Across the Rockies to the Columbia

by John Kirk Townsend


When Nathaniel Wyeth led his second expedition to the Rocky Mountains and the Columbia in 1834, he was accompanied by a young ornithologist, John Kirk Townsend. Townsend, and his companion Thomas Nuttall, a botanist, were among the first naturalists to study these regions. Specimens taken by Townsend were an important contribution to the work of Audubon.

Their journey took the naturalists to Independence, MO, where they joined Wyeth's party. From there, they proceeded west over what was to become the Oregon Trail, to the trapper's Rendezvous on Ham's Fork of the Green River. Continuing west, the party established Fort Hall, near what is now Pocatello, ID. Thence onward to Fort Vancouver, on the Columbia.

Bibliographical Information

Townsend published this narrative of his journey in 1839 (Philadelphia: H. Perkins) as Narrative of a Journey across the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River. It was reprinted in Volume 8 of Early Western Travels, Ruben Gold Thwaites, ed. (Cleveland: Authur H. Clark, 1905). Thwaites omitted a scientific appendix and an account of Townsend's trip to the Sandwich Islands as being irrelevant to Western history; they are omitted in this electronic edition, as well. Thwaites' edition has been recently reprinted by University of Nebraska Press (Bison Books) in 1978, with an introduction by Donald Jackson.

