A NARRATIVE OF COLONEL ROBERT CAMPBELL'S EXPERIENCES IN THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN FUR TRADE FROM 1825 TO 1835
The following narrative by the late Col. Robert Campbell, contains a sketch of his life and remarkable experiences while engaged in the Rocky Mountain Fur trade, during a period of ten years - from 1825 to 1835.
It was dictated to me in the year 1870, while I was accompanying him and Hon. Felix R. Brunot, President of the Board of Indian Commissioners as their Secretary, on a mission to Fort Laramie, to treat with Red Cloud. The notes were taken by installments after various intervals on our trip, while the narrator was in the reminiscent mood, and each recital was suspended as soon as he found it tiresome.
Mr. Brunot who was made acquainted with my purpose, expressed his approbation, because no connected account of that portion of Col. Campbell's life, had ever been given to the public.
In fact, this is the only record ever authorized or made of Col. Campbell's experiences.
With a modesty characteristic of him, he avoided notoriety, and although the names of Sublette and Campbell, in the "Adventures of Capt. Bonneville," are given honorable mention in the glowing style of Washington Irving; yet Mr. Campbell, instead of feeling flattered and indisposed to criticism, told me that the account there given on the Blackfeet fight at Pierres Hole, in which he participated was erroneous, and mixed up with incidents that transpired in other encounters.
He said further that he designed to have that account corrected.
I have frequently been solicited by the late Albert Todd and others to write out the notes which I made under the circumstances above related, for the use of the Missouri Historical Society, but partly through a fault of procrastination and partly because of the pressure of other duties, I failed to comply with these requests.
This M.S. is now prepared expressly for and at the instance of Mr. Hugh Campbell and his brothers - the sons of my deceased and venerated friend.
In reading over my notes after the lapse of so many years, I find some breaks or lapses in the narrative, where evidently I had placed a dependence on memory to fill up the omissions.
I now regret they were not fuller, because the strength of my memory was inadequate to tide over the long and unexpected delay in writing out the story.
I have taken pains to transcribe the notes exactly as dictated, without any attempt to color or expand the plain, unpretentious narration.
I cannot close these prefatory observations without adding a few remarks on my own account concerning the subject of this sketch.
The privations perils endured by Col. Campbell in that portion of his life which is treated of here, doubtless laid the foundation of a prosperous business career and his name became widely known throughout the Far West as a merchant banker, having dealings with the Traders throughout the vast region from Santa Fe to the mouth of the Yellowstone.
With these people his credit stood high and unimpeached, as the following incident told me by Gen. Raynolds, of the U.S. Engineer Corps, who conducted an exploring expedition across the Bad Lands on the Upper Missouri, by order of the government in 1857, will illustrate.
Before starting out from Fort Pierre, the General said, he needed money and supplies for the outfit. He applied to the Traders there for means, but they refused credit to the United States, and would only accept drafts on Robert Campbell of St. Louis, whom they knew and would trust sooner than the Government.
There was something grand in such a distinction as this, no matter what the circumstances.
One thing more; on one occasion Col. Campbell stated to us the circumstances which induced him to go to the Mountains in 1825. He came to St. Louis he said, when a young man, seeking employment.
He was an invalid, pale and subject to hemorrhages of the lungs.
He saw old Doctor Farrar, who advised him, saying: "Young man your symptoms are consumptive, and I advise you to go to the Rocky Mountains. I have before sent two or three young men there in your condition, and they came back restored to health and as hearty as bucks."
This latter statement I furnished, I believe, at the time of Col. Campbell's death for the obituary notice in the Missouri Republican.
St. Louis, July 1886
In 1825 I started from St. Louis, joining Gen. Ashley in an expedition to the Rocky Mountains. Gen. Ashley had just returned from a successful trade in the mountains.
Henry and Ashley in 1822 went up to the mouth of the Yellowstone, where they had a fort.
In 1823, Ashley had a fight with the Arickerees at the old Arickeree village on the Missouri river. He lost twenty men.
He sent news of the fight to Council Bluffs, and Col. Leavenworth went up with troops and destroyed the Arickeree village.
At that time there was the Missouri Fur Company, composed of Pilcher, Fontenelle and other partners. They failed about that time.
Another company, Pratte, Chouteau and Co., of St. Louis was formed. When Ashley was defeated all these men volunteered their assistance. The Sioux joined them, they being at war at the time with the Arickerees. Subsequently Astor joined Pratte, Chouteau & Co., and their concern was merged into the American Fur Company.
As before intimated, an expedition was in the fall of 1825 - fitted out, under the firm of Ashley & Smith, to go out and trade west of the Rocky Mountains.
Jedediah Smith was Ashley's partner. He was a very efficient man.
Smith led the expedition, which I joined and Gen. Ashley remained in St. Louis during the ensuing winter.
We left St. Louis on the first of November. It was wrong to start at that season, because we had the winter to encounter.
The animals - mostly mules - were purchased for the expedition in old Franklin Howard County, then a great point of trade to New Mexico.
The mules were all shipped to St. Louis, and all our party mounted.
Our camp was then at Cote Brilliante, a beautiful grassy hill, six miles from the City, west of the Prairie House.
We first took our animals to our camp, then located just west of Seventh Street, and east of the Catholic College, on the present Washington Avenue.
