(FROM THE NEW ORLEANS TIMES DEMOCRAT OF MARCH 29, 1882.)
VOYAGE OF THE TIMES-DEMOCRAT'S RELIEF BOAT THROUGH THE INUNDATED
IT was nine o'clock Thursday morning when the 'Susie'
left the Mississippi and entered Old River, or what is
now called the mouth of the Red. Ascending on the left,
a flood was pouring in through and over the levees on
the Chandler plantation, the most northern point in Pointe
Coupee parish. The water completely covered the place,
although the levees had given way but a short time before.
The stock had been gathered in a large flat-boat, where,
without food, as we passed, the animals were huddled together,
waiting for a boat to tow them off. On the right-hand side
of the river is Turnbull's Island, and on it is a large plantation
which formerly was pronounced one of the most fertile in the State.
The water has hitherto allowed it to go scot-free in usual floods,
but now broad sheets of water told only where fields were.
The top of the protecting levee could be seen here and there,
but nearly all of it was submerged.
The trees have put on a greener foliage since the water has poured in,
and the woods look bright and fresh, but this pleasant aspect to the eye
is neutralized by the interminable waste of water. We pass mile after mile,
and it is nothing but trees standing up to their branches in water.
A water-turkey now and again rises and flies ahead into the long avenue
of silence. A pirogue sometimes flits from the bushes and crosses
the Red River on its way out to the Mississippi, but the sad-faced
paddlers never turn their heads to look at our boat. The puffing
of the boat is music in this gloom, which affects one most curiously.
It is not the gloom of deep forests or dark caverns, but a peculiar kind of
solemn silence and impressive awe that holds one perforce to its recognition.
We passed two negro families on a raft tied up in the willows this morning.
They were evidently of the well-to-do class, as they had a supply of meal
and three or four hogs with them. Their rafts were about twenty feet square,
and in front of an improvised shelter earth had been placed, on which they
built their fire.
The current running down the Atchafalaya was very swift,
the Mississippi showing a predilection in that direction,
which needs only to be seen to enforce the opinion of that
river's desperate endeavors to find a short way to the Gulf.
Small boats, skiffs, pirogues, etc., are in great demand,
and many have been stolen by piratical negroes,
who take them where they will bring the greatest price.
From what was told me by Mr. C. P. Ferguson, a planter
near Red River Landing, whose place has just gone under,
there is much suffering in the rear of that place.
The negroes had given up all thoughts of a crevasse there,
as the upper levee had stood so long, and when it did
come they were at its mercy. On Thursday a number were
taken out of trees and off of cabin roofs and brought in,
many yet remaining.
One does not appreciate the sight of earth until he has traveled
through a flood. At sea one does not expect or look for it,
but here, with fluttering leaves, shadowy forest aisles, house-tops
barely visible, it is expected. In fact a grave-yard, if the mounds
were above water, would be appreciated. The river here is known
only because there is an opening in the trees, and that is all.
It is in width, from Fort Adams on the left bank of the Mississippi
to the bank of Rapides Parish, a distance of about sixty miles.
A large portion of this was under cultivation, particularly along
the Mississippi and back of the Red. When Red River proper
was entered, a strong current was running directly across it,
pursuing the same direction as that of the Mississippi.
After a run of some hours, Black River was reached.
Hardly was it entered before signs of suffering became visible.
All the willows along the banks were stripped of their leaves.
One man, whom your correspondent spoke to, said that he had had one
hundred and fifty head of cattle and one hundred head of hogs.
At the first appearance of water he had started to drive
them to the high lands of Avoyelles, thirty-five miles off,
but he lost fifty head of the beef cattle and sixty hogs.
Black River is quite picturesque, even if its shores are under water.
A dense growth of ash, oak, gum, and hickory make the shores
almost impenetrable, and where one can get a view down some
avenue in the trees, only the dim outlines of distant trunks
can be barely distinguished in the gloom.
A few miles up this river, the depth of water on the banks
was fully eight feet, and on all sides could be seen,
still holding against the strong current, the tops of cabins.
Here and there one overturned was surrounded by drift-wood, forming
the nucleus of possibly some future island.
In order to save coal, as it was impossible to get that fuel at any point
to be touched during the expedition, a look-out was kept for a wood-pile.
On rounding a point a pirogue, skilfully paddled by a youth, shot out,
and in its bow was a girl of fifteen, of fair face, beautiful black eyes,
and demure manners. The boy asked for a paper, which was thrown to him,
and the couple pushed their tiny craft out into the swell of the boat.
Presently a little girl, not certainly over twelve years, paddled out
in the smallest little canoe and handled it with all the deftness
of an old voyageur. The little one looked more like an Indian
than a white child, and laughed when asked if she were afraid.
She had been raised in a pirogue and could go anywhere.
She was bound out to pick willow leaves for the stock, and she pointed
to a house near by with water three inches deep on the floors.
At its back door was moored a raft about thirty feet square,
with a sort of fence built upon it, and inside of this some sixteen
cows and twenty hogs were standing. The family did not complain,
except on account of losing their stock, and promptly brought a
supply of wood in a flat.
From this point to the Mississippi River, fifteen miles, there is not a spot
of earth above water, and to the westward for thirty-five miles there
is nothing but the river's flood. Black River had risen during Thursday,
the 23rd, 1 inches, and was going up at night still.
As we progress up the river habitations become more frequent,
but are yet still miles apart. Nearly all of them are deserted,
and the out-houses floated off. To add to the gloom, almost every
living thing seems to have departed, and not a whistle of a bird
nor the bark of the squirrel can be heard in this solitude.
Sometimes a morose gar will throw his tail aloft and disappear in the river,
but beyond this everything is quiet--the quiet of dissolution.
Down the river floats now a neatly whitewashed hen-house, then
a cluster of neatly split fence-rails, or a door and a bloated carcass,
solemnly guarded by a pair of buzzards, the only bird to be seen,
which feast on the carcass as it bears them along. A picture-frame
in which there was a cheap lithograph of a soldier on horseback,
as it floated on told of some hearth invaded by the water and despoiled
of this ornament.
