not buckskin. In calling this a high-land prairie, I am to be understood as meaning a tract of high-land generally level, and with very little wood or shrubbery. It is a level woodless barren covered with wild grass, and resembling the natural meadows or prairies of the western country in appearance, but lacks their fertility, their wood, and their remarkable equality of surface. In travelling across such a district of country, we have found little to interest. There are no prominent features in the physiognomy of the country to catch the eye. There is no land-mark in perspective, to which, by travelling, we seem to approach. The unvaried aspect of the country produces satiety.

We travelled diligently and silently. Now and then an oak stood in our path; sometimes a cluster of bushes crowned the summit of a sloping hill; the deer frequently bounded on before us; we sometimes disturbed the rabbit from its sheltering bush, or were suddenly startled by the flight of a brood of quails; but there was nothing else to interrupt the silence of our march, or, by exciting fresh interest, to lighten its fatigue. The mineralogy of the country was wholly uninteresting. Its geological character presented great uniformity, the rocks being secondary lime-stone overlaying sand-stone. In travelling twelve miles we came to the banks of a small stream, (the first running water seen since leaving the cave,) and encamped upon its banks, just as night closed around. 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.