A journey to the rocky mountains in 1839 By F. A. Wislizenus, M. D



Download 452.63 Kb.
Page4/5
Date conversion15.05.2018
Size452.63 Kb.
1   2   3   4   5

CHAPTER FOURTEEN - THE COLUMBIA RIVER - THE HUDSON'S BAY COMPANY

FORT HALL lies on the left bank of the Snake River, between the mouths of the Blackfoot and Portneuf Creeks. It was built by Capt. Wyeth, and sold by him some years later, when he left the mountains, to the Hudson's Bay Company, in whose possession it has remained up to the present. It is the most southern fort which this English company has pushed into the Oregon Territory of the United States. The fort lies hard by the river, and is built in a square of about eighty by eighty feet, suggestive of barracks. The style is essentially that of Fort Laramie, except that the outer walls, ten to twelve feet high, are constructed in this case out of partly baked brick instead of wood. A small cannon is in the courtyard. The fort owns many horses and six cows. The whole garrison consisted of six men; among them two Sandwich Islanders and a German. The clerks of the fort were Mr. Armedinger and Mr. Walker. We had learned to know the former as a jovial companion at the rendezvous. Both showed themselves very obliging to us, and furnished in this respect an agreeable contrast to the often brusque behavior of agents at American forts. The day of our arrival we were invited to a supper in the fort, which would be deemed quite frugal in civilized life, but which, in this wilderness, consisted of the most delicious dishes which we had tasted since we started, namely, bread, butter, milk, dried buffalo meat and tea with rum. No Paris meal composed with all a gourmand's art ever tasted better to me, than the luxuries (for that country) of this feast on the sand steppes of the Snake River. As we intended to stay here at least eight days to allow our animals to recuperate and to prepare ourselves for the trying journey to the Columbia, I employed the time in making inquiries about the Hudson's Bay Company and the country about the Columbia River, and here give the result:

The Snake River (Lewis River) has its source on the western slope of the main chain of the Rockies, and flows in northwesterly direction about eight hundred miles, when it unites with the Clarke River, coming from the northeast, to form the Columbia River, which, after a western course of only two hundred miles, empties into the Pacific Ocean. The Snake River flows through a sandy plateau, in which there can be found almost no game and very little food for the animals. About one hundred miles from the Columbia, the Snake River pierces a spur of the Rockies, the Blue Mountains. The river has a very rapid current, and is broken up by numerous falls, of which the first begin a little below Fort Hall, and has banks of basalt, so steep that one must often go along them for quite a while before finding a place to get water. Below the falls, near the Columbia River, it is full of salmon, which the Indians kill by thousands with the spear, dry and keep in store. Until one comes to that region one must be provided with an ample supply of dried meat, if one does not wish to risk encountering such hardships as Mr. Hunt experienced on his memorable journey thitherward. The broad Snake River valley is in the main sterile country. The climate there is moderately warm. The summers are remarkable for great dryness; for whole months there is neither dew nor rain. The winters are rather cold. Snow is often several feet deep. Westwardly from the Snake River there are several steep mountain chains with many glaciers, dividing this country from California and the Pacific Ocean. The direct road to California is very difficult on account of these mountains. Even unloaded mules can cross them only with great effort. For this reason it is thought preferable for those going to upper California to make a detour via the Columbia River. The distance from Fort Hall to the Columbia is estimated at about six hundred miles. A second fort belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company lies at the junction of the Boisse with the Snake River. The first English fort on the Columbia is Walla Walla, about nine miles below the Snake River. But the main fort of the Hudson's Bay Company is Vancouver, on the right bank of the Columbia, about ninety miles from its mouth. Furthermore, there is a fort on the Clarke River, Fort Colleville, and several others of less importance on various small rivers that flow into the Columbia. These forts are built like the American ones, meant simply for defense against the Indians, and without military garrisons. Fort George, the Astoria of the past, consists simply of a blockhouse occupied by only three or four men, whose duty it is to note the arrival of vessels and pilot them. The Columbia River seems to have been known to Spanish seamen. The honor of its first authentic discovery belongs to Captain Robert Gray of Boston, who, sailing under the flag of the United States, discovered it in May, 1792, ascended it for fifteen miles, and gave it the name of his own vessel, Columbia. Two promontories form the entrance to the Columbia River: on the north, Cape Disappointment; on the south, Cape Adams. A sand bank running from north to south for two miles, with, at places, only four and a half fathoms, makes the entrance difficult; but there is on one side a channel of adequate depth, though narrow. For the first ten miles the Columbia is about four miles broad; higher up, to Vancouver, it has an average width of a mile. It is a deep river, carrying much water. Vessels with not more than fourteen feet draught can ascend it for about one hundred and twenty-five miles; but above that a succession of falls begin, impassable for vessels of every kind, forming obstacles whose removal would be disproportionately expensive.

