Four Months in a Sneak-BoxA Boat Voyage of 2600 Miles Down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and Along the Gulf of Mexico. by Nathaniel H. Bishop * * * Author of
"A Thousand Miles' Walk Across South America,"
"Voyage of the Canoe." 1879 BOSTON:
Lee and Shepard, Publishers
Four Months in a Sneak-Box By Nathaniel H. Bishop (1837-1902), 1879 edited by Avi Hathor, M. S., M. F. A.
From Cincinnati to the Mississippi River Big Bone Lick - Fossil Elephants. Colonel Croghan's Visit to the Lick. The Falls at Louisville.
The next day being Saturday, and the mercury still standing at seven
Pork-raising and pork-packing is one of the great industries of the Ohio valley, and the Cincinnati and Louisville merchants have control of the largest portion of the business growing out of it.
When a stranger visits the pork-packing establishments of Cincinnati he marvels at the immensity and celerity of the various manipulations, which commence with the killing of a squealing pig, and the transformation of his hogship, in a few minutes, into a well-cleaned animal, hanging up to cool in a store-room, from which he is taken a little later and immediately cut up and packed in barrels for market. The reader may have a distaste for statistics, but I cannot impress upon him the magnitude of this great industry without giving a few reliable figures.
The number of hogs packed in Cincinnati during the past twenty-one years, from 1853 to 1875, was 9,242,972. While Cincinnati was at work on one season's crop of pork of 632,302 pigs, her rival, Chicago, on the shore of Lake Michigan, killed and packed in the same time her crop of 2,501,285 animals.
The "Twenty-ninth Annual Report of the Cincinnati Price
This annual crop of pork a jocund professor once described as "a prodigious mass of heavy carburetted hydrogen gas and scrofula;" but the chemists of our day would more properly stigmatize it as a vast quantity of Luzic, Myristic, Palmitic, Margaric, and Stearic acids in combination with glycerine and fibre.
A western savant, having investigated the parasites existing in hogs, affirms that in western pork, eight animals out of every one hundred are affected by that muscle-boring pest so dangerous to those who have eaten the infected meat, and so well known to all students as the Trichina spiralis. The distinguished writer Letheby says of this
Another parasite found in the muscles of the pig is known as the Cysticercus cellulosus, and the animals afflicted by it are said to have the measles. This larva of the tapeworm exists in the pig in little sacs not larger than a pin's head, and can be seen by the naked eye. The strong brine of the packer does not kill them, and I have known them to be taken alive from a boiled ham. The great heat of frying alone renders them harmless. When partially-cooked, measly pork is eaten by man, the gastric juice of the stomach dissolves the membranous sac which contains the living larva, and the animal soon passes into the intestines, where, clinging by its hooks, it holds on with wonderful tenacity, rapidly sending out joint after joint, until the perfect tapeworm sometimes attains a length of thirty feet.
Let us hope, for the credit of humanity, that these facts are not generally known, for man has ills enough without incurring the risks of such a diet. If pork must form a staple, let the genealogical tree of his pigship be carefully sought after, and let the would-be consumer ask the question considered so important in a certain river-bounded city of Pennsylvania, "Who was his grandfather?"
In the year 1800 Cincinnati was a little pioneer settlement of seven hundred and fifty men, women, and children. Her census of 1880 will not fall far short of a quarter of a million. She contributes more than her share to feed the world, and is, strange to say, as celebrated for the terpsichorean art as for her pork. Even Boston must yield her the palm as a musical centre, and give to the inhabitants of the once rough western city the credit due them for their versatility of talent, and the ease with which they render Beethoven, or "take a turn in pork," as occasion may demand, many of the music-loving citizens being engaged at times in a commercial way with this staple.
Having obtained at a bookstore a copy of Lloyd's Map of the Mississippi River, I returned to the tailor's, where I was greeted in the most kindly manner, and informed that the young lady of the house, the only daughter of my host, had voluntarily left home to visit some city relations, that I might occupy her comfortably furnished room, with the open fireplace, which was now filled with blazing wood, and sending forth a genial glow into the heavily-curtained apartment. When I protested against this promotion in the social scale, and refused to deprive the young lady of her room, I was informed that she knew "WHO WAS WHO," and had insisted upon leaving her room that a gentleman might be properly entertained in it. From this time my now agreeable host stoutly refused to accept payment in advance for my daily rations, while, with his family and apprentices, he took up his quarters each evening in my new room, relating his experiences during the war, and giving me many original ideas.
