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An Account of the Mines

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Sit down to write an account of the mines--Medical properties of the Mississippi water--Expedition to the Yellow Stone--Resolve to visit Washington with a plan of managing the mines--Descend the river from St. Genevieve to New Orleans--Incidents of the trip--Take passage in a ship for New York--Reception with my collection there--Publish my memoir on the mines, and proceed with it to Washington--Result of my plan--Appointed geologist and mineralogist on an expedition to the sources of the Mississippi.

1819. I now sat down to draw up a description of the mine country and its various mineral resources. Having finished my expedition to the south, I felt a strong desire to extend my observations up the Mississippi to St. Anthony's Falls, and into the copper-bearing regions of that latitude. Immediately I wrote to the Hon. J.B. Thomas, of Illinois, the only gentleman I knew at Washington, on the subject, giving him a brief description of my expedition into the Ozarks. I did not know that another movement, in a far distant region, was then on foot for exploring the same latitudes, with which it was my fortune eventually to be connected. I allude to the expedition from Detroit in 1820, under General Cass.

I had, at this time, personally visited every mine or digging of consequence in the Missouri country, and had traced its geological relations into Arkansas. I was engaged on this paper assiduously. When it was finished, I read it to persons well acquainted with the region, and sought opportunities of personal criticism upon it.

The months of February and March had now glided away. Too close a confinement to my room, however, affected my health. The great change of life from camping out, and the rough scenes of the forest, could not fail to disturb the functional secretions. An obstruction of the liver developed itself in a decided case of jaundice. After the usual remedies, I made a journey from Potosi to the Mississippi River, for the purpose of ascending that stream on a barge, in order that I might be compelled to drink its turbid, but healthy waters, and partake again of something like field fare. The experiment succeeded.

The trip had the desired effect, and I returned in a short time from St. Louis to Mine au Breton in completely restored health.

At Herculaneum, I was introduced to Major Stephen H. Long, of the United States Topographical Engineers, who was now on his way, in the small steamer Western Pioneer, up the Missouri to the Yellow Stone. I went on board the boat and was also introduced to Mr. Say, the entomologist and conchologist, Mr. Jessup the geologist, and other gentlemen composing the scientific corps.

This expedition was the first evidence to my mind of the United States Government turning attention, in connection with practical objects, to matters of science, and the effort was due, I understand, to the enlightened mind of Mr. Calhoun, then Secretary of War.

It occurred tome, after my return to Potosi, that the subject of the mines which I had been inquiring about, so far as relates to their management as a part of the public domain, was one that belonged properly to the United States Government; Missouri was but a territory having only inchoate rights. The whole mineral domain was held, in fee, by the General Government, and whatever irregularity had been seen about the collections of rents, &c., constituted a question which Congress could only solve. I determined to visit Washington, and lay the subject before the President. As soon as I had made this determination, everything bowed to this idea. I made a rapid visit, on horseback, to St. Louis, with my manuscript, to consult a friend, who entirely concurred in this view. If the mines were ever to be put on a proper basis, and the public to derive a benefit from them, the government must do it.

As soon as I returned to Potosi, I packed my collection of mineralogy, &c. I ordered the boxes by the lead teams to St. Genevieve. I went to the same point myself, and, taking passage in the new steamer "St. Louis," descended the Mississippi to New Orleans. The trip occupied some days. I repassed the junction of the Ohio with deep interest. It is not only the importance of geographical events that impresses us. The nature of the phenomena is often of the highest moral moment.

An interesting incident occurred as soon as I got on board the steamer. The captain handed me a letter. I opened it, and found it to contain money from the secretary of a secret society. I was surprised at such an occurrence, but I confess not displeased. I had kept my pecuniary affairs to myself. My wardrobe and baggage were such as everywhere to make a respectable appearance. If I economized in travel and outlay, I possessed the dignity of keeping my own secret. One night, as I lay sleepless in a dark but double-bedded room, an old gentleman--a disbanded officer, I think, whose health disturbed his repose--began a conversation of a peculiar kind, and asked me whether I was not a Freemason. Darkness, and the distance I was from him, induced a studiedly cautious reply. But a denouement the next day followed. This incident was the only explanation the unwonted and wholly unexpected remittance admitted. A stranger, traveling to a southern and sickly city to embark for a distant State, perhaps never to return--the act appeared to me one of pure benevolence, and it reveals a trait which should wipe away many an error of judgment or feeling.

The voyage down this stream was an exciting one, and replete with novel scenes and incidents. The portion of the river above the mouth of the Ohio, which it had taken me twenty days to ascend in a barge, we were not forty-eight hours in descending. Trees, points of land, islands, every physical object on shore, we rushed by with a velocity that left but vague and indistinct impressions. We seemed floating, as it were, on the waters of chaos, where mud, trees, boats, were carried along swiftly by the current, without any additional impulse of a steam-engine, puffing itself off at every stroke of the piston. The whole voyage to New Orleans had some analogy to the recollection of a gay dream, in which objects were recollected as a long line of loosely-connected panoramic fragments.

At New Orleans, where I remained several days, I took passage in the brig Arethusa, Captain H. Leslie, for New York.