The men were assembled there, but we made our final start from Cote Brilliants.
The expedition consisted of sixty men, all provided with pack animals.
We traveled on the South side of the Missouri River. The first Indians we saw were the Kaws, in Jackson County.
That year Jackson County was purchased from the Kaws and Osages.
The Indians came down to St. Louis and made the treaty with Governor Clark, that
year. The Indians all bought umbrellas and walked in Indian file, bare headed with the
umbrellas spread over them, making a ludicrous appearance. The first thing they had
done on reaching town was to buy up all the red umbrellas.
They were large, fine looking Indians.
We found little settlements all along our route, but they became more sparse in the upper counties until we got to Jackson County, the Indian title to which had been extinguished, as stated that year.
At the mouth of the Kaw, just above the site of Kansas City, Ely and Curtis were located as traders. We bought beef off them. We crossed the Kaw and on the first day of January reached Fort Riley.
We wintered all along the Republican Fork, and suffered very much for want of provisions. One third of our mules died that winter, and we sent back for more mules to St. Louis.
The Republican Pawnees had a mud village on the Republican Fork, on the South side fifty miles north of Grand Island.
Some of our men knew where the Indians had formerly cached their corn and they dug it up.
When the Pawnees returned to their village, they having gone out on the Buffalo hunt, we paid them for so much of the corn as we had taken. The Republican Pawnees, three years after we were there, joined on the Platte with the Grand Pawnees, who were then on the Loupe Fork.
The chief of the Republican Pawnees was Ish-Ka-ta-pa. Mr. Smith and myself staid in his lodge. We had no interpreters. We lived on the corn taken from the caches, and killed some buffalo bulls on the Smoky Hill Fork while going out.
That was the only meat we had except that we got occasionally a wild turkey.
The Kaw village was then at the junction of the Blue and Kaw rivers.
We followed up the Republican Fork from the Pawnee village to the Platte.
We suffered great privations until joined by General Ashley from St. Louis.
He overtook us at Grand Island on the Platte about the first of April with supplies. He then sent off Smith and Harris to the Trappers in the Mountains, to arrange in advance for a rendezvous, which was about twenty miles north of Salt Lake in Utah, called Cache or Willow Valley. At O'Fallon's Bluff, the expedition was joined by Bill Fallon, after whom the Bluffs were named. His name was Fallon; not O'Fallon. He had wintered there.
His father was a wagon maker in St. Louis. He was a strong, athletic man, as spry as a cat, and a great horseman.
His weight was 200 pounds. He could mount a horse on the run and pick up a sixpence from the ground while on the gallop.
Hiram Scott was also of our party, he having left St. Louis with us.
He wintered with us on the Kaw and Republican but afterward left us at Willow Valley, and in the spring of 1827 while descending the Platte in a canoe, was taken sick and left behind by his associates and was devoured by wolves.
His bones were found the next year by Sublette and Jackson. Scotts Bluff was named after him.
Col. A. G. Boone, also was with the party, starting with us from St. Louis.*
*Note - Col. Boone was a grand-son of the famous Daniel Boone. In 1870. Col. Campbell met him at Denver, he having come there from Fort Sill, where he had been Indian Agent.
They recalled reminiscences of their trip to the mountains in 1825. Near the foot of the range where Denver now stands, they made dried meat for the mountain trip.
On returning over the mountains Boone's horse froze to death and he had to carry his
gun to Lexington, Mo.
He died three years ago - W.F.
Gen. Ashley brought with him twenty-five men from St. Louis. We continued our march, meeting with few adventures. Everybody walked except Ashley. A good many of the men - about 25 or 30 - had deserted. They were sick of the trip, having suffered like the rest, almost to the verge of starvation.
At Hames Fork, near Fort Bridger, the Trappers came out to meet us. There were about, from 60 to 75 of them. We were also joined by fifteen lodges of Iroquois, who had left the Hudson Bay Company, and joined Ashley at Cache or Willow Valley. They had met Ashley the year before, where they had made a satisfactory traffic of their peltries with them.
They brought in plenty of Beavers, that being the only fur that would pay the cost of transportation.
Beaver's fur cost in the mountains $3 per pound.
They brought in the States $5 and upwards and in St. Louis $5.25 to $6 per pound, and from $6 to $7 in New York.
The trading companies from the states would start from the Western boundary of Missouri, about the first of April when the grass was good. All mounted on pack animals, each man riding one and leading two. It took usually from 60 to 70 days to get through to the place of destination in the Fur Country.
Ashley & Smiths' Company was the only one from the States there. The Hudson Bay Company, under the treaty of 1818, operated in the Columbia Territory, which was left open to both countries for ten years and again in 1828 extended ten years longer. After a negotiation of many years the joint occupancy finally terminated in compliance with our alternative for "Fifty-four-forty or Fight!"
We remained in Cache valley only a couple of weeks, long enough to complete the traffic with the trappers.
After we left Cache valley, Jackson and Sublette met us on Bear river. Ashley then sold out his interest in the fur trade, to Smith, his partner, and to Jackson and Sublette, the new firm being known as Smith, Jackson & Sublette.
We now had buffalo meat in great plenty.
In fact we found the buffalo in great numbers at the head of Grand Island, after Ashley joined us.
