Thomas A. (Thomas Asbury) Morris.

Miscellany: consisting of essays, biographical sketches and notes of travel online

. (page 24 of 30)
Online LibraryThomas A. (Thomas Asbury) MorrisMiscellany: consisting of essays, biographical sketches and notes of travel → online text (page 24 of 30)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

namely, John Henry, was remarkable. He was converted
under the ministry of the Rev. David Young, Avhen he
traveled the old Merrimack circuit, Missouri, in 1810; has
been a faithful local preacher twenty-nine years, and pre-
sented a certificate of election to deacons' orders, signed
"John Scripps, secretary of Missouri conference, Septem-
ber 16, 1819," which he had carried twenty-two years
without an opportunity of presenting it; during wdiich
time his license was regularly renewed every year, and
from. the long good standing which he has maintained, is
every-where in this country called Father Henry.

On our way to Columbus we passed the far-famed
Mount Prairie, which gives name to this circuit. It is a
small prairie, the only one we have seen this side of Illi-
nois, is chiefly under cultivation, and has a notable mound,
which is the building-site of the farm. The soil is black,
rich, and lies on a bed of rotten limestone, and when wet
will adhere to the wheels of a carriage like kneaded dough.
The most remarkable circumstance about it is, the surface
abounds with sea-shells — clams, oysters, etc. — so thick, Ave
were told, in places, that a plow can scarcely be forced
through. These shells, in many instances, are in a per-
fect state of preservation, while, in others, they arc in a
process of decomposition. How they came on a high, dry
prairie, more than three hundred miles from the Gulf of
Mexico, is a question which I leave for the learned to
answer.' 7- '

•'This is the bcbt neighborhood of land \\c have seen in Arkansas.


Thursday evening we returned to Washington, where
brother Clark preached again to an increased congrega-
tion, notwithstanding the evening was rainy.

Yours, truly, T. A. Morris.

Washixgtox, Ark., Dec. 2, 1841.


Brother Elliott, — We left Washington Friday, De-
cember 3d, and came to Spring Hill, a village on an ele-
vation among the pines in Hempstead county, so called
from the fact that numerous springs of excellent water
break out of the hill, in various directions, around the
village. Many of the citizens of this place are planters,
whose cotton farms are on the low lands of Red river, a
few miles distant, and afford excellent society for each
other. The site, being high and well watered, is healthy
and pleasant for family residences; and their children
have the benefits of male and female academies, under
the superintendence of Rev. Mr. Banks and lady, of the
Presbyterian Church. While in Spring Hill we enjoyed
a fair specimen of old Virginia hospitality, which of course
was very grateful to us weary travelers, and in turn we
exerted ourselves to be useful among them. There is no
Methodist society organized there, and very few persons
who were members of our Church, nor have they any
chapel of any sort; but we had the pleasure of preaching-
two days in the female academy, which accommodated
quite a respectable congregation; and from the number
present, the attention given, and the interest apparently
taken in the preaching, we can but hope that some bene-
ficial effects may follow.

Monday, 6th, we left our kind friends of Spring Hill,
and took the Minden road, which leads through a country
forming a striking contrast with Hempstead county, in
some particulars. It should be observed that we left the


military road near Greenville, some forty miles beyond
Washington, and formed a curve westward, in order to
visit several important points; and instead of returning
directly east from Spring Hill to our former road, we
aimed to strike it obliquely by a signer route. In the
evening we passed Lewisville, the seat of a new county
named Fayette. This is a new establishment in the
woods, consisting of a log court-house, with a brush
arbor in front, an indifferent log school-house, and the
commencement of a wooden jail, the walls of which were
partly raised. One mile beyond Lewisville, between Dr.
Wilson's and Mr. Lemay's, we lodged by a small ravine,
where the light- wood was abundant, and called the place
Pinot Camp. Here we ate breakfast by candle-light, and
at an early hour on Tuesday entered a wilderness of
about thirty miles, without a house. Soon after we heard
the keen crack of a rifle, and presently saw a buck fleeing
as if wounded, and immediately afterward met a young
Indian with his hunting costume, attended by a well-
trained dog on his track, who, without manifesting any
surprise at our appearance, went on in pursuit of his
£-anie. While observing him, his father and mother, as
we supposed, and some younger children, came up with a
train of small ponies packed with skins and meat, in real
hunter's style. This was a family of Choctaws returning
from their fall hunt, made in the wild regions of the Bod-
caw, which is still the abode of wild beasts. Some days
previous we had been told by brother Gregory, presiding
elder of the Red river district, that wild cattle were still
to be found in the cane down Red river, and that he had
recently rode nearly into the midst of a large drove of
them before they observed him, but when started by his
appearance, they made the brush and cane crack like a
gang of buffalo ; and to-day we had a confirmation of the
correctness of this intelligence. Only a few miles on our


