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Four Months in a Sneak-Box

By Nathaniel H. Bishop (1837-1902), 1879

Chapter 6

Descent of the Mississippi River


MY floating home was now upon the broad Mississippi, which text-book geographers still insist upon calling "the Father of Waters--the largest river in North America." Its current was about one-third faster than that of its tributary, the Ohio. Its banks were covered with heavy forests, and for miles along its course the great wilderness was broken only by the half-tilled lands of the cotton-planter.

From Cairo southward the river is very tortuous, turning back upon itself as if imitating the convolutions of a crawling serpent, and following a channel of more than eleven hundred and fifty miles before its waters unite with those of the Gulf of Mexico. This country between the mouth of the Ohio and the Gulf of Mexico is truly the delta of the Mississippi, for the river north of Cairo cuts through table-lands, and is confined to its old bed; but below the mouth of the Ohio the great river persistently seeks for new channels, and, as we approach New Orleans, we discover branches which carry off a considerable portion of its water to the Gulf coast in southwestern Louisiana.

It is always with some degree of hesitation that I introduce geographical details into my books, as I well know that a taste for the study of physical geography has not been developed among my countrymen. Where among all our colleges is there a well-supported chair of physical geography occupied by an American? We sometimes hear of a "Professor of Geology and Physical Geography," but the last is only a sort of appendage--a tail--to the former. When a student of American geography begins the study in earnest, he discovers that our geographies are insufficient, are filled with errors, and that our maps possess a greater number of inaccuracies than truths. When he goes into the field to study the physical geography of his native land, he is forced to go through the disagreeable process of unlearning all he has been taught from the poor textbooks of stay-at-home travellers and closet students, whose compilations have burdened his mind with errors. In despair he turns to the topographical charts and maps of the "United States Coast and Geodetic Survey," and of the "Engineer Corps of the United States Army," and in the truthful and interesting results of the practical labors of trained observers he takes courage as he enters anew his field of study. The cartographer of the shop economically constructs his unreliable maps to supply a cheap demand; and strange to say, though the results of the government surveys are freely at his disposal, he rarely makes use of them. It costs too much to alter the old map-plates, and but few persons will feel sufficiently interested to criticise the faults of his latest edition.

"How do you get the interior details?" I once asked the agent of one of the largest map establishments in the United States. "Oh," he answered, "when we cannot get township details from local surveys, we sling them in anyhow." An error once taught from our geographies and maps will remain an error for a generation, and our text-book geographers will continue to repeat it, for they do not travel over the countries they describe, and rarely adopt the results of scientific investigation. The most unpopular study in the schools of the United States is that of the geography of our country. It does not amount merely to a feeling of indifference, but in some colleges to a positive prejudice. The chief mountain-climbing club of America, counting among its members some of the best minds of our day, was confronted by this very prejudice. "If you introduce the study of physical geography in connection with the explorations of mountains, I will not join your association," said a gentleman living almost within the shadow of the buildings of our oldest university.

A committee of Chinese who called upon the school authorities of a Pacific-coast city, several years since, respectfully petitioned that "you will not waste the time of our children in teaching them geography. You say the world is ROUND; some of us say it is FLAT. What difference does it make to our business if it be round or flat? The study of geography will not help us to make money. It may do for Melican man, but it is not good for Chinese."

I once knew a chairman of the school trustees in a town in New Jersey to remove his daughters from the public school simply because the teacher insisted that it was his duty to instruct his pupils in the study of geography. "My boys may go to sea some day, and then geography may be of service to them," said this chairman to the teacher, "but if my daughters study it they will waste their time. Of what use can geography be to girls who will never command a vessel?"

While conscious that I may inflict an uninteresting chapter upon my reader who may have accompanied me with a commendable degree of patience so far upon my lonely voyage, I nevertheless feel it a duty to place on record a few facts that are well known to scientific men, if not to the writers of popular geographies, regarding the existence within the boundaries of our own country of the longest river in the world. It is time that the recognition of this fact should be established in every school in the United States. As this is a very important subject, let us examine it in detail.

THE MISSOURI IS THE LONGEST RIVER IN THE WORLD, AND THE MISSISSIPPI IS ONLY A BRANCH OF IT. The Mississippi River joins its current with that of the Missouri about two hundred miles above the mouth of the Ohio; consequently, as we are now to allow the largest stream (the Missouri) to bear its name from its source all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, it follows that the Ohio flows into the Missouri and not into the Mississippi River. The Missouri, and NOT the Mississippi, is the main stream of what has been called the Mississippi Basin. The Missouri, when taken from its fountain-heads of the Gallatin, Madison, and Red Rock lakes, or, if we take the Jefferson Fork as the principal tributary, has a length, from its source to its union with the Mississippi, of above three thousand miles. The United States Topographical Engineers have credited it with a length of two thousand nine hundred and eight miles, when divested of some of these tributary extensions. The same good authority gives the Mississippi a length of thirteen hundred and thirty miles from its source to its junction with the Missouri.

