I HAVE OFTEN amused myself and friends, by relating stories of my adventures in the West, and am led to believe, by the, perhaps, too partial representations of those friends, that my life in the Prairies and Mountains for three years, is worthy of a record more enduring than their memories. I have passed a year and a half on the head waters of the Missouri and among the gorges of the Rocky Mountains, as a hunter and a trapper, and two years among the Spaniards and Camanches. I have suffered much from the inclemency of nature and of man, had many "hair breadth 'scapes" and acquired considerable information illustrative of Indian and Mexican character and customs. By a plain, unvarnished tale of Western life, of perils and of hardships, I hope to amuse the reader who delights in accounts of wild adventure, though found out of the pages of a novel and possessing no attraction but their unadorned truthfulness. I am now on the shady side of sixty, with mind and memory unimpaired. If my reminiscences, as recorded in the following pages, serve to awaken my countrymen of the West and South-west, now thank God, including Texas, to the importance of peaceful and friendly relations with the most powerful tribe of Indians on the continent, the Camanches, I shall not regard the labor of preparing these sheets as bestowed in vain.
In the year 1803, when twenty-two years of age, I emigrated with my father from Kentucky to Illinois. In the spring of 1807 we removed from Illinois to Missouri, which were then, both Territories, and settled in the town of St. Ferdinand, near St. Louis. In the fall of this year, Lewis and Clark returned from Oregon and the Pacific Ocean, whither they had been sent by the administration of Jefferson in the first exploring expedition west of the Rocky Mountains, and their accounts of that wild region, with those of their companions, first excited a spirit of trafficking adventure among the young men of the West. They had brought with them from the Upper Missouri, a Chief named Shehaka, of the Mandan tribe of Indians. This Chief, in company with Lewis and Clark visited the "Great Father" at Washington City, and returned to St. Louis in the following Spring (1808) with Lewis, who, in the mean time had been appointed Governor of Missouri Territory. He sent the Chief Shehaka up the Missouri with an escort of about forty United States troops, under Capt. Prior. On their arrival in the country of the Rickarees, a warlike tribe, next East or this side of the Mandans, they were attacked by the former tribe, and eight or ten soldiers killed. This event so disheartened the rest, that they returned with Shehaka to St. Louis. The Missouri Fur Company had just been formed, and they projected an expedition up the Missouri and to the Rocky Mountains, which was to start in the spring of the following year, 1809. The company consisted of ten partners, among whom was M. Gratiot, Pierre Menard, Sam'l. Morrison, Pierrie Chouteau, Manuel Liza, Major Henry, M. L'Abbadeau and Reuben Lewis. Gov. Lewis was also said to have had an interest in the concern. The company contracted with him to convey the Mandan Chief to his tribe, for the sum, as I was informed of $10,000. I enlisted in this expedition, which was raised for trading with the Indians and trapping for beaver on the head waters of the Missouri and Columbia rivers. The whole party, at starting, consisted of 350 men, of whom about one half were Americans and the remainder Canadian Frenchmen and Creoles of Kaskaskia, St. Louis and other places. The French were all veteran voyageurs, thoroughly inured to boating and trapping. Manuel Liza, called by the men "Esaw" had enlisted many of them in Detroit for this expedition, and hired them by the year. We Americans were all private adventurers, each on his own hook, and were led into the enterprise by the promises of the company, who agreed to subsist us to the trapping grounds, we helping to navigate the boats, and on our arrival there they were to furnish us each with a rifle and sufficient ammunition, six good beaver traps and also four men of their hired French, to be under our individual commands for a period of three years. By the terms of the contract each of us was to divide one-fourth of the profits of our joint labor with the four men thus to be appointed to us. How we were deceived and taken in, will be seen in the sequel. The "company" made us the fairest promises in St. Louis, only to break them in the Indian country. Liza, or Esaw, or Manuel as he was variously called, had the principal command. He was a Spaniard or Mexican by birth, and bore a very bad reputation in the country and among the Americans. He had been on the head waters of the Missouri, the year before with a company of about fifty men and had met with great success in catching beaver and trading with the Indians. He had built a Fort, called "Manuel's Fort" at the junction or fork of the Big Horn and Yellow Stone rivers, and left a garrison of hunters in it when he returned in the Spring of this year, and went into the Missouri Fur Company. He was suspected of having invited the Rickarees to attack the Government troops under Capt. Prior, with Shehaka the year before, for the purpose of preventing the traders and trappers who were with the troops from getting into the upper country. Mr. Choteau and Col. Menard acted jointly with Liza in conducting the expedition. I went as steersman or "captain" of one of the barges, with about twenty-four men, all Americans, under my command. There were thirteen barges and keel boats in all. On my barge I had Doct. Thomas, the surgeon of the company, and Reuben Lewis, brother of Merryweather Lewis, the Governor.
