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After stopping a day or more at Shawneetown, and reconnoitenng its vicinity, I proceeded to the mouth of the Cumberland, and from thence, after many days detention at that point waiting for a boat, to the mouth of the Ohio. I found this to be a highly interesting section of the river, from its great expanse and its fine water prospects. The picturesque calcareous cliffs on the west banks, display a novel and attractive line of river scenery. The Ohio had, from its commencement, well sustained the propriety of its ancient appellation of the Beautiful River; but it here assumed something more than beautiful—it was majestic. Let it be borne in mind that this stream, in the course of some seven or eight hundred miles flow from Pittsburg to Shawneetown, had been swelled on the right and left hand by the Scioto, the Muskingum, the Kentucky, the Miami, Green River, Wabash, and other rivers of scarcely inferior size. It is still further augmented, from the left bank, with those noble tributaries, the Cumberland and Tennessee, which bring in the gathered drain of the middle ranges of the Alleghanies. It is below Shawneetown, too, that the cliffs of the Cave-in-Rock-Coast present themselves on the west shore—with their associations of the early robber-era which has been commemorated by the pen of fiction of Charles Brockden Brown. These cliffs are cavernous, and assume varied forms. They rise in bold elevations, which bear the general name of the Knobs, but which are well worthy of the name of mountains. Distinct from the interest they have by casting their castle-like shadows, at sunset, in the pure broad stream, they constitute a kind of Derbyshire in their fine purple spars, and crystalized galena and other mineralogical attractions. I was told that a German of the name of Storch, who pretended to occult knowledge, had, years before, led money and mineral diggers about these Knobs, and that he was the discoverer of lh« fine fluates of lime found here.
One can hardly pass these broken eminences, with the knowledge that they tally in their calcareous structure and position with the rock formation of the Missouri state border, lying immediately west of them, without regarding them as the apparent monuments of some ancient geological change, which affected a very wide space of country north of their position. A barrier of this nature, which should link the Tennessee and Missouri coasts, at Grand Tower, would have converted into an inland sea the principal area of the present states of Illinois, Indiana, and Southern Ohio. The line of separation in this latitude is not great. It constitutes the narrowest point between the opposing rock formations of the east and west shores, so far as the latter rise through and above the soil.
I was still in a floating Monongahela ark as we approached this coast of cliffs. The day was one of the mildest of the month of June, and the surface of the water was so still and calm that it presented the appearance of a perfect mirror. Our captain ordered alongside the skiff, which served as his jolly boat, and directed the men to land me at the Great Cave. Its wide and yawning mouth gave expectations, however, which were not realized. It closes rapidly as it is pursued into the rock, and never could have afforded a safe shelter for gangs of robbers whose haunts were known. Tradition states, on this point, that its mouth was formerly closed and hid by trees and foliage, by which means the unsuspecting voyagers with their upward freight were waylaid. We overtook the slowly floating ark before it had reached Hurricane Island, and the next land we made was at Smithfield, at the mouth of the Cumberland. While here, several discharged Tennessee militiamen, or volunteers from the still unfinished Indian war in the south, landed on their way home. They were equipped after the fashion of western hunters, with hunting shirts and rifles, and took a manifest pride in declaring that they had fought under "old Hickory"—a term which has, since that era, become familiar to the civilized world. I here first saw that singular excrescence in the vegetable kingdom called cypress knees. The point of land between the mouth of the Cumberland and Ohio, was a noted locality of the cypress tree. This tree puts up from its roots a blunt cone, of various size and height, which resembles a sugar loaf. It is smooth, and without limb or foliage. An ordinary cone or knee would measure eight inches in diameter, and thirty inches high. It would seem like an abortive effort of the tree to put up another growth. The paroquet was exceedingly abundant at this place, along the shores, and in the woods. They told me that this bird rested by hooking its upper mandible to a limb. I made several shooting excursions into the neighbouring forests, and remember that I claimed, in addition to smaller trophies of these daily rambles, a shrike and a hystrix.
