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A brief history of Hunter & Dunbar Expedition

The Lewis and Clark Expedition left St. Louis, Missouri on May 14, 1804, on what would prove to be a 8,000 mile journey, lasting two years and four months . On May 27, 1804, George Hunter, along with his son George H., left their home in Philalelphia and traveled to Pittsburg, where they supervised the building of a boat for the expedition up the Ouachita river. Mr. Hunter and his son would not return home to Philadelphia until April 1, 1805 , and would travel almost 7,000 miles in accomplishing the Ouachita River exploration.

The boat built for the expedition was fifty feet long and eight feet wide. It was equipped with a sail and fitted with oars for rowing. George Hunter and his son sailed from Pittsburg on June 16, 1804 to begin their journey to the Ouachita. They sailed down the Ohio and then the Mississippi river to New Orleans, where additions were made to the boat in preperation for the journey up the Ouachita. Mr. Hunter was given charge over twelve Federal soldiers and a sergeant from the Garrison in New Orleans to row the boat, provide general help and be protective escorts for the expedition.

They departed New Orleans and sailed back up the Mississippi river to St. Catherines's Creek near Natchez. where Mr. Dunbar, along with his servant, joined the expedition on October 16, 1804. The expedition traveled down the Mississippi, entering the Red river at its mouth, and then up the Black river to the mouth of the Ouachita. They reached the mouth of the Ouachita on October 23, 1804, having traveled a distance of 150 miles from St. Catherines creek.

The expedition officially started up the Ouachita river on October 24, 1804, but the pace of the expedition would prove to be a slow process due to the size of their boat. The Ouachita was very similar to a mountain stream in 1804, and there were very few continuous spans of deep water that that would accomidate their boat, instead, the river was comprised of intermittent shallow rock shoals, sand bars and gravel bars.

The only time that a boat of the size used by the expedition could have traveled the Ouachita at ease would have been during high water, normally found in springtime.

There were other obsticles in the river that also hindered their progress. High banks found intermittantly along the Ouachita continuously erroded, causing huge portions of ground to fall into the river. This errosion carried with it entire trees, filling the river with earth, logs and limbs, making passage extremely difficult. Also, logs and limbs swept down the river in high water, formed barriers of debris across the river that were, at times, almost impossible to pass.

The expedition covered fourteen miles of the river on October 24th. This distance would prove to be the best day's average on their trip up the river. The next three days would find the expedition making a total of only 8 miles. Mr. Dunbar wrote of their effort in going those few miles: "The water was so shallow on the gravel bars, that the soldiers had to dig a trench through the gravel and mud as wide as our boat and deep enough to pull the boat through. Some trenches were as long as 120 feet. In many areas ropes with block and tackle were tied to trees to help in pulling the boat through the trenches, where trees were not close enough, steel spikes were driven into the river bed to secure the ropes for pulling the boat.

To add to the problem, the soldiers had to stay in the water all day with the temperature being around 40 degrees in the morning and not much above that during the day". There would be many places during the trip where this same effort would be required, where they would have to wade in the river digging rocks, sand or gravel, in weather that, at times, was near freezing. At the end of each day, everyone was totally exhausted.

The destination of the expedition was the hot springs area, in what is known today as Hot Springs Arkansas, a distance of nearly 400 miles up the Ouachita. Each day of the trip required a tenacity of leadership, especially by Mr. Hunter who was responsible for directing the tasks of the soldiers.

Some of the soldiers grew weary during the journey and became insubordinate at times when they had to keep going under extremely difficult circumstances. Mr. Hunter wrote of these times in his journal: "The soldiers often grumbling and uttering execrations against me in particular for urging them on, in which they had the example of the sergeant who on many occasions of triffling difficulties frequently gave me very rude answers and in many instances seemed to forget that it was his duty to urge on the men under his command to surmount the problem rather than show a spirit of contradiction".

Before the expedition reached the Ouachita Post, now Monroe, Louisiana, the problems with the soldiers had taken a toll on the boat itself as Hr. Hunter wrote in his journal, " this day, the sergeant in the spirit of contradiction when at the helm, steered the boat inshore too much, running under a leaning tree and carried away our mast which cost me so much pains to procure at Pittsburg".

They stopped at a small settlement called "Olivets" before reaching the Ouachita Post. There, they traded their small canoe plus six dollars for a larger canoe'. The larger canoe proved to be very helpful in transporting their baggage in areas of shallow water ,while at the same time, making their big boat float higher as it was relieved of so much of the load. This allowed the soldiers to pull the boat through most of the shallows without having to dig trenches everytime.

