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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 40

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.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 42
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Tour to the Western Country

[244] Vol. IV
Chapter XLI
Highland creek and good settlements — Carthage — Wabash island — Wabash river — Shawanee town — Saline river and salt works — Remarkable cavern — The Rocking cave.

Seven miles below Diamond island, we came to Straight island, and nine miles further, to Slim island, which is three miles and a half long, with a settlement on its upper end.

Highland creek, the mouth blocked up with drift, is three miles below Slim island on the left, and opposite on the Indiana shore are three families of Robinsons, the first settlements in that distance. There is a fine landing just below Highland creek, and two beautiful settlements owned by Messrs. Cooper and Austin, and a framed house rented by a Mr. Gilchrist, a temporary settler.​177 We observed several boats laid up here, which had lately brought families down the river, which are all settled in the neighbourhood, and a mile lower down, we passed the scite of an intended town called Carthage, but where there is yet but one house.

Two miles and a half below, we entered the Indiana sound of Wabash island, in a west direction, leaving the Kentucky sound (forming a beautiful coup d'oeil with a  p270 small island and clump of trees directly in the centre) running S. W. on the left.

[245]We would have gone through the latter sound, but for a wish to see the Wabash,​178 the largest river in Indiana, and upon which its capital Vincennes is seated. Its mouth is overlapped from three miles above to two below by Wabash island, which is five miles long and contains three thousand acres.

The Wabash is a noble river, about three hundred yards wide at its mouth, but its banks are so low, that they are overflowed up to the eves of two cabins which are just above its embouchure, at every high fresh. The inhabitants had their cattle all drowned last spring, and were obliged to save themselves by going some miles from the banks. The cabin next the point where the two rivers join, is large and has a tavern sign.

About three miles below the end of Wabash island, leaving Brown's island, and the two uppermost of the Three Sisters on the right, we rowed to the Kentucky shore, and moored for the night just under the cabin and well improved farm of Peter Lash, who has been there four years, and informed us, that there was a fine populous settlement of several families behind us.

May 17th, we cast off at the dawn of day, passed the third Sister, and a lake on the right which extends about ten miles into the country, and abounds in fish, and at seven miles from Lash's we rowed in among some trees, and moored and landed at Shawanee town.179

This was formerly an Indian settlement, the only vestiges of which now remaining, are two barrows for interment at  p271 the upper end, and a growth of young trees all around the town, which evince that the land has been cleared, at no great distance of time back. The town now contains about twenty-four cabins, and is a place of considerable resort on account of the saline salt-works about twelve miles distant, which supply with salt all the settlements within one [246]hundred miles, and I believe even the whole of Upper Louisiana.​a

The United States' general government having reserved to itself the property of the scite of this town, the salt licks, and all the intermediated tract from Saline river, the inhabitants have no other tenure than the permission of the governour of the territory to reside there during his pleasure, so they make no comfortable improvements, although they appear to be in a very prosperous situation from their trade; so much so, that they say, that it would immediately become one of the most considerable towns on the river, if they could purchase lots in fee simple. — There were several trading boats at the landing, and more appearance of business than I had seen on this side Pittsburgh. We walked to the Indian burying ground, where we saw several human bones, and picked up some of the small copper bells, used by the natives as ornaments, which had been interred with them, and which had become as thin and light as paper.

May 18th, proceeded nine miles to Saline river on the right. This is a fine stream, fifty yards wide, navigable for keels and batteaux. The salt-works are about twenty miles up it with the turnings of the river, though not over ten in a right line. There is a considerable hill on the right, on the lower bank of this river where it joins the Ohio.

Five miles from Saline river, we passed Battery rock, which is a very remarkable point of rocks on the right, with a cabin and farm beautifully situated on the hill above.  p272 We now begin to see river hills again, rising to a moderate height, from a little behind the banks on each side.

Four miles from hence we left Flinn's ferry, where is a very handsome settlement on the left. Three miles and a half farther brought us to the upper end of Rocking cave island, just above which the river is [247]a mile wide, and in another mile we saw on the right Casey's farm, where the landing abounds in curious loose limestone petrifactions. Two thirds of a mile from hence, we thought we saw the Rocking cave, when we observed a cavern forty-five feet deep, three wide, and nine high, where it is terminated by a petrifaction, like the hanging pipes of a large organ. — The sides which meet at the top, forming a Gothick arch, are of limestone, with several large nuclei of flint, which seem to have been broken off designedly to smooth the inside of the cavern.

Rowing along shore with the skiff, we were soon undeceived as to that's being the Rocking cave, as a third of a mile lower down, one of the finest grottoes or caverns I have ever seen, opened suddenly to view, resembling the choir of a large church as we looked directly into it. We landed immediately under it and entered it. It is natural, but is evidently improved by art in the cutting of an entrance three feet wide through the rock in the very centre, leaving a projection on each hand excavated above to the whole breadth of the cavern, the projections resembling galleries. The height of the mouth is about twenty-two, and that of the rock about thirty. It is crowned by large cedars and black and white oaks, some of which impend over, and several beautiful shrubs and flowers, particularly very rich columbines, are thickly scattered all around the entrance. The length (or depth) of the cavern is fifty-five paces, and its breadth eleven or twelve.

 p273  Standing on the outside, the appearance of some of the company at the inner end of the cave was truly picturesque, they being diminished on the eye to half their size, and removed to three times their real distance.

On advancing twenty paces within, the path or aisle gradually ascending has risen to the level of the [248]galleries, and from thence to the end is a spacious apartment of the whole breadth, ascending until it meets the rocky vault, which is of bluish grey limestone. Twelve paces from the end is a fissure in the vault, to which is fixed a notched pole, to serve for a ladder, but the cavity has the appearance of nothing more than a natural cleft in the rock, large enough to admit the entrance of a man, and perhaps extending some little distance sloping upwards.180

There is a perpendicular rocky bluff, just opposite the lower end of Cave island, about two hundred yards above the cave, where the river narrows to less than half a mile wide, forming a fine situation for a fortification.

The Editor's Notes:

177 This was the settlement that later developed into Uniontown, Kentucky, a place of some importance on the lower Ohio. — Ed.

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178 On the early history of the Wabash River, see Croghan's Journals, vol. I of this series, p137, note 107. — Ed.

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179 On the early history of Shawneetown, see Croghan's Journals, vol. I of this series, p138, note 108. — Ed.

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180 This is now known as Cave‑in-Rock, from a large cave (Hardin County, Illinois) in which a band of robbers hid themselves (1801). — Ed.

Thayer's Note:

a For a good overview of the salt-works at the Saline River, see Buck's Illinois in 1818, pp71 ff. and passim.

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