At dark, as it was not prudent to run, a place alongside the woods was hunted
and to a tall gum-tree the boat was made fast for the night.
A pretty quarter of the moon threw a pleasant light over forest and river,
making a picture that would be a delightful piece of landscape study,
could an artist only hold it down to his canvas. The motion of
the engines had ceased, the puffing of the escaping steam was stilled,
and the enveloping silence closed upon us, and such silence it was!
Usually in a forest at night one can hear the piping of frogs,
the hum of insects, or the dropping of limbs; but here nature was dumb.
The dark recesses, those aisles into this cathedral, gave forth no sound,
and even the ripplings of the current die away.
At daylight Friday morning all hands were up, and up the Black we started.
The morning was a beautiful one, and the river, which is remarkably
straight, put on its loveliest garb. The blossoms of the haw perfumed
the air deliciously, and a few birds whistled blithely along the banks.
The trees were larger, and the forest seemed of older growth than below.
More fields were passed than nearer the mouth, but the same scene
presented itself--smoke-houses drifting out in the pastures, negro quarters
anchored in confusion against some oak, and the modest residence just
showing its eaves above water. The sun came up in a glory of carmine,
and the trees were brilliant in their varied shades of green.
Not a foot of soil is to be seen anywhere, and the water is apparently growing
deeper and deeper, for it reaches up to the branches of the largest trees.
All along, the bordering willows have been denuded of leaves, showing how long
the people have been at work gathering this fodder for their animals. An old
man in a pirogue was asked how the willow leaves agreed with his cattle.
He stopped in his work, and with an ominous shake of his head replied:
'Well, sir, it 's enough to keep warmth in their bodies and that's
all we expect, but it's hard on the hogs, particularly the small ones.
They is dropping off powerful fast. But what can you do? It 's
all we've got.'
At thirty miles above the mouth of Black River the water
extends from Natchez on the Mississippi across to the pine
hills of Louisiana, a distance of seventy-three miles,
and there is hardly a spot that is not ten feet under it.
The tendency of the current up the Black is toward the west.
In fact, so much is this the case, the waters of Red River
have been driven down from toward the Calcasieu country,
and the waters of the Black enter the Red some fifteen miles
above the mouth of the former, a thing never before seen by even
the oldest steamboatmen. The water now in sight of us is entirely
from the Mississippi.
Up to Trinity, or rather Troy, which is but a short
distance below, the people have nearly all moved out,
those remaining having enough for their present personal needs.
Their cattle, though, are suffering and dying off quite fast,
as the confinement on rafts and the food they get breeds disease.
After a short stop we started, and soon came to a section where
there were many open fields and cabins thickly scattered about.
Here were seen more pictures of distress. On the inside of the houses
the inmates had built on boxes a scaffold on which they placed
the furniture. The bed-posts were sawed off on top, as the ceiling
was not more than four feet from the improvised floor. The buildings
looked very insecure, and threatened every moment to float off.
Near the houses were cattle standing breast high in the water,
perfectly impassive. They did not move in their places, but stood
patiently waiting for help to come. The sight was a distressing one,
and the poor creatures will be sure to die unless speedily rescued.
Cattle differ from horses in this peculiar quality. A horse,
after finding no relief comes, will swim off in search of food,
whereas a beef will stand in its tracks until with exhaustion it drops in
the water and drowns.
At half-past twelve o'clock a hail was given from a flat-boat
inside the line of the bank. Rounding to we ran alongside,
and General York stepped aboard. He was just then engaged
in getting off stock, and welcomed the 'Times-Democrat'
boat heartily, as he said there was much need for her.
He said that the distress was not exaggerated in the least.
People were in a condition it was difficult even for one to imagine.
The water was so high there was great danger of their houses
being swept away. It had already risen so high that it was
approaching the eaves, and when it reaches this point there is
always imminent risk of their being swept away. If this occurs,
there will be great loss of life. The General spoke of the gallant
work of many of the people in their attempts to save their stock,
but thought that fully twenty-five per cent. had perished.
Already twenty-five hundred people had received rations from Troy,
on Black River, and he had towed out a great many cattle,
but a very great quantity remained and were in dire need.
The water was now eighteen inches higher than in 1874, and there was
no land between Vidalia and the hills of Catahoula.
At two o'clock the 'Susie' reached Troy, sixty-five miles above
the mouth of Black River. Here on the left comes in Little River;
just beyond that the Ouachita, and on the right the Tensas.
These three rivers form the Black River. Troy, or a portion
of it, is situated on and around three large Indian mounds,
circular in shape, which rise above the present water
about twelve feet. They are about one hundred and fifty
feet in diameter, and are about two hundred yards apart.
The houses are all built between these mounds, and hence are all
flooded to a depth of eighteen inches on their floors.
These elevations, built by the aborigines, hundreds of years ago,
are the only points of refuge for miles. When we arrived we found them
crowded with stock, all of which was thin and hardly able to stand up.
They were mixed together, sheep, hogs, horses, mules, and cattle.
One of these mounds has been used for many years as the grave-yard,
and to-day we saw attenuated cows lying against the marble tomb-stones,
chewing their cud in contentment, after a meal of corn furnished
by General York. Here, as below, the remarkable skill of the women
and girls in the management of the smaller pirogues was noticed.
Children were paddling about in these most ticklish crafts with all the
nonchalance of adepts.
General York has put into operation a perfect system in regard
to furnishing relief. He makes a personal inspection of the place
where it is asked, sees what is necessary to be done, and then,
having two boats chartered, with flats, sends them promptly
to the place, when the cattle are loaded and towed to the pine
hills and uplands of Catahoula. He has made Troy his headquarters,
and to this point boats come for their supply of feed for cattle.
On the opposite side of Little River, which branches to the left
out of Black, and between it and the Ouachita, is situated
the town of Trinity, which is hourly threatened with destruction.
It is much lower than Troy, and the water is eight and nine
feet deep in the houses. A strong current sweeps through it,
and it is remarkable that all of its houses have not gone before.
The residents of both Troy and Trinity have been cared for, yet some
of their stock have to be furnished with food.
As soon as the 'Susie' reached Troy, she was turned over to General York,
and placed at his disposition to carry out the work of relief more rapidly.
