The Ashley-Smith explorations and the discovery of a central route to the
Pacific, 1822-1829, with the original journals, by Harrison Clifford
Cleveland, The Arthur H. Clark company, 1918.
SAINT LOUIS, dec. 1, 1825.
DEAR SIR, Yours of the 23 November is at hand, and in compliance with the request therein contained, I herewith enclose you a sketch of the country over which I passed on my late tour across the Rocky mountains.
The following remarks relating to my journey have been cursorily put together, but as they afford some better information as to the practicability and means of traversing that region, at the season of the year presenting the greatest privations, they may not be uninteresting to you.
I left Fort Atkinson on the 3rd November, 1824.
On the afternoon of the fifth, I overtook my party of mountaineers (twenty-five in number), who had in charge fifty pack horses, a wagon and teams, etc. On the 6th we had advanced within miles of the villages of the Grand Pawney's, when it commenced snowing, and continued with but little intermission until the morning of the 8th. During this time my men and horses were suffering for the want of food, which, combined with the severity of the weather, presented rather a gloomy prospect. I had left Fort Atkinson under a belief that I could procure a sufficient supply of provisions at the Pawney villages to subsist my men until we could reach a point affording a sufficiency of game; but in this I was disappointed, as I learned by sending to the villages, that they were entirely deserted, the Indians having, according to their annual custom, departed some two or three weeks previous for their wintering ground. As the vicinity of those villages afforded little or no game, my only alternative was to subsist my men on horse meat, and my horses on cottonwood bark, the ground being at this time covered with snow about two feet deep. In this situation we continued for about the space of two weeks, during which time we made frequent attempts to advance and reach a point of relief, but, owing to the intense cold and violence of the winds, blowing the snow in every direction, we had only succeeded in advancing some ten or twelve miles, and on the 22nd of the same month we found ourselves encamped on the Loup fork of the river Platt within three miles of the Pawney towns. Cold and hunger had by this time killed several of my horses, and many others were much reduced from the same cause. On the day last named we crossed the country southwardly about fifteen miles to the main fork of the Platt, where we were so fortunate as to find rushes and game in abundance, whence we set out on the 24th and advanced up the Platt as expeditiously as the nature of things under such circumstances would admit. After ascending the river about one hundred miles, we reached Plumb point on the 3d December, where we found the encampment of the Grand Pawney Indians, who had reached that point (their usual crossing place) on their route to the wintering ground on the Arkansas river.
At two or three of my encampments previous to arriving at Plumb point, I was visited by small parties of young warriors, who were exceedingly troublesome to my party and committed several thefts before leaving us, but on my arrival at the encampment, the chiefs and principal men expressed much friendship and manifested the same by compelling the thieves to return the articles stolen from me. From our encampment of the 24th to this place our hunters supplied us plentifully with provisions, and the islands and valleys of the Platt furnished a bountiful supply of rushes and firewood, but I was here informed by the Indians that until I reached the vicinity the mountains, I should meet with but one place (the forks of the Platt) where a plentiful supply of fuel could be had, and but little food of any description for our horses. They urged me to take up winter quarters at the forks of the Platt, stating that if I attempted to advance further until spring, I would endanger the lives of my whole party.
The weather now was extremely cold, accompanied with frequent light snows. We advanced about eight miles further up the river, where we fell in with the tribe of Loup Pawneys and travelled in company with them to the forks of the Platt (their usual wintering place) where we arrived on the 12th day of December, and had so far found the Indians' information in relation to fuel and horse food to be correct. At this time my men had undergone an intense suffering from the inclemency of the weather, which also bore so severely on the horses as to cause the death of many of them. This, together with a desire to purchase a few horses from the Loups and to prepare my party for the privations which we had reason to anticipate in travelling the next two hundred miles (described as being almost wholly destitute of wood), induced me to remain at the forks until the 23d December, the greater part of which time, we were favoured with fine weather, and, notwithstanding the uplands were still covered with from eighteen to twenty-four inches of snow, the valleys were generally bare and afforded a good range for my horses, furnishing plenty of dry grass and some small rushes, from the use of which they daily increased in strength and spirits.
