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Hearsay information of the hunters turns out false—We alter our course—A bear hunt—An accident—Another rencontre with bears—Strike the source of the Great North Fork of White River—Journey down this valley—Its character and productions —A great Spring—Incidents of the route—Pack horse rolls down a precipice—Plunges in the river—A cavern—Osage lodges—A hunter's hut.
It was now manifest, from our crossing the last two streams, that we were going too far north—that we were in fact in the valley of the Missouri proper; and that the information obtained of the hunters on the source of the Merrimack, was not to be implicitly relied on. It is not probable that one of the persons who gave this information had ever been here. It was a region they were kept out of by the fear of the Osages, as our own experience in the case of Roberts denoted. Willing to test it farther, however, we followed down the last named stream a few miles, in the hope of its turning south or south-west, but it went off in another direction. We then came to a halt, and after consulting together, steered our course due south south-west, thus varying our general course from the caves. This carried us up a long range of wooded highlands. The forest here assumed a handsome growth. We passed through a track of the over-cup oak, interspersed with hickory, and had reached the summit of an elevated wooded ridge, when just as we gained the highest point, we discovered four bears on a large oak, in the valley before us. Three of the number were probably cubs, and with their dam, they were regaling themselves on the ripe acorns without observing us. We had sought no opportunities to hunt, and given up no especial time to it, but here was too fair a challenge to be neglected. We tied our horse securely to a sapling, and then examining our pieces, and putting down an extra ball, set out to descend the hill as cautiously as possible. An unlucky slip of Enobitti threw him with force forward and sprained his ankle. He lay for a short time in agony. This noise alarmed the bears, who one after the other quickly ran in from the extremities of the limbs to the trunk, which they descended head first, and scampered clumsily off up the valley, I pursued tnem without minding my companion, not knowing, indeed how badly he was hurt, but was compelled to give up the chase, as the tall grass finally prevented my seeing what course they had taken. I now returned to my companion. He could not stand at first, nor walk when he arose, and the first agony had passed. I proposed to mount him on the pack horse, and lead him slowly up the valley, and this plan was carried into effect. But he endured too much suffering to bear even this. The ankle began to inflame. There was nothing but rest and continued repose that promised relief. I selected a fine grassy spot to encamp, unpacked the horse, built a fire, and got my patient comfortably stretched on his pallet. But little provision had been made at Potosi in the medical department. My whole store of pharmacy consisted of some pills and salves, and a few simple articles. The only thing I could think of as likely to be serviceable, was in our culinary pack,—it was a little sack of salt, and of this I made a solution in warm water and bathed the ankle. I then replenished the fire and cut some wood to renew it. It was still early in the day, and leaving my companion to rest, and to the effect of the remedy offered, I took my gun and strolled over the adjoining hills, in hopes of bringing in some pigeons, or other small game. But it was a time of day when both birds and quadrupeds have finished their mornings repast, and retired to the groves or fastnesses. I saw nothing but the little grey bunting, and the noisy jay. When I returned to our camp in the vale I found my companion easier. The bathing had sensibly alleviated the pain and swelling. It was therefore diligently renewed, and the next morning he was so far improved, that he consented to try the pack horse again. We had not, however, travelled far, when two large bears were seen before us playing in the grass, and so engaged in their sport, that they did not perceive us. We were now on the same level with them, and quickly prepared to give them battle. My companion dismounted as easily as possible, and having secured the horse and examined our arms, we reached a stand within firing distance. It was not till this moment that our approach was discovered by them, and the first thing they did after running a few yards, was to sit up in the grass and gaze at us. Having each singled his animal, we fired at the same instant. Both animals fled, but on reaching the spot where my mark had sat, blood was copiously found on the grass, and a pursuit was the consequence. I followed him up a long ridge, but he passed over the summit so far before me, that I lost sight of him. I came to a large hollow black oak, in the direction he had disappeared, which showed the nail marks of some animal, which I believed to be his. While examining these signs more closely my companion made his appearance. How he had got there I know not. The excitement had well nigh cured his ancle He stood by the orifice, while I went for the axe to our camp, and when I was tired chopping, he laid hold. We chopped alternately, and big as it was, the tree at last came down with a crash that made the forest ring. For a few moments we looked at the huge and partly broken trunk as if a bear would start from it; but all was silence. We thoroughly searched the hollow part but found nothing. I went over another ridge of forest land, started a noble elk, but saw nothing more of my bear. Here terminated this adventure. We retraced our footsteps