Monday, 11 April 2011

Some Excerpts From "A Journey to The Land Of Eden"



One of our men, Joseph Colson by name, a timorous, lazy fellow, had squandered away his bread, and grew very uneasy when his own ravening had reduced him to short allowance. He was one of those drones who love to do little and eat much, and are never in humour unless their bellies are full. According to this wrong turn of constitution, when he found he could no longer revel in plenty, he began to break the rules by complaining and threatening to desert. This had like to have brought him to the blanket, but his submission reprieved him. Though bread grew a little scanty with us, we had venison in abundance, which a true woodsman can eat contentedly without any bread at all. But bears' flesh needs something of the farinaceous, to make it pass easily off the stomach. In the night we heard a dog bark at some distance, as we thought, when we saw all our own dogs lying about the fire. This was another alarm; but we soon discovered it to be a wolf, which will sometimes bark very like a dog, but something shriller.

One of the Indians shot a wild goose, that was very lousy, which nevertheless was good meat, and proved those contemptible tasters to be no bad tasters. However, for those stomachs that were so unhappy as to be squeamish, there was plenty of fat bear, we having killed two in this day's march.

. Our invalids found themselves in travelling condition this morning, and began to conceive hopes of returning home and dying in their own beds. We pursued our journey through uneven and perplexed woods, and in the thickest of them had the fortune to knock down a young buffalo, two years old. Providence threw this vast animal in our way very seasonably, just as our provisions began to fail us. And it was the more welcome too, because it was change of diet, which of all varieties, next to that of bed-fellows, is the most agreeable. We had lived upon venison and bear until our stomachs loathed them almost as much as the Hebrews of old did their quails. Our butchers were so unhandy at their business that we grew very lank before we could get our dinner. But when it came, we found it equal in goodness to the best beef. They made it the longer because they kept sucking the water out of the guts, in imitation of the Catawba Indians, upon the belief that it is a great cordial, and will even make them drunk, or at least very gay. We encamped upon Hico river, pretty high up, and had much ado to get our house in order, before a heavy shower descended upon us. I was in pain lest our sick men might suffer by the rain, but might have spared myself the concern, because it had the effect of a cold bath upon them, and drove away their distemper, or rather changed it into a canine appetite, that devoured all before it. It rained smartly all night long, which made our situation on the low-ground more fit for otters than men.

The sorrel tree is frequent there, whose leaves, brewed in beer, are good in dropsies, green-sickness, and cachexies. We also saw in this place abundance of papaw trees, the wood whereof the Indians make very dry on purpose to rub fire out of it. Their method of doing it is this: they hold one of these dry sticks in each hand, and by rubbing them hard and quick together, rarify the air in such a manner as to fetch fire in ten minutes. Whenever they offer any sacrifice to their God, they look upon it as a profanation to make use of fire already kindled, but produce fresh virgin fire for that purpose, by rubbing two of these sticks together that never had been used before on any occasion.

. In our way we shot a doe, but she not falling immediately, we had lost our game had not the ravens, by their croaking, conducted us to the thicket where she fell. We plunged the carcass of the deer into the water, to secure it from these ominous birds till we returned, but an hour afterwards were surprised with the sight of a wolf which had been fishing for it, and devoured one side. We knocked down an ancient she bear that had no flesh upon her bones, so we left it to the free-booters of the forest. In coming back to the camp we discovered a solitary bull buffalo, which boldly stood his ground, contrary to the custom of that shy animal, we spared his life, from a principle of never slaughtering an innocent creature to no purpose.

Major Mayo's survey being no more than half done, we were obliged to amuse ourselves another day in this place. And that the time might not be quite lost, we put our garments and baggage into good repair. I for my part never spent a day so well during the whole voyage. I had an impertinent tooth in my upper jaw, that had been loose for some time, and made me chew with great caution. Particularly I could not grind a biscuit but with much deliberation and presence of mind. Tooth-drawers we had non amongst us, nor any of the instruments they make use of. However invention supplied this want very happily, and I contrived to get rid of this troublesome companion by cutting a caper. I caused a twine to be fastened round the root of my tooth, about a fathom in length, and then tied the other end to the snag of a log that lay upon the ground, in such a manner that I could just stand upright. Having adjusted my string in this manner, I bent my knees enough to enable me to spring vigorously off the ground, as perpendicularly as I could. The force of the leap drew out the tooth with so much ease that I felt nothing of it, nor should have believed it was come away, unless I had seen it dangling at the end of the string. An under tooth may be fetched out by standing off the ground and fastening your string at due distance above you. And having so fixed your gear, jump off your standing, and the weight of your body, added to the force of the spring, will prize out your tooth with less pain than any operator upon earth could draw it. This new way of tooth-drawing, being so silently and deliberately performed, both surprised and delighted all that were present, who could not guess what I was going about. I immediately found the benefit of getting rid of this troublesome companion, by eating my supper with more comfort than I had done during the whole expedition.

. We could have no supplies from such neighbours as these, but depended on our own knapsacks, in which we had some remnants of cold fowls that we brought from Blue Stone Castle.

The Westover Manuscripts 1674-1744.

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