The day after our arrival at the forks, the chiefs and principal men of the Loups assembled in council for the purpose of learning my wants, and to devise means to supply them. I made known them that I wished to procure twenty-five horses and a few buffalo robes, and to give my men an opportunity of providing more amply for the further prosecution of the journey, I requested that we might be furnished with meat to subsist upon while we remained with them, and promised that a liberal remuneration should be made for any services they might render me. After their deliberations were closed, they came to this conclusion: that, notwithstanding they had been overtaken by unusually severe weather before reaching their wintering ground, by which they had lost a great number of horses, they would comply with my requisition in regard to horses and other necessaries as far as their means would admit. Several speeches were made by the chiefs during the council, all expressive in the highest degree of their friendly disposition towards our government, and their conduct in every particular manifested the sincerity of their declarations.
On the 23d December, having completed the purchase of twenty-three horses and other necessary things, I made arrangements for my departure which took place on the next morning. The south fork of the river being represented as affording more wood than the north, I commenced ascending that stream. The weather was fine, the valleys literally covered with buffaloe, and everything seemed to promise a safe and speedy movement to the first grove of timber on my route, supposed to be about ten days' march. The Loup Pawneys were not at this time on very good terms with the Arapahoe and Kiawa Indians, and were anxious to cultivate a friendly understanding with them, to accomplish which, they concluded to send a deputation of five men with me to meet those tribes and propose to them terms of peace and amity. This deputation overtook me on the afternoon of the 25th.
Having now reached a point where danger might be reasonably apprehended from strolling war parties of Indians, spies were kept in advance and strict diligence observed in the duty of sentinels.
The morning of the 26th was cloudy and excessively cold. At 3 o,clock in the afternoon it
began to snow and continued with violent winds until the night of the 27th. The next morning
(28th) four of my horses were so benumbed with cold that they were unable to stand,
although we succeeded in raising them on their feet. A delay to recruit them would have been
attended with great danger, probably even to the destruction of the whole party. I therefore
concluded to set forward without them. The snow was now so deep that had it not been for
the numerous herds of buffaloe moving down the river, we could not possibly have
proceeded. The paths of these animals were beat on either side of the river and afforded an
easy passage to our horses. These animals were essentially beneficial to us in another respect
by removing (in their search for food)
the snow in many places from the earth and leaving the grass exposed to view, which was the only nourishment our horses could obtain.
We continued to move forward without loss of time, hoping to be able to reach the wood described by the Indians before all our horses should become exhausted. on the 1st january, 1825, I was exceedingly surprised and no less gratified at the sight of a grove of timber, in appearance, distant some two or three miles on our front. It proved to be a grove of cottonwood of the sweet-bark kind suitable for horse food, situated on an island, offering among other conveniences, a good situation for defence. I concluded to remain here several days for the purpose of recruiting my horses, and made my arrangements accordingly. My Indian friends of the Pawne Loup deputation, believing this place to be nearly opposite to the Arrapahoe and other Indian camps on the Arkansas determined to proceed hence across the country. They prepared a few pounds of meat and with each a bundle of wood tied to his back for the purpose of fuel, departed the following morning on their mission. Being informed by the Pawneys that one hundred of my old enemies (the Arikara warriors) were encamped with the Arkansas Indians, and my situation independent of that circumstance, being rendered more vulnerable by the departure of the Indians, who had just left us, I was obliged to increase my guard from eight to sixteen men. This was much the most severe duty my men had to perform, but they did it with alacrity and cheerfulness as well as all other services required at their hands; indeed, such was their pride and ambition in the discharge of their duties, that their privations in the end became sources of amusement to them. We remained on this island until the cottonwood fit for horse food was nearly consumed, by which time our horses were so refreshed as to justify another move forward. We therefore made arrangements for our departure and resumed our march on the 11th january.
The weather continued extremely cold, which rendered our progress slow and very labourious. We procured daily a scanty supply of small pieces of driftwood and willow brush, which sufficed for our fuel, but we did not fall in with any cottonwood suitable for horse food until the 20th, when we reached another small island clothed with a body of that wood sufficient for two days subsistence. From this last mentioned island, we had a clear and distant view of the Rocky mountains bearing west, about sixty miles distant. Believing from the information of the Indians that it was impracticable to cross them at this time, I concluded to advance to their base with my whole party, and, after fortifying my camp, to proceed with a part of my men into the mountains, to ascertain if possible the best route to cross over, and at the same time, endeavour to employ my men advantageously until a state of things would allow me to proceed on my journey.