day's journey, we met a wagon drawn by two mewly oxen,
attended with hunters, who informed us they were going
after a wild bull, which they had just killed near that
place, to bring him into their camp, which we would pres-
ently pass; that he was very fat, and they judged would
weigh about seven or eight hundred pounds. It is pre-
sumed that these cattle originally strayed from the French
and Spaniards, and have been increasing in their wild state
for ages past. Soon after passing them, Ave came to the
Bodcaw, a large bayou, full of cypress, and difficult to
pass. At our crossing, it parted so as to form an island,
on which we saw the hunters' camp among the cane,
which, in the absence of its owners, was occupied by
ravens and buzzards, feeding on the offal. The banks of
the Bodcaw are nearly perpendicular, and the water so
deep that to secure our baggage we had to prop it up on
blocks, and then lash it on with ropes to keep it dry.
Twelve inches more and our horses would have been cov-
ered, if not floated; but, by the blessing of kind Provi-
dence, we got all over safejy. Had we been men of leisure
and sport, the temptation to stop here and exhaust our
little store of ammunition would have been strong; but
we had another and more important object in view than
hunting deer, bear, and wild cattle. Indeed, we had to
pass the wilderness that day, or let our horses suffer for
grain. Why no body settles along on this road it is diffi-
cult to account for, only on the supposition that the land
is owned by non-resident speculators. Between Bodcaw
and Dorcheat there is an extensive body of the most beau-
tiful pine-land I ever saw. It lies handsomely, is dry,
of dark complexion, mellow, and apparently rich ; and
though rather sandy, it would doubtless produce cotton,
corn, oats, peaches, and sweet potatos, in great abund-
ance ; and from the character of the timber it is easily
cleared. The water on the road is scarce this dry season,

>; O T ." S OF T B A V E L . 31 3

though we saw some springs. Many flocks of deer scam-
pered before us during this day's journey, but Ave paid
little attention to them. After pushing on all day, we
reached Dorcheat at dark, a bayou some forty yards wide,
and too difficult crossing to pass in the night, and we were
content to stop in rather an inconvenient place on the north
side, about two rods from a deserted Indian camp, made
of cypress bark; but we preferred our own tent on fresh
ground. Our camp was in sight of the house of old Mr.
Moss, perhaps the first settler of the neighborhood; but
he was buying corn at one dollar a bushel, and hauling it
forty miles. However, with some persuasion, he let us
have one bushel for two dollars in par funds, but would
spare no fodder at any price. The water of Dorcheat is so
colored with cypress leaves, etc., that it is nearly as black
as tar, though it is cold, and tolerably pleasant to the
taste. The cypress grows not only on the banks, but in
the channel of the sluggish stream, starting generally in
conical form, and then shooting up a trunk tall and
straight, with foliage similar to pine, though not so heavy,
and subject to fade and fall off about the first of winter.
Around each large cypress are scores of knees or excres-
cences, like little cones, from the roots, which are hollow
shells of a spongy nature, that grow from one to five feet
high above the ground, or water, as the case may be ; and,
when sawed off, answer for bee-gums or well-buckets.
The cypress wood, though soft, is durable, and answeis
well for boards, palings, etc. While at Camp Dorcheat,
the hooting of owls and howling of wolves made us music
enough for one night.

Next morning, by blocking up our baggage as before,
we forded safely, and, within one mile beyond it, passed
two smaller bayous with some difficult) - ; the ford of one
being so blocked up with drift, that we had to seek a new

crossing, and cut a road to and from it. The first mile of



our road from Dorclieat presented a novel appearance to a
northern man : the undergrowth was cane and bay-shrub,
shaded by a dense forest of holly, with an occasional pine
from three to four feet in diameter. This forest of ever-
greens, in connection with the mildness of the weather,
reminded us of summer. The bark of the holly -tree
resembles the northern beech, while its boughs are orna-
mented with deep-green foliage, and clusters of blood-red
berries about the size of cherries. Leaving this flat, we
came over poor pine knobs to Mr. Rice's, seven miles,
where we bought a nice piece of a fat cub, killed the day
before; and half a mile beyond saw a large sweet-gum
marked " A. and L.," which we recognized as a line-tree
between the states of Arkansas and Louisiana, where we
let our horses feed on the cane, while we took our lun-
cheon. This was in latitude thirty-three degrees north.
Yours, respectfully, T. A. Morris.

