The Jill-Flirted Mare
“Here she is, Packsaddle Bridge,” Dad announced, and as I looked down through a knothole in the bridge floor I caught a glimpse of a narrow stream far below. “Right down there,” he said, “is where our Uncle Cager lost his team in the quicksand before the bridge went in.”
Almost three in the spring of 1933, I was sitting in the back of Dad’s lead wagon looking out over the tailgate when the distinctive clip-clop of the horses’ iron-shod hooves struck the heavy wooden timbers on the long, arching span over the South Canadian River in western Oklahoma. This is my first memory, the only part of the four hundred-mile trek from northern Kansas to the Needmore community in western Oklahoma that I can recall.
I remember nothing about the following year, when we lived in a tent, and almost nothing of our six-month stay in an old, abandoned schoolhouse after we came home from town to find the tent torched by a man Dad had got the best of in a trade. But getting ready to move to the Missouri Ozarks made a strong impression on me. Dad liked to describe the country where his folks lived as “the land of a million smiles” and “the land of milk and honey.”
Especially exciting was butchering day, when all the women and girls were herded inside Grandpa and Grandma Green’s house. They had to stay there until the yearling steer had been killed, skinned, and gutted. Going on five, I was plenty big enough to stand with my older brother, Fred, eight, and hang on to the fence outside the barn lot, watching, while Dad and Mama’s three teenaged brothers did the job that women and girls were not permitted to see.
Instead of dropping dead when Dad shot him, the dazed steer shook his head, then raised his tail high and raced wildly around the enclosure. “Catch him! Catch him!” Dad yelled, and the long-legged, high-stepping middle boy managed to overtake the bawling, wide-eyed animal and grab its tail while it pulled him around and around the lot, before collapsing in a corner. There the boys held it, and Dad cut its throat with the heavy, curved butcher knife that Fred handed him. As I craned my neck to get a good look at the gushing, bright blood and the animal’s dying spasms, I heard Dad say, “I hope all that excitement didn’t taint the meat.”
After Mama’s brothers helped Dad hoist the steer to a limb on a nearby scrub oak with wire stretchers and a singletree off Grandpa’s garden plow, they watched as he carefully skinned the animal, tied a stout string around its anus, then split the pelvis with an ax before plopping the guts into a washtub. Following Dad’s directions, the boys carried fresh buckets of water from the cistern and sloshed out the still steaming carcass.
Mama’s tedious job of cutting up the meat before packing it in half-gallon jars in Grandma’s pressure cooker failed to hold my attention. Nothing I’d seen in women’s work excited me anything like seeing the botched killing of the steer.
Before we moved to Missouri, Dad and Uncle Homer (whose real name was Oklahoma Territory Green) rode west into Texas, where Dad traded his two well-broke teams for a blemished bay mare and a spoiled paint bronc, drawing seventy-five dollars to boot. The new horses, one gentle, the other spooky, were jumped into the back of the one-ton Ford truck from the pond bank, then tied to the front rack and penned with wooden panels.
A jumble of things followed, including Dad’s square wooden box filled with the beef Mama had canned, the four-foot narrow pine box containing its precious cargo of perishables, several backless chairs and two sets of iron bedsteads and springs. Two thin, straw-filled mattresses covered with comforters were put down in the left-hand corner behind the horses, as far away as possible from the truck’s exhaust. There we, the four youngest–Joyce six, I four, Wanda three and Jay one–huddled safe with Mama under the gray tarpaulin.
The three men got to ride in the cab. There was Uncle Calvin, the drinking driver, owner of the truck, and Dad, of course. Fred, snug and smug in the middle, had earned his honored spot almost two years earlier by driving the second team, pulling a faded blue circus wagon across Kansas and half of Oklahoma.
The trip to Missouri took a lot of the starch out of the snorting bronc, Old Casey. Crowded in her corner, old Bird, the small bay mare, barely moved. After the twenty-hour February ride under the flapping tarp, accompanied by a tailwind and a skiff of snow, we welcomed the sudden rush of warm air, heavy with the smell of burning coal oil and peach pie juices, that spilled out of the open door of Grandpa and Grandma Holmes’ house.
We soon moved to the Wise place, a half-mile east, where Dad worked the mismatched team daily. He constantly curbed the plunging, wall-eyed outlaw while clucking approval to the steady mare. She was reliable and good; I wondered how she was blemished. Close-mouthed, Dad wouldn’t say. Finally, too curious to keep quiet, I risked his anger: “What’s wrong with old Bird?” Redder in the face than ordinary, Dad ignored my question. Then it hit me. It was her farting. She farted too much, especially when we went to town. Out on the farm, where rude noises abounded nobody minded, but the closer we got to town, the louder she sounded, bringing grins and snickers from perfect strangers. Meanwhile I, sitting in the back of the wagon, grew increasingly hard of hearing as I stared straight ahead.
On the way home once, I asked, “What makes her do that?” Dad’s curt, “She’s been pasture bred and she’s jill-flirted,” told me nothing but shut me up. More questions would have brought the belt.
Months later, a strange wagon pulled up in the barn lot. “Mr. Holmes?”
Wary with strangers, Dad nodded. “Call me Clay.”
“We’re the Gilhams, father and son, from up on the county line. We heard you’re a trader.”
“I’ve been known to trade. What’s on your mind?”
“Do you have any horses you’d swap?”
“I doubt it,” Dad answered. “My team there in the barn suits me pretty well.”
The older Gilham’s eyes brightened when he saw Old Casey. “Would you trade your spotted horse?”
“No, he’s my riding horse.”
“What about the little mare? Would you trade her?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I might if I thought it was a fair trade,” Dad answered in a flat voice.
“Bring her out here in the light so I can see her better. But before you do there’s something I need to say. Mr. Holmes, we’re Gilhams and we’re Christians. If there’s any cheating to be done, we’d rather be cheated than cheat.”
“I’m just like you, only different,” Dad said. “If there’s any cheating to be done, I’d rather cheat than be cheated.”
Dad brought the mare out, farting every step, where Mr. Gilham looked her over but didn’t raise her tail.
“How does she work?”
“She’s a good worker. You can put her anywhere.”
“How would you trade her for my offside gelding?”
Dad examined the scrawny horse with care, taking special pains with his mouth, feet, and legs as he asked, “How does he work? Is he sound? Will he balk?”
Assured, Dad continued, “I’ll tell you what. With a little extra feed I think your horse will match my paint better than the little mare does. I’ll trade with you, even up, and you can change them right here.”
“You’ve got yourself a trade,” said Mr. Gilham, smiling broadly as he stuck out his hand.
Dad shook, limp handed, and the Gilhams quickly exchanged the two animals and drove off. That fart, fart, farting fading into the far distance was the sweetest sound I ever heard.
Within the week a tight-faced pair of Gilhams, announced by familiar sounds, drove up in the yard. The older man sputtered, “Mister, you didn’t tell us that mare was jill-flirted.”
“No,” Dad replied evenly before waving them off. “I didn’t. The man I got her from didn’t tell me, and I thought he wanted it kept a secret.”
Within six months after we’d moved to the Wise place, the owner stopped and told Dad he had a buyer for the farm, “And if you folks’ll move right away I’ll give you back the two hundred dollars you paid me for the year’s rent.”
“I don’t care,” Dad told him. “My tomato crop’s already burnt up. We’ll be out of here as soon as I can locate another place.”
The eighty-acre Bowers place, atop a long hill two miles east, was the same size as the Wise place, and, according to Dad, the only advantage to moving there was the hundred dollars a year Phil Bowers was asking for rent. On his return from looking the farm over, Dad told Mama, “It doesn’t have much in the way of outbuildings–I could throw a grown cat through any side of the barn–but the three-room house is tight, and you’ll be glad to know there’s a cellar out in back.”
“Good,” Mama said. “Is it big enough for a bed? You know how scared I am of cyclones and thunderstorms.”
“Yeah, it’s a full-sized cellar.”
“I’ve prayed about it, and I think we’d better take it,” Mama said. “What do you think?”
“It’s likely as good as we’re gonna get,” he replied. “The boys can help me haul water until I can build a windlass so we can get started on digging a cistern.”
“We’ll make do,” Mama said. “The Lord will provide.”
After we had moved to the Bowers place, on the coldest and worst night of the year, Dad unexpectedly put all five of us kids in his and Mama’s bed in the bedroom, while Mama slept in one of our beds in the front room. “Now behave yourselves and be quiet,” he told us. “Your mother’s sick, and I’m going to the Old Lady Johnson’s for help. I’ll be back as quick as I can.”
We knew, from the few times we’d been in bed with the boys at one end and the girls at the other, that we could have a lot of fun tickling and goosing one another, but Dad’s fierce look scared us. Besides, all thoughts of under-the-covers shenanigans vanished when we heard the unmistakable cry of a baby. Unbeknownst to us, Mama had got up to use the slop bucket, and when she grunted, the newborn baby fell headfirst into the bucket. The mingled sounds of the baby and Mama’s crying confused us; we hadn’t known she was pregnant, and we’d never before heard her cry; but after Dad and the old granny woman finally got up the ice-covered hill to the house, the sniffling sounds subsided and Dad came in and told us we had a new baby sister.
Afterwards, I wondered if the baby had cut her upper lip on the sharp bail of the slop bucket, but Mama said that wasn’t it. “I marked her months ago, when I hit my upper lip on the doorjamb,” she insisted. Even later, when doctors at Children’s Hospital explained that a harelip was a congenital defect, Mama still believed she’d marked the baby.
Dad never said whether he was afraid they’d have another disfigured child–Mama’s youngest brother’s wife bore two sons with cleft palates–or whether he simply thought six kids in twelve years was enough. Whatever the reason, he started practicing a form of birth control Mama and all her family strongly opposed. “The Bible plainly says that spilling a man’s seed upon the ground is an abomination unto the Lord,” Mama argued, and she and Dad fought pitched battles night after night.
One morning, following an especially bitter exchange, Dad split a bigger-than-usual pile of wood for the cookstove, then marched stiffly off to the barn, where he bridled Old Bess, grabbed a gunnysack to sit on, and mounted up. “Mind your mother,” he told us kids, before he turned to Mama and said, “I don’t aim to come back.”
“Suit yourself,” she said. “If you’re not back in a week I’ll put the kids in an orphans’ home and leave too.”
The instant Dad was out of sight down the hill, I ran to the barn and climbed up in the loft, where I waited until I saw him far below on the crippled mare, headed west and then north over Crane Creek and out of sight, beyond where the one-armed Hutchinson and his family lived.
Although I didn’t expect to ever see Dad again, near the end of the week Wanda first heard and then saw him riding up the hill swinging a hand bell announcing his arrival. “Dad’s home! Dad’s home!” she yelled, and all of us except Mama ran out to meet him.
“Here,” he said, handing down a sack from the mare’s withers. “It’s a little late, but better late than never.” Inside the sack were tiddlywinks for Joyce, rag dolls for Wanda and Lottie Jean, and rubber balls for Fred, Jay and me. He also had enough oranges for everyone, including Mama and himself. Best of all, shortly after he got home, Dad caught the mumps, they went down on him, and he no longer had a reason to spill his seed upon the ground.
Then another big change occurred. I was asleep in the smokehouse, where Fred and I slept in all but the coldest weather, when Fred roused me to announce that Dad had just been saved at the Osie revival. As Fred told it, Brother Keith and Brother Ericson had taken turns preaching until Dad finally relented and went forward. “And I got saved, too!” Fred crowed. “Mama thinks from the way I shouted, I got the Holy Ghost!”
“What’s the Holy Ghost?”
“I’m not sure, but Mama said that lots of times people who get it end up preaching.”
“You’re too young to preach.”
“I’m not either,” Fred said. “I’m eleven, going on twelve, and I’m going to go to Africa and save the heathen.” As he babbled on about his new plans, and I drifted off, I wondered if Fred would quit grabbing my little fingers and bending them all the way back.
The next morning Fred didn’t mention Africa, and he was as mean as ever. Dad was more subdued than usual, and when we sat down to eat breakfast, instead of Mama’s short, “Bless this food for the nourishment of our bodies, in Jesus’ name. Amen,” Dad stumbled through a longer prayer that sounded as if he was thinking out loud.
After several such halting attempts, Dad turned the praying back over to Mama. “You go ahead,” he told her, and I never saw him pray again. He sometimes attended church, and he closed his eyes when others prayed, but he didn’t take to religion the way Mama had hoped he would. To hear Mama tell it, Dad was in danger of backsliding when he started slipping off and visiting with Buck and Thelma Reavis and other godless people in the community who never attended church.
“Birds of a feather flock together,” she’d say as he headed out.
“Maybe so,” Dad once answered, “but at least we laugh and enjoy ourselves, which is more than what happens around here.”
Following Lottie Jean’s birth, Mama got sick and lost considerable weight. After she gradually recovered her strength, she sold enough popcorn seed and white cakes to WPA workers who parked in our yard to send off to Sears, Roebuck for a severe, off-white dress. When she’d altered the dress and put it on, Dad asked, “Is that your new dancing outfit?”
“Dancing outfit my foot,” she growled. “It’s my preaching dress.”
“Preaching dress? Since when?”
“Since right now. I’ve felt the call for a long time, but I didn’t do anything about it until Brother Keith encouraged me to fill in for him on fifth Sundays and other times when he can’t make it.”
“You know how I feel about preachers,” Dad said, “Especially women preachers.”
“I aim to do the Lord’s will,” she replied. “And if you don’t like it you can lump it.”
Mama ordinarily hated to have her picture taken, but she posed proudly, if self-consciously, holding her Bible in her left hand, before she set out on foot wearing her new ready-made dress on her first preaching assignment. Sallow faced and skinny as a shikepoke, Mama had glistening black hair, hooded eyes, a prominent nose and cheekbones, and a tightly compressed gash of a mouth that betrayed the one-eighth Indian blood she’d inherited from her papa’s full-blooded Creek grandma, Narcissa, an early transplant from Alabama to Indian Territory.
Acutely aware of how she looked, Mama had improvised a strip of leftover material into something like a scarf to help hide the goose-egg sized goiter growing off-center at the base of her long neck. I halfway expected the goiter to disappear after she went forward and got prayed for at a special healing service, but it kept right on growing. Maybe Mama’s faith wasn’t as strong as I’d thought it was. But if shedidn’t have enough faith, who in the world did?
In the evenings, after the rest of the family had gone to bed, Mama spent long hours reading her Bible on the kitchen table, with its faded red and white checkered oilcloth. Any time one of us kids got up to use the slop bucket in the front room or to get a drink out of the long-handled dipper in the water bucket on the washstand in the kitchen, we’d see her hunched over next to the dim coal oil lamp, slowly tracing the strange-sounding words she muttered as she committed long passages to memory. As for Dad, whether asleep or awake behind the closed door in the bedroom, he was bound to be resting in his usual position, face up, stiff and straight as a board on the far side of the cold bed.
In the irregular times when Mama got to preach–never enough to suit her, we could tell from her feverish, dissatisfied look–Dad stayed home with the baby. The rest of us kids went to church with her. Many of her sermons followed a grim and predictable routine of describing sinners caught in the clutches of an avenging God. But at her best and scariest, she put aside her anger and gradually worked herself into a joyous and ecstatic state marked by outbursts of whooping and hollering and even speaking in tongues, something entirely too rich and out of control for most of the staid churchgoers. Only two or three women in the congregation, including Dollie Fenton, who later preached on the radio, tried to match Mama’s shouting, but they couldn’t hold a candle to her carryings-on.
When it came time for the altar call, Wilma Wilkin pounded on the piano and led the congregation in singing “Come Home” or some other doleful hymn, while Mama searched out the worst sinner she could find. When she was lucky, the two dyed-in-the-wool old infidels in the community, Amos Shockley and Buck Earnhart, were present, and she, fearless in her righteousness, would march back and take on first one and then the other.
Once when she had Amos cornered on the back row, I was watching him shift back and forth on his gimp leg when, to my surprise, someone took hold of my hand. Faye Hilton, our nearest neighbor woman, stood in front of me, crying. “Don’t you want to come forward and be saved?” she asked. “Your dad and brother got saved at the revival. Now it’s your turn.”
“No, I’m not old enough.”
“How old are you?”
“The Lord said to suffer the little children to come unto Him. Besides, your mother was five when she got saved. Don’t you want to be like her?”
“I don’t think so.”
By slipping up on me unexpectedly Faye had caught me before I’d had time to think out my objections. All I could do was shake my head, hang on to the school desk, white knuckled, and think that I hadn’t had enough fun, hadn’t sinned enough to warrant giving it up forever. Even so, I was weakening and would likely have given in, had I not suddenly remembered: Jesus Himself hadn’t started His Father’s work until He was twelve. I didn’t have to become a Christian yet. I had four more years to sin and have fun. This time, when I said no to Faye, she believed me.
Shortly after I escaped salvation, Fred was tormenting me, grabbing my little fingers and twisting them all the way back, as he often did; but instead of running from him when I pulled loose, I grabbed him and shoved him down on the rough wooden floor in the front room as hard as I could. Before he could get on his feet, I had him in a tight armlock around his skinny neck, an armlock which, for the first time, he couldn’t break. As he bucked and twisted, I held on in desperation while Dad and Mama, their eyes averted, said nothing.
At last Fred pleaded, “Turn loose. You’re hurting me.”
“You’ve got to say, ‘Calf Rope’ first.”
“Okay, ‘Calf Rope,'” he whispered, admitting defeat, and when I turned him loose I felt even better than when I’d avoided being saved. I felt confident that from now on, if I could get hold of him I could whip him.
After we moved to the remote Snuffer place, Mama’s increasing bulk made it impossible for her to continue wearing her preaching dress. With nothing else fit to wear to church, she fell into a deep funk and let herself go. She quit wearing her waist, a strange-looking undergarment she’d made out of white cotton sugar sacks. On wash days, after the girls hung the clean clothes out to dry on the top wire of the barbed-wire fence separating the yard from the barn lot, I noticed that Mama’s waist, with its long, flapping strings, was no longer on the line. One evening I carried an armload of wood into the kitchen, where Mama, caught up in one of her reveries, stood next to the cookstove stirring the gravy. Imagine my surprise when I clearly saw her bare left breast through the hole in her raggedy old dress. Instead of looking away, I pulled the bill of my cap down, and then slowly threw one stick at a time into the woodbox, all the while checking her out.
At first I was struck by the symmetry and beauty of her full breast, but as I continued to stare, I felt an overwhelming and gut-wrenching mix of desire and revulsion. I’d seen little pink titties before, as well as various shades of brown ones, including my own, of course, but I was shocked to see Mama’s coal-black nipple. I’m not sure how long I stood there, transfixed, but it couldn’t have been long . Mama would have knocked me into the middle of next week with a stick of wood if she’d had any inkling that I’d turned into a peeping Tom–and that she was the one I was watching.
Mama’s increasing size and shabbiness not only kept her from going to church; according to her bitter account she didn’t step foot off the place for over a year. That’s not quite true, because when she and Dad were having a particularly hard time getting along, she sometimes left the house in a huff and walked a mile north to the Old Lady Parvin’s, where she stayed several hours or even overnight, until things cooled off.
Later, when Dad took off, supposedly for wheat harvest, there was a freer-than-ordinary atmosphere around our place. Mama let us make tunnels by putting the bedcovers over the kitchen chairs; she jacked up the potato soup with onions, something Dad never allowed when he was there; and we could smile and laugh as we worked, again something strictly taboo when Dad was there. Dad was the hit of the party when company came, but as soon as company left, he turned sour.
While he was gone we sometimes went overboard, ripping and tearing around in our newfound freedom until Mama lost patience. As she corralled us she tended to become harsh–too harsh–reaching for the razor strap hanging behind the kitchen stove. If we felt especially daring when she overreacted, we circled her, dancing around and around, making absolutely certain we were out of reach, chanting: “She’s a mean old sow, she eats her pigs. She’s a mean old sow, she eats her pigs.”Our outlandish chant often caused Mama to laugh, after which she’d throw down her strap, and the dangerous situation would be defused. We never rubbed it in or pushed our luck after she conceded. We knew better than that.
Dad was still gone the last of November. Few neighbors were brave enough to question Mama about his whereabouts, but when the Old Lady Parvin asked, Mama glared and mumbled something about him following the wheat harvest into North Dakota. Although everyone knew the wheat harvest was over, no one dared dispute Mama’s word.
Maybe she didn’t know where he was. She rarely mentioned him, and when one of us kids returned from the mailbox, she didn’t seem to be expecting a card from him. Naturally, none of us had enough nerve to come right out and ask: “Where’s Dad? When’s he coming home?”
Since Fred didn’t have to work on Thanksgiving and I didn’t have to go to school, he and I were free to take Old Tuffy and the single-shot .22 and go hunting.
“We’ll try to kill something special for Thanksgiving supper,” Fred said.
“All right,” Mama replied. “I’ll have the potatoes on.”
As usual, Fred carried the gun. Because he was fifteen and I was eleven, he got to take the first shot any time we had plenty of shells. But because I was the better shot, he often deferred to me. We were on Lester Meadows’ place, where Fred cut sprouts for a dollar a day, when he hissed, “Listen, Old Tuffy’s hit a trail.”
“Yeah,” I whispered, “and it sounds like he’s circling this way. Shouldn’t I take the gun?”
“Not yet” was hardly out of his mouth when a large jackrabbit, something we’d heard of but never seen in Missouri, hopped into the clearing and stopped. Quickly, shaky as always, Fred raised the gun and fired. To my amazement the rabbit fell over dead.
