Expedition Through Iowa Territory in 1844

by Captain James Allen and His Company of Dragoons

Continued from Part 1

Journal of march into the Indian country in the northern part of Iowa Territory in 1844, by company I, 1st regiment of dragoons.

     August 11. Marched from Fort Des Moines in very good order at 10 a.m.; followed the "Oregon trail" three or four miles; then left it to cross the Beaver river, a tributary of the Des Moines; crossed it and encamped on its left bank eight miles from the post. Weather and prairie fair; distance 8 miles; course NW. by N.

     August 12. We were detained till 10 o'clock to recover oxen that had strayed during the night. Marched on a narrow dividing ridge between Beaver and Des Moines, the Beaver running close to and nearly parallel to the Des Moines. Encamped at 5 p. m. on a ravine and branch of that river; there were many of these little ravines thrown out from the river on this day's march; they are very deep, and give pure spring water. The ox team is very slow and sluggish, and sticks worse in the mud than the mules; but all the wagons are heavily loaded, and the prairie is soft; it rained hard in the night. Distance 16 miles; course NNW.

     August 13. Started at 7, and soon got on a broad prairie; passed the head of the Beaver about 12, where the prairie expands still more; kept on the west side of the prairie towards the Des Moines; many wet places to detain the wagons; encamped at 5 on a deep and well-wooded ravine; found one bee tree with good honey. Course very crooked, but generally NW. by N.; distance 17 miles.

     August 14. Marched at 7, and followed up the Des Moines over much such country as yesterday; made 18 miles NW. by N.; day and night fine. Encamped on Bluff creek, a pretty clear little brook, may be 15 or 20 miles long; tried to get an observation of the pole star, but could not with our little sextant; it is too small for any nice purpose.

     August 15. Marched at 6 1/2, and soon left the Des Moines far to our right; prairie large and flat, running up close to the river, where it falls off in a sudden bluff, serrated with deep short ravines, with good springs; passed the forks of the river early in the day; saw there elk, but too far off and too wild to be chased or shot; much sign of game is reported near the river; of elk, deer, bears, and turkeys; encamped at 3 on a ravine and near the river; think we are about the neutral ground. Course NW.; distance 17 miles.

     August 16. Started at 7; in five or six miles saw many elk at a distance; one drove estimated at 100; crossed Lizard creek about noon, after going much out of the way to get down to it; the country near it is so rough; encamped at 2 1/2 p.m., on this creek, at a very pretty part of it, on a high bank, with a beautiful prairie all around and extending to the Des Moines; killed an elk and a deer at the site of encampment, and saw others. Course NW. by N.; 10 miles.

     August 17. Remained encamped to allow the men to wash, and the teams to rest; killed one deer, coons, squirrels, waterfowls, &c.; this seems to be a fine game country. Lizard creek is a pretty little branch of the Des Moines, clear, crooked, and many ripples; when we crossed it yesterday near its mouth, it was 20 feet broad, 10 inches deep, with current of four miles per hour; it is probably 30 miles long, and its valley, which is narrow and deep, is skirted with timber enough to support farms along each side of it.

     August 18. It rained very much last night, making the prairie soft and extremely difficult for the teams; we had to double teams, and also apply the men to draw the wagons through the slues, and these were numerous; worked out far from timber and did not find a place to encamp till 9 at night, when we struck a deep ravine leading to the Des Moines, the mouth of which is called the "Delaware battle ground," a place where a party of some 20 Delawares were all killed by the Sioux three years since. Course NW.; distance 10 miles.

     August 19. Six horses absent this morning, and were not recovered till 9 o'clock; crossed a little creek, broke a wagon tongue; went on a due north course about 5 miles, when we struck the west branch of the Des Moines at a place called the "Iron Banks;" here we crossed without trouble at a rapid ford, on a bottom of lime rock and primitive boulders; the river was above its meridian height, and was rising; a little below the ford is a limestone ledge of 20 feet height, on the east bank, in their horizontal strata, and much mixed and colored with oxides of iron. Above this point the prairie seemed to change its character, becoming rolling and dry, and much mixed with sand and limestone pebbles; the west branch where we crossed it, was about one-third the volume of the Des Moines at mouth of Raccoon; encamped on this branch 10 miles above the Iron Banks. General course NW.; distance 15 miles.