State Line, Dec. 8, 1841.

Brother Elliott, — While taking leave of Arkansas, it
may be proper for me to add one or two general remarks
to those already made. The south part of the state is a
more interesting country, on some accounts, than the north
part. The land is rather better, and the climate milder,
of course ; insomuch that the stock is generally wintered
on the wild range, without the expense or trouble of feed-
ing, especially where the cane has not yet been destroyed.
This circumstance, together with its China -trees and
numerous evergreens, gives it the characteristics of a
southern country. It is also a planting region, and pro-
duces cotton in abundance, and exhibits more appearance
of wealth and intelligence. All that I have said of the
civility and hospitality of the inhabitants heretofore, has
only been confirmed in my mind by passing through the

NOTES o F T B A V E L . 315

south-west part of the state. Methodism, I am sorry to
say, appears to be less efficient in its operations, and
therefore less influential, in Arkansas generally, than it
should be, but there is no necessity for this state of things
being perpetuated. The people are generally well dis-
posed to receive our views of Christianity, and the teach-
ers of it whom we send to labor among them ; and even
in the towns, where we have accomplished but little, with
a few exceptions, much might be done if proper attention
was paid to them. I do not know of a better opening for
usefulness, by an enterprising Methodist preacher, than in
the villages of Hempstead county.

On Wednesday, December 8th, we entered Claiborne
parish, Louisiana, and in the evening passed what is
called, on the maps, Allen's Settlement, nothing of which
is seen from the road but Mr. Allen's field and cabin, and
lodged that night in the pine woods a mile and a half
beyond ; having traveled that day only twelve or thirteen
miles, on account of the road being so blocked up with
timber that we had frequently to cut our way through or
around it. The place where we staid that night afforded
so many conveniences and comforts, that brother Clark
suggested to call it Camp Felicity, to which all the com-
pany agreed, of course. The ground was handsome,
water good, fuel abundant and convenient. We had
bread and butter, milk and sugar for our tea, sweet pota-
tos, stewed peaches, boiled ham, fried cub, etc. Who
could desire better living?

Thursday, 9th, was a rainy day : quick, heavy showers
fell upon us, especially in the afternoon: the road was
rough ; houses few and far between ; and to crown all, we
got lost : took a wrong road, and got some miles out of
the way; but in the evening got right, and came to a
creek called Flat Lick, having gained fifteen miles that
day. This place we called Camp Holly, because it was


ornamented by trees of that name on every side. In the
evening we were visited by a Methodist brother, named
Frederick Grounds, who had resided in that neighborhood
eighteen years ; though his house was behind us, and off
our road. He appeared to be a friendly, good-natured
man ; and it was fortunate that he was so, for he weighed
two hundred and twenty or two hundred and thirty
pounds, and possessed much muscular strength. Subse-
quently he brought us a chicken, some butter and eggs,
and helped to cut and carry our wood, all gratuitously.
The ground here was rather wet, in consequence of the
rain ; but we borrowed four bundles of blades from our
horses till morning, put them under our buffalo-robes, and
slept in safety. Next morning we passed a neighborhood
of good upland, and better improved than any we had
seen this side of Spring Hill : the soil was black and mel-
low, and the natural growth pine, oak, and hickory.
Thirteen miles brought us to Minden, which is ninety
miles from Spring Hill. This is a new, but neat and im-
proving village, chiefly inhabited by planters and mer-
chants. It was laid off in 1836; but has been mostly
built since 1838. Three miles further on is Overton, the
seat of Claiborne parish, said to be sickly, and nearly
deserted in favor of Minden, to which place it is thought
the county seat will be removed next session of the legis-
lature. Here we saw the first long moss on our road,
which I have never observed in a higher latitude than
ihirty-two and a half degrees north. Just beyond Over-
ion, we crossed the track of a tremendous hurricane,
which, for some half mile, had destroyed nearly all the
timber. It was not of very late occurrence, so that our
road was clear. When we reached the next farm it was
after three o'clock; and, on inquiry, we found it was
twelve miles to the next house on our road : we bought
provender, proceeded on to the middle of this desolation,


and slept quietly and sweetly under the pine-bushes in
Camp Solitude.

