Schoolcraft's Ozark Journey

Provo Hollow

Wednesday, November 25th, 1818

The quality of the lands passed over to-day has, in general, been sterile, with, little timber. A few strips of good bottom lands have intervened. In travelling ten miles, on descending the slope of a long hill, we descried at its foot a large cabin, covered with split board, and were elated with the idea of finding it inhabited by a white hunter. On coming up, however, we were disappointed. It had apparently been deserted about a year, or eighteen months. We could not, however, resist the comfortable shelter it afforded from the weather, and encamped in it at an early hour in the afternoon. The site had been chosen with the sagacity of a hunter. A stream ran in front; on the back was a thick and extensive forest; and a large cane-brake commenced near one side of it, and extended to the banks of the river, so that it afforded great facilities for procuring the three great requisites for encampment, wood, water, and horse-feed. On going to the river, we are surprised to find it considerably enlarged. It is as wide at this place as the Muskingum at Marietta, and probably affords as much water at this season of the year. The weather continues mild. Distance ten miles.

-Henry Schoolcraft

Thursday, November 26th, 1818

The great width of the river, which appears to have suddenly increased, induced us to believe we were upon White River, and that the stream we have been following has discharged its waters some miles above, where the thickness of the cane and brush rendered it impossible to travel near the river's bank. To ascertain this point I went back about five miles, and took a circuit into the country on the opposite side of the river, but found our conjecture unfounded, no stream of any size coming in at that place.

It is necessary here to note, that we have for several days been in the expectation of striking the hunter settlements on White River, having already been in the woods more than double the time contemplated. Our supplies have consequently been failing for several days. Our bread gave out more than a week ago, and we have not Indian meal enough to last more than one day more. Our dried meat and our shot are also nearly expended, so that there appears a certainty of running out of provisions very soon, without the possibility of getting a supply, unless we should be fortunate enough to arrive at some hunter's cabin in the course of one or two days. We have, in fact, already been on short allowance for two days past, and begin to feel the effects of an unsatisfied appetite. The following incident will serve to show the situation to which we were reduced. In returning from the little tour of observation I made on the right banks of the river, I met with a deserted Indian, or White Hunter's Camp, where I found three pumpkins upon a vine which had sprung up from a seed accidentally dropped by the former occupant. One of them having been partly eaten by some wild animal, I gave the balance to my horse, except a portion which I reserved for my own use, and which I sat down and eat with as much pleasure as I ever enjoyed from the most delicious melon or peach. I was not, indeed, before sensible of such a degree of hunger. The other two I took to camp, where I received the hearty congratulations of my companion upon so fortunate a discovery, and arrangements were immediately made for a grand stew. A little iron camp-kettle we carried with us was well adapted for the purpose, and we had a plenty both of water and of salt; but as we had neither bread nor meat, nor any other eatable thing to make up a repast, some epicures would not have relished the entertainment. Nevertheless, we enjoyed a most hearty and social repast, for what we lacked in variety we made up in rarity; and had a haunch of venison, dressed with all the spices of the east, smoked upon our oaken table, we could not have done more ample justice to the cookery.

A circumstance has been noticed this evening, which proves that the climate we are in is adapted to the growth of cotton, several stalks of which were found growing spontaneously among the weeds encircling our camp. The bowls were handsomely filled with cotton of a fine quality, and we picked some of it, for the purpose of kindling a fire, as we find it preferable to tow, which we have heretofore used.

-Henry Schoolcraft

Six days later, on December 1st, 1818, Schoolcraft and Levi Pettibone returned to this camp.

Tuesday, December 1st, 1818

We had concluded to spend this day in preparations for recommending our journey on the next. Our dress now required attention. Our shoes were literally cut to pieces by the stony region we had crossed, and we had purchased a deer-skin for the purpose of making ourselves a pair of mockasons a-piece. We also had purchased some corn for bread, some wild honey, and a little lead. The former required pounding in a mortar, and the latter moulding into bullets, or shot. All this was imperiously necessary: and we had, therefore, determined to devote the day in making preparations, but we found our host and his sons early busied in equipping themselves for a bear-hunt up the Great North Fork, and as they would pass near the place where we had left our horse and baggage on the 27th of November, determined not to lose so good an opportunity of being safely piloted back. Our way ward course for the last two days had already carried us as many miles in a direct line toward it, and he told us he could by a near route carry us there before nine o'clock at night. This served to increase our anxiety, which he had no sooner raised to the highest point, than he refused to conduct us, unless we would pay a certain sum of money, which he stipulated. He had already found we had money, for we had paid him very liberal, if not exorbitant prices, for every thing we had received, and it had only served to inflame his avarice. There was no alternative in our present situation, and we agreed to his demand, provided he would kill us a deer, either on the way, or before he left our camp. This arranged, we began early in the morning to beat our corn into meal, by means of a wooden mortar and pestle he kept for that purpose. This mortar was made by burning a hole in the top of a firm oak-stump, and a large wooden pestle attached to a spring-pole, adapted to play into it. It was an unwieldy apparatus, and worked with a tremendous clattering, attended with incredible fatigue to the operator. At eleven o'clock, however, we were ready for a march, and shouldering our knapsacks and guns, set forward toward the north-west, accompanied by our host, his sons, and a neighbour, seven men in all, armed and equipped for a bear-hunt, and followed by a troop of hungry dogs, who made the woods re-echo with their cries. They were all on horseback but ourselves, and as we were heavy laden, and sore-footed, we soon fell into the rear, which obliged the cavalcade occasionally to halt until we came up. After we had proceeded some miles, in the course of which it had been demonstrated, that we were unable to keep up with them, and that their frequent stopping would prevent our arrival at the hunter's camp that night, they offered us the privilege of riding and walking alternately with them, and with great diligence we reached the camp near ten o'clock at night, and found our horse and baggage all safe. Distance twenty miles.

