WHEN COLTER was resuming in 1807 with Lewis & Clark, from Oregon, he met a company of hunters ascending the Missouri, by whom he was persuaded to return to the trapping region, to hunt and trap with them. Here he was found by Liza in the following year, whom he assisted in building the Fort at the Big Horn. In one of his many excursions from this post to the Forks of the Missouri, for beaver, he made the wonderful escape adverted to in the last chapter and which I give precisely as he related it to me. His veracity was never questioned among us and his character was that of a true American backwoodsman. He was about thirty-five years of age, five feet ten inches in height and wore an open, ingenious, and pleasing countenance of the Daniel Boone stamp. Nature had formed him, like Boone, for hardy endurance of fatigue, privations and perils. He had gone with a companion named Potts to the Jefferson river, which is the most western of the three Forks, and runs near the base of the mountains. They were both proceeding up the river in search of beaver, each in his own canoe, when a war party of about eight hundred Black-Feet Indians suddenly appeared on the east bank of the river. The Chiefs ordered them to come ashore, and apprehending robbery only, and knowing the utter hopelessness of flight and having dropped his traps over the side of the canoe from the Indians, into the water, which was here quite shallow, he hastened to obey their mandate. On reaching the shore, he was seized, disarmed and stripped entirely naked. Potts was still in his canoe in the middle of the stream, where he remained stationary, watching the result. Colter requested him to come ashore, which he refused to do, saying he might as well lose his life at once, as be stripped and robbed in the manner Colter had been. An Indian immediately fired and shot him about the hip; he dropped down in the canoe, but instantly rose with his rifle in his hands. "Are you hurt," said Colter. "Yes, said he, too much hurt to escape; if you can get away do so. I will kill at least one of them." He leveled his rifle and shot an Indian dead. In an instant, at least a hundred bullets pierced his body and as many savages rushed into the stream and pulled the canoe, containing his riddled corpse, ashore. They dragged the body up onto the bank, and with their hatchets and knives cut and hacked it all to pieces, and limb from limb. The entrails, heart, lungs, &c., they threw into Colter's face. The relations of the killed Indian were furious with rage and struggled, with tomahawk in hand, to reach Colter, while others held them back. He was every moment expecting the death blow or the fatal shot that should lay him beside his companion. A council was hastily held over him and his fate quickly determined upon. He expected to die by tomahawk, slow, lingering and horrible. But they had magnanimously determined to give him a chance, though a slight one, for his life. After
the council, a Chief pointed to the prairie and motioned him away with his hand, saying in the Crow language, "go--go away." He supposed they intended to shoot him as soon as he was out of the crowd and presented a fair mark to their guns. He started in a walk, and an old Indian with impatient signs and exclamations, told him to go faster, and as he still kept a walk, the same Indian manifested his wishes by still more violent gestures and adjurations. When he had gone a distance of eighty or a hundred yards from the army of his enemies, he saw the younger Indians throwing off their blankets, leggings, and other incumbrances, as if for a race. Now he knew their object. He was to run a race, of which the prize was to be his own life and scalp. Off he started with the speed of the wind. The war-whoop and yell immediately arose behind him; and looking back, he saw a large company of young warriors, with spears, in rapid pursuit. He ran with all the strength that nature, excited to the utmost, could give; fear and hope lent a supernatural vigor to his limbs and the rapidity of his flight astonished himself. The Madison Fork lay directly before him, five miles from his starting place. He had run half the distance when his strength began to fail and the blood to gush from his nostrils. At every leap the red stream spurted before him, and his limbs were growing rapidly weaker and weaker. He stopped and looked back; he had far outstripped all his pursuers and could get off if strength would only hold out. One solitary Indian, far ahead of the others, was rapidly approaching, with a spear in his right hand, and a blanket streaming behind from his left hand and shoulder. Despairing of escape, Colter awaited his pursuer and called to him in the Crow language, to save his life. The savage did not seem to