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Set Out on the Expedition to the North-West

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Set out on the expedition to the north-west--Remain a few weeks at New York--Visit Niagara Falls, and reach Detroit in the first steamer--Preparations for a new style of traveling--Correspondents--General sketch of the route pursued by the expedition, and its results--Return to Albany, and publish my narrative--Journal of it--Preparation for a scientific account of the observations.

1820. I left Washington on the 5th of February, exactly one year from my return to Potosi from the Ozarks; proceeded to New York, where I remained till early in March; traveled by sleigh over the Highlands, was at Niagara Falls on the 1st of May, and reached Detroit in the steamer "Walk-in-the-water" on the 8th of May. Captain D.B. Douglass, of West Point Academy, was appointed topographer, and joined me at Buffalo. We proceeded up Lake Erie in company, and were received in a most cordial manner by General Cass and the citizens generally of that yet remote and gay military post.

Arrangements were not completed for immediate embarkation. We were to travel in the novel Indian bark canoe. Many little adaptations were necessary, and while these things were being done we spent a couple of weeks very agreeably, in partaking of the hospitalities of the place. My correspondence now began to accumulate, and I took this occasion of a little pause to attend to it. The publication of my work on the mines had had the effect to awaken attention to the varied resources of the Mississippi Valley, and the subject of geographical and geological explorations. It also brought me a class of correspondents who are simply anxious for practical information, and always set about getting it in the most direct way, whether they are personal or introduced acquaintances or not. I determined at once to reply to these, wherever they appeared to be honest inquiries for geographical facts, which I only, and not books, could communicate.

Mr. Robert Bright, of Charleston, S.C., an English emigrant, having got a copy of my work, wrote (Jan. 11) as to the business prospects of St. Louis, intending apparently to go thither. Not knowing my correspondent, but, on a moment's reflection, believing the communication of such information would not make me poorer and might be important to him, by helping him on in his fortunes in the world, I wrote to him, giving the desired information, assigning to that spot, in my estimation, a highly important central influence on the business and affairs of the Mississippi Valley.

The Hon. John Scott, delegate in Congress, from Missouri, speaking of the work on the mineralogy, &c., of that territory, says, "Those sources of individual and national wealth, which I have no doubt you have well developed, have been too long neglected, and I trust that your well-directed efforts to bring them to notice will be amply rewarded, not only in the emoluments derived from the work, but what is still more gratifying to the author, and the enlightened and patriotic statesman, in seeing this portion of our resources brought into full operation."

Mr. Robert C. Bruffey, of Missouri, writes (March 14th), giving a sketch of a recent tour into the southern part of Arkansas:--

"Health of Southern Climates.--When I returned from the Arkansas, which was not till the 6th of October, with some few others, I brought a particular 'specimen' of the country, namely, the ague and fever, which I endured for two months, and until the commencement of cold weather.

"I continued but three weeks at the Springs (Hot Springs of Wachita); could I have spent the whole summer in the use of the water, no doubt I should have been much benefited, if not entirely relieved from my irksome complaint. I saw your friend Stephen P. Austin, at the Springs, just recovered from a dangerous sickness, namely, fever and vomiting blood. He inquired after you particularly.

"A New Field for Exploration.--When I was in the lower country, I was sorry you had not time to visit that interesting section of country previous to the publication of your work (which, I understand, has been received and appreciated with avidity); for I assure you, as relates to scientific researches, you would have collected materials that would have come within its purview, and repaid you liberally for your labor, and the specimens added richly to your collection.

"I will now give you a description, so far as my feeble abilities will admit, of the things which I think worthy the attention of a devotee of science. In the first place, the springs are worthy of notice, in a natural as well as medical point of view. They contain in their different issues all the different temperatures, from boiling, down to a pleasure bath. They contain a combining principle, or the quality of petrifying and uniting various substances that may come in contact with them, such as flint, earth, stone, iron, &c. The bluff from which they flow out is principally of an apparent calcareous substance, formed by the water. In some of the springs a red, in others a green and yellow, sediment is produced. The waters will remove rheumatism, purge out mercury, and produce salivation, in those who have it in their system previously; cure old sores and consumptions, in their early stages; cure dropsies, palsies, &c., if taken in time.