Upon reaching the Ouachita Post they were told by a local guide that their boat was built too deep to make it over the shallows that would be encountered as they advanced further up the Ouachita. They then had to rent a boat that was almost as long as their boat, but not as deep. They took this boat the remaining distance to the hot springs.

On December 7, 1804 the expedition reached a point on the Ouachita that was impassible. They had to stop nine miles from the hot springs, and walk the remaining distance. Through all of the difficulties, the last few miles of the trip were extremely difficult. They had traveled only nine miles in the last three days, pulling the boat over falls that progressively increased as they ascended the river.

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This scene near Malvern Arkansas is typical for the
giant boulders that stopped the expedition's boat short of the hot springs

 

Their goal of reaching the hot springs, now Hot Springs, Arkansas was accomplished on December 8, 1804 when they walked up to the springs.

The expedition stayed at the hot springs until January 8, 1805. They had not intended to stay as long as they did, but bad weather and low water prevented them from being able to launch their boat any sooner. Mr. Hunter and Mr. Dunbar spent all of this extra time making scientific observations of the hot springs, exploring and charting the mountains around the springs.

On January 8, 1805, Mr. Hunter wrote: "We struck camp and headed for the Mississippi, at NO SMALL JOY of all hands.

The Hunter and Dunbar expedition was officially ended on February 8, 1805, as Mr. Hunter wrote: "We arrived at New Orleans, where I delived the boat to the Commanding Officer at the Garrison. The same day paraded all the men and the sergeant, who were all in good health, before the Commander. The Commander gave them three days Holiday to rest themselves".

 

Indians encountered along the Ouachita

The Choctaw tribe was the most populas tribe found along the Ouachita in 1804.

Mr. hunter recorded seeing Choctaws camped along with the white settles in some places and other times made mention of small fields of corn planted along the Ouachita at Choctaw villages. Notations were also made of symbols being painted on trees by the Choctaw Indians and abondoned villages where crude farming instruments were left by the Indians.

Mr. Hunter wrote of one occasion of an Indian war: "We were told that a party of Chickasaw, Choctaw and other neighboring Indiams , about 800 in number were

waring with a party of 400 Osage that came through the Ouachita valley, out of Oklahoma. The Osage had crossed the Ouachita river , heading towards the Arkansas river, amd were killing both whites and Indians along their path".

On one occasion the expedition encountered a Deleware Indian, who was standing on the bank watching their large boat come up the river. The indian was identified as a deleware because of the red circles painted around his eyes. As they approached the Indian, his first comment was "Dang big canoe".

Mr. Hunter recorded meeting a group of Pascagula Indians: "They did not or would not understand english, french or spanish in answer to my questions , but they were able to sell me two swans skins".

 

 Solemn event on the Ouachita

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 Hunter recorded this very solemn event on his exploration up the Ouachita: "The sun was set, all was still and silent as death. I saw a small encampment with two fires, and two families of Choctaw Indians. I heard some melancholly mourning in a female voice; it seemed to come from the heart, and was very expressive. I turned to see where the sound proceeded from, and saw an indian woman on the ground wrapped entirely in a blanket; leaning on a small heap of dead branches, rudely, piled together. I was informed the branches were to protect from the wild beasts the remains of her first and only child, which had died six months earlier. "Joy and Grief are the same in all languages".

 

 Hunters and trappers encountered along the Ouachita

Most of the white settlers living along the Ouachita were hunters or trappers, and some spent up to six months at a time traveling along the Ouachita, and up its many bayous and creeks hunting deer, bear and buffalo.

These men lived a hard life as Mr. Hunter wrote: "We met one old hunter with his three sons and a hired hand, along with a gang of half a dozen dogs with a view of bear hunting. Their provisions consisted only of a few bushels of Indian corn and nothing to go with it except when they might kill something".

Bear were very prevelant along the Ouachita as Mr. Hunter wrote: "We met five bear hunters that just came off the Little Missouri, a river that runs into the Ouachita. They had killed 40 bears in a fairly short time".

Mr. Hunter wrote of hunting season along the Ouachita. "From time to time we could see the smoke from the hunters camps as we progressed up the river above the Ouachita Post. Most of the camps were left with their fires smoldering as the hunters went out to search for game. From time to time we would meet hunters in canoes, some with bear , deer or ducks in their boats".

