Chester Loomis’ “Journey on Horseback through the Great West in 1825”
Transcribed by Paul Stroble
Here are the fifth and sixth of the six chapters of A Journey on Horseback through the Great West in 1825 by Chester A. Loomis, (1789-1873). The 27-page book was printed by Plaindealer Press of Bath, NY and is subtitled “Visiting Allegany Towns, Olean, Warren, Franklin, Pittsburg, New Lisbon, Elyria, Norfolk, Columbus, Zanesville, Vermillion, Kaskaskia, Vandalia, Sandusky, and many other places.” Loomis had business in Illinois so on June 1, 1825, he set out from Rushville, NY and recorded his observations as he rode through “the “great west,” that is, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. He returned home on August 24, eventually publishing his account in this now-scarce little volume.
In chapter 5, Loomis continues his descriptions of the countryside. We should remember that in 1825, Missouri had been a state for only four years, Illinois for less than seven years, and Indiana nine years. Loomis first describes Ste. Genevieve, MO and then begins his return trip. He describes the southern-born settlers, comments on their meager diet, and is astonished by a meteor which he finds near the Vermillion saline. He visits the site of the battle of Tippecanoe, as well as other Indiana locations. Once he lost his way, then calls the Indians “stupid” when he needs them for food, water, and directions. He is awakened in the forest when his horse becomes frightened, but he does not know what is approaching. Later in his trip, Loomis visits Delaware County, Ohio (unknown to him, future president Rutherford B. Hayes was a three-year-old boy there) and he describes the planning and sad demise of the village of Clarendon, Ohio. Finally he passes through several important communities, including Cleveland, and at last he arrives at his home on August 24th, “after having traversed an immense extent of country and endured many hardships and privations within a period of about three months.” From his account, we obtain a interesting picture of the lives and hardships of American people 185 years ago.
In the short final chapter, Loomis speculates on the geological background of the countryside he visited.
Its Inhabitants–Grape Vines –1200 Miles from Home–The Start Back–A Fallen Metor [sic]
St. Genevive [sic], upon the western bank of the Mississippi, is an old settlement very similar in appearance to Kaskaskia. Its population is less than that village, but very similar in character. Black, white, and all the intermediate grades promiscuously connected.
July 9th, I spent this way in viewing the country and ranged several miles from the river towards the lead mines, but without observing any thing unusual except the immense growth of grave vines, which among some parts of the timbered lands load every tree and connect whole forests. The principal part of the inhabitants here are a miserable race. Every man of property owns slaves, and nearly all the labor done is by them. Nothing like enterprise or industry is observable here. The same inexhaustible fertility of soil as in Illinois prevails, and the same unhealthy atmosphere produces sickness and disease, which now exists throughout this country.
July 10th. My course is no longer westerly. I this day commence my return, and recross the river. At a distance of more than 1200 miles from home, in a sickly country, among strangers, and in the most sultry season of the year, the apprehensions of sickness or disaster force upon the mind the most unpleasant sensations. But with good health and good resolution I trust I shall be able to meet the hardships and inconveniences which are unavoidable.
From the 10th to the 15th, I pursued a north-westerly [north-easterly?] course, through a rich open country, in which is a few scattered habitations. Here are no beaten roads. The only paths are the ancient traces of the Indians. In traversing this tract of country I have been exceedingly annoyed by prairie flies; have suffered much from heat, and the want of water. The few inhabitants generally use what is called “Branch Water” in the language of the country; that is water obtained from the brooks and creeks. This might be tolerable if the brooks contained running water; but such is rarely the case at this season; most of them have ceased to run, and water is obtained from the deepest holes, where it stands stagnant, and filled with every thing noxious and offensive.
In the section of country which I have traversed within the last five days the few inhabitants residing are almost without exception Southern emigrants. Many peculiarities are observable among them. Their plantations are generally located on the edge of the prairies. They commonly enclose a field of corn of from ten to thirty acres and which is the only enclosure they have. Their cabins are miserable log buildings, placed in open commons, generally from 50 to 100 rods distant from their cornfields. Every man owns an excellent rifle, and has from three to five dogs. Appurtenant to every house is a log smoke house, in which all their meat is smoked,–a hovel or stable to shelter their horses from the flies, and two or three corn cribs which will hold from 500 to 1000 bushels each. Their bread is made of corn meal in a manner very similar to the New England “Jonny cake.” The small loaves thus baked, they denominate “dodgers.” These they eat with butter and honey; usually a tin pint cup filled with sour, curdled, milk, is placed before each one at table, and dodgers, fried smoke pork, sour milk, butter and honey, commonly constitutes their meal at morning, noon, and night. The emigrants from different states have each their local designation. Thus the Virginians are called “Tuckehoes,” the North Carolinians, “Buckskins,” the South Carolinians, “Brown Backs,” and the New Englanders, “New Yorkers,” Jerseymen and Pennsylvanians are all “Yankees.”
