THE drawings of the PANORAMA OF THE MISSISSIPPI were commenced in the spring of 1840, and the first sketch was made just before the artist became of age. Had he been aware, when he commenced the undertaking, of the vast amount of labor it required, he would have shrunk from the task in dismay; but having commenced the work he was determined to proceed, being spurred on to its completion, perhaps, by the doubts of some of his friends to whom he communicated his project, as to its practicability, and by the assertions of some foreign writers, that "America had no artists commensurate with the grandeur and extent of her scenery." He trusts now, by the completion of his design, his humble efforts will prove, as far as the extent is concerned, the falsity of this foreign vituperation. The artist will here honestly acknowledge, that the idea of gain never entered his mind when he commenced the undertaking, but that he was actuated by a patriotic and honorable ambition, that America should produce the largest painting in the world.
One of the greatest difficulties he encountered, was the preparatory labor he had to undergo in making the necessary drawings. For this purpose he had to travel thousands of miles alone in an open skiff, crossing and recrossing the rapid stream, in many places over two miles in breadth, to select proper points of sights from which to take his sketch; his hands became hardened with constantly plying the oar, and his skin as tawney as an Indian's, from exposure to the rays of the sun and the vicissitudes of the weather. He would be weeks together without speaking to a human being, having no other company than his rifle, which
4furnished him with his meat from the game of the woods or the fowls of the river. When the sun began to sink behind the lofty bluffs and evening to approach, he would select some secluded sandy cove, overshadowed by the lofty cotton wood, draw out his skiff from the water, and repair to the woods to hunt his supper. Having killed his game he would return, dress, cook, and from some fallen log would eat it with his biscuit, with no other beverage than the wholesome water of the noble river that glided by him. Having finished his lonely meal, he would roll himself in his blanket, creep under his frail skiff, which he turned over to shield him from the night dews, and with his portfolio of drawings for his pillow, and the sand of the bar for his bed, would sleep soundly till the morning; when he would arise from his lowly couch, eat, his breakfast before the rays of the rising sun had dispersed the humid mist from the surface of the river, — then would start fresh to his task again. In this way he spent over four hundred days, making the preparatory drawings. When these were completed he erected a building at Louisville, Kentucky, to transfer his drawings to the canvas. His object in painting his picture in the West was to exhibit it to, and procure testimonials of its correctness from, those who were best calculated to judge of its fidelity, — the practical river men; and he has procured the names of nearly all the principal captains and pilots navigating the Mississippi, freely testifying to the correctness of his painting. As to its artistical merit, he will leave that for the public to judge.
The Mississippi commences in many branches,
6civilized man being seen on its banks; the numerous tribes of savages that now roam upon its borders; the affecting and imperishable traces of generations that are gone, leaving no other memorials of their existence, or materials for their history, than their tombs, that rise at frequent intervals along its banks; the dim, but glorious anticipations of the future; — these are subjects of contemplation that cannot but associate themselves with the view of this river.
The Mississippi runs but a little distance from its source, as we have remarked, before it becomes a considerable stream. Below the falls of St. Anthony, it broadens to half a mile in width; and is a clear, placid and noble stream, with wide and fertile bottoms, for a long distance. A few miles below the river Des Moines, is a long rapid of nine miles, which, for a considerable part of the summer, is a great impediment to the navigation. Below these rapids, the river assumes its medial width and character from that point to the entrance of the Missouri. It is a still more beautiful river than the Ohio, somewhat gentler in its current, a third wider, with broad and clean sand bars, except in time of high waters, when they are all covered. At every little distance, there are islands, sometimes a number of them parallel and broadening the stream to a great width. These islands are many of them large, and have in the summer season an aspect of beauty, as they swell gently from the clear stream, — a vigor and grandeur of vegetation, which contribute much to the magnificence of the river. The sand bars, in the proper season, are the resort of innumerable swans, geese and water fowls. It is, in general, a full mile in width from bank to bank. For a considerable distance above the mouth of the Missouri, it has more than that width. Altogether, it has, from its alternate bluffs and prairies, the calmness and transparency of its waters, the size and beauty of its trees, an aspect of amenity and magnificence, which we have not seen belonging in the same extent to any other stream.
Where it receives the Missouri, it is a mile and a half wide. The Missouri itself enters with a mouth not more than half a mile wide. The united stream below has thence, to the mouth of
7waters, and, what is to be regretted, wholly changes its character. It is no longer the gentle, placid stream, with smooth shores and clean sand bars; but has a furious and boiling current, a turbid and dangerous mass of sweeping waters, jagged and dilapidated shores, and, wherever its waters have receded, deposites of mud. It remains a sublime object of contemplation. The noble forest still rises along its banks. But its character of calm magnificence, that so delighted the eye above, is seen no more.
The bosom of the river is covered with prodigious boils, or swells, that rise with a whirling motion, and a convex surface, two or three rods in diameter, and no inconsiderable noise, whirling a boat perceptibly from its track. In its course, accidental circumstances shift the impetus of its current, and propel it upon the point of an island, bend, or sand bar. In these instances, it tears up the island, removes the sand bars, and sweeps away the tender, alluvial soil of the bends, with all their trees, and deposites the spoils in another place. At the season of high waters, nothing is more familiar to the ear of the people on the river, than the deep crash of a land-slip, in which larger or smaller masses of the soil on the banks, with all the trees, are plunged into the stream. Such is its character from Missouri to the Balize; a wild, furious, whirling river, — never navigated safely, except with great caution.
No person, who descends this river for the first time, receives clear and adequate ideas of its grandeur, and the amount of water which it carries. If it be in the spring, when the river below the mouth of the Ohio is generally over its banks, although the sheet of water, that is making its way to the gulf, is, perhaps, thirty miles wide, yet finding its way through deep forests and swamps that conceal all from the eye, no expanse of water is seen, but the width, that is curved out between the outline of woods on either bank; and it seldom exceeds, and oftener falls short of a mile. But when he sees, in descending from the falls of St. Anthony, that it swallows up one river after another, with mouths, as wide as itself, without affecting its width at all; when he sees it receiving in succession the mighty Missouri, the broad Ohio, St. Francis, White, Arkansas, and Red rivers, all of them of great depth, length and volume of water; when he sees this mighty river absorbing them all, and retaining a volume, apparently unchanged,
8— he begins to estimate rightly the increasing depths of current, that must roll on its deep channel to the sea. Carried out of the Balize, and sailing with a good breeze for hours, he sees nothing on any side but the white and turbid waters of the Mississippi, long after he is out of sight of land.
Touching the features of the country through which it passes, from its source to the falls of St. Anthony, it moves alternately through wild rice lakes and swamps by lime stone bluffs and craggy hills; occasionally through deep pine forests, and beautiful prairies; and the tenants on its borders, are elk, buffaloes, bears and deer, and the savages that pursue them. In this distance, there is not a civilized inhabitant on its shores, if we except the establishments of Indian traders, and a garrison of the United States. Buffaloes are seldom seen below these falls. Its alluvions become wide, fertile, and for the most part heavily timbered. Like the Ohio, its bottoms and bluffs generally alternate. Its broad and placid current is often embarrassed with islands, which are generally rich alluvial lands, often containing from five hundred to a thousand acres, and abounding with wild turkeys and other small game. For one hundred miles above the mouth of the Missouri, it would be difficult for us to convey an idea of the beauty of the prairies, skirting this noble river. They impress the eye, as a perfect level; and are in summer covered with a luxuriant growth of grass and flowers, without a tree or bush.
