It was the custom of a camp on the move to depend chiefly on the men employed as
hunters to supply them with game, the sole support of the mountaineers. When this
failed, the stock on hand was soon exhausted, and the men reduced to famine. This
was what happened to Sublette's company in the country where they now found
themselves, between the Owyhee and Humboldt Rivers. Owing to the arid and barren
nature of these plains, the largest game to be found was the beaver, whose flesh
proved to be poisonous, from the creature having eaten of the wild parsnip in the
absence of its favorite food. The men were made ill by eating of beaver flesh, and the
horses were greatly reduced from the scarcity of grass and the entire absence of the
In this plight Sublette found himself, and finally resolved to turn north, in the hope of
coming upon some better and more hospitable country. The sufferings of the men now
became terrible, both from hunger and thirst. In the effort to appease the former,
everything was eaten that could be eaten, and many things at which the well-fed man
would sicken with disgust. "I have," says Joe Meek, " held my hands in an ant-hill until
they were covered with the ants, then greedily licked them off. I have taken the soles off
my moccasins, crisped them in the fire, and eaten them. In our extremity, the large
black crickets which are found in this country were considered game. We used to take
a kettle of hot water, catch the crickets and throw them in, and when they stopped
kicking, eat them. That was not what we called cant tickup ko hanch, (good meat, my
friend), but it kept us alive."
Equally abhorrent expedients were resorted to in order to quench thirst, some of which
would not bear mention. In this condition, and exposed to the burning suns and the dry
air of the desert, the men now so nearly exhausted began to prey upon their almost
equally exhausted animals. At night when they made their camp, by mutual consent a
mule was bled, and a soup made from its blood. About a pint was usually taken, when
two or three would mess together upon this reviving, but scanty and not very palatable
dish. But this mode of subsistence could not be long depended on, as the poor mules
could ill afford to lose blood in their famishing state; nor could the men afford to lose
their mules where there was a chance of life: therefore hungry as they were, the men
were cautious in this matter; and it generally caused a quarrel when a man's mule was
selected for bleeding by the others.
A few times a mule had been sacrificed to obtain meat; and in this case the poorest one was always selected, so as to economise the chances for life for the whole band. In this extremity, after four days of almost total abstinence and several weeks of famine, the company reached the Snake River, about fifty miles above the fishing falls, where it boils and dashes over the rocks, forming very strong rapids. Here the company camped, rejoiced at the sight of the pure mountain water, but still in want of food. During the march a horse's back had become sore from some cause; probably, his rider thought, because the saddle did not set well; and, although that particular animal was selected to be sacrificed on the morrow, as one that could best be spared, he set about taking the stuffing out of his saddle and re-arranging the padding. While engaged in this considerate labor, he uttered a cry of delight and held up to view a large brass pin, which had accidentally got into the stuffing, when the saddle was made, and had been the cause of all the mischief to his horse.
The same thought struck all who saw the pin: it was soon converted into a fish-hook, a
line was spun from horsehair, and in a short time there were trout enough caught to
furnish them a hearty and a most delicious repast. "In the morning," says Meek, " we
went on our way rejoicing ;" each man with the "five fishes " tied to his saddle, if without
any " loaves." This was the end of their severest suffering, as they had now reached a
country where absolute starvation was not the normal condition of the inhabitants; and
which was growing more and more bountiful, as they neared the Rocky Mountains,
where they at length joined camp, not having made a very profitable expedition.
It may seem incredible to the reader that any country so poor as that in which our
trappers starved could have native inhabitants. Yet such was the fact; and the people
who lived in and who still inhabit this barren waste, were called Diggers, from their
mode of obtaining their food--a few edible roots growing in low grounds, or marshy
places. When these fail them they subsist as did our trappers, by hunting crickets and
Nothing can be more abject than the appearance of the Digger Indian, in the fall, as he roams about, without food and without weapons, save perhaps a bow and arrows, with his eyes fixed upon the ground, looking for crickets! So despicable is he, that he has neither enemies nor friends; and the neighboring tribes do not condescend to notice his existence, unless indeed he should come in their way, when they would not think it more than a mirthful act to put an end to his miserable existence. And so it must be confessed the trappers regarded him. When Sublette's party first struck the Humboldt, Wyeth's being still with them, Joe Meek one day shot a Digger who was prowling about a stream where his traps were set.
