May 24, 1833
24 May: In the morning, bright sunshine, wind. We remain at the island and wait for keelboats, since the ship is to be unloaded. At 7:30, 64°F [17.8°C]. This morning Major Bean and Mr. Bodmer went to the riverbank lying to our right to ride overland to the agency.
I went into the forest, which begins with an extraordinary thicket of willows entangled with vines. Here we cut a path for ourselves with machetes. Behind the willows begin tall cottonwoods in which the red thrush, similar to our song thrush, is singing. These cottonwoods have an undergrowth of buffalo buffalo berries, roses, Cornus sericea, and some other shrubs entangled with a large number of wild vines, which entwine practically all the trees (Rhus, Clematis, Hedera quinquefolia). Among the shorter plants one particularly notices an Asclepias with a narrow pod full of woolly material. In this thicket were several crows, the nest of which we found with eggs; Turdus rufus, felivox, aurocapilla Wilson; Columba carolinensis; Picus erythrocephalus; Sylvia striata, aestiva; Muscicapa ruticilla; Vireo olivaceus; Vireo solitarius B.;Troglodytes aedon; Parus atricapillus; and several others, which I could not recognize. We found the large tracks of elk (Cervus canadensis), and a beautiful duck was shot near the bank but immediately plucked, since these pitiful people have no other idols but their stomachs and their moneybags. M71Mr. Ashworth shot Arctomys ludoviciana, and Bodmer Mus macrocephalus. Every day I found confirmation of the sad observation that they do not do the slightest thing for the sake of science. When I returned to the ship, I found the crew on the sandbar beside it occupied in various ways. Some were bowling, others had set up a target at which they were shooting, etc. Dreidoppel had been taken over to the prairie hills on the other side of the river to hunt.
At eleven o’ clock the men were called back by the bell, and an attempt was made to get away. We sailed several thousand paces down the river and then tried to cut across to the left riverbank but ran aground on a sandbar and reached our goal only after many jolts. We followed the bank to the right of us upstream and, after several hours, met the keelboat ahead of us, which had likewise lain aground on the sandbar but whose crew had worked waist deep in the water and had finally overcome the obstacles. The keelboat Maria was brought alongside the steamboat and loaded with cargo from our ship to lighten it.
While this was being done, Mr. Mc Kenzie and I climbed the highest dome of the nearby hills. The path led through a quite narrow gully, through which we clambered upward. We soon reached the grassy elevations and finally the rough, bare domes, which are on a line with the previously mentioned black middle layer.[Page 2:88] On the withered, barren hills bloomed a beautiful plant with large white or pale-violet flowers ([— —]), as well as an umbellate plant with yellow flowers ([— —]), which is very common here. [There was,] above all, in large quantities, the cactus cited by Nuttall under the common name Opuntia, sometimes 1 1/2 feet high, with arms about 5 inches long (depending on the quality of the location) and white spines often 2 inches long. Its flower is said to be yellow or whitish. These domes are also very interesting from a mineralogical standpoint. There was clay in various colors, to some extent similar to kaolin, somewhat fatty; further, a kind of isinglass stone or mica, which seems to be an outcrop of the clay. When we reached the barren, high peaks, which are part of the black stratification, I thought I had found something quite different here. But the whole thing seems to consist of a blackish clay whose surface was influenced by fire. The only birds I saw here were Say’s Fringilla grammaca, which seem to live
with birds contentedly and cheerfully on these strange, barren elevations. One instantly recognizes them by their white tail feathers.
Our woodcutters clambered up the tall, steep argillite bluffs and all around the rugged ravines and felled several old cedars growing there. I found several burrows of foxes or prairie wolves and also smaller dens with whose occupants I am not yet familiar. The view from the summit of the hilltops, which are round and blackish and poised like caps on the grassy hills, was particularly grand and interesting. The river extends far to the right; on the other side, one sandbar after another filled it, so that only narrow water channels were left for us. Downstream, to the left, another distant but varying elevation [appeared] before us, and somewhat to the right a green island where the Assiniboine lay at anchor. The Englishman, Ashworth, whom we had lost today, had found his way back again. He had been brought over from the Assiniboine. He afforded me great pleasure by giving me the first specimen of a so-called prairie dog, which he had shot on the island where we lay at anchor.
Sometime after four o’ clock or 4:30, the keelboat had been sent ahead, and we followed along the bluffs of the right bank. Some of these had deep ravines and strange contours. These bluffs—which contain argillite, a kind of lithomarge, mica similar to isinglass-stone, and a beautifully green, crystallized fossil, which was found on shore under the walls in large brittle pieces—contain beds of all kinds of curious varieties of rock. A half hour later we passed the cargo, covered with pieces of white cloth, which the Assiniboine had brought to land. Farther on lay wooded, flat, alluvial land before the hills; here wood had been cut, and we stopped to load it. The sun was still above the horizon when we moved on. There was a beautiful, tall cottonwood forest to our right, and to the left the strange hills with their black middle stratum, which also consists of hills [sic], and on [those] banks there were also cottonwoods here and there. To the right we soon passed a wooded island. [There were] many sandbars in the river, [and] we ran aground. On that island last year, Mr. Sanford shot several bison. The sun sank and painted a very beautiful, interesting landscape for us. Sandbars forced us over to the bluffs of the left bank; we found so much water there that we did not have to put in until after nightfall. We spent the night in the vicinity of the mouth of the Shannon, or Dry, River.