A Topographical Description of the State of Ohio, Indiana Territory, and Louisiana/Red River

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search





This river enters the Mississippi on the western side, at the first great bend below Fort Adams, about nine miles distant from the crossing of the line of demarkation. It is large, and one of the most beautiful rivers in Lower Louisiana. Its waters are brackish, of a reddish colour, turbid, and deposit a sediment collected from the red banks, far up the river. The banks are overflowed in the spring to a great extent, and in places to the depth of fifteen or eighteen feet. The freshets begin to fall in June, and by August the water retires to the channel of the river and lagoons. In the low lands the growth is principally willow and cotton wood, and on the higher, large elms, ash, and hickory ; where the grape vine greatly abounds. About six miles from the mouth of the river is a bayau, leading from Lake Long, which is a narrow lake, two or three miles in width, and fourteen or fifteen in length. Twenty-five miles further up is the confluence of Black river, which is large at its mouth, and coming from a northerly direction.

The first settlement on Red river, called Baker's station, at the commencement of Avoyelles is about seventy miles from its mouth, as the river runs, although not more than one third of the distance, on a straight course. Above this station is a prairie thirty or forty miles in circumference. It is entirely destitute of trees or shrubs, but produces an excellent grass for fattening cattle. The beef is said to be of an excellent quality, and hogs find ground nuts and other food, on which they thrive, and become good pork. The inhabitants are settled in the outer skirts, on the border of the woods. This prairie has the appearance of a good soil, but is found to be too cold for cotton and Indian corn, which thrive much better on land where there has been a growth of wood. Little or no wheat is raised, as they have no mills to grind it. The inhabitants are a mixture of Spaniard, French, Irish, and Americans, who are generally poor, and extremely ignorant.

A few miles above this prairie, the land begins to be moderately hilly. Near the river, the timber is oak, hickory, and some pine, but back from the river the growth is mostly pine for thirty or forty miles.

Holmes' station is about forty miles above Baker's, where there is a settlement. The land produces good cotton, com, and tobacco. On the south side of the river there is a large body of rich land, extending to Appalousa, which is watered and drained by two large bayaus, called bayau Robert and bayau Beuf. Their waters are very clear, and take their rise in the high lands betwen Red river and the Sabine. These waters are discharged into the Chaffetis. It is believed this body of land, which is forty miles square, in richness of soil, growth of timber, goodness of water, and convenience of navigation is equal to any tract of land in this part of Louisiana.

From Holmes' to bayau Rapide is thirty-five miles, and for this distance there are only a few scattered settlements on the right side of the river, and none on the left. The right side is preferred on account of the high lands, which are most convenient for keeping stock. The lands on the bayau Rapide, are nearly of the same quality with the bayau Robert and bayau Beuf. The two mouths of this bayau meet the river about twenty miles apart. The length of this bayau is about thirty miles, forming a curvature somewhat in the shape of a half moon. On its back another bayau falls into it, of excellent water, on which there is a saw mill. Boats cannot pass round this curvature on the account of obstructions formed by rafts of timber, but can ascend from the lower mouth more than half the distance. On each side the lower mouth is the principal settlement, called the Rapide settlement. Few countries exhibit a more delightful appearance than this settlement. The plantations are extremely beautiful, and the soil exceedingly rich. The cotton raised here is of the best quality in Louisiana. The corn and tobacco are very good, as are all kinds of vegetables. The orange and fig trees grow luxuriously, and the climate is delightful.

At the Rapide is a fall of water, occasioned by a soft rock which crosses the bed of the river, so that from July to December there is not sufficient water for boats to pass over, but the rest of the season they pass with ease. This rock is so very soft, as not much to exceed, in hardness, some kinds of hard clay, and it is presumed a passage might be cut through it, with very little difficulty, so as to make it as low as the bed of the river.