" Why did you shoot him ? " asked Wyeth.
" To keep him from stealing traps."
" Had he stolen any ? "
" No: but he looked as if he was going to ! "
This recklessness of life very properly distressed the just minded New Englander. Yet it
was hard for the trappers to draw lines of distinction so nice as his. If a tribe was not
known to be friendly, it was a rule of necessity to consider it unfriendly. The abjectness
and cowardice of the Diggers was the fruit of their own helpless condition. That they
had the savage instinct, held in check only by circumstances, was demonstrated about
the same time that Meek shot one, by his being pursued by four of them when out
trapping alone, and only escaping at last by the assistance of one of his comrades who
came to the rescue. They could not fight, like the Crows and Blackfeet, but they could
steal and murder, when they had a safe opportunity.
It would be an interesting study, no doubt, to the philanthropist, to ascertain in how
great a degree the habits, manners, and morals of a people are governed by their
resources, especially by the quality and quantity of their diet. But when diet and climate
are both take into consideration, the result is striking.
The character of the Blackfeet who inhabited the good hunting grounds on the eastern
side of the Rocky Mountains, is already pretty well given. They were tall sinewy, well-made
fellows; good horsemen, and good fighters, though inclined to marauding and
murdering. They dressed comfortably and even handsomely, as dress goes amongst
savages, and altogether were more to be feared than despised.
The Crows resembled the Blackfeet, whose enemies they were, in all the before-mentioned
traits, but were if possible, even more predatory in their habits. Unlike the
Blackfeet, however, they were not the enemies of all mankind; and even were disposed
to cultivate some friendliness with the white traders and trappers, in order, as they
acknowledged, to strengthen their own hands against the Blackfeet. They too inhabited
a good country, full of game, and had horses in abundance. These were the mountain
Comparing these with the coast tribes, there was a striking difference. The natives of
the Columbia were not a tall and robust people, like those east of the Rocky Mountains,
who lived by hunting. Their height rarely exceeded five feet six inches; their forms were
good, rather inclining to fatness, their faces round, features coarse, but complexion
light, and their eyes large and intelligent. The custom of flattening their heads in
infancy gave them a grotesque and unnatural appearance, otherwise they could not be
called ill-looking. On the first advent of white men among them, they were accustomed
to go entirely naked, except in winter, when a panther skin, or a mantle of other skins
sewed together, served to protect them from the cold: or if the weather was rainy, as it
generally was in that milder climate, a long mantle of rush mats, like the toga of the
ancient Romans, took the place of that made of skins. To this was added a conical hat
woven of fibrous roots, and gaily painted.
For defensive armor they were provided with a tunic of elk skin double, descending to
the ankles, with holes in it for the arms, and quite impenetrable to arrows. A helmet of
similar material covered the head, rendering them like Achilles, invulnerable except in
the heels. In this secure dress they went to battle in their canoes, notice being first
given to the enemy of the intended attack. Their battles might therefore be termed
compound duels, in which each party observed great punctiliousness and decorum.
Painted and armor-encased, the warriors in two flotillas of canoes were rowed to the
battle ground by their women, when the battle raged furiously for some time; not,
however, doing any great harm to either side. If any one chanced to be killed, that side
considered itself beaten, and retired from the conflict to mourn over and bury the
estimable and departed brave. If the case was a stubborn one, requiring several days
fighting, the opponents encamped near each other, keeping up a confusion of cries,
taunts, menaces, and raillery, during the whole night; after which they resumed the
conflict, and continued it until one was beaten. If a village was to be attacked, notice
being received, the women and children were removed; and if the village was beaten
they made presents to their conquerors. Such were the decorous habits of the warriors
of the lower Columbia.
