May 7, 1833
7 May: Today we have been gone from Neuwied for exactly a year. Early in the morning, excellent weather, bright sunshine. The region is rather uniform: cottonwoods and willow thickets, open alluvial prairie, sandbars from time to time with or without driftwood, often very extensive prairie or green hills where the river turns toward the hill chains. Here and there they have picturesque thickets, small gullies, and several runs; on their eroded banks, luxuriantly green thickets and forest trees.
About 7:30, bluffs, yellow clay, and limestone on the left bank, with beautiful thickets. To the right, large sandbars; driftwood on them. Farther on, to the left, a splendid, steeply cut yellow limestone where countless swallows nest and fly about like a swarm of bees. The bluffs bear the name Woods Hills. Here the river again turns to the right, and the bare bluffs, which are only at places where the river touches the hills, immediately
continue come to an end. [The hills] continue in the form of green, gentle elevations in a straight line until one meets them again at the next bend of the river. Now to the left, alluvial land appears again. At 7:30, 65°F [18.3°C]. The river flows toward Woods Bluffs, or Woods Hills, in a southwesterly direction.[2:58]
Because we were surrounded at this spot by sandbars, the boat was set out; the half-breed Chippewa (Defond), one of the Spaniards (Hernandez), and three engagés [went] out to make soundings. Meanwhile, we drifted back to 20 paces from Woods Hills so that we could see clearly, at close range, the swallows’ nests adhering to the hollows and fissures there. They are stuck to the rocks with clay so that the rock wall provides the back wall for the habitation, and one nest is close to the next; bare wreaths of clay on the side, with the entrance centrally at the front.
The shallow water detained us very long; the engine was started at a low speed so that we drifted slowly along the sandbar off the left bank. Soon beautiful, tall, freshly green cottonwood forest on the bank to the left with green understory. Here on the steamboats, green cottonwood primarily is burned; [it] gives off more heat here, however, than farther downstream, because the ground here is far drier and the wood has less sap. To the left on the green hill chain, where the river twists from one hill to the next, we see the beginning, as it seems to me, of the foothills that are called Blackbird’s Hills [sic], because here the famous Omaha chief, Waschínga-Sáhba (Blackbird), is buried. Part of the hill chain (of which Mr. Bodmer made sketches) has green forest. There is a tall peak in the foothills, with a smaller one before it, on which the grave is located; thus, it appears from a considerable distance. To the right, large alluvial sandbars where vegetation was just beginning on the sand; behind them are willow thickets and a tall cottonwood forest. At 10:30 we reached the hills, before which was alluvial soil with willow and cottonwood and patches of meadow; behind them rises a tall cottonwood forest behind which the hills were at first hidden from us. At their foot lay a most picturesque, wild woodland with the freshest green foliage—everything overgrown with vegetation. Here and there the brushwood was withered. The rounded summits of the hills
with their now came into view again. The ridge and the domes are bare, covered only with grass. On them (at ‘a’ [see fig. 8.21]) one sees a small pointed mound; this is Blackbird’ s grave, on which we could distinguish one or more poles.
Waschínga-Sáhba (Blackbird) was the most powerful chief along the entire Missouri, and his people, the Omahas, were then very numerous and powerful. Smallpox and their enemies, the Sioux and the Sauks, reduced [the Omahas] to the powerless state they are now in. Blackbird was so powerful that traders unconditionally gave him what he demanded. He was carried on mats, and his people dared not waken him loudly when he slept but rather tickled him with straws when he was supposed to wake up. Once he stabbed one of his wives to death because she had done something that displeased him. In Major Long’s Expedition , one can find a large number of accounts about this matter. He arranged to be buried on that summit, sitting on a live mule, and the grave can still be seen. In the Omaha language the hills are called [— —].M31The principal chief of the Omahas is now Óngpa-Tánga. See the depiction of him in Godman’s Natural History. He lives on the Horn [Elkhorn] River, which empties into the Platte River about 20 miles above its mouth. The Omahas are now said to be able to muster about 300–400 warriors.
Behind Above the area where the grave is located, Wahkonda Creek empties into the Missouri.[Page 2:59] We now turn left again, away from the hills; the whole region is flat, surrounded everywhere by forest. Soon we struck sand. The boat [went] out to fathom, then we continued on again. The hill chain to the left, which we were again approaching, was covered with fresh green forest. At twelve noon, 77°F [25°C]. To the left we again reach bluffs, overgrown on top with beautiful wild forest. In the ravines and hollows of the precipices [were] many swallows’ nests sitting socially together, but we did not see a single swallow here. On these elevations, one observes for the first time a mixture of conifers and deciduous trees. The conifer is probably Pinus resinosa. In these wooded hills, some of the most picturesque limestone walls are found, and on the bank below, the narrow-leafed willow grows very tall. Opposite us, the other bank covers tall, slender trees on the level, alluvial land. Soon new bluffs follow on the wooded hills to the left. As we observed them, we ran against a snag that smashed part of our right wheel, but this [did] not detain us long.
This morning on a small, insignificant creek we saw the first traces of beaver: a tree that they had gnawed on lay there as though snapped off—the bark and wood had been gnawed through all the way around. After we had departed from the bluffs and beautiful woodlands, we found to the right deposits of wood on a large sandbar and, on a pile of twigs and trees in the water, the nest of a wild goose. The birds left it and acted frightened; a crow immediately arrived at their place. Thick clouds were rising in the distance, but the strong wind dispersed them. We did not find enough water along the bank, drifted back, and for a long time lay near the nest of the wild geese. Finally, along the steep left bank, our boat found a channel; we followed it. A wilderness covered the bank: [the] ground [was] covered with grass and plants [and,] above them, a wild cottonwood thicket. This forest joined a large sandy plain overgrown with vegetation before which lay a mass of snags in the river, [and these] detained us somewhat. The river then made a very sharp bend to the left, and we followed the steep left bank with its tall forest. When this leveled off, we put in before dusk on a sandy shore before the forest, cut wood, and remained there for the night. A large fire was soon blazing on shore; we all divided up to investigate the region and to get some exercise. The forest was dense, full of dried rushes and plants, and was completely devoid of open blossoms.M32The wild grapevines, which grow plentifully everywhere here, had large blossom-buds, just like Cornus and other species of bushes. On shore it was cool and pleasant, but the mosquitoes (Culex) soon grew very annoying; fireflies (Lampyris) flew in all directions in the forest. At dusk the wild geese were calling on the banks of the river, and the call of the whippoorwill sounded forth incessantly in the woodlands on both sides of the river.M33In America the name of this bird is usually written and pronounced “whippoorwill,” but if one listens closely, it sounds like “wipp-per-wipp.” Such a bird, which we had not yet shot, alighted beside me on a fallen trunk, and I had no gun. We had found fresh tracks of wolves and deer (Cervus virginianus) on shore, and in the forest we had followed the little paths trodden by the Indians (Omahas). Dreidoppel shot a duck, and Spring, our dog, caught a live young wild goose (Anser canadensis). Mr. Bodmer had lagged behind and almost lost his way while pursuing a wild turkey; he had also seen a whippoorwill.