     August 20. Kept as close to the river as the slopes and ravines would permit, over the same kind of lime country that we met yesterday; in the afternoon struck a sluggish little stream that we attempted to head, and which led us far out into the Big Prairie, and away from timber; encamped at 2 p.m. on a little lake or expansion of this stream about three miles from the main river. Course NW.; distance 15 miles.

     August 21. Made an early start, but found the country so wet and the slues so numerous that our progress was slow and difficult; the wagons, being yet heavily loaded, cut deep into the wet ground, and stuck fast in every mire till pulled out by the main strength of the command; the men were all the time muddy and wet, and more fatigued than on any previous day; about five in the afternoon, while we were fast in a mudhole, there came a tremendous storm from the north, with torrents of rain; and night and pitch darkness, with rain, thunder, and cold, found us three or four miles from timber, and unable to go further; there was no firm ground about us, and there we spent the night as we best could, without fire, shelter, or food. Course N.; 15 miles.

     August 22. It took all of this day to make six miles through this soft prairie, flooded by the rain of yesterday and last night; encamped at sunset on a pretty little lake 4 miles long and 300 or 400 yards broad, having a rich looking little island near the centre; there are many small groves of fine timber skirting this lake, in one of which we encamped. Course NW.; distance 6 miles.

     August 23. Laid still to-day, and sent back to bring up the ox-team that had been left the day before yesterday about 8 miles from here; it could not be moved for the floods of the slues; abundance of swan, geese, and ducks on this lake, and much sign of otter all around it; one of the men shot an elk, but did not get him; killed plenty of fowl, but no fish; I believe the otter frightened the fish from the shores.

     August 24. Remained encamped, and got the ox-team in about sunset, much wearied; the weather is now fine, but the prairie is yet flooded.

     August 25. Marched at 7; in eight miles struck a large grassy slue or prairie stream connecting two lakes; it was 100 yards broad and swimming deep; I was obliged to ferry everything across in the ponton wagon bed, and to swim the horses; this occupied the whole day till dark, when we went on two miles more to reach timber, which was found on a large irregular glassy lake that seems to belong to a chain or series of small lakes, forming, as we suppose, the sources of the west branches of the Des Moines, that we are following up; the timber of this river is seen off to our left about three miles, but cannot be approached nearer by reason of these lakes. Jones, a citizen, employed as a guide, gave up his occupation some days ago; says he knows nothing of this country; was never near so high up, and never heard of such a country as we are now in; so I am guide myself. Course NW. by N.; distance 10 miles.

     August 26. We spent the whole of this day in fruitless search of a way to lead us through these interminable lakes; determined finally at night to cross a strait between two of them, and with that object encamped on the south side of it, six miles north of encampment of last night. The grass of this country is tall and luxuriant, remarkably so for so high a latitude, but the whole country is good for nothing, except for the seclusion and safety it affords to the numerous waterfowl that are hatched and grown in it. Course N.; distance 6 miles.

     August 27. Crossed the strait at the point chosen yesterday; it was 200 yards broad, and swimming all the way; got all over at 2 p.m., and went on eight miles and encamped on the broad prairie, six or seven miles from any timber; we can see timber to the east of us, surmised to be that of the Blue Earth river of the St. Peter's; the surface of the country is getting more broken and irregular, as though we were approaching the sources of its streams. Course NW.; distance 8 miles.

     August 28. Marched early, and sent Lieutenant Calhoun with Jones, the guide, to explore the timber seen off to our right, and thought to be that of the Blue Earth river; they returned to the command about sunset, and reported that they found a lake 7 or 10 miles long, of beautiful character, with bright pebbled shores, and well-timbered borders, having a small stream running into it from the westward, and also an outlet to the eastward, which they followed down about 10 miles, passing in that distance several little lakes or expansions of the outlet, which, when they left it, had grown to a stream, 20 or 30 feet broad, 3 or 4 feet deep, and running with a gentle current in a direction a little east of north; this stream being some distance above the sources of the east branch of the Des Moines, and apparently running to the northward, I infer that it is a branch of the Blue Earth river, else an unknown tributary of the "Big Cedar." Lieutenant Potter was sent to the left to explore the Des Moines, which we had not seen for several days; we had departed from it about seven miles to the eastward. I continued my general course (northwest) and in eight miles came to a lake three miles long and three quarters of a mile broad, clear and pretty, with hard high banks all around it, and heavy timber on the end towards the Des Moines. My course led me to the Des Moines in the afternoon, where, in crossing a little stream, I broke a wagon and encamped; the river here shows only little groves of timber at great intervals; is of a reddish muddy color, 30 feet broad, 2 feet deep, with a current of three miles per hour; its valley is narrow, and the bluffs that border it are high, broken, and steep; country passed to-day high and sandy and poor; killed a deer. Course NW.; distance 12 miles.

