1836 Survey: White, Black & St. Francis Rivers

   Primary documents are the backbone of historical exploration and research. Below are letters given to the U. S. Senate in 1835, and they begin revealing the significance White, Big Black, and St. Francis rivers along with the resources within their channels & tributaries. Some of the interesting facets of these letters demonstrate the mineral wealth laden within these river districts. Additionally, significant is the Raft blocking the St. Francis River, and the potential of immigration and commerce.

      I would like to also mention a few interesting caveats within these narratives such as:
  • Literary style:  
    •  "...Providence has scattered blessings with unbounded profusion, awaiting but the industry of man for their fullest developments."
    • "...hills of the southern part of Missouri, lead is found every where, sometimes near the surface, whilst in other places rich veins are discovered, dipping profoundly into the bowels of the earth..."
    • "But, if God in his wrath has passed over this devoted land; if he touched the mountains and they disappeared in the abyss, his beneficent influence is still felt in its soft climate, the unexampled fertility of its soil, the deep verdure of its forests, and the choicest offerings of Flora."
  • Geographic name change to the Ozark:
    • "From the eastern flanks of the mountainous country, sometimes called the Black mountains, now better known under the appellation [designation] of Ozark..." (emphasis mine)
  •  River Rafts [gigantic log jam obstructing a river channel] within the Black & St, Francis Rivers:
    • "...These rafts might be cut out in one season, and the river restored to its ancient channel."
  • Bold statements forecasting the Eastern Ozarks mineral content and influence.
    • "This part of North America will one day be as celebrated for its iron mines as Sweden now is."
  • Listing Ozark minerals: 
    • "There are also many deposites of blend ore of zinc, of copper cobalt manganese, alum, sulphur, saltpetre, sulphate of iron, arsenic, salammoniac in enormous masses, marbles in exquisite beauty, whilst chrystals of radiated quartz, sulphate of barytes and of lime", glitter in the sunbeams over hill and valley. "

24th Congress                                                                                                                          [113]
  1st Session

Honorable L. F. Linn, of the Senate of the United States, and honorable 
A. H. Sevier, Delegate in Congress from Arkansas, relative to the 
obstructions to the navigation of the White, Big Black, and St. Francis rivers.

February 2, 1836.

Laid on the table by Mr. Davis, from the Committee on Commerce, and ordered to be printed.

Washington City, February 1, 1836.

   Sir: A petition from the people of Wayne county, Missouri, and a memorial from the Legislature of the Territory of Arkansas, asking an appropriation to remove obstructions to the navigation of White, Big Black, and St. Francis rivers, having been referred to me for examination, are herewith returned, and with them some observations on the importance of the improvements asked for; also, a letter from the honorable A. H. Sevier.

   It will be found, in a report made in the year 1835, by the United States geologist, that in a certain location in Washington county, Missouri, a micaceous oxyde of iron is found, yielding at least 75 percent, of the purest and finest iron, of an indefinite amount. It exists in the form of a vein, at least 500 feet broad from east to west, and in the other direction 1,900 feet, when it disappears beneath the superficial soil. It reappears, however, in parts of the adjacent country, and always in connection with the scientific chain of hills that rise in an isolated position amidst the galiniferous secondary limestone, where the lead mines are worked.

