Expedition Through Iowa Territory in 1844

by Captain James Allen and His Company of Dragoons

Comparing Captain Allen's journal side-by-side with an anonymously-written journal of the same expedition which was published with background information, annotations and corrections in the Iowa Journal of History, Volume 51, No. 1 (January, 1953) along with the Lt. Potter map mentioned in (but never published with) the original Allen report.

August 11. Marched from Fort Des Moines in very good order at 10 a.m.; followed the "Oregon trail" three or four miles; then left it to cross the Beaver river, a tributary of the Des Moines; crossed it and encamped on its left bank eight miles from the post. Weather and prairie fair; distance 8 miles; course NW. by N.

August 12. We were detained till 10 o'clock to recover oxen that had strayed during the night. Marched on a narrow dividing ridge between Beaver and Des Moines, the Beaver running close to and nearly parallel to the Des Moines. Encamped at 5 p. m. on a ravine and branch of that river; there were many of these little ravines thrown out from the river on this day's march; they are very deep, and give pure spring water. The ox team is very slow and sluggish, and sticks worse in the mud than the mules; but all the wagons are heavily loaded, and the prairie is soft; it rained hard in the night. Distance 16 miles; course NNW.

August 13. Started at 7, and soon got on a broad prairie; passed the head of the Beaver about 12, where the prairie expands still more; kept on the west side of the prairie towards the Des Moines; many wet places to detain the wagons; encamped at 5 on a deep and well-wooded ravine; found one bee tree with good honey. Course very crooked, but generally NW. by N.; distance 17 miles.

August 14. Marched at 7, and followed up the Des Moines over much such country as yesterday; made 18 miles NW. by N.; day and night fine. Encamped on Bluff creek, a pretty clear little brook, may be 15 or 20 miles long; tried to get an observation of the pole star, but could not with our little sextant; it is too small for any nice purpose.

August 15. Marched at 6 1/2, and soon left the Des Moines far to our right; prairie large and flat, running up close to the river, where it falls off in a sudden bluff, serrated with deep short ravines, with good springs; passed the forks of the river early in the day; saw there elk, but too far off and too wild to be chased or shot; much sign of game is reported near the river; of elk, deer, bears, and turkeys; encamped at 3 on a ravine and near the river; think we are about the neutral ground. Course NW.; distance 17 miles.

August 16. Started at 7; in five or six miles saw many elk at a distance; one drove estimated at 100; crossed Lizard creek about noon, after going much out of the way to get down to it; the country near it is so rough; encamped at 2 1/2 p.m., on this creek, at a very pretty part of it, on a high bank, with a beautiful prairie all around and extending to the Des Moines; killed an elk and a deer at the site of encampment, and saw others. Course NW. by N.; 10 miles.

August 17. Remained encamped to allow the men to wash, and the teams to rest; killed one deer, coons, squirrels, waterfowls, &c.; this seems to be a fine game country. Lizard creek is a pretty little branch of the Des Moines, clear, crooked, and many ripples; when we crossed it yesterday near its mouth, it was 20 feet broad, 10 inches deep, with current of four miles per hour; it is probably 30 miles long, and its valley, which is narrow and deep, is skirted with timber enough to support farms along each side of it.

The following named Officers accompanied the command, Capt. James Allen, 1st U. S. Dragoons, commanding, Asst. [Surgeon] J. S. Griffin, 2nd Lt. Calhoun of 2nd Dragoons, acting Lt. of Co. 1., 2nd Lt. Noble, first Dragoons 2nd Lt. of Co. 1. Brevet 2nd Lt. Potter, acting quarter Master. The number of noncommissioned Off. and privates was 54. There were four waggons for the transportation of Provisions, Hospital, Stores, &c. The Officers and men appeared to be in fine spirits when on the morning of 11 of August 1844. The command took up the line of march for the Prairie, the horses were good and in fair order, several accidents occurred at the start, such as horses throwing their riders, but on the whole everything went on well. The opening of the campaign, marching 5 miles in a N. W. Direction we came to the Beaver a stout creek making into the Des Moines River, a few miles below us, which was crossed without much difficulty we followed it up a few miles when it becoming late, Capt. Allen encamped on it. Course this day N. W. Distance 8 miles.

