Schoolcraft's Ozark Journey

M'Gary's Cabin

Henry Schoolcraft, an early Ozarks explorer, camped near this location on the outgoing and returning legs of his historic exploration of the Ozarks. Early settlers, including M’Gary, helped Schoolcraft and his traveling companion Levi Pettibone cope with the hardships and deprivations of the three-month journey by providing food, shelter and directions at critical points of the trip.

Monday, December 7th, 1818

On going six miles, we halted our horse near the summit of a bald mountain, while we went up to survey one of those beautiful and extensive prospects which the traveller so frequently enjoys in passing over this singularly wild and barren region. We had been told by the hunter to travel toward sun-set, that is, nearly due-west, and that in going fifteen miles we should reach a settlement of hunters on the banks of White River. We had now gone double that distance, and as we could not, from the elevated peak on which we now stood, discover any signs of White River, or of human habitations, had reason to conclude we had received wrong directions, and, therefore, resolved to alter our course of travelling. Returning to our horse, we turned directly south, making a right angle with our former course, and had not proceeded more than a mile, when we fell into a feintly-marked horse-path, and in following this three miles, it led into another and a plainer path, which led us on a high bluff of rocks, forming the eastern bank of White River, which ran a broad and beautiful stream below. Elated with this discovery, made so soon after we were ready to conclude ourselves lost, we followed down the river's bank about a mile, and discovered a house on the opposite bank of the river. We lost no time in fording it at a ripple, where the water was only half-leg deep, and were received with hospitality by the occupant, a white hunter, by the name of M'Gary. He had a field of several acres under cultivation, where he raised corn, with several horses, cows, and hogs. The house was of logs, built after the manner of the new settlers in the interior of Ohio, Indiana, and llinois. He was provided with a hand-mill for grinding corn, a smoke-house filled with bear and other meats, and the, interior of the house, though very far from being either neat or comfortable, bore some evidence that the occupant had once resided in civilized society. I noticed a couple of odd volumes of books upon a shelf. Some part of the wearing-apparel of himself and family was of foreign manufacture. Upon the whole, he appeared to live in great ease and independence, surrounded by a numerous family of sons and daughters, all grown up; received us with cordiality, gave us plenty to eat, and bid us welcome as long as we pleased to stay.

In the evening, conversation turned on the length and object of our journey, the difficulties we had encountered, the game we had seen, etc. He told us we were 800 miles above the junction of White River with the Mississippi; that the river was navigable with keel-boats all the way; that there were several settlements along its banks, the river bottoms being very rich; and that traders sometimes came up with large canoes to that place, and to the settlement above at the Sugar-Loaf Prairie. He represented our journey toward the head of the White River as extremely hazardous, on account of the Osage Indians, whose hunting grounds embraced the whole region in which this river, and its upper tributaries, originate, and who never failed to rob white hunters, and travellers who were so unfortunate as to fall in their way, and sometimes carried them into captivity. He related the particulars of a robbery they had some time before committed upon him in the very house we were then sitting, when they took away horses, clothes, and such other articles about the house as they took a fancy to. They had visited him in this way twice, and very recently had stolen eight beaver traps, with all his furs, from a neighbouring hunter, and detained him a considerable time a prisoner in their camp. Numerous other instances were related, all tending to prove that the Osage Indians felt hostile to the white settlements along that river, and that they were habitual robbers and plunderers, not only of them, but of every person who happened to fall defenceless into their hands.

All this was new to us, and excited some surprise, as the United States have enjoyed an uninterrupted peace with this tribe of Indians ever since the acquisition of Louisiana. We replied to him, that the existence of such robberies must certainly be unknown to the government; that we considered it bound to protect them in the lawful and peaceable enjoyment of their liberty and property while living within the territories of the United States, and that if proper representations were made to the Indian agent at St. Louis, redress could undoubtedly be obtained. He said such representations had been attempted, but owing to causes not recollected, did not succeed; that they were not, in fact, able to undertake such long journeys for the purpose of seeking redress, which would cost more than the worth of the property taken, etc.

He also informed us, that a deadly and deep-rooted hostility existed between the Cherokees, who had lately exchanged their lands in Tennessee for the country lying between the Arkansaw and Red River, and the Osages, and that they were daily committing depredations upon the territories and properties of each other. Having but a short time before witnessed the conclusion of a treaty of peace between these two tribes, made at St. Louis under the auspices of Governor Clark, I was surprised to hear of the continuance of hostilities. To prove what reliance is to be placed on the faith of such treaties, he mentioned, that when the Cherokees returned from the council which concluded that treaty, they pursued a party of Osages near the banks of White River, and stole, unperceived, twenty horses, and carried them safely off. Before going to sleep we determined to leave our horse, who had fallen away very much, and indeed all our baggage which cannot be put into knapsacks, with M'Gary, until our return. Distance eleven miles.

-Henry Schoolcraft

A little over a month later, on January 11th, 1819, Schoolcraft and Levi Pettibone returned to this cabin.

Monday, January 11th, 1819

It rained hard during the night, but ceased a little before day-break, when we embarked in our canoe and descended the river forty miles. This brought us to M'Gary's, where we first struck White River, on crossing the wilderness from Potosi, and where, on the 8th December, we left our horse, and a part of our travelling pack. Sixteen miles below Coker's, alias Sugar-Loaf Prairie, we passed the mouth of Big Creek, a stream of thirty yards wide, entering on the left. Two or three hunters had just located themselves at this place, and were engaged in cutting down trees, and building a house, as we passed. Immediately after passing Big Creek, we met a petty trader coming up stream with a large canoe, in which he had the remains of a barrel of whiskey, and a few other articles intended to be bartered off for skins among the hunters. Of him, anxious to hear how the civilized world was progressing, we inquired the news, but were disappointed to learn that he himself resided at no great distance below, where he had purchased his articles from another trader, and knew nothing of those political occurrences in our own country, about which we felt solicitous to be informed. He evinced, indeed, a perfect indifference to those things, and hardly comprehended the import of such inquiries. He knew, forsooth, that he was living under the United States' government, and had some indefinite ideas about St. Louis, New Orleans, and Washington; but who filled the presidential chair, what Congress were deliberating upon, whether the people of Missouri had been admitted to form a state, constitution, and government, and other analogous matters, these were subjects which, to use his own phraseology, "he had never troubled his head about." Such a total ignorance of the affairs of his own country, and indifference to passing events, in one who possessed enterprise enough to become a river pedlar, surprised us, even here, in this benighted corner of the union. After a confabulation of fifteen or twenty minutes, we parted, he urging his heavy canoe with labour up stream, and we descending with an easy motion of the paddle in the current, which had now imperceptibly acquired greater velocity, and we found ourselves passing with rapidity over the Pot Shoals, a gentle rapid in the river, of which we had been advised, and where, from the descriptions given, we were prepared to encounter difficulties which we did not meet. In passing seven miles below these shoals, we came in view of a high wall of rocks on the left shore, which we recognized as being situated immediately opposite M'Gary's, where we arrived as day-light threw its last faint coruscations from the west. At the foot of this bluff, and directly in front of M'Gary's, the Little North Fork of White River discharges itself into the main stream, being at the point of junction about fifty yards wide. It is a river estimated to be 100 miles in length, may be ascended a considerable distance with light water-craft, and has some rich alluvion near its mouth, but originates in, and runs chiefly through, a barren region. This is the stream upon whose banks we encamped on the 6th of December, while sojourning in the wilderness, between the great north and south branches of White River.

-Henry Schoolcraft

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