Resuming our journey early on the morning of the twenty-first, we crossed Henry's Fork, and continued on till we arrived in the vicinity of Pierre's Hole; where the country assumes a rolling appearance, and is dotted with an occasional grove of aspen trees. Entering this valley, we passed over to Pierre's fork, near which we discovered the trail of our company, and following it about three miles, at our rapid pace, overtook them as they were on the very point of encamping. Mutual congratulations over, I retired much fatigued to rest. From Mr. Montour, I learned that the hunters had killed several bulls, a bald eagle and a goose. They were greatly annoyed by suffocating clouds of dust, which arose from their horses' feet, filled their lungs and eyes, and the air around them, for some distance.
On the twenty-second, we remained to dry meat, which was prepared and packed, ready for transportation, by evening. Next morning we pursued our journey, passed South- Eastward to Pierre's Hole, and halted in the mountain, on a trail leading over it. We killed, during our march, five buffalos and an antelope. One of our Indians found in Pierre's Hole, a pair of boots, and some articles of clothing, that had evidently been there a long time, on the prairie; probably lost by some white man during last year. On the twenty-fourth we ascended the mountain, crossed an immense snow bank with extreme difficulty, descended the plain, passed through Lewis's rim, though so high that our horses were obliged to swim, and halted on a small stream several miles east of the river. Leaving the river on the twenty-fifth, we passed along this valley to the South-East point or extremity, when we reached a fork of this stream, and travelled up its narrow bottom, flanked on either side, at the distance of less than half a mile, by lofty mountains; climbing occasional hills or bluffs, which project in some instances quite to the river's margin; and halted at the commencement of the narrows, formed by the mountains closing upon the stream, until barely sufficient space remains for its compressed channel. We here found an encampment, made by a large party of whites, some ten days since, on their way from Salt river to Green river; I supposed it to have been made by Dripps, who wintered on Snake river.
On the twenty-fifth we passed, with our usual hazzards and difficulty, though fortunately without accident, through the tortuous windings, abrupt elevations, and percipitous descents, of the Narrows, out of which we were glad to emerge; and entering Jackson's Little Hole, encamped on a small branch of this fork, at the East side of the valley. Antelopes and buffalos were found here; and an encampment made by the company whose traces we observed the day previous. On the twenty-seventh we ascended the steep, rough, aspen covered hill, forming the east boundary of this hole, and passing down on the opposite side, came into the plains of Green river. We now directed our course towards "Bonnyville's Folly," or "Fort Nonsense," as it was more frequently called; but had proceeded a few miles only, when we discovered two Indians so near us that they could not hope to escape though they betrayed considerable anxiety at our approach. When we reached them, however, their fears were quelled, we learned that they belonged to the party of Dripps, who were encamped on a small stream in the Wind mountain, east of Green river. On hearing this information, we turned our course to that stream, which we crossed without accident; and halted after sundown in the willows, on the border of a small branch; after a hard march of thirty miles, at least. Early the next morning we set out, found the trail of Dripp's party, followed it ten miles to a small stream, and then found an encampment, which had been that morning evacuated. We continued to pursue the trail, over a rough, rocky, hilly country, and finally descended to the margin of a fine little lake, about ten miles long and one broad; down which, the trail passed to the western side, and finally conducted us to Dripps' encampment, in a narrow bottom, bounded on one side by a high, rocky, bold hill; and by the lake on the other; our course here, from Green river, was nearly East.
From Mr. Dripps we learned, that Fontenelle and others were in the Eutaw country, to the Southward, trapping still. This lake, fed by springs, constitutes the source of the Western branch, of the New Fork. The trappers informed me that there were several other small lakes in this side of the mountain, on the sources of the other branches of this fork. We remained here for several days, awaiting the return of some small parties of trappers. On the thirty-first, we made a short march to the outlet of this lake, for better grass, and killed on our way several buffalos. On the succeeding day, June the first, we collected all our horses together at camp, and blooded them indiscriminately, to make them thrive, and render them more healthy. This operation is performed every spring, and is considered quite necessary. Indeed horses who are bled, invariably fatted faster, and become strong, hardy, and active, much sooner than those who are not. June, the second, a party of trappers returned, who had been out since last fall; several of them saw Fontenelle this spring, in the neighborhood of Bear river. He had lost one man, killed, by the name of CHEVALIA. We moved several times, short distances parallel with Green river, and finally went to it. In the mean time, an express was despatched to Fontenelle, and several small parties of trappers, returned from various sections of the country, and related their adventures and escapes. The weather had been pleasant, we seldom failed to kill plenty of buffalos when we made an effort to do so, and we therefore fared and frolicked, when we chose, agreeably.
