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Reach a hunter's cabin on the outskirts of the wilderness-He agrees to accompany
us—Enter the Ozark Hills—Encounter an encampment of the Delaware Indians Character of the country- Its alpine air, and the purity of its waters.—Ascend to the source of the Merrimack-Reach a game country-Deserted by the hunter and guide, and abandoned to individual exertiores in these arts.
Every joint labour, which proceeds on the theory, that each person engaged in it is to render some personal service, must, in order that it may go on pleasantly and succeed well, have a definite order, or rule of progress ; and this is as requisite in a journey in the wilderness as any where else. Our rule was to lead the pack horse, and to take the compass and guide ahead, alternately, day by day. It was thought, I had the best art in striking and making a fire, and when we halted for the night, always did this, while my companion procured water and put it in a way to boil for tea. We carried tea, as being lighter and more easy to make than coffee. In this way we divided, as equally as possible, the daily routine of duties, and went on pleasantly. We had now reached the last settlement on the frontier, and after a couple of hours' walk, from our last place of lodging, we reached the last house, on the outer verge of the wilderness. It was a small, newly erected log hut, occupied by a hunter of the name of Roberts, and distant about 20 miles from, and south-west of Potosi. Our apr proach here was also heralded by dogs. Had we been wolves or panthers, creeping upon the premises at midnight, they could not have performed their duty more noisily. Truly this was a very primitive dwelling, and as recent in its structure as it was primitive. Large fallen trees lay about, just as the axeman had felled them, and partly consumed by fire. The effect of this partial burning had been only to render these huge trunks black and hideous. One of them lay in front of the cottage. In other places were to be seen deer skins stretched to dry; and deers' feet and antlers lay here and there. There was not a foot of land in cultivation. It was quite evident at first sight, that we had reached the dwelling of a border hunter, and not a tiller of the ground. But the owner was absent, as we learned from his wife, a spare, shrewd dark-skinned little woman, drest in buckskin, who issued from the door before we reached it, and welcomed us by the term of “Strangers.” Al though this is a western term, which supplies the place of the word “ friend,” in other sections of the union, and she herself seemed to be thoroughly a native of these latitudes, no Yankee could have been mure inquisitive, in one particular department of enquiry, namely the department relative to the chace. She inquired our object-the course and distance we proposed tr travel, and the general arrangements of horse
gear, equipage, &c. She told us of the danger of encountering the Osages, and scrutinized our arms. Such an examination would indeed, for its thoroughness, have put a lad to his trumps, who had come prepared for his first quarter's examination at a country academy. She told us, con amore, that her husband would be back soon,- -as soon indeed as we could get our breakfast, and that he would be glad to accompany us, as far as Ashley's Cave, or perhaps farther. This was an opportunity not to be slighted. We agreed to wait, and prepare our morning's meal, to which she contributed some well baked corn cakes. By this time, and before indeed we had been long there, Roberts came in. It is said that a hunter's life is a life of feasting or fasting. It appeared to be one of the latter seasons, with him. He had been out to scour the precincts, for a meat breakfast, but came home empty handed. He was desirous to go out in the direction we were steering, which he represented to abound in game, but feared to venture far alone, on account of the rascally Osages. He did not fear the Delawares, who were near by. He readily accepted our offer to accompany us as hunter. Roberts, like his forest help-mate, was clothed in deer skin. He was a rather chunky, stout, middle sized man, with a ruddy face, cunning features, and a bright unsteady eye. Such a fellow's final destination would not be a very equivocal matter, were he a resident of the broad neighbourhood of Sing Sing, or “sweet Auburn:” but here, he was a man that might, perhaps, be trusted on an occasion like this, and we, at any rate, were glad to have his services on the terms stipulated. Even while we were talking he began to clean his rifle, and adjust his leathern accoutrements: he then put several large cakes of corn bread in a sack, and in a very short time he brought a stout little horse out of a log pen, which served for a barn; and clapping an old saddle on his back and mounting him, with his rifle in one hand, said, “ I am ready," and led off. We now had a guide, as well as a hunter, and threw this burden wholly on him. Our course lay up a long ridge of hard bound clay and chert soil, in the direction of the sources of the Marameg, or, as it is now universally called and written, Merrimack. After travelling about four miles we suddenly descended from an acclivity into a grassy, woodless valley, with a brisk clear stream winding through it, and several lodges of Indians planted on its borders. This, our guide told us, was the Ozaw Fork of the Merrimack, (in modern geographical parlance Ozark.) And here we found the descendants and remainder of that once powerful tribe of whom William Penn purchased the site of Philadelphia, and whose ancient dominion extended, at the earliest certain historical era, along the banks the Lennapihittuck, or Delaware river. Two of them were at home, it being a season of the year, and time of day, when the men are out hunting. Judging from peculiarity of features, manners and dress, it would seem to be impossible that any people, should have re
mained so long in contact with or juxtaposition to the European races and changed so little, in all that constitutes national and personal identity. Roberts looked with no very friendly eye upon these ancient lords of the forest, the whole sum of his philosophy and philanthropy being measured by the very tangible circle of prairie and forests, which narrowed his own hunting grounds. They were even then, deemed to have been injudiciously located, by intelligent persons in the west, and have long since removed to a permanent location, out of the corporate limits of the States and Territories, at the junction of the river Konga with the Missouri. I should have been pleased to have lengthened our short halt, but the word seemed with him and Enobitti to be “onward," and onward we pushed. We were now fairly in the Ozark chain—a wide and almost illimitable tract, of which it may be said, that the vallies only are susceptible of future cultivation. The intervening ridges and mountains are nearly desti tute of forest, often perfectly so, and in almost all cases, sterile, and unfit for the plough. It is probable sheep might be raised on some of these eminences, which possess a sufficiency of soil to permit the grasses to be sown. Geologically, it has a basis of limestones, resting on sandstones. Unfortunately for its agricultural character, the surface has been covered with a foreign diluvium of red clay filled with chips of horstone, chert and broken quartz, which make the soil hard and compact. Its trees are few and stunted ; its grass coarse. In looking for the origin of such a soil, it seems probable to have resulted from broken down slates and shists on the upper Missouri and below the range of the Rocky Mountains, in which these broken and imbedded substances originally constituted veins. It is only in the vallies, and occasional plains, that a richer and more carbonaceous soil has accumulated. The purest springs, however, gush out of its hills; its atmosphere is fine and healthful, and it constitutes a theatre of Alpine attractions, which will probably render it, in future years, the resort of shepherds, lovers of mountain scenery, and valetudinarians There is another remark to be made of the highland tracts of the Ozark range. They look, in their natural state, morc sterile than they actually are, from the effects of autumnal fires. These fires, continued for ages by the natives, to clear the ground for hunting, have had the effect not only to curtail and destroy large vegetation, but all the carbonaceous particles of the top soil have been burned, leaving the surface in the autumn, rough, red, dry and hard. When a plough comes to be put into such a surface, it throws up quite a different soil; and the effects of lighi, and the sun's heat are often found, as I have noticed in other parts of the west, to produce a dark and comparatively rich soil.