The land along the Columbia has been described in most recent times as a western paradise. The truth of the matter is that the ground is indeed very fruitful, and well suited for the cultivation of wheat, barley, oats, rice, beans, potatoes, apples, tobacco and the like; but just as good tracts of land can be found in Illinois and Missouri. Besides, the Columbia River itself has only small valleys, which are subject to overflow; and so the valleys of the smaller streams that flow into the Columbia from the north and south are even better. One of the most fertile tracts is the land along the Wallamette, which flows from south to north into the Columbia. Immediately on the seacoast the land is the worst. The chief kinds of wood are white oak and long-leaf pine. Game is scarce, but there is superfluity of fish, especially salmon. The climate in summer is about the same as in the central part of the United States. The summer is distinguished by its dryness; for which reason maize succeeds indifferently. In winter, there is seldom frost or snow; but from October to April there is almost continuous rain, which refreshes the dried grass and makes it green. The fields are usually sown as early as January. These mild winters make this country one of the most suitable for cattle raising. No part of the United States is thought to excel it therein. Horses, cattle, and sheep - hogs in a less degree - thrive here exceptionally, and multiply with amazing rapidity. The country on the Wallamette is also distinguished in this particular. The settlement at Vancouver is up to now the largest on the Columbia River. The fort is a square building, two or three hundred feet long and broad. In its midst are the various workshops; but the workmen live chiefly outside of the fort in little block houses. The people in the employ of the Hudson's Bay Company, mostly Canadians, amount to about two hundred, and as for the greater part they have married Indian women, the whole number of inhabitants may be estimated at from seven to eight hundred.



The fort has laid out a farm in its vicinity. In 1837, about three thousand acres were in cultivation. The produce was: 8,000 bushels of wheat, 5,500, bushels of barley, 6,000 bushels of oats, 9,000 bushels of peas, and 4,000 bushels of potatoes. Of animals they had in the same year about one thousand head of cattle, seven hundred hogs, two hundred sheep, five hundred horses and forty yoke of draught oxen. In addition they have a great threshing machine, a distillery, and a grist mill. A saw mill, cutting 3,000 feet a day, and served by twenty-eight men and ten yoke of oxen, lies six miles from Vancouver on a little river that flows into the Columbia. The surplus products, chiefly flour and boards, the Hudson's Bay Company exports to the Sandwich Islands and to California. For one thousand feet of boards they get in the Sandwich Islands $60.00 to $100.00. In California, they generally exchange for cattle at $3.00 a head. The company conducts this trade with its own vessels. It owns at present one ship, one brig, one schooner, one sloop and one steamboat. The inner organization of the Hudson's Bay Company is based on strict subordination. The company consists of one hundred shareholders, who are such, however, only for life. Headquarters are in London. The general agents, who live in America (partners), receive one-eighth of the profit on one share, which amounts annually to $4,000 to $5,000; chief traders receive one-sixteenth; clerks receive yearly £100; and laborers £15 to £17 with fixed rations of potatoes, salmon, beans and salt in addition. The company engages its men for five years, and sends them back to their homes if they do not wish to serve longer. Old employees it permits to stay in the country on leave of absence, assigning them land to cultivate. During the time they receive no salary, but can be called into service at any moment. Promotions are made on a system based on rank and age. A yearly meeting of the partners and chief traders is held at York Factory on Hudson's Bay, which meeting has jurisdiction over all employees of the Hudson's Bay Company, and issues its orders from there. Constant communication is maintained between Vancouver and York Factory by land through express messengers. In addition a ship comes yearly from London to the Columbia River to bring fresh merchandise, and to carry back to England the furs which the company acquires from Indians and trappers in coast and inland trade. Beaver skins are the most profitable part of the cargo. Shipment of salmon has been abandoned. The company receives all its goods from England free of duty, and sells them much cheaper than the American companies. In this way the Hudson's Bay Company is in position to hold all competitors in check, and to maintain an undisputed overlordship over all the regions beyond the Rocky Mountains. The Indians on the Columbia River, already greatly diminished in numbers through disease and excesses, are committed to it so unconditionally that they scarce dare to trade with Americans. As yet, all attempts ventured by Americans against this company have gone to pieces. The Hudson's Bay Company has the advantages of connection by sea, internal union and the protection of the English government. The only settlement made by citizens of the United States is now on the Wallamette. This small stream, flowing from the south to the Columbia, is about one hundred and fifty miles long, and navigable for ships of twelve feet draught for about twenty miles. Some New York Methodist missionaries have recently settled here and gathered around them a little colony of Americans, Canadians and Indians. As they do not trade, but devote themselves only to, agriculture and cattle raising, the Hudson's Bay Company has put no obstacles in their way, but, on the contrary, encourages them and takes supplies from them at fixed prices. For a bushel of wheat, for instance, the company usually gives fifty cents in goods, while it receives on its part one dollar and a half in money from the Russians in California.

