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Reception at Herculaneum

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Reception at Herculaneum, and introduction to the founder of the first American colony in Texas, Mr. Austin--His character--Continuation of the journey on foot to St. Louis--Incidents by the way--Trip to the mines--Survey of the mine country--Expedition from Potosi into the Ozark Mountains, and return, after a winter's absence, to Potosi.

1818. The familiar conversation on shore of my friendly associates, speaking of a doctor on board who was inquiring into the natural history and value of the country at every point, procured me quite unexpectedly a favorable reception at Herculaneum, as it had done at Cape Girardeau. I was introduced to Mr. Austin, the elder, who, on learning my intention of visiting the mines, offered every facility in his power to favor my views. Mr. Austin was a gentleman of general information, easy and polite manners, and enthusiastic character. He had, with his connections, the Bates, I believe, been the founder of Herculaneum, and was solicitous to secure it a share of the lead trade, which had been so long and exclusively enjoyed by St. Genevieve. He was a man of very decided enterprise, inclined to the manners of the old school gentlemen, which had, I believe, narrowed his popularity, and exposed him to some strong feuds in the interior, where his estates lay. He was a diligent reader of the current things of the day, and watched closely the signs of the times. He had lived in the capital of Virginia, where he married. He had been engaged extensively as a merchant and miner in Wyeth county, in the western part of that State. He had crossed the wilderness west of the Ohio River, at an early day, to St. Louis, then a Spanish interior capital. He had been received by the Spanish authorities with attentions, and awarded a large grant of the mining lands. He had remained under the French period of supremacy, and had been for about sixteen years a resident of the region when it was transferred by purchase to the United States. The family had been from an early day, the first in point of civilization in the country. And as his position seemed to wane, and clouds to hover over his estates, he seemed restless, and desirous to transfer his influence to another theatre of action. From my earliest conversations with him, he had fixed his mind on Texas, and spoke with enthusiasm about it.

I left my baggage, consisting of two well-filled trunks, in charge of Mr. Ellis, a worthy innkeeper of the town, and when I was ready to continue my way on foot for St. Louis, I was joined in this journey by Messrs. Kemp and Keen, my fellow-voyagers on the water from Louisville. We set out on the 26th of the month. The weather was hot and the atmosphere seemed to be lifeless and heavy. Our road lay over gentle hills, in a state of nature. The grass had but in few places been disturbed by the plough, or the trees by the axe. The red clay soil seemed fitter for the miner than the farmer.

At the distance of seven miles, we came to a remarkable locality of springs strongly impregnated with sulphur, which bubbled up from the ground. They were remarkably clear and cold, and deposited a light sediment of sulphur, along the little rills by which they found an outlet into a rapid stream, which was tributary to the Mississippi.

Five miles beyond these springs, we reached the valley of the Merrimack, just at nightfall; and notwithstanding the threatening atmosphere, and the commencement of rain, before we descended to the stream, we prevailed with the ferryman to go down and set us over, which we urged with the view of reaching a house within less than a mile of the other bank. He landed us at the right spot; but the darkness had now become so intense that we could not keep the road, and groped our way along an old wheel-track into the forest. It also came on to rain hard. We at last stood still. We were lost in utter darkness, and exposed to a pelting storm. After a while we heard a faint stroke of a cow bell. We listened attentively; it was repeated at long intervals, but faintly, as if the animal was housed. It gave us the direction, which was quite different from the course we had followed. No obstacle, though there were many, prevented us from reaching the house, where we arrived wet and hungry, and half dead with fatigue.

The Merrimack, in whose valley we were thus entangled, is the prime outlet of the various streams of the mine country, where Renault, and Arnault, and other French explorers, expended their researches during the exciting era of the celebrated illusory Mississippi scheme.