Several men bitten by a rabid wolf - Arrival in camp of two Eutaw squaws from the Snakes - Wild currants, goosberries, etc. - Mexican Indians
About this time we learned that two persons, who were bitten by a wolf, at last rendezvous, had died or disappeared suddenly. The circumstances during the hurry and bustle of business at rendezvous were by mistake not recorded in my journal, though they produced great excitement at that time. They were as follows: whilst we were all asleep, one night, an animal, supposed to be a dog, passed through camp, bit several persons as they lay, and then disappeared. On the following morning considerable anxiety was manifested by those who were bitten, under the apprehension that the animal might have been afflicted with the hydrophobia, and several of them took their guns and went about camp, shooting all suspicious looking dogs; but were unable to determine that any one was positively mad. During the day information came from the R. M. F. Co., who were encamped a short distance below us on the same side of the river, that several men were likewise bitten in their camp during the night, and that a wolf supposed to be rabid, had been killed in the morning. The excitement which this affair originated, however, gradually subsided, and nothing more was heard of mad-dogs or wolves. In the fall subsequent, one the persons who had been bitten, a young Indian brought from the council Bluffs by Mr. Fontenelle, after having given indications of the hydrophobia, disappeared one night from camp and was heard of no more. The general impression being, that he wandered off while under its influence, and perished. Another individual died of that horrible malady, after having several violent spasms, while on his way from the mountains to St. Louis, in company with two others. Whether there have been any more instances of the kind, I am not informed.
On the twenty-fourth, two women arrived at our camp, in a starving condition. One of them had an infant at her breast, and was the wife of Cou-mar-ra-nap, a famous Eutaw chieftain; the other was a young, unmarried girl, of the same nation. They were taken prisoners by a party of Snakes, during the early part of the summer, and were conducted to the village, where they were condemned to die; but were saved by the timely interference of Capt. Walker, who humanely purchased their lives, and sent them to overtake us, as the surest means of getting to their own country in safety. They had followed our camp twenty days, living upon roots and berries, and had avoided the trails and most frequented places, for fear of again falling into the hands of their enemies. The Snakes declared war against the Eutaws last fall, for killing several of their tribe, who were caught in the act of stealing their horses. A few days after capturing the women, they stole the horses of a party of hunters, from the Rio del Norte, on a stream called the Euruta, and returned to their village with the booty.
On the twenty-ninth we passed southward over a rolling country, covered with cedars; and halted at a small stream, that discharges itself into Green river. The borders of this creek were covered with bushes, laden with fruit, which was now ripe. There were black, white, yellow and red currants, large as cherries; though to the taste, quite inferior to the common garden currants, being less sweet, and more acid; plump goosberries of a large size, likewise tempted the eye, but were equally sour. The bushes that bear them, frequently attain the height of eight or ten feet, in the rich mellow soil along the rivers; and at this season, are bent to the ground by the loads of fruit, with which they are encumbered. There was also a species of small tree, not unlike the hawthorn, armed with thorns, and covered with blue or lead colored leaves, which was completely enveloped with berries, either red or yellow, about the size of allspice or pepper grains. This fruit is extremely sour, and is commonly called "buffalo berries." They are prized by the Indians for abundance, surpassing by far, all other productions of this kind, and quantities of them are collected by the squaws for food. It may be remarked, in relation to goosberries, that we have frequently found them in other parts of the mountains of a delicious flavor, as well as of a very large size.
On the third of September, being within the territory of Mexico, three of the wild natives of this region, ventured into our camp. They were stark naked, and betrayed almost a total want of intellect, which was perhaps the result of extreme wretchedness and misery, to which they are continually exposed, from infancy until death. They spoke a tongue perfectly unintelligible to us, and evidently not well comprehended by each other; neither could they understand any of those expressive signs, and gestures, by which other Indians convey their ideas, with perfect success. Severe hunger, however, instinctively taught them to make us understand, that they wanted something to eat, which indeed was all they could communicate. We gave them the carcases of two beavers, together with the head and feet of a dog, which they warmed, a few moments, over the fire, and devoured with wolfish avidity. A Nezperce with our party, regarded them attentively, until they had finished their repast, when he arose, and with evident marks of astonishment, in his countenance, exclaimed "why my horse has got more sense, than those Indians!" It may be well to remark in this place, that the different nations in the Rocky Mountains are, for the most part, confined to certain districts, called by them, their own country; within which they rove, and become familiar with every trifling object; but are almost entirely ignorant of the country, or people, beyond their limits. The Indian who made the remark above, was born on one of the sources of the Columbia, but was not aware of the existence of this nation, until we brought him among them.
On the fourth, four of these Indians, who call themselves "Sann-pitch," came into camp, bringing to my surprise, several deer skins. I say, to my surprise, because from the hasty opinion I had formed yesterday, I imagined deer, to be the more intelligent animal of the two, and should have expected them with skins of the Sann-pitch, marching up to trade, almost as soon. However, in justice to the superiority of the latter, skins they brought, and made us understand, by simply pointing to the skins, and then toward our horses, that they wanted one of them. We quickly informed them, that our horses could not be disposed off for deer skins. They manifested a great deal of disappointment, and finally offered them for provisions, but were equally unsuccessful. These are by far, the most miserable human beings we have ever seen. The barreness of their country, and scarcity of game, compel them to live by separate families, either in the mountains, on in the plains. In the latter, they usually select the most barren places to encamp, where there is apparently nothing but sand, and wormwood or sage. Here, the women and children are employed in gathering grasshoppers, crickets, ants, and various other species of insects, which are carefully preserved for food, together with roots, and grass seed. From the mountains, they bring the nuts which are found in the cores of the pine, acorns from the dwarf oaks, as well as the different kinds of berries, and the inner bark of the pine, which has a sweet acid taste, not unlike lemon syrup. In the mean time, the men are actively employed in hunting small animals, such as prairie dogs, squirrels, field mice, and larger animals, or birds, which fortune some times, places within the reach of their arrows. They likewise take fish, with simple instruments of their own invention, which will be hereafter described.