At this junction of the two rivers the Missouri has a mean discharge of one hundred and twenty thousand cubic feet of water per second, or one-seventh greater than that of the Mississippi, which has a mean discharge of one hundred and five thousand cubic feet per second. The Missouri drains five hundred and eighteen thousand square miles of territory, while the Mississippi drains only one hundred and sixty-nine thousand square miles. While the latter river has by far the greatest rainfall, the Missouri discharges the largest amount of water, and at the point of union of the two streams is from fifteen to seventeen hundred miles the longer of the two. Therefore, according to natural laws, the Missouri is the main stream, and the smaller and shorter Mississippi is only a branch of it. From the junction of the two rivers the current, increased by numerous tributaries, follows a crooked channel some thirteen hundred and fifty-five miles to the Gulf of Mexico. The Missouri, therefore, has a total length of four thousand three hundred and sixty-three miles, without counting some of its highest sources.

The learned Professor A. Guyot, in a treatise on physical geography, written for "A. J. Johnson's New Illustrated Family Atlas of the World," informs us that the Amazon River, the great drainer of the eastern Andes, is three thousand five hundred and fifty miles long, and is the LONGEST RIVER IN THE WORLD.

According to the figures used by me in reference to the Missouri and Mississippi, and which are the results of actual observations made by competent engineers, the reader will find, notwithstanding the statements made by our best geographers in regard to the length of the Amazon, that there is one river within the confines of our country which is eight hundred and thirteen miles longer than the Amazon, and is the longest though not the widest river in the world. The rivers of what is now called the Mississippi Basin drain one million two hundred and forty-four thousand square miles of territory, while the broader Amazon, with its many tributaries, drains the much larger area of two million two hundred and seventy-five thousand square miles.

A century after the Spaniard, De Soto, had discovered the lower Mississippi, and had been interred in its bed, a French interpreter, of "Three Rivers," on the northern bank of the St. Lawrence River, named Jean Nicollet, explored one of the northern tributaries of the Mississippi. This was about the year 1639.

It was reserved for La Salle to make the first thorough exploration of the Mississippi. A few months after he had returned, alone, from his examination of the Ohio as far as the falls at Louisville, in 1669-70, this undaunted man followed the Great Lakes of the north to the western shore of Lake Michigan, and making a portage to a river, "evidently the Illinois," traversed it to its intersection with another river, "flowing from the north-west to the south-east," which river must have been the Mississippi, and which it is affirmed La Salle descended to the thirty-sixth degree of latitude, when he became convinced that this unexplored stream discharged itself, not into the Gulf of California, but into the Gulf of Mexico. So La Salle was the discoverer of the Illinois as well as of the Ohio; and during his subsequent visits to the Mississippi gave that river a thorough exploration.

My entrance to the Mississippi River was marked by the advent of severe squalls of wind and rain, which drove me about noon to the shelter of Island No. 1, where I dined, and where in half an hour the sun came out in all its glory. Many peculiar features of the Mississippi attracted my notice. Sand bars appeared above the water, and large flocks of ducks and geese rested upon them. Later, the high Chickasaw Bluff, the first and highest of a series which rise at intervals, like islands out of the low bottoms as far south as Natchez, came into view on the left side of the river. The mound-builders of past ages used these natural fortresses to hold at bay the fierce tribes of the north, and long afterward this Chickasaw Bluff played a conspicuous part in the civil war between the states. Columbus, a small village, and the terminus of a railroad, is at the foot of the heights.

A little lower down, and opposite Chalk Bluff, was a heavily wooded island, a part of the territory of the state of Illinois, and known as Wolf Island, or Island No. 5. At five o'clock in the afternoon I ran into a little thoroughfare on the eastern side of this island, and moored the duck-boat under its muddy banks. The wind increased to a gale before morning, and kept me through the entire day, and until the following morning, an unwilling captive. Reading and cooking helped to while away the heavy hours, but having burned up all the dry wood I could find, I was forced to seek other quarters, which were found in a romantic stream that flowed out of a swamp and joined the Mississippi just one mile above Hickman, on the Kentucky side. Having passed a comfortable night, and making an early start without breakfast, I rowed rapidly over a smooth current to the stream called Bayou du Chien Creek, in which I made a very attractive camp among the giant sycamores, sweet-gums, and cotton-woods. The warm sunshine penetrated into this sheltered spot, while the wind had fallen to a gentle zephyr, and came in refreshing puffs through the lofty trees. Here birds were numerous, and briskly hopped about my fire while I made an omelet and boiled some wheaten grits.