Above the mouth of the Missouri, to the rapids of Des Moines, the medial width of the bottom valley, in which the river rolls, measured from bluff to bluff, is not far from six miles. Below the mouth of the Missouri, to that of the Ohio, is not far from eight miles. The last stone bluffs of the Mississippi are seen, in descending, about thirty miles above the mouth of the Ohio. Below these, commences on the Mississippi, as is seen on the Ohio for some distance above its mouth, the aspect of a timbered bottom on either side, boundless to the vision. Below the mouth of the Ohio, the alluvion broadens from thirty to fifty miles in width; still expanding to the Balize, where it is probably, three times that width. We express these widths in terms of doubt, because three fifths of the alluvion, below the mouth of the Ohio, is either dead swamp of cypress forest, or stagnant lakes, or creeping bayous, or impenetrable cane brakes, great part of it inundated;
9perhaps traversed in a straight direction from bluff to bluff, scarcely once in a year, and never explored, except in cases of urgent necessity. The bluffs, too, are winding, swelling in one direction, and indented in another, and at least as serpentine as the course of the river.
Between the mouth of the Ohio and St. Louis, on the west side of the river, the bluffs are generally near it, seldom diverging from it more than two miles. They are, for the most part, perpendicular masses of lime stone; sometimes shooting up into towers and pinnacles, presenting, as Mr. Jefferson well observed, at a distance, the aspect of the battlements and towers of an ancient city. Sometimes the river sweeps the bases of these perpendicular bluffs, as happens at the Cornice rocks, and at the cliffs above St. Genevieve. They rise here, between two and three hundred feet above the level of the river. There are many imposing spectacles of this sort, near the Western bank of the Mississippi, in this distance. We may mention among them that gigantic mass of rocks, forming a singular island in the river, called the ‘Grand Tower,’ and the shot towers at Herculaneum.
From the sources of the river to the mouth of the Missouri, the annual flood ordinarily commences in March, and does not subside until the last of May; and its medial height is fifteen feet. At the lowest stages, four feet of water may be found from the rapids of Des Moines to the mouth of the Missouri. Between that point and the mouth of the Ohio, there are six feet in the channel of the shallowest places at low water; and the annual inundation may be estimated at twenty-five feet. Between the mouth of the Ohio and the St. Francis, there are various shoal places, where pilots are often perplexed to find a sufficient depth of water, when the river is low. Below that point, there is no difficulty for vessels of any draught, except to find the right channel. Below the mouth of the Ohio, the medial flood is fifty feet; the highest, sixty. Above Natchez, the flood begins to decline. At Baton Rouge, it seldom exceeds thirty feet; and at New Orleans, twelve. Some have supposed this gradual diminution of the flood to result from the draining of the numerous effluxes of the river, that convey away such considerable portions of its waters, by separate channels to the sea. To this should be added, no doubt, the check, which the river at this distance begins to feel from the
10re-action of the sea, where this mighty mass of descending waters finds its level.
One of the most striking peculiarities of this river, and of all its lower tributaries, has not often been a theme of observation, in describing it. It is the uniformity of its meanders, called in the phrase of the country, its ‘points and bends.’ In many instances these curves are described with a precision, with which they would have been marked off by the sweep of a compass. The river sweeps round, perhaps, the half a circle, and is precipitated from the point, in a current diagonally across its own channel, to another curve of the same regularity upon the opposite shore. In the bend is the deepest channel, the heaviest movement of waters, and what is called the thread of the current. Between this thread and the shore, there are generally counter currents, or eddies; and in the crumbling and tender alluvial soil, the river is generally making inroads upon its banks on the bend side. Opposite the bend there is always a sand bar, matched, in the convexity of its conformation, to the concavity of the bend. Here it is, that the appearance of the young cotton wood groves have their most striking aspect. The trees rise from the shore, showing first the vigorous saplings of the present year; and then those of a date of two and three years; and trees rising in regular gradation to the most ancient and lofty point of the forest. These curves are so regular on this, and all the rivers of the lower country, that the boatmen and Indians calculate distances by them; and instead of the number of miles or leagues, they estimate their progress by the number of bends they have passed.
This is the largest tributary of the Mississippi river, discharging more water into the channel than the Upper Mississippi itself: in fact, it is the longer river of the two. At its confluence it is about half a mile wide; the united stream from this point to the mouth of the Ohio has a medial breadth of about a mile. This mighty tributary appears rather to diminish, than to increase the width, but it materially alters the depth of the channel.
A short distance above the mouth of the Missouri stands the town of Alton, situated at the base of a beautiful bluff, which rolls in on the river in a graceful outline clearly defined against bright sky beyond.
Immediately in the foreground, under the shade of some stately elms, is an encampment of Shawnee Indians; the warriors reclining lazily upon the greensward, while their squaws are preparing their rude repast.
Below the junction of the Missouri stand out, in fine relief, some very beautiful islands, clad in the brightest verdure; and further down, near the city of St. Louis, stands
The name being given to it from the number of duels that have been fought within its shades.
St. Louis is one of the oldest and first settled towns in the Mississippi Valley. It was settled and occupied by the French, until the country was purchased by the American Government. It is, and always has been, the commercial capital of the country now forming the State of Missouri. Since the Americans begun to take the lead in St. Louis, and introduced our laws and enterprise, a new impulse has been given to its improvement, commerce, and prosperity. The situation of the town is very beautiful. It stands on a kind of second bottom, that rises gently from the river to a considerable eminence. Having surmounted this bank, an extensive plain opens to view. In the immediate vicinity of the town, this plain is covered with bushes and shrub oaks. Beyond is an extensive belt of grassy plain or naked prairie. The timber for several miles has been cut away for fuel. The eye reposes, in the spring and summer months, with pleasure upon this sweep of verdure, bounded on the verge of the horizon with forests, and also upon the level bottom and noble forests on the opposite shore of the river. The town has extended itself along the hill: and some of the best houses are built on that pleasant elevation. The number of the Americans now predominates over that of the French: but the population, is made up of emigrants from all parts of the world. There is no town in the western country more favorably situated as the seat of an immense trade. It is nearly in the centre of the Mississippi Valley, commanding the trade of the Missouri, the upper Mississippi, and the Illinois, with the vast and almost boundless country watered by these gigantic streams. The fur trade of this immense country already centres here. It is the depot of the numberless lead mines in this region of country, and all the produce and merchandize of the country above it. It has this obvious advantage over any town on the Ohio, that steamboats can run between here and New Orleans at the lowest stages of water. A great number of steam boats, and river craft of all descriptions, bound to all points of the boatable waters of the
13Mississippi, are seen at all seasons of the year lying in the harbor. Miners, trappers, hunters, adventurers, emigrants, and people of all character and languages, meet here, and disperse in pursuit of their various objects, in every direction, some even beyond the remotest points of civilization. Population about 60,000.
The first object that arrests the eye of the traveller after passing the city of St. Louis, is the
UNITED STATES ARSENAL.
It is beautifully situated on a gentle declivity immediately below the city, at the foot of "the bar." A short distance below the arsenal commence some rocky bluffs, upon which are situated, very prominently, several lofty shot towers; they have a very striking appearance when viewed from the river. At the end of these bluffs is situated the small French village of
VIDE POUCH, (or, in English, Empty Pocket.)
In the style of building, the taste and simplicity of the old French settlers are very apparent. The French have a fashion of annually white-washing their houses, which produces a pleasing appearance when viewed from a distance. There were a number of villages settled by the French in this neighborhood — one at Kaskaskia, one at Vincennes, and several others. They were all characterized as a people of great simplicity and innocence of life — social, disinterested, fond of sport and gaiety; but destitute of that enterprise, energy of character, and aspiring disposition, which the Americans exhibit. Their lands were generally held and cultivated in common, and their little communities constituted, as it were, but one great family.
A few miles below Vide Pouch stand the
Pleasantly situated on a low hill, which rises gradually from the river, presenting a very fine view to the spectator
14passing on a boat, and calling up patriotic emotions as he beholds the noble star-spangled banner waving, with graceful folds, in the loyal western air.
Below the "Barracks" commences a bold rocky shore, called the
Extending ten or twelve miles along the bank of the river; they have a wild, romantic appearance, some of them shooting up into towers and spires, and, as Jefferson remarks, not unlike those of cities. In an opening between two high rocks is located the town of
Standing as it were in an immense natural amphitheatre. The high rock below the town has a very peculiar castle-like appearance. Further down the river, we have the "Cornice Rocks" and the
BLUFFS OF SELMA.