It was their grand crossing place in their annual migratory tramps from the Arkansa to the Forks of the Missouri.
They have been there until within four or five years.
While engaged in preparations for trapping the beaver, I will mention some peculiar traits of that sagacious animal. The beaver has a little bag under the tail, or more properly an oil sac near the anus.
The trapper takes this castoreum from this sac, and uses it as bait, it having served the beaver, by providing the where-with to oil himself.
While constructing their dams, some are seen bringing sticks and bushes for the purpose, while others dive to the bottom of the stream and bring up mud to plaster the sticks and bushes of the structure.
They are seen near these dams and at their "lodges" on the banks of the stream, where they ooze out this castoreum, which is understood to be a signal to other beavers. The trappers set their traps at these places. This castoreum, some of the old hunters use in this way. They take a piece of willow, strip off the bark and wash it, so as to leave no scent, as the beaver's sense of smell is exquisite, and then put castoreum on it.
The willow is attached to the trap and floats over it, when the beaver attracted to the smell approaches and is caught. The animal flounders about until drowned, but if he gets on the bank, with the trap, he has been known to bite off his feet to regain his liberty.
The trappers generally set out from camp with eight traps each. When they moved camp they cached what provisions were not necessary for the hunt, as dependence was made on game.
Arriving at good hunting ground a stop was made of some two or three days in a place, or even for one day.
They then set their traps for three or four miles up and down the stream. These trappers consisted mostly of men hired in St. Louis for eighteen months. Then there were what were called free hunters, who lived entirely on what they killed. We seldom had any bread.
When the supplies were brought up in the Summer, about two pounds of bread each, for one-hundred men were brought in for the feast, made once a year, - and only then did they have bread.
Flour cost one dollar for a pint cupful
The trappers would made a feast of batter fried in melted buffalo tallow - a sort of fritter and call their friends around to partake.
Each man brought his pan and his knife, and very little liquor would be sold out - except to the old trappers. The single men among the trappers would mess half a dozen together. The air was pure and perfectly healthy. Every man, on-going to the cities would come back after spending his earnings. It was a bold, dashing life.
From this part of the country they could not carry buffalo skins away, owing to the cost of land transportation.
After the formation of the Company, the partners, Smith, Sublette and Jackson divided up the country between them.
Smith took a party of fifteen or twenty men, and started to go below Salt Lake, where he suffered from want of water.
Eventually they got down on the Colorado river and fell in with a band of the Mohaves.
In crossing the river, part of the men got over, leaving ten on the other side, when the Mohaves, to the number of thirty began to maneuver about in a hostile manner, Smith and the balance of the men with him attacked and killed four out of the thirty. Isaac Gallraith, a powerful man, died from his wounds, subsequently, on the Arkansas, about fifty miles from Bent's fort.
They then went to California. Smith and Turner came back poor and joined us the next Summer, at Sweet Water Lake, which empties into Bear Lake, where the rendezvous of Smith, Jackson and Sublette was then established.
When Smith left for Colorado, Jackson and Sublette with myself ascended the Snake river and tributaries near the Three Tetons and hunted along to the forks of the Missouri, following the Gallatin, and trapped along across the head waters of the Columbia.
We then came back and wintered in Cache valley, and got our goods which we had cached the season before. On our trip we were abundantly supplied with buffalo, elk, deer and bear all the time.
While we were out and encamped at the forks of Snake river, the Blackfeet came in the day time and took the two fastest horses, belonging to our Iroquois, and cleared themselves.
They got the start and we could not follow.
They knew all about horses, as they were noted for their horsemanship.
The Blackfeet were always at war with us because we were trading with Indians that they were at war with. They were at war with the Snakes, the Crows, the Flatheads and the neighboring tribes. They had fierce contests, and great care was taken to avoid them when on their marauding expeditions.
They would cut off bears feet, and use them as moccasins to steal up and capture horses.
They came up one night, but our Iroquois understood the signs. We had our animals picketed and guarded at night and always had three reliefs in the night. Every man had to mount guard, except the leader of the expedition. It depended on the strength of the party, how many would be on guard. Twenty or thirty men were considered equal to any emergency. It was the habit, to have out two-thirds trapping, the other taking care of camp, no matter how large the party would be.
We came back, as I said, to cache valley and wintered there. On the first of January Sublette with one man, names Mose Harris, started for St. Louis after supplies. As soon as the river broke up we started on a hunt to the waters of seeds-ke-deeagie (Prairie Hen river) so called by the Crows (agie, river) now called Green river. The name is very euphoneous, as pronounced by the Indians. It was called Verde, (Green) by the Mexicans.
It was always thus known to the trappers, and excited their utter disgust, when changed to Verdancy, from Green the American appellation.
An incident occured in the fall before returning to Cache valley, that created some excitement in the party. We came across the tracks of a bear, and while following it, Jim Bridger, who was in advance, saw a smoke on the head waters of the Missouri.
We, Sublette, Bridger and myself determined to see what it was. As we habitually had to be on the alert when hostile Indians were suspected in our vicinity, we dashed along, until we came to a place where the Indians had camped a month before, leaving some burned logs, from which the smoke still issued. The exploit became known for a long time in camp as "the battle of the burned logs."
The supplies were furnished by Ashley.
