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Reception by the Country on My Return

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

"Without some system or order in the investigation of nature's works and nature's laws, the mind is puzzled and confounded, wandering, like Noah's dove, over the face of the deep, without finding a resting-place. What a pity that human knowledge and human powers are so limited!"

Indian Symbolic Figures.--Professor Douglass (March 17th) writes, making some inquiries about certain symbolic figures on the Sioux bark letter, found above Sank River.

Expedition to the Yellow Stone.--I fancy those western expeditions intend to beat us all hollow, in tough yarn, as the sailors have it; for it seems the Indian affair has got into the form of a newspaper controversy already: vide Aurora and National Gazette.

Mineralogy of Georgia.--J. T. Johnston, Esq., of New York, writes (March 23d) that he has made an arrangement for procuring minerals for me from this part of the Union.

Scientific Subjects.--Mr. McNabb writes (March 27th): "I deeply regret that so little attention is bestowed by our legislatures (State and National) on objects of such importance as those which engage your thoughts, while so much time, breath, and treasure are wasted on frivolous subjects and party objects. How long must the patriot and philanthropist sigh for the termination of such driveling and delusion!"

After a labor at my table of about fourteen weeks, the manuscript was all delivered to my printers; and I returned to New York, and took up my abode in my old quarters at 71 Courtland. The work was brought out on the 20th of May, making an octavo volume of 419 pages, with six plates, a map, and engraved title-page. Marks of the haste with which it was run through the press were manifest, and not a few typographical errors. Nobody was more sensible of this than myself, and of the value that more time and attention would have imparted. But the public received it with avidity, and the whole edition was disposed of in a short time. Approbatory notices appeared in the principal papers and journals. The New York Columbian says:--

"The author has before given the public a valuable work upon the Lead Mines of Missouri, and, if we mistake not, a book of instructions upon the manufacture of glass. He is advantageously known as a man of science and literary research, and well qualified to turn to beneficial account the mass of information he must have collected in his tour through that interesting part of the country, which has attracted universal attention, though our knowledge of it has hitherto been extremely limited. We think there is no fear that the just expectations of the public will be disappointed; but that the book will be found to furnish all the valuable and interesting information that the subject and acquirements of the writer promised, conveyed in a chaste and easy style appropriate for the journalist--occasionally enlivened by animating descriptions of scenery. The author has not suffered his imagination to run wild from a foolish vanity to win applause as a fine writer, when the great object should be to give the reader a view of what he describes, as far as language will permit, in the same light in which he beheld it himself. He aims to give you a just and true account of what he has seen and heard, and his book will be referred to as a record of facts by the learned and scientific at home and abroad. It is a production honorable to the country, and, if we mistake not, will advance her reputation in the opinion of the fastidious reviewers of Scotland and England, in spite of their deep-rooted prejudices."

Mr. Walsh, of the National Gazette, deems it a valuable addition to this class of literature.

"Public attention," he remarks, "was much excited last year by the prospectus of the expedition, of which Mr. Schoolcraft formed a part as mineralogist, and whose journey he has now described. He remarks, in his introduction, with truth, that but little detailed information was before possessed of the extreme north-western region of the Union--of the great chain of lakes--and of the sources of the Mississippi River, which continued to be a subject of dispute between geographical writers. In the autumn of 1819 Governor Cass, of Michigan Territory, projected an expedition for exploring what was so imperfectly known, and yet so worthy of being industriously surveyed.

"The Secretary of War--to whom Mr. Schoolcraft's book is appropriately dedicated, with a just testimony to the liberal and enlightened character of his official administration--not only admitted the plan of Governor Cass, but furnished him with the means of carrying it into full effect by providing an escort of soldiers and directing the commandants of the frontier garrisons to furnish every aid, of whatever description, which the party might require. To the Governor, as chief of the expedition, he associated several gentlemen qualified to accomplish its objects; which were--a more correct knowledge of the names, numbers, customs, history, mode of subsistence, and dispositions of the Indian tribes--the collection of materials for an accurate map of the country--the investigation of the subject of the north-western copper and lead mines, and gypsum quarries; and the acquisition, from the Indians, of such tracts as might be necessary to secure the benefit of them to the United States.

"In the course of last March, we published a letter of Governor Cass to the Secretary of War, describing in a happy manner some of the scenes and occurrences which fell within the observation or inquiry of the expedition. Mr. Schoolcraft states, at the end of his introductory remarks, that he does not profess to communicate all the topographical information collected, and that a special topographical report and map may be expected, together with other reports and the scientific observations of the expedition in general. We anticipate, therefore, an ample and valuable accession to our stock of knowledge respecting so important a portion of the American territory; and such evidence of the utility of enterprises of the kind, as will inspire every branch of the government with a desire to see them repeated with equipments and facilities adapted to the most comprehensive research, and fitted to render them creditable in their fruits to the national character abroad.