[Meeting with the parakeets.] [42KB]

In this retired haunt of the birds I remained through the whole of that sunny Sunday, cooking my three meals, and reading my Bible, as became a civilized man. While enjoying this immunity from the disturbing elements of the great public thoroughfare, the river, curious cries were borne upon the wind above the tall tree-tops like the chattering calls of parrots, to which my ear had become accustomed in the tropical forests of Cuba. As the noise grew louder with the approach of a feathered flock of visitors, and the screams of the birds became more discordant, I peered through the branches of the forest to catch a glimpse of what I had searched for through many hundred miles of wilderness since my boyhood, but what had so far eluded my eager eyes. I felt certain these strange cries must come from the Carolina Parrot, or Parakeet (Conurus Carolinensis), which, though once numerous in all the country west of the Alleghanies as far north as the southern shores of the Great Lakes, has so rapidly diminished in number since 1825, that we find it only as an occasional inhabitant of the middle states south of the Ohio River. In fact, this species is now chiefly confined to Florida, western Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and the Indian Territory. That careful and reliable ornithologist, Dr. Elliot Coues, seems to doubt whether it is now entitled to a place in the avi-fauna of South Carolina, where it was once found in large flocks.

The birds soon reached the locality of my camp, and circling through the clear, warm atmosphere above the tree-tops, they gradually settled lower and lower, suspiciously scanning my fire, screaming as though their little throats would burst, while the sunlight seemed to fill the air with the reflections of the green, gold, and carmine of their brilliant plumage. They dropped into the foliage of the grove, and for a moment were as quiet as though life had departed from them, while I kept close to my hiding-place behind an immense fallen tree, from beneath which I could watch my feathery guests.

The bodies of the adult birds were emerald green, with bright blue reflections. The heads were yellow, excepting the forehead and cheeks, which were scarlet. The large, thick, and hooked bill was white, as well as the bare orbital space around the eye. The feet were a light flesh-color. The length from tip of bill to end of tail was about fourteen inches. The young birds could be easily distinguished from the adults by their short tails and the uniform coat of green, while in some cases the frontlet of scarlet was just beginning to show itself. The adult males were longer than the females.

The Carolina Parrot does not put on its bright-yellow hues until the second season, and its most brilliant tints do not come to perfection until the bird is fully two years old. They feed upon the seeds of the cockle-burrs, which grow in abandoned fields of the planter, as well as upon fruits of all kinds, much of which they waste in their uneconomical method of eating. The low alluvial bottom-lands of the river, where pecan and beech nuts abound, are their favorite hunting-grounds.

It is singular that Alexander Wilson, and, in fact, all the naturalists, except Audubon, who have written about this interesting bird, have failed to examine its nest and eggs. By the unsatisfactory manner in which Audubon refers to the nidification of this parakeet, one is led to believe that even he did not become personally acquainted with its breeding habits.

The offer by Mr. Maynard of one dollar for every parrot's egg delivered to him, induced a Florida cracker to cut a path into a dense cypress swamp at Dunn's Lake, about the middle of the month of June. The hunter was occupied three days in the enterprise, and returned much disgusted with the job. He had found the nests of the parakeets in the hollow cypress-trees of the swamp, but he was too late to secure the eggs, as they were hatched, and the nests filled with young birds. The number of young in each nest seemed to leave no doubt of the fact of several adults nesting in one hole. Probably the eggs are laid about the last of May.

These birds are extremely gregarious, and have been seen at sunset to cluster upon the trunk of a gigantic cypress like a swarm of bees. One after another slowly crawls through a hole into the cavity until it is filled up, while those who are not so fortunate as to obtain entrance, or reserved seats, cling to the outside of the trunk with their claws, and keep their position through the night chiefly by hooking the tip of the upper mandible of the beak into the bark of the tree. The backwoodsmen confidently assert that they have found as many as twenty eggs of a greenish white in a single hollow of a cypress-tree; and as it is generally supposed, judging from the known habits of other species of this genus, that the Carolina Parrot lays only two eggs, but few naturalists doubt that these birds nest in companies. It is a very difficult task to find the nests of parrots in the West Indies, some of them building in the hollowed top of the dead trunk of a royal palm which has been denuded of its branches; and there, upon the unprotected summit of a single column eighty feet in height, without any shelter from tropical storms, the Cuban Parrot rears its young.