Monday 12th Aug.  Some of the Oxen having got loose during the night we were detained a few hours in consequence, having recovered them, tents were struck and the march resumed over a level and tolerable fine prairie, the camping place was reached at a seasonable hour, without any incident of interest, it was within a few miles of the Des Moines River.  Course N.N.W. Distance 15 miles.

Tuesday 13th Aug.  Made an early start and marched nearly paralell to Des Moines, a great deal of difficulty was experienced in crossing slues which were numerous and ugly we reached however finally an excellent camping place about two miles from the river. It was on a brow of a ravine covered over with wild honeysuckles and pea Vines. prairie passed over level and sloughy.  Course N. W. Distance 20 Miles.

Wednesday 14th Aug.  Made an early start and passed over a high level prairie, thickly covered with slues. The heat was considerable. Camped at a seasonable hour on a clear pebbly stream running between bluffs, and in a S. E. Direction. The river a few miles off.  Course N. W. Distance 20 Miles.

Thursday 15th Aug.  Resumed the line of march up the Des Moines, at an early hour and passed over a rolling prairie, with slues here and there as usual. Seen some Elk to our left. Camped at a usual hour on a bluff between two ravines about half a mile from the Des Moines, which there is a pretty stream. On leave exhibited signs of failing and some of the Horses backs of getting sore. It rained during the night.  Course N. W. Distance 15 miles.

Friday 16th Augt.  Took up the line of march at an early hour, and in a short time struck Lizard Creek, which we crossed about two miles from its mouth. This is a respectable creek with bluffy banks and pebbly bottom. It is well wooded. Its general course is S. E. Encamped on it at an early hour where its course is nearly circular, its banks being very high and steep. A great quantity of game was met with in the Vicinity of camp. Jones the guide killed an Elk, others Deer &c. Prairie passed over on this days march rolling and firm.   Course N.N.W. Distance 8 miles.   During the night a severe thunder storm came up from N. W. The lightning was incessant and vivid, the thunder was loud and reverberated in a sublime manner over the vast prairies, and was finally lost down the river in a distant roar. We were now ten miles within the Neutral ground.

Saturday 17th Aug.  Still in camp. I rode out to the river two miles distant, and saw a fine coal bed on the bank. The whole bank or bluff appeared to be a solid mass of coal. Tabular masses of Red stone are to be seen scattered at intervals over the prairie. They present the appearance of having been torn from the primitive beds by some violent convulsion of nature, and by some unknown force transported to their present locations. the Des Moines river at this point rocky and clear

August 18. It rained very much last night, making the prairie soft and extremely difficult for the teams; we had to double teams, and also apply the men to draw the wagons through the slues, and these were numerous; worked out far from timber and did not find a place to encamp till 9 at night, when we struck a deep ravine leading to the Des Moines, the mouth of which is called the "Delaware battle ground," a place where a party of some 20 Delawares were all killed by the Sioux three years since. Course NW.; distance 10 miles.

August 19. Six horses absent this morning, and were not recovered till 9 o'clock; crossed a little creek, broke a wagon tongue; went on a due north course about 5 miles, when we struck the west branch of the Des Moines at a place called the "Iron Banks;" here we crossed without trouble at a rapid ford, on a bottom of lime rock and primitive boulders; the river was above its meridian height, and was rising; a little below the ford is a limestone ledge of 20 feet height, on the east bank, in their horizontal strata, and much mixed and colored with oxides of iron. Above this point the prairie seemed to change its character, becoming rolling and dry, and much mixed with sand and limestone pebbles; the west branch where we crossed it, was about one-third the volume of the Des Moines at mouth of Raccoon; encamped on this branch 10 miles above the Iron Banks. General course NW.; distance 15 miles.

August 20. Kept as close to the river as the slopes and ravines would permit, over the same kind of lime country that we met yesterday; in the afternoon struck a sluggish little stream that we attempted to head, and which led us far out into the Big Prairie, and away from timber; encamped at 2 p.m. on a little lake or expansion of this stream about three miles from the main river. Course NW.; distance 15 miles.

