Life in the
Rocky Mountains

A Diary of Wanderings on the sources of
the Rivers Missouri, Columbia, and Colorado
from February, 1830, to November, 1835

By W. A. Ferris

then in the employ of the
American Fur Company


Part III

Chapter XV

From the mouth of the Blackfoot, Snake River turns gradually away to the northeast. At the distance of twenty miles, its garniture of grass-covered bottoms and groves of trees entirely disappear, giving place to a more harsh and sterile border, where instead of a rich soil and luxuriant vegetation we find only rocks and sand, with an occasional dwarf cedar, scattering prickley pears, and a gigantic growth of that which flourishes where nothing else can, the everlasting wormwood, or as it is always here called "sage." Twenty miles further up and we come to the junction of "Gray's Creek,'' a small stream scantily fringed with unneighborly clusters of willows, which rises in "Gray's Hole," between Blackfoot and Salt River, and thence flows north thirty miles and twenty west to its union with Snake River. Fifteen miles above the mouth of Gray's Creek are the "Forks of Snake River," otherwise the junction of "Lewis River" with "Henry's Fork." The first named flows from a cut in the mountain to the southeast, the latter rises with the sources of Madison River in a range of fir covered hills called the "Piny Woods," and runs a southwest course of seventy miles or so to its junction with Lewis River. The country through which it passes after emerging from the Piny Woods is a barren sandy waste, and it is rendered totally unnavigable even for canoes by a succession of falls and rapids. It derives its name from the enterprising Major Henry, who visited the Rocky Mountains shortly after the return of Messrs Lewis and Clark, and built a trading house near its mouth, the remains of which are still visible, bringing sadly to mind the miserable fate of the party left in charge of it, who were overpowered by the Indians and all massacred. It is the "Mad River," mentioned in Chapter V of Coxe's Narrative of adventures on the Columbia River. Lewis River rises with the sources of the Yellow Stone Lake, and flows southward to Jackson's Hole, when it expands to a lake of thirty or forty miles extent, called the "Teton Lake" from a remarkable mountain overlooking it, which bears the name of the "Trois Tetons." From Jackson's Hole it makes a gradual and graceful sweep to the northwest, until it issues forth from the mountains twenty miles above its mouth, where on the north side a perpendicular wall of rock juts into the plain to a considerable distance, while on the south side its margin is lined by a grove of dwarf cedars that stretches away from the pass or cut several miles. After leaving the mountains it becomes divided into a great number of channels separated from each other by numerous islands, some of which are miles in extent, but others of comparatively small dimensions. Many of these streams or channels are not again united but pursue their several courses till they meet and mingle with the waters of Henry's Fork. There is a high rocky mound in the angle between the two streams, and another on the north side of Henry's Fork, which present the appearance of having been once united. Both these mounds are large and lofty and may be easily seen from the plain at a distance of from thirty to forty miles. There are likewise two or three similar but smaller mounds on an island in Lewis River, their summits just appearing above the forest of cottonwood trees by which they are entirely surrounded and nearly concealed. Noble groves of aspen and cottonwood, and dense thickets of willow border all these streams and channels, and form almost impenetrable barriers around the verdant prairies covered with fine grass and delicate rushes which lie embowered within their islands. Deer and elk in great numbers resort to these fair fields of greenness in the season of growth, and during the inclemencies of winter seek shelter in the thickets by which they are environed, where rushes of gigantic size, exceeding in stature the height of man, are found in wild profusion. Flowing into Henry's Fork there is, a short distance above Lewis River, a small stream called Pierres Fork. It rises in Pierre's Hole, and has a westerly course of sixty miles to its mouth. Twenty miles above the forks of Snake River, Henry's Fork is subdivided into two streams of nearly equal magnitude, one of which before leaving the mountains bounds over a lofty precipice, thus forming a most magnificent cascade. Lewis River is about two hundred miles long, and receives in its course several streams which I shall hereafter have occasion to notice.

During our journey to the forks of Snake River, we saw and killed numbers of Buffalo, and saw also hundreds of their carcases floating down the river, or lodged with drift wood upon the shoals. These animals were probably drowned by breaking through when endeavoring to cross the river on the ice. At Gray's Creek we came in view of the "Trois Tetons," (three breasts) which are three inaccessible finger-shaped peaks of a lofty mountain overlooking the country to a vast distance. They were about seventy miles to the northeast, when observed from that point. Their appearing is quite singular, and they form a noted land mark in that region. During our march we had several hard showers of rain, and occasionally a storm of sleet, but the weather was generally mild and pleasant.

From the Forks of Snake River we continued up to the forks of Henry's Fork, trapping as we went and taking from forty to seventy beaver a day. Some of them were large and fat, and when well boiled proved to be excellent eating. Our cuisine was not of the best perhaps, but we made up in plenty what we lacked in variety, and on the whole fared very tolerably. As we ascended Henry's Fork, trees and grass again disappeared, and the waters of both branches were frequently compressed to narrow channels by bold bluff ledges of black rock, through which they darted with wild rapidity, and thundering sound.

A small party of hunters was sent to the "Burnt Hole," on the Madison River, in quest of beaver, but returned back without success. The Burnt Hole is a district on the north side of the Piny woods, which was observed to be wrapped in flames a few years since. The conflagration that occasioned this name must have been of great extent, and large forests of half consumed pines still evidence the ravages at that time of the destructive element. The Piny Woods are seen stretching darkly along like a belt of twilight from south of east to northwest, distant from us about thirty miles.

From Henry's Fork we passed westward to the head of "Kammas Creek," (so called from a small root, very nutritious, and much prized as food by Indians and others, which abounds here,) a small stream that rises with the sources of the Madison, flows southeast forty or fifty miles, and discharges itself into a pond six miles northwest from the mouth of Gray's Creek. This pond has no outlet, its surplus waters pass off by evaporation, or are absorbed by the sand. During our stay on this stream, several Indians were seen lurking about, and evidently watching an opportunity to steal our horses, or commit some other depredation upon our party.

