I was undeceived, at sight, respecting this "fort" which I had been informed, was to be a permanent post for trading with the Indians; but its exposed situation, and total want of pickets, proved that it was only intended for a temporary shelter for the company, during the winter.
On the seventh of November, several Indians came to us from the village we left at Beaver Head and reported, that they had halted on the spot where Vanderburgh was killed and that they succeeded in finding his bones, which the Blackfeet had thrown into the river; and had interred them, on the margin of that stream, near where he fell. After having been satisfied that their statement was correct; I made them the promised present.
In the afternoon a detachment of the R.M.F. Company, which had been to the south westward on the snake river, and its tributaries returned and informed us, that they had been down near the Walla Walla trading house of the Hudson Bay Co., l but had made a "bad hunt" owing to the scarcity of Beaver in that quarter. They saw a village of Snakes and Ponacks, amounting to about two hundred lodges on Gordiez River; which was attacked a few days before by a large party of about one hundred and fifty Blackfeet; but it seemed they were greatly deceived in the number of their foes, for no sooner had the Snakes and Ponacks sallied out in battle order, than their enemies fled into a thicket of willows. The Snakes, however, fired the prairie which rapidly spread and soon gained the willows; they, being mostly dry, quickly disappeared in the devouring element, and the Blackfeet were compelled to reappear in the open prairie, but they were so terrified that they simultaneously fled, directing their course over a barren prairie, towards the nearest point of the mountains, distant some three miles. The Snakes, mounted on their horses, followed and continued charging and firing on them, until they reached the timber on the mountain, and could no longer proceed on horse back. The Snakes then returned back to their village, scalping their fallen enemies on the way, to the number of forty men, and five women. They were not however without loss, nine of their warriors being stretched in death on the plain, and among the number, the famous Horned Chief, remarkable for his lasting friendship to the Whites. This was the individual, it will be remembered, who alone prevented a diabolical plot to murder us on Bear river, in 1831.
Possessed of a superstitious idea, that the moon was his guardian deity, this extraordinary Indian imagined that she instructed him in dreams during his sleep; and he taught his followers to believe that he never acted but in obedience to her directions, and that he could not be killed by metal. He was the owner of an uncommonly fleet bay horse, with which at one race, he has killed two deer, and but for the lack of arrows would have dispatched a third, from the same herd. He thought his favorite deity had informed him that he would invariably be successful in war, when mounted on his favorite steed, and obedient to the divine inspiration, he always rushed headlong upon his enemies without fear of death, and rendered himself so terrible to them by his prowess, that his presence alone was often sufficient to put them to flight.
At one time, meeting a small party of Blackfeet Indians traveling on foot in the open prairie, regardless of danger, and alone, he rushed upon them, with his only weapon, a spear, and killed no less than six of their number. This great warrior, scorning to take the usual trophy of victory, returned to camp and told his young men, that if they wanted hair, with which to garnish their leggins; they would find some at a given place in the prairie. Several young warriors set out instantly, and soon returned, bearing six scalps to their astonished tribe.
This intrepid hero was shot through the heart with a ball, which immediately deprived him of life. The Snakes universally believe the ball to have been made of horn, as he had induced them to think, that he could not be killed by any metal.
Some time afterwards the R. M. Fur Co., took their departure up Salmon river, intending to pass the winter in Little Salmon river valley. A detachment of forty men, under Capt. Walker, were in the mean time making preparations for their removal to Snake river, where they were to pass that inclement season. I determined to go with this party to the mouth of Blackfoot, and thence to the forks of Snake river, where Dripps intended to await the coming spring.
After some delays, we set off on our journey, and passed about forty-five miles up the narrow and irregular valley, through which the Salmon river, confined to small and uneven bottoms by the mountains, runs. The Indian trail which we followed, crossed several steep high points, almost impassable to our now feeble horses. Our course from Bonnyville's Fort, gently turned from south to south west. At the termination of this distance, we again found ourselves in the open level country, near the lower extremity of little Salmon River valley. At this point we overtook the R. M. F. Company, and passed with them slowly up to the head of this valley, a distance of thirty miles, and there again departed from them. This company resolved to pass the winter here. We passed through Day's defile, and slowly down to the termination of Day's Creek, about fifty miles. We saw several encampments of the Ponacks, who had recently passed here, in the direction of Porteneuf; at this place, Mr. Fitzpatrick of the R. M. F. Co. joined us, with one man; intending to go with us to Dripps, with whom he had some business to transact. Departing thence, we directed our course towards the lower or south-western Butte, and halted on Gordiez River, after a march of twelve miles. We saw during the day several herds of buffalo, but killed none until after we had encamped, when one of our hunters succeeded in approaching a herd of bulls, and shot a very fine one.