   This vein may be said to enlarge on the eastern side, and, strictly speaking, extends upwards of 3,000 feet; but the character, then, is less metallic; the formation, however, is very ponderously impregnated with metal, most of which yields 50 per cent, of very superior iron, and, it is probable, judging from analogy, which experience has established, that this vein becomes richer as it descends many thousand yards towards the inferior crusts of the earth. This ferrugineous deposite must be of great antiquity, for upon an examination of the adjacent country, immense deposites of oxyde of iron, of a productive and valuable quality, are found in a countless number of localities, together with rich bog ore, much of which is observed in numerous fluviatile deposites, near the streams that are tributary both to Big Black and the St. Francis rivers. A remarkable instance of the abundance of this kind of iron ore is to be found on Castor, a branch of the St. Francis, where it lies in such masses as to be
[Gales & Seaton, print.]
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used, as I am informed, for building mill-dams. The superficial contents of the great vein of what is emphatically called the Iron mountain, and which is situated near the sources of the St. Francis river, would, it could easily be shown, justify heavy expenditures to open communications to these ferrugineous deposites. But, when we add to them the subterranean contents, which most certainly exist at depths equal to any mines that have been worked in any part of the world, and which most probably descend much lower than any generations of man we can look to will follow, we are compelled to use the term indefinite when we speak of their contents, and most confidently assert that this part of North America will one day be as celebrated for its iron mines as Sweden now is. In the calcareo-silicious hills of the southern part of Missouri, lead is found every where, sometimes near the surface, whilst in other places rich veins are discovered, dipping profoundly into' the bowels of the earth, amply rewarding the laborer for his trouble and expense in following them through caves and sinuosities in the rock. * There are also many deposites of blend ore of zinc, of copper cobalt manganese, alum, sulphur, saltpetre, sulphate of iron, arsenic, salammoniac in enormous masses, marbles in exquisite beauty, whilst chrystals of radiated quartz, sulphate of barytes and of lime", glitter in the sunbeams over hill and valley. 

   Over this extensive region, Providence has scattered blessings with unbounded profusion, awaiting but the industry of man for their fullest developments. These mineral resources are, with a few exceptions, inaccessible by reason of the unimproved state of the country. These unlimited sources of wealth contribute, comparatively speaking, but little to the national prosperity; yet, it can be easily shown that a very moderate application of pecuniary means will open a permanent road to them, and establish a scene of the most prosperous human, industry, where now there is nothing but a rude desert. In order more successfully to demonstrate how proper it is for Congress to advance the pecuniary means without further delay, it may be shown, that in effecting so great a purpose as the development of national resources of such magnitude, the benefit which the public lands will receive from the application of such means, will far transcend the amount of the required appropriation. From the eastern flanks of the mountainous country, sometimes called the Black mountains, now better known under the appellation of Ozark, to the Mississippi, lies a great stretch of alluvial country, extending southerly to the mouth of White river, a distance of 300 or 350 miles, and of various widths. Perhaps it is 100 miles wide from the point where Big Black unites with

* At Valle's mines, in Missouri, miners, in their search after mineral, have entered large caves or chambers in the rock, twenty or thirty feet below the surface of the earth, where was often found piled up loose earth, mixed with fragments of lead mineral, whilst deer, elk, and buffalo horns were scattered around, which were obviously used as rude implements in mining by some nation long since extinct. Who were they? and whither have they gone? From the Alleghany mountains to the Pacific ocean; from the lakes of the North to the Gulf of Mexico, and every where over the magnificent valley of the Mississippi, are to be found traces of the power and industry of this people. The waters of oblivion have rolled over them, and but little remains of their greatness except tumuli of earth, which arrest the attention of the traveller on every side. “Amid all the revolutions of the globe, the economy of nature, has been uniform, and her laws are the only things that have resisted the general movement. The rivets and the rocks, the seas and the continents, have been changed in all their parts; but the laws which direct those changes, and the rules to which they are subject, have remained invariably the same.”

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White river, and 50 miles where the boundary line exists between the State of Missouri and the Territory of Arkansas. This tract of country, which may be said to lie between Big Black river and White river to the west, and the Mississippi to the east, is traversed by White river from its mouth, in the Territory of Arkansas, about 180 miles, to the mouth of Big Black, which takes its rise in the county of Washington, in the State of Missouri, in the mineral district before spoken of, and, although it traverses a broken, sterile, mineral region, the soil on its borders is of the most productive kind. This river is navigable for some distance, but it is obstructed by “rafts” and trees. Its banks are very bold; its depth of water considerable, and being narrow, falling trees often impede its navigation. The Currents, Eleven Points, Strawberry, and Spring rivers, are tributaries to Big Black river, and are all navigable, or could easily be rendered so. They rise in the very heart of the mineral region. I do not doubt that an accurate survey of those rivers would prove that an appropriation of §20,000 would be sufficient to remove the " raft" on Big Black river, and all other obstructions to its navigation, and that of its tributaries. The river St. Francis rises, also, in the mineral district before spoken of, and has its course east of Big Black, and parallel to that of the Mississippi, into which it disembogues in about 34° 30 north latitude. The St. Francis is a noble stream, running through the centre of the alluvial country before described, which is public land, and might be made navigable for steamboats as far as Greenville, in Missouri. It is, however, obstructed by rafts of various lengths, most of which are within the Territory of Arkansas.