While at anchor at the Balize, we were one night under apprehensions from pirates, but the night passed away without any attack. The mud and alluvial drift of the Mississippi extend many leagues into the gulf. It was evident that the whole delta had been formed by the deposits made in the course of ages. Buried trees, and other forms of organic life, which have been disinterred from the banks of the river, as high, not only as New Orleans and Natchez, but to the mouth of the Ohio, show this. It must be evident to every one who takes the trouble to examine the phenomena, that an arm of the gulf anciently extended to this point; and that the Ohio, the Arkansas, Red River, and other tributaries of the present day, as well as the main Mississippi, had at that epoch entered this ancient arm of the gulf. I landed at the light-house at the Balize. We had to walk on planks supported by stakes in the water. A sea of waving grass rose above the liquid plain, and extended as far as the eye could reach. About twelve or fourteen inches depth of water spread over the land. A light-house of brick or stone, formerly built on this mud plain, east of the main pass, had partially sunk, and hung in a diagonal line to the horizon, reminding the spectator of the insecurity of all solid structures on such a nascent basis. The present light-house was of wood. It was evident, however, that here were deposited millions of acres of the richest alluvion on the globe, and in future times another Holland may be expected to be rescued from the dominions of the ocean. As we passed out into the gulf, another evidence of the danger of the channel met our view, in the wreck of a stranded vessel. The vast stain of mud and alluvial filth extended for leagues into the gulf. As the vessel began to take the rise and swell of the sea, I traversed the deck diligently, and, by dint of perseverance in keeping the deck, escaped sea-sickness. I had never been at sea before. When the land had vanished at all points, and there was nothing in sight but deep blue water around us and a sky above, the scene was truly sublime; there was a mental reaction, impressing a lesson of the insignificance of man, which I had never before felt.

We passed the Gulf of Florida, heaving in sight on one side, as we passed, of the Tortugas, and, on the other, of the Mora Castle of Havana, after which there was little to be noticed, but changes in the Gulf Stream, fishes, sea-birds, ships, and the constant mutations from tempests to the deep blue waters of a calm, till we hove in sight of the Neversinks, and entered the noble bay of New York.

It was the third of August when I reached the city, having stayed out my quarantine faithfully on Staten Island, the mineralogy and geological structure of which I completely explored during that period of municipal regimen--for it was the season of yellow fever, and there was a rigid quarantine. Dr. Dewitt, the health officer, who had known my father, received me very kindly, and my time wore off imperceptibly, while I footed its serpentine vales and magnesian plains.

On reaching the city, I fixed my lodgings at a point on the banks of the Hudson, or rather at its point of confluence with the noble bay (71 Courtland), where I could overlook its islands and busy water craft, ever in motion.

I had now completed, by land and water, a circuit of the Union, having traveled some 6000 miles. My arrival was opportune. No traveler of modern times had thrown himself upon the success of his scientific observations, and I was hailed, by the scientific public, as the first one who had ever brought a collection of the mineral productions of the Mississippi Valley. My collection, which was large and splendid, was the means of introducing me to men of science at New York and elsewhere. Dr. Samuel L. Mitchell and Dr. D. Hosack, who were then in the zenith of their fame, cordially received me. The natural sciences were then chiefly in the hands of physicians, and there was scarcely a man of note in these departments of inquiry who was not soon numbered among my acquaintances. Dr. John Torrey was then a young man, who had just published his first botanical work. Dr. A.W. Ives warmly interested himself in my behalf, and I had literary friends on every side. Among these Gov. De Witt Clinton was prominent.

I had fixed my lodgings where the Hudson River, and the noble bay of New York and its islands, were in full view from my window. Here I opened my collection, and invited men of science to view it, I put to press my observations on the mines and physical geography of the West. I also wrote a letter on its resources, which was published by the Corresponding Association of Internal Improvements, The Lyceum of Natural History, and the Historical Society, each admitted me to membership. My work was published about the 25th of November. As soon as it was announced, I took copies of it, and proceeded to Washington, where I was favorably received. I lost no time in calling on Mr. Monroe, and the Secretaries of War and of the Treasury. Mr. Monroe took up his commonplace-book, and made memorandums of my statements respecting the mines. Mr. Calhoun received me cordially, and said that the jurisdiction of the mines was not in his department. But he had received a memoir from General Cass, Governor of Michigan, proposing to explore the sources of the Mississippi, through the Lakes, and suggesting that a naturalist, conversant with mineralogy, should accompany him, to inquire into the supposed value of the Lake Superior copper mines. He tendered me the place, and stated the compensation. The latter was small, but the situation appeared to me to be one which was not to be overlooked. I accepted it. It seemed to be the bottom step in a ladder which I ought to climb. Small events, it has been said, lead a man, and decide his course in life; and whether this step was important in mine, may be better judged of, perhaps, when these notes shall have been read.

In the mean time, while I accepted this place, the subject of the management and superintendence of the western mines appeared to be fully appreciated by Mr. Calhoun and Mr. Crawford, the latter of whom requested a written statement on the subject; and it was held for further consideration1. I found during this, my first visit to the capital, that the intelligence of my favorable reception at New York, and of my tour in the West, had preceded me. Friends appeared, of whom, at this distance of time, I may name the Vice-President, D.D. Tompkins, Judge Smith Thompson, of the Supreme Court, Colonel Benton, Senator elect from Missouri, Hon. John Scott, the delegate, Hon. Jesse B. Thomas, Senator from Illinois, John D. Dickinson, Esq., Representative from Troy, N.Y., Hon. Josiah Meigs, Commissioner of the General Land Office, Gen. Sol. Van Rensselaer, and Dr. Darlington, Rep. from Pennsylvania. To each of these, I have ever supposed myself to be under obligations for aiding me in my object of exploration, and I certainly was for civilities and attentions.

Mr. Calhoun addressed a letter to Governor Cass, of Michigan, and I proceeded immediately to the North, to be ready to avail myself of the first opportunity of ascending the lakes to the place of departure.

1: This effort became the cause of the government finally taking definite action on the subject. Mr. Monroe presented it to the consideration of Congress in the fall, and a superintendent was subsequently appointed.

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Thirty Years with the Indians


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