From Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, Volume X, Number 3, September 1909.
John Work, the writer of this journal, was one of the tireless and forceful "gentlemen" in the Hudson's Bay Company's employ west of the Rocky Mountains, and more particularly along the Columbia River and its tributaries, beginning with the year 1823.
In the course of serving his time as a clerk, he was sent from York Factory on Hudson's Bay in July, 1823, with the annual express, in charge of Peter Skene Ogden, to Fort George (Astoria). This was one year prior to the coming of Dr. John McLoughlin to assume charge of the business of the Company west of the mountains.
From 1823 to 1830, John Work's field of employment was principally at the Posts or Forts of the upper Columbia; Spokane House, Colvile, Flathead and Kootenai, and it was he who superintended the building of Fort Colvile, just above Chaudiere or Kettle, Falls (Ilth-Koy-Ape, according to David Thompson) in 1825-6, and the abandonment of Spokane House in 1826. In 1830, he was promoted to Chief Trader and appointed to succeed Mr. Ogden in charge of the Snake River Brigade, leaving in the fall of that year.
We very little appreciate or understand at the present day the constant and extensive demand for horses in the fur trade, primarily as beasts of burden, but very often as necessary articles of food; and the difficulty of obtaining them.
Among the descendants of John Work are his grand-children, comprising the family of the honored Dr. Wm. Fraser Tolmie, deceased, once a member of the legislature of the Provisional Government of Oregon and a scholar as well as a gentleman and man of affairs. The original journal is in the possession of these grandchildren and through the courtesy of Mr. R. E. Gosnell, Archivist for the Province of British Columbia, has been copied for this, its first publication.
To definitely designate the route from day to day is not possible, but the more important stopping places will be readily recognized. The party followed from Fort Colvile at Kettle Falls the more direct Indian trail up the valley of Colville (as now spelled), or Mill River to its source and then across the divide to the wide ridges along Tsimakane (or Chimakine) creek, flowing into the Spokane River, crossing that river considerably below the site of Spokane House, and thence south to the Snake River at the month of the Palouse. This afterward became the regular wagon road between Colville and Walla Walla, and is very clearly shown on the map published with John Mullan's Military Road Report. Governor Stevens followed this route very closely in the fall of 1853.
By the Hudson's Bay men, Snake River as far up as the Clearwater was often called the Nez Perces River, and Fort Walla Walla was commonly designated as Fort Nez Perces. It would appear from the journal that at that point the party crossed the Columbia to the west or north side, but at John Day River they are clearly on the south bank again and from there to The Dalles. The usual crossing place afterward was ten miles below at Lyle, the mouth of the Klickitat River, but they recrossed above The Dalles and from there to Vancouver kept to the higher trails along the ridges and prairies back from the Columbia through a very rugged country of course, as the time consumed plainly indicates.
Mountains Hood, St. Helens, Rainier and Baker are all familiar names to Mr. Work, indicating that a set of "Vancouver's Voyages" was then in the library at Fort Vancouver, and whether the first or second edition does not matter.
Left Colvile near 6 o'clock in the evening, accompanied by five men - F. Payette, A. Baindijain, J. Pierre, Edward Besland, and C. Quesnelle, with 35 horses for Walla Walla, and then to Fort Vancouver. Encamped a few miles from the Fort. The whole day was occupied getting the horses collected and separated, which was the cause of our being so late in starting. I would have been off some days sooner, but a considerable number of the horses were lately traded, and being very lean, required some time to recruit before taking the journey; some of them will have enough to do to perform it yet.
Saturday, May 1st.
Heavy rain nearly all day. Started at an early hour, and encamped near sunset at the swampy plain.[Chewelah?] We stopped an hour and a half to breakfast. The small rivers are very deep, and the road in many places soft and miry. The horses had to swim across two of the rivers, and the luggage to be taken across a temporary bridge of trees thrown across them. All hands were soaked with wet, and both men and horses much fatigued in the evening.
Sunday, May 2d.