The Americans, whose claims to the territory of the Columbia River are much better founded than those of the English, are now merely tolerated by the Hudson's Bay Company. Had the Government of the United States given the slightest support to Astor's enterprise, the Americans in all probability would still be in possession of the country; but, as it is, the United States has done nothing to protect its claims through treaties. As far back as 1818 a treaty was made between the United States and England, whereunder both powers were allowed free access to the Columbia, without abandoning their respective claims. In 1826, the United States proposed to England to draw the line beyond the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean in prolongation of the boundary on this side of the mountains, that is to say, on the forty-ninth parallel, whereunder the Columbia River would have fallen wholly in the territory of the United States; but the proposal was rejected and the former treaty was renewed for an indefinite period determinable by one year's notice. This provisional arrangement, during which the English, by means of the Hudson's Bay Company, have acquired the actual control of the country, is still in force. The country is too valuable to ever be surrendered voluntarily by the English. While the Columbia is navigable for only a short distance, and its tributaries, on account of the numerous falls, are not suited for navigation, there is the better opportunity for mills and power plants; and better communications could easily be secured through the construction of canals. Moreover, the country is very suitable for agriculture and cattle raising. The interior trade and the coast trade with the Indians is very profitable. The intercourse with the Sandwich Islands, California, Russian America and Asia grows from year to year; and the trading vessels and whalers on the Pacific Ocean find here a safe base for action. In short, if any place on the western shore of North America seems designed by nature to be a western New York on the Pacific Ocean, it is this. The Straits of Juan de Fuca, somewhat further north, form a much better harbor. It is said that a whole fleet could anchor there in safety. These straits also lie south of the forty-ninth parallel. The Hudson's Bay Company seems to have secret assurances from the English government that at the worst the course of the Columbia River would be made the boundary, and its right bank retained; at least all the chief settlements of the company are made on that side, and buildings begun on the left shore have been abandoned. But the United States will not submit to such an infraction of its rights, and again the problem of the Gordian Knot will not be solved without the sword.

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN - BEGINNING THE RETURN JOURNEY - THE BEAVER

I REMAINED eight days at Fort Hall. We camped outside of the fort. Various parties of Indians and trappers arrived during this time, and camped by us. The trappers were mostly French-Canadians, preparing for a fresh campaign against the beavers. The Indians, chiefly Flatheads, led a life that suited them perfectly. They gambled and sang all night long, and slept during the day. Near the fort were some graves. In one of them rested Antoine Godin, an adventurous mountaineer and a bitter foe of the Blackfeet. It was he who brought on in 1832 the bloody fight with the Blackfeet at Pierre's Hole, related in W. Irving's "Rocky Mountains," by treacherously grasping the hand of their leader, while another shot him. The Blackfeet after that harbored the bitterest enmity for him. Some years later a band of Blackfeet appeared near Fort Hall, on the right bank of the Snake River. Through signs they made it known that they were peaceably disposed and wished to trade with the fort. Some white men-among them Godin, who chanced to be there-crossed the river, and smoked the pipe of peace with them. While they were thus employed, a Blackfoot shot Godin from behind, and so avenged the death of their leader through similar treachery. Such occurrences are here, unfortunately, not uncommon; and the first provocation is given ordinarily by the whites rather than by the Indians.

The days of rest which I spent at Fort Hall restored full vigor to my body, which had been debilitated by my previous illness and hardships; and the leisure I had to reflect on my program for further travel, determined me to change it; and, instead of going to the Columbia River to return to the United States. Several reasons brought me to this conclusion. In our party, composed of very heterogeneous elements, many dissensions had of late developed, so that a regular separation occurred, our party, small as it was, splitting into three or four smaller ones. Although I took no part in these petty quarrels, I was ill at ease the while, and missed a great comfort on such trips, that is, good company. Moreover, I would in all probability have had to spend the winter on the Columbia, for the journey from there to California by land is very fatiguing and dangerous. Caravans go there but seldom, and then my limited means would not permit me a prolonged stay on the Columbia and a scientific exploration of the country.

