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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 38

This webpage reproduces part of
Fortescue Cuming's
Sketches of a Tour to the Western Country

published in
Thwaites, Early Western Travels, Vol. IV.

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 40
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Tour to the Western Country

[236] Vol. IV
Chapter XXXIX
Doe run — Blue river — Wheatley's — Conversation with Wheatley about the Indians — Squire Tobin's — Horse machinery boat

May 12. — At six A.M. proceeded down the river, and seven miles from Shippingport, passed Sullivan's ferry, from whence a road is traced one hundred and twenty miles to Post Vincennes, the capital of Indiana.172 The current of the Ohio now carried us five miles an hour, passing settlements on the right every mile with a range of picturesque hills behind them.

Twenty-five miles from the falls, we passed Salt river, about eighty yards wide, on the left, with some neat settlements on each side of it, and also on the opposite bank of the Ohio, which latter bank is overhung by some very high rocky precipices. Twelve miles further on the left, we stopped at Doe run to purchase necessaries. This is a small creek, but has a thriving little settlement of half a dozen families on its [237]banks. The price of provisions is here as we had found it generally, viz. Butter 12½ cents per lb. eggs 6¼ cents per dozen, milk 6¼ cents per quart, fowls 12½ cents each, and turkies in proportion to their size from 25 to 50 cents each. At half past six, P.M. we passed Buck creek on the right, five miles from Doe run, and half a mile lower on the same side, we stopped and moored at an excellent landing under a house on the bank.

May 13th, at dawn of day we went on, passing at two miles and a half, on the right, a very remarkable rocky cliff overhanging a cabin and small settlement. We passed Indian creek and two islands in twelve miles more, and then came to Blue river, on the right, fifty yards wide.

 p262  The river hills, which are generally a considerable distance behind the banks below Louisville, now approached quite close on each side.

On each side of Blue river is a settlement, the uppermost one three years old, but very little advanced, has a large family of children and their mother almost naked. Nothing apparently flourishing except a large garden of onions, for a few of which with a pound or two of Indian meal to make leaven, the woman would fix no price, but thinking herself badly paid with a quarter of a dollar, I gave her an eighth more to satisfy her. The lower settlement was began two years ago by one Thomas Davidson, from Carlisle, in Pennsylvania, and must become a fine property if Mr. Harrison, the present governour of Indiana, succeeds in establishing, according to his intentions, a ship yard on Blue river, which is a most eligible situation for it. He has already erected a grist and saw mill about eight miles up it,173 where it is joined by a rivulet, which rising suddenly from a spring in a prairie seventeen miles above the mill, tinges the water from its source to its discharge into the Ohio with a clear blue colour, which however [238]does not effect its goodness, it being of an excellent quality.

Blue river itself is navigable for batteaux forty miles.

An old Indian trace, now the post road from Louisville to Vincennes, crosses it at twenty-five miles from its mouth.

The distance from the governour's mills to Vincennes, is about one hundred miles.

 p263  After leaving Blue river we went sixteen miles without any settlement, and then passed a small one on the left. The river having narrowed in that distance to less than a quarter of a mile wide, and very crooked, with generally sloping hills rising from the banks. Ten miles lower, on the left, we came to the next settlement just began, and three miles further passed Flint island, one mile long, with the hull of a small ship on the upper end, stranded there in descending last winter from Marietta.

When about three miles below Flint island, the wind blowing very very fresh ahead and causing a good deal of sea, we stopped on the right shore abreast of Wheatly's cabin, and moored. Wheatly comes from Redstone in Pennsylvania, and first lived on the opposite bank in Kentucky, where he owned one thousand acres of land, which he was obliged to part with from following boating and neglecting farming. He has now three hundred and forty acres here, from six of which that he has cleared, he raised last year five hundred bushels of corn. He told us that a small tribe of Miami Indians were encamped on Oil creek about two miles distant. On asking if they were troublesome, he replied with much sang froid, still splitting his log, "We never permit them to be troublesome, for if any of them displease us, we take them out of doors and kick them a little, for they are like dogs, and so will love you the better for it." This doctrine might suit an athletick, active man, [239]upward of six feet high and in the prime of life, like Wheatly, but I question whether the Indians would submit to it from people less powerful. He informed us, that they frequently get the Indians together, take their guns, knives and tomahawks from them, then treat them with whiskey until they are drunk, when they set them by the ears, to have the pleasure of seeing them fight, at which they are so awkward  p264 (like young bears, according to his phrase) that they scuffle for hours without drawing blood, and when their breath is exhausted they will sit down quietly to recruit, and then "up and at it again."

We picked some fine wild greens (lamb's quarters) and got some milk, and next morning,

May 14th, proceeded. At eight miles below we passed some good settlements on the right, and a ferry, from whence a trace is opened seventy-five miles, to Vincennes. Leaving Sinking creek on the right, and a large double log cabin and very fine settlement on the left, ten miles more brought us to squire Tobin's on the Indiana side, where we landed in the skiff. The squire has opened a fine farm in the three years he has been from Redstone, Pennsylvania.

A keel of forty tons came to the landing at the same time we did. She was worked by a horizontal wheel, kept in motion by six horses going round in a circle on a gallery above the boat, by which are turned two cog wheels fixed each to an axle which projects over both gunwales of the boat, one before and the other behind the horizontal wheel. Eight paddles are fixed on the projecting end of each axle, which impel the boat about five or six miles an hour, so that she can be forced against the current about twenty miles a day. One Brookfield, the owner, who conducts the boat, had her built last year about two miles above Louisville, in Kentucky, and then went in her to New Orleans, from whence he was now [240]returning, disposing of a cargo of sugar from place to place in his ascent. He expected to get home and to commence a second voyage in about a month. Seven horses had died during the voyage, and he had only two remaining of the first set he had commenced with.

The Editor's Notes:

172 For the early history of Vincennes, see Croghan's Journals, Vol. I of this series, p141, note 113. — Ed.

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173 The career of William Henry Harrison, ninth president of the United States, belongs to general history. Harrison was appointed governor of Indiana Territory upon its erection in 1800, and took much interest in its development. While making his home at Vincennes, he became interested in the Blue River settlement, which was begun about 1802 by Squire Boone (brother of Daniel) and his son Moses. The settlement and Harrison's mills were at a place now called Wilson's Springs in Harrison County, Indiana. — Ed.

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