Links to the Text

  • Return to Previous Page
  • Down load file (Wordperfect 5.2, pkzip)
  • Chapter I
    Arrival at St. Louis - Preparations for the journey - Saque Indians - Their appearance, dress, and manners - Squaws - Commencement of a pedestrian tour - Sandhill cranes - Prairie settlers - Their hospitality - Wild pigeons, golden plovers and prairie hens - Mr. P. and his daughters - An abundant repast - Simplicity of the prairie maidens - A deer and turkey hunt - Loutre Lick hotel - Unwelcome bed-fellows - A colored Charon - Comfortable quarters - Young men of the west - Reflections on leaving home - Loquacity of the inhabitants - Gray squirrels - Boonville - Parroquets - Embarkation in a steamboat - Large catfish - Accident on board the boat - Arrival at Independence - Description of the town - Procure a supply of horses - Encampment of the Rocky Mountain company - Character of the men - Preparation for departure - Requisites of a leader - Backwoods familiarity - Milton Sublette and his band - Rev. Jason Lee, the missionary - A letter from home - Mormonites - Military discipline and its consequences.
  • Chapter II
    Departure of the caravan - A storm on the prairie - Arrangement of the camp - The cook's desertion - Kanzas Indians - Kanzas river - Indian lodges - Passage of the river - Buffalo canoes - Kanzas chief - Costume of the Indians - Upper Kaw village - Their wigwams - Catfish and ravens - Return of Mr. Sublette - Pawnee trace - Desertion of three men - Difficulties occasioned by losing the trail - Intelligence of Mr. Sublette's party - Escape of the band of horses - Visit of three Otto Indians - Anecdote of Richardson, the chief hunter - His appearance and character - White wolves and antelopes - Buffalo bones - Sublette's deserted camp - Lurking wolves.
  • Chapter III
    Arrival at the Platte river-Wolves and antelopes-Saline efflorescences - Anxiety of the men to see buffalo - Visit of two spies from the Grand Pawnees - Forced march - A herd of buffalo - Elk - Singular conduct of the horses - Killing a buffalo - Indian mode of procuring buffalo - Great herd - Intention of the men to desert - Adventure with an Indian in the tent - Circumspection necessary - Indian feat with bow and arrow - Notice of the Pawnee tribes - Disappearance of the buffalo from the plains of the Platte - A hunting adventure - Killing a buffalo - Butchering of a bull - Shameful destruction of the game - Hunters' mode of quenching thirst.
  • Chapter IV
    Change in the face of the country - Unpleasant visitation - its effects - North fork of the Platte - A day's journey over the hills - Wormwood bushes, and poor pasture - Marmots - Rattlesnake and gopher - Naturalist's success and sacrifices - A sand storm - Wild horses - Killing of a doe antelope - Bluffs of the Platte - The chimney - "Zip Koon," the young antelope - Birds - Feelings and cogitations of a naturalist - Arrival at Laramie's fork - Departure of two "free trappers" on a summer "hunt" - Black Hills - Rough travelling - Red butes - Sweet-water river, and Rock Independence - Avocets - Wind river mountains - Rocky Mountain sheep - Adventure of one of the men with a grizzly bear - Rattlesnakes - Toilsome march, and arrival at Sandy river - Suffering of the horses - Anticipated delights of the rendezvous.
  • Chapter V
    Arrival at the Colorado - The author in difficulty - Loss of a journal, and advice to travelling tyros - The rendezvous - Motley groups infesting it - Rum drinking, swearing, and other accomplishments in vogue - Description of the camp - Trout and grayling - Abundance of game - Cock of the plains - Departure from the rendezvous - An accession to the band - A renegado Blackfoot chief - Captain Stewart and Mr. Ashworth - Muddy creek - More carousing - Abundance of trout - Bear river - A hard day's march - Volcanic country - White clay pits and " Beer spring " - Rare birds and common birds - Mr. Thomas McKay - Rough and arid country - Meeting with Captain Bonneville's party - Captains Stewart and Wyeth's visit to the lodge of the "bald chief" - Blackfoot river - Adventure with a grizzly bear - Death of "Zip Koon" - Young grizzly bears and buffalo calves - A Blackfoot Indian - Dangerous experiment of McKay - the three "Tetons" - Large trout - Departure of our Indian companions - Shoshone river - Site of "Fort Hall" - Preparations for a buffalo hunt.
  • Chapter VI
    Departure of the hunting camp - A false alarm - Blackfeet Indians - their ferocity - Requisites of a mountain-man - Good fare, and good appetites - An experiment - Grizzly bears - Visit of a Nez Perce Indian - Adventure with a grizzly bear - Hunter's anecdotes - Homeward bound - Accident from gunpowder - Arrival at "Fort Hall" - A salute - Emaciation of some of the party from low diet - Mr. McKay's company - Buffalo lodges - Progress of the building - Effects of judicious training - Indian worship - A "Camp Meeting" - Mr. Jason Lee, a favorite - A fatal accident and a burial.
  • Chapter VII
    Departure of Mr. McKay's party, Captain Stewart, and the missionaries - Debauch at the fort - Departure of the company - Poor provision - Blackfeet hunting ground - A toilsome journey, and sufferings from thirst - Goddin's creek - Antoine Goddin, the trapper - Scarcity of game - A buffalo - Rugged mountains - Comforting reflections of the traveller - More game - Unusual economy - Habits of the white wolf - "Thornburg's pass" - Difficult travelling - The captain in jeopardy among the snow - A countermarch - Deserted Banneck camp - Toilsome and dangerous passage of the mountain - Mallade river - Beaver dams, and beaver - A party of Snake Indians - Scarcity of pasture - Another Banneck camp - "Kamas prairie" - Indian mode of preparing the kamas - Racine blanc, or biscuit root - Travelling over the hills - Loss of horses by fatigue - Boisee or Big-wood river - Salmon - Choke-cherries, &c.