     August 29. The prairie was good, high, and dry all day; encamped on a little lake half a mile long and a quarter of a mile broad, without outlet, 2 miles east of the river. Course NW. by N.; distance 23 miles.

     August 30. Marched north five miles to a little lake, like that of last night, that we passed on our left, and continued NNW. seven miles over a wonderfully broken surface, rising and falling in high knobs and deep ravines, with numerous little lakes in the deep valleys, some of them clear and pretty, and others grassy; struck the Des Moines at 12 1/4 p.m., and followed it up three miles, when the river turned suddenly round to the SW.; traced it round in that direction five miles, and encamped on a high bluff bordering a ravine; the Des Moines is yet a respectable stream, as though it was 50 or 60 miles longer; I will leave it to-morrow, and try to find it again in a direction W. N., as I think this great turn to the south is only a great bend out of its natural course. I sent Lieutenant Calhoun to ascend some high bluffs that were seen at a distance on the west side of the river last evening; he reports them to be 150 or 200 feet above the general level of the country, as they seemed to be from our distance; he found on the highest peak an artificial mound of stone, and I found on the east side of the river, five or six miles from this peak, a loose stake evidently placed there by white men; I thought it was probably on the route of Captain Boone and Captain Canfield from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Snelling, made some years since, though I could see no other trace of their march. Course NW. by W.; distance 20 miles.

     August 31. Spent much of this day in pursuit of elk that we could not overtake; chased and killed a large black bear found out on the prairie; the bear being driven into the midst of the column, made a considerable commotion among the horses and teams, and it seemed as though every man in the command had taken one or more shots at him before he was brought down; encamped at 12 1/2 p.m. on a small lake (two miles long and half mile broad) which is evidently a part of the Des Moines river; I spent the afternoon in exploring the country with a view to determine our future march in search of the sources of the Des Moines and of the Blue Earth river; as the Des Moines seems to extend much further up, I have determined to leave a portion of the command at this point, where they may rest for some days, whilst I shall continue to explore with another portion. Course NW. by W.; distance 12 miles.

     September 1. Left Lieutenant Noble and 25 men encamped, and marched with all of the other officers and 25 dragoons, and one team carrying provisions for seven days, in search of the sources of the Des Moines and the Blue Earth river; I had been told that the Blue Earth river was due east from the head of the Des Moines, but I began to suspect that it was further south; I continued to follow up the Des Moines, passing over high prairie hills for 10 or 12 miles, until, from a principal eminence, I saw a large grove of timber, NW. 1/2 W., 12 or 14 miles off; marched for it, and found it to be timber of a large irregular lake, from which the river flowed in a good sized outlet of deep water and muddy banks; the lake is about six miles long, but at first resembles a series of small lakes, because of long crooked points of heavily timbered land running into it in all directions; I take this to be the highest source of the Des Moines that is worth noticing as such; it seems to have a little inlet from the northward, but of no size or character. There are many small lakes dotting the prairie as far as we can see; around this large one, all of which are probably drained by the river through the loose sandy soil under the surface; encamped on one of these little lakes, a quarter of a mile from the larger one. General course NW by W.; distance 25 miles.

