« PreviousContinue »
which we were therefore to complete in the day, or lie in the woods; and as the day was wet, we preferred the former. We might perhaps have felt some apprehension also of wild beasts on such an unfrequented road; since, although we were informed that wolves, unless nearly famished, are scared by the scent of a human being, a hungry panther is sometimes not intimidated, even by a fire. The danger, however, of being molested is extremely small.
Our course, the whole day, was along an Indian path, about twelve or fourteen inches broad, through woods which protected us from the hot sun, when it gleamed between the showers. It was twice crossed by hunter's paths, a little narrower than itself; and we were admonished, that if we deviated into these, we should perhaps come to no habitation for 100 or 150 miles. Cow-paths which had occasionally misled us, particularly in the swamps, are found only near the settlements; or it would have been unwise to venture without a guide.
We arrived safe at the end of our journey about sunset; having seen only two Indian hunters, and two wolves, in the course of the day. I suppose our imaginations magnified these wolves; as they appeared larger than those which we had occasionally seen in the shows. They were of a tawny colour. Rising in the brushwood, about 60 yards from us, they made towards an adjoining swamp, leaving us well pleased with the direction which they had taken.
Our host, that night, was the elder brother of our halfbreed, and kept a stand on the Kentucky trace, which we here regained. The shade before the house (for in this part of the country every tolerable house or cabin has a long projecting shade on the east and west, in which the family generally sit, according to the situation of the sun) was hung with saddles and bridles, side-saddles, with smart scarlet housings, rifles, shot-pouches, powder-horns; and deer, buffalo, and bear skins. Several dogs were lying about, and a herd of cattle was coming up to be milked. Near the house were some cabins for the negroes, whom we saw working in the Indian-corn fields at a little distance.
We were now in the Chickasaw nation; but the description is applicable to the better houses of most of the richer half-breeds, both among the Choctaws and Chickasaws. Our host was wealthy; and within about 60 miles from this
farm, and within the Choctaw line, he had a cow-pen, with several hundred head of cattle. He was mild and dignified in his manner, very friendly, but spoke little English.
We slept on the kitchen floor, but could not obtain even two bear-skins; our host's niece, with her husband and family, having come to her uncle's to be nursed, as is the custom when indisposed. When we went in, she was sitting up, drest, on the only bed in the kitchen; and looked very melancholy with her eyes fixed on the ground. When a female friend came in and sat by her, however, she was merry enough, and laughed heartily, perhaps at our expense. I believe, however, this would be an unjust supposition, as I never saw more civility and propriety than among the Indians. The females, indeed, are distant; but I believe it is not the custom for them to converse even with Indian strangers, till some time after they have met.
One of our horses being so violently ill with the colic (here a very frequent and dangerous disease) as to awaken us all with his doleful groaning in the night, we set off late the following day, and rode slowly about 26 miles. We had intended to reach the stand, about 28 miles distant; but night came on so suddenly (for in this latitude there is little twilight) that we could not find our way through a dangerous swamp which intervened. We had accordingly to lie out, and could not raise a fire; though we seldom travelled unprovided with the means of obtaining a light.
As we were riding along toward sunset, we saw many parties of Chickasaws repairing to a dance and ball-play. The magnificence of their dresses exceeded any thing that we had yet seen; and the profusion of silver ornaments was far greater than among the Choctaws. Indeed they cut a splendid figure as they galloped through the woods.
The Chickasaws generally appeared to us neater in their persons, than our friends the Choctaws; on whom I mean no reflection, and I am aware that our opportunities of observation were too limited, to justify any general conclusion. The Chickasaws seem, however, to expend in ornaments, the savings and annuity of which the Choctaws appropriate a large proportion to their farms or cattle. that the Chickasaws entirely neglect agriculture or pastoral labours; but their little patches are worse cultivated, and their herds less considerable. I was informed that they have only one Chief; while the Choctaws are divided into three districts, under different Chiefs.
I was told that they bury their dead in their houses. While getting a cup of coffee at Amubee's, a full-blooded Chickasaw, a little negro girl, the only person about the house who could speak English, said, "Master's wife is lying behind you." On looking round, I saw nothing but a bed; when the little girl told me to look under it. When she observed that I was disappointed on perceiving nothing, she said, "Mistress is buried there; but don't speak loud, or master will cry."
We set off early on the 25th; and breakfasted at an Indian's, whose cabin has acquired the title of "the dear house;" a distinction well deserved, and indicative of no common merit in the Indian nation.