The Sann-pitch are generally quite naked, though in some instances a small piece of skin, is fastened before them. The women all wear a piece of skin, reaching from the middle, to the knees, and instances are not uncommon, where they possess a complete leathern shirt, but no other article of dress. They are extremely shy, and approach us with evident fear and caution. If in the plains, they conceal themselves from our approach, by crawling into the sage, or into gullies; but if discovered in the open prairie, where flight would be useless, they throw themselves flat upon the ground, in hopes of being mistaken for a rock, or other unusual appearance; which practice generally succeeds, if they were not discovered before putting it into effect.
A bed of salt - Indian arrows - Brutal conduct of a hunter towards an aged Indian - Chanion of White River.
On the eight, I set out with others to procure salt, at a place discovered by our hunters yesterday. We passed three miles down the river, and found the salt in a slough on the west side of it. It was found on the surface of a black stinking mire, fifty or sixty paces in circuit; the upper strata was fine, and white as snow, to the depth of two inches; beneath which, was a layer of beautiful chrystals, to the depth of five or six inches, that rested on the surface of the mire. We slowly sank into the latter to our knees, whilst scooping up the salt, and then changed places, for we could scarcely extricate ourselves at that depth; and concluded that if we should remain long enough in the same spot, we would at length disappear entirely. This opinion was coroborated by thrusting down a stick four feet in length, without meeting any resistance, more than at the surface. I gathered about a half bushel in a few minutes, and returned with my companions, who were equally fortunate, to camp.
I observed during our stay on the Sararah, that the Indians had two kinds of arrows in their quivers, one of which was made of a single hard stick, feathered and pointed with transparent flint, artfully broken to a proper shape, and firmly fastened to the end of the arrow with sinews and glue. The others were made of a hollow weed, having six or eight inches of hard wood nicely inserted, and firmly glued into it; to the end of which the stone point is fastened, and is poisoned with venom from the fangs of a rattle snake. Hence the slightest wound from them is certain death. These arrows may be known at sight, by the natural joints of the cane; and the artificial one, where the wood part is inserted. They are not solely used in battle, as some have asserted; but are equally advantageous in hunting, for the slightest wound causes the animal to droop, and a few moments places it within the power of the hunter. The flesh of animals thus poisoned, is harmless in the stomach.
On the nineteenth, we continued northward, over a gently ascending plain, and encamped on a small stream, that flows into the Eutaw lake. During our march we encountered a feeble old Indian, whose age and infirmities, if they could not have insured him respect, ought at least to have shielded him from harm. Innocent and inoffensive, this miserable old man - destitute of the means of offense, and engaged in the harmless occupation of gathering roots, his only apparent means of subsistence, which he deposited in a willow basket on his back - was overtaken by one of our heartless comrades, who, having had a valuable horse stolen on the seventeenth, in a most unfeeling manner, inflicted a severe blow upon his head, with his gun. For once the fortitude of the Indian yielding to the frailty of nature, he gave utterance to a scream of agony, which was distinctly heard by all of us, though far in advance of them. I galloped back as soon as possible, and saw him covered with blood, while a few paces distant stood the hunter in the act of loading his gun, with the avowed intention of taking his life. I easily persuaded him, however, to leave the Indian without further molestation, and he accordingly proceeded with me to the company, heartily ashamed of his brutal conduct. Similar instances I am happy to say, are of rare occurrence.
On the twenty-ninth, we entered a narrow passage between two formidable walls of cut rocks, called by the hunters the Chanion of White river; which rose, perhaps, from one to two hundred feet in perpendicular height, and sixty or eighty yards asunder. This narrow space is chiefly occupied by the river, winding from one side to the other, as if enraged, at being thus confined. The walls are seldom accessible, and are surmounted in some places, by singular peaks of weather-worn sand stone resembling, when beheld at a distance, domes, turrets, steeples and towers, so strikingly that a single glance is sufficient to excite in the mind of the spectator, the idea of a flourishing village, and the vicinity of a civilized country. But, alas! a nearer and more careful view, dispels the pleasing illusion, changes those spires to solitary desolation, and turns the lovely creations of imagination, to naked cliffs and sandy deserts, far, far from the inspiring presence of home, and the affectionate relations of social life.
Arrival to camp of twenty families of Eutaws - An Indian Chief - Several horses stolen from the camp, and attendant circumstances - Shaving materials, etc. found - Murder of a squaw by her husband.
