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THE day after our public dinner I determined to leave my hospitable friends at Little Rock, and cross Arkansas to Fulton on the Red River, a distance of about one hundred and twenty miles. They wanted me to stay longer; and the gentleman who had the reputation of being the best marksman in those parts was most particularly anxious that we should have another trial of skill; but says I to myself, "Crockett, you've had just about glory enough for one day, so take my advice, and leave well enough alone." I declined shooting, for there was nothing at all to be gained by it, and I might possibly lose some little of the reputation I had acquired. I have always found that it is a very important thing for a man who is fairly going ahead, to know exactly how far to go, and when to stop. Had "the Government" stopped before he meddled with the constitution, the deposites, and "taking the responsibility," he would have retired from office with almost as much credit as he entered upon it, which is as much as any public man can reasonably expect. But the General is a whole team, and when fairly started, will be going ahead; and one might as well attempt to twist a streak of lightning into a true lover's knot as to stop him.
Finding that I was bent on going, for I became impatient to get into Texas, my kind friends at Little Rock procured me a good horse to carry me across to Red River. There are no bounds to the good feeling of the pioneers of the west; they consider nothing a trouble that will confer a favour upon a stranger that they chance to take a fancy to: true, we are something like chestnut burs on the outside, rather prickly if touched roughly, but there's good fruit within.
My horse was brought to the door of the tavern, around which many of the villagers were assembled. The drum and fife were playing what was intended for a lively tune, but .the skin of the drum still hung as loose as the hide of a fat man far gone in a consumption; and the fife had not yet recovered from the asthma. The music sounded something like a fellow singing, "Away with melancholy," on the way to the gallows. I took my leave of the landlord, shook hands with the showman, who had done more than an average business, kissed his wife, who had recovered, and bidding farewell to all my kind-hearted friends, I mounted my horse, and left the village, accompanied by four or five gentlemen. The drum and fife now appeared to exert themselves, and made more noise than usual, while the crowd sent forth three cheers to encourage me on my way.
I tried to raise some recruits for Texas among my companions, but they said they had their own affairs to attend to, which would keep them at home for the present, but no doubt they would come over and see us as soon as the disturbances should be settled. They looked upon Texas as being part of the United States, though the Mexicans did claim it; and they had no doubt the time was not very distant when it would be received into the glorious Union.
My companions did not intend seeing me farther on my way than the Washita river, near fifty miles. Conversation was pretty brisk, for we talked about the affairs of the nation and Texas; subjects that are by no means to be exhausted, if one may judge by the long speeches made in Congress, where they talk year in and year out; and it would seem that as much still remains to be said as ever. As we drew nigh to the Washita, the silence was broken alone by our own talk and the clattering of our horses' hoofs; and we imagined ourselves pretty much the only travellers, when we were suddenly somewhat startled by the sound of music. We checked our horses, and listened, and the music continued. "What can all that mean?" says I. "Blast my old shoes if I know, Colonel," says one of the party. We listened again, and we now heard, "Hail, Columbia, happy land!" played in first-rate style. "That's fine," says I. "Fine as silk, Colonel, and leetle finer," says the other; "but hark, the tune's changed." We took another spell of listening, and now the musician struck up, in a brisk and lively manner, "Over the water to Charley." "That's mighty mysterious," says one; "Can't cipher it out nohow," says another; "A notch beyant my measure," says a third. "Then let us go ahead," says I, and off we dashed at a pretty rapid gait, I tell you — by no means slow.
As we approached the river we saw to the right of the road a new clearing on a hill, where several men were at work, and they running down the hill like wild Indians, or rather like the office holders in pursuit of the deposites. There appeared to be no time to be lost, so they ran, and we cut ahead for the crossing. The music continued all this time stronger and stronger, and the very notes appeared to speak distinctly, "Over the water to Charley."
When we reached the crossing we were struck all of a heap, at beholding a man seated in a sulky in the middle of the river, and playing for life on a fiddle. The horse was up to his middle in the water; and it seemed as if the flimsy vehicle was ready to be swept away by the current. Still the fiddler fiddled on composedly, as if his life had been insured, and he was nothing more than a passenger. We thought he was mad, and shouted to him. He heard us, and stopped his music. "You have missed the crossing," shouted one of the men from the clearing. "I know I have," returned the fiddler. "If you go ten feet farther you will be drowned." "I know I shall," returned the fiddler. "Turn back," said the man. "I can't," said the other. "Then how the devil will you get out?" "I'm sure I don't know: come you and help me."
The men from the clearing, who understood the river, took our horses and rode up to the sulky, and after some difficulty, succeeded in bringing the traveller safe to shore, when we recognised the worthy parson who had fiddled for us at the puppet show at Little Rock. They told him that he had had a narrow escape, and he replied, that he had found that out an hour ago. He said he had been fiddling to the fishes for a full hour, and had exhausted all the tunes that he could play without notes. We then asked him what could have induced him to think of fiddling at a time of such peril; and he replied, that he had remarked in his progress through life, that there was nothing in univarsal natur so well calculated to draw people together as the sound of a fiddle; and he knew, that he might bawl until he was hoarse for assistance, and no one would stir a peg; but they would no sooner hear the scraping of his catgut, than they would quit all other business, and come to the spot in flocks. We laughed heartily at the knowledge the parson showed of human natur. — And he was right.