On the twenty-eighth of May, two of our men, Daniel Y. Richards, and Henry Duhern by name, went out as usual to set their traps, but never returned. We ascertained subsequently, that they were butchered by a war party of Blackfeet Indians. Four of our men, crossing over to the southeastern sources of the Jefferson, discovered a number of mounted Indians, and fled back to camp in alarm. At the same time, a party of Flathead Indians came to us from a village four days' march to the northwestward. They informed us that they had a skirmish a few days previous with a party of Blackfeet, two of whom they killed. Several of the Flathead warriors were immediately dispatched to their village with a present to the chief, and a request that he and his people would come and trade with us. During their absence, we moved westward to a small stream called "Poison Weed Creek," from a deleterious plant found in its vicinity. The waters of this creek also, are drank up by the thirsty sands. Large herds of buffalo were driven over to us before the Flatheads, many of which we killed, and about one out of a dozen of which was found fat enough to be palatable. Several of the young Flatheads in the mean time joined us in advance of the village. The day previous to their coming, one of their tribe was killed by the Blackfeet, who also caught a Flathead squaw some distance from the village, whom they treated with great barbarity - they ravished her, cut off her hair, and in this condition sent her home.

Two or three days after their arrival, the whole village, consisting of fifty lodges of Flatheads, Nezperces, and Pend'orielles, came in sight, but unlike all other Indians we have hitherto seen, they advanced to meet us in a slow and orderly manner singing their songs of peace. When they had approached within fifty paces, they discharged their guns in the air, reloaded, and fired them off again in like manner. The salute of course, was returned by our party. The Indians now dismounted, left their arms and horses, and silently advanced in the following order: first came the principle chief, bearing a common English flag, then four subordinate chiefs, then a long line of warriors, then young men and boys who had not yet distinguished themselves in battle, and lastly the women and children, who closed the procession. When the Chief had come up, he grasped the hand of our Partizan, (leader,) raised it as high as his head, and held it in that position while he muttered a prayer of two minutes duration. In the same manner he paid his respects to each of our party, with a prayer of a minute's length. His example was followed by the rest, in the order of rank. The whole ceremony occupied about two hours, at the end of which time each of us had shaken hands with them all. Pipes were then produced, and they seated themselves in a circle on the ground, to hold a council with our leaders respecting trade.

The Flatheads probably derive their name from an ancient practice of shaping or deforming the head during infancy, by compressing it between boards placed on the forehead and back part, though not one living proof of the existence at any time of that practice can now be found among them. They call themselves in their beautiful tongue, "Salish," and speak a language remarkable for its sweetness and simplicity. They are noted for humanity, courage, prudence, candour, forbearance, integrity, trustfulness, piety, and honesty. They are the only tribe in the Rocky Mountains that can with truth boast of the fact that they have never killed or robbed a white man, nor stolen a single horse, how great soever the necessity and the temptation. I have, since the time mentioned here, been often employed in trading and travelling with them, and have never known one to steal so much as an awl-blade. Every other tribe in the Rocky Mountains hold theft rather in the light of a virtue than a fault, and many even pride themselves on their dexterity and address in the art of appropriation, like the Greeks deeming it no dishonour to steal, but a disgrace to be detected.

Chapter XVI

The Flatheads have received some notions of religion either from pious traders or from transient ministers who have visited the Columbia. Their ancient superstitions have given place to the more enlightened views of the christian faith, and they seem to have become deeply and profitably impressed with the great truths of the gospel. They appear to be very devout and orderly, and never eat, drink, or sleep, without giving thanks to God. The doctrines they have received are no doubt essential to their happiness and safety in a future state of existence, but they oppose, and almost fatally, their security and increase in this world. They have been taught never to fight except in self defence, or as they express it, "never to go out to hunt their own graves," but to remain at home and defend manfully their wives and children when attacked. This policy is the worst that could be adopted, and is indeed an error of fatal magnitude, for the consequence is that a numerous, well armed, watchful, and merciless enemy, with whom they have been at war from time immemorial, emboldened by their forbearance, and puffed up with pride by their own immunity, seek every occasion to harass and destroy them, - steal their horses, butcher their best hunters, and cut them off in detail. Fearing to offend the Deity, they dare not go out to revenge their murdered friends and kinsmen, and thus inspire their blood-thirsty foes with a salutary dread of retributive justice; and hence they are incessantly exposed to the shafts of their vindictive enemies, outlying parties of whom are almost constantly on the watch to surprise and massacre stragglers, unrestrained by the fear of pursuit and vengeance. Under the influence of such an untoward state of things, they are rapidly wasting away, in spite of courage, patriotism, and many virtues that have no parallel in the Rocky Mountains. Though they defend themselves with a bravery, skill, and devotion that has absolutely no comparison, proving on every occasion their great superiority in dauntlessness and address, no advantages of daring and prowess can overcome the evil effects of their defensive policy, and the probability is that in a few years more the noblest race of uncivilized men, will become utterly extinct.

Many anecdotes of Messrs. Lewis and Clark, who were the first white men they ever saw, are related by the Flatheads, and some of the old men in the village now with us, were present at their first interview. An intelligent Flathead, known to the hunters by the name of "Faro," related to me many curious incidents in their history, and among others an account of this first interview with the whites, which, though obtained two years later in point of time, may not be uninteresting in this connexion. I give it nearly in his own language.

"A great many snows past," said he, "when I was a child, our people were in continual fear of the Blackfeet, who were already in possession of fire arms of which we knew nothing, save by their murderous effects. During our excursions for buffalo, we were frequently attacked by them, and many of our bravest warriors fell victims to the thunder and lightning they wielded, which we conjectured had been given them by the Great Spirit to punish us for our sins. In our numerous conflicts, they never came in reach of our arrows, but remained at such a distance that they could deal death to us without endangering themselves. Sometimes indeed their young warriors closed in with us, and were as often vanquished; but they never failed to repay us fourfold from a safe distance. For several moons we saw our best warriors almost daily falling around us, without our being able to avenge their deaths. Goaded by thirst for revenge, we often rushed forth upon our enemies, but they receded like the rainbow in proportion as we advanced, and ever remained at the same distance, whence they destroyed us by their deadly bolts, while we were utterly powerless to oppose them. At length, 'Big Foot,' the great chief of our tribe, assembled his warriors in council, and made a speech to them, in which he set forth the necessity our leaving our country. 'My heart tells me,' said he, 'that the Great Spirit has forsaken us; he has furnished our enemies with his thunder to destroy us, yet something whispers to me, that we may fly to the mountains and avoid a fate, which, if we remain here is inevitable. The lips of our women are white with dread, there are no smiles on the lips of our children. Our joyous sports are no more, glad tales are gone from the evening fires of our lodges. I see no face but is sad, silent, and thoughtful; nothing meets my ears but wild lamentations for departed heroes. Arise, let us fly to the mountains, let us seek their deepest recesses where unknown to our destroyers, we may hunt the deer and the bighorn, and bring gladness back to the hearts of our wives and our children!'