It grew warmer, but the ice of the creek in which my boat lay did not melt. The water was, however, falling, and it became necessary to cut out the sneak-box, and slide her over the ice into the unfrozen Ohio. My host had become alarmed, and kept an anxious eye upon the boat. "De peoples knows de poat is here, and some of dem hab told others about it. If you don't hide her down de rivver to-night, she will be stolen by de rivver thieves." I was thus forced to leave these kind people, who about noon escorted me to the duck-boat, and showered upon me their best wishes for a prosperous voyage. It was a glorious afternoon, and the sun poured all his wealth of light and cheerfulness upon the valley.
Late in the day I passed the mouth of the Big Miami River. Indiana was on the right, while Kentucky still skirted the left bank of the river. The state of Ohio had flirnished the Ohio River with a margin for four hundred and seventy-five miles. The Little Miami River joins the Ohio six miles above Cincinnati; the Big Miami enters it twenty miles below the city. These streams flow through rich farming regions, but they are not navigable. After passing the town of Aurora, which is six miles below the Big Miami, I caught sight of the mouth of a creek, whose thickets of trees, in the gloom of the fast approaching night, almost hid from view the outlines of a forlorn-looking shanty-boat. Clouds of smoke, with the bright glare of the fire, shot out of the rusty stove-pipe in the roof, but I soon discovered that it was the abode of one who attended strictly to his own business, and expected the same behavior from his neighbors. So, saying good evening to this man of solitary habits, I quickly rowed past his floating hermitage into the darkness of the neighboring swamp. I soon put my own home in order, ate my supper, and retired, feeling happy in the thought that I should before long reach a climate where my out-door life would not be attended with so many inconveniences.
The next day a milder but damper atmosphere greeted me. By noon I had rowed twenty-two miles, and was off the mouth of Big Bone Lick Creek, in Kentucky. Two miles from the mouth of this creek are some springs, the waters of which are charged with sulphur and salt. The most interesting feature of this locality was the fact that here were buried in one vast bed the fossil bones of "The Mastodon and the Arctic Elephant." Formerly these prehistoric relics of a departed fauna were scattered over the surface of the earth. The first mention of this locality was made, I think, by a French explorer in 1649. It is again referred to by a British subject in 1765. A rare copy of a private journal kept by this early explorer of the Ohio, Colonel George Croghan, was published in G. W. Featherstonhaugh's "American Journal of Geology," of December, 1831. This monthly publication ended with its first year's existence. Only five copies of this number were known to be in print three years since, when Professor Thomas, of Mount Holly, New Jersey, encouraged the issue of a reprint of one hundred copies, from which some of our public libraries have been supplied.
This Colonel George Croghan, in company with deputies from the Seneca, Shawnesse, and Delaware nations, left Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh), in two bateaux, on the 15th of May, 1765, bound on a mission to the Indian tribes of the Ohio valley. On the 29th of the month the expedition reached the Little Miami River. Colonel Croghan there commences his account of the Big Bone Lick region. He says: "May 30th we passed the Great Miami River, about thirty miles from the little river of that name, and in the EVENING arrived at the place WHERE THE ELEPHANTS' BONES ARE FOUND, when we encamped, intending to take a view of the place next morning. This day we came about seventy miles. The country on both sides level, and rich bottoms, well watered. May 31st. Early in the morning we went to the great Lick, where those bones are only found, about four miles from the river, on the south-east side. In our way we passed through a fine-timbered, clear wood: we passed into a large road, which the buffaloes have beaten, spacious enough for two wagons to go abreast, and leading straight into the Lick. It appears that there are vast quantities of these bones lying five or six feet under ground, which we discovered in the bank at the edge of the Lick. We found here two tusks above six feet long; we carried one, with some other bones, to our boat, and set off."
In relation to the aboriginal inhabitants of the country of the Ohio valley, it is interesting to note that the "Six Nations" held six of the gates to New York, and were strong because they were united, for Colonel Croghan's enumeration of them shows that they had only two thousand one hundred and twenty fighting-men, and were never supported by more than about two thousand warriors from tributary tribes, when at war with the whites.
That the Iroquois, with their adopted children, have not lost in numbers up to the present day, is a curious fact. About six thousand of the descendants of the "Six Nations" are at Forestville, Wisconsin, on government reservations; and the official agent reports that nearly two thousand of them can read and write; that they have twenty-nine day schools, and two manual-labor schools; that they cultivate their lands so diligently that they pay all the expenses of their living. They are reported as advancing in church discipline, growing in temperance; and are making rapid progress towards a complete civilization.
These six thousand, with other descendants of the Iroquois in Canada, will no doubt make up a total equal in number to the members of the old "Indian Confederacy," so graphically pictured in the glowing pages of Mr. Francis Parkman, the reliable historian, who has given us such vivid descriptions of the French rule in America as have called forth the unqualified praise of students of American history on both sides of the Atlantic.
