THE GREAT SALT LAKE TRAIL
By COLONEL HENRY INMAN
Late Assistant Quartermaster, United States Army Author of The Old Santa Fé Trail, Etc.
And COLONEL WILLIAM F. CODY, Buffalo Bill
Late Chief of Scouts
Etext Edition edited by MICHAEL S. OVERTON
1898 (original edition), 2002 (Etext edition)
See PUBLICATION INFORMATION at the end of this Etext for a more complete bibliographic listing of the original source.
There are seven historic trails crossing the great plains of the interior of the continent, all of which for a portion of their distance traverse the geographical limits of what is now the prosperous commonwealth of Kansas.
None of these primitive highways, however, with the exception of that oldest of all to far-off Santa Fé, has a more stirring story than that known as the Salt Lake Trail.
Over this historical highway the Mormons made their lonely Hegira to the valley of that vast inland sea. On its shores they established a city, marvellous in its conception, and a monument to the ability of man to overcome almost insuperable obstaclesthe product of a faith equal to that which inspired the crusader to battle to the death for the possession of the Holy Sepulchre.
Over this route, also, were made those world-renowned expeditions by Fremont, Stansbury, Lander, and others of lesser fame, to the heart of the Rocky Mountains, and beyond, to the blue shores of the Pacific Ocean.
Over the same trackless waste the Pony Express executed those marvellous feats in annihilating distance, and the once famous Overland Stage lumbered along through the seemingly interminable desert of sage-brush and alkali dustavant-couričres of the telegraph and the railroad.
One of the collaborators of this volume, Colonel W. F. Cody (Buffalo Bill), began his remarkable career, as a boy, on the Salt Lake Trail, and laid the foundations of a life which has made him a conspicuous American figure at the close of this century.
It is not the intention of the authors of this work to deal in the slightest manner with Mormonism as a religion. An immense mass of literature on the subject is to be found in every public library, both in its defence and in its condemnation. The latter preponderates, and often seems to be inspired by an inexcusable ingenuity in exaggeration.
Of the trials of the Mormons during their toilsome march and their difficulties with the government during the Civil War, this work will treat in a limited way, but its scope is to present the story of the Trail in the days long before the building of a railroad was believed to be possible. It will deal with the era of the trapper, the scout, the savage, and the passage of emigrants to the gold fields of Californiawhen the only route was by the overland trailand with the adventures which marked the long and weary march.
CHAPTER I. EXPLORING EXPEDITIONS. Proposed Exploring Expedition across the Northern Part of the Continent in 1774Sir Alexander Mackenzie's ExpeditionThe Expedition of Lewis and ClarkeHunt's Tour in 1810March of Robert Stuart eastwardly.
CHAPTER II. THE OLD TRAPPERS. Captain Ezekiel Williams' Expedition to the Platte Valley in 1807Character of the Old TrapperThe Outfit of his MenCrosses the RiverImmense Herds of BuffaloDeath of their Favourite HoundA Lost TrapperA Prairie BurialA Wolf-chase after a BuffaloAn Indian LochinvarThe Crow IndiansTheir Country Rose, the Scapegoat RefugeeThe Lost TrappersA Battle with the Savages.
CHAPTER III. JIM BECKWOURTH. General W. H. Ashley's Trapping ExpeditionJim Beckwourth's StoryTwo AxeKill Fourteen Hundred BuffaloesThe SurroundExpedition is dividedBoats are built Green River SuckIndians murder Le BracheBeckwourth meets Castenga.
CHAPTER IV. CAPTAIN SUBLETTE'S EXPEDITION. Captain William Sublette's Expedition in 1832They meet Nathaniel J. Wyeth's Party Arrive at Green River ValleyAttacked by IndiansAntoine Godin shoots a Blackfoot ChiefFight between Whites, Flatheads, and BlackfeetAn Indian HeroineMajor Stephen H. Long's Scientific Expedition in 1820Captain Bonneville's Expedition in 1832 Lieutenant John C. Fremont's Expedition in 1842 to the Wind River Mountains.
CHAPTER V. TRADING-POSTS AND THEIR STORIES. Trading-posts of the Great Fur CompaniesFort VasquezFort LaramieFort PlatteFort BridgerIncidents at Fort PlatteA Drunken SpreeDeath and Burial of Susu-CeichaInsult to Big EagleBull Tail's Effort to sell his Daughter for a Barrel of WhiskeyA Rare Instance of a Trader's Honour.
CHAPTER VI. THE MORMONS. The Most Desolate of Deserts made to blossom as the RoseThe Mormon HegiraPilgrim's OutfitCurious Guide-postsThe Hand-cart ExpeditionSufferings and Hardships during the ExodusAn Impending WarGeneral Harney's ExpeditionMormon TacticsDestroy the SuppliesPrivations of the United States army President backs downSalt Lake CityBrigham Young's Vision The Temple.
CHAPTER VII. MOUNTAIN MEADOWS MASSACRE. Mountain Meadows Massacre Indians attack the WagonsLee offers ProtectionAmbushed by Lee Lee flies to the MountainsMormon Church acquittedExecution of John D. LeeTemporary Toll-bridgesIndian Raids on Cattle Ranches Stuttering BrownGraves along the Trail.
CHAPTER VIII. THE PONY EXPRESS. The Problem of the Mails between Atlantic and PacificThe World-famed Pony ExpressNecessity for it Its OriginatorThe Firm of Majors, Russell, & WaddellThe Route OrganizationIts ParaphernaliaDaring RidersJ. G. Kelley's Story Colonel Cody's StoryIncidents and StoriesOld Whipsaw and Little Cayuse, the PawneeSlade, the DesperadoThe Lynching of Slade Establishment of the Telegraph.
CHAPTER IX. THE STAGE ROUTE TO THE PACIFIC. Discovery of Gold near Pike's PeakExodus from MissouriThe Creation of the Overland Stage Route to the Pacific CoastMessrs. Russell and Jones' Failure Russell, Majors, & Waddell's Successful Establishment of a New Line Hockaday and Liggett's One-horse AffairAdvent of the First Stage-coach into DenverFinancial EmbarrassmentBen Holliday Description of the Outfit of the RouteIncidents and Adventures.
CHAPTER X. SCENERY ON THE TRAIL. Scenery and Historical Localities on the Route of the Old TrailLoup ForkDe Smet's Account of a WaterspoutWood RiverBrady's IslandAsh HollowJohnson's Creek Scott's BluffIndependence Rock and its LegendChimney Rock Crazy Woman's CreekLaramie PlainsLegends and Traditions about the Great Salt LakeEarly Surveys.
CHAPTER XI. INDIAN TRIBES ON THE TRAIL. The Indian Tribes of the Salt Lake TrailThe OtoesI-e-tanBlue-Eyes shot by I-e-tan The PawneesTheir Tribal MarkLegends and TraditionsHuman SacrificesFolk-lore.
CHAPTER XII. SIOUX AND THEIR TRADITIONS. The Sioux NationCause of their Hatred for the WhitesA Chief of the Brűlé Sioux tells a Story The Scarred-ArmsStory of the Six Sioux and the Mysterious Woman The Place of the Death SongWa-shu-pa and OgallallaIndian Fight at Ash HollowIndian Tradition of a Flood.
CHAPTER XIII. THE CROWS. The CrowsCouncil at Fort Philip Kearny in July, 1866A-ra-poo-ashJim Beckwourth in a Fight between Crows and BlackfeetBeckwourth and the Great Medicine KettleThe Missionary and the CrowsThe Legend of the Blind MenThe Pis-kun.
CHAPTER XIV. FOLK-LORE OF BLACKFEET. Folk-lore of Blackfeet The Lost ChildrenThe Wolf-ManThe UtesMassacre of Major Thornburgh's Command on the White RiverThe Great Chief Ouray PiutesTheir Theories of the HeavensThe Big Medicine Springs Closed HandMan afraid of his HorsesNo KnifeSitting Bull Spotted Tail.
CHAPTER XV. SIOUX WAR OF 1863. Sioux War of 1863Spotted Tail George P. Belden's AccountSergeants Hiles and RollaBelden and Nelson have an AdventureBelden maps the CountryGuarding Ben Holliday's CoachesAn Involuntary HighwaymanCapturing Sioux at Gilman's RanchMorrow's RanchBentz and WiseAttack on the Ambulance Peace CommissionMassacre of Colonel Fetterman's Command at Fort Phil Kearny.
CHAPTER XVI. BUFFALO BILL'S ADVENTURES. Buffalo Bill's Adventures on the Salt Lake TrailIn Charge of a Herd of Beef CattleKills an IndianWith Lew SimpsonHeld upAttacked at Cedar BluffsA Brush with SiouxThe Print of a Woman's ShoeCapture a VillageBuffalo Bill shoots Tall Bull.
CHAPTER XVII. MASSACRE OF CUSTER'S COMMAND. Buffalo Bill's Adventures continuedHunting at Fort McPhersonIndians steal his Favourite PonyThe ChaseScouting under General DuncanPawnee SentriesA Deserted SquawA Joke on McCarthyScouting for Captain MeinholdTexas JackBuckskin JoeSitting Bull and the Indian War of 1876Massacre of Custer and his CommandBuffalo Bill takes the First Scalp for CusterYellow Hand, Son of Cut NoseCarries Despatches for TerryGood-by to the General.