The Carolina Parrot is the only one of this species which may truly be said to be a permanent resident of our country. The Mexican species are sometimes met with along the southwestern boundaries of the United States, but they emigrate only a few miles northward of their own regions. The salt-licks in the great button-wood bottoms along the Mississippi were once the favorite resorts of these birds, and they delighted to drink the saline water. It is to be regretted that so interesting a bird should have been so ruthlessly slaughtered where they were once so numerous. Only the young birds are fit to eat, but we read in the accounts of our pioneer naturalists that from eight to twenty birds were often killed by the single discharge of a gun, and that as the survivors would again and again return to the lurking-place of their destroyer, attracted by the distressing cries of their wounded comrades, the unfeeling sportsman would continue his work of destruction until more than half of a large flock would be exterminated. This interesting parakeet may, during the next century, pass out of existence, and be known to our descendants as the Great Auk (Alca impennis) is now known to us, as a very rare specimen in the museums of natural history.

On Monday, January 3, I rowed out of the Bayou du Chien, and soon reached the town of Hickman, Kentucky, where I invested in a basketful of mince-pies, that deleterious compound so dear to every American heart. A large flatboat, built upon the most primitive principles, and without cabin of any kind, was leaving the landing, evidently bound on a fishing-cruise, for her hold was filled with long nets and barrels of provisions. A large roll of canvas, to be used as a protection against rain, was stowed in one end of the odd craft, while at the other end was a large and very rusty cooking-stove, with a joint of pipe rising above it. The crew of fishermen labored at a pair of long sweeps until the flat reached the strong current, when they took in their oars, and, clustering about the stove, filled their pipes, and were soon reclining at their ease on the pile of nets, apparently as well satisfied with their tub as Diogenes was with his. As I rowed past them, they roused themselves into some semblance of interest, and gazed upon the little white boat, so like a pumpkin-seed in shape, which soon passed from their view as it disappeared down the wide Mississippi.

There was something in the appearance of that rough flatboat that made me wish I had hailed her quiet crew; for, strange to say, they did not send after me a shower of slang phrases and uncouth criticisms, the usual prelude to conversation among flatboat-men when they desire to cultivate the acquaintance of a fellow-voyager. In fact, it was rather startling not to have the usual greeting, and I wondered why I heard no friendly expressions, such as, "Here, you river thief, haul alongside and report yourself! Whar did you come from? Come and take a pull at the bottle! It's prime stuff, I tell ye; will kill a man at forty paces," &c. The rusty stove was as strong an attraction as the quiet crew, as I thought how convenient it would be to run alongside of the old boat and utilize it for my culinary purposes. The unwonted silence, however, proved conclusively that some refined instinct, unknown to the usual crews of such boats, governed these voyagers, and I feared to intrude upon so dignified a party.

Descending a long straight reach, after making a run of twenty-three miles, I crossed the limits of Kentucky, and, entering Tennessee, saw on its shore, in a deep bend of the river, the site of a fortification, while opposite to it lay the low Island No. 10. Both of these places were full of interest, being the scenes of conflict in our civil war. The little white sneak-box glided down another long bend, over the wrecks of seven steamboats, and passed New Madrid, on the Missouri shore. The mouth of Reelfoot Bayou then opened before me, a creek which conducts the waters from the weird recesses of one of the most interesting lakes in America,--a lake which was the immediate result of a disastrous series of disturbances generally referred to as the New Madrid earthquakes, and which took place in 1811-13. Much of the country in the vicinity of New Madrid and Fort Donaldson was involved in these serious shocks. Swamps were upheaved and converted into dry uplands, while cultivated uplands were depressed below the average water level, and became swamps or ponds of water. 'The inhabitants, deprived of their little farms, were reduced to such a stage of suffering as to call for aid from government, and new lands were granted them in place of their fields which had sunk out of sight. Hundreds of square miles of territory were lost during the two years of terrestrial convulsions.

The most interesting effect of the subsidence of the land was the creation of Reelfoot Lake, the fluvial entrance to which is from the tortuous Mississippi some forty-five miles below Hickman, Kentucky. The northern portion of the lake is west of and a short distance from Fort Donaldson, about twenty miles from Hickman, by the river route. As Reelfoot Lake possesses the peculiar flora and characteristics of a multitude of other swamp-lakes throughout the wilderness of the lower Mississippi valley, I cannot better describe them all than by giving to the reader a description of that lake, written by an intelligent observer who visited the locality in 1874.