Mr. Bruffee (of Washington County, Mo.) and Hiram Scott, who was the leader of men and knew all about managing men - took the leadership of the party, Bruffee attending to the financial part.
Then, Smith started down with another party to California with some 12 or 14 men.
The expedition turned out unsuccessful.
Smith and his party marched through to California, and thence along the coast as far as Umpqua river, collecting furs and loading their pack animals. They found it impracticable to cross the river. Smith took one of his men and proceeded up the river to find a fording place. While absent, his party in camp were attacked by Indians, and all but one of the twelve massacred. The Indians took all the mules, furs and baggage, and everything the company had. The man who escaped fell in with Smith and he with his two companions travelled through a savage and inhospitable country, 300 miles to Fort Vancouver where they met with members of the Hudson Bay Company.
Out of sympathy the company sent a party to the scene of the massacre.
They buried the victims and recovered most of the property from the savage robbers.
In addition to this kind treatment Gov. Simpson proposed to take Smith and all his furs to London, where he could obtain high prices for them. But Smith replied that he had already been under too much obligation to the company and declined the generous offer.
He sold his furs to the company and leaving Vancouver he traversed the country, rejoining his partners, Sublette and Jackson in 1829.
In 1830 they all quit the country having made $100,000 a large sum for those days.
In 1831, Smith was killed by the Comanches on the Arkansas, while going out to New Mexico. He has a brother, a farmer, now living near De Soto, Mo.
Going back in my statement to the Summer of 1827, Jackson and Sublette that fall came down to St. Louis to get their supplies for the next year.
I then took charge of the Iroquois, and others of the party and went out trapping in the
Flathead Country, on the head waters of Missouri and Columbia, and on the Deer
and Bitter Root Rivers. We trapped all through there.
An incident occurred that caused us trouble.
Towards the close of the Fall Season, the Nez Perces joined the Flat Heads to hunt buffalo on the Hellgate river.
The Deer Lodge and the Little Blackfoot forms the Hellgate, and the latter river and the Bitter Root form the Flathead.
The Bitter Root is so named after a bitter root which the Indians eat. They make a feast on it, known as bitter root, which is agreeable to the taste. It is a white root with three or four prongs; very pleasant to the palate after one has become accustomed to eating it. It fills the place of the Bread fruit and would be a good substitute.
Another root called commace, is baked like a "pone" of bread and they slice it off.
It is a bulbous root like the onion; is sweet and pleasant to the taste, and the Indians make feasts of it likewise.
We came through the Shoshone Cave, or Big Hole of the Missouri, on Wisdom River - a valley fifty miles long, very broad and beautiful, situated on the top of the divide between the waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific.
The buffalo were very abundant and were seen in countless numbers.
The Indians would not allow any to be killed, as they wanted to make a "surround."
One of my men caught a beaver.
We had nothing to eat. My French cook roasted the beaver. I ate a small piece to quiet my appetite, as I had had nothing to eat for a day or two. Just after I ate, I felt pains, as did all the others who ate it.
The beavers were poisoned from eating the wild parsnip. Hence the name of the river, Malade.
Every one who ate these beavers were poisoned. The result of the "Surround" was that the Indians came in with any quantity of buffalo meat but none of us would enjoy it. We had pains in the neck, head and other disagreeable sensations in the stomach and bowels.
The old trappers knew what was the matter and attributed our sickness to eating poisoned beaver.
We had plenty of buffalo afterwards.
When the hunt was over we started to winter in Cache valley, there being good feed for the animals. The buffalo ranged into the valley just above.
Salt Lake was too far away for us to go for buffalo, although a good place to winter.
When, on our way in, we came on a camp of Blackfeet, at the head of the Jefferson, we camped there.
Some of our men went to the village and found they had fortifications built up to protect them.
The Blackfeet came into our camp and we were suspicious of trouble.
We started off early in the morning to go on the Snake river, and the Indians followed us. At a little creek I brought our men under shelter of a bank.
The Indians attacked us, and our men fired upon them. Old Pierre, the chief of our Iroquois was killed. He had advanced too far.
One of the most notable incidents was, that we had a Flathead Indian and a squaw accompanying us. He started to fight the Indians. His squaw followed and cheered him on. The poor fellow was shot through the head, but we brought him into camp. He lived four or five days after he was shot.
The eventful valley in which Pierre met his fate, has perpetuated his name as "Pierre's Hole."
We remained there several days.
We found a portion of old Pierre's remains - a portion of his feet - in the Blackfeet village - after they left.
Whilst we remained there, two Indians, who had been out stealing, were coming down in an opposite direction. The Iroquois shot them, and they were the first Indians that I saw scalped. The Iroquois put their feet on the dead body, fastened their fingers in the hair, and running the knife around the skull, yanked the scalp off in an instant. It was a horrid sight.
Our Iroquois and the party with me concluded to go no further and returned to the Flathead camp, where they remained during the winter.
I with one Frenchman and a Flathead Indian, came on to Cache valley, reached there safely and after remaining a few days I went out on my mule to hunt.
Whilst I was gone, a party of Crows that had been visiting the Snakes at Salt Lake took four of our horses; the Indian and Frenchman whom I had left in charge concealing themselves. (Two years afterwards I saw the horses in the Crow village.)
When I returned to the camp it was deserted.
