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From Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, Vol. XIII. (1912) pp. 363-371

Journal of John Work, Covering Snake Country Expedition of 1830-31

(Printed from copy made by Miss Agnes C. Laut in 1905 from the original in the Hudson's Bay Company's House, London. England)

Editorial Notes by T. C. Elliott.


Readers of the Quarterly will recall the publication of the journals of Peter Skene Ogden in Volumes 10 and 11, recording the explorations and fur trapping experiences of that energetic H. B. Co. fur trader in Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Nevada between the Cascade Mountains and the main range of the Rockies during the years 1825 to 1829 inclusive.

There is abundant indirect evidence that in the late summer of 1829, Mr. Ogden led his company of trappers to the southward from Fort Walla Walla, through Eastern Oregon and along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Range and into Southern California, and that merely a detached party visited the Snake Country of Southern Idaho. But there is no record available and it is necessary to pass by the experiences of that year's journey with the hope that the original journal will be found at some future time. Upon the return of Mr. Ogden in the early summer of 1830 it was found that by orders from Gov. Simpson he had been transferred to the trade along the Coast in company with Mr. Finlayson, and the command of the Snake Country Brigade had been assigned to Mr. John Work, a very worthy successor. Mr. Work was of Irish descent and his name is properly spelled Wark. In this Quarterly (Vol. 10, page 296 et seq.), has already appeared an account of a journey made by him in the spring of 1830 from Fort Colvile to Fort Vancouver and a brief mention of his career. Mr. Work's journals for at least two expeditions are available for use in this Quarterly, and that for only the first part of the expedition of 1830-31 is now given. This is another of the transcripts made by Miss Agnes C. Laut from the original in the Hudson's Bay Company's House in London; it (the transcript)is now a part of the Ayers Collection in the Newberry Library of Chicago, and through the courtesy of that Library this copy has been obtained.

The track of Mr. Work's party in 1830 follows very closely that of Mr. Ogden in the Fall of 1827, for which compare with Vol. 11, page 355 et seq., of this Quarterly. From Fort Walla Walla, at the mouth of the Walla Walla River, across the Blue Mountain range and through the valleys of the Grand Ronde, Powder and Burnt Rivers to the Snake River at Huntington and on to the month of the Payette River it follows very nearly the scientifically recorded journey of John C. Fremont in 1843. Thence Mr. Work followed up the Payette River for two days, crossed over to the Boise River and from the sources of one of the forks of that river over to the Camas Plains and the waters of the Malade River in Southern Idaho. He then visited in turn the branches of that river and of the Lost River and proceeded across the lava bed plateau to the Blackfoot and the Portneuf Rivers. Evidently the intent was to trap pretty thoroughly the very sources of the various streams already named. It is of interest to recall that the year 1830 found in the camps of the American trappers in the Snake country some of the "mountain men" who afterward took an active part in the early government of Oregon, namely, Joseph L. Meek, Doc. Robt. Newell, Joseph Gale and others.

August 1830.

Sunday 22.- On the 15th the Snake Trappers whom I am appointed to take charge of reached Fort Nez Perces(1) from Fort Vancouver with their supplies. The following days were occupied arranging about horses. On the 20th they moved off from the fort. I remained two days to arrange papers and accounts to write letters and this morning followed and came up with camp near the foot of the Blue Mountains on a branch(2) of the Walla Walla. I reckon the distance 24 miles E. S. E. The party consists of 37 men, 4 hired servants, a slave,(3) 2 youths, in all 40 able to bear arms and armed, and 29 women and 45 children (22 boys, 23 girls), a total of 114 souls. These are provided with 21 lodges to shelter them, 272 horses and mules, 337 traps. The horses are pretty well loaded with provisions, as the journey lies through a country where animals are scarce. In the above party are 26 Canadians, 2 Americans, 6 half-breeds from east of the mountains, 2 Iroquois, 1 Nippesing.

Monday, 23 Aug. -Sultry weather. Moved 8 miles E. S. E. to the foot of the mountains, where we encamped(4) on a small branch of the Walla Walla. Our journey is to last a twelve-month, and we must take care of our horses at the beginning.