"The next curiosity is the loadstone, a specimen of which I have with me; you can examine it when you visit this country. The next rock crystal, of which I have two specimens1. The fourth is alum, of which I procured a small quantity, as I did not visit the cave where it is to be obtained. The fifth is oil and whetstone, of which there is a great abundance in that quarter. The sixth is asbestus. In a word, the subjects are worthy the attention of those who wish to be instrumental in enlarging or developing that branch of science."

Mr. William Ficklin, one of the pioneers of Kentucky, but now a resident of Missouri, writes: "I am pleased to hear of your appointment, and wish I could be with you on the route, as you will visit a section of the country but little known to our government. I must advise you to be on your guard against the Indians, the best of whom will murder a man for a trifle, if they can meet him alone, or off his guard.

"A Mr. Nabb, a few months ago, brought me some white metal, which, he says, he smelted in a common forge--it was as bright as silver, but too hard to bear the hammer. I think it must be zinc."

March 18th.--Mr. Amos Eaton writes from Troy: "A second edition of my Index to Geology is in the press--about thirty-six pages struck off. I have written the whole over anew, and extended it to about two hundred and fifty pages 12mo. I have taken great pains to collect facts, in this district, during the two years since my first edition was published. But I am rather deficient in my knowledge of secondary and alluvial formations; I wish to trouble you with a few inquiries upon that subject.

"From what knowledge I have been able to obtain in that department, I am inclined to arrange the secondary class thus:--

"Breccia: compact, or shell limestone; gypsum, secondary sandstone.

"I leave much, also, for peculiar local formations.

"A gentleman presented specimens to the Troy Lyceum, from Illinois, of gypsum and secondary sandstone, and informed me that the latter overlaid the former in regular structure. Myron Holly, and others, have given me similar specimens, which they represent as being similarly situated, from several localities in the western part of this State. This secondary sandstone is sometimes more or less calcareous. I believe it is used for a cement by the Canal Company, which hardens under water. Will you do me the favor to settle this question?

"On your way to Detroit, you may perhaps, without material inconvenience, collect facts of importance to me, in relation to secondary and alluvial formations. Anything transmitted to me by the middle of April on these subjects will be in season, because I shall not have printed all the transition part before that time.

"Have you any knowledge of the strata constituting Rocky Mountains? Is it primitive, or is it graywacke like Catskill Mountains? I have said, in a note, that, after you and Dr. E. James set foot upon it, we shall no longer be ignorant of it.

"I intend to kindle a blaze of geological zeal before you return. I have adapted the style of my index to the capacities of ladies, plough-joggers, and mechanics."

March 28th.--While here, I received a notice of my election as a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences at Philadelphia.

April 28th.--James T. Johnston, Esq., of N.Y., writes on the interesting character of the mineralogy of the interior of Georgia.

The spirit of inquiry denoted by these letters gives but a faint idea of the interest which was now awakened in the public mind, on the exploration of the west, and it would require a reference to the public prints of the day to denote this. If the delay had served no other purpose, it had brought us into a familiar acquaintance with our commander, who was frank and straightforward in his manners, and fully disposed, not only to say, but to do everything to facilitate the object. He put no veto on any request of this kind, holding the smiths and mechanics of the government amenable to comply with any order. He was not a man, indeed, who dealt in hems and haws--did not require to sleep upon a simple question--and is not a person whose course is to be stopped, as many little big men are, by two straws crossed.

At length the canoes, which were our principal cause of delay, arrived from Lake Huron, where they were constructed, and all things were ready for our embarkation. It was the 24th of May when we set out. A small detachment of infantry had been ordered to form a part of the expedition, under Lieutenant Aeneas Mackay. Eight or ten Chippewa and Ottowa Indians were taken in a separate canoe, as hunters, and gave picturesqueness to the brigade by their costume. There were ten Canadian voyagers of the north-west stamp. Professor Douglass and myself were the only persons to whom separate classes of scientific duties were assigned. A secretary and some assistants made the governor's mess consist of nine persons. Altogether, we numbered, including guides and interpreters, about forty persons; a truly formidable number of mouths to feed in the "waste howling wilderness."