     September 2. Sent a soldier back to Lieutenant Noble with instructions to move his camp up as far as our encampment of last night; and, assuming that I had now reached the source of the longest and most northerly branch of the Des Moines, took a new course, N. 1/2 W., with a motive to extend the examination of the country. In the first four miles, we struck a large trail running east and west, which much resembled a dragoon trail, and was thought at first to be that of Captain Sumner's company; but I did not think that Captain Sumner had been so far west and north, and a closer examination led me to suppose it to be a Sioux hunting trail which had been travelled for years; some of the men thought they found wagon tracks on it, but I could see no sign of this kind, except such as I thought might have been made by the ends of the lodge poles that the Sioux carry on horses with one end dragging on the ground; there were, however, distinct marks of shod horses going westward, and it may be that Captain Sumner marched on it for some purpose. Where we crossed this trail we saw four elk, and killed two of them, one in full chase, and the other running fast after a wound by a still shot. I do not like elk meat; it has a coarse fibre, is unlike the deer, and I think a mule would taste about as well. The ground passed over to-day was generally high, dry, and rich, and the grass good. Encamped near the base of some high mounds, on a little stream running eastward, which is evidently a tributary of the St. Peter's river. Course N. 1/2 W.; distance 15 miles.

     September 3. Marched on the same general course as yesterday; in the early part of the day crossed two trails near together, and both running east and west; on the first we again saw shod horse tracks, which made it appear to most of the gentlemen as Captain Sumner's return trail: it may be so but I doubt it. On the 18th mile, we struck and crossed a large creek, (twenty feet broad, two feet deep, and current of four miles per hour.) thought to be a branch of the Blue Earth river; encamped four miles beyond it at a small grove of rich land timber, which was nearly surrounded by deep grassy marshes; this is a miserable country, full of swamps, and no timber except in sparse little groves on the borders of brooks and lakes. This will be my furthest point north; to-morrow I go east. Course N. 1/2 W.; distance 22 miles.

     September 4. Marched as nearly east as possible for six hours, when we crossed the same stream we crossed yesterday afternoon, but 20 miles lower down; this stream ran NW., and we followed it down five miles when we suddenly came to a large river for this country, which is evidently the St. Peter's river; it is nearly as large as the Des Moines below Raccoon; runs in a deep valley one mile broad, between very high and timbered bluffs; the valley is itself much elevated above the river, and is not what is called bottom land; it is without timber except on the borders of the stream and is covered with detached masses of granite rock, some of them covering acres. Lieutenant Potter, who was sent to explore the river above as soon as it was discovered, reports that, about four miles above, he found high bluffs of primitive rock on both sides of the river, and this is surely the formation from which the valley below has been filled with fragments. We heard two or three shots fired at a distance on the opposite side of the river and supposed we were near Sioux Indians; but, though we fired in answer to them, and put up rockets at night, no Indians made their appearance. The valley of this river at this place is remarkable, that it continues in a straight line as far as we can see, and with about uniform breadth, with high, very steep timbered bluffs rising from it to the general surface of the country on either side. The river winds through this valley, and may be crossed at rapids without running much into wagon beds, though in most places it would swim a horse, and seemed now to be in medium stage. It is strange that, although we are evidently very far in the Sioux country, we have not yet seen a buffalo or a Sioux Indian. This country is too poor, bleak, and broken to attract white men much, but it looks wild enough for an Indian, and is remote enough for all large game. Encamped in the valley of the river. Course E.; distance 22 miles.

     September 5. Marched down the valley of the river four or five miles, with a view to see more of its character, and then to make a circuit back to Lieutenant Noble's camp on the source of the Des Moines; the valley all the way was filled with marsh ponds and the great irregular masses of broken primitive rock before mentioned, making it very difficult to march along it at all; on leaving it, we rose a very high and steep wooded bluff to the general level of the country; then took a course SW. by S., on which we marched over the prairie 30 miles, and until 8 at night, before we found timber. Encamped on a respectable little creek which we had encamped on going out, and which we take to be one of the branches of the Blue Earth river. Whole distance to-day, 35 miles.

     September 6. Reached the source of the Des Moines and Lieutenant Noble's camp late in the afternoon, after a hard day's march; Lieutenant Noble had reached his present camp two days before, having moved up his detachment from the point where I left it on the 1st instant, agreeably to instructions sent back to him from this point. All the country we have seen, on this trip to the St. Peter's is of an almost worthless description, being broken, poor, and marshy, and without any timber of consequence; the hills are of a sandy poor soil of lime and primitive pebbles, and the valleys are deep marshy slues, with tall heavy grass; it is a tedious and difficult country for operations of troops, though near the St. Peter's it does not offer many hiding places for the Indians. Distance to-day, 22 miles.