Soon after breakfast we crossed a swamp, which had been held up in terrorem before us for some days; and took the precaution of passing it in company with some gentlemen who were acquainted with its intricacies. Our prudence, however, was unnecessary; as the dry weather had rendered it far less difficult and troublesome, than several which we had previously crossed alone. In winter, it must be almost impassable; and one of our companions assured us, that he had to swim over many parts of it, and in others to plunge up to the saddle-skirts in mire at every step. The bottom is a stiff clay; and horses sometimes stick so fast that they cannot be extricated, but are left to die.
Although the weather for some days had been remarkably dry, we had frequently to dismount several times in an hour, to drive our horses through creeks and streams, which would have embarrassed a Leicestershire Fenhunter. One of my companions told me, that when travelling the route last spring, he had to swim his horse seven times in the course of a mile, and as frequently to unpack the pack-horse which carried his provisions. We were more fortunate, and our journey was attended with little difficulty or fatigue.
In the course of this day's ride, we crossed the last waters which fall into the Tombigbee; and some little streams. which taking an opposite direction, empty themselves into the Tennessee. We also passed, though still in the Indian nation, the boundary line between the Mississippi and Alabama. The country became more hilly; and we were glad to exchange our muddy streams for clear pebbly brooks.
At night, we slept in the woods; and in the morning, crossed Bear Creek, a beautiful romantic river. A few
miles further, we came to the summit of a hill, from which we had an extensive view of the country below us. The surface was broken into lofty ridges, among which a river wound its course; and the mass of forest which lay between us and a very distant horizon, exhibited no trace of animated existence, but a solitary cabin and one patch of Indian corn. The view of this boundless solitude was naturally a sombre one; but, to us, emerging into light from the recesses of thick woods, in which for many days, our eyes had seldom been able to range beyond a narrow circle of a few hundred yards, it imparted sensations of cheerfulness which it would be difficult to describe. Not that we were tired of the wilderness. The fragrance of the woods, which enveloped us in a cool shade, and the melody of their warbling tenants, regaled the senses with a perpetual feast while the gambols of the squirrels, the cooing of the doves, the variety of large snakes which often crossed our path, birds with the richest plumage which he had seen only in museums, and, above all, the magnificent foresttrees which here attain their largest growth-all presented an unfailing succession of objects to interest and amuse us. The delicious climate also of the state of Mississippi gave to the morning and evening hours an ethereal charm, which some of your readers will understand: to others, no description would convey any definite ideas, where the reality would make a faint and feeble impression :
They know not how the deep'ning trees,
The midnight calm, the whisp'ring heav'n.
Besides, there is something so soothing in the retirement of these vast solitudes, that the mind is at first unwilling to be disturbed in its reveries, and to awaken from the deep, and perhaps, unprofitable musings into which it has suffered itself to be lulled. Yet although it would shrink from the glare of a daylight which would summon it to its ordinary cares and would start back from a sudden introduction into the din and bustle of a jarring world, it is refreshed by looking abroad on the face of nature, and is delighted to revive its sympathies with the rational creation, of which it forms a part, by glancing on the distant confines of civilized life.
Towards evening, we passed, and not without regret, the line which separates the present territory of the Chickasaw nation, from their last cession to the United States.
As I had previously learnt that my journey would not be extended by visiting the Missionary Settlement among the Cherokees, I determined to take Brainerd in my way; and proceeded through Alabama and East Tennessee, to the north-east corner of the State of Georgia, where it is situated.
It is not my intention to swell your pages by dwelling on this part of my route, interesting as it was to myself: I will only observe, that, in passing through the northern part of Alabama, I was particularly struck with the rapidity with which it has been settled. It is little more than two years since these public lands were sold. At that time not a tree was felled; and now the road is skirted with beautiful fields of cotton and Indian corn, from 80 to 120 miles in extent. Whenever I inquired, which I seldom failed to do as often as I stopped, I found that there were schools and opportunities for public worship within a convenient distance. I was gratified by receiving the same information throughout East Tennessee.
In passing the Cumberland, Racoon, and Look-out Mountains, we were delighted with a succession of romantic scenery-sometimes exhibiting the extended outline of a Highland prospect; at others, presenting many of the interesting features of a home view, in the neighbourhood of Windermere or Keswick. To the eye of an Englishman, however, the woods which crown the summits of the highest mountains in this part of America do not compensate for the blooming heath and naked granite of his rugged hills; nor the foliage which covers the valleys with a heavy mantle of dark green, for the white cottages and yellow corn-fields, the smiling meadows, and the flocks and herds, which diversify and animate his native vale.
At the foot of the Cumberland Mountains we slept in a solitary hut, where we found a neat old woman, of 70 or 80 years of age, very busily engaged in spinning. A young clergyman, who had been visiting Brainerd, was also driven in by heavy rain; and his offers to conduct family worship were thankfully accepted by our hostess and her son.
We reached Brainerd early on the 1st of June, and remained till the following morning. The manner of pro