CHAPTER XVIII. IN A TRAPPER'S BIVOUAC. Around the Camp-fire in a Trapper's BivouacTelling Stories of the Old TrailOld Hatcher's Trip to the Infernal RegionsColonel Cody's Story of California Joe A Practical Joke.
CHAPTER XIX. KIT CARSON ON THE YELLOWSTONE. More Stories of the Trail Frazier and the BearAn Indian ElopementThe Ogallallas and the BrűlésChaf-fa-ly-aKit Carson on the YellowstoneBattle with the BlackfeetCarson, Bridger, and Baker on the PlatteJim Cockrell Peg Leg Smith.
CHAPTER XX. BUILDING THE UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD. The Story of the Building of the Union Pacific RailroadExtract from General Sherman's MemoirsGeneral Dodge's Description of the Country when he first saw itExplorations for a RouteConference with President Lincoln Location of the Military Post of D. A. Russell and the Town of Cheyenne Driving the Last Spike.
CHAPTER I. EXPLORING EXPEDITIONS.
As early as a hundred and thirty-five years ago, shortly after England had acquired the Canadas, Captain Jonathan Carver, who had been an officer in the British provincial army, conceived the idea of fitting out an expedition to cross the continent between the forty-third and forty-sixth degrees of north latitude. His intention was to measure the breadth of North America at its widest part, and to find some place on the Pacific coast where his government might establish a military post to facilitate the discovery of a northwest passage, or a line of communication between Hudson's Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
In 1774 he was joined in his proposed scheme by Mr. Richard Whitworth, a member of the British Parliament, and a man of great wealth. Their plan was to form a company of fifty or sixty men, and with them to travel up one of the forks of the Missouri River, explore the mountains, and find the source of the Oregon. They intended to sail down that stream to its mouth, erect a fort, and build vessels to enable them to continue their discoveries by sea.
Their plan was sanctioned by the English government, but the breaking out of the American Revolution defeated the bold project. This was the first attempt to explore the wilds of the interior of the continent.
Thirty years later Sir Alexander Mackenzie crossed the continent on a line which nearly marks the fifty-third degree of north latitude. Some time afterwards, when that gentleman published the memoirs of his expedition, he suggested the policy of opening intercourse between the two oceans. By this means, he argued, the entire command of the fur trade of North America might be obtained from latitude forty-eight north, to the pole, excepting in that territory held by Russia. He also prophesied that the relatively few American adventurers who had been enjoying a monopoly in trapping along the Northwest Coast would instantly disappear before a well-regulated trade.
The government of the United States was attracted by the report of the English nobleman, and the expedition of Lewis and Clarke was fitted out. They accomplished in part what had been projected by Carver and Whitworth. They learned something of the character of the region heretofore regarded as a veritable terra incognita.
On the 14th of May, 1804, the expedition of Lewis and Clarke left St. Louis, following the course of the Missouri River, and returning by the same route two years later. There were earlier explorations, far to the south, but none of them reached as high up as the Platte. Lewis and Clarke themselves merely viewed its mouth.
In 1810 a Mr. Hunt, who was employed by the Northwest Fur Company, and Mr. Donald M'Kenzie, with a number of trappers under their charge, were to make a journey to the interior of the continent, but, hampered by the opposition of the Missouri Fur Company, they were compelled to abandon the enterprise, and it was not until the beginning of 1812 that their historic journey was commenced.
On the 17th of January, while their boats landed at one of the old villages established by the original French colonists of the region then known as the Province of Louisiana, they met the celebrated Daniel Boone, who was then in his eighty-fifth year, and the next morning they were visited by John Coulter, who had been with Lewis and Clarke on their memorable expedition eight years previously. Since the return of Lewis and Clarke's expedition, Coulter had made a wonderful journey on his own account. He floated down the whole length of the Missouri River in a small canoe, accomplishing the passage of three thousand miles in a month.
On the 8th of April Hunt's party came in sight of Fort Osage, where they remained for three days, and were delightfully entertained by the officers of the garrison. On the 10th they again embarked and ascended the Missouri. On the 28th the party landed at the mouth of the Platte and ate their breakfast on one of the islands there. After passing the mouth of the river Platte, they camped on its banks a short distance above Papillion Creek. On the 10th of May they reached the village of the Omahas, camped in its immediate neighbourhood, and on the 15th of the same month they started for the interior of the continent. Their route lay far north of a line drawn parallel to the Platte Valley, but they entered it after travelling through the Black Hills, somewhere near the headwaters of the river from which the beautiful valley takes its name. After untold hardships and sufferings the party arrived at Astoria on the following February, having travelled a distance of thirty-five hundred miles. They had taken a circuitous route, for Astoria is only eighteen hundred miles, in a direct line, from St. Louis.
The first authentic account of an expedition through the valley of the Platte was that of Mr. Robert Stuart, in the employ of John Jacob Astor. He was detailed to carry despatches from the mouth of the Columbia to New York, informing Mr. Astor of the condition of his venture on the remote shores of the Pacific. The mission entrusted to Mr. Stuart was filled with perils, and he was selected for the dangerous duty on account of his nerve and strength. He was a young man, and although he had never crossed the Rocky Mountains, he had already given proofs, on other perilous expeditions, of his competence for the new duty. His companions were Ben Jones and John Day, both Kentuckians, two Canadians, and some others who had become tired of the wild life, and had determined to go back to civilization.
They all left Astoria on the 29th of June, 1812, and reached the headwaters of the Platte, thence they travelled down the valley to its mouth, and embarked in boats for St. Louis.
When they reached the Snake River deserts, great sandy plains stretched out before them. Only occasionally were there intervales of grass, and the miserable herbage was saltweed, resembling pennyroyal. The desponding party looked in vain for some relief from the lifeless landscape. All game had apparently shunned the dreary, sun-parched waste, but hunger was now and then appeased by a few fish which they caught in the streams, or some sun-dried salmon, or a dog given to them by the kind-hearted Shoshones whose lodges they sometimes came across.
At last the party tired of this weary route. They determined to leave the banks of the barren Snake River, so, under the guidance of a Mr. Miller who had previously trapped in that region, they were conducted across the mountains and out of the country of the dreaded Blackfeet. Miller soon proved a poor guide, and again the party became bewildered among rugged hills, unknown streams, and the burned and grassless prairies.
Finally they arrived on the banks of a river, on which their guide assured them he had trapped, and to which they gave the name of Miller, but it was really the Bear River which flows into Great Salt Lake. They continued along its banks for three days, subsisting very precariously on fish.
They soon discovered that they were in a dangerous region. One evening, having camped rather early in the afternoon, they took their fishing-tackle and prepared to fish for their supper. When they returned to their camp, they were surprised to see a number of savages prowling round. They proved to be Crows, whose chief was a giant, very dark, and looked the rogue that they found him to be.
He ordered some of his warriors to return to their camp, near by, and bring buffalo meat for the starving white men. Notwithstanding the apparent kindness of this herculean chief, there was something about him that filled the white men with distrust. Gradually the number of his warriors increased until there were over a score of them in camp. They began to be inquisitive and troublesome, and the whites felt great concern for their horses, each man keeping a close watch upon the movements of the Indians.
As no unpleasant demonstrations had been made by the savages, and as the party had bought all the buffalo meat they had brought, Mr. Stuart began to make preparations in the morning for his departure. The savages, however, were for further dealings with their newly found pale friends, and above everything else they wanted gunpowder, for which they offered to trade horses. Mr. Stuart declined to accommodate them. At this they became more impudent, and demanded the powder, but were again refused.
The gigantic chief now stepped forward with an important air, and slapping himself upon the breast, he gave the men to understand that he was a chief of great power. He said that it was customary for great chiefs to exchange presents when they met. He therefore requested Mr. Stuart to dismount and give him the horse he was riding. Mr. Stuart valued the animal very highly, so he shook his head at the demand of the savage. Upon this the Indian walked up, and taking hold of Mr. Stuart, began to push him backward and forward in his saddle, as if to impress upon him that he was in his power.
Mr. Stuart preserved his temper and again shook his head negatively. The chief then seized the bridle, gave it a jerk that scared the horse, and nearly brought Mr. Stuart to the ground. Mr. Stuart immediately drew his pistol and presented it at the head of the impudent savage. Instantly his bullying ended, and he dodged behind the horse to get away from the intended shot. As the rest of the Crow warriors were looking on at the movement of their chief, Mr. Stuart ordered his men to level their rifles at them, but not to fire. Upon this demonstration the whole band incontinently fled, and were soon out of sight.
The chief, finding himself alone, with true savage dissimulation began to laugh, and pretended the whole affair was intended only as a joke. Mr. Stuart did not relish this kind of joking, but it would not do to provoke a quarrel; so he joined the chief in his laugh with the best grace he could affect, and to pacify the savage for his failure to procure the horse, gave him some powder, and they parted professedly the best of friends.
It was discovered, after the savage had cleared out, that they had managed to steal nearly all the cooking utensils of the party.
To avoid meeting the savages again, Mr. Stuart changed his route farther to the north, leaving Bear River, and following a large branch of that stream which came down from the mountains. After marching twenty-five miles from the scene of their meeting with the Crows, they camped, and that night hobbled all their animals. They preserved a strict guard, and every man slept with his rifle on his arm, as they suspected the savages might attempt to stampede their horses.