August 21. Made an early start, but found the country so wet and the slues so numerous that our progress was slow and difficult; the wagons, being yet heavily loaded, cut deep into the wet ground, and stuck fast in every mire till pulled out by the main strength of the command; the men were all the time muddy and wet, and more fatigued than on any previous day; about five in the afternoon, while we were fast in a mudhole, there came a tremendous storm from the north, with torrents of rain; and night and pitch darkness, with rain, thunder, and cold, found us three or four miles from timber, and unable to go further; there was no firm ground about us, and there we spent the night as we best could, without fire, shelter, or food. Course N.; 15 miles.

August 22. It took all of this day to make six miles through this soft prairie, flooded by the rain of yesterday and last night; encamped at sunset on a pretty little lake 4 miles long and 300 or 400 yards broad, having a rich looking little island near the centre; there are many small groves of fine timber skirting this lake, in one of which we encamped. Course NW.; distance 6 miles.

August 23. Laid still to-day, and sent back to bring up the ox-team that had been left the day before yesterday about 8 miles from here; it could not be moved for the floods of the slues; abundance of swan, geese, and ducks on this lake, and much sign of otter all around it; one of the men shot an elk, but did not get him; killed plenty of fowl, but no fish; I believe the otter frightened the fish from the shores.

August 24. Remained encamped, and got the ox-team in about sunset, much wearied; the weather is now fine, but the prairie is yet flooded.

Sunday 18th Augt.  Tents were struck at an early hour and the line of march taken up nearly paralell to the Des Moines, a succession of the most terrible slues we encountered and crossed. It required the united exertions of all hands to extricate the waggons from some of them. In consequence, but 12 miles were made though in the saddle more or less for 12 hours. We arrived in camp at 8 P. M. and consequently we had to pitch our tents in the dark. This camp was nearly opposite the forks of the river. There is an East middle and west fork, the latter being the main one. The men and horses were much fatigued.  Course N. W. Distance 12 miles.

Monday 19th Augt.  Started early, the tongue of staff waggon broke in crossing the small branch upon which we had encamped. After a short detention to repair it the route was resumed towards the West Fork, which Capt. Allen determined to cross. A good crossing being found it was forded without difficulty. The bottoms were very rocky. The crossing was made but a few miles above the Fork. Abundance of Iron ore was found at this place. After crossing we kept up the stream and close to it. Arrived at the camp early on the river prairies passed over of a rolling and rocky character. Limestone, Predominating rock.  Course N. W. Distance 10 miles.

Tuesday 20th Augt.  Made an early start and kept up the river, it being Capt. Allen's intention to follow it to its source. After passing over some beautiful rolling prairies we struck a broad deep slue supposed to be the outlet of a Lake, and followed it up for two or three miles in hopes of finding a crossing in which we were disappointed. Capt. Allen then encamped at a point where a few willow bushes grew, there being no other timber in view. The course of the slue was towards the river. Abundance of ducks found in it  Course N. W. Distance 15 miles.

Wednesday 21st Augt.  Took up the line of march at an early hour, and toiled during the day over a terrible prairie full of the worst sort of slues. The waggons would sink to their axles and it repeatedly required the combined efforts of all the men and double teams to extricate them. Some of them soft places extended for a hundred yards. It commenced about 5. P. M. to rain in torrents, at the same time a raw and strong wind came down from the North. There was timber about four miles off to our left which Capt. Allen attempted to reach, but darkness coming on rendered our progress slow and toilsome. It still continued to rain hard, the incessant and vivid lightning above enabled us to see one another. The Waggons having become seperated and it appearing impossible to reach the timber, Capt. Allen halted on the highest ground he could find and every one had to shift for himself as well as he was able until morning, without supper or shelter.  Course N. Distance 15 Miles.

Thursday 22nd Augt.  Made an early start and pursued a N. W. course. The late rains had swelled the slues so much that it was difficult on many occasions to cross them, without the help of Pontoon Waggon body, which however was put but once at a wide running slue. The Ox team was out of sight nevertheless we pursued forwards towards the timber, which we found to belong to a long narrow Lake with an abundance of Beautiful timber. Capt. Allen encamped on it.  Course N. W. Distance 6 miles.