We advanced slowly to the point proposed, and had the good fortune to find on our way an abundance of wood for fuel as well as for horse food. on the 4th february, we approached near to the base of the mountain and encamped in a thick grove of cottonwood and willows on a small branch of the river Platt. our situation here was distant six or eight miles north of a conspicuous peak of the mountains, which I imagined to be that point described by Major Long as being the highest peak and lying in latitude 40 N., longitude 29 W. On my route hither from our encampment of the 20th january, I was overtaken by three Arapahoe Indians. They stated to me that they had been informed by the Indians of the Pawney deputation (whom they had received and treated with friendship) of my journey up the Platt, and that they with 60 or 70 other warriors had started from their encampment on the Arkansas to join me, but the unusual depth of snow on the prairies had deterred all the party except themselves from proceeding further than their second day's encampment. I made them some presents, gave them advice in relation to the course of conduct they should pursue towards our citizens, and pointed out to them the advantages which a friendly understanding between them and the Pawneys would produce to both tribes. They acknowledged the correctness of my admonition and promised in future to pursue the line of conduct I had advised them to adopt. They then thanked me for the presents I had made them and departed to rejoin their tribe.
We were busily [engaged] on excursions in different directions from our camp until the 25th february. Although the last ten days had been pleasant weather partly accompanied with warm suns, the scene around us was pretty much the same as when we arrived, everything being enveloped in one mass of snow and ice, but, as my business required a violent effort to accomplish its object, notwithstanding the mountains seemed to bid defiance to my further progress, things were made ready, and on the 26th we commenced the doubtful undertaking.our passage across the first range of mountains, which was exceedingly difficult and dangerous, employed us three days, after which the country presented a different aspect. Instead of finding the mountains more rugged as I advanced towards their summit and everything in their bosom frozen and torpid, affording nothing on which an animal could possibly subsist, they assumed quite an altered character. The ascent of the hills (for they do not deserve the name of mountains) was so gradual as to cause but little fatigue in travelling over them. The valleys and south sides of the hills were but partially covered with snow, and the latter presented already in a slight degree the verdure of spring, while the former were filled with numerous herds of buffaloe, deer, and antelope.
In my passage hither I discovered from the shape of the country, that the range of mountains twenty or thirty miles to the north of my route, was not so lofty or rugged and in all probability would afford a convenient passage over them. From here I pursued a W.N.W. course with such variations only as were necessary in selecting the smoothest route. The face of the country west and northwardly continued pretty much the same. Successive ranges of high hills gradually ascending as I advanced, with detached heaps of rock and earth scattered promiscuously over the hills several hundred feet higher than the common surface. On the south there appeared at the distance of fifteen or twenty miles a range of lofty mountains bearing east and west, entirely covered with snow and timbered with a thick growth of pine. We were able to procure but a scanty supply of fuel till we arrived on the 10th march at a small branch of the north fork of the Platte, where we found an abundance of wood. This stream is about one hundred feet wide, meandering northeastwardly through a beautiful and fertile valley, about ten miles in width. Its margin is partially wooded with large cottonwood of the bitter kind. The sweet cottonwood, such as affords food for horses, is nowhere to be found in the mountains; consequently our horses had to subsist upon a very small allowance of grass, and this, too (with the exception of a very inconsiderable proportion) entirely dry and in appearance destitute of all nutriment. Yet my horses retained their strength and spirits in a remarkable degree, which with other circumstances, confirms me in the opinion that the vegetation of the mountains is much more nourishing than that of the plains.
On the 12th, I again set out and in the evening encamped at the foot of a high range of mountains covered with snow and bearing N.N.W. and S.S.E., which, as they appeared to present the same obstructions to my passage as far north as the eye could reach, determined me (after a day's examination) to attempt the continuation of my course W.N.W., hoping to be as successful as I had been in crossing the first range. My attempt, however, proved unsuccessful. After an unremitting and severe labour of two days, we returned to our old encampment with the loss of some of my horses, and my men excessively fatigued. We found the snow to be from three to five feet in depth and so firmly settled as to render our passage through it wholly impracticable. This mountain is timbered with a beautiful growth of white pine and from every appearance is a delightful country to travel over in the summer season. After remaining one day longer at the camp to rest my men and horses, I left it a second time and travelled northwardly along the base of the mountains. As I thus advanced, I was delighted with the variegated scenery presented by the valleys and mountains, which were enlivened by innumerable herds of buffaloe antelope, and mountain sheep grazing on them, and what added no small degree of interest to the whole scene, were the many small streams issuing from the mountains, bordered with a thin growth of small willows and richly stocked with beaver. As my men could profitably employ themselves on these streams, I moved slowly along, averaging not more than five or six miles per day and sometimes remained two days at the same encampment.