After a while my Flathead Indian, discovered me. He met me and said he thought I and the Frenchman were killed, he having separated from the latter. The next morning I went off to reconnoiter these same Indians, between Willow valley and Salt Lake, and saw the Indians camped there. My Flathead said if I would give him a knife, he would go down in the night and steal a horse to replace the one he had lost. He offered to steal one for me also. I objected, and disuaded him from making the attempt.
We remained in the Mountains three days, to keep out of their way. We then came back into the valley and found our trapper party. They found the Frenchman that they supposed had been killed.
His name was James Fourness and he lived at Kansas City until he was over one hundred years old.
After these parties came in, I took a party and went over to Sweet Water Lake where we had made a cache the previous summer.
A terrible snow storm came on which lasted several days. We had to go to the Soda Springs on Bear river, a long distance out of the way. The result was, all our animals died from starvation.
The snow was four feet deep on a level.
It was one of the most severe winters ever known. I cached my goods there and went back to our camp in Willow or Cache valley. I then disposed of my goods there to the trappers and started back on snow shoes, with four dogs and a train which I got from our hunters.
On the second day, all gave out except the halfbreeds. We travelled on to the mouth of Portneuf where Fort Hall was subsequently built. There I found Mr. Samuel Tullock with a party of trappers and a brother of Sublette was with him - also Mr. Peter Skein Ogden, with a portion of the Hudson Bay Company's trappers, all encamped together, snow bound. They could go no further.
Tullock, when the Winter broke up, in the Spring, was attacked by Blackfeet up the Portneuf River. The attack occurred in the morning, and they were robbed of all their horses, and had four men killed, Sublette's brother among them. He was known as Pinckney Sublette. The year before, while awaiting at the head of this lake for the party to arrive from St. Louis, the Blackfeet attacked the Snakes, and the Snake warriors with William Sublette went out to assist them when Tullock was wounded on the wrist, and his hand withered from the effects of the wound.
In the fight on the Portneuf river, a good many of the Blackfeet were killed and the rest driven off.
A prominent Snake chief, a young man was killed, besides several others on our side. The Snakes killed two fine horses to bury with the chief.
I wanted the horses badly. Sublette behaved bravely.
I staid in camp, in charge of everything.
The families of those killed disposed of all the bodies. One of them placed a buffalo robe on Sublette's tent and said to him, "You are a great warrior. I seen it. My "bonick," (Sublette) behaved cooly".
I then prepared to leave to join my party, who were with the Flatheads, on Flathead river.
We packed our bedding on the dog train.
I had two half breeds, Mountain Indians, with me. We carried no tent for ourselves.
At night we shovelled off the snow with our snowshoes, for the dogs tent.
We killed buffalo to live on. We fed our dogs at night so that their food could digest, while they were at rest. We passed through Shoshone Cove, and crossed the Bitterroot river. All the country to the West was free from snow.
This was due to its being much lower in elevation. We went down the Mountain to the plain. We hung up our snow-shoes on a tree, and made little sacks for saddlebags, where there was no snow.
We crossed the Hellsgate to Wild-Horse Mountain, and found our party who had left us the season before, feeding on the flesh of wild horses. It was very good food.
There were no buffalo in that part of the country. The flesh of the young colt is delicious. They had wild onions for a condiment. I had been forty-four days on snow-shoes and my ankles became lame when I took them off. We then hunted and trapped along and came to Sweet Water Lake again, which is about twenty miles long.
The powder brought up in the Summer of 1827, was of an inferior quality.
It was so bad, that it became a saying, that the men would snap the gun and lay it down on the ground, before it went off. The Indians knew this.
We were at the foot of the Lake and going up towards the head. In the morning we were attacked by the Blackfeet just as we were starting from camp. Four of the trappers who had been up at the head of the Lake came down and had joined me the night before. They managed to get some good powder.
My cook, who had the tents packed on the horses was found killed early in the morning.
I led the party and got to a Willow Spring and prepared for defence. We fought for four hours. We knew of four Blackfeet being killed by our fire.
Presuming on our poor powder they charged on us and were shot down. We didn't get their scalps. We then found that our ammunition was getting short. We were cut off.
The Indians flanked us and got in ahead of us. We held a council of wars.
We knew that the encampment at the head of the Lake - 18 miles distant - had ammunition, that we sorely needed.
The question was, how to get out, and get a communication with the camp. I proposed that I would go through to the encampment with two horses. A little Spaniard volunteered to go with me and we started. We dashed right in the face of the enemy! As is it not their mode to stand a charge, they separated.
We dashed on, and as they saw this they gave way and fled before our onset.
They knew that we would soon reach reinforcements, and in turn surround them.
We went on a gallop; I and the little Spaniard. We were going at such speed, that my horse fell with me. The whole of one side of my face was skinned.
Reaching the encampment, I started back immediately with reinforcements and a supply of ammunition, and rejoined the balance of our party. The Indians had disappeared as soon as they saw we went out for help.
We lost half a dozen horses in the fight, but got off safely, except with the loss of one man killed and two or three wounded.
The Blackfeet were regarded among all the trappers in the countries of their enemies, - as dangerous, and as a consequence, mutual distrust and frequent bloody encounters ensued.
The events just recited occurred in the Summer of 1828. I intended returning to St. Louis that year and quit the country; but, instead of doing so, I was prevailed on to go over into the country of the Crows, as a partner with Bridger and others, now all dead.