Under these circumstances I thought it most advisable to return in the fall to the United States by another road than that by which we had come up. Two of my former traveling companions came to the same resolution. But as we were all novices in mountain life, and wished to cross the country in various directions, we looked about for an experienced and reliable guide, and found him in Mr. Richardson, who had accompanied our journey up as hunter. So there were only four of us to begin the return trip. Our plan was to cross the Rocky Mountains in a more southern direction; to gradually draw toward the Mexican border and to reach the boundary of Missouri by the great Santa Fe road. Our undertaking was not without danger. Our little party, in case of an encounter with hostile Indians, had little chance of success. On the other hand, we had the advantage of attracting less notice and of being able to travel faster.

We left Fort Hall in high spirits on August 10th. We proceeded on a southeasterly course directly to the Beer Spring, sixty miles off. The road thither was hilly and even somewhat mountainous. Pine, cedar and cottonwood were the prevailing trees. At a little brook I had the pleasure of seeing for the first time an old beaver dam. Unfortunately I did not get sight of a single beaver on the whole journey; for they are very wary and from June to August, during which time I was in beaver regions, beaver trapping is usually suspended. So I can give the natural history of this remarkable animal only on the basis of reliable reports.

The beaver (Castor Fiber) is about two feet long, has a thick heavy body, compressed head with short elliptical ears, and somewhat oval, but rather broad tail, about ten inches long and covered with scales. The whole body is covered with a dense fur, consisting of longer reddish brown and shorter silvery hair. The skill of these animals in constructing their dwellings is well known. They prefer living on brooks and streamlets whose shores are overgrown with willows. In order to have deep water continually, they build a dam through the water, sometimes diagonally, sometimes in a convex bow. At this dam all the colony of beavers living together work jointly. Their only tools for this building are their teeth, their claws and their tail. In the water thus dammed up, each beaver family builds for itself out of the same material little square dwellings. In addition to these dwellings the beavers usually have side caverns in the bank of the stream (caches), where they retire when their dwellings are destroyed. When the state of the water makes it unnecessary, or when they are often disturbed, they build neither dam nor dwellings, but content themselves with these side caverns. Their dwellings, which they frequently repair, become in time so firm that they can only be broken with tools. The greater part of these dwellings is under water; but there is under the roof a space without water, as the beavers cannot remain long under water without breathing. The conical roof is often four to six feet thick. The interior of their dwellings they keep very neat. Every dwelling has, deep down in the water, on the side furthest removed from the shore, an opening for the entrance and exit of its inmates. Beavers work only at night. By day they do not leave their dams, and swim, when going from one cone to another, so far under water that one cannot notice them.



The beaver feeds on the roots of various water plants; for instance, a nuphar luteum, but chiefly on the bark of various trees, especially willow, cottonwood and birch. Only in sore need does he gnaw the pines. With this object, beavers fell trees whose trunks are even six to eight inches in diameter, solely by gnawing them with their sharp teeth, leaving a conical stump. They like to cut the trees on the shore side and then float them down on the water to their dwellings. If the locality does not admit of floating the trees they drag them overland for long distances. They gather in summer provisions for the winter, which they keep in front of the entrances to their dwellings. The females bring forth yearly two to five young. The young beavers are very droll creatures. Their cry deceptively resembles that of little children. The beavers are usually caught in iron traps, whose two springs can be pressed apart. The bait which is put on it is a mixture of beaver secretions (castoreum) with various spices and some whiskey. A stick or twig is smeared with this, and set upon the trap. The bait must project over the water. The trap itself is in the water, and fastened to the shore by a chain. In summer, the beavers are lean, and their fur is poor, for which reason they are usually not caught at this time. But in winter they get fat and have thicker hair. Their meat is very palatable. The tails, which are fat all through, are especially regarded as delicacies. Besides the fur, the castoreum found in two pouches on the belly, is very valuable for its use in medicine. A persistent enemy of the beaver is the wolverine (Gulo Luseus), a sort of glutton who attacks not only the winter supplies of the beavers, but often the beavers themselves. Their most dangerous enemy, however, is the tireless trapper. The beaver formerly spread over the greater part of the United States. From the cultivated portions he has disappeared long ago; and in his present home, in the Rocky Mountains, he is beginning to become scarcer. Hundreds of thousands of them have been trapped there in the last decades, and a war of extermination has been waged against the race. The consequence is that they are now found only singly in regions that were formerly well known for their abundance of beavers. It is only in the lands of hostile Indians, the Blackfeet, for instance, that they still exist in greater numbers, because the Indians do not specially occupy themselves with beaver trapping. The furs of beavers caught in the spring are best. However, many trappers catch them in every season. The green skins are first cleaned, then stretched out, dried and folded. A dry beaver pelt weighs usually from one to two pounds; but there are some of three pounds weight. About sixty beaver skins are bound together in a pack. Two such packs make an ordinary load for a mule. The Hudson's Bay Company has established more system in beaver trapping within its territories. It allows trapping only at certain seasons, and when beavers get scarce in any neighborhood, trapping is strictly forbidden there for some years. In regions, however, on whose permanent possession the company does not count, it allows the trappers to do as they please. But if trapping is carried on in this ruthless fashion, in fifty years all the beavers there will have disappeared, as have those in the east, and the country will thereby lose a productive branch of commerce.

