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Reception by the Country on My Return

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians
 

Reception by the country on my return--Reasons for publishing my narrative without my reports for a digested scientific account of the expedition--Delays interposed to this--Correspondents--Locality of strontian--Letter from Dr. Mitchell--Report on the copper mines of Lake Superior--Theoretical geology--Indian symbols--Scientific subjects--Complete the publication of my work--Its reception by the press and the public--Effects on my mind--Receive the appointment of Secretary to the Indian Commission at Chicago--Result of the expedition, as shown by a letter of Dr. Mitchell to General Cass.


1821. Governor Clinton offered me the use of his library while preparing my journal for the press. Mr. Henry Inman, who was then beginning to paint, re-drew some of the views. One of the leading booksellers made me favorable proposals, which I agreed early in January to accept. I began to transcribe my journal on the 8th of the month, and very assiduously devoted myself to that object, sending off the sheets hurriedly as they were written. The engravings were immediately put in hands. In this way, the work went rapidly on; and I kept up, at the same time, an industrious correspondence with scientific men in various places.

It was at this time an object of moment, doubtless, that the results of this expedition should have been combined in an elaborate and joint work by the scientific gentlemen of the party. The topography and astronomy had been most carefully attended to by Captain Douglass, and the materials collected for an improved map. Its geology and mineralogy had formed the topic of my daily notes. Its aboriginal population had been seen under circumstances rarely enjoyed. Its fresh water conchology had been carefully observed by Douglass and myself, and fine collections made. Something had been done respecting its botany, and the whole chain of events was ready to be linked together in a striking manner.

But there was no one to take the initiative. Governor Cass, who had led the expedition, did not think of writing. Professor Douglass, who was my senior, and who occupied the post of topographer, by no means underrated the subject, but deferred it, and, by accepting the Professorship of Mathematics at West Point, assumed a duty which made it literally impossible, though he did not see it immediately, that he should do justice to his own notes. I simply went forward because no one of the members of the expedition offered to. I had kept a journal from the first to the last day, which I believe no one else had. I had been diligent in the morning and evening in observing every line of coast and river. I never allowed the sun to catch me asleep in my canoe or boat. I had kept the domestic, as well as the more grave and important events. I was importuned to give them to the public. I had written to Douglass about it, but he was dilatory in answering me, and when at last he did, and approved my suggestion for a joint work in which our observations should be digested, it was too late, so far as my narrative went, to withdraw it from my publishers. But I pledged to him at once my geological and mineralogical reports, and I promptly sent him my portfolio of sketches to embellish his map. This is simply the history of the publication of my narrative journal.

My position was, at this time, personally agreeable. My room was daily visited by literary and scientific men. I was invited to the mansions of distinguished men, who spoke of my recent journey as one implying enterprise. Nothing, surely, when I threw myself into the current of western emigration, in 1817, was farther from my thoughts than my being an instrumental cause, to much extent, in stirring up and awakening a zeal for scientific explorations and researches. The diurnal press, however, gave this tone to the thing. The following is an extract1:--

"During the last year, an expedition was authorized by the National Government, which left Detroit some time in the month of May, under the personal orders of Governor Cass, of the Michigan Territory, provided with the necessary means of making observations upon the topography, natural history, and aborigines of the country. We have had an opportunity of conversing with one of the gentlemen who accompanied Governor Cass in the expedition, Mr. H.R. Schoolcraft, who has recently returned to this city, bringing a large collection of mineral and other substances, calculated to illustrate the natural history of the regions visited. We learn that the party passed through Lake Superior, and penetrated to the sources of the Mississippi, which have been, for the first time, satisfactorily ascertained. In returning, they passed down the Mississippi to Prairie du Chien, and thence came across to Green Bay, by means of the Ouisconsin and Fox Rivers. Indian tribes were found in every part of the country visited, by whom they were generally well received, except at the Sault St. Marie, where a hostile disposition was manifested. The country was found to present a great variety in its soil, climate, productions, and the character of the savages, and the information collected must prove highly interesting both to men of business and men of science.

"It will be seen, by referring to an advertisement in our paper of to-day, that Mr. Schoolcraft contemplates publishing an account of the expedition, under the form of a personal narrative, embracing notices of interesting scenery, the Indian tribes, topographical discoveries, the quadrupeds, mineral productions, and geology of the country, accompanied by an elegant map and a number of picturesque views. From an inspection of the manuscript map and views, we are persuaded that no analogous performances, of equal merit, have ever been submitted to the hands of the engraver in this country. We have always been surprised that, while we have had so many travelers through the Valley of the Ohio and Lower Mississippi, no one should have thought of filling up the chasm in our north-western geography. The field is certainly a very ample one--we cannot but felicitate the public in having a person of the acknowledged talents, industry, and original views of Mr. S. to supply the deficiency."

At length Professor Douglass (Feb. 9th) responded to my proposition to club our wits in a general work. "Your propositions relative to a joint publication, meet my views precisely, and of course I am inclined to believe we may make an interesting 'work.' In addition to the usual heads of topographical and geographical knowledge, which I propose to treat of, in my memoir on that subject, I am promised by Dr. Torrey some of the valuable aid which it will be in his power to render for the article 'Botany,' and our collections should furnish the materials of a description of the fresh water conchology." His proposition was based on giving a complete account of the animal and mineral constituents of the country, its hydrography and resources; the paper on the aboriginal tribes to be contributed by General Cass.

