Henry Rowe Schoolcraft wrote the first published account of the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks. He introduced the region to the world, but his writing helped establish enduring negative stereotypes of the Ozarks and its inhabitants.
Henry was born on March 28, 1793, in Albany County, New York, the son of Lawrence and Margaret Rowe Schoolcraft. His father was an officer in the county militia and superintendent of a glass factory. Schoolcraft received a standard education and, at age thirteen, began working at the glass factory where he learned the trade from his father.
Although Schoolcraft did not attend college, he privately studied mineralogy and geology with Professor Frederick Hall of Middlebury College. Hall praised Schoolcraft’s scientific aptitude, declaring, “I know of no person on this side of the Atlantick, who stand[s] a fairer chance than yourself to become a first rate operative chemist.”
Moses Austin named the town Potosi after the famous silver mining city of the same name in Bolivia.
[A View of the Lead Mines of Missouri by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, 1819, frontispiece. SHS REF F541 Sch65v IN CASE]
Despite his promise as a chemist, Schoolcraft proved to be unsuccessful as the owner and superintendent of a glassworks in Keene, New Hampshire. By 1817 he declared bankruptcy and sought a fresh start in the West.
In the summer of 1818 Schoolcraft arrived in Potosi, the heart of Missouri Territory’s lead mining region. Schoolcraft surveyed the area’s mining and
Smelting is the process used to extract metal from raw ore through the use of heat.
operations before he decided to investigate rumors of rich lead deposits in the White River Valley.
He convinced Levi Pettibone, a fellow New Yorker, to accompany him on a three-month, nine-hundred-mile journey through the thinly populated White River Valley region of the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks during the winter of 1818–1819.
White River near Hollister, Missouri, circa 1915. A tributary of the Mississippi River, the White River originates in northwest Arkansas, flows northward into southwest Missouri, then snakes back into Arkansas and flows through the state’s Delta region before draining into the Mississippi River in Desha County, Arkansas. Schoolcraft traveled on the White River during his journey through the Ozarks. Deep enough for steamboats to ply its waters, the river was later dammed to create lakes to generate hydroelectric power, including Missouri’s Table Rock Lake and Arkansas’ Bull Shoals, Beaver, Norfork, and Greers Ferry Lakes.
[Ethel Massie Withers, Scrapbook, ca. 1916 (C1440), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Columbia]
Schoolcraft and Pettibone were poorly prepared when they embarked on their journey. Inexperienced as outdoorsmen, they lacked the proper clothing and equipment for a winter expedition. During the first week of the trip, their packhorse wandered off twice. Later, while they were trying to ford a river, the packhorse plunged into the water, ruining most of their supplies. Schoolcraft and Pettibone found themselves lost without food or dry gunpowder.
Fortunately, the two men met a white hunter named Wells, who, like many of the individuals the duo encountered, generously fed and sheltered them. After buying supplies from Wells, Schoolcraft and Pettibone set out for the James River, a branch of the White River, where they located lead deposits. After conducting tests and recording their findings, they returned from the Ozarks.
Back in Potosi, Schoolcraft quickly wrote and published A View of the Lead Mines of Missouri. He hoped the report would convince government officials to appoint him federal superintendent of the Missouri lead district, but he was instead selected to be the mineralogist and naturalist for the Cass Expedition, which explored Lake Superior and the Upper Mississippi.
Map of the Ozarks Region, circa 1821
Map of the Ozarks Region, circa 1821.
This map appeared in Schoolcraft’s Journal. When Schoolcraft embarked on his trip through the Ozarks, Missouri was still a territory, not a state. Notice that the future state’s shape is still undefined and that the locations of Native American tribes and villages are marked.
[Journal of a Tour into the Interior of Missouri and Arkansaw by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, 1821, frontispiece. SHS REF F541 Sch65 IN CASE]
In 1821 Schoolcraft published his account of his earlier trip, Journal of a Tour into the Interior of Missouri and Arkansaw. His descriptions of the wildlife, geography, and waterways of the Ozarks introduced the region to readers in the East.
Schoolcraft, however, was less than complimentary of the Ozark’s inhabitants. He was overly critical of their perceived lack of education and rustic, frontier lifestyle. Schoolcraft’s prejudiced account influenced the way that outsiders viewed the people of the Ozarks. He claimed that they had “abandoned the pursuit of agriculture, the foundation of civil society, and embraced the pursuit of hunting, so characteristic of the savage state in all countries.” He neglected to write about the farmers and entrepreneurs he encountered and failed to recognize the independent, self-reliant, adaptive spirit of the early Ozarks frontiersmen and their families. Unfortunately, Schoolcraft’s judgmental views helped establish the lasting popular perception of the Ozarks region as the home of an uneducated and unsophisticated people.