"The sun arose on the following morning to shine upon a deserted camp, for the little band of Flatheads were already leaving the beautiful plains of the Jefferson. During one whole moon we pursued our course southwestward, through devious paths and unexplored defiles, until at last, heartsore and weary, we reached the margin of salmon river. Here we pitched our camp, and whilst the women were employed in gathering fruits and berries, our hunters explored the surrounding mountains, which they found stored with abundance of game, as the stooping trees and bushes that grew around our lodges, told us on our return; we likewise made the joyful discovery that the river was alive with salmon, great numbers of which were taken and preserved against future necessity. The Great Spirit seemed again to look kindly upon us. We were no longer disturbed by our enemies, and joy and gladness came back to our bosoms. Smiles like little birds came and lit upon the lips of our children, their merry laughter was a constant song, like the song of birds. The eyes of our maidens were again like the twinkling stars, and their voices soft as the voice of a vanishing echo. There was plenty in every lodge, there was content in every heart. Our former pastimes were renewed, our former fears were forgotten. Pleasant tales again wooed the twilight, and the moon was the only watch that we kept upon our slumbers. Our hunters went out in safety, there was no blood upon the path. They came back loaded with game, there was no one to frighten away the deer. Peace hovered around our council fires, we smoked the calumet in peace.

"After several moons, however, this state of tranquil happiness was interrupted by the unexpected arrival of two strangers. They were unlike any people we had hitherto seen, fairer than ourselves, and clothed with skins unknown to us. They seemed to be descended from the regions of the great "Edle-a-ma-hum." They gave us things like solid water, which were sometimes brilliant as the sun, and which sometimes showed us our own faces. Nothing could equal our wonder and delight. We thought them the children of the Great Spirit. But we were destined to be again overwhelmed with fear, for we soon discovered that they were in possession of the identical thunder and lightning that had proved in the hands of our foes so fatal to our happiness. We also understood that they had come by the way of Beaver-head River, and that a party of beings like themselves were but a day's march behind them.

"Many of our people were now exceedingly terrified, making no doubt but that they were leagued with our enemies the Blackfeet, and coming jointly to destroy us. This opinion was strengthened by a request they made for us to go and meet their friends. At first this was denied, but a speech from our beloved chief, who convinced us that it was best to conciliate if possible the favor of a people so terribly armed, and who might protect us, especially since our retreat was discovered, induced most of our warriors to follow him and accompany the strangers to their camp. As they disappeared over a hill in the neighborhood of our village, the women set up a doleful yell, which was equivalent to bidding them farewell forever, and which did any thing but elevate their drooping spirits.

"After such dismal forebodings imagine how agreeably they were disappointed, when, upon arriving at the strangers encampment, they found, instead of an overwhelming force of their enemies, a few strangers like the two already with them, who treated them with great kindness, and gave them many things that had not existed before even in their dreams or imaginations. Our eagle-eyed chief discovered from the carelessness of the strangers with regard to their things, that they were unacquainted with theft, which induced him to caution his followers against pilfering any article whatever. His instructions were strictly obeyed, mutual confidence was thus established. The strangers accompanied him back to the village, and there was peace and joy in the lodges of our people. They remained with us several days, and the Flatheads have been ever since the friends of the white men.''

Chapter XVII

Gambling seems not to be disallowed by the religion of the Flatheads, or rather perhaps is not included among the number of deadly offences, for they remain incurably addicted to the vice, and often play during the whole night. Instances of individuals losing everything they possess are by no means infrequent. Their favourite game is called "Hand," by the hunters, and is played by four persons or more. - Betters, provided with small sticks, beat time to a song in which they all join. The players and betters seat themselves opposite to their antagonists, and the game is opened by two players, one of each side, who are provided each with two small bones, one called the true, and the other false. These bones they shift from hand to hand, for a few moments with great dexterity, and then hold their closed hands, stretched apart, for their respective opponents to guess in which the true bone is concealed. This they signify by pointing with the finger. Should one of them chance to guess aright and the other wrong, the first is entitled to both true bones, and to one point in the game. Points are marked by twenty small sharp sticks, which are stuck into the ground and paid back and forth until one side wins them all, which concludes the game. The lucky player, who has obtained both the true bones, immediately gives one to a comrade, and all the players on his side join in a song, while the bones are concealing. Should the guesser on the opposite side miss both the true bones, he pays two points, and tries again; should he miss only one, he pays one point. When he guesses them both, he commences singing and hiding the bones, and so the game continues until one, or other of the parties wins. They have likewise a game called by the French name of "Roulette." This game is played by two persons with a small iron ring, two or three inches in diameter, having beads of various colours fastened to the inside. The ring is rolled over a piece of smooth ground by one of the players; both follow it and endeavour to pitch arrows so that the ring may fall upon them. The beads are of different values, and such only count as may happen to be directly over the arrow. The points, of the game are counted by small sticks, and the winning of a stated number determines it. Throwing arrows at a target with the thumb and finger, is a common game with the boys; shooting at a mark is also much practiced.

The women are as much addicted to gaming as the men. They play at Hand, and have also a game which is never played by the other sex. Four bones eight inches in length, which are marked on one side with figures common to two of them, are thrown forward on a buffalo robe, spread down for the purpose. If the white sides of all the four fall uppermost, they count four, and throw again; if two figured ones of the same kind, and two white ones are up, they count two, but if one odd one should be turned, they count nothing, and the adverse party takes the bones with the same privilege. This game is won by the party which gets an expressed number of points first.