Having rowed forty-three miles in twelve hours, I reached the town of Vevay, Indiana, which was first settled by a Swiss colony, to whom Congress granted lands for the purpose of encouraging grape-culture. Keeping close under the banks of the river, I entered a little creek a mile below the village, where a night, restful as usual, was passed.
On Tuesday I rose with the moon, though it was as late as five o'clock in the morning; but, although fertile farms were stretched along the river's bank, and the land gave every sign of careful culture, it was anything but an enjoyable day, as the rain fell in almost uninterrupted showers from eight o'clock A. M. until dusk, when I was glad to find an inviting creek on the Kentucky shore, about one mile below Bethlehem, and had the great satisfaction of logging thirty-eight miles as the day's run.
It was necessary to make an early start the next day, as I must run the falls of the Ohio at Louisville, Kentucky, or make a portage round them. The river was enveloped in fog; but I followed the shore closely, hour after hour, until the sun dispelled the mists, and my little duck-boat ran in among the barges at the great Kentucky city. Here, at Louisville, is the only barrier to safe navigation on the Ohio River. These so-called Falls of the Ohio are in fact rapids which almost disappear when the river is at its full height. At such times, steam-boats, with skilful pilots aboard, safely follow the channel, which avoids the rocks of the river. During the low stage of the water, navigation is entirely suspended. The fall of the current is twenty-three feet in two miles. To avoid this descent, in low water, and to allow vessels to ascend the river at all times, a canal was excavated along the left shore of the rapids from Louisville to Shippingsport, a distance of two miles and a half. It was a stupendous enterprise, as the passage was cut almost the entire distance through the solid rock, and in some places to the great depth of forty feet.
On the 25th of September, 1816, when Louisville had a population of three thousand inhabitants, her first steamboat, the Washington, left the young city for New Orleans. A second trip was commenced by the Washington on March 3, 1817. The whole time consumed by the voyage from Louisville to New Orleans, including the return trip, was forty-one days. The now confident Captain Shreve, of the Washington, predicted that steamboats would be built which could make the passage to New Orleans in ten days. I have been a passenger on a steamboat which ascended the strong currents of the river from New Orleans to Louisville in five days; while the once pioneer hamlet now boasts a population exceeding one hundred thousand souls.
As the bow of my little craft grounded upon the city levee, a crowd of good-natured men gathered round to examine her. From them I ascertained that the descent of the rapids could not be made without a pilot; and as the limited quarters of the sneak-box would not allow any addition to her passenger-list, a portage round the falls became a necessity. The canal was not to be thought of as it would have been a troublesome matter, without special passes from some official, to have obtained the privilege of passing through with so small a boat. The crowd cheerfully lifted the sneak-box into an express-wagon, and fifteen minutes after reaching Louisville I was en route for Portland, mailing letters as I passed through the city. The portage was made in about an hour. At sunset the little boat was launched in the Ohio, and I felt that I had returned to an old friend. The expressman entered with entire sympathy into the voyage, and could not be prevailed upon to accept more than a dollar and a half for transporting the boat and her captain four miles.
When night came on, and no friendly creek offered me shelter, I pushed the boat into a soft, muddy flat of willows, which fringed a portion of the Kentucky shore, where there was just enough water to float the sneak-box. The passing steamers during the night sent swashy waves into my lair, which kept me in constant fear of a ducking, and gave me anything but a peaceful night. This was, however, all forgotten the next morning, when the startling discovery was made that the river had fallen during the night and left me in a quagmire, from which it seemed at first impossible to extricate myself.
The boat was imbedded in the mud, which was so soft and slimy that it would not support my weight when I attempted to step upon it for the purpose of pushing my little craft into the water, which had receded only a few feet from my camp. I tried pushing With my oak oar; but it sunk into the mire almost out of sight. Then a small watch-tackle was rigged, one block fastened to the boat, the other to the limb of a willow which projected over the water. The result of this was a successful downward movement of the willow, but the boat remained in statu quo, the soft mud holding it as though it possessed the sucking powers of a cuttlefish.
I could not reach the firm shore, for the willow brush would not support my weight. There was no assistance to be looked for from fellow-voyagers, as the river-craft seemed to follow the channel of the opposite shore; and my camp could not be seen from the river, as I had taken pains to hide myself in the thicket of young willows from all curious eyes. There was no hope that my voice would penetrate to the other side of the stream, neither could I reach the water beyond the soft ooze. Being well provisioned, however, it would be an easy matter to await the rise of the river; and if no friendly freshet sent me the required assistance, the winds would harden the ooze in a few days so that it would bear my weight, and enable me to escape from my bonds of mud.
