Westward! Ho! It is the sixteenth of the second month A. D. 1830. and I have joined a trapping, trading, hunting expedition to the Rocky Mountains. Why, I scarcely know, for the motives that induced me to this step were of a mixed complexion, - something like the pepper and salt population of this city of St. Louis. Curiosity, a love of wild adventure, and perhaps also a hope of profit, - for times are hard, and my best coat has a sort of sheepish hang-dog hesitation to encounter fashionable folk - combined to make me look upon the project with an eye of favour. The party consists of some thirty men, mostly Canadians; but a few there are, like myself, from various parts of the Union. Each has some plausible excuse for joining, and the aggregate of disinterestedness would delight the most ghostly saint in the Roman calendar. Engage for money! no, not they; health, and the strong desire of seeing strange lands, of beholding nature in the savage grandeur of her primeval state, - these are the only arguments that could have persuaded such independent and high-minded young fellows to adventure with the American Fur Company in a trip to the mountain wilds of the great west. But they are active, vigorous, resolute, daring, and such are the kind of men the service requires. The Company have no reason to be dissatisfied, nor have they. Everything promises well. No doubt there will be two fortunes apiece for us. Westward! Ho!
All was at last ready, we mounted our mules and horses, and filed away from the Company's warehouse, in fine spirits, and under a fine sky. The day was delightful, and all felt its cheerful influence. We were leaving for many months, - even years - if not forever, the lands and life of civilization, refinement, learning order and law, plunging afar into the savageness of a nomadic, yet not pastoral state of being, and doomed to encounter hunger, thirst, fatigue, exposure, peril, and perhaps sickness, torture, and death. But none of these things were thought of. The light jest was uttered, the merry laugh responded. Hope pictured a bright future for every one, and dangers, hardships, accidents, and disappointments, found no harbour in our anticipations.
The first day's march conducted us through a fertile and cultivated tract of country, to the Missouri river, opposite St. Charles. We crossed the stream in a flat boat, and passing through the village, halted for the night at a farmhouse a few miles beyond. Corn and corn-stalks were purchased for our horses, and corn bread and bacon for ourselves. We did not greatly relish a kind of diet so primitive, neither did we the idea that it was furnished us merely because it was the cheapest that could be obtained. Having ascertained, however, that nothing better was to be had, we magnanimously concluded to accept that instead of the alternative - nothing - and I, at least, made out a hearty supper.
It is not necessary to mention every trifling accident that occurred during our journey through the state of Missouri. Our numbers prevented us from enjoying the comforts of a house to lodge in, and when we could not find room in barns or other outbuildings, we slept on the bosom of mother earth, beneath our own good blankets, and the starry coverlet of heaven. No unpleasant effects resulted from this exposure, and though all unused to a mode of life so purely aboriginal, I even enjoyed it. Sleep more refreshing, and dreams more sweet were never vouchsafed to me than those which waited upon my grassy couch beneath the sky canopy of night. In fair weather nothing could be finer, but a cold driving storm made all the difference in the world. In such an event we arose, took up our beds, and walked - to the nearest door, which we ordered instantly to unfold and yield admittance, on pain of our displeasure. The conscious door trembled at the summons, but never hesitated to obey the mandate, and thereupon we entered and spread ourselves and blankets on the floor, if wet - to dry, if dry - to snore.
On the twenty-first we entered the Eighteen-mile prairie, east of Franklin, beneath a bright sky, and a balmy air. A few miles and the weather changed sadly. A terrible storm set in, which we were obliged to face and brave, for shelter was out of the question. The snow and hail melted and froze again on our hair, eye-brows, and neck-cloths, and we suffered much during almost the whole day from its driving violence. At evening we re-entered the woodlands, and the storm ceased to annoy us. Two days after this, we reached and passed through the village of Franklin, which a pitiless monster was in the act of swallowing up. The river is every year encroaching on the bank that forms the site of the town, and several buildings have already made an aquatic excursion. Others seem preparing to follow. Near the village we met with innumerable flocks of paroquets - the first I had seen in a wild state - whose beautiful plumage of green and gold flashed above us like an atmosphere of gems.
We crossed the Missouri at Arrow-rock ferry on the twenty-fifth, and shortly after overtook a party of fifteen Canadians, who had preceded us a few days from St. Louis, and who were henceforth to be our companions to the end of the journey. The country had already begun to assume a more uncultivated and dreary aspect; plantations were much less frequent, - we were approaching the limits of civilization. We now moved from farm-house to farm-house, remaining at each so long as we could obtain sustenance for ourselves and horses, in order that the condition of the latter might be improved, and to give time for the vegetation, to which their diet would soon have to be restricted, to increase sufficient for the purpose. In the meantime our leisure hours were occupied and amused by the surprising relations of a few of the Canadians who had formerly been to the mountains, and who did not scruple to impose on the credulity of the "mangeris de lard," as they term those who are unacquainted with the wild hap-hazard sort of life peculiar to the remote and desolate regions to which our journey tends. Each of these veterans seemed to have had a "most enormous experience" in mountain adventure, and certainly if their own stories could have been taken for it, they were singly more than a match for any given number of bears or Blackfeet. Some of their narrations were romantic enough, with a possibility of their being true, but the greatest number savoured too much of Munchausenism to gain a moment's belief. I soon found that a current of rude but good natured humour ran through their veins, and that, though quite disposed to quiz, they were by no means disposed to quarrel with us. We easily came to a good understanding together. They told as extravagant yarns as they pleased, and we believed as little as we liked. Both had reason to be pleased with this arrangement, and many an hour I sat and listened to extempore adventures, improvised for the occasion, compared to which those of Colter and Glass, (both of which I had read years before,) were dull and spiritless. One told of coursing an antelope a week without intermission or food, over a spur of the Wind Mountains, and another of riding a grizzly bear, full tilt, through a village of Blackfeet Indians! There was no end to their absurdities.
Messrs. Dripps and Robidoux, who were to be our conductors to the Council Bluffs, overtook us on the fifth, bringing with them an addition to our strength of fifty more - mules! As these our new leaders (not the mules) were noted for anything but a want of energy, we were soon again in motion, and recrossing the Missouri near Mount Vernon, continued our course to a plantation not far from Liberty, the last village on our route, where we remained for two weeks, waiting the arrival of wagons from St Louis, with merchandize for the Indian trade, which from this point has to be conveyed to the mountains on pack horses.
The only incident by which the monotony of our stay was at all relieved, was a stab which one of our men received in a drunken frolic, from a stranger whom he had without doubt insulted. This affair produced at first some little excitement, and even threatened serious consequences. It was soon ascertained, however, that the injury was but slight, and, as the individual wounded was known to be a reckless, impudent quarrelsome fellow, who had beyond question provoked the broil in which he got his hurt, he found but little sympathy, and was forced to put up with the loss of blood and temper his insolence and ill-conduct had brought upon him. This lesson was not entirely lost to him, for it had the effect of amending his manners very materially, and so proved to be rather a providence than a punishment.