Horse racing is a favourite amusement, with the Flatheads. In short races they pay no attention to the start, but decide in favour of the horse that comes out foremost. Sometimes in long races they have no particular distance assigned, but the leading horse is privileged to go where he pleases, and the other is obliged to follow until he can pass and take the lead. These races generally terminate in favour of bottom rather than speed. Occasionally they have club races, when they enter such horses, and as many of them as they please, run to some certain point and back, when the foremost horse is entitled to all the bets. These games and races are not peculiar to the Flatheads, but are common to all the tribes we have met with in the country.

We remained on Poison-weed creek with the Flatheads until the 19th of June, when Messrs. Fontenelle and Dripps, with thirty men departed for St. Louis. They were accompanied by twenty Flatheads to Cache Valley, where they expected to meet the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, under a mutual agreement to return together to St. Louis. The remainder of our party, with the Iroquois amounting to twenty-five persons, set out at the same time for Salmon River, in company with the Flatheads. A Snake Indian came into our camp on the 22d, and informed us that he was one of two hunters, who escaped from a general massacre of the inmates of six lodges on Salmon river three days previous. Himself and companion returning from a hunting expedition, instead of the friends and relatives they expected to meet them and welcome them home from the fatigues of the chase, found only scalpless bodies and desolate lodges. Old and young, weak and strong, homely and fair, had met a common doom; not one was left alive of all they had so lately parted from in health and happiness. It was a sad tale, yet no uncommon one in this region of barbarism and inhumanity.

The next day four of the Flatheads who went with Fontenelle, returned and reported that he had a slight skirmish on Snake river with a party of Blackfeet, of whom they killed one, and took five horses, his own party sustaining no loss or injury.

On the 28th day of June we ascended a creek that flows from Day's defile, and unites with another from the north called Cotas Creek, both falling into a pond situated at the eastern extremity of a point of the mountain jutting down in the plain on the south side of Day's Creek. Day's defile receives its name from John Day, a noted hunter, who died and was buried here a few years since. We journeyed slowly, being engaged in procuring and drying meat for our subsistence during the fall hunt, which it is intended to make in a rugged country on the sources of Salmon river, where white men had never penetrated, but where beaver was said to be abundant. A Snake Indian, engaged for a guide, states that buffalo are no where to be found in that wild district, and hence the necessity of securing a good supply of provisions to be taken with us.

From the outlet of Day's Creek, we proceeded up forty miles to its source, and thence continued over a narrow pass between two mountains which we found so free from all obstructions that even wagons might cross with ease, and which conducted us to a large valley watered by a small stream called Little Salmon River, which flows through it in a western course. The source of this stream, though only ten or twelve feet wide, was yet so deep as to be unfordable, except at occasional points. Some of our men, ignorant of its depth, attempted to ford it, but only escaped drowning, by clinging to the branches which were interlaced and bound together by wild vines, forming a complete canopy over the stream. Their horses were carried some distance down by the impetuosity of the current before we could reach and rescue them.

We passed through a defile, on the first of July bearing southward, which was dotted occasionally, with banks of snow, which were however rapidly disappearing. This defile brought us to a small valley watered by Gordiaz river, which, rising with the sources of the Malade, against those of Salmon river, flows eighty to one hundred miles eastward, gradually decreasing in breadth and depth, until it finally disappears in the plains of Snake river twenty-five miles north of the mouth of the Blackfoot. We found this valley covered with Buffalo, many of which we killed; we remained here until the 5th to dry the meat.

We now separated from the Flatheads, (except a few lodges, who remained with us,) and crossed a mountain to the westward, when we reached a torrent bounding over the rocks in that direction, which we followed for several miles, until it falls into a large one from the southwestward. This we ascended to its source, a small lake, one or two miles in extent, of great depth and perfectly transparent, situated in a hollow corner or cavity on the summit of a mountain. From hence we travelled westward over a harsh rugged pine covered country, destitute of valleys, but abounding with deep ravines, and dark gulfs. The sides of the mountains were often so abrupt that our horses were continually falling down, and frequently fell fifty or sixty feet before they could recover their footing. In some places the fallen pines were so numerous, and withal so interlocked with each other, that we were forced to cut a passage through.

The northern declivities of all these mountains were covered with snow banks, or chaotick masses of snow and rock intermingled, which had fallen from the summits. All the streams that wind through the deep cavities or gulfs between these mountains, are roaring and tumbling torrents, which flow eastward, and fall into Salmon river. Over these mountains, gulfs, ravines and torrents, and a thousand other obstacles we pursued our difficult and toilsome way, often at the imminent hazard of our lives, and compelled often to retrace our weary steps; sometimes journeying above the clouds, and again through passages so deep and dark, that no straggling sunbeam ever pierced their gloom. Thus alternated our course over mountain heights, and through tartarian depths.

Chapter XVIII

After a tedious and toilsome march, we at length encamped on the 13th in a prairie, forming the central portion of a large valley half grown up with lofty pines, which is watered by one of the largest and most westerly of the sources of Salmon river. Here we found a party of "Root Diggers,'' or Snake Indians without horses. They subsist upon the flesh of elk, deer, and bighorns, and upon salmon which ascend to the fountain sources of this river, and are here taken in great numbers. These they first split and dry, and then pulverize for winter's provision. They often, when unable to procure fish or game, collect large quantities of roots for food, whence their name. We found them extremely anxious to exchange salmon for buffalo meat, of which they are very fond, and which they never procure in this country, unless by purchase of their friends who occasionally come from the plains to trade with them. We have not seen a vestige of buffalo since leaving the valley of Gordiez river.

From observing that many of these Indians were clad with robes and moccasins made of dressed beaver skins, we were induced to believe that the information we had previously received in regard to the abundance of those animals in this vicinity was true. Our enterprising hunters forthwith engaged one of these Indians to serve as a guide, and set out on a trapping expedition, not doubting but that they should return in a few days with horse loads of fur. Meanwhile such of us as remained to take care of camp, were employed in taking salmon, which was easily effected by driving them up or down the river, over shoals and rapids where we killed them with clubs and stones, and frequently even caught them with our hands.