hear him, but letting go his blanket, and seizing his spear with both hands, he rushed at Colter, naked and defenseless as he stood before him and made a desperate lunge to transfix him. Colter seized the spear, near the head, with his right hand, and exerting his whole strength, aided by the weight of the falling Indian, who had lost his balance in the fury of the onset, he broke off the iron head or blade which remained in his hand, while the savage fell to the ground and lay prostrate and disarmed before him. Now was his turn to beg for his life, which he did in the Crow language, and held up his hands imploringly, but Colter was not in a mood to remember the golden rule, and pinned his adversary through the body to the earth one stab with the spear head. He quickly drew the weapon from the body of the now dying Indian, and seizing his blanket as lawful spoil, he again set out with renewed strength, feeling, he said to me, as if he had not run a mile. A shout and yell arose from the pursuing army in his rear as from a legion of devils, and he saw the prairie behind him covered with Indians in full and rapid chase. Before him, if any where was life and safety; behind him certain death; and running as never man before sped the foot, except, perhaps, at the Olympic Games, he reached his goal, the Madison river and the end of his five mile heat. Dashing through the willows on the bank he plunged into the stream and saw close beside him a beaver house, standing like a coal-pit about ten feet above the surface of the water, which was here of about the same depth. This presented to him a refuge from his ferocious enemies of which he immediately availed himself. Diving under the water he arose into the beaver house, where he found a dry and comfortable resting place on the upper floor or story of this singular structure. The Indians soon came up, and in their search for him they stood upon the roof of his house of refuge, which he expected every moment to hear them breaking open. He also feared that they would set it on fire. After a diligent search on that side of the river, they crossed over, and in about two hours returned again to his temporary habitation in which he was enjoying bodily rest, though with much anxious foreboding. The beaver houses are divided into two stories and will generally accommodate several men in a dry and comfortable lodging. In this asylum Colter kept fast till night. The cries of his terrible enemies had gradually died away, and all was still around him, when he ventured out of his hiding place, by the same opening under the water by which he entered and which admits the beavers to their building. He swam the river and hastened towards the mountain gap or ravine, about thirty miles above on the river, through which our company passed in the snow with so much difficulty. Fearing that the Indians might have guarded this pass, which was the only outlet from the valley, and to avoid the danger of a surprise, Colter ascended the almost perpendicular mountain before him, the tops and sides of which a great way down, were covered with perpetual snow. He clambered up this fearful ascent about four miles below the gap, holding on by the rocks, shrubs and branches of trees, and by morning had reached the top. He lay there concealed all that day, and at night proceeded on in the descent of the mountain, which he accomplished by dawn. He now hastened on in the open plain towards Manuel's Fort on the Big Horn, about three hundred miles a headin the north-east. He travelled day and night, stopping only for necessary repose, and eating roots and the bark of trees for eleven days. He reached the Fort, nearly exhausted by hunger, fatigue and excitement. His only clothing was the Indian's blanket, whom he had killed in the race, and his only weapon, the same Indian's spear which he brought to the Fort as a trophy. His beard was long, his face and whole body were thin and emaciated by hunger, and his limbs and feet swollen and sore. The company at the Fort did not recognize him in this dismal plight until he had made himself known. Colter now with me passed over the scene of his capture and wonderful escape, and described his emotions during the whole adventure with great minuteness. Not the least of his exploits was the scaling of the mountain, which seemed to me impossible even by the mountain goat. As I looked at its rugged and perpendicular sides I wondered how he ever reached the top--a feat probably never performed before by mortal man. The whole affair is a fine example of the quick and ready thoughtfulness and presence of mind in a desperate situation, and the power of endurance, which characterise the western pioneer. As we passed over the ground where Colter ran his race, and listened