Foot Notes on the Hunter Expedition:

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita River Expedition
Hunter and Dunbar were both chosen to lead the expedition, because of their special abilities. Mr. Hunter was a scientist, chemist and botanist. Mr. Dunbar's talents included chemistry, mechanics and planting. Dunbar owned the "Forest Plantation" near Natchez, Mississippi, and was the first to invent a screw press for bailing cotton. He made many of his own surveying instruments, which were used to chart the Ouachita river.

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita River Expedition
An important discovery made by the Hunter/Dunbar Expedition was the novaculite rock found along the Ouachita in Arkansas. This rock, used for making knife sharpening whetstones, became the major source of whetstones in America from the early 1800's until the 1970's.

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita River Expedition
In 1804, commerce along the Ouachita consisted almost entirely of trading animal skins between hunters, trappers and traders who traveled the Ouachita. The Hunter/Dunbar expedition recorded that a bearskin could be bought for one dollar, and a swan's skin, used for decorating popular ladies fashions in the eastern states, could be bought for twelve cents.

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita River Expedition
In 1804 there was an estimated 250 people living along the Ouachita between the mouth of the Ouachita and the Ouachita Post, a distance of about 120 miles. Most lived near the Ouachita Post. There were very few people living up-river from the Ouachita Post, with the exception of camps where hunters and trappers stayed during hunting season.

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita River Expedition
The Hunter/Dunbar expedition recorded that one of the few people found along the Ouachita that grew vegetables instead of depending entirely on hunting to provide food was Mr. Filhiol, the former Spanish Commandant of Fort Miro; now, Monroe, Louisiana. Hunter recorded purchasing the following items from Mr. Filhiol to supply the expedition: 2 barrels of sweet potatoes for two dollars, and 33 pumpkins for one dollar.

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita River Expedition
The Hunter/Dunbar expedition recorded that alligators were rarely found on the Ouachita above the Ouachita Post, now Monroe, Louisiana. The expedition was surprised upon finding one solitary alligator, in forty degree weather, basking in the sun on the bank of the Ouachita, about 50 miles above the Ouachita Post.

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita River Expedition
The Hunter/Dunbar expedition recorded, that after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the old Fort Miro was torn down and replaced with a new fort called the "Ouachita Post". Hunter wrote in his description of the New Ouachita Post: "The log stake walls of the fort are so loosely placed that any hostile Indian, who was a good marksman, could see anyone inside the fort through the cracks in the wall and could easily shoot them at will".

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita River Expedition
The Hunter/Dunbar expedition recorded that whiskey was a prized commodity in 1804, because of its medicinal uses. Mr. Hunter purchased $85.00 worth of whiskey to take on the expedition, which was about 65 gallons. Upon the arrival of the expedition at the Ouachita Post, the Commander of the Post bought 30 gallons of this whiskey for $1.30 a gallon.

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita River Expedition
The Hunter/Dunbar expedition recorded that there was a 150 man Malitia formed at the Ouachita Post for protection against raids from hostile Indians. These raids were normally made by the Osage Indians, who came out of the area known, today, as Oklahoma. The Osage attacked not only the white settlers in the area, but, also, other Indian tribes living along the Ouachita.

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita River Expedition
During the expedition all persons kept their guns loaded, because of possible Indian attacks. Hunter wrote of suffering a near fatal accident, while loading his pistol: "my gun slipped and went off in my face, the entire charge of ball and ramrod lacerated my hand and fingers, passed through my hat near my temple, burning off my eyebrows, eye lashes, and skin around my nose. I lost much of my eyesight for several weeks".

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita River Expedition
The Hunter/Dunbar expedition had the power to enforce the law, whenever, it was warranted. On one occasion, they came upon an abandoned Indian campsight in which there were 14 deerskins stored in a tree. A hunter named Campbell came off the river and claimed the skins were his, but he could not identify the correct number. Hunter took the skins to the Commandant at the Ouachita Post to assertain the rightful owner.

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita River Expedition
The Hunter/Dunbar expedition did not encounter any hostile Indians during their journey, but there were incidents of hostility in many areas along the Ouachita. On one occasion, they met a hunter near the mouth of the Little Missouri river, who informed the expedition, that ten Cherokee Indians had been killed near his camp, just days before by a tribe known as the Little Osage, that came out of Oklahoma.

