Journal of the Rev. Timothy Flint part III

          Bayley’s, a tavern where you have stopped, is intermediate between Harrisonburg and Monroe, and is a noted stopping place on the Ouachita.  The situation is lonely but beautiful.  A small prairie spreads just above his house, which is at no great distance from the bluff, at the foot of which, in the alluvion, he cultivates his fields.  He has an orchard, in which he raises fine pears and a peculiar species of apple, called dwarf or hedge apple.  He has a pretty garden, good barns and stables, buildings at once so necessary and so uncommon in Louisiana.  The comparative comfort of his establishment makes it a pleasing contrast to the meagre and scrimped condition of the indolent and reckless dwellers of the pine woods in general.  Here we found good beds, plenty of plain farmer’s fare, and ten or eleven fine looking healthy children, of whose singular exemption from disease Mr. Bayley[1] gave us a convincing proof, that none of them had taken a dose of medicine.  Though apparently of patriarchal longevity, he told us, with visible pride, in proof of his green old age, that he contrived to add an annual accession to the number of his babies.

He is a living chronicle of the incidents of the country almost from its first settlement.

          The traveling from Red River had thus far been dry and excellent ; but this was to last no farther.  The southwestern winds, which had prevailed for some days, during the night we spent at his house terminated in a severe thunder-storm and a deluge of rain.  The sky for some hours was in a blaze with the lightning, the marks of which were sufficiently visible next morning in the rifted pines and the torrents of water tumbling down the bluffs.

          We had been traveling on your grant, as you are well aware, something more than a league before arriving at Bayley’s.  As our object was a thorough exploration of that grant, and as the most valuable portion of it commences nearly opposite to this place on the northern shore, we crossed the river a mile below Bayley’s, so as to explore the whole line of the grant from that point upwards.  No time could have been more inopportune for such a survey.  Every place was reeking.  Every slope poured down water ; and we were well aware that the opposite bottom was one extended lake.  Mr. Bayley was kind enough to accompany us down the bluff to the river.  His horse descended the slope of the bluff, sliding down the declivity a couple of yards at a slide.  It seemed a sufficiently dangerous way of getting down the formidable hill, but we essayed the same dangerous sport of sliding down the greasy surface, and effected it in safety.  It was not a regular ferry ; but we raised the usual ferry cry, and soon discovered a boat emerging from the thick forest on the opposite shore.  As

The boat neared us I observed that it resembled the drawings I had seen of Chinese ferry boats.  A strange looking man rowed it Chinese fashion, that is, pushing instead of pulling the oars.  Myself and son entered it, both riding large horses, unused to Chinese fashions, and not fancying Chinese toppling boats, they immediately commenced plunging, and out little boat began to take in water.  I calculated to be soon exploring the bottom of the river on your grant, at a depth of fifty feet.  Our ferryman showed perfect coolness, and was fortunate enough to get us safely to shore.  We were soon safe on the fertile side of your grant, and exerting our yankee ingenuity in guessing at the qualities of soil two feet under water.

          Our ferryman[2], indeed, living on a high Indian mound, had a small field above the overflow.  We found him and his habitation among the real curiosities of the country.  He was a little old Hollander, dressed about half in Robinson Crusoe costume, with his house and garden on the summit of a mound, rearing its solitary elevation above the vast swamp, and at some miles’ distance from any other dwelling.  Flourishing peach and plum trees and a little garden, covered this summit.  The cabin had two stories, the under one a sort of lumber room, dug in the side of the mound.  We ascended the upper one by a ladder, to his parlour and dormitory.  Himself, a dog and cat, were the sole tenants.  The man, the habitation, every thing in and around it, were such as Walter Scott would have assigned to a wizard.  His family utensils were horns of strange forms and dimensions ; his vessels cypress knees ; his bellows a long reed,