“How about that?” Fred laughed. “You thought I’d miss him, didn’t you?”
“Yes, and so did you,” I answered.
“Here you go,” Fred directed. “You can carry him. Won’t Mama be proud?”
“Yes, she will,” I answered, and I gladly carried the jackrabbit, two to three times the size of a cottontail, the half-mile home.
We were barely in the front yard when Wanda shouted, “Look, Mama, look!”
Mama busted out laughing, “Why, it’s a jackrabbit, the first since we left Oklahoma. You boys clean it while I heat up some water. We’ll have ourselves a feast.”
Fred held the rabbit spraddle-legged while I skinned it. But something was wrong. Big worms as long as my little finger and fat in the middle worked alive in the rabbit’s upper legs and back.
“Mama, come quick!” I yelled, pointing at the wrinkled grubs.
“Throw that nasty thing away,” she said. “No self-respecting family eats meat with warbles in it.”
Later that evening we ate potato soup with onions. For anyone still hungry, there was plenty of cornbread and milk. Next morning Old Tuffy’s belly bulged. He’d eaten our Thanksgiving treat, worms and all.
In addition to willingly handing over to Mama the dollar a day he made cutting sprouts, Fred came up with the idea of making some extra money by getting a head start on other hunters and trappers in our area. Some six weeks or so before hunting season opened, Jay and I helped him dig a round pit, a holding pen about six feet in diameter and less than three feet deep, with walls sloping back at the bottom to prevent possums from climbing out.
Although Jay and I helped, it was Fred who best remembered where all the likely looking hollow trees were located in various nearby stands of timber, and it was mainly Fred who climbed the trees and stirred the leaves in the dens, in search of the grinning, hissing creatures. Fred was adept at tormenting the possums with a stick until they rolled up into balls and pretended to be dead, after which he’d grab them by their rough, hairless tails and drop them on the ground. Then Jay and I quickly put them in a towsack so Old Tuffy wouldn’t damage their hides. A few of Tuffy’s teeth marks would cause the fur buyer to offer no more than a quarter for a hide he’d ordinarily pay fifty cents for.
After one especially good Saturday haul, we had dropped several possums into the crowded pit when Mama came out to watch. “Whatever you boys do, don’t tell anyone about this,” she said. “We sure don’t want the game warden to slip up here and arrest you.” I didn’t know what a game warden looked like, but the thought of being on the bad side of the stocky, unsmiling constable who sometimes showed up at local pie suppers gave me bad dreams.
The evening before hunting season officially opened, Jay and I had watered the possums and fed them a big bait of ripe persimmons, when we decided to have some fun by poking them with long poles to make them hiss and growl, bare their white teeth dripping with spit, then finally sull up and play dead.
Fred was up early the next morning helping Mama do chores before going to work when we heard him yell: “The possums are gone! The possums are gone!”
Sure enough, the pit was empty of everything except one of the poles that Jay and I had been playing with the previous evening. One end of the pole was in the center of the pit and the other lay on the upper edge.
“I bet one of you boys left that pole there,” Fred said.
“We did not,” I argued.
“You boys shut up,” Mama said. “What’s done is done. Ever since we started breakin’ the law I’ve been afraid something like this might happen. We need to start rendering unto Caesar what’s Caesar’s, like Jesus said.”
That night, the first legal night of hunting season, we heard Efton Robbins’ good spotted hound barking treed time after time in the woods west of the house, on the tract of land old-timers called the Nine-Forties. After Bobby Lynn Wilkin told him what he’d heard at school about Fred’s escaped possums, Efton walked the mile and a half to our house one evening carrying a towsack filled with stretched hides. “Here,” Efton said to Fred as he emptied the sack on the front porch. “From what I’ve heard, I figure I owe you at least half of what I caught across the road the other night.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Fred said, but I could tell from the way he looked at the six pelts on the thin, curved pine boards that he was going to accept Efton’s offer.
“Just be sure you bring my boards back after the hides are cured,” Efton said. “By the way, have you heard from your dad lately?”
“No, not lately,”Fred said. “Much obliged, Efton.”
When Efton left, Mama gathered the six of us around the kitchen table. “I think the Lord knows that from now on we aim to obey the laws of the land,” she said, “and He sent Efton over here with them possum hides as a sign. Let it be a lesson to all of us.”
Before I went to sleep I wondered if Jesus kept as close a watch on possums as He did on people and sparrows.
A few days after Dad showed up in December, he and Fred and I removed the box from the wagon and went to the woods, where we worked hard cutting and piling red and white oak poles for firewood between the bolsters of the running gears. We had the poles piled high and were ready to start to the house when Dad’s normally red face turned gray and he slumped to the ground, moaning. Fred and I hardly knew what to do–we were way back in the timber–but we improvised a pallet of sorts with our denim jackets, then helped Dad climb up on the poles, and as I walked alongside the wagon, making sure Dad didn’t fall off, Fred skillfully maneuvered the team and its load along the narrow trail. Once he miscalculated, hubbing a tree, and the load shifted, crushing the rifle’s walnut stock, but Dad wasn’t hurt, and we made it home safely.
We helped Dad inside, where he stayed in bed week after week. There was no talk of seeing a doctor, just as there hadn’t been a few years before, in northern Kansas, when he was bedridden all winter. The doctor he’d seen as a child in the state of Washington, where he’d had rheumatic fever, had said that he would have recurring spells and only bed rest might help.
Joyce cheerfully ran errands and cared for Dad after school and on weekends, but Mama, hard-faced and capable, did the bulk of it. We especially dreaded the nights when Dad screamed, “It wouldn’t hurt any worse if someone stabbed me in the back with a knife!” Scared and confused, I wondered why I never heard Mama praying for Dad. Dad was gruff, hateful even, but did that mean he had backslid and couldn’t be healed? Or had Mama herself lost faith because her goiter had kept growing since she’d twice proclaimed it healed before she quit attending church?
Maybe it was my fault. I knew God worked in mysterious ways. Was He punishing me because I’d refused to go up front at altar call on the night Mama thought I was under conviction? The rest of the kids were saved early, but I wanted to do some serious sinning before I became a Christian, even if it meant jeopardizing Dad’s health.
The holiday season looked bleak until Grandpa and Grandma Holmes showed up with toys, a week before Christmas, in Grandpa’s black ’34 Chevrolet coupe. I especially remember the Chinese checkers. After noticing soft blobs of fresh paint clinging to the holes on the underside of the board, I guessed that Grandma, resourceful and upbeat as ever, had managed to find second-hand toys, which she’d painted in her slap-dash way with her favorite colors, lavender and purple. Even better than the Chinese checkers were the gaudy red and green popcorn balls piled high in Grandma’s gleaming copper boiler. The sticky balls, hard and knobby as Fred’s fists, were just the ticket, even if some of us kids did make ourselves sick by eating too many before dinner.
Mama had announced ahead of time that since the Snuffer place was too far out of the way for Santa Claus to find, there was no point in putting up a tree; but she changed her mind after Joyce said she thought it would be nice to have a place to put our unexpected gifts from Grandma. Finding a cedar tree wasn’t easy, but after Fred finally spotted a scraggly three-foot-tall specimen, he and I took turns carrying it home. The hardest part was making a cobbled-up stand for holding the prickly tree in place in the empty, closed-off dining room.
Mama was in charge, as the seven of us strung buckbrush berries and popcorn on alternate rows of sagging strings. We cut out idiot-faced look-alike paper dolls from the previous year’s wish book that we had retrieved from the toilet. Now masquerading as angels, they added their comic effect to the gaily decorated cedar. By the time we were finished, only an occasional glimpse of green showed where the sharp smell came from. The transfigured little tree, with its rough, triumphant star fashioned from crinkled tinfoil, leaned cockeyed against the east window.
Mama’s high Christmas Eve spirits were greatly subdued the next morning, and when I opened the door to look at the tree it was gone. Whether she and Dad had gotten locked into one of their late-night arguments, or she simply couldn’t bear to continue the subterfuge, I never knew. She’d thrown the tree and its trappings into a snowbank on the east side of the house, where drifting snow soon covered it. There it rested until spring, when chirping English sparrows announced its resurrection.
All of us kids were sober-faced as we ate breakfast Christmas morning, but afterward, when Mama opened the long, mouse-proof wooden box we used as a bench behind the table, our bitterness over the banished tree disappeared. Even Grandma’s wonderful red-and-green popcorn balls took a back seat to the huge white cake, overflowing with coconut frosting. Mama had saved up almost enough money to buy ingredients for a coconut cake, and when the Raleigh man had come by, despite Dad’s angry protest from his bed, she’d traded an old hen for what she lacked, a small brown bottle of pure vanilla.
The weather turned bad after the first of the year, and a winter storm dropped eighteen to twenty inches of snow, with waist-high drifts in places. Unlike most winters in the Ozarks, when warm spells tended to quickly melt whatever snow fell, cold weather hung on, and additional snow built up, making it impossible to go to school.
At first it was fun to keep all the stock confined. All the stock included half a dozen Jersey cows and three or four half-Guernsey yearling heifers, plus two small, perhaps eight-hundred-pound mares and two half-Percheron colts that might eventually weigh eleven hundred pounds each. In addition, there were game chickens and guineas to care for, as well as various goats and pigs. Dad’s four horses, tied fast in the shed next to the hay barn, barely tolerated the nanny goats that crowded around and underneath them, and the nervous horses trampled and killed several newborn kids. Although I was too big and too tough to cry over a dead goat, it was never easy for me to pick up a frozen kid and toss it over the hill out of sight, far enough away so the bleating nanny couldn’t smell it and continue her grieving. Our nannies, part Toggenburg, part Angora, weren’t heavy milkers, but I preferred the sweet-tasting, easily digestible goat milk with its ever-so-faint billygoat smell over cows’ milk any time. Maybe my preference for goat’s milk came, as Mama thought, from way back when, as a baby, I couldn’t tolerate either her milk or cow’s milk.
The novelty of caring for the beleaguered animals wore off quickly, turning into mere drudgery. And as the bad weather hung on, our scant feed supplies shrank at an alarming rate. The mixed timothy and lespedeza hay packed in the haymow was the most easily accessible, but following Dad’s warnings, we doled it out a few pitchforks at a time. When Mama countermanded Dad’s instructions, it was hard to know what to do. We knew that a man was supposed to be head of his household, but sometimes Mama’s judgment seemed better than Dad’s.
After milking the cows in the stanchions, Fred and I often hung up our buckets and then searched along the sides of each cow’s backbone for boil-like swellings, sure signs of warbles, which infested the animals. With practice, we became adept at pressing firmly downward with our thumbs and popping the grubs out of the cows’ backs.
“I get dibs on Old Pet,” I told Fred when we first started looking for warbles, and since she was special, I always saved her for last. The first calf in a string of extra-good muley heifers out of Old Frankie, who herself was sired by Wiley Wise’s naturally polled Jersey bull, Old Pet was the best cow Dad had ever owned. Heavier boned, deeper bodied, and straighter backed than most Jerseys, she was cream colored all over. Old Pet’s bag was extra big, her tits were just right, neither too big nor too little, and she could be counted on to give twice as much milk as any of the other cows, except for Old Frankie.
The prize cow had a couple of drawbacks, though. She was reluctant to let her milk down, and once she let it down she was hard to milk. Dad’s technique of milking, using forefinger and thumb, was slow and ineffectual, and Fred, too fidgety to sit still for the few minutes it took to milk a cow, couldn’t be depended on, which left Mama, the best milker of us all, to do the job. Later, when I’d mastered Mama’s furiously thorough style of milking, the folks relaxed and let me take over.
I became immensely fond of Old Pet. While I was both intrigued and repulsed by the increasingly numerous and colorful accounts I heard from fellow farm boys who more or less openly admitted, and even bragged about, their exploits with animals, I was in a bind. As long as Dad was bedfast I didn’t worry about him, but Mama was always nosey, and she was quite capable of slipping around and spying on Fred and me and then beating us with Dad’s leather horsewhip if she thought we were up to something she and Jesus didn’t approve of. More than once she had described how her mother had beat her brother Reuben with a braided blacksnake whip, “within an inch of his life,” as she approvingly put it, for some awful but unnamed transgression.
Prepubescent, and ignorant past belief or understanding, I was finally scared away from Old Pet by my fear of monsters. One dark night, after seeing what I thought was a witch wearing a cape perched in the top of a blackjack tree, I asked Mama, “Do you believe in witches?”
“I most certainly do,” she replied. “Don’t you?”
“Maybe. I think I saw one tonight. Where do witches come from?”
“They come from the devil. Witches do the devil’s work, and angels work for the Lord.”
“Was Jesus an angel?”
“In a way He was,” she said, “but He was more than an angel. He was flesh and blood.”
“And God’s a spirit?”
“That’s right, the Holy Spirit. Why do you ask?”
“I just wondered.”
“You’re asking entirely too many questions, young man.”
Mama would have skinned me alive if I’d asked her what I most wanted to know: If a cross between a human and an animal was bound to be a monster, as I feared, and a cross between the devil and a human was a witch, as Mama had said, what about a cross between the Holy Spirit and a human? Was Mama’s sweet Jesus just another kind of boogerman meant to keep kids in line, something like Old Santy’s job at Christmas time?
Early in the spring, after the weather broke but before Dad was able to get around, his rich sister, Anna, and her husband, George, from western Oklahoma came bearing two little cans of chop suey, which they insisted we have for supper. Mama heated it up, and we all tried it, but it wasn’t fit to eat. Mama’s leftover fried mush was much better. After supper George and Anna loaded us kids in their new car and took us to the Princess theater in Aurora, where they treated us to our first picture show, Tombstone, the Town Too Tough to Die. It was a grand experience, marred only by Mama’s disapproving looks upon our return. Even though Mama hadn’t seen any picture shows, she knew they were the work of the devil.
Next morning after chores and breakfast, Mama, George and Anna stood by Dad’s bed in the downstairs bedroom, where the four of them held a lengthy, whispered discussion. From our vantage point outside the open door we, the oldest kids, gleaned from bits of conversation that George and Anna, childless, were bent on trying out two of us kids, with the idea of adopting if everything panned out.
It sounded as if they were leaning toward picking Wanda and me. Fred, their first choice, was immediately vetoed, and Joyce was soon out of the question. Quick to please and hard-working, they would have been anyone’s pick. The folks sounded reluctant to part with Wanda and me, but they were weakening when Anna, trying to cinch the deal, said, “With four kids left, you surely wouldn’t miss two of them.” Outraged, Mama ran them out of the house and off the place.
After they were gone, Dad cried great heaving sobs, as if he were a big, hurt baby. That was when I learned that a grown man could cry. Mama didn’t cry, not then or later, when we overheard Dad and her agreeing that it looked as though they’d have to give up all six of us. I wondered how living in an orphanage would feel, and whether the authorities might send Fred to reform school, where older and meaner kids went.
By late spring Dad was able to help with the extra-big garden Mama had put out. Before the garden started producing, he traded a small ruptured pig he’d sewed up for a big rank billy goat, which we butchered but couldn’t eat. The long-whiskered billy goat, with his huge swinging balls, stank when he was alive, and none of us, not even Mama or Fred, could stand the stench steaming out from under the lid of the cast-iron dutch oven. As we disposed of all traces of the goat, Dad said he should have known better than to try to get ahead of Clovis Friend in a trade. We later ate possum with sweet potatoes–the sweet potatoes were much tastier than the possum–and Mama boiled five fledgling screech owls that Fred and I shot. Although they were young, the owls were stringy and tough. Even Old Tuffy turned up his nose at the prospect of eating screech owl.
The folks heard there was relief for the poor at the county courthouse in Cassville. At Mama’s urging, Dad reluctantly hired Joe Madewell, who took us in his touring car through the open range, on a farm-to-market road, to the square, where we lined up with many others needing help. I felt small and ashamed, but I dared not say anything. Our round of cheese, big as a washpan, looked and tasted good but I ate too much and puked out of the back of the open car on the way home. Grapefruit–oversized pale oranges, I first thought–were bitter as gall. The stiff blue chambray shirts were fine, but the work shoes had dead giveaway toes, and the overalls had stripes wide as a convict’s. At school Monday morning everyone would know. Oh well, who cared? Some of the others students would be wearing the same outfits.
After the weather had moderated and Dad had gained enough strength to be up and about most of the time, I became increasingly aware of how severely limited my opportunities for sinning were. I might have practiced my lying since I was so poor at it, but the returns looked slim. Not that I had reservations about lying. It just didn’t seem to pay.
But then the combs of the old hens started getting red, a sure sign they’d soon be laying. Although some of the hens returned to the henhouse to lay, most hid their nests in the barns, either under the mangers in the milk barn or in the hayloft of the log barn. I left the eggs alone in the henhouse, that kind of stealing was too flagrant, but I searched out every hidden nest I could find and soon had a bucket of eggs stashed under loose hay.
It would be a long walk to Osie, three miles each way, but maybe I could go on Saturday when Dad rode Old Barney to Aurora. I could give Fred and Jay the slip, as I sometimes did when I hid out and read a book instead of going hunting with them. As I uncovered the milk bucket brimming with eggs, I saw with horror that a hard freeze the night before had cracked every last one. Emmitt Hilton wouldn’t buy cracked eggs, so what was I to do?
A few days earlier I heard the the folks discussing how few eggs the hens were laying. Later Dad heard a racket in the henhouse, after which he chased off Mart Johnson’s redbone hound. Dad said little, but he picked a tiny hole in each end of an egg, sucked out the white, then carefully blew arsenic through a straw next to the yolk in the shell. Finished, he sealed the holes with paraffin and placed the altered egg in the nest where the broken shells lay.
While Dad kept vigil the hound returned. Again there was a commotion in the henhouse, but Dad quietly waited until the dog left before he examined the disturbed nest. “I believe that’ll break him of suckin’ eggs,” he said.
A couple of days later Mart mentioned that he’d found his dog dead in a manger.
“What do you reckon happened to him?” Dad asked.
“I don’t know,” Mart answered. “He was a young dog.”
“That’s too bad,” Dad said.
As I looked at my bucket of ruined eggs, I thought about Mart’s dead dog. Dad surely wouldn’t kill me if he found out, but he would likely give me a terrible whipping with the leather plow lines doubled, the same way he’d whipped Fred for a much smaller offense.
I thought about hiding the broken eggs in the woods. But then, remembering that Mama sometimes cooked with cracked eggs, I trudged to the house, bucket in hand, practicing the lies I’d been neglecting. “Look, Mama,” I said. “I found a huge nest in the loft. Last night’s freeze must have broken the eggs. Can you still use them?” From her narrowed eyes I could tell that she and God knew. But they didn’t have proof.
“Yes, I can use them.” My lie held.
After this narrow escape I backed off, but I still needed money. Then good luck came, and I didn’t have to steal or even lie this time. I was in the brooderhouse checking on a hen with a clutch of eggs that Mama thought was overdue, when, sure enough, baby chicks peeped out underneath her. When I lifted the hen, I saw that all the eggs–perhaps ten–were hatched except for a big, odd-shaped one resembling double-yolked eggs I’d seen.
After hurrying to the barn, where I quickly threw hay to hungry animals, I shirked other chores and raced back to the brooderhouse. When I lifted the hen off the chicks again, the big egg moved, and I saw that the last chick had almost finished pipping. Suddenly the shell split, and there lay an awkward, struggling, spraddle-legged, two-headed baby chicken. Strictly speaking, it had just one over-sized head, but two beaks and four eyes. As I watched, astounded, the grotesque creature gained strength. Soon it pecked at crushed oats and drank from an upended glass jar, first with one beak and then the other.
By midday all the rest of the kids had come to see my odd find. They wanted to hold it but I, remembering the fates of earlier handled chicks, wouldn’t allow it. Even Dad and Mama took time to look. With nightfall approaching, I left my post, confident that the clucking hen would take good care of my prize. That night I didn’t walk in my sleep, as I often did, but I slept fitfully and I had a dream in which I dreamt I was rich. Everyone passing down our road, whether in a car, on foot, or ahorseback, stopped and gladly paid a nickel to see my wonderful two-headed chicken.
Early the next morning before breakfast I raced to the brooderhouse, where the mother hen sat in a corner with her feathers fluffed out protectively over her new brood. Lifting the hen with one hand, I gently stirred the chicks as I looked for my precious freak. It was gone. Looking around, I saw it a few feet away, flattened, with dark blood oozing from a deep hole in the top of its head. I picked it up tenderly, then ran to the house to show Mama.
Mama knew everything. When I held out the limp chick she nodded approvingly, “Mothers know when something’s wrong with their babies, and they know what to do.”
As I stood in front of her, shaking, Mama had the same faraway look I’d seen many a time when she stood late in the evening in the dim light, watching over her brood of six. Only now, instead of lingering over the cruel scar on the baby’s upper lip, she stared at my big head.
I dropped the dead chick and ran like hell.
History as Literature: The Letters of Djuna Barnes and Emily Holmes Coleman (1935-1936)
The Diary Of Lorenzo Greene
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At the end of May (1930) Woodson suggested that I take a two-week vacation, then come in and talk with him upon my return. Having completed the study of Negro Employment in the District of Columbia, I was happy to leave for New York.
The Gazette Girls of Grundy County
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The first problem was to find a paper we could buy with a down payment of $500.00 and a debt of not more than $1,500.00. That would leave us with a few hundred for operating expenses until we “started making a profit.” We knew we wanted a Linotype machine, since setting type by hand, as some country newspapers of that eara were still doing, would leave us little time to write, interview, and pursue the more interesting phases of newspaper work.