-Henry Schoolcraft

Wednesday, December 2nd, 1818

Two men had been detached from our party yesterday for the purpose of killing the stipulated deer; and that they might proceed more cautiously, took another route, and reached the camp some time before our arrival, but were unsuccessful, only bringing in a couple of turkeys, one of which was immediately roasted for supper. Early this morning, therefore, several of the party went out in quest of game, but all returned at intervals within two hours, completely unsuccessful, and after finishing the other turkey by way of breakfast, suddenly mounted their horses and bid us adieu. So abrupt a movement took us rather by surprise, and as they trotted off through an adjoining forest, we stood surveying the singular procession, and the singular beings of whom it was composed, and which, taken altogether, bore no comparison with any thing human or divine, savage or civilized, which we had ever before witnessed, but was rather characterized in partaking of whatever was disgusting, terrific, rude, and outre in all. It was, indeed, a novel and striking spectacle, such as we had never before experienced, and when they had passed out of sight we could not forbear an expression of joy at the departure of men, in whose presence we felt rather like prisoners than associates. From their generosity we had received nothing; they had neglected to fulfill one of the most essential engagements, and departed without even an apology for it; their manner and conversation were altogether rough and obscene, and their conduct such as to make us every moment feel that we were in their power. Nothing could more illy correspond with the ideas we had formed of our reception among white hunters, than the conduct we had experienced from these men. Their avarice, their insensibility to our wants, not to call them sufferings, and their flagrant violations of engagements, has served to sink them in our estimation to a very low standard; for, deprived of its generosity, its open frankness, and hospitality, there is nothing in the hunter-character left to admire.

Left alone, we began to reflect upon our own situation, which, with every advantage that had been gained by our visit to the hunters, was still extremely unpleasant. As to provision we had corn, meal, and some honey, but we had not enough of either to last a great while without meat; and besides, the voracious appetite created by the exertion of travelling demanded something more. We had only succeeded in procuring a sufficient quantity of lead to mould five bullets. We had purchased a skin for making mockasons. We had got directions for continuing our voyage, and knew the relative situation of the country we were in. In so much was our condition bettered, and preferable to what we found it five days before, on quitting the same camp in quest of a settlement. But we still lacked animal food, we lacked lead, and guns adapted to hunting; and we lacked that experience necessary to enable us to pursue our way successfully through a wilderness, by directions which were either very vague, or not founded on an acquaintance with that part of the country, the latter of which we had strong reasons for believing to be the case. Our first care, after the departure of the hunters, was to make ourselves mockasons, and we spent the day in this and other preparations, necessary to the comfort, convenience, and safety of our tour.

-Henry Schoolcraft

Thrusday, December 3rd, 1818

While Mr. Pettibone completed the preparations necessary for recommending our journey to-morrow, I sallied into the adjoining woods with my gun, with a determination to kill something. But after spending several hours in endeavouring to elude the sagacity of the birds and beasts of the forest, and making three unsuccessful shots, I returned to camp in a plight infinitely worse than I left it. Mr. P. then took the gun, and also made an unsuccessful shot at a turkey. We had now but one ball left; it was near night, and a flock of turkey betook themselves to roost on a cluster of oaks at no great distance.

As we had been unsuccessful during the day, we resolved to try our fortune at night, and endeavour to accomplish that by stratagem which we had been unable to do in any other way. The night was dark, and we presumed this animal would not be frightened from its roost by our approach. To pre- vent all accidents, I cleaned up my gun thoroughly, put in a new flint, and charged it with great care, with the remaining ball, having first cut it in thirty- two parts by way of shot. Then taking a torch, we proceeded into the midst of the flock, and selecting a large one, which sat low, Mr. P. fired, while I held the light above the barrel, and the turkey dropped. With joy we returned to camp, and prepared a sumptuous repast.

-Henry Schoolcraft

Friday, December 4th, 1818

The weather, which has continued mild during the whole month of November, experienced a sensible change in the last three days, and we had cold and frosty nights, and the mornings and evenings chilly. The 1st of December was a cold day, the second moderately cold, the third mild, and this day it has rained constantly, so that we have been confined to our camp.

-Henry Schoolcraft

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