These bluffs have a very striking and majestic appearance, varying from two to four hundred feet in height; some of them are beautifully variegated, and resemble the facades of mighty temples, — the face of them having uniform arches, and carved niches, almost as regular and order-like as if they were chiselled out by the hands of man.
And Bar, with the wreck of the steamer West Wind, snagged here in June, 1846, — at the same time the artist was painting this portion of the river. This was a very unfortunate boat, having previously blown up, and killed a large number of persons.
MOUTH OF THE OHIO.
This is a very beautiful stream, called by the French, "La Belle Rivere." Its banks are thickly settled, and contain
15many fine cities. Mr. Banvard has made the drawings of this river, and will commence painting them so as to have the "Panorama of the Ohio" before he departs to Europe. He will exhibit it in this city when completed.
The spectator has, at the Mouth of the Ohio, a view of three States at one time. To his right, he will see the State of Kentucky; in the centre, between the two rivers, the State of Illinois; to his left, the State of Missouri. On the delta of the two rivers stands the city of
Laid off by speculators, and fast going to decay.
N. B. The views of the painting above the Mouth of the Ohio are all on the western shore; below the Ohio they are all on the eastern shore.
And the town of Columbus are the first objects that strike the eye of the voyager after passing the Ohio. They are introduced into the picture by moonlight, with the magnificent steamer Peytona wooding; one of the largest and fastest boats on the river, commanded by Capt. John Shallcross, a well known and gentlemanly commander of the West. In the distance can be seen the
A high bluff of white clay, and falling nearly perpendicularly to the river, which washes its base.
This is not a point of the river, but a point or spur of high lands that strike into the river, and affords an excellent location for a town. In the foreground of the view is a diving bell at work on the wreck of a steamer.
And Island number Twenty-Five. The islands on the Mississippi, below the Month of the Ohio, have all been numbered; but, at present, the numbers are very irregular, owing to the circumstance of many being washed away by the force of the moving waters; the "chutes" of others "growing up," as it is termed, and new ones continually forming.
This "growing up" of the islands of the Mississippi, is one of the most striking characteristics of this mighty river, and one that would not present itself to the eye of a voyager in passing along the stream, unless the islands that were growing up were pointed out, and the philosophy explained to him. This singular peculiarity even escaped the observation of Mr. Flint, as he makes no allusion to it in his excellent description of the Mississippi, contained in his geography of the Western States.
The cause of this "growing up" of the islands is this: — Where the current strikes diagonally off from a point above the head of an island, the eddying waters produce a sand bar under the point at the mouth of the "chute," or channel, round the island. Upon this bar collects the alluvial soil of the river, from which spring the young cotton woods, — and being of very rapid growth, soon shoot up into tall trees and completely shut out the channel from the view of the river. The "chutes" behind the islands then form lakes. Upon the waters of these lakes congregate all kind of aquatic fowls, — swans, geese, ducks, pelicans, and the like. These lakes are likewise the resort of alligators.
This is one of the most difficult places to boatmen, on the Mississippi, from the frequency of the change of channel, the snags, bars, and sawyers. A large number of steam, and other boats, have been lost here. It was a short distance from this place where Murell, the notorious land pirate and robber, had his encampment.
When the artist first descended the river, the small flat
17boat on which he was travelling laid by here; and during the night the boat was attacked by these robbers, and it was only by a desperate resistance, during which one of the robbers was shot, that the boat was rescued, after cutting the lines and leaving them on the shore. During the conflict, Mr. Banvard had a volley of shot fired at him, — the balls whistling past and splashing in the river by him; but, fortunately, none of them took effect, although several struck in the planking of the boat, only a few inches from him.
On the First Chickasaw Bluffs, an unimportant town, with the town of
On the Second Chickasaw Bluffs, seen in the distance; the view looking down the chute of No. Thirty-Four.
This city is beautifully situated on the Fourth Chickasaw Bluffs, presenting a very fine appearance as you descend the river. It is laid off in regular streets, and, under the impulse of its enterprising citizens, it is fast rising in importance. It is advantageously situated for trade, being a great shipping point for cotton. The United States Naval Depot is located here. From the improvements already made and in progress, Memphis bids fair to become a very important place of business. It is situated in the south-western corner of the State of Tennessee. On the lower end of the "Fourth Bluffs," is situated the town of
A new place laid off by speculators. It is very handsomely situated opposite the head of
A large and beautiful island, which divides the river just below. Here the voyager will begin to see fine cotton plantations, with the slaves working in the cotton fields. He will see the beautiful mansions of the planters, rows of "negro quarters;" and lofty cypress trees, the pride of the Southern forests. A little farther down he passes the town of
Situated at the head of a deep bend of the river.
By moonlight. Here we have a beautiful view of about ten miles up the river, — the island in the centre reposing quietly upon the surface of the river, which is broken by the ripples of a passing steamer, — the moon observed aloft, shedding its mellow light and gilding the surrounding landscape with its silvery hues.
Here we have the first view of the Spanish Moss, hanging in gloomy grandeur from the bough of the cypress trees; likewise the Palmetto, with its broad, fan-like leaf, the lofty Cotton Wood, the sea grass, the impenetrable canebrake, and all the concomitants of a Southern forest.
Situated on the Walnut Hills. These hills come in and extend along on the river for about two miles. They rise boldly, though gradually, with alternate swells and gullies, to the height of nearly 500 feet; and present one of the most beautiful prospects to be met with on the lower Mississippi. At the lower end, the city of Vicksburg is situated, on the shelving declivities of the hills, and the houses are scattered in groups on the terraces, and present a very striking view as the spectator descends the river. A few miles farther down will be seen the small town of
The seat of justice for Warren County, Mississippi.
With the steamer Uncle Sam. This is one of the finest boats on the river, commanded by clever officers, and makes very regular trips from Louisville to New Orleans. All the steamboats introduced into the Panorama of the Mississippi, are correct likenesses of boats that are now plying on those waters.
In the foreground of this view we have a wood yard, and the Pecan tree tresselled with the Muscadine vine. After passing these, we come to the city of
Situated at the base of a bold and solitary bluff. A few miles below this is the
And the town of Rodney. A few miles below Rodney, near the point, stands a very fine cotton plantation belonging to General Taylor.
This city is romantically situated on a very high bluff of the east bank of the river, and is much the largest town in the State of Mississippi. The river business is transacted in that part of the city which is called "under the hill." Great numbers of boats are always lying here. Some very respectable merchants reside in this part of the city. The upper town is elevated on the summit of the bluff, 300 feet above the level of the river, and commands a fine prospect of the surrounding landscape. The country on the eastern bank is waving, rich, and beautiful; the eminences presenting open woods, covered with grape vines, and here and there neat country houses. This part of the town is quiet; the streets broad; some of the public buildings are handsome; and the whole has the appearance of comfort and opulence. Many rich planters live here; and the society is polished and
20respectable. It is the principal town in this region for the shipment of cotton, with bales of which, at the proper seasons of the year, the streets are almost barricaded; and it is the market for the trade of the numerous population of the contiguous country. Notwithstanding the elevation, and apparent healthiness of the city, it has often been visited by the yellow fever. It is owing to this circumstance, that the population does not increase so fast as might be expected from its eligible position. It is, at present, supposed to contain 5000 inhabitants. It is 300 miles above New Orleans.
These cliffs have a very peculiar and majestic appearance; being of sand, the rains are washing them off into a variety of fanciful shapes, some of them resembling towers and battlements. After passing these, the traveller will see the little town of
Romantically situated on the side of a beautiful hill, with a noble bluff just below the village, called Loftus's Heights. Here are the remains of an old fort, erected during the administration of John Adams, in honor of whom it was named.