     September 7 and 8. Remained encamped on an arm of this pretty and singular lake, and took our latitude from several observations of the sun meridian; made it 43° 67' 42." I have not, however, much confidence in the accuracy of our little sextant, and think it probable that our latitude is higher than here shown. This lake is filled with water-fowl, and the camp is stocked with ducks; to-morrow I march west in search of the Big Sioux river.

     September 9. The lake that we left this morning is surely the head of the Des Moines river; we crossed the only inlet it has about two miles above the lake, where it is only a little slue; I do not find any lake on the maps corresponding with this, and I infer that it has not hitherto been explored by any of the map-makers; I have named it the "Lake of the Oaks," from the forests of immense white oak trees that border it and cover its peninsulas. Leaving this lake, our course was NW. by W., on a large, high, level and dry prairie, that seems like the dividing elevation between the waters of large rivers; it divides here the tributaries of the Missouri from those of the Mississippi. This prairie, like all of this upper country, is dotted over with little lakes, though to-day we have seen the timber of only three or four, and have touched only one of them; we passed much sign of buffalo, but have not yet seen the animal. Encamped near sunset on the border of a slue, in the open prairie, there being no timber in sight; the night cold, cloudy, and rain. Course NW. by W.; 22 miles distance.

     September 10. Continued our course on the Big Prairie, and in the first eight miles saw three buffalo grazing on an eminence about a mile ahead, the first we had anywhere seen. I halted the command in a depression of the prairie, and, taking some of the officers and men, made a circuit of the animals, and put them in full chase straight to the command, at a halt, and by this means easily killed all three in less than half an hour. Lieutenant Potter killed the first one in full chase by the first shot of his pistol. They were bulls, and rather lean; but being our first buffalo, we took a quantity of the meat. The day was cold, moist; and disagreeable; marched on eight miles further, striking, at 3 p.m., a deep looking river running almost due south, and as broad as the Raccoon at Fort Des Moines. This is evidently a river of the Missouri, and we are inclined to think it the Big Sioux, but have some doubt on this; we ought, before reaching the Big Sioux, to have crossed a long stream shown on the maps as Floyd's river; but since leaving the Des Moines, we have not touched or seen such a river. Some Sioux Indians came to our encampment at the point where we struck this river. They composed two or three lodges of a roving band of prairie Indians, who seemed to be wandering here with the buffalo. They approached us with the greatest timidity, two only at first, and then three others; and they, probably, would not have come to us at all, if we had not surprised them in a place where they could not escape our observation. I had no interpreter through whom to speak to them; one of the dragoons spoke a few words of their language, but all he could understand of what they said was, that they lived on the St. Peter's river high up, and that we would find a trading-house on the river we were then on, three days down it. We caught a great many small fish in this river, but buffalomeat of the bullsseems to be the rage for to-night. The country to-day has been slightly rolling, but good for marching; the grass here is very luxuriant. Course W. by S.; distance 16 miles.

     September 11. Last night a heavy white frost, the first that we have experienced; determined to follow down the river; at least to the trading house spoken of by the Indians, so marched out on the bluffs. In a few miles, killed a lone buffalo bull, and soon after came upon two lodges more of Sioux Indians. They were also much alarmed at our approach, and three men of them, whom we first saw near their lodges on horses, came to us at full gallop and in great agitation. After I had explained to them, as well as I could, that we were friends, and were travelling through their country on a mission of friendship, they seemed much pleased, and the principal man galloped off to his lodge and hoisted a little American flag; and as we passed his lodge, offered us the meat of one or two buffaloes that were curing about his camp. These lodges were on the bald prairie, far from timber, and seem to be only a stopping place to cure and eat the meat they had killed near it. This is surely a fine buffalo country, the prairie is cut up with their trails in all directions, and we have seen many small parties during the day, but, as yet, no large herd. Just before we went into camp, I saw several at a distance that I took to be cows, and allowed some of the men to give them chase. They soon killed four, but all bulls again, and we do not need the meat, except the tongues and marrow-bones. In the afternoon, Jones killed an antelope, and we saw ten more in a short distance among gentle hills of the prairie; I was surprised to meet them in this country; went late down to the river to encamp, and did not get a good site, the timber being very scarce on the borders of the river. 32 miles distance; course SW. by S.