Our horses were daily so much annoyed by flies, that they were forced to assemble in crowds for their mutual defence, and were seen switching and brushing one another continually with their tails in the most affectionate and friendly manner. Hence I infer that among animals, of an inferior order to man at least - the strongest bands of friendship are forged more by interest than inclination. Our poor beasts from having nothing else to rub against, in the open prairie, were compelled to rub against each other to get rid of their tormenters, and thus necessity forced them to mutual kind offices, and established among them a community of friendly feelings and acts of generosity. Are the ties of social and political union among men often of a more refined and liberal character than that which bound together these poor, fretted animals in an intercourse of mutual amelioration?

At the expiration of ten days our hunters returned with ill success impressed most audibly upon their downcast visages. They reported that their guide conducted them about fifty miles further west and showed them a small group of beaver lodges, from which they caught some thirty of those animals. This accomplished they desired the Indian to proceed. He then led them to the summit of a lofty mountain, overlooking a vast plain watered by several streams, whose borders were garnished with groves of aspen and cottonwood trees, and pointing down with his finger inquired, "Do you see those rivers?" "Yes," returned the trappers, "but are there any beaver there?" "No," answered the Indian, with animation, "but there is abundance of elk." In the first heat of their indignation they could scarcely refrain from killing the poor Indian, who beheld with astonishment their anger at the receipt of information, which in his simplicity he had supposed must give them great delight. A moment's reflection, however, satisfied them that their guide meant well, though he had deceived them sorely. The truth was that the Indian imagining they hunted merely for food, had prepared them what he thought would be a most agreeable surprise, in leading them to where instead of the humble beaver they would find the lordly elk. There was nothing left for them to do but to return to camp, which they did with all expedition, leaving the wandering guide gazing alternately at the inviting prospect spread before him, and at the retreating cavalcade of retiring trappers and vainly striving to read the riddle of their disappointment and departure.

Having thus satisfied ourselves that our visit to this now interesting country was a complete failure, we determined to retrace our steps with the utmost possible despatch to the plains, and make our hunt elsewhere. Accordingly on the 24th we commenced our return travel, (I had almost spelt it with an ai, instead of an e, more, however, for the sake of the truth than a bad pun;) and for some time wandered about in almost every direction, to avoid the numerous obstacles that impeded nearly every step of the way, though our general course was towards the rising sun.

During our journey, I witnessed the process of cooking "Kamas," a small root about the size of a crab apple, which abounds in many parts of this country, in the rich bottoms that border most of the streams and rivers. The mode of preparing this root, is almost identical with that by which the south sea Islanders cook their cannibal and swinish food, and the west Indians their plantain. The squaws, by whom all the avocations of domestic labour are performed, excavate round holes in the earth two feet deep, and three in diameter, which are then filled with dry wood and stones in alternate layers, and the fuel fired beneath. When the wood consumes the heated stones fall to the bottom, and are then covered with a layer of grass, upon which two or three bushels of kamas roots, according to the capacity of the whole, are placed, and covered with a layer of grass, and the whole coated over with earth, upon which a large fire is kept burning for fifteen hours. Time is then allowed for the kamas to cool, when the hole is opened, and if perfectly done, the roots which were before white, are now of a deep black colour, not disagreeable to the taste, and having something the flavour of liquorice. Thus prepared, the kamas is both edible and nutritious, and forms no inconsiderable item of food with many of the Rocky Mountain tribes.

We found ourselves in the beginning of August, much to our satisfaction again in a level country, and far from the sombre folds of the mountain-wrapping pine in the dense forests of which the brightest day is but a starless twilight, and the fairest evening but a thick and blackened night. We rested from our mountain toils - toils in a double sense - in a beautiful valley twelve miles long, and from four to five broad, intersected by several willow and aspen bordered streams, tributary to Salmon River, which flows through the valley in a northeast direction. The river is here one hundred yards wide, clear, shallow, and arrowy swift. We had a shower of rain on the fourth, the first that has fallen since the middle of June.

On the eleventh, we fell in with the Flatheads, from whom we had parted a month before. Nothing worthy of record had chanced among them since our separation. In the afternoon, two horsemen were observed on a neighbouring bluff, but concealed themselves or fled ere they could be reached by a party of Flathead warriors, who were speedily mounted and in pursuit.

After this period we returned by way of the valley, of the Gordiez river, and little Salmon river to Day's Defile. During our route we saw traces of footmen, and one evening, heard the reports of firearms from a neighboring mountain, but saw no strange Indians, and met with no disaster of consequence. We killed several grizzly bears and a variety of other game. From the head of Day's creek, we crossed a mountain eastward to "Cota's Defile", so named from a man who was shot while performing a sentinel's duty, one dark night, by an Indian. On the 19th we had a snow storm of several hours duration. In the valleys the snow melted as fast as it fell, but the surrounding mountains were whitened with it for two days.

Cota's Defile brought us to the head waters of the east fork of the Salmon river, in an extensive valley, thirty miles long and ten to twelve in breadth. The principal stream is forty paces wide, bordered with willows, and birch and aspen, and flows northwestward fifty miles to Salmon river. From the summit of Cota's defile we saw a dense cloud of smoke rising from the plains forty or fifty miles to the southeastward, which we supposed to have been raised by the Flatheads, who accompanied Fontenelle to Cache Valley, and who were now in quest of the village to which they belong. The Indians with us answered the signal by firing a quantity of fallen pines on the summit of a high mountain.

It may seem to the reader a trifling matter to note the track of footmen, the report of firearms, the appearance of strange horsemen, and the curling vapour of a far off fire, but these are far from trivial incidents in a region of country where the most important events are indiced by such signs only. Every man carries here emphatically his life in his hand, and it is only by the most watchful precaution, grounded upon and guided by the observation of every unnatural appearance however slight, that he can hope to preserve it. The footmark may indicate the vicinity of a war party hovering to destroy; the report of firearms may betray the dangerous neighbourhood of a numerous, well armed, and wily enemy; strange horsemen may be but the outriding scouts of a predatory band at hand and in force to attack; the rising smoke may indeed curl up from the camp of friends or an accidental fire, but it more probably signals the gathering forces of an enemy recruiting their scattered bands for the work of plunder and massacre. Thus every strange appearance becomes an important indication which the ripest wisdom and experience are needful to interpret; and the most studious care and profound sagacity are requisite to make the most advantage from. It is only in this manner that the hunter's life is rendered even comparatively secure, and it is thus that the most trivial occurrence assumes a character of the gravest moment, freighted as it may be with the most alarming and perilous consequences.