We started from St. Louis in the month of June, A. D. 1809, and ascended the Missouri by rowing, pushing with poles, cordeling, or pulling with ropes, warping, and sailing. My crew were light hearted, jovial men, with no care or anxiety for the future, and little fear of any danger. In the morning we regularly started by day break and stopped, generally, late at night. The partners or bourgoises, as the French called them, were in the forward barge, with a strong crew of hardy and skilful voyageurs, and there Liza and some of his colleagues forded it over the poor fellows most arrogantly, and made them work as if their lives depended on their getting forward, with the greatest possible speed. They peremptorily required all the boats to stop in company for the night, and our barge being large and heavily loaded, the crew frequently had great difficulty in overtaking them in the evening. We occasionally had races with some of the forward barges, in which my crew of Americans proved themselves equal in a short race to their more experienced French competitors. We thus continued, with nothing of interest occurring till we passed the Platte. Six weeks of hard labor on our part, had been spent, when our allotted provisions gave out and we were compelled to live on boiled corn, without salt. At the same time all the other boats were well supplied and the gentlemen proprietors in the leading barge were faring in the most sumptuous and luxurious manner. The French hands were much better treated on all occasions than the Americans. The former were employed for a long period at stated wages and were accustomed to such service and such men as those in command of them, while we were private adventurers for our own benefit, as well as that of the company, who regarded us with suspicion and distrust. Many Americans on the passage up the river, disgusted with the treatment they received, fell off in small companies and went back. At Cote Sans Desans, opposite the mouth of the Osage, most of them returned. On reaching the Mandan country we numbered about ten Americans, having started from St. Louis with about one hundred and seventy-five and an equal number of French. After passing the Platte river my crew were worn down with hard labor and bad fare. Their boiled corn without salt or meat, did not sustain them under the fatigue of navigating the barge and the contrast between their treatment and that of the French enraged them. A meeting was the result. The company had, on our barge, thirty barrels of pork, and one morning my crew came to me in a body demanding some of these provisions. I commanded them not to break into the pork without permission, and promised, if they would work and keep up till noon, to procure some for dinner. At noon when we stopped, the men rolled up a barrel of pork on to the deck and one of them, named Cheek bestrided with a tomahawk, crying out "give the word Captain." I forbade them, as before, and went ashore to find Lewis, who had left the boat at the beginning of trouble. He said the pork was the company's and told me not to touch it. I said the men would and should have some of it, and went back to the boat to give the "word" to Cheek. Lewis hastened to the "bourgeoise" in their barge close by, to give the alarm. I could see them in their cabin, from the shore where I stood, playing cards and drinking. Lewis entered with the news that "James' crew were taking the provisions." Manuel Liza seized his pistols and ran out followed by the other partners. "What the devil, said he to me, is the matter with you and your men?" We are starving, said I, and we must have something better than boiled corn. At the same time Cheek was brandishing his tomahawk over the pork barrel and clamoring for the "word." "Shall I break it open Captain, speak the word," he cried, while the rest of my crew were drawn up in line on the boat, with rifles, ready for action. The gentlemen bourgeoise, yielded before this determined array, and gave us a large supply of pork; that is, as much as we pleased to take. A few days after this we stopped to clean out the barges and the pork in ours was removed to another and its place supplied with lead. The Cheek who figured as ring-leader on this occasion was a Tennesseean, about six feet high and well proportioned. His courage was equal to any enterprise, and his rashness and headstrong obstinacy at last, in the Indian country, cost him his life. I had on my barge a large, lazy, and very impertinent Irishman, who was frequently very sulky and remiss in his duties. I was compelled one day, to call him by name for not working at the oars, saying to him he was not rowing the weight of his head. The height of disgrace among boatsmen is, to be publicly named by the Captain. The Irishman took my treatment in very ill humour and swore he would have satisfaction for the insult. When the boat stopped for breakfast, the men dispersed as usual, to get wood, and with them went Cheek and my friend, the Irishman. Cheek returned without him and informed me, he had whipped him "for saucing the captain." I said, Cheek I can attend to my own fighting without your assistance, or any other man's. "No by G--d said he, my Captain shan't fight while I am about." The Irishman returned, at length, to the boat, but was so badly hurt as to be unable to work for several days.
The scenery of the Upper Missouri is so familiar to the world as to render any particular description unnecessary. As you ascend the river, the woods diminish in number and extent. Beyond Council Bluffs, about 700 miles above the mouth they entirely disappear, except on the river bottoms, which are heavily timbered. The Prairies were covered with a short thick grass, about three or four inches high. At this time the game was very abundant. We saw Elk and Buffalo in vast numbers, and killed many of them. Prairie dogs and wolves were also very numerous. The Indians have thinned off the game since that time, so much that their own subsistence is frequently very scanty, and they are often in danger of starvation. Their range for hunting now extends far down into the Camanche country and Texas, and the buffalo, their only game of importance, are fast disappearing. When these valuable animals are all gone, when they are extinct on the West as they are on the East side of the Mississippi, then will the Indian race, the aboriginals of that vast region, be near their own extinction and oblivion. They cannot survive the game and with it will disappear.
The Western declivity of the Mississippi valley from the mountains to the "Father of Waters" is nearly all one great plain, with occasional rocky elevations. We saw hills at the foot of which were large heaps of pumice stone, which had the appearance of having been crumbled off from above by the action of fire. The scenery of Illinois or Missouri is a fair example of that of the whole country West to the mountains. The Prairies here, however, are vaster and more desolate. One extensive plain is usually presented to the eye of the traveller, and stretches to the horizon, without a hill, mound, tree or shrub to arrest the sight.
