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Page 94

I have been Where the wild will of Mississippi's tide has dashed me on the sawyer." - BRAINERD.

THE North American continent - in its impenetrable forests - its fertile prairies - its magnificent lakes - its variety of rivers with their falls - is the richest portion of our globe. Many of these wonderful exhibitions of nature are already shrines, where pilgrims from every land assemble to admire and marvel at the surpassing wonders of a new world. So numerous indeed are the objects presented, so novel and striking is their character, that the judgment is confused in endeavoring to decide which single one is worthy of the greatest admiration; and the forest - the prairies - the lakes - the rivers - and falls - each in turn dispute the supremacy.

But to us, the Mississippi ranks first in importance; and thus we think must it strike all, when they consider the luxurious fertility of the valley through which it flows, its vast extent, and the charm of mystery that rests upon its waters.

The Niagara Falls, with its fearful depths, its rocky heights, its thunder, and "bows of promise," addresses itself to the ear, and the eye; and through these alone impresses the beholder with the greatness of its character. The Mississippi, on the contrary, although it may have few or no tangible demonstrations of power, although it has no language with which it can startle the senses, yet in a "still small voice" addresses the mind with its terrible lessons of strength and sublimity, more forcibly than any other object in nature.

The name MISSISSIPPI, was derived from the aborigines of the country, and has been poetically rendered the "Father of Waters." There is little truth in this translation, and it gives no idea, or scarcely none, of the river itself. The literal meaning of the Indian compound, Mississippi, as is the case with all Indian names in this country, would have been much better, and every way more characteristic. From the most numerous Indian tribe in the southwest we derive the name; and it would seem that the same people who gave the name to the Mississippi, at different times possessed nearly half the continent; judging from the fact that the Ohio in the north, and many of the most southern points of the peninsula of Florida, are named from the Choctaw language.

With that tribe the two simple adjectives, Missah and Sippah, are used when describing the most familiar things; but these two words, though they are employed thus familiarly, when separated - compounded, form the most characteristic name we can get of this wonderful river. Missah, literally Old big, Sippah, strong, OLD- BIG-STRONG; and this name is eminently appropriate to the Mississippi.

The country through which this river flows, is almost entirely alluvial. Not a stone is to be seen, save about its head-waters; and the dark rich earth "looks eager for the hand of cultivation;" for vegetation lies piled upon its surface with a luxuriant wastefulness that beggars all description, and finds no comparison for its extent, except in the mighty river from which it receives its support. This alluvial soil forms but frail banks wherewith to confine the swift current of the Mississippi; and, as might be imagined, these are continually altering their shape and location.

The channel is capricious and wayward in its course. The needle of the compass turns round and round upon its axis, as it marks the bearings of your craft, and in a few hours will frequently point due north, west, east, and south, delineating those tremendous bends in the stream which nature seems to have formed to check the headlong current, and keep it from rushing too madly to the ocean.

But the stream does not always tamely circumscribe these bends: gathering strength from resistance, it will form new and more direct channels; and thus it is, that large tracts of country once upon the river, become inland, or are entirely swept away by the current; and so frequently does this happen, that "cut-offs" are almost as familiar to the eye on the Mississippi, as its muddy waters.

When the Mississippi, in making its "cut-offs," is ploughing its way through the virgin soil, there float upon the top of this destroying tide, thousands of trees, which but lately covered the land, and lined its caving banks. These gigantic wrecks of the primitive forests are tossed about by the invisible power of the current, as if they were straws; and they find no rest, until with associated thousands they are thrown upon some projecting point of land, where they lie rotting for miles, their dark forms frequently shooting into the air like writhing serpents, presenting one of the most desolate pictures of which the mind can conceive. These masses of timber are called "rafts."

Other trees become attached to the bottom of the river, and yet by some elasticity of the roots are loose enough to be affected by the strange and powerful current, which will bear them down under the surface; and the trees, by their own strength, will come gracefully up again to be again ingulfed; and thus they continuously wave upward and downward, with a gracefulness of motion which would not disgrace a beau of the old school. Boats frequently pass over these "sawyers," as they go down stream, pressing them under by their weight; but let some unfortunate child of the genius of Robert Fulton, as it passes up stream, be saluted by the visage of one of these polite gentry, as it rises ten or more feet in the air, and nothing short of irreparable damage, or swift destruction ensues: while the cause of all this disaster, after the concussion, will rise above the ruin as if nothing had happened, shake the dripping water from its forked limbs, and sink and rise again, rejoicing in its strength.

Other trees become firmly fastened in the bed of the river; and their long trunks, shorn of their limbs, present the most formidable objects of navigation. A rock itself, sharpened and set by art, could be no more dangerous than these dread "snags." Let the bows of the strongest vessel come in contact with them, and the concussion will crush its timbers as if they were paper; and the noble craft will tremble for a moment like a thing of life, when suddenly stricken to its vitals, and then sink into its grave.

Such are the "cut-offs," "rafts," "sawyers," and "snags," of the Mississippi; terms significant to the minds of the western boatman and hunter, of qualities which they apply to themselves, and to their heroes, whenever they wish to express themselves strongly; and we presume that the beau-ideal of a political character with them, would be, one who would come at the truth by a "cut off " - separate and pile up falsehood for decay like the trees of a "raft:" and do all this with the politeness of a "sawyer" - and with principles unyielding as a "snag."

The forests that line the banks of the Mississippi, and supply, without any apparent decrease, the vast masses of timber that in such varied combinations every where meet the eye, are themselves worthy of the river which they adorn.