The long-expected train of wagons arrived on the nineteenth, and there was speedily a general bustle in the camp, though never a lady near. We all set to work unloading the bales, cording and preparing them for packing, and making other necessary arrangements for prosecuting our journey. Our party now amounted to forty-five persons, and we had above a hundred beasts of burden. The men were supplied with arms, ammunition, pans, kettles, etc., and divided into six messes, each of which received its proportionate share of provisions, with an intimation that they must be carefully husbanded, as nothing more could be obtained until we reached the Council Bluffs, the intervening country being an unpeopled waste or wilderness. Pleasant intelligence this for the stomach, and some went supperless to bed - no, blanket - for fear they would otherwise have no breakfast on some subsequent morning. At last, all was in readiness, and early the following day we were on the march. Passing the boundary of those two great states, Missouri and Misery, and leaving the forest bordering the river, we emerged into an almost limitless prairie, embroidered with woodland stripes and dots, fringing and skirting the streams and rivulets by which it was not inelegantly intersected and adorned. The day was bright and fair, and this early part of our travel might have been pleasant, but for the unceasing annoyance of our mules, who seized every opportunity, and indeed when occasion was wanting, took the responsibility of making one, to give us trouble and vexation. Some were content to display the stupidity for which their sires are so proverbial, but the greater part amused themselves with the most provoking tricks of legerdemain, such as dexterously and by some cabalistic movement, tossing their packs, (which were lashed on,) into a mud-hole, or turning them by a practised juggle from their backs to between their legs, which, having accomplished, they scampered off in high glee, or stopped and commenced kicking, floundering, pawing, and bellowing, as if they were any thing but delighted with the result of their merry humours. Job himself would have yielded to the luxury of reviling, had his patience been tried by the management of a drove of packed mules, and it may be esteemed fortunate for his reputation that Senior Nicholas had not the wit to propose such an experiment upon his even-toned temper. As the Devil is ordinarily by no means wanting in shrewdness, the omission might perhaps be set down to his credit on the score of charity, but for his abominable taste in matters of diabolical verte, as shown by his penchant for sanguinary signatures to all compacts and bonds for bad behavior made with or exacted by him, in the course of his "regular dealings" with mankind, and hence it must be considered a clear case of ignorance or oversight, that this test, compared to which there is toleration for boils even, was not applied. A wicked wag at my elbow, inquires with an affectation of much interest, if Satan, having in the case of the good man Job, failed so signally to keep his word, was not liable to an action on the case for a breach of promise. I of course decline answering, and refer him to those more skilled in legal casuistry for a reply. Of all bores in the world, your quizzing, carping, text-torturing sceptic is the worst - next to mule driving; and those confounded mules would bore a two inch auger hole through the meekness of Moses himself, were he their master. Such kicks, caperings, perverseness and obstinacy! the task of St. Dunstan was a play-spell to this teazing, tormenting tax upon one's time and patience. The man in the song, who "Had a donkey wot wouldn't go," and yet didn't "wallop him," was a miracle of forbearance and - but such people live only in song!
Well, in spite of the obstinacy of our mules, night came at last, and we halted on the margin of a pretty rippling stream, turned our horses loose to crop the yellow beard on the prairie face of earth, and kindled camp fires for our evening meal. O what a luxury it is to have a whole night's rest before you, after a long day of toil, vexation, and weariness! Supper over and I indulging in reflections of a very indiscriminate kind, reposing on my elbow by the warmth of a genial blaze, when a blessless wight elbowed my repose by stumbling over me and adding an unexpected and quite too general ablution from his freshly filled kettle of water. Peace societies were not then thought of, and as I half suspected the rascal to have done it accidently by design, as an Irishman might say, I started up in order to give him, - as one good turn deserves another, - a box on the ear for his carelessness. But fear collapsed the coward's limbs, he slipped down to his knees, and my blow, just grazing the stubble of his short crop, cut the empty air and whirled me sprawling over him. There was an attitude for a philosopher! I sprang to my feet now as thoroughly enraged as I had been before drenched, but my opponent had utterly vanished, and I saw and heard nothing save the echo of a chuckle that seemed to dance on the still quivering leaves of a bush he must have brushed in his flight. However, I had my revenge for a few hours later I thrashed him soundly - in a dream!
In the morning we collected our horses and pack animals, and after breakfast continued on our journey across the prairie which we found to be lacquered with numerous trails or paths beaten by herds of buffaloes, that formerly grazed these plains, vestiges of which were still every where to be seen. One of these trails bearing to the westward we followed until it terminated in an impenetrable thicket, when our bewildered guide struck off to the northward, on a hunt, as some one facetiously remarked, after the Great Bear, which he had the good fortune to find, though not, as may be supposed, until some time after dusk. We halted for the night in a beautiful grove near a fine spring, and had the inexpressible pleasure of ascertaining that it was a capital watering place, a fact that was fully proved by the torrents that poured down like another deluge, the whole night, and prevented us from getting a single moment's sleep. Some of our people took, from this cold water movement, such a decided distaste for the pure element that they could not bear to drink a single drop, for a long time after, that is when anything better, as rum or whiskey, could be had. For my own part the surfeit did not produce nausea, and I still loved the sparkling liquid, but I must confess in more moderate abundance and from any spring rather than a spring shower.
We left ourself, at the close of the last chapter, in a most comfortless condition, that is to say, wet as a drowned rat, but very much consoled by the reflection that not a man in camp had a dry thread on his back. How gratifying it always is, to a person in distress, to know that his neighbours are at least as badly off as he is! There was no trouble in rousing the party that morning, for every man was up, not exactly bright to be sure, but quite early; and the number of big blazing fires, with human figures crouching and crowding round them, shifting sides and changing positions constantly, gave one no unapt conception of a certain place more than an ell in measurement, with its attendant imps and demons. Forty five persons doing duty ex necessitate rei, in the capacity of clothes-horses, had in it something indescribably ludicrous, yet, strange to say, there was not a smile on a single lip, and we all spread ourselves to dry with, the utmost imaginable gravity, specific and facial. After breakfast we gathered up our traps, literal as well as hyperbolical, and proceeded on our journey.
For several days, we met with no adventure worth relating, and though our curiosity was constantly on the stretch, to find out how it was possible for our mules to play us so many tricks as they continually did, it still remains a mystery, as much so as any other species of animal magnetism, in vogue with beings of that order. We saw herds of deer daily, now and then a herd of elk, and of deer and buffalo more bones than we cared to pick. We met also with a great variety of wild fowl, which are common to the lakes and prairies of Illinois, and to whoever can catch them besides. Innumerable small streams crossed our course, or rather we crossed them, the beds of many of which, though any thing but down, were as soft as could be desired, and much more so than suited our convenience, for they often suited us with a covering infinitely more adhesive than agreeable. Some of them we bridged over, and so passed without taking toll of their richness, but others were destitute of trees or shrubs, and because they were naked we were obliged to denude ourselves, wade over and carry both our clothes and luggage, for our horses and mules could with difficulty flounder through when eased of their loading. Of the latter it may be here observed, that however firm the bed and consequently practicable the passage of a stream might be, they invariably insisted upon not attempting to cross until relieved of their burden, and the strongest argument scarcely sufficed to overcome this repugnance to such a proceeding. "It is quite astonishing," said a weather beaten wag one day with great simplicity, "how little confidence them animals has in themselves." Singular, but our impressions were quite the contrary, and we had often occasion to remark that their organs of self-esteem and firmness must be most surprisingly developed - pro-di-gous! as Dominie Sampson would say.
