Draught of a Petition to Congress, sent by Mr. Astor in 1812.
To the honorable the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States, in
The petition of the American Fur Company respectfully showeth:
THAT the trade with the several Indian tribes of North America has, for many years
past, been almost exclusively carried on by the merchants of Canada; who, having
formed powerful and extensive associations for that purpose, being aided by British
capital, and being encouraged by the favor and protection of the British government,
could not be opposed, with any prospect of success by individuals of the United States.
That by means of the above trade, thus systematically pursued, not only the inhabitants
of the United States have been deprived of commercial profits and advantages, to
which they appear to have just and natural pretensions, but a great and dangerous
influence has been established over the Indian tribes, difficult to be counteracted, and
capable of being exerted at critical periods, to the great injury and annoyance of our
That in order to obtain at least a part of the above trade, and more particularly that
which is within the boundaries of the United States, your petitioners, in the year 1808,
obtained an act of incorporation from the State of New York, whereby they are enabled,
with a competent capital, to carry on the said trade with the Indians in such a manner
as may be conformable to the laws and regulations of the United States, in relation to
such a commerce.
That the capital mentioned in the said act, amounting to one million of dollars, having
been duly formed, your petitioners entered with zeal and alacrity into those large and
important arrangements, which were necessary for, or conducive to the object of their
incorporation; and, among other things, purchased a great part of the stock in trade,
and trading establishments, of the Michilimackinac Company of Canada. Your
petitioners also, with the expectation of great public and private advantages from the
use of the said establishments, ordered, during the spring and summer of 1810, an
assortment of goods from England, suitable for the Indian trade; which, in consequence
of the President's proclamation of November of that year, were shipped to Canada
instead of New York, and have been transported, under a very heavy expense, into the
interior of the country. But as they could not legally be brought into the Indian country
within the boundaries of the United States, they have been stored on the Island of St.
Joseph, in Lake Huron, where they now remain.
Your petitioners, with great deference and implicit submission to the wisdom of the
national legislature, beg leave to suggest for consideration, whether they have not
some claim to national attention and encouragement, from the nature and importance
of their undertaking; which though hazardous and uncertain as concerns their private
emolument, must, at any rate, redound to the public security and advantage. If their
undertaking shall appear to be of the description given, they would further suggest to
your honorable bodies, that unless they can procure a regular supply for the trade in
which they are engaged, it may languish, and be finally abandoned by American
citizens; when it will revert to its former channel, with additional, and perhaps with
Under these circumstances, and upon all those considerations of public policy which
will present themselves to your honorable bodies, in connection with those already
mentioned, your petitioners respectfully pray that a law may be passed to enable the
President, or any of the heads of departments acting under his authority, to grant
permits for the introduction of goods necessary for the supply of the Indians, into the
Indian country that is within the boundaries of the United States, under such
regulations, and with such restrictions, as may secure the public revenue and promote
the public welfare.
And your petitioners shall ever pray, &c.
In witness whereof, the common seal of the American Fur Company is
hereunto affixed, the day of March, 1812.
By order of the Corporation.
AN ACT to enable the American Fur Company, and other citizens, to introduce
goods necessary for the Indian trade into the territories within the boundaries of
the United State.
WHEREAS, the public peace and welfare require that the native Indian tribes, residing
within the boundaries of the United States, should receive their necessary supplies
under the authority and from the citizens of the United States: Therefore, be it enacted
by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States, in Congress
assembled, that it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, or any of the
heads of departments thereunto by him duly authorized, from time to time to grant
permits to the American Fur Company, their agents or factors, or any other citizens of
the United States engaged in the Indian trade, to introduce into the Indian country,
within the boundaries of the United States, such goods, wares, and merchandise, as
may be necessary for the said trade, under such regulations and restrictions as the
said President or heads of departments may judge proper; any law or regulation to the
contrary, in anywise, notwithstanding.
Letter from Mr. Gallatin to Mr. Astor, dated
New York, August 5, 1835.
DEAR SIR, - In compliance with your request, I will state such facts as I recollect
touching the subjects mentioned in your letter of 28th ult. I may be mistaken respecting
dates and details, and will only relate general facts, which I well remember.