Next day their course continued northward, and soon their trail began to ascend the hills, from the top of which they had an extended view of the surrounding country. Not the sign of an Indian was to be seen, but they did not feel secure and kept a very vigilant watch upon every ravine and defile as they approached it. Making twenty-one miles that day, they encamped on the bank of another stream still running north. While there an alarm of Indians was given, and instantly every man was on his feet with rifle ready to sell his life only at the greatest cost. Indians there were, but they proved to be three miserable Snakes, who were no sooner informed that a band of Crows were in the neighbourhood, than they ran off in great trepidation.
Six days afterward they encamped on the margin of Mud River, nearly a hundred and fifty miles from where they had met the impudent Crows. Now the party began to believe themselves beyond the possibility of any further trouble from them, and foolishly relaxed their usual vigilance. The next morning they were up at the first streak of day, and began to prepare their breakfast, when suddenly the cry of Indians! Indians! to arms! to arms! sounded through the camp.
In a few moments a mounted Crow came riding past the camp, holding in his hand a red flag, which he waved in a furious manner, as he halted on the top of a small divide. Immediately a most diabolical yell broke forth from the opposite side of the camp where the horses were picketed, and a band of paint-bedaubed savages came rushing to where they were feeding. In a moment the animals took fright and dashed towards the flag-bearer, who vigorously kicked the flanks of his pony, and loped off, followed by the stampeded animals which were hurried on by the increasing yells of the retreating savages.
When the alarm was first given, Mr. Stuart's men seized their rifles and tried to cut off the Indians who were after their horses, but their attention was suddenly attracted by the yells in the opposite direction. The savages, as they supposed, intended to make a raid on their camp equipage, and they all turned to save it. But when the horses had been secured the reserve party of savages dashed by the camp, whooping and yelling in triumph, and the very last one of them was the gigantic chief who had tried to joke with Mr. Stuart. As he passed the latter, he checked up his animal, raised himself in the saddle, shouted some insults, and rode on.
The rifle of one of the men, Ben Jones, was instantly levelled at the chief, and he was just about to pull the trigger, when Mr. Stuart exclaimed, Not for your life! not for your life, you will bring destruction upon us all!
It was a difficult matter to restrain Ben, when the target could be so easily pierced, and he begged, Oh, Mr. Stuart, only let me have one crack at the infernal rascal, and you may keep all the pay that is due me.
By heavens, if you fire, I will blow your brains out! exclaimed Mr. Stuart.
By that time the chief was far beyond rifle range, and the whole daring band of savages, with all the horses, were passing out of sight over the hills, their red flag still waving and the valley echoing to their yells and demoniacal laughter.
The unhorsed travellers were dismayed at the situation in which they found themselves. A long journey was still before them, over rocky mountains and wind-swept plains, which they must now painfully traverse on foot, carrying on their backs everything necessary for their subsistence.
They selected from their camp equipage such articles as were absolutely necessary for their journey, and those things which they could not carry were cached. It required a whole day to make ready for their wearisome march. Next morning they were up at the break of day. They had set a beaver-trap in the river the night before, and rejoiced to find that they had caught one of the animals, which served as a meal for the whole party.
On his way back with the prize, the man who had gone for it, casually looking up at a cliff several hundred feet high, saw what he thought were a couple of wolves looking down upon him. Paying no attention to them, he walked on toward camp, when happening to look back, he still saw the watchful eyes peering over the edge of the precipice. It now flashed upon him that they might not be wolves at all, but Indian spies.
On reaching camp he called the attention of Stuart and his companions to what he had observed, and at first they too entertained the idea that they were wolves, but soon satisfied themselves that they were savages. If their surmises were true, the party was satisfied that the whereabouts of their caches were known, and determined that their contents should not fall into the hands of the savages. So they were opened, and everything the men could not carry away was either burned or thrown into the river.
On account of this delay they were not able to leave the place until about ten o'clock. They marched along the bank of the river, and made but eighteen miles in two days, when they were obliged to stop and build two rafts with which to cross the stream. Discovering that their rafts were very strong and able to withstand the roughness of the current, instead of crossing, they floated on down the river.
For three days they kept on, staying only to camp on land at night. On the evening of the third day, as they approached a little island, much to their joy they discovered a herd of elk. A hunter who was put on shore wounded one, which immediately took to the water, but being too weak to stem the current it was overtaken and drawn ashore.
As a storm was brewing, they camped on the bank where they had drawn up the elk. They remained there all the next day, protecting themselves as best they could from the rain, hail, and snow, which fell heavily. Now they employed themselves by drying a part of the meat they had secured; and when cutting up the carcass of the animal, they discovered it had been shot at by hunters not more than a week previously, as an arrow-head and a musket-ball were still in the wounds. Under other circumstances such a matter would have been regarded as trivial, but as they knew the Snake Indians had no guns, the presence of the bullet indicated that the elk could not have been wounded by one of them. They were aware that they were on the edge of the Blackfeet country, and as these savages were supplied with firearms, it was surmised that some of that hostile tribe must have been lately in the neighbourhood. This idea ended the peace of mind they had enjoyed while they were floating down the river.
For three more days they stuck to their rafts and drifted slowly down the stream, until they had reached a point which in their judgment was about a hundred miles from where they embarked.
The lofty mountains having now dwindled to mere hills, they landed and prepared to continue their journey on foot. They spent a day making moccasins, packing their meat in bundles of twenty pounds for each man to carry, then leaving the river they marched toward the northeast. It was a slow, wearisome tramp, as a part of the way lay through the bottoms covered with cottonwood and willows, and over rough hills and rocky prairies. Some antelope came within rifle range, but they dared not fire, fearing the report would betray them to the Blackfeet.
That day they came upon the trail of a horse, and in the evening halted on the bank of a small stream which had evidently been an Indian camping-place about three weeks ago.
In the morning when ready to leave, they again saw the Indian trail, which after a while separated in every direction, showing that the band had broken up into small hunting-parties. In all probability the savages were still somewhere in the vicinity, so it behooved the white men to move with the greatest caution. The utmost vigilance was exercised, but not a sign was seen, and at night they camped in a deep ravine which concealed them from the level of the surrounding country.
The next morning at daylight the march was resumed, but before they came out of the ravine on to the level prairie a council was held as to the best course to pursue. It was deemed prudent to make a bee-line across the mountains, over which the trail would be very rugged and difficult, but more secure. One of the party named M'Lellan, a bull-headed, impatient Scotchman, who had been rendered more so by the condition of his feet which were terribly swollen and sore, swore he had rather face all the Blackfeet in the country than attempt the tedious journey over the mountains. As the others did not agree with his opinion, they all began to climb the hills, the younger men trying to see who would reach the top of the divide first. M'Lellan, who was double the age of some of his companions, began to fall in the rear for want of breath. It was his turn that day to carry the old beaver-trap, and finding himself so far behind the others, he suddenly stopped and declared he would carry it no farther, at the same time throwing it as far down the hill as he could. He was then offered a package of dried meat in its place, but this in his rage he threw upon the ground, asserting that those might carry it who wanted it; he could secure all the food he wanted with his rifle. Then turning off from the party he walked along the base of the mountain, letting those, he said, climb rocks who were afraid to face Indians. Mr. Stuart and all his companions attempted to impress him with the rashness of his conduct, but M'Lellan was deaf to every remonstrance and kept on the way he had determined to go.
As they felt they were now in a dangerous neighbourhood, and did not dare to fire a rifle, they were compelled to depend upon the old beaver-trap for their subsistence. The stream on which they were encamped was filled with beaver sign, and the redoubtable Ben Jones set out at daybreak with the hope of catching one of the sleek fur animals. While making his way through a bunch of willows he heard a crashing sound to his right, and looking in that direction, saw a huge grizzly bear coming toward him with a terrible snort. The Kentuckian was afraid of neither man nor beast, and drawing up his rifle, let fly. The bear was wounded, but instead of rushing upon his foe as is usually the case with a wounded grizzly, he ran back into the thicket and thus escaped.
They were compelled to remain some days at this camp, and as the beaver-trap failed to supply them with food, it became absolutely necessary to take the chances of discovery by the Indians, in order to live, and Ben Jones was permitted to make a tour with his rifle some distance from the camp, defying both bears and Blackfeet. He had not been absent more than two hours when he came upon a herd of elk and killed five of them. When he reported his good news, the party immediately moved their camp to the carcasses, about six miles distant.
After marching a few days more, hunger again returned, the keenest of their sufferings. The small amount of bear and elk meat which they had been able to carry in addition to their other equipage lasted but a short time, and in their anxiety to get ahead they had little time to hunt. As scarcely any game crossed their trail, they lived for three days upon nothing but a small duck and a few miserable fish. They saw numbers of antelope, but they were very wild and they succeeded in killing only one. It was poor in flesh and very small, but they lived on it for several days.