These were the people who lived almost exclusively by fishing, and whose climate was
a mild and moist one. Fishing, in which both sexes engaged about equally, was an
important accomplishment, since it was by fish they lived in this world; and by being
good fishermen that they had hopes of the next one.
The houses in which they lived, instead of being lodges made of buffalo skins, were of
a large size and very well constructed, being made out of cedar planks. An excavation
was first made in the earth two or three feet deep, probably to secure greater warmth in
winter. A double row of cedar posts was then planted firmly all round the excavation,
and between these the planks were laid, or, sometimes cedar bark, so overlapped as to
exclude the rain and wind. The ridge-pole of the roof was supported on a row of taller
posts, passing through the centre of the building, and notched to receive it. The rafters
were then covered with planks or bark, fastened down with ropes made of the fibre of
the cedar bark. A house made in this manner, and often a hundred feet long by thirty or
forty wide, accommodated several families, who each had their separate entrance and
fireplace; the entrance being by a low oval-shaped door, and a flight of steps.
The canoes of these people were each cut out of a single log of cedar; and were often
thirty feet long and five wide at midships. They were gaily painted, and their shape was
handsome, with a very long bow so constructed as to cut the surf in landing with the
greatest ease, or the more readily to go through a rough sea. The oars were about five
feet long, and bent in the shape of a crescent; which shape enabled them to draw them
edgewise through the water with little or no noise--this noiselessness being an
important quality in hunting the sea otter, which is always caught sleeping on the rocks.
The single instrument which sufficed to build canoes and houses was the chisel;
generally being a piece of old iron obtained from some vessel and fixed in a wooden
handle. A stone mallet aided them in using the chisel; and with this simple "kit" of tools
they contrived to manufacture plates, bowls, carved oars, and many ornamental things.
Like the men of all savage nations, they made slaves of their captives, and their
women. The dress of the latter consisted merely of a short petticoat, manufactured from
the fibre of the cedar bark, previously soaked and prepared. This material was worked
into a fringe, attached to a girdle, and only long enough to reach the middle of the
thigh. When the season required it, they added a mantle of skins. Their bodies were
anointed with fish-oil, and sometimes painted with red ochre in imitation of the men. For
ornaments they wore strings of glass beads and also of a white shell found on the
northern coast, called haiqua. Such were the Chinooks, who lived upon the coast.
Farther up the river, on the eastern side of the Cascade range of mountains, a people
lived, the same, yet different from the Chinooks. They resembled them in form,
features, and manner of getting a living. But they were more warlike and more
enterprising: they even had some notions of commerce, being traders between the
coast Indians and those to the east of them. They too were great fishermen, but used
the net instead of fishing in boats. Great scaffoldings were erected every year at the
narrows of the Columbia, known as the Dalles, where, as the salmon passed up the
river in the spring, in incredible numbers, they were caught and dried. After drying, the
fish were then pounded fine between two stones, pressed tightly into packages or bales
of about a hundred pounds, covered with matting, and corded up for transportation.
The bales were then placed in storehouses built to receive them, where they awaited
By and by there came from the coast other Indians, with different varieties of fish, to exchange for the salmon in the Wish-ram warehouses. And by and by there came from the plains to the eastward, others who had horses, camas-root, bear-grass, fur robes, and whatever constituted the wealth of the mountains and plains, to exchange for the rich and nutritious salmon of the Columbia. These Wish-ram Indians were sharp traders, and usually made something by their exchanges; so that they grew rich and insolent, and it was dangerous for the unwary stranger to pass their way. Of all the tribes of the Columbia, they perpetrated the most outrages upon their neighbors, the passing traveler, and the stranger within their gates.