On the third day after leaving Fort Hall we came again to the Beer Spring. The day was hot; so much the more refreshing the water. In front of us several smoke wreaths arose. We had also discovered other signs of Indians that were ahead of us. Nevertheless, we slept without sense of danger. Our party was too small to permit of a night watch. Exertion by day and by night would have exhausted us too much. The only precaution we took was to tie our animals at night close by; for the rest we relied on good fortune. That we kept our guns in prime condition is a matter of course. On such journeys one gets habituated to his rifle as to a trusty traveling companion. During the march the gun lies across the saddle; when one rests it is always close at hand.

One never leaves camp without taking it as a cane; and at night it is wrapped in the blanket with the sleeper, to be ready for use at the first alarm. As disquieting as such conditions would be in civilized life, here one becomes so habituated to them that I do not remember to have ever slept more peacefully in my life. We no longer used tents, but slept quite unprotected in the open air. The weather, too, had of late become so genial as to leave nothing to be desired. During all the time that we were on the west side of the Rocky Mountains we had very steady weather. In the morning the thermometer was usually between 30 and 40 Fahrenheit; at noon about 80 ; at evening about 60 . With this the sky was clear and the west wind cool. When clouds occasionally gathered, the west wind, putting forth more force, scattered the approaching storm, sometimes with thunder and lightening, but generally without rain.

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN - THE JOURNEY FROM BEER SPRING TO FORT CROCKET



WE left the Beer Spring on the morning of August 14th. I drank some cups of the sparkling water, and bade adieu to the place so endeared to me as to an old friend that one does not expect to see again for a long time. Our direction was southeastwardly. We ascended the right bank of the Bear River for four days, following almost the same road which we had taken through the Bear River Valley about a month before, after we had crossed the Rocky Mountains; but this time we generally kept closer to the river. On the first day we were crossing great stretches that had been burnt over, and round about us clouds of smoke were still ascending from the mountains, as to the meaning of which we could not entirely agree. The Indians usually light such fires as signals, when they wish to collect the scattered bands. So they are often regarded as indications that enemies are in the vicinity, or are making an excursion. The region through which we traveled belonged, it is true, to a friendly Indian tribe, the Snakes; but they are ravaged occasionally by these implacable foes of both white and red men, the Blackfeet. We were therefore on our guard so far as the small number of our party permitted.