By moonlight. A short distance above this town stands an old dead tree scathed by the fire, where three negroes were burnt alive. Each of them had committed murder: one of them murdered his mistress and her two daughters. After passing Bayou Sara, the traveller will see some very beautiful cliffs, called the
On which are situated the small towns of Port Hudson and Port Hickey, and immediately below these is the very picturesque and romantic looking
Here formerly lived and died Wotongo, an Indian prophet, — the last of his tribe.
This is now the capital of the State of Louisiana. This place is handsomely situated on the last bluff that is seen in the descending river. The site is thirty or forty feet above the highest overflow of the river. This bluff rises from the river by a gentle and gradual swell. The United States' barracks here are built in a fine style; and are supposed to be among the handsomest and most commodious of that kind of works. From the esplanade, the prospect is delightful, commanding a great extent of the coast, with its handsome houses, and rich cultivation below; and an extensive view of the back country at the east. The city is tolerably compact, and has a number of neat houses. The town itself, especially in the months when the greatest verdure prevails, as seen from a boat in the river, rising with such a fine swell from the banks, and with its singularly shaped French and Spanish houses, and its green squares, looks like a finely painted landscape.
From Baton Rouge, the river below to New Orleans, is lined with splendid sugar plantations, and what is generally termed the "Coast," — a strip of land on either side of the river extending back to the cypress swamps, about two miles. It is the richest soil in the world, and will raise nearly all the tropical fruits, — oranges, figs, olives, and the like. This coast is protected from inundations by an embankment of earth of six or eight feet in height, called a levee. Behind the levee, we see extensive sugar fields, noble mansions, beautiful gardens, large sugar houses, groups of negro quarters, lofty churches, splendid villas, presenting, in all, one of the finest views of country to be met with in the United States. The inhabitants are chiefly native French or Creoles.
Just before arriving at New Orleans, will be seen a beautifully situated town in the bend above, called
From this point there is a railroad extending to the centre of New Orleans. After passing a left hand point, the traveller will be off the city of
This is attached to New Orleans, but under a separate corporation. It is where all the flat boats land that descend the river.
This is the great commercial emporium of the South, situated on the eastern shore of the river, in a bend so deep and sinuous, that the sun rises to the inhabitants of the city over the opposite shore. It stands in latitude north, 29° 57', and 13° 9' west from Washington, and about one thousand miles from the mouth of the Ohio river, and a little more than one thousand two hundred miles from the mouth of the Missouri.
Viewed from the harbor on a sunny day, no city oilers a more striking panoramic view. It envelopes the beholder something in the form of a crescent. An area of many acres, covered with all the grotesque variety of flat boats, keel boats, and water crafts of every description, that have floated from all points of the valley above, lines the upper part of the shore. Steam boats rounding to, or sweeping away, cast their long horizontal streams of smoke behind them. Sloops, schooners, brigs and ships occupy the wharves, arranged below each other in the order of their size, showing a forest of masts. The foreign aspect of the stuccoed houses in the city proper, the massive buildings of the Fauxbourg St. Mary, the bustle and movement on every side, all seen at one view in the bright coloring of the brilliant sun and sky of the climate, present a splendid spectacle.
Life on the Mississippi.
The greater part of the commercial intercourse of the country is with New Orleans, by the river Mississippi, in boats. These are so various in their kinds, and so curious in their construction, that it would be difficult to reduce them to specific classes and divisions. No form of water craft so whimsical, no shape so outlandish, can well be imagined, but what, on descending to New Orleans, it may somewhere be seen lying to the shore, or floating on the river. The New York canal is generating monstrous conceptions of this sort; and there will soon be a rivalry between the East and the West, which can create the most ingenious floating river monsters of passage and transport.
But the boats of passage and conveyance, that remain after the invention of steam boats, and are still important to those objects, are keel boats, and flats. The flat boats are called, in the vernacular phrase, ‘Kentucky flats,’ or ‘broad horns.’ They are simply an oblong ark, with a roof slightly curved from the centre to shed rain. They are generally about fifteen feet wide, and from fifty to eighty, and sometimes an hundred feet in length. The timbers of the bottom are massive beams, and they are intended to be of great strength; and to carry a burden of from two to four hundred barrels. Great numbers of cattle, hogs and horses are conveyed to market in them. We have seen family boats of this description, fitted up for the descent of families to the lower country,
24with a stove, comfortable apartments, beds, and arrangements for commodious habitancy. We see in them, ladies, servants, cattle, horses, sheep, dogs and poultry, all floating on the same bottom; and on the roof the looms, ploughs, spinning wheels and domestic implements of the family.
Much of the produce of the upper country, even after the invention of steam boats, continues to descend to New Orleans in Kentucky flats. They generally carry three hands; and perhaps a supernumerary fourth hand, a kind of supercargo. This boat, in the form of a parallelogram, lying flat and dead in the water, and with square timbers below its bottom planks, and carrying such a great weight, runs on a sand bar with a strong headway, and ploughs its timbers into the sand; and it is of course a work of extreme labor to get the boat afloat again. Its form and its weight render it difficult to give it a direction with any power of oars. Hence, in the shallow waters, it often gets aground. When it has at length cleared the shallow waters, and gained the heavy current of the Mississippi, the landing such an unwieldy water craft, in such a current, is a matter of no little difficulty and danger.
All the toil, and danger, and exposure, and moving accidents of this long and perilous voyage, are hidden, however, from the inhabitants, who contemplate the boats floating by their dwellings on beautiful spring mornings, when the verdant forest, the mild and delicious temperature of the air, the delightful azure of the sky of this country, the fine bottom on the one hand, and the romantic bluff on the other, the broad and smooth stream rolling calmly down the forest, and floating the boat gently forward, present delightful images and associations to the beholders. At this time, there is no visible danger, or call for labor. The boat takes care of itself; and little do the beholders imagine, how different a scene may be presented in half an hour. Meantime, one of the hands scrapes a violin, and the others dance. Greeting, or rude defiances, or trials of wit, or proffers of love to the girls on shore, or saucy messages, are scattered between them and the spectators along the banks. The boat glides on until it
25disappears behind the point of wood. At this moment, perhaps, the bugle, with which all the boats are provided, strikes up its note in the distance over the water. These scenes, and these notes, echoing from the bluffs of the noble Mississippi, have a charm for the imagination, which, although heard a thousand times repeated, at all hours and positions, present the image of a tempting and charming youthful existence, that naturally inspires a wish to be a boatman.
No wonder that to the young, who are reared in these remote regions, with that restless curiosity which is fostered by solitude and silence, and who witness scenes like this so frequently, the severe and unremitting labors of agriculture, performed directly in the view of such spectacles, should become tasteless and irksome. No wonder, that the young, along the banks of the great streams, should detest the labors of the field, and embrace every opportunity, either openly, or if minors, covertly to escape, and devote themselves to the pernicious employment of boating. In this view, we may account for the detestation of the inhabitants, along these great streams, of steam boats, which are continually diminishing the number of all other boats and boatmen, and which have already withdrawn probably ten thousand from that employment. We have seen what is the character of this employment, notwithstanding all its seductions. In no employment do the hands so soon wear out. It is comparatively but a few years, since these waters have been navigated in any way. Yet at every bend, and every high point of the rivers, where you go on shore for a moment, you may expect to see the narrow mound, and the rude monument, and the coarse memorial carved on an adjoining tree by brother boatmen, to mark the spot where an exhausted boatman yielded his breath and was buried.