Having fixed up the old gentleman's sulky right and tight, and after rubbing down his poor jaded animal, the company insisted on having a dance before we separated. We all had our flasks of whisky; we took a drink all round, and though the parson said lie had had about enough fiddling for one day, he struck up with great good humour; at it we went, and danced straight fours for an hour and better. We all enjoyed ourselves very much, but came to the conclusion, that dancing wasn't altogether the thing without a few petticoats to give it variety.
The dance being over, our new friends pointed out the right fording, and assisted the parson across the river. We took another drink all round, and after shaking each other cordially by the hand, we separated, wishing each other all the good fortune that the rugged lot that has been assigned us will afford. My friends retraced the road to Little Rock, and I pursued my journey; and as I thought of their disinterested kindness to an entire stranger, I felt that the world is not quite as heartless and selfish as some grumblers would have us think.
The Arkansas is a pretty fine territory, being about five hundred and fifty miles in length from east to west, with a mean width of near two hundred, extending over an area of about one hundred thousand square miles. The face of the country from its great extent is very much diversified. It is pretty well watered, being intersected by the Arkansas river and branches of the Red, Washita, and White rivers. The Maserne mountains, which rise in Missouri, traverse Arkansas and extend into Texas. That part of the territory to the south-east of the Masernes is for the most part low, and in many places liable to be overflooded annually. To the north-west of the mountains the country presents generally an open expanse of prairie without wood, except near the borders of the streams. The seasons of the year partake of those extremes of heat and cold, which might be expected in so great an extent, and in a country which affords so much difference of level. The summers are as remarkable as is the winters for extremes of temperature. The soil exhibits every variety, from the most productive to the most sterile. The forest trees are numerous and large; such as oak, hickory, sycamore, cotton-wood, locust, and pine. The cultivated fruit trees are the apple, pear, peach, plum, nectarine, cherry, and quince; and the various kinds of grain, such as wheat, rye, oats, barley, and Indian corn, succeed amazing well. Cotton, Indian corn, flour, peltry, salted provisions, and lumber, are the staples of this territory. Arkansas was among the most ancient settlements of the French in Louisiana. That nation had a hunting and trading post on the Arkansas river as early as the beginning of the eighteenth century. Arkansas, I rather reckon, will be admitted as a state into the Union during the next session of Congress; and if the citizens of Little Rock are a fair sample of her children, she cannot fail to go ahead.
I kept in company with the parson until we arrived at Greenville, and I do say, he was just about as pleasant an old gentleman to travel with, as any man who wasn't too darned particular could ask for We talked about politics, religion, and natur, farming and bear hunting, and the many blessings that an all bountiful Providence has bestowed upon our happy country. He continued to talk upon this subject, travelling over the whole ground as it were, until his imagination glowed, and his soul became full to overflowing; and he checked his horse, and I stopped mine also, and a stream of eloquence burst forth from his aged lips, such as I have seldom listened to: it came from the overflowing fountain of a pure and grateful heart. We were alone in the wilderness, but as he proceeded it seemed to me as if the tall trees bent their tops to listen; that the mountain stream laughed out joyfully as it bounded on like some living thing; that the fading flowers of autumn smiled, and sent forth fresher fragrance, as if conscious that they would revive in spring; and even the sterile rocks seemed to he endued with some mysterious influence. We were alone in the wilderness, but all things told me that God was there. That thought renewed my strength and courage. I had left my country, felt somewhat like an outcast, believed that I had been neglected and lost sight of but I was now conscious that there was still one watchful Eye over me; no matter whether I dwelt in the populous cities, or threaded the pathless forest alone; no matter whether I stood in the high places among men, or made my solitary lair in the untrodden wild, that Eye was still upon me. My very soul leaped joyfully at the thought; I never felt so grateful in all my life; I never loved my God so sincerely in all my life. I felt that I still had a friend.
When the old man finished I found that my eyes were wet with tears. I approached and pressed his hand, and thanked him, and says I, "Now let us take a drink." I set him the example, and he followed it, and in a style too that satisfied me, that if he had ever belonged to the Temperance society, he had either renounced membership or obtained a dispensation. Having liquored, we proceeded on our journey, keeping a sharp look-out for mill seats and plantations as we rode along.
I left the worthy old man at Greenville, and sorry enough I was to part with him, for he talked a great deal, and he seemed to know a little about every thing. He knew all about the history of the country; was well acquainted with all the leading men; knew where all the good lands lay in most of the western states, as well as the cutest clerk in the Land office; and had traced most of the rivers to their sources. He was very cheerful and happy, though to all appearances very poor. I thought that he would make a first-rate agent for taking up lands, and mentioned it to him; he smiled, and pointing above, said, "My wealth lies not in this world."