Having kept and published a journal of the daily incidents of the expedition, I refer to it for details2. To plunge into the wilderness is truly to take one's life in his hand. But nobody thought of this. The enterprise was of a kind to produce exhilaration. The route lay up the Detroit and St. Clair Rivers, and around the southern shores of Lakes Huron and Superior to Fond du Lac. Thence up the St. Louis River in its rugged passage through the Cabotian Mountains to the Savannah summit which divides the great lakes from the Mississippi Valley. The latter was entered through the Comtaguma or Sandy Lake River. From this point the source of the Mississippi was sought up rapids and falls, and through lakes and savannahs, in which the channel winds. We passed the inlet of the Leech Lake, which was fixed upon by Lieutenant Pike as its probable source, and traced it through Little Lake Winnipeg to the inlet of Turtle Lake in upper Red Cedar, or Cass Lake, in north lat. 47 deg.. On reaching this point, the waters were found unfavorable to proceeding higher. The river was then descended to the falls of St. Anthony, St. Peters, and Prairie du Chien. From the latter point we ascended the Wisconsin to the portage into Fox River, and descended the latter to Green Bay. At this point, the expedition was divided, a part going north, in order to trace the shores to Michilimackinack, and part steering south, by the shores of Lake Michigan to Chicago. At the latter place, another division was made, Governor Cass and suite proceeding on horseback, across the peninsula of Michigan, and Captain Douglass and myself completing the survey of the eastern coast of Michigan, and rejoining the party detached to strike Michilimackinack. The Huron shores were coasted to the head of the River St. Clair and Detroit.

About four thousand miles were traversed. Of this distance the topography was accurately traced by Captain Douglass and his assistant, Mr. Trowbridge. This officer also took observations for the latitude at every practical point, and collected with much labor the materials for a new and enlarged map. Its geology and mineralogy were the subjects of a detailed report made by me to the War Department in 1822. Of the copper deposits on Lake Superior, a detailed report was made to the same department in November 1820. The Indian tribes were the subject of observation made by General Cass. Its botany, its fresh water conchology, and its zoology and ichthyology, received the attention that a rapid transit permitted. Its soil, productions, and climate were the topics of daily observation. In short, no exploration had before been made which so completely revealed the features and physical geography of so large a portion of the public domain. And the literary and scientific public waited with an intense desire for the result of these observations in every department.

The first letter I received on my return route from that eventful tour, was at the post of Green Bay, where a letter from J.T. Johnston, Esq., of New York, awaited me: "Since you departed," he observes, "nothing of importance has occurred, either in the moral or political world. The disturbances which disgrace the kingdom of Great Britain are, and still continue to be, favored by a few factionists. Thistlewood, and the members of the Cato Street conspiracy, have been tried for high treason, and condemned, and I presume the next arrivals must bring us an account of their execution. The Cortes has been established in Spain, and there floats a rumor that the Saint, the adored Ferdinand, has fled to France. The public debates in France seem to me to thunder forth, as the precursor of some event which will yet violently agitate the country. (Napoleon was now in St. Helena.) The stormy wave of discord has not subsided. The temple of ambition is not overthrown, and party spirit will rush to inhabit it. The convulsive struggle for independence in the South (America) still continues, but civil war appears about to interrupt its progress. At home all is quiet. A virtuous chief magistrate and a wise administration must benefit a people so PRONE TO DOMESTIC FACTION."

This gave me the first glimpse of home and its actualities, and the letter was refreshing for the sympathies it expresses, after long months of tugging over portages, and looking about to arrange in the mind stratifications, to gather specimens of minerals, and fresh water shells, and watch the strange antics which have been cut over the whole face of the north-west by the Boulder Group of Rocks.

Sept. 6. Mr. C.C. Trowbridge writes from Michilimackinack: "I forward the specimens collected by Mr. Doty and myself, on the tour (from Green Bay, on the north shore, to Michilimackinack). The most interesting will probably be the organic remains. They were collected in Little Noquet Bay, on the N.E. side, where ridges of limestone show themselves frequently. Near the top of the package you find a piece of limestone weighing about two pounds, of which the upper stratum was composed; there are two pieces of the lower stratum, resembling blue pipestone. The middle stratum was composed of these remains. About ten miles N.E. of Great Bay de Noquet, we found flint, or hornstone, in small quantities in the limestone rocks. There is also a specimen of the marble, which we saw little of; but since our arrival I am informed that a large bluff, composed of the same, is seen 30 to 40 miles from this. The gypsum I picked up on St. Martin's Islands."

On reaching Detroit, Gov. Cass invited Capt. Douglass and myself to recruit ourselves a few days at his "old mansion of the ancient era." I examined and put in order my collection of specimens, selecting such as were designed for various institutions. A local association of persons inclined to foster literary efforts, under the name of "Detroit Lyceum," elected me a member. The intrepid and energetic officer who had planned and executed this scheme of western exploration gave me a copy of his official letter to the Secretary of War, warmly approbating the conduct of Capt. Douglass and myself, as members of the expedition. All its results were attended with circumstances of high personal gratification.