On the twenty-eighth we narrowly escaped losing our horses and baggage through the carelessness of one of our men, who kindled a fire and left it notwithstanding he had been repeatedly warned of the danger of so doing. During his absence the dry grass caught the blaze, and a fresh gust in a moment fanned it to a conflagration which wrapt the whole encampment in a sheet of flame. We rushed at once to rescue the baggage, but several bales of powder and other articles were already lost to view in the devouring element that rolled and billowed over the plain. We had barely time, the flames spread with such rapidity, to seize each a bale and fly for refuge to a small sand bar, beneath a high bluff. Here we stood and gazed with agony at the curling and darting flames as they swept over the prairie, threatening destruction to our horses, in which event our situation would have been indeed deplorable. Fortunately however the wind suddenly changed, and blew with equal violence in the opposite direction, driving the mass or sheet of flames away to the eastward, and leaving us and our poor beasts free from danger.
The bales were all cased with thick cowhide and passed the fiery ordeal without injury; even our powder, though the envelopes were scorched and blackened by the blaze, escaped explosion, and we had truly reason to be thankful for our great deliverance. Two of our horses were less fortunate than their companions, for they were overtaken by the flames and completely singed, presenting an extremely ludicrous but pitiable appearance. Is it not singular that these animals, not usually wanting in sagacity or courage, should when threatened by fire so quietly submit to their fate without making a single effort to escape? A few saddles, blankets, and other articles, among which was all the extra clothing and only coat, of him whose inexcusible carelessness had thus exposed us, were lost by the fire. And this was fortunately the extent of the damage.
Resuming our journey we reached the Missouri on the thirty-first and crossed in a keel boat to Belle Vue, the trading house of Messrs. Fontenelle & Dripps, situate eight miles above the mouth of the Platte. We were here supplied with tents, which we pitched - not as the paddy did with grease - near the Papillon creek, about a mile below the fort. Our horses having become extremely weak and thin from scanty fare and hard usage, were now turned out to graze in fields of gigantic rushes which flourish in great abundance in the woodland bottoms bordering the river. As for ourselves having a long holiday before us, we employed our time in various ways, as hunting, fishing, and story telling, and making necessary preparations for continuing our route when our horses should have become sufficiently recruited to warrant them in a serviceable condition.
I shall not stop to mention all the silly things we did on the first of April, when people make such egregious fools of themselves in trying to befool others. "Oh! Ferris!" calls out one in over acted alarm, "there's a great copperhead just behind you!" "Yes, I see the rascal's face right between your two ears." Suddenly another cries in a simulated agony of terror, "Indians! Indians !" "Where ? where ?" eagerly asks some unsuspecting innocent in real fear. "April fool!" returns the wag with a chuckle, and then one tries very hard not to seem sheepish, but to look a whole folio of dignified philosophical indifference, in both of which he utterly fails as a matter of course, while the other builds a couple of triumphal arches with his eye brows, and hieroglyphs his face over with tokens of self gratulation at his successful foray, - fooled each to the top of his bent. In puerilities like these passed the day, as all-fools day usually passes, in country, camp, or court the world over. Vive la bagatelle! - hurra for nothing!
The four weeks of our stay at this point were undiversified by any occurrences worth relating, and we soon became heartily weary of the dull monotony of its daily routine, and as anxious to resume the line of march, as we had been before to hail a pause in its progression. The days dragged on heavily and slowly until the last of April came, when after packing up with the alacrity of pleasure, we packed off in high spirits and ascending a hill in rear of the trading house, bade a long but unreluctant adieu to the scene of a wasted month, glad to find our feet again in the stirrups, and our faces once more, westward ho! We soon lost sight of Belle Vue, though belle vue was ever in sight, in whatsoever direction our eyes were turned. But the same cause that rendered the prospect beautiful, namely, several recent showers, had also made the roads almost impassable. Our mules were become more mercurial than ever and played off their old pranks with a skill greatly heightened by experience, much to the annoyance and vexation of the poor Jobs, who were compelled to manage, and yet - incredible hardship! - not permitted to kill them. Here or there might be seen at almost any moment, some poor devil smeared or bespattered with mire and water until he scarcely knew himself only by report, holding on to a restive mule with one hand, and with the other endeavouring to fish out of the mud a discharged cargo, left without leave by the gallows jade whose business it was to bear the burden. These knights of the cross (the poor mule drivers) as their crosses and losses of luck and temper occasioned them to be called, were cross from morning till night and yet I doubt if they were not naturally the best natured fellows in the world; but mule driving is the d___l and there is no more to be said about it, except that I pitied them until it came my turn to share their fate, and then I pitied the tiger for his tameness. We slept that night at a fine spring ten miles north of Belle Vue, and, oh strange inconstancy of man's mood! wished ourselves back by the quiet margin of the peaceful Papillon, whose rushy border we had rushed away from but a few hours before.
And this is May-day, the festival of girlhood and happy youth, in many a town of many a land, where joyous hearts exulting hail its beautiful dawn, and the hours are winged and rosy with the exciting and rapturous scenes of a floral coronation. Ah, how sweetly rise in my memory the visions of fetes like these! I can almost fancy that I see one now - that again a laughing gay spirited boy I mingle in the mimic pageant, and assist at the pleasing ceremonial. There stands the rural throne, with its velvet dias, its mossy seat, and its canopy of flower-woven evergreens; there too, is the fairy-like Queen, a tall, graceful girl, the flaxen locks of whose infancy have been curled into golden ringlets, that cluster round her beautiful face, and fall in fleecy masses on her ivory shoulders, by the warm suns of some thirteen summers; and there, too, is a gallant gathering about her of maids of honour, pages, pursuivants, and - pshaw! what a fool I am to dream of scenes and seasons like those, in this far wilderness, and with these companions! Imagination! and thou, too, Memory! be silent, and weave no more the bright texture of romance!