After a while they came across the trail of the obstinate M'Lellan, who was still ahead of them, and had encamped the night before on the very stream where they now were. They saw the embers of the fire by which he had slept, and remains of a wolf of which he had eaten. He had evidently fared better than themselves at this encampment, for they had not a mouthful to eat. The next day, about noon, they arrived at the prairies where the headwaters of the stream appeared to form, and where they expected to find buffalo in abundance. Not even a superannuated bull was to be seen; the whole region was deserted. They kept on for several miles farther, following the bank of the stream and eagerly looking for beaver sign. Upon finding some they camped, and Ben Jones set his trap. They were hardly settled in camp when they perceived a large column of smoke rising in the clear air some distance to the southwest. They regarded it joyously, for they hoped it might be an Indian camp where they could get something to eat, as their pangs of hunger had now overcome their dread of the terrible Blackfeet.
Le Clerc, one of the Canadians, was instantly despatched by Mr. Stuart to reconnoitre; and the travellers sat up till a late hour, watching and listening for his return, hoping he might bring them food. Midnight arrived, but Le Clerc did not make his appearance, and they lay down once more supperless to sleep, hoping that their old beaver-trap might furnish them with a breakfast.
At daybreak they hastened, eager and famishing, to the trap, but found in it only the forepaw of a beaver, the sight of which tantalized their hunger and added to their dejection. They resumed their journey with flagging spirits, but had not gone far when they perceived Le Clerc approaching at a distance. They hastened to meet him, in hope of tidings of good cheer. He had nothing to give them but news of that strange wanderer, M'Lellan. The smoke had arisen from his encampment which took fire while he was fishing at some little distance from it. Le Clerc found him in a forlorn condition. His fishing had been unsuccessful, and during twelve days that he had been wandering alone through the savage mountains he had found scarcely anything to eat. He had been ill, sick at heart, and still had pressed forward; but now his strength and his stubbornness were exhausted. He expressed his satisfaction that Mr. Stuart and his party were near, and said he would wait at his camp for their arrival, hoping they would give him something to eat, for without food he declared he should not be able to go much farther.
When the party reached the place they found the poor fellow lying on a bunch of withered grass, wasted to a skeleton, and so feeble that he could scarcely raise his head or speak. The presence of his old comrades seemed to revive him; but they had no food to give him, for they themselves were almost starving. They urged him to rise and accompany them, but he shook his head. It was all in vain, he said; there was no prospect of their getting speedy relief, and without it he would perish by the way; he might as well, therefore, stay and die where he was. At length, after much persuasion, they got him upon his legs; his rifle and other effects were shared among them, and he was cheered and aided forward. In this way they proceeded for seventeen miles, over a level plain of sand, until, seeing a few antelopes in the distance, they camped on the margin of a small stream. All now, that were capable of the exertion, turned out to hunt for a meal. Their efforts were fruitless, and after dark they returned to their camp famished almost to desperation.
As they were preparing for the third time to lie down to sleep without a mouthful of food, Le Clerc, one of the Canadians, gaunt and wild with hunger, approached Mr. Stuart with his gun in his hand. It was all in vain, he said, to attempt to proceed any farther without food. They had a barren plain before them, three or four days' journey in extent, on which nothing was to be procured. They must all perish before they could get to the end of it. It was better, therefore, that one should die to save the rest. He proposed, therefore, that they should cast lots, adding, as an inducement for Mr. Stuart to assent to the proposition, that he, as leader of the party, should be exempted.
Mr. Stuart shuddered at the horrible proposition, and endeavoured to reason with the man, but his words were unavailing. At length, snatching up his rifle, he threatened to shoot him on the spot if he persisted. The famished wretch dropped on his knees, begged pardon in the most abject terms, and promised never again to offend him with such a suggestion.
Quiet being restored to the forlorn encampment, each one sought repose. Mr. Stuart, however, was so exhausted by the agitation of the past scene, acting upon his emaciated frame, that he could scarcely crawl to his miserable bed, where, notwithstanding his fatigues, he passed a sleepless night, reflecting upon their dreary situation and the desperate prospect before them.
At daylight the next morning they were up and on their way; they had nothing to detain them, no breakfast to prepare, and to linger was to perish. They proceeded, however, but slowly, for all were faint and weak. Here and there they passed the skulls and bones of buffaloes. This showed that these animals must have been hunted there during the past season, and the sight of the bones served only to mock their misery. After travelling about nine miles along the plain, they ascended a range of hills, and had scarcely gone two miles farther, when, to their great joy, they discovered a superannuated buffalo bull which had been driven from some herd and had been hunted and harassed through the mountains. They all stretched themselves out to encompass and make sure of this solitary animal, for their lives depended on their success. After considerable trouble and infinite anxiety, they at length succeeded in killing him. He was instantly flayed and cut up, and so ravenous were they that they devoured some of the flesh raw.
When they had rested they proceeded, and after crossing a mountain ridge, and traversing a plain, they waded one of the branches of the Spanish River. On ascending its bank, they met about a hundred and thirty Indians of the Snake tribe. They were friendly in their demeanour, and conducted the starving trappers to their village, which was about three miles distant. It consisted of about forty lodges, constructed principally of pine branches. The Snakes, like most of their nation, were very poor. The marauding Crows, in their late excursion through the country, had picked this unlucky band to the bone, carrying off their horses, several of their squaws, and most of their effects. In spite of their poverty, they were hospitable in the extreme, and made the hungry strangers welcome to their cabins. A few trinkets procured from them a supply of buffalo meat, together with leather for moccasins, of which the party were greatly in need. The most valuable prize obtained from them, however, was a horse. It was a sorry old animal in truth, and it was the only one which remained to the poor fellows, after the fell swoop of the Crows. They were prevailed upon to part with it to their guests for a pistol, an axe, a knife, and a few other trifling articles.
By sunrise on the following morning, the travellers had loaded their old horse with buffalo meat, sufficient for five days' provisions, and, taking leave of their poor but hospitable friends, set forth in somewhat better spirits, though the increasing cold weather and the sight of the snowy mountains which they had yet to traverse were enough to chill their very hearts. The country along the branch of the river as far as they could see was perfectly level, bounded by ranges of lofty mountains, both east and west. They proceeded about three miles south, where they came again upon the large trail of the Crow Indians, which they had crossed four days previously. It was made, no doubt, by the same marauding band which had plundered the Snakes; and which, according to the account of the latter, was now camped on a stream to the eastward. The trail kept on to the southeast, and was so well beaten by horse and foot that they supposed at least a hundred lodges had passed along it. As it formed, therefore, a convenient highway, and ran in a proper direction, they turned into it, and determined to keep it as long as safety would permit, as the Crow encampment must be some distance off, and it was not likely those savages would return upon their steps. They travelled forward, all that day, in the track of their dangerous predecessors, which led them across mountain streams, and along ridges, through narrow valleys, all tending generally to the southeast. The wind blew cold from the northeast, with occasional flurries of snow, which made them camp early, on the sheltered banks of a brook. In the evening the two Canadians, Vallee and Le Clerc, killed a young buffalo bull which was in good condition and afforded them an excellent supply of fresh beef. They loaded their spits, therefore, and filled their camp kettle with meat, and while the wind whistled and the snow whirled around them, they huddled round a rousing fire, basked in its warmth, and comforted both soul and body with a hearty and invigorating meal. No enjoyments have greater zest than these, snatched in the very midst of difficulty and danger; and it is probable the poor wayworn and weather-beaten travellers relished these creature comforts the more highly on account of the surrounding desolation and the dangerous proximity of the Crows.
The snow which had fallen in the night made it late in the morning before the party loaded their solitary packhorse, and resumed their march. They had not gone far before the trail of the Crows, which they were following, changed its direction, and bore to the north of east. They had already begun to feel themselves on dangerous ground, in travelling it, as they might be descried by scouts or spies of that race of Ishmaelites, whose predatory life required them to be constantly on the alert. On seeing the trail turn so much to the north, therefore, they abandoned it, and kept on their course to the southeast for eighteen miles, through a beautiful undulating country, having the main chain of mountains on the left, and a considerable elevated ridge on the right.
That evening they encamped on the banks of a small stream, in the open prairie. The northeast wind was keen and cutting, and as they had nothing but a scanty growth of sage-brush wherewith to make a fire, they wrapped themselves in their blankets at an early hour. In the course of the evening M'Lellan, who had now regained his strength, killed a buffalo, but it was some distance from the camp, and they postponed supplying themselves from its carcass until morning.
The next day the cold continued, accompanied by snow. They set forward on their bleak and toilsome way, keeping to the northeast, toward the lofty summit of a mountain which it was necessary for them to cross. Before they reached its base they passed another large trail, a little to the right of a point of the mountain. This they supposed to have been made by another band of Crows.
The severity of the weather compelled them to encamp at the end of fifteen miles on the skirts of the mountain, where they found sufficient dry aspen trees to supply them with fire, but they sought in vain about the neighbourhood for a spring or rill of water. The next day, on arriving at the foot of the mountain, the travellers found water oozing out of the earth, and resembling, in look and taste, that of the Missouri. Here they encamped for the night, and supped sumptuously upon their mountain mutton, which they found in good condition.
For two days they kept on in an eastwardly direction, against wintry blasts and occasional storms. They suffered, also, from scarcity of water, having frequently to use melted snow; this, with the want of pasturage, reduced their old packhorse sadly. They saw many tracks of buffalo, and some few bulls, which, however, got the wind of them and scampered off.
