Through the River Country of Georgia
. Am now fairly out of the mountains. Thus far the
climate has not changed in any marked degree, the decrease in latitude
being balanced by the increase in altitude. These mountains are highways
on which northern plants may extend their colonies southward. The plants
of the North and of the South have many minor places of meeting along the
way I have traveled; but it is here on the southern slope of the Alleghanies
that the greatest number of hardy, enterprising representatives of the
two climates are assembled.
Passed the comfortable, finely shaded little town of Gainesville. The
Chattahoochee River is richly embanked with massive, bossy, dark green
water oaks, and wreathed with a dense growth of muscadine grapevines, whose
ornate foliage, so well adapted to bank embroidery
was enriched with
other interweaving species of vines and brightly colored flowers. This
is the first truly southern stream I have met.
At night I reached the home of a young man with whom I had worked in
Indiana, Mr. Prater. He was down here on a visit to his father and mother.
This was a plain backwoods family, living out of sight among knobby timbered
hillocks not far from the river. The evening was passed in mixed conversation
on southern and northern generalities.
Spent this day with Mr. Prater sailing on the Chattahoochee,
feasting on grapes that had dropped from the overhanging vines. This remarkable
species of wild grape has a stout stem, sometimes five or six inches in
diameter, smooth bark and hard wood, quite unlike any other wild or cultivated
grapevine that I have seen. The grapes are very large, some of them nearly
an inch in diameter, globular and fine flavored. Usually there are but
three or four berries in a cluster, and when mature they drop off instead
of decaying on
the vine. Those which fall into the river are often
found in large quantities in the eddies along the bank, where they are
collected by men in boats and sometimes made into wine. I think another
name for this grape is the Scuppernong
, though called "muscadine" here.
Besides sailing on the river, we had a long walk among the plant bowers
and tangles of the Chattahoochee bottom lands.
Bade good-bye to this friendly family. Mr. Prater
accompanied me a short distance from the house and warned me over and over
again to be on the outlook for rattlesnakes. They are now leaving the
damp low-lands, he told me, so that the danger is much greater because
they are on their travels. Thus warned, I set out for Savannah, but got
lost in the vine-fenced hills and hollows of the river
unable to find the ford to which I had been directed by Mr. Prater.
I then determined to push on southward regardless of roads and fords.
After repeated failures I succeeded in finding a place on the river bank
where I could force my way into the stream through the vine-tangles. I
succeeded in crossing the river by wading and swimming, careless of wetting,
knowing that I would soon dry in the hot sunshine.
Out near the middle of the river I founds great difficulty in resisting
the rapid current. Though I braced myself with a stout stick, I was at
length carried away in spite of all my efforts. But I succeeded in swimming
to the shallows on the farther side, luckily caught hold of a rock, and
after a rest swam and waded ashore. Dragging myself up the steep bank by
the overhanging vines, I spread out myself, my paper money, and my plants
Debated with myself whether to proceed down the river valley until I
could buy a boat,
or lumber to make one, for a sail instead of a march
through Georgia. I was intoxicated with the beauty of these glorious river
banks, which I fancied might increase in grandeur as I approached the sea.
But I finally concluded that such a pleasure sail would be less profitable
than a walk, and so sauntered on southward as soon as I was dry. Rattlesnakes
abundant. Lodged at a farmhouse. Found a few tropical plants in the garden.
Cotton is the principal crop hereabouts, and picking is now going on
merrily. Only the lower bolls are now ripe. Those higher on the plants
are green and unopened. Higher still, there are buds and flowers, some
of which, if the plants be thrifty and the season favorable, will continue
to produce ripe bolls until January.
The negroes are easy-going and merry, making a great deal of noise and
doing little work. One energetic white man, working with a will, would
easily pick as much cotton as half a dozen Sambos and Sallies. The forest
here is almost entirely made up of dim-green, knotty,
pines. The soil is mostly white, fine-grained sand.
Reached Athens in the afternoon, a remarkably
beautiful and aristocratic town, containing many classic and magnificent
mansions of wealthy planters, who formerly owned large negro-stocked plantations
in the best cotton and sugar regions farther south. Unmistakable marks
of culture and refinement, as well as wealth, were everywhere apparent.
This is the most beautiful town I have seen on the journey, so far, and
the only one in the South that I would like to revisit.
The negroes here have been well trained and are extremely polite. When
they come in sight of a white man on the road, off go their hats, even
at a distance of forty or fifty yards, and they walk bare-headed until
he is out of sight.
Long zigzag walk amid the old plantations, a few
of which are still cultivated in the old way by the same negroes that worked
them before the war, and who
still occupy their former "quarters."
They are now paid seven to ten dollars a month.
The weather is very hot on these sandy, lightly shaded, lowland levels.
When very thirsty I discovered a beautiful spring in a sandstone basin
overhung with shady bushes and vines, where I enjoyed to the utmost the
blessing of pure cold water. Discovered here a fine southern fern, some
new grasses, etc. Fancied that I might have been directed here by Providence,
while fainting with thirst. It is not often hereabouts that the joys of
cool water, cool shade, and rare plants are so delightfully combined.
