On the 20th of July a young man by the name of Newell and myself, departed at the head of an equipment destined for the Flathead trade. Our little party consisted of six "engages" with pack horses, and five armed Indians, amounting in all to thirteen armed men. It was late before we separated from the company, yet, notwithstanding, we marched fifteen miles, killed a fine bull, and halted on the margin of a small spring, in the highlands, near Jackson's Little Hole. We passed through the hole on the succeeding day, and encamped in the narrows below. We fortified our little encampment with a breastwork of logs, or in other words, we enclosed it in a timber pen.
Leaving this, we passed the narrows, a corner of Jackson's Big Hole, crossed Lewis river, ascended the mountains, and on the 30th came into a region where the weather was fair, the sky cloudless above us, and the sun shining pleasantly, quite reverse to the appearance a short distance below. Gazing down, in the direction of Jackson's Hole, from our elevated position one of the most beautiful scenes imaginable, was presented to our view. It seemed quite filled with large bright clouds, resembling immense banks of snow, piled on each other in massy numbers, of the purest white; wreathing their ample folds in various forms and devious convolutions, and mingling in one vast embrace their shadowy substance. - Sublime creations! emblems apt of the first glittering imaginings of human life! like them redolent of happiness, and smiling in the fancied tranquil security of repose; like them, liable to contamination by intercourse with baser things, and like them, dissipated by the blasts of adversity, which sooner or later are sure to arrest and annihilate them. Alike evanescent are the dreamy anticipations of youth, and the aerial collections of vapor. Such the reflections suggested by this lovely scene, which, though often on the mountains, I have never before seen below me. Clouds of this pure snow-white appearance, are, however, by no means uncommon; but those usually observed beneath us, when on the mountains, have a dark and lowering aspect.
Turning with reluctance to things of a more terrestrial nature we pursued our way down to Pierre's Hole, where we fortunately discovered and killed a solitary bull; being the only animal of the kind we had seen since leaving Jackson's little hole.
We passed in our route a well known hot spring, which bursts out from the prairie, on the east side of a valley, near a small willow skirted creek, and flows several hundred yards into Wisdom river. It boils up, at its head, in a quantity sufficient to form a stream of several paces in breadth, and is so hot at its source, that one cannot bear a finger in it for a moment; it gradually becomes cooler as it recedes from the fount and at its lower extremity is cold. The Indians have made a succession of little dams, from the upper end to the river; and one finds baths of every temperature, from boiling hot, to that of the river, which is too cold for bathing, at any season. Our Indians were almost constantly in one or other of these baths during our stay near the springs.
It may be proper to remark here, that we have been drenched with rain, more or less, every day since we left rendezvous. The mornings are generally cloudless and the rocks, mountains, and valleys, are gilded by the dazzling brightness of the sun; but the scene changes as the day advances, dense black clouds cover the face of nature, and heavy rains, though usually of short duration, follow; however, it generally clears up, and becomes warm again, before the sun disappears behind the neighboring mountains. Lightning and thunder are frequent during these storms, and the latter is sometimes distinctly heard, when the sky appears perfectly cloudless.
As we arose on the morning of the 11th of August, we discovered a smoke rising above the pines in the mountains, where we were compelled to pass; however, we packed our horses and started, but saw neither smoke nor other traces of Indians after we had commenced the ascent, we halted at noon on a small prairie, on the summit of the mountain, two hours, and then descended the steep north side, to the head of Bitter Root river. - We saw traces of several horsemen who had recently passed down the river, which is but a small creek here in the mountains, and has a very narrow bottom; we halted late at an old Indian encampment.
Next morning a Flat-head came to our camp, one of several now on the stream a short distance below us, who had separated from a village of Nezperces on Salmon river a few days since, and were now like ourselves in quest of their tribe. Under his guidance we passed down the river into a little valley, then over a high mountain point, and finally descended into a small prairie bottom, where we found the comrades of our guide. We halted a short time to bait our horses, and departed accompanied by the Indians. At dark we halted on a small fork near the river, which has greatly increased in magnitude, and here skirts an open plain, several miles in extent on the east side, but a narrow irregular one, covered with dense pine timber, forming the base of the mountain, on the other.
On the 13th, we continued down this river, till evening and halted on it. The Indians with us, announced our arrival in this country by firing the prairies. The flames ran over the neighboring hills with great violence, sweeping all before them, above the surface of the ground except the rocks, and filling the air with clouds of smoke.
On the 14th we met several Flat-heads who, having been informed of our coming by an express despatched two days since, came to guide us to their village, which was situated half a day's journey below. We continued down through an open prairie, and halted late, on the margin of a finely timbered fork, on the west side, a short distance from the river.
On the 15th we passed about seven miles down to an open plain, some twelve miles in length and six in breadth, at the forks, formed by the junction of the Arrow Stone, which flows from the deer-house plains, and the stream we have followed for the last four days; these rivers are both clear, deep, rapid, and not fordable at high water. Bitter Root river is about fifty yards wide, and Arrow Stone something more. The former is but partially bordered by timber some distance above the forks, and the other quite bare; however, in the vicinity of the forks, both branches and the river below, are well decorated by large scattering pines and thick under brush, particularly on the west side. We found the village consisting of only fifteen lodges, situated on the margin of the Bitter Root, about one mile above the forks. As we approached they sallied out from their lodges and shook hands with us, as usual, made short prayers for us during this ceremony, and then passed away as if fearful of troubling us, whilst unpacking and arranging our baggage and lodgings. At length after we had finished pitching our lodge, and disposing properly our luggage, a multitude of women and girls came to us, bearing baskets of fruit and provisions, which they poured upon a blanket and disappeared to their respective habitations. We had suffered much with hunger for several days past, and seated around the blanket, gladly availed ourselves of present abundance to
The lovely little hillock, composed of Whortle, Service, Hawthorn, and White berries, rapidly disappeared before the united efforts of eight hearty and hitherto half starved lads; and leaving in it an "awful gap," we arose, either satisfied, or ashamed to be seen devouring so voraciously the gifts of our generous friends; and prepare to receive the Chief and his retinue, who came as customary to smoke a pipe with us, and enquire our business. We seated ourselves in a ring on the grass, with our guests, and a pipe was immediately produced, and presented to a little hardy old veteran, the Chief. He placed it in his mouth, when his attendant applied to it a coal, and the Chief taking two or three whiffs, passed it to the person on his right, who in turn took a few puffs, and returned it to the Chief; he again inhaled through it a few inspirations, and passed to the one on his left, and it continued then regularly round, until it was extinguished. One of the company prepared with tobacco and weed, cut and mixed in proper proportions, and a stick for cleaning the ashes out of the pipe, replenished it, and the same ceremony was repeated. In the mean time we informed them as well as we could, having no interpreter, of our objects in coming among them. They listened without speaking until we had done, when the old chief in the name of his people, tendered us his thanks for coming so far from our chief, through a dangerous country, to bring them munitions and tobacco, articles of which they were much in want; and promised to exert his influence with his young men, to encourage them to hunt and trade with us; supply us with fruit and provisions, and aid us otherwise as much as lay in his power.
He informed us that thirty of his people were massacred last spring, at one time, by a large party of Black-feet, on the east fork of Salmon river. The little devoted band had started expressly to retake horses from, or fight the Black-feet, who were, it appears, approaching in considerable numbers, at the same time, determined to fulfil a threat they had made last fall, that they would exterminate the Flat-heads, root and branch. The two parties met on the summit of the pass from that fork to Horse prairie, and a most desperate conflict ensued, which resulted in the total defeat of the Flatheads, who fought to the last, and perished to a man. The only individual of the party who escaped was separated from the rest in the early part of the action, and fled to tell the disastrous tale. There were among the slain several of the bravest warriors of the nation, who were well known to the hunters as hardy, bold, and heroic in war; sage and experienced in council, and hospitably courteous, even to inconvenience and self-privation, in their humble dwellings. The venerable chief dwelt on the virtues of each of these braves, and related many interesting anecdotes of daring feats and rare presence of mind, exhibited by some of them, in the most trying and hopeless situations. He betrayed the presence of hereditary superstition, in but a single instance: that of a warrior, who had been often wounded in battle by balls, not one of which had ever entered his body, (all having fortunately been nearly spent.) The old veteran declared it the firm belief of himself and friends, that he could not have been killed with a bullet, but must have been caught and then butchered by his enemies. It is believed that the Black-feet sustained great loss in this engagement; at least they abandoned the design of attacking the village, and returned to their own country.