The World War I Diary of Charles Ponton
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How the world fell into the catastrophe of World War I will always be something of a mystery. It was a war with neither clear issues nor simple villains. Perhaps the ultimate cause was the rulers themselves, and their greed and vanity as quaintly ludicrous as the gilded eagle sprouting from the top of the war-helmet crown of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The ambitious Kaiser and his government wer emore to blame than others, but the leadership cultures of Europe, and the behavior of European governments, had much in common in 1914. The Germans were hardly in a class by themselves.
A Pickpocket's Tale: The Autobiography of George Appo
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George Appo was no ordinary criminal. Forgotten by the time of his death in 1930, Appo was a quintessential underworld celebrity in nineteenth-century New York City. He grew up in poverty, supported himself by picking pockets, became an opium addict, engaged in counterfeiting schemes, and was incarcerated for over a decade in five different prisons. In 1894, his tales of police corruption before an investigative committee generated not only front-page attention in the penny press, but earned him hatred int he underworld. Perhaps most extraordinary, George Appo wrote an autobiography.
The Spanish American War Journal of Amy Wingreen
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I have come to care for the sick on the transport and also have in my charge a very sick nurse. She was ill on the boat going to Cuba and has been ever since, and if she ever gets home alive she will do well. I have not been on deck at all, and not a tinge of seasickness, though the boat has tossed a good deal. The things in our state room slip and slide around, and I after them. I look out now and then and catch a glimpse of the sweeping sea and smell the ocean air and long for a billow to spray me. My prayer was, when I was so ill at Siboney, that I might rather be buried at sea, but better still, that I might be privileged to land on American soil again.
LAND FEVER:The Downfall of Robert Morris
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SPECULATION MANIA said the headline of a boston newspaper in 1790. The speculative nature of Americans was widely commented upon during the early years of the Republic, both by Americans themselves and by visitors from abroad.
Around the Horn: The Journal of a Voyage to San Francisco
On January 24, 1848, gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill on the American River near Coloma, California. When news of the strike reached the East it precipitated the first and greatest Gold Rush; the entire nation was soon in the grip of mass hysteria. An obsession with getting to the gold fields of California by any means and at any cost animated an America that, in the wake of the recent war with Mexico and other events of the 1840s, was fueled with a new sense of patriotism and manifest destiny. From the Eastern states, throngs immediately set out for the “Golden West”; in the next year prospectors numbering in the tens of thousands streamed overland and by ship toward San Francisco.
For Easterners living near the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, a sea voyage seemed the most feasible way to go, while those living west of the Alleghenies and inland from the Gulf preferred overland routes. Over five hundred ships set out from Atlantic and Gulf ports in 1849. Of those argonauts traveling by sea, some sailed to Nicaragua, the Isthmus of Panama or various points in Mexico and made their way northward. However, the majority, numbering approximately five thousand, chose the all-water route, a fifteen-thousand-mile sea voyage that took between six months and a year. On February 9, 1849, twentythree-year-old William H. DeCosta and ninety-five other passengers, all lured by the hope of fortune and adventure, boarded the ship Duxbury of Boston, bound for the promised land. Like many argonauts, DeCosta recorded the incidents of the voyage in a journal.
Two hundred and fifty ships sailed from Massachusetts in 1849, one hundred and fifty from Boston alone. Because so many ships were needed for the droves of argonauts, dozens of shipyards on the Eastern seaboard worked around the clock, as all types of ships were repaired and converted to accommodate the rush. Obsolete vessels that had long been retired were once again put to sea, and New England’s whaling fleet was even converted for paying customers by turning cargo bays into temporary—and at times dismal—living space. The Duxbury, built in Duxbury, Massachusetts, in 1833, had been through a number of owners and captains in her fifteen years of service. An elegant threemasted vessel ninety-five feet long by sixty-two feet wide, and extremely hard to maneuver, it was said to “require all of Massachusetts Bay to turn.” With the shortage of ships there was also a shortage of captains, and frequently incompetent captains were put in charge of argonaut ships. The numerous disputes between the Captain and passengers of the Duxbury, recorded in DeCosta’s journal, suggest that this may have been the case with Captain William C. Varina who commanded this particular voyage.
Thousands of prospectors formed companies to make their enterprise a group effort. The Duxbury was one of eighty-eight company vessels that sailed from Boston in 1849. She had been chartered by the Old Harvard Company and another unnamed company. There were, however, individuals like DeCosta who booked single passage. During the first year of the Gold Rush the fare for the all-water route to California ranged from seventy-five dollars for a steerage passage to four hundred dollars for a private cabin, and slightly less for partial land routes. Fares were at a premium and ship owners from Maine to the Gulf states charged as much as their consciences would allow.
Throughout the voyage, the Duxbury encountered her share of inclement weather, but the sea could also be very boring, sometimes for days on end. To combat the monotony, passengers fished, kept journals, played cards, told stories and jokes, read, caught birds, and fired their rifles and shotguns at practically anything that happened to pass by. Anything that passed by the ship excited the passengers’ curiosity—a prowling shark, a spouting whale, an encounter with another vessel, or, as they neared Cape Horn, the sighting of a variety of birds.
There was a chronic need for reading material aboard the Duxbury. Reverend Brierly, who acted as chaplain on the voyage, disseminated religious and scientific tracts, and books brought aboard by passengers were in constant circulation. The two shipboard manuscript newspapers—The Petrel and its successor, The Shark—were largely the enterprise of DeCosta, who learned his trade working for a small newspaper in Plymouth, but they also published prose, poetry and cartoons submitted by the passengers. In addition to participating in the publication of the shipboard papers, the argonauts on the Duxbury passed the time with a variety of organized activities. Every morning the Reverend Brierly read a chapter from the Bible, said a prayer and delivered a short sermon. On Wednesdays he held a prayer meeting, on Sundays a class meeting, and on Tuesdays and Fridays he mediated a lyceum to examine moral, ethical and social issues of the day. A drill team, the Duxbury Sea Fencibles, was formed and, at least during the first part of the voyage, practiced with enthusiasm. As on almost all the argonaut vessels, musicians on board got together and formed a band to serenade the passengers. Singing and dancing on the Duxbury was a frequent occurrence and DeCosta attests to the proficiency of the musicians. Popular as it was, however, organized entertainment and even religious instructions eventually lost their appeal as the journey drew on. By the time the Duxbury rounded the Horn and entered the Pacific, such activities had become intermittent.
Jokes and pranks were another way of alleviating the tedium and DeCosta’s journal records several such instances. For mariners, the crossing of the equator was an occasion for fun at the expense of “greenhorn” Yankees. Many argonaut journals describe the pranks that were perpetrated by “Neptune” (usually a member of the ship’s crew, dressed to fit the role) who boarded the ship at the line. Although Neptune’s exploits while a guest on the Duxbury were generally viewed as good fun, we also get a sense of how violent they could be, and of the subsequent friction when some of the passengers didn’t find them amusing.
As a rule the food aboard the Duxbury was like that on most argonaut vessels: awful. The shipboard menu usually included salt pork or mackerel, plum duff (boiled pudding), potatoes and hardtack, a large, unsalted, hardbaked biscuit. Problems involving the “quality and quantity” of food were particularly noteworthy on this voyage. Because of them, a nearmutiny ensued. The Duxbury galley was not equipped to accommodate the over one hundred passengers and crew. The Duxbury argonauts were on short rations during the entire first leg of the journey-from Boston to Rio. Once in Rio they promptly related their experience to the United States consul, who was used to hearing complaints by dismayed argonauts. The consul could do little. The final result was that a number of both passengers and crew left the ship for good and the galley was expanded, so that from Rio to San Francisco the voyagers fared much better.
Rio de Janeiro was the first of only two ports of call on the entire voyage. DeCosta was obviously impressed by the attractive and exotic city, and its inhabitants who thrived on the tourism that the Gold Rush provided. During the years 1849-1850 thousands of California-bound Easterners flooded the city’s hotels, saloons and cultural points of interest.
As the Duxbury sailed southward from Rio, dropping temperatures and the presence of a wide variety of birds heralded the most dangerous part of the voyage: the rounding of the Cape itself. Of the argonaut vessels leaving Boston in 1849, only a handful, mostly smaller vessels, attempted the Strait of Magellan. The majority regarded the longer rounding of the Cape, which took up to forty days, to be the safest route, especially since so many were quite old and only minimally rigged for safety. Although at times the Duxbury faced bitter cold and heavy rain, the experience was not a wholly unpleasant one.
Once the ship made it into the Pacific she was greeted with relatively calm seas. It was customary for the argonauts to stop at either Callao, Peru, or Valparaiso, Chile, to replenish supplies; the Duxbury did neither. Instead Varina decided to call on Juan Fernandez Island, the reputed setting of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Even during the Gold Rush, the handful of inhabitants on the scenic island—which had once been the site of incarceration for Chilean criminals—saw no more than fifty ships, and so treated the passengers on visiting vessels like royalty. By all accounts, the island was a virtual paradise; there was an abundance of wood, fruit, fresh water, fish and game, as well as breathtaking scenery. Easterners were fascinated by the island’s fame. DeCosta and many other argonauts apparently believed Crusoe had been a real person.
From Juan Fernandez to San Francisco, DeCosta’s entries become less frequent and his overall enthusiasm, so evident in the first part of the narrative, wanes. As the Duxbury neared the “promised land,” passengers turned more to themselves, and concentrated on their preparations for disembarking. Weeks before they entered the Golden Gate, the ship was alive with a great flurry of activity as gear was checked, rechecked, and made ready for the gold fields.
On the evening of August 20, the Duxbury ran aground on a reef just north of the entrance to San Francisco Bay, at a place that in Spanish times had been called Punta de Baulenas (Point of Whales). DeCosta says very little about this incident, but in fact it was nearly catastrophe. Luckily, the Duxbury sustained very little damage, and at the next high tide passengers and crew lowered the ship’s boats and maneuvered them to pull her off the rocks. Although she would safely reach her destination the following day, the Duxbury would forever leave her name on the reef and point. Coastal survey charts of 1851 list this point as Duxbury Point and the reef as Duxbury Reef.
The “Journal of a Voyage to San Francisco” is not so much the story of a gold seeker, as of a young man caught up in the spirit of American adventurism. DeCosta stayed in San Francisco for two years, where he held an editorial position on a daily newspaper. Afterwards he returned to his home and family in Charleston, Massachusetts. Ready to settle down, and somewhat bettered in fortune, he established the Charleston Advertiser in collaboration with an old acquaintance. He edited the Advertiser for twenty years. He also served as postmaster of Charleston under President Lincoln, and after his paper went bankrupt he worked as a real estate broker until his death in 1878.
The excerpts that appear here are from a revised version of the “Journal of the Passage Duxbury” that abruptly stops on June 23 with the words, “Journal to the Devil.” DeCosta must have started revising and transferring the early entries sometime after leaving Rio, since the present journal bears the stamp of a Rio stationer. DeCosta’s journal is lively and interesting—valuable to both the historian and to anyone interested in the interactions of a rowdy crew of American adventurers in the mid-nineteenth century. A writer by trade, he had the ability to dramatize even the most routine events. Accuracy of detail was also important to him, however. Notes of wind and weather conditions, as well as the ship’s longitude and latitude, originally prefaced every entry in the journal. However, since they are not necessary to its general interest, they have been deleted from this edited version. In addition, grammar, capitalization and punctuation have been regularized and made consistent with contemporary usage. For example, where DeCosta writes “One of which done some damage,” we have silently changed the past participle “done” to the past tense “did.” Historians may want to consult both versions of the journal in the manuscripts collection of the Huntington Library.
Special thanks to Peter Blodgett of the Huntington for providing us with both versions of the journal and for suggesting a starting point for research. A special thanks also to Irene Stachura of the San Francisco Maritime Historical Park, who went out of her way to investigate the history of the Duxbury Reef. We are additionally indebted to the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, the Bostonian Society, the Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, and the Vancouver Maritime Museum for providing information on the life of DeCosta and the historical events in which he took part. Many of the footnotes and general information in the introduction are based on material from Oscar Lewis’ Sea Routes to the Gold Fields (Knopf), and Octavius Thorndike Howe’s Argonauts of ’49 (Harvard U.P.), both of which are time-honored classics in the field. A more recent study of argonaut voyages, James P. Delgado’s To California by Sea (University of South Carolina Press), also proved helpful.
Ship Duxbury, February 9th, 1849
Amid the adieus of our friends and the cheers of the spectators, we cast off from the wharf and with a flowing sail ran down the harbor, dismissing our pilot at the low in Sight, at three o’clock, pm, and ere the sun had touched the water in the west, we were far from the sight of land, home, friends, and everything dear with nothing before and around us save the mighty waste of waters. I am again upon the water, but not like most of my fellow passengers, filled with big hopes of a speedy return, bent down with a burden of gold. No—but I go with a hope, a small hope of doing something—what, I may not tell. I have left a home full of kindness and happiness and everything that makes home “sweet home,” and this simply for one object, when that object is gained, the wind will be too slow for my returning spirit; but till gained I must be content to think only of home and forego its many pleasures. Before I left home I knew that ere an hour would pass on ship board, I should be full of regret, and so it is: but I am not ashamed that I feel it or that I express it here, for it fills my mind with calm, pure thoughts, and is sweet food for one’s reflections. At eight o’clock we made the Highland light of Cape Cod, and before daylight were off soundings.
Saturday 10th—It is very rough, but the wind being fair we are flying before it like a frightened deer—now upon the top of a great foaming sea and then dashing across a long dark, blue valley, we again climb to the crest of some great rolling mountain, only again to be hurried from its brink to another frothy valley. The rolling and heaving of the ship has already wrought a mighty change in the faces of the passengers, as it has also in the saloon, between decks—chests, trunks, boxes, etc, are darting hither and thither with the motion of the vessel, in the most beautiful confusion, and as many poor, pale looking devils trying in vain to secure them. But it seems of no use for as soon as they get their chests fairly secured, their trunks break loose, and when their trunks are secure, they break loose themselves, quite often, and go rolling among boots, coats, buckets, broken plates and dippers of boiled rice, on the floor. The effect of this rough weather is also seen on deck. The ship’s sides from morn till night are constantly crowded, and each as he places his head over the rail, or inserts it through the rigging, like a prisoner with his face to the grates, seems anxious to vie with his fellow in paying tribute to Jonah1. The tables today like church in summer afternoons, are very thinly attended; but when the jaws of an hundred men go willingly to work again who will pity the poor cooks.
Sunday 11th—No service today. The minister is too sick to officiate, but has distributed tracts and books and intends, as soon as practicable, to form a bible class.2 We are now in the Gulf Stream. The air and water are warm and it appears very much like summer; and the snow and ice are melting and dropping off our sides and rigging. Great coats are fast being dispensed with. One can scarcely conceive the change that has taken place in so short a period, a day or two ago we were in the midst of winter, but now we are revelling in warm sunshine.
Monday 12th—Saw a sail leeward—a brig. In the morning saw blackfish and porpoises about us, also a rainbow, and the old saying of “rainbow in the morning, etc” was repeated, and will be seen with how much truth. A committee was chosen to draft resolutions for the health, comfort, and government of the passengers. The Captain has also demanded all powder of the passengers to be placed for safe keeping in the magazines. After lying for some time shipping heavy seas, one of which did some damage—washed bathing house overboard, knocked off head and head gear, washed one man overboard, who succeeded in getting on board again by catching hold of some running rigging—two, others were knocked down, one of whom had his head jammed and the other his arm out and a third was knocked down the gangway into the saloon, but without injury. The wheel was carried away which disabled two more men and left us at the mercy of the storm, in which condition we remained till daylight when, the gale abating and the wind veering to the northward, we repaired the wheel and once more proceeded on our voyage with a flowing sail.
Tuesday 13th—The gale of last night has blown us back to the Gulf Stream. We have only one stove in the saloon, around which a few crowd and sit all day deceiving themselves into the belief that there is a fire in it, but they are very much mistaken, it is only a Smoke that they are enjoying.
Thursday 15th—We are now living, or rather staying, like so many hogs from the fact that the cooks can not cook enough to satisfy our voracious appetites: fresh pork is the chief of our living just at this time, and that in very small quantities.3 As soon as a panfull arrives on the table it instantly disappears without apparently diminishing the least appetites of the mob. Our chief cook has thrown up the honors of his office, preferring peace to curses, of which he has had not a few bestowed upon him. There is trouble too among the stewards, and while they are wrangling among themselves, we poor devils are left to hunger and thirst.4 Today the ship’s company has been divided into larboard and starboard sides, one half to eat at a time—we are to have two meals and at night a lunch. The first meal of this announcement was like the previous ones—when the eatables are placed on the table, one dips too deep in the rice, another has no sugar and butter, for which he bawls lustily; a third gets all the beans, and the fourth, who has been waiting patiently for the pudding dish for half an hour, at length receives it, and straining his eyes (for it is dark in the saloon) he at last catches a glimpse of the bottom of the pan, but pudding, plum pudding, never greets his hungry eyes. I mentioned above in one sentence, rice, butter, sugar, beans and pudding, but no one will suppose we have them all at one meal. Oh no, of course not, though we live on double dish, for instance—we have at one time boiled rice and molasses, again we have rusty mackerel and potatoes, then potatoes and salt fish for a change, then beans and pork and again for a change pork and peas, then beef and potatoes and still again for change potatoes and pork, and for luxuries we have pea-coffee and tea, for the sweetening of which we have at times marched in file to the cabin door and had it dealt out to us by the steward, the Captain not thinking us competent to sweeten it ourselves, and so, himself, disperses to us the bounties on board the good Ship Duxbury.5 There’s a big storm brewing, the ingredients of which I shall soon record.
We are all busy in taking up the carpets, airing the bedding, etc. I say all because the greater portion are so doing, but then there are some on board who feel too much riled to attempt it. I was in the same situation half an hour ago, but since the sun has come out, I have entirely recovered and now think that a man who will persist in being cross when the sun shines is unworthy of breathing the pure air of heaven! The sun comes bright from a pure genial sky, the deep blue sparkles, and the wind comes soft from the distance—who would not like the sea today?—so calm and beautiful—to see it as I see it now is worth almost an age of sorrow—to be filled with such calm, pure thoughts. But around me I see many who will not feel or appreciate its many beauties, on the contrary, they seem bound about with bands of gold. I will not say that gold is not my god, for it is, and further that it is the god of almost every man, though there are few that will acknowledge it. I look upon it as a good god and a great operator in human affairs. Gold is charity and makes love, it produces smiling faces, heals the sick and afflicted, and, in fact, does everything great and good—therefore let us call it good, looking for no evil, and leave it, the mighty engine, to revolve everything save the great wheel of time.
Friday 16th—Everyone on board is trying to amuse himself in some way or other but that which is most popular, and which seems to be every man’s chief ambition is “keeping a journal. “6 Not wishing to be an inconspicuous character among them I delve at it with the rest, and this will undoubtedly be a great book of reference.
Sunday 18th—Services by the chaplain today. The prayer was a very feeling one, and it reminded us all very forcibly of home and friends. Every man’s thoughts present seemed to have wandered home; and whose more than mine. On looking into the dark places in the bottom of my chest today, I found a Bible. The Sabbath was always the most pleasant day of the week and this old Bible, and its recollections brought past days and their associations back again.
Monday 19th—This morning we were all thrown into confusion by the cry of “Porpoises!” and on hurrying to the deck found everybody going stark mad. I instantly peeped into the rigging to see the sport. It is impossible to describe the prevailing excitement. The water about us was all alive as they darted by us like so many young devils, bent on enjoying life in their own way; and they did enjoy life from the fact that we did not make soup of a bone of them. They stopped with us about five minutes and then departed, as did the excitement, which their coming occasioned. Singing and recitation in the evening on the house.
Wednesday 21st—Our little steward, Frank Ball, sang a song of his own composition, giving an account of his trials and sufferings on board the Duxbury. It was quite rich. Meeting of the passengers to inquire why they had not received the promised lunch at night. A committee was chosen to request the Captain to serve out navy rations of sugar (2 oz. per day).
Thursday 22nd—This busy Washington’s birthday, we have been as patriotic as circumstances would admit. There was firing in the forenoon and there would have been feasting if we could have got anything to feast on. I got out my gun and then put it away again, without discharging it, not seeing anything on board the Duxbury to excite anyone’s national feelings or fill a camp with glory; in fact, if I could have had my choice in the matter, I should rather have preferred to have been filled with plum pudding. Today among other things we have formed a lyceum, which, from the day, is called the “Washington Lyceum.” It will, undoubtedly, be a great affair, and they will undoubtedly get along together harmoniously. It seems more like summer today than on any previous one- we have got up our main royal, and with light sails number fifteen; and are sliding over the heaving waters as beautiful as an eagle on pinion.
Friday 23rd—A large sulphur bottom whale broke water close to us this morning—he was about 75 or 100 feet in length. The mass of the passengers, or in future, let me say mob, had a fair view of the monster, and were generally filled with wonder and amazement. When our tea was brought down at night, it not being sweet enough, we took our mugs and went in procession to the cabin to get more sugar, in which we succeeded. Our Irish cook pursued one of the stewards fork in hand, through the saloon, at night. He is one saucy chap. If he doesn’t escape from the galley very shortly he will get thrown overboard.
Tuesday 27th—Last night had heavy thunder and lightning. The wind in these parts seems to blow particularly easy, which of course adds to the standing quantity of grumbling. All after eating salt mackerel, beef, and potatoes, are amused with sociable little frays, like the following: The cook hits the steward a rap on the head, then the third mate taps the cook on the nose, and is himself collared by the first mate; then the third mate swears prodigiously, when the mob, rushing forward with projecting eyes to see the sport, are informed that the “din of battle’s past.”