While partaking of a light breakfast, an idea suddenly presented itself to my mind. I had frequently built crossways over treacherous swamps. Why not mattress the muddy flat? Standing upon the deck of my boat, I grasped every twig and bough of willow I could reach, and making a mattress of them, about two feet square and a few inches thick, on the surface of the mud at the stern of my craft, I placed upon it the hatch-cover of my boat. Standing upon this, the sneak-box was relieved of my weight, and by dint of persevering effort the after part was successful]y lifted, and the heavy burden slowly worked out of its tenacious bed, and moved two or three feet nearer the water. By shifting the willow mattress nearer the boat, which was now ON the surface of the mud, and not IN it, my floating home was soon again upon the current, and its captain had a new experience, which, though dearly bought, would teach him to avoid in future a camp on a soft flat when a river was falling.
A foggy day followed my departure from the unfortunate camp of willows; but through the mist I caught glimpses of the fine lands of the Kentucky farmers, with the grand old trees shading their comfortable homes. In the drizzle I had passed French's Creek, and after dark ran upon a stony beach, where, high and dry upon the bank, was a shanty-boat, which had been converted into a landing-house, and was occupied by two men who received the freight left there by passing steamers. The locality was six miles below Brandenburg, Kentucky, and was known as "Richardson's Landing." Having rowed forty miles since morning, I "turned in" soon after drawing my boat upon the shelving strand, anticipating a quiet night.
At midnight a loud noise, accompanied with bright flashes of light, warned me of the approach of a steamboat. She soon after ran her bow hard on to the beach, within a few feet of my boat. Though the rain was falling in torrents, the passengers crowded upon the upper deck to examine the snow-white, peculiarly shaped craft, or "skiff" as they called it, which lay upon the bank, little suspecting that her owner was snugly stowed beneath her deck. I suddenly threw up the hatch and sat upright, while the strong glare of light from the steamer's furnaces brought out every detail of the boat's interior.
This sudden apparition struck the crowd with surprise, and, as is usual upon such an occasion in western America, the whole company showered a fire of raillery and "chaff" upon me, to which, on account of the heavy rain, I could not reply, but, dropping backward into my bed, drew the hatch into its place. The good-natured crowd would not permit me to escape so easily. Calling the entire ship's company from the state-rooms and cabins to join them, they used every artifice in their power to induce me to show my head above the deck of my boat. One shouted, "Here, you deck-hand, don't cut that man's rope; it's mean to steal a fellow's painter!" Another cried, "Don't put that heavy plank against that little skiff!" Suspecting their game, however, I kept under cover during the fifteen minutes' stay of the boat, when, moving off; they all shouted a jolly farewell, which mingled in the darkness with the hoarse whistle of the steamer, while the night air echoed with cries of; "Snug as a bug in a rug;" "I never seed the like afore;" "He'll git used to livin'in a coffin afore he needs one," &c.
The reader who may have looked heretofore upon swamps and gloomy creeks as too lonely for camping-grounds, may now appreciate the necessity for selecting such places, and understand why a voyager prefers the security of the wilderness to the annoying curiosity of his fellow-man.
The rains of the past two days had swollen the Kentucky River, which enters the Ohio above Louisville, as well as the Salt River, which I had passed twenty miles below that city, besides many other branches, so that the main stream was now rapidly rising. After leaving Richardson's Landing, the rain continued to fall, and as each tributary, affected by the freshet, poured logs, fallen trees, fence-rails, stumps from clearings, and even occasionally a small frame shanty, into the Ohio, there was a floating raft of these materials miles in length. Sometimes an unlucky shanty-boat was caught in an eddy by the mass of floating timber, and at once becoming an integral portion of the whole, would float with the great raft for two or three days. The owners, being in the mean time unable to free themselves from their prison-like surroundings, made the best of the blockade, and their fires burned all the brighter, while the enlivening music of the fiddle, and the hilarity induced by frequent potions of corn whiskey, with the inevitable games of cards, made all "merry as a marriage bell," as they floated down the river.
In the evening, a little creek below Alton was reached, which sheltered me during the night. Soon the rain ceased, and the stars shone kindly upon my lonely camp. I left the creek at half-past four o'clock in the morning. The water had risen two feet and a half in ten hours, and the broad river was in places covered from shore to shore with drift stuff; which made my course a devious one, and the little duck-boat had many a narrow escape in my attempts to avoid the floating mass. The booming of guns along the shore reminded me that it was Christmas, and, in imagination, I pictured to myself the many happy families in the valley enjoying their Christmas cheer. The contrast between their condition and mine was great, for I could not even find enough dry wood to cook my simple camp-fare.
