New-Yearing--A prospect opened--Poem of Ontwa--Indian
biography--Fossil tree--Letters from various persons--Notice of
Ontwa--Professor Silliman--Gov. Clinton--Hon. J. Meigs--Colonel
Benton--Mr. Dickenson--Professor Hall--Views of Ex-presidents
Madison, Jefferson, and Adams on geology--Geological notices--Plan
of a gazetteer--Opinions of my Narrative Journal by
scientific gentlemen--The impostor John Dun Hunter--Trip up the
Potomac--Mosaical chronology--Visit to Mount Vernon.
1822. Jan. 1st.--I spent this day a New-Yearing. Albany is
a dear place for the first of January; not only the houses of
every one, but the hearts of every one seem open on this day.
It is no slight praise to say that one day out of the three hundred
and sixty-five is consecrated to general hospitality and
warm-hearted cordiality. If St. Nicholas was the author of this
custom, he was a social saint; and the custom seems to be as
completely kept up on the banks of the Hudson as it ever could have
been on the banks of the Rhine.
Jan. 5th.--My experience is that he who would rise, in
science or knowledge, must toil incessantly; it is the price at
which success sells her favors. During the last four years, I have
passed not less than ten thousand miles, and in all this time I have
scarcely lain down one night without a feeling that the next day's
success must depend upon a fresh appeal to continued effort. My
pathway has certainly not lain over beds of gold, nor my pillow been
composed of down. And yet my success has served to raise the envy
and malignity of some minds. True, these have been small minds;
while a just appreciation and approval have marked the course of the
exalted and enlightened. A friend writes from Washington, this day,
assuring me that I am not forgotten in high quarters. "The
occupation," he says, "of the Sault has been decided on, and
I have but little doubt of your appointment to the agency. Make your
mind easy. I am certain the government will not forget you, and I
never can. I shall not lose sight of your interest a moment."
Thus, while an envious little clique here has, in my absence,
clandestinely thrown most uncandid censure upon me and my labors, a
vista of honor is presented to my hopes from a higher source.
While recovering from the prostrating effects of my Chicago fever, I
had drawn up a memoir for the American Geological Society, which had
made me a member, on the fossil tree observed in the stratification
of the Des Plaines, of the Illinois, and took the occasion of being
detained here in making my report, to print it, and circulate
copies. It appeared to be a good opportunity, while calling
attention to the fact described, to connect it with the system of
secondary rocks, as explained by geologists. In this way, the
occurrence of perhaps a not absolutely unique phenomenon is made a
vehicle of conveying geological information, which is now sought
with avidity in the country. This step brought me many
correspondents of note.
Mr. Madison (Ex-President United States) writes (Jan. 22): "The
present is a very inquisitive age, and its researches of late have
been ardently directed to the primitive composition and structure of
our globe, as far as it has been penetrated, and to the processes by
which succeeding changes have been produced. The discoveries already
made are encouraging; but vast room is left for the further industry
and sagacity of geologists. This is sufficiently shown by the
opposite theories which have been espoused; one of them regarding
water, the other fire, as the great agent employed by nature in her
"It may well be expected that this hemisphere, which has been least
explored, will yield its full proportion of materials towards a
satisfactory system. Your zealous efforts to share in the
contributions do credit to your love of truth and devotion to the
cause of science, and I wish they may be rewarded with the success
they promise, and with all the personal gratifications to which they
Mr. Jefferson (Ex-President United States) sends a note of thanks
(Jan. 26th) in the following words: "It is a valuable element
towards the knowledge we wish to obtain of the crust of the globe we
inhabit; and, as crust alone is immediately interesting to us, we
are only to guard against drawing our conclusions deeper than we
dig. You are entitled to the thanks of the lovers of science for the
preservation of this fact."
Mr. John Adams (Ex-President United States, Jan. 27th) says: "I
thank you for your memoir on the fossil tree, which is very well
written; and the conjectures on the processes of nature in producing
it are plausible and probable.
"I once lay a week wind-bound in Portland road, in England, and went
often ashore, and ascended the mountain from whence they get all the
Portland stone that they employ in building. In a morning walk with
some of the American passengers from the Lucretia, Captain Calehan,
we passed by a handsome house, at the foot of the hill, with a
handsome front yard before it. Upon the top of one of the posts of
this yard lay a fish, coiled up in a spiral figure, which caught my
eye. I stopped and gazed at it with some curiosity. Presently a
person, in the habit and appearance of a substantial and well-bred
English gentleman, appeared at his door and addressed me. 'Sir, I
perceive that your attention is fixed on my fish. That is a conger
eel--a species that abounds in these seas; we see them repeatedly,
at the depth of twelve feet water, lying exactly in that position.
That stone, as it now appears, was dug up from the bowels of this
mountain, at the depth of twenty feet below the surface, in the
midst of the rocks. Now, sir,' said he, 'at the time of the deluge,
these neighboring seas were thrown up into that mountain, and this
fish, lying at the bottom, was thrown up with the rest, and then
petrified, in the very posture in which he lay.'
"I was charmed with the eloquence of this profound philosopher, as
well as with his civility, and said that I could not account for the
phenomenon by any more plausible or probable hypothesis.