Heavy rain part of the day. Proceeded on our journey a little past sunrise, and reached Spokane River in the afternoon. It was near sunset by the time the horses and baggage were got across the river, though the Indians lent us a canoe to cross with. We put up here for the night. The road today was in several places deep and miry, but much better than yesterday, nevertheless, the horses were a good deal jaded. The Indians came and smoked with us in the evening. The people are always glad to see whites coming among them.
Monday, May 3rd.
Fair weather. The men were on the move by daylight collecting the horses. One of them were missing and, although all hands were employed seeking him till 11 o'clock, he could not be found, and was supposed to be gone off on the N. P. [Nez Perces] road, and so far off from the distance he was followed that it would have taken all day to come up with him, even were we sure he had gone that way, and as by waiting in the same encampment we were likely to lose more we moved on, and left word with the Spokane chief to seek the horse and bring him to Colvile, which he promised to do. Camped in the evening at a place called the Fortress, on the edge of a plain. The road this day was pretty good.
Tuesday, May 4th.
Stormy during the day, heavy rain towards the evening. Four of the horses had strayed in the morning and, although all hands were in pursuit of them, they were not found till 3 o'clock in the afternoon, when it was considered too late to move, besides I wish to stop and send for the horse lost at Spokane, which, I hear from an Indian lad that was passing, is found by the Indians. We had no thought any of the horses would stray off so far.
Wednesday, May 5th.
Very heavy rain in the night, fair weather during the day. Sent two men back for the stray horse that remained at Spokane, which they found, and came up with us at noon. Landed to wait for the men who were late in starting, and again stopped a good while at breakfast. We encamped in the evening at 5 o'clock, having marched seven hours during the day, which, though little, is enough for some of the horses. Set a guard on the horses last night, which is intended to be continued during the journey to prevent the horses from straying or being stolen by the Indians.
Thursday, May 6th.
Showers of rain towards evening. Continued our route at an early hour, and fell upon the Nez Perces [Snake] River, near 6 o'clock in the evening, where we put up for the night. Allowed the horses 3 hours to feed and repose in the middle of the day, and marched altogether 8 hours. Part of the road was very stony and bad for the horses' feet.
Friday, May 7th.
Heavy rain in the night and the greater part of the day, particularly in the afternoon. Proceed on our journey, and after passing Grand Point [Fish-hook Bend] again fell upon the river opposite an Indian lodge, and crossed our baggage. The horses were allowed to rest before crossing there; from the bad weather they were so afraid of taking the water that all the men's efforts assisted by the Indians could not put more than 16 of them across, the others were obliged to be left on the opposite shore for the night. The men were completely drenched with wet and benumbed with cold in consequence of which, and the continued rain, keeping guard will be dispensed with tonight.
Saturday, May 8th.
Incessant rain all day. Another attempt, without success, was made to cross the remaining horses in the morning, but towards evening they were all got across but one, which ran off and could not be caught; the most of them had to be crossed by the cord. One was missing in the morning and cannot be found; we cannot tell whether he strayed or attempted to cross the river in the night, and was drowned; it is not likely that he was stolen. The men were again soaked with wet and cold. The poor Indian rendered us all the assistance in his power.
Sunday, May 9th.
Sent across the river for the horse that could not be found yesterday and to seek for the one that is missing; no marks of the latter could be found. We then loaded the horses, when two men were again sent off in quest of the stray horse, and the others moved on to Nez Perces,[Fort Walla Walla at mouth of Walla Walla River] where we arrived about 1 o'clock. The other two men arrived towards evening without seeing any trace of the horse.
Monday, May 10th.
Heavy rain in the night and forepart of the day, and stormy. We intended to have crossed the horses to the opposite side of the river this evening and have started tomorrow, but the wind raised such a swell in the river that swimming the horses across was impracticable without a great risk of drowning them.
Tuesday, May 11th.
Fair weather, but blowing strong all day. On account of the roughness of the weather and the swell in the river, crossing the horses could not be attempted, which has delayed us another day. This I regret as this cool weather is favorable for marching, and not so fatiguing for the horses as when the heat is great.