On the 21st march, the appearance of the country justified another attempt to resume my former course W.N.W. The principal or highest part of the mountain having changed its direction to east and west, I ascended it in such manner as to leave its most elevated ranges to the south and travelled north west over a very rough and broken country generally covered with snow. My progress was therefore slow and attended with unusual labour untill the afternoon of the 23d, when I had succeeded in crossing the range and encamped on the edge of a beautiful plain of a circular form and about ten miles in diameter. The next day (24th) we travelled west across the plain, which terminated at the principal branch of the north fork of the river Platt, on which we encamped for the night. on the two succeeding days we passed over an elevated rough country entirely destitute of wood and affording no water save what could be procured by the melting of snow. We used as a substitute for fuel an herb called wild sage. It resembles very much in appearance the garden sage but acquires a much larger growth and possesses a stock of from four to five inches in diameter. It burns well and retains fire as long as any fuel I ever used.
From the morning of the 27th to the night of the 1st april, we were employed in crossing the ridge which divides the waters of the Atlantic from those of the Pacific ocean. The first two days, the country we met with was undulating with a gradual ascent to the west Southwardly at the distance of twenty or thirty miles appeared a range of high mountains bearing east and west. Northwardly, at an equal distance, were several mountains or high hills irregularly seated over the earth, which I afterwards ascertained to surround the sources of a branch of the Platt called Sweet Water.
On the 3d, 4th and 5th days, we travelled over small ridges and valleys alternately, the latter much the most extensive and generally covered with water produced by the melting of the snow and which appeared to have no outlet. This dividing ridge is almost entirely destitute of vegetation except wild sage with which the earth is so bountifully spread that it proved a considerable impediment in our progress. As my horses were greatly exhausted by the fatigue and hunger they had underwent, I advanced on the 2d april only two or three miles to a place where I had, on the preceding evening, discovered some grass. After my camp was arranged, I advanced with one of my men eight or ten miles on my route to a high hill for the purpose of taking a view of the adjacent country in the expectation of finding the appearance of water courses running westwardly. Nothing, however, was visible from which I could form an opinion with the exception of a huge craggy mountain, the eastern extremity of which, bearing from this hill due north, made nearly a right angle. The arm which extended northwardly divides (as I afterwards ascertained) the waters of the Yellow Stone and Bighorn from some of the headwaters of the Columbia, while the west arm separates the southern sources of Lewis's fork of the Columbia from what I suppose to be the headwaters of the Rio Colorado of the West. While on the mountain, I was discovered by a war party of Crow Indians, who were returning from an excursion against the southern Snake Indians. This party, unobserved by me, followed me to my camp and on the succeeding night stole seventeen of my best horses and mules. This outrage reduced me to a dreadful condition. I was obliged to burden my men with the packs of the stolen horses, and, after making the necessary arrangements, they were directed to proceed to the hill where I had been discovered the day previous by the Indians, while I, with one man, pursued the fugitives who travelled northwardly over the roughest parts of the country and with all possible expedition. In the course of the day we recovered three of the stolen horses, which were left on the way, and rejoined our party that night. on the next morning I dispatched nine men on the trail of the Indians, and with the residue of my party I proceeded in search of a suitable encampment at which to await their return. on the 6th we reached a small stream of water running north west. We deemed it about ten miles where it formed a junction with another rivulet of the same size, which headed northwardly in the range of mountains before described. This stream is clothed with a growth of small willows and furnishes the only constant running water we have met with since the 24th march and also the first wood we have seen in the same space of time. We continued at this camp until the 11th inst., on which day, the men sent in pursuit of the Indians came back without success. They had ascertained, however, from the direction of the trace and other circumstances that they belonged to the Crow nation. on the 12th we again proceeded on our journey, pursuing the meanders of the creek last mentioned in a south west direction; but the weather was so exceedingly bad, snowing a greater part of the time, that we were unable to advance more than six or eight miles per day until the 18th inst., when we left the creek and traveled west about fifteen miles to a beautiful river running south. This stream is about one hundred yards wide, of a bold current, and generally so deep that it presents but few places suitable for fording. Its margin and islands are wooded with large long leafed (or bitter) cottonwood, box-elder, willows, etc., and, judging from the quantity of wood cut on its banks, and other appearances, it once must have contained a great number of beaver, the major part of which (as I have been informed) were trapped by men in the service of the North West company some four or five years ago.
