Henry Schoolcraft, an early Ozarks explorer and documentarian, began his journey through the Ozarks in Potosi, then known as Mine a Burton. He noted that “the valley is bordered by hills of primitive limestone, rising in such a manner as to give the village a pleasant and picturesque appearance.” Roughly 90 days later, on February 4, 1819, Schoolcraft and Levi Pettibone returned to Potosi, ending their adventure.
Thursday, November 5th, 1818
I begin my tour where other travellers have ended theirs, on the confines of the wilderness, and at the last village of white inhabitants, between the Mississippi river and the Pacific Ocean. I have passed down the valley of the Ohio, and across the state of Illinois, in silence! I am now at the mines of Missouri, at the village of Mine à Burton, (now called Potosi,) and surrounded by its mineral hills and smoking furnaces. Potosi is the seat of justice for Washington county, Missouri territory, and is situated forty miles west of St Genevieve, and about sixty south-west of St. Louis, the capital. It occupies a delightful valley, of small extent, through which a stream of the purest water meanders, dividing the village into two portions of nearly equal extent. This valley is bordered by hills of primitive limestone, rising in some places in rugged peaks; in others, covered with trees, and grouped and interspersed with cultivated farms, in such a manner as to give the village a pleasing and picturesque appearance. It contains seventy buildings, exclusive of a court-house, a jail, an academy, a post-office, one saw, and two grist mills, and a number of temporary buildings necessary in the smelting of lead. In its vicinity is found a considerable tract of very fertile land, and a lively interest is manifested to the pursuits of agriculture; but the trade of Potosi is chiefly in lead, which is, in a great degree, the medium of exchange, as furs and peltries formerly were in certain parts of the Atlantic states. Very great quantities of lead are annually made at this place, and waggoned across the country to the banks of the Mississippi, a distance of forty miles, for shipment. It is estimated that, from the year 1798 to 1816, 9,360,000 pounds of lead were smelted here. There are about forty mines in this vicinity. The price of lead is 4 per cwt. in the pig. The ore worked is galena, or sulphuret of lead, which is found in abundance, and smelts very easily, yielding from sixty to seventy per cent of metallic lead in the large way. It is found in alluvial soil, along with sulphate of barytes, radiated quartz, and pyrites, and also in veins in primitive limestone.
Roughly 90 days later, on February 4, 1819, Schoolcraft and Levi Pettibone returned to Potosi, ending their adventure.
Thursday, Febuary 4th, 1819
From this spot, (Hale's on Big River,) the roads diverge eastwardly to St. Genevieve, northwardly to Herculaneum and St. Louis, and westwardly to Potosi, which is situated at a distance of fifteen miles. Toward this I hastened with a buoyancy of spirit, consequent upon the reflection that the termination of my journey was at hand. After crossing the ford, and the alluvial bottoms extending westwardly from the river, the road winds up a succession of elevated hills for the distance of three of four miles. Here commences a sterile plain, indented with gentle valleys, watered by innumerable rivulets, and covered with a very uniform growth of black oaks and post oaks, and in the summer season by a vigorous undergrowth of wild grass, flowers, and vines. The soil is a deep stratum of red marly clay, interspersed with shivers of horn-stone and jasper, radiated quartz, and heavy spar. These evidences of the existence of lead-ore in the earth denoted my approach to Potosi, where I arrived at three o'clock in the afternoon, after an absence of ninety days, and having travelled more than nine hundred miles.
Funding for the Schoolcraft Journey project on Unlock the Ozarks has been provided by the Missouri Humanities Council.