A Travel Diary of an 1835 Trip up the Ouachita River

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend training in Washington, DC.  A day of my classes was to be held at the Library of Congress.  I searched their online catalog for any unique items they may have for Ouachita parish and I found this little booklet.  So, when we broke for lunch, I snuck off to the Special Collections department to take a look at it.  It was a tiny, thin volume of only 31 pages.  I was allowed to photograph it with my phone and when I got home, I transcribed and indexed the pages.  It is a wonderful little keyhole glimpse into life along the Ouachita river only thirty-one years after Louisiana became a state.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did! 

If you happen to be at the Library of Congress and want to see this work, the Rare Book/Special Collections Reading Room is in the Thomas Jefferson Building, second floor (Jefferson LJ239).  The call number for the book is F374.F62

Over the next few days I will post the transcript pages for all to enjoy!

Journal of the Rev. Timothy Flint, From the Red River, to the Ouachitta or Washita, in Louisiana, in 1835.

JOURNAL.

                   Alexandria, Louisiana, April 21, 1835.

          Dear Sir. – You remember the promise you exacted from me last summer, in Philadelphia, to visit the Maison Rouge Grant, on the Ouachitta [sic[1]].  You see I adopt the good old French orthography of that river.  I know not whether your motive was to give me pleasure, or to inflict a salutary discipline.  If the latter, should you take the trouble to read this, I shall have my revenge.  In any view, I cannot doubt that it originated in a benevolent wish in some way to confer a benefit.  I am now seated to give you a sketch of my mode of performing that promise.  I spin this long yarn with the more confidence, being aware that you cannot but take an interest in reading surveys, however inadequate, of a region so extensive, so fertile, so identified with your name, as its possessor ; into the alluvial swamps of which, in your bygone days, you too have plunged.  The Ouachitta is a beautiful river, of interesting character and capabilities; and, although unknown to song, classical in forest narrative and tradition, as having been the

locale of the pastoral experiments of the Marquess Maison Rouge and the Barron de Bastrop, as well as many other adventurers, Spanish, French and American ; not to mention its relation to American history, as the point where Aaron Burr masked his ultimate plans of ambition and conquest.  I wish to seize some of its present fresh and forest features, before it shall all be disenchanted by being transformed into a counting-room flower-garden or cotton plantation;.  I will even hope that this sketch will awaken pleasant reminiscences of your own extensive journeys and stirring incidents in these remote central forests.  You may, therefore, christen this prelude to my Ouachitta trip a preface or an apology, at your choice.

          I was the better prepared for a comparative survey of the country on the Ouachitta, by having returned, immediately before my journey there, from an excursion to the Avoyelles prairie, and the immense prairie-plains of Opelousas.  On the twenty-fourth of March, accompanied by my son and William Vorhees, Esq., I commenced my journey for a survey of your grant.  We started on horseback, crossed Red River at Alexandria, and entered the wide belt of pine forest that stretches the whole distance between the two great streams.  The sky was deeply overcast, and there was a brisk southwestern breeze.  Of course we had in the greatest perfection through the day the swell and lulling of the wind among the tassels of the long-leaved pine, prolonged in the lofty umbrella summits from distance to distance, until the sound faded away, like the distant dash of the sea.  This deep, rustling forest noise, so powerful in its

influence upon every contemplative spirit, tends, it seems to me, more than any other of the voices of nature, to raise the soul “to solemn thought and heavenly musing.”  Generally at some distance in the rear of my young associates, I paused often to listen to this breezy anthem swelling and dying away in the distance, and the thoughts and events of other years often came over my memory.  On the way to Big Creek, we cross the Flacon[2], a beautiful little stream ; and within three or four miles of that creek, Clear Creek, a still more beautiful one.  The general impression is, that all the little streams of the south are turbid and discoloured.  So far from it, this is one of the most perfectly limpid brooks in the world.  It is perennial and unvarying, fed by spring fountains, which run down deep hollows shaded by vines, flowering shrubs and beeches ; is as clear as light, running over sands as white as snow, and with just enough of meander and murmur to be one of Bryant’s complaining brooks, Noble beeches, impervious to the sun’s rays, sustain the coolness of the water.  It is a sort of forest inn, a regular halting place for refreshment.  Remote as it seems from the haunts of men, the beeches are all scored with the names of travelers, who have here reposed in the shade, fanned their foreheads, and mixed the pure element with their claret.  There were the names of the young, buoyant and fair, land speculators, sportsmen, gamblers and invalids, going to Big Creek to repair their exhausted constitutions.  It was a painful chronicle to spell out.  More than half those I had known ten years since, whose names were here recorded, had already preceded me to the eternal land.


[1] Throughout the booklet, the author spells Ouachita with two t’s.  An early Ouachita parish newspaper, the Ouachitta Standard, also spelled it this way.

[2] Flagon Bayou in Catahoula Parish.

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