The next day we crossed an elevated arid tract for twelve miles to the village of Carondalet, without encountering a house, or an acre of land in cultivation. On this tract, which formed a sort of oak orchard, with high grass, and was a range for wild deer, Jefferson Barracks have since been located. Six miles further brought us to the town of St. Louis, over an elevated brushy plain, in which the soil assumed a decidedly fertile aspect. We arrived about four o'clock in the afternoon, and had a pleasant evening to view its fine site, based as it is on solid limestone rock, where no encroachment of the headlong Mississippi can ever endanger its safety. I was delighted with the site, and its capacity for expansion, and cannot conceive of one in America, situated in the interior, which appears destined to rival it in population, wealth, power, and resources. It is idle to talk of any city of Europe or Asia, situated as this is, twelve hundred miles from the sea, which can be named as its future equal.

It was now the 27th of July, and the river, which had been swollen by the Missouri flood, was rapidly falling, and almost diminished to its summer minimum. It left a heavy deposit of mud on its immediate shores, which, as it dried in the sun, cracked into fragments, which were often a foot thick. These cakes of dried sediment consisted chiefly of sand and sufficient aluminous matter to render the whole body of the deposit adhesive.

I was kindly received by R. Pettibone, Esq., a townsman from New York, from whom I had parted at Pittsburgh. This gentleman had established himself in business with Col. Eastman, and as soon as he heard of my arrival, invited me to his house, where I remained until I was ready to proceed to the mines. I examined whatever seemed worth notice in the town and its environs. I then descended the Mississippi in a skiff about thirty miles to Herculaneum, and the next day set out, on foot, at an early hour, for the mines. I had an idea that every effective labor should be commenced right, and, as I purposed examining the mineralogy and geology of the mine tract, I did not think that could be more thoroughly accomplished than on foot. I ordered my baggage to follow me by the earliest returning lead teams. True it was sultry, and much of the first part of the way, I was informed, was very thinly settled. I went the first day, sixteen miles, and reached the head of Joachim Creek. In this distance, I did not, after quitting the environs of the town, pass a house. The country lay in its primitive state. For the purpose of obtaining a good road, an elevated arid ridge had been pursued much of the way. In crossing this, I suffered severely from heat and thirst, and the only place where I saw water was in a rut, which I frightened a wild turkey from partaking of, in order to stoop down to it myself. As soon as I reached the farm house, where I stopped at an early hour, I went down to the creek, and bathed in its refreshing current. This, with a night's repose, perfectly restored me. The next day I crossed Grand River, and went to the vicinity of Old mines, when a sudden storm compelled me to take shelter at the first house, where I passed my second night. In this distance I visited the mining station of John Smith T. at his place of Shibboleth. Smith was a bold and indomitable man, originally from Tennessee, who possessed a marked individuality of character, and being a great shot with pistol and rifle, had put the country in dread of him.

After crossing Big or Grand River, I was fairly within the mine country, and new objects began to attract my attention on every hand. The third day, at an early hour, I reached Potosi, and took up my residence at Mr. W. Ficklin's, a most worthy and estimable Kentuckian, who had a fund of adventurous lore of forest life to tell, having, in early life, been a spy and a hunter "on the dark and bloody ground." With him I was soon at home, and to him I owe much of my early knowledge of wood-craft. The day after my arrival was the general election of the (then) Territory of Missouri, and the district elected Mr. Stephen F. Austin to the local legislature. I was introduced to him, and also to the leading gentlemen of the county, on the day of the election, which brought them together. Mr. Austin, the elder, also arrived. This gathering was a propitious circumstance for my explorations; no mineralogist had ever visited the country. Coming from the quarter I did, and with the object I had, there was a general interest excited on the subject, and each one appeared to feel a desire to show me attentions.

Mr. Stephen F. Austin invited me to take rooms at the old Austin mansion; he requested me to make one of them a depot for my mineralogical collections, and he rode out with me to examine several mines.

