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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 45

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 47
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Tour to the Western Country

[269] Vol. IV
Chapter XLVI
A pleasant harbour — Barges from Fort Adams — River St. Francois — Big Prairie settlements — Remarkable lake and meadow — Settlements of Arkansas and White river — The latter broke up by general Wilkinson — Ville Aussipot.

A mile below Fort Pickering we passed a pleasantly situated settlement on a detached bluff on the left, and from thence eight miles lower we had an archipelago of islands on the right. We found this passage very good, though the Navigator advises keeping to the right of the first and largest island, named No. 46. Having passed Council island, four miles long, and several willow islands and sand bars, in the twenty-seven miles which we floated during the remainder of the day, we then at sunset stopped and moored in a little eddy under a point on the left, where several stakes drove into the strand indicate a well frequented boat harbour. We found adjoining the landing, a beautiful little prairie, and our being comparatively less troubled than usual with gnats [270]and musquitoes, made us congratulate ourselves on the situation we had chosen for the night. Next morning,  p296 May 30th, we continued our voyage with charming weather.

We passed several islands, and some very intricate channels, where we were obliged occasionally to work our oars with the utmost exertion, to avoid snags, sawyers, and improper sucks.

We this day spoke a large barge with some military officers on board from Fort Adams, bound to Marietta, with another following her, and having floated thirty-two miles, we passed the mouth of the river St. Francois on the right, but we could not see it on account of the overlapping of two willow points, which veil it from passengers on the Mississippi.

The river St. Francois rises near St. Louis in Upper Louisiana, and runs parallel to the Mississippi, between three and four hundred miles, between its source and its embouchure into that river.

The tongue of land between the two rivers, is only from six to twenty miles wide in that whole distance, is all flat, and great part of it liable to inundation in great floods. There is a chain of hills along the whole western bank of the St. Francois, and in this chain, are the lead mines of St. Genevieve, immediately behind that settlement, which supply all the states and territories washed by the Ohio and the Mississippi, and all their tributary streams, with that useful metal. The St. Francois rarely exceeds one hundred yards in breadth, its current is gentle, and its navigation unimpeded.

We landed at a fine well opened farm on the right, a mile below the mouth of St. Francois, where a handsome two story cabin with a piazza, seemed to promise plenty and comfort. This is the first settlement below the Chickasaw Bluffs, a computed distance of sixty-five miles. It is owned by one Philips from North Carolina, who has lived here six  p297 years.​194 Notwithstanding [271]favourable appearances, we could obtain no kind of refreshments here, not even milk, they having made cheese in the morning, so we rowed down three miles and a half, to Wm. Basset's delightful situation on the Big Prairie, where was a large stock of cattle, yet we were still disappointed in milk, so we kept on four miles and a half to Anthony's, where we obtained milk, sallad, and eggs, and spent a pleasant night in a fine harbour, very little troubled by musquitoes.

We had passed Well's and Bell's boats at moorings at the Big Prairie, and about an hour after we stopped at Anthony's, the South Carolina and Pittsburgh boats arrived and made fast a little above us.

The Big Prairie is a natural savanna of about sixty acres open to the river on the right bank. It is covered with a fine, rich, short herbage, very proper for sheep. Immediately behind it at less than half a mile from the river, is a small lake eight or nine miles in circumference, formed in the spring and summer by the Mississippi, which in that season rising, flows up a small canal or (in the language of the country) bayau,º and spreads itself over a low prairie. As the river falls, the lake discharges its water again by the bayau, and becomes a luxuriant meadow, covered with a tall but nutritive and tender grass. While a lake, it abounds in fish of every species natural to the Mississippi, and when a meadow, it is capable of feeding innumerable herds of cattle. It is then watered by a rivulet which descends from some low hills about three miles to the westward of the river bank. From its regular annual inundation, this appears to be a fine situation for rice grounds, if the water goes off soon enough to allow the rice to ripen.

 p298  There are two settlements joining to Anthony's fronting the river, and five or six others at some little distance behind, there being in the whole about a dozen families between Philips's and a new settlement, [272]three miles below Anthony's, a distance of about twelve miles. The inhabitants are all from Kentucky, except Basset, who is from Natchez, and one family from Georgia. The soil here is good and the situation pleasant and healthy. The settlers have abundance of fine looking cattle, but they raise neither grain nor cotton, except for their own consumption. They would go largely into the latter, which succeeds here equal to any other part of the United States, but they want machinery to clean it, and none of them are sufficiently wealthy to procure and erect a cotton gin.