Next day we continued our course, and halted at a small spring in a ravine on the N. E. side of the Butte, which is the only water found at this mountain; and even it is lost in the sand before reaching the prairie. After leaving the spring, we passed east of south, twenty-five miles without finding any water; and halted at a spring, five miles west of Snake river; and seven or eight above the mouth of Porteneuf. From this place, we crossed Snake River, and encamped in the rich luxurious bottom, on the East side of this stream, December 11th. Hunters were immediately dispatched in quest of game; they returned successful, and reported, that they had heard guns firing, seen buffalo running, and discovered a large smoke on the river, about twenty miles above. Several Ponacks came to camp the next day, reported that their village was on the Porteneuf, and that they had no knowledge of any whites on the river, except a party of Norwest trappers they had seen very far down it. Shortly after an express arrived, bringing information, that four men belonging to a detachment from Bonnyville's Company, which separated from him on Green River, were killed about a month previous, near the sheep Rock; and that the remainder of the party were in winter quarters in Cache valley.
On the 17th I set out in company with Mr. Fitzpatrick and four others, in search of Mr. Dripps. Travelling a distance of 70 miles up the river, to the forks, we fell in with some of his hunters, who escorted us to their camp, on one of the numerous islands in Lewis' river. We remained here two days, which was agreeably passed, every lodge being graced with racks which were well filled with the best of meat. All were supplied with good quarters, and appeared to want for nothing this dreary country could afford, that would contribute to their comfort or amusement. We left this place on the 22d, on our return; Mr. Fitzpatrick to join his party on Salmon River, and I, for the men and baggage we had left at the mouth of the Blackfoot. We arrived at the quarters of Capt. Walker on the 24th, and passed the next day with this gentleman very pleasantly, receiving the best treatment his - in this country necessarily limited - means would afford. During the last two days, the snow hitherto rare, had fallen to the depth of seven or eight inches. With the design to purchase a few skins of the Ponacks, who were encamped at this time on a small stream near Blackfoot River, I visited their village on the 20th, and found these miserable wretches to the number of eighty or one hundred families, half naked, and without lodges, except in one or two instances. They had formed, however, little huts of sage roots, which were yet so open and ill calculated to shield them from the extreme cold, that I could not conceive how they were able to endure such severe exposure. Warmly clad as I was, I could hardly think it possible to pass one night in such a miserable shelter without freezing, unless supplied with the means of keeping a good fire, during the whole time. They kept small ones, burning in the centre of their cabins, and groups of half starved, and almost wholly frozen women and children, were squatting in a circular form round them, ever struggling, with a feeling and energetic devotion, still nearer to approximate the element they so fervently worshipped. In almost every family might be seen several dogs crowding between the children, to share with them a portion of the animal and artificial heat, diffused equally to all who formed the surrounding ring, which is generally involved or lost from view, in the dense clouds of smoke, which custom or habit had rendered less disagreeable to them, than would be imagined. Having succeeded in procuring a few skins - their poverty forbade my getting many - left them on my return, reflecting on their intolerable indolence, and abject condition, and its natural consequence; feeling pity for their sufferings, and yet forced to blame their entire want of industry, which might in a great measure alleviate their hardships; for a few hours employment would suffice to form a cabin of grass and branches, infinitely more comfortable than their present abodes.
Three days after, I set out with several others to rejoin Mr. Dripps, whose camp we reached on the third day; nothing worthy of record having occurred on the march. We learned here, that during our absence a man who was lost on the Missouri, last fall, had returned to the company, having rambled about the mountains alone, for more than a month.