"Nothing," he says, "could well exceed the singularity of the view that meets the eye as one comes out of the shadows of the forest on to the border of this sheet of water. From the marshy shore spreads out the vast extent of the seemingly level carpet of vegetation,--a mat of plants, studded over with a host of beautiful flowers; through this green prairie runs a maze of water-ways, some just wide enough for a pirogue, some widening into pools of darkened water. All over this expanse rise the trunks of gigantic cypresses, shorn of all their limbs, and left like great obelisks, scattered so thickly that the distance is lost in the forest of spires. Some are whitened and some blackened by decay and fire; many rise to a hundred feet or more above the lake. The branches are all gone, save in a few more gigantic forms, whose fantastic remnants of the old forest arches add to the illusion of monumental ruin which forces itself on the mind. The singularity of the general effect is quite matched by the wonder of the detail.

"Taking the solitary dug-out canoe, or pirogue, as it is called in the vernacular, we paddled out into the tangle of water-paths. The green carpet, studded with yellow and white, that we saw from the shores, resolved itself into a marvellously beautiful and varied vegetation. From the tangle of curious forms the eye selects two noble flowers: our familiar northern water-lily, grown to a royal form, its flowers ten inches broad, and its floating pads near a foot across; and another grander flower, the Wampapin lily, the queen of American flowers. It is worth a long journey to see this shy denizen of our swamps in its full beauty. From the midst of its great floating leaves, which are two feet or more in diameter, rise two large leaves borne upon stout foot-stalks that bring them a yard above the water; from between these elevated leaves rises to a still greater height the stem of the flower. The corolla itself is a gold-colored cup a foot in diameter, lily-like in a general way, but with a large pestle-shaped ovary rising in the centre of the flower, in which are planted a number of large seeds, the 'pins' of Wampapin. These huge golden cups are poised on their stems, and wave in the breeze above great wheel-like leaves, while the innumerable white lilies fill in the spaces between, and enrich the air with their perfume.

"Slowly we crept through the tangled paths until we were beyond the sight of shore, in the perfect silence of this vast ruined temple, on every side the endless obelisks of the decaying cypress, and as far as the eye could see were ranged the numberless nodding bells of the yellow lilies, and the still-eyed white stars below them. While we waited in the coming evening, the silence was so deep, the whir of a bald eagle's wings, as he swept through the air, was audible from afar. The lonely creature sat on the peak of one of the wooden towers over our boat, and looked curiously down upon us. The waters seemed full of fish, and, indeed, the lake has much celebrity as a place for such game. We could see them creeping through the mazes of the water-forest, in a slow, blind way, not a bit like the dance of the northern creatures of the active waters of our mountain streams.

"There is something of forgetfulness in such a scene, a sense of a world far away, with no path back to it. One might fall to eating our Wampapin lily, as did the Chickasaws of old, and find in it the all-forgetting lotus, for it is, indeed, the brother of the lotus of the Nile. We do not know how far these forgotten savages found the mystic influence of the Nilotic lotus in these queenly flowers of the swamps, but tradition says that they ate not only the seeds, but the bulbous roots, which the natives aver are quite edible. So we, too, can claim a lotus-eating race, and are even able to try the soul-subduing powers of the plant at our will.

"There is something in the weight of life and death in these swamps that subdues the mind, and makes the steps we take fall as in a dream. It was not easy to fix a basis for memory with the pencil, and recollection shapes a vast sensation of strangeness, a feeling as if one had trod for a moment beyond the brink of time, rather than any distinct images."

At sunset I came upon Joe Eckel's Bar,--not the fluvial establishment so much resorted to by people ashore,--but a genuine Mississippi sandbar, or shoal, which was covered with two feet of water, and afforded lodgment for a heavy raft of trees that had floated upon it. The island was also partly submerged, but I found a cove with a sandy beach on its lower end; and running into the little bay, I staked the boat in one foot of water, much to the annoyance of flocks of wild-fowl which circled about me at intervals all night. The current had been turbid during the day, and to supply myself with drinking-water it was necessary to fill a can from the river and wait for the sediment to precipitate itself before it was fit for use. Fifty-six miles were logged for the day's row.

In the morning Joe Eckel's Bar was alive with geese and ducks, cackling a lusty farewell as I pushed through the drift stuff and resumed my voyage down the swelling river.

The reaches were usually five miles in length, though some of them were very much longer. Sometimes deposits of sand and vegetable matter will build up a small island adjacent to a large one, and then a dense thicket of cotton-wood brush takes possession of it, and assists materially in resisting the encroachments of the current. These little, low islands, covered with thickets, are called tow-heads, and the maps of the Engineer Corps of the United States distinguish them from the originally numbered islands in the following manner: "Island No. 18," and "Tow Head of Island No.18."