Resuming our march, we followed a zig-zag trail through hills, and bluffs, covered with dwarf trees, and thick underbrush, for six miles, and descending into a pleasant vale, came upon the Trading-house of Mr. Cabina, eight miles below the Council Bluffs. Here we received supplies of ammunition and a "Code of Laws," with penalties annexed, for the preservation of harmony and safety, in our passage through the immense plains - that still intervene between us and the end of our journey - which are roamed and infested by hordes of savages, among whom theft and robbery are accounted any thing but crime, and whose scruples on the score of murder are scarcely a sufficient shield against the knife or the tomahawk. Strength and courage alone, command their respect - they have no sympathy for trust, no pity for weakness. By the strong hand they live, and by the strong hand only are they awed. Our traveling code of "pains and penalties" was signed by Mr. Fontenelle, a veteran leader in the mountain service, who now assumed the direction of affairs and in all things showed himself to be an experienced, able, and efficient commander.
After a brief interval of rest, refreshment, and preparation, the word was given to march, and, leaving Mr. Cabina, his trading house, and the Missouri, we struck off across the prairie until evening, when we pitched our camp on the Papillon, twenty miles above its mouth. Next day we reached a branch of the Loup Fork, called the Elk-horn River - a clear, deep, rapid stream, fifty paces in width - and constructed a boat-frame of willow, which we covered with dressed buffalo-skins, sewn together for the purpose. After some trouble in adjusting and securing the parts, our boat was finished, and launched, but unfortunately the skins proved to have been spoiled and soon came to pieces. We had but one resource left, and that to ford the river, which was effected at a point where the greatest depth did not exceed four feet. Stripping ourselves, and wading back and forth we transported our baggage on our backs, piece-meal, whilst our horses were forced to swim over at another place. The water was quite chill, and as if to make the toil of crossing doubly unpleasant, we were showered with a storm of sleet, which belaboured our naked shoulders most unmercifully. However, we got every thing at last safely over, and as evening overtook us here, passed the night on the margin of the river. We started as usual, early on the following day, but proceeded only a few miles, when we were compelled to halt at a place called "The Hole," in consequence of a severe storm of sleet, accompanied by a fierce northern gale, which continued with unabated fury till the morning of the fifth. We began to grow familiar with hardships, as may well be imagined, from the toil, danger, and exposure, of scenes like these, but such weather was still - awful unpleasant!
The country now presented a boundless gently-rolling prairie, in one complete mantle of green, laced with occasional dark stripes of woodland, that border and outline the mazy courses of rivulets, which flow from every dell and hollow. Wild onions abound on the margin of all these streams, as the lovers of that valuable and very fragrant esculent may be pleased to learn; but I botanized no further. On the fifth we continued our march, with the bright sun of a beautiful day smiling upon and encouraging our journey.
Up to this period, we encamped without order, helter, skelter, just as it happened, allowing our horses to run loose night and day; but now, when we halted for the night, our camp assumed a somewhat martial appearance. The order of its arrangement was this, - a space of fifty yards square was marked out, one side of which was always along the brink of some stream. Four of our tents occupied the corners, and of the remaining four, one was placed in the middle of each side. The intervening spaces between the tents were barricaded by a breast-work formed of our baggage and horse furniture. The space within the square, was dotted with the iron heads of nearly two hundred hard wood pins, each one foot in length, and one and three-fourths inches in diameter, drove into the ground, to which our horses and mules were fastened. Each man was provided with a wooden mallet to drive the pins with, and when, just before sunset, all were put into requisition, such a din as they created, would be a caution to Paganini. Immediately after sundown, the words "catch up," resounded through camp, all hands flew to the horses, and all was noise and bustle for some minutes. Forty odd of us 'cordelling' our stubborn mules, - who the more you want them to go, the more they won't - into camp, with oaths and curses, not only loud, but deep - it was wicked, but, poor fellows they couldn't help it! - might have been seen, if one could for laughter have kept his eyes open, upon any such occasion. A few moments and all was quiet again, horses and mules securely fastened to their respective pickets, and the men at their tents, seated around kettles of boiled pork and corn, with pans, spoons, and grinders in motion. Keen hunger made us relish the repast, which else the very dogs had refused, - however all contented themselves as well as they might with such fare, looking forward with a sort of dreamy delight to the time when rich heaps of fat buffalo meat, should grace and garnish our encampments.
After supper we reclined on our elbows about the fire, produced our pipes and tuned them to a smoke, recounted tales, puffed ourselves, and old times, and quizzed, joked and jested with one another until eight o'clock, when our humour was interrupted by the cry "turn out the first guard, " whereupon six of our companions, jumped up, seized their guns and blankets, and presently commenced strutting around camp, rifle in hand, while the rest retired not only to sleep, but also to be awakened, in the midst perhaps, of a pleasing dream, by a rough shake of the shoulder, and those most detestable words, "get up, sir, it is your watch, " - and capital time those watches keep too, except that they are apt to run a little too fast. Two hours, two mortal long hours, wrapped in your blanket may you sit on the prairie without fire, but with your rifle across your knees, and watch the stars, the moon, the clouds, or the waving grass, not forgetting to answer the watch-word repeated every half hour, by six poor wretches like yourself, "all's well." Rain or shine, wet to the skin or not, half starved with cold or hunger, no matter what, still you hear and echo those most applicable words, with perhaps, as once in a woeful storm of sleet, the rhyming jingling comment of some uneasy sleeper, - " 'Tis false as h__l," the truth of which in your heart you are forced to admit. At the expiration of two hours another takes your place, and you may crawl to rest, to be brought again to your feet at day light by the cry "leve, leve," (get up). Three or four of the morning guard are ordered at dawn to scour the neighbouring hills on horseback, when if they discover nothing unusual, the horses are turned out to graze, under the charge of the "horse day guard," and the rest of the party cluster round their camp-fires to smoke or watch the bubbling kettle, till the morning meal. After breakfast all are busily employed in folding up their tents, pulling down the breast-works, and arranging the luggage so as to require as little time as possible for "loading up." When the sun is something over an hour high, the order "catch up," is again heard, and all hasten to catch and tow their animals into camp. Patience and forbearance, if you are blessed with those amiable qualities, will now be tested to the uttermost, supposing you to be honoured with the charge of two or more of those mongrel brutes with shrill voices and long ears. Few exist but will strive to do you an injury by some infernal cantrap or other. One bites your leg while you fasten the saddle girth, another kicks you while you arrange the croupper, a third stands quietly until his lading is nearly completed, and then suddenly starts and flounces until he throws every thing off, a fourth at the same interesting point stamps upon your foot, breaks away, and scampers off into the prairie, strewing the way with his burden, a fifth refuses to be loaded at all, and a sixth to stand still, be led or driven. In short there is no end to their tricks and caperings. But I spare the recital. Any one of the party having completed his arrangements for departure assists his messmates, and in half an hour or so, all are ready for marching orders, when our leaders take the front, and proceed at a fast walk, while we fall into line and follow, leading our pack horses, and carrying our guns before us across the saddle. At noon we halt for a couple of hours, after which we journey on until the sun appears but an hour and a half or such a matter above the horizon, when we stop for the night, turn out our horses, after "hobbling" them, by tying the fore legs together to prevent them running away in case of an alarm, and arrange and fortify our encampment, as above related.