We occupied the entire day in ascending and crossing the ridge of land, which divides the little valley of the Oza from that of the Merrimack. When getting near the latter, the soil exhibited traces of what appeared to be iron ore, but somewhat peculiar in its character, and of dark hue.
This soon revealed itself, in passing a short distance, in an abundant lo cality of black and coloured oxide of manganese-lying in masses in the arid soil. The Indian trail which we were pursuing led across the valley. We forded the river on foot. No encampments of Indians were found, nor any very recent traces of them; and we began to think that the accounts of Osage depredations and plundering, must be rather exaggerated. The river pours its transparent mountain waters over a wide bed of pebbles and small boulders, and, at this season, offered but little impediment to the horses or ourselves in crossing it. The sun was getting low, by the time we reached the opposite side of the valley, and we encamped on its borders, a mile or two above. Here we took due care of our horses, prepared our evening's meal, talked over the day's adventures, enjoyed ourselves sitting before our camp fire, with the wild wide creation before us and around, and then sank to a sound repose on our pallets.
Novices in the woodman's art, and raw in the business of travelling, our sleep was sounder and more death-like, than that of Roberts. His eye nad shown a restlessness during the afternoon and evening. We were now in a game country, the deer and elk began to be frequently seen, and their fresh tracks across our path, denoted their abundance. During the night they ventured about our camp, so as to disturb the ears of the weary hunter, and indeed, my own. He got up and found both horses missing. Butcher's memory of Mine á Burton corn fodder had not deserted him, and he took the hunter's horse along with him. I jumped ap, and accompanied him, in their pursuit. They were both overtaken about three miles back on the track, making all possible speed homeward, that their tethered fore legs would permit. We conducted them back, without disturbing my companion, and he then went out with his rifle, and quickly brought in a fine fat doe, for our breakfast. Each one cut fine pieces of steaks, and roasted for himself. We ate it with a little salt, and the remainder of the hunter's corn cakes, and finished the repast, with a pint cup each, of Enobitti's best tea. This turned out to be a finale meal with our Fourche à Courtois man, Roberts: for the rascal, a few hours afterwards, deserted us, and went back. Had he given any intimation of dissatisfaction, or a desire to return, we should have been in a measure prepared for it. It is probable his fears of the then prevalent bugbear of those frontiersmen, the Osages, were greater than our own. It is also probable, that he had no other idea whatever, in leaving the Fourche à Courtois, than to avail himself of our protection till he could get into a region where he could shoot deer enough in a single morning to load down his horse, with the choicest pieces, and lead him home. This the event, at least, rendered probable; and the fellow not only deserted us meanly, but he carried off my best new hunting knife, with scabbard and belt-a loss not easily repaired in such a place.
To cloak his plan, he set out with us in the morning: it had rained a little, during the latter part of the night, and was lowering and dark all the morning. After travelling about ten miles, we left the Osage trail, which began to bear too far north-west, and struck through the woods in a south course, with the view of reaching Ashley's Cave on one of the head streams of the river currents. Soon after leaving this trail, Roberts, who was in advance on our left, about half a mile, fired at, and killed, a deer, and immediately re-loaded, pursued and fired again; telling us to continue on our course, as he, being on horseback, could easily overtake us. We neither heard nor saw more of him. Night overtook us near the banks of a small lake, or rather a series of little lakes or ponds, communicating with each other, where we encamped. After despatching our supper, and adjusting, in talk, the day's rather eventful incidents, and the morrow's plan of march, we committed ourselves to rest, but had not sunk into forgetfulness, when a pack of wolves set up their howl in our vicinity. We had been told that these animals will not approach near a fire, and are not #7 be dreaded in a country where deer abound. They follow the track of the hunter, to share such part of the carcass as he leaves, and it is their nature to herd together and run down this animal as their natural
We slept well, but it is worthy of notice, that on awaking about day break, the howling of the wolves was still heard, and at about the same distance. They had probably serenaded us all night. Our fire was nearly out; we felt some chilliness, and determined to rekindle it, and prepare our breakfast before setting forward. It was now certain, that Roberts was gone. Luckily he had not carried off our compass, for that would have been an accident fatal to the enterprise.