On the 26th of October, they changed their course to the northeast, toward a wooded ravine in a mountain. At a small distance from its base, to their great joy, they discovered an abundant stream, running between willowed banks. Here they halted for the night. Ben Jones having luckily trapped a beaver and killed two buffalo bulls, they remained there the next day, feasting, reposing, and allowing their jaded horse to rest from his labours.
Pursuing the course of this stream for about twenty miles, they came to where it forced a passage through a range of hills, covered with cedars, into an extensive low country, affording excellent pasturage to numerous herds of buffalo. Here they killed three cows, which were the first they had been able to get, having heretofore had to content themselves with bull-beef, which at this season of the year is very poor. The hump meat and tongues afforded them a repast fit for an epicure.
It was now late in the season and they were convinced it would be suicidal to continue their journey on foot, as still many hundred miles lay before them to the Missouri River. The absorbing question now was where to choose a suitable wintering place; they happened the next day to come upon a bend of the river which appeared to be just the spot they were seeking. Here was a beautiful low point of land, covered by cottonwood, and surrounded by a thick growth of willow, which yielded both shelter and fuel, as well as material for building. The river swept by in a strong current about a hundred and fifty yards wide. To the southeast were mountains of moderate height, the nearest about two miles off, but the whole chain ranging to the east, south, and southwest, as far as the eye could reach. Their summits were crowned with extensive tracts of pitch-pine, checkered with small patches of the quivering aspen. Lower down were thick forests of firs and red cedars, growing out in many places from the very fissures of the rocks. The mountains were broken and precipitous, with huge bluffs protruding from among the forests. Their rocky recesses and beetling cliffs afforded retreats to innumerable flocks of the bighorn, while their woody summits and ravines abounded with bears and black-tailed deer. These, with the numerous herds of buffalo that ranged the lower grounds along the river, promised the travellers abundant cheer in their winter quarters.
On the 2d of November, they pitched their camp for the winter on the woody point, and their first thought was to obtain a supply of provisions. Ben Jones and the two Canadians accordingly sallied forth, accompanied by two other members of the party, leaving but one to watch the camp. Their hunting was uncommonly successful. In the course of two days they killed thirty-two buffaloes, and collected their meat on the margin of a small brook, about a mile distant. Fortunately the river was frozen over, so that the meat was easily transported to the encampment. On a succeeding day a herd of buffalo came trampling through the woody bottom on the river banks, and fifteen more were killed.
It was soon discovered, however, that there was game of a more dangerous nature in their neighbourhood. On one occasion Mr. Crooks wandered about a mile from camp, and had ascended a small hill commanding a view of the river; he was without his rifle, a rare circumstance, for in these wild regions, where one may at any moment meet a wild animal or a hostile Indian, it is customary never to stir out from the camp unarmed. The hill where he stood overlooked the spot where the killing of the buffalo had taken place. As he was gazing around, his eye was caught by an object below, moving directly toward him. To his dismay he discovered it to be a she grizzly with two cubs. There was no tree at hand into which he could climb, and to run would only be to invite pursuit, as he would soon be overtaken. He threw himself on the ground, therefore, and lay motionless, watching the movements of the animal with intense anxiety. It continued to advance until at the foot of the hill, where it turned, and made into the woods, having probably gorged itself with buffalo flesh. Mr. Crooks made all possible haste back to camp, rejoicing at his escape, and determined never to stir out again without his rifle. A few days afterwards a grizzly bear was shot at a short distance from camp by Mr. Miller.
As the slaughter of so many buffaloes had provided the party with beef for the winter, even if they met with no further supply, they now set to work with heart and hand to build a comfortable shelter. In a little while the woody promontory rang with the unwonted sound of the axe. Some of its lofty trees were laid low, and by the second evening the cabin was complete. It was eight feet wide, and eighteen feet long. The walls were six feet high, and the whole was covered with buffalo-skins. The fireplace was in the centre, and the smoke found its way out by a hole in the roof.
The hunters were next sent out to procure deerskins for garments, moccasins, and other purposes. They made the mountains echo with their rifles, and, in the course of two days' hunting, killed twenty-eight bighorn and black-tailed deer.
The party now revelled in abundance. After all they had suffered from hunger, cold, fatigue, and watchfulness; after all their perils from treacherous and savage men, they exulted in the snugness and security of their isolated cabin, hidden, as they thought, even from the prying eyes of Indian scouts, and stored with creature comforts. They looked forward to a winter of peace and quietness; of roasting, broiling, and boiling, feasting upon venison, mountain mutton, bear's meat, marrow-bones, buffalo humps, and other hunters' dainties; of dozing and reposing around their fire, gossiping over past dangers and adventures, telling long hunting storiesuntil spring should return; when they would make canoes of buffalo-skins, and float down the river.
From such halcyon dreams they were startled one morning, at daybreak, by a savage yell, and jumped for their rifles. The yell was repeated by two or three voices. Cautiously peeping out, they beheld, to their dismay, several Indian warriors among the trees, all armed and painted in warlike style, evidently bent on some hostile purpose.
Miller changed countenance as he regarded them. We are in trouble, said he, these are some of the rascally Arapahoes that robbed me last year. Not a word was uttered by the rest of the party; they silently slung their powder-horns, ball-pouches, and prepared themselves for battle. M'Lellan, who had taken his gun to pieces the evening before, put it together in all haste. He proposed that they should break out the clay from between the logs, so as to be able to fire upon the enemy.
Not yet, replied Stuart; it will not do to show fear or distrust; we must first hold a parley. Some one must go out and meet them as a friend.
Who was to undertake the task? It was full of peril, as the envoy might be shot down at the threshold.
The leader of a party, said Miller, always takes the advance.
Good! replied Stuart; I am ready. He immediately went forth; one of the Canadians followed him; the rest of the party remained in garrison, to keep the savages in check.
Stuart advanced, holding his rifle in one hand and extending the other to the savage who appeared to be the chief. The latter stepped forward and took it; his men followed his example, and all shook hands with Stuart, in token of friendship. They now explained their errand. They were a war-party of Arapahoe braves. Their village lay on a stream several days' journey to the eastward. It had been attacked and ravaged during their absence by a band of Crows, who had carried off several of their women and most of their horses. They were in quest of vengeance. For sixteen days they had been tracking the Crows about the mountains, but had not yet come upon them. In the meantime they had met with scarcely any game, and were half famished. About two days previously they had heard the report of firearms among the mountains, and on searching in the direction of the sound, had come to a place where a deer had been killed. They had followed the trail and it had brought them to the cabin.
Mr. Stuart now invited the chief and another, who appeared to be his lieutenant, into the cabin, but made signs that no one else was to enter. The rest halted at the door and others came straggling up, until the whole party, to the number of twenty-three, were gathered in front. They were armed with bows and arrows, tomahawks, scalping-knives, and a few had guns. All were painted and dressed for war, having a savage and fierce appearance. Mr. Miller recognized among them some of the very fellows who had robbed him the preceding year, and put his comrades on their guard. Every man stood ready to resist the first act of hostility, but the savages conducted themselves peaceably, and showed none of that swaggering arrogance which a war-party is apt to assume.
On entering the cabin, the chief and his lieutenant cast a wistful look at the rafters, hung with venison and buffalo meat. Mr. Stuart made a merit of necessity, and invited them to help themselves. They did not wait to be pressed. The beams were soon eased of their burden; venison and beef were passed out to the crew before the door, and a scene of gormandizing commenced which few can imagine who have not witnessed the gastronomical powers of an Indian after an interval of fasting. This was kept up throughout the day; they paused now and then, it is true, for a brief interval, but only to renew the charge with fresh ardour. The chief and the lieutenant surpassed all the rest in the vigour and perseverance of their attacks; as if, from their station, they were bound to signalize themselves in all onslaughts. Mr. Stuart kept them well supplied with choice bits, for it was his policy to overfeed them, and keep them from leaving the cabin, where they served as hostages for the good conduct of their followers. Once only in the course of the day did the chief sally forth. Mr. Stuart and one of the men accompanied him, armed with their rifles, but without betraying any distrust. He soon returned, and renewed his attack upon the larder. In a word, he and his worthy coadjutor, the lieutenant, ate until they were both stupefied.
Toward evening the Indians made their preparations for the night according to the practice of war-parties. Those outside of the cabin threw up two breastworks, into which they retired at a tolerably early hour, and slept like overfed hounds. As to the chief and his lieutenant, they slept inside, and in the course of the night they got up two or three times to eat. The travellers took turns, one at a time, to mount guard until morning. Scarcely had the day dawned when the gormandizing was renewed by the whole band, and carried on with surprising vigour until ten o'clock, when all prepared to depart. They had still six days' journey to make, they said, before they could come up with the Crows, who, they understood, were encamped on a river to the north. Their way lay through a hungry country where there was no game; they would, moreover, have but little time to hunt; they therefore craved a small supply of provisions for the journey. Mr. Stuart again, invited them to help themselves. They did so with keen forethought, taking the choicest parts of the meat, and leaving the late plenteous larder almost bare. Their next request was for a supply of ammunition. They had guns, but no powder and ball. They promised to pay magnificently out of the spoils of their foray. We are poor now, said they, and are obliged to go on foot, but we shall soon come back laden with booty, and all mounted on horseback, with scalps hanging at our bridles. We will then give each of you a horse to keep you from being tired on your journey.