to his story an undefinable fear crept over all. We felt awe-struck by the nameless and numerous dangers that evidently beset us on every side. Even Cheek's courage sunk and his hitherto buoyant and cheerful spirit was depressed at hearing of the perils of the place. He spoke despondingly and his mind was uneasy, restless and fearful. "I am afraid," said he, "and I acknowledge it. I never felt fear before but now I feel it." A melancholy that seemed like a presentiment of his own fate, possessed him, and to us he was serious almost to sadness, until he met his death a few days afterwards from the same Blackfeet from whom Colter escaped. Colter told us the particulars of a second adventure which I will give to the reader. In the winter when he had recovered from the fatigues of his long race and journey, he wished to recover the traps which he had dropped into the Jefferson Fork on the first appearance of the Indians who captured him. He supposed the Indians were all quiet in winter quarters, and retraced his steps to the Gallatin Fork. He had just passed the mountain gap, and encamped on the bank of the river for the night and kindled a fire to cook his supper of buffalo meat when he heard the crackling of leaves and branches behind him in the direction of the river. He could see nothing, it being quite dark, but quickly he heard the cocking of guns and instantly leaped over the fire. Several shots followed and bullets whistled around him, knocking the coals off his fire over the ground. Again he fled for life, and the second time, ascended the perpendicular mountain which he had gone up in his former flight fearing now as then, that the pass might be guarded by Indians. He reached the top before morning and resting for the day descended the next night, and then made his way with all possible speed, to the Fort. He said that at the time, he promised God Almighty that he would never return to this region again if he were only permitted to escape once more with his life. He did escape once more, and was now again in the same country, courting the same dangers, which he had so often braved, and that seemed to have for him a kind of fascination. Such men, and there are thousands of such, can only live in a state of excitement and constant action. Perils and danger are their natural element and their familiarity with them and indifference to their fate, are well illustrated in these adventures of Colter.
A few days afterward, when Cheek was killed and Colter had another narrow escape, he came into the Fort, and said he had promised his Maker to leave the country, and "now" said he, throwing down his hat on the ground, "If God will only forgive me this time and let me off I will leave the country day after tomorrow--and be d--d if I ever come into it again." He left accordingly, in company with young Bryant of Philadelphia, whose father was a merchant of that city, and one other whose name I forget. They were attacked by the Blackfeet just beyond the mountains, but escaped by hiding in a thicket, where the Indians were afraid to follow them, and at night they proceeded towards the Big Horn, lying concealed in the daytime. They reached St. Louis safely and a few years after I heard of Colter's death by jaundice.
We arrived at the Forks of the Missouri on the third day of April, 1810, ten months after leaving St. Louis and two months and one day after quitting my cabin above the Gros Ventre village. We had now reached our place of business, trapping for beaver, and prepared to set to work. Dougherty, Brown, Ware and myself agreed to trap in company on the Missouri between the Forks and the Falls, which lie several hundred miles down the river to the north, from the Forks. We made two canoes by hollowing out the trunks of two trees and on the third or fourth day after our arrival at the Forks we were ready to start on an expedition down the river. The rest of the Americans with a few French, in all eighteen in number, determined to go up the Jefferson river for trapping, and the rest of the company under Col. Menard remained to complete the Fort and trading house at the Forks between the Jefferson and Madison rivers. On parting from Cheek, he said in a melancholy tone, "James you are going down the Missouri, and it is the general opinion that you will be killed. The Blackfeet are at the falls, encamped I hear, and we fear you will never come back. But I am afraid for myself as well as you. I know not the cause, but I have felt fear ever since I came to the Forks, and I never was afraid of anything before. You may come out safe, and I may be killed. Then you will say, there was Cheek afraid to go with us down the river for fear of death, and now he has found his grave by going up the river. I may be dead when you