Isaac Van Bibber and the S.H. Long Expedition

Isaac Van Bibber and the S.H. Long Expedition


In 1818-1820 a scientific and military expedition under Major Long and Col. Henry Atkinson explored some of the new western territories of the United States. In June 1819 the scientific branch arrived in St. Louis and started up the Missouri. The following account, from a journal written by Edwin James, describes an encounter between the expedition and Isaac Van Bibber, of Loutre Lick, MO. This was the Isaac Van Bibber whose father had been killed at the Battle of Point Pleasant, and who was brought up in Daniel Boone’s family. In 1800 he moved to Missouri, and in 1815 settled at Loutre Lick, where the present village of Mineola, Montgomery Co., MO now stands.

( "Early Western Travels 1748-1846; Vol. 15 "From Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains, James’s Account of S.H. Long’s Expedition" p 174-6,)

    Near Van Babber’s, where we arrived a little before sunset on the 6th (June), there is, in the middle of the creek, a large brine spring. Over this has been placed a section of the hollow trunk of a tree, to prevent the intermixture of the fresh water of the creek…
    Perceiving…indications of fossil coal, lead, and other minerals here, as were known to exist in the same range of country on the other side of the Missouri, we listened with credulity which seemed rather to disappoint and surprise our host, to his account of the phenomena that had appeared from time to time in his neighbourhood. The combustion of a coalbed, or the decomposition of a mass of pyrites, has, we believe, given rise to many
    more astonishing stories than he related. He gave an account of several luminous appearances that had been seen at the breaking up of winter, or in unusually rainy seasons, or at other times of the year. These had been witnessed by many persons of
    unquestionable veracity; but so great had been their terror on the occasion, that they could never afterwards recollect the precise spot where the light had appeared to them. He told us of two itinerant preachers, who had encountered an indescribable phenomenon, at a place about nine miles east of Loutre lick. As they were riding side by side at a late hour in the evening, one of them requested the other to observe a ball of fire
    attached to the end of his whip. No sooner was his attention directed to this object, than a similar one began to appear on the other end of the whip. In a moment afterwards, their horses and all objects near them were enveloped in wreaths of flame. By this time the minds of the itinerant preachers were so much confounded, that they were no longer capable of observation, and could therefore give no further account of what happened.
    He also stated as a fact, authenticated by many credible witnesses, that a very considerable tract of land near by, had been seen to send up vast volumes of smoke through the covering of a coal-pit. This had in one instance been witnessed by a son of the celebrated Col. Boon (sic), and was at first mistaken for a prairie on fire. This phenomenon also occurs at the breaking up of winter, or at such seasons as the earth is drenched by uncommon quantities of rain."

    "Within a few miles of the lick, are eight or nine rude furnaces, disposed in the direction of a straight line, extending about two miles. He stated, that it was not known by whom, or when they were built, nor could it be ascertained for what purpose…We regarded all these accounts, and many others of a similar character, as a sort of traditionary evidence
    of the accidental discovery, at some former time, or lead, coal, or pyrites; and that this discovery, by the ignorance and credulity of the people, had been magnified into an object, to which they had at length learned to ascribe a mysterious and indefinite importance."

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