The same day we came across a party of trappers, whom we had already met at Fort Hall. There were eight of them, chiefly Canadians, going after beaver. Some of them had their squaws with them. They were bound for Ham's Fork, a mountain stream emptying into the Green River, and, though our road was not the most direct for them, they chose, for company's sake, to travel some days with us. Most of them were old mountaineers of great experience, and they met us with the geniality characteristic of the Canadian. We extended reciprocal hospitalities. There was no fresh meat in camp, but sufficient of dried; also toro, coffee, cocoa and peppermint tea. One of the trappers was a Fleming. He had a squaw with him, of the tribe of the Eutaws, whom he had bought at one time for $500.00, but was disposed to sell for half the purchase price. She was a little, unshapen bundle of fat; but otherwise seemed to have very good qualities, for he recommended her to us in the following terms, characteristic of the cardinal virtues of a squaw: "She is young, gentle, easy, and in first rate order." The trappers seem, unfortunately, to have adopted from the Indians the habit of looking on their Indian wives as chattels, not persons; and the squaws themselves seem to desire no other position. On the second day we started together, and crossed the Thulick Fork, a streamlet flowing into the Bear River from the north. Under way we met a band of Snake Indians. The first who saw us, took to flight before us, but when we had convinced them that we were friendly disposed, they came in crowds to our noonday camp. The Snakes are a peaceable tribe. Their country is not rich in game, so they gather in the fall divers roots and berries for the winter. They had lighted the fires which we had seen these last days, but only to call their people together for a great hunting party. The Snakes had five horses with them. A race of several miles for a wager was immediately arranged between one of their horses and an American horse. The latter won. In the afternoon, making a rather steep ascent, which afforded us a view of Little Snake Lake, lying to the south, we went along the Bear River on which we camped at night near the mouth of Thomas Fork. The third day we stopped at noon at Smith's Fork, emptying into the Bear River from the northeast. Near by, there was a rock from which the Blackfeet several years ago had shot into Bonneville's camp, killing, however, only a mule. Smith's Fork was the first stream coming from the western mountain slope which we had touched on our former passage through the mountains. From here on we took a direction differing from that of our former trip. Instead of returning northeastwardly over the mountains, we now turned southeastwardly, in order to reach the Green River some hundreds of miles further down. I have already mentioned, in speaking of our passage over the mountains, that the chain we then crossed runs out to a southern point. At this point, as it seems, the chain is pierced by the great eastern prairie for a distance of forty or fifty miles, not that it is an open plain, but it is certainly much more open, uniform and level than the mountains to the north and south, and does not offer such unsurmountable obstacles as they do to the passage of teams. This, as it were, pierced part of the mountains, is bounded on the south by the snow peaks of the Eutaw Mountains, on the west by the Bear River, and on the east by the Green River. The southeastern direction, which we took from Smith's Fork, carried us right through this region, which is perhaps the most convenient pass over the mountains. Going from there in northeasterly direction, one reaches again, by a rather open road, the Green River and the Sweet Waters; but we preferred to go southeastwardly, and to keep entirely off from our former route. The trappers left us at Smith's Fork. One of them, however, a native of French Switzerland, resolved to go with us. Swiss (so we usually called him) had roamed through the mountains for eleven full years, and suddenly took a notion to try civilization again, and to come with us to St. Louis. He was an experienced mountaineer and good hunter. On his accession, our party numbered five men. On August 9th, we left Smith's Fork and went still up the Bear River, though at some distance from it, over sandy, rather level ground, to the Muddy, which empties into the Bear River. Here we finally left the Bear River and went southeastwardly toward Black Fork, which has its source in the Eutaw Mountains and flows toward the Green River. The snow peaks of the Eutaw Mountains were on our right. They are not so imposing as those of the Wind River Mountains. The grass in this region as a rule was very poor, the game very scarce. We had not yet seen buffalo on our return trip, and the few antelopes we came across were usually wild. But our leader was fortunate enough to kill one of them on the way to the Black Fork. The nearer we got to Black Fork the more uninteresting we found the country. The ground was a loamy sand. Only cedar groves throve here in which black-tailed deer occur singly. This species is as large as the European deer, with long ears and a black point at the tail. But we did not get a shot at any of them. The Black Fork itself is a clear rushing brook, overgrown with cottonwood, willows and wild currants. Our animals found also splendid grass. From here the country becomes more hilly. Many steep, conical, naked sand hills alternated now and then with little cedar groves. From there we reached Henry's Fork, a small stream flowing into the Green River south of the Black Fork. On the shores grew pine, cottonwood and willows. The grass was good. We followed the streamlet to its mouth. We had warm days, and suffered so much from mosquitoes at night, that we often could not get one hour's rest.

On August 15th, we crossed the Green River, which winds its way among precipitous mountains, and at this point can still be easily forded, going slantingly down stream for two more days. The road was generally steep, and led through forests of pine and cedar. The river valley at first was narrow, but widened further on. The geological formation was still the primitive. On August 17th we reached Fort Crocket. It is situated close by the Green River on its left bank. The river valley here is broad, and has good pasturage and sufficient wood. The fort itself is the worst thing of the kind that we have seen on our journey. It is a low one-story building, constructed of wood and clay, with three connecting wings, and no enclosure. Instead of cows the fort had only some goats. In short, the whole establishment appeared somewhat poverty-stricken, for which reason it is also known to the trappers by the name of Fort Misery (Fort de Misere). The, fort belongs to three Americans: Thompson, Gray and Sinclair. The latter was at the fort, and received us very kindly but regretted his inability to offer us any supplies. For our store of meat was exhausted, and we had hoped to supply ourselves here with new provisions. But the people at the fort seemed to be worse off than we were. The day before they had bought a lean dog from the Indians for five dollars, and considered its meat a delicacy. I, too, tried some of it, and found its taste not so bad.

In addition to some trappers and Indians, we found five Americans here, who had started in the spring with a larger party from Peoria, Illinois, to make a settlement on the Columbia River. They had arrived in Westport after our departure, and had journeyed first by the Santa Fe road, then up the Arkansas. But through several quarrels and mishaps, the company, consisting mainly of novices, was split up into several smaller groups. The party we here met had made most progress, and had not yet abandoned the plan of going to the Columbia. But the most difficult part of their journey lay before them. So two of them, Mr. Ogley and Mr. Wood, thought it best to avail themselves of the opportunity to return now offered them, and to join our party. Our party was thereby increased to seven. Among the people of the fort I had expected to meet an old friend of University days who had been roving through the mountains these six years, and who was supposed to be at this time at the fort. To note the metamorphosis from a jovial student at Jena into a trapper would be interesting enough in itself. The presence of S. would have afforded me a pleasure far beyond this, as we had not seen each other for ten years. Unfortunately, I learned that he had gone beaver-trapping and would not return before fall. So we left the fort the next day.