On the 16th, I reached the Vermillion Saline,” in the vicinity of which I remained until the 22nd, inst. While making an excursion eastwardly from the Saline on the 18th, at the distance of two or three miles from the works, and in an extensive plain, I discovered a more singular and remarkable curiosity. Upon the surface of the ground is a body of stone, clay, iron pyrites, and melted sand, or glass, with some other substances–equal in bulk to a common cock of hay,–and weighing probably more than 1500 pounds. The whole mass has evidently been subjected to the action of fire. It is not solid, but is loose, spongy, and porous, and exhibit’s the appearance of various substances having been exposed to an intense heat, and when in a state of partial fusion, promiscuously thrown together, half-melted—and in that state having hardened by cooking, so firmly as to have adhered in one mass when it fell or was thrown to this place; for it is perfectly evident that it must have been thrown or have fallen here;–and yet there are no hills or elevated land within many miles from which it can have fallen or have been thrown by the force or volcanic fires; nor is there any evidence of any extraordinary fire every having existed here. Notwithstanding its weight and bulk, it was but slightly embedded in the earth, and I succeeded in rolling it from its bed. Grass, leaves, and decayed vegetables were under it. There is not probably within two miles any coal, iron ore, clay, or even a pebble stone of the smallest size. How then came this body here? After the most careful examination which I have been able to make, I have come to the conclusion that this is one of those meteoric stones, which sometimes fall to the earth, and that this must have fallen within two or three years past.
On the 22nd of July, I traveled a north eastwardly course, and near night reached the Wabash river, and on the 23rd and 24th, continued to ascend in left bank, until I arrived at Tippecanoe, famous for the bloody battle fought here in 1811, between the American Army, commanded by General Harrison, and the combined Indian tribes who then inhabited this quarter. The country here is mostly open; prairies of great extent spread from the Wabash–glades of beautiful timber are occasionally interspersed,–and it was upon one of the most pleasant and delightful spots which I have ever seen, that this sanguinary conflict took place. Between the Wabash and Tippecanoe, about a mile from the entrance of the latter stream into the former the strife of battle raged, and the exulting war-hoop of the savage warrior resounded. But it is now the silent and peaceful; the savage has disappeared, and civilized man has not yet established himself in his place.
On the night of the 23rd, I rested in an extensive prairie, without fire or any kind of shelter. The country is uninhabited except occasionally a squatter upon the banks of the Wabash.
On the 24th, I entered the state of Indiana. I find it necessary to bear to the south for the purpose of finding inhabitants, and I have determined to direct my course for Crawfordsville Prairies are no longer seen—a dense forest overspreads the country.
July 26th, I this day reached Crawfordsville about noon. It is a small village of log houses,–and the inhabitants seem to be industrious. The place is quite new,–and probably not more than 50 acres is yet cleared of timber.
In the afternoon of July 26th, I went on toward Thorntown, and at night struck up a fire and lodged in the wilderness, and near the banks of Sugar Creek. In the night I saw a brilliant light, resembling a flambeau. It seemed to approach slowly by following the winding course of the creek. For a few moments I was much startled, but I soon perceived that it was in reality a flambeau carried by an Indian, who was wading down the creek on a night hunt. I had previously been informed that at this season of the year the hunters follow the creeks of float down them in canoes–and shoot the deer which are in the habit of standing in the waters at night. The Indian passed on and was soon out of view. At an early hour on the 27th, I went on and arrived at Thorntown in the forenoon. Here I lost the trace, and for some hours was in great perplexity. The Indians of this settlement were all absent, and from the squaws, who remained, it was impossible to obtain the least information. They furnished me however, with some corn for my horse and some victuals for myself, and upon my offering them money and making signs of wanting refreshment. After an ineffectual search of more than three hours for the trace or path which leads form this place to the head of White river, I gave up the attempt, and returned to the lodge–and endeavored once more to make the stupid wretches understand my wishes. I succeeded at length in hiring them to point out the place where the path enters the forest–and pressing forward with diligence until evening I encamped probably 18 or 20 miles east of Thorntown. Having built a fire, I tied my horse to a sapling near, wrapped myself in my coat, and lay down. About midnight I was aroused by the jumping and snorting of my horse. He seemed to have his eye upon something in a northern direction, and was extremely frightened. The night was very dark; upon listening I could distinctly hear the foot steps of something as well as the rustling of bushes in that direction, apparently fifteen or twenty rods distant,–and I was soon convinced that it was approaching. I had ever cherished a confidence in my own personal courage, and that I could meet any necessary danger with fortitude and resolution; but now they were put to the test; and I must admit that I was here excessively disconcerted and alarmed. My first impressions were that I had been followed by Indians, and plunder was their object. I hastily primed my pistols anew, and advanced a few paces into the shade of the thicket and listened. The occasional crackling of brush was still heard, and was still approaching; its approach was slow, but it was now evidently within ten rods of my fire, which was burning brightly, giving light nearly that distance into the forest on all sides. At this moment I hallooed loudly, at the same time discharging one of my pistols; a wild animal of some kind gave a sniff or snort, and bounded off in an eastern direction, and I presume was heard distinctly for more than forty rods, and my horse in his fright broke his halter, but was caught without difficulty, and the remainder of the night was spent without sleep.