Nearly all her supplies were landed on one of the mounds to lighten her,
and she was headed down stream to relieve those below. At Tom Hooper's place,
a few miles from Troy, a large flat, with about fifty head of stock on board,
was taken in tow. The animals were fed, and soon regained some strength.
To-day we go on Little River, where the suffering is greatest.
DOWN BLACK RIVER
Saturday Evening, March 25.
We started down Black River quite early, under the direction of General York,
to bring out what stock could be reached. Going down river a flat
in tow was left in a central locality, and from there men poled her back
in the rear of plantations, picking up the animals wherever found.
In the loft of a gin-house there were seventeen head found, and after
a gangway was built they were led down into the flat without difficulty.
Taking a skiff with the General, your reporter was pulled up to a little
house of two rooms, in which the water was standing two feet on the floors.
In one of the large rooms were huddled the horses and cows of the place,
while in the other the Widow Taylor and her son were seated on a scaffold
raised on the floor. One or two dug-outs were drifting about in the roam
ready to be put in service at any time. When the flat was brought up,
the side of the house was cut away as the only means of getting
the animals out, and the cattle were driven on board the boat.
General York, in this as in every case, inquired if the family desired
to leave, informing them that Major Burke, of 'The Times-Democrat,'
has sent the 'Susie' up for that purpose. Mrs. Taylor said she thanked
Major Burke, but she would try and hold out. The remarkable tenacity
of the people here to their homes is beyond all comprehension. Just below,
at a point sixteen miles from Troy, information was received that the house
of Mr. Tom Ellis was in danger, and his family were all in it. We steamed
there immediately, and a sad picture was presented. Looking out of the half
of the window left above water, was Mrs. Ellis, who is in feeble health,
whilst at the door were her seven children, the oldest not fourteen years.
One side of the house was given up to the work animals, some twelve head,
besides hogs. In the next room the family lived, the water coming within two
inches of the bed-rail. The stove was below water, and the cooking was done
on a fire on top of it. The house threatened to give way at any moment:
one end of it was sinking, and, in fact, the building looked a mere shell.
As the boat rounded to, Mr. Ellis came out in a dug-out, and General
York told him that he had come to his relief; that 'The Times-Democrat'
boat was at his service, and would remove his family at once to the hills,
and on Monday a flat would take out his stock, as, until that time,
they would be busy. Notwithstanding the deplorable situation himself
and family were in, Mr. Ellis did not want to leave. He said he thought
he would wait until Monday, and take the risk of his house falling.
The children around the door looked perfectly contented, seeming to care
little for the danger they were in. These are but two instances of the many.
After weeks of privation and suffering, people still cling to their houses
and leave only when there is not room between the water and the ceiling
to build a scaffold on which to stand. It seemed to be incomprehensible,
yet the love for the old place was stronger than that for safety.
After leaving the Ellis place, the next spot touched at
was the Oswald place. Here the flat was towed alongside
the gin-house where there were fifteen head standing in water;
and yet, as they stood on scaffolds, their heads were above
the top of the entrance. It was found impossible to get
them out without cutting away a portion of the front;
and so axes were brought into requisition and a gap made.
After much labor the horses and mules were securely placed
on the flat.
At each place we stop there are always three, four, or more dug-outs
arriving, bringing information of stock in other places in need.
Notwithstanding the fact that a great many had driven a part of their
stock to the hills some time ago, there yet remains a large quantity,
which General York, who is working with indomitable energy, will get
landed in the pine hills by Tuesday.
All along Black River the 'Susie' has been visited by scores
of planters, whose tales are the repetition of those already
heard of suffering and loss. An old planter, who has lived on
the river since 1844, said there never was such a rise, and he was
satisfied more than one quarter of the stock has been lost.
Luckily the people cared first for their work stock, and when they
could find it horses and mules were housed in a place of safety.
The rise which still continues, and was two inches last night,
compels them to get them out to the hills; hence it is
that the work of General York is of such a great value.
From daylight to late at night he is going this way and that,
cheering by his kindly words and directing with calm judgment
what is to be done. One unpleasant story, of a certain
merchant in New Orleans, is told all along the river.
It appears for some years past the planters have been dealing
with this individual, and many of them had balances in his hands.
When the overflow came they wrote for coffee, for meal, and,
in fact, for such little necessities as were required.
No response to these letters came, and others were written,
and yet these old customers, with plantations under water,
were refused even what was necessary to sustain life. It is needless
to say he is not popular now on Back River.
The hills spoken of as the place of refuge for the people and stock on Black
River are in Catahoula parish, twenty-four miles from Black River.
After filling the flat with cattle we took on board the family
of T. S. Hooper, seven in number, who could not longer remain
in their dwelling, and we are now taking them up Little River
to the hills.
THE FLOOD STILL RISING
Troy: March 27, 1882, noon.
The flood here is rising about three and a half inches every
twenty-four hours, and rains have set in which will increase this.
General York feels now that our efforts ought to be directed towards
saving life, as the increase of the water has jeopardized many houses.
We intend to go up the Tensas in a few minutes, and then we
will return and go down Black River to take off families.
There is a lack of steam transportation here to meet the emergency.
The General has three boats chartered, with flats in tow,
but the demand for these to tow out stock is greater than they
can meet with promptness. All are working night and day,
and the 'Susie' hardly stops for more than an hour anywhere.
The rise has placed Trinity in a dangerous plight, and momentarily
it is expected that some of the houses will float off.
Troy is a little higher, yet all are in the water.
Reports have come in that a woman and child have been
washed away below here, and two cabins floated off.
Their occupants are the same who refused to come off day
before yesterday. One would not believe the utter passiveness
of the people.
As yet no news has been received of the steamer 'Delia,' which is
supposed to be the one sunk in yesterday's storm on Lake Catahoula.
She is due here now, but has not arrived. Even the mail here is
most uncertain, and this I send by skiff to Natchez to get it to you.
It is impossible to get accurate data as to past crops, etc., as
those who know much about the matter have gone, and those who remain
are not well versed in the production of this section.
General York desires me to say that the amount of rations
formerly sent should be duplicated and sent at once.