The offensive cook has left the galley, the Lyceum has again met and adjourned, and we have got our rations of sugar.
Wednesday 28th—Duff, plum duff for dinner today—the cry has gone through the ship, and the echo is still ringing in my ears. What a test it will be, why every mans eyes sparkle and one would suppose we had heard the cry of “land ho!” from the mast head. Can all this be occasioned by the anticipation of duff, nasty plum duff, stuff that every man on board would “turn up his nose at,” if at home. Then to see what a bustle this duff business makes—there are a dozen engaged in picking raisins; and John, who makes the duff, has charge of the raisins and fixins, looks careworn and dejected; and it is not to be wondered at, he has to watch the motions of so many fingers, and exhort them severally on the exceeding sinfulness of stealing in their youth, beside dispensing little curses to his numerous friends.
Sunday 4th—Preaching as usual—subject, prayer—Closing prayer by Loveland, who has a license as a Methodist Episcopal to preach. Like a great portion of that class of divines he has been a school master (in a country town of course), is a sailor, and has been in the service of the U.S., both army and navy, and has been two voyages “round Cape Horn!” He is a pretty decent sort of a fellow notwithstanding, and simply because he has “been called by his divine lord and master” to go gold hunting, it should not in the least go to his prejudice and compared with these good men who stay at home and abhor the “filthy lucre.”
Monday 5th—Today being the day for the inauguration of Gen. Taylor, we have the stars and stripes waving at the peak, and Frank Bale has pronounced an oration from the windlass.7 He called upon the masses and was answered by them with cheers.
Thursday 8th—Was boarded by ship (Dutch) bound for Amsterdam from Batavia in 78 days. Had on board the body of a lady passenger who had died on the voyage-would take it home. When the mate’s boat came alongside, seeing so many men he began to grow frightened and would not come on board till hailed by a brother Dutchman. When he came over the side the Captain asked him if he was frightened, to which he replied that he thought he “was taken”-and well he might have thought so, for our side was literally bristling with big dogs. The boat left us taking a barrel of potatoes and one of onions amid the cheers of the stranger and ourselves.
Friday 9th—The Lyceum met again today. Question for discussion-which is the greatest evil, intemperance or slavery. Police Court at night—a young man was tried for stealing 24 hot cakes and convicted. The court was crowded.
Sunday 11th—Preaching by Loveland, on immortality of the soul. While the preacher is going on you will see a few looking very crossly at the sky, some will be solving difficult puzzles, some sound asleep, some on the forecastle grumbling about the provisions, some reading twelve-cent novels, and the remainder are lying on the rail gazing abstractly into the water. When the services close by singing, everyone looks happy, and each sings bass or tenor, or holds their tongues to suit their fancy; and when the benediction is pronounced, the greater portion snore lazily away, some to mix a toddy or medicine, some to go to their sunny or shady spot, and many to go to sleep again. What a lazy, lounging, restless mass we are!
Wednesday 14th—This morning as the vessel was ploughing along on her course, the water to the windward for a space the length of the vessel became strangely agitated. Instantly thousands of flying fish rose from the water, like so many birds, and as they crossed our wake, the noise of their wings sounded like a large flock of fowl.
Thursday 15th—Today after waiting very patiently for about eight hours, we dined in style, on burnt rice and molasses. Don’t we live like fighting cocks on board the Duxbury? To have any idea of bliss someone should have seen me today with plate of tongues and sounds between my knees, and half an onion in my fist. Talk after this of enjoyment, in quiet, pleasant homes on the land, and I shall say Nonsense! But to be here, hear the wind howl and the thundering roar of crashing of plates, tinkling of knives and forks; hear men curse and see them grab potatoes, these, and not these only, are among the sublime and beautiful enactments on board the good ship Duxbury.
Friday 23rd—Someone has been to the raisin kegs and carried off the contents of two of them, which has got up quite a little bobbery. The Captain talks quite ferocious about it, though there’s no danger of his throwing anyone overboard. If he does, I hope it will not be me, because at just this time it would be decidedly unpleasant.
Saturday 24th—The water in the casks being low, we stopped up the scuppers, and the decks soon being full of water, we filled from it sixteen casks and the remainder was left for general wash. Our decks soon became a monster-wash-tub, there being but little less than a hundred using it at a time. What a sight to behold, such a one as is rarely seen in these or any other diggings—yes an hundred dirty-faced ragamuffins, some half-stripped, and some a little more than half—and the modest and unassuming, the sweet and angelic, Mrs. Bridget McKenney, wash-board in hand among them—yes the delicate, and barefooted Mrs. McKenney. Ah! tis too much for a poor mortal to look upon, and I’ll turn away, just as the divine creature pulls the plug from the scuppers, and go to the stern of the ship and watch the long mark of soap suds that we leave behind us upon the water. At night a meeting was held and committee chosen to wait upon the Captain, represent grievances and demand three meals a day. The result was that the Captain complied in part. We are to have three meals and the Capt. is to preside at one of the tables, and we are to have duff twice a week hereafter. Till I have seen the operation of affairs I shall defer expressing my joy.
Sunday 25th—Being in the close vicinity of the line, some of the green ones took it into their heads to call old Neptune on board, and violating all the old established customs, sent for him just as dusk, and ere we had scarce disposed of our suppers, if nasty tea and hard bread can be called supper, the old gentleman was among us. It was dirty sport, got up in poor taste, and quite disgusting to any one possessing a small quantity of common sense, consequently it became very popular. The first we knew of the affair, one of the passengers was thrown down on the floor of the saloon and dragged fore and aft the length of the ship by the feet, some one at the same time blacking his face with soot. When this was done no one had the least idea that it was in imitation of the visit of Neptune, it being so mean an imposition, but rather thought it some private joke. Ere an hour had elapsed, the “victims” numbered half of the ship’s company. It took till about three o’clock the next morning to do all hands brown. It was in sight to look upon, but not one that anyone would care about being a hero in. Some armed themselves with big knives and sat upon their chest the greater part of the night to defend themselves—and others brandished clubs and boot jacks, and lay in their berths, but were finally dragged out like starved rats, pale and sleepy, and put through. The one who started this “delightful sport” as he called it himself, was the largest man on board, as well as the most sizeable booby, and when he was proposed as a subject for operation, became very indignant at first, but finding that of no use, turned a precious coward, and seizing a big club rushed to his room vowing vengeance on any man who should molest him; but they did do him brown although he rejoiced in the title of Jack the Giant.8
Monday 26th—Line jokes are all the rage today. This morning the Captain and others were seen looking through the glass very intently at something apparently on the sky and water, and on being asked what he was looking for said he was trying to get a sight of the line, which he said would soon come in sight. This seemed to be very natural to some of the green ones—at last the line did come in sight, the Captain seeing it very plain, but with great self denial, soon surrendered the glass to those anxious for a sight, but strange to say many of them could not see it. And it was thought by the lookers-on that the glass was not set right and so altered it to every possible focus, and swept the sky and water high and low, far and wide, but with no success. Some fifteen or twenty looked at the line, which afforded us no small amount of sport. The Petrel was issued, a small weekly the size of letter sheet, devoted, not to “literature and the fine arts,” but to fun, for the passengers of the ship Duxbury.9 It takes extremely small things to please us, pent up as we are here in so small a space. The cry of “duff!” “larboard side,” and stale jokes put us in our tip top spirits, so there is no danger of the Petrel’s failing in its mission. Success, say we to the Petrel!
Wednesday 28th—Today we are quite surprised to find out that we have got quite a band of music. They have been in some dark corner till now. They have two clarionets, a flute and trombone, and a violin. They have tooted away today very hard to make up for lost time. It’s very good though! Steward fell down and broke his head.10
Thursday 29th—Today Tiger, a dog belonging to one of the passengers, ran mad. Wasn’t there a scampering for the riggin! While running fore and aft biting at the riggin and the sides of the ship, he was seized by his master and another and thrown overboard. He lived but a few moments after touching the water making no attempt to swim. At noon, it being calm, and someone challenging me to jump overboard, I did so. The shark-fearers enjoyed for me a genuine shudder, but the water feeling extremely nice, I did not think it worth while to return the compliment. This broke the ice, for there had been much talk about it for some days, yet none had gathered courage for the first plunge, and in a few seconds there were 25 or 30 in the water. We were in the water about fifteen minutes, and in this time each did his best to astonish his neighbor. At night the Duxbury Sea Fencibles met for the first time for drill. The company varies in number from 50 to 10, and was got up to pass away time. Lieut. Frank is drill officer, and the way we “ground arms” and march round the Poopdeck is rushing. My first “order arms” was upon the toe of a barefooted ranger by my side. I’ll bet it drove the idea from his head of being raised to commander in chief of the California Legion.
Thursday 5th—We have undoubtedly got the S.E. trades which revives everyone much after having a fortnight’s calm. The Duxbury Sea Fencibles were again on drill today. Prayer meeting at night, and at the same time the mob are dancing cotillions and country dances on the forecastle, and below they are playing brag for fivecent pieces. A meeting was held today to take into consideration the practicability of going overland from the port into which we may go—Rio Janeiro or St. Catherine’s to Valparaiso on the Pacific.11 About thirty wish to go, to each of whom the Captain will give $10 and provisions. If anyone goes I shall be one of the party.
Friday 13th—As we draw near the land, letter writing has become all the rage, and every chest and box, barrel and board on board the ship has been put to service. Many of these now laboring with the pen have not before put it over the paper, and consequently have not got the hang of it. Many of them give up in despair, deferring their writing till they get into port, when they will go ashore and, ten chances to one, forget father, mother, brother, sister and perhaps their dear ones. But there are others of more courage, who after spoiling a number of sheets commence anew by writing upon a slate, thence transferring it very carefully to paper, and when, smiling, they finish by adding “yours sincerely,” or “affectionately,” they upset their ink bottle, which says as plain as ever—”Finis”
Tuesday 17th—At daylight this morning found ourselves inside of Cape Frio and about 60 miles from Rio harbor. At noon a wind springing up we saw the shore dawn, a grand and lofty range of mountains, upon the sides of which we can see convents with their glittering crosses, villas with their orange groves, and a thousand little mountains, rising one above another, from the great mass, till they are lost in the clouds, all covered with the richest verdure. At their base are long white, sandy beaches, here and there darkened by cragged rocks, upon which the sea rolls, throwing the spray high in the air, to sparkle and fall in the glow of a Rio sunset. At night close in to the light, but our Captain not being acquainted with the harbor, we stood “off and on” for daylight.
Wednesday 18th—There are thirty-three vessels in sight bound in with us, of which there are fifteen or eighteen American vessels, from which float the stars and stripes. At dusk a breeze sprang up from the land accompanied with rain. It was also very dark, and the light from the city, although we are ten or twelve miles distant, is distinctly seen. By ten o’clock the wind had increased to a gale and, being in rather a dangerous situation, the greater portion of the fleet ran to sea again. At twelve o’clock we had a heavy typhoon which lasted a few minutes, and was followed by two others soon after. There was only one vessel of the whole fleet besides ourselves that held their own through the night. Yesterday every one on board was ragged, wore one boot and one shoe, and wore hats without rims, today with but few exceptions, they are spruce young and old men, some wearing collars after the sideboard style, some with old-fashioned sharp pointed ones, some with lay-downs and some without any at all—then some wear caps, some straws and some the hats they laid on the first night out—and their boots are all blacked, and their faces shaved, and they are all waiting and quite ready to go ashore. But it is night and they are all disappointed; it is raining and blowing gale, and they will have to wait till tomorrow at least before they will be able to astonish the citizens of Rio.
Thursday 19th—This morning after banging about the entrance of the harbor all night and being in danger of going ashore we find ourselves on a lee shore, with the choice left us of going on the rocks and going “to pot” or carrying sail to weather the “twins,” the western point of the outer harbor. We of course adopted the latter, succeeding far beyond our expectations, and we weather the point of the Island by a few rods, upon which the breakers foamed masthead-high. I have no doubt that if some young ladies had been present, they would have pronounced the Duxbury a vulgar, ill-bred ship, for she did show her bottom. At six o’clock we passed the Sugar Loaf on our left, then a big fort on the right which hailed us. When we were fairly tied up by the mass, the yards squared, we had time to look about us, and we saw English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Brazilian menof-war, and the States were represented by the brig-of-war Perry and the frigate Savannah which vessel we left in the dry-dock at home and the sight of which made us feel at home directly.
Then came the custom house officers on board, grim men, chock full of dignity, who ordered our colors to the foremast. Then the health officers, and then another boat with a permit from the Emperor allowing us to go ashore, which said that the Brazilian government was “jealous of their rights,” but the boat had scarce left the side when our boats were in the water and dashing away pell mell for the shore. This was the signal for the shore boats to come alongside, which they did, entirely surrounding the vessel, fighting and jabbering like so many cab and hackmen, at home, for passengers. Each boat was fitted up very neatly with an awning and manned by two blacks, who charged ten cents to pull you ashore. I went ashore among the aristocracy in the Captain’s boat, landed among the darkeys, and there, and in the five days afterwards, I saw the sights. First I went to the navy yard, the filthy place of places, where everything was in ruins, the buildings were all half-finished, as were the greater portion of the vessels, and in fact everything about the establishment. Adjoining the navy yard was the bishop’s palace and gardens. The gardens were very fine—contained a fig tree, an oleander, a bunch of marigolds, a few sun-flowers, a tall, lank prince’s feather and a few poppies—very fine. The interior of the palace was chaste and elegant, and contained many beautiful fixtures, but the exterior was shabby in the extreme, and reminded us of the inquisition in older times. The greater portion of the workmen in the yard were blacks and worked in “chain gangs,” fettered in couples, being slaves.12 Then we visited the aqueduct, so old that they do not know when it was built, probably the finest in the world, by which the water is carried to every portion of the city and of the best quality-in jets from hundreds of fountains, around which may be seen from morn till night, jabbering like so many blackbirds, men, women and children balancing on their heads a burden that would crush any one but a Rio negro.
We went to the Imperial Palace and Gardens, at San Christoria, some orange groves, statuary, beautiful ponds and flowers. But the Emperor being sick we were not permitted to see him or the Empress, a beautiful Italian lady, we only saw their pictures. Then we went to a bull-fight and saw two or three chaps tossed up a bit—a great humbug. Then to the theatre, saw sham scenery and acting of which we could not understand a word, it was good. Then we went to church at the cathedral, where the people get shockingly humbugged, and where the young maidens sit and exhibit their charms to the vulgar gaze of the mob. No one but the females sit during service, and they like a tailor at his work.
The number of churches and convents of Rio is very great and wonderfully out of proportion to the amount of population; and sorry am I to say, sadly contrasting with the state of religion, and public and private morality. The churches are handsome, after their own fashion, which is of the gilded, gingerbread order—all wood and plaster, covered over with paint and tinsel, and rather the models of, than in reality, fine buildings. For a whole week we went about like roaming lions among these natives, seeing and being seen, and enjoying ourselves very generally, and when on Wednesday the 25th we were ordered to be on board that night, as we were to sail the next morning, we felt very reluctant to do so.13
Thursday 26th—This morning we find that eight of the passengers have left us, three sailors and the third mate.14 At eight o’clock we were under way and after getting the password to get by the forts, we ran down the harbor with a fair wind—leaving four more of the passengers ashore who were not on board in season—and in company with the frigate Savannah, ship Charlotte, and barque Edward Fletcher, stood to sea, all bound for California. In the afternoon we were passed by the Fletcher, her band at the time playing “Love Not” and “Sweet Home.” By dark the Sugar Loaf had faded from view, and we were once more with a flowing sail upon our course.
Friday 27th—Tonight for the first time soft-tack was served out according to our new bill of fare. In Rio, they, the mob, had kicked up a fuss in earnest about the provisions; they waited upon the American Consul, and got some information. He could not act in the least, and for redress we should have to apply at home. So it was concluded to take the affair in our own hands. So they cursed the Captain and threatened to throw him overboard. At first he was quite brave, and threatened to leave the ship, but he soon came to his senses, got up a bill of fare and more provisions and this soft-tack is the result. But this soft-tack has put me in office and honors heaped upon me. I was unanimously elected Captain of the soft-tack mess and immediately entered upon its duties which are not very arduous, though a little inconvenient, for while I am going around distributing the hot cakes the mob are diving into the tea bucket—when I get through and go to a little tea to wash my crust down it is all gone and my tin-foot rattles on the bottom of the basket. Hereafter when honors are conferred, may they be deferred till after tea.
Monday 30th—Sea sickness has become quite prevalent again and the tables are once more deserted. Oranges and bananas are the chief of our living at this time.
Monday [May] 7th—This morning two of the passengers being in a squabble and the mate interfering, was knocked down and thrashed, which served him right. This is the first fight we have had on board, but when one is on a passage round Cape Horn, there is no room for moral reflections, and I leave them to rejoice over their broken noses and swelled cheeks.
Wednesday 9th—Birds of every description are about us all the time, and it is nothing but bang, bang, from morn till night. Sea hens and cape pigeons were killed in large numbers. Porpoises and albatross added to the excitement.
Friday 11th—Saw for the first time a penguin of large size.
Monday 14th—Caught three large mollymocks. Professor Smith, one of the stewards, fell down and scalded himself today, and a man fell from the fore top stairway on the bottom of a boat that was turned over on deck, was injured quite badly.
Friday 18th—Wind S.W. and heavy under double-reefed topsails and staysail. The staysail was blown in pieces-have had snow and hail squalls through the day.
Thursday 24th—At two o’clock made the land of Cape St. John’s, Staten Land; ran down and passed the Cape at eight o’clock. There is not much excitement today on making the land; no one has broken his neck in hanging to get a sight of it, as on a former occasion, but everyone went on deck in the most staid and sober manner, with coat buttoned to the throat and hat on, looked at the land, speculated to the length of seven words, shuddered and then went below, to “turn a Jack,” or relate some dismal tale of Cape Horn! There was in fact nothing in the sight of this land to raise anyone’s spirits. If there had been it would have been visible in some of us, for it takes but a little thing to amuse us in our present situation. It presented a long range of mountains, crowned from base to summit with snow, which looked barren and lonely in the extreme. As we passed the Cape at about eight o’clock, we witnessed one of the grandest but most heart chilling scenes imaginable. From the west the clouds—not such clouds as go scampering over the green hills of New England, but black clouds bound with bands of fire and borne on so with the power of the united engines of the earth—were rolling away in broken piles with almost the speed of lightning, and sinking to the water were lost in the gloom of the unmasked east. As lightning darts across the sky and seems to separate the heavens as it lights the icy peaks beside us, down which the wind rushes, boiling the water about us—we hear the screeching of the sea birds, the chafing of the sea upon the near strand and the ship careening darts away like a frightened thing pursued by a legion of hot breathed devils. Tonight when passing the Cape we were logged eleven knots, not a slow pace for an old eel pot like the Duxbury.
Saturday 26th—Snow and hail squalls again today, which has kept the crew very busy in clearing the decks. Today in the midst of a snow storm, the Captain set one of the sailors, a Portuguese boy, at work in sweeping the snow from the poop-deck. The Boy went to work but never having seen snow or cold weather before, soon became cold, worked away, but cried like a child.
Saturday [June] 2nd—We have had another rumpus today, but the first since we came out of Rio. It broke out in the forecastle, all the sailors having mutinied because they had no molasses for their rice. The crew “turned to again” after a short time, when it broke out again with redoubled violence in the saloon when the pantry was broken open, and the Captain coming forward received a bountiful supply of curses (not justifiable) in reply to which the Captain threatened to “heave the ship to and let her lay till she rotted,” but some one just before him meekly suggesting that he might “heave her to and be d—d,” he wisely decided that molasses was a very palatable addition to rice.
Thursday 14th—In the middle of the forenoon our eyes were greeted by the sight of shoal of blackfish and a whale. The blackfish came close alongside, within a few feet of the ship, and there being a number of rifles on deck at the time, some of the fish carried off quite a number of bullets, one received six, which undoubtedly shortened his breath a few days. Albatross took the hook and in return were taken themselves. Capie’s occasionally fell screeching in the water.15
Friday 15th—At two o’clock we made the land of the island of Juan Fernandez. The Captain leaving it optional with the passengers whether or not they stop at this place to water, a meeting was called, when it was unanimously voted to stop. In compliance with this vote we ran down under the island and stood on and on till daylight. And now everyone is in spirits at the prospect of setting foot on the island of the far famed Robinson Crusoe.16
Saturday 16th—This morning being close under the land, we ran in for the bay or watering place, and at about eight o’clock came to anchor. When within about a mile of the shore we were boarded by a live Yankee from the state of Maine who has lived on the island for two years, and is now making fortune in freighting the passengers on shore from the California ships who come here to water. Seven ships have already been in and gone out again, and two others have arrived here today since we came to anchor: The barque Kirkland of Baltimore with 73 passengers and the hermaphrodite brig Emily Boume of N. Bedford with 16 ditto, all like ourselves, well and hearty. As soon as our anchor had fairly touched the bottom, we were in a boat and on our way to the shore, gun in hand and knapsack on our back, and ripe for adventure. As soon as the boat touched all shore we were on the sand shaking hands with an ancient grey-headed Chilean that one might easily have fancied Robinson Crusoe himself—though there were a few years intervening between his and the present time. From the Yankee we soon learned that there were at the present time eight males and four female adults on the island, beside a goodly number of dark-eyed children, so sweet that we could not help tempting them to our side with a biscuit and then kissing them. These few families lived in grass houses. About these miserable huts and bordering the bay, is a level piece of ground cut into patches by scores of babbling brooks, that come down the mountains. This piece of ground was entirely covered with wild turnips and an herb of the most fragrant kind, whose sweet perfume is constantly floating on the breeze and greets the sense at every step. Large quantities of this herb was taken on board to make tea of, the fragrance of which constantly prevails between decks and is really delightful and refreshing. Peaches in their season are produced in great abundance growing without cultivation all over the island. Bordering this level place and rising to the height of two or three thousand feet are mountains whose peaks are worn smooth by the constantly travelling of the wild goats which abound here. As soon as we had looked about us a little we left the crowd and started for the mountains, when after climbing for about two hours we gained the top of one of the highest, the view from which was the most grand we ever witnessed. The bay and beach below presented a grand panorama of green and blue only interrupted by many streams that leaped from cliff to cliff. After satiating our eyes with this grand wild scenery, we commenced our descent and soon arrived at the bottom without accident, and were by the side of one of the brooks when it commenced raining. But being little disturbed by this, we pulled the bread and beef from our pouch, placed it on a rock and then stepping a few feet aside and cutting a large leaf of the rhubarb species which was of ample size to cover us and our fixins we set it over us and composed ourselves over our dinner.