The country in this vicinity and eastwardly fifty miles is gently rolling. Some of the valleys afford a species of fine grass, but the uplands produce but little vegetation of any kind except a small growth of wild sage.
I have hitherto said but little in relation to the fertility of the soil on my route because that part of it lying east [of] the mountains has in two or three instances been described by gentlemen who have travelled over the country for that express purpose and further because the perfect sameness in the quality of the soil and its productions enabled me to describe them altogether and that in but few words. From this place to Plumb point on the river Platt, the proportion of arable land (which is almost entirely confined to the valleys of the mountains) is so inconsiderable that the whole country (so far as my observations extended) may be considered of no value for the purpose of agriculture. The surface generally either exhibits a bed of sand or a light coloured barren earth, which is in many places wholly destitute of the least semblance of vegetation. In relation to the subsistence of men and horses, I will remark that nothing now is actually necessary for the support of men in the wilderness than a plentiful supply of good fresh meat. It is all that our mountaineers ever require or even seem to wish. They prefer the meat of the buffaloe to that of any other animal, and the circumstance of the uninterrupted health of these people who generally eat unreasonable quantities of meat at their meals, proves it to be the most wholesome and best adapted food to the constitution of man. In the different concerns which I have had in the Indian country, where not less than one hundred men have been annually employed for the last four years and subsist altogether upon meat, I have not known at any time a single instance of bilious fever among them or any other disease prevalent in the settled parts of our country, except a few instances (and but very few) of slight fevers produced by colds or rheumatic affections, contracted while in the discharge of guard duty on cold and inclement nights. Nor have we in the whole four years lost a single man by death except those who came to their end prematurely by being either shot or drowned. In the summer and fall seasons of the year, the country will afford sufficient grass to subsist any number of horses in traversing it in either direction and even in the winter season, such is the nutricious quality of the mountain grass that, when it can be had plentifully, although perfectly dry in appearance, horses (moderately used) that partake of it, will retain in a great degree their flesh, strength, and spirits. When the round leaf or sweet-bark cottonwood can be had abundantly, horses may be wintered with but little inconvenience. They are very fond of this bark, and, judging by the effect produced from feeding it to my horses last winter, I suppose it almost, if not quite, as nutricious as timothy hay.
On my arrival at the point last described. I determined to relieve my men and horses of their heavy burdens, to accomplish which, I concluded to make four divisions of my party, send three of them by land in different directions, and, with the fourth party, descend the river myself with the principal part of my merchandise. Accordingly, some of the men commenced making a frame about the size and shape of a common mackinaw boat, while others were sent to procure buffaloe skins for a covering. On the 21 april, all things being ready for our departure, I dispatched six men northwardly to the sources of the river; seven others set out for a mountain bearing s.s.w. and N.N.E., distant about thirty miles; and six others were sent in a southern direction. After selecting one of the most intelligent and efficient of each party to act as partizans, I directed them to proceed to their respective points of destination and thence in such direction as circumstances should dictate for my interest. At the same time they were instructed to endeavor to fall in with two parties of men that were fitted out by me in the year previous, and who were then, as I supposed, beyond the range of mountains appearing westwardly. The partisans were also informed that I would descend the river to some eligible point about one hundred miles below, there deposit a part of my merchandise, and make such marks as would designate it as a place of general rendezvous for the men in my service in that country, and where they were all directed to assemble on or before the 10th july following.
After the departure of the land parties, I embarked with six men on thursday, the 21st april, on board my newly made boat and began the descent of the river. After making about fifteen miles, we passed the mouth of the creek which we had left on the morning of the 18th and to which we gave the name of Sandy. At 4 o'clock in the afternoon we encamped for the remainder of the day and night at a place distant about forty miles from where we embarked, finding from the movement of our boat in its day's progress that she was too heavily burthened, we began the construction of another, which was completed and launched on the morning of the 24th, when we again set out. As we advanced on our passage, the country gradually became more level and broken. The river bottom, which in point of soil, is but little better than the uplands, becomes narrower as we descended and has generally the appearance of being subject to inundation. Today we made 30 miles.