It is impossible to make any estimate, for the people are fleeing
to the hills, so rapid is the rise. The residents here are
in a state of commotion that can only be appreciated when seen,
and complete demoralization has set in,
If rations are drawn for any particular section hereabouts, they would
not be certain to be distributed, so everything should be sent to Troy
as a center, and the General will have it properly disposed of.
He has sent for one hundred tents, and, if all go to the hills who are
in motion now, two hundred will be required.
THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER COMMISSION
THE condition of this rich valley of the Lower Mississippi,
immediately after and since the war, constituted one
of the disastrous effects of war most to be deplored.
Fictitious property in slaves was not only righteously destroyed,
but very much of the work which had depended upon the slave labor
was also destroyed or greatly impaired, especially the levee system.
It might have been expected by those who have not investigated the subject,
that such important improvements as the construction and maintenance
of the levees would have been assumed at once by the several States.
But what can the State do where the people are under subjection to
rates of interest ranging from 18 to 30 per cent., and are also under
the necessity of pledging their crops in advance even of planting,
at these rates, for the privilege of purchasing all of their supplies at 100
per cent. profit?
It has needed but little attention to make it perfectly obvious
that the control of the Mississippi River, if undertaken at all,
must be undertaken by the national government, and cannot
be compassed by States. The river must be treated as a unit;
its control cannot be compassed under a divided or separate
system of administration.
Neither are the States especially interested competent
to combine among themselves for the necessary operations.
The work must begin far up the river; at least as far as Cairo,
if not beyond; and must be conducted upon a consistent general plan
throughout the course of the river.
It does not need technical or scientific knowledge to comprehend the elements
of the case if one will give a little time and attention to the subject,
and when a Mississippi River commission has been constituted, as the existing
commission is, of thoroughly able men of different walks in life,
may it not be suggested that their verdict in the case should be accepted
as conclusive, so far as any a priori theory of construction or control
can be considered conclusive?
It should be remembered that upon this board are General Gilmore,
General Comstock, and General Suter, of the United States Engineers;
Professor Henry Mitchell (the most competent authority on the question
of hydrography), of the United States Coast Survey; B. B. Harrod,
the State Engineer of Louisiana; Jas. B. Eads, whose success
with the jetties at New Orleans is a warrant of his competency,
and Judge Taylor, of Indiana.
It would be presumption on the part of any single man, however skilled,
to contest the judgment of such a board as this.
The method of improvement proposed by the commission is at
once in accord with the results of engineering experience
and with observations of nature where meeting our wants.
As in nature the growth of trees and their proneness where undermined
to fall across the slope and support the bank secures at some
points a fair depth of channel and some degree of permanence,
so in the project of the engineer the use of timber and brush
and the encouragement of forest growth are the main features.
It is proposed to reduce the width where excessive by brushwood dykes,
at first low, but raised higher and higher as the mud of the river
settles under their shelter, and finally slope them back at
the angle upon which willows will grow freely. In this work there
are many details connected with the forms of these shelter dykes,
their arrangements so as to present a series of settling basins,
etc., a description of which would only complicate the conception.
Through the larger part of the river works of contraction
will not be required, but nearly all the banks on the concave
side of the beds must be held against the wear of the stream,
and much of the opposite banks defended at critical points.
The works having in view this conservative object may be
generally designated works of revetment; and these also
will be largely of brushwood, woven in continuous carpets,
or twined into wire-netting. This veneering process has been
successfully employed on the Missouri River; and in some cases
they have so covered themselves with sediments, and have become
so overgrown with willows, that they may be regarded as permanent.
In securing these mats rubble-stone is to be used in small quantities,
and in some instances the dressed slope between high and low river
will have to be more or less paved with stone.
Any one who has been on the Rhine will have observed operations not unlike
those to which we have just referred; and, indeed, most of the rivers
of Europe flowing among their own alluvia have required similar treatment
in the interest of navigation and agriculture.
The levee is the crowning work of bank revetment, although not necessarily
in immediate connection. It may be set back a short distance from
the revetted bank; but it is, in effect, the requisite parapet.
The flood river and the low river cannot be brought into register,
and compelled to unite in the excavation of a single permanent channel,
without a complete control of all the stages; and even the abnormal
rise must be provided against, because this would endanger the levee,
and once in force behind the works of revetment would tear them also away.
Under the general principle that the local slope of a river
is the result and measure of the resistance of its bed, it is
evident that a narrow and deep stream should have less slope,
because it has less frictional surface in proportion to capacity;
i.e., less perimeter in proportion to area of cross section.
The ultimate effect of levees and revetments confining
the floods and bringing all the stages of the river into
register is to deepen the channel and let down the slope.
The first effect of the levees is to raise the surface;
but this, by inducing greater velocity of flow, inevitably
causes an enlargement of section, and if this enlargement
is prevented from being made at the expense of the banks,
the bottom must give way and the form of the waterway
be so improved as to admit this flow with less rise.
The actual experience with levees upon the Mississippi River,
with no attempt to hold the banks, has been favorable,
and no one can doubt, upon the evidence furnished in the reports
of the commission, that if the earliest levees had been
accompanied by revetment of banks, and made complete,
we should have to-day a river navigable at low water,
and an adjacent country safe from inundation.
Of course it would be illogical to conclude that the constrained river
can ever lower its flood slope so as to make levees unnecessary,
but it is believed that, by this lateral constraint, the river
as a conduit may be so improved in form that even those rare
floods which result from the coincident rising of many tributaries
will find vent without destroying levees of ordinary height.
That the actual capacity of a channel through alluvium depends
upon its service during floods has been often shown, but this
capacity does not include anomalous, but recurrent, floods.
It is hardly worth while to consider the projects for relieving
the Mississippi River floods by creating new outlets,
since these sensational propositions have commended themselves
only to unthinking minds, and have no support among engineers.
Were the river bed cast-iron, a resort to openings for surplus
waters might be a necessity; but as the bottom is yielding,
and the best form of outlet is a single deep channel,
as realizing the least ratio of perimeter to area of cross section,
there could not well be a more unphilosophical method of treatment
than the multiplication of avenues of escape.
