The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 64, July 1960 - April, 1961

Steph 9 Austi's Oratio of
fuly 4, 1818
Early Commentary on the American Frontier
Edited by LEO M. KAISER*
THE FLAGS decorating the Potosi Hotel of Potosi (Washing-
ton County), Missouri, hung limp in the hot early morning
air on the Fourth of July, 1818, and the trees soaked up
the bright sunlight without a leaf moving anywhere in the
valley. Summers in the Ozark foothills have that hushed quality about
them when the days are really dog days and the fragrance of parch-
ing plants scents everything and even the insects seem to find the
heat too much for singing their customary tunes. Over in the shade
of the Doric columned courthouse a solitary cat stirred briefly to
lend the only movement to the scene.
The town of Potosi had much charm to it over and above the
exotic name that harked back to far-off Bolivia. Henry Schoolcraft
appreciated it when in that same year, but after most of the leaves
had fallen, he struck out from Potosi upon his celebrated "Tour into
the Interior of Missouri and Arkansaw." Dating his entry "Potosi,
Thursday, 5th November, 1818," he wrote:
I begin my tour where other travellers have ended theirs, on the confines of the
wilderness, and at the last village of white inhabitants between the Mississippi
River and the Pacific Ocean. [Potosi] occupies a delightful valley, of small
extent, through which a stream of the purest water meanders, dividing the village
into two portions of nearly equal extent. This valley is bordered by hills of prim-
itive limestone, rising in some places in rugged peaks, in others, covered with
trees, and grouped and interspersed with cultivated farms in such a manner as to
give the village a pleasing and picturesque appearance.
The town was moderately large, he noted: it contained "seventy
buildings exclusive of a courthouse, a jail, an academy, a post office,
one saw and two grist-mills, and a number of temporary buildings
necessary in the smelting of lead."I He refrained from mentioning the
two distilleries.2
*Besides those persons mentioned in the notes below, the writer would like to
name Elizabeth Tindall, Librarian of the Mercantile Library, St. Louis, Dorothy
A. Brockhoff, Reference Librarian, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis, and
Kenneth B. Holmes, Newspaper Librarian of the State Historical Society of
Missouri, Columbia, as affording that indispensable type of help which makes the
researcher's lot such a happy one.
'Henry Schoolcraft, Journal of a Tour into the Interior of Missouri and Arkan-

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 64, July 1960 - April, 1961. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101190/. Accessed October 1, 2014.