     September 12. Twelve horses and mules were missing this morning, and under a strong suspicion that the Sioux had been among themsome known to have been picketed in the best manner are among them. Three of mine, one of Dr. Griffin's, and two of Lieutenant Potter's, are also in the number. I remained encamped all of the day, sending parties in all directions in search of the missing horses, and recovered all except four. Lieutenant Potter and Dr. Griffin and four dragoons are yet out, and will be out all night; it is very unusual for any of the horses to stray from camp at night, at this distance and time from home. Last night was very dark; the horses were picketed in very tall grass, where sentinels could not watch them closely, and I think it very probable that Indians came in and loosened and drove off all that are gone, and have probably secured some of them. The Sioux are great rascals, and capable of all kinds of theft.

     September 13. Sent out a party on our back trail, and marched on down the river. In about twelve miles, came to a great and picturesque fall of the river, where we found Doctor Griffin and Lieutenant Potter and party, who had been searching for lost horses, and encamped here last night; they had seen no traces of them, and had resigned themselves to their loss. Doctor G. and Lieutenant P. were sitting on a rock, and "smoking away their horses to the Sioux," (referring to the Indian custom of giving away horses on a ceremony of smoking.) These falls present a remarkable feature of the river and country; the river, until now, running nearly due south, makes above the falls a bend to the west, and round to northeast, and passes the falls in a due east course, and continues below in a northeast course for six miles, when it resumes its former direction. The rock of these falls is massive quartz, and is the first rock formation, or rock in place, that we have seen since we left the St. Peter's river. It crosses the river here north and south and is not seen elsewhere, the bluffs or general level of the country covering it some 250 feet. The fall, as near as I could measure it, is 100 feet in 400 yards, and is made up of several perpendicular fallsone 20, one 18, and one 10 feet. The rock in the course and on the borders of the stream is split, broken, and piled up in the most irregular and fantastic shapes, and presents deep and frightful chasms, extending from the stream in all directions. There is no timber here on the borders or bluffs, and only a little on a small island at the head of the rapids. After spending an hour or two at these rapids, moved down the river 12 miles, and encamped on a little stream near the main river. As we were going into camp, saw a herd of more than 100 buffaloes at the site of the encampment, gave them chase, and killed two cows and a calf, which (it being dark when they were slaughtered) were left on the prairie for the night, with the hunters to guard them from the wolves. Distance 24 miles; course SE. The party sent to hunt horses this morning came up at night, found none; so the four yet lost are abandonedone horse and one mule being public.

     September 14. Went a little out of our course to pick up the meat killed last night, and continued over a rough country, much cut up by various and little brooks; encamped at the mouth of one of them, and killed a buffalo bull standing across the river, six men firing at him by volley, and each ball taking effect. Buffalo have been in sight almost always since we struck this river, and we might have killed hundreds by delaying for the purpose. Distance 18 miles; course S. by E.

     September 15. Ascended very high bluffs, and marched SE. over smooth prairie till 12, then SW. till 4 1/2 p.m.; at 1 struck a clear little river coming down from the east which I take to be the stream at the mouth of which the Indians we first met told us we would find a trading-house; saw what we supposed to be a party of Indians far to our left, in the forenoon, but it may have been buffalo. Followed down the clear stream, and encamped near its mouth on the main river. We can see no signs of a trading house here, no trails or appearance of near habitation, and I believe the Indians have lied to us respecting the existence of a trading-house in this country. The little stream, above referred to, is 30 feet broad, 2 1/2 feet deep, and runs three miles per hour; the banks are low, and it runs over pebbles and sand. General course S.; distance 22 miles.

     September 16. Crossed the clear stream near its mouth, and again ascended the bluffs, which here are near 300 feet high, and much brokenthe breaks running far out from the main river; the obstructions forced us to leave the river far on our right, and made the line of our march very crooked. I sent two men to follow the river as closely as practicable and look if there were any appearances of a trading-house in the neighborhood. They found none, and so it is demonstrated that the Indians have basely lied and deceived us in this respect, and for what purpose I am unable to conceive. It is said of the Sioux, that they are prouder of, and more habituated to, lying than truth-telling, and here is pretty good evidence in support of the charge. Encamped on a slue at a bunch of willows far out on the prairie, horses and mules much fatigued; we have not seen any buffalo to-day, nor any fresh sign of them; we are apparently out of their present range. Distance 20 miles; course S. by W.