Our party for this expedition consisted of twelve men. We commenced trapping on Powder river, and our operations extended on the Tongue, Big Horn, and all the streams that are now in Red Cloud's country. That fall Jackson and Sublette returned from St. Louis. They struck Laramie at Horse Creek, Sublette went into the Crow country, where two years before, two Crows had been killed, and no trader had ventured there since. I went into that country trapping as before stated.
I then went up to the Cache river at Po-po agie where it joins the Wind river, and made a cache there to put in my beaver.
A war party of Crows that had been down to the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, were returning and found my cache. They took 150 skins.
I was then with Long Hair, principal chief of the Crows. They had brought in some scalps and were having great rejoicings. They held a great dance, in which the braves boasted of their exploits. Among other things they boasted of having found my cache. The old Chief then came into my lodge and said to me "Have you been catching beaver?" "Yes!" I answered.
"What you do with it?" asked the chief.
"Put it in the ground," said I.
"Where is it?" he enquired.
I drew a plan of the ground, where my beaver had been cached.
The old chief then said, "You talk straight about it!"
He said for four years they had had no Whites trading among them and a War party found this place where the beaver was cached. "They opened it," said the chief, "and brought some along." They tell me they brought 150 skins. Now don't let your heart be sad. You are in my lodge and all these skins will be given back to you.
I'll neither eat, drink or sleep till you get all your skins. Now count them as they come in!
He then mounted his horse and harangued the village, saying to his people that he had been a long time without traders, and they must not keep one skin back.
Then the old squaws and old men would come and pitch the beaver skins into my lodge, until nearly all were returned.
The son-in-law of the chief, said to me, "Tell the old chief the skins were all in, and if any are missing, I'll give you the balance." I then told the old chief, the skins were all in, and the next day I invited two or three men into my lodge to satisfy him from their inspection, that the skins were all right; the old chief becoming satisfied, then broke his fast.
In the next spring we started out in two parties; to hunt in the same country.
One party had all their horses stolen by the Blackfeet. There were five in my party, with Fitzpatrick, who now found us.
We stood guard every night. At the end of the hunt we struck for the Red Buttes, in order to meet Sublette coming up. Not meeting him, I went to Sweet Water and over to Wind river, where we had our rendezvous, and waited there till he came up.
There, an unpleasant incident occured.
A great bully of a Frenchman, named Bray, when Sublette came up, gave out liquor.
He had been out with Samuel Tullock, got dissatisfied and became quarrelsome, under the influence of drink. He abused Tullock and said he had but one hand, but could knock him down. He asked Sublette if his pistol was loaded. He kept on with his abuse, when Tullock struck him a blow with his fist. The Frenchman fell over and never breathed. It was justifiable though.
Mr. Tullock did not intend killing the man.
The Frenchmen in camp took Bray's part, but drinking liquor in camp was all stopped.
We buried the man there. The difficulty produced a terrible damper in camp.
I took charge of the party that season and brought it down to St. Louis, arriving there in the fall of that year. I had spent four years in the Mountains.
In the Spring of 1831 I was at Lexington, Mo., and met Fitzpatrick coming in on his way from the Indian Country. He had with him an Indian boy, named Friday, whom he found on the Plains. The boy did not know what nation he belonged to. He belonged to the Arapahoes, as subsequently ascertained. Friday became a well known Character on the Plains.
I paid a visit to my relatives in Ireland in the Spring of 1832. Returning that Spring to St. Louis, I again started for the Indian Country, taking out with me a small outfit of goods, blankets, clothes, and only five men and fifteen horses. Ten of the horses were loaded with merchandise. I accompanied Mr. William Sublette, who led a party of fifty men.
Sublette was taking out goods to furnish the firm of Milton, Sublette, Fitzpatrick and Bridger in exchange for beaver.
Mr. Nathaniel J. Wyeth was also with us.
He lived at Fresh Pond, near Boston, where they harvested fresh ice, and, died there two years ago.
On our trip up we crossed the Laramie river, which was then in flood, just below the fort, on a raft.
Capt. Wyeth's party lost a good many of their things by the upsetting of the raft.
We swam our mules across. Mr. Wyeth had an idea of going to the Columbia River and establishing a profitable business in catching salmon in connection with the fur trade, and had invested capital and goods in the enterprise.
On his way out, a village of the Gros Ventres of the Upper Missouri, who had been making a visit to the Arapahoes of two or three years duration, were returning and discovering Fitzpatrick pursued him to the Mountains, on Green river and took his horses. He, after concealing himself for two or three days managed to escape.
As we came along, the same Indians came to our camp at night stole two or three animals and killed one of our mules.
This was some days after, as we, did not then know what had befallen Fitzpatrick.
Well, nothing further happened to us until we reached the point of rendezvous.
There we met the hunters and trappers, and a party of Flathead Indians, who had got in from the hunt, also the party commanded by Mr. Drippe connected with Choteau & Co. The latter were supplied with merchandise taken out to the firm by Mr. Sublette.