The chief also informed us that he was now awaiting the arrival of the Pen-d'orielles from the Flat-head post, who were expected in twenty days, and should then proceed to hunt buffalo. These animals are never found west of the Big Hole, or the Deer house plains; consequently the Indians, during their stay here, subsist on dried meat, which they transport in bales of forty pounds or more, upon horses, from the buffalo range, or the haunts of deer and big horn, which are found on the neighboring mountains. They bring in daily horse loads of berries, and several kinds of roots, the most abundant and most prized of which, is small, white, extremely bitter of taste, and called by the Indians "Spathem;" it is found in great plenty in the plain of, and gives name to, Bitter Root river. It is prepared for food by boiling until it becomes like jelly; and is very disagreeable to the palate of one who has never before eaten it. During our stay here, we were employed in trading our goods for the only articles we wanted, namely, beaver and provisions; the best articles in our equipment for this purpose, was cut glass beads, with which the dress of the females are decorated.
On the 30th of October we passed under the north east side of the sand mountains which rears its gigantic form in the centre of a vast plain, nearly one hundred miles in diameter, of the most sterile description; where, in gloomy desolation, it seems to mock the vegetating efforts of nature. With the sand hills that constitute its base, the mountain covers an area of some thirty miles in circumference, and is composed of fine white sand, extremely light, into which our horses sank above the knees, in passing over it. When the winds blow upon it, agitating the sand at the surface, it has a beautiful, undulating, wave-like appearance. The particles are so very small, and have so little apparent specific gravity, that large quantities are often removed by the gentle whirlwinds that sometimes occur, and scattered over the neighboring prairie.
On the main body of the mountain there are a few occasional dwarf shrubs, but the hills are absolutely destitute of herbage. No shells, nor any other marine organic remains, nor indeed any foreign substances, are found on the hills or mountains, among the pure chrystals that constitute this singular structure, which, in solitary grandeur appears, when viewed from a distance, like a huge mountain of snow, at any season of the year. Though we have traversed many barren prairies, and crossed over many sterile tracts of territory, we have never before seen any sand of similar character or appearance, which therefore remains unique, and this singular protuberance of earth, an isolated enigma; for conjecture ever must be silent in respect to its origin. It stands alone, in a vast region of elevations, not one of which affords a parallel, or at all resembles it. Is it a proof that the ocean, once slumbering here, deposited this formation, and covered this country, the most elevated portion of North America, situated, as it is, at the sources of the Mississippi, Columbia, and Colorado? If so, the whole region affords no other instance, and even this lacks the strongest evidence of a former subaqueous condition, since there are no productions, or even relics, of an aquatic animal nature attending it. The whole vast plain in which it "towers alone," is covered with the evidences of volcanic action; can it then, in one of those tremendous efforts of nature, which scattered these fragments of rock over so great an extent, have been upheaved from the bed of the earth, and left as a monument of some mighty convulsion? The subject affords ample scope for curious speculation.
Having travelled about twenty-five miles since we set out in the morning, we halted on Henry's fork, about twenty miles above the Forks. Our horses were very much fatigued, and one of them entirely exhausted, was left in the way, being totally unable to proceed, though relieved from the weight of his lading. We discovered the traces, both of a horse and a mule, that had passed quite recently up and down the margin of this river. - The distance from Pierre's fork, when we left the village, to Henry's fork is about seventy miles.
October 31st we remained in camp to rest our weary horses. My companion Newell, however, with one more, departed to ascertain if Dripps had arrived at the Forks. During the day a fire broke out in camp, and filled the air with smoke, but caused no damage.
On the 1st of November, we raised camp, and crossed Henry's fork, but had not left the ford before Newell reappeared with information that a party of trappers, detached from Dripp's company, were now awaiting his arrival at the forks. We continued down the stream about eighteen miles, and encamped with them. Three of them, during a recent excursion for beaver on the sources of Henry's Fork, met with an adventure, which may not be deemed uninteresting, and will also exhibit the danger and hardships to which the trappers are constantly exposed, in this savage region. It is thus described by one of them, William Peterson, of St. Louis.
"On the 23d of September, having returned from my traps unusually early, I set about preparing some meat for breakfast; in the mean time one of my comrades, Chevalia, alarmed or surprised at the continuing absence of Piero, our companion, who had started to go a short distance below, to examine some traps and had not returned; went off to seek him, but in a few moments came running back, out of breath, exclaiming 'Indians! Indians! Indians!' I had barely time to inquire if they were near, when they appeared rushing toward us. We sprang into the willows, where we had taken the precaution to place our baggage when we came here, and I employed myself in arranging it, with alacrity, so as to shelter us from the shower of balls we expected momentarily. Chevalia amused them for some time by talking to them in the Sioux language, which they pretended to understand; happily I discovered at this critical instant, that they were actually taking advantage of the conference, to surround us, and thus cut off our retreat to the mountains; the sudden conviction of this truth, and the fatal consequences to us if they succeeded in effecting their object, induced us to spring at once into the creek, and follow the shallow current about two hundred yards, concealed from our enemies by the few small willows on its margin; when we were compelled to leave it, owing to the total want of obscurity, offered by its woodless borders; and cross a narrow neck of prairie, to a grove of aspen trees on the mountain side. Fortunately for us, the Indians had mistaken the course of our flight, and were some distance below, when we entered the open plain; but they quickly discovered us, and gave chase, as we penetrated the forest; finding that the timber continued we pushed forward, and at length crept into a dense thicket, hoping to elude them thus, but we were again discovered by the barking of a little dog with us, and forced to seek another place to hide in; we finally halted in a dark shadowed thicket, and choaked the dog to silence; while the Indians were yelling like so many deals, and hunting from one grove to another in every direction. We, however, remained quiet and undiscovered, until the sun was setting, when, all the noise having subsided, we ventured out to ascertain if possible, the fate of Piero, who imprudently left us in the morning, without his gun, which was now in my possession.
We returned to our camp, and found every thing removed, from which we concluded that the Indians had departed, and were encouraged to look for the body of Piero, not doubting that he was killed. On our way down to the "dams," (beaver) where we knew his traps had been placed, we passed through a small prairie surrounded by willows; before leaving it, two Indians intently gazing on the ground, were observed, evidently following our tracks. I immediately placed one of my guns between my knees, and shot the foremost of them with the other, dead on the spot. My companion fled, and the surviving Indian slowly brought his gun to his eye, as if to insure my fate; but in a twinkling, the empty gun dropped from my hand, and the other was at my eye. The amazed red skin sprang into a thicket and escaped. - At this moment a volley of diabolical yells burst upon my ears from the adjacent willows. I seized my empty gun and ran for life, expecting to experience something more fatal, though scarcely more appalling than the horrid sounds that saluted me at every step. Unharmed, however, I reached our former place of concealment, to the no small gratification of my companion, whom I believe, had hardly deigned to bestow on the Indians a single glance, from the moment I fired until he found himself safely and snugly in our favorite quarters. During my flight I saw many of them, both in the little plain where I shot one, and in pursuit of me, but I could form no correct idea of their sum total.
After dark all became quiet, and we sallied forth from our hiding place, passed over the plain four miles to a neighboring stream, and remained there until morning, when we returned to the scene of our misfortune, with a slight hope that Piero had escaped the knives of the savages, and might be awaiting our reappearance. But as we approached camp they were again seen, and we fled to the mountain unperceived by them, giving up all expectation of ever beholding our comrade. The Indians were encamped a short distance below, on the margin of the stream, and we were in constant danger of being discovered and butchered by them. At length, however, we set out for snake river, and reached it after two day's march, without accident; but being unprovided with horses, and meeting no game, we were four days without food. Good fortune on the fifth, put a fat cow in our possession, and we remained to recruit ourselves until the following day, when we set out for the Buttes at the forks of snake river, to find, if possible, a party who were trapping that stream in canoes. After an anxious search we could perceive no traces of them, and concluded to return back to the cow we killed the day previous, and wait for the arrival of the company at the forks, as patiently as possible.
