Introduction to The River of the West

Joe Meek's Years in the Rocky Mountains


This is the story of Joe Meek and his years as a mountainman. Meek came west in 1828 as an employee of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, and spent the next twelve years engaged in the fur trade. He worked for the various fur companies and later became a free trapper. He often traveled with Bridger's brigade, and participated many of the important events of the period.

In the later years of his life, he told his story to Oregon historian Frances Fuller Victor, who recorded the narrative we see here. Meek had a vivid memory of his years in the mountains, and he enlivened the account with many entertaining anecdotes of mountainman life.

This on-line book consists of the first twenty-one chapters of the original edition as published in 1870 by Mrs. Victor. The remaining chapters of the original edition deal with Meek's second career as an Oregon settler, after retiring from his life as a mountainman. While this material is a useful source for the history of settlement in Oregon, it is beyond the scope of this electronic fur-trade library, and is not included here.

Bibliographical Information

Originally published as:
Victor, Mrs. Frances A. Fuller. The River of the West. Hartford, Connecticut and Toledo, Ohio: R. W. Bliss and Co., 1870.

A recent edition, in 2 volumes with Introduction and notes by Winfred Blevins, was published by Mountain Press Publishing Co., Missoula, MT, 1983. It is currently in print, by Tamarak Books.

Links to the Text

  • Illustrations
    View book on-line
  • Prefactory Chapter
    Astoria--Fort Vancouver--Its isolated Position--Precautions against Indians--The Hudson's Bay Company--Its Policy and Intercourse with the Indians--The Arrival of the "Brigade" -- their Yearly Arrivals--Punishment of Indian Offenders--Indian Strategy--A Hero--The American Fur Companies--Their Dealings with the Indians--Ashley's Expeditions to Green River--Attack on Smith's Party--Wyeth's Expeditions--Fort Hall--Decline of the Fur Trade--Causes of the Indians' Hostility--Dangers attending the Trapper's Life
  • Chapter I
    Early Life of Meek--He leaves Home--Enlists in a Fur Company -- On the March--A Warning Voice--Frontier Sports--Last Vestige of Civilization--On the Plains--A first Adventure--A firm Front--A Parley--The Summer Rendezvous--An enchanting Picture--The Free Trapper's Indian Wife--Wild Carousals--Routine of Camp Life--Smoked Moccasins versus Green Ones--A "Trifling Fellow"
  • Chapter II
    The Camp in Motion--A Trapping Expedition--Opposition to the Hudson's Bay Company--Beautiful Scenery--The Lost Leader Found--Rejoicings in Camp--The "Luck" of the Trappers-- Conference of Leaders--The "Devil's Own"--Blackfoot Character--Account of the Tribes
  • Chapter III
    How Beaver are Taken--Beaver Dams--Formation of Meadows--Beaver Lodges--"Bachelors"--Trapping in Winter--"Up to Trap"-- Blackfeet on the Trail--On Guard--The Trapper's Ruse--A disappointed Bear--A Fight with Blackfeet--" Out of Luck --Alone in the Mountains--Splendid Views--A Miserable Night--The last Luxury of Life-- The Awfulness of Solitude--A Singular Discovery--A Hell on Earth--A Joyful Recognition--Hard Times in Camp--The Negro's Porcupine--Craig's Rabbit--Deep Snows--What the Scout saw--Bighorn River--"Colter's Hell"--An Alarm--Arrival at Wind River--Christmas
  • Chapter IV
    Removal to Powder River--A Trapper's Paradise - The Transformation in the Wilderness--The Encampment by Night--Meek takes to Study-- On the Move--Loss of Horses and Traps--Robbed and Insulted by a Bear--Crossing the Yellowstone--A Novel Ferriage--Annoyance from Blackfeet--A Cache Opened--A Comrade Killed--Rude Burial Service--Return to Rendezvous--Gay Times--The old Partners take Leave
  • Chapter V