In addition to the numbered islands, which commence with Island No. 1, below the mouth of the Ohio, and end with Island No. 125, above the inlet to Bayou La Fourche, in Louisiana, there are many which have been named after their owners. During one generation a planter may live upon a peninsula comprising many thousand acres, with his cotton-fields and houses fronting on the Mississippi. The treacherous current of this river may suddenly cut a new way across his estate inland at a distance of two miles from his home. As the gradual change goes on, he looks from the windows of his house upon a new scene. He no longer has the rapid flowing river, enlivened by the passage of steamboats and other craft; but before him is a sombre bayou, or crescent-shaped lake, whose muddy waters are almost motionless. He was the proprietor of Needham's Point, he is now the owner of Needham's Island, and lives in the quiet atmosphere of the backwoods of Tennessee.

This day's row carried me past heavily-wooded shores, cotton-fields with some of the cotton still unpicked; past the limits of Missouri on the left side, and into the wild state of Arkansas at Island No. 21. I finally camped on Island No. 26, in a half submerged thicket, after a row of fifty-eight miles.

As there were many flat and shanty boats floating southward, I adopted a plan by means of which my dinners were frequently cooked with little trouble to myself or others. About an hour before noon I gazed about within the narrow horizon for one of those floating habitations, and rowing alongside, engaged in conversation with its occupants. The men would tell what success they had had in collecting the skins of wild animals (though silent upon the subject of pig-stealing), while the women would talk of the homes they had left, and sigh for the refinements and comforts of "city life," by which they meant their former existence in some small town on the upper river. While we were exchanging our budgets of information I would obtain the consent of the presiding goddess of the boat to stew my ambrosia upon her stove, the sneak-box floating the while alongside its tub-like companion. Many a half hour was spent in this way; and, besides the comfort of a hot dinner, there were advantages afforded for the study of characters not to be found elsewhere.

These peculiar boats, so often encountered, found refuge in the frequent cut-offs behind the many islands of the river; for besides those islands which have been numbered, new ones are forming every year. At times, when the water is very high, the current will cut a new route across the low isthmus, or neck, of a peninsula, around which sweeps a long reach of the main channel, leaving the tortuous bend which it has deserted to be gradually filled up with snags, deposits of alluvium, and finally to be carpeted with a vegetable growth. In some cases, as the stream works away to the eastward or westward, it remains an inland crescent-shaped lake, numbers of which are to be found in the wilderness many miles from the parent stream. I have known the channel of the Mississippi to be shortened twenty miles during a freshet, and a steam-boat which had followed the great ox-bow bend in ascending the river, on its return trip shot through the new cut-off of a few hundred feet in length, upon fifteen feet of water where a fortnight before a forest had been growing.

The area of land on both sides of the Mississippi subjected to annual overflow, like the country surrounding the Nile, in Egypt, is very large. There are localities thirty or forty miles away from the river where the height of the overflow of the previous year is plainly registered upon the trunks of the trees by a coating of yellow mud, which sometimes reaches as high as a man's head. This great region possesses vast tracts of rich land, as well as millions of acres of low swamps and bayou bottoms.

The traveller, the hunter, the zoölogist, and the botanist can all find here in these rich river bottoms a ready reward for any inconveniences experienced on the route. Strange types of half-civilized whites, game enough to satisfy the most rapacious, beast and bird of peculiar species, and over all the immense forests of cypress, sweet-gums, Spanish-oaks, tulip-trees, sycamores, cotton-woods, white-oaks, &c., while the most delicate wild-flowers "waste their sweetness on the desert air." Across all this natural beauty the whisper of desolation casts a cloud, for here during most of the year arises the health-destroying malaria.

Upon the high lands the squatter builds his log cabin, and makes his clearing where the rich soil and warm sun assist his rude agricultural labors, and he is rewarded with a large crop of maize and sweet potatoes. These, with bacon from his herd of wandering pigs, give sustenance to his family of children, who, hatless and bonnetless, roam through the woods until the sun bleaches their hair to the color of flax. With tobacco, whiskey, and ammunition for himself, and an ample supply of snuff for his wife, he drags out an indolent existence; but he is the pioneer of American civilization, and as he migrates every few years to a more western wilderness, his lands are frequently occupied by a more intelligent and industrious class, and his improvements are improved upon. The new-comer, with greater ambition and more ample means, raises cotton instead of corn, and depends upon the Ohio valley for a supply of that cereal.