We must not forget to mention that we saw a herd of wild horses, among which were some very beautiful colts. They allowed us to come quite near to them, so near that we could see their bright flashing eyes, their distended nostrils and the symmetry of their well-rounded and beautiful limbs. When they had become quite satisfied with observing us, they stamped their feet, curved their beautiful necks, snorted, and then erecting their long tails and manes, dashed away, causing the tramp of their feet to echo in the far-off mountains. And we saw also a drove of asses, winding in single file along the side of an almost perpendicular cliff, like so many machines in a diorama. When we arrived at the landing it was nearly dark and some of the passengers were hurrying on board while a portion were making preparations for spending the night in the convicts’ caves. These caves were dug from the solid rock at the base of the ridge bordering the bay, by the Chilean government some time ago, and used by them as a refuge for convicts, at which time the island was in a more flourishing condition than at the present time. They built a large fort, a number of houses, and dug the before-mentioned underground caverns besides laying out little streets and paving them, the remains of all of which are still to be seen tho’ almost passed into oblivion. The walls of the fort are grown over with weeds and about it here and there, lay old rusty guns, long ago dismounted and half buried in the ground.
This project of the Chileans was an entire failure, for after having got about 250 convicts on the island, and not having a sufficient garrison to guard them, they rose up en masse, drove their guards to two war vessels lying in the bay, and took charge of the fort. The ships departed leaving the convicts in possession of the island. A short time after, an American whaler touching at the bay for water, they went on board of her and were taken to Peru, on the main. After this the Chilean government placed a man on the island, with his family, to hold possession.
It being now dark we struck a light and a fire and in a short time these prisons became light and warm and the seat of the most reckless mirth. Pots were soon suspended over the fire, from which came the fragrance of the native herb and the sizzling of donkey meat.
On going on board again which we did about eight o’clock, we found breakfast ready and, there arriving at the same time a party who had spent the night in another cave, we were soon busily at work. Some of the no-go-ashore’s having caught a lot of fish yesterday, there is to be a fish dinner today. Fish are caught here in any quantity. We got orders to be on board at two o’clock, as we were to sail. After this we went on shore again, climbed the mountains once more, sported a little, kicked up some shells, saw a few goats, got some mint and berries, drank a little more water, got as tired as yesterday, visited one or two of the huts and then hastening to the landing where we found all the water on board, all the passengers of the Kirkland gone, the surf beating heavier than in the morning, the wind coming bleak and cold from the mountains, the remaining passengers of the Duxbury huddled together in a little tired group with blue lips and few words, small bundles of mint, double and single guns, wild turnips and goat skins, and the night coming on gloomy and forbidding. As soon as we were fairly on board, the anchor was hove up, the jib hoisted and, falling off, our topsails filled and the old ship was once more ploughing the dark waters of the Pacific. So ends our visit at the island.
Tuesday 19th—The greater portion of the mob are engaged in counting their losses in spoons, knives and forks, mugs, tin pots, and so forth, forgetting the loss of such little things as towels, hatchets, blankets and birds bills and wing bones. Thieves go about like the roaring lions on board the Duxbury, only they don’t roar.
Thursday 21st—Two amiable Christians were slightly out of tune today and threw vial of wrath at one another, very harmoniously. A notice calling the mob to the sunny side of the Lone Star,18 to see what measures would be taken in regard to the celebration of the Fourth of July, was responded to, when a committee was chosen to make preparations.19
Friday 22nd—At twelve o’clock we made the island of St. Felix and as we passed it in the afternoon, St. Ambrose was seen beyond, both of which we ran down with the setting sun.
Saturday 30th—Today the program for the celebration of the Fourth was posted: The bells of the ship are to be rung half an hour at sunrise. At ten o’clock we are to assemble around the Lone Star, when “Hail Columbia!” will be sung—prayer by the chaplain—Address by Col. Bowles—Ode by Frank Ball, more singing and so forth. Then they will dispense, meet again in the Saloon and eat gingerbread. In the evening there will be dancing. But I forgot to mention that a national salute is to be fired.
Sunday July 1st—Today preaching by the chaplain—subject, swearing. The subject was treated in a masterly style, and the way he stirred up the Christians and sinners with a very long pole, was decidedly beautiful. It was not, of course, meant for me, as I belong to neither of the above classes. Today seems really like Sunday—it is the first really pleasant day we have had since we came round the Cape, though we did have rain squalls in the morning. There was also a very general attendance at church; and this is the second time that the decks have been still during service. To be sure there was one fellow directly under the preacher’s nose repairing his suspender; and another by the name of DeCosta, rigging his bonitre line; but these things were small things and no one was disturbed, all listened attentively, and then went away to consume large quantities of plum duff!
It was a beautiful moonlight night and if any one had observed they might have seen the Captain courting Mrs. Bridget McKenney over the quarterrail.20 We do not pretend to say that he had any right so to do, we only say that he was so doing.
Wednesday the Fourth of July—At sunrise the “Star-spangled Banner” floated at our peak and a salute was fired. At eight we marched in single file by the Lone Star to windward and each received as much gingerbread as he could lug. At night we commenced dancing, but showers coming up we abandoned it. At twelve o’clock we closed the performances of the fourth.
Sunday 8th—Preaching today as usual. Subject, intemperance. The rummies kicked quite ferociously after he had ended. About the time of his commencement one of the mob sat behind him stirring gin and water, but in return for this he got stirred up with a very long and sharp pole, and went off in a piff. The Captain distributed treats today, wishing to wash out the sins of the past week; but at night he was as deep in Satan’s ways as ever. He courted our lady till nine in the evening, on the weather quarter. He seems to admire Broad Street beauties. Gymnastics at night, and singing. We heard the chaplain remark that there was no one present at the Bible class in the afternoon. The Christians of the Duxbury have grown sadly deficient of late.
Tuesday 10th—At four o’clock pm we crossed the Equinoctial Line. This time our crossing the line was a far more pleasant time than we had on the other side, in the Atlantic. There was no dragging, daubing or ducking, but the evening was passed very pleasantly in dancing cotillions, and country dances, after which singing.
Thursday 19th—Today we have had a great farce enacted. Someone obtained permission to take off a couple of planks from the main hatch that we might obtain light and air between decks, and they were taken off shortly after. The Captain seeing them off said that he gave no one liberty to remove them, and so told the carpenter to put them on again. The passengers at the time told him they would rip them off again as soon as nailed down. They were as good as their word, and ere the rap of the hammer had died away they were off again. As soon as it was done the Captain ordered the mate to call all hands, shorten sail and heave the ship to, which order was obeyed amid the cheers of the passengers. The Captain then said he should give up the command of the ship, but finding this suited them very much, he very soon changed his mind, not caring to have the mate in his place, for whom the cry was loud and long, and when he stated that, if the Captain gave up the ship he would accept the command he received three times three, while the Captain received a groan. All the sails but the topsails, spanker and fortopmast staysail were furled. The Captain then came into the waiste and wished to know who was in favor of order, when the cry went up “all are in favor of air and light also, and will have it!” The Captain then took himself off again and relapsed into a brown study, receiving the taunts of the mob like a hero. All of them had decided that if the ship was not put on her course, they would make Mr. Bradbury captain and if necessary put the Captain in irons, to guard against his threats of blowing up the ship, and so forth—which I believe never worried anyone much. Again a solemn council was called, and statements made which placed the hero in a very ridiculous position. Feeling very much ashamed of himself, he attempted retreat from the brave statement he had made: that unless the passengers came forward and acknowledged themselves in the wrong and promised order in future, he would let the ship lay till she rotted. This of course everyone refused, and scanted the idea, not wishing to make acknowledgements for right acts. After much talk which resulted in some deep probes into the Captain’s life, the parties separated and shortly afterwards the Captain chose the wise part and made sail.
Friday 20th—The wind W. and a heavy gale which continued till 4 the next morning, when it hauled to the South. Making sail, we were once more on our course with a heavy choppy sea which made the old ship dance again. This gale was as heavy as any we have had and we took more water on deck than on any previous gale, there being a very ugly sea running.
Monday 23rd—One would suppose that we were to land tomorrow from the bustle and preparation on board. The various companies are patching and mending their boots, painting etc., and all are busy in making knapsacks, polishing big knives and so forth.21
Sunday [August] 19th—A very thick fog with light wind. Made the land at ten in the forenoon; about twenty miles to the N. of St. Francisco. Ran down the shore and passed Point Reyes and came to anchor near the shore on the outer bar at the entrance of Francisco bay, in 15 fathoms. Saw shoals of fin-back, right, humpback and sperm whales. The water is literally alive with them. We saw, in number, more than all we had seen on the voyage put together. We also saw seals, sharks, pelicans, seaparrots, gulls, ducks, and almost every description of quick-wing fowl.
Monday 20th—We prove not to be in the situations that we supposed ourselves yesterday. In the morning thick fog and cannot see the land. Went ashore and got some good water, killed pelicans and other sea fowl in any number; saw a grizzly bear, deer and wild cattle. Clearing up at noon. Saw the lay of the land. Got under way and ran down the shore with a one knot breeze at 5 pm the lead masking eight fathoms, struck twice on the reef of rocks supposed to be point Bonitre. Came immediately to anchor as soon as she stopped rubbing.22
Tuesday 21st—Thick fog and no land in sight. Left the ship in the morning in the Captain’s boat and went in search of the harbor. Landed, and seeing rather too many bear tracks to look sociable, and, having no firearms with us, embarked again and coasted along the shore. Met another boat from the ship steering for the shore. Clearing up partially, saw three sails, seaward, for which we steered. Boarded the nearest one, which proved to be the U.S. Surveying schooner Ewing, (formerly a pilot boat on the New York station) which left the harbor this morning bound up the coast. Got information of the bearings of the harbor, news and papers from St. Francisco, and returned on board. Lay becalmed till just at night, when a light breeze sprung up we ran down the shore and came to anchor off Point Bonitre for the night.
Wednesday 22nd—Got underway at daylight and stood in for the mouth of the harbor with a light wind. At 9 am opened the mouth of the harbor, passed the fort, came in sight of the shipping, and poking our jibboom through the forest of masts, we came to anchor in front of the town, at 12 pm.23 We are to the end of our journey, are we in the promised land? Well, what of it?
Thursday, Friday—Saw the sights and on Saturday went to work in the office of the Pacific News—intending by so doing to realize a fortune in a few days.
1. Sea sickness was common throughout the seven-month voyage. In addition, thirty cases of mumps and fifteen cases of measles were recorded.
2. The Rev. Mr. B. Brierly acted as chaplain on the voyage. Each morning he read a chapter in the Bible, said a prayer, and delivered a brief sermon to those passengers who chose to attend. In addition, he held an organized prayer meeting on Wednesdays, a class meeting on Sundays, a lyceum on Tuesdays and Fridays, and in the course of the trip presented a small library of religious and scientific tracts to the passengers. Brierly would eventually settle in San Jose, send for his family, and act as chaplain to the California Assembly.
3. Several days out from Boston it was discovered that the cooking stove was inadequate for the number of passengers. Consequently they received two sparse meals per day.
4. Although DeCosta only briefly mentions the friction between certain individuals, other accounts recall that the entire trip was filled with friction and outright fighting, both among the ship’s crew and between the passengers.
5. Captain Varina’s poor treatment of the passengers in regard to quality and quantity of rations on the first leg of the journey is well documented. The discontent of both passengers and crew prompted petition after petition with little response. A number of passengers would lodge a formal complaint with the American consul in Rio (The consul frequently heard such complaints from emigrant Californians).
6. Keeping a journal, whale and dolphin watching, fishing, bird catching, shooting, reading, card playing, drinking, swimming, were the primary ways that the passengers abourt the Duxbury dealt with the tedium of weeks at sea.
7. 0n this date General Zachary Taylor (1784-1850), military hero of the Mexican War, was inaugurated as the 12th President of the United States.
8. Tricks and jokes (some quite impractical) occurred throughout the voyage. Contemporaneous journals of argonauts tell of similar incidents on board other vessels.
9. The Petrel and later the Shark were short publications edited by DeCosta. They were written out by hand and contained poetry, stories, cartoons, and gossip submitted by the passengers. The Petrel was issued every Monday while the Shark, making its first appearance on July 18, was published only occasionally.
IO. Like just about every vessel traveling from the east coast to California, the Duxbury carried a band that was comprised of its own members. Singing and dancing took place almost every evening. Many of DeCosta’s entries end with a short mention of these activities.
11. Many sea-going argonauts chose not to round Cape Horn and instead took land routes from various points in Central and South America. When they arrived on the Pacific side they would either wait for their original ship or, more commonly, catch another one. The most utilized overland routes started at Vera Cruz and Chihuahua in Mexico or ran through Panama and Nicaragua. There is no mention of a practical route from Rio or St. Catherine’s to Valparaiso.
12. All accounts New England visitors were often horrified at the sight of slaves and slave markets in Rio.
13. Rio was a large city that was accustomed to Americans. Its inhabitants went out of their way to entertain emigrants to California, whose numbers for some months during the Gold Rush averaged twelve to fifteen hundred.
14. The passengers and crew that left the ship in Rio did so because of the inadequate food supply.
15. AIbatross and other birds were caught with hook and bait.
16. Juan Fernandez Island, the setting of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, is fifteen miles long and four miles wide. By all accounts it was a tourist’s delight, a virtual paradise, blessed with a great variety of fruits and awe-inspiring scenery.
18. The Lone Star was a little clipper craft approximately 36 to 40 feet long belonging to Lot Wheelwright, one of the passengers. She was fastened to the deck of the Duxbury for the duration of the trip. Roughly one third the length of the Duxbury, the craft was an odd and imposing feature.
19. Typically passengers and crews paid little attention to national holidays and shoreside political events in the nineteenth century. However, Forty Niners were an exception for celebrations of national holidays aboard argonaut vessels were often elaborate and festive.
20. The passenger list includes Mr. and Mrs. McKenney.
21. There was almost hysterical activity weeks before landing in San Francisco.
22. The Duxbury ran aground on a reef off what in Spanish times was called Punta de Baulenas (Point of Whales). After this mishap the reef was renamed Duxbury Reef, and the point, Duxbury Point. Coastal survey charts of 1851 show the new names which still appear on coastal maps today. The reef is a notorious danger spot, the site of numerous shipwrecks over the years.
23. DeCosta is referring to the Presidio, the fort established by the Spanish in 1776 for defense of the Golden Gate. By DeCosta’s time the fort was an American army garrison.
A Man Between Nations: The Choctaw Removal Diary of Peter Pitchlynn
The Indian removal was not just the “Trail of Tears,” an isolated act victimizing one tribe in the 1830s, but one of the most persistently followed government policies in U.S. history, covering dozens of tribes and lasting for almost a century. The motive for removing the Indians and concentrating them in one wilderness area varied from the humane hope of maintaining tribal integrity to the blatant desire to get as much Indian land as possible as cheaply as possible. Those who either propounded or cooperated with the idea included not just whites of dissimilar political persuasions but Indians as well, both fullblood and mixed blood, both established leaders and rebels. The removal is emblematic of the U.S. attitude and handling of the American Indians because it was, finally, a wholesale approach in which intimidation and thinly veiled bribery played an important role. The actual removal of tribes was characterized, over and over, by U.S. officials in the field, including Indian agents and military officials, generally doing their best in impossible situations, but being frustrated by an almost totally unresponsive government bureaucracy, leading to situations in which hundreds of people died.
There are government reports, military communiques, and descriptions by missionaries encompassing the period of the removal; however, the diary of the young Choctaw Peter Pitchlynn may be the only first-hand, on-the-scene account by a member of one of the tribes. The Choctaws, one of the largest and most civilized of the great Indian nations, were the first tribe to be removed en masse to the Indian Territory. Their experience would serve the government as the example to be followed for all subsequent removals. This diary is particularly interesting because it directly relates the state of mind, interests, and concerns of a young Indian of prominent family concerning the removal from their homelands in the southeast. Pitchlynn, in fact, would later become for a time the Principal Chief of the Choctaw Tribe.
Pitchlynn’s diary is also valuable because the first part of it describes events preceding the removal, including an extended account of the surveying party to the Indian Territory in 1828, during which Pitchlynn pays very close attention to details of topography, game and natural resources. The sequence of events leading up to the removal, and the selling of the idea, are less well known than the dramatic Trail of Tears experience itself, but perhaps ultimately more important, because they provide insights into how and why this policy became realized.
In the first part of the diary we follow the tour organized by the government for the purpose of encouraging the voluntary emigration of the wary Chickasaw and Choctaw and the belligerent Creeks. The Reverend Isaac McCoy, a well known Baptist missionary to the Potawatomi, was a leader of the expedition, but Captain George H. Kennerly of the United States army was in actual command. Lieutenant Washington Hood of the army was its topographer, and George P. Todson its physician (Todson had been cashiered from the army in 1826). All held their appointments from the Secretary of War. Isaac McCoy’s History of Baptist Indian Missions (Washington and New York, 1840) contains a history of the expedition.
The entire company consisted of thirteen Chickasaws, six Choctaws, and four Creeks, along with various white men serving as interpreters, and a few black slaves. Pitchlynn was one of the delegates of the Northeastern district of the Choctaw. Harper Lovett, the Creek interpreter, died two weeks after the party left Saint Louis. Seven “hired men” or camp helpers were employed at Saint Louis, and the Osage interpreter, Noel Mongrain, joined them at the western line of Missouri. They thus numbered over forty men and, according to McCoy, some sixty horses.
Although the tour did little to advance the removal, it did yield results. The distaste which these Indian farmers and hunters of the southern woodlands conceived for the treeless grasslands of Kansas prepared them to look with less aversion on the wooded land west of Arkansas. Also the meeting of the Choctaw and Osage leaders under friendly official auspices appears to have put an end to the historic animosities between these two important tribes who were soon to be neighbors.
A second part of the diary includes a brief description of Pitchlynn’s own entry into the new lands during the winter of 1831-32, when he led a group of five hundred out of Mississippi. Pitchlynn separated from his group, either at Memphis or after a brief time at the Post of Arkansas. He may have been with the small party who took the group’s horses on to Little Rock. At any rate, his diary makes no mention of the terrible conditions at the Arkansas Post, where his group along with two thousand other Choctaws endured a blizzard with inadequate food and clothing and almost no shelter. His diary takes up this part of the experience– the removal itself–beginning in late January, 1832, at a point after his separation from his group. His principal goal was to get ahead, survey the area, and find a good place where his own group and his family could settle.
The third part of the diary is an anecdote, occurring five years after settlement in the new land, exemplifying the tensions that were already beginning to arise between white settlers in the Indian Territory–Sooners by about sixty years–and Pawnees. This is a verbatim account of murder and kidnapping and was written down by Pitchlynn on the spot. An interesting aspect of it is Pitchlynn’s highly sympathetic attitude toward the whites. He does not think of them as competitors or encroachers but as fellow sufferers at the hands of what he considers to be “hostile” Indian tribes. Conflicts between the tribes would plague the removal period, as the government continued to pen them together in the Indian Territory.
Much later, however, toward the end of Pitchlynn’s life, the encroachments of whites on Indian land would worsen considerably, and the period of the removal finally gave way to a new U.S. policy of dissolving the tribes as landholding institutions. This new policy, largely achieved by 1900 in Oklahoma, considerably decreased the total area owned by Indians and made it far easier for whites to divide and then buy them out.
Pitchlynn’s diary, then, encompasses the early explorations leading to the removal, the move itself, and, in an ominous coda, an incident concerning one of the dangers that the removed tribes faced five years after arrival.
The story of Peter Pitchlynn’s ancestors provides almost a capsule summary of the Choctaws from the mid-eighteenth century on. During this period the tribe’s homelands were divided into three districts in central Mississippi. The outcome of the French and Indian War forced France to abandon the American West in 1763, opening up the area to British traders and a few adventurous settlers.
The Choctaws were assimilative. They were town dwellers, living in log cabins with dirt floors and smoke holes in the centers of their roofs. They raised truck patches with melons, beans, potatoes, squash, and pumpkins. Planting and harvesting were communal. From the earliest, the Choctaws welcomed outsiders. Throughout the South among Indians and traders, pidgin Choctaw was the trade language. Choctaws quickly took up skills learned from others, and became particularly good at farming. They had a tradition of mixed-blood leadership, with mixed bloods tending to be among the higher class. Of the Native American tribes, the Choctaws were among the most thrifty, provident, and best governed.