Chapter XIX

On the 25th of August we again separated from the Flatheads, except a few lodges which accompanied us wherever we went, and entering a narrow cut in the mountain on the east side of the valley, followed the stream that flows through it to its source, and thence crossing a prairie hill descended into Horse Prairie fifteen miles north of the East Fork valley. Horse Prairie is a pleasant rolling plain fifty or sixty miles in circumference and surrounded by lofty mountains. In the middle of the valley there is a conical rocky mound rising from the plain on the north side of the stream, and directly fronting a high rocky bluff on the opposite side. These elevations, separated by a few hundred feet, at a distance convey the idea of a formidable gateway. The borders of the creeks and rivulets in this valley are scantily adorned with clusters of small willows. The largest of these creeks flows through the valley to the northeastward, and is the most southwesterly source of the Jefferson. The Sho- sho-ne Cove, where Capt. Lewis in advance of the canoes and with one attendant, discovered the first Rocky Mountain Indian whose confidence he endeavored to win by friendly signs and the offering of trinkets, but who, timid as a hare, fled in the mountains westward and crossed the Salmon River, is in this valley.

A trapper of our party by the name of Perkins was fired upon on the 27th from a thicket near which he happened to be passing, but fortunately escaped uninjured, though the ball passed through the left breast of his coat. His horse, alarmed by the sudden report of the gun, sprang forward throwing off by the action his fusil which he was carrying carelessly across his saddle, seeing this an Indian sprang forth instantly from the thicket and pounced upon it, but before he could bring it to bear upon the trapper the latter by dint of whip and spur and a fleet steed had contrived to get beyond his reach. A party of hunters returned with Perkins to the scene of his discomfiture, but the Indians had already taken their departure, and that with such precipitation that several trifling articles were overlooked in their haste and left behind them.

We left Horse Prairie on the last day of the month, and crossing the mountain northwestward, descended into the Big Hole. This is an extensive valley of sixty miles length, and fifteen to twenty broad, bounded on every side by lofty, irregular and picturesque ranges of mountains, the bases of which are girded with dense forests of fir which in some places encroach upon the prairie domain. Above the pine region, the mountains present immense pointed masses of naked rock, hiding their giant heads among the clouds where the eye vainly strives to follow; and often even piercing through the misty realm, where storm spirits hold their frolic revels, so that their gray peaks are often seen flashing and basking in the sun while the thickening vapours below are sending down torrents of rain, and it may be belting their hoary forms with lightning lines of fire, and beating their stolid breasts with blows and bolts of thunder, or darkening the atmosphere with heavy falls of snow and hail. The caverns or gulfs - they are not vales - between these worlds of rock are heaped with the snows of ages.

This valley is watered by innumerable willow-fringed streams that unite and form Wisdom River, which flows a little east of north, and, after leaving the valley, eastward, to its junction with the Jefferson distant eighty miles.

On the first of September I discovered the burrow of a species of beautiful small spotted fox, and wishing to obtain one of their skins, sent an Indian boy to camp for a brand of fire designing, if possible, to drive them out by the aid of smoke. The careless boy scattered a few sparks in the prairie, which, the dry grass almost instantly igniting, was soon wrapped in a mantle of flame. A light breeze from the south carried it with rapidity down the valley, sweeping everything before it, and filling the air with black clouds of smoke. Our absent trappers returned at full speed, expecting to find camp attacked or at least the horses stolen, but were agreeably disappointed on learning the real nature of the accident. It however occasioned us no inconsiderable degree of uneasiness as we were now on the borders of the Blackfoot country, and had frequently seen traces of small parties, who it was reasonably inferred might be collected by the smoke, which is their accustomed rallying signal, in sufficient force to attack us. Our party consisted of thirty armed men, a mere handful when compared to the prairie-reddening parties of Blackfeet which are often seen here. Clouds of smoke were observed on the following day curling up from the summit of a mountain jutting into the east side of the valley, probably raised by the Blackfeet to gather their scattered bands, though the truth was never more clearly ascertained.

We were detained on the tenth, by a storm of snow which covered the earth to the depth of several inches, but disappeared on the following night. During our stay at this encampment we found the petrified trunk of a large cedar half imbedded in the earth. Next day we left the Big Hole by its northern extremity and crossed a mountain to the Deer Horse Plains. This is a valley somewhat larger than the Big Hole, and like that surrounded by mountains, generally however low, barren and naked, except to the south and east where lofty and snowclad peaks appear. All the streams by which it is intersected are decorated with groves and thickets of aspen, birch and willow, and occasional clusters of currant and gooseberry bushes. The bottoms are rich and verdant, and are resorted to by great numbers of deer and elk. The several streams unite and form "La Riviere des pierres a fleches," (Arrow Stone River,) thus named from a kind of semi-transparent stone found near it, formerly much used by the Indians for making points of arrows. This river is one of the sources of Clark's River, and flows through the valley to the northeastward. The valley owes its singular but appropriate name to a natural curiosity situated near the river a few miles from the eastern side. The curiosity referred to is a semi-spherical mound some fifty paces in circumference and fifteen feet high, rather flattened at top, and covered with turf and a sickly growth of yellow grass. There are several cavities in the highest part of the mound, the largest measuring a foot in diameter, in all of which water is seen boiling a few inches below the surface. The earth is heated but not to such a degree as to prevent vegetation, except about immediate edges of the cavities. This mound, like those on Snake River, has been evidently self-formed by continual deposits of calcareous cement, hardened to the consistence of rock. How the soil came upon its summit is matter of inquiry, perhaps by the encroachments and decay of the creeping vegetation of years. The ground about its base is low and marshy, and several transparent pools of tepid water near by, are famous resorts for bathing by the Indians. These waters are slightly impregnated with salt, which quality renders the place attractive to deer, and it is seldom without visiters of this description. Animals as well as men have their favourite (not to say fashionable,) watering places, and this is one of them. Clouds of vapour are continually emanating from the mound, which at a distance on a clear cold morning might readily be mistaken for smoke, - the mound itself has much the resemblance of an Indian Cabin, and hence which the name by the valley is designated. The water within the mound is so hot one cannot bear a finger in it for a moment. The presence of sulphur is shown by the unmistakable, and any thing but fragrant smell of the vapour.