I left Detroit on the 13th of October at 4 o'clock P.M., in the steamer "Walk-in-the-Water," the first boat built on the Lake waters, and reached Black Rock at 7 o'clock in the morning of the 17th, being a stormy passage, in a weak but elegant boat, of eighty-seven hours. Glad to set my foot on dry land once more, I hurried on by stage and canal, and reached Oneida Creek Depot on the 21st at 4 o'clock in the morning, stopped for breakfast there, and then proceeded on foot, through the forest, by a very muddy path, to Oneida Castle, a distance of three miles--my trunk being carried by a man on horseback. Thence I took a conveyance for Mr. W.H. Shearman's, at Vernon, where I arrived at ten o'clock A.M.

Capt. Douglass, who had preceded me, wrote from West Point Military Academy, on the 27th, that in the sudden change of habits he had been affected with a dreadful influenza. My own health continued to be unimpaired, and my spirits were buoyant. After a few days' rest, I wrote a report (Nov. 6th) to the Secretary of War on the metalliferous character of the Lake Superior country, particularly in relation to its reported wealth in copper. I proceeded to Albany on the 7th of December, and arrived the day following, and was cordially greeted by all my friends and acquaintances. It was my intention to have gone immediately to New York, but the urgent entreaties of Mr. Carter and others induced me to defer it. Very little had been said by the members of the party about a publication. We looked to Capt. Douglass, who was the topographer and a professor at West Point, to take the lead in the matter. The death of Mr. Ellicott, Professor of Mathematics at that institution, who was his father-in-law, and his appointment to the vacant chair, from that of engineering, placed him in a very delicate and arduous situation. He has never received credit for the noble manner in which he met this crisis. He was not only almost immediately required to teach his class the differential calculus, but the French copy--a language with which he was not familiar--was the only one employed. He was therefore not only obliged to study a comparatively new science, but to do it in a new language; and when the course began, he had to instruct his class daily in tasks which he committed nightly. Most men would have sunk under the task, but he went triumphantly through it, and I have never heard that the students or others ever had cause to suspect his information or question his abilities. He wrote to me, and perhaps to me only, on this subject.

There was something like a public clamor for the results of the expedition, and the narrative was hurried into press. A new zeal was awakened upon the subject of mineralogy and geology. A friend wrote to me on the mineral affluence of upper Georgia. Several letters from the western district of the State, transmitting specimens, were received. "The unexampled success of your expedition," observes one of these correspondents, "in all respects is a subject of high congratulation, not only for those of whom it was composed, but also to a great portion of the people of the United States, and to this State in particular, as we are the grand link that unites that vast region to our Atlantic border3."  These feelings appear in letters from near and far. Captain Douglass was aware of this interest, and anxious, amidst his arduous duties, to get the necessary time to arrange his notes and materials. He wrote to me (December 25) to furnish Professor Silliman some sketches for the American Journal of Science. On the topic of topography he says:--

"With regard to our daily occurrences, ought not something to be done? I intended to have had a conversation with Governor Cass and yourself on the subject before I parted from you, but it escaped me, and I have since written about it.

"I should be glad to receive your delineation of the Mississippi below Prairie du Chien, and your levels through the Fox and Wisconsin (I believe in these we agree pretty nearly) would enable me to consolidate mine.

"While I think of it, let me tell you I have made some calculations about the height of the Porcupine Mountains. My data are the distance at which they were seen from Kewewena portage, under the influence of great refraction, and the distance on the following day without unusual refraction, and I am convinced they cannot be less than 2000 feet high; if, however, this staggers you, say 1800, and I am confident you are within the real elevation.

"Estimates of heights, breadths of rivers, &c., and, in looking over your journal, any other topographical facts which you may have to dispose of, will be very acceptable to me. Will you be able to spare me (that is, to let me copy) any of your drawings? You know, I believe, my views in asking are to embellish my map and memoir with landscape views in a light style."

1: Now in my cabinet.

2: A Narrative Journal of Travels through the American Lakes to the Sources of the Mississippi River. 1 vol. 8vo. pp. 419: Albany, 1821.

3: W.S.D.Z., 9th Dec. 1820.

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