Still farther to the east, on the great grassy plains, watered by beautiful streams,
coming down from the mountains, lived the Cayuses, Yakimas, Nez Perces,
WallahWallahs, and Flatheads; as different in their appearance and habits as their
different modes of living would naturally make them. Instead of having many canoes,
they had many horses; and in place of drawing the fishing net, or trolling lazily along
with hook and line, or spearing fish from a canoe, they rode pell-mell to the chase, or
sallied out to battle with the hostile Blackfeet, whose country lay between them and the
good hunting-grounds, where the great herds of buffalo were. Being Nimrods by nature,
they were dressed in complete suits of skins, instead of going naked, like their brethren
in the lower country. Being wandering and pastoral in their habits, they lived in lodges,
which could be planted every night and raised every morning.
Their women, too, were good riders, and comfortably clad in dressed skins, kept white with chalk. So wealthy were some of the chiefs that they could count their fifteen hundred head of horses grazing on their grassy uplands. Horse-racing was their delight, and betting on them their besetting vice. For bridles they used horse-hair cords,
attached around the animal's mouth. This was sufficient to check him, and by laying a
hand on this side or that of the horse's neck, the rider could wheel him in either
direction. The simple and easy-fitting saddle was a stuffed deer-skin, with stirrups of
wood, resembling in shape those used by the Mexicans, and covered with deer-skin
sewed on wet, so as to tighten in drying. The saddles of the women were furnished with
a pair of deer's antlers for the pommel.
In many things their customs and accoutrements resembled those of the Mexicans,
from whom, no doubt, they were borrowed. Like the Mexican, they threw the lasso to
catch the wild horse. Their horses, too, were of Mexican stock, and many of them bore
the brand of that country, having been obtained in some of their not infrequent journeys
into California and New Mexico.
As all the wild horses of America are said to have sprung from a small band, turned loose upon the plains by Cortez, it would be interesting to know at what time they came to be used by the northern Indians, or whether the horse and the Indian did not emigrate together. If the horse came to the Indian, great must have been the change effected by the advent of this new element in the savage's life. It is impossible to conceive, however, that the Indian ever' could have lived on these immense plains, barren of everything but wild grass, without his horse. With him he does well enough, for he not only "lives on horseback," by which means he can quickly reach a country abounding in game, but he literally lives on horse-flesh, when other game is scarce.
Curious as the fact may seem, the Indians at the mouth of the Columbia and those of
New Mexico speak languages similar in construction to that of the Aztecs; and from this
fact, and the others before mentioned, it may be very fairly inferred that difference of
circumstances and localities have made of the different tribes what they are.
As to the Indian's moral nature, that is pretty much alike everywhere; and with some
rare exceptions, the rarest of which is, perhaps, the Flathead and Nez Perces nations,
all are cruel, thieving, and treacherous. The Indian gospel is literally the "gospel of
blood"; an "eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." Vengeance is as much a
commandment to him as any part of the decalogue is to the Christian. But we have
digressed far from our narrative; and as it will be necessary to refer to the subject of the
moral code of savages further on in our narrative, we leave it for the present.
After the incident of the pin and the fishes, Sublette's party kept on to the north,
coursing along up Payette's River to Payette Lake, where he camped, and the men
went out trapping. A party of four, consisting of Meek, Antoine Godin, Louis Leaugar,
and Small, proceeded to the north as far as the Salmon river and beyond, to the head
of one of its tributaries, where the present city of Florence is located. While camped in
this region, three of the men went out one day to look for their horses, which had
strayed away, or been stolen by the Indians. During their absence, Meek, who
remained in camp, had killed a fine fat deer, and was cooking a portion of it, when he
saw a band of about a hundred Indians approaching, and so near were they that flight
was almost certainly useless; yet as a hundred against one was very great odds, and
running away from them would not increase their number, while it gave him something
to do in his own defence, he took to his heels and ran as only a mountain-man can run.