MONDAY, 25TH: the country today under our observation is mountainous on either side of the river for twenty miles, then it resumes its former appearance of elevated and broken heights. A beautiful bold running stream about fifty yards wide empties itself on the west side of the river bearing N.W. and S.E. Below this junction the river is one hundred and fifty yards wide, the valley narrow and thinly timbered. We encamped on an island after making about twenty-five miles. Thence we departed on the succeeding morning and progressed slowly without observing any remarkable difference in the appearance of the river or surrounding country until the 30th inst., when we arrived at the base of a lofty rugged mountain, the summit of which was covered with snow and bearing east and west. Here also a creek sixty feet wide discharges itself on the west side. This spot I selected as a place of general rendezvous, which I designated by marks in accordance with the instruction given to my men. So far, the navigation of this river is without the least obstruction. The channel in the most shallow places affords not less than four feet water. Game continues abundant, particularly buffaloe. There is no appearance of these animals wintering on this river; but they are at this time travelling from the west in great numbers.
SATURDAY, MAY 2d: we continued our voyage about half a mile below our camp, when we entered between the walls of this range of mountains, which approach at this point to the waters, edge on either side of the river and rise almost perpendicular to an immense height. The channel of the river is here contracted to the width of sixty or seventy yards, and the current (much increased in velocity) as it rolled along in angry submission to the serpentine walls that direct it, seemed constantly to threaten us with danger as we advanced. We, however, succeeded in descending about ten miles without any difficulty or material change in the aspect of things and encamped for the night. About two miles above this camp, we passed the mouth of a creek on the west side some fifteen yards wide, which discharged its water with great violence.
SUNDAY, 3RD: after progressing two miles, the navigation became difficult and dangerous, the river being remarkably crooked with more or less rapids every mile caused by rocks which had fallen from the sides of the mountain, many of which rise above the surface of the water and required our greatest exertions to avoid them. At twenty miles from our last camp, the roaring and agitated state of the water a short distance before us indicated a fall or some other obstruction of considerable magnitude. our boats were consequently rowed to shore, along which we cautiously descended to the place from whence the danger was to be apprehended. It proved to be a perpendicular fall of ten or twelve feet produced by large fragments of rocks which had fallen from the mountain and settled in the river extending entirely across its channel and forming an impregnable barrier to the passage of loaded watercraft. We were therefore obliged to unload our boats of their cargoes and pass them empty over the falls by means of long cords which we had provided for such purposes. At sunset, our boats were reloaded and we descended a mile lower down and encamped.
MONDAY, 4TH: this day we made about forty miles. The navigation and mountains by which the river is bounded continues pretty much the same as yesterday. These mountains appear to be almost entirely composed of stratas of rock of various colours (mostly red) and are partially covered with a dwarfish growth of pine and cedar, which are the only species of timber to be seen.
TUESDAY, 5TH: after descending six miles, the mountains gradually recede from the water's edge, and the river expands to the width of two hundred and fifty yards, leaving the river bottoms on each side from one to three hundred Yards wide interspersed with clusters of small Willows. We remained at our encampment of this day until the morning of the 7th, when we descended ten miles lower down and encamped on a spot of ground where several thousand Indians had wintered during the past season. Their camp had been judiciously selected for defence, and the remains of their work around it accorded with the judgment exercised in the selection. Many of their lodges remained as perfect as when occupied. They were made of poles two or three inches in diameter, set up in circular form, and covered with cedar bark.
FRIDAY, THE 8TH: we proceeded down the river about two miles, where it again enters between two mountains and affording a channel even more contracted than before. As we passed along between these messy walls, which in a great degree exclude from us the rays of heaven and presented a surface as impassable as their body was impregnable, I was forcibly struck with the gloom which spread over the countenances of my men; they seemed to anticipate (and not far distant, too) a dreadful termination of our voyage, and I must confess that I partook in some degree of what I supposed to be their feelings, for things around us had truly an awful appearance. We soon came to a dangerous rapid which we passed over with a slight injury to our boats. A mile lower down, the channel became so obstructed by the intervention of large rocks over and between which the water dashed with such violence as to render our passage in safety impracticable. The cargoes of our boats were therefore a second time taken out and carried about two hundred yards, to which place, after much labor, our boats were descended by means of cords. Thence we descended fifty (50) miles to the mouth of a beautiful river emptying on each side, to which I gave the name of Mary's river. The navigation continued dangerous and difficult the whole way; the mountains equally lofty and rugged with their summits entirely covered with snow. Mary's river is one hundred yards wide, has a rapid current, and from every appearance very much confined between lofty mountains. A valley about two hundred yards wide extends one mile below the confluence of these rivers, then the mountain again on that side advances to the water's edge. Two miles lower down is a very dangerous rapid, and eight miles further the mountain withdraws from the river on the west side about a half mile. Here we found a luxurious growth of sweet-bark or round-leaf cottonwood and a number of buffaloe, and succeeded by narrow river bottoms and hills. The former, as well as several islands, are partly clothed with a luxuriant growth of round-leaf cottonwood and extend four miles down the river, where the mountains again close to the water's edge and are in appearance more terrific than any we had seen during the whole voyage. They immediately produce bad rapids, which follow in quick succession for twenty miles, below which, as far as I descended, the river is without obstruction. In the course of our passage through the several ranges of mountains, we performed sixteen portages, the most of which were attended with the utmost difficulty and labor. At the termination of the rapids, the mountains on each side of the river gradually recede, leaving in their retreat a hilly space of five or six miles, through which the river meanders in a west direction about (70) seventy miles, receiving in that distance several contributions from small streams on each side, the last of which is called by the Indians Tewinty river. It empties on the north side, is about (60) sixty yards wide, several feet deep, with a bold current.