From the Rapide to the Indian villages is about twenty miles, with very few settlements for the whole distance, although the land is fine, and susceptible of all kind of cultivation. The Indian villages are pleasantly situated on both sides of the river, and the land very good. Just above these villages is Gillard's station, on an high pine bluff, which, on the east side, overlooks extensive fields and meadows, in a good state of cultivation, and affords a view of a very long reach of the river. Here is an excellent spring of water, gushing out from an aperture in a rock on the bank of the river, about high water mark. Back from the house is a lake, which abounds with fish in summer, and fowl in the winter.

About six miles above Gillard's is the village of the Boluxa Indians, where the river divides into two branches, forming an island of about fifty miles in length, and three or four in breadth.The right hand stream is called Rigula de Bondieu, on which there are no settlements. On the left hand is the boat channel to Natchitoches, and on this branch, for twenty-four miles, there are thick settlements, and the inhabitants wealthy. This is called the River Cane settlement.

Above this settlement, the river divides again, forming another Island of about thirty miles in length, and three or four in breadth, called Isle Brevel. This Island is subdivided by a bayau which crosses the Island from one river to the other, and is called Bayau Brevel. The middle division of the river is called Little river, and is the boat channel, where there are thick settlements. The westward channel, called False river, is navigable, but the banks being very low, there are no settlements. The river passes through a lake, called Lai Occasse. Above this lake the three channels meet, where Natchitoches is situated. The town is small, and meanly built, containing about forty or fifty houses, inhabited principally by French people.

The fort, which is now called Fort Claiborn, is on a small hill, forty rods from the river, containing about two acres. This hill is wholly occupied by the fort and barracks, and is elevated thirty feet above the river banks. Natchitoches is an ancient French settlement, which commenced nearly a century ago, where a trading post was established, and an extensive traffic carried on with the Indians. This despicable village is not on the site where the ancient town stood ; the present inhabitants, having been almost entirely secluded from the civilized world, have degenerated to a miserable, ignorant set of beings ; but a small degree removed from the state of the savages, with whom they have had their principal intercourse. When a large trade was carried on with the natives, many years ago, the town was much larger than it is at present ; the people having left the town to settle on farms in the adjacent country, but principally on the long round, near the river. Very little now remains to be seen of the old parts of the town, except the form of their gardens, and a few ornamental trees. There is one great inconvenience in settling near Red river ; the waters being never clear, and always brackish. Wells, sunk near the river, have brackish and unpleasant water. There are some tolerable springs, but the inhabitants are obliged principally to depend on rain water.

Near Natchitoches are two large lakes, one a mile, and the other six miles distant. One of the lakes is thirty, and the other fifty or sixty miles in circumference. These lakes are connected with the river by bayaus. When the water rises in the river, it rushes into the lakes, and then rushes back again, as the water falls in the river. The immense number of fowl which abound in these lakes, during the winter, almost exceeds credibility. The air is darkened with the large flights, especially near the close of the day ; and the ear almost stunned with the noise they make. One man may kill many hundreds in an afternoon. The hunter takes his station on a convenient spot, and loads and fires a3 fast as possible, without taking particular aim, until he finds he has killed a sufficient number to load his horses. These fowl are swan, geese, brant, and several species of ducks. In the summer, several kinds of fish are said to be equally plenty. The Indians, in taking fish, frequently make use only of the bow and arrow. With this instrument an Indian will often load his horse in a very short time. The fish consist principally of the cat, pike, buffaloe, sucker, and white and black perch, and are generally of a very large size.

From Natchitoches there is a communication with the frontiers of New Mexico. Here the road leading to Saint a Fe leaves Red river, and passes, in a westerly direction through the Spanish Province of Texes. The country is said to consist of very extensive plains, abounding with horses and cattle. Major Z. M. Pike, who was sent, by the government to explore the head waters of the Osage and Red river, was taken by the Spaniards, and he and his party, as {{hws}|prison|prisoners}} prisoners, were conducted to Saint a Fé. He found the city large and populous ; the country thickly settled, and highly cultivated. When he was liberated, he was conducted, on his return to the United States, in a different route, through a country well filled with inhabitants and a number of large cities.

