Daniel Potts Letter 2

Rocky Mountains, July 16, 1826

Dear and Respected Brother,

After I left Philadelphia, I was taken with a severe spell of rheumatism which continued with me for about two months. I arrived in Illinois on the 1st of July in the same year, where I remained until March following, when I took my deparure for Missouri, from thence immediately entered on an expedition of Henry and Ashly, bound for the Rocky Mountain and Columbia River. In this enterprize I consider it unnecessary to give you all the particulars appertaining to my travell I left St. Louis on April 3d, 1822, under command of Andrew Henry with a boat and one hundred men and arrived at Council Bluffs on May 1st; from thence we ascended the river to Cedar Fort, about five hundred miles. Here our provisions being exhausted, and no prospect of game near at hand, I concluded to make the best of my way back in company with eight others, and unfortunately was separated from them. By being too accessary in this misfortune, I was left in the Prarie without arms or any means of making fire, and half starved to death. Now taking into consideration my situation, about three hundred and fifty miles from my frontier Post, this would make the most cruel heart sympathise for me. The same day I met with three Indians, whom I hailed, and on my advancing they prepared for action by presenting their arms, though I approached them without hesitation, and gave them my hand. They conducted me to their village, where I was treated with the greatest humanity imaginable. There I remained four days, during which time they had many religious ceremonies too tedious to insert, after which I met with some traders who conducted me as far down as the ? Village - this being two hundred miles from the Post. I departed alone as before, with only about 1/4 lb. suet, and in six days reached the Post where I met with Gen. Ashley, on a second expedition, with whom I entered for the second time, and arrived at the mouth of Yellow Stone about the middle of October. This is one of the most beautiful situations I ever saw; from this I immediately embarked for the mouth of Muscle Shell, in company with twenty one others and shortly after our arrival, eight men returned to the former place. Here the game being very scarce, the prospect was very discouraging, though after a short time the Buffaloes flocked in in great abundance; likewise the Mountain Goats; the like I have never seen since. Twenty six of the latter were slain in the compass of 100 yards square, in the space of two hours. During the winter the Buffaloes came into our camp, one of which I was induced to charge upon by our company without fire arms, at first with a tomahawk only. After approaching very close, the Bull prepared for action with the most dismal look and sprang at me. When within one leap of me, I let fly the tomahawk, which caused him to retreat. After returning to our cabin, I was induced to make the second attempt, armed with tomahawk, knife and spear, accompanied by five or six others armed. After traveling a short distance, we discovered the Beast, and in a concealed manner I approached him within fifty yards, when he discovered me, and made a rapid retreat, though, there being much falling timber, I soon overtook him - finding there was no escape he made battle. On the first onset, I put out one eye with the spear; the second failed in the other eye; on the third I pierced him to the heart, and immediately despatched him. The winter set in early, and the ice on the river froze to the immense thickness of four feet and the snow of an ordinary depth. The river did not discharge itself until the 4th of April; on the 5th we were visited by a party of Indians, and on the 6th we embarked in canoes for the river Judith.

In about one day's travel we discovered where a party of Indians had wintered who were our enemies, but fortunately had not discovered us. On the 11th, I was severely wounded through both knees by an accidental discharge of a rifle; whereby I was obliged to be conducted to our establishment at the mouth of Yellow Stone; here I remained until September. We were favored by the arrival of Major Henry from the Ariccarees who had departed from this place with a small brigade for the relief of Gen. Ashley, who was defeated by that nation, with the loss of sixteen killed and fourteen wounded, out of forty men. After Major Henry joined them and the troops from Council Bluffs, under command of Col Levengworth, they gave them battle; the loss of our enemy was from sixty to seventy. The number of the wounded not known, as they evacuated their village in the night. On our part there was only two wounded, but on his return he was fired upon by night by a party of Mannans wherein two was killed and as many wounded. Only two of our guns were fired which dispatched an Indian and they retreated. Shortly after his arrival we embarked for the big Horn on the Yellow Stone in the Crow Indian country, here I made a small hunt for Beaver. From this place we crossed the first range of Rocky Mountain into a large and beautiful valley adorned with many flowers and interspersed with many useful herbs. At the upper end of this valley on the Horn is the most beautiful scene of nature I have ever seen. It is a large boiling spring at the foot of a small burnt mountain about two rods in diameter and depth not ascertained, discharging sufficient water for an overshot mill, and spreading itself to a considerable width forming a great number of basons of various shapes and sizes, of incrustation of sediment, running in this, manner for the space of 200 feet, there falling over a precipice of about 30 feet perpendicular into the head of the horn or confluence of Wind River. From thence across the 2d range of mountains to Wind River Valley. In crossing this mountain I unfortunately froze my feet and was unable to travel from the loss of two toes. Here I am obliged to remark the humanity of the natives (the Indians) towards me, who conducted me to their village, into the lodge of their Chief, who regularly twice a day divested himself of all his clothing except his breech clout, and dressed my wounds, until I left them. Wind River is a beautiful transparent stream, with hard gravel bottom about 70 or 80 yards wide, rising in the main range of Rocky Mountains, running E.N.E, finally north through a picteresque small mountain bearing the name of the stream: after it discharges through this mountain it loses its name. The valleys near the head of this river and its tributary streams are tolerably timbered with cotton wood, willow, &c. The grass and herbage are good and plenty, of all the varieties common to this country. In this valley the snow rarely falls more than three to four inches deep and never remains more than three or four days, although it is surrounded by stupendous mountains. Those on S. W. and N. are covered with eternal snow. The mildness of the winter in this valley may readily be imputed to the immense number of Hot Springs which rise near the head of the river. I visited but one of those which rise to the south of the river in a level plain of prairie, and occupies about two acres; this is not so hot as many others but I suppose to be boiling as the outer verge was nearly scalding hot. There is also an Oil Spring in this valley, which discharges 60 or 70 gallons of pure oil per day. The oil has very much the appearance, taste and smell of British Oil. From this valley we proceeded by S. W. direction over a tolerable route to the heads of Sweet Water, a small stream which takes an eastern course and falls into the north fork of the Great Platt, 70 or 80 miles below. This stream rises and runs on the highest ground in all this country. The winters are extremely, and even the summers are disagreeably cold.