Isaac Pitchlynn was a British trader who travelled to the home of the Choctaws and died of illness, leaving his eighteen-year-old son John (born circa 1756) in the care of the tribe. John settled in the eastern part of the Choctaw homelands, subsequently marrying twice. Sophia Folsom, daughter of another trader, was the second of his two wives. She raised eight children, including Peter, who was the eldest from this marriage and became John’s favorite. John ran a trading post on the Tombigee River, five miles north of the present Columbus, Mississippi, at a place locally known as Plymouth Bluff.
After the American Revolution, control over the land north of the Gulf coast was disputed between Spain and the United States. John Pitchlynn acted as an interpreter in the effort by U.S. emissaries to gain trading dominance over the Choctaws, and later he was appointed permanent interpreter. Eventually the Spanish lost out, and in 1801 the Choctaws agreed to a series of treaties that delineated their boundaries and made them dependent on the United States. John Pitchlynn’s role expanded, until he was acting as a temporary Indian agent. In 1811, the famed Shawnee orator Tecumseh met the Choctaw near their home, and called upon them to join the Shawnee in opposition to the United States. John Pitchlynn and others opposed him, however, and Tecumseh was unsuccessful–which would become a source of tension between the tribes in the future.
Efforts to move Indians out of their homelands began almost as soon as the Louisiana Purchase was completed, during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency. The conclusion of the War of 1812 contributed to a new sense that the nation was destined to grow. Secretary of War John Calhoun decided to aggressively pursue this policy of moving the Native Americans–for his part, probably more in the hope of preserving and civilizing them than stealing their lands. In 1817, he sent a commission to the Choctaws, but not many of them welcomed the proposal. Calhoun later dispatched Andrew Jackson, who had defeated the British in 1812, to press the issue. Some of John Pitchlynn’s family were among those who liked the idea, and his oldest son James made the move and declared himself to be chief of the Choctaws in the West. The Principal Chiefs of the tribe refused the offer, despite the fact that some fullbloods did express a desire to move.
In the spring of 1820 Jackson again came and, with John Pitchlynn interpreting, declared that the United States was anxious for the members of the tribe to move to lands west of the Mississippi. When tribal leaders again resisted, Jackson threatened them. Jackson’s threats, plus $4,600, five hundred of which went to John Pitchlynn and seventy-five to his son James, turned the tide, and the treaty of Doak’s Stand was signed on October 18, 1820.
When it was discovered that lands ceded to the Choctaw tribe included parts of northwestern Arkansas where there were already several white townships, tribal leaders were brought to Washington to secure a new treaty. They were given the first-class treatment while in Washington. Twenty-five hundred dollars was spent on clothes, jewelry, and whiskey. The old chief Pushmataha contacted croup and died, but the Chiefs eventually signed a treaty giving away their Arkansas lands for six thousand dollars annually, designated to be spent on education.
Peter Pitchlynn, called Snapping Turtle by his full-blood friends, was actually only one-quarter Choctaw by blood. He was raised very much as a Choctaw, yet as the son of a well-to-do white trader was always somewhat set apart. In the early 1820s he attended school for about two years; during this time he also helped form a local police force and tried to curtail the whiskey trade in his i district.
When a school for boys was set up at Blue Springs, Peter led twenty-one students on the arduous journey across Tennessee to the new school. Soon afterwards, young Pitchlynn became involved in the issue of whether to accept the latest proposal to remove the tribe to the West. This time, the negotiations occurred at the town of Wilson in the Choctaw Nation, where a commission that included General William Clark of Missouri offered the tribe one million dollars to move. Many members of the tribe, including Peter, did not like the proposal and vigorously opposed it.
Deciding that he needed further schooling, Pitchlynn enrolled in the Choctaw Academy for three months but after that brief time quit, went home, and again involved himself in tribal affairs. Thomas McKenney, the first head of the newly organized Bureau of Indian Affairs, met with the tribal leaders in 1827, once again pushing the idea of the removal, and Peter served as a secretary to the proceedings. McKenney failed, but he suggested to the tribe that they send a delegation to the new lands in the West for the purpose of surveying them and seeing for themselves how desirable they were. Whatever his feelings about the removal, the exploration certainly appealed to young Pitchlynn’s spirit of adventure.
With financial assistance from McKenney, Pitchlynn first made another effort at improving his education, enrolling in the University of Nashville for six months. Years later, he recalled that he had graduated from there, but as with some of the other claims he made late in life–for example, that he had founded the Lighthorse, ended polygamy in the tribe, and been leader of the 1828 expedition– this wasn’t true. His time in Nashville was not wasted, however, for he did buy and read books while he was there.
He then went back to the Choctaw Academy and caused an altercation that ultimately resulted in the Academy being closed. Pitchlynn protested that the school was dirty and in disrepair, the food was inadequate, and the negro servants were disrespectful. In response, the Academy Director, Colonel Richard M. Johnson– a Senator from Kentucky who would be elected Vice-President of the United States in 1836–countercharged that Pitchlynn had himself just wasted five hundred dollars of the tribe’s money on his own false attempt at an education. While this controversy still raged, Peter departed on his expedition to the West.
In 1840, during one of his many later journeys to Washington, Peter Pitchlynn met Henry Clay on a steamboat in the Ohio River. The steamboat was delayed, and as was common on those occasions, passengers devised a “mock trial” over the issue of whether the married or the bachelor life was preferable. Pitchlynn was chosen to represent the married and Clay the bachelor side of the question. At first uncertain about what to say, Pitchlynn, remembering Methodist testimonials concerning the religious life, went into a close description of the feelings he experienced as a married man. He did this with gusto, laying particular stress on the goodness of his wife. At the end of the debate, Clay was said to vie with the ladies present at applauding him.
A meeting that occurred on another journey up the Ohio gives us another hint of the personality of Pitchlynn, for he happened to be on the same riverboat with Charles Dickens, who found him very interesting indeed. Dickens wrote of him, in his American Notes: “He spoke English perfectly well, though he had not begun to learn the language, he told me, until he was a young man grown. He had read many books; and Scott’s poetry appeared to have left a strong impression on his mind: especially the opening of The Lady of the Lake…. He appeared to understand correctly all he had read, and whatever fiction had enlisted his sympathy in its belief, had done so keenly and earnestly. I might almost say fiercely….
“He told me that he had been away from his home, west of the Mississippi, seventeen months: and was now returning. He had been chiefly at Washington on some negotiations pending between his Tribe and the government: which were not settled yet (he said in a melancholy way), and he feared never would be: for what could a few poor Indians do against such well-skilled men of business as the whites? He had no love for Washington; tired of towns and cities very soon; and longed for the Forest and the Prairie.
“I asked him what he thought of Congress? He answered, with a smile, that it wanted dignity, in an Indian’s eyes.
“He would very much like, he said to see England before he died; and spoke with much interest about the great things to be seen there. When I told him of that chamber in the British Museum wherein are preserved household memorials of a race that ceased to be, thousands of years ago, he was very attentive, and it was not hard to see that he had a reference in his mind to the gradual fading away of his own people.”
Pitchlynn would make many other trips to Washington as a representative of the Choctaws, most of them attempts to get the government to meet various promises made in various treaties and agreements. When the Civil War broke out, he had an interview with Lincoln, and they agreed that the best course for the tribe was to remain neutral, despite the fact that Pitchlynn was himself owner of more than one hundred slaves. Although the majority of Choctaws were for the Confederacy, and the tribe split over the issue, Pitchlynn was elected Principal Chief of his people, 1846-66.
Pitchlynn died in 1881, after spending years of his life pursuing Choctaw claims. It would become the general theme of the entire later part of his life. His own later financial and political aspirations were finally so unsuccessful that he died penniless and in debt. Similar stories were played out in the lives of many formerly prosperous Choctaws in the wake of the war. Pitchlynn had to be buried in a public vault pending further arrangements. Yet, during his life he made contributions to Choctaw education, he negotiated treaties, he was the Chief of the Tribe during the Civil War and a National Delegate after 1865. The Supreme Court eventually awarded the tribe three million dollars, but not until Pitchlynn was gone. During his lifetime, he had been suspect by both whites and Indians. He had been a man between nations.
Although the excellent biography of Peter Pitchlynn by David Baird (Oklahoma, 1972) was written before Pitchlynn’s diaries were available, we have made reference to it in this foreword and in some footnotes. The diary was in the hands of collector/scholar Lester Hargrett, who had begun the laborious process of deciphering, typing, and making notes. Without his knowledge and work, this version of the diary could not be presented. We have relied in many instances on his notes to illuminate the text.
The diary itself presented an editorial challenge, both because of the inevitable problems of understanding details of the American frontier 165 years ago and because of the shape the diary was in. It is in no way a neat document. Much of it was written literally with a pencil on Peter Pitchlynn’s knee in the woods, and entries are sometimes not in serial order. Some of the dates are incorrect, much of the language is rough, repetitive, and a peculiar mix, to the current ear, of the colloquial and the bookish. The editors have chosen silently to correct the spelling of words like “tuck” to “took” and “cold stone” to “coal stone.” While something is lost by making such corrections, the overall manuscript is finally more readable. Most importantly, we have made numerous cuts, avoiding passages that are either repetitive or of less interest.
In a word, this is a version of Peter Pitchlynn’s diary rather than the thing itself. Scholars should refer to the actual manuscript diary, which is at the University of Oklahoma, in the Western History Collection.
Thanks to Librarian John R. Lovett and Curator Donald DeWitt there for their help with this project.
Speer Morgan Greg Michalson
When we made our departure from our country we knew not what would be the result–whether we should again return to it, or be left to moulder in a foreign land, unburied and unlamented. And notwithstanding our hearts were proud, and cared not for danger, we yet from the aspect of things ahead could not refrain from indulging ourselves in visionary forebodings.
There was before us an extensive, and unknown region, which we were to enter, our road laid through nations that were rude and that loved war, particularly that of the Washashees, with whom we have been for the last forty years upon the bitterest terms of enmity.
Agreeable to the understanding the nation had with Government, we were appointed as Delegates on the part of the Hayeypatoola District to accompany our older brothers the Chickasaws through an exploring expedition to the north, and west of Missouri, and r ound by the way of the country belonging to the Choctaws west of the Arkansas Territory. According to which, we left the Nation on the 26th of September and proceeded on to Memphis where we fell in with the Chickasaw Delegation. From this place we ascende d the Mississippi River in a steam boat for St. Louis and we arrived on the 12th of October after a pleasant voyage, seven days on the river.
We had scarcely landed in the port of St. Louis when General Clark came down and invited the delegations to accompany him to his residence. We did so and were hospitably entertained by him until arrangements were made for our residence during our stay. In this place we had the satisfaction of seeing some of the Sioux, a people but little known to the Choctaws. From every appearance, they seemed to be a poor and miserable race. Their dress and manners were different from any people we had yet seen, and the ir language bore not the least similarity to that of the Choctaws. They consented to have an interview with us. (1)
We met in the house of General Clark. We stated to them briefly the object of our expedition–that the Choctaws had thought it proper to send us to see the people of other nations of red people and hold talks of peace and claim them as their friends and b rothers. We had come a long ways and were truly happy to see them. When we returned to our country, we should tell the Choctaws of them and that they should be remembered by our nation and considered in future as our brothers and friends, and that they sh ould not be forgotten if they were far from us. We exhorted them to do the same. By this means our friendship would remain undiminished. We then presented to them tobacco and wampum for their principal chiefs, and also a written talk. After this we shook hands and closed our interview.
The winter being close on hand, the Chickasaws did not think it practical to explore the country recommended by Col. McKenny (2) and after some consultation between them and Clark, it was agreed upon to abandon that intention, and only look at the country west of Missouri and Arkansas. This was also sati sfactory to the Choctaws, as we were anxious to get on to our country on the Arkansas and to have that explored thoroughly, so much so at least as to be able to give correct information to the nation of it.
We made our departure from St. Louis on October 18th, and crossed the Missouri River at St. Charles. Our course from this place was generally northwest. After traveling two hundred miles in this direction we crossed again this river. The breadth of this r iver is three-quarters of a mile. After this, our course was generally the same until we reached the state line and the Shawnee Nation. All the lands we have seen so far belong to the whites, and is settled in places tolerably thick. This country needs no description. It is principally prairie.
We proceeded without delay through St. Charles, Franklin, and several little towns. Arrived at the western line of Missouri without any accident except to the Creek interpreter, who had been unwell previous to our setting out from St. Louis and after seve ral days traveling became so unwell that it was impossible for him to proceed any farther. I have heard since that he died five days afterwards. He was a man of a good mind and excellent disposition, and just in the morning of life, but now lies in a dist ant land where no parent, brother, or sister ever will see the little mound that wraps him in mouldering clay. He made his journey to that country from whence no traveller returns. His Spirit has gone to seek admission where there are no disputes as to th e rights of soil.
We reached the western line on November 2nd, and remained there one week in order to get an Osage interpreter. We however passed the time very agreeably with our older brothers the Chickasaws. The day after we reached the line,(3) we received a visit from the Great Prophet of the Shawanoes, (4) brother of Tecumseh, who fell in a battle against the Americans.
The Prophet appears to be about 50 years of age, of common height, stoutly built and of a commanding appearance. He is blind in the right eye. His dress was more in the fashion of the Chickasaws than of the Choctaws. During our introduction, he exhibited pleasure and sometimes even satisfaction.
On the following day we were visited by Perry and Cornstalk, two of the principal chiefs of the Shawanoes. Perry is a stoutly built personage having a very determined countenance. His dress was simple, consisting of a hunting shirt, cotton leggings, and m occasins of dressed deer skins, handkerchief round his head. The Cornstalk is taller than the Prophet or Perry and of a more serious cast. His dress was very poor, being a common coarse gray frock coat worn out at the elbows and coarse about the skirts.
We spent the day with those chiefs, opening still wider the white path of peace. They returned in the evening,(5) and early the next morning the Prophet and the chiefs came to our camp to have a general talk with us. Perry first rose and spoke for some length of time. He was glad, he said, that we did not pass his nation as strangers, that we had, after travelling a great distance, come to see him. He then spoke some time of the fo rmer interviews they had with our forefathers, and that it seemed the Great Father had ordered it so that we should meet again and take each other by the hand. After he had ended his speech he presented to each of the delegations white beads and tobacco as a renewer of our old friendship.
The Prophet then rose and spoke some length of time on the subject of the ignorance of the Indians in general. He said that they knew not anything, even that which was good for them. He then spoke of the great wisdom of the President of the United States. He said that he knew what was for their good. Knowing these things to be true, he said that he had given up his own opinion on things respecting the interest of his nation and that he looked to the Great Father, the President, to advise in every thing, a nd that he obeyed him in all things like an obedient child, and recommended that we should do the same. After closing his speech he presented purple strands of beads and, with it, tobacco. He said this tobacco must be spoken in a council when you return t o your country, that the first puff should be in remembrance of the place where we had met them, the second in remembrance of your wives and children, that it was the great duty of man to love and provide for them the comforts of life, and the third shoul d be in remembrance of our older brothers the Shawnees. After this we were invited to visit their town. Evening growing late, they returned home.
On the morning of the following day we started over to their town, which was five miles off. When we got in sight of the Shawanoes we beheld the American flag waving high in the center of their town. They had prepared for us a dinner and we were accommoda ted soon after we had reached the village. After taking dinner we returned to our camps and bade them farewell. The Shawanoes are situated on the western line of Missouri. In a few years, I think, they will all be tillers of the soil. They have not much g ame because it is nearly hunted out. Their manners and customs are pretty much as those of the Choctaws with but a few exceptions.
They told us that they had not been there more than eight months and what they had for us to eat at their dinner was what their Great Father gave them, and that they had not anything themselves. We were treated by the Shawanoes with the utmost friendship. They seemed extremely rejoiced at our interview and, to use their own language, we met like long separated brothers. They were all pleased with their new country, and I thought the country was good, but by far inferior to our country here.
November 7th –Rode twelve miles out in the Shawnee lands. Passed through Fithes Town. This place is not quite so eligibly situated as Perry’s Town nor are the
improvements as good, but the land about it is most excellent, and from information, it is well watered. I proceeded on in a northern direction, travelled about four miles and reached the trading house for the Shawnees and Kansas nation. Saw today the Prophet, shook hands with him for the last time. Killed today two turkey hens. I neglected to place in my book that I killed another deer. Kincaid another. Red Dog also another.
November 9th –The morning with us was busy. Mr. McCoy delivered a short address and prayers after which we soon mounted our horses and set out upon expedition (6) to the Santa Fe Road, crossed it, and continued our course. At length we came to the Blue River after travelling thirteen miles of all prairie, and it very windy and unpleasant . I went hunting after striking camp, and killed nothing but a muskrat.
Monday, November 10th –Owing to not finding our horses early we did not get off soon. Left camp at 9:00, travelled due south until we reached another prong of the Blue. Crossed two more prongs of the Blue, and at length took camp on the waters of the fourth prong. The streams are of rock bottoms. The lands we have passed over today have been high and not very good, but is certainly the best watered country that I have ever seen. There is a great deal of brush on the waters of the Blue.
Crossed today the main Santa Fe road. Travelled only nine miles, went out in the evening and killed three bear. Saw plenty of elk signs, weather pleasant.
November 11th –The lands we travelled over today have been high, rolling beautifully and extending as far as the eye can reach. The lands are not rich, but well watered. The waters of the Blue & Osage nearly reach each other. There is a dividing ridge between them, extending east and west, on which we saw much elk signs but not deer. The company travelled fourteen miles, and I about twenty. This would be the prettiest country in the world if it was only timbered, but it is all prairie.
In my rambles I came to the main Osage River. It is from bank to bank fifty yards wide; a beautiful river. We are now camped on the banks of a small fork of the Osage. I have explored today one of the streams of the Osage. The weather is beautiful and ple asant.
November 12th –We left our encampment on the small creek early in the morning. The weather is cloudy, smoky (7) and cold. We had not proceeded more than two miles when we crossed another small prong of the Osage. The timber on this creek would be fit for no other use than to make fire wi th. After leaving this branch, we ascended a high hill from which we saw as far as the eye could reach, all prairie, heavens and the earth. The soil of the prairies today has been inferior, but McCoy and some of the whites with us say that it is first rat e, and compared it to those in the vicinity of Lexington, Kentucky.
From the highlands we then descended gradually until we reached the main Osage, on which we are now encamped.
November 13th –Left camp a few minutes before 10:00. Crossed the Osage River two hundred yards above our encampment. The river is from 60 to 70 yards wide from bank. The timber on this river is from three-quarters to one-mile wide, consisting of all kinds of oak, hickory, walnut, hackberry, mulberry, sycamore etc. After leaving the river we wound our way upon the high hills that ranged along a mile from the river in a southwest course until we struck another large fork of the Osage River and are at t his time encamped on its south side immediately on its banks. The lands here are generally inferior. Thirteen Indians visited our camp–of the Kansas tribe.
November 14th –Started from camp this morning a few minutes before 9 o’clock, the morning cloudy and cold. We travelled up the river on which we encamped and have pursued all day generally a south course. I left the company and made my way up to the top of the high hills and travelled on them for some time. The wind blew strong and cold. As far as I could see to my left the face of the country seemed mountainous. There was a great deal of lime stone on the sides of those mountains. Soon after I had r ejoined the company I heard a gun fire. It was Love, (8) who had shot at a deer. As soon as the gun fired we heard oft nearby a scream. Upon examination it was a woman, of the Kansas tribe. She seemed very much affrighted. I was sorr y for her. She was rude and wild in her aspect. (9)
From this scene I left the company again and wound my way among the high hills and valleys. In my route I saw an Indian. My friend Love was with me. The Indian started towards us in a trot as soon as he saw us. He approached us in a pleasing manner and sa id howdy, and then begged my friend Love for his dog, and then for some tobacco. He was no doubt a husband to the woman who we just had affrighted by our approach. Also a Kansas, his dress consisted only of an old blanket that he wrapped around his should ers in the Indian fashion, leather leggings and moccasins.
Upon my arrival back with the company, they had camped on the banks of the same stream we were on last night. The lands we have seen today have been sometimes moderately rich. More timber today than usual. The sun has not been seen once today. Cold and wi th the appearance of snow. Our course has been nearly southwest. Owing to the difficulties in crossing some of the gullies, we made turns in every direction. Travelled sixteen miles. I saw today a high bluff on this creek, which was principally rotten limestone.
November 15th –When we arose this morning we found the weather clear and cold. There was a large frost on the ground. The sun rose full in her might. We left camp at 8:00. Crossed the creek on which we had encamped and then travelled along the edge of the prairie. Then we turned and travelled due south until we struck some of the head waters of the Neosho. The timber here is a quarter of a mile wide. The bottoms are rich, but never can be tended. The lands we have seen today have been poor, stoney and gravelly. The wind has been very high all day. So much so that it was very unpleasant to travel. Cold also. Some aluminum and silex. I have several pieces of rock put away for my own curiosity.
November 16th, Sunday –After prayers we started, and from our last night’s encampment we pursued generally a due south course until we came to the Neosho, and down it a few miles made camp. We are situated on the eastern banks of this beautiful strea m in a place that is truly romantic. There is in front a wall of solid rock and just behind us the Neosho winds her course. We have a fine pasture for our horses. We are within a few miles of the Osage villages. Mr. Mograine tells me that the meaning of Neosho is good water, “Ne” water, and “osho” good.
