Schoolcraft's Ozark Journey

Poke Bayou (Batesville)

Henry Schoolcraft, an early Ozarks explorer, arrived at Poke Bayou (present day Batesville) to discover a village of about a dozen houses situated on the north bank of the river. At one of these homes, he was entertained by a local settler, Robert Bean. Schoolcraft observed that Poke Bayou was a pleasant village, and advantageous as a commercial and agricultural depot.

Monday, January 18th, 1819

Much had been said along the river, respecting a tin mine reported to exist on the north bank of the river in this vicinity, and although not prepared to find this metal among secondary rocks, I had determined to make it a point of particular inquiry, and after descending the river five miles this morning, stopped about the hour of breakfast, at the house of the person (Mr. Jones,) on whose lands the discovery was reported to have been made. He confirmed all we had heard on the subject; said that a very large body of singular ore, supposed to be tin, had been found some eight or ten miles north of his house, on the high-lands; that it lay in a valley upon the surface of the earth, upon a kind of rotten lime-stone rock, with a small stream running by, etc. He now produced some lumps of the ore. It was a species of die mountain iron-ore (iron glance,) of a bluish gray colour, great weight, and possessed considerable metallic lustre; destitute, however, of those tarnished colours which serve to beautify the surface of certain varieties of specular iron glance. This incident seems to show how readily persons who have devoted little attention to the subject, are deceived in the appearances of a mineral, and how prone they are to ascribe to it a value which it does not possess.

At the distance of fifteen miles below Jones's, we passed Hardin's Ferry; dwelling-house on the south bank. Here the main road from Missouri to Arkansaw crosses the river, and a mail is carried from St. Louis to the post of Arkansaw, (now the seat of Territorial Government, March 1820,) once a month. Two miles below is Morrison's Ferry, a branch of the same road crossing there, and eight miles farther Poke Bayou, a village of a dozen houses, situated on the north bank of the river, where we arrived at about four o'clock in the afternoon, and were entertained with hospitality by Mr. Robert Bean, merchant of that place.

A gradual change in the face of the country for the last thirty miles, before reaching this spot, is observable. The bottom lands, as you descend, increase in width; the bluffs become more remote, and decrease in height, and finally disappear a few miles above Hardin's Ferry, where that extensive alluvial formation, which reaches to the banks of the Mississippi, commences. From this fork, the scenery is unvaried. A rich level plain, covered with heavy forest-trees and canebrake, extends as far as the eye can reach, on both banks of the river, gradually depressed toward the Mississippi, where it is subject to semi-annual inundation. At this place, the banks are elevated thirty feet above the present level of the water, and are subject to falling in during the high spring and autumnal floods. In other respects, the situation of Poke Bayou is pleasant, and advantageous as a commercial and agricultural depot. Here we concluded to quit the river, and pursue the Arkansaw road, on foot, through Lawrence, Cape Girardeau, Wayne, and Madison counties, toward Potosi. As a preparatory step, we have disposed of our canoe, skins, etc. and provided ourselves with travelling knapsacks.

-Henry Schoolcraft

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