Friday 23rd Augt.  Still in Camp. Weather fine but cool. Jones shot an Elk but could not get him. Plenty of Ducks killed. The Lake did not appear to be deep. The river is to the left of it, but few fish were caught.

Saturday 24th Augt.  Still in Camp. Capt. Allen sent for the Ox team, which has not yet arrived. It got in at dark, weather fine, night moonlight.

August 25. Marched at 7; in eight miles struck a large grassy slue or prairie stream connecting two lakes; it was 100 yards broad and swimming deep; I was obliged to ferry everything across in the ponton wagon bed, and to swim the horses; this occupied the whole day till dark, when we went on two miles more to reach timber, which was found on a large irregular glassy lake that seems to belong to a chain or series of small lakes, forming, as we suppose, the sources of the west branches of the Des Moines, that we are following up; the timber of this river is seen off to our left about three miles, but cannot be approached nearer by reason of these lakes. Jones, a citizen, employed as a guide, gave up his occupation some days ago; says he knows nothing of this country; was never near so high up, and never heard of such a country as we are now in; so I am guide myself. Course NW. by N.; distance 10 miles.

August 26. We spent the whole of this day in fruitless search of a way to lead us through these interminable lakes; determined finally at night to cross a strait between two of them, and with that object encamped on the south side of it, six miles north of encampment of last night. The grass of this country is tall and luxuriant, remarkably so for so high a latitude, but the whole country is good for nothing, except for the seclusion and safety it affords to the numerous waterfowl that are hatched and grown in it. Course N.; distance 6 miles.

August 27. Crossed the strait at the point chosen yesterday; it was 200 yards broad, and swimming all the way; got all over at 2 p.m., and went on eight miles and encamped on the broad prairie, six or seven miles from any timber; we can see timber to the east of us, surmised to be that of the Blue Earth river of the St. Peter's; the surface of the country is getting more broken and irregular, as though we were approaching the sources of its streams. Course NW.; distance 8 miles.

August 28. Marched early, and sent Lieutenant Calhoun with Jones, the guide, to explore the timber seen off to our right, and thought to be that of the Blue Earth river; they returned to the command about sunset, and reported that they found a lake 7 or 10 miles long, of beautiful character, with bright pebbled shores, and well-timbered borders, having a small stream running into it from the westward, and also an outlet to the eastward, which they followed down about 10 miles, passing in that distance several little lakes or expansions of the outlet, which, when they left it, had grown to a stream, 20 or 30 feet broad, 3 or 4 feet deep, and running with a gentle current in a direction a little east of north; this stream being some distance above the sources of the east branch of the Des Moines, and apparently running to the northward, I infer that it is a branch of the Blue Earth river, else an unknown tributary of the "Big Cedar." Lieutenant Potter was sent to the left to explore the Des Moines, which we had not seen for several days; we had departed from it about seven miles to the eastward. I continued my general course (northwest) and in eight miles came to a lake three miles long and three quarters of a mile broad, clear and pretty, with hard high banks all around it, and heavy timber on the end towards the Des Moines. My course led me to the Des Moines in the afternoon, where, in crossing a little stream, I broke a wagon and encamped; the river here shows only little groves of timber at great intervals; is of a reddish muddy color, 30 feet broad, 2 feet deep, with a current of three miles per hour; its valley is narrow, and the bluffs that border it are high, broken, and steep; country passed to-day high and sandy and poor; killed a deer. Course NW.; distance 12 miles.

August 29. The prairie was good, high, and dry all day; encamped on a little lake half a mile long and a quarter of a mile broad, without outlet, 2 miles east of the river. Course NW. by N.; distance 23 miles.