On entering the Deer House Plains we were alarmed by the cry of Indians from the advance guard of the party, but almost as quickly freed from apprehension by the arrival of a Pen-d'orielle, who gave us to understand, that one hundred lodges of his tribe lay encamped eight miles below. - Early next day they removed their quarters and took up a position in the immediate vicinity of our own, when we ascertained that they were on their way from the Flathead Trading House of the Hudson Bay Company to buffalo, and were living upon a mixed diet of roots and expectations, the latter in much the larger proportion - plainly they were nearly starving. It is a well ascertained fact, that buffalo confine their range to the eastern side of an imaginary line commencing at the south on the west side of the Arkansas, in about Latitude 38 north and Longitude 28 west from Washington, and running thence around the headwaters of the Arkansas, crossing the sources of the Rio Grande, Blue River (its principal branch) and Salt River, then turning from north to west in a nearly direct course - crossing Green River above the mouth of Ashley's Fork, - to the Big Lake at the mouth of Bear River, thence crossing Salt River a short distance below the junction of Porte Neuf, and through the sources of Salmon River to a point in Latitude 44°40' north, and Longitude 33°20' west or nearly, thence around the sources of Clark's River on the east, and thence in a north west direction west of the Missouri, and its principal sources to Lat. 49 north and Longitude 34°20' west, where it passes the limit of my observation and inquiries to the northward. East of this line they range back and forth across the great plains of the Mississippi and Missouri, retiring towards the mountains in the winter, and in spring spreading themselves over the vast prairies, and almost blackening the waste by their countless numbers, from the Pawnee hunting ground, to the far off ranges of the Rocky Mountains.

As the line described almost skirts the Deer House Plains buffalo are seldom found west of this valley, and rarely even here, which was now the case. Indeed we have seen none since leaving the east fork of the Salmon River, though Horse Prairie is a famous resort for them, and they sometimes penetrate to the Big Hole.

We were annoyed almost beyond endurance by the hundreds of famishing dogs belonging to the Indians. They devoured every leathern article that lay within reach, even to the bull-hide thongs, with which we fastened our horses. We were compelled to keep guard by turns or risk the entire loss of our baggage, their depredations were so bold and incessant. I performed my watch at the salient angle of our tent, armed with an axe, which I hurled among them without respect to "mongrel, puppy, whelp or hound," and not infrequently sent some of them back yelping a serenade of pain to their sleeping masters. Once, however, on returning with the axe which I had thrown unusually far, I discovered a scury cur, coolly trotting off with my saddle bags, which the rascal had stolen from within the protection of the tent. It is needless to say that I pursued and recovered them, but ere I could return to my post, I perceived three large fellows marching leisurely homeward, with a bale of dried meat, weighing not less than forty pounds. Grounding an inference hereupon that in spite of the axe and my utmost efforts they would prove victorious, I thought it advisable to let my manhood take care of itself, and call up my dreaming companions. No sooner said than done, when we called a council of war, and deeming discretion with such an enemy the better part of valour, we suspended all our baggage in a tree that overhung the tent, and went to rest without apprehension of the consequences. In the morning we found every thing safe as we had left it, while our less careful neighbours were seen busily collecting the scattered relics of the night's devastation. One of them lost above forty dollars' worth of furs, and another, a jolly old Frenchman, drew his pipe from his teeth to swear with more emphasis that the scoundrelly dogs had devoured his axe.

Chapter XX

We departed southeastward for the Jefferson River on the morning of the fifteenth, accompanied by all the Indians; and picturesque enough was the order and appearance of our march. Fancy to yourself, reader, three thousand horses of every variety of size and colour, with trappings almost as varied as their appearance, either packed or ridden by a thousand souls from squalling infancy to decrepid age, their persons fantastically ornamented with scarlet coats, blankets of all colours, buffalo robes painted with hideous little figures, resembling grasshoppers quite as much as men for which they were intended, and sheep-skin dresses garnished with porcupine quills, beads, hawk bells, and human hair. Imagine this motley collection of human figures, crowned with long black locks gently waving in the wind, their faces painted with vermillion, and yellow ochre. Listen to the rattle of numberless lodgepoles trained by packhorses, to the various noises of children screaming, women scolding, and dogs howling. Observe occasional frightened horses running away and scattering their lading over the prairie. See here and there groups of Indian boys dashing about at full speed, sporting over the plain, or quietly listening to traditionary tales of battles and surprises, recounted by their elder companions. Yonder see a hundred horsemen pursuing a herd of antelopes, which sport and wind before them conscious of superior fleetness,- there as many others racing towards a distant mound, wild with emulation and excitement, and in every direction crowds of hungry dogs chasing and worrying timid rabbits, and other small animals. Imagine these scenes, with all their bustle, vociferation and confusion, lighted by the flashes of hundreds of gleaming gun-barrels, upon which the rays of a fervent sun are playing, a beautiful level prairie, with dark blue snow-capped mountains in the distance for the locale, and you will have a faint idea of the character and aspect of our march, as we followed old Guignon (French for bad-luck) the Flathead or rather the Pen-d'oreille chief slowly over the plains, on the sources of Clark's River. Exhibitions of this description are so common to the country that they scarcely elicit a passing remark, except from some comparative stranger.

