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Historic Diaries: Marsh, 1834

Indian Hospitality / Des Moines River

Editor's Note:

"Ind. mode of generosity": it was the nearly universal practice of Indian families to share whatever food and shelter they possessed with whomever they encountered. More than a mere courtesy, this practice was a matter of personal integrity and honor.

Marsh uses his free time to summarize what he has observed and learned about the river from his guides. He uses much the same language in his report to his sponsors the next year [Wisconsin Historical Collections 15: 123].

[July] 29th Tues.

Weather this morn. mild and warm. Soon after sun-rise we were on our way, but the Indn soon discovered a deer and went and killed him and also a turkey and as soon as we came up, a fire was kindled and the turkey cooked and we again feasted upon it and the venison also, which detained us for some time.

About noon arrived at the Iowa prairie and found a camp, which appeared very destitute indeed. The company with me according to the Ind. mode of generosity gave them venison. Soon after, a young Indn. squaw came in bringing two deer which they had taken in the chase.

At this place the stream is quite rapid nearly if not quite enough for mills but about one mile or one and a half below them is considerable of a rapid.

There I found a substance somewhat resembling Zinc. Towards the upper end of the Prairie there is an other rapid about as great where no doubt mills might also be erected. Besides these there are other places above where it appears to me might be built.

The banks for the most part high on one side, and seldom is it the case in this country that high banks can be found on both sides.

The shores abound with low willows and a little further from the waters' edge there are vast quantities of weeds and wild vines, so as to render it exceedingly difficult to travel on foot.

--------- Description of the [Des Moines] river ----------

It is about 8 hund. miles in length heading above St. Peters on the Miss[issippi]. Its uniform width about 40 rods and is remarkable for uniformity. The current so far up as I have been (125 m. to Appenooces village) is generally strong, perhaps from 4 to 6 m. an hour, and the water clear and good except when swollen by rains.

The bottom of the river much of the way is a solid bed of lime stone, in other places it is sandy.

In many places the shores are very muddy, but in others rocky and sandy.

It is said that steam-boats might use it when the water is high in the spring, which begins to rise the fore parts of April and continues to during the rest of the month and in the following also; Mackinaw boats can ascend in the fall although sometimes with difficulty.

There are rapids in a number of places sufficient for the erection of mills etc. Particularly near the Big Bend as it is called, at the corner of upper end of the Ioway prairie and at an Island near Appenooce's village. And also above this point it is said there is a still greater fall than below.

Fish of different kinds and of an excellent quality are taken in it though not in large quantities.

Springs of excellent water and in abundance also issue from its banks and bluffs, although after ascending the river about 100 m. they are not as numerous as they were for this distance.

The bluffs in some places are half a mile perhaps from the river but in others they approach close to the waters edge and are 50 or so ft. high.

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