The first of January, 1833, or New Years day, was spent in feasting, drinking, and dancing, agreeable to the Canadian custom. In amusements such as riding, shooting, wrestling, etc. when the weather was fair, and in the diversion of card playing when the state of affairs without would not permit athletic exercises, the month of January passed away, during which, we had changed our camp three times, in order to obtain better grass for our faithful animals. The weather was generally fine, but little snow had fallen, and we usually found plenty of game near our camp - therefore time passed away not only comfortably but pleasantly. On the seventh of February, three of our trappers went up the river about twenty miles in search of beaver, when they discovered five comical Indian forts, and supposing them tenantless, they approached them without apprehension intending to pass the coming night, in one of them; when they had arrived within a few paces of them; seven or eight Indians rushed out and fired upon them. One of their horses was shot down beneath his rider, who sprang up behind one of his comrades, and they fled unharmed back to camp, which they reached the same evening. We had on the twentieth an alarm from some of our hunters, stating the appearance of a large party of horsemen, on the opposite side of the river. Some of us concluded they were the same party of Indians, who had promised the R. M. F. Co. to come and trade with them on this stream during the present winter. A party sallied out to obtain information, and soon ascertained that a large herd of elk had caused the alarm. - These animals, when frightened or startled, throw up their heads, which their long necks enable them to do quite high, and have at a distance, much of the appearance of a band of horsemen - I mention this circumstance, because when they are advancing, or retiring, at a distance of three or four miles, the most sagacious Indians are often deceived by them; and cases when horsemen are mistaken for elk are by no means uncommon. The month of February, thus far, has been very pleasant; the days are mild and serene, and seldom miss the genial radiance of the sun - the nights, however, are by no means so comfortable, and the river is frozen to a depth of two feet. The snow has in many places quite disappeared, and the returning warblers have already announced the approach of gentle spring; whom we soon expected to see, arrayed in a joyous garb of leaves and flowers. Our hunters as usual leave camp about daylight, and generally return in time for breakfast, laden with supplies of meat of various kinds, so plentiful is game in this region. Several visitors from both the R. M. F. Co., and Walker's camp, arrived about this time, and from them we learned, that five men left the former company about the first of December, on Gordiez River in quest of meat, but were never afterward heard of; and the trail of a party of Indians going in the direction they had taken, was discovered a day or two subsequent. The possibility of their having voluntarily abandoned the company, and gone to the Spanish settlements or elsewhere, is at once refuted by the fact, that they left property behind them to the amount of several hundred dollars. They were without doubt killed by the Indians; their names were Quigleg, Smith, Smith, the other two not recollected.
We remained quietly awaiting the disappearance of snow and ice, which was realized about the twenty-fourth of March. Geese and swans are now performing their migratory returns, and are continually seen flying over us; ducks are also observed in abundance. Our numerous company was now divided into two parties, one of them headed by a Spaniard named Alvaris, amounting to about forty men, departed up Henry's Fork, intending to hunt on the Yellow Stone River; and finally join us on Green River, at the expiration of the spring hunt. Mr. Dripps with the remainder, including myself, marched a short distance up Lewis River, and halted, the weather being yet so cold and wet, as to render travelling extremely uncomfortable.
From this time forward until the 19th of April, the weather continued raw and windy, with frequent storms of snow; yet many of our trappers were successfully employed in taking beaver. Four of them returned quite unexpectedly from an expedition to Gray's Hole this evening, considerably alarmed. They came suddenly, it appears, upon several forts in a grove of aspen trees, in that place, which were still tenanted, as ascending volumes of smoke proved to their surprise, and they immediately fled, pursued by a large body of Indians, who followed with such speed that it was for some time doubtful which party would arrive first at a narrow gorge, where the only chance of saving their lives presented itself. The certainty of death if they were overtaken, or their retreat through the pass cut off, urged them on with an energy and rapidity unknown to less pressing dangers. Even their horses seemed to comprehend the peril, and seconding with generous efforts the wishes of their riders, bore them safely on, till they reached the defile, passing through which into the open plain beyond, relieved them from further pursuit. The earth was at this time covered with snow, and from their being obliged to take a route very circuitous to the pass, owing to rocks, precipices, and other obstacles, which horsemen could not safely venture over, but which the light armed, strong limbed, and swift footed Indians easily threaded, in an almost direct course to the place, which if first reached by them, cut off the only hope of escape to the poor trappers, their danger was indeed imminent, and scarcely had they passed through the defile, before the yells of the disappointed savages, arriving at the place, proclaimed how determined had been their pursuit, and how timely their flight.
Five horsemen were seen on the 19th, on the margin of Snake river, down which they turned and fled, on finding themselves discovered. Who they were could not be ascertained, but they were supposed to be Blackfeet. - Two days afterwards, we discovered a large smoke apparently near the forks, probably proceeding from the fires of Alvaris, from whose camp four men returned on the 22nd, and reported they were still on Henry's Fork, having been prevented from advancing further by the snow, then two feet deep on Cammas prairie; and were waiting its disappearance. Next day they returned back to their own quarters.
We removed on the 24th to Gray's creek, about eight miles, and encamped in the vicinity of a herd of buffalo; several of which were killed by our hunters. In the evening a small party of trappers came in from Salt River, where they were to have remained during the hunt; they were driven to the necessity of returning, by the presence of hostile Indians. Our hunters on the succeeding day, killed a number of fine fat bulls, and as usual, we fared well.
To the reader, it may seem trifling to record the simple fact of our having heard guns fired in the cedars on Lewis river, and likewise in the direction of Gray's Hole; but to the hunter of the Rocky Mountains such an occurrence is an event of importance, and should by no means be unheeded. Surrounded by tribes of savages, whose ethicks counsel theft and murder on every occasion, and authorize treachery and cruelty without discrimination, nothing but the most watchful care, and sagacious prudence can render him even comparatively safe, in the midst of so many dangers as are constantly thrown around him, by a wicked and wily foe. True the report of fire arms may indicate the vicinity of friends, but they may much more likely herald the approach of enemies; and the most common prudence will show the importance of a careful attention to these and other alarms. The most important event in the march of a week, may be the report of a strange fusil, so uncertain are the circumstances it may produce, and so probable the vicinity of danger.
