Three Forks of the Missouri,
April 21, 1810
Mr. Pierre Chouteau, Esq.,
DEAR SIR and BROTHER IN-LAW: -- I had hoped to be able to write you more favorably than I am now able to do. The outlook before us was much more flattering ten days ago than it is today. A party of our hunters was defeated by the Blackfeet on the 12th inst. There were two men killed, all their beaver stolen, many of their traps lost, and the ammunition of several of them, and also seven of our horses. We set out in pursuit of the Indians but unfortunately could not overtake them. We have recovered forty-four traps and three horses, which we brought back here, and we hope to find a few more traps.
This unfortunate affair has quite discouraged our hunters, who are unwilling to hunt any more here. There will start out tomorrow, however, a party of thirty who are all gens a gage, fourteen loues and sixteen French. They go to the place where the others were defeated. I shall give them only three traps each, not deeming it prudent to risk more, especially since they are not to separate, and half are to remain in camp.
The party which was defeated consisted of eleven persons, and eight or nine of them were absent tending their traps when the savages pounced upon the camp. The two persons killed are James Cheeks, and one Ayres, an engage of Messrs. Crooks and McLellan whom Messrs. Silvester and Auguste (Chouteau) had equipped to hunt on shares. Besides these two, there are missing young Hull who was of the same camp, and Freehearty and his man who were camped about two miles farther up. We have found four traps belonging to these men and the place where they were pursued by the savages, but we have not yet found the place where they were killed.
In the camp where the first two men were killed we found a Blackfoot who had also been killed, and upon following their trail we saw that another had been dangerously wounded. Both of them, if the wounded man dies, came to their death at the hand of Cheeks, for he alone defended himself.
This unhappy miscarriage causes us a considerable loss, but I do not propose on that account to lose heart. The resources of this country in beaver fur are immense. It is true that we shall accomplish nothing this spring, but I trust that we shall next Autumn. I hope between now and then to see the Snake and Flathead Indians. My plan is to induce them to stay here, if possible, and make war upon the Blackfeet so that we may take some prisoners and send back one with propositions of peace--which I think can easily be secured by leaving traders among them below the Falls of the Missouri. Unless we can have peace with these (ma--?) or unless they can be destroyed, it is idle to think of maintaining an establishment at this point.
Assure Madame Chouteau of my most sincere esteem as well as your dear children, and believe me always your devoted
We are daily expecting to see the Blackfeet here and are desirous of meeting them.
A few days ago Mr. Menard with some of the gentlemen attached to the Missouri Fur Company arrived here from their Fort at the head waters of the Missouri, by whom we learn that they had experienced considerable opposition from the Blackfoot Indians; this adverse feeling arose from the jealousy prevalent among all savage (and some civilized) nations of those who trade with their enemies. The Crows and Blackfeet are almost continually at war. The Company detached a party to trade with the latter, This gave offence to the Blackfeet who had not the same opportunity of procuring Arms, &c. The Hudson Bay Factory* being several days journey from their hunting grounds, and with whom they cannot trade with equal advantage.
A hunting party which had been detached from the Fort to the Forks of Jefferson River were attacked in the neighborhood of their encampment on the 12th of April by a strong party of the Blackfeet, whom they kept at bay for sometime, but we are sorry to say unavailingly, as the Indians were too numerous; the party consisted of 14 or 15 of whom five were killed, say, Hull, Cheeks, Ayres, Rucker and Freehearty; Messrs Valle, Immel and companions escaped and carried the unpleasant tidings to the Fort, but with the loss of Tents, Arms, Traps, &c.
Early in May George Druilard accompanied by some Delawares, who were in the employ of the Company, went out to hunt, contrary to the wishes of the rest of the party who were confident the Indians were in motion around them, and that from a hostile disposition they had already shewn it would be attended with danger, their presages were too true, he had not proceeded more than two miles from the camp before he was attacked by a party in ambush by which himself and two of his men were literally cut to pieces. It appears from circumstances that Druilard made a most obstinate resistance as he made a kind of breastwork of his horse, whom he made to turn in order to receive the enemy's fire, his bulwark, of course, soon failed and he became the next victim of their fury. It is lamentable that although this happened within a short distance of relief, the fire was not heard so as to afford it, in consequence of a high wind which prevailed at the time.
Adding all those untoward circumstances the Fur Company have every prospect of success, although the majority of the season was occupied in distributing the hunting parties and exploring the foot of the mountains: although they have had upwards of $12,000 worth of valuable furs consumed, yet they have been able to send down about fifty packs of Beaver, besides other Furs of a considerable amount and have taken measures to ensure more than double that quantity in the Spring.
* The Hudson Bay Company have Factory's on the head waters of the Red River, on the same river the Mackinaw Com. have two trading houses; these houses are established for the purpose of procuring dried Buffaloe and Venison from the Missouri Indians, the north country being destitute of that kind of food. Our hunters who visited the british factories say that they are mostly Scotsmen having European wives, and living in well built log houses, and in possession of as much comfort as any person can enjoy so near the Pole--they were informed that the north sea was about 1800 miles from their Forts calculating the meanderings of the Red river.