Conor Watkins' Ozark Mountain Experience
Article 46-48
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft – The “Lewis And Clark” of The Ozarks


Henry Rowe Schoolcraft
The "Lewis And Clark" of The Ozarks

In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned The Corps of Discovery, better known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition, to explore the Louisiana Purchase.  This section of land, which had been purchased by the United States in 1803, made up parts of ten future states including all of Missouri.

As the Lewis and Clark Expedition explored westward, they stayed relatively close to the Missouri River, especially in the Ozarks. The two men and their party only skirted the northern edges of the Ozarks along the Missouri River.  It was not until 1818-1819 that the Ozarks would be explored and documented in detail by men of European descent.

In the winter of 1818, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft and his assistant Levi Pettibone set out to explore the Ozarks with the intent of documenting their observations.  The two men and their single packhorse entered the Ozarks to document the climate, landscape, native peoples, antiquities, and mineral/natural resources.

Unlike Lewis and Clark, who were commissioned by the government, Schoolcraft financed his own expedition.  His main goal was turn a profit by publishing his findings about the mineral resources of the area.  The expedition began at Mine à Breton (pronounced Mine à Burton by the miners), which became the site of modern day Potosi, MO.  He began the ninety-day journey on November 5, 1818 and traveled more than 900 miles before returning to Potosi on Feb 4th, 1819.  Schoolcraft passed near modern day Salem, Houston, and Cabool, all relatively close to Rolla, during his travels across the Ozarks.  Later locations visited included areas near Branson, Springfield, Mountain Home, AR, Batesville, AR, Poplar Bluff, and Farmington.

Schoolcraft’s detailed reports of the Ozarks were the first of their kind for the area.  Although he wasn’t the first white man to explore the area, he was the first to document his observations in detail.  The same was true for Lewis and Clark as they explored the western U.S.  Schoolcraft was successful in documenting his explorations through the interior of the Ozarks.

As stated earlier, the main goal of the trip was to document the mineral resources of Missouri.  This led Schoolcraft to travel to areas that were known to have lead or some other mineral resource.  The French discovered and had been mining lead ore in the area since the early 1700’s.

During his trip, Schoolcraft observed the landscape and considered the Ozarks to be a “semi-alpine region.”  He described the rocks mainly as “secondary limestone” along with granites and some porphyry.  “Secondary limestone” was his description of what is now called dolomite.  Dolomites make up much of the exposed bedrock in the Ozark Plateau and serve as dimension stone in many buildings within the MSM/UM-Rolla campus.

Schoolcraft also observed lead mines extracting high-grade deposits.  To this day, Missouri is one of the world’s largest lead producing regions.  Lead is mined in the form of galena, a silvery cubic mineral, which is lead sulfide (PbS).  Historically, lead has played a large military role, since it is used to make bullets.  This fact made Missouri’s lead mines strategic resources during the Civil War.  Today, lead is commonly used in lead-acid batteries.  These batteries serve to start your car, among other uses.

Several caves were encountered on the trip.  Some of these contained deposits of saltpeter (sometimes saltpetre) which is chemically potassium nitrate.  This mineral, which is used in the manufacture of gunpowder, is a byproduct of bat guano (droppings) and urine.  Such caves would also play an important role in the Civil War.  He also noted the quality and types of timber observed.  Trees ranged from scrub on barren slopes to tall, straight pines in areas of good soil.  Schoolcraft also documented and traveled upon many of the clean, clear rivers of the Ozarks.

Environmentalists and others interested in the early conditions of the Ozarks often refer to Schoolcraft’s journal since he observed the region in its earliest stages of settlement.  Many landforms and features that are no longer in existence were observed and documented.  Bull Shoals, located on the White River, is now submerged deep below the waters of Bull Shoals Reservoir.  Calico Rock, a rock formation in Arkansas, was later destroyed to make way for a railroad.  Perhaps one overall observation, or lack of observation, in his journal was the fact that there was no mention of much gravel being present in the beds of the Ozark streams.  Much of the rock that almost all Ozark streams carry today was washed after during periods of deforestation.  Improperly cleared land for agricultural purposes and logging removed many trees, which led to uncontrolled erosion.