Wednesday, January 5th, was a sunny and windy day. The Arkansas shores afforded me a protection from the wind as I rowed down towards Fort Pillow, which, according to the map of the United States Engineer Corps, is situated upon Chickasaw Bluff No. 1, though some writers and map-makers designate the Columbus Bluff, below the mouth of the Ohio, as the first Chickasaw Bluff. The site of Fort Pillow is about thirty feet above the water. It commands the low country opposite, and two reaches of the river for a long distance. A little below the fort, on the right bank of the river, was an extensive cotton-field, still white with the flossy cellulose. Here I landed under the shady trees, and gathered cotton, the result of peaceful labor. Truly had the sword been beaten into the ploughshare, and the spear into a pruning-hook, for above me frowned down Fort Pillow, the scene of the terrible negro massacre in our late war. Now the same sun shone so brightly upon the graves scattered here and there, and warmed into life the harvest sown in peace.

At intervals I caught glimpses of negro cabins, with their clearings, and their little crops of cotton glistening in the sun. The island tow-heads and sand-bars were numerous, and in places the Mississippi broadened into lake-like areas, while the yellow current, now heavily charged with mud, arose in height every hour. The climate was growing delightful. It was like a June day in the northern states. Each soft breeze of the balmy atmosphere seemed to say, as I felt its strange, fascinating influence, "You are nearing the goal!" The shadows of the twilight found me safely ensconced behind the lower end of Island No. 33, where in the bayou between it and the Tennessee shore I lazily watched fair Luna softly emerging from the clouds, and lending to the grand old woods her tender light.

I proceeded southward the next day, rowing comfortably after having divested myself of all superfluous apparel. The negroes, on their one-horse plantations, gave a hearty hail as I passed, but I noted here a feature I had remarked when upon my "Voyage of the Paper Canoe," on the eastern coast. It was the silence in which these people worked. The merry song of the darky was no longer heard as in the "auld lang syne." Then he was the slave of a white master. Now he is the slave of responsibilities and cares which press heavily upon his heretofore unthinking nature. To-day he has a future IF he can make it.

During the day, a lone woman on a shanty-boat, which was securely fastened to an old stump, volunteered much information in regard "her man," and the money he expected to receive for the skins he had been collecting during the winter. She said he would get in New Orleans thirty-five cents apiece for his coon-skins, one dollar for minks, and one dollar and a half each for beaver and otter skins. She informed me that the sunken country below Memphis, on the Arkansas side, was full of deer and bears.

By rowing briskly I was able to pass Memphis, the principal river port of Tennessee, at five o'clock in the afternoon. This flourishing city is situated upon one of the Chickasaw bluffs, thirty feet above the river. At the base of the bluff a bed of sandstone projects into the water, it being the only known stratum of rock along the river between Cairo and the Gulf. From the Ohio River to Vicksburg, a distance of six hundred miles, it is asserted that there is no other site for a commercial city: so Memphis, though isolated, enjoys this advantage, which has, in fact, made her the busy cotton-shipping port she is to-day. Her population is about forty thousand. As Memphis is connected by railroads with the towns and villages of all the back country, in addition to her water advantages, she may be called the business centre of an immense area of cultivated land. The view of the city from the river is striking. Her esplanade, several hundred feet in width, sweeps along the bluff3 and is covered with large warehouses.

Pushing steadily southward, I looked out anxiously for a good camping-ground for the night, feeling that a rest had been well earned, for I had rowed sixty-one miles that day. Soon after passing Horn Lake Bend, the thickets of Crow Island attracted my attention, for along the muddy, crumbling bank the mast of a little sloop arose from the water, and a few feet inland the bright blaze of a camp-fire shone through the mists of evening. A cheery hail of; "I say, stranger, pull in, and tie up here," came from a group of three roughly-clad men, who were bending over the coals, busily engaged in frying salt pork and potatoes. The swift current forced me into an eddy close to the camp. One of the men caught my painter, and drew me close under the lee of their roughly constructed sloop of about two tons' burden. When seated by the bright fire, "the boys" told me their history. They were out of work; so, investing sixty dollars in an old sloop, putting on board a barrel of pork, a barrel of flour, some potatoes, coffee, salt, and molasses, (which cargo was to last three months,) they started to cut canes in the canebrakes of White River, Arkansas. These canes were to be utilized as fishing-poles, and being carefully assorted and fastened into bundles, were to be shipped to Cincinnati by steamer, and from there by rail to Cleveland, Ohio, where Mr. Farrar, their consignee, would dispose of them for the party. They had come down the Mississippi from Keokuk, Iowa, having left that place December 13th, and had experienced various delays, having several times been frozen up in creeks. They would be able to cut, during the winter, twenty-five thousand fishing-rods, enough, one would think, to clear the streams of all the finny tribe. Mr. F. C. Stirling, of Painesville, Ohio, was the principal of the party, and I found him an unusually intelligent young man. He had passed the previous winter alone upon White River in an experimental sort of way, and had succeeded in obtaining the finest lot of fishing-rods that had ever been sent north.