August 30. Marched north five miles to a little lake, like that of last night, that we passed on our left, and continued NNW. seven miles over a wonderfully broken surface, rising and falling in high knobs and deep ravines, with numerous little lakes in the deep valleys, some of them clear and pretty, and others grassy; struck the Des Moines at 12 1/4 p.m., and followed it up three miles, when the river turned suddenly round to the SW.; traced it round in that direction five miles, and encamped on a high bluff bordering a ravine; the Des Moines is yet a respectable stream, as though it was 50 or 60 miles longer; I will leave it to-morrow, and try to find it again in a direction W. N., as I think this great turn to the south is only a great bend out of its natural course. I sent Lieutenant Calhoun to ascend some high bluffs that were seen at a distance on the west side of the river last evening; he reports them to be 150 or 200 feet above the general level of the country, as they seemed to be from our distance; he found on the highest peak an artificial mound of stone, and I found on the east side of the river, five or six miles from this peak, a loose stake evidently placed there by white men; I thought it was probably on the route of Captain Boone and Captain Canfield from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Snelling, made some years since, though I could see no other trace of their march. Course NW. by W.; distance 20 miles.

August 31. Spent much of this day in pursuit of elk that we could not overtake; chased and killed a large black bear found out on the prairie; the bear being driven into the midst of the column, made a considerable commotion among the horses and teams, and it seemed as though every man in the command had taken one or more shots at him before he was brought down; encamped at 12 1/2 p.m. on a small lake (two miles long and half mile broad) which is evidently a part of the Des Moines river; I spent the afternoon in exploring the country with a view to determine our future march in search of the sources of the Des Moines and of the Blue Earth river; as the Des Moines seems to extend much further up, I have determined to leave a portion of the command at this point, where they may rest for some days, whilst I shall continue to explore with another portion. Course NW. by W.; distance 12 miles.

Sunday 25th Aug.  The Command took up the line of march at an early hour. After marching a short distance, struck a neck connecting two small lakes which with the help of Pontoon Waggon body was crossed, after which the horses were made to swim over. The country at every moment becomes more and more Laky and difficult to travel. They frequently threw Cpt. Allen a great distance out of his course (N. W.) forcing him to bear well to the North to avoid or cross them. These lakes appear to be running in a zig zag N. W. S. E. They are generally sparsely wooded, and but few fish. The marching this day was difficult on account of soft places. It was supposed by some that the Des Moines River headed among these lakes.  Course N. Distance 8 miles.

Monday 26th Augt.  Resumed the march at an early hour and had to bear well to the N. E. on account of the nature of the country, which yet continues to be of a Lakey Character. These lakes struck Northward and are mostly connected. Our progress was rendered slow and fatiguing by bad places. No timber to be seen in any direction but N. W. Finally it seemed as we could get no further without crossing a Lake. So Capt. Allen encamped on one at 3 P. M. We saw Buffalo signs this day. The weather was clear and cool.  Course N. N. E. Distance 7 miles.

Tuesday 27th Augt.  Tents were struck at an early hour, and preparations made to cross the lake, at point near the camp, where it was about 100 yards wide. Five hours were consumed in crossing, as everything (Loading) had to be ferried over in the Pontoon Waggon body. This waggon fully subserves the purpose for which it was built. Our course was now northerly and we marched over grounds very similar to what we had been lately passing over. Saw timber to our right which was supposed to be on a stream making into Blue Earth, or St. Peters [Minnesota River]. Camped on a slue in the Prairie.  Course N. N. W. Distance 6 miles.

Wednesday 28th Augt.  Made an early start and marched in a N. W. Direction. We got along this day pretty smoothly. Lt. Calhoun left the Command and rode to the right of it, to some timber we saw and reported that it was on a stream of some size running boldly from a lake. He supposed it to be Blue Earth. Toward evening we came most unexpectedly on the Des Moines River, which was about the size of the Beaver River at the point where we struck it. Timber on it spare. In crossing a small stream at this point the tongue of the Ox Waggon broke. Encamped at dark on the River.  Course N. W. Distance 12 miles.

Thursday 29th Augt.  Struck camp early and marched up the stream, hugging it as close as practicable. It runs through a most beautiful country high Rolling Bluffs &c. Came across a few Elk, none killed. Passed several small lakes. We now were evidentally getting into a higher region of Country. Encamped on a pretty lake two miles from the River. The river at this point appears not to have diminished since we first struck it, it is about 15 yards wide. The timber on it scattering. We will no doubt reach the Head Waters of Des Moines river to day or tomorrow.  Course N. N. W. Distance 20 miles.