Pioneer Life in Missouri
Pioneer Life in Missouri.
This illustration depicts life on the Missouri frontier around 1820. Despite Schoolcraft’s depiction of frontiersmen and their families as uneducated and idle, the artist portrays this Missouri family in front of their log cabin, which they would have built entirely by hand with hand tools. One man is preparing his rifle to go on a hunt while another is cleaning a carcass. Young boys engage in a moment of play while a girl churns butter.
[The State Historical Society of Missouri, Photograph Collection (014414-1)]
After he left Missouri, Schoolcraft spent the rest of his life as an employee of the federal government. In 1822 he was appointed Indian agent for tribes in the Upper Great Lakes region. The following year he married Jane Johnston, an educated and accomplished woman of Ojibwa and Scots-Irish ancestry. Jane helped Schoolcraft gather and record Native American languages, history, folklore, and customs.
The couple’s first child, William Henry, died at the age of three after contracting croup. The couple had two additional children, Jane Susan Anne and John Johnston Schoolcraft.
In 1832 Schoolcraft led an expedition to Lake Itasca, the source of the headwaters of the Mississippi River
The Mississippi River runs south from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico and is considered the chief river in North America's largest drainage system. Bordering Missouri on the east, the river flows for 2,530 miles. Along with the Missouri River and several other tributaries such as the Ohio River, the Mississippi became part of the nation's first major transportation system in the early 1800s after the invention of the steamboat. Missouri has historically engaged in international trade by shipping and receiving goods along the Mississippi through the port of New Orleans, which lies at the river's mouth.
, in what is now Minnesota. He published an account of the expedition, Narrative of an Expedition Through the Upper Mississippi to Itasca Lake
The final years of Schoolcraft’s life were filled with heartbreak. The family’s savings were wiped out during the financial Panic of 1837
The panic of 1837 was caused by a variety of problems, including crop failures, failed land speculation, and uncertainty about American currency. It caused the collapse of real estate prices and the failure of state banks. It was called a "panic" because the collapsing prices made people fear that their banks would go out of business and that they needed to withdraw their money quickly, before it was lost. The panic lasted until 1843.
. A Democrat, Schoolcraft lost his government position in 1841 when President John Tyler, a Whig
The Whigs were an American political party that existed from the mid-1830s to the mid-1850s. Because it was formed as a protest against the amount of power claimed by President Andrew Jackson, the Whig Party borrowed its name from a British political party protesting the amount of power claimed by the king of Britain. The Whigs were made up of several different groups in the North, South, and West, and were mostly united by their dislike of Andrew Jackson and the Democratic Party. As such, they were often divided on many issues. Although they disagreed about the morality of slavery, most Whigs agreed that slavery should be limited, and several opposed allowing slavery in new territories or letting slave regions like Texas join the United States. Many Whigs were in favor of a stronger national government (though not a stronger presidency) and wanted to raise taxes on foreign goods being sold in America so that the money could be used to build national improvements like roads, canals, and railroad lines. The Whig Party fell apart in the 1850s over disagreements on several issues, such as opposition to immigration, and about whether or not slavery should be abolished. Many former Whigs went on to support the Republican Party.
, was elected to office. The heaviest blow of all came with the sudden death of his wife, Jane, while Schoolcraft was in England.
Headwaters of the Mississippi River
Headwaters of the Mississippi River.
This photo shows the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park in Minnesota. Except for the rocks, which were added in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps to restore the river’s channel, this is how the river would have looked when Henry Rowe Schoolcraft and his expedition visited the region in 1832.
[Copyright (2013), State of Minnesota, Department of Natural Resources. Reprinted with Permission. Photo credit: Deb Rose, MN DNR Parks and Trails.]
In 1847 Schoolcraft married Mary Howard, a slave owner from South Carolina. Howard’s dislike of Schoolcraft’s biracial children led to strained relations between the explorer and his children. The following year he suffered a severe stroke, but with the help of his second wife, Schoolcraft published Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States in six volumes. Although it was full of useful information, it was poorly organized and not indexed, and thus was not widely used.
After years of declining health and a series of strokes, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft died penniless on December 10, 1864, in Washington, DC. He is buried in the city’s famed Congressional Cemetery.