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Western Scenes and Reminiscences: Together with Thrilling Legends and Traditions of the Red Men of the Forest

Together with Thrilling Legends and Traditions of the Red Men of the Forest

Library of Alexandria
It is now twenty-six years since I first entered the area of the Mississippi valley, with the view of exploring its then but imperfectly known features, geographical and geological. Twenty-two years of this period have elapsed since I entered on the duties of an Executive Agent for the United States Government in its higher northern latitudes among the Indian tribes in the west. Having devoted so large a portion of my life in an active sphere, in which the intervals of travel left me favourable opportunities of pursuing the languages and history of this branch of the race, it appears to be a just expectation, that, in sitting down to give some account of this people, there should be some preliminary remarks, to apprise the reader how and why it is, that his attention is recalled to a topic which he may have supposed to be well nigh exhausted. This it is proposed to do by some brief personal reminiscences, beginning at the time above alluded to. The year 1814 constituted a crisis, not only in our political history, but also in our commercial, manufacturing, and industrial interests. The treaty of Ghent, which put a period to the war with England, was a blessing to many individuals and classes in America: but, in its consequences, it had no small share of the effects of a curse upon that class of citizens who were engaged in certain branches of manufactures. It was a peculiarity of the crisis, that these persons had been stimulated by double motives, to invest their capital and skill in the perfecting and establishment of the manufactories referred to, by the actual wants of the country and the high prices of the foreign articles. No pains and no cost had been spared, by many of them, to supply this demand; and it was another result of the times, that no sooner had they got well established, and were in the high road of prosperity than the peace came and plunged them headlong from the pinnacle of success. This blow fell heavier upon some branches than others. It was most fatal to those manufacturers who had undertaken to produce fabrics of the highest order, or which belong to an advanced state of the manufacturing prosperity of a nation. Be this as it may, however, it fell with crushing force upon that branch in which I was engaged. As soon as the American ports were opened to these fabrics, the foreign makers who could undersell us, poured in cargo on cargo; and when the first demands had been met, these cargoes were ordered to be sold at auction; the prices immediately fell to the lowest point, and the men who had staked in one enterprise their zeal, skill and money, were ruined at a blow. Every man in such a crisis, must mentally recoil upon himself. Habits of application, reading, and an early desire to be useful, had sustained me at a prior period of life, through the dangers and fascinations of jovial company. There was in this habit or temper of room-seclusion, a pleasing resource of a conservative character, which had filled up the intervals of my busiest hours; and when business itself came to a stand, it had the effect to aid me in balancing and poising my mind, while I prepared to enter a wider field, and indeed, to change my whole plan of life. If it did not foster a spirit of right thought and self-dependence, it, at least, gave a degree of tranquillity to the intervals of a marked pause, and, perhaps, flattered the ability to act. Luckily I was still young, and with good animal spirits, and a sound constitution I resolved I would not go down so. The result of seven years of strenuous exertions, applied with persevering diligence and success, was cast to the winds, but it was seven years of a young man’s life, and I thought it could be repaired by time and industry. What the east withheld, I hoped might be supplied by another quarter. I turned my thoughts to the west, and diligently read all I could find on the subject. The result of the war of 1812, (if this contest had brought no golden showers on American manufacturers, as I could honestly testify in my own case,) had opened to emigration and enterprise the great area west of the Alleghanies. The armies sent out to battle with Indian, and other foes, on the banks of the Wabash, the Illinois, the Detroit, the Raisin and the Miami of the Lakes, had opened to observation attractive scenes for settlement; and the sword was no sooner cast aside, than emigrants seized hold of the axe and the plough. This result was worth the cost of the whole contest, honour and glory included. The total prostration of the moneyed system of the country, the effects of city-lot and other land speculations, while the system was at its full flow, and the very backward seasons of 1816 and 1817, attended with late and early frosts, which extensively destroyed the corn crop in the Atlantic states, all lent their aid in turning attention towards the west and south-west, where seven new states have been peopled and organized, within the brief period to which these reminiscences apply: namely, Indiana, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas and Michigan, besides the flourishing territories of Wisconsin and Iowa, and the more slowly advancing territory of Florida. It appeared to me, that information, geographical and other, of such a wide and varied region, whose boundaries were but ill defined, must be interesting at such a period; and I was not without the hope that the means of my future advancement would be found in connexion with the share I might take in the exploration of it. With such views I resolved to go west. This feeling I find to be expressed on the back of an old slip of an account of the period: “I will go by western fountain,I will wander far and wide;Till some sunny spot invite me,Till some guardian bid me bide.“Snow or tempest—plain the drearestShall oppose a feeble bar,Since I go from friends the dearest,’Tis no matter then how far.“On!—’tis useless here to dally;On!—I can but make or mar;Since my fortune leads to sally,’Tis no matter then how far