During our progress we discovered, with surprise, the tracks of a white man, a close examination of which, showed that his feet were widely different from each other. It occurred to me at once, that Piero had a deformed foot which I recollected to resemble the print of the unnatural one here. The hope of finding the old man yet alive, burst forth anew, and impelled us forward with fresh vigor in the direction indicated by his footsteps, which we followed a distance of two miles, that seemed but a step, filled as we were with the pleasing anticipation of shortly relieving his miseries. With a joyful swelling of the heart, that it is absolutely impossible to express, and that can only be imagined by such as have felt the thrilling ecstacy inspired by circumstances similar, I perceived my old friend and companion, on the margin of the river, at the distance of about half a mile, and fired off my gun, the usual token of delightful recognition, to attract his attention; he turned toward us - extended his arms in a transport of glad surprise - and overpowered by exhaustion and the excitement of feelings it were impossible to control, sank fainting on the ground. We ran to him - raised him up - chafed his temples; he recovered - clasped us to his heart - tears flowed profusely down his aged cheeks, and utterance entirely failed him. Never had I before, never can I hope again, to experience such another moment of melting tenderness and joy. I could, I think, face death with heart and courage unappalled, not a drop would moisten my eye, and not a fiber tremble, but the scene I have vainly attempted to describe quite unmanned me, and our tears were mingled together. We supported him with us to our camp, tended him with affectionate care; for if there is in this world any circumstance, that can soften the heart, and awaken our affections to each other, it is a companionship in misfortune; but we could not deny him the gratification of eating until he had so much overcharged his stomach, as to make himself quite sick, from which he did not entirely recover in seven or eight days; during which time we killed seven buffalo, and fortunately fell in with a party of trappers, with whom we have since remained."
From Piero, whose real name is Jacques Fournoise, the former appellation having been given him by the Canadians, most of whom have nicknames, I received an account of his sufferings, which will, I hope, be a sufficient caution, to strangers particularly, who may hereafter visit the Rocky Mountains, never to leave, without their arms, their encampment or companions.
It appears that, on the morning before alluded to, he started for his traps with two beavers, both very large, on his way back to camp; and observed as he was about leaving the willows, a number of buffalo robes scattered about on the prairie. The startling Ruth flashed on his mind, like an electric shock; he regretted deeply his imprudence in venturing from camp without his gun, which left him now without the means of defence, or subsistence, and dared not attempt to reach it, where, in all probability, his comrades already were shipped, scalped, and covered with wounds - dead. He heard the sanguinary yells of the savages re-echoed back from the neighboring hills and mountains, and was induced, by his own peril, to seek concealment, which he finally effected in a dense cluster of willows. He heard the footsteps of his foes passing and repassing frequently during the day, but in the evening all was silent and he left his shelter to revisit camp. Arriving there, comrades, horses, baggage, all had disappeared, and he remained alone, unarmed, a wanderer in the barren plains of Henry's Fork, with misery, starvation, death, and such a death pictured to his imagination in their most gloomy colors. With such a vivid prospect of despair, he carried his beaver some distance up the stream, split the meat for drying, and remained in cheerless solitude during the night.
On the following morning early, he revisited his traps and found in them two beaver, with which and two of his traps, he returned; by the aid of the latter he hoped so to increase his store of provisions, as to render more remote the danger of perishing with hunger, and enable him, if possible, to await the arrival of the company at the Forks, where they were expected to be by the first of November. The reason that he did not meet with the Indians upon the night and morning that he visited the place of encampment was because he did not, in the first instance, leave his place of concealment until it was quite dark, and in the second, he went and returned before they were stirring.
He moved into the mountains several miles, when he dried his meat, and then sallied forth again into the plain, crossed Henry's fork, and proceeded with the intention of hunting beaver on a small branch. At length he found a dam, and leaving his meat, traps, etc., went across to examine it, but reached the opposite side just in time to discover himself to two parties of the copper-faced rascals, who were situated both above and below him, and who sprang up in chase as soon as they saw him. His fate for a moment seemed inevitable, but the energy of despair lent vigor to his aged frame, and activity to his feeble limbs, and with an agility that would have done credit to his youth, he ran across the bottom, several acres in extent, only covered with here and there a few scattering willows, in the hope of finding a dense thicket; when he reached the border of the plain, and heard the footsteps of the Indians fast approaching, death appeared inevitable. The child of luxury would unquestionably have sank under the weight of opposing circumstances, and making no further effort to prolong a life equally dear, have fallen an easy victim to savage atrocity; but the hard buffetings of a mountain life had familiarized the old veteran to danger, and impressed it on his mind as a duty, never to yield to adversity, while a shadow of hope remained; and to scan, even in the most critical moment, the chances of success: his experience was even here not unavailing; he sprang into a cluster of willows, and crouched with deliberate caution, at the very moment the Indians passed him, pulling and tearing the branches asunder in every direction. Some of them at the same time, commenced making forts or lodges but a few feet from the spot where he was concealed; and at every moment he expected part of the branches that surrounded him, would be cut away for that object, and thereby expose him. It was still morning, and he studied to calm his agitation, and meet a doom he had reason to think unavoidable, with manly fortitude.
In the meantime the search continued with such unabated ardor, that he
believed every bunch of bushes on the whole bottom, underwent an examination,
except in the single instance that afforded him protection. Towards noon some
of them commenced playing roulette, close under him, against the willows; others
seated themselves around, and in one instance he felt the body of an Indian
touching his own. His heart beat so violently that he fancied they must hear
it, and would soon send him to eternity. Shortly one of them sprang up, seized
a tin vessel, struck it thrice on the bottom, and started towards him. He now
thought the Indian had discovered him while sitting by the bushes; but wished to
make it appear to his comrades, as if magically effected, by virtue of the
kettle. At this trying moment, his soul rose superior to his condition, and he
had the presence of mind to consider that they might torture him if taken alive,
and the firmness to prefer present death to prospective hours of agony; he
grasped his knife, and determined to spring upon the first who approached him.
The Indian, however, passed him, examined several other clusters near, but shortly returned and again seated himself near his former position, and commenced crying, in the manner of those people, at the death of a friend. The day passed slowly away, the hours to him were attenuated to many times their usual length, and he almost imagined night would never approach.
And slowly night advanced; but it came at last, and the bloodhounds retired to slumber. A spark of hope rekindled in his bosom a new energy. He carefully removed the branches to make his escape from that tedium of terror, but as he was about to step forth from the thicket, the Chief hurried out of the fort, and harangued his people for some time; at length he reentered his lodge, and in a short time all became quiet. Our hero seized the opportunity, cut the willows until he was able to extricate himself without noise, and then carefully crawled out into the prairie; his legs had been cramped up all day and now refused to perform their usual office. With extreme difficulty he succeeded in dragging himself on his hands and knees some distance and after rubbing his limbs considerable time, to restore and accelerate the circulation of the vital fluids, he was enabled to resume an erect position, and walk off as fast as his years would permit.
During this painful midnight march, a large grizzly bear reared up on his hinder legs but few feet distant. - At any other time he says he should have been alarmed to meet so dangerous an enemy, but his feelings had been so lacerated by constant peril, that no new danger could appall him. With more of forbearance or pity, than his human foes had exhibited, the bear turned and retired, without adding brutal molestation to man-created misery; and Piero quietly pursued his way to the forks of Snake River, where he wandered about for some time in search of roots and buds to support his existence.
Fearing at last that the company would not come to Snake River, he resolved to retrace his steps, and endeavor to find some of his traps. During the chill frosty nights, having no bedding, he cut up and covered himself with grass, his only means of shelter.
Finally, on his way back he was discovered, as we have before related,
having eaten nothing for six days, save a very few roots and buds. His
companions, judging from his emaciated condition when found, think that a few
more days would have sufficed to close his earthly career. So wretched and
hopeless was he, that when he heard the joy inspiring report of a rifle, and
turned and saw friends, comrades, approaching him, the revulsion of feeling from
despair to the fulness of hope, was too much for feeble nature to sustain, and
with a single gesture of gratitude, and one wild loud throb of exultation, he
fainted. With the same sensation, described by that master spirit, Byron, he
must have thought, when he came to, and found himself in the arms of his
Yes, his sorrows were past, his woes forgotten, and for once he gave himself up to the luxury of gratitude and joy. The soul of the mountaineer was subdued, the warm tears coursed each other down his aged cheek; his limbs trembled with the vibration of ecstacy, he could not stand, and they all sat and wept and laughed together.