 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN - JOURNEY FROM FORT CROCKET TO THE SOUTH FORK

ON August 18th we started from Fort Crocket. Our next objective point was the North Fork of the Platte; so our direction was generally east. We went down the Green River for some miles more, and through a ravine six or eight miles long, Brown's Hole, where steep rocks of sandstone and porphyry rose abruptly on either side, at a distance of from one hundred to two hundred feet. At the end of this gorge we pitched our camp for the night. The next morning we scraped together the last morsels in our meat bags and ate them in hopes of soon getting fresh meat. But our way led over a desert sand plain with little grass and no game. In the morning we had crossed the Vermillion, a little brook with reddish water, which flows into the Green River, but at evening we did not even find water. We marched on till late at night, and finally laid ourselves down, hungry and thirsty, on the sandy soil. The next morning we reached the Snake River, and rested up a little. I still found in my food bag a little rice, whereof we cooked ourselves a thin soup. The other empty spaces in our stomachs we filled with wild currants and bullberries that grew along the shores. The latter, also called rabbit berries, are the fruit of the Shephardia argentea, a large bush, whose leaves are shiny white on the under side. The red berries in appearance and taste resemble currants, but were still quite unripe. Nevertheless they tasted famously. In the afternoon we got sight of some antelope, but they did not come within range. Our leader and Swiss usually rode on either side to hunt, while we marched slowly forward. As we reached towards evening a creek, where we intended to camp, we suddenly heard the growl of a grizzly bear quite close by. My companions had no ambition to meddle with it; but I could not resist the temptation, and made toward the place whence the sound came. All around was high grass and thick bush, so, that I could not see the bear. Of a sudden the beast started up only a few feet in front of me. I quickly raised my gun; the bear stopped short, and instantly disappeared in the tall grass. All this was the matter of a few seconds. I followed the track through the brush as far as my horse could press through, and tried to persuade my companions to beat the bush together on foot; but they showed no disposition that way. Meanwhile, the bear escaped across the river. When our leader rejoined us, we finally went into the thicket, but found only the tracks of a she-grizzly and two cubs without seeing the animals themselves. So, instead of roast bear we had to content ourselves this evening again with bullberries.

On the next day we did not find even berries. On the fifth day we started off with empty stomachs, but in good spirits. A thick mist covered the country, so that one could see only a few feet ahead. Our leader, who was riding ahead, suddenly sprang from his horse, and only then did we see a great black lump that was moving before us. It was three portly bears that saw us at the same moment, and ran away. We immediately chased after them in different directions, but the fog prevented us from following their tracks. The fog lifted soon after. Before us was a little stream with many cottonwood trees, called the big timber. There we hoped to find game. So Richardson and Swiss took the direct road toward it, while the rest of us went toward a point where we were to meet at noon. We came across some antelope, but they seemed to know of our ravenous hunger and to make sport of us. We kept pretty close to the river and had covered about ten miles, when suddenly one of us, who had lagged somewhat behind, galloped up in hot haste, and shouted to us to make for the timber as fast as we could. Although we ourselves could discover nothing, we could only take the call to mean that enemies were at hand. Without much questioning, we rushed for the timber, only a few hundred steps off, and looked for a position suitable for defense. Our informant assured us now that he had seen a whole band of mounted Indians, one or two miles off, coming toward us in full career. We surmised that they were Blackfeet and prepared for a serious encounter. Our animals we tied to trees close by. For ourselves we looked to our weapons, firmly resolved that we would at least sell our scalps dearly. All this took but a few minutes. Then there was an expectant pause. Nothing stirred as yet. One of us crept the while to the edge of the timber to reconnoiter. "There they come," he suddenly cried, "Come here quick!'' We hurried to him, and saw with astonishment a whole troop-not of Blackfeet, to be sure, but-of elk rushing toward us. They had not yet seen us, because we were hid behind bushes; but they scented us, and, with their customary curiosity, ran up to us. All at once our rifles cracked. Several tumbled, and one lay dead in its tracks. With exultation we fell upon the coveted victim. It was a fat elk cow. To live in plenty after several days of fasting, to be sure is pleasanter than being scalped by Blackfeet; still our informant had to bear many a joke on account of his defective vision. Such mistakes, however, are not uncommon in mountain life. At a distance an elk, especially if he throws back his head, looks very much like a horseman. Meanwhile our two hunters joined us, and helped us carve.