Friday 30th Augt.  Resumed the line of march at an early hour and still hugging the River as close as practicable. Our march was over most beautiful rolling rocky prairies. After marching 13 miles up stream, it makes an abrupt turn to the S.S.E. Its general course before was N. N. W. (up stream). Encamped early, timber becoming more scarce. It is still a stout stream little or none diminished from what it was two days ago. No game of consequence has been seen lately. No Buffalo, the muisquitoes were terrible during the night. Some of the horses broke their Larriettes in consequence.  Course N. N. W. Distance 16 miles.

Saturday 31st Augt.  Made an early start. Cpt. Allen directed our course to some timber we could see N.W.W. thus leaving the stream. After marching a few miles, Jones thought he saw some buffalo. The command was halted and a party sent out. in the meanwhile a few men went and stationed themselves to the left of the Command for the purpose of heading the Buffalo, should they be started. While awaiting the appearance of them they seen a large black bear to which chase was immediately given. He was finally headed into the Command, where an indiscriminate firing was begun. He was of course soon despatched with innumerable rounds. His meat was very good. The hunters returned without seeing buffalo, however some Elk were seen and shot at by Co. I. Dragoons. The march resumed and timber reached. It was a lake of some size (2 miles Long and 1/2 mile wide) encamped on it. A stream taken to be the Des Moines or a branch of it a mite to our left. It turned out to be the main stream. Lake pretty well wooded in parts, prairie passed over level and dry.  Course N. W. W. Distance 9 miles.

September 1. Left Lieutenant Noble and 25 men encamped, and marched with all of the other officers and 25 dragoons, and one team carrying provisions for seven days, in search of the sources of the Des Moines and the Blue Earth river; I had been told that the Blue Earth river was due east from the head of the Des Moines, but I began to suspect that it was further south; I continued to follow up the Des Moines, passing over high prairie hills for 10 or 12 miles, until, from a principal eminence, I saw a large grove of timber, NW. 1/2 W., 12 or 14 miles off; marched for it, and found it to be timber of a large irregular lake, from which the river flowed in a good sized outlet of deep water and muddy banks; the lake is about six miles long, but at first resembles a series of small lakes, because of long crooked points of heavily timbered land running into it in all directions; I take this to be the highest source of the Des Moines that is worth noticing as such; it seems to have a little inlet from the northward, but of no size or character. There are many small lakes dotting the prairie as far as we can see; around this large one, all of which are probably drained by the river through the loose sandy soil under the surface; encamped on one of these little lakes, a quarter of a mile from the larger one. General course NW by W.; distance 25 miles.

September 2. Sent a soldier back to Lieutenant Noble with instructions to move his camp up as far as our encampment of last night; and, assuming that I had now reached the source of the longest and most northerly branch of the Des Moines, took a new course, N. 1/2 W., with a motive to extend the examination of the country. In the first four miles, we struck a large trail running east and west, which much resembled a dragoon trail, and was thought at first to be that of Captain Sumner's company; but I did not think that Captain Sumner had been so far west and north, and a closer examination led me to suppose it to be a Sioux hunting trail which had been travelled for years; some of the men thought they found wagon tracks on it, but I could see no sign of this kind, except such as I thought might have been made by the ends of the lodge poles that the Sioux carry on horses with one end dragging on the ground; there were, however, distinct marks of shod horses going westward, and it may be that Captain Sumner marched on it for some purpose. Where we crossed this trail we saw four elk, and killed two of them, one in full chase, and the other running fast after a wound by a still shot. I do not like elk meat; it has a coarse fibre, is unlike the deer, and I think a mule would taste about as well. The ground passed over to-day was generally high, dry, and rich, and the grass good. Encamped near the base of some high mounds, on a little stream running eastward, which is evidently a tributary of the St. Peter's river. Course N. 1/2 W.; distance 15 miles.