We continued our ascent of the river without any occurrence of importance. Below Council Bluffs we met Capt. Crooks, agent for John J. Astor, and who was trading with the Mohaws. Here all the few Americans remaining, with myself, were on the point of returning. By the solicitations and promises of the company we were induced to continue with them.
The first Indians we saw were a party of Mohaws hunting; with them were two Sioux Chiefs. They sent forward a runner to their village above and themselves came on board our boats. We found the village at the mouth of the Jaques river, perhaps twelve hundred miles, by its course, from the mouth of the Missouri. They were of the Teton tribe, which is kindred with the Sioux. As we approached the bank, which was lined with hundreds; they fired into the water before the forward barge, and as we landed, they retreated with great rapidity, making a startling noise with whistles and rattles. After landing and making fast the boats, about fifty savages took charge of them, as a guard. They wore raven feathers on the head. Their bodies were naked, save about the middle, and painted entirely black. They presented on the whole a most martial and warlike appearance in their savage mode, and performed their office of guarding the boats so well that not even a Chief was allowed to go onto them. Other Indians came with buffalo skins to be used as pulanquins or litters for carrying the partners to their council house; each was taken up and carried off in state. I was compelled by some Indians to go in the same style to the place of council. Here was a large company of old men awaiting us, and for dinner we had served up a great feast of dog's meat--a great delicacy with the Indians. The rich repast was served in forty-one wooden bowls, as I counted them, and from each bowl a dog's foot was hanging out, evidently to prove that this rarity was not a sham but a reality. Not feeling very desirous of eating of this particular dainty, I stole out and was pulled by a young Indian and invited to his wigwam. I went and partook with him of buffalo meat. We stayed with these hospitable savages two days. On arriving, we found the British flag flying, but easily persuaded them to haul it down. The Hudson's Bay Company had had their emisaries among them and were then dealing with them precisely as they are now dealing with the savages in our territory of Oregon--namely: buying them up with presents and promises, and persuading them to act as allies of Britain, in any future war with the United States. On the third day we left the friendly Tetons and proceeded up the river as before. Capt. Choteau had conceived a prejudice against Cheek, and on one occasion, ordered him to leave the boats. Lewis conveyed the order to me. I remonstrated against the cruelty of sending a man adrift in a wilderness, 1400 miles from home. He insisted, and Cheek took his gun as if he was going to obey. Lewis ordered him to leave the gun behind, which he refused to do. Lewis then commanded me to take it from him. I replied, that he or Choteau might do that themselves. The men of my boat flew to their arms, and avowed their determination of defending Cheek and sharing his fate. The order was not pursued any further. Such recontres and difficulties between the Americans and the partners, embittered their hands against us, and ultimately did us no good. Much of the ill treatment we afterwards received from them, was probably owing to the reckless assertion of our independence on every occasion and at every difficulty that occurred. After leaving the Teton village, our boat again failed of provisions, and by request of Lewis I went ashore on the North bank with one of our best hunters, named Brown, to kill some game. We went up the river, and in the evening, killed an elk, brought it to the river bank, and waited there for the boats till morning. They came up on the opposite shore and sent over a canoe to take us and our game across. The wind rose in the mean time, and blew so strong as to raise the waves very high, and render it dangerous for us all to cross together in the same canoe. We sent over the game and Brown and myself continued our course, afoot, expecting to get aboard when the boats crossed at some one of the river bends. By the middle of the day the wind had risen so high that the boats with sails hoisted, quickly went out of sight. We travelled on till evening, and struck a large bayou, which we could not cross, and took the backward course till we encamped within a mile of the spot where we had stayed the night before. The next morning we struck off from the river into the prairie, and took the best course we could, to reach the boats. Seven days elapsed, however, before we overtook them. The wind blew a strong breeze, and drove the boats along very rapidly. We killed another elk and some small game, which subsisted us till the fifth day, when our amunition gave out. Our moccasins being worn out, fell off and our feet were perfectly cut up by the prickly pear, which abounds on these prairies. At last, nearly famished and worn down, sore, lame and exhausted, we found the boats. My crew had, in vain, requested leave to wait for us, and we might have perished before the bourgeoise would have slackened their speed in the least, on our account. We had a narrow escape from starvation in this excursion and I was ever afterwards careful to have plenty of amunition with me when I went out--as I frequently did--on similar expeditions.