Witnessed the most gorgeous sunset I ever enjoyed in this bright world
of light. The sunny South is indeed sunny. Was directed by a very civil
negro to lodgings for the night. Daily bread hereabouts means sweet potatoes
and rusty bacon.
The water oak is abundant on stream banks and in
damp hollows. Grasses are becoming tall and cane-like and do not
the ground with their leaves as at the North. Strange plants are crowding
about me now. Scarce a familiar face appears among all the flowers of the
To-day I met a magnificent grass, ten or twelve
feet in stature, with a superb panicle of glossy purple flowers. Its leaves,
too, are of princely mould and dimensions. Its home is in sunny meadows
and along the wet borders of slow streams and swamps. It seems to be fully
aware of its high rank, and waves with the grace and solemn majesty of
a mountain pine. I wish I could place one of these regal plants among the
grass settlements of our Western prairies. Surely every panicle would wave
and bow in joyous allegiance and acknowledge their king.
Between Thomson and Augusta I found many new and
beautiful grasses, tall gerardias, liatris, club mosses, etc. Here, too,
is the northern limit of the remarkable long-leafed pine, a tree from Sixty
to seventy feet in height, from twenty to thirty inches in
with leaves ten to fifteen inches long, in dense radiant masses at the
ends of the naked branches. The wood is strong, hard, and very resinous.
It makes excellent ship spars, bridge timbers, and flooring. Much of it
is shipped to the West India Islands, New York, and Galveston.
The seedlings, five or six years old, are very striking objects to one
from the North, consisting, as they do, of the straight, leafless stem,
surmounted by a crown of deep green leaves, arching and spreading like
a palm. Children fancy that they resemble brooms, and use them as such
in their picnic play-houses.
Pinus palustris is
most abundant in
Georgia and Florida.
The sandy soil here is sparingly seamed with rolled quartz pebbles and
clay. Denudation, going on slowly, allows the thorough removal of these
clay seams, leaving only the sand. Notwithstanding the sandiness of the
soil, much of the surface of the country is covered with standing water,
which is easily accounted for by the
presence of the above-mentioned
Traveled to-day more than forty miles with out dinner or supper. No
family would receive me, so I had to push on to Augusta. Went hungry to
bed and awoke with a sore stomach
I suppose, from its walls rubbing on each other without anything
to grind. A negro kindly directed me to the best hotel, called, I think,
the Planter's. Got a good bed for a dollar.
Found a cheap breakfast in a market-place; then set
off along the Savannah River to Savannah. Splendid grasses and rich, dense,
vine-clad forests. Muscadine grapes in cart-loads. Asters and solidagoes
becoming scarce. Carices [sedges] quite rare. Leguminous plants abundant.
A species of passion flower is common, reaching back into Tennessee. It
is here called "apricot vine," has a superb flower, and the
most delicious fruit I have ever eaten.
The pomegranate is cultivated here. The fruit is about the size of an
orange, has a thick,
tough skin, and when opened resembles a many-chambered
box full of translucent purple candies.
Toward evening I came to the country of one of the most striking of
southern plants, the so-called "Long Moss" or Spanish Moss [Tillandsia],
though it is a flowering plant and be-longs to the same family as the pineapple
[Bromelworts]. The trees hereabouts have all their branches draped with
it, producing a remarkable effect.
Here, too, I found an impenetrable cypress swamp. This remarkable tree,
called cypress, is a taxodium, grows large and high, and is remarkable
for its flat crown. The whole forest seems almost level on the top, as
if each tree had grown up against a ceiling, or had been rolled while growing.
This taxodium is the only level-topped tree that I have seen. The branches,
though spreading, are careful not to pass each other, and stop suddenly
on reaching the general level, as if they had grown up against a ceiling.
The groves and thickets of smaller trees are full of blooming evergreen
vines. These vines are not arranged in separate groups, or in delicate
wreaths, but in bossy walls and heavy, mound-like heaps and banks. Am made
to feel that I am now in a strange land. I know hardly any of the plants,
but few of the birds, and I am unable to see the country for the solemn,
dark, mysterious cypress woods which cover everything.
The winds are full of strange sounds, making one feel far from the people
and plants and fruitful fields of home. Night is coming on and I am filled
with indescribable loneliness. Felt feverish; bathed in a black, silent
stream; nervously watchful for alligators. Obtained lodging in a planter's
house among cotton fields. Although the family seemed to be pretty well-off,
the only light in the house was bits of pitch-pine wood burned in the fireplace.
In the low bottom forest of the Savannah River. Very
busy with new specimens. Most exquisitely planned wrecks of
[Rough Hair Grass]. Pines in glorious array with open, welcoming,
Met a young African with whom I had a long talk. was amused with his
eloquent narrative of coon hunting, alligators, and many superstitions.
He showed me a place where a railroad train had run off the track, and
assured me that the ghosts of the killed may be seen every dark night.