return." His words made little impression on me at the time, but his tragical end a few days afterwards recalled them to my mind and stamped them on my memory forever. I endeavored to persuade him to join our party, while he was equally urgent for me to join his, saying that if we went in one company our force would afford more protection from Indians, than in small parties, while I contended that the fewer our numbers the better would be our chance of concealment and escape from any war parties that might be traversing the country. We parted never to meet again, taking opposite directions and both of us going into the midst of dangers. My company of four started down the river and caught some beaver on the first day. On the second we passed a very high spur of the mountain on our right. The mountains in sight on our left, were not so high as those to the east of us. On the third day we issued from very high and desolate mountains on both sides of us, whose tops are covered with snow throughout the year, and came upon a scene of beauty and magnificence combined, unequalled by any other view of nature that I ever beheld. It really realized all my conception of the Garden of Eden. In the west the peaks and pinnacles of the Rocky Mountains shone resplendent in the sun. The snow on their tops sent back a beautiful reflection of the rays of the morning sun. From the sides of the dividing ridge between the waters of the Missouri and Columbia, there sloped gradually down to the bank of the river we were on, a plain, then covered with every variety of wild animals peculiar to this region, while on the east another plain arose by a very gradual ascent, and extended as far as the eye could reach. These and the mountain sides were dark with Buffalo, Elk, Deer, Moose, wild Goats and wild Sheep; some grazing, some lying down under the trees and all enjoying a perfect millenium of peace and quiet. On the margin the swan, geese, and pelicans, cropped the grass or floated on the surface of the water. The cotton wood trees seemed to have been planted by the hand of man on the bank of the river to shade our way, and the pines and cedars waved their tall, majestic heads along the base and on the sides of the mountains. The whole landscape was that of the most splendid English park. The stillness, beauty and loveliness of this scene, stuck us all with indescribable emotions. We rested on the oars and enjoyed the whole view in silent astonishment and admiration. Nature seemed to have rested here, after creating the wild mountains and chasms among which we had voyaged for two days. Dougherty, as if inspired by the scene with the spirit of poetry and song, broke forth in one of Burns' noblest lyrics, which found a deep echo in our hearts. We floated on till evening through this most delightful country, when we stopped and prepared supper on the bank of the river. We set our traps and before going to rest for the night we examined them and found a beaver in every one, being twenty-three in all. In the evening we were nearly as successful as before and were cheered with thoughts of making a speedy fortune. We determined to remain in this second paradise as long as our pursuits would permit. We skinned our beaver, ate breakfast and started to go further down the river in search of a good camp ground. Brown and Dougherty started in a canoe, before Ware and I were ready, and after going about two hundred yards, they struck a rock concealed under the water, overturned the canoe, and lost all our skins and amunition except the little powder in our horns and few skins left behind. They also lost their guns, but saved themselves and the canoe. Ware and I soon followed them, and we all encamped at the mouth of a small creek on the left side of the river. Here Ware and I remained while the two others went back to the Fort to procure other guns and amunition, taking with them one of our guns. They reached the Fort the first night, having saved a great distance by crossing the country and cutting off the bend of the river which here makes a large sweep to the east. They went up on the west side or that next to the mountains, waded Jefferson's Fork and entered the Fort late at night. Early the next morning the whole garrison was aroused by an alarm made by Valle and several Frenchmen who came in, as if pursued by enemies, and informed them that the whole party who had gone up the Jefferson, at the time of our departure down the Missouri, had been killed by the Indians, and that they expected an immediate attack on the Fort. The whole garrison prepared for resistance. The next morning after Valle's arrival, Colter came in unhurt, with a few others, and said there were no Indians near the Fort. Col. Menard despatched Dougherty and Brown, on the same day, to us with the request that we should hasten to the Fort to assist in its defense. Being well mounted, they came up to our camp as we were preparing dinner. Their faces were pale with fright, and in great trepidation they told us they had seen Indian "signs" on the route from the Fort--that a horse with a rope about his neck had run up and snuffed around them as if in search of his master, and then disappeared--that an Indian dog had performed the same action. Every thing indicated that Indians were near, and we hastened to depart for the Fort. We proceeded up the creek near whose mouth we had encamped, and were screened from view on the north by the willows on our right. We had gone very cautiously four miles, when we left the river, and I perceived a small herd of buffalo in the creek bottom far to our right, start bounding off as if from pursuers in the rear, and immediately after, I descried through an opening in the willows, eight Indians, walking rapidly across the plain in the direction of our late camp. I informed the others of my observation, and Ware horror stricken proposed immediate flight. I protested against this course and no one seconded him, but we were all alarmed and the chins and lips of some quivered as they spoke. I said that we could not all escape, having but two horses among us, that we had, perhaps, seen the whole force of the Indians, and that they might not have seen us at all; that we could fight eight with success. I proposed that if attacked we should make a breast-work of our horses and two of us should fire upon them at a hundred yards, that the other two should fire at fifty yards, that the reloaded guns should despatch the third couple, and our knives and pistols finish the seventh and eighth. This Bobadil proposition revived their spirits wonderfully, and they instantly dismissed all thoughts of flight. Ware and I ascended a small height to watch the Indians, while the rest went on with the horses, which travelled slowly with packs. Here we saw the Indians go up to our deserted camp, the smoke from which had attracted them thither. The smoke in this clear atmosphere is visible to a great distance. The hunters said they had seen the smoke from an ordinary fire in the prairies for three hundred miles. We proceeded without pursuit, and at two o'clock the next morning we reached the Jefferson Fork, opposite the Fort. Unwilling to risk the danger of an attack by delay we forded the river with great difficulty, and went towards the Fort, whence some dogs rushed upon us, barking furiously. I spoke to the dogs, and a voice hailed us from the Fort with "who's there"? I answered promptly, and thus saved ourselves from a volley, for when we entered the Fort, the whole garrison was drawn up with fingers upon triggers. They were expecting an attack every moment, and did not look for us so soon. They were all in the greatest consternation. Lieutenant Emmel with those before mentioned of the trapping party up the river, had come in and they supposed that all the rest had been killed. They had had a very narrow escape themselves, as all but Colter probably considered it; he with his large experience, naturally looked upon the whole as an ordinary occurrence. During the day others came in and we learned from them the extent of our losses. The company consisting of eighteen, had proceeded up the bank of the Jefferson, trapping, and on the third day had pitched their tents for the night, near the river, and about forty miles from the Fort. Cheek, Hull and Ayers were employed in preparing the camp, while the rest had dispersed in various directions to kill game, when some thirty or forty Indians appeared on the prairie south of them, running a foot and on horses, toward the camp. Valle and two men whose names I forget, came running up to Cheek and others and told them to catch their horses and escape. This Cheek refused to do, but, seizing his rifle and pistols, said he would stay and abide his fate. "My time has come, but I will kill at least two of them, and then I don't care." His gloomy forebodings were about to be fulfilled through his own recklessness and obstinacy. Ayers ran frantically about, paralysed by fear and crying, "O God, O God, what can I do." Though a horse was within his reach he was disabled by terror from mounting and saving his life. Courage and cowardice met the same fate, though in very different manners. Hull stood coolly examining his rifle as if for battle. The enemy were coming swiftly toward them, and Valle and his two companions started off pursued by mounted Indians. The sharp reports of Cheek's rifle and pistols were soon heard, doing the work of death upon the savages, and then a volley of musketry sent the poor fellow to his long home.