There was so much to be talked about, and so many experiences in voyaging to be exchanged, that we decided to remain that night on Crow Island, as there was not much risk of. my being deluged by the passing steamers, for it was evident that the steamboat channel hugged the bank of the opposite side of the river. I took ashore chocolate, canned milk, white sugar, and some of the Hickman mince-pies, while the boys rolled logs of wood on to the fire, and buried potatoes in the hot ashes. Stirling went to work at bread-making, and putting his dough in one of those flat-bottomed, three-legged, iron-covered vessels, which my reader will now recognize as the bake-pan, or Dutch oven, placed it on the coals, and loaded its cover with hot embers. The potatoes were soon baked, and possessed a mealiness not usually found in those served up by the family cook. Stirling's bread was a success, and my chocolate disappeared down the throats of the hearty western boys as fast as its scalding temperature would admit.

Stirling told me of his life during the previous winter in the swamps of White River. On one occasion, a steamer having lost her anchor near his locality, the captain of the boat offered to reward Stirling liberally if he would recover the lost property; so, while the captain was making his up-river trip, the Ohio boy worked industriously dredging for the cable. He found it; and under-running the heavy rope, raised it and the anchor. When the steamer returned to Beteley's Landing, Stirling delivered the anchor and coil of rope to the captain, who, intending to defraud the young man of the promised reward, ordered the mate to "cast off the lines." The gong had signalled the engineer to get under way, but not quick enough to escape the young salvage-owner, who grasped the coil of rope and dragged it ashore, shouting to the captain, "You may keep your anchor, but I will keep your cable as salvage, to which I am entitled for my trouble in saving your property."

A few days later, Stirling, wishing to know whether he could legally hold his salvage fees, paddled down to Bolivia, a small town in the state of Mississippi, to obtain legal advice in regard to the matter. The white people referred him to a negro justice of the peace, whom they assured him "had more law-larnin' than any white man in the diggings, and is the honestest nigger in these parts." Being ushered into the presence of a dignified negro, the cutter of fishing-poles informed the "justice" that he desired legal advice in a case of salvage.

"Dat's rite, dat's berry good, sah," said the negro; "now you jes' set rite down he'ar, and macadimize de case to me. I gibs ebery man justice--no turnin' to de rite or de leff hand."

Stirling stated the facts, the colored justice puckering up his shiny brow, and his whole countenance expressing perplexity. "I want to know," said the possessor of the cable, "whether I can legally hold on to the coil of rope; use it or sell it for my own benefit, without being sued by the captain, who broke his agreement with me."

The colored man attempted to consult a volume containing a digest of laws; but being an indifferent reader, he handed it to Stirling, saying, "Now you, sah, jes look froo de book and find de larnin' on de case." Having carefully consulted the book, Stirling declared he found nothing that covered the salvage question in regard to cables and anchors. "Nuffin at all? nuffin at all?" asked the justice, seriously.

"Now let me rest de case a moment fur perspection." As he pondered on a case which could not be decided by precedent, an idea seemed to lighten his sable features, for he straightened himself up and exclaimed, "Den I will gib you an opinion. Dis court will apply de common law ob de state ob Mississippi; and dis is it: 'What you hab, dat you keep!' DIS is de teachings ob de bar, de bench, and de code."

Having received this august opinion, Stirling paddled back in his dug-out canoe to the swamps of Arkansas, much amused, if not impressed, with the negro's simple method of successfully disposing of a case, so unlike the usual procrastinating customs which fetter the courts presided over by learned white men.

Early on the following day I left the camp of the Ohio boys, for their progress was assisted by a large sail, and it would have been impossible for me to have kept up with them. They also travelled by night as well as by day, keeping one man at the helm while the others slept. At the lower end of Crow Island I left the state of Tennessee and entered the confines of Mississippi, having Arkansas still on my right hand.

During part of the afternoon I accompanied a flatboat-man and his family as far as Island No. 60, where we ran into a little bayou for the night. There was a rowdy settlement here, and many rough fellows were in the streets, shouting and fighting; but as I entered the bayou after dark, and secreted myself in the half submerged swamp, no one knew of my being there: so I felt safe from insult. The owner of the flatboat with whom I had entered the bayou intended to fish for the settlement. He was an old trapper, and informed me that bears were still abundant in parts of Alabama. He said the Canada Goose bred in small numbers in the lakes of the back country. His experiences with human nature found expression in his advice to me when I parted from him the next morning. "Don't leave your boat alone for half an hour in these parts, stranger. Niggers is bad, and some white folks too." Promising my new friend to look out for number one, I waved an adieu to him and his, and went on my solitary way.

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