July 28th. At daylight I went onward, and near night found inhabitants on the banks of the White river. During the last two days I have suffered extremely from thirst–not having seen a drop of water in traveling fifty miles, excepting in two places where trees were turned out by the roots in clay, grounds and rain water had settled in. Had I anticipated so much trouble as I have encountered for the last seventy miles in the wilderness, I should have preferred a circuit of 200 miles to avoid it.
August 1st. From the 28th of July to the first of August nothing important occurred. On the 30th of July I entered Ohio–passed through Piqua, and on the 31st, Urbana. These are flourishing villages,–superior to any I have seen in this state except Zanesville and Columbus. A heavy rain set in and continued through the day. The roads were rendered miry, and the swamps filled with water–and as the country is new and principally unsettled, the traveling is tedious and fatiguing. From Urbana my route was easterly through Milford and Delaware,–thence north through Norton, Clarendon, Bucyrus, New Haven, Monroeville to Portland or Sandusky City, on the lake.
Aug. 2nd. Delaware is a beautiful and flourishing village, and is the capital of the county of the same name. Clarendon is situated on Whetstone Creek, and is near the summit level, or dividing ridge which separates the waters which flow into the lake from those which fall into the Ohio in this state. The history of this village is a melancholy evidence of the instability and unhealthiness of this country.
Aug. 4th. About four years since a village was projected on Whetstone Creek, and called Clarendon. Its site was pleasant and beautiful, on the borders of the immense plains which extend form east to west nearly through the state of Ohio. On one side a heavy forest of fine timber; on another, open plains level as far as the eye can reach–with occasional groves of timber interspersed–and upon another, a small but clear and durable stream of water—this village was located. Great expectations were had and great efforts were made by the proprietors, and during one or two seasons much labor was done and money expended. About 30 or 40 families had settled here in high hope and expectation of wealth, but the hand of Providence has fallen heavily upon them. Sickness assailed them; disease in its more fatal forms, swept off its population. The houses were depopulated and those who survived disease, fled from the fatal spot. At this time the melancholy spectacle is exhibited of a village beautifully situated; laid out with taste–and embellished with art, but no longer the abode of man; a solitary family remain, and from their pale and haggard countenances, I should judge that the hand of death was already raised to strike its last victim here. The site of this village will soon be lost in the rising growth of the forest; and such I am afraid is the history of many of the projected villages in this section of country.
Aug. 6th. From Clarendon my course was northerly across the plains to Bucyrus. The soil of these plains is clay. Glades country is level–”Sag Holes” abound, in which the waters settle and gradually dry away in the heats of summer, rending the atmosphere impure with the mot anxious and unwholesome exhalations.
From the 6th, to the 15th, of August, I progressed on my journey, generally traveling the ridge road. Portland on the lake is a flourishing place. Monroeville, Norwalk, Illyria [Elyria], &c., are new but thriving villages. On the morning of August 10th, a tremendous thunder shower hung over the lake for several hours The streams of lightening were frequent and uncommonly vivid–and the peals of thunder were unusually heavy and appalling. The sound of thunder is undoubtedly greater over large bodies of water than when passing over land; and at this time the view was grand and sublime. A vessel under sail was on the lake, distant a few miles from shore. It seemed to pass under the black masses of clouds which hung over the western part of the horizon and suddenly was lost to the view. Cleveland is a fine village–is rapidly growing into importance, as is also Erie, in Pennsylvania. The enterprise and industry of the inhabitants is apparent in this quarter.