Well, said Mr. Stuart, when you bring the horses, you shall have the ammunition, but not before. The Indians saw by his determined tone that all further entreaty would be unavailing, so they desisted, with a good-humoured laugh, and went off exceedingly well freighted, both within and without, promising to be back again in the course of a fortnight.
No sooner were they out of hearing than the luckless travellers held another council. The security of their cabin was at an end, and with it all their dreams of a quiet and cosey winter. They were between two fires. On one side were their old enemies, the Crows; on the other side, the Arapahoes, no less dangerous freebooters. As to the moderation of this war-party, they considered it assumed, to put them off their guard against some more favourable opportunity for a surprisal. It was determined, therefore, not to await their return, but to abandon with all speed this dangerous neighbourhood.
The interval of comfort and repose which the party had enjoyed in their cabin rendered the renewal of their fatigues intolerable for the first two or three days. The snow lay deep, and was slightly frozen on the surface, but not sufficiently to bear their weight. Their feet became sore by breaking through the crust, and their limbs weary by floundering on without a firm foothold. So exhausted and dispirited were they, that they began to think it would be better to remain and run the risk of being killed by the Indians, than to drag on thus painfully, with the probability of perishing by the way. Their miserable horse fared no better than themselves, having for the first day or two no other forage than the ends of willow twigs, and the bark of the cottonwood tree.
They all, however, appeared to gain patience and hardihood as they proceeded, and for fourteen days kept steadily on, making a distance of about three hundred miles.
During the last three days of their fortnight's travel, however, the face of the country changed. The timber gradually diminished, until they could scarcely find fuel sufficient for culinary purposes. The game grew more and more scanty, and finally none was to be seen but a few miserable broken-down buffalo bulls, not worth killing. The snow lay fifteen inches deep, and made the travelling grievously painful and toilsome. At length they came to an immense plain, where no vestige of timber was to be seen, not a single quadruped to enliven the desolate landscape. Here, then, their hearts failed them, and they held another consultation. The width of the river, which was nearly a mile, its extreme shallowness, the frequency of quicksands, and various other characteristics, had at length made them sensible of their errors with respect to it, and they now came to the correct conclusion that they were on the banks of the Platte. What were they to do? Pursue its course to the Missouri? To go on at this season of the year seemed dangerous in the extreme. There was no prospect of obtaining either food or fuel. The country was destitute of trees, and though there might be driftwood along the river, it lay too deep beneath the snow for them to find it.
The weather was threatening a change, and a snow-storm on these boundless wastes might prove as fatal as a whirlwind of sand on an Arabian desert. After much deliberation, it was at length determined to retrace their last three days' journey of seventy-seven miles, to a place where they had seen a sheltering growth of forest-trees, and where there was an abundance of game. Here they would once more set up their winter quarters, and await the opening of navigation to launch themselves in canoes.
Accordingly, on the 27th of December they faced about, retraced their steps, and on the 30th regained the part of the river in question.
They encamped on the margin of the river, in a grove where there were trees large enough for canoes. Here they put up a shed for immediate shelter, and at once proceeded to erect a cabin. New Year's Day dawned when but one wall of their cabin was completed; the genial and jovial day, however, was not permitted to pass uncelebrated, even by this weather-beaten crew of wanderers. All work was suspended, except that of roasting and boiling. The choicest of the buffalo meat, with tongues, humps, and marrow-bones, were devoured in quantities that would have astonished any one who has not lived among hunters and Indians. As an extra regale, having nothing to smoke, they cut up an old tobacco pouch, still redolent with the potent herb, and smoked it in honour of the day. Thus for a time, in present revelry, however uncouth, they forgot all past troubles and anxieties about the future, and their forlorn shelter echoed with the sound of gayety.
The next day they resumed their labours, and by the sixth of the month the cabin was complete. They soon killed abundance of buffalo, and again laid in a stock of winter provisions.
The party was more fortunate in this its second cantonment. The winter passed away without any Indian visitors; and the game continued to be plentiful in the neighbourhood. They felled two large trees, and shaped them into canoes, and, as the spring opened, and a thaw of several days melted the ice in the river, they made every preparation for embarking. On the 8th of March they launched forth in their canoes, but soon found that the river had not depth sufficient even for such slender barks. It expanded into a wide, but extremely shallow stream, with many sandbars, and occasionally various channels. They got one of their canoes a few miles down it, with extreme difficulty, sometimes wading, and dragging it over the shoals. At last they had to abandon the attempt, and to resume their journey on foot, aided by their faithful old packhorse, which had recruited strength during the winter.
The weather delayed them for several days, having suddenly become more rigorous than it had been at any time during the winter; but on the 20th of March they were again on their journey.
In two days they arrived at the vast naked prairie, the wintry aspect of which had caused them in December to pause and turn back. It was now clothed with the early verdure of spring, and plentifully stocked with game. Still, when obliged to bivouac on its bare surface, without any covering, by a scanty fire of buffalo-chips, they found the night-blasts piercingly cold. On one occasion a herd of buffalo having strayed near their evening camp, they killed three of them merely for their hides, wherewith to make a shelter for the night.
They journeyed on for about a hundred miles, and the first landmark by which they were able to conjecture their position with any degree of confidence was an island about seventy miles in length, which they presumed to be Le Grande Isle. They now knew that they were not a very great distance from the Missouri River, if their presumption was correct. They went on, therefore, with renewed hope, and on the evening of the third day met an Otoe Indian, who informed them they were but a short distance from the Missouri. He also told them of the war that had been progressing between the United States and England. This was news to them indeed, for during that whole period they had been beyond the possibility of learning anything of civilized affairs.
The Indian conducted them to his village, where they were delighted to meet two white trappers recently arrived from St. Louis. A bargain was now made with one of them, who agreed to furnish them with a canoe and provisions for the voyage, in exchange for their venerable traveller, the old horse. In a few days they started and arrived at Fort Osage, where they were again received hospitably by the officers of the garrison, and where they enjoyed that luxury, bread, which they had not tasted for over a year. Reëmbarking, they arrived in St. Louis on the 30th of April, without experiencing any further adventure worthy of note.
CHAPTER II. THE OLD TRAPPERS.
On the return of Lewis and Clarke's expedition from the Rocky Mountains where they had wintered with the Mandans, a celebrated chief of that tribe, Big White, was induced to accompany Captain Lewis to Washington in order that he might see the President, and learn something of the power of the people of the country far to the East.
The Mandans at that time were at war with the Sioux, and Big White was fearful that on his return to his own tribe some of the Sioux might cut him and his party off, so he hesitated at first to accept the invitation; but upon Captain Clarke assuring him that the government would send a guard of armed men to protect and convoy him safely to his own country, the chief assented, and took with him his wife and son.
In the spring of 1807, Big White set out on his return to the Mandan country. The promised escort, comprising twenty men under the command of Captain Ezekiel Williams, a noted frontiersman, left St. Louis to guard him and to explore the region of the then unknown far West.
Each man of the party carried a rifle, together with powder and lead to last him for a period of two years. They also took with them six traps to each person, for it was the intention of the expedition, after it had seen the brave Mandan safely to his own home, to hunt for beaver and other fur-bearing animals in the recesses of the vast region beyond the Missouri.
Pistols, knives, camp kettles, blankets, and other camp equipage necessary to the success of the expedition and the comfort of the men were carried on extra packhorses. He did not forget to take gewgaws and trinkets valued by the savage, as presents to the chiefs of the several tribes they might chance to meet.
It will be remembered by the student of history that the expedition of Lewis and Clarke was confined to the Missouri River. They went up that stream and returned by the same route, and as Lieutenant Pike started west in 1805, it is claimed that this expedition of Captain Williams, overland to the Rocky Mountains, was the second ever undertaken by citizens of the United States. The difficulties which they expected to encounter, having no knowledge of the country through which they were to pass, as may be surmised, were numerous and trying. When leaving the Mandan chief at his village, near the mouth of the Yellowstone, that excellent Indian gave the party some timely advice, and it prevented their absolute annihilation on several occasions. Captain Williams was especially urged to exercise the greatest vigilance day and night; to pay the strictest attention to the position of his camps and the picketing of his animals. He was told that, although the average Indian generally relied upon surprises on their raids, they were not rash and careless, rarely attacking a party that was prepared and on the lookout.
Captain Williams was a man of the most persistent perseverance, patience, and unflinching courage, coupled with that determination of character which has been the saving attribute of nearly all our famous mountaineers from the earliest days. His men, too, were all used to the privations and hardships that a life on the border demands, for Missouri, at the time of the expedition, was a wilderness in the most rigid definition of the term. All were splendid shots with the rifle, and could hit the eye of a squirrel whether the animal stood still or was running up the trunk of a tree.
The distance they travelled each day averaged about twenty-five miles. When they were ready to camp, they selected a position where wood and water were plentiful, and the grass good for their animals. For the first eight or ten nights they would kindle great fires, around which they gathered, ate the fat venison their hunters had killed through the day, and told stories of hunting and logging back in the mighty forests of Missouri. When they reached the region of the Platte they were forced to abandon this careless practice, for they were now entering a region infested by hostile savages, and they found it necessary to act upon the suggestions of the Mandan chief, and be constantly on their guard.
For the distance of about two hundred and fifty miles from the Missouri they did not find game very abundant, although they never suffered, as there was always enough to supply their wants. The timber began to thin out too, and they were obliged to resort for their fire to the bois de vache, or buffalo-chips.