On the 26th we proceeded to Gray's Hole, twelve miles, where we remained until the 3d of May following. Scattered about the hills near our camp, I saw a great number of porous rocks, each having a cavity much like an oven, with invariably a single orifice; which in one of the largest was so small as scarcely to admit a wolf, yet the area within was sufficiently large to have contained several men. These rocks consist of a very coarse sand stone, extremely hard and nearly round, the cavities within were also generally circular, and what was very singular, though rocks of this species were numerous and of various sizes, yet each one had a similar cavern. Different species of rocks are found here in abundance, such as granite, limestone, etc., but none of these were of the form, or had the peculiarity which characterized the sand stone formation. Could the waves of the ocean, which was evidently once here, have washed these fragments of stone into such regular form, and by continued attrition have worn out those remarkable cavities? - their similitude refuses the probability of the suggestion. - Could their nucleii have been of perishable material, and in the lapse of ages, by decomposition have left those singular cavities? - the uniformity of their appearance, and the fact that each rock of the kind had one and but one aperture, will not allow the conclusion. Were they formed by the industry and ingenuity of man? - if so, to what purpose was an amount of labor expended at once so vast and so difficult? It must remain an enigma for the present. The investigations of philosophers may hereafter elucidate their origin and uses, now a mystery.
We changed our encampment several times further south, and finally proceeded eastward about fifteen miles and halted on a small stream, which passes here through a beautiful valley, skirted as usual by lofty hills, covered with evergreen pine. A young man by the name of Benjamin Hardister, who came out last summer with Bonnyville, but had left him and taken refuge in our camp in the winter, died on the evening of the 8th, of some complaint, the germ of which he had no doubt brought with him from the United States. With the assistance of a man behind him on the same horse, he rode eight miles during the day previous to his decease. We buried him as decently as circumstances would permit the next day, "and left him alone in his glory." On the 10th, we crossed the mountain with difficulty, in consequence of the narrow and irregular condition of the paths formed by buffalo, passing sometimes along the uneven bottom of the ravines, sometimes up the broken and steep declivity of their sides, winding often among fragments of rock, and occasionally through the almost impassible pine forests, that cover the middle region of the Rocky Mountains; and after a very tiresome march of twenty miles, found ourselves on Salt river, in a fine valley about fifteen miles long, by four broad, and surrounded by high mountains, whose bases are covered by dense forests of pine and aspen. The river runs through it in nearly a north direction, and several small creeks with willow and aspen timbered margins, flow into it from the mountain. The valley is level, having but little sage, is covered with short grass, like all other timberless plains, and is entirely free from those little holes, burrowed by badgers, often found in other valleys, which are highly dangerous to equestrians, and frequently cause serious accidents to those, Indians and others, who kill deer or buffalo by running them on horseback. Instances of valuable horses crippled by stepping in these holes while running, are of frequent occurrence in plains where these holes are numerous. We found several bands of buffalo here, and had the good fortune to kill ten or twelve. - On the 14th several of us went up this river in quest of salt.
From the head of this valley, twelve miles from camp, we proceeded three miles through a range of hills, and came to the valley of the Boiling Kettles, already described; passing up a small branch that empties into Salt river on the same side, and a short distance above the Boiling Kettles, to its head, we found several low wet places where salt was found by elutriation in considerable quantities; in one, particularly, a layer of cubic and pyramidical chrystals seven inches in thickness, found above a black, stinking, miry substance several rods in extent, furnished us with abundance. The salt found in the country is, however, more commonly attached to stones, in the bottoms of dried up pools, like ice, and requires a hard blow, in most cases, to separate them. Breaking from the strata as much salt as we could conveniently carry, we collected the fragments and put them into bags, which we lashed behind our saddles, and sallied out into the prairie on our return to camp. We visited several springs situated on the side of a bald hill, about half a mile from the Kettles. Extending several yards around these springs, the rocky cement, as well as the earth, is hollow, and the noise of our footsteps, increasing as we advanced, at length redoubled to that degree that some of my comrades refused to approach the several holes and caves found near the Kettles, which are much smaller than those in the plain, being in no instance more than two feet high. Like them, however, the water continually boils over from a small aperture from the top, ever depositing a slimy greenish matter which soon hardens into rock. There are likewise many cavities at the basis of the Kettles, several inches in diameter, from which the boiling water constantly exudes. The surplus water proceeding both from the Kettles and cavities above mentioned, flows down a plain several feet, till it empties into a deep pool three or four rods in diameter; and the outlet of this one becomes the inlet of another, two or three paces distant, of about the same magnitude. The water in both pools is of a bright yellow color, and vapors, disagreeably odorate, are continually emanating from it. Large quantities of sulphur have been deposited on the plain through which it passes, having a beautiful yellow appearance, which can be seen from every part of the valley; though at a distance it seems white. We remained about the springs some time, and set out for camp, where we arrived shortly after dark.
We passed down the river about four miles on the 15th, and encamped on its border. Snow had fallen during the past night to the depth of several inches, but disappeared about noon to-day. On the 10th, a party of us went up to the Boiling Kettles, to procure buffalo meat; we found the valley quite covered with them, but killed a few bulls only; however, the cows are poor and in most cases inferior to the bulls at this season of the year. We saw several bears, but they are not now eatable, except in case of absolute necessity. On our way back we halted for the night, shortly after dark, in the narrows, near a mound, having precisely the shape and appearance of a vastly large haystack.
The ranges of mountains which nearly surround the valley of the springs, as they follow the course of the river down on each side, become greatly approximated to each other, and confining that stream to very small borders and compressed breadth, constitutes what is here termed the narrows; and again expanding or receding from each other, form Salt river valley.
At day-break, the next morning, we set out for camp, passed from the narrows into the plain, and down it several miles, when we discovered eight or ten objects at a distance having the appearance of elk or horsemen; proceeding on our course until we met them, they proved to be a party of trappers from Bonnyville's Company. They informed us that their camp was in the hills on a small stream a mile or so from the river; that they left Walker on Bear river, and came from the head of Black-foot to that of the stream they are now on. On the following day they moved down and encamped with us.
On the 19th we raised camp, and passed through this valley northward, and halted on Lewis river, a few hundred yards above the junction of Salt river with it, after a march of eight miles. This river is confined, a short distance above us, by formidable walls or bluff mountains, forming in some places very high and perpendicular banks, impassable for even those sure footed animals, mules; hence travellers are compelled to cross the mountains into Pierre's Hole, and then again to cross them to Jackson's Hole; when if it were feasible to pass up the river direct, two thirds of the distance we are forced to go, and the fatigue of crossing two mountains, might be avoided.
A narrow valley extended a short distance below our camp, through which the river runs in a north-west direction. The weather was, at this time, cloudy, with some rain, and the shelter of the little cabins, constructed with our blankets was found quite agreeable. About four miles below our camp, we forded the river, on the succeeding day, and proceeding about six miles further down, we halted at the mouth of a small creek, in the neighborhood of which we found wild onions in abundance, and also a species of lettuce in great plenty - weather continuing wet and disagreeable, time passed along rather heavily.
We passed six miles down on the 21st, to a fine valley about ten miles long, in which the river gradually turned to the westward, and at the head of which we rested for the night. Continuing our journey next morning, we went down to the other extremity of the valley, and again halted, having travelled in a direction nearly west, with weather still hazy and uncomfortable.
On the twenty-third, we ascended the point of a hill which juts in to the river at the lower end of the valley, and then passing over an irregular plain, northwest, a short distance, we reached a small stream, which we followed up into the mountains nine miles, and encamped. Our road, in many places, was almost impassable, in consequence of the thick dense growth of aspen, through which we were obliged to force our way, to the no small detriment of our clothing, and in great danger of losing our eyes, or being at least severely bruised by the numerous branches, which were continually flying back from a strained position, caused by the pack horses forcing themselves through; and which frequently coming against us with no gentle force, in their efforts to regain their natural position, seemed determined to give us a practical lesson on the elasticity of that species of timber. By no means greatful for the instruction thus forcibly imparted, we were heartily rejoiced when the task was ended, and ourselves at liberty to retire and seek repose; fully impressed with the conviction that though to spare the rod, in many instances might spoil the child; yet its too free application on an occasion like the present, would hurt our feelings extremely, without being productive of any beneficial result.
The sun on the morning of the twenty-fourth arose clear and pleasant, and with the prospect of a fair day before us, we again started on our pilgrimage. We ascended a fork and crossed the mountains, when we arrived at the head of a stream flowing into Pierre's Holes; which we followed down into the plain, four miles; there leaving it, we passed over to the stream which marks the pass to Jackson's Hole, about two miles, and halted, very much fatigued, about one mile above the battle ground of last summer.
Next day, with one companion, I returned to Lewis river, in search of several horses which we lost while crossing the mountains the day previous. Again we passed over it, and searched every bottom on the several small forks in the mountain without success, when we went down to Lewis river, and finally found them quietly feeding in a ravine, to which they had strayed near the prairie. We succeeded in catching them and set off on our return at a round pace, which brought us to camp, some time in the evening. On the succeeding morning, in company with a friend or two, I visited the battle ground which was situate in a grove of aspen trees, several hundred yards in extent. The pen or fort was probably about fifty feet square, was composed of green and dry aspen timber, and though hastily, yet firmly constructed. It had sunk down in some places, however, from decay, below the height of two feet perpendicular. The beseiged had excavated holes or cavities in the earth, within the pen, sufficiently capacious for two or three persons to remain in, quite below the surface of the ground. These holes extended entirely round the pen; and we ascertained that the Indians had fired, in most cases, from small holes at the surface of the ground, beneath the pen or breast work, which circumstance (happily for them) was not observed in the smoke and confusion of the battle, or they would have been annihilated in a few moments. The attack was principally made on the north side, where at every tree, sticks were still seen piled up against the roots, from which the beseigers fought; who had likewise raised a heap of brush and logs, a few paces from the pen or fort, to nearly or quite the same height; and had the Indian allies not objected, in the hope of capturing their arms, ammunition and other equipments, it would have soon been so greatly increased and advanced toward the pen, as to have insured its destruction, if fired, with all its contents and defenders. Parties were also stationed behind trees, and clusters of willows on the other sides of the fort, which was thus entirely surrounded. The trees both within and outside of the pen, were covered with the marks of balls, or of the axes successfully employed by our comrades, to exhume and save them; lead being very valuable in these remote regions, where it is so extremely necessary, both to the purposes of defence and subsistence. Bones, of both men and animals, lay scattered about, in and around the pen, bearing evident indications of having contributed their fleshy covering, to the sustenance of wolves and ravens; who undoubtedly gratified their gastronomical propensities, after a protracted fast, for some days subsequent to the conflict.
Mr. Fitzpatrick received information from the Blackfeet, whom he encountered last fall, that the Gros-Vent's after separating from Fontenelle on Green river, last August, passed over to the head of the Yellow Stone, and were there discovered and attacked by the Crows, who captured their horses, took many women and children prisoners, and killed a great portion of the men. Some few, however, of these unfortunate wretches escaped, and after enduring great hardships, reached their friends the Blackfeet, in a state of starvation, nakedness and suffering seldom met with, even among those prowling robbers who are frequently out from the villages for months together, in search of opportunities to steal horses from either whites or Indians, and hence are often necessarily exposed to cold, hunger, privation and danger, almost beyond the limits of human endurance.
On our return to camp, we learned that one of our men had been severely wounded by a grizzly bear, during an excursion for buffalo, in our absence. It appeared that himself and several others discovered one of these formidable animals, near a grove of willows on the margin of a small stream. They approached and mortally wounded him; but he succeeded in crawling into the brush. Our unlucky comrade, unwilling to let the animal escape, advanced to the bushes, and was at the same instant attacked by the enraged bear, who sprang upon and threw him. His companions were so paralyzed with the fear that he would be torn to pieces, that they could render him no assistance, with the exception of one, a well known one eyed Spaniard by the name of Manuel, a famous hunter, who, quick as thought, threw his gun to his eye, and fired; fortunately the ball was well directed, and the huge beast fell lifeless beside the prostrate man, who escaped with life, but was so severely bitten in the hand, arm and thigh, as to be unfit for duty for several weeks.
We passed slowly over to Jackson's Hole, a distance of twenty miles, and halted, on the 31st, on a small "slough," west of Lewis river. This word is used in the mountains to designate that portion of a river separated from the main channel or current, by the intervention of an island. We passed some immense banks of snow on the mountain, but succeeded in getting over without accident; though not without difficulty; and after the fatiguing march of the day, were well drenched in the evening, by a shower of rain, which the reader may justly conclude, did not, in any degree contribute to our comfort or complacency.
Though very little pleased with the aspect of the weather on the morning of June 1st, when we arose but little refreshed, and found the rain still falling at intervals, yet we raised camp, passed up the valley about fifteen miles, and halted on the east side of the river; our course having been nearly north-east. We found a large herd of buffalo in the valley, and killed several; also a large bear, which paid with his life the temerity of awaiting our approach.
Next day we left the river, and travelled eastward about four miles, to a stream some forty paces in breadth flowing into it, called "Gros Vent's Fork," from that tribe having passed here some years since on their way to the Anipahoes, with whom they are on terms of intimacy and often exchange friendly visits . This stream is quite shallow, having its bed formed of large round black rocks, over which the current dashes with noisy rapidity. Its borders are quite naked in some places, though generally a few scattering trees appear, overhanging the water. During the afternoon it rained considerably, and we found a pretty close approximation to our camp fires by no means detrimental to comfort.