Saturday, 11th, brother Whipple took his rifle, mounted
his colt, and proceeded in advance of the wagons; saw
abundance of deer; shot twice, and wounded one mortally ;
but, for want of time and skill to follow the trail, did not
obtain it. His squirrel -balls are too light for bucks.
About noon we passed a camp of Indian hunters. Their
ponies were belled, and grazing : an old Indian was lying
in camp on his stomach, resting his chin on his hands, like
a lazy dog sleeping with his head upon his paws, and
scarcely opened his eyes to see us pass : skins were drying
over a smoke-pit: two squaws were working outside of
the camp ; and three small children were sitting round a
little fire some distance off, who observed us passing, but
manifested no alarm or surprise. The hunters were prob-
ably on the chase. In the evening, after going nine
miles without seeing a house, we reached brother Man-
ning's, who keeps a house of entertainment, where we
remained till Monday morning, and were accommodated.
On the Sabbath we rode four miles to a log meeting-
house, where there is a small Methodist society, and
preached to about twenty persons, including our own com-
pany. These were nearly all the persons in the neighbor-
hood, and we had a pleasant little meeting. We fell into
the old military road at Thompson's, twenty miles back,
which is very much cut up by the wagons of emigrants,
chiefly to Texas. They have here a weekly horse mail
from Natchitoches to Washington, and a post-office at this
place. For a week past, the weather has been exceedingly
mild and pleasant, except one rainy day : part of the time
it was oppressive to ride with our coats on; and as for
cloaks, they were an incumbrance. Last evening, we had
a heavy shower, and the weather is like to be cooler.
H. Johnson, Esq., Ex-Governor of Louisiana, staid here

318 MISCELL A 2C Y .

last night. He is the Whig candidate for governor the
next term, and is performing the tour of the parishes on
an electioneering campaign, and from stumping, or some
other cause, is rather indisposed. We are now thirty-
seven miles from Natchitoches, and about one hundred
and ten from San Augustine. Time fails to add more at

Yours, truly, T. A. Morris.

Maxiong's, Claibornt: parish, La., Dec. 13, 1811.

Brother Elliott, — My last letter was dated at Man-
ning's, Louisiana, December 13th. We left that place the
same day, and immediately after passed out of Claiborne
into Natchitoches parish, and in the afternoon reached
brother Randolph's house of entertainment, south of the
Big Bayou, having traveled seventeen miles over a coun-
try so poor that it is entirely desolate. While at Ran-
dolph's, we met with three men on their return from
Texas, whose observations had been chiefly confined to
Jasper county, and reported that the land there was rich
in spots, and the balance poor. These appeared to be
civil men, and conformed very respectfully to the rules of
the family at evening and morning prayers ; but one of
them carried a deadly weapon, such as we had not seen
before — a pistol and Bowie-knife in one solid piece ; the
back of the knife was welded to the under side of the
barrel, and the blade projected some seven inches beyond
the muzzle, and the but of the pistol answered for the
knife-handle. It had a percussion lock, and the whole
was carried in a case made to suit its form, and worn on
the side under the vest. When the owner of it undressed
for sleeping, John Emory Clark, who had been put to bed
in the same room, saw the instrument taken out and ex-
amined, and concluding that he was in dangerous com-