At length a keel boat came in from the Illinois Saline, commanded by a Captain Ensminger—an Americo-German—a bold, frank man, very intelligent of things relating to river navigation. With him I took passage for St. Louis, in Missouri, and we were soon under weigh, by the force of oars, for the mouth of the Ohio. We stopped a short time at a new hamlet on the Illinois shore, which had been laid out by some speculators of Cincinnati, but was remarkable for nothing but its name. It was called, by a kind of bathos in nomenclature, "America." I observed on the shores of the river at this place, a very recent formation of puddingstone, or rather a local stratum of indurated pebbles and clay, in which the cementing ingredient was the oxyde of iron. Chalybeate waters percolated over and amongst this mass. This was the last glimpse of consolidated matter. All below, and indeed far above, was alluvial, or of recent origin. Nothing could exceed the fertile character of the soil, or its rank vegetation and forest growth, as we approached the point of junction; but it was a region subject to periodical overflows, tho<tras of which were very distinctly marked by tufts and bunches of grass, limbs, and other floating matter which had been lodged and left in the forks and branches of trees, now fifteen or twenty feet above our heads. It was now the first day of July, and I felt the most intense interest as we approached and came to the point of confluence. I had followed the Ohio, in all its sinuosities, a thousand miles. I had spent more than three months in its beautiful and varied valley; and I had something of the attachment of an old friend for its noble volume, and did not well like to see it about to be lost in the mighty Mississippi. Broad and ample as it was, however, bringing in the whole congregated drain of the western slopes of the Alleghanies and the table lands of the Great Lakes, the contest was soon decided. The stream had, at that season, sunk down to its summer level, and exhibited a transparent blue volume. The Mississippi, on the contrary, was swelled by the melting snows of the Rocky Mountains, and was in its vernal flood. Coming in at rather an acute angle, it does not immediately arrest the former, but throws its waters along the Tennessee shores. It runs with prodigious velocity. Its waters are thick, turbid, and replete with mingled and floating masses of sand and other comminuted rock and floating vegetation, trees, and rubbish. For miles the line of separation between the Ohio and Mississippi waters was visible by its colour; but long before it reaches the Iron Banks, the modern site of Memphis—the Father of Waters, as it is poetically, not literally, called—had prevailed, and held on its way to make new conquests of the St. Francis, the White, the Arkansas, and other noble streams.
Our captain, although he had no lack of self-confidence, did not seem to be in haste to grapple with this new foe, by plunging at once into the turbid stream, but determined to try it next morning. This left me, a good part of the day, in a position where there was not much to reward inquiry. I fished awhile from the boat's side, but was rewarded with nothing besides a gar, a kind of sword, or rather billed fish, which appears to be provided with this appendage to stir up its food or prey from a muddy bottom. Its scales and skin are nearly as hard and compact as a shark's, and its flesh is equally valueless. It is at this point that the town of Cairo has since been located. There were, at the period mentioned, several arks and flat-boats lying on the higher banks, where they had been moored in high water. These now served as dwellings, and by cutting doors in their sides they formed rude groceries and provision stores. Whatever else, however, was to be seen at so low and nascent a point, the mosquito, as night came on, soon convinced us that he was the true magnate of those dominions.
The next morning at an early hour our stout-hearted commander put his boatmen in motion, and turned his keel into the torrent; but such was the velocity of the water, and its opacity and thick turbidness, that I thought we should have been precipitated down stream, and hurled against sunken logs. Those who have ascended this stream in the modern era of steamboats, know nothing of these difficulties. It seemed impossible to stem the current. A new mode of navigation, to me at least, was to be tried, and it was evidently one which the best practised and stoutest-hearted men by no means relished. These boats are furnished with a plank walk on each side, on which slats are nailed to give a foothold to the men. Each man has a pole of ash wood about 16 feet long, with a wooden knob at the head to rest against the shoulder, and a blunt point at the other end shod with iron. Planting these upon the bottom near shore, with their heads facing down stream, the men bend all their force upon them, pro polling the boat by their feet in the contrary direction. This is a very laborious and slow mode of ascent, which has now been entirely super seded on the main rivers by the use of steam.