     September 17. Marched SW. to strike the river, and encamped on it at 11 a.m., to rest the horses and get an observation for latitude. The river here is a large stream, larger than the Des Moines, below Raccoon, not quite so broad, but is deeper, and runs more water. It has increased much since we last saw it, (30 miles above,) and must have received tributaries from the west that we could not see for our distance from it. The bluffs here are not so abrupt as above, and the bottoms are broader and more fertile; but the timber of the river does not increase, only a few elms and willows skirting the banks, which are deep and muddy like those of streams near the Missouri. I cannot yet determine what river this may be, whether Floyd's river or the Big Sioux. I shall follow it down further, and see more of its character; and if the season were not so late, I would cross it and explore further west. But my horses are much worn, and the grass and prairie are killed by the frost, and it is incumbent to hurry home. The river here seems to abound in catfish; the men caught 20 or 30 large ones in a few hours with fishhooks. Distance 10 miles; course SW.

     September 18. Continued down the river with the greatest difficulty, having to rise and descend the bluffs, which have increased in height and steepness. After going over several points, fell again into the valley of the river, and soon saw a great opening to the westward, which I at once recognised as the valley of the Missouri. I had not expected to meet that river for 30 miles yet, and was surprised at seeing it here; though as OUR river here only runs into the valley of the Missouri, it may yet be several miles to its mouth. Encamped early, on a little brook, to feed on luxuriant pea-vine in its little shaded valley. Course S.; distance 16 miles.

     September 19. Endeavored to follow down the valley of the river, but could not; it washes the bluffs so often in its bends, we were again driven over the bluffs, which here are 500 or 600 feet high, and broken almost every mile by deep ravines, that, from the heights, look like great chasms in the earth. Of course we had all sorts of trouble, upset one wagon twice, killed one mule, and broke another wagon square off at the hounds. The romance of marching through a wilderness country is much abated. General course S.; distance 10 miles.

     September 20. Remained encamped to repair wagons; but, in the meantime, I determined to find the mouth of the river that we had traced so far. Doctor Griffin, Lieutenant Calhoun, Lieutenant Potter, and J. C. Calhoun, jr., volunteered to accompany me, and leaving Lieutenant Noble in charge of the camp, we set out early for this purpose. We encountered bluffs, ravines, vine, valleys, tall grass, and swamp, and plum-bush, and willow thickets, worse than any thing we had seen; but worked our way along, and, in the distance of seven miles, reached really the point where this river unites with the Missouri. It comes to the Missouri in a due south course, and the Missouri meets it perpendicularly, as coming from the west. Both, at their junction, wash the base of a steep bluff, some 500 feet high, and the great river then pursues its general course to the southward and eastward. Opposite to this point, there appears to be a large island of the Missouri, but we could not see enough to know if it were really an island, or a peninsula in one of the great bends of this river. I have learned all I can, now of the river which we have followed down to its mouth. I shall consider it the Big Sioux, until I shall be better informed. To-morrow I shall march for home by the nearest route I can find. It has rained most of the day, and is cold and disagreeable.

     September 21. Spent the whole day at hard labor in making ten miles out from the river over these terrible hills; made two bridges across brooks, and encamped at the last one. Course NE.; distance 10 miles.

     September 22. The country continues broken, but not so bad as yesterday. Crossed a large creek on our tenth mile, which may be Floyd's river, if that we left yesterday is the Big Sioux. It is slightly skirted with timber, and looks as though it may be 50 miles longa very pretty, clear stream; crossed two little brooks without any timber, and encamped on a slue. Course E. by S.; distance 15 miles.

     September 23. Crossed three little brooks, deep and miry, with a very little timber on their banks. One of these, though almost without current, was generally forty feet broad, and six feet deep; it occupied us two hours to find any thing like a practicable ford. The prairie rises very gently from these brooks, and is easy to travel over. Encamped on the prairie away from timber, but had taken some for cook-fires from the last brook. Course E.; distance 15 miles.