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita River Expedition
The first impression of leaving the Mississippi and entering the area of the Ouachita was written by Mr. Hunter as follows: "The appearance of the face of the country seems changed, all of the vegetation puts on a fresher green. There are many flocks of Geese, Brandt, a few ducks and may large alligators".

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita River Expedition
At the mouth of the Ouachita Mr. Hunter made special notation of a series of Indian mounds located in a 200 acre area, surrounded by a earthen levee, that was ten feet high and fifty feet wide. Within this area were four mounds, each 20 feet high, 100 feet wide, and 300 feet long; with one mound about 200 feet in diameter and eighty feet tall. These mounds, in time, proved to be one of the largest Indian formations in North America.

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita River Expedition
The first person encountered by the expedition upon entering the mouth of the Ouachita, now, Jonesville, Louisiana, was a man named Cadet, who lived in a house built on top of a large Indian mound. Mr. Cadet, operated a ferry crossing the Ouachita on the famous road called the El Cameno Real. The El Cameno Real was the oldest road in North America, and ran from Natchez, Mississippi, to Mexico City.

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita River Expedition
One of the purposes of the expedition was to record the general lay of the land along the Ouachita. Records were made of the types of trees, vegetation and rocks found along the banks; plus, whether the land was low and subject to flooding, uninhabital swampland, or hills of differing heights. Comments were, also, recorded about the possibility of the land being used for farming, such as corn, wheat and cotton.

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita River Expedition
The expedition made numerous recordings each day which listed the depth, width and course of the river. These records were made at close intervals and were used after the expedition was completed to draw the first correct map of the Ouachita from its mouth to Hot Springs, Arkansas; a distance of 400 miles. Other records made on the expedition, included, the temperature of the air and the water in the river.

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita River Expedition
On October 31, 1804 the expedition stopped at the only settlement on the Ouachita, between the mouth of the river at present day Jonesville, and the Ouachita Post, now Monroe, Louisiana. This settlement was called "Olivet's settlement" and was located north of present day Columbia, Louisiana. The settlement consisted of only one house and a few families of Chocktaw Indians living in tents.

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita River Expedition
Mr. Hunter wrote of capturing a run away slave just below the mouth of the Ouachita:"The man, who called himself Harry, was wearing nothing but shirt and trousers, and was half starved. We gave him ham and biscuits, which he devoured. Harry, was turned over to his owner who came along the banks of the Ouachita ten days later. The owner, a farmer on the Red River, had chased Harry more than 50 miles ".

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita River Expedition
As the expedition approached the hot springs, rock formations in the river became more formidable. Hunter wrote: "At the great falls... the river was full of giant rocks, which formed ledges with, only, occasional openings large enough for the boat. We crossed the falls, only, after many hours of great exertion, which could have destroyed the boat". This month's scene was photographed near that same location in Arkansas.

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita River Expedition
Mr. Hunter wrote of the inhabitants living along the Ouachita: " The settlers, chiefly Canadian French, appear to have little ambition, few wants and little industry. They live from hand to mouth and let tomorrow provide for itself. Some of them have from thirty to one hundred cows, but no milk butter or cheese, because they never milk them. The cows just stray about in the woods , along with their calves, and just shift for themselves".

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita Expedition
Mr. Hunter wrote of the inhabitants living along the Ouachita: " They all hunt deer, bear, buffalo, ducks, geese, swans and turkey for food, but many times, when game could not be found, they are often badly off for provisions. The ground could produce vegetables, but they never plant anything. Many times they are in want of everyting, except, what is absolutely, necessary for subsistance".

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita Expedition
Upon reaching the Ouachita Post, the expedition was informed, that their boat was too large to make the trip all the way to the hot springs. Fortunantly, they were able to rent a boat built to travel over the shallow water and rock formations in the Ouachita near the hot springs. The boat was 55 feet long, 9 feet wide, and capable of floating in only 12 inches of water, when fully loaded. The boat , also, had a cabin and 12 oars.

Hunter & Dunbar Ouachita Expedition
Hunter wrote of one family that was typical for most families living along the Ouachita: "They lived in a dirt floor bark cabin 15 feet square. There were no windows, but plenty of light came in through the cracks in the walls. There was one bed for the family of six. There were no provisions of food for the winter. The father, a duck hunter, had a crude boat made of two hog feeding troughs tied together with grape vines ".

Footnotes 
 
 

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