N ( ) T E S O F T E A V E L . 319

pany, slipped out of bed, opened the door, and, in his night
clothes, ran across the porch and entry to the door of his
father's bed-room, and called for quarters; and, when
taken in, was evidently much agitated, being only nine
years old, and having never seen the like before. Next
morning he very shrewdly remarked, that he did not like
the looks of that thing; it would kill a man twice, first
shoot and then stab him. It is to be regretted that public
sentiment does in any part of the United States tolerate
the savage practice of carrying frightful instruments made
on purpose to destroy human life, such as pistols, dirks,
and Bowie-knives. The history of the origin of the latter
should be disgusting to every decent man. A desperado
in west Louisiana, some years ago, named Bowie, took the
blade of an old mill-saw to a common blacksmith, and got
part of it made into a huge butcher-knife, to which he
fixed a rough, wooden handle, and with which he soon
after spilt the heart's blood of his enemy on a sand-bar,
east side of the Mississippi, near the city of Natchez.
Other desperate men, seeing the success of this experi-
ment, had similar weapons made, and called them Bowie-
knives ; and mechanics, seeing that the business was likely
to become profitable, commenced manufacturing fine arti-
cles of the same name, so large, of such material, and
fine polish, as to cost from twenty to fifty dollars. Nearly
every other instrument can be applied to some useful pur-
pose; but these are made for the special and exclusive
purpose of committing murder. It is true that many
individuals carry them, who intend to make no other use
of them than to defend themselves when attacked; but
the whole system is erroneous in principle and ruinous in
practice. He that carries a Bowie-knife must expect to be
met by Bowie-knife men on his own ground, and run the
risk of being killed or involved in prosecutions for hom-
icide; which he might otherwise avoid. Beside, the


appearance of the thing is shocking to all the better feel-
ings of our nature, and renders a man liable to suspicion.
Who can travel as a stranger through the country, armed
with the instruments of death, and not be suspected by
the better part of community as a blackleg or desperado !
The best way to get safely through a strange country is
to travel unarmed, and treat every body civilly. Most of
my life has been spent in journeying among strangers,
without any weapons, except the shield of faith and the
sword of the Spirit, and no man has ever assaulted me.

Tuesday, 14th. Shortly after we left Randolph's, the
woods suddenly became a shade darker as we entered the
long-leafed pine, which grows on the poor hills : we then
came down to Compte, a French village on Red river,
where they really cut a singular figure with their mud-
houses, blanket coats, capos, spotted ponies, Spanish sad-
dles, and great wooden stirrups. At the lower end of
the village we met some Choctaw women and children,
with a load of cotton-baskets for sale ; and a little further
on we saw the camp where they were manufactured, in
which an Indian man was resting horizontally, while the
squaws were shaving splits and weaving baskets. The
chief difference we observed between these and the Span-
ish Creole ladies, was, the Choctaw ladies were rather
fairer, and their pappooses wore more fringes and finery
than their Spanish neighbors. As we passed along down
the bank of the river, it was reviving to our spirits, after
coming so far over pine hills, to observe the extended fields
of luxuriant cotton, the drills running parallel with the
road, the stalks as high as the fence, and so thick as
nearly to conceal the ground from the sight of the eye.
From the quantity of ground planted, and the number of
negro huts and ginning establishments, we judged thai
an immense amount of cotton must be produced on
the Red river bottoms. The plantations are handsomely


improved : some of them separated by long lanes, shaded
by continuous rows of China and catalpa-trees ; while
others had preserved fine patches of cane, by inclosing
them so as to exclude the stock. Here, too, Ave saw the
pecan-trees, large and apparently fruitful. Six miles
from Compte brought us down opposite Grande de Core,
which, a Frenchman informed us, means the grand hill, a
name suggested by a bold, prominent bluff at the upper
end of the village, covered with pines. This is the usual
crossing place ; but we passed on to the lower ferry, in
order to avail ourselves of a new boat and better road,
and crossed at the head of the cut-off, two miles below
Grande de Core, and three or four above Natchitoches.
This cut-off comes in sixty miles below, and is now becom-
ing the main channel, so that boats, to avoid the raft on
the old channel, come up the new, and then turn down to
Natchitoches ; and, from present appearances, Grande de
Core must finally become the prominent business point on
the river. The ferry in which we crossed is kept by a
Frenchman, slow-motioned, surly, and exceedingly profane.
If he prove faithful to the principles taught him, it is to
be hoped that the next time he goes to confession he will
remember the profane oaths which he swore in our pres-
ence, and do the penance which his confessor may award
him. Red river here, as in other places, with its turbid
waters, rapid current, and whirling eddies, suggests the
idea of a river of cider in a state of fermentation : its
breaking shores of red clay imparts to it a reddish hue,
which, no doubt, gave rise to its name. We were glad to
be safely landed on the south side of it, and passing out
half of a mile, we kindled our fire by a pine log on the
point of a hill near to a sort of spring lake, three miles

Online LibraryThomas A. (Thomas Asbury) MorrisMiscellany: consisting of essays, biographical sketches and notes of travel → online text (page 24 of 30)