Lieutenant Emmel and another came in from hunting, about dusk, ignorant of the fate of their fellows, and seeing the tent gone they supposed the place of the camp had been changed. Hearing a noise at the river, Emmel went down to the bank, whence he saw through the willows, on the opposite side, a camp of thirty Indian lodges, a woman coming down to the river with a brass kettle which he would have sworn was his own, and also a white man bound by both arms to a tree. He could not recognise the prisoner, but supposed he was an American. On returning to the place where Cheek had pitched his tent, he saw his dead body without the scalp, lying where he had bravely met his end. He then hastened to the Fort where his arrival has been noticed before. A greater part of the garrison, with myself, started out on the morning of my coming in to go in pursuit of the Indians, up the river, and to bury our dead. We found and buried the corpses of our murdered comrades, Cheek and Ayers; the latter being found in the river near the bank. Hull was never heard of, and two others, Rucker and Fleehart were also missing; being killed or taken prisoners by the Indians. An Indian was found dead, with two bullets in his body, supposed to be from Cheek's pistol. The body was carefully concealed under leaves and earth, and surrounded by logs. We followed the trail of the savages for two days when we missed it and gave up the chase. Many of the men wished to pursue them into the mountains, but Col. Menard judged it imprudent to go further in search of them, as we should, probably, come upon an army of which this party was but a detachment. He thought the main body was very large, and not distant from us or the Fort, and therefore determined to return and await them there. We accordingly retraced our steps to the Fort, and remained in it, with our whole force, for several days, expecting an attack. No attack was made, however, nor did an enemy make his appearance afterwards, except in the shape of white, grey, brown and grizzly bears. Seeing nothing of our enemies, the Blackfeet, we soon became emboldened and ventured out of the Fort to hunt and trap, to the distance of about six miles. In these short expeditions the men had frequent encounters with bears, which in this region are of enormous size, sometimes weighing 800 pounds each, and when wounded, are the most terribly ferocious and dangerous to the hunter of all other animals. The African Lion and Bengal Tiger are the only beasts of prey, that in ferocity and power, can be compared with the Grey or Grizzly Bear of the Rocky Mountains. These were the terrors of our men as much as were the Indians, and they usually spoke of them both as equally terrible and equally to be avoided. The great strength of the Bear, his swiftness and utter insensibility to danger when wounded, render him as dangerous to the hunter as the Tiger or the Lion. The first shot is seldom fatal upon him, on account of the thickness of his skin and skull, and the great quantity of fat and flesh that envelope his heart, and make an almost impenetrable shield in front. I will relate a few adventures with this North American king of beasts, and then proceed with my narrative.
Ware, an American, was hunting on an island in the Madison river, a short distance from the Fort and came suddenly, in a buffalo path, upon a white or grey Bear. He fired at the monster, wounded him in the breast, and then ran for his life, with the Bear at his heels, and saved himself by plunging into the river. His pursuer laid himself down on the bank and in the last struggle of death, fell into the water, where he died. Ware drew him out, took off the skin and was cutting and hanging up the meat, when he heard the noise of another Bear in the thicket near by. He hastened to the Fort for assistance and a party, with me, went over to the island. When there, we separated in our search, and in beating about the bushes, I, with my dog, entered a narrow path, and had gone some distance, when I saw the dog ahead, suddenly bristle up, bark and walk lightly as if scenting danger. I called to the men to come up, and watched the dog. He soon found the bear guarding a dead elk, which he and his dead companion had killed and covered with leaves. As soon as he saw the dog he plunged at him, and came furiously toward me, driving the dog before him and snorting and raging like a mad bull. I levelled my gun and snapped, and then ran with the bear at my heels, and his hot breath upon me. I reached the river bank, and turned short up a path, in which I met my companions coming to my call. They, however, seeing me running, were panic stricken and took to their heels also, thus were we all in full retreat from bruin, who crossed the river and fled through the willows on the other side. We heard him crashing his way for many hundred yards. On another occasion, a party had wounded a bear which instantly gave chase and overtook a Shawnee Indian in the company named Luthecaw, who had stumbled over some brush and fallen. He grasped the Indian by the double capeau and coat collar and stood over him, while we fired six shots into the bear, which fell dead upon the Indian, who cried out that the bear was crushing him to death, but arose unhurt, as soon as we removed the tremendous weight of the dead monster from his body. His jaws were firmly closed upon the Shawnee's "capeau" and coat collar, who arose at last with "sacre moste, I'est crazy, monte"--"damn the bear, he almost mashed me."