Wednesday, May 12th.
Stormy in the morning, but calm, fine weather afternoon. After the weather moderated, received 16 horses from Mr. Black,[Samuel Black, afterward murdered at Kamloops, but then at Fort Walla Walla] making our whole number 50, and got them across the river safe. It was late by the time the baggage and everything was across the river.[Probably the Walla Walla River, then in flood] I received another man, J. Baker, here and changed one of my men, Pierre, for J. Guy, to accompany us as guide. We also received 15 quarts of corn, 35 pieces of salmon and a little horse meat in addition to our provisions, also some ammunition and tobacco to procure an Indian guide below. Baker is a man from Vancouver, and has been waiting here for us since the express passed.
Tuesday, May 13th.
Some heavy showers during the day. The men were on the river by daylight collecting the horses, one of them was missing, and although all hands were seeking him in every direction till four o'clock, no marks of him could be discovered. We then gave up hopes of finding him, and started with the rest, but some time after, met an Indian who had also been seeking him. It was said that he had been got from an Indian below, and was going back to where his master usually resided. From the distance he went I suspect he was taken the lend of by some Indian who prefers riding to walking. On account of the delay, we made but a short day's journey, only across the point where the road falls on the river, and it was late when we reached the plain. But indifferent feeding for the horses.
Wednesday, May 14th.
Some heavy showers in the night and during the day. Kept guard over the horses during the night, and got under way by 6 o'clock. Came on at a brisk rate and encamped in the evening a good piece below Big Island,[Near Castle Rock] stopped in the middle of the day to feed and repose. The road was generally good. Passed some lodges of Indians from whom we received a little salmon. There are not many Indians on the river, and what little fish they get is barely sufficient for themselves. From their miserably lean appearance it may be supposed they have not known what a plentitude of food is for some time past.
Thursday, May 15th.
Heavy showers in the night, fair weather during the day. Continued our journey before 6 o'clock, and encamped before 5 in the evening at a little lake on the hill, a little above Day's River. We stopped thus early on account of it being a good feeding place for the horses; and that probably another such is not to be found before we would be obliged to camp where the road we mean to follow strikes into the country from the river. Some of the horses were also a good deal fatigued, and need a little repose. The road during this day's journey was frequently, but indifferent, being in many places stony and again sandy, which made the marching heavy and fatiguing for the horses.
Passed several lodges of Indians, from whom we obtained enough of salmon for breakfast. Stopped 3 1-2 hours in the middle of the day to rest and feed the horses.
Friday, May 16th.
Very warm, sultry weather. Resumed our journey past 5 o'clock. Left the river and struck into the country, and again fell on the Columbia at the little river, below the Dalles at 6 o'clock in the evening, where we encamped. The object of taking this route was to avoid the Dalles and chutes, where numbers of Indians are collected at this season, and likewise for a better road, as that along the river is very hilly and stony.[The immigrants did the same in later years] The road we took was very hilly and stony in places on leaving the river. Afterwards the road lay through a plain, and is good till nearly falling on the river, where it is for a considerable distance woody and some very steep hills. On account of the heat, the horses are a good deal jaded.
Saturday, May 17th.
Weather warm and sultry. The Columbia is so high it is impracticable to cross the horses at the entrance of the little river, the usual crossing place; we had, therefore, to seek another place which we found a few miles up the river, and, with a good deal of trouble got the horses across by 11 o'clock, when we moved on about 3 hours, when we encamped in consequence of engaging a guide to take us by another road, as that on the banks of the river, on account of the height of the water, is considered very difficult, if not impassable in places. The road we were to pursue by the interior is said not to occupy more than four days. This, however, I much doubt, if we get done in six days it will be very well. The road is said to be good enough except a mountain that is to cross and where there is likely to be some snow yet. Our interpreter, J. Guy, does not fully understand the Indians. I have heard it said that formerly some freemen came from Vancouver to opposite The Dalles on horse by this route in three days. This used to be a grand war road of the Kyauses and Nez Perces to go down to Kersinous village. We delayed the aft part of the day till our guide would get ready to accompany us, however.