One day, two of the hunters killed a brace of very fat deer close to camp, and when the animals were dressed and their carcasses hung up to a huge limb, the viscera and other offal attracted a band of hungry wolves. Not less than twenty of the impudent, famishing brutes battened in luxurious frenzy on the inviting entrails and feet of the slaughtered deer. The wolves were of all sizes and colours; those that were the largest kept their smaller congeners away from the feast until they were themselves gorged, and then allowed the little ones to gather up the fragments. While the latter were waiting their turn with a constant whining and growling, the dogs of the expedition barked an accompaniment to the howls of the impatient animals, and soon made a break for the pack. They chased them around the trees and out on the open prairie, when they turned upon the dogs and drove them back to camp. One of the most plucky of the dogs made a bold stand, but was seized by as many of the wolves as could get hold of him, and he was torn to shreds almost instantly.
The trappers did not want to waste any lead on the worthless animals, but in the darkness set some of their beaver-traps, which they baited with pieces of venison suspended just above them on a projecting limb of a tree. In the morning, when the trappers went out to look for their supposed victims, both the meat and the traps were gone. They had, in their inexperience, forgotten to fasten the traps to anything, and if any of the wolves were caught, they had walked off, traps and all!
While all were at breakfast, one of the mortified hunters, disgusted at the loss of his trap, went off with the intention of tracking the wolf that had carried it away, thinking perhaps if the animal had got rid of it he would find it on its trail. Sure enough, a wolf had been caught by this man's trap, and in dragging it along had left in the grass a very distinct trail, by which he was easily followed. He was tracked into a thicket of hazel, entrance to which was almost impossible, so rank and tangled was its growth. No doubt the wolf was alive, but how to recover his trap was an enigma to the hunter. He called the dogs and endeavoured to get them to go in, but, after their experience of the night before, they, with the most terrible howls, declined to make the attempt. Then it was observed that near the clump of hazel was a large oak-tree, from whose limbs an extended view of the centre of the thicket could be had. One of the hunters, at the suggestion of Captain Williams, climbed the tree, and shot the wolf with his rifle. The danger having passed, the wolf was dragged from his retreat, and it was discovered that one of his forefeet had been caught in the trap. He was an immense fellow, and nearly black in colour.
In the early days of the frontier, the following method was sometimes employed to rid a camp of wolves. Several fishhooks were tied together by their shanks, with a sinew, and the whole placed in the centre of a piece of tempting fresh meat, which was dropped where the bait was most likely to be found by the prowling beasts. The hooks were so completely buried in the meat as to prevent their being shaken off by the animal that seized the bait. It is an old trapper's belief that a wolf never takes up a piece of food without shaking it well before he attempts to eat it, so that when the unlucky animal had swallowed the wicked morsel, he commenced at once to howl most horribly, tear his neck, and run incontinently from the place. As wolves rarely travel alone, but are gregarious in their habits, the moment the brute has swallowed the bait and commenced to run, all make after him. His fleeing is contagious, and they seldom come back to that spot again. Sometimes the pack will run for fifty miles before stopping.
One night, while encamped on the Platte, five of their horses were missing when daylight came. At first they thought the Indians had run them off; but, on second thought, Captain Williams argued that the animals could not have been stolen. If the Indians had been able to take the five, they could as easily have taken the whole herd. This induced the men to go out and institute a search for the missing animals. Their trail, made very plain by the dew, was soon found in the grass, and soon all were returned to camp. The horses had cleared themselves of their hobbles, and were going off in the direction of their far-away home, and it was not until dark that the camp was reached. Thus a whole day was lost, but as they were yet within comparatively safe distance of the river, no harm resulted from their carelessness. Now greater caution must be observed, for their journey was to be a long one; it led through a region occupied by hostile tribes who would watch them with an energy possible only to the North American savage. The Indians would waylay them in every ravine, watch them every moment from the hilltops for the purpose of gaining an advantage, hoping always to surprise them, steal their horses, and take their scalps if possible.
From that day the company adopted new tactics; they travelled until an hour before sundown, then halted, unsaddled their animals, and picketed them out to graze. In the meantime their supper was prepared, the fires lighted, and, after resting long enough for their horses to have filled themselves, generally after dark, they were brought in, saddled, the fires were renewed, and the company would start on for another camp eight or ten miles away, before again halting for the night. Of course, at the new camp no fires were kindled, and the men rested in security from a possible attack by the savages.
One day the company came upon a band of friendly Kansas Indians who were out on an annual buffalo-hunt, and Captain Williams resolved to spend two or three days with this tribe, and indulge in a buffalo-hunt with them. The whole country through which they were now travelling was literally covered with the great shaggy monsters; thousands and thousands could be seen from every point. The buffalo had not yet been frightened. Early the next morning, a dozen of the Kansas Indians, splendidly mounted, with spears, bows, and arrows for weapons, with the same number of Captain Williams' men, started for the herd grazing so unsuspiciously a few miles off. The Indians were not only excellent hunters, but very superior horsemen, their animals familiar with the habits of the huge beasts they were to encounter, and well-trained in all the quick movements so necessary to a successful hunt. But it was not so with the men of Captain Williams' party. Many of them had never seen a buffalo before, and though skilful hunters in their native woods on the Missouri River, they were wholly unacquainted with the habits of the immense beasts they were now to kill. Their horses, too, were as unused to the sight of a buffalo as their riders, and in consequence were badly frightened at the first sight of the ungainly animals. The men, of course, used their rifles, which in those days were altogether too cumbersome for hunting the buffalo.
The party soon came in view of the herd, which was quietly grazing about a mile off. Then the men dismounted, cinched up their saddles, and getting their arms ready for the attack, in a few moments of brisk riding were on the edge of the vast herd. Every man picked out his quarry and dashed after it, the Indians selecting the bulls, as they were fatter at that time of year. The cows had calves at their sides and were much thinner. In a moment the very earth seemed to tremble under the sharp clatter of the hoofs of the now thoroughly alarmed beasts, and the sound as they dashed away was like distant thunder. The Indians and their horses seemed to understand their business at once. Advancing up to a buffalo, the savage discharged his bow and launched his spear with unerring aim, and the moment it was seen that a buffalo was mortally wounded, off he would ride to another animal, leaving the dying victim where it fell.
For more than two hours the hard work was kept up until a dozen or more of the huge bulls were dead upon the prairie within the radius of a couple of miles. The Indians had averaged more than a buffalo apiece, while Captain Williams' men had signally failed to bring down a single bull, because they were unable to handle their rifles while riding. In fact, several of the white men were carried away by their unmanageable animals for miles from the scene of the hunt. One was thrown from his saddle. One horse had in his mad fright rushed upon an infuriated bull that had been wounded, and was disembowelled and killed in a moment. Its rider was compelled to walk to the camp, deeply mortified at his discomfiture.
The savages invariably exercised an amount of coolness on a buffalo-hunt that would astonish the average white man. They never let an arrow fly until they were certain of its effect. Sometimes a single arrow would suffice to kill the largest of bulls. Sometimes, so great was the force given, an arrow would pass obliquely through the body, when a bone was not struck in its passage.
Captain Williams' party had now an abundance of delicious buffalo meat, but it was at the expense of a horse, a considerable balance on the debtor side, considering the long and weary march yet to be made. Providence seems to have come luckily to the relief of the party at this juncture, for, one of the savages having taken a particular fancy to one of the dogs of the outfit, he offered to exchange a fine young horse for it. His offer was gladly acceded to by the captain. The Indian was pleased with the bargain, but not more so than the horseless hunter.
The next day Captain Williams crossed the Platte a short distance below the junction of the North and South Forks, and just before sundown, as usual, halted to graze the horses and prepare their evening meal. In a few moments the dog that had been exchanged for a horse came into camp, and appeared overjoyed to see his white friends again. A piece of buffalo-hide was attached to his neck. He had been tied, but had succeeded in gnawing the lariat in two, and thus made his escape, following the trail of the party he knew so well.
The region through which Captain Williams' party was now travelling was dotted with the various animals which at that early period were so numerous on the grand prairies of the Platte. Conspicuous, of course, were vast herds of buffalo, and near the outer edge of the nearest could be distinctly seen a pack of hungry wolves, eagerly watching for a chance to hamstring one of the superannuated bulls which stood alone, remote from all his companions, in all the misery of his forlorn abandonment.
In the afternoon, as the party were riding silently along the trail by the margin of the river, a rumbling, muffled sound was heard, like the mutterings of thunder below the horizon. One of the Indians whom Captain Williams had induced to accompany him for some distance farther into the wilderness, told him that the noise was made by a stampeded herd of buffalo, and the sound became clearer and more distinct. He believed the frightened animals were rushing in the direction of the company, and if his surmises were true, there was danger in store. For more than an hour the rumbling continued, sounding louder and louder, until at last a surging, dark-looking mass of rapidly moving animals was visible on the horizon, seeming to cover the entire surface of the prairie as far as the eye could see.
There was but one thing to do; either the herd must be divided by some means, or death to all was inevitable. Accordingly the horses were hobbled, and the men rushed toward the approaching mass of surging animals, firing off their rifles as rapidly and shouting as loudly as they could. Luckily for the hunters, as the vast array of frightened buffaloes came toward them, the leaders, with bloodshot eyes, stared for a moment at the new object of terror, divided to the right and left, passing the now thoroughly alarmed men with only about fifty or sixty yards between them.