with which he blew up the fire blowpipe fashion.  His dog and cat, his barn and buildings, were all in perfect keeping.  The strange looking old being was himself, I judged, a fancied adept in astrology ; for he showed me a Dutch book, which, as well as I could make out his explanation of it, taught the occult science of the stars.  He had identified himself with his adopted country in one point – he had caught the rabid appetite for politics, which is our national disease.  Almost out of the reach of humanity, he was still much concerned in managing his share of settling the nation.  There were intrigues going on in his neighbourhood, which he considered dangerous to the country.  He deemed some appointments, which he understood were about being made, as very ill judged and of disastrous consequence ; and he thought, if the president or governor could know his thoughts upon the subject, that they would not take place.  This lone old man, a century ago, would have been in danger from superstition.  At present he will occupy his solitary swamp unmolested, and some morning of no distant day, will be found stiff in his dormitory, resting just above the bones of the unknown dwellers of the former generations ; as he seemed feeble and suffering, and complained of having experienced a fit during the thunderstorm of the preceding night.

          Few have had more striking visible demonstrations than myself, how rapidly the remotest frontier forests of our country are filling up with the current of the westward tide of emigration.  Whenever, after ploughing through the waters, we approached a high and arable spot – an island in the swamp – we found it already

occupied with the cabin and the field of a squatter.  It strikes one with surprise to see these deserts, so remote that one would almost imagine he could claim them by right of discovery, actually peopled.  The western states are already comparatively populous.  The tide having there found its level, continues to roll on, eddying, disparting, and forcing its secret currents into every nook and valley of the wilderness.  The smoke of hearths arises, and man with his ace, gun, and human incitements to action, is there.  It is much to be regretted that so great a proportion of the emigrants are of the class of poor, vagrant, and worthless foreigners, the scum of despotic governments, unacquainted with our institutions, and unfit for them.

          At Prairie du Lait[3], a sort of straggling village on the grant, we saw groups of the ancient French people, who settled here in the times of the Marquess Maison Rouge.  They are the same merry reckless French people that we see in Canada, Illinois, and Opelousas ; in short, wherever we see French Creoles.  There are the charettes[4] made without a particle of iron, and with raw leather harness ; the blue turbans of the ladies, and the same disregard of severe industry and municipal habits.  They dance and sing, and live in a village – hunt and fish, and are content with a little ; and are precisely the people I had seen nineteen years ago at Cahokia and Carondelet[5].

          As we ascended the high alluvial grounds of your grant, I became, at every advance, more convinced of the singular comparative salubrity of this district.  The people all spoke of enjoying health, which their appearance

and the number and complexions of their children corroborated.  The blacks, too, are remarkably exempted from diseases.  I had, as you are aware, personal motives for making enquiries, and attaining all the accuracy I could upon this point.  I included every house where we stopped in my researches.  the result was, that negroes here are generally as healthy as in Virginia ; that as many children are reared in proportion to the births, and that the tenure of life is a s secure as in New England.  I explain the phenomenon of the singular salubrity of the banks of the Ouachitta, in this level and swampy region, to my own conviction, in this way : – The prevalent summer winds of Louisiana are south and southwest.  During the sultry and sickly season these winds blow over the wide belt of high, dry, and rolling pine woods, which I have attempted to describe.  They reach the shores of the river charged with the aroma and health-giving properties of this elevated and salubrious country.  When they reach the bluff it is too high and perpendicular to admit of their sinking and being diluted with the malaria of the south shore.  When it reaches the north shore it has all the elasticity and freshness of a sweep of seventy or eighty miles of pine woods.  Add to this, that the soil of the high alluvial belt is sandy and absorbent, and the water of the river limpid and good.  Hence the spectacle of numerous and healthful families, and negroes who have survived from the cutting down of the first trees.

[1] Bagwell Bailey lived in Ouachita Parish and Catahoula Parish.  He received land in the Maison Rouge grant in 1818.  His estate was probated in Ouachita and Catahoula Parishes March 31, 1836.

[2] I have not been able to identify the ferryman or which mound they are referring to.  There are several in Catahoula parish, the most famous being the Troyville mounds.

[3] Present day Caldwell parish, just north of Columbia.

[4] Cart.

[5] Carondolet now included in the modern city of St. Louis, MO. Cahokia is across the river in Illinois.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s