Schoolcraft's Ozark Journey

S. Yochem's Cabin (Bull Shoals Lake)

Henry Schoolcraft and travelling companion Levi Pettibone spent the night at or near this location at the cabin of an early settler known as Mr. Yochem during their three month exploration through the Ozarks. As a token of respect, Mr. Yochem fed the two travelers roasted beaver’s tail, one of the “greatest dainties” known to the Missouri hunter.

Saturday, January 9th, 1819

Having, in pursuance of this determination, purchased a canoe of the hunters, and made other necessary preparations, we were ready at an early hour in the morning to embark. We now found it necessary again to resume the use of our guns, after having for nearly a month been supplied with pro-visions by the hunters, and for that purpose had procured a quantity of lead and ball. We also put into our canoe some bear's meat smoked, dried venison, corn-bread, and salt, with a few articles reserved from our former pack, which were either necessary or convenient on encamping. The men, women, and children, followed us down to the shore, and after giving us many directions and precautions, and repeating their wishes for our success, we bid them adieu, and shoving our canoe into the stream, found ourselves, with a little exertion of paddles, flowing at the rate of from three to four miles per hour down one of the most beautiful and enchanting rivers which discharge their waters into the Mississippi. To a width and a depth which entitles it to be classed as a river of the third magnitude in western America, it unites a current which possesses the purity of crystal, with a smooth and gentle flow, and the most imposing, diversified, and delightful scenery. Its shores are composed of smooth spherical and angular pieces of opaque, red, and white gravel, consisting of water-worn fragments of carbonate of lime, hornstone, quartz, and jasper. Every pebble, rock, fish, or floating body, either animate or inanimate, which occupies the bottom of the stream, is seen while passing over it with the most perfect accuracy; and our canoe often seemed as if suspended in air, such is the remarkable transparency of the water. Sometimes the river for many miles washed the base of a wall of calcareous rock, rising to an enormous height, and terminating in spiral, broken, and miniform masses, in the fissures of which the oak and the cedar had forced their crooked roots, and hung in a threatening posture above us. Perched upon these, the eagle, hawk, turkey, and heron, surveyed our approach without alarm, secure in eminent distance. Facing such rocks, the corresponding curve of the river invariably presented a level plain of rich alluvial soil, covered with a vigorous growth of forest-trees, cane, shrubs, and vines, and affording a most striking contrast to the sterile grandeur on the opposite shore. Here the paths of the deer and buffaloe, where they daily came down to drink, were numerous all along the shore, and the former we frequently surprised as he stood in silent security upon the river's brink. The duck, brant, and goose, continually rose in flocks before us, and alighting in the stream a short distance below, were soon again aroused by our approach; thus we often drove them down the river for many hours together, until our repeated intrusion at last put them to effectual flight. Often a lofty ridge of rocks in perspective seemed to oppose a barrier to the further progress of the river, which suddenly turned away in the most unexpected direction at the moment we reached the fancied barrier, displaying to our view other groupes of rocks, forests, plains, and shores, arranged in the most singular and fantastic manner, and in the utmost apparent confusion, but which, on a nearer inspection, developed a beautiful order and corresponding regularity, such as the intelligent mind constantly observes in the physiognomy of nature, and which appears the more surprising the more minutely it is inspected, analyzed, or compared. Very serpentine in its course, the river carried us toward every point of the compass in the course of the day; sometimes rocks skirted one shore, sometimes the other, never both at the same place, but rock and alluvion generally alternating from one side to the other, the bluffs being much variegated in their exterior form, extent, and relative position, giving perpetual novelty to the scenery, which ever excited fresh interest and renewed gratification, so that we saw the sun sink gradually in the west without being tired of viewing the mingled beauty, grandeur, barrenness, and fertility, as displayed by the earth, rocks, air, water, light, trees, sky, and animated nature; they form the ever-winding, diversified, and enchanting banks of White River.

A short distance below the Hunters' Cabins we passed the mouth of Beaver Creek, a clear stream of thirty yards wide, entering from the left, remarkable for the number of beavers formerly caught in it. As night overtook us, we descried on the left bank of the river a hunter's cabin, which we found in the occupation of a person of the name of Yochem, who readily gave us permission to remain for the night, having descended the river thirty miles. Here, among other wild meats, we were invited at supper, as a particular mark of respect, to partake of a roasted beaver's tail, one of the greatest dainties known to the Missouri hunter. Having heard much said among hunters concerning the peculiar flavour and delicious richness of this dish, I was highly gratified in having an opportunity of judging for myself, and accepted with avidity the offer of our host. The tail of this animal, unlike every other part of it, and of every other animal of the numerous tribe of quadrupeds, is covered with a thick scaly skin, resembling in texture certain fish, and in shape analogous to a paper-folder, or the bow of a lady's corset, tapering a little toward the end, and pyramidal on the lateral edges. It is cooked by roasting before the fire, when the skin peals off, and it is eaten simply with salt. It has a mellow, luscious taste, melting in the mouth some-what like marrow, and being in taste something intermediate between that and a boiled perch. To this compound flavour of fish and marrow it has, in the way in which hunters eat it, a slight disagreeable smell of oil. Could this be removed by some culinary process, it would undoubtedly be received on the table of the epicure with great eclat.

-Henry Schoolcraft

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