We saw on the seventeenth several prong-horned antelopes; a timid, fleet, and beautiful animal, peculiar I believe to the region of the Rocky Mountains. Much I had heard and read of the swiftness and graceful motion of the antelope, but had no conception of the exquisite ease of its airy, floating perfection of movement, until I saw these glide away with the light and sylphic step of the down-footed zephyr, that scarcely touches the lawn over which it trips so sweetly and so swift. I can now understand, what I never could realize before, the poetry of motion. We reached on the following day a wide shallow stream called the Loup Fork, which rises near the Black hills, and flows eastward about five hundred miles, parallel with the Platte, into which it empties forty or fifty miles above the Missouri. We found no little difficulty in fording it, in consequence of the quick sands of which its bed is composed, giving way so readily beneath the pressure of our feet. At noon, however, all were safely across, and for the rest of the day we skirted along its southern margin. The following afternoon we passed a Pawnee village situated on the opposite bank of the river, and sent, as customary, a present of tobacco, powder, balls etc., to these tribute-taking lords of forest, field and flood, the heart of whose wild dominion we are now traversing. In the evening the principal chief a fine looking, hardy, and certainly hearty old codger, and two of his people, came with our messenger to pay us a visit and acknowledge our courtesy, when the pipe of peace was smoked with all becoming gravity, and he was so well pleased with his reception and our hospitality that he passed the night with us. The same evening one of our men by the name of Perkins, was severely burned by the accidental explosion of his powder horn. On the next day we reached and crossed the Platte river, which is here nearly a mile wide, but so shallow as to be fordable. It is full of low sleepy islands, and bounded on either side by rich bottom lands, often a mile two in breadth, but little higher than the stream itself, and apparently quite as level. The bed of this river is also formed of quicksands which are always shifting, and give its waters that muddy consistence so remarkable in the Missouri. Beyond the bottoms a rolling sandy prairie stretches its lazy level, but scantily covered with a coarse short grass, and even now and then in barren spots as nude as an antique statue destitute of the seemliness of a fig leaf. Occasional groves of aspen and cotton-wood deck the islands and bottoms of the Platte, and these are the only varieties of timber to be found.
Scarcely had we got under way on the morning of the eleventh, when we discovered several mounted Indians approaching at full speed, who soon gave us to understand that a large party of their people were close at hand coming to trade with us. Mr. Fontenelle not doubting but that they came for the express purpose of plundering us, immediately ordered a halt, and made preparations to give them a reception more warm than welcome. We picketed and hobbled our horses, examined our guns, and were directed to be ready for the worst. Hardly were these hasty preliminaries arranged, when the Indians, a large body of well mounted fine ferocious looking fellows, dashed in sight at the top of their speed. We formed a line in front of our baggage, all wide awake for a nice cosy little game of ball, and quietly waited their approach. Our suspense was not of long duration for they whirled up in a breath to speaking distance and were ordered to stand, which they did in mid career, throwing their horses back upon their haunches, and halting about two hundred yards in advance of us, when their chief commenced a loud harrangue in the choicest guttural that could be conceived, much to our edification and delight. They appeared to be about one hundred and fifty strong, (only thrice our number), all admirably mounted, and all armed with bows and arrows, and spears, and a few with guns. They wore buffalo robes about their middle, but from the waist upwards were all magnificently naked. A few had on leggins of dressed skins, but generally save their robes and moccasins, they were just as nature made them, except in the matter of grease and paint. After some introductory chatterings, they informed us that they were on a hunting expedition for buffalo, that they intended us no harm, but on the contrary wished to trade with us in amity. They were then permitted to come up, and exchange a few skins, moccasins, etc. for knives, vermillion, and tobacco, pilfering the while every thing they could lay their hands upon without being discovered. The reciprocity of this kind of commerce being as the Paddy said, all on one side, we soon got tired of it, and unceremoniously packed up and off, and left them gazing after us in no small astonishment.
On the fourteenth, hurrah, boys! we saw a buffalo; a solitary, stately old chap, who did not wait an invitation to dinner, but toddled off with his tail in the air. We saw on the sixteenth a small herd of ten or twelve, and had the luck to kill one of them. It was a patriarchal fellow, poor and tough, but what of that? we had a roast presently, and champed the gristle with a zest. Hunger is said to be a capital sauce, and if so our meal was well seasoned, for we had been living for some days on boiled corn alone, and had the grace to thank heaven for meat of any quality. Our hunters killed also several antelopes, but they were equally poor, and on the whole we rather preferred the balance of the buffalo for supper. People soon learn to be dainty, when they have a choice of viands. Next day, oh, there they were, thousands and thousands of them! Far as the eye could reach the prairie was literally covered, and not only covered but crowded with them. In very sooth it was a gallant show; a vast expanse of moving, plunging, rolling, rushing life - a literal sea of dark forms, with still pools, sweeping currents, and heaving billows, and all the grades of movement from calm repose to wild agitation. The air was filled with dust and bellowings, the prairie was alive with animation, - I never realized before the majesty and power of the mighty tides of life that heave and surge in all great gatherings of human or brute creation. The scene had here a wild sublimity of aspect, that charmed the eye with a spell of power, while the natural sympathy of life with life made the pulse bound and almost madden with excitement. Jove but it was glorious! and the next day too, the dense masses pressed on in such vast numbers, that we were compelled to halt, and let them pass to avoid being overrun by them in a literal sense. On the following day also, the number seemed if possible more countless than before, surpassing even the prairie- blackening accounts of those who had been here before us, and whose strange tales it had been our wont to believe the natural extravagance of a mere travellers' turn for romancing, but they must have been true, for such a scene as this our language wants words to describe, much less to exaggerate. On, on, still on, the black masses come and thicken - an ebless deluge of life is moving and swelling around us!
Since leaving the Loup Fork we have seen very little timber, and latterly none at all. We have, however, hitherto found plenty of drift-wood along the banks of the river, but to-day, the nineteenth, there is not a stick of any description to be seen, and as the only resource, we are compelled to use as a substitute for fuel, the dried excrement of buffalo, of which, fortunately, the prairie furnishes an abundant supply. I do not, by any means, take it upon myself to defend the position, but certainly some of the veterans of the party affirm that our cooking exhibits a decided improvement, which they attribute to this cause, and to no other. That our steaks are particularly savoury I can bear witness.
At our noon encampment on the twenty-first, we discovered several objects on the brow of a neighboring bluff, which at first we took to be antelopes, but were soon undeceived, for they speedily transformed and multiplied themselves into several hundreds of Indians, who came rushing like a torrent down upon us. All was now excitement and confusion. We hastily collected our cattle, drove them into camp, and fastened them, built a breastwork of our baggage, primed our guns afresh, and prepared to stand upon our defence. The Indians by this time came up, made signs of friendship, and gave us to understand that they were Sioux. They formed a semicircle in front of our position, and displayed four American flags. Many of them had on long scarlet coats, trimmed with gold and silver lace, leggins and mocasins richly, though fantastically ornamented, and gay caps of feathers. Some wore painted buffalo robes, and all presented a lively, dashing appearance. They were, without exception, all finely mounted; and all armed - some with swords, shields, and lances, others with bows and arrows, and a few with guns.
