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Journey down the Mississippi: Memphis


Memphis, anonymous

Winter was coming on quickly as the two friends left Cincinnati on their journey south. The weather became harsher and the traveling conditions became more and more uncomfortable: Tocqueville became seriously ill on December 12th, after traveling in an open carriage in a high wind between Nashville and Sandy Bridge. Thanks to Beaumont and the attentive treatment he lavished on his friend, Tocqueville was well enough after three feverish days to continue the journey. The trip was, however, interrupted by this same cold that, quite exceptionally, had caused the both the Mississippi and the Tennessee River to freeze over. The two travelers were prisoners of the little town of Memphis, where they were obliged to remain "eight days without newspapers or news, completely cut off from the universe".

« It has been the misfortune of the Indians, however, to come into contact with the most civilized-and, I would add, the greediest-people on earth at a time when they themselves are still half-barbarous; to have masters for their teachers; and to receive oppression together with enlightenment. »
(Democracy in America,
vol. I, part 2, chap. 10)

To pass the time and calm their worries, they went off with Indians that lived near the village to hunt the multicolored birds that lived in the woods. They spent the rest of the time visiting with their Memphis hosts, until the day a steamboat, traveling up the Mississippi, arrived from New Orleans. It was only thanks to an unfortunate coincidence and the intervention of a government agent that the ship agreed to turn around: that day, the great Choctaw Indian tribe, which had been evicted from its ancestral lands, was being brought up the river to uninhabited land in Arkansas.   play sound extractlire l'extrait sonore   The scenes witnessed by Tocqueville and Beaumont were extremely moving, and made them more aware of the desperate fate of the first victims of American civilization. In spite of this, the signal for departure was given, and the Louisville set off for New Orleans.

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A Choctaw Indian seated on a log, Charles-Alexandre Lesueur

A Choctaw Indian seated on a log, Charles-Alexandre Lesueur © MHN du Havre

'Birds of America', Green woodpecker, John-James Audubon

The book "Birds of America", Green woodpecker,, John-James Audubon © RMN/Bulloz

Travel notebookaccess to Travel Notebook with Flash

Down the Mississipi

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