There were at the Forks three other small parties, who had been compelled to leave their traps and fly for safety, from the Indians. However they have since returned and collected them all, save forty, that probably fell into the hands of the savages. On the 2d of November Mr. Dripps arrived with the company, having been quite fortunate during the fall, and caught many beaver, losing neither men nor horses. He had seen no Indians, with the exception of a party of Snakes, and had received information from some source, not recollected, that a detachment of Bonnyville's company were attacked by the Crows on the head of the Yellow Stone river, and lost several horses, laden with merchandize, having also two men badly wounded. Likewise that Mr. Cerre, a gentleman of that party, had departed down the Big-horn in bull-hide boats, with the peltries thus far collected by them, destined for St. Louis. We heard, in addition, that the Crows had discovered a cache belonging to the same company, and robbed it; however, they must have been seen while constructing it, or it could not have been properly closed; for a well made cache is in no more danger of being discovered in these plains, than is any substance surrounded by the fibrous effects of organic nature. We were also told that Mr. Thomas Fitzpatrick at the head of a detachment of the R. M. F. Co., had their horses nearly all stolen by the Crows; which, however, they afterwards recovered; and report adds, that two of his men were killed. Capt. Walker was seen on Snake River, some distance below. His men had lost some traps taken by the Rootdiggers, and had killed one of them in return. The Crows have openly declared war against all hunting parties found trespassing on their territory. A party of trappers, detached from the R.M.F. Co., are also on Snake river; one of them, named Small, was killed by the accidental discharge of a gun some time since.
Trading houses have been established at the mouth of the Maria, and also at the mouth of the Big-horn by the American Fur Company; who likewise intend to erect one at the three forks of the Missouri, for trading with the Blood Indians. From the Indian signs we saw at the deer house, when with the Flat Heads, I concluded that this fort was already constructed - judging by the bits of blankets, cloth, etc., and other emblems of commerce observed there. From Mr. Fontenelle, and some others, no intelligence has been received since they left rendezvous.
On the second day after the arrival of Mr. Dripps, we selected a good encampment, affording wood, water, and grass in abundance, situated on Pierre's Fork, near the mouth, and removed to it. In a few days Mr. Pillet prepared to set off on his return to the Flat Heads; and having received some encouragement, I concluded to go with him: accordingly we started on the 12th; our little party was composed of some seven or eight white men and five or six Indians. Not a few of our friends, deeming our journey, in such small numbers, extremely perilous, expressed an opinion that we would be massacred by the numerous parties of Blackfeet, who ever haunt the country, through which we would have to pass, at this season of the year. However we were not dismayed, and marched over the hills, mountains, and plains with all possible dispatch, i.e., as fast as our fatigued and feeble animals were able to proceed, and reached the Flat Heads on the evening of the 27th, at Bitter Root river Forks. We followed the same route Newell and myself had pursued the previous summer, and which is indeed the nearest and best. With the single exception of cold winds, we were favored with pleasant good weather during our journey. But the nights were exceedingly cold, and our blankets and robes absolutely necessary. We found buffalo numerous the whole distance from Dripp's camp to the Big Hole, and we therefore lived well.
On the north side of the mountain we crossed, there was already one foot of snow, but the plains were yet entirely free. We saw several encampments made by the Flat Heads, since I left them; in one of these we saw a living colt with one thigh broken by a ball. At the mouth of the defile, (from the Big Hole to the Bitter Root,) we found several hundred lodge poles, left by them before attempting to pass over the mountains. One of them, painted red and black, was planted erect in the ground, and was probably intended to be emblematic of defiance to the Blackfeet. We caught on the mountain a fine horse, that had been lost by the Indians, and took him on with us.
On the east side of Bitter Root river, there is a singular curiosity, that I had not before observed, because it is situated under some rocky bluffs, almost impassable to horsemen, the proper road being on the west side of the river: it is the horn of an animal, called by hunters, the "Big-horn," but denominated by naturalists "Rocky Mountain Sheep;" of a very large size, of which two-thirds of its length from the upper end, is entombed in the body of a pine tree, so perfectly solid and firmly, that a heavy blow of an axe did not start it from its place. - The tree is unusually large and flourishing, and the horn in it some seven feet above the ground. It appears to be very ancient, and is gradually decomposing on the outside, which has assumed a reddish cast. The date of its existence has been lost in the lapse of ages, and even tradition is silent as to the origin of its remarkable situation. The oldest of Indians can give no other account of it, than that it was there precisely as at present, before their father's great grandfathers were born. They seldom pass it without leaving some trifling offering, as beads, shells, or other ornaments - tokens of their superstitious veneration for it. As high as they can reach, the bark of the tree is decorated with their trifles.
We met with a few Indians before reaching the Forks, who were hunting deer a short distance below the Sheep horn; and some of them accompanied us to the village, when we found Mr. Ermatinger and most of the Flat heads. His men, with the Pen-d'orilles, had departed towards the Flat-head post, and he had remained behind, for the purpose of seeing us, having been informed of our approach, by an express despatched by Pillet, a day in advance of us. From him we learned that a young man had been killed near the Big Hole, since we left the villages, by the Blackfeet, and that the Indians had lost several little bands of horses; most of the young warriors being now in pursuit of the robbers.
On the 29th we again set out, in company with that gentleman, and passed northward through this valley and a narrow defile that led us out into a very small plain on the mountain, or rather in it, called Little Cammas Prairie, having made about fifteen miles. Mr. Ermatinger and myself departed on the succeeding morning, to overtake his men with the Pen-d'orilles. We descended the mountain into a fine valley called Cammas Prairie, watered by a beautiful, well timbered stream flowing northward; passed through it, and thence along a narrow defile where the river is confined on both sides by hills rising, though not perpendicularly, from the water's edge many hundred feet, and at length overtook the company who were in the act of encamping when we came up, having rode not less than twenty miles. The same evening Pillet arrived, and halted with us, and about the same hour an express came in from horse plains, with information to Mr. E. that some of his trappers had arrived there. Shortly after dark two Indians reached us from the Flat-head village, bearing a scalp, and informed us that the party who went in pursuit of the horse thieves, had returned with twenty-six of the stolen horses, and two trophies from the heads of their enemies.
December first, we proceeded again on our journey, and found ourselves after a march of twelve miles, on the margin of a large clear river, ornamented with scattered pines on its borders, called the Flatt-head river.
On the 2d we succeeded, after considerable difficulty, in fording it, still deep and rapid, even at its lowest stage, and left it, passing through a large prairie, and finally halted at the entrance of a mountain pass, having marched about fifteen miles.
On the succeeding day we continued our toilsome progress over a low pine covered mountain, from the summit of which we descended into a large river valley, called Horse plains, watered by the Flatt-head river, which here joins with the Bitterroot. On the margin of the former, we found a party of young half-breeds, who had returned from their fall hunt, and brought in their furs for delivery to Mr. Ermatinger. These men are supplied with goods on this, the west side of the mountains, by the traders here, much cheaper than the Americans can afford them on our side; and consequently they are better clad, though, for want of buffalo, they do not fare as well as our hunters. There was likewise quite a village of Indians collected here, who never go for buffalo, nor do they in many cases possess horses to go with, even if they felt inclined to do so. Most of the families, have light canoes, with which they glide about on the river, and gather roots and berries, in their proper season; but in the winter they separate into small parties, and not unfrequently, into single families, who then seek the mountains, and pass that inclement season there, with little knowledge of or communication with each other. - They assemble here, at certain seasons to exchange with the traders their skins for such articles as they may chance to want, or be rich enough to buy.
There was a cabin once erected in this valley, for the purpose of trade, but it was shortly afterwards consumed by fire. These Indians were anxious to trade for dried buffalo meat, and I think in many instances succeeded in exchanging some of their fish and roots, for more substantial viands. I had the pleasure of tasting some vegetables that had been conveyed here in two large open boats or barges, with goods from an establishment seven or eight days' journey below, called "Colville," at the Kettle falls.
When we arrived in this valley the danger was declared over, and our horses permitted to run loose night and day; however, a few nights after, thirty of them were stolen. Mr. Ermatinger lost eight or ten, and the others were the property of the Indians. Mine, as good fortune would have it, were not among the number missing.