In the foregoing statement the attempt has been made to condense
in as limited a space as the importance of the subject would permit,
the general elements of the problem, and the general features
of the proposed method of improvement which has been adopted
by the Mississippi River Commission.
The writer cannot help feeling that it is somewhat presumptuous on
his part to attempt to present the facts relating to an enterprise
which calls for the highest scientific skill; but it is a matter
which interests every citizen of the United States, and is one
of the methods of reconstruction which ought to be approved.
It is a war claim which implies no private gain, and no compensation
except for one of the cases of destruction incident to war,
which may well be repaired by the people of the whole country.
Boston: April 14, 1882.
RECEPTION OF CAPTAIN BASIL HALL'S BOOK IN THE UNITED STATES
HAVING now arrived nearly at the end of our travels,
I am induced, ere I conclude, again to mention what I consider
as one of the most remarkable traits in the national character
of the Americans; namely, their exquisite sensitiveness and
soreness respecting everything said or written concerning them.
Of this, perhaps, the most remarkable example I can give is
the effect produced on nearly every class of readers by the
appearance of Captain Basil Hall's 'Travels in North America.'
In fact, it was a sort of moral earthquake, and the vibration it
occasioned through the nerves of the republic, from one corner
of the Union to the other, was by no means over when I left
the country in July 1831, a couple of years after the shock.
I was in Cincinnati when these volumes came out, but it
was not till July 1830, that I procured a copy of them.
One bookseller to whom I applied told me that he had had a few
copies before he understood the nature of the work, but that,
after becoming acquainted with it, nothing should induce
him to sell another. Other persons of his profession must,
however, have been less scrupulous; for the book was read
in city, town, village, and hamlet, steamboat, and stage-coach,
and a sort of war-whoop was sent forth perfectly unprecedented
in my recollection upon any occasion whatever.
An ardent desire for approbation, and a delicate sensitiveness under censure,
have always, I believe, been considered as amiable traits of character;
but the condition into which the appearance of Captain Hall's work threw
the republic shows plainly that these feelings, if carried to excess,
produce a weakness which amounts to imbecility.
It was perfectly astonishing to hear men who, on other subjects,
were of some judgment, utter their opinions upon this.
I never heard of any instance in which the commonsense generally
found in national criticism was so overthrown by passion.
I do not speak of the want of justice, and of fair and
liberal interpretation: these, perhaps, were hardly to be expected.
Other nations have been called thin-skinned, but the citizens
of the Union have, apparently, no skins at all; they wince if a
breeze blows over them, unless it be tempered with adulation.
It was not, therefore, very surprising that the acute and forcible
observations of a traveler they knew would be listened to should be
received testily. The extraordinary features of the business were,
first, the excess of the rage into which they lashed themselves;
and, secondly, the puerility of the inventions by which they
attempted to account for the severity with which they fancied they
had been treated.
Not content with declaring that the volumes contained no word of truth,
from beginning to end (which is an assertion I heard made very nearly
as often as they were mentioned), the whole country set to work
to discover the causes why Captain Hall had visited the United States,
and why he had published his book.
I have heard it said with as much precision and gravity
as if the statement had been conveyed by an official report,
that Captain Hall had been sent out by the British Government
expressly for the purpose of checking the growing admiration
of England for the Government of the United States,--
that it was by a commission from the treasury he had come,
and that it was only in obedience to orders that he had found
anything to object to.
I do not give this as the gossip of a coterie; I am persuaded that it
is the belief of a very considerable portion of the country.
So deep is the conviction of this singular people that they cannot
be seen without being admired, that they will not admit the possibility
that any one should honestly and sincerely find aught to disapprove
in them or their country.
The American Reviews are, many of them, I believe, well known in England;
I need not, therefore, quote them here, but I sometimes wondered
that they, none of them, ever thought of translating Obadiah's
curse into classic American; if they had done so, on placing
(he, Basil Hall) between brackets, instead of (he, Obadiah)
it would have saved them a world of trouble.
I can hardly describe the curiosity with which I sat down at length
to peruse these tremendous volumes; still less can I do justice to my
surprise at their contents. To say that I found not one exaggerated
statement throughout the work is by no means saying enough.
It is impossible for any one who knows the country not to see that
Captain Hall earnestly sought out things to admire and commend.
When he praises, it is with evident pleasure; and when he finds fault,
it is with evident reluctance and restraint, excepting where motives
purely patriotic urge him to state roundly what it is for the benefit
of his country should be known.
In fact, Captain Hall saw the country to the greatest possible advantage.
Furnished, of course, with letters of introduction to the most
distinguished individuals, and with the still more influential
recommendation of his own reputation, he was received in full
drawing-room style and state from one end of the Union to the other.
He saw the country in full dress, and had little or no opportunity
of judging of it unhouselled, unanointed, unannealed, with all its
imperfections on its head, as I and my family too often had.
Captain Hall had certainly excellent opportunities of making
himself acquainted with the form of the government and the laws;
and of receiving, moreover, the best oral commentary upon them,
in conversation with the most distinguished citizens.
Of these opportunities he made excellent use; nothing important met
his eye which did not receive that sort of analytical attention
which an experienced and philosophical traveler alone can give.
This has made his volumes highly interesting and valuable;
but I am deeply persuaded, that were a man of equal penetration
to visit the United States with no other means of becoming
acquainted with the national character than the ordinary working-day
intercourse of life, he would conceive an infinitely lower idea
of the moral atmosphere of the country than Captain Hall appears
to have done; and the internal conviction on my mind is strong,
that if Captain Hall had not placed a firm restraint on himself,
he must have given expression to far deeper indignation than any he has
uttered against many points in the American character, with which
he shows from other circumstances that he was well acquainted.
His rule appears to have been to state just so much of the truth
as would leave on the mind of his readers a correct impression,
at the least cost of pain to the sensitive folks he was writing about.
He states his own opinions and feelings, and leaves it to be
inferred that he has good grounds for adopting them; but he spares
the Americans the bitterness which a detail of the circumstances
would have produced.
If any one chooses to say that some wicked antipathy to twelve
millions of strangers is the origin of my opinion, I must
bear it; and were the question one of mere idle speculation,
I certainly would not court the abuse I must meet for stating it.
