Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER III.

A deeper view of the Ozark Chain. Pan along the flanks of the highlands which send out the sources of the Black, Eleven points, Currents and Spring rivers. Reach a romantic glen of caves. Birds and animals seen. Saltpetre earth ; stalactites. Cross the alpine summit of the western Ozarks. Source of the Gasconde river Accident in fording the Little Osage river.—Encamp on one of its tributaries.

It was found, as we began to bestir ourselves for wood to light our fire that we had reposed not far from a bevy of wild ducks, who had sought the grassy edge of the lake during the night, and with the first alarm betook themselves to flight With not so ready a mode of locomotion, we followed their example, in due time, and also their course, which was south. At the distance of a couple of miles, we crossed a small stream, running south-east, which we judged to be the outlet of the small lakes referred to, and which is, probably the source of Black River, or the Eleven points. Our course led us in an opposite direction, and we soon found ourselves approaching the sterile hills which bound the romantic valley of the currents. There had been some traces of wheels, on the softer soil, which had been driven in this direction towards the saltpetre caves, but we completely lost them, as we came to and ascended these arid and rugged steeps. Some of these steeps rose into dizzy and romantic cliffs, surmounted with pines. We wound our way cautiously amongst them, to find some gorge and depression, through which we might enter the valley. For ourselves we should not have been so choice of a path, but we had a pack horse to lead, and should he be precipitated into a gulf, we must bid adieu to our camp equipage. Our arms and a single blanket, would be all we could carry. At length this summit was reached. The view was enchanting. A winding wooded valley, with its clear bright river, stretched along at the base of the summit Rich masses of foliage, hung over the clear stream, and were reflected in its pellucid current, with a double beauty. The autumnal frost, which had rifled the highland trees of their clothing, appeared to have passed over this deeply secluded valley with but little effect, and this effect, was only to highten the interest of the scene, by imparting to portions of its foliage, the liveliest orange and crimson tints. And this was rendered doubly attractive by the contrast. Behind us lay the bleak and barren hills, over which we had struggled, without a shade, or a brook, or even the simplest representative of the animal creation. For it is a truth, that during the heat of the day, both birds and quadrupeds betake themselves to the secluded shades of the streams and vallies. From these they sally out, into the plains, in quest of food at early dawn, and again just before night fall. All the rest of the day, the plains and highlands have assumed the silence of desolation. Evening began to approach as we cautiously picked our way down the cliffs, and the first thing we did, on reaching the stream was to take a hearty drink of its crystal treasure, and let our horse do the same. The next object was to seek a fording place—which was effected without difficulty. On mounting the southern bank, we again found the trail, lost in the morning, and pursued it with alacrity. It was my turn this day to be in advance, as guide, but the temptation of small game, as we went up the valley, drew me aside, while Enobitti proceeded to select a suitable spot for the night's encampment. It was dark when I rejoined him, with my squirrel and pigeon hunt. He had confined himself closely to the trail. It soon led him out of the valley, up a long brushy ridge, and then through an open elevated pine grove, which terminated abruptly in a perpendicular precipice. Separated from this, at some eight hundred yards distance, stood a counter precipice of limestone rock, fretted out, into pinnacles and massy walls, with dark openings, which gave the whole the resemblance of architectural ruins. The stream that ran between these cliffs, was small, and it lay so deep and well embrowned in the shades of evening, that it presented vividly from this elevation, a waving bright line on a dark surface. Into this deep dark terrific glen the path led, and here we lit our fire, hastily constructed a bush camp, and betook ourselves, after due ablutions in the little stream, to a night's repose. The sky became rapidly overcast, before we had finished our meal, and a night of intense darkness, threatening a tempest, set in. As we sat by our fire, its glare upon huge beetling points of overhanging rocks, gave the scene a wild and picturesque cast; and we anticipated returning daylight with an anxious wish to know and see our exact locality. By the restless tramping of our horse, and the tinkling of his bell, we knew that he had found but indifferent picking.

Daylight fulfilled the predictions of the evening. We had rain. It also revealed our position in this narrow, and romantic glen. A high wall of rocks, encompassed us on either hand, but they were not such as would have resulted in a volcanic country from a valley fissure. Narrow and deep as the glen was, it was at once apparent, that it was a valley of denudation, and had owed its existence to the wasting effects of the trifling stream within it. carrying away, particle by particle, the matter loosened by rains and frosts, and mechanical attrition. The cliffs are exclusively calcareous, and piled up, mason like, in horizontal layers. One of the most striking pictures which they presented, was found in the great number, size and variety of caves, which opened into this calcareous formation. These caves are of all sizes, some of them very large, and not a few of them situated at elevations above the floor of the glen, which forbade access.

[graphic]

One of our first objects, after examining the neighbourhood, was to remove our baggage and location up the glen, into one of these caves, which at the distance of about a mile, promised us an effectual shelter from the inclemency of the storm. This done, we determined here to wait for settled weather, and explore the precincts. By far the most prominent object, among the caverns, was the one' into which we had thus unceremoniously thrust ourselves. It had evidently been visited before, by per sons in search of saltpetre earth. Efflorescences of nitric earth, were abundant in its fissures, and this salt was also present.jn masses of reddish diluvial earth, which lay in several places. The mouth of this cave presented a rude irregular arc, of which the extreme height was probably thirty feet, and the base line ninety. The floor of this orifice occurs, at an elevation of about forty feet above the stream. And this size is held for about two hundred feet, when it expands into a lofty dome, some eighty or ninety feet high, and perhaps, three hundred in diameter. In its centre a fine spring of water issues from the rock. From this dome several passages lead off in different directions.