In conformity with the treaty of 1794 with Great Britain, the citizens and subjects of
each country were permitted to trade with the Indians residing in the territories of the
other party. The reciprocity was altogether nominal. Since the conquest of Canada, the
British had inherited from the French the whole fur trade, through the great lakes and
their communications, with all the western Indians, whether residing in the British
dominions or the United States. They kept the important western posts on those lakes
till about the year 1797. And the defensive Indian war, which the United States had to
sustain from 1776 to 1795, had still more alienated the Indians, and secured to the
British their exclusive trade, carried through the lakes, wherever the Indians in that
quarter lived. No American could, without imminent danger of property and life, carry on
that trade, even within the United States, by the way of either Michilimackinac or St.
Mary's. And independent of the loss of commerce, Great Britain was enabled to
preserve a most dangerous influence over our Indians.
It was under these circumstances that you communicated to our government the
prospect you had to be able, and your intention, to purchase one half of the interest of
the Canadian Fur Company, engaged in trade by the way of Michilimackinac with our
own Indians. You wished to know whether the plan met with the approbation of
government, and how far you could rely on its protection and encouragement. This
overture was received with great satisfaction by the administration, and Mr. Jefferson,
then President, wrote you to that effect. I was also directed, as Secretary of the
Treasury, to write to you an official letter to the same purpose. On investigating the
subject, it was found that the Executive had no authority to give you any direct aid; and
I believe you received nothing more than an entire approbation of your plan, and
general assurances of the protection due to every citizen engaged in lawful and useful
You did effect the contemplated purchase, but in what year I do not recollect.
Immediately before the war, you represented that a large quantity of merchandise,
intended for the Indian trade, and including arms and munitions of war, belonging to
that concern of which you owned one half, was deposited at a post on Lake Huron,
within the British dominions; that, in order to prevent their ultimately falling into the
hands of Indians who might prove hostile, you were desirous to try to have them
conveyed into the United States; but that you were prevented by the then existing law
of non-intercourse with the British dominions.
The Executive could not annul the provisions of that law. But I was directed to instruct
the collectors on the lakes, in case you and your agents should voluntarily bring in and
deliver to them any part of the goods above mentioned, to receive and keep them in
their guard, and not to commence prosecutions until further instructions: the intention
being then to apply to Congress for an act remitting the forfeiture and penalties. I wrote
accordingly, to that effect, to the collectors of Detroit and Michilimackinac.
The attempt to obtain the goods did not, however, succeed; and I cannot say how far
the failure injured you. But the war proved fatal to another much more extensive and
Previous to that time, but I also forget the year, you had undertaken to carry on a trade
on your own account, though I believe under the New York charter of the American Fur
Company, with the Indians west of the Rocky Mountains. This project was also
communicated to government, and met, of course, with its full approbation, and best
wishes, for your success. You carried it on, on the most extensive scale, sending
several ships to the mouth of the Columbia River, and a large party by land across the
mountains, and finally founding the establishment of Astoria.
This unfortunately fell into the hands of the enemy during the war, from circumstances
with which I am but imperfectly acquainted - being then absent on a foreign mission. I
returned in September, 1815, and sailed again on a mission to France in June, 1816.
During that period I visited Washington twice - in October or November, 1815, and in
March, 1816. On one of these occasions, and I believe on the last, you mentioned to
me that you were disposed once more to renew the attempt, and to reestablish Astoria,
provided you had the protection of the American flag; for which purpose, a lieutenant's
command would be sufficient to you. You requested me to mention this to the
President, which I did. Mr. Madison said he would consider the subject, and, although
he did not commit himself, I thought that he received the proposal favorably. The
message was verbal, and I do not know whether the application was ever renewed in a
more formal manner. I sailed soon after for Europe, and was seven years absent. I
never had the pleasure, since 1816, to see Mr. Madison, and never heard again
anything concerning the subject in question.
I remain, dear sir, most respectfully, Your obedient servant,
John Jacob Astor, Esq.,
Notices of the Present State of the Fur Trade, chiefly extracted from an article
published in Silliman's Magazine for January, 1834.
THE Northwest Company did not long enjoy the sway they had acquired over the
trading regions of the Columbia. A competition, ruinous in its expenses, which had long
existed between them and the Hudson's Bay Company, ended in their downfall and the
ruin of most of the partners. The relict of the company became merged in the rival
association, and the whole business was conducted under the name of the Hudson's
This coalition took place in 1821. They then abandoned Astoria, and built a large
establishment sixty miles up the river, on the right bank, which they called Fort
Vancouver. This was in a neighborhood where provisions could be more readily
procured, and where there was less danger from molestation by any naval force. The
company are said to carry on an active and prosperous trade, and to give great
encouragement to settlers. They are extremely jealous, however, of any interference or
participation in their trade, and monopolize it from the coast of the Pacific to the
mountains, and for a considerable extent north and south. The American traders and
trappers who venture across the mountains, instead of enjoying the participation in the
trade of the river and its tributaries, that had been stipulated by treaty, are obliged to
keep to the south, out of the track of the Hudson's Bay parties.
Mr. Astor has withdrawn entirely from the American Fur Company, as he has, in fact,
from active business of every kind. That company is now headed by Mr. Ramsay
Crooks; its principal establishment is at Michilimackinac, and it receives its furs from
the posts depending on that station, and from those on the Mississippi, Missouri, and
Yellow Stone Rivers, and the great range of country extending thence to the Rocky
Mountains. This company has steamboats in its employ, with which it ascends the
rivers, and penetrates to a vast distance into the bosom of those regions formerly so
painfully explored in keel-boats and barges, or by weary parties on horseback and on
foot. The first irruption of steamboats in the heart of these vast wildernesses is said to
have caused the utmost astonishment and affright among their savage inhabitants.
In addition to the main companies already mentioned, minor associations have been
formed, which push their way in the most intrepid manner to the remote parts of the far
West, and beyond the mountain barriers. One of the most noted of these is Ashley's
company, from St. Louis, who trap for themselves, and drive an extensive trade with the
Indians. The spirit, enterprise, and hardihood of Ashley are themes of the highest
eulogy in the far West, and his adventures and exploits furnish abundance of frontier
Another company of one hundred and fifty persons from New York, formed in 1831, and
headed by Captain Bonneville of the United States army, has pushed its enterprise into
tracts before but little known, and has brought considerable quantities of furs from the
region between the Rocky Mountains and the coasts of Monterey and Upper California,
on the Buenaventura and Timpanogos rivers.
The fur countries, from the Pacific, east to the Rocky Mountains, are now occupied
(exclusive of private combinations and individual trappers and traders) by the
Russians; and on the northwest from Behring's Strait to Queen Charlotte's Island, in
north latitude fifty-three degrees, and by the Hudson's Bay Company thence, south of
the Columbia River; while Ashley's company, and that under Captain Bonneville, take
the remainder of the region to California. Indeed, the whole compass from the
Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean is traversed in every direction. The mountains and
forests, from the Arctic Sea to the Gulf of Mexico, are threaded through every maze, by
the hunter. Every river and tributary stream, from the Columbia to the mouth of the Rio
del Norte, and from the M'Kenzie to the Colorado of the West, from their head springs
to their junction, are searched and trapped for beaver. Almost all the American furs,
which do not belong to the Hudson's Bay Company, find their way to New York, and are
either distributed thence for home consumption, or sent to foreign markets.
The Hudson's Bay Company ship their furs from their factories of York Fort and from
Moose River, on Hudson's Bay; their collection from Grand River, &c., they ship from
Canada; and the collection from Columbia goes to London. None of their furs come to
the United States, except through the London market.
The export trade of furs from the United States is chiefly to London. Some quantities
have been sent to Canton, and some few to Hamburg; and an increasing export trade
in beaver, otter, nutria, and vicunia wool, prepared for the hatter's use, is carried on in
Mexico. Some furs are exported from Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Boston; but the
principal shipments from the United States are from New York to London, from whence
they are sent to Leipsic, a well-known mart for furs, where they are disposed of during
the great fair in that city, and distributed to every part of the continent.
The United States import from South America, nutria, vicunia, chinchilla, and a few
deer-skins; also fur seals from the Lobos Islands, off the river Plate. A quantity of
beaver, otter, &c., are brought annually from Santa Fe. Dressed furs for edgings,
linings, caps, muffs, &c., such as squirrel , genet, fitch-skins, and blue rabbit, are
received from the north of Europe; also cony and hare's fur; but the largest importations
are from London, where is concentrated nearly the whole of the North American fur
Such is the present state of the fur trade, by which it will appear that the extended sway
of the Hudson's Bay Company, and the monopoly of the region of which Astoria was
the key, has operated to turn the main current of this opulent trade into the coffers of
Great Britain , and to render London the emporium instead of New York, as Mr. Astor
We will subjoin a few observations on the animals sought after in this traffic, extracted
from the same intelligent source with the preceding remarks.
Of the fur-bearing animals, "the precious ermine," so called by way of preeminence, is
found, of the best quality, only in the cold regions of Europe and Asia. * Its fur is of the
most perfect whiteness, except the tip of its tail, which is of a brilliant shining black.
With these back tips tacked on the skins, they are beautifully spotted, producing an
effect often imitated, but never equalled in other furs. The ermine is of the genus
mustela (weasel), and resembles the common weasel in its form, is from fourteen to
sixteen inches from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail. The body is from ten to
twelve inches long. It lives in hollow trees, river banks, and especially in beech forests;
preys on small birds, is very shy, sleeping during the day, and employing the night in
search of food. The fur of the older animals is preferred to the younger. It is taken by
snares and traps, and sometimes shot with blunt arrows. Attempts have been made to
domesticate it; but it is extremely wild and has been found untameable.
The sable can scarcely be called second to the ermine. It is a native of Northern
Europe and Siberia, and is also of the genus mustela. In Samoieda, Yakutsk,
Kamtschatka, and Russian Lapland, it is found of the richest quality, and darkest color.
In its habits, it resembles the ermine. It preys on small squirrels and birds, sleeps by
day, and prowls for food during the night. It is so like the marten in every particular
except its size, and the dark shade of its color, that naturalists have not decided
whether it is the richest and finest of the marten tribe, or a variety of that species: It
varies in dimensions from eighteen to twenty inches.
The rich dark shades of the sable, and the snowy whiteness of the ermine, the great
depth, and the peculiar, almost flowing softness of their skins and fur, have combined
to gain them a preference in all countries, and in all ages of the world. In this age, they
maintain the same relative estimate in regard to other furs, as when they marked the
rank of the proud crusader, and were emblazoned in heraldry: but in most European
nations, they are now worn promiscuously by the opulent.
The martens from Northern Asia and the Mountains of Kamtschatka are much superior
to the American, though in every pack of American marten skins there are a certain
number which are beautifully shaded, and of a dark brown olive color, of great depth
Next these in value, for ornament and utility, are the sea-otter, the mink, and the fiery
The fiery fox is the bright red of Asia; is more brilliantly colored and of finer fur than any
other of the genus. It is highly valued for the splendor of its red color and the fineness
of its fur. It is the standard of value on the northeastern coast of Asia.
The sea-otter which was first introduced into commerce in 1725, from the Aleutian and
Kurile Islands, is an exceedingly fine, soft, close fur, jet black in winter, with a silken
gloss. The fur of the young animal is of a beautiful brown color. It is met with in great
abundance in Behring's Island, Kamtschatka, Aleutian and Fox Islands, and is also
taken on the opposite coasts of North America. It is sometimes taken with nets, but
more frequently with clubs and spears. Their food is principally lobster and other shell-fish.
In 1780 furs had become so scarce in Siberia that the supply was insufficient for the
demand in the Asiatic countries. It was at this time that the sea-otter was introduced
into the markets for China. The skins brought such incredible prices, as to originate
immediately several American and British expeditions to the northern islands of the
Pacific, to Nootka Sound, and the northwest coast of America; but the Russians already
had possession of the tract which they now hold, and had arranged a trade for the sea-otter with
the Koudek tribes. They do not engross the trade, however; the American
northwest trading ships procure them, all along the coast, from the Indians.
At one period, the fur seals formed no inconsiderable item in the trade. South Georgia,
in south latitude fifty-five degrees, discovered in 1675, was explored by Captain Cook
in 1771. The Americans immediately commenced carrying seal skins thence to China,
where they obtained the most exorbitant prices. One million two hundred thousand
skins have been taken from that island alone, and nearly an equal number from the
Island of Desolation, since they were first resorted to for the purpose of commerce.
The discovery of the South Shetlands, sixty-three degrees south latitude, in 1818,
added surprisingly to the trade in fur seals. The number taken from the South
Shetlands in 1821 and 1822 amounted to three hundred and twenty thousand. This
valuable animal is now almost extinct in all these islands, owing to the exterminating
system adopted by the hunters. They are still taken on the Lobos Islands, where the
provident government of Montevideo restrict the fishery, or hunting, within certain limits,
which insures an annual return of the seals. At certain seasons, these amphibia, for the
purpose of renewing their coat, come up on the dark frowning rocks and precipices,
where there is not a trace of vegetation. In the middle of January, the islands are
partially cleared of snow, where a few patches of short straggling grass spring up in
favorable situations; but the seals do not resort to it for food. They remain on the rocks
not less than two months, without any sustenance, when they return much emaciated to
Bears of various species and colors, many varieties of the fox, the wolf, the beaver, the
otter, the marten, the raccoon, the badger, the wolverine, the mink, the lynx, the
muskrat, the woodchuck, the rabbit, the hare, and the squirrel, are natives of North
The beaver, otter, lynx fisher, hare, and raccoon, are used principally for hats; while the
bears of several varieties furnish an excellent material for sleigh linings, for cavalry
caps, and other military equipments. The fur of the black fox is the most valuable of any
of the American varieties; and next to that the red, which is exported to China and
Smyrna. In China, the red is employed for trimmings, linings, and robes;
the latter being variegated by adding the black fur of the paws, in spots or waves. There are
many other varieties of American fox, such as the gray, the white, the cross, the silver,
and the dun-colored. The silver fox is a rare animal, a native of the woody country
below the falls of the Columbia River. It has a long, thick, deep lead-colored fur,
intermingled with long hairs, invariably white at the top, forming a bright lustrous silver
gray, esteemed by some more beautiful than any other kind of fox.
The skins of the buffalo, of the Rocky Mountain sheep, of various deer and of the
antelope, are included in the fur trade with the Indians and trappers of the north and
Fox and seal skins are sent from Greenland to Denmark. The white fur of the arctic fox
and polar bear is sometimes found in the packs brought to the traders by the most
northern tribes of Indians, but is not particularly valuable. The silver-tipped rabbit is
peculiar to England, and is sent thence to Russia and China.
Other furs are employed and valued according to the caprices of fashion, as well in
those countries where they are needed for defenses against the severity of the
seasons, as among the inhabitants of milder climates, who, severely of Tartar or
Sclavonian descent, are said to inherit an attachment to furred clothing. Such are the
inhabitants of Poland, of Southern Russia, of China, of Persia, of Turkey, and all the
nations of Gothic origin in the middle and western parts of Europe. Under the burning
suns of Syria and Egypt, and the mild climes of Bucharia and Independent Tartary,
there is also a constant demand, and a great consumption, where there exists no
physical necessity. In our own temperate latitudes, besides their use in the arts, they
are in request for ornament and warmth during the winter, and large quantities are
annually consumed for both purposes in the United States.
From the foregoing statements, it appears that the fur trade must henceforward decline.
The advanced state of geographical science shows that no new countries remain to be
explored. In North America the animals are slowly decreasing, from the persevering
efforts and the indiscriminate slaughter practiced by the hunters, and by the
appropriation to the uses of man of those forests and rivers which have afforded them
food and protection. They recede with the aborigines, before the tide of civilization; but
a diminished supply will remain in the mountains and uncultivated tracts of this and
other countries, if the avidity of the hunter can be restrained within proper limitations.
* An animal called the stoat, a kind of ermine, is said to be found in North America, but
very inferior to the European and Asiatic.
* * The finest fur and the darkest color are most esteemed; and whether the difference
arises from the age of the animal, or from some peculiarity of location, is not known.
They do not vary more from the common marten than the Arabian horse from the
Height of the Rocky Mountains.
VARIOUS estimates have been made of the height of the Rocky Mountains, but it is
doubtful whether any have, as yet, done justice to their real altitude, which promises to
place them only second to the highest mountains of the known world. Their height has
been diminished to the eye by the great elevation of the plains from which they rise.
They consist, according to Long, of ridges, knobs, and peaks, variously disposed. The
more elevated parts are covered with perpetual snows, which contribute to give them a
luminous, and, at a great distance, even a brilliant appearance; whence they derive,
among some of the first discoverers, the name of the Shining Mountains.
James's Peak has generally been cited as the highest of the chain; and its elevation
above the common level has been ascertained, by a trigonometrical measurement, to
be about eight thousand five hundred feet. Mr. Long, however, judged, from the
position of the snow near the summits of other peaks and ridges at no great distance
from it, that they were much higher. Having heard Professor Renwick, of New York,
express an opinion of the altitude of these mountains far beyond what had usually been
ascribed to them, we applied to him for the authority on which he grounded his
observation, and here subjoin his reply:
Columbia College, New York, February 23, 1836.
Dear Sir, - In compliance with your request, I have to communicate some facts in
relation to the heights of the Rocky Mountains, and the sources whence I obtained the
In conversation with Simon M'Gillivray, Esq., a partner of the Northwest Company, he
stated to me his impression, that the mountains in the vicinity of the route pursued by
the traders of that company were nearly as high as the Himalayas. He had himself
crossed by this route, seen the snowy summits of the peaks, and experienced a degree
of cold which required a spirit thermometer to indicate it. His authority for the estimate
of the heights was a gentleman who had been employed for several years as surveyor
of that company. This conversation occurred about sixteen years since.
A year or two afterwards, I had the pleasure of dining, at Major Delafield's with Mr.
Thompson, the gentleman referred to by Mr. M'Gillivray. I inquired of him in relation to
the circumstances mentioned by Mr. M'Gillivray, and he stated that, by the joint means
of the barometric and trigonometric measurement, he had ascertained the height of one
of the peaks to be about twenty-five thousand feet, and there were others of nearly the
same height in the vicinity.
I am, dear sir,
To W. Irving, Esq.
Suggestions with respect to the Indian tribes, and the protection of our
IN the course of this work, a few general remarks have been hazarded respecting the
Indian tribes of the prairies, and the dangers to be apprehended from them in future
times to our trade beyond the Rocky Mountains and with the Spanish frontiers. Since
writing those remarks, we have met with some excellent observations and suggestions,
in manuscript, on the same subject, written by Captain Bonneville, of the United States
army, who had lately returned from a long residence among the tribes of the Rocky
Mountains. Captain B. approves highly of the plan recently adopted by the United
States government for the organization of a regiment of dragoons for the protection of
our western frontier, and the trade across the prairies. "No other species of military
force," he observes, "is at all competent to cope with these restless and wandering
hordes, who require to be opposed with swiftness quite as much as with strength; and
the consciousness that a troop, uniting these qualifications, is always on the alert to
avenge their outrages upon the settlers and traders, will go very far towards restraining
them from the perpetration of those thefts and murders which they have heretofore
committed with impunity, whenever stratagem or superiority of force has given them the
advantage. Their interest already has done something towards their pacification with
our countrymen. From the traders among them, they receive their supplies in the
greatest abundance, and upon very equitable terms; and when it is remembered that a
very considerable amount of property is yearly distributed among them by the
government, as presents, it will readily be perceived that they are greatly dependent
upon us for their most valued resources. If, superadded to this inducement, a frequent
display of military power be made in their territories, there can be little doubt that the
desired security and peace will be speedily afforded to our own people. But the idea of
establishing a permanent amity and concord amongst the various east and west tribes
themselves, seems to me, if not wholly impracticable, at least infinitely more difficult
than many excellent philanthropists have hoped and believed. Those nations which
have so lately emigrated from the midst of our settlements to live upon our western
borders, and have made some progress in agriculture and the arts of civilization, have,
in the property they have acquired, and the protection and aid extended to them, too
many advantages to be induced readily to take up arms against us, particularly if they
can be brought to the full conviction that their new homes will be permanent and
undisturbed; and there is every reason and motive, in policy as well as humanity, for
our ameliorating their condition by every means in our power. But the case is far
different with regard to the Osages, the Kanzas, the Pawnees, and other roving hordes
beyond the frontiers of the settlements. Wild and restless in their character and habits,
they are by no means so susceptible of control or civilization; and they are urged by
strong, and, to them, irresistible causes in their situation and necessities, to the daily
perpetuation of violence and fraud. Their permanent subsistence, for example, is
derived from the buffalo hunting grounds, which lie a great distance from their towns.
Twice a year they are obliged to make long and dangerous expeditions, to procure the
necessary provisions for themselves and their families. For this purpose horses are
absolutely requisite, for their own comfort and safety, as well as for the transportation of
their food, and their little stock of valuables; and without them they would be reduced,
during a great portion of the year, to a state of abject misery and privation. They have
no brood mares, nor any trade sufficiently valuable to supply their yearly losses, and
endeavor to keep up their stock by stealing horses from the other tribes to the west and
southwest. Our own people, and the tribes immediately upon our borders, may indeed
be protected from their depredations; and the Kanzas, Osages, Pawnees, and others,
may be induced to remain at peace among themselves, so long as they are permitted to
pursue the old custom of levying upon the Camanches and other remote nations for
their complement of steeds for the warriors, and pack-horses for their transportation to
and from the hunting ground. But the instant they are forced to maintain a peaceful and
inoffensive demeanor towards the tribes along the Mexican border, and find that every
violation of their rights is followed by the avenging arm of our government, the result
must be, that, reduced to a wretchedness and want which they can ill brook, and feeling
the certainty of punishment for every attempt to ameliorate their condition in the only
way they as yet comprehend, they will abandon their unfruiful territory and remove to
the neighborhood of the Mexican lands, and there carry on a vigorous predatory
warfare indiscriminately upon the Mexicans and our own people trading or travelling in
"The Indians of the prairies are almost innumerable. Their superior horsemanship,
which in my opinion, far exceeds that of any other people on the face of the earth, their
daring bravery, their cunning and skill in the warfare of the wilderness, and the
astonishing rapidity and secrecy with which they are accustomed to move in their
martial expeditions, will always render them most dangerous and vexatious neighbors,
when their necessities or their discontents may drive them to hostility with our frontiers.
Their mode and principles of warfare will always protect them from final and
irretrievable defeat, and secure their families from participating in any blow, however
severe, which our retribution might deal out to them.
"The Camanches lay the Mexicans under contribution for horses and mules, which they
are always engaged in stealing from them in incredible numbers; and from the
Camanches, all the roving tribes of the far West, by a similar exertion of skill and
daring, supply themselves in turn. It seems to me, therefore, under all these
circumstances, that the apparent futility of any philanthropic schemes for the. benefit of
these nations, and a regard for our own protection, concur in recommending that we
remain satisfied with maintaining peace upon our own immediate borders, and leave
the Mexicans and the Camanches, and all the tribes hostile to these last, to settle their
differences and difficulties in their own way.
"In order to give full security and protection to our trading parties circulating in all
directions through the great prairies, I am under the impression that a few judicious
measures on the part of the government, involving a very limited expense, would be
sufficient. And, in attaining this end, which of itself has already become an object of
public interest and import, another, of much greater consequence, might be
brought about, namely, the securing to the States a most valuable and increasing
trade, now carried on by caravans directly to Santa Fe.