On the 4th we went up this stream into the mountain eight miles, and halted at the mouth of a small fork. Our way, (it could hardly be called a road, though we were all on horseback,) was tolerable, if we except a dry red bluff, projecting into the run at high water, over which, at such times, passers are compelled to follow a narrow trail, scarcely wide enough to secure footing at the very brink of a frightful precipice, whose base is washed by the river, for several rods; but when the river is low, this may be passed below without danger. At the foot of the bluff, are the bones of many buffaloes and elk, that have been precipitated over it and killed.
June 5th we ascended the left fork five or six miles, and halted in a very small valley on the right fork of three into which the stream is subdivided. The "Trois Tetons" bear due west, consequently our course from Jackson's Hole has been directly east. This section of the country is graced with irregular clay bluffs of various colors, as red, yellow, white, etc., which give it a pleasant and variegated appearance.
We crossed over a low "divide" to a small stream on the 6th, which we followed to Green river, about ten miles distant from our last encampment, at which place we found several trappers who had been absent upwards of a month. They had caught some beaver, and met with no accident to interrupt their occupation.
With a single companion, I departed on the morning of the 7th, to ascertain if any of our long absent friends, who left us at "Pierre's Hole," with John Gray nearly a year since, had arrived at "Horse creek," the appointed place of rendezvous. Passing down the plains of Green river, twenty miles, we discovered several squaws scattered over the prairie engaged in digging roots, who informed us that a party of whites and Snakes, were now at Bonnyville's fort, a few miles below. We continued on our way down, and found at the place indicated by our informants, Capt. Walker with some of his men, also John Gray, and a small party headed by Fallen and Vanderburgh, who received an outfit from Wm. H. Vanderburgh, in Pierre's Hole last year. These different parties had made good hunts, without being molested by unfriendly Indians. One of the partisans, Fallen, went to Teos last winter for supplies, and on his return lost two Spaniards, "Engages," who were frozen to death on their horses. He also suffered greatly from cold and fatigue. One of Capt. Walker's men had been attacked by a brown bear, but escaped with a broken arm. Some fifty or sixty lodges of Snakes lay encamped about the fort, and were daily exchanging their skins and robes, for munitions, knives, ornaments, etc., with the whites, who kept a quantity of goods opened for the purpose of trading in one of the block houses, constituting a part of the fort. This establishment was doubtless intended for a permanent trading post, by its projector, who has, however, since changed his mind, and quite abandoned it. - From the circumstance of a great deal of labor having been expended in its construction, and the works shortly after their completion deserted, it is frequently called "Fort Nonsense." It is situated in a fine open plain, on a rising spot of ground, about three hundred yards from Green river on the west side, commanding a view of the plains for several miles up and down that stream. On the opposite side of the fort about two miles distant, there is a fine willowed creek, called "Horse creek," flowing parallel with Green river, and emptying into it about five miles below the fortification. The river from the fort, in one direction, is terminated by a bold hill rising to the height of several hundred feet on the opposite side of the creek, and extending in a line parallel with it. - Again on the east side of the river, an abrupt bank appears rising from the water's edge, and extending several miles above and below, till the hills, jutting in on the opposite side of the river; finally conceal it from the sight. The fort presents a square enclosure, surrounded by posts or pickets firmly set in the ground, of a foot or more in diameter, planted close to each other, and about fifteen feet in length. At two of the corners, diagonally opposite to each other, block houses of unhewn logs are so constructed and situated, as to defend the square outside of the pickets, and hinder the approach of an enemy from any quarter. The prairie in the vicinity of the fort is covered with fine grass, and the whole together seems well calculated for the security both of men and horses.
On the 8th, I returned to camp, which had moved down and was now in a fertile bottom fifteen miles below the fort. Here we remained tranquilly, nothing worthy of record occurring until the evening of the 11th, when four of our trappers, who had been absent from camp some time, returned in a state of perfect nudity and most unparalleled misery. Their bodies were broiled by the heat of the sun to that degree, that the pain produced by coming in contact with our clothes was almost insupportable.