On the first of November, we were joined by twenty families of Eutaw Indians, who were returning from Buffalo, having loaded their horses with dried meat. They had several stolen, whilst they were engaged in preparing their meat, for transportation, which induced them to retreat expeditiously, fearing an attack from their enemies, the Snakes. This was effected with so much rapidity, that they packed their horses unskillfully, and nearly ruined them; for, in consequence of such neglect, many of them had their backs completely skinned.
A party of Indians also came in from the southward on the fourth, and we immediately opened a brisk trade with them for furs, deer skins, etc. The principal chief is a hardy warrior, about forty years of age; evidently superior both in a mental and physical point of view, to any of his followers. His hair, which is of uncommon length, he wears coiled up in a knot on his forehead, secured by a thong; but differs from his tribe in no other particular, either of dress or ornament. The expression of his countenance is mild and thoughtful, and rather pleasing than otherwise. His keen wandering eye bespeaks intelligence, and his demeanor is dignified and impressive. He is reputed the bravest man of his nation; and has won, on the sanguinary field more trophies, than any of his warriors. He is known to the hunters by the name La Toque, which he has received from our French comrades, probably because his hair, has some resemblance to a cap. His followers do not steal, but are continually loitering about our encampment, curiously examining every thing they see, and never fail to ask for every thing they examine; hence they are even more intolerable, than some of their less honest neighbors.
On the tenth, we were alarmed early in the morning by the cry of "robbers," and immediately sallied out to collect our horses, - twenty of which belonging to the Indians were missing. We always fastened ours in camp at night, whilst the Indians frequently permitted theirs to run loose, and were consequently the sufferers. Unfortunately, one of our men had discovered maces of Indians, some distance below our encampment last night; but neglected to inform the chief, and thereby put him on his guard. The consequence of this neglect on our part, was a universal belief among the Indians that the robbers were Snakes, with whom they knew we were friendly, and that we had seen and given them the requisite information, to the accomplishment of their design. No arguments of ours could prevail against this opinion, which was based upon a circumstance that occurred last fall in the camp of Fallen and Vanderburgh. They were encamped at that time on a river thirty miles north of us, and had been accompanied by a family of Eutaw Indians, during their hunt, who intended to remain with them until spring. But on reaching that river they were joined by a party of Snakes, who watching a favorable opportunity, decoyed a young man of the Eutaw family from camp, and slew him. The whites whose interest taught them to remain friendly with both nations, refused to tend their aid to avenge the deed; and the exasperated father, with his wife, and children, left them the same night; but was pursued and overtaken by the Snakes, who massacred them all. The particulars of this murder the Eutaws heard from ourselves, but blaming the whites at large for the fault of a few, in permitting so flagrant an outrage on the rights of hospitality, to pass unpunished, they could view us in no other light, than as accomplices. Hence they doubted not, that we had formed an alliance with their enemies, to effect their destruction. Fully persuaded of this, the chief instructed the women to saddle their horses, and be ready to fly into the mountains, should his fears be confirmed; whilst himself and many of his boldest followers, set out in pursuit of the robbers. Several of our men, who wished to prove their suspicions groundless, accompanied them; but returned in the evening with some of the Indians, having continued the chase to Bear river, thirty miles to the northward; where the course taken by the robbers proved them to be Arrappahoes, with whom we were at war as well as the Eutaws. This fact immediately restored confidence between us, and our men having no other object in view, returned to camp; but twenty of the Indians still followed on.
On the seventeenth, some of the Indians returned from hunting with a razor, shaving box, two shirts, and a blanket, which they found near a small stream. They had lain exposed to the weather for months. But of their being found here, there were no marks on either of these articles, by which the mystery could be unravelled.
On the evening of the twenty-seventh, one of the Indians shot down his wife in a paroxysm of passion, for some trifling misdemeanor, and having thus satiated his demoniac rage, fled. The squaws immediately joined in a heart rending lamentation, and the men rushed out of their lodges, to avenge the deed. For some minutes the camp presented a scene of clamor and confusion, that bade fair to end still more seriously. The lodge of the murderer disappeared in a moment, his property was quickly destroyed by the enraged friends of the deceased, and his horses would have shared the same fate, had they been in the care of one less resolute than the chief, who stood beside them gun in hand, and forbade their approach on the peril of their lives. No one dared to oppose the haughty chieftain, who had set them all at defiance, and the outcry soon subsided, though had the wretch who perpetrated the deed, fallen into their hands, I am confident he would have been torn to pieces in a moment.
Conmarrowap, a noted Chief of the Py-Euts.
