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Historic Diaries: Marsh, 1834

Across the Wide Prairie

Editor's Note:

Having received a negative answer from Appenoose, Rev. Marsh left the Fox village at Ottumwa and headed for that of Keokuk, about 12 miles from the mouth of the Iowa River, where he hoped to find a more sympathetic reception. Marsh made this trip overland, for the most part, guided by Indians with whom he could not communicate since his interpreter did not accompany them.


On a blank leaf (at page 133 of the online version Marsh later wrote a short synopsis of this trip.


Thurs [Aug.] 12th


Early this morning procured a passage to Ke-o-kucks town on the Ioway river and set out in company with four or five Indians, being on the return from their Summer hunt. To carry their packs they had three horses and then one other in the company, which I rode. Our course during the day was north easterly and most of this prairies, although we passed some fine groves of timber. These lay high and dry, the grass abundant, and the soil black wherever it was broken. The old Indn. said that it was good for corn and I have no doubt.


There was rather a scarcity of water and we crossed only one considerable of a stream during the day, and that was not large enough tp carry mills. Some of the Prairies were very level and others rolling. As I passed along and saw the multitudes of flowers of various kinds and inhaled their sweetness, was reminded of the words,

"“Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.”

[Thomas Gray, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"]


The mowers scythe has [never] swept over it nor has the sod been broken by the plough, but has been the haunt of the buffalo, elk deer etc etc and for them it has afforded abundance of grass, where they roamed until sought by the red man unmolested, but now they are all gone, except here and there a solitary elk and some deer, and these fields seem now to invite the labors of the husbandmen promising him a rich reward in return.

During the day we passed through two prairies of considerable extent and entered the third, by far the largest which I have seen. The first part of the way sometimes I could hardly [see] anhy wood from any point, but it seemed bound only by the horizon. The greater part of it appeared very fine, and would offer pasture for vast herds of cattle. We traveled until dark and then encamped near water. Was so much annoyed by moschetoes, that I slept but little although I had a bar. It is sometimes almost impossible to shield oneself from them, even with a bar they will keep a man awake by their buzzing, and find the way under it unless secured in the closest manner.


But I passed the night in quietness, and no danger came near for the Lord preserved me and blessed be his name.


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