Had a long walk after sundown. At last was received at the house of
Dr. Perkins. Saw Cape Jasmine [
] in the garden.
Heard long recitals of war happenings, discussion of the slave question,
and Northern politics; a thoroughly characteristic Southern family, refined
in manners and kind, but immovably prejudiced on everything connected with
The family table was unlike any I ever saw before. It was circular,
and the central part of it revolved. When any one wished to be helped,
he placed his plate on the revolving
part, which was whirled around
to the host, and then whirled back with its new load. Thus every plate
was revolved into place, without the assistance of any of the family.
In "pine barrens" most of the day. Low,
level, sandy tracts; the pines wide apart; the sunny spaces between full
of beautiful abounding grasses, liatris, long, wand-like solidago, saw
palmettos, etc., covering the ground in garden style. Here I sauntered
in delightful freedom, meeting none of the cat-clawed vines, or shrubs,
of the alluvial bottoms. Dwarf live-oaks common.
Toward evening I arrived at the home of Mr. Cameron, a wealthy planter,
who had large bands of slaves at work in his cotton fields. They still
call him "Massa." He tells me that labor costs him less now than
it did before the emancipation of the negroes. When I arrived I found him
busily engaged in scouring the rust off some cotton-gin saws which had
been lying for months at the bottom of his mill-pond to prevent Sherman's
"bummers" from destroying
them. The most valuable parts
of the grist-mill and cotton-press were hidden in the same way. "If
Bill Sherman," he said, "should come down now without his army,
he would never go back."
When I asked him if he could give me food and lodging for the night
he said, "No, no, we have no accommodations for travelers." I
said, "But I am traveling as a botanist and either have to find lodgings
when night overtakes me or lie outdoors, which I often have had to do in
my long walk from Indiana. But you see that the country here is very swampy;
if you will at least sell me a piece of bread, and give me a drink at your
well, I shall have to look around for a dry spot to lie down on."
Then, asking me a few questions, and narrowly examining me, he said,
"Well, it is barely possible that we may find a place for you, and
if you will come to the house I will ask my wife." Evidently he was
cautious to get his wife's opinion of the kind of creature I was before
committing himself to hospitality. He
halted me at the door and called
out his wife, a fine-looking woman, who also questioned me narrowly as
to my object in coming so far down through the South, so soon after the
war. she said to her husband that she thought they could, perhaps, give
me a place to sleep.
After supper, as we sat by the fire talking on my favorite subject of
botany, I described the country I had passed through, its botanical character,
etc. Then, evidently, all doubt as to my being a decent man vanished, and
they both said that they would n't for anything have turned me away; but
I must excuse their caution, for perhaps fewer than one in a hundred, who
passed through this unfrequented part of the country, were to be relied
upon. "Only a short time ago we entertained a man who was well spoken
and well dressed, and he vanished some time during the night with some
Mr. Cameron told me that when I arrived he tried me for a Mason, and
finding that I was not a Mason he wondered still more that I
venture into the country without being able to gain the assistance of brother
Masons in these troublous times.
"Young man," he said, after hearing my talks on botany, "I
see that your hobby is botany. My hobby is e-lec-tricity. I believe that
the time is coming, though we may not live to see it, when that mysterious
power or force, used now only for telegraphy, will eventually supply the
power for running railroad trains and steamships, for lighting, and, in
a word, electricity will do all the work of the world."
Many times since then I have thought of the wonderfully correct vision
of this Georgia planter, so far in advance of almost everybody else in
the world. Already nearly all that he foresaw has been accomplished, and
the use of electricity is being extended more and more every year.
New plants constantly appearing. All day in dense,
wet, dark, mysterious forest of flat-topped taxodiums.
Saw the stately banana for the
first time, growing
luxuriantly in the wayside gardens. At night with a very pleasant, intelligent
Savannah family, but as usual was admitted only after I had undergone a
severe course of questioning.
Immense swamps, still more completely fenced and darkened,
that are never ruffled with winds or scorched with drought. Many of them
seem to be thoroughly aquatic.
7. Impenetrable taxodium swamp, seemingly boundless.
The silvery skeins of tillandsia becoming longer and more abundant. Passed
the night with a very pleasant family of Georgians, after the usual questions
and cross questions.
Found the first woody
a most notable
discovery. Took them to be such at a considerable distance. Almost all
trees and shrubs are evergreens here with thick polished leaves.
becoming common. A magnificent tree in fruit and foliage
as well as in flower. Near Savannah I found waste places covered with a
dense growth of
woody leguminous plants, eight or ten feet high, with
pinnate Weaves and suspended rattling nods.
Reached Savannah, but find no word from home, and the money that I had
ordered to be sent by express from Portage [Wisconsin] by my brother had
not yet arrived. Feel dreadfully lonesome and poor. Went to the meanest
looking lodging-house that I could find, on account of its cheapness.
The old Indian
name for the southern species of fox-grape,
Muir describes here. Wood's Botany listed it as
and remarks, "The variety called 'Scuppernong' is quite common in
[Back to chapter 2]
[Forward to chapter 4]