On the 13th of December Mr. Ermatinger, having completed his arrangements, and stowed his furs into the barges, which were manned by his men, who were, I perceived, quite "at home" in them, set out with his companion, Pillet, for Colville. In the mean time a general breaking up of camp took place. In a few moments the lodges disappeared, and the bosom of the river was studded with bark canoes conveying whole families and their baggage down the stream with surprising velocity. I was greatly deceived in their canoes, for the squaws would lift them from the water on to the bank, and again set them into it, with such ease that I imagined they must be quite insufficient to the transportation of any heavy burden. Some of them, however, appeared loaded until there was no longer room for any thing more, and still floated securely. They were managed by the squaws, who, with paddles, direct their course with great steadiness, astonishing rapidity, and apparent ease and dexterity. Parties on horseback, at the same time set off in various directions, and finally I departed, with the family of a trader, to pass the winter in the Cotenas mountains. We travelled this day over a low spur, or point of mountain, east of Horse Plains, and halted in the pines on the margin of a small stream, that flows into the plains. After a day or two, we passed into a small, though open valley, watered by a stream flowing westward, called Thompson's river, in honor of a gentleman formerly in the Hudson's Bay Co.'s service. We had several days fine weather, when Heaven seemed to be literally "smiling over us," and much enjoyed it.
At length, on the 20th, two "Canadian Voyagers" came to us from the Flatt-head post, where they had been in quest of some articles of commerce. They remained with us a part of the day, and set out for their place of destination. Two Pen-d'orielles Indians came and engaged to hunt for us; but one of them left us several days after, promising to return again soon.
In the mean time Mr. Montour and myself, set about constructing a log cabin, rather because we had nothing else to do, than from any necessity, as his lodge was uncommonly large, and quite comfortable. Christmas was passed agreeably with the family of mine host, and we were rather more sumptuously entertained than on ordinary occasions. Our "bill of fare" consisted of buffalo tongues, dry buffalo meat, fresh venison, wheat flour cakes, buffalo marrow, (for butter,) sugar, coffee, and rum, with which we drank a variety of appropriate toasts, suited to the occasion, and our enlarged and elevated sentiments, respecting universal benevolence and prosperity, while our hearts were warmed, our prejudices banished, and our affections refined, by the enlivening contents of the flowing bowl. Our bosoms glowed with the kindling emotions, peculiar to the occasion. - Remote from our kind, and the thralling, contracted opinions which communication with a cheating world are apt to engender, when our stomachs were filled with substantial viands and our souls with contentment, we were at peace with all mankind and with ourselves, and had both time and opportunity to expatiate largely on honesty, charity, and philanthropy; which we did till our goblets (tin cups) were drained of their inspiring contents, and night summoned us to repose. Do not imagine, reader, that as we slept off the effects of our conviviality, we also slumbered away these enlarged and liberal views of ethics, honor, and integrity. No! With a praise worthy propriety, they continued to increase and multiply, until the next favorable opportunity offered for taking advantage of the ignorance and necessity of the Indians, in honorable barter; when, having occasion for them, they could no where be found, but had vanished, and like "the baseless fabric of a vision, left not a wreck behind." Sublime and intellectual as were these enlightened principles of morality, how vastly to be deplored is the fact that they are not more generally and permanently entertained. Alas! for poor human nature! Truth is too abstract and difficult to be comprehended - Justice too holy and intricate to practice - Honor too lofty and profound to be governed by - and all too obsolete and unfashionable to direct - in the vulgar concerns of trade. The most upright principles, the most equitable regulations, the most honorable expedients, all, all retire from their formidable enemy - selfishness; and intrigue is but another name for frailty, when opposed to the potential influence of interest. Such, at least, I have found the world though there are doubtless many, and I have met with some most honorable exceptions.
On the last of December, our remaining Indian hunters left us, promising to come back again in a few days, however, they never returned, - and the day passed as usual.
So ends the year 1833, but let it pass in silence to oblivion, with the thousands that have gone before, and must hereafter follow it. Its hopes, its fears, its expectations, can no longer excite or agitate; its perils, and privations, are already half forgotten; and even the severe disappointments it produced, have entirely lost the ability to disturb. Well! with all its imperfections on its head, let it descend to the dark void of by-gone eternity, and we, older if not wiser, will again look forward with eager curiosity, to the events which yet slumber in the bosom of another; with wishes that will probably prove to be vain, with hopes that may be destined to experience disappointment, and with expectations that are doubtless doomed to be blasted; but which are all, notwithstanding their frailty and uncertainty, cherished with fondness, perhaps with folly.
The new year was ushered in with feasting and merriment, on dried buffalo meat, and venison, cakes and coffee; which might appear to people constantly accustomed to better fare, rather meagre variety for a dinner, not to say a feast. But to us who have constantly in mind the absolute impossibility of procuring better, and the no less positive certainty, that we are often compelled to be satisfied with worse, - the repast was both agreeable and excellent; for think not, that we enjoy, daily, the same luscious luxuries of cake and coffee, that announces the advent of 1834; by no means. Our common meals consist of a piece of boiled venison, with a single addition of a piece of fat from the shoulder of the buffalo; except on Sundays, when we have in addition a kind of French dumpling, made of minced meat, rolled into little balls enveloped with dough, and fried in the marrow of buffalo; which is both rich and pleasant to the taste.
Our house was now advanced to putting on the roof, for which we had cut a sufficient number of poles, intending, when properly placed, to cover them with grass, and finally with a coat of earth, sufficient to exclude rain or melting snow, in the spring.
On the 13th of January snow commenced falling on the hitherto uncovered earth, and continued without intermission for five days and nights; when the storm suddenly abated; and we enjoyed fair sunny weather, every day, during the remainder of the month.
In the mean time we had finished and moved into our house, which was rendered extremely warm and comfortable, by having the seams filled with clay, a chimney composed of sticks and mud, windows covered with thin transparent, undressed skins, which admitted sufficient light, and yet excluded the rain and snow; and a floor constructed of hewn slabs. After the building was completed, and the whole family snugly housed in it, the son of Mr. Montour, a young man of about nineteen, and myself employed ourselves in hunting deer on snow shoes; but in consequence of our not having rifles, our sport was quite limited.
We each possessed a fusil brought to this country expressly for the Indian trade, a light kind of gun which is used only by the hunters on our side of the mountains for running buffalo. However, my companion appeared quite expert with his weapon, and made several very good shots with it. During these rambles we sometimes saw an animal resembling an otter, in size, shape and color, called a pekan or fisher; but for want of a dog to tree them, did not shoot any. We killed several martins, and saw the traces of a large animal of the cat kind, supposed to be a lynx.
At length, my companion and myself, having become tired of hunting, concluded to go to the Flatt-head house, where we knew several families of Indians were wintering, and engage one or two, to come and hunt for us. - We started on the last day of January, passed down Thompson's river about ten miles, and encamped on its margin, in good time to clear away the snow several places in extent, prepare for a bed the branches of the balsam-fir, which we cut from the trees that abound here; and last, though not least, to kindle a fire and heap on the wood in plenty, which we did, and made, what would be called at home, a rousing one. In the evening we dried our moccasins, ate some dried meat, and finally threw ourselves down to sleep, covered by our two blankets; and as the night was pleasant we rested well, warm and comfortable.
Quite refreshed, we rose early next morning, and continued our journey. We went down the river several miles farther, killed a deer and encamped near it, in consequence of a severe storm of rain which commenced in the forenoon and continued all day. We however went out, killed another deer, and trailed it along the snow, with a great deal of difficulty and fatigue, to camp. After reaching it, we constructed a shelter of fir branches, aware that it would not exclude the rain, but in hopes that it would change to snowing. Placing again, a quantity of branches on the ground, we lay down upon them "to sleep, perchance to dream," both of which paid us visits, but neither of them remained long.
