April 29, 1833
29 April: In the morning, mist and fog, even rain. They found more water early, and we left rather quickly. At seven o’ clock a flight of two hundred pelicans passed us; many shots were fired and finally a bird fell, which appeared to be merely winged. Unfortunately, we could not get the boat in order to retrieve it; it remained abandoned on the sandbar. Early this morning also, two wild turkey hens were shot at daybreak and immediately plucked. At 7:30, 58°F [14.4°C].
We steamed along the right bank, where there were very many snags, and found ourselves at the place that is called the narrows of Nishnabotna. Here, about 30 miles from the mouth of this
small river, it comes so close to the Missouri before the strange chain of limestone hills that an interval of only 200 paces remains. The view of the hill chain before which the Nishnabotna flows is remarkable. The hills have extremely odd limestone ledges, which now and then are shaped like entrenchments or sharply protruding bastions, partially overgrown with green grass and partially covered with dry grass speckled yellow, or else covered with reddish or reddish yellow stones and earth. Individual ledges are overgrown with woods. Before them, a splendid, fresh green carpet of grass spreads out from the Nishnabotna to the Missouri on completely level alluvial soil. The Nishnabotna itself is enclosed by a tall forest of hickory, cottonwood, Platanus, ash, and other varieties of trees. The soil is exceptionally fertile. Establishing settlements here would be very advantageous. Once hundreds of elk and deer were seen here; now [there are] just a few. Twelve miles above the narrows, the Nishnabotna divides into three tributary arms. Here in this region the Otoes, Iowas, Sauks, and Meskwakis (Foxes) hunt according to a general agreement.
The Missouri makes a big bend to the left at the site of the narrows; here there is an island that is named for this place. Farther on, in the big bend of the river, the bank was inhabited by white-bellied swallows. Then we moved to the right across the river and came upon a dangerous place full of snags. The number of species of trees that make up the forests on the bank in this region of the Missouri has already greatly decreased. They approximately include the following:
[Page 2:43] Along the bank to the left, in the direction of the picturesque hill chain, we had many snags in the river and deposits of wood; swarms of ducks had their habitat here.
On top The hill chain was mostly covered with green vegetation; tall forest trees in all its ravines. One never sees bluffs simultaneously on two bends of the river but rather always just on one side. Farther on, wild geese appeared on the sandbars to the right. They were fired upon but were not frightened by the bullets striking the sand. To the left we had a fertile bottom land deposited by the river [and] overgrown with young cottonwoods.
We ran (or rather crept, since we could use only half our power) along this bank, where the row of hills for a while remained very close to us. On the hills we observed walls with dry grass and a large number of oaks with yellowish or brownish green blossoms. At the foot of the hills, the redbuds were blooming beautifully; the urubu or turkey buzzard soared about over the hills. In several places the redbuds had nearly unfolded [their] leaves; along the edge of the bank, the sky-blue phlox, which we had so often harvested and which here and there colored everything blue, was blooming abundantly.
At twelve o’ clock noon, 72°F [22.2°C]. Next came high, steep banks or bluffs of a yellowish red or ash-gray blue color, on which here and there occur landslides. One place of this kind is well known; we saw several smaller ones, probably caused by springs. At several places these banks were reddish brown, and Dougherty told me that the Pawnee Indians paint themselves with a similarly colored clay, since they have no more beautiful red clay.
We turned [toward] the right bank, where we soon landed to cut wood. Trees, especially dead ones, immediately began falling right and left, [and] the blow of the axe rang out in all directions. The forest floor was densely covered with rushes (Equisetum hyemale), on which there were insects in large numbers almost everywhere, probably young ants; one could not reach around without getting his hands colored violet-red from their juice. Otherwise one noticed few live animals in the vicinity; only the bluebird seemed to utter its unimpressive song in the vicinity.
When I was ready to return to the ship, a man shouted out to me—he was half Ojibwe—to be careful: there was a rattlesnakeM15A rattlesnake (Crotalus tergeminus Say). there near [a] fallen trunk; he heard it rattling. I immediately found it [and] stunned it, and we placed it in a tin canister with a Heterodon and a black snake, where it soon became very lively again. Later it was placed in spirits. [It] had not bitten the other two snakes.
In the afternoon the weather was very pleasantly warm. We passed several perilous places with snags. Several dogs had been left behind on land; they ran and swam after us a long time [and] ran themselves tired on the steep bank; finally mercy triumphed over greed, and they were taken on board.
The river formed a beautiful broad expanse; all around its green banks there was a border of willows underneath, above which the cottonwood forest rose; there was also a different forest on the left bank. The passage, though wide, was too shallow; in the middle of the river were several snags. We remained motionless, and the boat took soundings all around. In the forest on the bank, a few thrushes were singing. We moved somewhat farther, up to a very extensive sandbar in the riveronto river onto which wood, boards, and many barrels were unloaded to lighten the ship. Dougherty and Sanford took their guns to go hunting, even though the day was drawing to a close. They found the sandbar completely surrounded by water; they waded through it almost up to their arms but returned late [and] empty-handed.[Page 2:44] The rest of us investigated the sandbar. [We] found tracks of wild geese and sandpipers, as well as a broken, completely white wild goose egg. Driftwood lay everywhere on this big sandbar. We also found the local so-called pumice stone that, to me, has more the appearance of slag. It is blackish in color. The objects unloaded from the steamboat were carried several hundred paces farther, for which purpose our rough, wild army of Canadian engagés was set in motion. We stayed here for the night. The sandpipers that I saw here on the beach I took to be Calidris arenaria. M16This supposition turned out to be unfounded. We found several common white snails like those characteristic of all the rivers of North America. On his return from hunting, Dougherty told us that the Indians had recently set fire to the prairie, something they often do, and that [the hunters] had found it smoldering still. Later, in the moonlight, Dreidoppel found the nest of a wild goose with three eggs on the sandbar. In the twilight he had seen a large number of blackbirds.