Instead, however, of pursuing him, the practical-minded braves set about finishing his
cooking for him, and soon had the whole deer roasting before the fire.
This procedure provoked the gastronomic ire of our trapper, and after watching them
for some time from his hiding-place, he determined to return and share the feast. On
reaching camp again, and introducing himself to his not over-scrupulous visitors, he
found they were from the Nez Perces tribe inhabiting that region, who, having been so
rude as to devour his stock of provisions, invited him to accompany them to their
village, not a great way off, where they would make some return for his involuntary
hospitality. This he did, and there found his three comrades and all their horses. While
still visiting at the Nez Perces village, they were joined by the remaining portion of
Sublette's command, when the whole company started south again. Passing Payette's
lake to the east, traversing the Boise Basin, going to the head-waters of that river,
thence to the Malade, thence to Godin's river, and finally to the forks of the Salmon,
where they found the main camp. Captain Bonneville, of whose three years wanderings
in the wilderness Mr. Irving has given a full aud interesting account, was encamped in
the same neighborhood, and had built there a small fort or trading-house, and finally
wintered in the neighborhood.
An exchange of men now took place, and Meek went east of the mountains under
Fitzpatrick and Bridger. When these famous leaders had first set out for the summer
hunt, after the battle of Pierre's Hole, their course had been to the head-waters of the
Missouri, to the Yellowstone lake, and the forks of the Missouri, some of the best
beaver grounds known to them. But finding their steps dogged by the American Fur
Company, and not wishing to be made use of as pilots by their rivals, they had flitted
about for a time like an Arab camp, in the endeavor to blind them, and finally returned
to the west side of the mountains, where Meek fell in with them.
Exasperated by the perseverance of the American Company, they had come to the
determination of leading them a march which should tire them of the practice of keeping
at their heels. They therefore planned an expedition, from which they expected no other
profit than that of shaking off their rivals. Taking no pains to conceal their expedition,
they rather held out the bait to the American Company, who, unsuspicious of their
purpose, took it readily enough. They led them along across the mountains, and on to
the head-waters of the Missouri. Here, packing up their traps, they tarried not for
beaver, nor even tried to avoid the Blackfeet, but pushed right ahead, into the very
heart of their country, keeping away from any part of it where beaver might be found,
and going away on beyond, to the elevated plains, quite destitute of that small but
desirable game, but followed through it by their rivals.
However justifiable on the part of trade this movement of the Rocky Mountain Company
might have been, it was a cruel device as concerned the inexperienced leaders of the
other company, one of whom lost his life in consequence. Not knowing of their danger,
they only discovered their situation in the midst of Blackfeet, after discovering the ruse
that had been played upon them. They then halted, and being determined to find
beaver, divided their forces and set out in opposite directions for that purpose.
Unhappily, Major Vanderburg took the worst possible direction for a small party to take,
and had not traveled far when his scouts came upon the still smoking camp-fires of a
band of Indians who were returning from a buffalo hunt. From the "signs" left behind
them, the scout judged that they had become aware of the near neighborhood of white
men, and from their having stolen off, he judged that they were only gone for others of
their nation, or to prepare for war.
But Vanderburg, with the fool-hardiness of one not "up to Blackfeet," determined to
ascertain for himself what there was to fear; and taking with him half a score of his
followers, put himself upon their trail, galloping hard after them, until, in his rashness,
he found himself being led through a dark and deep defile, rendered darker and
gloomier by overhanging trees. In the midst of this dismal place, just where an ambush
might have been expected, he was attacked by a horde of savages, who rushed upon
his little party with whoops and frantic gestures, intended not only to appal the riders,
but to frighten their horses, and thus make surer their bloody butchery. It was but the
work of a few minutes to consummate their demoniac purpose. Vanderburg's horse was
shot down at once, falling on his rider, whom the Indians quickly dispatched. One or
two of the men were instantly tomahawked, and the others wounded while making their
escape to camp. The remainder of Vanderburg's company, on learning the fate of their
leader, whose place there was no one to fill, immediately raised camp and fled with all
haste to the encampment of the Pends Oreille Indians for assistance. Here they waited,
while those Indians, a friendly tribe, made an effort to recover the body of their
unfortunate leader; but the remains were never recovered probably having first been
fiendishly mutilated, and then left to the wolves.