We kept the flag flying a month, frequently seeing Indians without getting an interview with them; they always fleeing at our approach. We then pulled down the flag and hoisted the scalp of the Indian whom Cheek had killed. By this time the Fort was completed and put in a good state of defense. We subsisted ourselves in the meantime, by hunting in small parties, which started out of Fort before day and went some twenty or thirty miles, and after having killed a buffalo or elk, come back with the meat loaded on the horses.
The Grizzly Bears frequently made their appearance and we killed great numbers of them. A Yankee, named Pelton, was remarkable for his contracted, narrow eyes, which resembled those of a bear. He was a jovial, popular fellow, and had greatly amused the company in coming up the river, by his songs and sermons. At every stopping place he held a meeting for the mock trial of offenders and exhorted us in the New England style to mend our courses and eschew sin. He had an adventure with a bear, about this time, which is worth relating. While trapping near the Fort with a small party, including myself, he was watching his traps alone, a short distance from us, when he heard a rustling in the bushes at his right, and before turning around he was attacked by a large bear, which grasped him by the breast, bore him to the earth and stood over him with his head back and eyes fixed on his face as if observing his features; Pelton screamed and yelled in a most unearthly manner, and his new acquaintance, as if frightened by his appearance and voice, leaped from over his body, stood and looked at him a moment, over his shoulder, growled, and then walked off. We ran in the direction of the cries and soon met Pelton coming towards us in a walk, grumbling and cursing, with his head down, as if he had been disturbed in a comfortable sleep, and altogether wearing an air of great dissatisfaction. He told us the story, and thought he owed his escape to his bearish eyes which disconcerted his friendly relation in the act of making a dinner of him.
The Indians, we thought, kept the game away from the vicinity of the Fort. Thus we passed the time till the month of May, when a party of twenty-one, of whom I was one, determined to go up the Jefferson river to trap. By keeping together we hoped to repel any attack of the savages. We soon found the trapping in such numbers not very profitable, and changed our plan by separating in companies of four, of whom, two men would trap while two watched the camp. In this manner we were engaged, until the fear of Indians began to wear off, and we all became more venturous. One of our company, a Shawnee half-breed named Druyer, the principal hunter of Lewis & Clark's party, went up the river one day and set his traps about a mile from the camp. In the morning he returned alone and brought back six beavers. I warned him of his danger. "I am too much of an Indian to be caught by Indians," said he. On the next day he repeated the adventure and returned with the product of his traps, saying, "this is the way to catch beavers." On the third morning he started again up the river to examine his traps, when we advised him to wait for the whole party, which was about moving further up the stream, and at the same time two other Shawnees left us against our advice, to kill deer. We started forward in company, and soon found the dead bodies of the last mentioned hunters, pierced with lances, arrows and bullets and lying near each other. Further on, about one hundred and fifty yards, Druyer and his horse lay dead, the former mangled in a horrible manner; his head was cut off, his entrails torn out and his body hacked to pieces. We saw from the marks on the ground that he must have fought in a circle on horseback, and probably killed some of his enemies, being a brave man, and well armed with a rifle, pistol, knife and tomahawk. We pursued the trail of the Indians till night, without overtaking them, and then returned, having buried our dead, with saddened hearts to Fort.
Soon after this time, Marie and St. John, my two Canadian companions on the route from my winter quarters on the Missouri to the Big Horn, came to the Fort at the Forks. Marie's right eye was out and he carried the yet fresh marks of a horrible wound on his head and under his jaw. After I had left them at the Big Horn to come to the Forks, they came on to the Twenty-five Yard river, the most western branch of the Yellow Stone, for the purpose of trapping. One morning after setting his traps, Marie strolled out into the prairie for game, and soon perceived a large White Bear rolling on the ground in the shade of a tree. Marie fired at and missed him. The bear snuffed around him without rising, and did not see the hunter until he had re-loaded, fired again and wounded him. His majesty instantly, with ears set back, flew towards his enemy like an arrow, who ran for life, reached a beaver dam across the river, and seeing no escape by land, plunged into the water above the dam. The Bear followed and soon proved himself as much superior to his adversary in swimming as in running. Marie dove and swam under the water as long as he could, when he rose to the surface near the Bear. He saved himself by diving and swimming in this manner several times, but his enemy followed close upon him and watched his motions with the sagacity which distinguishes these animals. At last he came up from under the water, directly beneath the jaws of the monster, which seized him by the head, the tushes piercing the scalp and neck under the right jaw and crushing the ball of his right eye. In this situation with his head in the Bear's mouth and he swimming with him ashore, St. John having heard his two shots in quick succession, came running to his rescue. St. John levelled his rifle and shot the Bear in the head, and then dragged out Marie from the water more dead than alive. I saw him six days afterwards, with a swelling on his head an inch thick, and his food and drink gushed through the opening under his jaw, made by the teeth of his terrible enemy.