I concluded to ascend this river on my route returning, therefore deposited the cargoes of my boats in the ground near it, and continued my descent of the main river fifty miles to the point marked 5 on the topographical sketch sent you. The whole of that distance the river is bounded by lofty mountains heaped together in the greatest disorder, exhibiting a surface as barren as can be imagined. This part of the country is almost entirely without game. We saw a few mountain-sheep and some elk, but they were so wild, and the country so rugged that we found it impossible to approach them. On my way returning to Tewinty river, I met a part of the Eutau tribe of Indians, who appeared very glad to see us and treated us in the most respectful and friendly manner. These people were well dressed in skins, had some guns, but armed generally with bows and arrows and such other instruments of war as are common among the Indians of the Missouri. Their horses were better than Indian horses generally are east of the mountains and more numerous in proportion to the number of persons. I understood (by signs) from them that the river which I had descended, and which I supposed to be the Rio Colorado of the West, continued its course as far as they had any knowledge of it, southwest through a mountainous country. They also informed me that all the country known to them from south to west from Tewinty river was almost entirely destitute of game, that the Indians inhabiting that region subsist principally on roots, fish and horses. The Eutaus are part of the original Snake nation of Indians. They have no fixed place of residence but claim a district of country which (according to their representation) is about one hundred and fifty miles long by one hundred miles wide, to which their situation at that time was nearly central.
I purchased a few horses of the Eutaus, returned to Tewinty river and ascended to its extreme sources, distant from its mouth about seventy miles, in general bearing W.N.W. and S.S.E.; [it] runs through a mountainous sterile country. From the head waters of Tewinty river, I crossed a range of lofty mountains nearly E. and W., which divide the waters of the Rio Colorado from those which I have represented as the Beaunaventura. This range of mountains is in many places fertile and closely timbered with pine, cedar, quaking-asp, and a dwarfish growth of oak; a great number of beautiful streams issue from them on each side, running through fertile valleys richly clothed with grass. I proceeded down the waters of the Beaunaventura about sixty miles bordered with a growth of willow almost impenetrable. In that distance I crossed several streams from 20 to 60 yards wide running in various directions. All of them, as I am informed, unite in one in the course of 30 miles, making a river of considerable magnitude, which enters a few miles lower down a large lake, represented on your sketch as Lake Tempagono. This information was communicated to me by our hunters who (as I before told) had crossed to this region in the summer of 1824 and wintered on and near the borders of this lake. They had not explored the lake sufficiently to judge correctly of its extent, but from their own observations and information collected from Indians, they supposed it to be about eighty miles long by fifty broad. They represented it as a beautiful sheet of water deep, transparent, and a little brackish, though in this latter quality the accounts differ; some insist that it is not brackish. I met several small parties of Eutaw Indians on this side of the last mentioned range of mountains, 100 miles long bearing about W.N.W. and S.S.E. [who said] that a large river flowing out of it on the west end runs in a western direction, but they know nothing of its discharge into the ocean or of the country any considerable distance west of the lake. I also conversed with some very intelligent men who I found with our hunters in the vicinity of this lake and who had been for many years in the service of the Hudson Bay Fur company. Some of them profess to be well acquainted with all the principal waters of the Columbia, with which they assured me these waters had no connection short of the ocean. It appears from this information that the river is not the Multnomah, a southern branch of the Columbia, which I first supposed it to be. The necessity of my unremitted attention to my business prevented me from gratifying a great desire to descend this river to the ocean, which I ultimately declined with the greatest reluctance. The country drained by these waters, which is about one hundred and twenty miles wide and bounded on the north, east and south by three principal and conspicuous mountains, is beautifully diversified with hills, mountains, valleys, and bold running streams and is in parts fertile. The northern part of it is well supplied with buffaloe, elk, bear, antelope, and mountain-sheep. The country east and a considerable distance north of these lakes, including the headwaters of the Rio Colorado of the West and down the same to Mary's river, is claimed by the Shoshone Indians. The men in my employ here have had but little intercourse with these people. So far they had been treated by them in the most friendly manner. They had, however, some time in the fall of 1824, attacked and killed several of our citizens who had crossed from Taus and were trading on the _______.