We had nearly got through with the exchange of our wares and merchandise with the trappers and Indians, when the camp was disturbed by an Indian alarm. A trapping party had started out preparatory to the fall hunt, and had fallen in with the Blackfeet that had followed our trail, which had become obliterated by the rains and the length of time that had elapsed since we came in. A halfbreed, Antoine Godin, and a Flathead Indian, discovering they were Blackfeet who were always at war, rode up in advance. They were met by a chief who was unarmed, bearing the pipe of peace.
But Godin, aware of Indian perfidy and suspecting treachery, ordered his Flathead companion to fire on the Blackfoot, as his hand was extended in pretended friendship, and he fell to the ground.
A messenger came back to the main camp and told us they were fighting Blackfeet.
On receiving this information, we started out from camp, leaving a sufficient number of men to guard it. The Indians got into a thicket of willows, at a Beaver dam, forming a masked battery.
They put their horses in there and hung up their lodges to prevent our seeing them.
William Sublette and myself rode out together. We mutually agreed that whoever survived, the survivor should wind up our affairs.
When we came to the fortified place, firing commenced by the Indians and we were satisfied there was a large force of them. They had placed themselves in a position for defence.
We then arranged a place for the wounded to be brought.
A few of us crawled up between the willows. Sublette, myself and Sinclair, (St. Clair) there were two brothers of them. We crawled along on our hands and knees. Sublette was ahead, I second and Sinclair next to me. The Indians saw us and fired upon us, when within ten or fifteen paces of them and killed Sinclair. He was shot through the body. He was a quarter Cherokee. The Indians were concealed behind a breastwork of logs, and were well fortified against small arms.
We kept firing upon them. Sublette and myself had a pair of flint-lock pistols. In the lodge which was screened by buffalo skins, one of the Indians peered through a hole. Sublette fired and plugged him right in the eye.
I was within two steps of Sublette. Just at that time, and he told me, "Watch that place there is a chance for a shot at them." As he said this, three Indians, who were posted in another corner of the fortress fired and shot Sublette in the shoulder, and at the same time a man named Quigley was shot in the right side of the head. Neither shot proved fatal.
A portion of the bone in Sublette's arm was splintered by the shot, and I may anticipate by adding that some months afterwards, pieces of the bone were taken out by old Dr. Farrar at St. Louis.
When Sublette told me he was shot, I was watching to get a shot at them in the place he had just designated to me.
As he grew faint from the loss of blood, I bore him out of the thicket, and though disabled, he said, "Bring my gun along, we may get a shot at them yet." We fought on till nearly night. We left the Nez Perces to keep a watch on the enemy. Sublette was conveyed on a litter to our camp, six miles distant from the battle ground. In the battle one of our Nez Perce Chiefs, was shot in the breast. He told us before, that he could not be killed by a bullet.
He was hit on the breast bone by a spent ball which dropped to the ground.
It was big medicine that produced the charm, a big thing with the Indians. The chief of the Bannocks had the same belief; that he was invulnerable and could not be killed by a bullet. The Blackfeet fled from their stronghold during the night.
There were three of our party killed in the fight, and the Blackfeet reported seventeen killed on their side. We found twenty-five dead horses, killed in the Blackfeet camp, and among the horses killed were two taken from Fitzpatrick.
In consequence of Sublette's wound we remained in camp for two weeks.
While there, Fitzpatrick joined us in a famished condition. He lost his powder horn, and had nothing to eat for many days.
I then sold out my merchandise to Fallon and Vanderburg, at this rendezvous. Then Sublette, being wounded, I took charge of the party, and made preparations to leave for St. Louis.
At that time the price of beaver rated at $3 per pound, and brought about $5 in St. Louis. There were eighty mules and we had 150 pounds on each mule.
When we hadn't the means of weighing, - 60 beavers were rated at 100 pounds.
When we trapped the first time in the country, they would average more. It would not take 60 beavers to made a hundred pounds, as the old beavers, before they were trapped out, weighed more than young beavers.
The merchandise in demand consisted of blankets, beads, knives, kettles, clothes, etc.
Our party with mules and pack animals, formed a long cavalcade, as we started out.
A man who was shot in the battle, died soon after we started, from mortification.
He got off his horse and died in five minutes.
We then came to St. Louis. On the trip going out we had passed Captain Bonneville and his party on the Blue, and as we were coming back we passed him on the Green river and gave him an account of our fight with the Blackfeet.
Washington Irving passed us in Jackson County, Mo. We did not know him, nor he, us.
That winter, after my return to St. Louis, Sublette and myself formed a company partnership.
It was the same company that I went out to in 1833, furnishing supplies when we had our rendezvous on Green river.
We then determined to open trade on the Upper Missouri, near Fort Pierre, for buffalo, with the Sioux Indians. We accordingly established trading posts in the country of the Mandans and Gros Ventres, and at the Mandan village, on Knife river.
The Mandans lived in dirt lodges, dome shaped and in some respects, were in advance of other tribes.
While we were at Green River, I met Bonneville, Dripps and then there was our company, making three companies. We were located a mile apart for the purpose of not having our animals mingle.
One night a mad wolf came into our three camps and bit ten or twelve men. He rushed into my camp and bit two of the animals.
One of them went mad, and three or four weeks afterwards died. It was a bull I had taken up from Lexington, Lafayette county, Mo., from the blue bunch grass pastures of that county.
The heifer that was bitten by the wolf at the same time, had a calf, and to anticipate my story, I will add here, that she died at the mouth of the Yellowstone, eight or nine months afterwards.