Sunday, May 18th.
Clear, very warm weather. Our Indian guide was not ready to accompany us till 7 o'clock, when we proceeded on our journey, and encamped at past 6 o'clock in the evening at a place at the foot of Mt. St. Helens,[Mt. Adams] which is north of us, on the great Kyauses road which we are to pursue across the mountains. On leaving the river, we ascended hills of considerable height, and, but thinly wooded, but on reaching the summit we found the country thickly wooded, which mostly continued so to our encampment. The road lay over hills, some of them very steep, and steep valleys. We crossed some small rivers, but the water is not high, having recently fallen a great deal, which leads us to infer that there is but little snow on the mountains - a great deal of snow to obstruct our passage gave us some concern. Though we marched all day, except about 3 hours we stopped for the horses to feed; we have not made a long day's journey; owing to the hilliness of the roads, sometimes we had an Indian road, and sometimes we had none. We were in expectation every hill we ascended of seeing the fine plain the Indians said the road lay through, but there was none till the one we are now at. Had we had a guide, we might have come in a much shorter time from Walla Walla to this place through the plains, or in fact from any part of the Columbia above the chutes. The road that way must be good, as it lies through the plains with little wood and few hills. Though we were told we would be only three nights of getting to the Fort, our guide now tells us that we will be 8 or 10, and represents the road as being difficult, independent of the snow. As we are now close to the mountain, which is the worst part of it, it is determined to try it, and should it be found impassable to turn back and gain the Columbia again. Our guide's brother also accompanied him in order to be with him coming back. Another lad also started to accompany us on foot, so that there are three of them with us. We did not expect to see an Indian here yet they made their appearance shortly after we encamped.
Monday, May 19th.
Fine, warm weather forepart of the day, but towards evening it became stormy with a great deal of thunder and very heavy rain. Continued our journey before 6 o'clock, and encamped at 4 o'clock at a little plain. We had gone a little farther into the woods to gain the foot of the mountains which we were to pass, but we intend to return to this place that the horses might have some feeding. The road today was good; it lies through rather clear woods not often thicketty and but few hills. In the morning we crossed the river [The White Salmon] that empties itself into the Columbia, between The Dalles and Cascades. It runs its waters to the northwest of Mt. St. Helen [Mt. Adams] where we forded, it is a considerable stream and the current very strong, but the waters appear to have fallen greatly lately. During the forepart of the day the ground among the trees was clothed with verdure and flowers, but afterwards several patches of snow was seen in the woods, and the rest of the ground seemed to be freed of it, not long since, and vegetation has yet made but small progress. From where we are encamped, there are two roads to cross the mountains; that to the right is represented to be the best road, but at the same time likely to have more snow in it than the other. Our guide has decided, therefore, to take the latter. Payette, accompanied by the Indian, went a good piece into the wood with the intention of proceeding to foot of the mountain to examine it, but the Indian got tired and returned. So far as they went, the road is not bad, and the snow, which is only in patches, not deep. The Indian says it is all the same way to the mountains, and that though the snow is deeper that in a day he expects he will get over the whole of it.
Tuesday, May 20th.
Stormy. Showers in the morning, and drizzling rain the most of the day. In order to allow the horses to feed and have their bellies full, lest we might be a night on the mountains without food, we did not move camp today; the grass is not good, but the horses got a little.
Wednesday, May 21st.
Fine, fair weather. At an early hour we were on the move and crossed the dreaded mountains[Wind River Mts.] by midday, but one of the horses stepping off the road in a thicket of woods was left and had to be sent back for, which prevented us from proceeding in the afternoon. We are here on the side of a nearly bare hill, which yields tolerable good feeding for the horses. The road across the mountains is not bad nor is the mountain itself very high. In some spots the snow is pretty deep, but not as much so as to retard our progress. From the top of the hill where we are now encamped there is an extensive view and nothing to be seen but mountains and deep valleys as far as the eye can reach, Mt. St. Helen [Mt. Adams] is but a short distance to the northeast, and Mt. Rainier [St. Helens] bears north, at still a shorter distance. Mt. Baker, [Mt. Rainier] I suppose, is seen at a great distance between the two. We are still but a short way from the Columbia, immediately beyond it is seen Mt. Hood, and further off another high, snowy mountain, Mt. Jefferson. Several of the lower mountains are thickly covered with snow and many patches extending low in the valleys. None of these mountains seem to be continued ridges, but scattered about in every direction. The country through which we have to pass tomorrow has a bad appearance, all burnt woods.