In two days after this event, we arrived at the country of the Rickarees. On approaching their village, we took precautions against an attack. A guard marched along the shore, opposite to the boats, well armed. My crew composed a part of this force. When within half a mile of the village we drew up the cannon and prepared to encamp. The whole village came out in a body, as it seemed, to met us. They had not come far toward us when an old chief rode out at full speed and with violent gestures and exclamations, warned and motioned back his countrymen from before our cannon. The event of the year before was fresh in his recollection. He supposed we were about to inflict a proper and deserved punishment for the attack on Capt. Prior's troops and the murder of eight or ten of them, the year before. This old chief drove back all who were coming out to meet us. Choteau then sent for the chief to come down to his camp and hold a council. They refused to comply with this request and appeared very suspicious of our designs. After further negotiation, they agreed to come to us and hold a council if the company's force would lay aside their arms and turn the cannon in the opposite direction. This was agreed to by the company, with the provision that a guard should be on the ground, armed, during the conference. The council was held, and Choteau harangued them on the crime committed against the government the year before. They promised better conduct for the future, but made no reparation or apology even, for the past. In a few days we started forward through a country marked by the same general features as that described before. Thousands of buffaloe cover the prairies on both sides of the river, making them black as far as the eye could reach. In ten or twelve days the boats reached the Mandan village, where I was awaiting them. I had sallied out five days before in a hunting excursion, and arrived at the village of the Mandans in advance of the boats. These are a poor, thieving, spiritless tribe, tributary to the Gros-Ventres, who inhabit the country above them on the river. The village is on the north side of the river. The boats came up on the opposite shore. The wind, as they arrived, blew a hurricane and lashed the waves to a prodigious height. The Indians saw their chief, Shehaka, on our boats, and were almost frantic with joy and eagerness to speak with him. They have a round canoe made of hoops fastened together and a buffalo's skin stretched over them, very light and portable. With these they rowed themselves across the turbulent river, one moment lost from view between the waves, and the next, riding over them like corks. In these tubs of canoes they crossed the stream to our boats. The natives made a jubilee and celebration for the return of Shehaka and neglected every thing and every body else. They hardly saw or took the least notice of their white visitors. The partners distributed the presents sent by the government and we then made haste to leave this boorish inhospitable tribe. We ascended the Missouri to the village of the Gros-Ventres, on the south side of the river, fifteen miles above that of the Mandans. Here we found a far different race from the last; a manly, warlike and independent tribe, who might well be called for their daring and enterprising qualities, the Gros-coeurs or big-hearts instead of bigbellies. Here was our place of stopping for a short time, and of preparation for the business which had brought us hither. On our arrival at their village, four or five agents of the Hudson's Bay Company were among them, but immediately crossed the river with their goods, and bore off to the north east. We suspected them of inciting the Black Feet against us and many of our company attributed our subsequent misfortunes to their hostility. We afterwards heard that a large army of these Indians were encamped at the falls above. They traded regularly with the British traders and procured of them their arms and amunition. We built a fort near the Gros-Ventre village, and unloaded all the larger boats for the purpose of sending them back to the settlements. Having now arrived at our destination and being near the beaver region, we, the Americans, ten in number, requested the partners to furnish out traps, amunition, guns and men, according to contract. But this, they seemed to have forgotten entirely, or intended never to fulfil. We found ourselves taken in, cheated chizzled, gulfed and swindled in a style that has not, perhaps, been excelled by Yankees or French, or men of any other nation, at any time in the thirty-six years that have passed over my head since this feat was performed. A stock of old and worthless traps had been brought up the river, apparently to be put off on the Americans. They offered us these traps, which we refused to take. They then endeavored to deprive us of the arms and amunition belonging to them, in our possession, and they succeeded in getting from most of us all the guns and powder of theirs that we had. Mine were taken from me with the others, by order of the partners. I do not know that all of them consented to this nefarious proceeding; I hope and should have expected that several of them would not sanction such conduct. But I heard of no protest or opposition to the acts of the majority, who behaved toward us with a want of principle and of honor that would shame most gentleman robbers of the highway. They seemed determined to turn us out on the prairie and among the Indians, without arms, provisions or amunition. Our situation in that event, would have nearly realized the one implied in the popular expression "a cat in hell without claws." We were kept waiting two or three weeks without employment or any provisions, except what we purchased at most exhorbitant prices. We bought goods, knives, &c. of the company, on credit, and sold them to the Indians for provisions and in this way were rapidly running in debt, which the company expected us to discharge to them in beaver fur. Their object was to make the most out of us without regard to their previous professions and promises. Finding myself, like most of my comrades, destitute of all means of support and sustenance, of defense and offense, I looked around for something by which I could live in that wild region. On Arriving at the Gros-Ventre village we had found a hunter and trapper named Colter, who had been one of Lewis & Clarke's men, and had returned thus far with them in 1807. Of him I purchased a set of beaver traps for $120, a pound and a half of powder for $6, and a gun for $40. Seeing me thus equipped, Liza, the most active, the meanest and most rascally of the whole, offered me new and good traps, a gun and amunition. I told him he appeared willing enough to help when help was not needed, and after I was provided at my own expense. I then selected two companions, Miller and McDaniel, who had been imposed on by the bourgeoise in the same manner with myself, and in their company I prepared to begin business. These two had, by good fortune bought with them six traps, two guns and amunition of their own. We cut down a tree and of the trunk made a canoe in