   These rafts might be cut out in one season, and the river restored to its ancient channel. An immediate consequence of this would be that the waters which are now packed in the small tributaries, bayous, and lakes, would be liberated the succeeding season. The extensive swamps would then be sufficiently dried up to admit of an examination and survey of the whole country, a great part of which, especially the southern part, contains cotton lands of the finest quality, all of which are now entirely lost to the public, owing to the inundated state of the country. To such a wilderness is this part of the country reduced by reason of the waters, that many high and fertile areas are entirely cut off from communication with the inhabited portion of the country. The navigation of the St. Francis being once opened to Greenville by the removal of the rafts, and the timber cut down from its banks, with a view to keep it permanently free, the great mineral region might then be said to be reached, as many of its richest deposites are in the neighborhood of this river. The alluvial country through which the St. Francis finds its way to the Mississippi is of so extraordinary a character as to merit, in connexion with this subject, a few observations, and which, it is hoped, will not appear irrelevant or uninteresting, although many of them appeared in another place. Two or three miles below the town of Cape Girardeau, the great swamp begins, and which at this point separates the highlands in Cape Girardeau county from those in Scott county. The swamp here appears once to have been the bed of a river, whose course has been changed; the rocks on each side are strongly marked by long-continued friction, as if they had formed walls to a great body of water. Whether this was the St. Francis, which, augmented in size by receiving the Castor, White Water, and many smaller streams,

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discharged itself into the Mississippi near Cape Girardeau, or an ancient bed of the Mississippi itself, which might have taken a sweep to the west along the base of the hills in Missouri, receiving the St. Francis and in numerable tributaries in its course to the high grounds visible at Helena, near the present embouchure of the St. Francis, is matter for the indulgence of speculation. From the town of Cape Girardeau to Helena, below the mouth of the St. Francis, is a distance of several hundred miles, and from the banks of the Mississippi to the high grounds in Missouri and Arkansas will average 60 or 70 miles. The greater part of 'this area, with the exception of a narrow belt stretching along the border of the Mississippi, is covered by an immense morass, inundated by the over flowing of the " Father of waters," or submerged by the rushing torrents from the neighboring hills, the principal of which is the St. Francis.

   These streams, having their origin in elevated regions, when flushed by heavy rains or dissolving snows, fall into this great basin with tremendous force, and either from obstructions which actually exist, like the rafts on Red river, or from not having sufficient descent to carry off the rapidly-accumulating waters, spread over the country, giving it the appearance of a vast lake, over which magnificent forests of cypress and other gigantic trees wave their branches in gloomy solitude. In the midst of this wilderness, islands of rock and elevated portions of land appear, of various dimensions, like oasis in a desert, and denominated by the French "cote sans dessein," or hills without design. How came these lost hills in this position? The most reasonable answer that suggests itself to that question, in my opinion is, that the far greater portion of this gloomy region, annually covered by water, and at all seasons by a heavy growth of timber, thick cane-brakes, closely interwoven by many plants of the convolvulous order, was once high ground, but during some convulsion of nature sunk to its present general level, leaving spots unaffected to tower in grandeur over the surrounding scene of desolation. At the same time, the St. Francis, forced from its bed or ancient channel, was compelled to seek its devious way to the Mississippi through lakes, lagoons, and slim) quagmires. Nor is this opinion altogether unsupported by facts, or based on mere conjecture. The memorable earthquake of December, 181 1, after shaking the valley of the Mississippi to its centre, vibrated along the courses of the rivers and valleys, and passing the primitive mountain barriers, died away along the shores of the Atlantic ocean. In the region now under consideration, 'during the continuance of so appalling a phenomenon, which commenced by distant rumbling sounds, succeeded by discharges as if a thousand pieces of artillery were suddenly exploded, the earth rocked to and fro, vast chasms opened from whence issued columns of water, sand, and coal, accompanied by hissing sounds, caused perhaps by the escape of pent-up steam, whilst ever and anon flashes of electricity gleamed through the troubled clouds of night, rendering the darkness doubly horrible. The current of the Mississippi, pending this elemental strife, was driven back upon its source with the greatest velocity, for several hours, in consequence of an elevation of its bed. But this noble river was not thus to be stayed in its course. Its accumulated waters came booming on, and o'er-topping the barrier thus suddenly raised, carried every thing before them with resistless power. Boats, then floating on its surface, shot down the declivity like an arrow from a bow, amid roaring