After some consultation among themselves, they informed us, with much gravity, that it was customary for whites passing through their country to propitiate their friendship by a small present, which was immediately acceded to, and a liberal gift of ammunition, knives, trinkets, and paints bestowed. Several of their chiefs passed through our camp while this was doing, and we observed that some of them wore large silver medals. During the whole time the interview lasted, the rain came down in torrents, and the air was besides extremely cold. Wet to the skin, and chilled to the very marrow, we were compelled to stand to our posts, with limbs shivering, and teeth chattering, while the Indians warmed themselves at fires made of the buffalo dung we had collected. I never in my life had a stronger desire to pull trigger on a red skin than now, but they gave us no sufficient provocation to authorise hostilities; and to our great relief, after getting from us all they could beg, and stealing all they could slyly lay their hands on, they took their departure, and returned to their own camp.
The following day was raw, wet, and cold, and the "prairie chips" having now become so saturated with water that they could not be coaxed to burn, we had no alternative but to freeze or move camp. Preferring the latter, we resumed our weary march, and fortunately, after six miles travel, found a welcome plenty of drift-wood, when we again halted to enjoy the luxury of a good fire in a rain storm in the open prairie. Blessings on thy head, O Prometheus! that we have even the one comfort of a cheerful blaze.
We saw a wild horse next day, on the opposite side of the river, and made an effort to catch him, but did not succeed. An Indian, ordinarily well mounted, would have caught him with a noose almost in no time; but luckily for him, we were not Indians. One singular fact, often remarked, but never, that I know of, chronicled, is this, that a horse carrying a rider will easily overtake one not mounted, though naturally much the fleetest. I cannot account for this, but it is nevertheless true, and can be proved by an abundance of testimony.
We traversed on the twenty-fourth, a narrow tract of country, covered with light sand, and destitute of every kind of vegetation, save a species of strong grass, covered with knot-like protuberances, which were armed with sharp thorns that pierce the foot through the best of moccasins. These grass-knots are called "Sand-burrs," and were a source of great inconvenience to several poor fellows who, as a punishment for having slept on guard, were compelled to trudge along on foot behind the cavalcade.
On the twenty-fifth we saw a herd of wild horses, which however, did not wait a very near approach, but dashed off, and were soon lost in the distance. We had a visit in the afternoon from three Sioux, who came into camp, and reported that a large collection of Arrapahoes and Gros Ventres lay in wait for us at the Black Hills, determined to give battle to all parties of whites who should attempt to pass them. It was little uneasiness this intelligence gave to the men of our party; we were growing wolfish after some kind of excitement, and would have fought a whole raft of them in our then present humour, for the recreation of a play spell. It may well be questioned, however, if our leaders, who had the responsibility of a double charge, were quite so indifferent to the matter. But n'importe.
We reached on the following day the "Nose Mountain," or as it is more commonly called, the "Chimney," a singular mound, which has the form of an inverted funnel, is half a mile in circumference at the base, and rises to the height of three hundred feet. It is situated on the southern margin of the North Fork of the Platte, in the vicinity of several high bluffs, to which it was evidently once attached; is on all sides inaccessible, and appears at the distance of fifty miles shooting up from the prairie in solitary grandeur, like the limbless trunk of a gigantic tree. It is five hundred miles west from the Council Bluffs.
We encamped on the twenty-seventh opposite to "Scott's Bluffs," so called in respect to the memory of a young man who was left here alone to die a few years previous. He was a clerk in a company returning from the mountains, the leader of which found it necessary to leave him behind at a place some distance above this point, in consequence of a severe illness which rendered him unable to ride. He was consequently placed in a bullhide boat, in charge of two men, who had orders to convey him by water down to these bluffs, where the leader of the party promised to await their coming. After a weary and hazardous voyage, they reached the appointed rendezvous, and found to their surprise and bitter disappointment, that the company had continued on down the river without stopping for them to overtake and join it.
Left thus in the heart of a wild wilderness, hundreds of miles from any point where assistance or succour could be obtained, and surrounded by predatory bands of savages thirsting for blood and plunder, could any condition be deemed more hopeless or deplorable? They had, moreover, in descending the river, met with some accident, either the loss of their arms or powder, by the upsetting of their boat, which deprived them of the means of procuring subsistence or defending their lives in case of discovery and attack. This unhappy circumstance, added to the fact that the river was filled with innumerable shoals and sand-bars, by which its navigation was rendered almost impracticable, determined them to forsake their charge and boat together, and push on night and day until they should overtake the company, which they did on the second or third day afterward.
The reason given by the leader of the company for not fulfilling his promise, was that his men were starving, no game could be found, and he was compelled to proceed in quest of buffalo. Poor Scott! We will not attempt to picture what his thoughts must have been after this cruel abandonment, nor harrow up the feelings of the reader, by a recital of what agonies he must have suffered before death put an end to his misery.
The bones of a human being were found the spring following, on the opposite side of the river, which were supposed to be the remains of Scott. It was conjectured that in the energy of a dying despair, he had found strength to carry him across the stream, and then had staggered about the prairie, till God in pity took him to himself.
Such are among the sad chances to which the life of the Rocky Mountain adventurer is exposed.
At about noon on the twenty-eighth we discovered a village of Indians, on the south side of the river five miles above, and sent three men forward to watch their movements whilst we made the necessary preparations for defence. In a short time our spies returned, closely following by about fifty of the Indians, who dashed up in a cloud, and gave us to understand that they were "Chayennes." They repeated the story told by the Sioux, respecting the Arrappahoes Gros Ventres, and remaining about us till night when all but one disappeared.
In the course of the evening it was whispered about that the Indian in camp was an Arrappahoe, (with whom we were at war,) and one of the men became so excited on the subject that he requested permission to shoot him, but was of course refused. During the night this individual, with two others, made an attempt to desert, but was detained by the guard. To such a pitch of desperation were his feelings wrought up that on the following morning he left us to return alone to St. Louis, notwithstanding, as he acknowledged, fear alone had impelled him to attempt desertion. It was a singular case, the very excess of cowardice having determined him to an undertaking from which the boldest would have shrunk appalled.
We afterwards heard that he succeeded in reaching St. Louis alive, but that he suffered the extreme of misery both from starvation and maltreatment of the Indians, some of whom seized him near the Council Bluffs, stripped him entirely naked, scourged him most unmercifully, and then let him go. In this situation he found his way to the garrison near the Platte, more dead than alive. Here he was kindly received, supplied with food and clothing, and nursed up until his health was quite recruited, when he returned to St. Louis, and reported that the company had been attacked and defeated by the Indians, himself alone escaping.