which we prepared to ascend to the "Forks" and head waters of the Missouri and the mountains. We were young, and sanguine of success. No fears of the future clouded our prospects and the adventures that lay before us excited our hopes and fancies to the highest pitch. "No dangers daunted and no labors tired us." Before leaving the Fort and my old companions, I will relate a characteristic anecdote of Cheek, who so soon after this, expiated his follies by a violent death. In an early part of the voyage, when coming up the river, about two months before, I had sent Cheek to draw our share of provisions from the provision boat. Francois Ried, who dealt them out for the company, offered Cheek a bear's head, saying it was good enough for "you fellows," by this meaning the Americans. Cheek returned to his boat in great rage at the insult, as he deemed it, and threatened to whip him (Ried) for the said contumely on himself and fellow companions, as soon as he was out of Government employ--that is, as soon as we had delivered up Shehaka to the Mandans. The matter passed on and I supposed was forgotten by Cheek himself, until the Fort was built, and the Americans were about separating with many grievances unredressed and wrongs unavenged. Cheek meeting Ried one morning on the bank of the river, told him that he had promised to whip him and that he could not break his word on any account. He thereupon struck at the audacious Frenchman, who had presumed to call Americans "fellows," and offer them a bear's head. Ried saved himself by running aboard one of the boats, where he obtained a reinforcement. Cheek beat a retreat, and a truce was observed by both parties till night fall. I had encamped with Cheek and two others, a few hundred yards above the Fort. We were all, except Cheek, in the tent, about nine o'clock in the evening, when Ried with a company, all armed with pistols and dirks came up and demanded to see Cheek, saying that he had attacked him within the lines of the Fort, when he knew he could not fight without violating orders. I told him that Cheek was not in the tent. "He is hid, the cowardly rascal," cried Ried, and went to searching the bushes. After he and his company were gone, I found Cheek at Major Henry's tent, amusing himself with cards and wine. I took him with me to our own tent, fearing that Ried's company might kill him if they found him that night. He was silent while hearing my account and for some minutes after entering our tent. He then spoke as if on maturest reflection, and said that he had intended to have let Ried go, with what he had got, "but now I will whip him in the morning if I lose my life by it." In the morning he started unarmed and wrapped in his blanket for the Fort. I with a few others followed to see fair play which is ever a jewel with the American. Cheek soon found Ried and accosted him in front of the Fort, by informing him that he had came down to accommodate him with the interview which he had understood had been sought for, so anxiously the night before. Ried said he was in liquor the night before--wanted to have nothing to do with him and began to make for the Fort. "You must catch a little anyhow" said Cheek, and springing towards Ried like a wild cat, with one blow he felled him to the earth. Capt. Chouteau who had seen the whole proceeding from the Fort, immediately rushed out with about thirty of his men all armed. "Bring out the irons, seize him, seize him," cried Chouteau, frantic with passion, and raging like a mad bull. Cheek prudently retired to our company on the bank of the river, a short distance, and said he would die rather than be ironed. We were ready to stand by him to the last. Chouteau now ordered his men to fire on us and the next moment would have seen blood-shed and the death of some of us, had not L'Abbadieu, Valle, Menard, Morrison, Henry and one of Chouteau's sons thrown themselves between us and the opposite party and thus preventing the execution of Chouteau's order. Him they forced back, struggling like a mad child in its mothers arms into the Fort. On the next day after this fracas, Miller, McDaniel and myself parted from our companions after agreeing to meet them again on the Forks or head-waters of the Missouri and started in our canoe up the river. The river is very crooked in this part and much narrower than we had found it below. We came to a Mandan village on the south side of the stream on the day of our departure from the Fort. On arriving here, we were on the north side of the river, and on account of the violence of the wind, did not cross to the village. Late in the evening a woman in attempting to cross in a skin canoe, was overset in the middle of the river. She was seen from the village, and immediately, a multitude of men rushed into the water and seemed to run rather than swim to the woman whom they rescued from the water with wonderful rapidity. Their dexterity in swimming was truly astonishing to us. We pushed or rather paddled on in a shower of rain, till late that night and encamped. In the morning we went on in a snowstorm and in four days the ice floating in the river, prevented further navigation of the stream with the canoe. We stopped on the south side of the river, built a small cabin, banked it round with earth and soon made ourselves quite comfortable. This was in the month of November. We had caught a few beaver skins in our route from the Gros-Ventre village, and were employed ourselves in making moccasins and leggins and in killing game which was very plenty all around us. Here we determined to pass the winter and in the Spring continue our ascent of the Missouri to the Forks. On Christmas day I froze my feet and became so disabled as to be confined to the house unable to walk. Miller and McDaniel soon after started back for the Fort, with our stock of beaver skins to exchange them for ammunition. They were gone twice the length of time agreed on for their stay. I began to consume the last of my rations and should have suffered for food, had not a company of friendly Indians called at the cabin and bartered provisions for trinkets and tobacco. My next visitors were two Canadians and an American named Ayers, from the Fort, who were going on with despatches for the main company, that was supposed to be at Manual's Fort at the mouth of the Big Horn, a branch of the Yellow Stone. These men informed me that Miller and McDaniel had changed their mind; that they did not intend to continue further up the river and seemed to be in no haste to return to me. They urged me to accompany them, and promised me the use of one of their horses till my feet should become well enough for me to walk. I consented to go with them and prepared to leave my cabin. Before doing so, I buried the traps and other accoutrements of my two former companions in a corner of the lodge, and pealing off the bark from a log above them, I wrote on it, "In this corner your things lie" I learned on my return in the Spring that both of them had been killed as was supposed by the Rickarees. Their guns, traps, &c., were seen in the hands of some of that tribe; but they were never heard of afterwards.