At the distance of about ten miles above Natchitoches, there is another lake which is on the northeast side of Red river, called Noiz, and is about fifty miles in circumference. The bayau or outlet of this lake communicates with Rigula de Bondieu. The bayau Rigula de Bondieu enters Red river about three miles above Natchitoches. Near the lake Noiz, all the salt used on Red river is made. This large quantity of salt, until lately, was made by only two men, and with a few pots and kettels. It is now better worked, but not to a hundredth part of the extent to which it might be carried. The water is so highly impregnated with salt as to require very little boiling. The conveyance of the salt to market is easy, as the bayau is boatable most of the year into the lake.

Where the bayau communicates, Red river is in one channel, and here the settlement of Grand Ecore commences, extending about six miles. Stone coal is found near this settlement, and some fine springs of water issue from the banks of the river. About one mile above Grand Ecore, on the left side of the river comes in a large bayau from the Spanish lake, so called. This lake is about fifty miles in circumference, and rises and falls with the river, in the same manner as the lakes near Natchitoches. Two miles above this bayau the river is divided into two streams. The course of the west branch is westerly for nearly eighty miles, where it turns to the eastward, and communicates with the right branch, forming an Island one hundred miles long, and in some parts of it thirty miles wide. The upper end of this branch is so choaked up with drift wood that boats cannot pass. Settlements, of entirely French people, extend nearly the whole length of this branch, called bayau Peir settlements. The land is fertile, and the scattered inhabitants possess large herds of cattle, and appear to live very well. The face of this tract of country is moderately hilly, and the water very good. Some miles westward, towards the Sabine river, is a saline, where they procure their salt.

On the main, or eastern branch of the river, there are a few scattered settlements, including one called Camti. The land on this branch is similar to that on the other, excepting that near Camti, it is much intersected and broken by bayaus. The land at the upper part of these settlements is considered not inferior to any on the Red river. The computed distance from the mouth of Red river is one hundred and forty miles, and between thirty and forty from Natchitoches. At the upper houses the great jam of drifted timber begins, choaking up the river, at intermediate places, which are frequently several leagues apart, for one hundred miles. The stream is extremely crooked, and the low lands, which are rich, extend to a great width on each side. Although the river is so obstructed, boats of any size can ascend in a bayau most of the year. This is called bayau Channo, leading into lake Biftino, at the distance of about three miles from where it leaves the river. This lake is about sixty miles in length, and is nearly parallel with the river. A communication with the river is formed at the upper end, by a bayau, called Daichet. This passage is much shorter than to follow the meanders of the river. From this bayau to the mountains the river is free of obstructions.

Nearly eighty miles above bayau Daichet is the Caddo old town. The lands for this distance are rich, consisting of high bottom, which is widely extended from the river. The Caddo old towns consist of a number of villages built on a large prairie, in the midst of which is a lake of about five miles in circumference, without any stream running in, or out of it. The water is so perfectly limpid, and the bottom so clear, that the fish may be distinctly seen, at the depth of fifteen or twenty feet. On this prairie, and not far from the lake, is an eminence to which the Indians pay great veneration. They have a tradition, that the Great Spirit, having determined to deluge the earth with water, and drown all the people upon it, selected one Caddo family, and placed it on this eminence. The water not rising so high as the top of it, this family was saved, when all the rest of the people in the world were destroyed; and from this family all the Indian nations are descendants. Not only the Caddos, but all the other bands of Indians, pay homage to this eminence, when they pass it. The neighbouring bands consider the Caddoquies their common father, and treat them with respect. Their number of warriors do not much exceed one hundred men, but they brave death with the utmost fortitude, and boast that they have never embrued their hands in the blood of a white man. They carry on an incessant warfare with the Osage and Chicktaw nations, but live in peace with the other bands.