back to the valley, and proceeded on our route. This incident had led us a little south of our true course; and it so turned out that it was at a point, where a mile or two one way or the other, was calculated to make a wide difference in the place of our exit into the valley of White River; for we were on a high broken summit ridge, from which several important streams originated. The pursuit of the bear had carried us near to the head of the valley, and by crossing the intervening summit, we found ourselves at the head springs of an important stream, which in due time we learned was the Great North Fork of White River. This stream begins to develope itself m pools, or standing springs, which soak through the gravel and boulders, and it is many miles before it assumes the character of a continuous stream. Even then it proceeds in plateaux or steps, on which the water has a level, and the next succeeding level below it has its connection with it, through a rapid. In fact, the whole stream, till near its mouth, is one series of these lake-like levels, and short rapids, each level sinking lower and lower, till, like the locks in a canal, the last flows out on a level with its final recipient. But however its waters are congregated, they are all pure and colourless as rock crystal, and well vindicate the propriety of their original name of la Riviere Blanc. They all originate in mountain springs, are cool and sparkling, and give assurance in this feature, that they will carry health to the future inhabitants of the % valley through which they flow. With the first springs begins to be seen a small growth of the cane, which is found a constant species on its bottom lands. This plant becomes high in more southern latitudes, and being intertwined with the green briar, renders it very difficult, as we soon found, to penetrate it, especially with a horse. Man can endure a thousand adventures and hardships where a horse would die; and it would require no further testimony than this journey gave, to convince me, that providence designed the horse for a state of civilization.
We followed the course of these waters about six miles, and emcamped. It was evidently the source of a stream of some note. It ran in the required direction, and although we did not then know, that it was the valley of the Great North Fork of White River, we were satisfied it was a tributary of the latter stream, and determined to pursue it. This we did for twelve days, before we met with a human being, white or red. It rapidly developed itself, as we went, and unfolded an important valley, of rich soil, bearing a vigorous growth of forest trees, and enclosed on either hand, by elevated limestone cliffs. Nothing could exceed the purity of its waters, which bubbled up in copious springs, from the rock, or pebble stratum. For a long distance the stream increased from such accessions alone, without large and independent tributaries. On the second day's travel, we came to a spring, of this crystal character, which we judged to be about fifty feet across, at the point of its issue from the rock and soil. Its outlet after running about a thousand yards, joined the main stream, to which it brings a volume fully equal to it. This spring I named the Elk Spring, from the circumstance of finding a large pair of the horns of this animal, partly buried in the leaves, at a spot where I stooped down to drink. I took the horns, and hung them in the forks of a young oak tree.
We found abundance of game in this valley. There was not an entire day, I think, until we got near the hunters' camps, that we did not see either the bear, elk, or deer, or their recent signs. Flocks of the wild turkey were of daily occurrence. The gray squirrel frequently sported on the trees, and as the stream increased in size, we found the duck, brant and swan.
There were two serious objections, however, in travelling down a wooded valley. Its shrubbery was so thick and rank that it was next to impossible to force the pack horse through it. Wherever the cane abounds, and this comprehends all its true allusions, it is found to be matted together, as it were, with the green briar and grape vine. So much noise attended the effort at any rate, that the game generally fled before us, and had it not been for small game, we should have often wanted a meal. With every effort, we could not make an average of more than fourteen miles a day. The river was so tortuous too, that we could not count on making more than half this distance, in a direct line. To remedy these evils we sometimes went out of the valley, on the open naked plains. It was a relief, but had, in the end, these difficulties, that while the plains exposed us to greater heats in travelling, they afforded no water, and we often lost much time in the necessity, we were under, towards night-fall, of going back to the valley for water. Neither was it found to be safe to travel far separated, for there were many causes of accident, which rendered mutual assistance desirable. One day, while Enobitti led the horse, and was conducting him from a lofty ridge, to get into the valley, the animal stumbled, and rolled to the bottom. We thought every bone in his body had been broke, but he had been protected by his pack, and we found that he was but little injured, and when repacked, still capable of going forward. On another occasion, I had been leading him for several hours, along a high terrace of cliffs on the left banks where this terrace was, as it were, suddenly cut off by the intersection of a lateral valley. The view was a sublime one, standing at the pinnacle of junction ; but there was no possible way of descent, and it was necessary to retrace my steps, a long—long way. As an instance of the very