But it is not so.
. . . . . . .
The candor which he expresses, and evidently feels, they mistake for irony,
or totally distrust; his unwillingness to give pain to persons from
whom he has received kindness, they scornfully reject as affectation,
and although they must know right well, in their own secret hearts,
how infinitely more they lay at his mercy than he has chosen to betray;
they pretend, even to themselves, that he has exaggerated the bad points
of their character and institutions; whereas, the truth is, that he has
let them off with a degree of tenderness which may be quite suitable
for him to exercise, however little merited; while, at the same time,
he has most industriously magnified their merits, whenever he could possibly
find anything favorable.
THE UNDYING HEAD
IN a remote part of the North lived a man and his sister,
who had never seen a human being. Seldom, if ever, had the man
any cause to go from home; for, as his wants demanded food,
he had only to go a little distance from the lodge, and there,
in some particular spot, place his arrows, with their barbs
in the ground. Telling his sister where they had been placed,
every morning she would go in search, and never fail of
finding each stuck through the heart of a deer. She had then
only to drag them into the lodge and prepare their food.
Thus she lived till she attained womanhood, when one day
her brother, whose name was Iamo, said to her: 'Sister, the time
is at hand when you will be ill. Listen to my advice.
If you do not, it will probably be the cause of my death.
Take the implements with which we kindle our fires.
Go some distance from our lodge and build a separate fire.
When you are in want of food, I will tell you where to find it.
You must cook for yourself, and I will for myself.
When you are ill, do not attempt to come near the lodge,
or bring any of the utensils you use. Be sure always
to fasten to your belt the implements you need, for you
do not know when the time will come. As for myself, I must
do the best I can.' His sister promised to obey him in all
he had said.
Shortly after, her brother had cause to go from home.
She was alone in her lodge, combing her hair. She had just untied
the belt to which the implements were fastened, when suddenly
the event, to which her brother had alluded, occurred.
She ran out of the lodge, but in her haste forgot the belt.
Afraid to return, she stood for some time thinking.
Finally, she decided to enter the lodge and get it.
For, thought she, my brother is not at home, and I will
stay but a moment to catch hold of it. She went back.
Running in suddenly, she caught hold of it, and was coming out
when her brother came in sight. He knew what was the matter.
'Oh,' he said, 'did I not tell you to take care.
But now you have killed me.' She was going on her way,
but her brother said to her, 'What can you do there now.
The accident has happened. Go in, and stay where you
have always stayed. And what will become of you?
You have killed me.'
He then laid aside his hunting-dress and accoutrements, and soon
after both his feet began to turn black, so that he could not move.
Still he directed his sister where to place the arrows,
that she might always have food. The inflammation continued
to increase, and had now reached his first rib; and he said:
'Sister, my end is near. You must do as I tell you.
You see my medicine-sack, and my war-club tied to it. It contains
all my medicines, and my war-plumes, and my paints of all colors.
As soon as the inflammation reaches my breast, you will take
my war-club. It has a sharp point, and you will cut off my head.
When it is free from my body, take it, place its neck in the sack,
which you must open at one end. Then hang it up in its former place.
Do not forget my bow and arrows. One of the last you
will take to procure food. The remainder, tie in my sack,
and then hang it up, so that I can look towards the door.
Now and then I will speak to you, but not often.' His sister again
promised to obey.
In a little time his breast was affected. 'Now,' said he,
'take the club and strike off my head.' She was afraid, but he told
her to muster courage. 'Strike,' said he, and a smile was on his face.
Mustering all her courage, she gave the blow and cut off the head.
'Now,' said the head, 'place me where I told you.'
And fearfully she obeyed it in all its commands.
Retaining its animation, it looked around the lodge as usual,
and it would command its sister to go in such places as it thought
would procure for her the flesh of different animals she needed.
One day the head said: 'The time is not distant when I shall be freed
from this situation, and I shall have to undergo many sore evils.
So the superior manito decrees, and I must bear all patiently.'
In this situation we must leave the head.
In a certain part of the country was a village inhabited by a
numerous and warlike band of Indians. In this village was a family
of ten young men--brothers. It was in the spring of the year
that the youngest of these blackened his face and fasted.
His dreams were propitious. Having ended his fast, he went
secretly for his brothers at night, so that none in the village
could overhear or find out the direction they intended to go.
Though their drum was heard, yet that was a common occurrence.
Having ended the usual formalities, he told how favorable
his dreams were, and that he had called them together
to know if they would accompany him in a war excursion.
They all answered they would. The third brother from the eldest,
noted for his oddities, coming up with his war-club when his brother
had ceased speaking, jumped up. 'Yes,' said he, 'I will go,
and this will be the way I will treat those I am going to fight;'
and he struck the post in the center of the lodge, and gave a yell.
The others spoke to him, saying: 'Slow, slow, Mudjikewis, when you
are in other people's lodges.' So he sat down. Then, in turn,
they took the drum, and sang their songs, and closed with a feast.
The youngest told them not to whisper their intention
to their wives, but secretly to prepare for their journey.
They all promised obedience, and Mudjikewis was the first
to say so.
The time for their departure drew near. Word was given to
assemble on a certain night, when they would depart immediately.
Mudjikewis was loud in his demands for his moccasins.
Several times his wife asked him the reason. 'Besides,' said she,
'you have a good pair on.' 'Quick, quick,' said he, 'since you
must know, we are going on a war excursion; so be quick.'
He thus revealed the secret. That night they met and started.
The snow was on the ground, and they traveled all night, lest others
should follow them. When it was daylight, the leader took snow
and made a ball of it, then tossing it into the air, he said:
'It was in this way I saw snow fall in a dream, so that I could not
be tracked.' And he told them to keep close to each other for fear
of losing themselves, as the snow began to fall in very large flakes.
Near as they walked, it was with difficulty they could see each other.
The snow continued falling all that day and the following night,
so it was impossible to track them.