From the Caddo old towns to the Panis villages, following the course of the river, which is nearly west, is about seven hundred miles; the land alternately clothed with timber and prairie, and some of the prairies very extensive. On a branch of Red river, which comes in about one hundred and thirty miles below the Panis towns, it is said, silver mines have been lately discovered; and just below the first village, the Ra-ha-cha-ha, or the Missouri branch of Red river, enters from the north; which is a large stream, and the water so brackish, that it cannot be drank. At its head waters, the Indians collect large lumps of rock salt. From the Panis villages to the head of Red river the land is broken and mountainous, and wholly destitute of wood, excepting willows and small cotton wood trees on the borders of the streams. The Indians report that there are many silver mines among these mountains, of which the white people have no knowledge.

The Panis or Towiache Indians, who reside on these waters, were once powerful, but are reduced to about four hundred warriors. They live in villages, and have large numbers of horses and mules, and raise corn, tobacco, beans, squashes, and pumpkins. They cut the pumpkins into long, narrow strips, as is sometimes done by white people, to dry them. When they are sufficiently wilted to be tough, they weave them into mats. These mats, with the other productions they raise, they sell to the roving bands of the Hietan Indians, who rove in the plains and mountains between Red river and Saint a Fé, but never live in villages. The Hietans wear these mats over their shoulders ; and, as they travel, cut off pieces and eat, until they have devoured their mats. These commodities the Panis exchange for buffaloe robes, horses, and mules. Although their country abounds with game, they are not esteemed good hunters. Having few guns, they depend on their bows and arrows. The buffaloe, deer, bear, antelope, and wild hogs, are in great plenty ; but they live principally on buffaloe meat, and rarely kill a deer. The men go naked, except their breech flap, and the women wear only a short coat of dressed leather, tied round the waist. These Indians are at perpetual war with the Osage nation.

Black river, a large branch of Red river, has already been mentioned. Coming from a northern direction, it enters Red river about thirty miles above its mouth. The course of Black river is nearly parallel with Mississippi, at a distance of about forty miles. Between these rivers the land is overflowed when the Mississippi is high. At the time this immense cypress swamp is flooded, it exhibits the appearance of a vast number of large trees, standing in a lake, or a bay of the sea. The name of black river, at the distance of sixty miles, is changed, and it is then called the Washata river. Here the course of the river tends to the westward, and the land becomes sufficiently high to admit of cultivation near the bank of the river. At the mouth of the Washata, and near lake Cattahoola, is a small settlement, where the settlers have raised an embankment to prevent inundation when the water is high. Above this settlement, at the distance of about one hundred and seventy miles, is an excellent tract of land, extending on the river, about forty miles. Here the much famed Aaron Burr pretended to have made an extensive purchase ; to commence the settlement was the ostensible object for which he raised his army, and descended the Mississippi. After his progress was arrested, it is said, a small number of his men went into the ground, but remained only a short time. This tract is high prairie, interspersed with wood land ; the soil is exceedingly rich, and the face of the county delightful. Some few settlements have been made upon it, and are extended still farther up, where there is a small fort.

But the people are extremely indolent, and having contracted the habits of the Indians, had rather hunt than cultivate the soil. At the head waters of the Washata are the famous hot springs, of which much has been said, which, with many, exceeds credibility. It is asserted by those who have visited them, that meat held in them a short time will be sufficiently cooked for eating. The land where they are found is barren, hilly, and broken, but there are no. volcanic appearances. Loud explosions are frequently heard among the hills, somewhat resembling the blowing of rocks with gun powder. These noises, the Indians say, are made by the spirits of white people, working in the hills, in search of silver and gold mines.

Between the heads of branches which enter Red river, and those which run into the Arkansas, is a range of high and impassable mountains, which extend to the great prairies, eastward of the waters of the Osage river. It is said, a gold mine has been discovered north of these mountains, on a branch of the Arkansas river. Indians and hunters likewise report, that in these mountains there are several silver mines.