In his travels to various mines (mainly lead), Schoolcraft noticed that most mines and smelting furnaces were inefficiently constructed and operated.  Mines were dug by hand, mostly be individual prospectors.  Since there was no general management, mines were usually simple pits dug with picks and shovels.  Schoolcraft described some mines as resembling oversized prairie dog towns.  Much of the lead ore at that time was in plain view on the ground and easily dug up and hauled away.  There were no machines or pumps to make mining more efficient and mines were often abandoned due to flooding, just as the best veins of ore came into view.  Smelting furnaces were built out of the wrong type of rock, usually dolomite, which doesn’t stand up well to heat.  It essentially crumbles and turns into a form of lime when exposed to high temperatures.  Because of this fact, most furnaces were used to smelt only one batch of lead.  If more heat resistant materials had been used, these furnaces could have been used repeatedly.  Although the furnaces extracted lead from the ore, much of the elemental lead was left in the ash or slag leftover from the furnaces.  As furnaces improved, special types were constructed, which economically extracted this remaining lead from what was previously waste material.

Perhaps Schoolcraft’s most important and enduring suggestion appears on page 23 of his book “A View of The Lead Mines of Missouri.” After explaining some of the problems observed in the mines of the area, he states, “The acquisition of a scientific knowledge of minerals should be facilitated by the establishment of a seminary in this quarter.  There should be a mineralogical school located in the mine country, where students might be instructed in that useful science.”  He then made comparisons to the region of Saxony in Germany, where mining institutions were funded to provide skilled labor for the mines.  This plan helped develop the region of Germany.  Schoolcraft realized that the area contained some of the richest ore deposits on earth but knew that the mines of the region could never be fully developed without educated workers.  Schoolcraft was the first person to suggest the opening of such a school in Missouri.

By the 1840’s, many realized that Schoolcraft’s suggestions were valid.  Large deposits of lead and iron had been discovered and were being mined.  Due to lack of skilled workers, these deposits were not exploited to their full potential.  Funding to build such an institution wasn’t possible until the U.S. Congress passed the Morrill Land Grant Act in 1862.  This grant was intended to funding agricultural and mining institutions.  After almost a decade of debate, a decision was made.  An agricultural school was to be established at the pre-existing campus in Columbia and a mining school was to be built at a location within the mining district.  Although several sites were considered, Phelps County made the most attractive offer by giving land and money for the establishment of such a school.  On November 23, 1871, the Missouri School of Mines officially opened its doors in the Ozarks of Rolla, MO to educate students in the sciences of mining, metallurgy, and engineering.  Although MSM-UMR was established over 50 years after Schoolcraft’s recommendations, it was done for the reasons he noted.  Within two decades, the school established a solid reputation that it continues to hold to this day.  Those currently studying in or employed within the School of Mines and Metallurgy at the University of Missouri – Rolla can partly thank Henry Rowe Schoolcraft for the opportunity.

Schoolcraft also encountered several early settlers during his explorations and documented his experiences.  Most of these settlers lived alone or in small groups and survived by hunting and subsistence farming.  Schoolcraft found these early Ozarkers to be hospitable, for the most part.  Although not particularly well off themselves, they often fed and offered the two a place to sleep without wanting anything in return.  In only one isolated case, a settler took their money in return for goods never received.

Schoolcraft originated from New York State and was used to a more refined eastern culture.  He was raised by middle class parents who encouraged him to receive a well-rounded education.  He soon became obsessed with his studies, especially those relating to Geology.  At 25 years of age, the family business failed and he looked for a fresh start.  Inspired by Horace Greeley, a New York publisher, Schoolcraft headed west to seek his fortunes.

