Stephen F. Austin to Unknown, 05-19-1812

Summary: Observations on Mississippi River navigation; effects of earthquake at New Madrid; travel in Mississippi.

[May 17-19,1812?]

This is one of the [wor]st Eddies in the River [and] aught carefully to be guarded against by hug[ging] the left shore very close, the River turns short to the left and opens very wide immediately below the Eddy forms itself into two currents which are devided by an Island the left being the Main channel in low water but the right the nearest and best in flood

The navigation from Cape Gerardeau is very good—except at the Grand Tower where the utmost caution should [be used] the Current being both [swift?] and furious, it is best [to] pass as near the Tower as you can with safety— James Rich settled on the right bank at this place— Cape Gerardeau where I landed on the 17th is a flourishing little Place situated most delightfully on an eminence which command a fine view of the river, this place has another most fertile tract of country Back of it, in that country which is filling up very fast with emigrants from the neighboring States and bids fair one day to become a Rich and flourishing place—

The Earthquakes were felt severely here having t[h]rown down, or cracked every chimney in the place and Ruined two handsome Brick Buildings which were not quite finished- Left the Cape on the 18 and passd the settlement of Tiwappita, which is very considerable on the right Bank—at the Lower end of the settlemt took leave of the last high Land which appears on the Right Bank of the River from this place to the Balize landed near the mouth of Ohio on the Right Bank— the next day passd by the mouth of Ohio and stopt a fiew hours at Birds to get some vegetables &c found them very obligeing and hospitable, while I lay here a chorus pasd. by from Pittsburgh—and put off just as a second one was coming out of the Ohio with which we floated in company the Balance of the day she was from Marrietta The Missippi is not as wide nor by any means has so beautifull and Majestic appearance as the Ohio has at their junction had a short glimpse of the clear pelucid water of the Ohio as I passd between the two currents which however onefy servd- to highten the thick muddy appearance of the Mississippi by the forcible contrast which the aproximation of the two waters presented—

The settlements from the mouth of Ohio are very thin and wretched the Land on the Right shore being so low and swampy as to be unfit for cultivation and that of the left belonging to the Chickasha nation of Indians— made a good landing about sun down on Wolf Island at the House of a Mr Hunter, who was rather More than hospitable being anxious to reclaim by his acts of apparently disinterested hospitality, that character which some of his deeds while living near N Madrid had renderd suspitious.

The next day the 19th landed at N Madred

The Philanthropic emotions of the soul are never more powerfully exercised than when called on [to] witness some great and general calamity originating either in the cupidity and oppression of Governments which envolves the defenceless Subject in Misery and want andw even renders his life Precarious, or in the wise Dispensations of Providence who withholding the ordinary aid in bringing to maturity the natural productions of the husbanman with Famine or puting in motion the terrible engines of his Power and by some extraordinary convulsions throwing a hitherto fertile country into dessolation and plunging such of the unfortunate wretches who survive the ruin, into Misery and dispair.

These emotions I experianced when on landing at N. Madrid the effects by the Earthquake were so prominently visible as well in the sunken and shatered situation of the Houses, as in the countenance of the fiew who remained to mourn over the ruins of their prosperity and past happiness As I viewd. the present situation of this place and reflected on the cause which desolated it I could not refrain from heaving a sigh at its departed prosperity and at the same time from regarding with fearfull astonishment the Force of a Power sufficient thus to agitate the Earth—

The effects of the Earthquake began to be visible about 20 miles above this place by the shattered state of the Bank of the River. 6 miles above this the Bed of the river rose on the night of the 7 Feby. the most severe shock which has been felt, and formed a kind of falls very similar to the falls of Ohio, and re[n]dered the navigation very dangerous untill the spring floods had washd. it away being onely sand— There were a number of Boats lost at this place, and many lives. The Banks are very much shattered and sunken from this place to N. M where the Bank has sunk about nine feet which reduces the former site of the Town, below highwater mark, The shock of the 7 of Febry. altho not attended with quite so terrible a catastrophy, yet excited all the horrors of the most violent, and distructive Earthquakes in those who were at this place—the agitation was so great that a man could not stand without holding on by something and the Mississippi rose in an instant 15 feet which brought the water all round and in some of the Houses, which justified the Idea that the whole country was sinking, and as there was no high land to fly to they considered themselves as lost— happily however there was not many lives Lost, an unfortunate family who were moveing down the River and had Landed here a fiew days before was all lost by the overturning of their Boat which was carried with a number of others some distance into the woods and left dry by fall of the water,—

Having had occation to go out into the country twenty Miles to the Big Perain [sic] I had an opportunity of seeing all damage which was done—this is nothing compard to what has been reported tho considerable, the Earth is very much crackd. all the way to the Perain and perferated with holes of different sizes out of which emmence quantities of white sand has been discharged mixt.d with a Kind [of] stone coal which altho it resembles the common fossil coal in smell yet is more regular in its grain and of a clearer Black and will not burn so freely—

There is not in any of these places the smallest appearance of Volcanic Matter tho. there are numbers of marks of the most violent operation of heat—as well in the coal which was discharged as in a kind of Sinder which has been found in small quantities—

[At this point the diary was abandoned. A somewhat bombastic oration, perhaps suggested by the Fourth of July, follows. Then come various items of expense, too fragmentary for reproduction, for August, September, and October. These are followed by the itinerary of February [1813?], probably written on Austin's return from New Orleans.]

