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Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

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 work.

"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 entitle you."

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 petrified."

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 Indians."

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 harder kind."

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 knowledge."

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

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