A good landing place on the Mississippi, towards evening, generally brings up the descending flat boats, where they lay by all night; and this is an excellent point of observation, from which to contemplate their aspect, the character of boating and the descriptions and the amount of produce from the
26upper country. You can here take an imaginary voyage to the Falls of St. Anthony, or Missouri; to the lead mines of Rock River, or to Chicago of Lake Michigan; to Tippecanoe of the Wabash, Orleanne point of the Alleghany, Brownsville of the Monongahela, the Saline of the Kenhawa, or the mountains, round whose bases winds the Tennessee; or, if you choose, you may take the cheap and rapid journey of thought along the courses of an hundred other rivers; and in the lapse of a few days' residence in the spring, at this point, you may see boats, which have arrived here from all these imagined places. The boisterous gaiety of the hands, the congratulations of acquaintances, who have met here from immense distances, the moving picture of life on board the boats, in the numerous animals, large and small, which they carry, their different ladings, the evidence of the increasing agriculture above, and, more than all, the immense distances which they have already traversed, afford a copious fund of meditation. In one place there are boats loaded with pine plank, from the pine forests of the south-west of New York. In another quarter there are numerous boats with the "Yankee notions" of Ohio. In another quarter are landed together the boats of "old Kentucky," with their whiskey, hemp, tobacco, bagging and bale rope; with all the articles of the produce of their soil. From Tennessee there are the same articles, together with boats loaded with bales of cotton. From Illinois and Missouri, cattle, horses, and the general produce of the western country, together with peltry and lead from Missouri. Some boats are loaded with corn in bulk and in the ear. Others with barrels of apples and potatoes, and great quantities of dried apples and peaches. Others have loads of cider, that has been strengthened by boiling, or freezing. Other boats are loaded with furniture, tools, domestic and agricultural implements; in short, the numerous products of the ingenuity, speculation, manufacture and agriculture of the whole upper country of the west. They have come from regions, thousands of miles apart. They have floated to a common point of union. The surface of the boats covers
27some acres. Fowls are fluttering over the roofs, as invariable appendages. The piercing note of the chanticleer is heard. The cattle low. The horses trample, as in their stables. The swine utter the cries of fighting with each other. The turkeys gobble. The dogs of an hundred regions become acquainted. The boatmen travel about from boat to boat, make inquiries and acquaintances, agree to "lash boats," as it is called, and form alliances to yield mutual assistance to each other on the way to New Orleans. After an hour or two passed in this way, they spring on shore, to "raise the wind" in the village. If they tarry all night, as is generally the case, it is well for the people of the town if they do not become riotous in the course of the evening; in which case, strong measures are adopted, and the proceedings on both sides are summary and decisive. With the first dawn, all is bustle and motion; and amidst shouts, and trampling of cattle, and barking of dogs, and crowing of the fowls, the fleet is in half an hour all under-weigh; and when the sun rises, nothing is seen but the broad stream rolling on as before. These boats unite once more at Natchez and New Orleans; and although they live on the same river, it is improbable that they will ever meet again on the earth.
In passing below, we often see a number of boats lashed, and floating together. In travelling over the roofs of the floating town, you have a considerable walk. These associations have various objects. Boats so united, as is well known, float considerably faster. Perhaps the object is to barter, and obtain supplies. Perhaps it is to kill beef or pork, for fresh provisions. Apples, cider, nuts, dried fruit, whiskey, peach brandy, and drams are retailed; and the concern is, for a while, one of great merriment and good will. Unforseen moral storms arise; and the partnership, which began in a frolic, ends in a quarrel. The aggrieved discharge a few mutual volleys of the compliments usually interchanged on such occasions, unlash, and each one manages his boat in his own way.
The order of things in the western country, naturally
28fosters a propensity for a floating life on the water. The inhabitants will ultimately become as famous as the Chinese, for having their habitancy in boats. In time of high waters at the mouth of the Ohio, we were on board an immensely large flat boat, on which was "kept a town," which had figured in the papers, as a place that bade fair to rival the ancient metropolis of the Delta of the Nile. The tavern, the retail and dram shops, together with the inhabitants, and no small number of very merry customers, floated on the same bottom. We have seen a large tinner's establishment floating down the Mississippi. It was a respectable manufactory; and the articles were sold wholesale and retail. There were three apartments, and a number of hands. When they had mended all the tin, and vended all that they could sell in one place, they floated on to another.
A piece goods store, united with a bookstore, is no uncommon establishment. We have heard of a large floating blacksmith's establishment: and of another, in which it was contemplated to work a trip hammer. Besides the numerous periogues, or singular looking Spanish and French trading retail boats, commonly called "chicken thieves," which scour the rivers within an hundred leagues of New Orleans, there are on all the waters of the West, retail trading boats. They are often fitted up with no inconsiderable ingenuity and show. The goods are fancifully arranged on shelves. The delicate hands of the vender would bear a comparison with those of the spruce clerk behind our city counters. Every considerable landing place on the waters of the Ohio and Mississippi has, in the spring, a number of stationary and inhabited boats lying by the shores. They are too often dram shops, and resorts of all kinds of bad company. A severe inquiry ought to be instituted at all these points, respecting the inmates and practices of these floating mansions of iniquity.
There is no portion of the globe, where the invention of steamboats should be so highly appreciated, as in the valley of the Mississippi. This invention deserves to be estimated the most memorable era of the West; and the name of the
29inventor ought to be handed down with glory to the generations to come. No triumph of art over the obstacles of nature has ever been so complete. But for this invention, this valley might have sustained a nation of farmers and planters; and the comforts, the arts, refinements and intelligence of the day would have made their way slowly from New Orleans to the lakes, the sources of the Mississippi, and the Rocky Mountains. Thousands of boatmen would have been slowly and laboriously warping, and rowing, and poling, and cordelling their boats, in a three months' trip up these mighty and long streams, which are now ascended by steamboats in ten days. It may be safely asserted, that in many respects, the improvements of fifty years without steamboats, were brought to this country in five years after their invention. The distant points of the Ohio and the Mississippi used to be separated by distances and obstacles of transit more formidable, in the passing, than the Atlantic. These points are now brought into juxtaposition. Distances on the rivers are not indeed annihilated; but they are diminished to about an eighth of their former extent; and their difficulties and dangers are reduced even more than that. All the advantages of long rivers, such as variety of soil, climate, productions, remain divested of all the disadvantages of distance and difficulty of ascent. The day that commemorates this invention, should be a holiday of interest, only second to that which gave birth to the nation.
It is, perhaps, necessary to have something of the experience, which we have had, of the slowness, difficulty and danger of propelling boats against the current of these long rivers, fully to estimate the advantages of this invention. — We have ascended the Mississippi in this way for fifty days in succession. We have had but too much of the same kind, of experience on the other streams. We consider ten miles a day as good progress. It is now refreshing, and it imparts a feeling of energy and power to the beholder, to see the large and beautiful steamboats scudding up the eddies, as though on the wing. When they have run out the eddy, and strike
30the current, it is a still more noble spectacle. The foam bursts in a sheet quite over the deck. The boat quivers for a moment with the concussion; and then, as though she had collected energy, and vanquished her enemy, she resumes her stately march, and mounts against the current five or six miles an hour. We have travelled ten days together between New Orleans and Louisville, more than an hundred miles in a day against the stream. The difficulty of ascending used to be the only one that was dreaded in the anticipation of a voyage of this kind. This difficulty has now disappeared, and the only one that remains, is to furnish money for the trip. Even the expense, considering the luxury of the fare and accommodation, is more moderate than could be expected. A family in Pittsburg wishes to make a social visit to a kindred family on Red River. The trip, as matters now stand, is but two thousand miles. Servants, baggage, or "plunder," as the phrase is, the family and the family dog, cat and parrot, all go together. In twelve days they reach the point proposed. Even the return is but a short voyage. Surely we must resist strong temptations, if we do not become a social people. You are invited to a breakfast at seventy miles distance. You go on board the passing steamboat, and are transported, during the night, so as to go out in the morning and reach your appointment. The day will probably come, when the inhabitants of the warm and sickly regions of the lower points of the Mississippi will take their periodical migrations to the north, with the geese and swans, and with them return to the south in the autumn.