On the 15th, of August I again entered the State of New York, and on the 18th, reached Buffalo; remaining at this place two days, I again pursued my journey via Lockport and Batavia, and arrived home on the 24th, of August, 1825, after having traversed and immense extent of country and endured many hardships and privations within a period of about three months.
Some conclusions formed from the observations on the trip.
In taking a retrospective view of the country which I have traversed during the trip just completed, the conviction cannot be resisted that it is distinguished by features of a striking and peculiar character. The inquisitive mind will involuntarily be led to indulge in speculations and conjectures, with respect to the causes which have produced those features and from which those peculiar characteristics may in the lapse of ages have arise.
Without pretending to go into a critical inquiry or examination of the subject, for which I am fully sensible that I am altogether incompetent and unequal, I nevertheless propose to give my impressions as formed from the most deliberate consideration which I have been enabled to bestow upon it; and in doing this I shall state the theory which I have embraced and the reasons which have led me to its adoption. The leading views only can be give. A volume would not be sufficient to contain a full and detailed view of every consideration attached to the subject proposed briefly for examination, I have adopted the following views, viz:
1st. That at some remote period, the whole tract of country extending in length from the Gulf of Mexico to the Icy Sea, and in width form the Allegany to the Rocky Mountains, was the bed of the ocean;
2nd. That the ocean when it receded, receded suddenly to its present boundaries;
3rd. That the waters of that immense chain of lakes, west of the Niagara River, once flowed through the valleys of the Illinois, and the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico;
4th. That by some tremendous convulsion of nature, the mountain ride separating Lakes Erie and Ontario, became broken and the current of the waters of the upper lakes was thereby reversed.
With regard to the first position, viz: That at some remote period the whole tract of country, extending from the Gulf of Mexico to the Icy Sea, and in width from the Allegany to the Rock Mountains, was the bed of this ocean: It may be observed:
That the whole face of country within these bounds is nearly level. Occasionally a small inequality of surface if found, and every elevation of ground or ride of fifty or a hundred feet in height, is composed of coarse gravel, smooth pebble stones, or marine shells, I think evidently deposited by long continued currents of water–while the intermediate country–between these elevations is entirely alluvial,–resembling precisely that kind of land found on the flats of rivers which annually overflow and deposit the sediment of their waters. Alternate layers of fine and course sand may be seen from the surface to the depth of several feet. The plains are entirely destitute of small stone. Sandstone, lime stone, and slate are sometimes found in the ridges and–the banks of rivers–and upon the prairies in the northern parts of Illinois and Missouri, scattered here and there an isolated rock of a peculiar kind is seen. It is said that a similar kind of stone is not found nearer than Iceland, Greenland, or the shores of the Icy Sea. Did these rocks come from those regions? It is known that immense ice bergs break off from the shores of those countries and frequently with large rocks imbedded in them–are floated by the currents of the ocean at the present period, to the latitude of 40 or 45 degrees on the Atlantic. The glaciers of the Norwegian Alps and the immense masses of ice which annually accumulate upon the summits of the mountains of Iceland and Greenland descend in frightful avalanches into the deep abyss of waters with which they are surrounded and carried by the currents which are known to exist into lower latitudes are gradually dissolved in a warmer atmosphere, scattering over the bed of the ocean, where the masses dissolve; and the rocks and stones thus borne from the mountains where they are formed. Such we know to be fact at the present period; and who will undertake to say that similar operations of the laws of nature did not take place in the earlier ages of the world.
With respect to the 2nd, position, viz., “That the ocean when it receded, receded suddenly to its present boundaries;” It is only necessary to observe that almost all the ridges and elevations of land between the Allegany and Rock Mountains run in a direction from North to South. These were formed I apprehend by the prevailing currents of the ocean. If the waters had gradually receded and at long intervals of time ridges and embankments running in a direction from East to West would undoubtedly have been formed by the action of the waves. Such not being found, the inference to my mind is conclusive that if the ocean ever overspread this part of the western continent, its waters suddenly receded to their present boundaries.
3rdly. “The waters of that immense chain of lakes west of the Niagara River, once flowed southerly through the valley of the Illinois and Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.” Is this possible? The subject offers an interesting field of inquiry.
4thly, It has been an acknowledged observation of Geographers that rivers and streams which empty themselves into lakes, generally point in the direction they run toward the out-let of the lakes into which they respectively fall.