Thursday, May 22nd.
Fine, warm weather. Recommenced our journey at past 5 o'clock, and by noon fell upon the road which we left on the other side of the mountain. The country we passed through this forenoon is dreadfully bad, a considerable portion of it burnt woods, immense trees fallen in every direction, and several deep ravines to cross, very steep for the horses to ascend and descend. Besides the woods are thicketty, and large fallen trees are so numerous that we could scarcely get any way found through it. There is no way through this space. The road by which we crossed the mountain went in another direction and was lost. In the afternoon the road lay also through burnt woods, but being ...... was pretty good except frequently barred with large fallen trees. We encamped at 5 o'clock in a place where there is scarcely a mouthful of grass for the horses, and, what is worse, we will be two nights more without anything for them to eat. This was an exceedingly harassing day, both for men and horses; the latter on account of the heat of the day, and the difficulty of the road, particularly jumping over the large trees and ascending the steep hills, are completely jaded; one of them stopped on the road, but was got up to the camp in the evening. The ridge, our road lay in this afternoon, is divided from the foot of Mt. Rainier,[Mt. St. Helens] by a deep valley and river along which our road lay.
Friday, May 23rd.
Proceeded on our journey about 5 o'clock, and in less than 3 hours descended a steep hill and fell upon the river. During this distance, the road was the same, and through the same sort of country as yesterday. There is a pretty broad and very rapid river, its banks covered with thick woods, at this place burnt. Here a river falls in from the southward, which has now but little water. The main river seems to run towards the W. N. W. Our road here lies on the north shore of it. After some search, we found a fordable place, and with some trouble, got across a little past noon, and continued our journey. The woods were burnt and the road barred with immense large fallen trees through which we made our way with a great deal of difficulty, and much labor, both to men and horses, particularly the latter; indeed, it is surprising they don't break their legs. We encamped at past 6 o'clock. No grass for the horses.
Saturday, May 24th.
Fine weather till towards evening, when there was some heavy rain. Continued our journey before 6 o'clock, and had proceeded but a short distance till we came to where the road used to pass along some beaches in the river, but the water is now so high that it is impassable; the luggage we had had to be carried along the side of a steep hill by the men, where they were in danger of tumbling into the river, and the horses taken up by the hill, a very steep and difficult road which fatigued them greatly; indeed, both men and horses were exhausted in the evening though the distance we made is not more than 5 or 6 miles. To avoid losing the horses we used to guard them in the night, but, as there is not grass and only leaves for them to eat, we let them loose tonight so that they may pick up what they can, as it is to be apprehended they will get so weak with hunger that they will not be able to march. Two Indians came to us in the evening, and have agreed to accompany us to the crossing place, and point out the best road to us as they are better acquainted with the country than our guide.
Sunday, May 25th.
Rained constantly almost all day. Started early, and with our new guide got on pretty well. The road through thick woods and over several steep hills; the road less difficult than these days past. One of our horses gave up, and we could not delay to let him rest; and as he would have been lost, he was killed and the meat, bad as it is, brought in to serve us till we got to the Fort. Our provisions are getting short. All hands were wet to the skin. The horses have very little grass among the bushes this evening.
Monday, May 26th.
Fair weather, but the bushes still hang with wet. Continued our journey early and arrived at a small plain not far from the crossing place at 5 o'clock, where we encamped. The road lay through thick woods and over some steep hills. Found a small plain at noon where we stopped to let the horses feed 3 hours. Where we are encamped is a good feeding place, and much need they have of it. One of the horses, so jaded that he stopped and could not be got on with the others. Sent a man and an Indian to bring him on after he rests a little. We mean to remain here tomorrow to allow the, horses to repose and feed, of which they are in much need.