Next morning, February 2d, we rose, as the "Velchman" said to his "Vife," "vell vet," being literally drenched to the skin. The rain was still falling very fast but the air was warm, and the snow rapidly diminishing. We had some trouble to kindle a fire, every thing being wet. However, with some splinters of pine full of pitch we finally succeeded, and had soon a good fire. By it we dried our clothes, and then set out in quest of game, although it was still raining. I passed down the river some distance, and fired several shots without effect, but my gun soon became so wet that I could no longer get it off, though I had several opportunities, and was obliged to return to camp. My companion had the same ill luck, and was already there. We each saw the bones of several deer that had been caught and devoured by wolves. The wind was blowing from the south, and the rain still falling, when we again lay down for the night; not as people do in some parts of the world, dry, warm, with plenty of bedding, and a shelter from the storm; but wet to the skin, exposed to the pelting rain on a February night, in a latitude of about fifty degrees north; our only covering a couple of blankets, that would scarcely, if immersed in a fountain of water, have robbed it of a drop, and our bed the bosom of our dear mother earth, only overspread with a few wet branches, where we lay, and a fine coat of melting snow where we did not. The little cool rivulets, trickling down every part of us, and gliding along the skin on our backs, prevented sleep from injuring our delicate faculties, and kept us fully awake to the very romantic situation in which we were placed. However, the air was not very cold, and we rose rather early, if I remember right, for this fact was not recorded in the diary I kept while in the mountains, kindled a fire, and partially dried our clothing. We cooked a shoulder of venison and ate it for breakfast, and then, considerably refreshed, set out again in quest of game. I succeeded in killing a young buck, but my gun soon became wet and useless and I set out for camp, dragging the body of my deer along on the snow. On the way my companion joined me, and having been unsuccessful, assisted me with it to camp. In the evening, we came to the conclusion to abandon, for the present, our design of going to the Flatt-head house, because the snow had become so soft that it was almost impossible to get along with snow shoes; and quite so without them. We resolved to go back, and get horses to convey our present supply of provisions to the house. After dark we again lay down on a bed that could not be mistaken for one of down, and in a plight that will not, I presume, excite envy in any one, being precisely similar to our condition on the preceding evening, as it yet rained steadily, though slowly. Do not flatter yourself, reader, that we slept any, though we had been without for the last forty-eight hours; that was a luxury only contemplated in our extremely interesting situation; our enjoyments were entirely intellectual, and we could not abandon the pleasures of reflection even for a season, to waste our precious time in sleep.
The night, though lengthened to a degree that we would not have conceived possible, at last approached to a close.
We kindled a fire, prepared a scaffold to secure our meat from the wolves, placed a handkerchief as a flag above it, to frighten away the ravens and magpies, which are always numerous in this country, slung our blankets, and started for the house. The snow was now reduced to the depth of a foot, but very soft and saturated with water, so that we sank through almost to the ground at every step, even with our rackets on. However, we reached the house after dark, wet through, and nearly exhausted by fatigue; changed our apparel, and having ate a hearty supper, retired to enjoy a good nights rest in our beds. Oh! the luxury of such repose! after having been exposed to a storm of rain, for three whole weary days, and two sleepless nights. None can appreciate it, who have not experienced similar hardships.
It rained all night, but abated at the dawn of day, when
and the mellow rays of the sun again illumined nature with their cheerful splendor.
On the morning of the sixth we mounted two of our horses, and set out for our late encampment, where we had enjoyed so many hours of nocturnal contemplation. - The day was one of the finest imaginable, clear and warm, and every object tinted with the rich lustre of the radiant sun. Late in the afternoon we reached our venison, which remained as we had left it, untouched by beasts or birds. During our progress we had seen several deer, but could not get a shot at them. We kindled a fire and prepared a shoulder of venison for supper; but had no water, and being some distance from the river, could not get any without descending a steep rocky bluff, at the imminent hazard of our lives. We tasked our ingenuity to devise an expedient, and succeeded. Taking the digestive ventricle of a deer, which had previously been cleaned for food, we filled it with snow, and then putting in heated stones, continued the operation until we were at length the lawful proprietors of a whole gallon of water; which auspicious event, was duly celebrated by proper rejoicings.
Having finished these important arrangements, eaten supper, and participated in the refreshing beverage so ingeniously procured; we laid down on the precise spot where we had spent three previous nights, and enjoyed an undisturbed repose.
On the day following we returned to the house, with another deer which we had the good fortune to kill by the way. The weather continued pleasant for some time forward, and on the tenth, two Indian boys came to us from a lake, two or three day's walk to the eastward; where the half-breeds we saw in the Horse Plains, were passing the winter. A child of one of them was burnt to death accidentally, by its clothes, which were of cotton, taking fire. In that quarter there had been as much snow, as in our vicinity. Next day the boys continued on, in quest of some relations at the Flatt-head house. - We told them to send up here one or two Indians to hunt for us, and they should be well rewarded. We waited until the 17th for the arrival of some, but none came, and I finally resolved to go down and engage one or two myself. Taking my gun, blankets, a pair of extra moccasins, flint and steel, a hatchet, and my snow shoes, I passed down the river about twelve miles, where I found a comfortable bush cabin, and halted for the night.
In the morning the weather was pleasant, and I started down the serpentine course of the stream, hemmed in, on either side, by an indefinite number of high rocky bluffs, or points, with sides almost perpendicular, jutting into the river; on which, I was frequently compelled to climb, at the hazard of my neck. Had I followed a guide, no doubt much fatigue, danger and distance, would have been avoided, but ignorant as I was of the proper route, I was compelled to follow the tortuous course of the river; often to retrace my steps, and seek a more practicable passage, from some abrupt precipice, or perpendicular descent; till at length, quite overcome by fatigue, I sought refuge from the storm - which recommenced, soon after I started in the morning - in a cavern, which extended far beneath an immense rock, and afforded a comfortable shelter. When I halted here it was quite dark, and I was wet and benumbed with cold; however, I gathered a quantity of fuel, and succeeded, after considerable difficulty, owing to the wet condition of every thing I procured, in making a fire, the cheerful blaze of which, illuminated the interior of the cave, and enabled me to discover an excellent spring, a few paces in the interior, precluding thus the necessity of climbing down the steep bank of the river, fifteen or twenty feet to the water's edge, and exposing myself to the risk of falling in, of which there would be great danger. During the day, I had no opportunity to kill any game, nor did I see any signs of deer.
Fasting, and unrefreshed, I set out early on the morning of the 19th, scarcely able to see, in consequence of the snow, which was falling with almost blinding rapidity. I had, however, made but a short distance, when I discovered the traces of two Indians; and proceeding but a little way further, found two squaws in the act of butchering a deer. By signs, they informed me that I would find several Indians a short distance below. - I continued on, till I found about fifteen men and boys, warming themselves by a fire of large dimensions. - They were from the Flatt-head house three days since, and came here to hunt; they directed me to follow a small trail, which they pointed out in the snow, and that I would find a house. I traced along the path about half a mile, and came to a large bush cabin.
In the evening the Indians all returned, having had pretty good success in their hunt; and we slept in a circle not more than ten feet in diameter, with a fire in the centre; though there were seventeen souls in all, not estimating in this number two dogs, as their having souls is yet a matter of dispute with metaphysicians. They, however, considered themselves as of us, by insisting on places in the circle; which, notwithstanding sundry kicks, cuffs, and other dogmatical demonstrations of hostility, they retained during the whole night.
In the morning following we started for the house, passed out into the plain, at the mouth of Thompson's river, several miles in extent, and occasionally intersected by woodland. Our party was divided in this place; two of them I despatched to the house of Mr. Montour; and, with the exception of two others who accompanied me, the remainder departed down the river. Under the direction of my guides, I passed across the plain several miles, to the Flatt-head house, situated on the river bearing the same name. This establishment formerly consisted of seven hewn log buildings; but all are now going to decay, except the one inhabited by the Indians who accompanied me. They supply themselves with firewood, at the expense of the other buildings. They are entrusted with the secret of a cache, made in one of those decayed houses, containing the goods which yet remain of Mr. Ermatinger's stock last fall. He would be there shortly, they informed me, on his way to the plains. During my stay at the fort, the Indians went out daily to hunt, and seldom returned unsuccessful.
On the 24th, an Indian by the name of Pillet (so called after the Trader) came and invited me to go and sup at his camp, which he assured me, was not far distant; I gave a ready consent, as he would be greatly obliged by my compliance, and I would not wound the feelings of a Pen-d'orielle by a refusal, if it could conveniently be avoided. We passed down the river some distance, crossed it on the ice, and continued over hills and hollows, through a grove of pines, about four miles, to his lodge; which was situated on the margin of a small stream in the mountain, and was constructed of weeds. Though it appeared better calculated to exclude the warm rays of the sun, than to keep out the cold; a cheerful fire within counterbalanced the evil; and I was seated opposite to a good natured squaw, and two or three children. My considerate host set before me a vessel, filled with the choicest morsels of deer and lynx, both fat and tender, of which I partook freely. The flesh of the latter is far superior to the meat of the deer; and is the best I ever tasted, except that of the female bison. After finishing my repast, I ascertained that he had passed the winter thus far here, with his family, quite remote from any of his people; that he had killed, during his stay here, forty-six deer, two lynxes, two pekans, three martins, one beaver, one otter, and several muskrats. He appeared quite intelligent and devout, prayed for his family before eating; and so pleased me, by his courteous yet dignified conduct, and amiable disposition, that I concluded to remain at his lodge, until the arrival of the trader. Time passed agreeably here, and I made considerable progress in acquiring the Flatthead language; in which my kind entertainer seemed delighted to instruct me.