They had now walked for several days, and Mudjikewis was
always in the rear. One day, running suddenly forward,
he gave the SAW-SAW-QUAN, and struck
a tree with his war-club, and it broke into pieces as if struck
with lightning. 'Brothers,' said he, 'this will be the way I
will serve those we are going to fight.' The leader answered,
'Slow, slow, Mudjikewis, the one I lead you to is not to be thought
of so lightly.' Again he fell back and thought to himself:
'What! what! who can this be he is leading us to?'
He felt fearful and was silent. Day after day they traveled on,
till they came to an extensive plain, on the borders of which
human bones were bleaching in the sun. The leader spoke:
'They are the bones of those who have gone before us.
None has ever yet returned to tell the sad tale of their fate.'
Again Mudjikewis became restless, and, running forward,
gave the accustomed yell. Advancing to a large rock which
stood above the ground, he struck it, and it fell to pieces.
'See, brothers,' said he, 'thus will I treat those whom we are
going to fight.' 'Still, still,' once more said the leader;
'he to whom I am leading you is not to be compared
to the rock.'
Mudjikewis fell back thoughtful, saying to himself: 'I wonder
who this can be that he is going to attack;' and he was afraid.
Still they continued to see the remains of former warriors,
who had been to the place where they were now going,
some of whom had retreated as far back as the place where they
first saw the bones, beyond which no one had ever escaped.
At last they came to a piece of rising ground, from which they
plainly distinguished, sleeping on a distant mountain,
a mammoth bear.
The distance between them was very great, but the size of the animal
caused him to be plainly seen. 'There,' said the leader,
'it is he to whom I am leading you; here our troubles will commence,
for he is a mishemokwa and a manito. It is he who has that we
prize so dearly (i.e. wampum), to obtain which, the warriors whose
bones we saw, sacrificed their lives. You must not be fearful:
be manly. We shall find him asleep.' Then the leader went
forward and touched the belt around the animal's neck.
'This,' said he, 'is what we must get. It contains the wampum.'
Then they requested the eldest to try and slip the belt over
the bear's head, who appeared to be fast asleep, as he was not
in the least disturbed by the attempt to obtain the belt.
All their efforts were in vain, till it came to the one
next the youngest. He tried, and the belt moved nearly
over the monster's head, but he could get it no farther.
Then the youngest one, and the leader, made his attempt, and succeeded.
Placing it on the back of the oldest, he said, 'Now we must run,'
and off they started. When one became fatigued with its weight,
another would relieve him. Thus they ran till they had passed
the bones of all former warriors, and were some distance beyond,
when looking back, they saw the monster slowly rising.
He stood some time before he missed his wampum. Soon they heard his
tremendous howl, like distant thunder, slowly filling all the sky;
and then they heard him speak and say, 'Who can it be that has
dared to steal my wampum? earth is not so large but that I
can find them;' and he descended from the hill in pursuit.
As if convulsed, the earth shook with every jump he made.
Very soon he approached the party. They, however, kept the belt,
exchanging it from one to another, and encouraging each other;
but he gained on them fast. 'Brothers,' said the leader,
'has never any one of you, when fasting, dreamed of some friendly
spirit who would aid you as a guardian?' A dead silence followed.
'Well,' said he, 'fasting, I dreamed of being in danger
of instant death, when I saw a small lodge, with smoke curling
from its top. An old man lived in it, and I dreamed he helped me;
and may it be verified soon,' he said, running forward and
giving the peculiar yell, and a howl as if the sounds came
from the depths of his stomach, and what is called CHECAUDUM.
Getting upon a piece of rising ground, behold! a lodge, with smoke
curling from its top, appeared. This gave them all new strength,
and they ran forward and entered it. The leader spoke to
the old man who sat in the lodge, saying, 'Nemesho, help us;
we claim your protection, for the great bear will kill us.'
'Sit down and eat, my grandchildren,' said the old man.
'Who is a great manito?' said he. 'There is none but me;
but let me look,' and he opened the door of the lodge, when,
lo! at a little distance he saw the enraged animal coming on,
with slow but powerful leaps. He closed the door.
'Yes,' said he, 'he is indeed a great manito: my grandchildren,
you will be the cause of my losing my life; you asked my protection,
and I granted it; so now, come what may, I will protect you.
When the bear arrives at the door, you must run out of the other
door of the lodge.' Then putting his hand to the side of
the lodge where he sat, he brought out a bag which he opened.
Taking out two small black dogs, he placed them before him.
'These are the ones I use when I fight,' said he; and he commenced
patting with both hands the sides of one of them, and he began
to swell out, so that he soon filled the lodge by his bulk;
and he had great strong teeth. When he attained his full
size he growled, and from that moment, as from instinct,
he jumped out at the door and met the bear, who in another leap
would have reached the lodge. A terrible combat ensued.
The skies rang with the howls of the fierce monsters.
The remaining dog soon took the field. The brothers, at the onset,
took the advice of the old man, and escaped through the opposite
side of the lodge. They had not proceeded far before they heard
the dying cry of one of the dogs, and soon after of the other.
'Well,' said the leader, 'the old man will share their fate:
so run; he will soon be after us.' They started with fresh vigor,
for they had received food from the old man: but very soon the bear
came in sight, and again was fast gaining upon them. Again the leader
asked the brothers if they could do nothing for their safety.
All were silent. The leader, running forward, did as before.
'I dreamed,' he cried, 'that, being in great trouble, an old
man helped me who was a manito; we shall soon see his lodge.'
Taking courage, they still went on. After going a short distance
they saw the lodge of the old manito. They entered immediately
and claimed his protection, telling him a manito was after them.
The old man, setting meat before them, said: 'Eat! who is a
manito? there is no manito but me; there is none whom I fear;'
and the earth trembled as the monster advanced. The old man
opened the door and saw him coming. He shut it slowly, and said:
'Yes, my grandchildren, you have brought trouble upon me.'
Procuring his medicine-sack, he took out his small war-clubs of
black stone, and told the young men to run through the other side
of the lodge. As he handled the clubs, they became very large,
and the old man stepped out just as the bear reached the door.
Then striking him with one of the clubs, it broke in pieces;
the bear stumbled. Renewing the attempt with the other
war-club, that also was broken, but the bear fell senseless.