On the twenty-third, Conmarrowap, a celebrated Chief, with his wife, and ten warriors, came into camp. This noted personage is a Eutaw by birth, but forsook his own people and joined the Py-Euts, after he became a man, and by his prowess and bravery, acquired such an ascendency over the tribe of his adoption, as to become their principal chief. He has rendered himself as an object of terror to them, by an atrocious custom of taking their lives, for the most trivial offenses.. He is the subject of conversation every where among the Eutaws, by whom he is universally detested; all agreeing, that he deserves death, but none can be found daring enough to attempt its accomplishment. He is the only Indian in the country, who ever dared to chastise a white man, in his own camp; and had not the partisans of the hunter interfered, his soul at that time would have taken its flight to eternity; for the high spirited trapper could not brook from the haughty Chieftain, an insult, that would have awakened a spirit of vengeance in the breast of the meanest Indian, and immediately leveled his rifle at the heart of his intended victim, who, perhaps for the first time in his life, betrayed emotions of fear. However, the comrades of the justly exasperated hunter, dashed his gun aside, and prevented the execution of a deed which would certainly have been avenged by the Indians; though the poor trapper shed tears of regret for the loss of an opportunity of appeasing his wounded honor, and at the same time punishing a savage tyrant. This evil genius once fell in with a party of trappers, some of whom are now present, and bored his finger in their ears, to make them more readily comprehend him; but I doubt whether this treatment rendered their understandings more susceptible to Eut -gibberage afterward. I heard one of these Indians seriously ask a hunter, with whom he was conversing, to allow him to spit in his ear, assuring him that if he would permit it, he must inevitably understand the Eut language thence forward; but he seemed more inclined to laugh at the folly of the proposition than to submit to the mode of instruction.
Conmarrowap's wife and her companion, after leaving us last Summer, fell in with the relations of the latter, who unhesitatingly killed and devoured the horse, we had given to the former. Leaving the inhospitable relations of her companion, she proceded on, and reached her husband some days after. He had been sick during several weeks, and for some time was considered past recovery; but survived, and as soon as sufficient strength returned, set out to visit those who had robbed his wife. An altercation ensued, which resulted in the death of the man who was at the head of the family that had injured him though not until he had received a slight wound from an arrow himself. He lost all his horses last summer, when his wife was taken prisoner, yet he now had ten of the finest we have ever seen among the Indians. He says they were presented to him, by the passing traders from Toas to California; but it is much more probable that he took them by force, as he has already done to our knowledge in many instances. All the hunting parties from Toas look upon him as a terrible fellow, and submit to his insults, which they dare not resent; although I have seen one or two individuals, who have sworn to take his life, the first opportunity that occurs, when they may not endanger themselves. During our stay on this river, one of the log huts was occupied by those trappers from Toas, who joined us last fall. They brought with them from the Sources of the Eurata, the flesh of several fine deer, which was piled upon some branches, in a corner of the room. Conmarrowap's wife entered the house one day and asked for some meat; but as the men did not immediately attend to her request, she departed without any; in a few moments Conmarrowap himself hastily entered, and without speaking, applied his herculian strength to tossing the meat to and fro, until he found the best deer in the lot, which he shouldered and with it disappeared; whilst those men sat in mute astonishment, nor dared to cast a glance of dissatisfaction towards him; though he was armed with nothing but a frown, from which they shrunk back with awe, having before felt the consequences of his displeasure. There is nothing uncommon in the appearance of this Indian, save a stern and determined look; he is now slender, of a middle stature, and has a dark, keen and restless eye; but before his sickness, was quite corpulent, a rare circumstance among Indians. There is less in his dress and manners, to distinguish him from his fellows, on ordinary occasions. He appears to be about forty years of age.
A Winter Encampment
The season having become far advanced, we pitched quarters in a large grove of aspen trees, at the brink of an excellent spring that supplied us with the purest water, and resolved to pass the winter here. Our hunters made daily excursions in the mountains, by which we were half surrounded, and always returned with the flesh of several black tail deer; an animal almost as numerous as the pines and cedars among which they were found. They frequently killed seven or eight individually, in the course of a day; and consequently our encampment, or at least the trees within it, were soon decorated with several thousand pounds of venison. We passed the time by visiting, feasting, and chatting with each other, or by hunting occasionally, for exercise and amusement. Our camp presented eight leathern lodges, and two constructed of poles covered with cane grass, which grows in dense patches to the height of eight or ten feet, along the river. They were all completely sheltered from the wind by the surrounding trees. Within, the bottoms were covered with reeds, upon which our blankets and robes were spread, leaving a small place in the centre for the fire. Our baggage was placed around at the bottom of the lodge, on the inside, to exclude the cold from beneath it, and each one of the inmates had his own particular place assigned him. One who has never lived in a lodge, would scarcely think it possible for seven or eight persons to pass a long winter agreeably, in a circular room, ten feet in diameter, having a considerable portion of it occupied by the fire in the centre; but could they see us seated around the fire, cross legged like Turks, upon our beds, each one employed in cleaning guns, repairing moccasins, smoking, and lolling at ease on our elbows, without interfering with each other, they would exclaim, Indeed they are as comfortable as they could wish to be! which is the case in reality. I moved from a lodge into a comfortable log house, but again returned to the lodge, which I found much more pleasant than the other. These convenient and portable dwellings, are partially transparent, and when closed at the wings above, which answer the double purpose of windows and chimneys, still admit sufficient light, to read the smallest print without inconvenience. At night a good fire of dry aspen wood, which burns clear without smoke, affording a brilliant light, obviates the necessity of using candles. Our little village numbers twenty-two men, nine women and twenty children; and a different language is spoken in every lodge, the women being of different nations, and the children invariably learn their mothers tongue before any other. There were ten distinct dialects spoken in our camp, each of which was the native idiom of one or more of us, though French was the language predominant among the men, and Flatthead among the women; yet there were both males and females, who understood neither. One would imagine that where such a multiplicity of tongues are spoken, a confusion, little short of that of Babel, would naturally ensue. However, it is not the case. Men who find it difficult to convey their ideas to each other, through ignorance of their opposing dialect, readily make themselves understood by avoiding difficult or abstract expressions, and accompanying their simple speech with explanatory gestures.