An hour before sunset, while skirting the Indiana shore, I passed a little village called Batesville, and soon after came to the mouth of a crooked creek, out of which, borne on the flood of a freshet, came a long, narrow line of drift stuff. Just within the mouth of the creek, in a deep indenture of the high bank, a shanty-boat was snugly lashed to the trees. A young man stood in the open doorway of the cabin, washing dishes, and as I passed he kindly wished me a "Merry Christmas," inviting me on board. He eagerly inspected the sneak-box, and pronounced it one of the prettiest "tricks" afloat. "How my father and brother would like to see you and your boat!" exclaimed he. "Can't you tie up here, just under yonder p'int on the bank? There's an eddy there, and the drift won't work in enough to trouble you."
The invitation so kindly given was accepted, and with the assistance of my new acquaintance my boat was worked against the strong current into a curve of the bank, and there securely fastened. I set to work about my house-keeping cares, and had my cabin comfortably arranged for the night, when I was hailed from the shanty-boat to "come aboard." Entering the rough cabin, a surprise greeted me, for a table stood in the centre of the room, covered with a clean white cloth, and groaning under the weight of such a variety of appetizing dishes as I had not seen for many a day.
"I thought," said the boy, "that you hadn't had much Christmas to-day, being as you're away from your folks; and we had a royal dinner, and there's lots left fur you--so help yourself." He then explained that his father and brother had gone to a shooting-match on the other side of the river; and when I expressed my astonishment at the excellent fare, which, upon closer acquaintance, proved to be of a dainty nature (game and delicate pastry making a menu rather peculiar for a shanty-boat), he informed me that his brother had been first cook on a big passenger steamer, and had received good wages; but their mother died, and their father married a second time, and--Here the young fellow paused, evidently considering how much of their private life he should show to a stranger. "Well," he continued, "our new mother liked cities better than flatboats, and father's a good quiet man, who likes to live in peace with every one, so he lets mother live in Arkansas, and he stays on the shanty-boat. We boys joined him, fur he's a good old fellow, and we have all that's going. We git plenty of cat-fish, buffalo-fish, yellow perch, and bass, and sell them at the little towns along the river. Then in summer we hire a high flat ashore,--not a flatboat,--I mean a bit of land along the river, and raise a crop of corn, 'taters, and cabbage. We have plenty of shooting, and don't git much fever 'n ager."
I had rowed fifty-three miles that day, and did ample justice to the Christmas dinner on the flatboat. The father and brother joined us in the evening, and gave me much good advice in regard to river navigation. The rain fell heavily before midnight, and they insisted that I should share one of their beds in the boat; but as small streams of water were trickling through the roof of the shanty, and my little craft was water-tight, I declined the kindly offer, and bade them good-night.
The next day being Sunday, I again visited my new acquaintances upon the shanty-boat, and gathered from their varied experiences much of the river's lore. The rain continued, accompanied with lightning and thunder, during the entire day, so that Monday's sun was indeed welcome; and with kind farewells on all sides I broke camp and descended the current with the now almost continuous raft of drift-wood. For several hours a sewing-machine repair-shop and a photographic gallery floated with me.
The creeks were now so swollen from the heavy rains, and so full of drift-wood, that my usual retreat into some creek seemed cut off; so I ran under the sheltered side of "Three Mile Island," below Newburg, Indiana. The climate was daily improving, and I no longer feared an ice blockade; but a new difficulty arose. The heavy rafts of timber threatened to shut me in my camp. At dusk, all might be open water; but at break of day "a change came o'er the spirit of my dream," and heavy blockades of timber rafts made it no easy matter to escape. There were times when, shut in behind these barriers, I looked out upon the river with envious eyes at the steamboats steadily plodding up stream against the current, keeping free of the rafts by the skill of their pilots; and thoughts of the genius and perseverance of the inventors of these peculiar craft crowded my mind.
In these days of successful application of mechanical inventions, but few persons can realize the amount of distrust and opposition against which a Watts or a Fulton had to contend while forcing upon an illiberal and unappreciative public the valuable results of their busy brains and fertile genius. It is well for us who now enjoy these blessings,--the utilized ideas of a lifetime of unrequited labors,--to look back upon the epoch of history so full of gloom for the men to whom we owe so much.