Tuesday, 24 Aug. - Early on the move and camped in 5 hours east of the summit of the mountains. Four Cayuse Indians going to the buffalo hunt joined us. They have no women, but one of them has a slave girl who followed him and was sent back twice; but today again came up. On her refusing to return, he shot her -, the ball wounding 3 places, but not mortally. This is the way of treating disobedience. I made him to understand that the whites did not suffer such occurrences among them.

Thursday 26th. Encamped at entrance(5) of Grand Ronde River. All hands employed getting lodge poles to pass the plains.

Monday 30th. Procceded to Powder River through a fine valley.

Thursday, 2 Sept. Proceeded to Burnt River. Kanota killed 2 antelope. Dupard and Prichett took 5 beaver.

Sunday, 5 Sept. Proceeded to Snake River,(6) here about 200 yards wide.

Tuesday,. 7 Sept. Alex Carson who is to take charge of 5 men, Depat, Cloustine, Sanders, Turner & Jean Ba'tiste, crossed the river northward to hunt the Wazer(7) and Payette's Rivers and cross the waters to some of the branches of Salmon River. A party was sent last year but too late to cross the waters they did not do well. These are to be at Nez Percés (Fort) the 10th of July (next). This reduces us 6 men, 4 women, 30 horses. We are still strong enough to oppose the Blackfeet.

Thursday 9th. Reached the discharge of Payette's River up which we proceeded. Payette found a horse here among the Snakes stolen 3 years ago. The Indian pleaded he had traded it, but got from Payette only a knife.

Saturday llth. Marched S. E, from Payette's River to Reid's River(8) to the south flat, to the north mountains.

Monday, 13 Sept. Cut across to Sickly River:(9) here we encamped.

Thursday 16tli. Pritchett's wife in labor we did not move camp. Kanota & Etang returned with 7 beaver. The woman delivered of a boy.

Sunday 19. Reached Little Camas Plain.(10)

Saturday, 25 Sept, Fine weather: encamped near the mountains. The people all out in different directions hunting. At 8 p.m., about an hour and a half after we encamped, one of the men, Thomas Taanateau, came running to the camp afoot almost out of his senses with fear and related that as he P. L, Etang, Baptiste Tyagnainto & L. Kanote's slave were going to their traps on the upper part of the stream in the mountain, they were set upon by a war party of Blackfeet and his three companions killed on the spot, that he barely escaped.

Five of my men were in camp. Some soon arrived & we put ourselves in a state of defence and made pens for our horses. The men scanned the hills in vain for the enemy. Three Cayuse Indians with us found poor L'Etang and the slave murdered, stripped and the latter scalped. Baptiste was still alive. They brought him to camp through the dark. He is wounded but not dangerously and gives the following account of the melancholy occurrence. The four were ascending a steep hill afoot leading their horses and not paying attention to the sides of the road when Indians started up from the long grass and fired then rushed and seized him but not before he discharged his gun and killed one. He called on the slave to fire when the Indians rushed upon the latter and killed him. In the interim Baptiste ran to cover in a tuft of willows where he hid till the Cayuse found him, gun powder horn and shot pouch were torn from him. L'Etang made no defence. The slave killed one when he fired and it was his struggle enabled B to escape. Thomas was not wounded. His pursuers were near taking him but heard Kanota's rifle fired at a deer. The Indians made off without taking time to mangle the bodies as they are wont to do - scalping only the slave. The enemy consisted of 20 men - their motive to get horses and arms. Another man, F. Champaign had a narrow escape. They stole 3 of his traps. These men risked ( ?) themselves but the Snakes being ahead, it was thought the Blackft would hang on the rear. Payette and 12 men interred our unfortunate companions. 4 men arrived from Reid's River with 27 beaver; 42 beaver this day from our own river. Sold L'Etang's property by auction .

Tuesday 28. Encamped on Sickly River where it received the Camas Plain River.(11) Country rugged and barren. Blackfeet tracks are observed prowling about camp.