An attempt to pass through a frightful chasm - Battle offered
to a grizzly bear -
Profound cogitations of a grey wolf
On the thirtieth of March, we entered the chanion of a deep creek, and attempted to pass through one of the most frightful chasms, perhaps, in existence. On either side of the narrow space at the bottom, which was thirty paces in width, huge perpendicular walls arose, to the apparent height of a thousand feet, and were surmounted by large pines, which appeared but as twigs from the abyss beneath. We had not penetrated far beyond the entrance to this murky cave, whose gloomy vaults have probably never been explored by mortal footsteps; and whose recesses are veiled in a shroud of everlasting night, when we found it impossible to proceed further with our horses, in consequence of innumerable obstacles by which the passage was obstructed. Dismounting, I forced my way some distance over banks of snow, that entirely bridged the stream - huge fragments of immense rocks, which had been precipitated from the summit of the walls, and crumbled to pieces on the stony pavement below - lofty pines that had been torn up by descending avalanches, which accumulate on the steep side of the mountain, until even the gigantic trees can no longer sustain the superincumbent pressure of the mighty mass, that gliding down resistlessly sweeps all before it, over the eternal cliffs, and thundering thence with accelerated fury, mingles in one chaotic heap of shapeless ruins below. - Deterred from advancing further by the sublime terror of the surrounding scene, and the absolute impossibility of accomplishing my design, I stood for a few moments in mute astonishment and wonder - profusely showered by the ever-dropping spray from elevated regions of perpetual snow - beside a stream, whose foaming current has for ages dashed impetuously along its rock- bound channel - gazing in awe upon the dangers that had already stripped of branches a few lonely monarchs of the soil, that towered in solitary grandeur here and there, and seemed to mourn the dismal desolation scattered around and still threatened destruction. Turning my eyes aloft, the view was menacing indeed. Overhanging trees and rocks, and banks of snow, were poising on the verge of this dire descent, and on the very point of tumbling off: perhaps Imagination or dismay made them appear to tremble, but so they did. Shivering with dread, I turned from a place, so pregnant with dangers, and hastening forward, heard, as I returned, the deafening sound of timber, stones and snow, hurled down the giddy heights from crag to crag, into the gulph below. Rejoining my companions who had heard appalled those tremendous concussions, we gladly abandoned a spot so dreary, and proceeding to the plain halted on a portion of the prairie, that was covered with dry sticks; having been the camping ground of a party of Indians, a year or two since.
On the 14th April, having placed a rag at the extremity of a stick, planted in the ground near camp, to prevent the wolves from rifling it, we all set out to combat a grizzly bear that had buried the carcass of an animal, some distance up, near the margin of the river, and had put Blackface to flight last evening whilst heedlessly approaching his prey. We reached the spot after riding four miles, and opening a little mound of fresh earth, discovered and disinterred the entire carcass of a large elk, recently killed. We remained some time awaiting the appearance of the bear, but our numbers probably deterred him from leaving the thicket in which we supposed he was concealed, being but a few paces from his charge, and from which his traces led to and fro. However, we returned disappointed to camp, where every thing remained as we had left it, though a large grey wolf sat upon his haunches a short distance off, having evidently (as an Indian would express it) two hearts, for and against, helping himself to some of the fresh elk meat that lay exposed to view with perhaps for him the same attractions, that a roast pig would have had for one of us. His cogitations on the propriety or expediency of charging up to the luscious store, and committing larceny, in open defiance of the fearful banner waving over it, being interrupted by our approach, his thoughts immediately turned into a new channel, and he came at once to the sage conclusion, with wonderful alacrity and sagacity, that -
A party of hostile Indians out-generalled, etc.