Each blow the old man gave him sounded like a clap of thunder,
and the howls of the bear ran along till they filled the
The young men had now run some distance, when they looked back.
They could see that the bear was recovering from the blows.
First he moved his paws, and soon they saw him rise
on his feet. The old man shared the fate of the first,
for they now heard his cries as he was torn in pieces.
Again the monster was in pursuit, and fast overtaking them.
Not yet discouraged, the young men kept on their way;
but the bear was now so close, that the leader once more applied
to his brothers, but they could do nothing. 'Well,' said he,
'my dreams will soon be exhausted; after this I have but one more.'
He advanced, invoking his guardian spirit to aid him.
'Once,' said he, 'I dreamed that, being sorely pressed, I came to a
large lake, on the shore of which was a canoe, partly out of water,
having ten paddles all in readiness. Do not fear,' he cried,
'we shall soon get it.' And so it was, even as he had said.
Coming to the lake, they saw the canoe with ten paddles,
and immediately they embarked. Scarcely had they reached the center
of the lake, when they saw the bear arrive at its borders.
Lifting himself on his hind legs, he looked all around.
Then he waded into the water; then losing his footing he turned back,
and commenced making the circuit of the lake. Meantime the party
remained stationary in the center to watch his movements.
He traveled all around, till at last he came to the place from
whence he started. Then he commenced drinking up the water,
and they saw the current fast setting in towards his open mouth.
The leader encouraged them to paddle hard for the opposite shore.
When only a short distance from land, the current had increased
so much, that they were drawn back by it, and all their efforts
to reach it were in vain.
Then the leader again spoke, telling them to meet their fates manfully.
'Now is the time, Mudjikewis,' said he, 'to show your prowess.
Take courage and sit at the bow of the canoe; and when it approaches
his mouth, try what effect your club will have on his head.'
He obeyed, and stood ready to give the blow; while the leader,
who steered, directed the canoe for the open mouth of the monster.
Rapidly advancing, they were just about to enter his mouth, when Mudjikewis
struck him a tremendous blow on the head, and gave the SAW-SAW-QUAN.
The bear's limbs doubled under him, and he fell, stunned by the blow.
But before Mudjikewis could renew it, the monster disgorged all
the water he had drank, with a force which sent the canoe with great
velocity to the opposite shore. Instantly leaving the canoe,
again they fled, and on they went till they were completely exhausted.
The earth again shook, and soon they saw the monster hard
after them. Their spirits drooped, and they felt discouraged.
The leader exerted himself, by actions and words, to cheer them up;
and once more he asked them if they thought of nothing, or could
do nothing for their rescue; and, as before, all were silent.
'Then,' he said, 'this is the last time I can apply to my guardian spirit.
Now, if we do not succeed, our fates are decided.' He ran forward,
invoking his spirit with great earnestness, and gave the yell.
'We shall soon arrive,' said he to his brothers, 'at the place where
my last guardian spirit dwells. In him I place great confidence.
Do not, do not be afraid, or your limbs will be fear-bound. We shall
soon reach his lodge. Run, run,' he cried.
Returning now to Iamo, he had passed all the time in the same
condition we had left him, the head directing his sister,
in order to procure food, where to place the magic arrows,
and speaking at long intervals. One day the sister saw the eyes
of the head brighten, as if with pleasure. At last it spoke.
'Oh, sister,' it said, 'in what a pitiful situation you
have been the cause of placing me! Soon, very soon, a party
of young men will arrive and apply to me for aid; but alas!
How can I give what I would have done with so much pleasure?
Nevertheless, take two arrows, and place them where you have
been in the habit of placing the others, and have meat prepared
and cooked before they arrive. When you hear them coming
and calling on my name, go out and say, "Alas! it is long
ago that an accident befell him. I was the cause of it."
If they still come near, ask them in, and set meat before them.
And now you must follow my directions strictly. When the bear
is near, go out and meet him. You will take my medicine-sack, bows
and arrows, and my head. You must then untie the sack, and spread
out before you my paints of all colors, my war-eagle feathers,
my tufts of dried hair, and whatever else it contains.
As the bear approaches, you will take all these articles,
one by one, and say to him, "This is my deceased brother's paint,"
and so on with all the other articles, throwing each of them
as far as you can. The virtues contained in them will cause
him to totter; and, to complete his destruction, you will take
my head, and that too you will cast as far off as you can,
crying aloud, "See, this is my deceased brother's head."
He will then fall senseless. By this time the young men
will have eaten, and you will call them to your assistance.
You must then cut the carcass into pieces, yes, into small pieces,
and scatter them to the four winds; for, unless you do this,
he will again revive.' She promised that all should be
done as he said. She had only time to prepare the meat,
when the voice of the leader was heard calling upon Iamo for aid.
The woman went out and said as her brother had directed.
But the war party being closely pursued, came up to the lodge.
She invited them in, and placed the meat before them.
While they were eating, they heard the bear approaching.
Untying the medicine-sack and taking the head, she had all
in readiness for his approach. When he came up she did
as she had been told; and, before she had expended the paints
and feathers, the bear began to totter, but, still advancing,
came close to the woman. Saying as she was commanded, she then
took the head, and cast it as far from her as she could.
As it rolled along the ground, the blood, excited by the feelings
of the head in this terrible scene, gushed from the nose and mouth.
The bear, tottering, soon fell with a tremendous noise.
Then she cried for help, and the young men came
rushing out, having partially regained their strength and
Mudjikewis, stepping up, gave a yell and struck him a blow upon
the head. This he repeated, till it seemed like a mass of brains,
while the others, as quick as possible, cut him into very small pieces,
which they then scattered in every direction. While thus employed,
happening to look around where they had thrown the meat,
wonderful to behold, they saw starting up and turning off in every
direction small black bears, such as are seen at the present day.
The country was soon overspread with these black animals.
And it was from this monster that the present race of bears
derived their origin.
Having thus overcome their pursuer, they returned to the lodge.
In the meantime, the woman, gathering the implements she had used,
and the head, placed them again in the sack. But the head did not
speak again, probably from its great exertion to overcome the monster.
Having spent so much time and traversed so vast a country in their flight,
the young men gave up the idea of ever returning to their own countr