Quite systematically we now began to arrange our bill of fare. First soup appeared on the table, then cooked meat, then various roasts, and finally sausages stuffed with liver, and marrow bones. Pauses were made between the courses. Our appetite was all that could be desired. Whoever had seen us in civilized life give such substantial demonstrations of appetite as we did, would have set us down for a band of hungry wolves or gluttons. But here the whole thing seemed quite natural.

After we had feasted and rested for about four hours, we moved on again, to promote digestion, and covered about eight miles, going along the river. "Indians!" suddenly exclaimed our leader. We listened, and heard to one side Indian speech. We approached carefully, and found a little party, consisting of Captain Walker, whom we had met at the rendezvous, and some trappers and Indians, who had come here some days ago to get dried meat. Captain Walker is an original among mountain loafers. He has roamed through the mountains, chiefly on his own hook, in all directions, and has made a side trip to California. He has taken such a fancy to this life that it is unlikely that he ever returns to civilization. We found him with pipe in mouth, and clad with nothing but a blanket, for which he excused himself to us, because his shirt was in the wash. He had sufficient fresh buffalo meat, and invited us to the rib of a fat cow. We heard, too, that great numbers of buffalo herds were before us, and that we would suffer no further want. The next morning we left the Captain's party and went over hilly prairie to Savory's Fork, a branch of the Little Snake River. On the way we saw many single buffalo, and small herds; and Swiss, who, is unrivaled in running down buffalo, killed a cow for us. The buffalo herds now became more and more frequent, and almost every day we shot a fat cow, of which we took only the best pieces.

On the evening of August 25th we reached again the left shore of the North Fork of the Platte, at a point we had not touched on our journey up, and in bee line perhaps one hundred miles distant from Fort Laramie. The river here was broad, but shallow, and we crossed it with ease. But we left it immediately, to go in southeastern direction to the South Fork. We reached it in about eight days. On the first we crossed with moderate ascensions the mountains belonging to the North Platte; on the fifth day, a second chain, the watershed between the North Fork and South Fork, over which there is also a convenient pass. The geological formations were again sand and lime stone. Chiefly pine grew on the mountains. On the seventh day we reached Powder Cache Creek, a stream flowing into the South Fork; and on the ninth day the South Fork itself. The country between the North Fork and the South Fork is mainly a broad plateau with sandy soil, sparse grass, and a few birch groves like oases in the midst of the prairie. Buffalo abounded, and we lived in plenty, for almost daily we shot a cow. We also encountered several bears. Once, when we had pitched our evening camp near a little grove, a great grizzly bear approached unobserved within twenty feet of our camp. At the first alarm, before we had a chance to shoot, he was back in the woods, and it was too dark to follow him there. Another time, just as we were cresting a hill, we saw three grizzlies - a she bear and her two cubs - cozily at play. Richardson and Swiss, who were ahead, immediately wounded two of them without killing them, and followed them on horseback. My horse had been so lame for some days past that I could take no part in the hunt. Our hunters raced after the bears, and were soon out of sight. The rest of us went slowly forward. After a time Richardson came, back with the skin of one of the bears, but Swiss stayed out all night. Only during the next morning did he rejoin us, and told us how first he had chased the bear, and then the bear him. His solitary pistol missed fire, and only by repeated snapping of the flint lock could he keep the enraged beast at bay, until he could get time to pour fresh powder on the pan and lay his pursuer low.

On September 3rd we came quite unexpectedly to the left bank of the South Fork and crossed the river. On the right bank there are here three forts, only some miles apart. Penn's [Bent's] and St. Vrain's fort, Vasquez and Sublett's and Lobdon's fort. The construction is the customary one; the outer walls are of half-baked brick. There is much rivalry and enmity between the three forts. In the first fort we found part of the scattered Columbia party from Peoria. In the second I met the well-known Fitzpatrick, who has passed through many an adventure during his life in the mountains. He has a spare, bony figure, a face full of expression, and white hair; his whole demeanor reveals strong passions. We remained in the neighborhood of the forts for about three days. In the meanwhile I had my horse shod. For want of shoes it had become quite lame. Among the news of the day which we heard in the forts we were most interested in the account of a recent battle between the Pawnees and the Sioux, wherein only one of the latter was killed, while about eighty Pawnees lost their scalps. The victorious Sioux were still roving about the South Fork, and were very much embittered against all whites, because the man they lost was thought to have been killed by a white man who was with the Pawnees. We were therefore advised to abandon our plan of further following the South Fork and to strike out for the Arkansas. The evening before our departure, several owners of the forts arrived, bringing a new cargo of goods from the United States. Goods are usually transported to this place in great ox teams, and the same road is taken which we are about to follow to the boundary of Missouri.



 
1   2   3   4   5


The database is protected by copyright ©dentisty.org 2016
send message

    Main page