On the day he left us we reached a fine grove of cotton wood trees of which we made a horse pen - this is always done in the Indian country when timber can be obtained, as a necessary protection for our cattle, in case of attack. Save a few isolated trees, this is the only timber we have seen for fifteen days.
We discovered on the thirtieth, a solitary Indian lodge, pitched in a grove of aspen trees, which, as it was the first I had seen, was an object of some curiosity. The manner of its construction was this: - thirteen straight pine poles were placed equidistant from each other in the circumference of a circle, ten or twelve feet in diameter, and made to meet in a point eleven feet from the ground, where four, crossing a foot from the end, are tied together, to support the rest. The conical frame thus formed is covered with dressed buffalo skins, cut and sewed together in a proper shape, which much resembles the shape of a coat. A pole fastened at top and bottom to this covering serves to raise it by, the top of which is allowed to rest against the others. Then the loose sides are drawn around the frame and fastened together with strings or wooden pins, to the height of seven feet, except that an oval aperture three feet high is left for an entrance. Above the closed parts, are two projecting wings or corners with pockets on the outside for the reception of two poles, calculated to piece them in various positions, in order to avoid the smoke, which but for some such contrivance, would greatly incommode the inmates, particularly if the wind should happen to come from an unfavourable quarter. The bottom of the covering is then secured to the ground on the outside with wooden pins, and the lodge is thus complete. If it be well pitched the covering sets smoothly to the poles and is tight as a drum head. A skin fixed to hang loosely over the aperture serves the purpose of a door, and this concludes the description of any lodge hereafter mentioned, though some are larger and others less in proportion.
As we approached the lodge the first object that presented itself was the lifeless body of a male child about four years old. It was lying on the ground a few paces from the lodge, and was horribly maimed and disfigured, evidently by repeated blows with a club, it bore also the mark of a deep wide stab in the left side. Within the lodge on a raised platform lay the scalpless bodies of two grown Indians, with their instruments of war and the chase beside them - it being the Indian custom to bury with the dead such articles as they believe will be required on a journey to the land of Spirits. Both the bodies were hacked and mangled in a manner truly savage and revolting. They were Chayennes, and had been killed in a battle with the Crows, five days previous. The child was a prisoner taken from the Crows the preceding winter, and was thus barbarously murdered by way of retaliation. Achilles sacrificing at the tomb of Patroclus - is both a precedent and a parallel. Poetry has almost hallowed the cruelty of the Greek, but the inhumanity of the savage is still fearfully conspicuous; yet which was the worst, the refined Hellenian or the barbarous Chayenne? We crossed the Platte in bull-hide canoes, on the second of June, and encamped a short distance above the mouth of Laramie's Fork, at the foot of the Black Hills, six hundred miles west of the Council Bluffs. Laramie's Fork rises in the Black Hills, between the northern and southern forks of the Platte, and falls into the former after a northeast course of six hundred miles. The rich bottoms bordering this stream are decked with dense groves of slender aspen, and occasional tall and stately cotton woods.
Since passing the Sioux country we have seen herds of buffalo almost daily, but never in such countless numbers as then astonished our sight. Our hunters kill more or less of them every day, and they form the staple article of food; but they are still poor and tough, and would hardly be considered eatable could any thing else be procured, which is not the case.
The Black Hills are a chain of mountains less remarkable for height than for scenery, which is of the most romantic order. They extend up the Platte one hundred miles, and are noted as a place of refuge and concealment for marauding Indians, - they form consequently a dangerous pass for hunting and trading parties. They are partially covered with pine and cedar shrubbery, which gives them when viewed from a distance, a dark forbidding appearance, and hence their name. On a nearer approach, however, they present a less repulsive aspect, and finally exhibit a pleasing variety of shapes, and colours, slopes and dells, bluffs and ravines, which together form occasional landscapes of singular picturesqueness and beauty. Some of these hills are composed of a deep crimson-coloured sand stone, others of a bright yellow, grey, white or brown rocky formation, and all partially covered with soil. Some are as bald of vegetation as the naked prairie, and one, rearing its barren peak far above the rest, is still crowned with a diadem of snow. Entering the region of this range of hills, the Platte was seen to the right of our trail, winding its devious way, at times through fine timbered bottoms, again between dark walls of cut rock, and occasionally through beautiful unwooded valleys occupied by herds of buffalo quietly grazing and all unconscious of the approach of death in the form and guise of old Sonsosay, our veteran hunter, who might have been seen crawling like a snake through the long grass, until a sudden burst of thunder starting herds and echoes from their repose, showed that he had them within reach of his unerring rifle, where horns and hoofs were alike unavailing.
On the eighth, we saw for the first time, a grizzly bear, a large fierce formidable animal, the most sagacious, most powerful, and most to be feared of all the North American quadrupeds. We shall have occasion elsewhere to note instances of the prowess, cunning and courage of this remarkable animal, and shall relate, in their proper connexion, some of the many anecdotes concerning it, which are current among the Indians and trappers of the Rocky Mountains, the stock of which is constantly increasing, as adventure goes on, and brute and human meet in mutual strife. The one we saw, was at a distance, and looked nearly as large as a buffalo, for which they are often mistaken, even by experienced hunters.
We re-crossed the Platte again, on the eleventh, at the Red Hills, - these are two high cherry-red points of rock, separated by the river, which here turns away to the southward. On the following day we left the Platte and the Black Hills together, and pursued our never-varying course, westward, through a sandy plain, covered with wild sage, and at evening encamped near a fine spring. Next day's march brought us to Sweet-Water River, which rises in the southeastern extremity of the Wind Mountains, and flows eastward one hundred and fifty miles, falling into the Platte, a few miles above the Red Hills. This river owes its name to the accidental drowning in it of a mule loaded with sugar, some years since. We halted at evening under the lee of an immense rock half imbedded in the earth, which is nearly a mile in circumference, and from one to two hundred feet in height. It bears the name of Rock Independence, from the circumstance of a party having several years ago passed a fourth of July, with appropriate festivities, under its ample shade. Except a chain of rocks, some of which closely resemble hay-stacks, running parallel with Sweet Water, the face of the country is a barren, sandy, rolling prairie, destitute of trees and bushes, and every species of vegetation, save occasional patches of coarse grass and wild sage, and scattering clusters of dwarf willows, on the margin of the river.
On the fourteenth, we passed a small lake, highly impregnated with glauber salts, the efflorescence of which, covers the margin of the lake to the depth of several inches, and appears at a distance like snow. We made a cache on the nineteenth, of some goods, intended for future trading with Crow Indians, who rove at some seasons, on the tract of country we are now passing. Cache, derived from the French verb cacher, to conceal, is applied in this region to an excavation for the reception of goods or furs, commonly made in the following manner. A proper place being selected, which is usually near the border of some stream, where the bank is high enough to be in no danger of inundation, a round hole two feet in diameter is carried down to a depth of three feet, when it is gradually enlarged, and deepened until it becomes sufficiently capacious to contain whatever is destined to be stored in it. The bottom is then covered with sticks to prevent the bales from touching the ground, as otherwise they would soon contract moisture, become mouldy, and rot. The same precautions are observed to preserve them intact from the walls of the cave. When all is snugly deposited and stowed in, valueless skins are spread over the top, for the same excellent purpose, and the mouth is then closed up with earth and stones, beat down as hard as possible, to hinder it from settling or sinking in. The surplus earth taken out, is carefully gathered up and thrown into the stream, and the cache finally completed, by replacing stones and tufts of grass, so as to present the same uniform appearance, as the surrounding surface. If the cache is made in a hard clay bluff, and the goods perfectly dry when put in, they will keep years without damage. At this period we were in view of the Wind Mountains, which were seen stretching away to the northward, their bleak summits mantled over with a heavy covering of snow.
On the twentieth, we reached a fountain source of the Sweet Water, near a high, square, table-like mound, called the Pilot Butte; and the next day ascended an irregular plain, in which streams have their rise, that flow into both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, halting at night on the Sandy, a small river that takes its name from the barren country through which it runs. It has its source in the south-eastern point of the Wind Mountains, where also the Sweet Water, Platte, and Wind River of the Bighorn, take their rise, and empties into Green River after a south west course of sixty miles. From the dividing plain or ridge, we saw vast chains of snow-crowned mountains, stretching far away to the west and northward, and revealing but too plainly the toil and hazard that await our future progress. The southern point of the Wind Mountains, rose bluffly to the northeast, distant fifteen miles, and, strangely contrasting their snowy summits with the dark forests of pines that line and encircle their base, were seen stretching away to the northwestward the looming shapes of this range or spur of the far-reaching Andes, until their dark forms and dazzling crests were lost in the distance, blending in the haze and mingling with the clouds. After a weary march, on the twenty-first, we reached Green River, a fine, clear, deep and rapid stream, one hundred and fifty yards wide, which takes its rise in the Wind Mountains, with the sources of Lewis River and the Yellow Stone, and flows south-east, south, and finally south-west, four hundred miles, to its junction with Grand River, when it becomes the Rio Colorado of the West, one of the most magnificent streams in the world, and descending the mountains, rolls its sublime volume away, many hundreds of miles through Upper and Lower California, until at last it reaches and empties into the gulf of that name. From the southern point of the Wind Mountains, one or two snowy peaks rise, dimly visible, far to the southward: - within the intervening space, a broken, sandy plain, perfectly practicable for loaded wagons, which may cross it without the least obstruction, - separates the northern waters of the Platte, from those of the Colorado.
We crossed Green River on the twenty-sixth in bull-hide canoes, and halted for the night on its western margin, where we were nearly victimized by moschetoes, which during the five days of our vicinity to this stream, kept sucking at the vital currents in our veins in spite of every precaution that could be taken. Leaving Green River the next day, we encamped after a hard journey of twenty-five miles, on one of its branches, called Ham's Fork. From this point, several persons were despatched in different directions in quest of a party of hunters and trappers, called Free Men, from the circumstances of their not being connected with either of the rival Fur Companies, but holding themselves at liberty to trade with one or all. They rove through this savage and desolate region free as the mountain air, leading a venturous and dangerous life, governed by no laws save their own wild impulses, and bounding their desires and wishes to what their own good rifles and traps may serve them to procure. Strange, that people can find so strong and fascinating a charm in this rude nomadic, and hazardous mode of life, as to estrange themselves from home, country, friends, and all the comforts, elegances, and privileges of civilization; but so it is, the toil, the danger, the loneliness, the deprivation of this condition of being, fraught with all its disadvantages, and replete with peril, is, they think, more than compensated by the lawless freedom, and the stirring excitement, incident to their situation and pursuits. The very danger has its attraction, and the courage and cunning, and skill, and watchfulness made necessary by the difficulties they have to overcome, the privations they are forced to contend with, and the perils against which they must guard, become at once their pride and boast. A strange, wild, terrible, romantic, hard, and exciting life they lead, with alternate plenty and starvation, activity and repose, safety and alarm, and all the other adjuncts that belong to so vagrant a condition, in a harsh, barren, untamed, and fearful region of desert, plain, and mountain. Yet so attached to it do they become, that few ever leave it, and they deem themselves, nay are, with all these bars against them, far happier than the in-dwellers of towns and cities, with all the gay and giddy whirl of fashion's mad delusions in their train.
Continuing our journey, we passed up Ham's Fork thirty miles, and then made a halt until all our people returned, who reported that no traces of the Free Men could be found. We then resumed our march, and on the seventh of July, ascended a steep snow-clad pine-covered mountain, when we came in view of a beautiful valley, watered by a shining serpentine river, and grazed by tranquil herds of buffalo. At evening we halted on the margin of Bear River, after a very fatiguing and toilsome march of thirty miles. This river is from fifty to eighty yards in breadth, clear and deep, with a gentle current, and is bordered by fertile though woodless bottoms. It rises in the Eut Mountains, and flows northward above one hundred miles, when it turns to the westward, and after a further course of seventy-five miles, discharges itself into the Big Lake.
We killed here a great many buffalo, which were all in good condition, and feasted, as may be supposed, luxuriously upon the delicate tongues, rich humps, fat roasts, and savoury steaks of this noble and excellent species of game. Heretofore we had found the meat of the poor buffalo the worst diet imaginable, and in fact grew meagre and gaunt in the midst of plenty and profusion. But in proportion as they became fat, we grew strong and hearty, and now not one of us but is ready to insist that no other kind of meat can compare with that of the female bison, in good condition. With it we require no seasoning; we boil, roast, or fry it, as we please, and live upon it solely, without bread or vegetables of any kind, and what seems most singular, we never tire of or disrelish it, which would be the case with almost any other meat, after living upon it exclusively for a few days. Perhaps the reason why the flesh of buffalo is so superior to the beef of the United States, may be found in the fact, that during the severities of winter, they become reduced to mere skeletons, and thrive with the grass in spring, mending up constantly as the season advances, until in summer, their bones are thickly enveloped with an entire new coat of flesh and fat.
While we remained in the neighbourhood of Green River, we were again exceedingly annoyed by moschetoes. They appeared in clouds both in the morning and evening, but disappeared in the heat of the day, and with the sun at night. Parties were here a second time sent out in various directions, in search of the Free Men, but they all returned again unsuccessful. Some of them saw an encampment of a party of Indians, who had passed two days before, about Sixty miles above on this stream. They were supposed to be about one hundred and fifty strong, and were evidently on some expedition that required great secrecy and caution. They encamped in a very small circle, and removed every thing from camp, that would lead to a discovery of their nation. When they departed, they went into the hills, and were so cautious, that our spies found it not only impossible to follow the trail, but even to designate the course they had taken. The trails and encampments of a party of hunters who had passed very early in the spring, were also seen. Nothing else unusual was observed.