About two hours before sunset, we observed a large party of Indians running about a mile in advance of us, evidently seeking a situation favorable to entrap us, by an ambush. They were scarcely perceptible, owing to the vapors rising from the damp plain; and as they had taken a position near which we must inevitably have passed, it was a lucky chance, or providence, that saved our lives by enabling us to anticipate their design. We halted apparently as if we had not discovered them, at a large cluster of willows, on a small stream flowing into Bear river: we turned out our horses to feed, made a rousing fire, cooked and eat a hearty supper, and scattered our baggage carelessly about, to give our camp an unconcerned appearance, though every eye was bent on some point, ravine, or hill, watching the appearance of the enemy. - As soon as it became dark, we caught our horses, packed up, and moved off, with as little noise as possible. We discovered the Indians at the distance of a mile, east of us in a deep ravine, around a small fire, busily dodging about, evidently making preparations to steal our horses and attack us. We smiled to think of their disappointment, when they should find themselves outwitted, and that their expected prey had slipped through their fingers; and congratulated ourselves on the complete success of our stratagem. We laughed in our sleeves as we passed them, and chuckled with glee, as soon as we were out of danger, at the blank countenances they would exhibit at daylight, when they would find that we were really gone. The night was dark, and we pursued our way some time after midnight, guided by the polar star, from which, and a few other dim ones, what light there was, came twinkling down. We halted a short time, but daylight found us again moving, on the morning subsequent, on the highest part of the plain between Bear and Snake rivers; from which we discovered a large smoke near the latter stream, and supposing it to proceed from the camp of Vanderburgh, we continued on until we found ourselves in a Snake village. These Indians do not often kill whites in their own camps, though they have done so, in instances where they thought they would never be exposed. A man was at this time in one of our parties, who was wounded by and escaped from them. - As they are esteemed the most treacherous, cunning and vindictive Indians in the mountains, we did not feel ourselves safe with them, and continued our progress, satisfied that the party we saw last night belonged to this village. After enquiring where Vanderburgh's camp was situated, they denied having any knowledge of whites on this steam, but persisted in asserting that a company was yet on Bear river. We contradicted their statement, and pointed to the ground where the trail of Vanderburgh's party passed along near their village. They affected surprise, and declared that they had not before perceived it; though the lying, cunning rascals always examine every part they visit, and observe the most minute appearances, wherever they go. We followed the trail to Snake river, a few miles eastward, over several ranges of hills, but the country where he had promised to remain was covered with buffalos, and we concluded that he had gone to Green river; still we continued to follow the trace, passed through the timbered bottom, and reached the margin of the river at the ford, where we halted to await the arrival of one of our men, who had been allowed to go below, and ascertain if the company had left this river.
Shortly after we halted, about twenty Indians came rushing towards us, and yelling like so many devils. We seized our guns and sprang behind the trunk of a large fallen cottonwood tree; not doubting that the villains would attempt our lives. However the principal warrior, who was the ugliest looking man among them, dismounted, and made signs to us to come and smoke. We did so, and he enquired who were the two Indians with us; we made him understand that they were Delawares, because the Shawnees had fought and killed a party of several Snakes last summer, which they well knew; and to have acknowledged them Shawnees would have exposed them and ourselves to instant death; for they would have been butchered on the spot, and we were sworn to protect each other. We made them a small present, and they departed peaceably.
Shortly after they had left us, a hunter arrived from camp, which was situated only four or five miles below on the opposite side of the river, and we immediately packed up and forded the stream without accident, tho' the water was so deep as to come quite over the backs of our smallest horses; and went to camp, which we found situated in a fine timbered bottom, on the margin of the river. Nothing remarkable had occurred during my absence, and the trappers had all returned, except Williams and his companions.
Number of Hunters in the Mountains, etc. - Decrease of game - Blighting effects of ardent spirits upon the Indians.
There are about three hundred men, who compose the roving, hunting parties in these regions, excluding those, who remain principally at the several forts or trading posts, on the east and west sides of the mountains. One half or more of this number, are employed as "camp keepers," who perform all duties required in camp, such as cooking, dressing beaver, making leather thongs, packing, unpacking, and guarding horses, etc., and remaining constantly in camp, are ever ready to defend it from the attacks of Indians.
These men are usually hired by the company, and more or less of them accompany every party of trappers, in their excursions, or "hunts," for beaver. The trappers on the contrary, are most of the time absent from camp in quest of game, or castor.
They are divided into two classes; those engaged to the companies, to hunt for stipulated salaries; and those called "Freemen," who have horses and traps of their own, who rove at pleasure, where they please, and dispose of their furs to whom they please. They are never unhappy when they have plenty to eat. They collect skins to exchange for necessaries with the traders; their wants are few, and seldom extend beyond the possession of a few horses, traps, and a rifle, and some other little "fixens;" the attainment of these simple desires, generally constituting the height of a hunter's ambition. There are however a few individuals, who yearly lay by a small sum, from the profits of their profession, for the purpose of purchasing land, and securing to themselves a home hereafter, in some of the western states, at which they may peacefully repose in their declining years. But these instances of prudent forethought are extremely rare; and the purchase of grog and tobacco, and the practice of gaming, more frequently disperse their surplus funds, with a facility far greater than that in which they were obtained.
Many of these mountaineers have taken squaws for their wives, by whom they have children. These females are usually dressed in broad cloths, either green, scarlet, or blue. Their frocks are commonly of the latter color entirely, or a combination of the other two; the waist and sleeves being composed of one, and the skirt of the other; and these dresses appear very becoming. On their heads they wear nothing but handkerchiefs, and their feet are enveloped in moccasins.