Some of Schoolcraft’s observations in the Ozarks were definite culture shock to an educated easterner.  It seemed he often looked down on his hosts, although they welcomed him with hospitality.  He often described the locals as being uneducated, illiterate, superstitious, lacking deep religious convictions, rude in appearance, and unrefined.  He often found it difficult to change the subject of conversation from topics such as bears and hunting to something else.  This was even true among the women and girls of the region.  Schoolcraft considered these interests to be “rude pursuits” although hunting animals was a way of life critical for survival.  Schoolcraft viewed the skins worn by the settlers of the Ozarks to be filthy.  Children were described as being “greasy and dirty.”  He would often be greeted by the sight of skins hanging out to dry and the sound of barking dogs when approaching the houses of the settlers.  The dogs served as the first line of protection against attacking people or animals.  They were trained to attack intruders, no matter if they came walking on two or four legs.

Also noticed was a case of vigilante justice, a relatively rare occurrence in New York.  In the case Schoolcraft overheard, one man stole another’s horse.  An argument resulted and one man shot another.  The shooting victim’s friends and relatives organized to searched out the other man and shot him.

Even today, some visitors to the Ozarks are not sure how to handle the laid back atmosphere of the Ozarks.  As recently as November 2001, National Geographic Magazine featured a less than flattering story on Steelville, MO.  See http://web.umr.edu/~cwatkin/cwome/article33&34combined.htm for more information on this story.  Time Magazine also sent a reporter around the time Ft. Leonard Wood was constructed.  His story highlighting Waynesville, MO did not pick out the positive points of living in the area.

One may have noticed that “Lewis and Clark” in the title of this article is in quotes.  This was done for two reasons.  Firstly, Lewis and Clark were commissioned by the U.S. government to explore previously unmapped territory.  The men on their journey were very well trained and well disciplined.

On the other hand, Schoolcraft and Pettibone set out to explore the Ozarks for personal gain and paid for the expedition with their own money.  It was their intent to publish their findings in an attempt to make a profit.  The two men were completely inexperienced in the ways of the wilderness and were less than ideally prepared for their journey.  Their journey took place during the winter of 1818-1819.  Their decision to travel during the winter increased their chances of encountering inclement weather.  Schoolcraft and Pettibone were sometimes lost and wandered aimlessly for days.

The men brought along guns for hunting game, but brought the wrong type for most of the animals they intended to shoot.  Instead of bringing rifles, which are good for hunting larger animals at farther distances, the two men brought shotguns.  Although effective for birds and relatively small animals at close range, they are not effective for hunting deer, bear, and other large animals at a distance.  When the two fired on their first bear it seemed as though their shots were virtually harmless to the bear.  There were multiple times during their explorations that the two found themselves nearly or completely out of ammunition.  At one time, a local observed the shotguns carried by the men, and immediately knew that the two were strangers to the area.  Schoolcraft and Pettibone were often hungry due to their inability to obtain food on their own and found themselves trading with or relying on the hospitality of the locals for their survival.  Luck may have played a part in keeping the two from experiencing worse hardships.

The second reason “Lewis And Clark” is in quotes above is due to the fact that Ozarkers are known for their liberal use of quotation marks, especially in locations where they are not always needed.  Tom Beveridge, once head of the MSM-UMR Department of Geological Engineering noted this in his book, “Ozarks” in Chapter 16 “Idioms And Accents.”  See http://web.umr.edu/~cwatkin/ozarks/ozarks.htm for more details.  An example of the “quotes” phenomenon is easily observed on the UM-Rolla campus near Thomas Jefferson Hall.  A tank of diesel fuel to power an electrical backup generator sits along the south-facing wall of the South Tower.  The warning “NO SMOKING” is printed on the side of the tank with “quotes” and all!  Be on the lookout for more “examples” on signs while traveling the highways of the Ozarks and other locations on campus.


Be on the lookout for "quotes" when traveling in the Ozarks!

Schoolcraft’s travels to the Ozarks of present day Missouri and Arkansas were only a small part of his very interesting career.  His explorations in the Ozarks and his lobbying to Congress helped enable his appointment as mineralogist and naturalist for the Cass Expedition, which explored the regions around the Upper Mississippi River and Lake Superior.  After successfully assisting with negotiations between Indians, Schoolcraft was appointed as Indian Agent for tribes in the Upper Great Lakes Region in 1822.  In 1823, he married Jane Johnston, who was ¼ Indian, and the two began assembling a large collection of Indian legends and lore.