"The present narrative does not exhibit the author in his capacity of mineralogist alone. In this he appears indeed more distinctively, and to particular advantage; but he writes also as a general describer and relater, and has furnished lively and ample accounts of the natural objects, and novel, magnificent scenery which he witnessed; and of the history, character, condition, and habits of the various Indian bands whom he encountered in his route, or who belong especially to our north-western territories."

I was deeply sensible of the exalted feelings and enlarged sentiments with which these and other notices were written. The effect on my mind was a sense of literary humility, and a desire to prove myself in any future attempts of the kind in some measure worthy of them. Literary candidates are not ever, perhaps, so much pleased or gratified by those who render them exact justice, of which there is always some notion, as by warm, liberal, or high-minded thoughts and commendations, which are incentives to future labors.

May 22d.--General Cass had, before leaving Detroit, offered me the situation of Secretary to the Commissioners appointed to confer with the Indians at Chicago in the summer of 1821, with a view, primarily, to the interesting and circuitous journey which it was his intention to make, in order to reach the place of meeting. This offer, as the time drew on, he now put in the shape of a letter, which I determined at once to accept, and made my arrangements to leave the city without loss of time.

It was proposed to be at Detroit the 1st of July. The tour would lie through the valleys of the Miami of the lakes, and the Wabash, which interlock at the Fort Wayne summit; then across the Grand Prairie of the Illinois to St. Louis, and up the Illinois River from its mouth to its source. This would give me a personal knowledge of three great valleys, which I had not before explored, and connect my former southern explorations in Arkansas and Missouri with those of the great lake basins and the upper Mississippi. I had been at the sources and the mouth of that great river, and I had now the opportunity to complete the knowledge of its central portions. It was with the utmost avidity, therefore, that I turned my face again towards the West.

Mr. Calhoun, who was written to on the subject, concurred in this plan, and extended the time for the completion of my geological report.

Joint Work on the Scientific Results of the Expedition of 1820.--General Cass, who had been written to, thus expresses himself on this subject:--

"Captain Douglass has informed me that you and he meditate a joint work, which shall comprise those objects, literary and scientific, which could not properly find a place in a diurnal narrative. At what time is this work to appear, and what are its plan and objects? My observations and inquiries respecting the Indians will lead me much further than I intended or expected. If I can prepare anything upon that subject prior to the appearance of the work, I shall be happy to do it."

Geological Survey of Dutchess County.--Dr. Benjamin Allen, of Hyde Park, writes to me (June 4th) on this subject, urging me to undertake the survey; but the necessity of closing my engagements in the West rendered it impossible.

Expedition of 1820.--Dr. Mitchell furnishes me opinions upon some of the scientific objects collected by me and my associates in the north-west in 1820:--

"The Squirrel sent by General Cass is a species not heretofore described, and has been named by Dr. Mitchell the federation squirrel, or sciurus tredecem striatus.

"The Pouched Rat, or mus bursarius, has been seen but once in Europe. This was a specimen sent to the British Museum from Canada, and described by Dr. Shaw. But its existence is rather questioned by Charles Cuvier.

"Both animals have been described and the descriptions published in the 21st Vol. of the Medical Repository of New York, p. 248 et seq. The specimens are both preserved in my museum. Drawings have been executed by the distinguished artist Milbert, and forwarded by him at my request to the administrators of the King's Museum, at Paris, of which he is a corresponding member. My descriptions accompany them. The originals are retained as too valuable to be sent out of the country.

"The Paddle Fish is the spatularia of Shaw and polyodon of Lacepede. It lives in the Mississippi only, and the skeleton, though incomplete, is better than any other person here possesses. It is carefully preserved in my collection.

"The Serpent is a species of the Linnaean genus Anguis, the orveto of the French, and the blind worm of the English. The loss of the tail of this fragile creature may render an opinion a little dubious, but it is supposed to be an ophias aureus of Dandin, corresponding to the Anguis ventralis of Linn, figured by Catesby.

"The shells afford a rich amount of undescribed species. The whole of the univalves and bivalves received from Messrs. Schoolcraft and Douglass, have been assembled, and examined with all I possessed before, and with Mr. Stacy Collins's molluscas brought from Ohio. Mr. Barnes is charged with describing and delineating all the species not contained in Mr. Say's memoir on these productions of the land and fresh waters of North America. The finished work will be laid before the Lyceum, and finally be printed in Silliman's New Haven Journal. The species with which zoology will be enriched will amount probably to nine or ten. We shall endeavor to be just to our friends and benefactors.

"The pipe adorns my mantelpiece, and is much admired by connoisseurs."

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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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