He says that it is six days travel to where the buffalo ranges. I killed today an animal that I shall call the prairie badger. (10)
I killed also a prairie hen. This place we have agreed to name the Plains of Marathon. The soil of this little valley is rich. The weather has been pleasant, but owing to the hard winds we had to face yesterday and the fatigues of my watch last night I ha ve been indisposed and unable to enjoy it.
We saw today before us four Indians running with all their might to the patch of woods to our right on the creek. They seemed to be wild. I ascended a mound and beheld the whole country for some distance around, and far away to the west the country rolled off beautifully, and about six miles away I saw a person riding. Stopped at half past four, travelled eighteen miles. Had a long talk with Mr. ___ on the ___. (11) My packhorseman, Tishosho Tushka, is unwell.
November 17th, Monday- -We proceeded the next morning down on the left side of the Neosho and pursued generally a south course. The Neosho is a very beautiful stream, about eighty yards from bank to bank. We crossed it just at the agency, which is sit uated about four hundred yards from the river. The Neosho winds her course to the east and extends up a northwest direction, where we see nothing but the hills and heavens meeting.
There are at this place upwards of two hundred Osages, whose wigwams I shall not forget to describe. The weather today has been pleasant. Saw nothing but a red prairie wolf, smaller than those in the Choctaw lands.
Upon our arrival the Agency runners were sent out for the principal men of the Osages, saying that our object in coming here was partly to hold with them a talk of importance, to make peace: to put an end to the enmity that has so long existed between the m and the Choctaws. The runners (as they are so called in this country) left the agency at half past 4:00 and one of them returned a quarter before 7:00, after running at least forty-five miles. Wonderful for man. Man is more than a horse. Visited in the evening Major Hamtramck, the agent of this nation.
November 18th- -This morning walked a few paces up the river and came to a high cliff in which I found a strata of coal stone of two inches breadth that extends along for twenty- five yards. This stone has been tried, and has proven to be good. I have been informed that on the Neosho there are large quantities of alum, in a crystallized state, and that on one of its streams has been found lead in large quantities.
Visited today Mr. Pixley, (12) a missionary who has given me considerable knowledge respecting the Osages, which I shall try to put in my book. Wrote a few words of the Osage language. Read several chapter s in the Bible in Genesis and then slept awhile. The manner of Osages in burying the dead is to place them about eighteen inches under ground, covering them over with stone sometimes three or four feet above the level of the earth.
This has been a pleasant day but spent in doing nothing, owing to the non-attendance of the White Hair,(13) whom we are desirous to see and talk with.
November 20th –Our course from the Agency was a little east of south. Proceeded over a rolling country. Came to the White Hair’s village. The White Hair’s village is situated on the west bank of the Neosho a quarter of a mile from the prairie. Soon a fter our arrival we had a council, and talked with the principal man of the Osages on the subject of making peace. Growing late, we smoked the pipe of peace and then returned to our camps.
The weather cold. At night the wind rose and with it we had some snow that covered the ground.
November 21st- -This morning the wind not very high and very cold. At 12:00 we were invited to take dinner with Pretty Bird. (14) He is their great man in war, and the orator in council. His house is a quarter of a mile from the village in an open prairie. Pretty Bird’s fare was boiled buffalo which was to me delicious, being the first that I ever ate. The Little Bird spoke and said that what he gave us was such as he ate, and that it was the best he had, if he had better he would have given it us, etc, etc. We then were invited to dine with White Hair. He said what he gave us was the best he had, which was what the Choctaws call Tamfulla, and it was good. I had been wishing for some of it since I left the Nation. (15)
At 2:00 we renewed our talks. Major Colbert first spoke and made a lengthy speech. Then Amulbby. After he finished, the Choctaws spoke again. Red Dog first, and secondly Kincaid, and lastly I made the farewell speech. I interpreted for Red Dog and Kincaid . When we concluded it was dark, half past 7 o’clock. I am much pleased with the Osages. They are larger than any persons of any other nation that I am acquainted with in size of body. They are generally tall and lean in flesh.
- PETER P. PITCHLYNN: TALK TO THE OSAGES
I am happy to see you. I have travelled a long road. I first came to St. Louis and there saw General Clark, the great friend of the red man. The Choctaws had seen him before, and they were very proud when they saw him. To St. Louis we travelled up the Mis sissippi River in a boat that went by fire. We were seven days on the river. From that place we travelled towards the west, and without any difficult, we at length reached the Shawnee Village, near which we spent five days. We talked with them as friends and brothers, smoked together and ate together. From the Shawnees we then turned and have now made our camps on the banks of the Neosho, within the center of your villages, and have for the first time taken you by the hand, and had the pleasure of seeing you in person with my own eyes. It was the wish of my greatest chief and all the head men of the Choctaws that I should see you, and I am really glad that this day has at length come when the Osages and the Choctaws should meet, shake hands and talk to ea ch other. It is a fact that our nations have been at times in enmity with each other, and like men and warriors made the ground red with each other’s blood whenever they saw each other. The Choctaws are thought to be the largest nation of red people in th e United States and they, like other red men, love war, but we have been told by our Great Father, the President, to be at peace with all nations, and teach our young men how to work, and advise them to pursue the ways of the white man. Believing this to be true and the best way for ourselves and the generation to come, the Choctaws now have laid by everything like war, and wish to be at peace with all nations, and particularly the nations of red people. And now we offer you our hands and with it you have our hearts and friendship. And from this day let us be friends. Let that great light, that shines on all nations never again witness any more of war between the Choctaws and the Osages. Let our paths be in future paths of peace.(16)
November 22nd- -Set out this morning from White Hair’s village for Fort Gibson at fifteen minutes past 10 o’clock. We proceeded this morning over rolling country and soon struck timber, and crossed a creek that is twenty yards wide. It is called th e Beast. (17) The soil today has been middlin good. Travelled twenty-five miles.
November 23rd- -Set out this morning at twenty-five minutes past 8:00. The wind rose and it blew all day tremendously. Our eyes suffer very much. Blew off our hats very frequently, and carried them a quarter of a mile before we could overtake them. As we ascended the banks, the country to our left was rolling at a distance. On our right was the timber on the creek. After travelling several miles we crossed again the creek on which we had camped. There we saw a solid bed of the coal stone, which seemed to be of the best quality. At times today we saw no timber on our right or left. From here we entered the Cherokee lands, passing down into a valley where there is a considerable quantity of sandstone. The timber about here is blackjack pin oak. Camped i n the evening on the east side of a creek (a tributary of the Neosho.) I went a mile along in its bed and saw quantities of coal stone. In the evening the wind became low.
November 24th- -Saw a patch of cane today, the first I have seen since my departure from home, and a fine grove of timber–more than any I have seen since I left the Osages. We passed over the relics of an old Indian town three miles in length and two in breadth, then crossed several tributaries of the Neosho and at length, after dark, reached Shotoes. (18) Travelled thirty-six miles.
November 26th- -Started from camp at a few minutes before 8:00, travelled over a mile and reached Union Mission. It rained and the wind blew. In the evening we reached the Creek Agency,(19) and camped one mile below on the banks of the Verdigris. The country over which we passed today is very broken and rocky.
November 27th- -I have today done nothing but confined myself upon my back. I wrote a letter to Father, had my horse shod.
We left our encampment at the Shawnee village on the 8th and proceeded southwest exploring the lands between the Kansas and Osage Nations, and all I can say of that portion of the world is that it is good for nothing and never will be, for it is all prair ie and nothing but rock and gravel. A tree in that country is a perfect curiosity. The buffalo is still three hundred miles west of that country, and as to deer we never saw none at all, nor any kind of game whatever. The land is generally poor. Notwithst anding that these things are all true, the white people with us have been presumptuous enough to tell us that it is a fine country.
We saw the Kansas Indians, and I know you never saw such people in your life. Their manners and action are wild in the extreme. They are in a perfect state of nature and would be a curiosity to any civilized man. Their dress consists only of leather leggi ns, moccasins, and a buffalo robe wrapped around their body. Their heads are trimmed close all over except on the back, where a small patch is left and plaited into two pieces. The women also had on leggins and moccasins and nothing more about them than a buffalo robe. Their hair is left to grow long and hang promiscuously over their shoulders. It is said they go perfectly naked in the summer. The Kansas Indians are no doubt a part of the Osages, as they speak the same language.
Without giving you a journal of our travels, I shall tell you something about the Osages. Upon our arrival at their agency we found nobody but a few old men and women. The warriors and principal men were all out hunting, but immediately runners were sent and before twelve o’clock the next day several of them came in, White Hair excepted, who is their Principal Chief. We waited for him two days. At length the company concluded to proceed down to his village, and just as we reached his place of residence, h e also arrived and soon we commenced our talk. Before sun set we made a white road and buried forever the tomahawk. At night the wind blew tremendously. With it came snow and by the morning the ground was covered, a white road sure enough, but we spent an other day with them, talking and eating.
Peace and harmony will be between the Choctaws and Osages in the future. One of the most influential characters of the Osages have come with us and is with us now, but he will return back home from here. (20) He is called Pretty Bird and is the greatest man by nature the Osages have. He is their principal man in war, and in council he is their orator. He is truly a great man. From the Osages we travelled south, coming through part of the Cherokee lands, and at length have reached the Creek Agents on the Verdigris. We are five miles above Fort Gibson and sixty above Fort Smith. We expect to be here two or three days to recruit our horses, and then will strike for the Canadian.
I have enjoyed very good health, and I do wish you not to feel the least uneasy about me. Tell mother that I came very near getting married to a half-breed Osage, a very pretty young woman and that I am yet in love with very strongly.
I do not expect to go home with the company. I shall stay behind and go home by water. You must not expect me before March. Kincaid will get home probably in January. You must tell his family all the news I have written. He has enjoyed good health without a day’s exception. Present my love to Mother, Brothers, and Sisters, and to all who may inquire after me.
November 28th- -Spent the day principally in writing. In the evening I visited the Creek camps and saw them dance. I am extremely sorry to find people of my own color (Indians) so full of vice as I have found the Creeks are. There is no distinction between them and the Negroes within themselves. They mingle together in society upon terms of equality. There are among them a great many mixed breeds and some of them are influential characters. (21) The Negro men, it seemed to me, were the head managers of the dance. In fact, I have seen no Indian men dancing. They were Negro men and Indian women. Two hundred thirty Cree ks arrived today from the old Nation, and have just crossed the Verdigris and are camped on the opposite banks. Colonel Brearly (22) is their Agent. The women of the Creeks are very lewd.
November 29th- -I did not get up very well this morning, and I yet feel not so very well. Mr. Richard Fields of the Cherokees (Old Nation) came to my camp, and we have become acquainted. He is a half-breed, and is quite intelligent and a young man of steady habits. He seems to have strong feelings of attachment for his old country, and have not that sanguine opinion of the new country I find with many of the Creeks. I find the Creeks generally pleased with the country. The Verdigris here is about one hundred twenty yards wide, with tolerably high banks on both sides. There is more timber here than I have seen since I left the Shawnees. I have been told that between this river and the Arkansas, the Creek lands are pretty good. Prairies not so large as those the way we came. Since we have been here, the weather has been good.
Major Colbert’s horse being lost, we are detained, and have not left here today.
At sundown I got on my horse and rode over to the Creek village, where they were dancing. I joined with them in three reels and then came off. Just upon my arrival, an old woman died within twenty steps of the place where they had made arrangements to hav e the dance, owing to which the party moved their dance three hundred yards away. This proves that these people are so full of vice that they regard not the death of their nearest neighbor. The dance was carried on near where McIntosh (23) resides.
November 30th- -Owing to my ramble last night over to the Creek village, I feel drowsy this morning, yet am well. The sun rose this morning beautifully, and the weather is really very pleasant. Everything seems to rejoice. The birds are singing their harmonious notes, the heavens are without a threat of a cloud. This morning Pretty Bird came to my tent and took with me breakfast, after which we were requested to go to the Reverend Dr. McCoy’s tent to receive the benefits of a prayer. At 10:00 we set out from camp and took the road to the fort, crossing a beautiful creek, near which some new cabins had been erected by the Creeks. The lands between the Creek agency and Fort Gibson is good in places.
After crossing the river we went down by the fort and camped below it a mile and a half. I went out in the evening and took a hunt. I had not gone far when I was compelled to forsake my course on account of a large lake. I crossed at where it made a neck on a log, and went down several miles. By this time dark was approaching. I hurried to get back but met difficulties in the cane and bushes.(24) However I took everything patientl y and pursued my course towards camp. I reached camp at 9:00. The company laughed at me and said I was lost. There is here plenty of cane. It is only three and a half miles between the mouth of the Neosho and the Verdigris. The lands about here are rich, the timber in abundance.
December 1st- -This day has been spent by me in an idle way. The only thing I have done is go up to the garrison and get me two bottles of liquor. Slept and thought of my friends at home. Little wind stirring. Weather pleasant. Just at sunset I loaded up my gun and stepped out, and before I had gone two hundred yards I saw a prairie wolf, which I shot and killed–the second that I have killed in this country. Pretty Bird, the Osage chief, left us and returned home today. I made a short address at his departure.
December 2nd –We left camp at 9:00 and proceeded for the Canadian. The morning was windy and cloudy, much of the appearance of rain. We travelled from camp a southwest course and went through a large cane brake, say two miles in breadth before we rea ched the Arkansas. The cane here is not large, such as on the Tombigbee, but thick. We forded the river. The Arkansas is a quarter of a mile in breadth, with sandy banks, and bottom. The water is turbid. Soon after crossing we entered the prairie where th e wind blew intolerably high–the country was rolling, and at a distance to our left we saw high hills covered with timber in places. The soil in some places was middlin good. This country is too scarce of timber to be inviting. Killed another prairie wol f, and one turkey. Kincaid also killed a turkey. At 12:00 in the night came on a shower of rain and continued raining till day.
December 3rd –The weather cold and cloudy. The soil in no place today was good. Camped on the banks of the north fork of the Canadian. To our right we saw mountains, robed with scrubby timber. The waters we see in this country generally turbid. Saw t oday buffalo sign. Killed a large buck. Duncan and McTish bantered me and Kincaid that they could kill more game than we could. The bet was a bottle of wine, which we won. I hauled out today my bottle of whiskey, and Kincaid and I drank a health to our fr iends at home.
December 5th –I got separated from the company and was alone. I travelled till night, struck camp, and just as I laid down I heard guns at camp. I started out and first came to a Cherokee camp and got one of them to pilot me to our camp. Twas after 9 :00 when I got to camp. I saw today no good lands. The country is mountainous.
December 6th –Kincaid and myself started together and got on buffalo sign and followed them into the mountains, and by some way we became separated, and I have ever since been trying to get on the trail of the company, but have not. I am now camped o n the banks of the Canadian, got poor Sambo tied to a tree, but he has plenty cane by him, and will do well enough. I saw no buffalo, but some bear sign.
December 7th –During last night the weather became clear and cold. Stars decorated the heavens. Sometime before day it again became cloudy, and great appearance of rain. At daylight I again mounted my horse, and pursued my way back the way I came. Ab out 8:00 I came on the trail of my company, having passed over it somehow yesterday. I pursued all day before I got up with the company. The Choctaw lands are generally poor and unfit for cultivation, no springs. The timber principally post oak and blackj ack.
I was sorry when I came up with my company to find that our leader, Captain Kennerly, had left us. He is in my opinion a gentleman. His conduct towards the delegations has been that which I would expect from a man of good principals and right opinions. Mr . McCoy is a missionary to the Potawattomies and has been leader to our parties, but he is, upon examination, rather superficial in his opinion of things. It seems to be his object to concentrate all the Indian nations within the limits of the United Stat es over on the western side of the Mississippi. (25)
December 9th- -We reached this morning the Choctaw agency at about 10:00, and camped by it. In the evening we visited the agent and had a talk. Weather cloudy and drizzling rain. I had the pleasure this morning of seeing my Uncle Edmund Folsom (26) and his son Peter, who I am as proud to see as any person in all my acquaintance. Peter has made considerable improvement and speaks good English. The agent has a healthy loo king situation for his residence, but not rich.
December 10th –The first thing I did this morning was write a letter to Father. Took breakfast with Major McClellan (27) after which we left his place and travelled on for Fort Smith on the river on our way to which we crossed the Poteau River on which are valuable lands, in my opinion. The com pany passed by the fort and have camped a mile below it. This fort is vacant and rapidly on the way to destruction. (28) It is situated on the eastern banks of a rugged bluff, immediately at the mouth of the Poteau. This place is undoubtedly a very sickly place. Around there I see Cherokees, Cr eeks and a Choctaw drinking. The weather cloudy and warm.
December 11th –I was sorry this morning my friend and uncle Kincaid left me and has gone home. I am now in a manner alone except my friend–is here with me. L—this morning got drunk and commenced a quarrel with me. (29) I am sorry also at parting with my Chickasaw friends and brothers. They left here a few minutes before Captain Kincaid. I looked at the guns and brass kettles at this place i ntended for the Choctaws that may immigrate to this country. I was invited by my relation Mr. Smith (30) to visit Capt. John Rogers, Chief to the Cherokees, (31) whom I am now with. I find him an intelligent man with a strong mind.
December 12th –Left Captain Rogers this morning and crossed over back the Arkansas in company with my cousin Mr. Smith and Garland Lincecum. Stayed a few minutes at Fort Smith. Went down to Mr. Morse’s a few hundred yards below the fort on the ban ks of the river, and was introduced to the landlady and her daughter, a pert little girl and right pretty too. From thence we went up to Uncle Folsom’s place and stayed all night with him.
December 13th –Uncle Folsom and his son Peter, Garland Lincecum, and myself set out this morning for the Choctaw Agency. When we came to the Poteau we found her rising and already unfordable. We went to where there was a ferry and crossed. A mountain to our left called the Sugar Loaf projected up into the clouds, wrapped in a blue mist that gave it a dreary and mournful appearance. It was ten miles off. We reached the agents at about 3:00.
December 14th –Returned to the Fort again, where I have met Mr. Smith. He and I went to a place where some Cherokees were dancing. While I was there, I was promised a wife. I did not accept her. In the night the weather cleared off and a heavy frost fell.
December 17th –Took dinner with Capt. Dodge (32) and proceeded on to Uncle Folsom’s, reaching there at sunset. The weather this evening has turned quite cool. Some appearance of snow. Saw some very good lands on the Cheroke e side. (33) Old Mr. Rogers’ place is twelve miles above the fort, and is situated immediately on a bluff on the Arkansas River. He has rich lands about where he lives.
There are signs here of an old field. From accounts French traders once lived here.
December 19th –Peter and the old Choctaw and I and some Delaware started today with a gang of dogs into the fork of the Poteau, a bear hunting. (34) After rambling nearly all day in the thick cane, we got home much wearied, but with no game. In the morning I started back to Ft. Smith and on my way I found three deer and killed them. Upon examination, they were all pet deer.
December 20th –Confined all day in bed with the dysentery, with which I was very unwell. Did nothing but read a letter.
December 23rd –In the evening the old Choctaw sent me word to go and see him. I did so, and we had a long talk about the Delawares. He said that the Delaware wished to remain this winter and next summer on the Choctaw lands and that he was much oppos ed to such a thing. I told him that it was also against my will and that I would if possible have them removed. We finished our talk at sunset and I returned home to Folsom’s.
December 24th –Received an invitation from Capt. Dodge to attend at his house a ball to be held on the evening. Uncle Edmund, Peter and I started to it, got there at sunset. I partook in it with some degree of satisfaction.
December 25th –On this day, was it that the Saviour of mankind was born? A day held sacred by all who feel the love of him, and why is it that the day is spent in dissipation, when everyone ought to commemorate it in the most solemn manner.
O how things are changed, from good to bad.
This day I have spent in lounging and resting, for I slept scarcely any last night.
The manners of the people in this country are to me more uncivilized than among the Choctaws. People go to balls without being invited. No regularity in dancing. Everything was dissipation and rowdiness. Among all the girls I did not see but one who had a nything like manners about her.(35)
January 4, 1829 –We left Fort Smith today, the weather very pleasant and agreeable. Uncle Folsom accompanied Peter and me out from the fort ten miles and returned back home. We proceeded on together to the Little Rock.
January 5th –Proceeded on, the weather remarkably pleasant. In our course today we had mountains to our right. Came into piny timbered country. Stayed all night with Mrs. Saddlers, who is indeed a fine woman. Travelled today thirty miles.
January 6th –We made an early start this morning and came on pretty rapidly. Let me not forget to mention that Mrs. Saddlers lives on the banks of the Short Mountain Creek, and has a ferry. The mountains to our right all day, robed with green pine. N othing has pleased my fancy more than the appearance of the mountains. They seemed to possess a magical sight. (36)
After crossing Shoal Creek, we crossed soon after another creek and after leaving its swamp we took a blazed way that led us to Witt’s Ferry. We immediately entered piney timbered country, and oh how sweet it was, the winds softly sighing through the boug hs of the pines. (37) It touched my finer feelings and brought my imagination into a thousand romantic, etc. We crossed the river, and then reached the mission at Dwight Station at sunset. Distanc e today thirty miles. Some appearance of falling weather.
January 7th –This morning when I got up it was cloudy. At 10:00 there came a small drizzling rain. I went to the male school and after hearing lessons from them, made to them a short address. Borrowed ten dollars from Washburn. Took dinner with Mr. W isner. Then came to Hitchcock’s room and wrote a letter to Uncle Folsom.
