Schoolcraft's Ozark Journey

On Panther Creek

Early Ozarks explorer Henry Schoolcraft and his companion Levi Pettibone camped near this location in late 1818. Pettibone had sprained his ankle the previous day, and Schoolcraft was worried that the expedition was in danger of failure due to lack of provisions and the fear that Pettibone was severely injured. Pettibone’s condition improved overnight, and they continued on their journey, meeting the North Fork of the White River the next day.

Wednesday, November 18th, 1818

On our stopping yesterday to encamp, my first care, after unpacking the horse and turning him loose to feed, was to erect a snug camp, for I expected my companion would be confined several days by the hurt he had received. The pain seemed intense, so that he was unable to stand. We were not prepared for such an accident, our whole medicine-chest consisting of a box of Lee's pills, and-some healing-salve. I recommended, however, the only thing I thought might be beneficial that our travelling pack afforded. It was a solution of common salt in warm water. With this we bathed the ankle, and bound it up with flannel and buffaloe-skin. This done, and a good log-fire built in front of the camp, he had all the physical aid which could be given; and, while he sought repose on a bed of skins resting upon dry grass, I took my gun and strolled about the valley within hearing of camp, with the view of killing some birds for supper. This was in reality one of the most pensive moments I experienced in my whole tour. The reflection that we should be confined a week or fortnight at that spot, where there was not green herbage enough for our horse to subsist, where there were neither deer or wild turkey, where there happened to be very little wood contiguous to the camp, and which was, altogether, a most dreary and desolate place; all this served to stamp the accident as a peculiar misfortune, and my anxiety was increased, by the knowledge that we had not provisions enough killed to last half that time; and by the fear that the inflammation, which was severe, might terminate, through the want of medical aid, in a mortification, and endanger his life. Such reflections obtruded themselves, while I sauntered around on the desolate rocks overlooking our camp. The fact is, I killed nothing, but was rejoiced on my return to find that the pain was not so violent. He took a cup of strong coffee and a biscuit for supper, and after enjoying a good night's rest, awoke in the morning, greatly improved. He could stand upon his foot, and thought, by a different arrangement of our pack, he might ride the horse, and continue our journey. That arrangement was accordingly made; and, mounting the horse, he seated himself on the top of our blankets and skins, and we bid adieu to our camp, with spirits as much exhilarated above the common tune, as they had, the evening before, been depressed below it. Our course of travelling was south-south-west, which carried us directly up the valley. We had not, however, gone more than a mile when two bears were discovered, at no great distance, playing with each other in the grass. We were, in fact, within shooting distance, and had approached without exciting either notice or alarm. Mr. P. for a moment forgot his pains, and dismounted to take a shot at them. We each put an additional ball into our guns, and examined our priming; then taking a deliberate aim, both fired at the same moment. Neither shot took effect, or if wounded, they ran with their usual clumsiness over an adjoining hill, leaving us the satisfaction of having shot at a bear.

We now entered on a very elevated tract of land, barren in appearance, but still covered with oaks, and rising one ridge above another, until we had attained a very great elevation, and one which commanded the most extensive prospect to the north and north-west; and, on gaining its summit, the view was equally commanding to the south and south-east. This ridge appears to be a favourite haunt for elk and bear, which have been frequently seen in our path. The enormous size of the horns of the elk give that animal an appearance of singular disproportion, but it has a stately carriage, and in running, by throwing up its head, brings the horns upon its back, which would otherwise incommode, if not entirely stop, its passage through a thicket. On descending from this highland, we came upon the banks of a small stream running south, and which originated in several springs in the valley which we have thus accidentally struck. Presuming it to be a tributary of White River, we pursued down its banks for about six miles and encamped. Distance eighteen miles.

-Henry Schoolcraft

Missouri Humanities Council Logo

Funding for the Schoolcraft Journey project on Unlock the Ozarks has been provided by the Missouri Humanities Council.