At the beginning of the present century the navigation of the Ohio was limited to canoes, bateaux, scows, rafts, arks, and the rudest models of sailing-boats. The ever downward course of the strong current must be stemmed in ascending the river. Against this powerful resistance upon tortuous streams, wind, as a motor, was found to be only partially successful, and for sure and rapid transit between settlements along the banks of great waterways a most discouraging failure. Down-river journeys were easily made, but the up-river or return trip was a very slow and unsatisfactory affair, excepting to those who travelled in light canoes.
The influx of population to the fertile Ohio valley, and the settling up of the rich bottoms of the Mississippi, demanded a more expeditious system of communication. The necessities of the people called loudly for this improvement, but at the same time their prejudices and ignorance prevented them from aiding or encouraging any such plans. The hour came at length for the delivery of the people of the great West, and with it the man. Fulton, aided by Watts, offered to solve the problem by unravelling rather than by cutting the "Gordian knot." It was whispered through the wilderness that a fire-ship, called the "Clermont," built by a crazy speculator named Fulton, had started from New York, and, steaming up the Hudson, had forced itself against the current one hundred and fifty miles to Albany, in thirty-six hours. This was in September, 1807.
The fool and the fool's fire-ship became the butt of all sensible people in Europe as well as in America. Victor Hugo remarks that, "In the year 1807, when the first steamboat of Fulton, commanded by Livingston, furnished with one of Watts's engines sent from England, and manoeuvred, besides her ordinary crew, by two Frenchmen only, André Michaux and another, made her first voyage from New York to Albany, it happened that she set sail on the 17th of August. The ministers took up this important fact, and in numberless chapels preachers were heard calling down a malediction on the machine, and declaring that this number seventeen was no other than the total of the ten horns and seven heads of the beasts in the Apocalypse. In America they invoked against the steamboat the beast from the book of Revelation; in Europe, the reptile of the book of Genesis. The SAVANS had rejected steamboats as impossible; the PRIESTS had anathematized them as impious; SCIENCE had condemned, and RELIGION consigned them to perdition."
"In the archipelago of the British Channel islands," this learned author goes on to say, "the first steamboat which made its appearance received the name of the 'Devil Boat.' In the eyes of these worthy fishermen, once Catholics, now Calvinists, but always bigots, it seemed to be a portion of the infernal regions which had been somehow set afloat. A local preacher selected for his discourse the question of, 'Whether man has the right to make fire and water work together when God had divided them.' (Gen. ch. i. v.4.) No; this beast composed of iron and fire did not resemble leviathan! Was it not an attempt to bring chaos again into the universe?"
So much for young America, and so much for old mother England! Now listen, men and women of to-day, to the wisdom of France--scientific France. "A mad notion, a gross delusion, an absurdity!" Such was the verdict of the Academy of Sciences when consulted by Napoleon on the subject of steamboats early in the present century.
It seems scarcely credible now that all this transpired in the days of our fathers, not so very long ago. Time is a great leveller. Education of the head as well as of the heart has liberalized the pulpit, and the man of theoretical science to-day would not dare to stake his reputation by denying any apparently well-established theory, while the inventors of telephones, perpetual-motion motors, &c., are gladly hailed as leaders in the march of progress so dear to every American heart. The pulpit is now on the side of honest science, and the savant teaches great truths, while the public mind is being educated to receive and utilize the heretofore concealed or undeveloped mysteries of a wise and generous Creator, who has taught his children that they must labor in order to possess.
The Clermont was the pioneer steamer of the Hudson River, and its trial trip was made in 1807. The first steamboat which descended the Ohio and Mississippi rivers was christened the New Orleans." It was designed and built by Mr. N.J. Roosevelt, and commenced its voyage from Pittsburgh in September, 1811. The bold proprietor of this enterprise, with his wife, Mrs. Lydia M. Roosevelt, accompanied the captain, engineer, pilot, six hands, two female servants, a man waiter, a cook, and a large Newfoundland dog, to the end of the voyage. The friends of this lady--the first woman who descended the great rivers of the West in a steamboat--used every argument they could offer to dissuade her from undertaking what was considered a dangerous experiment, an absolute folly. The good wife, however, clung to her husband, and accepted the risks, preferring to be drowned or blown up, as her friends predicted, rather than to desert her better-half in his hour of trial. A few weeks would decide his success or failure, and she would be at his side to condole or rejoice with him, as the case might be.