On the first of April, Pillet departed for the Cotena trading house, in company with the three men from that place; and on the same day, a half-breed arrived, with information, that his friends would be here in a day or two from the Flatt-head lake.
On the eleventh an Indian reached us in advance of a party coming on from Bitter-root river; he said that three Flatt heads had been killed in that quarter, by the Black feet. The Indian, Pillet; whom the reader will recollect as my kind entertainer a few days since, came here on the twelfth, to receive a present I had promised him in return for his hospitality. He informed me with sorrow, that "Tloght" had been severely wounded in a contest with a lynx, and that he was much afraid he could never recover. I felt really grieved for him, knowing the value of the friend he was likely to lose; but lest the reader should feel an emotion of regret that he might afterwards think misplaced, I hasten to inform him that Tloght, the poor wounded Tloght, was of the canine species. Yes, reader! he was, though one of the noblest of his kind, only - a dog - a large powerful black hound, exceedingly swift, and well trained to hunting. He has often caught and killed deer of the largest kind, unaided; he was also fond of hunting lynx, and animals, very strong and fierce; and indeed, I have been more than once indebted to the courage and agility of Tloght, for a most delicious meal of the flesh of this animal. On one occasion, when Pillet was hunting with his faithful dog; the latter treed a lynx - which the Indian killed, - and there found in the snow beneath the tree, no less than three fine deer, which the lynx had killed, and buried there; all of which, through the sagacity of his dog, became a prize to the hunter. The name - Tloght - which was borne by this fine animal, signifies Fleetest; and is but a literal expression of his speed. Pillet, was a poor Pen-d'orielle, whose sole reliance for the support of his family and himself, was on his dog, and his own exertions. He had no horses, his other dog was quite inferior, and Tloght was the most valuable of his possessions. It will not then be wondered, that the story of this misfortune to the gallant Tloght, should have been the first intelligence communicated to me by the simple savage; or that he should dwell with a melancholy eloquence, on his virtues, and abilities, and deplore his calamity. I sympathised with him, and made him a present of an axe and a kettle, for which he expressed his thanks in terms of warmest gratitude; and we parted, mutually pleased with the interview. I never saw him again.
On the thirteenth I left Flatt head post in a barge loaded with about a ton of merchandise, for the Horse plain, and manned by four stout Canadians; who propelled it with poles where the water was shallow, but when its depth would not admit of this mode of locomotion, recourse was had to paddles. We halted at sundown, opposite to a rock called "Le Gros Rocker". By noon on the following day, we reached House Prairie and encamped with a few lodges of Indians, who were awaiting the arrival of Mr. Ermatinger. In the afternoon, a Canadian reached us from Bitter Root river; he informed me that my fellow trader of last summer, was now with the Flatt heads. Mr. Ermatinger came up in the evening by land, with a quantity of goods upon pack horses. From this period until the twenty-third; Mr. Montour and myself, having purchased an equipment from the Hudson Bay Company; were employed in arranging bales, purchasing provisions, and making preparations for our departure to the Flatt-heads. We crossed over a point of the mountain, - around which the river winds, making a large curve in its course; - to the opposite side of the bend, following the same route, on which we had passed in December last; which we reached on the evening of the twenty-third. Leaving the Flatt-heads, we ascended a small branch, called Wild Horse Creek, to Cammas prairie; crossed over the mountain, and halted on the Arrowstone river, on the twenty- ninth. During our journey, we saw wild horses gallopping in bands over the plains, almost daily; several of which, were caught by our Indians and domesticated, with but little trouble. They pursued them, on very fleet horses until sufficiently near to "leash" them; when thus captured, they exert all their remaining force in fruitless endeavors to escape; and finally become gentle from exhaustion. In this situation they are bridled, mounted, and then, whipped to action. Other horses are usually rode before, that they may be induced to follow. If then they move forward gently, they are caressed by the rider; but on the contrary, most cruelly beaten if they refuse to proceed, or act otherwise unruly; a few day's practice seldom fails to render them quite docile and obedient. The process of catching wild horses, by throwing a noose over the head, is here called "leashing," and all Indians in the mountains, as well as those who rove in the plains east of them, are quite expert at it; although in this respect, far behind the inhabitants of New Mexico, who not only catch wild horses, cattle, buffalo, and bears; but even leash them by the feet, when at full speed, so as to render them quite incapable of moving. However, two experienced "leashers" are requisite to the complete capture of a large bull bison, or a full grown grizzly bear, and in both cases the feat is attended with considerable danger.
On our arrival at the Arrow stone river, we found it too high for fording, and immediately commenced making rafts. In the meantime, the squaws sewed up all torn places or holes in their lodges, then conveyed them, and their baggage, to the brink of the stream. The lodges were next spread on the ground and folded once in the middle, the baggage of several families were then placed on one, taking care to put the heaviest articles at the bottom; the lodge was then firmly drawn from every side together at the top, and there strongly fastened by a thong, or rope, so that the whole appeared like a large ball four or five feet in diameter. About half way up the side two long cords or "leashes" (such as they use in catching horses,) were attached, and the ball then launched into the water, which buoyed it up like an egg-shell; several squaws and children then embarked upon it, and secured themselves from falling, by clinging to the cord which held it at the top. After all these arrangements were completed, two naked mounted Indians, seized the long cords between their teeth, and pushed out into the river; making their horses swim and carry them and tow one of their families and baggage at the same time. When I observed them start, I was fearful that the ball would upset and endanger the lives of the women and children; but was agreeably disappointed seeing them turning and returning, as the cords slackened or strained on it, horizontally; until it reached the opposite shore in safety. The river appeared in a few moments literally covered with these balls, all in the same manner constructed; all surmounted by women and children, and each towed over by two Indians on horseback. In short, they all crossed without accident, and transported our baggage over at our request, we having found our rafts quite insufficient. Ermatinger and myself, however, with several of his men, passed over on a raft; but the velocity of the current carried us down a considerable distance with fury, and it was for some time doubtful, where we should be able to effect a landing, but we finally passed so near a point of willows, which overhung the river, that we succeeded in arresting our rapid course by clinging to them, and got to shore, a mile below the landing place of the Indians, at which we all encamped.
On the thirtieth, Mr. Ermatinger and myself, having learned that a party of Flatt-heads were encamped on Bitter-root river some distance above the mouth, set off in a gallop to see them. We arrived about noon, and had hardly gone through the tedious ceremony of shaking hands with them, before a large party arrived from Buffalo, with my old comrade Newell and several "engages" in company. From him, I ascertained that Dripps had received last fall an express from Fontenelle; stating that two of his men had been killed during the fall hunt, supposed by the Blackfeet, that Dripps had passed the winter at the forks, where I left him last November, found buffalo as numerous as during the preceding winter, and had met with no accidents. Late in the afternoon our party arrived, and we all concluded to remain here some time to recruit our horses.
In the evening of the third of May, while a party of the Indians were amusing themselves at a war dance, one of them, a spectator, carelessly resting his chin on the muzzle of his gun, was instantly killed by the unexpected discharge of its contents into his brain. The gun was probably, accidentally exploded by the foot or knee of some person passing in the crowd. On the day following, the corpse was carefully dressed with a clean shirt, and blanket, then enveloped from head to foot, like an Egyptian Mummy, with robes and skins, well lashed around him, and finally committed to the silent keeping of the grave.
At length, our horses having become in good travelling condition, Mr. Montour and myself determined to set out in search of Americans, with whom we had resolved to trade; and started accordingly, on the tenth. Our party was composed of Mr. Montour, his son, two "engages," two Nez-perces, four Pend'orielles, one Cotena, one boy, four women and two or three small children. From the number of dialect in our camp, I am convinced, that a stranger would have been greatly puzzled to determine, which of the five languages continually spoken there, was predominant. However, we understood each other sufficiently well, to prevent mistakes; and the Indians comprehended one another, though they cannot be induced to convey their ideas in any tongue except their own. This custom would in a great measure prevent a proper understanding in many instances, were it not for their numerous signs, which constitute a kind of universal communication, not to say language, at once understood by all the various Indians in the mountains. These signs are made with their hands or fingers, in different positions, with rapidity; and are so extremely simple, that a person entirely unacquainted with them, will readily conceive a great portion of what may be expressed by them.