Fitzpatrick and Bridger, finding they were no longer pursued by their rivals, as the season advanced began to retrace their steps toward the good trapping grounds. Being used to Indian wiles and Blackfeet maraudings and ambushes, they traveled in close columns, and never camped or turned out their horses to feed, without the greatest caution. Morning and evening scouts were sent out to beat up every thicket or ravine that seemed to offer concealment to a foe, and the horizon was searched
in every direction for signs of an Indian attack. The complete safety of the camp being
settled almost beyond a peradventure, the horses were turned loose, though never left
It was not likely, however, that the camp should pass through the Blackfoot country
without any encounters with that nation. When it had reached the head-waters of the
Missouri, on the return march, a party of trappers, including Meek, discovered a small
band of Indians in a bend of the lake, and thinking the opportunity for sport a good one,
commenced firing on them. The Indians, who were without guns, took to the lake for
refuge, while the trappers entertained themselves with the rare amusement of keeping
them in the water, by shooting at them occasionally. But it chanced that these were
only a few stragglers from the main Blackfoot camp, which soon came up and put an
end to the sport by putting the trappers to flight in their turn. The trappers fled to camp,
the Indians pursuing, until the latter discovered that they had been led almost into the
large camp of the whites. This occasioned a halt, the Blackfeet not caring to engage
with superior numbers.
In the pause which ensued, one of the chiefs came out into the open space, bearing the
peace pipe, and Bridger also advanced to meet him, but carrying his gun across the
pommel of his saddle. He was accompanied by a young Blackfoot woman, wife of a
Mexican in his service, as interpreter. The chief extended his hand in token of amity;
but at that moment Bridger saw a movement of the chiefs, which he took to mean
treachery, and cocked his rifle. But the lock had no sooner clicked than the chief, a
large and powerful man, seized the gun and turned the muzzle downward, when the
contents were discharged into the earth. With another dexterous movement he wrested
it from Bridger's hand, and struck him with it, felling him to the ground. In an instant all
was confusion. The noise of whoops, yells, of fire-arms, and of running hither and
thither, gathered like a tempest. At the first burst of this demoniac blast, the horse of
the interpreter became frightened, and by a sudden movement, unhorsed her, wheeling
and running back to camp. In the melee which now ensued, the woman was carried off
by tile Blackfeet, and Bridger was wounded twice in the back with arrows. A chance
medley fight now ensued, continuing until night put a period to the contest. So well
matched were the opposing forces, that each fought with caution firing from the cover
of thickets and from behind rocks, neither side doing much execution. The loss on the
part of the Blackfeet was nine warriors, and on that of the whites, three men and six
As for the young Blackfoot woman, whose people retained her a prisoner, her
lamentations and struggles to escape and return to her husband and child so wrought
upon the young Mexican, who was the pained witness of her grief, that he took the
babe in his arms, and galloped with it into the heart of the Blackfoot camp, to place it in
the arms of the distracted mother. This daring act, which all who witnessed believed
would cause his death, so excited the admiration of the Blackfoot chief, that he gave
him permission to return, unharmed, to his own camp. Encouraged by this clemency,
Loretta begged to have his wife restored to him, relating how he had rescued her, a
prisoner, from the Crows, who would certainly have tortured her to death. The wife
added her entreaties to his, but the chief sternly bade him depart, and as sternly
reminded the Blackfoot girl that she belonged to his tribe, and could not go with his
enemies. Loretta was therefore compelled to abandon his wife and child, and return to
camp. It is, however, gratifying to know that so true an instance of affection in savage
life was finally rewarded; and that when the two rival fur companies united, as they did
in the following year, Loretta was permitted to go to the American Company's fort on
the Missouri, in the Blackfoot country, where he was employed as interpreter, assisted
by his Blackfoot wife.