"This is a lofty hill and very steep, and in the road up and down,
there are flat and smooth rocks of considerable extent. The commerce
in Portland stone frequently calls for huge masses, from ten to
fifteen tons weight. These are loaded on very strong wheels, and
drawn by ten or twelve pair of horses. When they come to one of
those flat rocks on the side of the hill where the descent is steep,
they take off six or eight pair of horses, and attach them behind
the wagon, and lash them up hill, while one or two pair of horses in
front have to drag the wagon and its load and six or eight pair of
horses behind it, backwards.
"I give you this history by way of comment on Dr. Franklin's famous
argument against a mixed government. That great man ought not to
have quoted this as a New England custom, because it was an English
practice before New England existed, and is a happy illustration of
the necessity of a balanced government.
"And since I have mentioned Dr. Franklin, I will relate another fact
which I had from his mouth. When he lived at Passy, a new quarry of
stone was opened in the garden of Mr. Ray de Chaumont, and, at the
depth of twenty feet, was found among the rocks a shark's tooth, in
perfect preservation, which I suppose my Portland friend would
account for as he did for his conger eel, though the tooth was not
Thus, my memoir was the cause of the expression of opinions and
facts from distinguished individuals, which possess an interest
distinct from the bearing of such opinions on geology.
Mr. Carter, who has just transferred the publication of the
Statesman from Albany to New York, writes (Jan. 10th) from the
latter city, urging me to hasten my return to that city.
Poem on the theme of the Aborigines.--"I have," he remarks,
"read Ontwa, the Indian poem you spoke to me about last summer. The
notes by Governor Cass are extremely interesting, and written in a
superior style. I shall notice the work in a few days."
Geology of New York Island.--"I wish you to give me an
article on the mineralogy and geology of Manhattan Island, in the
form of a letter purporting to be by a foreign traveler. (See
Appendix, No. 2.) It is my intention to give a series of letters,
partly by myself and partly by others, which shall take notice of
everything in and about the city which may be deemed interesting. I
wish to begin at the foundation by giving a geographical and
geological sketch of the Island."
Indian Biography.--"Colonel Haines also wishes you to unite
with him and myself, in writing a series of sketches of celebrated
Professor Silliman writes (Jan. 20th), acknowledging the receipt of
a memoir on the fossil tree of the River Des Plaines, which was
prepared for the American Geological Society. He requests me to
furnish him a copy of my memoir on the geology of the regions
visited by the recent expedition, or, if it be too long for the
purposes of the American Journal, an abstract of it.
Animal Impressions in Limestone.--"I am much obliged to you
for your kind intention of furnishing me with a paper on the
impressions in limestone, and I hope you will bear it in mind, and
execute it accordingly.
"I have observed the appointment which the newspapers state that you
have received from the government, and regret that it carries you so
far south1, into an unhealthy climate;
wishing you, however, health and leisure to pursue those studies
which you have hitherto prosecuted so successfully."
Professor Frederick Hall, of Middlebury College, addresses me (Jan.
14th) on the same subject. He alludes to my treatise "On the Mines,
Minerals, &c., of the western section of the United States;" a work
for which our country and the world are deeply indebted to your
enlightened enterprise and unrelaxing zeal. Before reading it, I had
a very inadequate conception of the actual extent and riches of the
lead mines of the West. It seems, according to your account, that
these mines are an exhaustless source of wealth to the United
States. "I should feel glad to have them put under your
superintendence; and to have you nurture up a race of expert
mineralogists, and become a Werner among them."
Professor Silliman writes (Jan. 25th): "When I wrote you last, I had
not been able to procure your memoir on the fossil tree. I read it,
however, immediately after, and was so much pleased with it, that I
extracted the most important parts in the American Journal,
giving credit, of course, to you and to the Geological Society."
Jan. 29th. Chester Dewy, Professor, &c., in Williams College,
Mass., writes a most kind and friendly letter, in which he presents
various subjects, in the great area of the West, visited by me.
Chalk Formation.--"Mr. Jessup, of Philadelphia, told me that
he believed you doubted respecting the chalk of Missouri, in
which you found nodules of flints. I wish to ask if this be fact.
From the situation, and characters and uses, you might easily be led
into a mistake, for such a bed of any other earth would be far less
to be expected, and be also a far greater curiosity."
Petrosilex, &c.--"By the way, I received from Dr. Torrey a
curious mixture of petrosilex and prehnite in radiating crystals,
which was sent him by you, and collected at the West. He did not
tell me the name, but examination showed me what it was."
Tufa from Western New York.--"To day, a Quaker from
Sempronius, New York, has shown me some fine tufa. I mention it,
because you may, in your travels, be able to see it. He says it
covers an acre or more to a great depth, is burned into excellent
lime with great ease, and is very valuable, as no good limestone is
found near them. Some of it is very soft, like agaric mineral, and
would be so called, were it not associated with beautiful tufa of a
Geology of America.--"You have explored in fine situations,
to extend the knowledge of the geology of our country, and have made
great discoveries. I congratulate you on what you have been able to
do; I hope you may be able, if you wish it, to add still more to our
1: This is evidently an allusion to St. Mary's,
in Georgia, instead of Michigan.
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Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the
Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers, 1851
Years with the Indians |