Schoolcraft's Ozark Journey

Near Sparta

Wednesday, December 30th, 1818

In pursuing up the valley of Swan Creek, about nine miles, we fell into the Osage trace, a horse-path beaten by the Osages in their hunting excursions along this river, and passed successively three of their camps, now deserted, all very large, arranged with much order and neatness, and capable of quartering probably 100 men each. Both the method of building camps, and the order of encampment observed by this singular nation of savages, are different from anything of the kind I have noticed among the various tribes of aboriginal Americans, through whose territories I have had occasion to travel. The form of the tent or camp may be compared to an inverted bird's nest, or hemisphere, with a small aperture left in the top, for the escape of smoke; and a similar, but larger one, at one side, for passing in and out. It is formed by cutting a number of slender flexible green-poles of equal length, sharpened at each end, stuck in the ground like a bow, and, crossing at right angles at the top, the points of entrance into the ground forming a circle. Small twigs are then wove in, mixed with the leaves of cane, moss, and grass, until it is perfectly tight and warm. These tents are arranged in large circles, one within another, according to the number of men intended to be accommodated. In the centre is a scaffolding for meat, from which all are supplied every morning, under the inspection of a chief, whose tent is conspicuously situated at the head of the encampment, and differs from all the rest, resembling a half cylinder inverted. Their women and children generally accompany them on these excursions, which often occupy three months. The boys and lazy drones who do not help in hunting, are obliged to eat the intestines of the animals killed. The white hunter, on encamping in his journeys, cuts down green-trees, and builds a large fire of long logs, sitting at some distance from it. The Indian hunts up a few dry limbs, cracks them into little pieces a foot in length, builds a small fire, and sits close by it. He gets as much warmth as the white hunter, without half the labour, and does not burn more than a fiftieth part of the wood. The Indian considers the forest his own, and is careful in using and preserving every thing which it affords. He never kills more meat than he has occasion for. The white hunter destroys all before him, and cannot resist the opportunity of killing game, although he neither wants the meat, nor can carry the skins. I was particularly struck with an instance of this wanton practice, which lately occurred on White River. A hunter returning from the woods heavy laden with the flesh and skins of five bears, unexpectedly arrived in the midst of a drove of buffalo, and wantonly shot down three, having no other object than the sport of killing them. This is one of the causes of the enmity existing between the white and the red hunters of Missouri. On reaching the third Osage encampment, we left the valley of Swan Creek, holding a north-west course, and immediately entered on a high, sterile ridge of land, which separates the waters of Swan Creek from Findley's River. Finding no water at the proper time for stopping, we travelled two hours after dark, and encamped in a barren little valley without wood. 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.