Such were some of the incidents that signalized this campaign in the wilderness, where
two equally persistent rivals were trying to outwit one another. Subsequently, when
several years of rivalry had somewhat exhausted both, the Rocky Mountain and
American companies consolidated, using all their strategy thereafter against the
Hudson's Bay Company, and any new rival that chanced to enter their hunting grounds.
After the fight above described, the Blackfeet drew off in the night, showing no
disposition to try their skill next day against such experienced Indian fighters as
Bridger's brigade had shown themselves. The company continued in the Missouri
country, trapping and taking many beaver, until it reached the Beaver Head Valley, on
the headwaters of the Jefferson fork of the Missouri. Here the lateness of the season
compelled a return to winter-quarters, and by Christmas all the wanderers were
gathered into camp at the forks of the Snake River.
1833. In the latter part of January it became necessary to move to the junction of the
Portneuf to subsist the animals. The main body of the camp had gone on in advance,
while some few, with pack horses, or women with children, were scattered along the
trail. Meek, with five others, had been left behind to gather up some horses that had
strayed. When about a half day's journey from camp, he overtook Umentucken, the
Mountain Lamb, now the wife of Milton Sublette, with her child, on horseback. The
weather was terribly cold, and seeming to grow colder. The naked plains afforded no
shelter from the piercing winds, and the air fairly glittered with frost. Poor Umentucken
was freezing, but more troubled about her babe than herself. The camp was far ahead,
with all the extra blankets, and the prospect was imminent that they would perish. Our
gallant trapper had thought himself very cold until this moment, but what were his
sufferings compared to those of the Mountain Lamb and her little Lambkin ? Without an
instant's hesitation, he divested himself of his blanket capote, which he wrapped round
the mother and child, and urged her to hasten to camp. For himself, he could not
hasten, as he had the horses in charge, but all that fearful afternoon rode naked above
the waist, exposed to the wind, and the fine, dry, icy hail, which filled the air as with
diamond needles, to pierce the skin; and, probably, to the fact that the hail was so
stinging, was owing the fact that his blood did not congeal.
" O what a day was that ! " said Meek to the writer
" why, the air war thick with fine, sharp hail, and the sun shining, too! not one sun only,
but three suns--there were three suns! And when night came on, the northern lights
blazed up the sky ! It was the most beautiful sight I ever saw. That is the country for
northern lights! "
When some surprise was expressed that he should have been obliged to expose his
naked skin to the weather, in order to save Umentucken--"In the mountains," he
answered, " we do not have many garments. Buckskin breeches, a blanket capote, and
a beaver skin cap makes up our rig.
" You do not need a laundress, then ? But with such clothing how could you keep free
of vermin ? "
"We didn't always do that. Do you want to know how we got rid of lice in the
mountains? We just took off our clothes and laid them on an ant-hill, and you ought to
see how the ants would carry off the lice! "
But to return to our hero, frozen, or nearly so. When he reached camp at night, so
desperate was his condition that the men had to roll him and rub him in the snow for
some time before allowing him to approach the fire. But Umentucken was saved, and
he became heroic in her eyes. Whether it was the glory acquired by the gallant act just
recorded, or whether our hero had now arrived at an age when the tender passion has
strongest sway, the writer is unprepared to affirm: for your mountain-man is shy of
revealing his past gallantries; but from this time on, there are evidences of considerable
susceptibility to the charms of the dusky beauties of the mountains and the plains.
The cold of this winter was very severe, insomuch that men and mules were frozen to
death. " The frost'" says Meek, " used to hang from the roofs of our lodges in the
morning, on first waking, in skeins two feet long, and our blankets and whiskers were
white with it. But we trappers laid still, and called the camp-keepers to make a fire, and
in our close lodges it was soon warm enough.