It has been already mentioned, that Ozark Post and village is on the Arkansas, fifty miles above its mouth. At this post an Ensign's command is stationed, which is a detachment from the Captain's company, at Fort Pickering. The village contains about sixty families, chiefly hunters and traders; many of them the mixed breed of Indian and white, and all of them intolerably lazy and indolent. But the soil is exceedingly rich, producing every thing committed to it in great luxuriance. Twelve miles above this station is the village of Ozark, or Arkansas Indians, and six miles further are two more large villages. Their warriors are computed at one hundred and thirty, and about seven hundred inhabitants. They are friendly to all nations, except the Osage. Although they speak the same language, they are at perpetual war with each other. There are some smaller villages father up ; and at the distance of about forty or fifty miles, the hills begin to rise on the south side ; and about three hundred miles further, they become lofty, inaccessible mountains.

On the head waters of the Arkansas, a band of Osage Indians reside, who have separated from that nation on the Osage river. Their village is large, and their hunting ground a most excellent tract of high prairie, interspersed with groves of timber. It has a deep, rich soil, and abounds with a great variety of wild game. They are enemies to all the other nations except the little Osage band ; none venture to settle near them, or presume to enter upon their hunting ground. The ridge of mountains between Arkansas and Red river, form a barrier to the Caddos, and the small nations who rised on those waters ; but they sometimes make excursions round the mountains, and descend Red river, spreading terror and depredation among those tribes.

The widely extended, tributary streams of Red river, Arkansas, and Osage, extend into, and water an immense tract of country ; and some of the branches of these rivers nearly interlock with each other. The head waters of the Osage river take their rise at no great distance from those of Red river. The general course of the Osage is nearly north, which, after running through, perhaps, the finest tract of country, east of the rocky mountains, for more than six hundred miles, enters the Missouri river, about two hundred miles above its mouth.

The immensely extended prairies commence about forty or fifty miles above the mouth of the Osage, on the western side. They generally approach to a level, but in some parts rise into swelling hills, destitute of wood ; in some parts are small copses of wood ; in others, forests of considerable extent ; and usually the streams of water are bordered with a large growth. On some of the streams, the beautiful wood called Bois jaun, or yellow wood, has been found.

The Osage nation of Indians reside principally on this river. Their first villages commence about two hundred miles from its mouth. They are divided into two parties, called the Little and Great Osage, and live in different villages. The Little Osage nation, although derived from the Great Osage, formerly lived in villages at the mouth of Grand river, on the Missouri ; but being exceedingly harrassed by the Sioux, and other tribes, removed up the Osage river, and placed themselves under the protection of the Great Osage. Their villages are the first, in ascending the river, and at a small distance beyond them, commences the villages of the Great Osage.

The Osage nation is one of the largest and most formidable, which has yet been discovered in these western regions. Their warriors, including the Little and Great Osage, are computed to amount to two thousand, and about eight thousand souls. They are remarkably tall, large, and ferocious. They are erect, well proportioned, and many of them measure six feet and two or three inches. They are expert hunters, and considered the best warriors in the western country. Being constantly at war with every tribe, without distinction, their very name carries terror with it into every other nation. They are generally equally inimical to white people, which has been often witnessed by their attacks on the settlements at Saint Louis, the lead mines, and Saint Genevieve. They never fall upon these settlements without making great depredations, and mostly get off without suffering much injury themselves. But the traders, when they have once entered their villages, are perfectly safe, and are treated with much respect and hospitality while there. Sometimes, however, in going and returning, they will fall upon, and rob them.

Although they are great hunters and distinguished warriors, and often ramble far in these excursions, they live in villages, and raise corn, beans, squashes, pumpkins, and melons. They are proud and overbearing, viewing all other nations with contempt. In their war expeditions, they are courageous, patient, and persevering ;enduring great fatigue and hardship with the utmost fortitude. They delight so much in blood, that no sufferings are too great to encounter, if it be necessary in making their attacks upon their enemy by surprise. They generally kill all their prisoners, except the children; and these they will sometimes adopt as their own. No nation has been so able to withstand them, as the roving bands of the Sioux. Having no settled villages, they are always prepared for war, and encounter their enemy to more advantage. They sometimes engage in offensive wars, and venture to make attacks on the Osage villages.