Go into the primitive forests at noonday, and however fiercely the sun may shine, you will find yourself enveloped in gloom. Gigantic trees obstruct your pathway, and as you cast your eyes upward, your head grows dizzy with their height. Here, too, are to be seen dead trunks, shorn of their limbs, and whitening in the blasts, that are as mighty in their size as the pillars of Hercules. Grape-vines larger than your body will, for some distance, creep along the ground, and then suddenly spring a hundred feet into the air, grasp some patriarch of the forest in its folds, crush, mutilate, and destroy it; and then, as if to make amends for the injury, throw over its deadening work the brightest green, the richest foliage, filled with fragrance, and the clustering grape. On the top of these aspiring trees, the squirrel is beyond the gunshot reach of the hunter.

Upon the ground are long piles of crumbling mould, distinguished from the earth around them by their numerous and variegated flowers. These immense piles, higher in places shall your head, are hut the remains of single trees, that a century ago startled the silence now so profound, and with their headlong crash sent through the green arch above sounds that for a moment silenced the echoing thunder that loaded the hurricane that prostrated them. Here were to be seen the ruins of a new continent - here were mouldering tile antiquities of America - how unlike those of the Old World. Omnipotence, not man, had created these wonderful monuments of greatness, with no other tears than the silent rain, no other slavery than the beautiful laws that govern nature in ordering the seasons - and yet these monuments, created in innocency, and at the expense of so much time, were wasting into nothingness. God above in his power could erect them. They were breathed upon in anger and turned to dust.

The vast extent of the Mississippi is almost beyond belief. The stream which may bear you gently along in midwinter, so far south that the sun is oppressive, finds its beginnings in a country of eternal snows. Follow it in your imagination thousands of miles, as you pass on from its head waters to its mouth, and you find it flowing through almost every climate under heaven: nay more - the comparatively small stream on which you look, receives within itself the waters of four rivers alone; Arkansas, Red, Ohio, and Missouri; whose united length, without including their tributaries, is over eight thousand miles. Yet, this mighty flood is swallowed up by the Mississippi, as if it possessed within itself the very capacity of the ocean, and disdained in its comprehensive limits, to acknowledge the accession of strength.

The color of this tremendous flood of water is always turbid. There seems no rest for it, that will enable it to become quiet or clear. In all seasons the same muddy water meets the eye; and this strange peculiarity suggests to the mind that the banks of the river itself are composed of this dark sediment which has in the course of centuries confined the onward flood within its present channel, and in this order of nature we find one of the most original features of the river; for on the Mississippi we have no land sloping in gentle declivities to the water's edge, but a bank just high enough, where it is washed by the river, to protect the back country from inundation, in the ordinary rises of the stream; for whenever, from an extensive flood, it rises above the top of this feeble barrier, the water runs down into the country.

This singular fact shows how all the land on the Mississippi south of the thirty-fourth degree of latitude, is liable to inundation, since nearly all the inhabitants on the shores of the river, find its level in ordinarily high water, running above the land on which they reside. To prevent this easy, and apparently natural inundation, there seems to be a power constantly exerted to hold the flood in check, and bid it "go so far and no farther; and but for this interposition of Divine power, here so signally displayed, the fair fields of the South would become mere sand-bars upon the shores of the Atlantic, and the country which might now support the world by its luxurious vegetation, would only bear the angry ocean wave.

Suppose, for an instant, that a universal spring should beam upon our favored continent, and that the thousands of streams which are tributary to the Mississippi were to become at once unloosed: the mighty flood in its rushing course would destroy the heart of the northwestern continent.

But mark the goodness and wisdom of Providence! Early in the spring, the waters of the Ohio rise with its tributaries, and the Mississippi bears them off without injuriously overflowing its banks. When summer sets in, its own head-waters about the lakes, and the swift Missouri, with its melting ice from the Rocky Mountains, come down; and thus each, in order, makes the Mississippi its outlet to the Gulf of Mexico. But were all these streams permitted to come together in their strength, what, again we ask, would save the Eden gardens of the South?

In contemplations like these, carried out to their fullest extent, we may arrive at the character of this mighty river. It is in the thoughts it suggests, and not in the breadth or length visible at any given point to the eye. Depending on the senses alone, we should never be confounded by astonishment, or excited by admiration. You may float upon its bosom, and be lost amid its world of waters, and yet see nothing of its vastness; for the river has no striking beauty; its waves run scarce as high as a child can reach; upon its banks we find no towering precipices, no cloud-capped mountains - all, all is dull, - a dreary waste.

Let us float however, day after day, upon its apparently sluggish surface, and by comparison once begin to comprehend its magnitude, and the mind becomes overwhelmed with fearful admiration. There seems to rise up from its muddy waters a spirit robed in mystery, that points back for its beginning to the deluge, and whispers audibly, "I roll on, and on, and on, altering, but not altered, while time exists!"

Here, too, we behold a power terrible in its loneliness; for on the Mississippi a sameness meets your eye every where, with scarce a single change of scene.

A river incomprehensible, illimitable, and mysterious, flows ever onward, tossing to and fro under its depths, in its own channel, as if fretting in its ordered limits; swallowing its banks here, and disgorging them elsewhere, so suddenly that the attentive pilot, as he repeats his frequent route, feels that he knows not where he is, and often hesitates fearfully along in the mighty flood, guided only by the certain lead; and again and again is he startled by the ominous cry, "Less fathom deep!" where but yesterday the lead would have in vain gone down for soundings.

Such is the great Aorta of the continent of North America; alone and unequalled in its majesty, it proclaims in its course the wisdom and power of GOD, who only can measure its depths, and ; "turn them about as a very little thing."

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