    Grizzly Bears--An Adventure with a Grizzly--The Three "Bares"-- The Mountain-Man's Manners--Joking the Leaders--The Irishman and the Booshway--How Sublette climbed a Tree and escaped a Bear-- Rival Trappers--Whisky as a Strong Card--Ogden's Indian Wife-- Her Courage and Escape--Winter Quarters--Crow Horse-Thieves-- An Expedition on Foot--Night Attack on the Indian Fort-- Fitzpatrick Missing--Destitution in Camp--A "Medicine-Man" consulted -- "Making Medicine"--A Vision Obtained -- Fitzpatrick Found--Death of Smith--An Expedition on Snow-Shoes
  • Chapter VI
    Annoying Competition--The Chief's Daughter--Sublette Wounded-- Forty Days of Isolation--Sublette and Meek captured by Snake Indians--A Solemn Council--Sentence of Death--Hope Deferred--A Rescue--The "Mountain Lamb"--An Obstinate Rival--Blackfeet Marauders--Fitzpatrick's Adventures in the Mountains--"When the Pie was opened the Birds began to Sing"--Rough Sports--A Man on Fire-- Brigades ready for the Start--Blackfeet Caravan--Peaceful Overtures-- The Half-Breed's Revenge - A Battle--Reinforcements--Death of Sinclair--Sublette Wounded--Greenhorns--A false Alarm--Indian Adroitness--A Deserted Fort--Incident of the Blackfoot Woman--Murder of a Party by Blackfeet
  • Chapter VII
    The March to the Humboldt--Scarcity of Game--Terrible Sufferings-- The Horrors of Thirst and Famine--Eating Ants, Crickets and Mules-- Return to Snake River--A lucky Discovery--A Trout Supper--The Country of the Diggers--Some Account of Them--Anecdote of Wyeth and Meek--Comparison of Indian Tribes--The Blackfeet--The Crows-- The Coast Tribes and the Mountain Tribes--The Columbia River Indians--Their Habits, Customs, and Dress--Indian Commerce--The Indians of the Plains--Their Dress, Manners, and Wealth--The Horses of the Plains--Language--The Indian's Moral Nature--Hungry and Hospitable Savage. A Trap set for a Rival--An Ambush--Death of Vanderburg--Skirmish with Blackfeet--The Woman Interpreter taken Prisoner--Bravery of her Husband--Happy Finale--Meek Rescues the "Mountain Lamb"--Intense Cold--Threatened by Famine--The Den of Grizzlys--Second Daniels
  • Chapter VIII
    A Visit from Blackfeet - The Green River Rendezvous--A "Powerful Drunk"--Mad Wolf--A Friendly Warning--A Trip to the Salt Lake Country--Meek Joins Jo. Walker's California Expedition--Instinct of the Mule--On the Humboldt River -- Massacre of Diggers at Mary's River--Vain Explorations -- Crossing the Sierra Nevadas--Hardships and Sufferings--The Sacramento Valley--Delight of the Trappers-- Meeting with Spanish Soldiers A Parley--Escorted to Monterey--A Hospitable Reception--The Native Californians--Visit to the Mohave Village--Meeting with Trapp and Jervais--Infamous Conduct at the Moquis Village--The Return March
  • Chapter IX
    In the Camanche Country--A Surprise and a Rapid Movement--The Mule Fort--A Camanche Charge--Sure Aim--Another Charge--More Dead Indians--Woman's Weapon, the Tongue--Fearful Heat and Sufferings from Thirst--The Escape by Night--The South Park--Death of Guthrie--Meeting with Bonneville--Indignant Reproaches
  • Chapter X
    Gossip at Rendezvous--Adventures in the Crow Country -- Fitzpatrick Picked by the Crows and Flies from Them--Honor among Thieves-- Unfair Treatment of Wyeth--Bonneville Snubbed at Walla-Walla--He Rejects good Counsel--Wyeth's Threat, and its Fulfillment--Division of Territory
  • Chapter XI
    In the Blackfoot Country--A Visit to Wyeth's Trappers--Sorry Experiences--Condolence and its Effect--The Visitors become Defenders--A Battle with Fire and Sword--Fighting for Life--The Trappers' Victory--A Trapping Excursion--Meek Plays a Trick and has one Played on Him--A Run to Camp--Taking up Traps--A Blackfoot Ambush--A Running Fire--A lucky Escape--W inter Camp on the Yellowstone--Interpretation of a Dream--A Buffalo Hunt and a Blackfoot Surprise--Meek's Mule Story
  • Chapter XII