We passed, nearly southward, up the river some distance to a high point of mountain - projecting in the plain quite to the river's margin. We passed the Sheep Horn, which appears to have been garnished lately, with arrows, feathers, beads, pieces of scarlet, etc. in addition to the ornaments observed there in the fall. These little offerings, the superstitious natives ignorantly imagine will conciliate or gratify, the Deity, whom they suppose to have placed the horn in that singular position, that it may remain an eternal monument of his kind care for them, by continually reminding them, that it is their constant duty to remember and adore him. A confession or acknowledgement of their faith is made manifest, by the contribution of some little trinket or other trifling present. We crossed over the point, and descended into a fine little valley, inhabited by an extensive village of prairie dogs, where we finally halted on the second day about sunset. On the twelfth we crossed the mountain without difficulty, and encamped in the edge of the Big Hole. We saw several forts, made by the Black-feet since we passed here last fall. Next morning the last of our provisions, amounting to but a small piece for each person, was eaten for breakfast. We hoped, however, to kill something soon, and followed the Indian trail across this hole to Wisdom river, on which we halted for a short time, to bait our horses. It commenced raining soon after we started, and continued all day. Notwithstanding the storm however, we set out again, and proceeded to the warm springy where we encamped. The Indians expressed a desire to return back to the village. We were all cold, hungry and wet, and were but scantily supplied with sage roots and small willows for fuel. Not a few faces were chattering like rattle-boxes, and the prospect seemed fair for an uncomfortable night. A dram of Demarara rum, and a pint of hot coffee to each individual, was made to answer for fire and supper, and a night's meditation in a cold wet blanket for lodging, though they were considered by some as rather poor apologies for these common comforts. There was no choice, however; and during the night the drowsy phantom, continually flitting about like an "ignis fatuus," though often near, invariably eluded our grasp, as we essayed to catch it, and having spent the whole night in such fruitless endeavors, we arose, and collected our horses, who had broken loose from their pickets during the night, and rambled down the plain several miles. Having breakfasted, as we last night supposed, we set out, notwithstanding the storm, which still continued with violence; leaving the Big Hole behind us, we bore eastward over high bold hills into the Little Hole, which we followed, gradually turning to the southward, until near night, when we halted at its southern extremity. Our Indians killed during the march a cow that was poor and unpalatable; but were however, more fortunate in the evening, when they brought in the meat of a bull in much better condition. On the morning of the fifteenth we set out in fine spirits, to which a good night's rest, a full stomach, and a fair pleasant morning had severally contributed; and passed over a rising plain south-eastward, through Horse prairie, and halted for the night on a small stream, that flows into the eastern extremity of this plain. We saw during the day large herds of buffalo, killed several in fine eating order, and fared "pretty well considering," as a brother yankee would say, after a good meal. On the succeeding day we passed a high conical mound or spur, which it is, of the mountain, that is visible from any part of Horse prairie, and halted in the evening on the head of a creek, in an open valley, called by the Indians "Sin ko lats sin la," or "Hanged Man's Prairie," from the circumstance of one having been punished in that mode here by his fellows, for some crime several years since. We made that day twenty-five miles, our course south- east.
On the seventeenth, we ascended a bold hill, and came in view of the plains of Snake river, and the "Trois Titons", which bore nearly East; we descended the rough irregular plain, and halted at evening on the waters of the Columbia. The face of the country here is extremely broken, and intersected by small streams, that are separated from each other by high bluff rocky hills. We saw immense herds of buffalo in the plains below, which were covered in every direction by them, as far as the eye could distinguish. We were cautioned by our Indians during the march, to prevent our horses feeding by the way, in consequence of a poisonous herb, resembling a parsnip, which abounds there, and causes death shortly after being eaten.
On the eighteenth, we travelled South-Eastward down to the great plains, and halted on Poison Weed Creek. We observed columns of sand moving in various directions; raised by whirlwinds, though the day was fair and the air still, without a breeze or even zephyr. These singular columns, when passing over the plain with great rapidity, would often suddenly stop, as if to gather more force and a denser cloud of dust, for some moments, revolving round with accelerated velocity; then again progressing slowly, move off in quite a different direction from that in which they run, before halting; with faster flight they would wing their way along, until again they would pause at some sand hill, to increase their speed or condense their substance, and again pass away with volume and vigor apparently renewed; until they would finally dissolve and disappear. The most extensive and remarkable of these whirling pillars, were seen to rise on the hills, at the base of the Sand Mountain, and large quantities of the beautiful fine white sand of which they are composed, were scattered over the plain by these aerial phenomena.
I had heard in the summer of 1833, while at rendezvous, that remarkable boiling springs had been discovered, on the sources of the Madison, by a party of trappers in their spring hunt; of which the accounts they gave, were so very astonishing, that I determined to examine them myself, before recording their descriptions, though I had the united testimony of more than twenty men on the subject, who all declared they saw them, and that they really were, as extensive and remarkable as they had been described. Having now an opportunity of paying them a visit, and as another or a better might not soon occur, I parted with the company after supper, and, taking with me two Pen-d'orielles, set out at a round pace, the night being clear and comfortable. We proceeded over the plain about twenty miles, and halted until daylight on a fine spring, flowing into Cammas Creek. Refreshed by a few hours sleep, we started again after a hasty breakfast, and entered a very extensive forest called the Piny Woods, which we passed through, and reached the vicinity of the springs about dark, having seen several small lakes or ponds, on the sources of the Madison; and rode about forty miles; which was a hard day's ride, taking into consideration the rough irregularity of the country through which we had travelled.
We regaled ourselves with a cup of coffee, and immediately after supper lay down to rest, sleepy, and much fatigued. The continual roaring of the springs, however, for some time prevented my going to sleep, and excited an impatient curiosity to examine them; which I was obliged to defer the gratification of, until morning; and filled my slumbers with visions of water spouts, cataracts, fountains, jets d'eau of immense dimensions, etc. etc.
When I arose in the morning, clouds of vapor seemed like a dense fog to overhang the springs, from which frequent reports or explosions of different loudness, constantly assailed our ears. I immediately proceeded to inspect them, and might have exclaimed with the Queen of Sheba, when their full reality of dimensions and novelty burst upon my view, "The half was not told me."
From the surface of a rocky plain or table, burst forth columns of water, of various dimensions, projected high in the air, accompanied by loud explosions, and sulphurous vapors, which were highly disagreeable to the smell. The rock from which these springs burst forth, was calcareous, and probably extends some distance from them, beneath the soil. The largest of these wonderful fountains, projects a column of boiling water several feet in diameter, to the height of more than one hundred and fifty feet - in my opinion; but the party of Alvarez, who discovered it, persist in declaring that it could not be less than four times that distance in height - accompanied with a tremendous noise. These explosions and discharges occur at intervals of about two hours. After having witnessed three of them, I ventured near enough to put my hand into the water of its basin, but withdrew it instantly, for the heat of the water in this immense cauldron, was altogether too great for comfort, and the agitation of the water, the disagreeable effluvium continually exuding, and the hollow unearthly rumbling under the rock on which I stood, so ill accorded with my notions of personal safety, that I reheated back precipitately to a respectful distance. The Indians who were with me, were quite appalled, and could not by any means be induced to approach them. They seemed astonished at my presumption in advancing up to the large one, and when I safely returned, congratulated me on my "narrow escape." - They believed them to be supernatural, and supposed them to be the production of the Evil Spirit. One of them remarked that hell, of which he had heard from the whites, must be in that vicinity. The diameter of the basin into which the water of the largest jet principally falls, and from the centre of which, through a hole in the rock of about nine or ten feet in diameter, the water spouts up as above related, may be about thirty feet. - There are many other smaller fountains, that did not throw their waters up so high, but occurred at shorter intervals. In some instances, the volumes were projected obliquely upwards, and fell into the neighboring fountains or on the rock or prairie. But their ascent was generally perpendicular, falling in and about their own basins or apertures. These wonderful productions of nature, are situated near the centre of a small valley, surrounded by pine covered hills, through which a small fork of the Madison flows. Highly gratified with my visit to these formidable and magnificent fountains, jets, or springs, whichever the reader may please to call them, I set out after dinner to rejoin my companions. Again we crossed the Piny Woods, and encamped on the plains at Henry's fork.