It seems that, four days previous, they prepared a raft for the purpose of crossing Lewis river; having before ascertained that it was not fordable, and when every arrangement was completed, they drove in their horses, which swam over safely, and landed on the shore opposite. Stripping themselves for greater security, they pushed off into the stream. The velocity of the current, however, capsized their raft, on which their guns, traps, saddles, blankets, beavers and clothes were fastened, and carried the whole under an immense quantity of floating drift wood, beyond the possibility of recovery; and they only saved their lives by swimming, which they with difficulty accomplished, and faint, weary, and despairing, landed on the other side, reduced by this unfortunate accident to a condition the most miserable and hopeless. - A few moments reflection, while taking a little rest, convinced them that their only chance of saving their lives, lay in endeavoring to find and reach our camp, naked and entirely destitute of arms, provisions, and other necessaries as they then were. With scarcely a ray of hope to cheer them on their dreary task, they mounted their bare backed horses, and started in quest of us. The burning heat of the sun parched their skins, and they had nothing to shield them from his powerful rays; the freezing air of the night chilled and benumbed their unprotected bodies, and they had no covering to keep off the cold; the chill storms of rain and hail pelted mercilessly on them, and they could not escape the torture; the friction produced by riding without a saddle or any thing for a substitute chaffed off the skin, and even flesh, and without any means of remedying the misfortune, or alleviating the pain, for they were prevented from walking by the stones and sharp thorns of the prickly pair, which lacerated their feet. They were compelled, though the agony occasioned by it was intense, to continue their equestrian march, till amidst this accumulation of ills, they reached our camp; where by kind treatment, and emollient applications, their spirits were restored and their sufferings relieved. Add to the complication of woes above enumerated, the knawing pangs of hunger which the reader will infer, that they must have experienced in no slight degree, from the fact that they did not taste a morsel of food during those four ages of agony, and we have an aggregate of suffering hardly equalled in the history of human woe.
After the return of our comrades, as above related, nothing of note occurred for some time; during which we enjoyed the luxury of pleasant weather, and a fine air.
On the 25th, I departed, with some others, to meet the St. Louis Company, who were daily expected. We passed along the plain at the base of the wind mountains, a very extensive and lofty range, crossing several small creeks, which at some distance below us unite and form New Fork. While on our march we killed an antelope, and also a brown bear, which last we discovered on the open prairie, several miles from any timber, and immediately gave chase to him; but as soon as we approached to within a few paces, he wheeled and pursued those who were nearest to him; the superior fleetness of our horses, however, soon put us beyond his reach, and he again bounded off in another direction, we in turn again becoming the pursuers. We fired several shots at him, some of which, though well directed, only served to increase his fury. For a considerable length of time we were alternately pursuing or pursued, till finally after many shots had been fired at him, a ball penetrated the scull between his eyes, and simultaneously put a period to our sport, and his existence.
"At the close of the day" we retired to rest, in the open prairie, as usual, with a blanket for a bed, a saddle for a pillow, a robe for a covering, and the clear blue star-studded sky for a canopy. I slept, and gentle visions mingled with my slumbers; home, mother, sisters, brothers, passed before me in the pleasing panorama of a dream; again I seemed to tread the lovely streets of my native village, which had become a populous city. I sought and found the well remembered haunts of my childhood, and pressed in imagination, the friendly hands of the companions of my youth. The scene was too delightful to be real, and from the sweet delusions of fancy, I awoke to the unwelcome conviction of absence from home, and the certainty of comparative solitude, in the Rocky Mountains. We arose, and pursued our journey, "ere morn unbarred the gates of light," and soon after sunrise discovered the plains covered with buffalo, but so unusually wild that the report of a single gun set them all at once in motion.
Few persons, even in these romantic regions, have ever witnessed so interesting a scene as was presented to our view from an eminence or high mound, on which we were fortunately situated, overlooking the plains to a great distance. Immense herds of bison were seen in every direction galloping over the prairie, like vast squadrons of cavalry performing their accustomed evolutions. Platoons in one part filing off, and in another returning to the main bodies; scattering bands moving in various courses, enveloped in clouds of dust, now lost, and now reappearing to view, in their rapid movements; detachments passing and repassing, from one point to another, at full speed; and now and then a solitary patriarch of the mountain herds, halting for a moment behind the dashing cohorts, to ascertain, if possible, the cause and extent of the danger and alarm; but soon again with instinctive impulse, hurrying to join his less fearless files; and all rushing on, till forms and numbers disappear in the dust and distance, and nothing remains visible of the long black lines but dark clouds slowly sweeping over the distant plains, which soon dissolve, and leave no trace of the tranquil thousands of buffalo, so lately grazing in peaceful quiet on the wide plains beneath our wondering, wondering vision.
When these scenes of living interest had faded into absolute obscurity, we descended from the "Butte," and continued on our way as far as the Sandy, where we halted a short time for breakfast, which having despatched, we again set off, and soon after discovered the traces of two horsemen, going in the direction of our camp. - From the circumstance of our not having before seen them, which we must have done had they been on the plains; we concluded that when we stopped for breakfast they were on the same stream a short distance above us, and had started again shortly after we halted; also that they were sent express in advance of the St. Louis Company, to announce its arrival. We, however, continued on, passed over the high barren plain which separates the waters of the Platte from those of Green river, and having descended to Sweet Water, finally halted on its margin.