September 3. Marched on the same general course as yesterday; in the early part of the day crossed two trails near together, and both running east and west; on the first we again saw shod horse tracks, which made it appear to most of the gentlemen as Captain Sumner's return trail: it may be so but I doubt it. On the 18th mile, we struck and crossed a large creek, (twenty feet broad, two feet deep, and current of four miles per hour.) thought to be a branch of the Blue Earth river; encamped four miles beyond it at a small grove of rich land timber, which was nearly surrounded by deep grassy marshes; this is a miserable country, full of swamps, and no timber except in sparse little groves on the borders of brooks and lakes. This will be my furthest point north; to-morrow I go east. Course N. 1/2 W.; distance 22 miles.

September 4. Marched as nearly east as possible for six hours, when we crossed the same stream we crossed yesterday afternoon, but 20 miles lower down; this stream ran NW., and we followed it down five miles when we suddenly came to a large river for this country, which is evidently the St. Peter's river; it is nearly as large as the Des Moines below Raccoon; runs in a deep valley one mile broad, between very high and timbered bluffs; the valley is itself much elevated above the river, and is not what is called bottom land; it is without timber except on the borders of the stream and is covered with detached masses of granite rock, some of them covering acres. Lieutenant Potter, who was sent to explore the river above as soon as it was discovered, reports that, about four miles above, he found high bluffs of primitive rock on both sides of the river, and this is surely the formation from which the valley below has been filled with fragments. We heard two or three shots fired at a distance on the opposite side of the river and supposed we were near Sioux Indians; but, though we fired in answer to them, and put up rockets at night, no Indians made their appearance. The valley of this river at this place is remarkable, that it continues in a straight line as far as we can see, and with about uniform breadth, with high, very steep timbered bluffs rising from it to the general surface of the country on either side. The river winds through this valley, and may be crossed at rapids without running much into wagon beds, though in most places it would swim a horse, and seemed now to be in medium stage. It is strange that, although we are evidently very far in the Sioux country, we have not yet seen a buffalo or a Sioux Indian. This country is too poor, bleak, and broken to attract white men much, but it looks wild enough for an Indian, and is remote enough for all large game. Encamped in the valley of the river. Course E.; distance 22 miles.

September 5. Marched down the valley of the river four or five miles, with a view to see more of its character, and then to make a circuit back to Lieutenant Noble's camp on the source of the Des Moines; the valley all the way was filled with marsh ponds and the great irregular masses of broken primitive rock before mentioned, making it very difficult to march along it at all; on leaving it, we rose a very high and steep wooded bluff to the general level of the country; then took a course SW. by S., on which we marched over the prairie 30 miles, and until 8 at night, before we found timber. Encamped on a respectable little creek which we had encamped on going out, and which we take to be one of the branches of the Blue Earth river. Whole distance to-day, 35 miles.

September 6. Reached the source of the Des Moines and Lieutenant Noble's camp late in the afternoon, after a hard day's march; Lieutenant Noble had reached his present camp two days before, having moved up his detachment from the point where I left it on the 1st instant, agreeably to instructions sent back to him from this point. All the country we have seen, on this trip to the St. Peter's is of an almost worthless description, being broken, poor, and marshy, and without any timber of consequence; the hills are of a sandy poor soil of lime and primitive pebbles, and the valleys are deep marshy slues, with tall heavy grass; it is a tedious and difficult country for operations of troops, though near the St. Peter's it does not offer many hiding places for the Indians. Distance to-day, 22 miles.

September 7 and 8. Remained encamped on an arm of this pretty and singular lake, and took our latitude from several observations of the sun meridian; made it 43° 67' 42." I have not, however, much confidence in the accuracy of our little sextant, and think it probable that our latitude is higher than here shown. This lake is filled with water-fowl, and the camp is stocked with ducks; to-morrow I march west in search of the Big Sioux river.

Sunday 1st Sept.  Capt. Allen took the efficient portion of the Command and a mule team, and left camp in search of Blue Earth. All officers accompanied him but Lt. Noble who remained in charge of Camp. Capt. Allen expected to be absent 7 days. He started off in a nearly westerly direction. Here were abundance of wild pigeons on the Lake. Good size Cat fish were caught by the men. During the night there was a heavy gale of wind, also the night before. It came from S. W.