The clothing of the hunters themselves, is generally made of prepared skins, though most of them wear blanket "capotes," (overcoats,) and calico shirts. Some of them however, make coats of their buffalo robes, which are very warm and comfortable in cold weather, but become rigid and useless, if they are exposed to rains, or otherwise get wet. Moccasins are worn universally by all the whites and Indians. One half of these men are Canadians, and Half-breeds, who speak French, and some both French and English; the remainder are principally Americans, from every part of the United States. There are, however, a few foreigners, from various portions of Europe; and some Mexican Spaniards, from the Rio Del Norte; but these latter are darker, and more ill-favored than any of the mountain Indians. They are declared, by the hunters, to be an amalgamation of Indian and Negro blood, an opinion that would be pronounced by any one, unacquainted with their claim to Spanish European origin in part.
Some few of the old mountaineers annually leave the country, and their places are occupied by the less experienced "new comers," consequently the number of whites in the mountains, remains about the same.
Beaver and other kinds of game become every year more rare; and both the hunters and Indians will ultimately be compelled to herd cattle, or cultivate the earth for a livelihood; or in default of these starve. Indeed the latter deserve the ruin that threatens their offspring, for their inexcusable conduct, in sacrificing the millions of buffalo which they kill in sport, or for their skins only. The robes they obtain in the latter case, are most frequently exchanged for WHISKEY, with the traders at their establishments on the Missouri, Arkansas, and Platte rivers. - The curse of liquor has not yet visited the Indians in the mountains; but has found its way to almost all those who inhabit the plains; whose faculties are benumbed, whose energies are paralyzed, and who are rapidly sinking into insignificance and oblivion, by the living death, which their unhappy predilection for "strong water," has entailed upon them. They were gay and light hearted, but they are now moody and melancholy; they were candid and confiding, they are now jealous and sullen; they were athletic and active, they are now impotent and inert; they were just though implacable, they are now malignant and vindictive; they were honorable and dignified, they are now mean and abased; integrity and fidelity were their characteristics, now they are both dishonest and unfaithful; they were brave and courteous, they now are cowardly and abusive. They are melting away before the curse of the white man's friendship, and will soon only be known as, "The nations" that have been.
It is a prevailing opinion among the most observing and intelligent hunters, that ten years from this period, a herd of buffalo will be a rare sight, even in the vast plain between the Rocky Mountains, and the Mississippi. Though yet numerous, they have greatly decreased within the last few years. The fact is alarming and has not escaped the notice of some shrewd Indians, who however believe the evil to be unavoidable.
Return home - Conclusion.
On the ninth of October we reached Belle Vue, a few miles above the mouth of the Platte river, on our return home. Here we remained eight days, in consequence of heavy rains; and in the meantime the company, consisting of about eighty men, dissolved; and each person sought such a conveyance as best suited him, to the state of Missouri. Some shipped on the Mackinaw trading boats from the upper Missouri; some made or purchased canoes, in which they embarked down the river; and others set out on foot to the completion of their journey. A small party, including myself, proceeded on horseback; leaving Belle Vue on the seventeenth. We had a cold, wet journey over a rich rolling prairie country, intersected by small streams bordered with timber, to cantonment Leavensworth, at which we arrived on the twenty-eighth. We remained here, to rest our horses and repose ourselves, two days; and on the thirty-first, after witnessing a review of the United States Dragoons here, commanded by Col. Dodge, we continued our journey. Our route lay over the same open undulating country, variagated with timbered streams; on which we observed, that as we advanced, the wooded bottoms through which they flow, increased in breadth and luxuriance.
On the twelfth of November we reached Boonville, in the state of Missouri, having been in daily view of those splendid spectacles, burning prairies, since we left the Pawnee loups. At this place I disposed of my horse, and took passage on a steamboat to St. Louis, which I reached on the fifteenth, after an absence of nearly six years.
Those who have done me the honor to peruse my journal have obtained a fair idea of the character of this eventful period of my life, and of the character of the lives of trappers in the Rocky Mountains in general. Roaming over those dark regions of solitude, constantly exposed to danger from wild animals and ravages; frequently obliged to endure the most severe and protracted privation and fatigue; separated by many hundred weary miles from the abodes of civilization and refinement; conscious that even the fond filaments of love and consanguinity, which wind in delicate fibres around the heart, were becoming attenuated by distance, time, and novelty; feeling that my habits and manners were gradually giving way to the innovation of savage and unsocial custom, and my very speech and person were yielding slowly, but not less surely, before the uncouth barbarisms of language, and the exposures and severity of an ever-changing climate - it will not seem strange that I sometimes repined at my long absence from the scenes of my nativity, and reviewed with regret the inducements that forced me from friends and home. But these, however, were not always my feelings; - resolute, cheerful, contented, I usually was. And when the weather was warm and pleasant; the demands of nature satisfied, a reliance on the good qualities of my arms and ammunition, not misplaced; the confidence of bestriding and governing a truly noble steed, in the spirit of stirring excitement of the chase, gloriously bounding over the plains, in the panoply of speed and power, before which the swiftest and mightiest denizens of the forest and prairie must yield themselves victims; then - then I was really, rationally happy. Many times have I experienced the sensations, generated by either condition; but these scenes have now passed away, their delights and perils no longer thrill nor alarm, and I bid them farewell forever.