We have compared the most beautiful steamboats of the Atlantic waters with those of the Mississippi; and we have seen none, which, in splendor and striking effect upon the eye, and the luxury and comfort of accommodation, surpass the Western boats. We have been amused in observing an Atlantic stranger, who had heard us described by the phrase, "backwoods men," taking his first survey of such a steamboat. If there be any ground of complaint, it is, that so much gorgeousness offends good taste, and seems to be in opposition
31to that social ease and comfort, which one would desire in such a place. Certainly, there can be no comparison between the comfort of the passage from Cincinnati to New Orleans in such a steamboat, and a voyage at sea. The barren and boundless expanse of waters soon tires upon every eye but a seaman's. And then there are storms, and the necessity of fastening the tables, and of holding to something, to keep in bed. There is the insupportable nausea of sea sickness, and there is danger. Here you are always near the shore, always see the green earth; can always eat, write, and study, undisturbed. You can always obtain cream, fowls, vegetables, fruit, fresh meat and wild game, in their season, from the shore.
A stranger to this mode of travelling would find it difficult to describe his impressions upon descending the Mississippi for the first time in one of these steamboats, which we have named. He contemplates the prodigious construction, with its double tiers of cabins, and its separate establishment for the ladies, and its commodious arrangements for the deck passengers and the servants. Over head, about him, and below him, all is life and movement. He contemplates the splendor of the cabin, its beautiful finishing of the richest woods, its rich carpeting, its mirrors and fine furniture, its sliding tables, its bar room, and all its arrangements for the accommodation of a hundred cabin passengers. The fare is sumptuous, and every thing in a style of splendor, order, and quiet, far exceeding most city taverns. You read, converse, walk, or sleep, as you choose. You are not burdened by the restraint of useless ceremony. The varied and verdant scenery shifts about you. The trees, the green islands, the houses on the shore, every thing has an appearance, as by enchantment, of moving past you. The river fowl, with their white and extended lines, are wheeling their flight above you. The sky is bright. The river is dotted with boats above, beside, and below you. You hear the echo of their bugle reverberating from the woods. Behind the wooded point, you see the ascending column of smoke rising over the trees,
32which announces that another steamboat is approaching you. The moving pageant glides through a narrow passage, between an island, thick set with young cotton woods, so even, so beautiful and regular, that they seem to have been planted for a pleasure ground, and the main shore. As you shoot out again into the broad stream, you come in view of a plantation, with all its busy and cheerful accompaniments. At other times, you are sweeping along for many leagues together, where either shore is a boundless and pathless wilderness. A contrast is thus strongly forced upon the mind, of the highest improvement and the latest preeminent invention of art with the most lonely aspect of a grand, but desolate nature, — the most striking and complete assemblage of splendor and comfort, the cheerfulness of a floating hotel, which carries, perhaps, hundreds of guests, with a wild and uninhabited forest, it may be an hundred miles in width, the abode only of bears, owls, and noxious animals.
The Last of the Boatmen, a Tale of the Mississippi.
I embarked a few years since, at Cincinnati, on board of a steamboat — more with a view of realizing the possibility of a speedy return against the current, than in obedience to the call of either business or pleasure.
At the period at which I have dated my trip, the steamboats had made but few voyages. We were generally skeptics as to its practicability. The mind was not prepared for the change that was about to take place in the West. It is now consummated; and we yet look back with astonishment at the result.
The rudest inhabitant of our forests; — the man whose mind is least of all imbued with a relish for the picturesque — who would gaze with vacant stare at the finest painting — listen with apathy to the softest melody, and turn with indifference from a mere display of ingenious mechanism, is struck with the sublime power and self-moving majesty of a steamboat; — lingers on the shore where it passes — and follows its rapid, and almost magic course with silent admiration. The steam engine in five years has enabled us to anticipate a state of things, which, in the ordinary course of events, it would have required a century to have produced. The art of printing scarcely surpassed it in its beneficial consequences.
In the old world, the places of the greatest interest to the philosophic traveller are ruins, and monuments, that speak of faded splendor, and departed glory. The broken columns of Tadmor — the shapeless ruins of Babylon, are rich in matter
34for almost endless speculation. Far different is the case in the western regions of America. The stranger views here, with wonder, the rapidity with which cities spring up in forests; and with which barbarism retreats before the approach of art and civilization. The reflection possessing the most intense interest is — not what has been the character of the country, but what shall be her future destiny.
As we coasted along this cheerful scene, one reflection crossed my mind to diminish the pleasure it excited. This was caused by the sight of the ruins of the once splendid mansion of Blennerhassett. I had spent some happy hours here, when it was the favorite residence of taste and hospitality. I had seen it when a lovely and accomplished woman presided — shedding a charm around, which made it as inviting, though not so dangerous, as the island of Calypso; — when its liberal and polished owner made it the resort of every stranger, who had any pretensions to literature or science. I had beheld it again under more inauspicious circumstances: — when its proprietor, in a moment of visionary speculation, had abandoned this earthly paradise to follow an adventurer — himself the dupe of others. A military banditti held possession, acting "by authority." The embellishments of art and taste disappeared beneath the touch of a band of Vandals, and the beautiful domain which presented the imposing appearance of a palace, and which had cost a fortune in the erection, was changed in one night, into a scene of devastation! The chimneys of the house remained for some years — the insulated monument of the folly of their owner, and pointed out to the stranger the place where once stood the temple of hospitality. Drift wood covered the pleasure grounds; and the massive, cut stone, that formed the columns of the gateway, were scattered more widely than the fragments of the Egyptian Memnon.
When we left St. Louis, the season was not far advanced in vegetation. But as we proceeded, the change was more rapid than the difference of latitude justified. I had frequently observed this in former voyages: but it never was so
35striking as on the present occasion. The old mode of travelling, in the sluggish flat boat, seemed to give time for the change of season; but now a few hours carried us into a different climate. We met spring with all her laughing train of flowers and verdure, rapidly advancing from the south. The buck-eye, cotton-wood and maple, had already assumed, in this region, the rich livery of summer. The thousand varieties of the floral kingdom spread a gay carpet over the luxuriant bottoms on each side of the river. The thick woods resounded with the notes of the feathered tribe — each striving to out-do his neighbor in noise, if not in melody. We had not yet reached the region of paroquets; but the clear toned whistle of the cardinal was heard in every bush; and the cat-bird was endeavoring, with its usual zeal, to rival the powers of the more gifted mocking-bird.
A few hours brought us to one of those stopping points, known by the name of "wooding places." The boat, obedient to the wheel of the pilot, made a graceful sweep towards the island above the chute, and rounding to, approached the wood pile. As the boat drew near the shore, the escape steam reverberated through the forest and hills, like the chafed bellowing of the caged tiger. The root of a tree, concealed beneath the water, prevented the boat from getting sufficiently near the bank, and it became necessary to use the paddles to take a different position.
"Back out; Mannee! and try it again!" exclaimed a voice from the shore. "Throw your pole wide — and brace off — or you'll run against a snag!"
This was a kind of language long familiar to us on the Ohio. It was a sample of the slang of the keel-boatmen.
The speaker was immediately cheered by a dozen voices from the deck; and I recognised in him the person of an old acquaintance, familiarly known to me from my boyhood. He was leaning carelessly against a large beech; and as his left arm negligently pressed a rifle to his side, presented a figure, that Salvator would have chosen from a million, as a model for his wild and gloomy pencil. His stature was upwards
36of six feet, his proportions perfectly symmetrical, and exhibiting the evidence of Herculean powers. To a stranger, he would have seemed a complete mulatto. Long exposure to the sun and weather on the lower Ohio and Mississippi had changed his skin; and but for the fine European cast of his countenance, he might have passed for the principal warrior of some powerful tribe. Although at least fifty years of age, his hair was as black as the wing of the raven. Next to his skin he wore a red flannel shirt, covered by a blue capot, ornamented with white fringe. On his feet were moccasins, and a broad leathern belt, from which hung, suspended in a sheath, a large knife, encircled his waist.
As soon as the steamboat became stationary, the cabin passengers jumped on shore. On ascending the bank, the figure I have just described advanced to offer me his hand.