     September 24. At 11 a. m. came to the Little Sioux river, running to the SW. It is a clear, pretty stream, as large here as the Raccoon is at medium stage at its mouth; midside deep to our horses; its banks are bordered with narrow groves of large timber, cotton-wood, walnut, oak, &c. We had to prepare the banks for crossing, and then to help some of the weak horses out of the mud at the shore; got all over before sunset, and encamped. Here is the site of a large Indian encampment, supposed to be Pottawatomies, who seemed to have hunted extensively on this river about two months ago. Course E. by S.; distance 10 miles.

     September 25. Had smooth, easy marching for ten miles, when we crossed a little creek, and in five or six miles further crossed another and larger one, both running toward the Missouri. The west bank of the last was very muddy, and hard to rise, which kept us till night at the stream; nothing but a little willow brush for fire, and it was cold. Course E.; distance 15 miles.

     September 26. In 12 miles crossed a creek like a large prairie slue, but running a good deal of water; eight miles more brought us to a stream that I took at first to be Soldier's river, but afterwards thought it might be a branch of Raccoon, though where we crossed, it was running towards the Missouri. The stream winds in short and abrupt crooks through a deep narrow valley, is thirty feet broad, two feet deep, and runs one mile per hour; is skirted with narrow strips of soft maple, hickory, walnut, &c.; all about us looks like Des Moines country, and not like that drained by the water of the Missouri. It is probable that the small streams we have crossed since we left the "Little Sioux," may unite to form the "Soldier's river" of the Missouri, shown on the maps, and that we have passed it. Encamped on this stream, after crossing. Course E.; distance 20 miles.

     September 27. Met another ugly prairie slue at the end of eight miles, which it took three hours to cross, when we came to a country full of marshes and old shallow grass lakes, like that of the Upper Des Moines. Encamped on the prairie among the marshes, and near an island of timber, that we could not reach for the ugly marsh that surrounded it. The frosts are becoming severe, and the horses are failing fast. Course E.; distance 12 miles.

     September 28. Spent the whole forenoon in travelling ten miles to make four on our course; four fifths of the country was marsh, which turned us to all points of the compass. At 12 we reached a small lake, from which an Indian trail, after much winding around the peninsulas of the lake, led us out to better ground, and went on south. Followed it ten miles, and encamped on the open prairie; no timber near us; had taken a little wood from the lake mentioned. Course SE.; distance 20 miles.

     September 29. At 12 m. crossed a little creek coming from the NE., and turning south; turned into it at night to encamp, and found it much enlarged by a much larger stream coming in from the west just above our encampment. This seemed to be the west branch of the Raccoon, and we are now on the main branch of that river; the prairie, though somewhat hilly, has been easy to march over all day. The bluffs of this stream, where we are encamped, are high and steep; its valley is about a mile broad and well timbered. Course S.; distance 20 miles.

     September 30. Started late, everything being tired from the too long march of yesterday. The grass has been so much deadened by the many frosts, that it no longer gives the horses a good subsistence; the horses and mules have failed wonderfully since we left the Little Sioux, though we have walked (on foot) most of the way. Followed down the bluffs of the Raccoon on our right, and crossed two small creeks running into it, both running in deep valleys clothed with heavy, good timber. Encamped on the last. Course SE.; distance 12 miles.

     October 1. Marched on the dry ridge between Raccoon and Beaver, the timber of both being in sight nearly all the way. Killed a fine bear on the prairie in chase; Sergeant Williams shot him dead on first fire with his carbine from his horse at a gallop. We move slowly from previous fatigue. Encamped on Beaver river. Course SE. by S.; distance 16 miles.

     October 2. The route was a little rough, being intersected by ravines both of Raccoon and Beaver; hoped to reach home, but could not from weariness of the teams. Encamped again on the Beaver, near our trail going out. Course SE.; distance 16 miles.

     October 3. Struck our trail going out, and followed it home. Distance eight miles. Reached Fort Des Moines at 1 p.m., having marched, since we left the post, 740 miles, and having been absent 54 days.

FORT DES MOINES, December 31, 1844.

Captain, 1st Dragoons.

Colonel S. W. KEARNEY,
Commanding third military department, St. Louis, Mo.

True copy:

R. JONES, Adjutant General.

MARCH 18, 1846.

Comparison of this journal with one written by an
anonymous expedition participant is shown here.

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