The citizens of Pittsburgh gathered upon the banks of the Monongahela to witness the inception of the enterprise which was to change the whole destiny of the West. One can imagine the criticisms flung at the departing steamer as she left her moorings and boldly faced her fate. As the curious craft was borne along the current of the river, the Indians attempted to approach her, bent upon hostile attempts, and once a party of them pursued the boat in hot chase, but their endurance was not equal to that of steam. These children of the forest gazed upon the snorting, fire-breathing monster with undisguised awe, and called it "Penelore"--the fire-canoe. They imagined it to have close relationship with the comet that they believed had produced the earthquakes of that year. The voyage of the "New Orleans" was a romantic reality in two ways. The wonderful experiment was proved a success, and its originator won his laurel wreath; while the bold captain of the fire-ship, falling in love with one of the chambermaids, won a wife.
The river's travel now became somewhat monotonous. I had reached a low country, heavily wooded in places, and was entering the great prairie region of Illinois. Having left my island camp by starlight on Tuesday morning, and having rowed steadily all day until dusk, I passed the wild-looking mouth of the Wabash River, and went into camp behind an island, logging with pleasure my day's run at sixty-seven miles. I was now only one hundred and forty-two miles from the mouth of the Ohio, and with the rising and rapidly increasing current there were only a few hours' travel between me and the Mississippi.
Wednesday morning, December 29th, I discovered that the river had risen two feet during the night, and the stump of the tree to which I had moored my boat was submerged. The river was wide and the banks covered with heavy forests, with clearings here and there, which afforded attractive vistas of prairies in the background. I passed a bold, stratified crag, covered with a little growth of cedars. These adventurous trees, growing out of the crevices of the rock, formed a picturesque covering for its rough surface. A cavern, about thirty feet in width, penetrated a short distance into the rock. This natural curiosity bore the name of "Cave-in-Rock," and was, in 1801, the rendezvous of a band of outlaws, who lived by plundering the boats going up and down the river, oftentimes adding the crime of murder to their other misdeeds. Just below the cliff nestled a little village also called "Cave-in-Rock."
Wild birds flew about me on all sides, and had I cared to linger I might have had a good bag of game. This was not, however, a gunning cruise, and the temptation was set aside as inconsistent with the systematic pulling which alone would take me to my goal. The birds were left for my quondam friends of the shanty-boat, they being the happy possessors of more TIME than they could well handle, and the killing of it the aim of their existence.
The soft shores of alluvium were constantly caving and falling into the river, bringing down tons of earth and tall forest-trees. The latter, after freeing their roots of the soil, would be swept out into the stream as contributions to the great floating raft of drift-wood, a large portion of which was destined to a long voyage, for much of this floating forest is carried into the Gulf of Mexico, and travels over many hundreds of miles of salt water, until it is washed up on to the strands of the isles of the sea or the beaches of the continent.
Having tied up for the night to a low bank, with no thought of danger, it was startling, to say the least, to have an avalanche of earth from the bank above deposit itself upon my boat, so effectually sealing down my hatch-cover that it seemed at first impossible to break from my prison. After repeated trials I succeeded in dislodging the mass, and, thankful to escape premature interment, at once pushed off in search of a better camp.
A creek soon appeared, but its entrance was barred by a large tree which had fallen across its mouth. My heavy hatchet now proved a friend in need, and putting my boat close to the tree, I went systematically to work, and soon cut out a section five feet in length. Entering through this gateway, my labors were rewarded by finding upon the bank some dry fence-rails, with which a rude kitchen was soon constructed to protect me from the wind while preparing my meal. The unusual luxury of a fire brightened the weird scene, and the flames shot upward, cheering the lone voyager and frightening the owls and coons from their accustomed lairs. The strong current had been of great assistance, for that night my log registered sixty-two miles for the day's row.