I had driven these cattle from Missouri to the Green river and then drove them down the Big Horn Mountains, where I constructed Bull boats, with which to descend the Big Horn to the mouth of the Yellowstone. In gliding down the stream, one of the boats came under a fallen tree, and upset, I under it. I got safely out and lost my gun, but the floating skins were picked up by the other boat.
When I reached the mouth of the Yellowstone I found Mr. Sublette there, who had left one of our boats at the mouth of the Sioux, near Fort Pierre, where we had a trading post and also a trading post at the Mandan village. He came up with the other boat to the mouth of the Yellowstone. There was a days difference in our time. We erected a stockade fort, with blockhouses on the angles, the dimensions being 130 by 150 feet.
Choteau and company had a fort above the mouth of the Yellowstone. Our fort was three miles, by land, six by water, distant from it.
Mr. McKenzie had charge of Fort Union of the Choteau or American Fur Company.
This fort was 300 feet square, with bastions armed with cannons. I was left in charge of my fort with thirty men and remained there that season. The Assiniboins were principally assembled there that Winter.
In October, Sublette came down to St. Louis and made arrangements for a division of the country, between Chouteau & Co., and Sublette & Campbell. Before this, an attempt had been made to make a division of the Territory, between the existing rival Fur Companies.
At the period referred to, the concerns of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company were managed by two resident partners Fitzpatrick and Bridger, and those of the American Fur Company by Vanderburg and Dripps. The competition between these two rival companies was prosecuted with unusual zeal, and resulted in disastrous effects. Fitzpatrick knew the evils of competition on the same hunting grounds and had proposed that the two companies divide the country between them, so as to hunt in different directions, but the proposition was rejected. By the division of Territory agreed upon between Sublette & Campbell and the American Fur Company, the boundaries were as follows. We commenced on the Arkansas, at a point South of the Platte, on the 24th degree from Washington; thence up to the Forks of the Platte, then to the dividing line of the waters emptying into the Missouri; thence we continued on that line to the Rocky Mountains, and thence on to the three forks of the Missouri, covering all west and south of that line. To Choteau Company was assigned all the Territory North and East of that line.
In the Spring, Sublette sent up a messenger to me, with the boundary treaty, and the conditions of sale, of our merchandise at the fort, to the American Fur Company as we now had to confine our trade in another direction.
I then turned over the goods to the American Fur Companies, and I sent a party of trappers across the country from the Yellowstone, with our furs, to our new fort. Meantime Mr. Sublette had sent up Mr. Potter to Laramie, where he established Fort Williams, so named after William Sublette, and now called Fort Laramie.
There I sent our furs. Having closed up our business at the mouth of the Yellowstone, I then came down to St. Louis.
During the Winter of 1834-35, the two Fur trapping companies - Fontenelle & Dripps and that of Fitzpatrick, Milton Sublette and Bridger, formed a partnership, and we (Sublette & Campbell) sold out to them.
I then went up from St. Louis in the Spring of 1835 to transfer over to the new company, the goods and animals that we had at Fort Laramie.
Having completed that business, I built a boat at this post and started down the North Platte, with buffalo robes, while a party by land, with mules, carried the beaver skins. The boat had a fine stage of water till I reached Scotts Bluffs.
There the quicksands rendered navigation impossible. The quicksand bars were all scattered about and the water was shallow. I constructed, then, at Scotts Bluffs, two Bull boats, putting in each three bull skins, sewed together like a crate.
I then procured some plum bushes, that made the ribs. We loaded the buffalo robes on these two boats, and brought the Mackinaw boat along. I went on in advance of the boats to Ash Hollow. The skins got somewhat wetted. The South fork of the Platte was full of water when the boats entered, and we came down finely.
Just below the forks of the Platte there was an Arickaree village. We were on the North side. The Indians were hostile. I took a dozen men and went on a little Island, where I prepared for defense. The Indians came across, but not with their guns.
I held a talk with them by signs, gave them some tobacco, and told them to go back, that my mules would be frightened.
I traveled on the North shore, as fast as our mules would carry us. It was a beautiful moonlight night, and we camped without building fires. We took different trails, and went on till we reached the Pawnee Loupes village on the Loupes Fork of the Platte. There I learned that Gen. Dodge was going up with a regiment of Rangers - a U.S. regiment, merged into the first U.S. dragoons. He was going up the Platte, fifteen miles off. This news gave us confidence.
I crossed the Missouri at Omaha, and came down to St. Joe, then a trading post.
There I heard the first news that the boats were safe. In the fall of 1835 I arrived at St. Louis. In the fall of 1836 Sublette commenced business In St. Louis.
In 1851, I was again out in the Indian country and attended the grand council which lasted eighteen days, with the Sioux, Crows, Blackfeet and Cheyennes, at the mouth of Horse Creek on the North Platte.
I went out with Colonel David D. Mitchell, Superintendent of Indian Affairs at St. Louis, and Maj. Thomas Fitzpatrick.
The Secretary of the Council was Col. A.B. Chambers of the "Republican", and the Assistant Secretary, B. Grantz Brown.
Father DeSmet, who had just returned from the Yellowstone, accompanied me from Fort Laramie to the place where the council was held. The treaty then made is known as the treaty of 1852.