For more than an hour the hard work of yelling and firing off their rifles had to be kept up before the danger was over. The buffalo appeared to be more badly frightened at the yells of the Indian than at anything else that confronted them. One of the beautiful greyhounds belonging to the company became demoralized, and, running into the midst of the rushing herd as it passed by, was cruelly trampled to death in an instant.
In the early days it was generally believed that, when buffalo were seen stampeding in the manner described, they were being chased by Indians; and the party, surmising this to be the cause of the present onward rush of the animals, although getting short of their meat rations, did not deem it prudent to kill any, so the vast herd of the coveted animals was allowed to pass by without a shot being fired at them.
The delay caused by the stampede made the party very late in making their usual afternoon camp, and when they started on their hard march again, three of the men were detailed to hunt for game. They were told to join the company at a bunch of timber just visible low down on the western horizon, apparently about six miles distant, but as afterward proved it was much farther.
The men who were ordered out by the captain were warned to observe the strictest vigilance, and particularly not to separate from each other, as it was evident they were in a dangerous country, and their safety depended upon their keeping within supporting distance.
The main body of the party arrived at the bunch of timber about sundown, and partook of a very slight repast, as the meat, upon which they depended almost entirely, was nearly exhausted. About dark, however, two of the hunters who had left in the afternoon came into camp bringing with them a fine deer. They reported that their companion had left them to get a shot at a herd of elk a mile away, and while going after the deer which they had killed they lost sight of him. They also stated that they had seen three horsemen going in the direction which the missing man had taken. This painful news created the greatest alarm in the camp; it was too late and dark to go out in search of their missing comrade, and if he were still alive he would be compelled to remain entirely unprotected during the night on the prairie. The captain at first thought of kindling a large fire, hoping that the lost man would see the light and find his way in. As this plan would betray the presence of the whole party to any Indians who might be prowling about, it was wisely abandoned. So the little camp-fires were extinguished, and a double guard posted, for it was believed that, if the Indians had killed their comrade, they would be likely to attack the main camp at dawn, the hour usually selected for such raids.
The night passed slowly on; nothing disturbed the hunters except their anxiety for their lost comrade. At the faintest intimation of the coming dawn, ten of the party, including the two who had been with the missing man the previous afternoon, set out on their quest for their lost companion. They first went back to the spot where they remembered having last seen him, but there was not a sign of him; not even the track of his horse's hoofs could be seen. The men fired off their rifles as they rode along, and occasionally called out his name, but not a sound came back in response. At last they were rewarded by the sight of a horse standing in a bunch of willows. As they approached him, they were welcomed by his neighing. They then halted, and continued their shouting and calling by name, but not an answer did they get. They were now confirmed in their belief that their comrade had been killed by the Indians, who were in possession of his horse, and at that moment hidden in the bunch of willows before them. They were determined to know positively, so they approached the spot very cautiously, with their fingers on the triggers of their rifles, ready to repel an attack. When they had approached sufficiently near, they saw that the horse was carefully fastened to the brush, and a short distance away was Carson lying down with his head resting on the saddle! At first the men thought him dead, but found out that he was only in a profound sleep, indeed, really enjoying the most delightful dreams. When they aroused him he appeared bewildered for a moment, but soon recovered his normal condition, and related his story to his now happy companions. He said that in his eagerness to get the elk he lost his bearings, and wandered about until midnight. He hoped that he might catch a glimpse of their camp-fire, but failing in that, being tired and hungry, he laid himself down and tried to sleep; but pondering upon his danger he lay awake until daylight, and had just dropped into a deep slumber when they found him, and he slept so soundly that he failed to hear them call. He said that he saw the Indians on horseback seen by the other men; they passed by him within a hundred yards, but did not see him, as he was already hidden in the willows where he was found.
The lost man being found, the party returned to camp and resumed its journey, exercising renewed caution, as the signs of Indians grew thicker as they moved on. Tracks of the savages' horses and the remains of their camp-fires were now of frequent occurrence, and the game along the trail was easily frightened, another sign of the late presence of Indians.
About noon some mounted Indians were discovered by the aid of the captain's field-glass, on a divide, evidently watching the movements of the party. They were supposed to be runners of some hostile tribe, who intended that night to steal upon them and take their horses, and possibly attempt to take their scalps. Toward night the same Indians were again observed following the trail of the party, and they were now satisfied the savages were dogging them. Having arrived at the margin of a small stream of very pure water, they halted for an hour or more, allowing the Indians, who were evidently watching every movement, to believe their intention was to camp for the night at that spot. As soon as the animals were sufficiently rested, however, and had filled themselves with the nutritious grass growing so luxuriantly all around them, they saddled up, first having added a large amount of fresh fuel to their fires, and started on. They made a detour to the north in order to deceive the savages as much as possible as to their real course. The ruse had the desired effect, for after travelling about ten miles farther, they slept soundly until the next morning, without fires, on a delicious piece of green sod.
At the first streak of dawn the men were in their saddles again, having outwitted the Indians completely. It was about the first of June; and one day, soon after they had gotten rid of their savage spies, one of the party was stricken down with a severe sickness, and they were compelled to lie in camp and attend to the sufferings of their unfortunate comrade. He had a high fever, grew delirious, and as in those days bleeding was considered a panacea for all the ills that flesh is heir to, the captain made several abortive attempts to draw the diseased blood from the poor man, but failed completely. He also dosed his victim with copious draughts of calomel, but the result was far from salutary; the man grew worse, but the party determined to remain with him until he did get better or death relieved him of his sufferings. Accordingly, to make themselves more secure from probable attacks of the Indians, they threw up a rude breastwork of earth, behind which they established themselves and felt thereafter a greater degree of security.
Some of the men were despatched on a hunt for meat, and shortly returned with part of the carcass of a young buffalo cow, and one antelope, which was the first they had been able to kill. The man who killed it said that he resorted to the tactics generally adopted by the Indians. The timid animal would not allow him to approach within rifle-shot, until he had excited its curiosity by fastening a handkerchief on the end of his ramrod. As soon as the antelope saw it, it gradually walked toward him until so near that he was assured that his piece would carry that far. It actually came within thirty yards of him, and he shot it while lying prone on the ground, the graceful animal noticing nothing but the white rag that had attracted its attention.
On the afternoon of that day a band of savages, mounted on fine horses, made their appearance near the camp, and looked upon the white men with great curiosity. It was soon learned that they were Pawnees, and with some little trouble they were enticed to come in, and a talk was had with their leader. They proved to be a party out after some Osages who had stolen a number of horses. They had been lucky enough to overtake them, and had killed nearly all the thieves, regained their horses, and had a number of the enemies' scalps. The Pawnees had met Captain Lewis the year before, and having received some presents from him were inclined to regard the whites as a friendly people. This impression the captain further confirmed by himself making them gifts of some tobacco and trifling trinkets. They were shown around the camp, and seemed to sympathize deeply with the sick man, who was lying on his blankets in a dying condition. They gathered some roots from the prairie, and assured the captain that if the man would take them he would certainly recover; they also urged their manner of sweating and bathing, but the appliances were not at hand, so the advice had to be declined.
That evening the sick man died; an event that was looked for, but not so soon. His body was immediately wrapped in his blanket and deposited in a grave. On the bark of a tree standing near, his name, William Hamilton, and the date of his death were rudely carved with a jack-knife by one of the party.
Early in the morning the occupants of the camp were shocked at the sight of a pack of wolves most industriously at work on the grave trying to unearth the body of their unfortunate comrade. All the men suddenly and almost simultaneously attempted to fire their rifles at the pack, but were checked by the captain, who urged that the report of their arms might bring down upon them a band of Indians who were not so friendly as the Pawnees. With great difficulty the wolves were driven off, and the grave was covered with heavy logs and the largest stones that could be procured in the vicinity.
The party then continued on their journey, feeling very sad over the loss of Hamilton, for he was beloved by all on account of his sterling qualities.
In the afternoon a great commotion was noticed far ahead of them on the prairie. At first they could not determine its cause, but presently the captain, bringing his glass to bear upon the objects, discovered it to be a small band of wolves in full chase after a superannuated buffalo bull, which had been driven out of the herd by the younger ones.
The frightened animal was coming directly toward the party with the excited wolves close at his heels. There were twelve wolves, and evidently they had had a long chase, as both they and the buffalo were nearly exhausted. The party stopped to witness the novel fight, a scene so foreign to anything they had witnessed before. The wolves were close around the buffalo, snapping incessantly at his heels, in their endeavour to hamstring him. They did not hold on like a dog, but at every jump at the poor beast they would bring away a mouthful of his flesh, which they gulped down as they ran. So fierce was the chase that the famishing wolves did not observe the men until they came within ten yards of them; even then they did not appear to be much frightened, but scampered off a short distance, sat on their haunches, licked their bloody chops, and appeared to be waiting with the utmost impatience to renew the chase again. The buffalo had suffered severely, and he was ultimately brought to the ground. The party left him to his fate, and as they rode away they could see the ravenous pack, with fresh impetuosity, tearing the poor beast to pieces with true canine ferocity.