Monday 2nd Sept.  Still in Camp weather delightful, maisquitoes horrible. There is not much timber on the Des Moines where we now are. There are many small lakes in the Vicinity. Capt. Allen sent a note by Bugler Marsh to Lt. Noble in which he stated he had encamped (Sunday Night) on a lake about 20 miles from him, and directed him to march the Detachment there, by thursday or friday and await his return.

Tuesday 3rd Sept.  Struck tents at an early hour, and marched on Capt. Allen's trail. The prairies passed over high and rolling, and afforded frequently very fine prospects of miles in extent. We stuck in several places but soon got out. Encamped at an early hour on the Des Moines, which was then again stuck. It at this point was nearly as large as 50 miles below. Timber poor and spare.  Course N. N. E. Distance 15 miles.

Wednesday 4th Sept.  Struck tents at the usual hour and kept when practicable on Capt. Allen's trail. Came to some lakes, out of one of which the Des Moines comes forth a bold stream of ten feet width. This then must be the head of the river. After marching five miles, encamped on a fine lake, fringed with majestic cotton wood. Here Lt. Noble encamped to await Capt. Alien's return. Had some sleet and rain during the early part of the day, but it cleared off most beautifully in the evening.  Course N.W. Distance 5 miles. This makes according to my calculations 242 miles in 25 days including stoppages.

Thursday 5th Sept.  This day I mounted my horse with the intention of exploring the chain of lakes in which the Des Moines has its source. I rode five or six miles before I reached its termination. It consists of a number of lakes varying from one to four miles in length and half to two broad. They are all connected by slues. The chain runs N.W.S.E. and is about ten miles in length. As before mentioned the river issues from the last of the chain. These lakes are pretty well timbered with Oak, Cotton Wood, Ash, Maple &c. there are but few fish in them. Millions of Ducks, besides pelicans and swans float upon the surface. The beaches are sandy and pebbly at a point near the centre of the chain. I ascended the most lofty bluff in the neighbourhood which was capped by a mound (perhaps artificial) some twenty yards in diameter and eight yards high, from which a most lovely prospect is to be obtained, to the N. W. W. and S. W. one vast extent of prairie, stretched heavy and undulating, with not a stick of timber to break the view. It appeared indeed a wilderness of prairie. To the S. and S. E. many dips of timber are visible, no doubt on lakes as the day was dear. I should suppose that the vision embraced an extent of 20 or 30 miles to the west and S.W. On each side of the chain there are small lakes which do not appear to have any connection. The character of the adjacent prairies, except to the S. and S.E. is rolling and rocky. No game of large size was seen on any of the lakes. A small branch comes in the Des Moines at its source from S. W. This no doubt is from a lake. A strip of timber were visible some miles up it, N. 44°. If I were asked my opinion upon the prospects of Des Moines ever being settled above Raccoon Forks, I should say it never will pay the settlers above Lizard Creek. Timber is too scarce and the soil too stiff and moist, above this creek it never can be settled with any probability of affording more than the common necessarys of life. Game as well as timber being scarce.

Friday 6th Sept.  Still in camp. The day set in with rain accompanied towards noon with a disagreeable wind from N. W. which made it quite cool. It continued during the night. Capt. Allen returned this evening having struck the St. Peters River about 60 miles N. E. of us.

Saturday 7th Sept.  The morning became pleasant about 9. A. M. Capt. Allen removed the camp a few hundred yards higher up on the same lake, and remained there the rest of the day. The weather fine. Thus far there has been no sickness with the exception of a few cases of Fever and ague. Should observe that generally a halt was made at noon to rest the horses as well as the men. This was done throughout the whole journey a horse that had given out was shot at this camp.

Sunday 8th Sept.  Still in Camp, weather pleasant. Nothing worthy of interest occurred.

Continued on next page.

Page last modified on 4/20/05 at 4:15 PM, CDT.
John Lindquist:  homepage & e-mail, site outline.
Department of Bacteriology, U.W.-Madison