I mounted my horse, and pushed forward on my road to Fulton. When I reached Washington, a village a few miles from the Red river, I rode up to the Black Bear tavern, when the following conversation took place between me and the landlord, which is a pretty fair sample of the curiosity of some folks: —
"Good morning, mister — I don't exactly recollect your name now," said the landlord as I alighted.
"It's of no consequence," said I.
"I'm pretty sure I've seen ye somewhere."
"Very likely you may, I've been there frequently."
"I was sure 'twas so; but strange I should forget your name," says he.
"It is indeed somewhat strange that you should forget what you never knew," says I.
"It is unaccountable strange. It's what I'm not often in the habit of, I assure you. I have, for the most part, a remarkably detentive memory. In the power of people that pass along this way, I've scarce ever made, as the doctors say, a slapsus slinkum of this kind afore."
"Eh heh!" I shouted, while the critter continued.
"Travelling to the western country, I presume, mister?"
"Presume any thing you please, sir," says I, "but don't trouble me with your presumptions."
"O Lord, no, sir — I won't do that — I've no ideer of that — not the least ideer in the world," says he; "I suppose you've been to the westward afore now?"
" Well, suppose I have?"
"Why, on that supposition, I was going to say you must be pretty well — that is to say, you must know something about the place."
"Eh heh!" I ejaculated, looking sort of mazed full in his face. The tarnel critter still went ahead.
"I take it you're a married man, mister?"
"Take it as you will, that is no affair of mine," says I.
"Well, after all, a married life is the most happiest way of living; don't you think so, mister?" "Very possible," says I.
"I conclude you have a family of children, sir?" "I don't know what reason you have to conclude so."
"O, no reason in the world, mister, not the least," says he; "but I thought I might just take the liberty to make the presumption, you know, that's all, sir. I take it, mister, you're a man about my age?"
"How old do you call yourself, if I may be so bold?"
"You're bold enough, the devil knows," says I; and as I spoke rather sharp, the varment seemed rather staggered, but he soon recovered himself, and came up to the chalk again.
"No offence, I hope — I — I — I — wouldn't be thought uncivil by any means; I always calculate to treat everybody with civility."
"You have a very strange way of showing it."
"True, as you say, I ginnerally take my own way in these ere matters. — Do you practise law, mister, or farming, or mechanicals?"
"Perhaps so," says I.
"Ah, I judge so; I was pretty certain it must be the case. Well, it's as good business as any there is followed now-a-days."
"Eh heh!" I shouted, and my lower jaw fell in amazement at his perseverance.
"I take it you've money at interest, mister?" continued the varment, without allowing himself time to take breath.
"Would it be of any particular interest to you to find out?" says I.
"O, not at all, not the least in the world, sir, I'm not at all inquisitive about other people's matters; I mind's my own business — that's my way."
"And a very odd way you have of doing it too."
"I've been thinking what persuasion you're of — whether you're a Unitarian or Baptist, or whether you belong to the Methodisses."
"Well, what's the conclusion?"
"Why, I have concluded that I'm pretty near right in my conjectures. Well, after all, I'm inclined to think they're the nearest right of any persuasion — though some folks think differently."
"Eh heh!" I shouted again.
"As to pollyticks, I take it, you — that is to say, I suppose you — "
"Ah! I could have sworn it was so from the moment I saw you. I have a hack at finding out a man's sentiments. I dare say, mister, you're a justice in your own country?"
"And if I may return the compliment, I should say you're a just ass everywhere." By this time I began to get weary of his impertinence, and led my horse to the trough to water, but the darned critter followed me up.
"Why, yes," said he, "I'm in the commission of the peace, to be sure — and an officer in the militia — though between you and I, I wouldn't wish to boast of it."
My horse having finished drinking, I put one foot in the stirrup, and was preparing to mount" Any more inquiries to make?" said I.
"Why, no, nothing to speak on," said he. "When do you return, mister?"
"About the time I come back," said I; and leaping into the saddle galloped off. The pestiferous varment bawled after me, at the top of his voice, —
"Well, I shall look for ye then. I hope you won't fail to call."
Now, who in all natur do you reckon the crittur was, who afforded so fine a sample of the impertinent curiosity that some people have to pry into other people's affairs? I knew him well enough at first sight, though he seemed to have forgotten me. It was no other than Job Snelling, the manufacturer of cayenne pepper out of mahogany sawdust, and upon whom I played the trick with the coon skin. I pursued my journey to Fulton, and laughed heartily to think what a swither I had left poor Job in, at not gratifying his curiosity; for I knew he was one of those fellows who would peep down your throat just to ascertain what you had eaten for dinner.
When I arrived at Fulton, I inquired for a gentleman to whom my friends at Little Rock had given me a letter of introduction. I was received in the most hospitable manner; and as the steamboat did not start for Natchitoches until the next day, I spent the afternoon in seeing all that was to he seen. I left my horse with the gentleman, who promised to have him safely returned to the owner; and I took the steamboat, and started on my way down the Red river, right well pleased with my reception at Fulton.