One of these opens into the glen, at an inaccessible point, just below. Another runs back nearly at right angles with the mouth, putting out smaller passages, of not much importance, however, in its progress. So splendid and noble an entrance gave us the highest hopes of finding it but the vestibule of a natural labyrinth ; but the result disappointed us. These ample dimensions soon contract, and after following the main or south passage about five hundred yards, we found our further entrance barred, by masses of fallen rock, at the foot of which a small stream trickled through the broken fragments, and found its way to the mouth. Have we good reason to attribute to this small stream, a power sufficient to be regarded as the effective agent in carrying away the calcareous rock, so as to have in a long period produced the orifice? Whence then, it may be asked, the masses of compact reddish clay and pebble diluvium, which exist? These seem rather to denote that these caves were open orifices, during the period of oceanic action, upon the surface of the Ozarks, and that a mass of waters, surcharged with such materials, flowed into preexisting caverns. This diluvium is, in truth, of the same era as the wide spread stream of like kind, which has been deposited over the metalliferous region of Missouri. If these, however, be questions for geological doubt, we had lit upon another inquiry, very prominent on our minds in making this exploration, namely, whether there were any wild beasts sheltered in its fissures. Satisfied that we were safe on this score, we retraced our footsteps to our fire, and sallied out to visit other caves. Most of these were at such heights as prevented access to them. In one instance, a tree had fallen against the face of the cliff, in such a manner, that by climbing it to its forks, and taking one of the latter, the opening might be reached. Putting a small mineral hammer in my pocket, I ascended this tree, and found the cave accessible. It yielded some waxyellow and white translucent stalactites, and also very delicate white crystals of nitre. The dimensions of this cave were small, and but little higher than to enable a man to stand upright

In each of the caves of this glen which I entered, during a halt of several days in this vicinity, I looked closely about for fossil bones, but without success in any instance. The only article of this kind observed was the recent leg and foot bones and vertebra of the bos musarius, which appeared to be an inhabitant of the uppermost fissures in these calcareous cliffs, but I never saw the living species, although I ranged along their summits and bases, with my gun and hammer, at various hours. Some of the compact lime stone in the bed of the creek exhibited a striped and jaspery texture. The wood-duck and the duck and mallard sometimes frequented this secluded stream, and it was a common resort for the wild turkey, at a certain hour in the evening. This bird seemed at such times to come in thirsty, from its ranges in quest of acorns on the uplands, and its sole object appeared to be to drink. Sitting in the mouth of our cave, we often had a fine opportunity to see flocks of these noisy and fine birds flying down from the cliffs, and perching on the trees below us. If they came to roost, as well as to slack their thirst, a supposition probable, this was an ill-timed movement, so long as we inhabited the glen, for they only escaped the claw and talons of one enemy, to fall before the fire-lock of the other. This bird, indeed, proved our best resource on the journey, for we travelled with too much noise and want of precaution generally, to kill the deer and elk, which, however, were abundant on the highland plains.

We passed three days at the Glen Cave, during which there were several rains; it stormed one entire day, and we employed the time of this confinement, in preparing for the more intricate and unknown parts of our journey. Hitherto we had pursued for the most of the way, a trail, and were cheered on our way, by sometimes observing traces of human labour. But, from this point we were to plunge into a perfect wilderness, without a trace or track. We had before us, that portion of the Ozark range, which separates to the right and left, the waters of the Missouri from those of the Mississippi. It was supposed, from the best reports, that by holding south-west, across these eminences, we should strike the valley of the White River, which interposed itself between our position there and the Arkansas. To enter upon this tract, with our compass only as a guide, and with the certainty of finding no nutritious grass for our horses, required that we should lighten and curtail our baggage as much as possible, and put all our effects into the most compact and portable form. And having done this, and the weather proving settled, we followed a short distance up the Glen of Caves; but finding it to lead too directly west, we soon left it and mounted the hills which line its southern border. A number of latter valleys, covered with thick brush, made this a labour by no means slight. The surface was rough; vegetation sere and dry, and every thicket which spread before us, presented an obstacle which was to be overcome. We could have penetrated many of these, which the horse could not be forced through. Such parts of our clothing as did not consist 'of buckskin, paid frequent tribute to these brambles. At length we got clear of these spurs, and entered on a high waving table land where travelling became comparatively easy. The first view of this vista of nigh land plains was magnificent. It was covered with moderate sized eere grass and dry seed pods, which rustled as we passed. There was Jcarcely an object deserving the name of a tree, except, now and then, a solitary trunk of a dead pine, or oak, which had been scathed by lightning. The bleached skull of the buffalo, was sometimes met, and proved that this animal had once existed here. Rarely we passed a stunted oak; sometimes a cluster of saplings crowned the summit of a sloping hill; the deer often bounded before us; we sometimes disturbed the hare from its sheltering bush, or put to flight the quail or the prairie hen. There was no prominent feature for the eye to rest upon. The unvaried prospect produced satiety. We felt in a peculiar manner the solitariness of the wilderness. We travelled silently and diligently. It was a dry and thirsty barren. From morning till sun set we did not encounter a drop of water. This became the absorbing object. Hill after hill, and vale after vale were patiently seanned, and diligently footed, without bringing the expected boon. At length we came, without the expectation of it, to a small running stream in the plain, where we gladly encamped. There was also some grass which preserved a greenish hue, and which enabled our horse also to recruit himself.

[graphic]

Early the next morning we repacked him, and continued our course, travelling due west south-west. At the distance of five or six miles, we reached the banks of a clear stream of twenty feet wide, running over a bed of pebbles and small secondary boulders. This stream ran towards the north west, and gave us the first intimation we had, that we had crossed the summit and were on the off drain of the Missouri. We supposed it to be the source of the Gasconade, or at farthest some eastern tributary of the Little Osage.

A few hours travelling brought us to the banks of another stream of

[graphic]
« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »