On the sixteenth, I departed with Mr. Dripps and three others for Cache Valley. We passed up the river a few miles, crossed, and followed a rivulet westward to its source in the mountain, which we then ascended to its summit. The crest of the mountain was ornamented with a few scattering cedars, here and there a small grove of aspen, and occasional patches of wild sage. From this elevation bleak snow-clad pyramidic peaks of granite were beheld in all directions jutting into the clouds. Stern, solemn, majestic, rose on every side these giant forms, overlooking and guarding the army of lesser hills and mountains that lay encamped below, and pointing proudly up their snow-sheeted crests, on which the stars at evening light the sentinel fires of ages.
From the precipitous western side of the height on which we stood, one of
the most agreeable prospects imaginable, saluted and blessed our vision. It was
the Little Lake, which from the foot of the mountain beneath us, stretches away
to the northward washing the base of the cordillera that invests it. It is
fifteen miles long and about eight in breadth and like Nemi,
"Navelled in the hills," for it is entirely surrounded by lofty mountains, of which those on the western side are crowned with eternal snow. It gathers its waters from hundreds of rivulets that come dancing and flashing down the mountains, and streams that issue not unfrequently from subterranean fountains beneath them. At the head of the lake opposite, and below us, lay a delightful valley of several miles extent, spotted with groves of aspen and cotton wood, and beds of willows of ample extent.
When first seen the lake appeared smooth and polished like a vast field of glass, and took its colour from the sky which was a clear unclouded blue. It was dotted over by hundreds of pelicans white in their plumage as the fresh-fallen snow. While we yet paused, gazing rapturously upon the charmed prospect, and feasting our eyes upon its unhidden beauties, we were overtaken by a tremendous gale of wind accompanied with rain, which dissipated in a moment a lovely cottage Fancy had half constructed upon the quiet margin of the sleeping lake. Beautiful to behold is a fair young female in the soft slumber of health and innocence, but far more beautiful when startled to consciousness from her gentle rest, and bright colours chase one another across her cheeks and bosom. So with the lake, which far from losing a single attraction when roused by the wind from its repose, became even more enchanting than before; for the milk-white billows rolling like clouds over its deep blue surface seemed to add a bewitching something to the scene that did not appear to be wanting until the attention of the observer was directed to it, when it became too essential to be spared.
Admonished by the storm, we dismounted from our horses, and led them in a narrow winding path, down the steep mountain side, and reaching the valley below, halted for the night at a pleasant spring near the margin of the lake. The next day we crossed a low mountain, south of the lake, to Cache Valley Creek, which we followed into a narrow defile, nearly impassable to equestrians. On either side, rose the mountains, in some places almost, and at others quite perpendicularly, to the regions of the clouds. The sun could be seen only for a short time, and that in the middle of the day. We were often compelled while struggling over the defile, to cross the stream and force our way through almost impenetrable thickets, and at times, to follow a narrow trail along the borders of precipices, where a single mis-step would inevitably have sent horse and rider to the shades of death. We saw a number of grizzly bears prowling around the rocks, and mountain sheep standing on the very verges of projecting cliffs as far above us as they could be discerned by the eye. Such was the wild and broken route which for two entire days we were obliged to pursue. We killed a grizzly bear on the evening of the eighteenth, and emerging from the mountain-pass early on the following day, came to Cache Valley, one of the most extensive and beautiful vales of the Rocky Mountain range.
This valley, called also by some, the Willow Valley, is situated about thirty miles due west of the Little Lake, from which the passage is so nearly impracticable, that it requires two days to perform the distance - at least by the route we came. It lies parallel with the Little Lake, extending nearly north and south; is sixty miles long, and fifteen to twenty broad, and is shut in on every side by lofty mountains. Numerous willow-skirted streams, that intersect and diversify it, unite and flow into Bear River, which crosses the valley, and after cutting its way through a low bald mountain, falls into the Big Lake, distant twenty miles to the west.
Cache Valley is abundantly fertile, producing every where most excellent grass, and has ever for that reason, been a favorite resort for both men and animals, especially in the winter. Indeed, many of the best hunters assert that the weather is much milder here than elsewhere, which is an additional inducement for visiting it during that inclement season. It received its name from a melancholy incident that occurred in it a few years ago. The circumstances are briefly these: -
A man in the employ of Smith, Sublette and Jackson, was engaged with a detached party, in constructing one of those subterranean vaults for the reception of furs, already described. The cache was nearly completed, when a large quantity of earth fell in upon the poor fellow, and completely buried him alive. His companions believed him to have been instantly killed, knew him to be well buried, and the cache destroyed, and therefore left him
and accomplished their object elsewhere. It was a heartless, cruel procedure, but serves to show how lightly human life is held in these distant wilds.
In this country, the nights are cold at any season, and the climate perhaps more healthy than that of any other part of the globe. The atmosphere is delightful, and so pure and clear, that a person of good sight has been known to distinguish an Indian from a white man, at a distance of more than a mile, and herds of buffalo may be recognized by the aid of a good glass, at even fifteen to eighteen miles.
Passing down the valley, we met a number of grizzly bears, one of which of a large size, we mistook for a buffalo bull, and were only convinced of our error when the huge creature erected himself on his haunches, to survey us as we passed. These animals are of every shade of colour, from black to white, and were seen singly in the prairies, busied in digging roots, which constitute their chief subsistence until fruits ripen in the fall.
The object of our visit to Cache Valley, was to find the Free Men, but our search for them proved fruitless. We were unable to discover any recent traces either of whites or Indians, and retracing our steps, halted at the lake beneath the shade of an aged cotton wood, in the branches of which a bald eagle sat quietly on her nest, apparently indifferent to our presence, nor did she leave it during our stay. While here, we killed one of the many pelicans which were disporting on the lake, and found that it measured eight and a half feet between the tips of its extended wings.
After our return to camp, six others of the party were sent northward, on the same errand, but they were equally unsuccessful. They were absent eleven days, and saw in their route abundance of fine salt, and likewise a number of curious springs, of which a description will be given on some future page.
On the tenth day of August, a village of Shoshonees or Snake Indians, entered the valley of Bear River, fifteen or twenty miles above us, and encamped on the margin of the stream. Some of them paid us a speedy visit, and testified their friendship for us by giving us each a hearty hug. Two days after the arrival, we moved up the valley, and encamped half a mile below them. Their village consisted of about one hundred and fifty lodges, and probably contained above four hundred fighting men. The lodges were placed quite close to each other, and taken together, had much the appearance of a military camp. I strolled through it with a friend, to gratify my curiosity, as to their domestic manners. We were obliged to carry clubs, to beat off the numerous dogs, that were constantly annoying us by barking, and trying to bite our legs. Crowds of dirty naked children followed us from lodge to lodge, at each of which were seen more or less filthy but industrious women, employed in dressing skins, cutting meat into thin strips for drying, gathering fuel, cooking, or otherwise engaged in domestic labour. At every lodge, was a rack or frame, constructed of poles tied together, forming a platform, covered over with half-dried meat, which was curing over a slow fire. The women were all at work, but not so the men. Half of them were asleep in the lodges, and the rest either gaming, keeping guard over their horses, or leisurely strutting about camp. They are extremely jealous of their women, though I could not help thinking, with but slight occasion, when I surveyed the wrinkled, smoke-dried unprepossessing features of the latter, and the dirt and filth by which they are surrounded. Cupid must have a queer taste, if he can find marks for his arrows among the she snakes of this serpent tribe. We spoke to several of them, but they either feigned not to hear, or retired at once. After gratifying our curiosity, which did not require long, we purchased a few buffalo robes, and skins of other kinds, for trifles of little value to us, yet by them prized highly, and returned sadder though wiser to our own encampment.
Most of the Rocky Mountain Indians are given to prigging, as we have already had a taste of proof. The Snakes are by no means deficient in this accomplishment, and at almost every visit they made to us many little articles acquired a trick of vanishing with the most marvelous dexterity. However we left them on the sixteenth, and returned to Ham's Fork, by way of a small stream, called Muddy, from the turbid appearance of its waters. This little stream rises against Ham's Fork, and flows south of west thirty miles, emptying into Bear River, nearly opposite to the spring which marks the pass to the head of Little Lake. It is noted as being the best route from Ham's Fork to Bear River, there being no steep ascents or descents in the whole distance.
On Ham's Fork we cached our goods, and separated into three parties, headed respectively by Messrs. Fontenelle, Dripps, and Robidoux, who had each his portion of hunting ground specified, in order to avoid interference with the rest. Mr. Fontenelle was to hunt to the southward on the western tributaries of Green River; Mr. Dripps to the northeast on the sources of the same stream, and Mr. Robidoux northward on the head waters of Lewis River.
We separated on the twenty-third, and departed in quest of adventures and beaver, - my unlucky stars having induced me to join Mr. Fontenelle's party, which met with the least of either. We rambled about in the Eut mountains, on the sources of Black's Fork, and Henrie's Fork, explored them to their outlets, and returned to the caches after a month's absence, having starved one half of the time. After leaving Ham's Fork, we saw no buffalo until our return, and killed no game of any kind, except one elk, two or three goats, and a few beaver. We were nicely frightened by a party of Crow Indians, who crawled up to our encampment one dark night, and fired a volley over our heads. We sprang to our feet, but before we could return the compliment, they came into camp shouting Ap-sah-ro-ke, - Ap-sah-ro-ke, (Crows,) and laughing heartily at the confusion their novel manner of introducing themselves had occasioned us. From them we ascertained that the Free Men who had caused us so much unavailing search, were on the Yellow Stone River. Two of our men were sent with the Crows, to raise the cache on Sweet Water, proceed with them to their village, and trade until further orders. Previous to their departure, the Crows gave us a few practical lessons in the art of pilfering, of which they are the most adroit and skilful professors in all this region, if not the world. No legislative body on earth ever made an appropriation with half the tact, facility, and success, that characterize these untaught sons of the forest.
On the twentieth of September, five of us left the party to 'hunt' several small streams in the vicinity of Bear River. We proceeded to the mouth of the Muddy, and followed Bear River down fifteen miles to the mouth of Smith's Fork, where we saw recent traces of brother trappers and Indians. The same evening I was thrown from my horse, by which my gun was broken so as to render it entirely useless. The feelings of a trapper may better be imagined than described, after losing his only means of subsistence and defence, in hourly danger of his life and thrown entirely upon the charity of his comrades, from whom should he get accidentally separated, he must either perish miserably, or suffer privations and agonies compared to which death were mercy, before he could find the company.
From Smith's Fork we passed down to Talma's Fork, - so named in honour of the great French tragedian, - eight miles below. The plains of this stream as also those of Bear River, were covered with buffalo, one of which we killed, and after packing the meat travelled up the fork fifteen miles into the mountains, where it divides into three branches of nearly equal size. On the middle one of these branches two miles above the fork, we found a large quantity of beautiful white salt, formed by the total evaporation of a pond, on the rocks forming the bed of which it was encrusted. From this point we passed up to the head of the western fork, and thence crossed to a small stream called Beaver Creek, from the uncommon labours of those industrious animals, which are here observed, forming a succession of dams for several miles. We first tasted the waters of the Columbia river which has its source in this little stream, on the first of October, after which we continued our hunt down the creek to its mouth, twenty miles from its fountain head, and all the way confined between high mountains. The narrow bottoms along it were occasionally covered with bushes bearing a delicious fruit called service berries, by the American hunters, and pears (Des Poires) by the Canadians: a species of black hawthorn berries, wild currents, goose berries, black cherries, and buffalo berries were also at intervals abundant.
At the mouth of Beaver Creek the mountains retire apart leaving a beautiful valley fifteen miles long, and six to eight broad, watered by several small streams which unite and form "Salt River," so called from the quantities of salt, in a chrystalized form, found upon most of its branches. At the northern or lower end of the valley we observed a white chalk-like appearance, which one of our party, (who had been here with others in quest of the Free men) recognized to be certain singular springs. His account of them excited my curiosity and that of one of my companions, so much that we determined upon paying them a visit. With this intention we set out early one fine morning and reached our place of destination about noon, after an agreeable ride of three or four hours.
We found the springs situated in the middle of a small shallow stream, in the open level prairie. Rising from the middle of the brook, were seen seven or eight semi globular mounds self-formed by continual deposites of a calcarious nature, which time had hardened to the consistency of rock. Some of them were thirty or forty feet in circumference at the base, and seven or eight feet high. Each of them had one or more small apertures (similar in appearance to the mouth of a jug) out of which the water boils continually, and these generally, though not invariably, at the top of the mound. The water that boils over, deposits continually a greenish, slimy, foeted cement, externally about the orifices, by constant accretions of which, the mounds are formed. The water in these springs was so hot, that we could not bear our fingers in it a moment, and a dense suffocating sulphurous vapour is constantly rising from them. In the bases of the mounds, there were also occasional cavities from which vapour or boiling water was continually emitted. Some of the mounds have long since exploded, and been left dry by the water. They were hollow, and filled with shelving cavities not unlike honey-comb. These singular springs are known to the Rocky Mountain hunters by the name of the Boiling Kettles, and are justly regarded as great curiosities. After spending a couple of hours very agreeably in examining these remarkable fountains, we returned to camp, well satisfied for the fatigue of thirty miles' travel, by the opportunity we had enjoyed of perusing one of the most interesting pages of the great book of nature. A fair day and a beautiful prospect, enhanced the pleasure and reward of our excursion.
Leaving the valley, we returned slowly back to Talma's Fork, trapping many small streams by the way, near some of which we saw considerable deposites of pure salt. We had a severe storm of rain, on the twenty-third, which finally changed to snow. Except occasional light showers, this was the only interruption to fair weather that we had experienced since we left the caches. On the twenty-seventh, we were greatly alarmed by one of the party (Milman) returning at full speed from a visit to his traps, and yelling in tones of trepidation and terror, that fear had rendered less human than the screams of the panther. We sprung to our arms, rushed our horses into camp, and awaited his approach with feelings wrought up to the highest pitch of excitement between suspense and apprehension. As he approached nearer, however, his voice becoming less unearthly, at length relaxed into something like human speech; and guessing at his meaning, rather by the probability of the case, than by any actual sounds he uttered, we made out the words "Indians! Indians!" The lapse of a few moments brought him up, exclaiming, "Boys, I am wounded!" We saw at once that a well-directed ball had been intercepted by his gun, which thus evidently saved his life. The ball had been cut into several pieces by the sharp angle of the barrel, one of which, glancing off, had lodged in the fleshy part of his thigh. The same bullet, previous to striking his gun, had passed through the neck of his mule, and grazed the pommel of his saddle. He was also struck in the shoulder, by an arrow, but both wounds were slight.
After recovering his wonted control over the faculties of speech, he gave us the following particulars of the affair, which was ever afterwards facetiously termed "Milman's Defeat." Whilst jogging along, three or four miles from camp, and calculating the probable sum total of dollars he should accumulate from the sales of furs he purposed taking from his traps that morning, his dog suddenly commenced barking at some invisible object which he supposed to be a squirrel, badger, or some other small animal, that had taken refuge in its burrow. Satisfied of his own sagacity in arriving at this conclusion, he advanced thoughtlessly, until he reached the top of a gently - ascending knoll, whence, to his utter astonishment and dismay, he discovered the heads of seven or eight Indians, peeping ferociously up from a patch of sage, not thirty steps beyond him, and at the same instant three guns were fired at him, by way of introduction. This sort of welcome by no means according with his notions of politeness, he wheeled about with the intention of making his stay in the vicinity of persons whose conduct was so decidedly suspicious, as brief as possible. His mule seemed however far less disposed to slight the proffered acquaintance, and positively refused to stir a single peg. In the meantime, the Indians starting up, showered their compliments in the shape of arrows upon him with such hearty good will, that he was forced to dismount, intending to return their kindness with an impromptu ball from his rifle; but ere he could effect this, the Indians, divining his purpose, and overcome by so touching a proof of friendship, bowed, scraped, and retired precipitately, in all likelihood to conceal their modest blushes at his condescension. Just then, too, madam Long Ears, probably resenting their unceremonious departure, betrayed symptoms of such decided displeasure, that Milman was induced perforce, to remount, after he had withdrawn an arrow from his shoulder, but before he had accomplished his purpose of presenting the red-skins with the contents of his gun, free gratis, in exchange for their salute; and he was borne away from the field of his achievements with a gallantry of speed that would not have discredited the flight of Santa Anna from the battle-plain of San Jacinto, but which Long Ears had never displayed, unless fear lent the wish of wings to her activity. Milman did not, he said, discover that he had been struck by a ball, until he saw the blood, which was just before he reached camp.
Shortly after the return of Milman, two Indians, to our surprise, came coolly marching up to camp, who proved, on their approach, to be Snakes, a young savage and his squaw. They had left their village at the mouth of Smith's Fork, for the purpose of hunting big-horns, (Rocky Mountain sheep,) in a mountain near by, from which he discovered us. We questioned him until we were perfectly satisfied that he was an innocent, harmless fellow, and in no way associated with the party which had fired upon Milman, though we strongly suspected them to be Snakes. He soon took his leave, and shortly disappeared in the forest of pines, which encircle the bases of all lofty mountains in this region. We departed also, not doubting but that the Indians who attacked Milman, would hang about, seeking other opportunities to do us injury.
Passing up the east fork of the three, into which Talma's Fork is subdivided, we crossed it and ascended a high mountain eastward, on the summit of which we halted at midnight, and, having tied our beasts to cedars, of which there were a few scattered here and there, threw ourselves down to sleep, almost exhausted with fatigue, and still haunted by fears of murdering savages, who might have dogged our footsteps, and be even now only waiting the approach of dawn to startle us with their fiendish yells and arrows, and take our - scalps. At day break we resumed our weary march, forced our way, though with great difficulty through a chaos of snow banks, rocks and fallen pines, to the east side of the mountain, and at last descended to the source of Ham's Fork, on which we passed the night. The next day we reached an open valley of considerable extent, decked with groves of aspen, and beds of willows, and grazed by a numerous herd of buffalo. Midway of this valley, on the western side, is a high point of rock, projecting into the prairie and overlooking the country to a great distance. Imagine our surprise when we beheld a solitary human being seated on the very pinnacle of this rock, and apparently unconscious of our approach, though we were advancing directly in front of him, - and he so elevated that every object however trifling, within the limit of human vision seemed to court his notice; and what made it still more singular, there was evidently no person in or near the valley except ourselves. We halted before him, at a short distance, astonished to see one solitary hero, who seemed to hide himself from he knew not what - friends or foes; but firm as the giant rock on which he sat as on a throne, seemed calmly to await our approach, then to hurl the thunder of his vengeance upon us, or fall gloriously like another Warwick, disdaining to ask what he can no longer defend. With mingled feelings of respect and awe we approached this lord of the valley, gazed admiringly up at the fixed stolidity of his countenance, and lo! he was dead.
I afterwards learned that this Indian was taken in the act of adultery with the wife of another, and put to death by the injured husband. He was a Shoshone, and was placed in this conspicuous position by the chief of the tribe, as a warning to all similar offenders.
On the thirty first we reached the caches where we found Robidoux with a small party of men. Fontenelle and Dripps, together with the Free Men, and a detachment of a new company, styled the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, were all in Cache Valley, where they intended to establish their winter quarters. Robidoux remained here twelve days, awaiting promised assistance from Fontenelle, to aid him in transporting the goods to Cache Valley. At the end of that time, impatient of their slow coming, and admonished by the more rapid approach of starvation which was already grinning at us most horribly, he resolved to re-cache a part of the goods, and start with the balance.
We set off in the midst of a severe snow-storm, accompanied with chilling winds, which blew directly in our faces, and, having braved with the best temper we could, a whole day of such exposure, encamped at evening on the margin of Muddy Creek. We were met next day at noon, by the expected party. They continued on to raise the cache we had left, whilst we journeyed down to the mouth of the Muddy, there to await their return. In the meantime, hunters were dispatched in pursuit of game, who brought back with them, at the expiration of two days, the flesh of several fine bulls.
The report of Milman's defeat, was received in Cache Valley, from a party of Snakes some time before we arrived, with the additional information, that the young Indian who paid us a visit on that memorable morning, was killed on the evening of the same day, and his wife taken prisoner, though she escaped the night following.
On the third day after we reached Bear River, the party dispatched for that purpose, returned with the contents of the cache, and on the fifth we arrived in sight of the camp, exchanged salutes, and hastened to grasp the honest hands of our hardy old comrades, glad to meet and mingle with them again after a long absence, and listen to their adventures, or recount our own.
We remained about ten days in the northern point of Cache Valley, in a small cove frequently called Ogden's Hole, in compliment to a gentleman of that name of the Hudson Bay Company, who paid it a visit some years since. Meanwhile, the men amused themselves in various ways, - drinking, horse racing, gambling, etc. and at the same time, Mr. J. H. Stevens, an intelligent and highly esteemed young man, gave me the following account of his adventures with Robidoux, which was confirmed by others of the party.
"After leaving you," said he, "we trapped Ham's Fork to its source, crossed over to Smith's Fork, and there fell in with a party of Iroquois, who informed us that Smith, Sublette and Jackson, three partners who had been engaged in the business of this country for some years past, had sold out to a new firm, styled the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. This arrangement was made on Wind River, a source of the Big Horn, in July of last year. From that place parties were sent out in various directions, amongst which was one led by Fraeb and Jarvis, consisting of twenty two hired men, and ten free Iroquois, with their wives and children - which departed to hunt on the waters of the Columbia. The Iroquois, however, became dissatisfied with some of the measures adopted by the leaders of the party, and separated from them to hunt the tributaries of Bear River, where we found them. Robidoux engaged three of them, and the others promised to meet us in Cache Valley, after the hunting season. One of those hired, was immediately despatched in pursuit of Dripps, who joined us at the Boiling Kettles, on Salt River, from whence we proceeded to its mouth, and there fell in with Fraeb and Jarvis. Arrangements were now made for both companies to hunt together, and we travelled thence sixty miles to the mouth of Lewis River, and down Snake river eighty or ninety miles to Porteneuf. Here we cached our furs, and thence continued down Snake River to the falls, forty or fifty miles below the mouth of Porteneuf. These falls are a succession of cascades by which the river falls forty or fifty feet in a few rods. "At the Falls we separated into two parties, one of which was to hunt the Cassia, and other streams in the vicinity, whilst the other, consisting of twenty two men, myself included, was sent to the Maladi. Our party left Snake River, and travelled north of west, through a barren desert, destitute of every species of vegetation, except a few scattering cedars, and speckled with huge round masses of black basaltic rock. At noon, we entered on a tract of country entirely covered with a stratum of black rock, which had evidently been in a fluid state, and had spread over the earth's surface to the extent of forty or fifty miles. It was doubtless lava, which had been vomited forth from some volcano, the fires of which are now extinct.
"We proceeded on over this substance, hoping to cross the whole extent without difficulty, but soon met with innumerable chasms, where it had cracked and yawned asunder at the time of cooling, to the depth often of fifty feet, over which we were compelled to leap our horses. In many places the rock had cooled into little wave-like irregularities, and was also covered with large blisters, like inverted kettles, which were easily detached by a slight blow. One of these was used as a frying pan, for some time afterwards, and found to answer the purpose quite well. In the outset of our march over this bed of lava, we got along without much trouble, but were finally brought to a full stop by a large chasm too wide to leap, and forced to return back to the plain. At this time we began to feel an almost insupportable thirst. The day was an excessively sultry one, and the lava heated to that degree that we were almost suffocated by the burning atmosphere, that steamed up from it. We had, moreover, lived for some time past, upon dried buffalo meat, which is alone sufficient to engender the most maddening desire for water, when deprived of that article.
"One or two individuals, anticipating the total absence of any stream or spring on the route, had providently supplied themselves with beaver skins of water, previous to our departure in the morning, but this small supply was soon totally exhausted. At dark we found ourselves involved in a labyrinth of rocks, from which we sought, without success to extricate ourselves, and were finally obliged to halt and await the rising of the moon. Meantime we joyfully hailed the appearance of a shower, but greatly to our chagrin, it merely sprinkled slightly, and passed over. However it was not entirely lost, for we spread out our blankets and eagerly imbibed the dampness that accumulated, but the few drops thus obtained, provoked rather than satisfied the wild thirst that was raging within us.
"At the expiration of a couple of hours, the moon rose, and we proceeded cautiously in the direction of a blue mountain, where we conjectured that the river Maladi took its rise. Through the rest of the night we toiled on, and at length we saw the sun climbing the east. But the benefit of his light was a mere feather in the scale, compared with the double anguish occasioned by the added heat. Some of the party had recourse to the last expedient to mitigate their excessive thirst, and others ate powder, chewed bullets, etc. but all to no purpose. At eight o'clock, we reached a narrow neck of the rock or lava, which we succeeded in crossing. Some of our companions explored the interior of frightful chasms in search of water, but returned unsuccessful. Subordination now entirely ceased. Every one rushed forward without respect to our leaders, towards a rising plain which separated us from the blue mountain which had been our guiding beacon since the night. On reaching the summit of the plain, the whole valley about the mountain presented a sea of rock, intersected by impassable chasms and caverns.
"Orders were now given for every one to shift for himself, and exercise his best judgement in the endeavour to save his life. One of the men immediately turned his horse from north west, which had been thus far our course, to the north east, and declared that if any thought proper to follow him, they would be rewarded by the taste of water before night. We all followed him, rather because the route seemed less difficult, than from any well-grounded hope of realizing his promise.
"Our suffering became more and more intense, and our poor animals, oppressed with heat and toil, and parching with thirst, now began to give out, and were left by the way side. Several of our poor fellows were thus deprived of their horses, and though almost speechless and scarcely able to stand, were compelled to totter along on foot. Many of our packed mules, unable to proceed any further, sank down and were left with their parched tongues protruding from their mouths. Some of the men too, dropped down totally exhausted, and were left, beseeching their companions to hasten on, and return to them with water, if they should be so fortunate as to succeed in reaching it.
"At length, when all were nearly despairing, and almost overcome, one of our companions who had outstripped us to the top of a hill, fired off his gun. The effect was electrical. All knew that he had found water, and even our poor beasts understood the signal, for they pricked up their drooping ears, snuffed the air, and moved off at a more rapid pace. Two or three minutes of intense anxiety elapsed, we reached the top of the hill, and then beheld what gave us infinitely more delight than would the discovery of the north west passage, or the richest mine of gold that ever excited, the cupidity of man.
"There lay at the distance of about four miles, the loveliest prospect imagination could present to the dazzled senses - a lovely river sweeping along through graceful curves. The beauteous sight lent vigour to our withered limbs, and we pressed on, oh! how eagerly. At sunset we reached the margin of the stream, and man and beast, regardless of depth, plunged, and drank, and laved, and drank again. What was nectar to such a draught! The pure cool reviving stream, a new river of life, - we drank, laughed, wept, embraced, shouted, - and drank, shouted, embraced, wept, and laughed again. Fits of vomiting were brought on by the excessive quantities we swallowed, but they soon passed off, and an hour or so saw us restored to our usual spirits.
"We spent that night and the following morning in the charitable office of conveying water to our enfeebled companions, who lingered behind, and the poor beasts that had been also left by the way, and succeeded in getting them all to camp, except the person and animals of Charbineau,* one of our men, who could nowhere be found, and was supposed to have wandered from the trail and perished.
*This was the infant who, together with his mother, was saved from a sudden flood near the Falls of the Missouri, by Capt. Lewis, - vide Lewis and Clark's Expedition. [W. A. F.]
"Next morning," continued Stevens, "several successive reports of firearms were heard apparently at the distance and direction of a mile or so below camp. Supposing the shots to have been fired by Charbineaux, one of our men was despatched in quest of him, but he shortly after returned, accompanied by several trappers who belonged to a party of forty, led by a Mr. Work, a clerk of the Hudson Bay Company. These men were mostly half breeds, having squaws and children. They live by hunting furred animals, the skins of which they dress and exchange for necessaries at the trading posts of that company, on the Columbia and its tributaries.
"Two days before we met them, five of their hunters were fired upon by a party of Indians, who lay concealed in a thicket of willows near the trail. One of them was killed on the spot, and a second disabled by a shot in the knee. An Indian at the same moment sprang from the thicket and caught the wounded man in his arms, who, well knowing that torture would be the consequence of captivity, besought his flying comrades to pause and shoot either the Indian or himself. Heeding his piteous cry, one of the retreating hunters, more bold, or more humane than the other two, wheeled and fired, but missed his aim, and hastily resumed his flight. The exasperated savage, at this, let go his hold, pursued, overtook, and killed the unlucky marksman, while the wounded man crept into a thicket and effectually concealed himself till night, when he made his escape. The bodies of the two dead men were found the next day; both had been stripped and scalped. Beside one of them lay a gun, broken off at the breech, and charged with two balls without powder. They were buried as decently as circumstances would permit, and the place of interment carefully concealed to prevent their last repose being rudely disturbed by the Indians, who frequently, with a fiendish malice, tear open the graves of their victims, and leave their bones to bleach upon the soil.
"The river on which we were now encamped, and the fortunate and timely discovery of which had saved us from the last extremity of thirst, is called 'La Riviere Maladi,' (Sick River,) and owes its name to the fact that the beaver found upon it, if eaten by the unwary hunter, causes him to have a singular fit, the symptoms of which are, stiffness of the neck, pains in the bones, and nervous contortions of the face. A party of half-starved trappers found their way to this stream a few years since, and observing plenty of beaver 'signs,' immediately set their traps, in order to procure provisions. At dawn the next day, several fine large fat beavers were taken, and skinned, dressed and cooked, with the least possible delay. The hungry trappers fed ravenously upon the smoking viands, and soon left scarce a single bone unpicked. Two or three hours elapsed, when several of the party were seized with a violent cramp in the muscles of the neck; severe shooting pains darted through the frame, and the features became hideously convulsed. Their companions were greatly alarmed at their condition, and imagined them to be in imminent danger. However, at the expiration of an hour, they were quite recovered, but others had meantime been attacked in the same way. These also recovered, and by the following morning all had passed the ordeal, save one, who having escaped so much longer than the rest, fancied himself entirely out of danger, and indiscreetly boasted of his better constitution, laughing at what he called the effeminacy of his companions.
"During the very height of his merriment, which by the way, was any thing but agreeable to his comrades, he was observed to turn pale, his head turned slowly towards his left shoulder, and became fixed, his mouth was stretched round almost to his ear on the same side, and twitched violently, as if in the vain endeavor to extricate itself from so unnatural a position, and his body was drawn into the most pitiable and yet ludicrous deformity. His appearance, in short, presented such an admirable and striking portraiture of the 'beautiful boy,' that his companions could not help indulging in hearty peals of laughter at his expense, and retorted his taunts with the most provoking and malicious coolness. When he recovered he was heard to mutter something about 'whipping,' but probably thought better of it afterwards, as he never attempted to put his threat into execution. Indeed, he subsequently acknowledged that he had been justly treated, and was never, from that time forth, heard to speak of his 'constitution.'
"Notwithstanding that we were well aware of these facts, we could not resist the temptation of a fine fat beaver, which we cooked and eat. But we were all sick in consequence, so much so, in short, that I do not believe a single one of us will ever be induced to try the same experiment again, no matter how urgently pressed by starvation."
There is a small stream flowing into the Big Lake, the beaver taken from which, produce the same effect. It is the universal belief among hunters, that the beaver in these two streams feed upon some root or plant peculiar to the locality, which gives their flesh the strange quality of causing such indisposition. This is the only mode in which I ever heard the phenomena attempted to be explained, and it is most probably correct.
"We trapped the Maladi to its source, then crossed to the head of Gordiaz River, and trapped it down to the plains of Snake River, from whence we returned to Cache Valley by the way of Porteneuf, where we found Dripps and Fontenelle, together with our lost companion Charbineaux. He states that he lost our trail, but reached the river Maladi after dark, where he discovered a village of Indians. Fearing that they were unfriendly, he resolved to retrace his steps, and find the main company. In pursuance of this plan, he filled a beaver skin with water, and set off on his lonely way. After eleven day's wandering, during which he suffered a good deal from hunger, he attained his object, and reached the company at Porteneuf. The village he saw was the lodges of the Hudson Bay Company, and had he passed a short distance below, he would have found our camp. But his unlucky star was in the ascendant, and it cost him eleven day's toil, danger, and privation to find friends."
Such was the narrative Mr. Stevens gave me of the adventures of Robideaux's party.
From Ogden's Hole, we passed by short marches down Cache Valley forty miles to Bear river, where we remained at the same encampment a whole month. During this time it stormed more or less every day, and the snow accumulated to such a depth that four of our hunters, were compelled to remain away from camp for thirty four days, the impossibility of travelling having prevented their return from an expedition after game. In all December the snow lay upwards of three feet deep, throughout Cache Valley; in other parts of the country the depth was still greater. In the latter part of this month, we separated from Fraeb and Jarvis, and crossed over to the Big Lake, a distance of thirty miles which we accomplished in four days. The "Big Lake" is so called in contra-distinction to the Little Lake, which lies due East from it fifty miles, and which has been described in a former chapter. It is sometimes also called "Salt Lake," from the saline quality of its waters. An attempt has been recently made to change the name of this lake to Lake Bonnyville, from no other reason that I can learn, but to gratify the silly conceit of a Captain Bonnyville, whose adventures in this region at the head of a party, form the ground work of "Irving's Rocky Mountains." There is no more justice or propriety in calling the lake after that gentleman, than after any other one of the many persons who in the course of their fur hunting expeditions have passed in its vicinity. He neither discovered, or explored it, nor has he done any thing else to entitle him to the honour of giving it his name, and the foolish vanity that has been his only inducement for seeking to change the appellation by which it has been known for fifty years, to his own patronymic, can reflect no credit upon him, or the talented author who has lent himself to the service of an ambition so childish and contemptible.
The dimensions of the Big Lake have not been accurately determined, but it may be safely set down as not less than one hundred miles in length, by seventy or eighty broad. It was circumnavigated a few years since by four men in a small boat, who were absent on the expedition forty days, and on their return reported that for several days they found no fresh water on its western shore, and nearly perished from the want of that necessary article. They ascertained that it had no visible outlet, and stated as their opinion that it was two hundred miles long and one hundred broad, but this was doubtless a gross exaggeration. I ascended a high mountain between Bear River and Webber's Fork, in order to obtain an extensive view of it, but found it so intersected by lofty promontories and mountains, not only jutting into it from every side, but often rising out of its midst, that only thirty or forty square miles of its surface could be seen. Its waters are so strongly impregnated with salt that many doubt if it would hold more in solution; I do not however think it by any means saturated, though it has certainly a very briny taste, and seems much more buoyant than the ocean. In the vicinity of the Big Lake we saw dwarf oak and maple trees, as well on the neighboring hills as on the border of streams. This was the first time since leaving the Council Bluffs that we have seen timber of that description.
About the first of February we ascertained that a number of Caches we had made previous to our leaving Cache Valley, had been robbed by a party of Snakes, who without doubt discovered us in the act of making them. However the "Horn Chief," a distinguished chief and warriour of the Shoshonee tribe, made them return every thing he could find among them into the Caches again, though a multitude of small articles to the value of about two hundred dollars were irrecoverably lost. I had almost forgotten to record a debt of gratitude to this high souled and amiable chief for an act of chivalry that has scarce a parallel in the annals of any age or nation, in respect either of lofty courage, or disinterested friendship. The Horn Chief is noted for his attachment to the whites, numbers of whom owe to him not only the protection of their property, but the safety even of their lives. He is the principle chief of the Snakes, and forms a striking contrast to his people, being as remarkable for his uprightness and candour as they are noted for treachery and dishonesty.
While we remained near the Snake village on Bear River, the preceding autumn, they formed a plot to massacre us solely for the purpose of possessing themselves of our arms and baggage. Relying on their professions of friendship, and unsuspicious of ill faith, we took no precautions against surprise, but allowed them to rove freely through camp, and handle our arms, and in short gave them every advantage that could be desired. The temptation was too much for their easy virtue. Such an opportunity of enriching themselves, though at the cost of the blackest ingratitude, they could not consent to let slip, and therefore held a council on the subject at which it was resolved to enter our camp under the mask of friendship, seize our arms, and butcher us all on the spot. In these preliminary proceedings the Horn Chief took no part, he having preserved the strictest silence throughout the whole debate. But when the foul scheme was fully resolved upon and every arrangement made for carrying it into effect, he arose and made a short speech in which he charged them with ingratitude, cowardice, and the basest breach of faith, and after heaping upon them the most stinging sarcasms and reproaches, concluded by telling them he did not think they were manly enough to attempt putting their infamous design into execution, but to remember if they did, that he would be there to aid and die with those they purposed to destroy.
Early the following morning the Snakes assembled at our camp with their weapons concealed beneath their robes; but this excited no suspicion for we had been accustomed to see them go armed at all times and upon every occasion. None of their women or children however appeared, and this was so unusual that some of my companions remarked it at the time; still the wily devils masked their intention so completely by an appearance of frank familiarity and trusting confidence, that the idea even of an attack never occurred to us.
At length when they had collected to more than thrice our number, the Horn Chief suddenly appeared in the centre of our camp, mounted on a noble horse and fully equipped for war. He was of middle stature, of severe and dignified mien, and wore a visage deeply marked by the wrinkles of age and thought, which with his long gray hairs showed him to have been the sport of precarious fortune for at least the venerable term of sixty winters. His head was surmounted by a curious cap or crown, made of the stuffed skin of an antelope's head, with the ears and horns still attached, which gave him a bold, commanding, and somewhat ferocious appearance.
Immediately upon his arrival he commenced a loud and threatening harrangue to his people, the tenor of which we could not comprehend, but which we inferred from his looks, tone of voice and gestures, boded them no good, and this opinion was strengthened by their sneaking off one after another until he was left quite alone. He followed immediately after, himself, Ieaving us to conjecture his meaning. However he afterwards met with the Iroquois, and informed them of the whole matter, and the same time showing the tip of his little finger, significantly remarked that we escaped "that big."
It appears they were assembling to execute their diabolical plot, and about to commence the work of blood when the Horn Chief so opportunely arrived. He instantly addressed them, reminded them of his resolution, dared them to fire a gun, called them cowards, women, and in short so bullied and shamed them that they sneaked away without attempting to do us any injury. It was not for months afterwards that all this came to our knowledge and we learned how providential had been our deliverance, and how greatly we were under obligation to the friendship, courage, and presence of mind of this noble son of the forest, whose lofty heroism in our defence may proudly rival the best achievements of the days of chivalry.
Some days after the robbery of the Caches, seventeen horses were stolen from a detachment of our party which had been sent to Cache Valley for provisions. The were about sixty in number, and supposed to be Blackfeet. They departed in the direction of Porteneuf. This misfortune prevented our obtaining supplies of meat, and we were consequently reduced to the necessity of living on whatever came to hand. Famished wolves, ravens, magpies, and even raw hide made tender by two days boiling, were greedily devoured. We lived or rather starved in this manner ten or twelve days, daily expecting the arrival of our hunters with meat, but they came not, and we were compelled to return to Cache Valley where we halted on the first of March on Cache Valley Creek. We saw in our route several boiling springs, the most remarkable of which bursts out from beneath a huge fragment of rock, and forms a reservoir of several rods in circumference, the bottom of which was covered with a reddish slimy matter. The waters of these springs was as hot as in those on Salt River. They are situated near the trail that leads from the head of Cache Valley to the Big Lake.
We found the snow in Cache Valley reduced to the depth of eighteen inches, but covered with a crust so thick and firm that it cuts our horse legs, making them bleed profusely, and the trail of our poor beasts was sprinkled with blood at every step, wherever we went.
During the month of March, we proceeded slowly to Bear River, starving at least one half the time. Our horses were in the most miserable condition, and we reduced to mere skeletons. Our gums became so sore from eating tough bull meat, that we were forced to swallow it without chewing; and to complete our misery, many of us were nearly deprived of sight from inflammation of the eyes, brought on by the reflection of the sunbeams on the snow.
Early in April wild geese began to make their appearance, - a happy omen to the mountain hunter. The ice soon disappeared from the river, and the days became generally warm and pleasant, though the nights were still extremely cold. About this time three Flathead Indians came to us from the Hudson Bay trappers, who had passed the winter at the mouth of Porteneuf, and reported that the plains of Snake River were already free from snow. This information decided our leaders to go there and recruit our horses preparatory to the spring hunt, which would commence as soon as the small streams were disencumbered of their icy fetters; and we set about the necessary arrangements for departure.
On the fourth of April, having cached our furs, and made other necessary arrangements for our journey, we set off, and proceeding but slowly, though with great fatigue, owing to the great depth and hardness of the snow, which though encrusted stiffly, would by no means bear the weight of our horses, - accompanied but a few miles, when we halted for the night at a spring source, in the northern extremity of Cache Valley. The following day we crossed a prairie hill, and encamped at evening at the fountain source of the south fork of Porteneuf, having seen on our route great numbers of buffalo, and many with young calves. We found the snow next day increased to the depth of from three to five feet, and floundered along through it for a few miles, though with the greatest toil and difficulty. Buffalo were quite as numerous on this day as the preceding, and we caught thirty or forty of their calves alive in the snow. Quite as many more were observed either killed or maimed by the frighted herds in their fugitive course. We rested that night on the south side of a hill, which the wind had partly denuded of snow, leaving here and there spots quite divested of it; but found neither grass nor water, both of which were greatly needed, and but scant supply of sage (wormwood) which we were obliged from the absence of every other, to use as a substitute for fuel. Water we obtained both for ourselves and horses, by melting snow in our kettles, - a tedious and vexatious process. The exertion of another day sufficed us to reach a point where fuel was more abundant, and of somewhat better quality, - a few scattered clusters of large willows furnishing us the necessary firewood to our comfort. We killed a number of buffalo, but upon any one of them the least particle of fat could not be found, and our fare was therefore none of the best, as may well be imagined.
On the morning of the eighth, several men were sent out with directions to drive, if possible, a herd of bulls down the river. Could this have been effected, we should have had a tolerable road for our feeble horses to follow, but no such good fortune was the reward of our endeavours, for the buffalo refused absolutely to move, and were all, to the number of fifty and upwards, killed on the spot. Disappointed of this hope, we had no alternative but to resume our weary march as before, which we did at sunrise, on the following day. At first, we got along with tolerable ease, but as the forenoon advanced, the warmth of the sun so melted and softened the crust of the snow, that our horses plunged in at every step, and speedily became quite exhausted from the excessive fatigue of constantly breaking through, and forcing their way under such disadvantage. There was no alternative but for us to carry them, since they could neither carry us nor themselves even, and we therefore procured poles, and transported them two miles through the snow to a hill side, which was accomplished only at the cost of incredible labour, hardship and misery. In addition to this, we had our baggage, which lay scattered along the whole distance, from one encampment to the other, to collect and bring in on our shoulders, a work of immense toil, as at almost every step the crust gave way and engulphed us up to our armpits in the damp snow. However, we had the pleasure of seeing everything safe at camp in the evening, except three or four of our poorest horses, which being unable to extricate from the snow, we were obliged to abandon to their fate.
All hands were employed on the tenth, in making a road. We marched on foot one after another in Indian file, ploughing our way through the snow to the forks of Porteneuf, a distance of six miles, and back again, thus beating a path for our horses, the labour of which almost overcame our strength. When we returned, many of us were near dropping down from fatigue, so violent had been our exertion. At three o'clock next morning, rousing our weary limbs and eyelids from their needful rest and slumber, we pursued our journey, and succeeded in reaching a narrow prairie at the forks, which was found nearly free from snow. Here we remained over the following day, to refresh our half-dead horses, and rest our nearly exhausted selves. In the mean time we were visited by two hunters of the Hudson Bay Company, who gave us the grateful information that our troubles were nearly at an end, as the snow entirely disappeared after a few miles below. Six miles marching on the thirteenth, brought us out of the narrow defile we had hitherto with so much labour threaded, and into a broad and almost boundless prairie, which far as the eye could reach, was bare, dry, and even dusty. The sensation produced by this sudden transition from one vast and deep expanse of snow which had continually surrounded us for more than five months, to an open and unincumbered valley of one hundred miles in diameter, over which the sun shed its unclouded warmth, and where the greenness of starting verdure gladdened the eye was one of most exquisite and almost rapturous pleasure. Our toils were past, our hardships were over, our labours were at an end, and even our animals seemed inspired with fresh life and vigour, for they moved off at a gallop, of their own accord, evidently delighted to find their feet once more on terra firma. Since our departure from Cache Valley to this point, where Porteneuf leaves the mountains, we have made a distance of sixty miles, which to accomplish, has cost us nine day's toil.
We moved leisurely down Porteneuf on the following day, a distance of four miles, and came upon the camp of Mr. Work with the Hudson Bay trappers, (who it will be remembered, were met by Robidoux's party in the fall), with whom we pitched our quarters. From these people we procured some excellent dried meat, which, having been cured and prepared in the fall, when the buffalo were in good condition, was really most welcome; and of which we partook heartily, believing, half-famished as we were, that more delicious food never feasted the appetite of man. In consequence of a storm of sleet that lasted for two days we were forced to remain here until the morning of the seventeenth, when the sun re-appeared, and we departed, though owing to a quarrel Mr. Works had with one of his men, which resulted in the fellow joining our party, not until we had narrowly escaped flogging the "Nor'westers" as the Hudson Bay people are sometimes called, since the junction with that company of one called the Northwest Fur company, of recent date. One of Mr. Work's people, foolishly imagining that Mr. Fontenelle had seduced or at least encouraged the man to desert, presented his gun at the breast of our leader, but was withheld from firing by the interference of a more sensible comrade. Astonished and angered at the recklessness and audacity of the action, we sprang from our horses, cocked our rifles, and prepared to give them battle, should they presume to offer any further show of hostility. Matters, however, soon assumed a more serious aspect, and we left them to pursue our journey. Immediately after our departure they signified their good will in firing a salute, by the way of bravado, to which, however, we did not think worth while our while to pay any attention. A collision that might have been bloody and fatal, was thus happily, though narrowly, avoided, for in the excitement and passion of the moment, a single shot, fired even by accident, would have been the signal for a deadly encounter. Our progress was necessarily slow from the extreme debility and weakness of our horses, and after marching a few hours, we halted for the night on the margin of a pleasant spring, beneath a grove of cedars, three or four miles west of Porteneuf. Continuing our route, we reached Snake River, and followed it slowly up to the forks where we opened our spring hunt.
From the mouth of Porteneuf, Snake River flows westward to the falls between forty and fifty miles below, when it gradually turns northward and finally after receiving the waters of several large tributaries, which rise to the westward of the Big Lake, unites itself with Salmon River. It will be recognized on maps of the country as the south fork of Lewis River, but is known among Rocky Mountain hunters by no other name than Snake River, or which is the same thing, "Sho-sho-ne-pah," its ancient appellation, in the language of that Indian tribe. Near the mouth of Porteneuf, it is a broad, magnificent stream, two hundred yards wide, clear, deep, and rapid, bordered by groves of towering cotton wood and aspen trees, and clustering thickets of large willows, matted and bound together by numerous vines and briars. On either side, a vast plain extends its level from thirty to fifty miles in breadth, bounded by ranges of lofty mountains, which in some places are barely visible, owing to their great distance. On the east side of the river, the plain is barren, sandy, and level, and produces only prickly pear, sage, and occasional scanty tufts of dry grass; on the west side the plain is much more extensive than on the opposite, stretching often away to fifty and even sixty miles from the river; it is irregular and sandy, covered with rocks, and like the other, barren of vegetation, except prickly pear and sage - the northern part is a perfect desert of loose, white, sand, dreary, herbless, and arid. It presents everywhere proofs of some mighty convulsion, that sinking mountains to valleys, and elevating valleys to mountains, has changed the aspect of nature, and left the Rocky Mountains in the picturesqueness and grandeur of their present savage and sullen sublimity. Scattered over this immense plain, there are innumerable mounds or masses of rock cracked in the form of a cross at top, (quere, by cooling or the heat of the sun?) the most remarkable of which are three of mountain altitude, situated midway between the mouth of Porteneuf and the mountains northward. Near the largest of these gigantic masses there is a district of some extent covered with huge blocks of black rock, varying in size from a finger stone to a house, which at a distance bear a close resemblance to a village of sombre dwellings.
There are several small rivers flowing from the mountains on this side
towards Snake River, not one of which ever reaches it; they are all absorbed by
the sand, the strata of which it is evident from this circumstance, must be
deep. On the east side, however, there is Porteneuf, and a small river called
the Blackfoot, which rises with the sources of Salt River and flows sixty miles
westward, to its junction with Snake River, fifteen miles above the mouth of
Porteneuf. The Blackfoot is fifty paces in breadth, and is bordered by dense
thickets of willow - near the mouth there is a large solitary mound or hill,
called the "Blackfoot Butte." Between the Blackfoot and Porteneuf,
there is a rich and continuous bottom of excellent grass, where deer are always