Such is the fury and velocity of the current, that it threatens at every freshet to tear down and burst asunder its banks, and run lawless through the country. Often whole islands are swept away in a short time. We had an instance of this one night, when the island against which we were moored, began to tumble into the channel, threatening to overwhelm us by the falling earth and the recoil of the waves, and we got away to the main shore with much effort, for night was set in, the current furious, and the shore to which we were going entirely unknown. To have struck a sunken log on such a traverse, under such circumstances, must have been fatal. We got at length upon a firm shore, where we moored and turned in at a late hour; but a curious cause of alarm again roused us. Some animal had made its appearance on the margin of the stream, not far below us, which in the dimness of the night appeared to be a bear. All who had arms, got them, and there was quite a bustle and no little excitement among the cabin passengers. The most knowing pronounced it to be a white bear. It produced a snorting sound resembling it. It seemed furious. Both white and furious it certainly was, but after much delay, commendable caution, and no want of the display of courage, it turned out to be a large wounded hog, which had been shot in the snout and head, and came to allay its fevered and festered flesh, by night, in the waters of the Mississippi.
To stem the current along this portion of the river required almost superhuman power. Often not more than a few miles can be made with a hard day's exertions. We went the first day six miles, the second about the same distance, and the third eight miles, which brought us to the first cultivated land along a low die' (ft of the west shore, called the Tyewapety Bottom. There were six or eight small farms at this spot; the land rich, and said to be quite well adapted for corn, flax, hemp, and tobacco. I observed here the papaw. The next day we ascended but three miles and stopped, the crew being found too weak to proceed. While moored to the bank, we were passed by several boats destin" for St. Louis, which were loaded with pine boards and plank from Ok i, on the sources of the Alleghany. They told us that sixty dollars jd - thousand feet could be obtained for them.
Additional men having been hired, we went forward the next day to a point which is called the Little Chain of Rocks, where, from sickness in some of the hands, another halt became necessary. It is at this point that the firm cherty clay, or diluvial soil of the Missouri shore, first presents itself on the banks of the river. This soil is of a sterile and mineral character. I noticed beneath the first elevated point of it, near the river's edge, a locality of white compact earth, which is called chalk, and is actually used as such by mechanics. On giving a specimen of it, after my return to New York in 1819, to Mr. John Griscom, he found it completely destitute of carbonic acid; it appears to be a condition of alumine or nearly pure clay. Large masses of pudding-stone, disrupted from their original position, were seen lying along the shore at this locality, being similar in their character to that seen on approaching the mouth of the Ohio.
We ascended the river this day ten miles, and the next five miles, which brought us to Cape Girardeau, at the estimated distance of fifty miles above the mouth of the Ohio. At this place I was received with attention by one of the principal residents, who, on learning that my object was to examine the natural history of the country, invited me to his house. In rambling the vicinity, they showed me a somewhat extra but dilapidated and deserted house, which had been built by one Loramee, a Spanish trader, who has left his name on one of the branches of the river St. Mary's of Indiana. This old fabric excited a strong interest in my mind as I walked through its open doors and deserted rooms, by a popular story, how true I know not, that the occupant had been both a rapacious and cruel man, siding with the Indians in the hostilities against our western people; and that he had. on one occasion, taken a female captive, and with his own hands cut off her breasts.
The journey from Cape Girardeau to St. Louis occupied nineteen days, and was fraught with scenes and incidents of interest, which I should detail with pleasure were it compatible with my limits. Indeed, every day's voyage along this varied and picturesque shore presented objects of remark, which both commended themselves to my taste, and which the slow mode of ascent gave me full means to improve. This might be said particularly