Schoolcraft continued to negotiate between local Indian tribes and helped shape policies of the U.S. Government.  It has been pointed out that although Schoolcraft admired and wished to help the Indians, some of the policies he helped shape would eventually destroy the mainstream Indian culture.

In 1845, his wife died and he remarried to Mary Howard.  She assisted in the publication of multiple volumes relating to Indian Culture.  It is interesting to note that Mary Howard Schoolcraft was a southern racist and a strong supporter of slavery.  In two publications, she indicated that God supported slavery since the practice brings savages to civilization and God to the savages.

Schoolcraft’s goals included winning the admiration of others, partly by leaving a legacy of written works.  Although many of Schoolcraft’s writings were later found to be plagiarisms of earlier works, he is still considered to be a leading authority in the study of American Indian culture.  Schoolcraft died a broke man on Dec 10, 1864.  He also died with few close friends, which was partly due to his very driven nature and his overzealous desire to please others.

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft’s is mostly remembered for his role in recording and shaping Indian culture.  Schools, parks, towns, and counties near the Great Lakes have been named for the Indian Agent but his accomplishments in Missouri have been largely forgotten.  Ffew places in Missouri are named for the explorer.  The most prominent honor received in Missouri is the fact that Hwy 65 in Springfield is named the Schoolcraft Freeway for a short distance.  A hiking trail near Potosi, MO is also named for the explorer (http://www.fidnet.com/~mcmurfy1/schlcrft.html).  Although many studying and working at UM-Rolla and those living in Missouri are unaware of his explorations, Schoolcraft has left a lasting legacy.

Schoolcraft published two writings about his explorations through the Ozarks.  His first publication was titled “Journal of a Tour into the Interior of Missouri and Arkansaw, from Potosi, or Mine a Burton, in Missouri Territory, in a South-West Direction, toward the Rocky Mountains, Performed in the Years 1818 and 1819.”  Although originally published in 1821, this journal is relatively common and available from various different sources.  A free copy may be viewed online at http://history.smsu.edu/FTMiller/LocalHistory/Schoolcraft/hrschcrft.htm from the SMSU Department of Local History.  It is also available reprinted as a book by Milton Rafferty, also of SMSU.  The book, titled “Rude Pursuits And Rugged Peaks” is currently in print and published by the University of Arkansas Press.  Also included with the book is an excellent introduction and maps of the route, both of which are not included in the web version.  Although extremely dull and long, a poem by Schoolcraft, “Transallegania” is included in both versions.

Schoolcraft’s first published book on the Ozarks “A View of The Lead Mines of Missouri,” is much rarer and can be extremely hard to find.  Since the book did not sell well during its initial publication in 1819 and much of the technical information is now obsolete, no attempts have been made to reprint the work to a mass market.  Original copies are very rare and extremely expensive.  A recent search on a used book website returned one original copy at a price of $860.  Print on demand reprints sell for around $90-100.  Luckily those wanting to read this work can find copies of the original or “copies of copies of the original” in libraries.  The UM-Rolla Curtis Laws Wilson Library has two such copies of the book, which have been run off on a Xerox machine.  The larger copy is easier to read and is suggested for checkout (if available).  Also check holdings at other Merlin/Mobius libraries.

Another very brief but informative piece of writing describing Schoolcraft is located in “Missouri Historical Review” Volume 63 – Number 4, which was published in July 1969.  This writing, titled “Origins of Engineering Education in Missouri,” was written by Harry J. Eisenman, a Professor Emeritus in the UM-Rolla Department of History.  “Missouri Historical Review” is the quarterly newsletter of the Missouri Historical Society based in Columbia, MO.  For those interested in the Geology of the Ozarks, Mining in Missouri, MSM-UMR, or just wanting to find more out about Schoolcraft, the above publications are invaluable resources.  Also see http://www.iath.virginia.edu/utc/proslav/schoolhp.html and http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/su/hist/slavguid.html for more information on Schoolcraft’s second wife.

(C) 2006 by Conor Watkins