Saturday, 2 Oct. Marched N by E to Muskeg Swamp where the N. fork of Sickly River has its source.(12) A party of Snakes 11 years ago took 300 beaver in 2 encampments here. Few beaver are here now driven by fire & destroyed by some sickness for there is no sign of recent hunting here. Little but reeds growing. The beaver feed on the roots. Whether this causes the sickening quality of the flesh or the roots, several of the people are sick from eating the beaver. Hemlock is also found the roots of which cause the flesh to be poisonous.(13)

Sunday, 10 Oct. One of the men who went up the river brought back news he had met a party of 20 American hunters just arrived from Snake River across the plains. They had been 2 days without water. One of them an Iroquois called Pierre,(14) who deserted from us came to our camp; but little news was obtained from him. Americans are encamped within a short distance of us.

Tuesday, 12 Oct. Left Sickly River and struck across the plain to a small rivulet that bears Bevens' name. Eastward lie the plains(15) towards Snake River. Our object is to search Salmon River. There are 2 roads of the same length - the north branch of Sickly River and the one we take by Goddin's River,(16) preferable because level and leading sooner to the buffalo for provisions, the people being out of food. Moreover the Americans may not follow us by this road not knowing our route. Their horses are (s)low but they have no families or lodges and little baggage to embarrass them wh. gives them an advantage over us. The Americans raised camp before us and proceeded up the river, but on seeing us strike across the plain they left the river and followed along the foot of the mountains and encamped behind where Payette and party were defeated by the Blackfeet 2 yrs. ago. I did not see a Mr. Rabides who is at the head of the party but it appears they are 200 men, 100 hunters. Crooks & Co. are the outfitters. A Mr. Fontenelle(17) who manages this business is now at Snake River with 50 men, They have great quantity of goods en cache. They have been hunting on the Upper Snake. They were set upon by the Blackfeet on Yellowstone River and 18 men killed. They had intended to go to the Flatheads this fall but were deterred by the advanced season.

Thursday, 14 Oct. A. (?) Plante, M. Plante, P. Findlay, & Payette killed each a buffalo. Are now in a barren country covered with wormwood.

Wednsy. 20. Reach what is called the fountain & a swamp where Goddin's River has its source. A road here thro' the mountains to Days' Defile: A road also from the south. Buffalo are numerous but the Banock Snakes have driven off the elk.

Saturday 23rd. The women availed themselves of the hot springs to wash their clothes.

Tuesday, 2nd Nov. Camped near head of Day's River. Three years ago a party of freemen wintered here with Mr. McKay(18) we met 2 Flatheads. Their camp is 6 days' march off, very strong, Flatheads, Pendant D'Oreilles and Spokanes with Nez Percés being together.

Saturday, 6 Nov. The two Flatheads left today. I wrote by them to Mr. C. F. McLoughlin apprising him of our route.

Tuesday, 23rd Nov. A party of Freemen under Mr. Ogden passed the winter here some years ago. There was neither ice nor snow in the valley then.

Sunday, 28 Nov. Stormy cold weather snow showers ( ?) and drifting. Crossed the height of land 12 miles S. E. The snow 2 ft. deep. The horses are jaded. People are fatigued. Large herds of buffalo are about.

Wednesday, Dec. 1. Proceeded to the entrance of Day's Defile.(19) Six of the men, August Finlay at the head of the party, 0. Finlay, M. Finlay, A. Hoole ( ?). A. Plante and Bte Gardipie separated from camp and took the road round the end of the mountain. These men are all half Indians. The two roads meet at the end of a few day's march, the road thro the pass is hilly, and uneven (depth) of snow 2 ft. Horses gave out on the way. Excellent feeding at camp half way. Herds of buffalo observed in the valley.

Dec. 9, Thursday. Crossed plains to a dry branch of Goddin's River.

Friday 17th. Arrived( ?) of Snake River lower end of Blackfoot Hill. Found good feeding for horses and a great many Snakes are encamped around. Loss of horses altogether crossing plains 26. Cold caused the loss. The Americans hunted this Quarter summer and fall. Lately a party of them crossed the mountains to White River to winter. We found poor L'Etang's rifle among the Snakes, picked up in bushes where Blackfeet had camped.