On the 1st day of july, all the men in my employ or with whom I had any concern in the country, together with twenty-nine, who had recently withdrawn from the Hudson Bay company, making in all 120 men, were assembled in two camps near each other about 20 miles distant from the place appointed by me as a general rendezvous, when it appeared that we had been scattered over the territory west of the mountains in small detachments from the 38th to the 44th degree of latitude, and the only injury we had sustained by Indian depredations was the stealing of 17 horses by the Crows on the night of the 2nd april, as before mentioned, and the loss of one man killed on the headwaters of the Rio Colorado, by a party of Indians unknown.
Mr. Jedediah Smith, a very intelligent and confidential young man, who had charge of a small detachment, stated that he had, in the fall of 1824, crossed from the headwaters of the Rio Colorado to Lewis fork of the Columbia and down the same about one hundred miles, thence northwardly to Clark's fork of the Columbia, where he found a trading establishment of the Hudson Bay company, where he remained for some weeks. Mr. Smith ascertained from the gentleman who had charge of that establishment, that the Hudson Bay company had then in their employment, trading with the Indians and trapping beaver on both sides of the Rocky mountains, about 80 men, 60 of whom were generally employed as trappers and confined their operations to that district called the Snake country, which Mr. Smith understood as being confined to the district claimed by the Shoshone Indians. It appeared from the account, that they had taken in the last four years within that district eighty thousand beaver, equal to one hundred and sixty thousand pounds of furs.
You can form some idea of the quantity of beaver that country once possessed, when I tell you that some of our hunters had taken upwards of one hundred in the last spring hunt out of streams which had been trapped, as I am informed, every season for the last four years.
It appears from Mr. Smith's account that there is no scarcity of buffalo as he penetrated the country. As Mr. Smith returned, he inclined‘‘west and fell on the waters of the Grand lake or Beaunaventura. He describes the country in that direction as admitting a free and easy passage and abounding in salt. At one place particularly hundreds of bushels might have been collected from the surface of the earth within a small space. He gave me some specimens, which equal in appearance and quality the best Liverpool salt. Mr. S. also says the buffaloe are very plenty as far as he penetrated the country over it in almost any direction.
On the 2nd day of july, I set out on my way homewards with 50 men, 25 of whom were to accompany me to a navigable point of the Big Horn river, thence to return with the horses employed in the transportation of the furs. I had forty-five packs of beaver cached a few miles east of our direct route. I took with me 20 men, passed by the place, raised the cache, and proceeded in a direction to join the other party, but, previous to joining them, I was twice attacked by Indians first by a party of Blackfeet about 60 in number. They made their appearance at the break of day, yelling in the most hideous manner and using every means in their power to alarm our horses, which they so effectually did that the horses, although closely hobbled, broke by the guard and ran off. A part of the Indians being mounted, they succeeded in getting all the horses except two, and wounded one man. An attempt was also made to take our camp, but in that they failed. The following night, I sent an express to secure horses from the party of our men who had taken a direct route. In two days thereafter, I received the desired aid and again proceeded on my way, made about ten miles, and encamped upon an eligible situation. That night, about 12 o'clock, we were again attacked by a war party of Crow Indians, which resulted in the loss of one of the Indians killed and another shot through the body, without any injury to us. The next day I joined my other party and proceeded direct to my place of embarkation just below the Big Horn mountain, where I arrived on the 7th day of august.
On my passage thither, I discovered nothing remarkable in the features of the country. It
affords generally a smooth way to travel over. The only very rugged part of the route is in
crossing the Big Horn mountain, which is about 30 miles wide. I had the Big Horn river
explored from Wind River mountain to my place of embarkation. There is little or no
difficulty in the navigation of that river from its mouth to Wind River mountain. It may be
ascended that far at a tolerable stage of water with a boat drawing three feet water. The
Yellowstone river is a beautiful river to navigate. It has rapids extending from above Powder
river about fifty miles but I found about four feet water over the most.