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billows and the wildest commotion. A few days action of its powerful current sufficed to wear away every vestige of the barrier thus strangely interposed, and its waters moved on their wonted channel to the ocean. The day that succeeded this night of, terror brought no solace in its dawn. Shock followed shock; a dense black cloud of vapor overshadowed the land, through which no struggling sunbeam found its way to cheer the desponding heart of man, who, in silent communion with himself, was compelled to acknowledge his weakness and dependence on the everlasting God. The appearances that presented themselves after the subsidence of the principal commotion were such as strongly support an opinion heretofore advanced/ Hills had disappeared, and lakes were found in their stead; and numerous lakes became elevated ground, over the surface of which vast heaps of sand were scattered in every direction, whilst in many places, the earth, for miles, was sunk below the general level of the surrounding country, without being covered with water, leaving an impression in miniature of a catastrophe much more important in its effects, which had, perhaps, preceded it ages before. One of the lakes formed on this occasion is sixty or seventy miles in length, and from three to twenty in breadth. It is, in some places, very shallow; in others, from fifty to one hundred feet deep; which is much more than the depth of the Mississippi river in that quarter. In sailing over its surface, in the light canoe, the voyager is struck with astonishment at beholding the giant trees of the forest standing partially exposed amid a waste of waters, branchless and leafless. But the wonder is still further increased on casting the eye through the dark-blue profound, to observe cane-brakes covering its bottom, over which a mammoth species of festudo is occasionally seen dragging his slow length along, whilst countless myriads of fish are sporting through the aquatic thickets. But, if God in his wrath has passed over this devoted land; if he touched the mountains and they disappeared in the abyss, his beneficent influence is still felt in its soft climate, the unexampled fertility of its soil, the deep verdure of its forests, and the choicest offerings of Flora. The lost hills or islands before mentioned, are of various dimensions: some twenty or thirty miles in circumference, others not so large, and some are even diminutive in size, but of great altitude, occasionally furnished with fountains, of living water, and all well timbered. The low grounds are in the form of basins, connected by sinuses, which, not being as deep as the bottom of their reservoirs, so that when an inundation takes place, either from the Mississippi river or streams issuing from the surrounding highlands, they are filled to overflowing; and when the waters recede below a level with these points of communication, they become stagnant pools, passing off by the process of infiltration, which is very slow, in a thick, black, tenacious loam, or by evaporation equally gradual in a country covered by forests and impenetrable jungle. An interesting question now presents itself; certainly one deeply interesting to the people of Missouri and Arkansas: What can be done to render this extraordinary country a fit habitation for man? In its present condition it is nearly useless; affording winter pasturage to some herds of cattle belonging to farmers on its borders, and a safe covert to bands of wild and savage animals, on the destruction of which a few hunters gain a precarious existence amid noisome exhalations and venomous reptiles.