On the third of February, 1810, eight months after my departure from St. Louis, I started from my winter lodge; but I soon repented my undertaking. The horses were all too weak to carry more than the load appropriated to them, and I was thus compelled to walk. My feet became very sore and gave me great pain, while the crust on the snow made the traveling of all of us, both slow and difficult. I suffered severely at starting but gradually improved in strength and was able in a few days to keep up with less torture to myself than at first. We ascended the south bank of the river till we struck the Little Missouri a branch from the south. Here we found some Indians who advised us to keep up the banks of this river for two days, and then turning northwardly, a half-days travel would bring us to the Gunpowder river near its head: this is a branch of the Yellow Stone. We travelled two days as directed and left the Little Missouri in search of the river. We missed it entirely, on account of our traveling so much slower than the Indians are accustomed to do. Over two day's travel was not greater than one of theirs. For five days we kept our course to the north in an open plain, and in the heart of winter. The cold was intense and the wind from the mountains most piercing. The snow blew directly in our faces and ice was formed on our lips and eyebrows. In this high latitude and in the open prairies in the vicinity of the mountains where we then were, the winters are very cold. On the first night we were covered where we lay to the depth of three feet by the snow. No game was to be seen and we were destitute of provisions. For five days we tasted not a morsel of food, and not even the means of making a fire. We saw not a mound or hill, tree or shrub, not a beast nor a bird until the fifth day when we discried afar off a high mound. We were destitute, alone in that vast desolate and to us limitless expanse, of drifting snow, which the winds drove into our faces and heaped around our steps. Snow was our only food and drink, and snow made our covering at night. We suffered dreadfully from hunger. On the first and second days after leaving the Little Missouri for the desert we were now traversing, our appetites were sharper and the pangs of hunger more intense than afterwards. A languor and faintness succeeded which made travelling most laborious and painful. On the fifth day we had lost so much of strength and felt such weakness for want of food, that the most terrible of deaths, a death by famine, stared us in the face. The pangs and miseries we endured are vividly described by Mr. Kendall, from actual experience in his "Santa Fe Expedition." My feet, in addition to all other sufferings, now became sore and more painful than ever. The men had made for me a moccasin of skin taken from the legs of a buffalo, and which I wore with the hair next my feet and legs. I felt the blood gurgling and bubbling in this casing at every step. We were about to ward off starvation by killing a horse, and eating the raw flesh and blood, when on the fifth day of our wandering in this wilderness a mound was seen, as above mentioned, in the distance. We reached and ascended it in the evening, whence we saw woods and buffaloes before us. We hastened to kill several of these noblest of all animals of game, and encamped in the woods, where we quickly made a fire and cut up the meat. We were all so voracious in our appetites, as not to wait for the cooking, but ate great quantities nearly raw. The first taste, stimulated our languor and appetites to an ungovernable pitch. We ate and ate and ate, as if there were no limit to our capacity, and no quantity could satisfy us. At length when gorged to the full and utterly unable to hold any more, we gave out and sought repose about midnight under our tents. But sleep fled from our eyes and in the morning we arose, without having rested, feverish and more fatigued than when we supped and retired the night before. Our feet, limbs and bodies were swollen and bloated, and we all found ourselves laid up on the sick list, by our debauch on buffaloe meat. We had no desire to eat again on that day, and remained in camp utterly unable to travel, till the next morning, when we started forward, travelling slowly. We soon struck the river which we had suffered so much in seeking, and bent our course up the stream, crossing its bends on the ice. On one occasion when saving distance by cutting off a bend of the river, the horse carrying my pack and worldly goods, fell into an air hole and would have instantly disappeared had I not caught him by the tail and dragged him out to some distance, with a risk to myself of plunging under the ice into a rapid current, that made me shudder the moment I coolly looked at the danger. Hair breadth escapes from death are so frequent in the life of a hunter in this wild region as to lose all novelty and may seem unworthy of mention. I shall relate a few as I proceed, for the purpose of strewing the slight tenure the pioneer holds of life. And yet Boone, the prince of the prairies, "lived hunting up to ninety." Perhaps pure air and continual exercise are more than a counterbalance toward a long life, against all the dangers of a hunters and trappers existence, even among hostile savages, such as we were now rapidly approaching.