"The Indians suffered very much. Fuel war scarce on the Snake River, and but little fire
could be afforded-- just sufficient for the children and their mothers to get warm by, for
the fire was fed only with buffalo fat torn in strips, which blazed up quickly and did not
last long. Many a time I have stood off, looking at the fire, but not venturing to
approach, when a chief would say, 'Are you cold, my friend? come to the fire'--so kind
are these Nez Perces and Flatheads."
The cold was not the only enemy in camp that winter, but famine threatened them. The
buffalo had been early driven east of the mountains, and other game was scarce.
Sometimes a party of hunters were absent for days, even weeks, without finding more
game than would subsist themselves. As the trappers were all hunters in the winter, it
frequently happened that Meek and one or more of his associates went on a hunt in
company, for the benefit of the camp, which was very hungry at times.
On one of these hunting expeditions that winter, the party consisting of Meek, Hawkins,
Doughty, and Antoine Claymore, they had been out nearly a fortnight without killing
anything of consequence, and had clambered up the side of the mountains on the
frozen snow, in hopes of finding some mountain sheep. As they traveled along under a
projecting ledge of rocks, they came to a place where there were the impressions in the
snow of enormous grizzly bear feet. Close by was an opening in the rocks, revealing a
cavern, and to this the tracks in the snow conducted. Evidently the creature had come
out of its winter den, and made just one circuit back again. At these signs of game the
hunters hesitated--certain it was there, but doubtful how to obtain it.
At length Doughty proposed to get up on the rocks above the mouth of the cavern and
shoot the bear as he came out, if somebody would go in and dislodge him.
"I'm your man," answered Meek.
"And I too," said Claymore.
"I'll be d_d if we are not as brave as you are," said Hawkins, as he prepared to follow.
On entering the cave, which was sixteen or twenty feet square, and high enough to
stand erect in, instead of one, three bears were discovered. They were standing, the
largest one in the middle, with their eyes staring at the entrance, but quite quiet,
greeting the hunters only with a low growl. Finding that there was a bear apiece to be
disposed of, the hunters kept close to the wall, and out of the stream of light from the
entrance, while they advanced a little way, cautiously, towards their game, which,
however, seemed to take no notice of them. After maneuvering a few minutes to get
nearer, Meek finally struck the large bear on the head with his wiping-stick, when it
immediately moved off and ran out of the cave. As it came out, Doughty shot, but only
wounded it, and it came rushing back, snorting, and running around in a circle, till the
well directed shots from all three killed it on the spot. Two more bears now remained to
be disposed of!
The successful shot put Hawkins in high spirits. He began to hello and laugh, dancing
around, and with the others striking the next largest bear to make him run out, which he
soon did, and was shot by Doughty. By this time their guns were reloaded, the men
growing more and more elated, and Hawkins declaring they were "all Daniels in the
lions' den, and no mistake." This, and similar expressions, he constantly vociferated,
while they drove out the third and smallest bear. As it reached the cave's mouth, three
simultaneous shots put an end to the last one, when Hawkins' excitement knew no
bounds. "Daniel was a humbug," said he. "Daniel in the lions' den! Of course it was
winter, and the lions were sucking their paws! Tell me no more of Daniel's exploits. We
are as good Daniels as he ever dared to be. Hurrah for these Daniels! " With these
expressions, and playing many antics by way of rejoicing, the delighted Hawkins finally
danced himself out of his " lion's den," and set to work with the others to prepare for a
return to camp.
Sleds were soon constructed out of the branches of the mountain willow, and on these light vehicles the fortunate find of bear meat was soon conveyed to the hungry camp in the plain below. And ever after this singular exploit of the party, Hawkins continued to aver, in language more strong than elegant, that the Scripture Daniel was a humbug compared to himself, and Meek, and Claymore.