"How are you, MIKE?" said I.
"How goes if?" replied the boatman — grasping my hand with a squeeze, that I can compare to nothing but that of a blacksmith's vice.
"I am glad to see you, Mannee!" continued he in his abrupt manner. "I am going to shoot at the tin cup for a quart — off hand — and you must be judge."
I understood Mike at once, and on any other occasion, should have remonstrated, and prevented the daring trial of skill. But I was accompanied by a couple of English tourists, who had scarcely ever been beyond the sound of Bow Bells; and who were travelling post over the United States to make up a book of observations, on our manners and customs. There were, also, among the passengers, a few bloods from Philadelphia and Baltimore, who could conceive of nothing equal to Chesnut or Howard streets; and who expressed great disappointment, at not being able to find terrapins and oysters at every village — marvellously lauding the comforts of Rubicum's. My tramontane pride was aroused; and I resolved to give them an opportunity of seeing a Western Lion — for such Mike undoubtedly was — in all his glory. The philanthropist may start, and accuse me of want
37of humanity. I deny the charge, and refer for apology to one of the best understood principles of human nature.
Mike, followed by several of his crew, led the way to a beech grove, some little distance from the landing. I invited my fellow passengers to witness the scene. On arriving at the spot, a stout bull-headed boat-man, dressed in a hunting shirt — but bare-footed — in whom I recognised a younger brother of Mike, drew a line with his toe; and stepping off thirty yards — turned round fronting his brother — took a tin cup, which hung from his belt, and placed it on his head. Although I had seen this feat performed before, I acknowledge I felt uneasy, whilst this silent preparation was going on. But I had not much time for reflection; for this second Albert exclaimed —
"Blaze away, Mike! and let's have the quart."
My "compagnons de voyage," as soon as they recovered from the first effect of their astonishment, exhibited a disposition to interfere. But Mike, throwing back his left leg, levelled the rifle at the head of his brother. In this horizontal position the weapon remained for some seconds as immoveable as if the arm which held it was affected by no pulsation.
"Elevate your piece a little lower, Mike! or you'll pay the corn," cried the imperturbable brother.
I know not if the advice was obeyed or not; but the sharp crack of the rifle immediately followed, and the cup flew off thirty or forty yards — rendered unfit for future service. There was a cry of admiration from the strangers, who pressed forward to see if the fool-hardy boatman was really safe. He remained as immoveable as if he had been a figure hewn out of stone. He had not even winked when the ball struck within two inches of his skull.
"Mike has won!" I exclaimed; and my decision was the signal which, according to their rules, permitted him of the target to move from his position. No more sensation was exhibited among the boatmen, than if a common wager had been won. The bet being decided, they hurried back to their
38boat, giving me and my friends an invitation to partake of "the treat." We declined, and took leave of the thoughtless creatures. In a few minutes afterwards, we observed their "Keel" wheeling into the current, — the gigantic form of Mike bestriding the large steering oar, and the others arranging themselves in their places in front of the cabin, that extended nearly the whole length of the boat, covering merchandize of immense value. As they left the shore, they gave the Indian yell; and broke out into a sort of unconnected chorus — commencing with —
She moves too slow! —
All the way to Shawneetown,
Long while ago."
In a few moments the boat "took the chute," and disappeared behind the point, with the rapidity of an Arabian courser.
Our travellers returned to the boat, lost in speculation on the scene, and the beings they had just beheld; and, no doubt, the circumstance has been related a thousand times with all the necessary amplifications of finished tourists.
Mike Fink may be viewed as the correct representative of a class of men now extinct; but who once possessed as marked a character as that of the Gipsies of England, or the Lazaroni of Naples. The period of their existence was not more than the third of a century. The character was created by the introduction of trade on the Western waters; and ceased with the successful establishment of the steamboat.
There is something inexplicable in the fact, that there could be men found, for ordinary wages, who would abandon the systematic, but not laborious pursuits of agriculture, to follow a life, of all others, except that of a soldier, distinguished by the greatest exposure and privation. The occupation of a boatman was more calculated to destroy the constitution, and to shorten life, than any other business. In
39ascending the river, it was a continued series of toil, rendered more irksome by the snail-like rate at which they moved. The boat was propelled by poles, against which the shoulder was placed; and the whole strength and skill of the individual were applied in this manner. As the boatmen moved along the running board, with their heads nearly touching the plank on which they walked, the effect produced on the mind of an observer was similar to that, on beholding the ox, rocking before an overloaded cart. Their bodies, naked to their waist for the purpose of moving with greater ease, and of enjoying the breeze of the river, were exposed to the burning suns of summer, and to the rains of autumn. After a hard day's push, they would take their "fillee," or ration of whiskey, and having swallowed a miserable supper of meat half burnt, and of bread half baked, stretch themselves, without covering, on the deck, and slumber till the steersman's call invited them to the morning "fillee." Notwithstanding this, the boatman's life had charms as irresistible as those presented by the splendid illusions of the stage. Sons abandoned the comfortable farms of their fathers, and apprentices fled from the service of their masters. There was a captivation in the idea of "going down the river;" and the youthful boatman who had "pushed a keel" from New Orleans, felt all the pride of a young merchant, after his first voyage to an English sea port. From an exclusive association together, they had formed a kind of slang peculiar to themselves; and from the constant exercise of wit, with "the squatters" on shore, and crews of other boats, they acquired a quickness, and smartness of vulgar retort, that was quite amusing. The frequent battles they were engaged in with the boatmen of different parts of the river, and with the less civilized inhabitants of the lower Ohio, and Mississippi, invested them with that ferocious reputation, which has made them spoken of throughout Europe.
On board of the boats thus, navigated, our merchants entrusted valuable cargoes, without insurance, and with no
40other guarantee than the receipt of the steersman, who possessed no property but his boat; and the confidence so reposed was seldom abused.
Among these men, Mike Fink stood an acknowledged leader for many years. Endowed by nature with those qualities of intellect that give the possessor influence, he would have been a conspicuous member of any society in which his lot might have been cast. An acute observer of human nature has said — "Opportunity alone makes the hero. Change but their situations, and Caesar would have been but the best wrestler on the green." With a figure cast in a mould that added much of the symmetry of an Apollo to the limbs of a Hercules, he possessed gigantic strength; and accustomed from an early period of life to brave the dangers of a frontier life, his character was noted for the most daring intrepidity. At the court of Charlemagne, he might have been a Roland; with the Crusaders, he would have been the favorite of the Knight of the Lion heart; and in our revolution, he would have ranked with the Morgans and Putnams of the day. He was the hero of a hundred fights, and the leader in a thousand daring adventures. From Pittsburgh to St. Louis, and New Orleans, his fame was established. Every farmer on the shore kept on good terms with Mike; otherwise, there was no safety for his property. Wherever he was an enemy, like his great prototype, Rob Roy, he levied the contribution of Black Mail for the use of his boat. Often at night, when his tired companions slept, he would take an excursion of five or six miles, and return before morning, rich in spoil. On the Ohio, he was known among his companions by the appellation of the "Snapping Turtle;" and on the Mississippi, he was called "The Snag."
At the early age of seventeen, Mike's character was displayed, by enlisting himself in a corps of Scouts — a body of irregular rangers, which was employed on the North Western frontiers of Pennsylvania, to watch the Indians, and to give notice of any threatened inroad.
At that time, Pittsburgh was on the extreme verge of white
41population, and the spies, who were constantly employed, generally extended their explorations forty or fifty miles to the west of this post. They went out, singly, lived as did the Indian, and in every respect, became perfectly assimilated in habits, taste and feeling, with the red men of the desert. A kind of border warfare was kept up, and the scout thought it as praiseworthy to bring in the scalp of a Shawnee, as the skin of a panther. He would remain in the woods for weeks together, using parched corn for bread, and depending on his rifle for his meat — and slept at night in perfect comfort, rolled in his blanket.