   The Government of the United States, lord over millions upon millions

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of acres of land, possessing every advantage, will not, in all probability, for ages to come, incur a heavy expense for the purpose of reclaiming this country from its present deplorable condition, unless a commensurate good could be effected. There will be no difficulty in finding motives in the cupidity or interest of Congress (if in no better motive) to make a liberal appropriation for this object.
   By clearing the St. Francis of its rafts, a much larger volume of water will flow in its channel, which is now spread over the country, to be again returned by its inosculating branches, which concentration of its water would, from year to year, augment its depth at the places where the rafts existed, which, with deepening the points of communication between the lakes and bayous, so as to permit a continual current to flow onward to the Mississippi or St. Francis, would reclaim a million or two acres of land surpassing in fertility the famed borders of the Nile. To those who have never visited the far West, this great basin is rich beyond conception; and in the autumnal season, when teeming with the rankest vegetable productions, in an active state of decomposition, its liberated miasmata, borne on the wings of the wind, have a most deleterious influence on the health of those who reside in the contiguous counties, furnishing an additional argument for using exertions to reclaim it. On closing my remarks, which might easily be extended to the size of a volume, I beg leave to call your attention, and, through you, the attention of the committee, to the map which accompanies them. It was drawn by Mr. Godfrey Le Ceur, a gentleman of close observation, who has passed the greater portion of his life amid these swamps and marshes. The specimens of marbles now presented to the committee for their inspection are from near the sources of the St. Francis, where they abound.

   They were taken from the surface, and, consequently, are not equal to that which can be obtained below. The one called "verde antique" is of uncommon beauty and is susceptible of the finest polish. The piece of iron ore is from the iron mountain, and is considered of unequaled richness; out of this ore, the small bar of iron was smelted in a common blacksmith's forge, and from a portion of the bar the knife was made by a gunsmith in Missouri. It will be found possessed of a fine edge and temper. Instruments made out of this iron oxydise very slowly, which is, perhaps, owing to the existence of a small portion of nickel in combination.
Very respectfully,
   Hon. Mr. Davis,
       Chairman of the Committee on Commerce.
Washington, January 10, 1836.

   Dear Sir: You ask me for information upon the subject of the obstructions to the navigation of the St. Francis river, &c. I regret that it is not in my power to afford you such information upon the subject as I could wish. I have been frequently upon the St. Francis river, and have crossed it at different places. It is a fine, bold, navigable stream, some hundreds of

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miles in length, and runs, I suppose, for at least two hundred miles, by its meanders, through land as fertile and productive as any belonging to the United States. But there are numerous rafts in this river, formed, as I have been informed and believe, by the sinking of its banks by the earthquake of 1811. These rafts dam up the river like mill-dams, and occasion annually an immensely-extensive overflow of large bodies of the finest lands in America. These lands generally belong to the United States. Of the extent of those rafts, or the difficulty of their removal, I am ignorant; I believe they lie entirely in the Arkansas portion of the river. These rafts were supposed immoveable, until the recent experiment made upon the great raft of Red river. The success of that enterprise has satisfied me that the rafts in the St. Francis can be removed with equal ease, and I view the accomplishment of such a work as second, in importance and public utility, only to that of Red river. Some three or four years since, a small appropriation was made by Congress for a survey of the St. Francis river, with a view of ascertaining the nature of the obstructions, the practicability of their removal, and the probable cost, &c. This survey has never been made. The money appropriated for this purpose was drawn, and has been spent, and he who drew and spent it is now dead, and the money, I fear, irrevocably lost.

    A small appropriation to improve the river above and below the raft would, I suppose, be sufficient, as it is now navigable for steam and flat boats; but what it will require to remove the raft, is more than I can state; I should suppose not less than 25 or $30,000. I would suggest that such an amount be appropriated, predicated (as was done when the first appropriation was made for the Arkansas river) upon a survey being first made and approved by the President or Secretary of War. This would prevent delay, and the work could be done next season; and the very next year the river could be navigated by the people of Missouri and Arkansas. All the lands could be surveyed and sold, and the Government fully reimbursed, within twelve months from this time, out of the sales of the lands now wholly valueless from annual inundation.
With great respect, I am, sir,
Your obedient servant,


Ambrose H. Seveir, “113,” in Public Documents Printed by the Order of the Senate of the United States First Session of the Twenty-Fourth Congress Begun and held at the City of Washington, December 7, 1835, and the Sixteenth Year of the Independence of the United States, ed. L. F. Linn, vol. 2 (Washington, D.C.: Gales & Seaton, 1836), pp. 1-7, https://books.google.com/books?id=fqcZAAAAYAAJ.

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