"As to the first desideratum: the Indians can only be made to respect the lives and
property of the American parties, by rendering them dependent upon us for their
supplies; which alone can be done with complete effect by the establishment of a
trading post, with resident traders, at some point which will unite a sufficient number of
advantages to attract the several tribes to itself, in preference to their present places of
resort for that purpose; for it is a well-known fact that the Indians will always protect
their trader, and those in whom he is interested, so long as they derive benefits from
him. The alternative presented to those at the north, by the residence of the agents of
the Hudson's Bay Company amongst them, renders the condition of our people in that
quarter less secure; but I think it will appear at once, upon the most cursory
examination, that no such opposition further south could be maintained, so as to
weaken the benefits of such an establishment as is here suggested.
"In considering this matter, the first question which presents itself is, where do these
tribes now make their exchanges, and obtain their necessary supplies. They resort
almost exclusively to the Mexicans, who, themselves, purchase from us whatever the
Indians most seek for. In this point of view, therefore, coeteris paribus, it would be an
easy matter for us to monopolize the whole traffic. All that is wanted is some location
more convenient for the natives than that offered by the Mexicans, to give us the
undisputed superiority; and the selection of such a point requires but a knowledge of
the single fact, that these nations invariably winter upon the head waters of the
Arkansas, and there prepare all their buffalo robes for trade. These robes are heavy,
and, to the Indian, very difficult of transportation. Nothing but necessity induces them to
travel any great distance with such inconvenient baggage. A post, therefore,
established upon the head waters of the Arkansas, must infallibly secure an
uncontested preference over that of the Mexicans; even at their prices and rates of
barter. Then let the dragoons occasionally move about among these people in large
parties, impressing them with the proper estimate of our power to protect and to punish,
and at once we have complete and assured security for all citizens whose enterprise
may lead them beyond the border, and an end to the outrages and depredations which
now dog the footsteps of the traveller, in the prairies, and arrest and depress the most
advantageous commerce. Such a post need not be stronger than fifty men; twenty-five
to be employed as hunters, to supply the garrison, and the residue as a defense
against any hostility. Situated here upon the good lands of the Arkansas, in the midst of
abundance of timber, while it might be kept up at a most inconsiderable expense, such
an establishment within ninety miles of Santa Fe or Taos would be more than justified
by the other and more important advantages before alluded to, leaving the protection of
the traders with the Indian tribes entirely out of the question.
"This great trade, carried on by caravans to Santa Fe, annually loads one hundred
wagons with merchandise, which is bartered in the northern provinces or Mexico for
cash and for beaver furs. The numerous articles excluded as contraband, and the
exorbitant duties laid upon all those that are admitted by the Mexican government,
present so many obstacles to commerce, that I am well persuaded, that if a post, such
as is here suggested, should be established on the Arkansas, it would become the
place of deposit, not only for the present trade, but for one infinitely more extended.
Here the Mexicans might purchase their supplies, and might well afford to sell them at
prices which would silence all competition from any other quarter.
"These two trades, with the Mexicans and the Indians, centring at this post, would give
rise to a large village of traders and laborers, and would undoubtedly be hailed, by all
that section of country, as a permanent and invaluable advantage. A few pack-horses
would carry all the clothing and ammunition necessary for the post during the first year,
and two light field-pieces would be all the artillery required for its defense. Afterwards,
all the horses required for the use of the establishment might be purchased from the
Mexicans at the low price of ten dollars each; and, at the same time, whatever animals
might be needed to supply the losses among the dragoons traversing the
neighborhood, could be readily procured. The Upper Missouri Indians can furnish
horses, at very cheap rates, to any number of the same troops who might be detailed
for the defense of the northern frontier; and, in other respects, a very limited outlay of
money would suffice to maintain a post in that section of the country.
"From these considerations, and my own personal observations, I am, therefore,
disposed to believe that two posts established by the government, one at the mouth of
the Yellowstone River, and one on the Arkansas, would completely protect all our
people in every section of the great wilderness of the West; while other advantages, at
least with regard to one of them, confirm and urge the suggestion. A fort at the mouth of
the Yellowstone, garrisoned by fifty men would be perfectly safe. The establishment
might be constructed simply with a view to the stores, stables for the dragoons' horses,
and quarters for the regular garrison; the rest being provided with sheds or lodges,
erected in the vicinity, for their residence during the winter months."