He was a gentleman of an acute and cultivated mind, and great suavity of manners. He appreciated the object of my visit, and saw at once the advantages that might result from the publication of a work on the subject. For Missouri, like the other portions of the Mississippi Valley, had come out of the Late War with exhaustion. The effects of a peace were to lower her staples, lead, and furs, and she also severely felt the reaction of the paper money system, which had created extensive derangement and depression. He possessed a cautious, penetrating mind, and was a man of elevated views. He had looked deeply into the problem of western settlement, and the progress of American arts, education, and modes of thinking and action over the whole western world, and was then meditating a movement on the Red River of Arkansas, and eventually Texas. He foresaw the extension in the Mississippi Valley of the American system of civilization, to the modification and exclusion of the old Spanish and French elements.

Mr. Austin accompanied me in several of my explorations. On one of these excursions, while stopping at a planter's who owned a mill, I saw several large masses of sienite, lying on the ground; and on inquiry where this material could come from, in the midst of a limestone country, was informed that it was brought from the waters of the St. Francis, to serve the purpose of millstones. This furnished the hint for a visit to that stream, which resulted in the discovery of the primitive tract, embracing the sources of the St. Francis and Big Rivers.

I found rising of forty principal mines scattered over a district of some twenty miles, running parallel to, and about thirty miles west of, the banks of the Mississippi. I spent about three months in these examinations, and as auxiliary means thereto, built a chemical furnace, for assays, in Mr. Austin's old smelting-house, and collected specimens of the various minerals of the country. Some of my excursions were made on foot, some on horseback, and some in a single wagon. I unwittingly killed a horse in these trips, in swimming a river, when the animal was over-heated; at least he was found dead next morning in the stable.

In the month of October I resolved to push my examinations west beyond the line of settlement, and to extend them into the Ozark Mountains. By this term is meant a wide range of hill country running from the head of the Merrimack southerly through Missouri and Arkansas. In this enterprise several persons agreed to unite. I went to St. Louis, and interested a brother of my friend Pettibone in the plan. I found my old fellow-voyager, Brigham, on the American bottom in Illinois, where he had cultivated some large fields of corn, and where he had contracted fever and ague. He agreed, however, to go, and reached the point of rendezvous, at Potosi; but he had been so enfeebled as to be obliged to return from that point. The brother of Pettibone arrived. He had no tastes for natural history, but it was a season of leisure, and he was prone for the adventure. But the experienced woodsmen who had agreed to go, and who had talked largely of encountering bears and Osage Indians, and slaughtering buffalo, one by one gave out. I was resolved myself to proceed, whoever might flinch. I had purchased a horse, constructed a pack saddle with my own hands, and made every preparation that was deemed necessary. On the 6th of November I set out. Mr. Ficklin, my good host, accompanied me to the outskirts of the settlement. He was an old woodsman, and gave me proper directions about hobbling my horse at night, and imparted other precautions necessary to secure a man's life against wild animals and savages. My St. Louis auxiliary stood stoutly by me. If he had not much poetry in his composition, he was a reliable man in all weathers, and might be counted upon to do his part willingly.

This journey had, on reflection, much daring and adventure. It constitutes my initial point of travels; but, as I have described it from my journal, in a separate form, it will not be necessary here to do more than say that it was successfully accomplished. After spending the fall of 1818, and the winter of 1819, in a series of adventures in barren, wild, and mountainous scenes, we came out on the tributary waters of the Arkansas, down which we descended in a log canoe. On the Strawberry River, my ankle, which I had injured by leaping from a wall of rock while hunting in the Green Mountains four years before, inflamed, and caused me to lie by a few days; which was the only injury I received in the route.

I returned to Potosi in February. The first man I met (Major Hawking), on reaching the outer settlements, expressed surprise at seeing me, as he had heard from the hunters, who had been on my trail about eighty miles to the Saltpetre caves on the Currents River, that I had been killed by the Indians. Every one was pleased to see me, and no one more so than my kind Kentucky host, who had been the last to bid me adieu on the verge of the wilderness.

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