We continued our course up the Yellow Stone, gradually recovering from the effects of our unnatural surfeit and gross gormandizing of buffalo meat. The country here is one immense, level plain, and abounded, at this time, with large herds of buffalo, which subsisted on the buds of trees and the grass which the powerful winds laid bare of snow in many places. The river was skirted on either side by woods. At last, after fifteen days of painful travel and much suffering, we reached "Manuel's Fort," at the mouth of the Big Horn, where I found the most of my crew, and a small detachment of the company's men from whom I had parted the previous fall. This Fort, as before mentioned, was built by Liza in the spring of 1808, and a small garrison left in it, who had remained there ever since. Here I found Cheek, Brown, Dougherty and the rest of my crew rejoicing to see me. I was not a little surprised to find Col. Pierre Menard in command, who was to have returned to St. Louis from the Fort at the Gros Ventre village, and Liza intended to take command of the party on the head waters of the Missouri. Such was the arrangement at the commencement of the voyage. I soon learned from the men what they supposed to be the cause of the change. The next day after I had left the Fort on the Missouri, in the fall, Cheek and several Americans were in the office or marque of the company, endeavoring to get their equipments according to contract. Liza was present. Chouteau's name was mentioned in the course of the conversation, when Cheek cooly remarked that if he caught Chouteau a hundred yards from camp he would shoot him. "Cheek! Cheek!!" exclaimed Liza, "mind what you say." "I do that," said Cheek, "and Liza, I have heard some of our boys say that if they ever caught you two hundred yards from camp they would shoot you, and if they don't I will. You ought not to expect any thing better from the Americans after having treated them with so much meanness, treachery and cruelty as you have. Now Liza," continued he, "you are going to the forks of the Missouri, mark my words, you will never come back alive." Liza's cheeks blanched at this bold and reckless speech from a man who always performed his promises, whether good or evil. He returned to St. Louis and sent up Col. Menard's in his place. Col. M. was an honorable, high minded gentleman and enjoyed our esteem in a higher degree than any other at the company. Liza we thoroughly detested and despised, both for his acts and his reputation. There were many tales afloat concerning villainies said to have been perpetrated by him on the frontiers. These may have been wholly false or greatly exaggerated, but in his looks there was no deception. Rascality sat on every feature of his dark complexioned, Mexican face--gleamed from his black, Spanish, eyes, and seemed enthroned in a forehead "villainous low." We were glad to be relieved of his presence. After remaining at this Fort or camp a few days we started westward for the "Forks" and mountains in a company of thirty-two men, French and Americans. On first arriving at the Fort I had learned that two of the men with an Indian chief of the Snake tribe and his two wives and a son had gone forward, with the intention of killing game for our company and awaiting our approach on the route. Our second day's journey brought us to an Indian lodge; stripped, and near by, we saw a woman and boy lying on the ground, with their heads split open, evidently by a tomahawk. These were the Snake's elder wife and son, he having saved himself and his younger wife by flight on horseback. Our two men who had started out in company with him, were not molested. They told us that a party of Gros Ventres had come upon them, committed these murders, and passed on as if engaged in a lawful and praiseworthy business. These last were the most powerful and warlike Indians of that region. The poor Snake tribe, on the contrary, were the weakest, and consequently became the prey and victims of the others. They inhabit the caves and chasms of the mountains and live a miserable and precarious life in eluding the pursuit of enemies. All the neighboring tribes were at war with these poor devils. Every party we met pretended to be out on an expedition against the Snakes, when they frequently reduce to slavery. Thus the strong prey upon the weak in savage as well as civilized life.
Our course now lay to the north-west for the Forks of the Missouri, which meet in latitude----among the mountains, whence the last named river runs directly north as high as latitude----miles, where it turns to the south and south east, which last course it generally holds to its junction with the Mississippi. On the evening of the day when we left Manuel's Fort, my friend Brown became blind from the reflection of the sun on the snow; his eyes pained him so much that he implored us to put an end to his torment by shooting him. I watched him during that night for fear he would commit the act himself. He complained that his eye balls had bursted, and moaned and groaned most piteously. In the morning, I opened the swollen lids, and informed him to his great joy that the balls were whole and sound. He could now distinguish a faint glimmering of light. I led him all that day and the next, on the third he had so far recovered that he could see, though but indistinctly. Our guide on this route was Colter, who thoroughly knew the road, having twice escaped over it from capture and death at the hands of the Indians. In ten or twelve days after leaving the Fort we reentered an opening or gap in the mountains, where it commenced snowing most violently and so continued all night. The morning showed us the heads and backs of our horses just visible above the snow which had crushed down all our tents. We proceeded on with the greatest difficulty. As we entered the ravine or opening of the mountain the snow greatly increased in depth being in places from fifty to sixty feet on the ground, a third of which had fallen and drifted in that night. The wind had heaped it up in many places to a prodigious height. The strongest horses took the front to make a road for us, but soon gave out and the ablest bodied men took their places as pioneers. A horse occasionally stepped out of the beaten track and sunk entirely out of sight in the snow. By night we had made about four miles for that day's travel. By that night we passed the ravine and reached the Gallatin river, being the eastern fork of the Missouri. The river sweeps rapidly by the pass at its western extremity, on each side of which the mountain rises perpendicularly from the bank of the river; and apparently stopped our progress up and down the east side of the stream. I forded it and was followed by Dougherty, Ware, and another, when Colter discovered an opening through the mountain on the right or north side, and through it led the rest of the company. We, however, proceeded down the left bank of the river till night, when we encamped and supped (four of us) on a piece of buffalo meat about the size of the two hands. During this and the proceeding day we suffered from indistinct vision, similar to Brown's affliction of leaving the Big Horn. We all now became blind as