    Setting up as a Family Man--First Love--Cut out by the Booshway-- Reward of Constancy--Beauty of Umentucken--Her Dress, Her Horse and Equipments--Anecdotes of the Mountain Lamb--Her Quarrel with The Trapper--Capture by Crows--Her Rescue--Meek Avenges an Insult--A Row in Camp--The Female Element--Death of Umentucken
  • Chapter XIII
    Visitors at Rendezvous--Advent of Missionaries--What Brought Them-- Bonneville's account of the Nez Perces and Flatheads--An Enthusiastic View of Their Characters--Origin of some of Their Religious Observances--An Indian's Idea of a God--Material Good Desired--Mistake of the Missionaries--First Sermon in the Rocky Mountains--Interrupted by Buffaloes -- Precept and Example--Dr. Whitman's Character--The Missionaries Separate--Dr. Whitman Returns to the States
  • Chapter XIV
    Meek Falls into the Hands of Crows--The Story as He tells It--He Packs Moccasins, and Bears the Jeers of the Fair Sex--Bridger's Camp Discovered and the Lie Found out--A Desperate Situation--Signaling the Horse-Guard--A Parley with Bridger--Successful Strategy--Capture of Little-Gun--Meek Set at Liberty with a New Name--A Fort Besieged by Bears--A Lazy Trapper--The Decoy of the Delawares-- Winter Amusements--The Ishmaelite of the Wilderness--March through the Crow Country--Return to Green River--Punishment of the Bannacks--Consolidation--An Excursion--Intercepted by Crows--A Scattered Camp--The Escape
  • Chapter XV
    An Express from Fitzpatrick--The Approach of Missionaries Announced--The Caravan Welcomed by a Party of Trappers--Noisy Demonstrations--Curiosity of the Indians--The Missionary Ladies--Preparations in the Indian Villages--Reception of the Missionaries by the Nez Perces and Flatheads--Kind Treatment from the Hudson's Bay Company-- The Missionaries' Land of Promise--Visit to Fort Vancouver--Selection of Missionary Stations
  • Chapter XVI
    The Den of Rattlesnakes--The Old Frenchman--How to Keep Snakes out of Bed--The Prairie Dog's Tenants at Will--Fight with Blackfeet--Policy of War--A Duel Averted--A Run-away Bear -- Meek's Best Bear Fight--Winter Quarters on Powder River -- Robbing Bonneville's Men
  • Chapter XVII
    A Dissipated Camp--A Crow Carousal--Picked Crows--A Fight with Blackfeet--Manhead Killed--Night Visit to the Blackfoot Village-- "Cooning a River--Stanley the Indian Painter -- Desperate Fight with Blackfeet--"The Trapper's Last Shot" -- War and Peace--In the Wrong Camp--To Rendezvous on Wind River--Mr. Gray, and His Adventures--Massacre of Indian Allies--Capt. Stuart Robbed by Crows -- Newell's Address to the Chiefs
  • Chapter XVIII
    Decline of the Fur Trade--Wild Scenes at Rendezvous--A Missionary Party--Entertained by a War Dance--Meek in Armor--Deserted by his Indian Spouse--The Pursuit - Meek abuses a Missionary and Kidnaps his Wife--Meek's Black Eyed Daughter--Singing for a Biscuit--Trapping Again--A hot March, and Fearfull Suffering from Thirst--The Old Flathead Woman--Water at Last
  • Chapter XIX
    A Chat about Buffalo Hunting--Buffalo Horses--The Start--The Pursuit--The Charge--Tumbles--Horsemanship--The Glory of Mountain Life--How a Nez Perce Village Hunts Buffalo--Kit Carson and the Frenchman on a Run--Mountain Manners
  • Chapter XX
    The Solitary Trapper--A Jest--Among the Nez Perces--Their Eagerness to be Taught--Meek is Called upon to Preach---He modestly Complies--Asks for a Wife--Polygamy Defended--Meek Gets a Wife--The Preacher's Salary--Surprised by Blackfeet -- Death of Allen--The Last Rendezvous--Anecdote of Shawnee Jim--The new Wife Missing-- Meeting with Farnham--Cold and Famine--Succor and Food--Parties at Fort Crockett--Setting up in Trade--How Al. Saved His Bacon--Bad Times--War upon Horse Thieves--In Search of Adventures--Green River Canyon--Running Antelope--Gambling--Vain Hunt for Rendezvous-Reflections and Half-Resolves--The last Trapping Expedition
  • Chapter XXI
    A new Start in Life--Mountain-Men for Pioneers