January 17th –Reached today the Post of Arkansas. (38) Distance twenty-seven miles. Country level. Prairie. Struck the woods within four miles of the town.
January 18th –I am at this time on the banks of the Mississippi waiting in great anxiety for a passage. It is probable I shall get off today. I shall soon be striding once more over the lovely hills and plains of the Choctaws, where I long to be. It is now almost four months since I took leave from home, and during that time I have not had the pleasure but once of hearing from my relations and friends. I have naturally a stronger affection towards my relations, and especially for my parents. I have h ad many a melancholy hour on their account, as I know they have grieved much at my being separated from them.
From the Post we proceeded down as far as Mr. Gondon’s, nine miles below, came to this place in a carriage, paid the driver $4.
January 19th –Bought a skiff. Paid $5 for it, and $2 more to an old Spaniard to row us down. We took the Arkansas to the cut off, thence into the White River, and down that river to a cut off again, passing from the Mississippi into the White River, but it is now dry. Left our vessel and took up by land, to Mr. Montgomery. Reached there late in the evening. Saw a Kentucky fight, (39) the first I have ever seen. This has been a day full of scenery.
January 20th –Spent this day in impatience, on account of no boats coming down.
January 21st –This morning the Car of Commerce arrived, and we embarked. Sailed all day without any accidents.
January 22nd –This morning just at 1:00 we struck a sand bar, and there stuck fast all day.
January 24th —
Peter P. Pitchlynn to “Dear Uncle” (40)
We have just reached Jackson, and we shall have the infinite satisfaction in a few more days of striding once more over the lovely hills and plains of our native country. Never in my life have I been so much put to the test of hardship and trouble as I ha ve been since my departure from Fort Smith. While there I was unfortunate, out of money, and dependent on the generosity of strangers. However, I have got through pretty well, but very sick of traveling, and in a prodigious humor for home. The first setback we got was at Witt’s Ferry. The ferry man would not put us over because we had not money, and so I had to commence to preach to the damn rascal, which made the thing worse, and at last I had to give him my handkerchief (the only one I had) before he wo uld consent to cross us. That evening we reached Dwight, the Missionary Station. We found them extremely polite and friendly to us, and loaned me ten dollars, which helped us considerable, for which I am a thousand times thankful to them. We spent a day w ith them. The time passed off very agreeably, for we were among people that were pretty much like us–the Cherokees who were there at school.
January 27th (41)–Left David Pickens this morning with the intention of taking an exploring expedition up the Arkansas as far as the Pheasant Bluff. The bottoms of the Poteau are in many plac es high and dry, beautifully situated for farming, and well timbered–Spanish oak, hickory of all kinds, hackberry, walnut, puckcorn, and spicewood are the principle growth of the bottoms on this river. This bottom lies between the Arkansas and Poteau, an d is at its greatest width about four miles wide and gets narrower until it comes to a point at the junction of the two rivers a few paces above Fort Smith. There are within this place valuable tracts of land, but the misfortune is that there are no eligi ble places for buildings, and that it would be sickly to live between those rivers. For corn and all kinds of vegetables there are no better lands in the world than those which I have seen today on the Poteau, and it said to be excellent also for cotton.< P>
I walked this evening down to the bottoms on the Arkansas River with Col. McClellan and his nephew Mr. John McClellan and viewed the situation of the lands. The bottoms are fully one mile from this place and exceedingly rich and well situated for farming and with heavy timber. The weather clear. Cold south winds. Mr. Moore is away from home, but I am hospitably accommodated by his lady and family.
January 28th –Along the edge of the bottom there are several places that would be fine to settle on–particularly at the Bear’s Bluff–This would be indeed a beautiful place if it was not for the little mounds (42) that are stuck here and there on it and disfigure it pretty much. Water by digging can no doubt be got here at no considerable distance below–in fact Mr. Moore informed me t hat there was a hole of standing water within two hundred yards of the place. The prairies were, I thought, second-rate land but no doubt will produce well. I saw several licks in the prairie, and there was to be seen in them a scum of salt that appeared very white, pretty much as though meals had been thrown on them. The Casue, where we crossed, was about twenty yards from bank to bank and of a rock bottom. In crossing it, my horse fell two or three times on account of the ice on it. I jumped from off my horse onto the bank and got over without being much wet, but it was with some difficulty that my horse got out.
Saw a gang of turkey today. Shot and killed one, but did not get it. I also shot at a deer and wounded it pretty bad. I also shot at an eagle and at the crack of the gun I saw the feathers fly. I am now encamped in the bottoms of the San Bois by the edge of a cane brake where my horses are faring well. I am seated by a very comfortable fire, and have taken my snack of hunting fare, and do think myself happy, notwithstanding I am now fully six hundred miles from home, and in a wilderness where no one has y et made his abode, and with nothing to be seen but interminable cane brakes, extensive prairies, lofty mountains, with their shaggy tops extending above the clouds, and nothing to be heard but the scream of the night owl and the wolf’s long lonesome howl. I could write more, but it is now late and I will lie down and take my rest.
January 29th,1832 –I awoke, got up this morning an hour and a half before day; after recruiting my fire, I commenced singing and whistling, as I generally do of mornings, but I did not feel as merry as I was when my friend and brother R.M. Jones was with me. My mind, in spite of everything, would turn towards home. I thought of my wife, then came the children, each one in turn.(43) I thought of everything around my long aband oned home. I have certainly thought more of my wife and children this day than any day since I left home. The sun rose this morning in all its splendor and beauty, but it was soon eclipsed by clouds, and the prospect of the day became somewhat gloomy and uncheering. The wind blew from the north raw and cold (as they say in this country) and continued so until evening–the wind has ceased, but there are no stars to be seen and the weather seems as though we shall either have rain or snow.
After taking a hearty breakfast, we caught our horses and made a start about an hour after sunup, and pursued a southwest course to the San Bois Bluff, which I guessed to be about three hundred feet high. From this lofty place I had an extensive view of t he country in every direction. I saw the Sugar Loaf Mountain, extending her peaked top high into the element and the Cavernole stretched along to the south like a heavy cloud on summers day. To the west I could see the wide spreading prairies, and far off mountains that barely lifted their heads above the intervening hills. To the northeast we saw the Arkansas and its sand beaches and, far beyond her, mountains and prairies as far as the eye could reach, but what interested me more than all these, was the great bottoms on the Arkansas, which I could see above and below for a great distance, particularly those between the San Bois and Pheasant Bluff. (44)
After looking about and around this place, I went down along the edge of the bottoms and took up camp in the edge of the cane–here I had some difficulty in getting wood and water. Broke my knife in perforating a hole through the ice to get water in a cre ek. Had turkey for supper. The wolves howled within a hundred yards of my camp all night. Had serious reflections. Dreamt about my wife and children. Killed two turkeys.
January 30th, 1832 –Got up this morning an hour before day, prepared breakfast–roasted a turkey–after eating, took a walk into the bottom. Viewed the lands. Got our horses and started back for Moore’s. My birthday…
At the three forks saw the cane in abundance, and very fine tracts of land, enough for fifty or more families to live on. This is about fifty miles from the agency. Timber good, consisting of black oak, post oak and pretty much as those that grow on the A rkansas Pine at the heads of those streams and on the mountains. Water in the San Bois all year. Deer scarce, buffalo range along here sometimes. Bee trees here are in great abundance. Turkeys are very plentiful at the three forks. Some bear.
September 23, 1837–We left Rush Creek camp (45) yesterday morning at about 7:00 and proceeded on our route westward–and encamped in the point of timber that made into this prairie which we have named Buffalo Prairie. It i s the first large prairie after leaving Washita Prairie. The road runs along on the dividing ridge between the Red and Washita rivers and is a crooked route, but the only one that can be traveled well–for on either side it is a rough and brushy country. We had some very grand views of the country on both sides of the road from the high knobs on the ridge. On arriving here, we found a camp of whites, and to us an interesting one. They had been prisoners among the Pawnees–a young woman about twenty-one years of age and her infant and two little brothers–one about nine years old and the other about seven. Fortunately they had been bought by Mr. Spaulding and were on their way home under his protection. We asked the young lady many questions respecting her captivity and her narrative was as follows:
“We moved to Texas from north part of Alabama, and settled high up on the Colorado. (46) My father’s name was Goachy. The Pawnees came to our house one morning. Three of my little brothers were at the spring with my child (a girl), there they killed one of my lit tle brothers, and then came to the house. I was in the house and my mother was out–I heard her scream. When I ran out I saw several Indians had hold of her–they struck her down and shot eight arrows into her breast and then shot her with a gun and scalp ed her.
My father and my oldest brother were out, with a wagon to haul in wood. I saw them killed. They shot at me but missed me. Seeing they had my infant and two little brothers prisoners, I ran to one of them and gave myself up. I done this hoping they might n ot kill me and that if I should live I might see what became of my babe and little brothers. They stripped me of my clothes and gave me an old worn out blanket to cover my nakedness and to screen my babe from the weather, and made me walk bare footed thro ugh the prairies. We were three weeks on the road, and every night my hands were tied behind together. When I came in they made me and my little brothers hold the scalps of my mother and father and two brothers, while they danced around us and mocked at u s. We were then divided out–my babe taken from me and I did not see her for two months.”
When she was thus telling about her infant she hugged and kissed the little child with a mournful look, often calling it by many lovely epithets. She then renewed her narrative:
“I was put to hard work. They were clearing ground and I had to grub and burn brush. I was abused and whipped every day. Oh, I tell you they are hard masters. But there was nothing that went so hard with me as that of being separated from my child. I knew not where it was, but I know it was not well treated. I can’t tell you the half of my sufferings.
I then spoke to her little brother, the eldest one, and asked him how he was treated. His answer was, “bad enough, and the worst of it, I was two months longer among them than the rest.”
“What did they give you to eat?”
“Beans and corn, it was all they had, but we did not have enough of that, for sometimes we ate
but once in three days, and then did not get enough.”
I asked him how he would like to live among such Indians as we were. He quickly replied, “Very well.” He is a smart lively boy. In fact the whole family have the appearance of being well raised, and how fortunate they have been after being cast away as it were by fate to thus be redeemed and have the prospect of now being in the society of their own people again. Relations they have none. The young woman had a languid and melancholy cast, the little boys looked like poor orphans indeed. I did no t learn as much about their fate as I wished to. But certainly I never felt more sympathy for any family than this family of prisoners.
From what I have learned from this family I am of the opinion that the Ta we ash or Pawnees as they are sometimes called are the most cruel Indians to prisoners than any tribe with which I am acquainted. It is the custom of all the Indians east of Mississ ippi to adopt prisoners into their family and to treat them with affection. They–the prisoners and Spaulding–left here today at about 11:00.
We turned out nearly all hands early this morning for a buffalo chase–two fine ones were killed. I saw today for the first time the antelope and also the prairie rabbit the two most fleet animals in this region. The prairie rabbit is very large, about th ree times as large as the swamp rabbit. The antelope is a beautiful animal at a distance. I know not how they look, but I am in hopes I will kill one before I return, and shall be able to describe it minutely. They are exceedingly wild, but I have had a s hot at one today, a large buck, but missed him. The sun was low, and I had to shoot right towards it. Late in the evening I rode to the north part of this prairie and had a glorious view of the bald hills beyond the Washita.
4 This was the famous Shawnee medicine man Tenskwatawa or The Open Door, who in 1805 had received in a trance the revelations and doctrines which inspired his brother Tecumseh’s vision of a great western and southern Indian confederacy. The Prophet and a body of his converts were attacked and defeated by General Wilham H. Harrison at Tippecanoe in 1811, while Tecumseh himself, with the approval of the British, was in the South trying to incite an Indian uprising against the United States—and finding his efforts among the Choctaws defeated by the influence of John Pitchlynn, the diarist’s father. After the War of 1812 The Prophet lived in Canada on a Bntish pension until 1826 when he rejoined his tnbe in Ohio. In 1827 he moved with his band to Cape Girardeau, Missoun, and in 1828 to the Shawnee reservation in western Kansas, where we are now meeting him, thoroughly chastened. He died in 1837.
6 This was Sunday. McCoy held a prayer service every Sunday. He wanted to dispense with travelling on the Sabbath but “a company of forty men, anxious to get out of the wilderness, few of whom have any religious regard for the Sabbath, cannot be persuaded . . . to rest for conscience sake.” (McCoy p. 354)
11 Probably a long talk with Mr. McCoy about the Bible. McCoy describes such encounters: “Among the [members of the southern delegation] was Peter P. Pitchlynn, a Choctaw; though not a professor of religion, he frequently borrowed my small bible to read, which I afterwards presented to him. I had much interesting conversation with him. At one time he inquired how it happened that Christians differed so much in opinion, when each sect appealed to the Scriptures for proof of its doctnnes. I endeavored to account for it satisfactorily to him, by the proneness of man to err; . . . man is averse to that which is right, and under the influence of this aversion, because truth is uncongenial with his evil disposition, he mistakes error for truth…” (McCoy, p. 355)
12 McCoy reports that the missionary Benton Pixley and the Indian Agent John F. Hamtramck “were at wide variance,” partly because the missionary was too demanding and impatient, and too ready to “administer reproof.” The missionary was forced to retire by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, ? and the agent “continued in office but a short time.”
15 McCoy reports a contretemps during these peacemaking feshvities Some of the Choctaws apparently requested one of the Osage scalps as a gift. The Osage gave them one and pronounced in a speech that according to custom now the Choctaw, who would soon be their neighbors, were now also their allies in war, having received one of their scalps. “This turn of the affair was as unwelcome as it was unexpected to the Choctaws, who made no reply.” (McCoy, p. 358)
16 Recalling this speech later, Pitchlynn dramatized it, saying that the Osage were showing signs of their ancient enmity for the Choctaw and only a slashing oration by him prevented trouble. (“Peter Pitchlynn,n AtlanSc Monthly, April, 18708) In his biography of Pitchlynn, (Oklahoma, 1972), W. David Baird overcorrects the exaggeration by implying that Pitchlynn made no speech at all. As evidence he cites the fact that McCoy didn’t describe any such speech and that McCoy deemed the “civilized and half-civilized Indians as less eloquent than the Western Indians.n
17 Labette Creek, from the French La Bete. The party was apparently travelEng down the road from the Osage agency to the Creek agency and Fort Gibson. Fort Gibson, near the present Muskogee, was among the several new military encampments set up to keep the peace in the west and supervise the Removal. Built four years before, it was just inside the territorial boundaries of the later Creek Nation, on the border of the Cherokee Nation, 120 miles upstream on the Arkansas River from Fort Smith. The party is now moving out into thinly inhabited territory. The few settlers here are from small groups of Southeastern Indians who had moved early to the new territory.
21 Disagreement about the relative social status of Negroes was an ongoing problem between the Five Tribes, with the Creeks and Seminoles typically either making fewer distinctions or allowing the Negroes more authority than was typically deemed proper by Choctaws and Cherokees. The Creeks were sometimes called “The Breedsn because of their apparent high level of intermarnage.
23 The newly arrived Creeks were Chilly Mclntosh’s followers. The Creek members of the exploring party would remain here with the Mclntosh group of fellow tribesmen, then depart back to the East with a letter from Mclntosh inviting those still in the East to come to the new country.
24 The Arkansas bottoms were wide here and the switch cane extraordinarily thick. This small cane was about half the size of the sometimes twenty-foot tall giant Southern cane that grew on the Tombigbee River in Mississippi. The frequency with which Pitchlynn notes the presence or absence of cane reflects its importance in the economy of the Southeastern Indians. It was employed in making baskets, mats, furniture, and shelters, among many other uses, as well as providing winter protechon and forage for livestock.
25 The splitting up of the party is the occasion for Pitchlynn’s summary comments on the two leaders. In his official report, McCoy states that after having been in the new Choctaw country for only two days, the parties were now splitting up. The two Southern delegations were expected at that time to proceed to Fort Smith, but some of them wanted to remain a while longer to hunt and better acquaint themselves with the country. Captain Kennerly, Lieutenant Hood, Mr. Bell, Dr. Todson and McCoy proceeded back through Fort Gibson and reached St. Louis on the 24th of December.
28 Fort Smith was established in 1817 and occupied until Fort Gibson was built in 1824. No troops were stationed there between 1824 and 1833. The abandoned stockade-style fort stood near the confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers, within sight of the new Choctaw lands.
34 Small bands of Delaware hunters had for years roamed at will over the present Oklahoma, but the immigrant tnbes objected to the depletion of their dwindhng supply of game, and by 1835 most of the Delaware had been gathered on a reservation in Kansas. The “Old Choctaw” is not identified.
36 Pitchlynn was travelling along the base of the great southern wall of the Arkansas River valley, a series of peaks dominated by the huge bulk of Magazine Mountain, the highest elevation in Arkansas and a conspicuous land mass. Nuttall had described it as “a magnificent empurpled mountain.”
38 Arkansas Post was the first white settlement in the lower Mississippi Valley; Tonty, a lieutenant of LaSalle, had founded a trading post there in 1686. It was located about seventy-three miles southeast of Little Rock. In November, 1832, Washington Irving stopped there briefly and found it to be a “decayed, ruinous place.”
Little Rock at this time was the capital and the only incorporated city in Arkansas. It was a town of several hundred inhabitants with something over one hundred buildings. The era of steamboats had been going for a decade and about one boat a week hazarded the journey to Little Rock.
Thomas Nuttall reported that “all inhabitants beyond Arkansas Post could be classed only as renegades fleeing from society.” Another traveller stated flatly in 1826 that the citizens of Little Rock were “the dregs of Kentucky, Georgia, and Louisiana. ”
41 It is three years since the exploring expedition. Since then, Pitchlynn aligned himself with the forces against removal, and was elected a chief of the Northeastern District on the platform of opposing removal. However, President Jackson refused to recognize the new chiefs and forced them to step down. After a series of maneuvers by the War Department, opposition to removal finally collapsed. By October of 1831, 4,000 Choctaws began to gather in their districts for the more than five hundred mile journey.
The decision was made to separate the groups so that no single place would get too crowded .
The removal was cursed by the worst blizzard in memory in the Southwest. Because of conflicting directives, a total of 2,500 Choctaws ended up deposited at Arkansas Post instead of going on to Little Rock as the original instructions had specified. Captain Brown at Arkansas Post had only sixty tents, and the Indians were forced to huddle together in open camps and suffer through the bitter cold of the storm. The supply of food was inadequate. Captain Brown wrote, “This unexpected cold weather must produce much human suffering. Our poor emigrants, many of them quite naked, and without much shelter, must suffer, it is impossible to do otherwise; and my great fears are that many of them will get frosted.” There were few blankets, shoes, or winter clothes available. Most of the children were barefoot and naked in zero-degree weather.
Removal officials, trying to alleviate these conditions, took many emigrants overland the 350 miles to their destination. The roads were in bad shape, and travel was slow, fifteen miles being considered a “good day.” The weather continued to curse the group, with
I rain nearly every day in February, exacerbating the condition of the roads. Five months after the first groups gathered in Mississippi, the removal was finally completed, with emigrants sick, exhausted, and discouraged. All on-the-scene accounts praised the actions of the removal agents themselves, who acted with resourcefulness and compassion, doing their best in nearly impossible circumstances.
Pitchlynn’s party, about five hundred in number, went by wagon to Memphis, thence by the steamer Brandywine to the mouth of the White River, thence to Arkansas Post, and, finally, in late January, on to Fort Smith by the steamer Reindeer. Pitchlynn himself reached Fort Smith ahead of the main party. He had either left the main party after crossing the river in Memphis or left them after remaining a while at Arkansas Post. If he left them at Memphis, he was going overland with the group taking the party’s horses, which reached Little Rock two days ahead of the main party. At the time of these entries, Pitchlynn is moving on to the new lands to explore and select pnme locations for himself and his family, whom he had left in Mississippi until the situation was better settled.
42 One of the principal areas of settlement for the immigrants, in and around the current Spiro, Oklahoma, would prove to be the home of some of the most important mounds in North America. The Spiro mounds, near the Arkansas River, housed an astonishing hoard of jewelry, clothing, baskets, and other sophisticated crafts, testifying to a vast system of trade reaching to the Gulf Coast among Nabve Americans about eight hundred fifty years ago.
The new Choctaw settlement there was called “Skullyville,” after the Choctaw word for “money,” and Pitchlynn and many others would settle in its vicinity.
Interestingly, mounds figured prominently in at least one version of the Choctaw’s creation myth. Another well-known burial mound site in Mississippi, Nanih Waiya, was thought of as “the mother of all Choctaws.”
44 This area would attract a number of Choctaw families. Pheasant Bluff was one of the first trading points in the Choctaw Natjon. It was located about seventeen miles northeast of Stigler, in Haskell County.
45 This hunting-trip incident occurred five years after removal. Rush Creek was in the newly created Chickasaw Nation, near Paul’s Valley, to the west of the Choctaw Nation. Pitchlynn himself was among the Choctaw counsellors who signed the document within this same year (1837) ceding western lands of the Choctaw Nation to the immigrating Chickasaws.
There were numerous conflicts between the Pawnee and the Choctaw within the new Choctaw Nation. Most of the U.S. military activity in this region originated in efforts to keep the peace between tribes and to protect the immigrating Southeastern tribes. Fort Towson was rebuilt in the Choctaw Nation; a road from Fort Smith through the Choctaw Nation to the Red River was built-the first road in the new Indian Territory; troops were once again stationed at Fort Smith, and, around the time of this incident, a large stone fortress built there to replace the old stockade
As this incident shows, whites were already illegally occupying the Indian Territory.