The complexion of the Osage nation is between an olive and copper colour ; their eyes dark brown ; their noses large and aquiline, and their hair black, straight, and course. The men pluck out, or shave off, all the hair upon their heads, except a lock upon the crown, which they permit to grow its full length. They sometimes perforate the cartilage of the nose, in which they hang a drop, similar to an ear drop, and bore their ears nearly round to the top, in which they place a large number of silver ear-rings. They wear a breech flap fastened around the waist with a belt; a pair of leggins, and shoes or moccasons. These are made of dressed buffaloe or deer skin, and fancifully worked and ornamented with lead and porcupine quills, stained with different colours. A buffaloe robe, which is the skin dressed with the hair on, is worn over the shoulders, and serves for a cloak by day, and for a bed and covering by night. In the summer this robe is laid by, and they go naked, except the breech flap and leggins.

The women are large and well proportioned, rather inclined to corpulency ; their faces oval ; cheek bones somewhat high ; but the features are regular, and not destitute of beauty. Their under garment is dressed leather, silk, or calico, without sleeves, and coming down below the knees. About the neck it is decorated with a large number of silver brooches. Their leggins and moccasons are similar to those of the men. Their hair is long, and neatly tied up, forming a club behind. Broad silver clasps are worn on their arms, wrists and ankles. They also, like the men, wear a buffaloe robe.

Their villages are built along the banks of the river. The houses stand in two rows, on a straight line, with a wide street between them. They build their houses with split logs, laid up in a neat manner, and cover them with split boards. They are generally about ten or twelve feet wide, and from twenty to forty feet long ; and some of the chiefs have them sixty feet in length. The height is from eight to ten feet; and having no window or chimney, they have an aperture at the top for the light to come in, and the smoke to go out. They have only one door, which is usually closed with a buffaloe skin. These people live in a more neat and cleanly manner than is common among these western tribes.

The Osage nation claim an extensive country for their hunting ground, and do not admit the other nations to make encroachments upon it. It abounds with all the wild game common to this country ; such as the elk, buffaloe, dear,bear, wolf, cabree, or antelope, ground hog, beaver, otter, and mink.

The title of their chiefs is hereditary. The great chief assumes authority over those of an inferior grade ; and his power in many respects is dispotic. But he dare not engage in any great enterprize, nor make war or peace, without calling
a council of the subordinate chiefs and warriors. To this council he states his object, and explains his views and intentions ; and if a general assent be not given, he lays aside his project.

These people believe in a supreme power, whom they call the Great Spirit. To him they attribute every good they enjoy, and consider it as his gift. But they render homage to another Spirit, subordinate to the Great Spirit, who is the author of all the evil and misfortune they suffer. By appeasing his wrath, they hope to escape the troubles with which he might be disposed to visit them. They have also many other inferior deities, which they conceive have power to do them good or evil. They believe, if they are faithful to their nation and kind to their relatives, good warriors and good hunters, that when they die, they shall go to a most delightful country, which abounds in game ; where there will be perpetual day ; a bright sun and clear sky ; when they will meet their old friends ; and where they will enjoy every pleasure they were fond of here, without interruption. But that those who are bad here, especially those who are ungrateful to the aged, when they die, will go to a place of punishment, where they will suffer the severest privations, and be denied every thing that was pleasant or desirable in this life. But the traders say, it is with great difficulty they can be prevailed upon to converse at all on these subjects. The French made repeated attempts to introduce Missionaries among them, but could not succeed. There is said to be one remarkable trait in the character of the Osage Indians, in which they differ, perhaps, from all other tribes ; they are extremely averse to ardent spirit, and few of them can be persuaded to taste it.

Below the Great Osage, on the waters of the Little Osage, Saint Francis and other streams, are a number of scattered bands of Indians, and two or three considerable villages. These bands were principally Indians, who were formerly outcasts from the tribes east of the Mississippi. Numbers have since joined from the Delawares, Shawanoes, Wayondott and other tribes towards the lakes. Their warriors are said to be five or six hundred. They have sometimes made excursions and done mischief on the Ohio river, but the settlements, on the Mississippi have suffered the most severely by their depredations.