Tuesday, 21 Dec. Clear and cold. Large party of Snakes paid us a visit on horseback as a mark of friendship passed 3 times round our camp firing volleys. They were well armed and wore the scalps and mangled remains of the 2 Blckft whom they killed 2 days ago suspended from their horses' bridles.

January, 1831. New Year's day. None of the people went hunting. They endeavored to regale themselves. Each man was treated with a dram of rum and some cakes.

2nd Sunday. Foggy late last night 16 Flathds and Nez P came from the American camp(20) at White River on the E. side of the waters. They are afoot. Have been 10 days on the journey. They sold their horses to the Americans at high prices and now wear blankets of blue green and white besides having guns, rifles and beads. The Americans are to come this way in spring to form a post among the Flatheads. The Americans have 2 parties 6 chiefs and a great many men.

March, Thursday 17. Cloudy rain cold. The Snakes are moving off down the river. The chief of the Horn(21) and a few old men paid us a visit.

Friday 18. Moved camp across the plain to Portneuf (?) River.

1. Fort Nez Perce is the original Northwest Company's name for the trading post erected by them in the summer of 1818 and later known as Fort Walla Walla; for description of the building of the Fort, consult Alex. Ross's "Fur Hunters of the Far West."

2. This branch stream was probably Pine Creek, which empties into the Walla Walla River at the town of Touchet, sixteen miles east of Fort Walla Walla; the horses belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company were herded on what is still known as the Hudson's Bay ranch on this creek.

3. Not a "gentleman of color" from the South, but a captive from some other tribe and usually designated as such by leaving his hair cut short. This slave gave a good account of himself before his death soon after, as will be seen a little further on.

4. Probably near either Blue Mountain Station on Dry Creek or the town of Weston on Pine Creek, both in Umatilla County, Oregon; from this place they crossed the Blue Mountain divide the following day.

5. This was at Summerville, Union County, Oregon, formerly known as Indian Valley; after four days here, they passed through the Grande Ronde Valley and over the divide to Powder River.

6. Huntington, Oregon, having come by way of Powder River and Burnt River.

7. The Weiser River in Idaho; called the Wazer by Arrowsmith.

8. The Boise River, known as Reed's River after John Reed of the Astor party who started a trading post at its month.

9. The Malade, or Wood River of present maps; but the party can hardly have reached it yet.

10. Not far northeast but across the ridge from Mountain Home on the Oregon Short Line Ry.

11. At the host springs about eight miles west of Stanton in Blaine County, Idaho; present site of Magic Reservoir of U.S. Reclaimation Service.

12. The North Fork of the Malade would be Little Wood River of today.

13. The Malade was so named by Donald Mackenzie because his men were made sick by eating beaver there; Alex. Ross reports a similar experience and now John Work adds his testimony and explanation.

14. Evidently the same Pierre who gave Alex. Ross so much trouble in 1825 in the Bitter Root Valley.

15. The dry lava bed plateau of central southern Idaho, beneath which the mountain streams flow to Snake River.

16. Arrowsmith shows this name of the Big Lost River and Day's River or Day's defile would be the Little Lost River of today.

17. Consult Chittendon's Hist. of Amer. Fur Trade. A trapper named Robidoux is mentioned; also Lucien Fontenelle. Both were with the American Fur Company of the Missouri River, with which Ramsay Crooks of Astor Company fame was connected.

18. Consult Mr. Ogden's journal for winter of 1828 when he was so anxious about this Thos. McKay party; the latter was son-in-law of Chief Factor John McLoughlin at Fort Vancouver.

19. Where the river canyon opens upon the plain, which they crossed a few days later in about the line of branch line of Oregon Short Line of today to the Blackfoot Mountains east of the Snake River and City of Blackfoot.

20. Probably this refers to the vicinity of Ft. Bridger on a branch of Green River and to the trappers of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, the partnership of Fitzpatrick, Jackson, and Sublette. This was the company with which Meek, Newell and Gale were associated. Arrowsmith shows a white Mud River, which would be our Bear River.

21. Probably the same chief named The Horse in Mr. Ogden's journal.