Next day we separated into two parties, one of which entered a cut in the mountains southward, while the other (of which was I,) continued on southeastward, and on the 17th crossed a mountain to a small stream tributary to the Jefferson. In the evening a Pen-d'oreille from the other division, joined us and reported that he had seen traces of a party of footmen, apparently following our trail. We ourselves saw during our march, the recent encampment of a band of horsemen, and other indications of the vicinity of probable foes. Pursuing our route, on the following day we reached and descended into the valley of the Jefferson twenty-five miles below the forks. This valley extended below us fifteen or twenty miles to the northward, where the river bending to the East, enters a narrow passage in the mountain between walls of cut rock. The plains are from two to five miles in breadth, and are covered with prickly pear, - immediately bordering the river are broad fertile bottoms, studded with cottonwood trees. The River is about one hundred yards wide, is clear, and has a gentle current,- its course is northward till it leaves the valley. We found the plains alive with buffalo, of which we killed great numbers, and our camp was consequently once more graced with piles of meat, which gave it something the appearance of a well stored market place. From starvation to such abundance the change was great, and the effect was speedily apparent. Indians, children, and dogs lay sprawling about, scarcely able to move, so gorged were they with the rich repast, the first full meal which they had, perhaps, enjoyed for weeks. The squaws alone were busy, and they having all the labour of domestic duty to perform, are seldom idle. Some were seen seated before their lodges with buffalo skins spread out before them, to receive the fat flakes of meat they sliced for drying. Others were engaged in procuring fuel, preparing scaffolds, and making other preparations for curing and preserving the fortunate supply of provisions thus obtained. Even the children were unusually quiet and peaceable, and all would have been exempt from care or uneasiness, had not the unslumbering cautiousness of the veteran braves discovered traces of lurking enemies.

On the morning of the 19th several of our men returned from their traps, bearing the dead body of Frasier, one of our best hunters, who went out the day previous to set his trap, and by his not returning at night, excited some alarm for his safety. His body was found in the Jefferson, about five miles below camp, near a trap, which it is supposed he was in the act of setting when fired upon. He was shot in the thigh and through the neck, and twice stabbed in the breast. His body was stripped, and left in the water, but unscalped. - In the afternoon we dug his grave with an axe and frying pan, the only implements we had that could be employed to advantage in this melancholy task, and prepared for the sad ceremony of committing to the earth the remains of a comrade, who but yestermorn was among us in high health, gay, cheerful, thoughtless, and dreaming of nothing but pleasure and content in the midst of relations and friends. Having no coffin, nor the means to make one, we covered his body in a piece of new scarlet cloth, around which a blanket and several buffalo robes were then wrapped and lashed firmly. The body thus enveloped was carefully laid in the open grave, and a wooden cross in token of his catholic faith placed upon his breast. Then there was a pause. The friends and comrades of the departed trapper gathered around to shed the silent tear of pity and affection over a companion so untimely cut off; and the breeze as if in sympathy with their sorrow, sighed through the leaves and branches of an aged cottonwood, which spread its hoary and umbrageous arms above his last resting place, as though to protect it from intrusion; while in contrast with this solemnity merry warblers skipped lightly from limb to limb, tuning their little pipes to lively strains, unmindful of the touching and impressive scene beneath. At length the simple rite was finished, the grave closed, and with saddened countenances and heavy hearts the little herd of mourners retired to their respective lodges, where more than one of our ordinarily daring and thoughtless hunters, thus admonished of the uncertainty of life, held serious self-communion, and perhaps resolved to make better preparations for an event that might come at almost any moment, after which there can be no repentance. But it may be doubted if these resolutions were long remembered. They soon recovered their light heartedness, and were as indifferent, reckless, and mercurial as ever. - Frasier was an Iroquois from St. Regis, in Upper Canada. He left that country seventeen years before, having with many others engaged in the service of the Norwest Company, and came to the Rocky Mountains. Subsequently he joined the American hunters, married a squaw by whom he had several children, purchased horses and traps, and finally as one of the Freemen led an independent and roving life. He could read and write in his own language, was upright and fair in all his dealings, and very generally esteemed and respected by his companions.

It commenced raining in the afternoon of the following day, and continued without intermission during the night. Taking advantage of the storm and darkness, a party of Blackfeet boldly entered our lines, and cut loose several horses from the very centre of the camp. An alarm having been given the Flathead chief arose and harrangued his followers, calling upon them to get up and prepare to oppose their enemies, not doubting but that an attack would be made at day break. When he had concluded, a Blackfoot chief, who last summer deserted from his people and joined the Flatheads, in a loud voice and in his native tongue, invited all who were lurking about camp, to come in and help themselves to whatever horses they had a mind to, asserting that as the whites and Flatheads were all asleep, there could be no hazard in the undertaking. Scarcely had he done speaking, when the Blackfeet, to testify their gratitude and appreciation of this disinterested advice fired a volley upon him. Fortunately, however, no one was injured by the firing, though several lodges were perforated by their balls. In the morning we were early on the alert, but the Blackfeet had all departed, taking with them seven or eight of our best horses. As there was no help for it, we had to put up with the loss, and the next day having finished drying meat, we struck our tents, and departed southward up the Jefferson.

Previous to our reaching this river we had exacted a promise from the Indians to accompany us to the three forks of the Missouri, but since the death of Frasier they refused to fulfill their engagement, asserting that we shall certainly fall in with a village of Blackfeet, who will dispute with us every inch of ground, and thus render the expedition to no purpose, for trappers would forget their employment when death was grinning at them from every tree and cluster of willows. Our route was therefore necessarily somewhat changed, and on the 23rd we reached the Philanthropy, and halted two or three miles from its mouth. This is a deep muddy stream thirty paces in breadth, flowing for the last twelve or fifteen miles of its course through an open valley, and finally discharging itself into the Jefferson, which it enters from the northeast, a short distance from Wisdom River, a branch proceeding from the Big Hole. All these streams are bordered by fine grass bottoms, and groves of trees and willows. Six miles above the forks, on the west side of the Jefferson, there is a bluff or point of a high plain jutting into the valley to the brink of the river, which bears some resemblance to a beaver's head, and goes by that name. Hence the plains of the Jefferson are sometimes called the Valley of Beaver Head. These plains are everywhere covered with prickly pear, which constitutes one of the greatest evils - Indians aside - that we have to encounter in this country where moccasins are universally worn. The thorns of the prickly pear are sharp as needles, and penetrate our feet through the best of mocassins; they are extremely painful and often difficult to extract. In the evening we were joined by a Nezperce Indian who brought intelligence that the Rocky Mountain Fur Company were encamped in the Big Hole.