  • Chapter VIII
    A substitute for game, and a luxurious breakfast - Expectations of a repast, and a disappointment - Visit of a Snake chief - his abhorrence of horse meat - A band of Snake Indians - their chief - Trade with Indians for salmon - Mr. Ashworth's adventure - An Indian horse-thief - Visit to the Snake camp - its filthiness - A Banneck camp - Supercilious conduct of the Indians - Arrival at Snake river - Equipment of a trapping party - Indian mode of catching salmon - Loss of a favorite horse - Powder river - Cut rocks - Recovery of the lost trail - Grand Ronde - Captain Bonneville - his fondness for a roving life - Kayouse and Nez Perce Indians - their appearance - An Indian Beauty - Blue mountains - A feline visit.
  • Chapter IX
    Passage of the Blue Mountains - Sufferings from thirst - Utalla river - A transformation - A novel meal - Walla-walla river - Columbia river and Fort Walla-walla - A dinner with the missionaries - Anecdote of Mr. Lee - A noble repast - Brief notice of the Fort - Departure of the missionaries - Notice of the Walla-walla Indians - Departure for Fort Vancouver - Wild ducks - Indian graves - Indian horses - Visits from Indians - Ophthalmia, a prevalent disease - Rough travelling - A company of Chinook Indians - The Dalles - The party joined by Captain Wyeth - Embarkation in canoes - A heavy gale - Dangerous navigation - Pusillanimous conduct of an Indian helmsman - A zealous botanist - Departure of Captain Wyeth with five men - Cascades - A portage - Meeting with the missionaries - Loss of a canoe - A toilsome duty - Arrival at Fort Vancouver - reflections suggested by it - Dr. John McLoughlin, the chief factor - Domiciliation of the travellers at Fort Vancouver.
  • Chapter X
    Fort Vancouver - Agricultural and other improvements - Vancouver "camp" - Approach of the rainy season - Expedition to the Wallammet - The falls - A village of Klikatat Indians - Manner of flattening the head - A Flathead infant - Brig "May Dacre" - Preparations for a settlement - Success of the naturalists - Chinook Indians - their appearance and costume - Ague and fever - Superstitious dread of the Indians - Desertion of the Sandwich Islanders from Captain Wyeth's party - Embarkation for a trip to the Islands - George, the Indian pilot - Mount Coffin - A visit to the tombs - Superstition - Visit to an Indian house - Fort George - Site of Astoria - A blind Indian boy - Cruel and unfeeling conduct of the savages - their moral character - Baker's Bay - Cape Disappointment - Dangerous bar at the entrance of the river - The sea beach - Visit of Mr. Ogden - Passage across the bar.
  • Chapter XI and XII
    . . . Arrival at the Columbia.
  • Chapter XIII
    Passage up the Columbia - Birds - A trip to the Wallammet - Methodist missionaries - their prospects - - Fort William Band-tail pigeons - Wretched condition of the Indians at the falls - A Kallapooyah village - Indian cemetery - Superstitions - Treatment of diseases - Method of steaming - "Making medicine" - Indian sorcerers - An interruption of festivities - Death of Thornburg - An inquest - Verdict of the jury - Inordinate appetite for ardent spirits - Misfortunes of the American Company - Eight men drowned - Murder of two trappers by the Banneck Indians - Arrival of Captain Thing - His meeting and skirmish with the Blackfeet Indians - Massacre - A narrow escape.
  • Chapter XIV
    Indians of the Columbia - their melancholy condition - Departure of Mr. Nuttall and Dr. Gairdner - A new vocation - Arrival of the Rev. Samuel Parker - his object - Departure of the American brig - Swans - Indian mode of taking them - A large wolf - An Indian mummy - A night adventure - A discovery, and restoration of stolen property - Fraternal tenderness of an Indian - Indian vengeance - Death of Waskema, the Indian girl - "Busybody," the little chief - A village of Kowalitsk Indians - Ceremony of "making medicine" - Exposure of an impostor - Success of legitimate medicines - Departure from Fort Vancouver for a visit to the interior - Arrival of a stranger - "Cape Horn" - Tilki, the Indian chief - Indian villages - Arrival at Fort Walla-walla - Sharptailed grouse - Commencement of a journey to the Blue mountains.
  • Chapter XV
    A village of Kayouse Indians - their occupation - appearance and dresses of the women - family worship - its good effects - Visit to the Blue mountains - Dusky grouse - Return to Walla-walla - Arrival of Mr. McLeod, and the missionaries - Letters from home - Death of Antoine Goddin, the trapper - A renegado white man - Assault by the Walla-walla Indians - Missionary duties - Passage down the Columbia - Rapids - A dog for supper - Prairies on fire - A nocturnal visit - Fishing Indians - Their romantic appearance - Salmon huts - The shoots - Dangerous navigation - Death of Tilki - Seals - Indian stoicism and contempt of pain - Skookoom, the strong chief - his death - Maiming, an evidence of grief - Arrival at Fort Vancouver - A visit to Fort George - Indian cemeteries - Lewis and Clarke's house - A medal - Visit to Chinook - Hospitality of the Indians - Chinamus' house - The idol - Canine inmates.
  • Chapter XVI
    Northern excursion - Large shoals of salmon - Indian mode of catching them - House near the beach - Flathead children - A storm on the bay - Loss of provision - Pintail ducks - Simple mode of killing salmon - Return to Chinook - Indian garrulity - Return to Fort George - Preparations for a second trip to the Sandwich Islands - Detention within the cape.