Feby. 1 Started from Natchez crossd. St. Catherines Creek and came to Washington 6 miles—about 60 Houses Built of wood in one street. Since the depretiation of Cotton the place has declind it is the seat of government for the M. T. and for the county—The Country in the neighborhood is very hilly and the old improved farms so much washd and gull[i]ed as to be unfit for use—

Horse Shoe ___________________ 4. Natchez Irvans________________ 4 1/2 Day Feby 1 Greenville Bradfords___ 1.37 1/2

The genl Face of the country through out this part of the Tery is uneven it being difficult to get a field of 20 Acres of Level Land, the soil notwithstanding is very good and produces well for a fiew years until wash.d away by the rain—Cotton Corn wheat &c—There are at Washington a set of Barracks for Troops—6 Miles beyond we came to Salcres Town about 10 Houses miserable looking place, passd. on to Union Town 6 miles further about 12 Houses stopd. at the Tavern but on being told that neither Hay nor Fodder was to be got we pushd on to Greenville 7 Miles further making 25 miles from N. 3 Miles past Union we crossd. Coles Creek very bad ford quicksand—On left hand side passd. the Plantation of Cato Weston The Face of the country continues the same and the settlement become more thin

Feby. 2d Started from Mr Bradfords in G where we got well accommodated and 5 miles on crossd the chubby Fork of Coles Creek very deep Ford and great danger getting mired in the quicksands stopd. 3 miles further at ______ and took Breakfast—Greenville is the seat of justice for Jefferson County and is a pleasant Little Town containing about 30 Houses this was formerly the property of Abijah Hunt whose estate is said to be worth after all his debts are paid about 500 000 Dolls 12 miles from Greenville we came to Port Gipson a small Town on the Bayou Peire containing about 60 Houses some very well Built and finished the Bayou is navigable for Flat Boats up to the place when the River is up and when Cotton was up a great deal of business was done here,—this will one day become a place of considerable importance it is now the seat of Governt. for Claiborne County Abijah Hunt sold a Plantation near this place for 70 000—The General face of the Country from Greenville and in the neighborhood of this place is hilly and the soil good—Ferryd the Bayou about 20 yds and stopd. 3 Miles further at the widow whites where one of the company having business we put up for the day—and were well accommodated

Feby 3d Started from Mrs. Whites and went on,to the Line to McRavens—the Country not quite so Hilly but soil very thin and Pine woods. Feby 4 Started from the line and made the first stand Osburns before sunset 37 miles Pine woods pass.d some Indian Houses who had small farms this days travel very miserable to me as I was taken with a violent toothache and my horse got Lame in his fore foot, weather pleasant—pass.d 5 Creeks and got tolerable fare at Osburns and started before day and went on to Bachears to Breakfast, good—he is a white man who has been living with the indians about 20 years married a scaw [sic] Pass.d the Agent Dinsmore other side of B— Passed number Indian Houses and a Bolo Alley this [is] a great Play with them and is similar to Red Bandy— Passd an Indian H where Mourning Poles were up when an indian died his wives or relations put up a long Poll hung with hoops or wrethes of grape vine to which the friends of the decease cry.d or howl.d night and morning these Polls are kept up 5 or 6 months when they are burnt and the Relations end their mourning by burning the Poles and getting Drunk and having a great frolic—went on to Nortons where we staid all night. 40 miles, no Fodder plenty of Corn, got but indifferent fair, had to sleep on the Floor and got up in the morning more fatigued than when I lay down, Started by day Light, and went 20 miles to an Indian Hut where we got a Kettle and made Coffee and fry.d Sausages &c for Breakfast Pass.d an Indian House where two Scaws were howling, crying over the grave of their husband—went on to Leflor's. Frenchman who married a sqaw. 42 miles got good fare for Horses but miserable for our selves, we here discover.d that Heydens mare got foundered at Nortons, started early and went to L. Leflor's where stop.d for Break[fast] good fare for Man and Horse. Heydens swap.d his mare for a small Spanish Poney which detain.d us untill afternoon when we started and 7 Miles on Met the Troops under the command of Col. Coffee encamp.d at Mr Curtises—there is 666 of them went on 5 miles further to Mitchels where we stop.d and got very good Fare for selves and Horses—Poor Pine Country weather fine.