We past here about the middle of July last, the ice froze near half an inch in a kettle. Notwithstanding the intense cold this country is well covered with grass herbage and numberless Alpine plants. After crossing the above mentioned stream, we took a more westerly direction over high rolling Prairies to a small branch of a considerable river, known to us by the name of Seet Kadu, and to Spaniard, by Green River, and is supposed to discharge itself into the Bay of California. This river has a bold running current, 80 or 90 yards wide, & bears a S. E. direction. It falls from the Rocky Mountains in many small rivulets, on which were considerable beaver. This valley, like all others I have seen in this country, is surrounded by mountains, those to S. W. and N. are covered with eternal snow, near the tops. Columbia Mountain, lying N. is the highest I ever saw, and perhaps the highest in North America. It stands rather detached and majestic, beginning abruptly towards the E. and terminating toward N. W. Its tops are the repository of eternal winter. In clear weather its appearance is truly sublime and reflects the brilliancy of the diamond in its various colours. This mountain gives rise to many streams, the principal are the Yellow Stone and Wind River.

The southern branches of the Missouri are Seets Kadu and Lewis river, and others of smaller note. After passing from this valley, in a S. W. direction we had very good travelling over an inconsiderable ridge, we fell on a considerable river, called Bear River, which rises to the S. in the Utaw Mountains, bears N. 80 or 90 miles, when it turns short to the S. W. and S. and after passing two mountains, discharges itself into the Great Salt Lake. On this river and its tributary streams, and adjacent country, we have taken beaver with great success. Since the autumn of 1824, you have no doubt heard, and will hear by the public prints, of the furs brought in by Gen. Ashley, which were the product of our toils. The first valley as you approach from the head of the river, is a small sweet lake, about 120 miles in circumference, with beautiful clear water, and when the wind blows has a splendid appearance. There is also to be found in this valley a considerable sour spring near the most northerly swing of the river. The valley is scantily supplied with timber, as is the case with most of the low grounds of this country. The second, or Willow Valley, is better supplied on this point - this valley has been our chief place of rendezvous and wintering ground. Numerous streams fill in through this valley, which, like the others, is surrounded by stupendous mountains which are unrivalled for beauty and serenity of scenery. You here have a view of all the varieties, plenty of ripe fruit, an abundance of grass just springing up, and buds beginning to shoot, while the higher parts of the mountains are covered with snow, all within 12 or 15 miles of this valley. The river passes through a small range of mountains, and enters the valley that borders on the Great Salt Lake. The G. S. Lake lies in a circular form from N. E. to N. W. the larger circle being to S. it is about 400 miles in circumference, and has no discharge or outlet, it is generally shallow near the beach, and has several islands, which rise like pyramyds from its surface. The western part of the lake is so saturated with salt, as not to dissolve any more when thrown into it. The country on S. W. and N. W. is very barren, bearing but little more than wild sage, and short grass. The S. E. and E are fertile, especially near the outlet of the Utaw Lake and Weber's river. The former is about 30 yards wide at its mouth, the later from 50 to 60, and very deep. This river rises to the E. in the Utaw Mountains, and in its course passes through three mountains, to where it enters the lake. We expect to start in a short time to explore the country lying S. W. of the Great Lake, where we shall probably winter. This country has never yet been visited by any white person - from thence to what place I cannot say, but expect the next letter will be dated at the mouth of Columbia. My long absence has created a desire to hear from you, as well as the rest of my people, also my associates. I have been on the very eve of returning this summer, but owing to this unexplored country, which I have a great curiosity to see, I have concluded to remain one or two years. We celebrated the 4th of July, by firing three rounds of small arms, and partook of a most excellent dinner, after which a number of political toasts were drunk.