Schoolcraft's Ozark Journey

St. Michael's (Fredericktown)

Henry Schoolcraft camped near St. Michael’s as he neared the end of his three-month exploration of the Ozarks region. In his journal Schoolcraft described the plants, animals and geology he encountered on the way. At this location Schoolcraft also described the visible effects of the New Madrid earthquakes that occurred in 1811 – 1813.

Monday, Febuary 1st, 1819

I advanced but three miles this day. During the morning it rained, and continued, with occasional cessations, until night. Much had been told me of the natural appearances of the Narrows, where the river is compressed between lofty hills of granite, and of the shaking of the earth, sometimes experienced there. It is seldom that these relations of the country people are entitled to any credit, and my own experience abundantly satisfies me, that the traveller who turns out of his way to see surprising things, on no better authority, is often sent on a fool's errand. I was disappointed, therefore, to find the Narrows of St. Francis well worthy of a visit. Here the river, narrowed to half its width, forces itself between two elevated ridges of red granite, and brawling over its rugged bed, pitches, at successive leaps, twenty or thirty feet in the distance of half a mile. These ridges rise to a height of six or seven hundred feet, and are capped with oak-trees, except on the sides facing the river, where the rock, during the lapse of ages, fallen off, and the fragments rolling downwards, so accumulated as to give the ridges the appearance of two mighty and confused piles of granitic stones. No signs of vegetable life are found upon them. At the water's edge, there is a vein of micaceous iron ore, which is considered silver by the neighbouring people. Some blocks of greenstone porphyry are also seen among these interesting mineral ruins. Radiated quartz, iron pyrites, and a species of massive mountain iron ore, are also the production of this region. The contiguous calcareous strata on the east afford galena and blende. During that remarkable series of earthquakes which this country, in common with all the valley of the Mississippi, experienced in December, 1811, and which continued with intermissions until 1813, large masses of granite rock were shook from these heights, and precipitated into the valley of the St. Francis. The effects of these dreadful earthquakes are still visible in many parts of Missouri and Arkansaw, but the most striking alterations were made in the alluvial district of New-Madrid county, the capital of which was, in part, precipitated into the Mississippi, and the natural physiognomy of that country is much disfigured by eruptions and by lakes. It is even added, that a tremulous motion of the earth is still sometimes observable in that section of country. The most interesting, and, indeed, the only condensed body of facts, relative to these earthquakes, which is to be found among the literary papers of the United States, were collected and published by Dr. Samuel L. Mitchill, in the first volume of the Transactions of the Literary and Philosophical Society of New-York.

-Henry Schoolcraft

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