From hence to Arkansas is seventy miles, the road crossing White river at thirty-five.​195 At the former (Arkansas) is a good settlement of French, Americans, and Spaniards, who before the cession to the United States, kept there a small garrison, and on the banks of White river, some wealthy settlers had fixed themselves, one of whom had thirty negroes, but they were all forced off by general Wilkinson a few years ago, as they had no titles from the United  p299 States. This was bad policy, as the White river lands were in such repute, that a great settlement would have been formed there ere now.

May 31st, we proceeded in company with Bell and Wells, and to the latter's boats lashed ours, that we might drift the faster, from his loaded boats drawing more water, and being of course more commanded by the current than our light one.

Seventeen miles below Anthony's, the river banks begin to be very low, generally overflowed; the islands also are mostly willow islands, of which we passed several in forty miles farther, which distance we floated down until sunset, when we moored at a low point of willows, and were devoured by musquitoes all night.

June 1st, after floating fourteen miles, and passing several islands and sand bars, we passed the mouth [273]of White river on the right, which appears more inconsiderable than it actually is, by its mouth being almost concealed by willows. Seven miles lower down we met a small barge with seven hands rowing up; she had come down Arkansas river, from the settlement of Arkansas, and was about returning by the channel of White river, which communicates with the Arkansas by a natural canal, so that we were puzzled to understand the steersman, who said he was from Arkansas and bound to Arkansas, until he explained it. Eleven miles from hence, we had Arkansas river, two hundred yards wide, on the right, and Ozark island two miles and a half in front below, the Mississippi being about a mile wide.

The settlement of Arkansas or Ozark is about fifty miles above the junction of that river with the Mississippi. It consists chiefly of hunters and Indian traders, of course is a poor place, as settlers of this description, never look for any thing beyond the mere necessaries of life, except whiskey. Had the White river settlement been fostered, instead of  p300 being broken up, Arkansas would have followed its example in the cultivation of the lands, and would have become very soon of considerable importance.

Having passed Ozark island (No. 75) two miles long, on the right, we came to a mooring eight miles below, where we had our usual torment of musquitoes all night.

June 2nd, we proceeded thirty-five miles, tired with the perpetual sameness of low banks, willow islands and sand bars, we then came to a settlement, the first below Big Prairie, from whence it is one hundred and thirty-six miles, and just fifteen leagues below Arkansas river.

This settlement was commenced two months ago by a Mons. Malbrock, from Arkansas, who has a large family and several negroes. He has named his place Ville Aussipot, and he is clearing away [274]with spirit, having already opened twelve or fourteen acres. His mode of providing meal for his people, was by pounding corn in a wooden mortar, with a wooden pestle, fixed to a spring sweep.

The neighbouring lands are all parcelled out and granted to settlers, who are to commence directly. There is a fine prairie a league inland. The river bank is sufficiently high to be secure from inundation, being now six feet above the surface of the water, and the soil is very fine.

We stopped for the night on the right bank, seven miles below Mr. Walbrock's.

The Editor's Notes:

194 Sylvanus Phillips later platted and became chief owner of Helena, a town named for his daughter, about ten miles below the mouth of St. Francis River. Phillips County, Arkansas, takes its name from this pioneer. — Ed.

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195 Arkansas Post (or Poste aux Arkansas) was accounted the oldest white settlement in the lower Mississippi Valley. Tonty, on his voyage of relief in search of La Salle (1686), ascended the Arkansas River to a village of a tribe by the same name, where he left a detachment of six men headed by Couture. Thither, the following year, came the survivors of La Salle's ill-fated Texas colony, and related the assassination of their leader. The post was maintained as a trading centre and Jesuit mission throughout the French occupation, and survived an unexpected attack by the Chickasaws in 1748. The Jesuits abandoned it as an unfruitful field in 1763. During the Spanish occupation, the importance of this post as a trading station increased. Pierre Laclède, founder of St. Louis, had a branch warehouse at Arkansas Post, and died here in 1778. Upon the American occupation, civil government was established (1804), and it was the capital for the territory until 1820, when superseded by Little Rock. Arkansas Post was captured by the Union forces from the Confederates, in 1863. It is now a small town about seventy-five miles southeast of Little Rock. — Ed.

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