he had been, from the reflection of the sun's rays on the snow. The hot tears trickled from the swollen eyes nearly blistering the cheeks, and the eye-balls seemed bursting from our heads. At first, the sight was obscured as by a silk veil or handkerchief, and we were unable to hunt. Now we could not even see our way before us, and in this dreadful situation we remained two days and nights. Hunger was again inflicting its sharp pangs upon us, and we were upon the point of killing one of the pack horses, when on the fourth day after crossing the Gallatin, one of the men killed a goose, of which, being now somewhat recovered from our blindness, we made a soup and stayed the gnawings of hunger. The next day our eyes were much better, and we fortunately killed an elk, of which we ate without excess, being taught by experience, the dangers of gluttony after a fast. We continued on down the river and soon came in sight of our comrades in the main body on the right bank. They, like ourselves, had all been blind, and had suffered more severely than we from the same causes. They had killed three dogs, one a present to me from an Indian, and two horses to appease the demands of hunger before they had sufficiently recovered to take sight on their guns. Which in this distressed situation enveloped by thick darkness at midday, thirty Snake Indians came among them, and left without committing any depredation. Brown and another, who suffered less than the others, saw and counted these Indians, who might have killed them all and escaped with their effects with perfect impunity. Their preservation was wonderful. When we overtook them they were slowly recovering from blindness and we all encamped together, with thankful and joyous hearts for our late narrow escape from painful and lingering death. We proceeded on in better spirits. On the next day we passed a battle field of the Indians, where the skulls and bones were lying around on the ground in vast numbers. The battle which had caused this terrible slaughter, took place in 1808, the year but one before, between the Black-Feet to the number of fifteen hundred on the one side, and the Flat-Heads and Crows, numbering together about eight hundred on the other. Colter was in the battle on the side of the latter, and was wounded in the leg, and thus disabled from standing. He crawled to a small thicket and there loaded and fired while sitting on the ground. The battle was desperately fought on both sides, but victory remained with the weaker party. The Black-Feet engaged at first with about five hundred Flat-Heads, whom they attacked in great fury. The noise, shouts and firing brought a reinforcement of Crows to the Flat-Heads, who were fighting with great spirit and defending the ground manfully. The Black-Feet who are the Arabs of this region, were at length repulsed, but retired in perfect order and could hardly be said to have been defeated. The Flat-Heads are a noble race of men, brave, generous and hospitable. They might be called the Spartans of Oregon. Lewis & Clark had received much kindness from them in their expedition to the Columbia, which waters their country; and at the time of this well fought battle, Colter was leading them to Manuel's Fort to trade with the Americans, when the Black Feet fell upon them in such numbers as seemingly to make their destruction certain. Their desperate courage saved them from a general massacre.
The following day we reached the long sought "Forks of the Missouri," or the place of confluence of the Gallatin, Madison and Jefferson rivers. Here at last, after ten months of travel, we encamped, commenced a Fort in the point made by the Madison and Jefferson forks, and prepared to begin business. This point was the scene of Colter's escape in the fall of the year but one before, from the Indians and a death by torture; an event so extraordinary and thrilling, as he related it to me, that it deserves a brief narration.
NOTE.--The following is the description given by G. W. KENDALL, of the sufferings from starvation, referred to on the 19th page.
"For the first two days through which a strong and hearty man is doomed to exist upon nothing, his sufferings are, perhaps, more acute than in the remaining stages. He feels an inordinate, unappeasable, craving at the stomach, night and day. The mind runs upon beef, bread and other substantials; but still in a great measure, the body retains its strength. On the third and fourth days, but especially on the fourth, this incessant craving gives place to a sinking and weakness of the stomach, accompanied by nausea. The unfortunate sufferer still desires food, but with loss of strength he loses that eager craving which is felt in the earlier stages. Should he chance to obtain a morsel or two of food, as was occasionally the case with us, he swallows it with a wolfish avidity; but five minutes afterwards his sufferings are more intense than ever. He feels as if he had swallowed a living lobster, which is clawing and feeding upon the very foundations of his existence. On the fifth day his cheeks suddenly appear hollow and sunken, his body attenuated, his color an ashy pale, and his eye wild, glassy, cannibalish. The different parts of the system now wage war with each other. The stomach calls upon the legs to go with it, in quest of food: the legs from very weakness refuse. The sixth day brings with it incessant suffering, although the pangs of hunger are lost in an overpowering langor and sickness. The head becomes giddy--the ghosts of well remembered dinners pass in hideous procession through the mind. The seventh day comes bringing in train lassitude and further prostration of the system. The arms hang listlessly, the legs drag heavily. The desire for food is still left, to a degree, but it must be brought, not sought. The miserable remnant of life which still hangs to the sufferer is a burden almost too grievous to be borne, yet his inherent love of existence induces a desire still to preserve it, if it can be saved without a tax upon bodily exertion. The mind wanders. At one moment he thinks his weary limbs cannot sustain him a mile--the next he is endowed with unnatural strength and if there be a certainty of relief before him, dashes bravely and strongly onward, wondering where proceeds this new and sudden impulse. Farther than this my experience runneth not."--Vol. I. P. 266. The whole of the company--ninety eight men--subsisted for thirteen days on what was "really not provisions enough for three, and then came upon a herd of 17000 sheep, about eighty miles south east of Santa fe. Here a scene of feasting ensued which beggars description. ° ° ° Our men abandoned themselves at once to eating--perhaps I should rather call it gormandizing or stuffing. ° ° ° Had the food been any thing but mutton, and had we not procured an ample supply of salt from the Mexicans to season it, our men might have died of the surfeit."--p. 265.
This lively writer, Geo. W. Kendall, has told a tale in the book just quoted, of prairie life and adventures as well as of Mexican barbarity and treachery, and his embellished his story with all the graces of style and description calculated to render it a work of enduring interest.