Leaving the creek the next morning by starlight, I passed large flocks of geese and ducks, while Whooping-cranes (Grus Americanus) and Sand-hill cranes (Grus Canadensis), in little flocks, dotted the grassy prairies, or flew from one swamp to another, filling the air with their startling cries. Both these species are found associated in flocks upon the cultivated prairie farms, where they pillage the grain and vegetable fields of the farmer. Their habits are somewhat similar, though the whooping-crane is the most wary of the two. The adult Whooping-cranes are white, the younger birds of a brownish color. This species is larger than the Sand-hill Crane, the latter having a total length of from forty to forty-two inches. The Sand-hill species may be distinguished from the Whooping-crane by its slate-blue color. The cackling, whooping, and screaming voices of an assembled multitude of these birds cannot be described. They can be heard for miles upon the open plains. These birds are found in Florida and along the Gulf coast as well as over large areas of the northern states. They feed upon soft roots, which they excavate from the swamps, and upon bugs and reptiles of all kinds. It requires the most cautious stalking on the part of the hunter to get within gunshot of them, and when so approached the Whooping-crane is usually the first of the two species which takes to the wing. The social customs of these birds are most entertaining to the observer who may lie hidden in the grass and watch them through a glass. Their tall, angular figures, made up of so much wing, leg, neck, and bill, counterpoised by so little body, incline the spectator to look upon them as ornithological caricatures. After balancing himself upon one foot for an hour, with the other drawn up close to his scanty robe of feathers, and his head poised in a most contemplative attitude, one of these queer birds will suddenly turn a somersault, and, returning to his previous posture, continue his cogitations as though nothing had interrupted his reflections. With wings spread, they slowly winnow the air, rising or hopping from the ground a few feet at a time, then whirling in circles upon their toes, as though going through the mazes of a dance. Their most popular diversion seems to be the game of leap-frog, and their long legs being specially adapted to this sport, they achieve a wonderful success. One of the birds quietly assumes a squatting position upon the ground, when his sportive companions hop in turn over his expectant head. They then pirouette, turn somersaults, and go through various exercises with the skill of gymnasts. Their sportive proclivities seem to have no bounds; and being true humorists, they preserve through their gambols a ridiculously sedate appearance. Popular accounts of the nidification of these birds are frequently untrue. We are told that they build their cone-shaped nests of mud, sticks, and grass in shallow water, in colonies, and that their nests, BEING PLACED ON RAFTS of buoyant material, float about in the bayous, and are propelled and guided at the will of the sitting bird by the use of her long legs and feet as oars. The position of the bird upon the nest is also ludicrously depicted. It is described as sitting astride the nest, with the toes touching the ground; and to add still more comicality to the picture, it is asserted that the limbs are often thrust out horizontally behind the bird. The results of close observations prove that these accounts are in keeping with many others related by parlor naturalists. The cranes sit upon their nests like other birds, with their feet drawn up close to the body. The mound-shaped nests are built of sticks, grass, and mud, and usually placed in a shallow pond or partially submerged swamp, while at times a grassy hassock furnishes the foundation of the structure. In the saucer-shaped top of the nest two eggs are deposited, upon which the bird sits most assiduously, having no time at this season for aquatic amusements, such as paddling about with her nest.
The young birds are most hilarious babies, for they inherit the social qualities of their parents, and are ready to play or fight with each other before they are fairly out of the nest. A close observer of their habits writes from the prairies of Indiana: "When the young get a little strength they attack each other with great fury, and can only be made to desist by the parent bird separating them, and taking one under its fostering care, and holding them at a respectable distance until they reach crane-hood, when they seem to make up in joyous hilarity for the quarrelsome proclivities of youth."
Like geese and ducks, cranes winter in one locality so long as the ponds are open, but the first cold snap that freezes their swamp drives them two or three degrees further south. From this migration they soon return to their old haunts, the first thawing of the ice being the signal.
The mouths of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers were passed, and the Ohio, widening in places until it seemed like a lake, assumed a new grandeur as it approached the Mississippi. Three miles below Wilkinsonville, but on the Kentucky side, I stole into a dark creek and rested until the next morning, Friday, December 31st, which was to be my last day on the Ohio River.
I entered a long reach in the river soon after nine o'clock on Friday morning, and could plainly see the town of Cairo, resting upon the flat prairies in the distance. The now yellow, muddy current of the Ohio rolled along the great railroad dike, which had cost one million dollars to erect, and formed a barrier strong enough to resist the rushing waters of the freshets. Across the southern apex of this prairie city could be seen the "Father of Waters," its wide surface bounded on the west by the wilderness. A few moments more, and my little craft was whirled into its rapid, eddying current; and with the boat's prow now pointed southward, I commenced, as it were, a life of new experiences as I descended the great river, where each day I was to feel the genial influences of a warmer climate.
The thought of entering warm and sunny regions was, indeed, welcome to a man who had forced his way through rafts of ice, under cloudy skies, through a smoky atmosphere, and had partaken of food of the same chilling temperature for so many days. This prospect of a genial clime, with the more comfortable camping and rowing it was sure to bring, gave new vigor to my arms, daily growing stronger with their task, and each long, steady pull TOLD as it swept me down the river.
The faithful sneak-box had carried me more than a thousand miles since I entered her at Pittsburgh. This, of course, includes the various detours made in searching for camping-grounds, frequent crossings of the wide river to avoid drift stuff; &c. The descent of the Ohio had occupied about twenty-nine days, but many hours had been lost by storms keeping me in camp, and other unavoidable delays. As an offset to these stoppages, it must be remembered that the current, increased by freshets, was with me, and to it, as much as to the industrious arms of the rower, must be given the credit for the long route gone over in so short a time, by so small a boat.