Thursday, May 27th.
Fine weather till towards evening, when it rained a little. Did not move camp today, but remained to allow the horses to feed and repose.
Friday, May 28th.
Fair weather in the morning, heavy rain towards evening. We moved camp at an early hour, reached the river [Washougal] at 10 o'clock and got across it with all the luggage, horses, etc., by noon, and by 5 in the evening encamped at a plain where there is good feeding for the horses for the night. Our road to the traverse was as difficult as usual, and after crossing the river, we had a very steep hill to mount, which took us nearly 3 hours to ascend, and was very fatiguing, both for horses and men, though the road is pretty good. The road afterward was better than usual. There are some Indians encamped not far from us, but they fled to the hills on our appearance, supposing we were enemies.
Saturday, May 29th.
Heavy rain all day. Proceeded on our journey at 6 o'clock, and encamped in a swamp at 5, which is the only place we saw to stop at during the day. Part of the road today was pretty good, being through clean pine woods, but a great deal of it was very difficult. Crossed a pretty broad river, which was a branch of the one we left yesterday, and on leaving it had a long hill to ascend with a bad road. Several more of our horses getting very weak, notwithstanding the slow rate at which we march. The Indians tell us that we will be only another night in getting to the Fort, and that the road is better. This we have been frequently told, and, found it not to be so.
Sunday, May 30th.
Rained part of the day, fair towards evening. Continued our journey at 6 o'clock, and
encamped in another swamp, the only stopping place we saw during the day, at 3 o'clock
in the afternoon on account of some of the weak horses not being able to come up. We
had few hills today; the road was, nevertheless, full as difficult. As usual, a great deal
of burnt fallen wood which was very ill to get through as it repeatedly barred up the road;
there was also several boggy places which were very hard upon the weak horses. Our
custom has been to keep the weak horses behind, so that they might have the advantage
of a little road after the others all passing through the bad places of fallen woods,
thickets, etc. Hamdijna was behind today with four, one of which, a very weak one, stuck
in a bog and he was not able to get him out. He came up with us, and Payette and a
man went back to aid him and get the horse out of the bog, but he was so weak that he
could not rise, and it is expected he will be dead before morning. During that time
another of the weak ones, a white mare, strayed and could not be found. The old man
became confused in his difficulties and cannot tell exactly about where they lost him, but
he is confident he had him at another bog, a little farther off where he had some difficulty
getting another of the horses out. I marched ahead with the guide, myself and * * *
brings up the rear, but today he came on with one of the middle brigades or probably
none of the horses would have been missing, as he is an excellent hand with the horses
in the woods.
The men were completely drenched with rain all day yesterday and most of today, for though it did not rain today, the bushes are so charged with wet that a continual shower was falling as we passed through them. The road, exceedingly harassing all day, and men and horses much fatigued. It was past sunset when the men arrived, that were seeking the stray mare, and taking the horses out of the bog. Had it not been for the delay caused by their misfortunes, we meant to have gone on a little further to a fine plain which our guides represent to be ahead a little way.
Monday, May 31st.
The horse which was dragged out of the bog yesterday evening was dead this morning. The other that was missing and another which had also strayed were not found till 11 o'clock, when we started, and arrived at Fort Vancouver at 7 o'clock in the evening with 48 of our 50 horses, several of them nearly worn out * * * The road for some distance in the morning was as bad as usual until we got into a pretty boggy place which is so overflowed with water at this season that it may be called a swamp, where, though the road is soft, it is infinitely superior to the thickets we have been passing for some time back. After passing this plain we had another part of woods, through which the road is good, then a fine dry plain, and another part of woods where the road is good, when we fell upon the plain on which the Fort stands, all the low parts of which is now under water, the Columbia being unusually high at this season. We are glad our difficult and troublesome journey is finished.