In this corps, whilst yet a stripling, Mike acquired a reputation for boldness and cunning, far beyond his companions. A thousand legends illustrate the fearlessness of his character. There was one, which he told, himself, with much pride, and which made an indelible impression on my boyish memory.
He had been out on the hills of Mahoning, when, to use his own words, "he saw signs of Indians being about." He had discovered the recent print of the moccasin on the grass; and found drops of the fresh blood of a deer on the green bush. He became cautious, skulked for some time in the deepest thickets of hazle and briar, and, for several days, did not discharge his rifle. He subsisted patiently on parched corn and jerk, which he had dried on his first coming into the woods. He gave no alarm to the settlements, because he discovered with perfect certainty, that the enemy consisted of a small hunting party, who were receding from the Alleghany.
As he was creeping along one morning, with the stealthy tread of a cat, his eye fell upon a beautiful buck, browsing on the edge of a barren spot, three hundred yards distant. The temptation was too strong for the woodsman, and he resolved to have a shot at every hazard. Repriming his gun, and picking his flint, he made his approaches in the usual noiseless manner. At the moment he reached the spot, from which he meant to take his aim, he observed a large savage, intent upon the same object, advancing from a direction a little different from his own. Mike shrunk behind
42a tree, with the quickness of thought, and keeping his eye fixed on the hunter, waited the result with patience. In a few moments the Indian halted within fifty paces, and leveled his piece at the deer. In the meanwhile Mike presented his rifle at the body of the savage, and at the moment the smoke issued from the gun of the latter, the bullet of Fink passed through the red man's breast. He uttered a yell, and fell dead at the same instant with the deer. Mike reloaded his rifle, and remained in his covert for some minutes, to ascertain whether there were more enemies at hand. He then stepped up to the prostrate savage, and having satisfied himself that life was extinguished, turned his attention to the buck, and took from the carcase those pieces suited to the process of jerking.
In the meantime, the country was filling up with a white population; and in a few years the red men, with the exception of a few fractions of tribes, gradually receded to the Lakes and beyond the Mississippi. The corps of Scouts was abolished, after having acquired habits which unfitted them for the pursuits of civilized society. Some incorporated themselves with the Indians; and others, from a strong attachment to their erratic mode of life, joined the boatmen, then just becoming a distinct class. Among these was our hero, Mike Fink, whose talents were soon developed; and for many years he was as celebrated on the rivers of the West, as he had been in the woods.
I gave to my fellow travellers the substance of the foregoing narrative, as we sat on deck by moonlight, and cut swiftly through the magnificent sheet of water. It was one of those beautiful nights which permitted every thing to be seen with sufficient distinctness to avoid danger, yet created a certain degree of illusion, that gave reins to the imagination. The outline of the river hills lost all its harshness; and the occasional bark of the house dog from the shore, and the distant scream of the solitary loon, gave increased effect to the scene. It was altogether so delightful, that the hours till morning flew swiftly by, whilst our travellers dwelt with rapture on
43the surrounding scenery, which shifted every moment like the capricious changes of the kaleidoscope — and listening to tales of border warfare, as they were brought to mind, by passing the places where they happened. The celebrated Hunter's Leap,
The afternoon of the next day brought us to the beautiful city of Cincinnati, which, in the course of thirty years, has risen from a village of soldiers' huts to a town, — giving promise of future splendor, equal to any on the sea board.
Some years after the period at which I have dated my visit to Cincinnati, business called me to New Orleans. On board of the steamboat, on which I had embarked, at Louisville, I recognized, in the person of the pilot, one of those men who had formerly been a patroon, or keel boat captain. I entered into conversation with him on the subject of his former associates.
"They are scattered in all directions," said he. "A few, who had capacity, have become pilots of steamboats. Many have joined the trading parties that cross the Rocky Mountains; and a few have settled down as farmers."
"What has become," I asked, "of my old acquaintance, Mike Fink?"
"Mike was killed in a skrimmage," replied the pilot. "He had refused several good offers on steamboats. He said he could not bear the hissing of steam, and he wanted room to throw his pole. He went to the Missouri, and about a year since was shooting the tin cup, when he had corned too heavy. He elevated too low, and shot his companion through the head. A friend of the deceased, who was present, suspecting foul play, shot Mike through the heart, before he had time to reload his rifle."
With Mike Fink expired the spirit of the Boatmen.
The undersigned has been navigating the Mississippi river for thirty years, and am as well acquainted with it, as I am with the deck of the boat I command; and having twice examined Mr. Banvard's great Painting of the Mississippi river, take great pleasure in testifying to its truthfulness and correctness to nature.
New Orleans, Nov. 20, 1846. MASTER OF STEAMER PEYTONA.
This is to certify that I have examined Mr. Banvard's Painting of the Mississippi river, and having been engaged for a number of years in the employ of Government, raising snags and removing other obstructions, am well acquainted with the river, and unhesitatingly pronounce Mr. Banvard's Painting remarkably correct and faithful to nature.
U. S. ENGINEER.
Louisville, Nov. 8, 1846.
KENTUCKY HISTORICAL SOCIETY ROOM,
Oct. 31, 1846.
JOHN BANVARD, ESQ.,
Dear Sir, — Having enjoyed much pleasure in company with the majority of the members of this Society in viewing your magnificent Panorama, I beg leave to tender this voluntary testimonial of my gratification. Having frequently travelled the Mississippi river, I am much acquainted with the grandeur and magnificence of the scenery which you have portrayed in your stupendous work with a correctness I have never seen equalled.
At the next regular meeting of the Kentucky Historical Society, you will be awarded its diploma for the fidelity of your Painting.
TAL. P. SHAFNER,
SEC. KY. HIS. SOC.
We, the undersigned, being officers of steamboats continually plying on the Mississippi river, have examined Mr. Banvard's great Painting, and take great pleasure in recommending it for its fidelity and truthfulness to nature, and giving a correct delineation of the scenery and peculiar characteristics of this mighty river.
J. JOINER, Captain. — B. SMITH, Pilot.
DANIEL DASHIEL, " — HENRY E. LEE, "
C. S. CASTLEMAN, " — N. OSTRANDER, "
T. COLEMAN, " — ALEX. BADGER,
JAC DILLON, " — JOHN CRAWFORD, "
SAMUEL PENNINGTON, " — JAMES D. HAMILTON, "
ELI T. DUSTIN, " — D. S. HALEY, "
ROBERT BROWN, " — JAMES O'NEAL, "
THOMAS NORTHUP, " — ELI VANSICKLE, "
R. DE HART, " — ALLEN PELL, "
Over one hundred more names omitted for want of room.
STATE or KENTUCKY, ss.
City of Louisville.
I, F. A. KAYE, Mayor of the city of Louisville, do hereby certify, that I am personally acquainted with nearly all of the gentlemen who have certified to the correctness of the great Panorama of the Mississippi river, painted by Mr. John Banvard; and certify further, that they are all practical navigators of the Mississippi river, and are gentlemen of veracity, and are entitled to full credit as such.
FRED. A. KAYE, MAYOR.
Opinions of the Press.
The painting, -- its wild beginning, its difficult progress, and final triumphant completion, stands alone in the annals of the art, as a marvellous monument of the patience, daring ambition, and genius of Amercan character. -- Boston Herald.
A masterpiece, both in design and execution; it is an honor alike to the perserving artist, and the country of his birth. -- Boston Post.
Language cannot exaggerate the comparative merits of this great work of art. It needs only to be seen to satisfy that it cannot be fully appreciated. -- Boston Olive Branch.
It is from the beginning to the end, one of the most living, charming things, that ever came from the hands of man. -- Boston Atlas.
In magnitude and grandeur this painting has no equal on the face of the globe. -- Boston Times.
This painting now stands the greatest and proudest work of art in the world. -- Louisville Courier.
We can only say that too much can not be said in praise of this wonderful picture, and all the praise it receives is justly deserved. -- Louisville Journal.