A difficulty is, however, denoted. "My duties here," he writes, "as they engross everything at present, will force me to delay a little, and I am in hopes, by so doing, to obtain some further data. I enter, in a few days, on the discharge of my professional duties, under considerable disadvantages, owing to the late introduction into our courses of some French works on the highest branches of mathematics, which it falls to my lot first to teach. Between French, therefore, and fluxions, and moreover, the French method of fluxions, which is somewhat peculiar, I have had my hands pretty full. I look forward to a respite in April."

The professor had, in fact, to teach his class as he taught himself, and just kept ahead of them--a very hard task.

In the mean time, while this plan of an enlarged publication was kept in view, I pushed my narrative forward. While it was going through the press, almost every mail brought me something of interest respecting the progress of scientific discovery. A few items may be noticed.

Discovery of Strontian on Lake Erie.--Mr. William A. Bird, of Troy, of the Boundary Survey, writes (Jan. 22d):--

"On our return down the lake, last fall, we were becalmed near the islands in Lake Erie. I took a boat, and, accompanied by Major Delafield, Mr. A. Stevenson, and Mr. De Russey (who was to be our guide), went in search of the strontian to the main shore, where Mr. De Russey says it was found in the summer of 1819. After an unsuccessful search of an hour, we gave it up, and determined to return to our vessel. On our way we stopped at Moss Island, when, immediately on landing, we found the mineral in question. I wandered a little from the others, and found the large bed of which I spoke to you. We there procured large quantities, and some large crystals.

"This strontian was on the south side of Moss Island, in a horizontal vein of three feet in thickness, and from forty to fifty feet in length. I had no means of judging its depth into the rock. The base of the island is wholly composed of limestone, in which shells scarcely, if ever, appear."

Conchology--Mineralized Fungus, &c.--Dr. Samuel L. Mitchell, of New York, writes (Jan. 30th): "I was glad to receive your letter and the accompanying articles, by the hand of Colonel Gardiner; but I am sorry your business is such as to prevent your meditated visit to the city until spring.

"I had a solemn conference with Mr. Barnes, our distinguished conchologist, on the subject of your shells. We had Say's publication on the land and fresh water molluscas before us. We believed the univalves had been chiefly described by him; one, or probably two of the species were not contained in his memoir. It would gratify me very much to possess a complete collection of those molluscas. I gave Mr. Barnes, who is an indefatigable collector, such duplicates as I could spare.

"I showed your sandy fungus to my class at the college yesterday. Our medical school was never so flourishing, there being nearly two hundred students. In the evening, I showed it to the lyceum. All the members regretted your determination to stay the residue of the winter in Albany.

"The little tortoise is referred, with a new and singular bird, to a zoological committee for examination. The sulphate of strontian is elegant.

"I am forming a parcel for Professor Schreibers, curator of the Austrian emperor's cabinet at Vienna; the opportunity will be excellent to send a few."

Report on the Copper of Lake Superior.--Professor Silliman, in announcing a notice of my work on the mines, for the next number of the Journal of Science, Feb. 5th, says: "I have written to the Secretary of War, and he has given his consent to have your report appear in the Journal of Science."

Governor Cass, of Michigan (Feb. 20th), expresses his thanks for a manuscript copy of the MS. report. "I trust," he adds, "the report will be published by the government. It would be no less useful and satisfactory to the public than honorable to yourself." Geology of Western New York.--Mr. Andrew McNabb, of Geneva (Feb. 26th), sends me two separate memoirs on the mineralogy and geology of the country, to be employed as materials in my contemplated memoir. The zeal and intelligence of this gentleman have led him to outstrip every observer who has entered into this field of local knowledge. Its importance to the value of the lands, their mines, ores, resources, water power, and general character, has led him to take the most enlarged views of the subject.

"Pursue," he says, "my dear sir, your career, for it is an honorable one. The world, bad as it is, has been much worse than now for authors; and through the great reading public, there are many generous souls, whose views are not confined to sordidness and self. May all your laudable exertions be crowned with ample success--with pleasure and profit to yourself and fellow-citizens!"

Boulder of Copper.--A large specimen of native copper from Lake Superior, procured by me, forwarded to Mr. Calhoun, by General Stephen Van Rensselaer, representative in Congress, was cut up by his directions, and presented to the foreign ministers and gentlemen from abroad; and thus the resources of the country made known. In a letter of Feb. 27th, Mr. Calhoun acknowledges the receipt of it.

Theoretical Geology.--Mr. McNabb, in forwarding additional papers relative to western geology, observes: "Have you seen Greenough's Essays on Geology? The reviewers speak of it as well as critics usually do on such occasions. President Greenough has given a shock to the 'Wernerian system;' his battery is pretty powerful, but he seems more intent on leveling than on building. The Wernerian system is very beautiful, ingenious, and plausible, and I would almost regret its demolition, unless it should be found to stand in the way of truth.


1: A New York Statesman, Jan. 1821.


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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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