We made frequent hunting excursions in small parties, in which nothing of consequence occurred. Many of us had narrow escapes from Indians and still narrower from the Grizzly and White Bears. Game became very scarce and our enemies seemed bent upon starving us out. We all became tired of this kind of life, cooped up in a small enclosure and in perpetual danger of assassination when outside the pickets. The Blackfeet manifested so determined a hatred and jealousy of our presence, that we could entertain no hope of successfully prosecuting our business, even if we could save our lives, in their country. Discouraged by the prospect before us, most of the Americans prepared to go back to the settlements, while Col. Henry and the greater part of the company, with a few Americans were getting ready to cross the mountains and go onto the Columbia beyond the vicinity of our enemies. A party which had been left at Manuel's Fort, for the purpose, had brought up one of the boats and part of the goods from the "cache'' on the Yellow Stone below the Fort, as far as Clark's river, where, on account of the rapidity of the current, they had been compelled to leave them. Thither Menard went with men and horses to get the goods for the trip to the Columbia, and I accompanied him with most of the Americans on our way back to civilized life and the enjoyments of home. When we reached the Twenty-five Yard river we met one hundred and fifty Indians of the Gros Ventre tribe. One of the men observing a new calico shirt belonging to him, around the neck of an Indian, informed Menard of his suspicions that this party had robbed the "cache" (from the French, cachee to hide, ) of the goods which they had hid in the earth near the bank of the Yellow Stone, in the fall before. Menard questioned them, but they denied the theft, saying they got the calico at the trading house. In the evening they entrenched themselves behind breastworks of logs and brush, as if fearing an attack from us, and in the morning, departed on an expedition against the snakes, of which miserable nation, we heard afterwards, they killed and took for slaves, a large number. Thus the whales of this wilderness destroy the minnows.
Here we made three canoes of buffalo bull's skins, by sewing together two skins, for each canoe, and then stretching them over a frame similar in shape to a Mackinaw boat. Our canoe contained three men, about sixty steel traps, five hundred beaver skins, our guns and amunition, besides other commodities. Nine of us started down the river in these canoes and in two days reached Clark's river where the boats with the goods was awaiting us. The rest with the horses by land. Clark's river enters the Yellow Stone from the south; near its mouth we found an army of the Crow nation encamped. This is a wandering tribe like most of the Indians in this region, without any fixed habitation. These were then at war with the Blackfeet, whom they were seeking to give battle. Having remained with us a few days, they went off towards the south. One of our hunters came into camp, on the evening of the day when they had departed, and informed us of a large force of Indians about four miles to the north, stationed behind a breast-work of rock and earth near a cliff. These were supposed to be Blackfeet, and early in the morning, the land party with the horses, having arrived, we mustered our whole force and went out to attack them in their entrenchment. We were all eager for the fight, and advancing upon them in Indian style, we discovered instead of Blackfeet, about a hundred warriors of the Crow nation, who had been out in an expedition against the Blackfeet and had just returned. They were a detachment from the army which had left us the day before. They marched into our camp on horse, two abreast, and there learning from us the news of their comrades, they immediately crossed the river in pursuit of them. Their manner of crossing the river was singular, and reminded me of the roving Tartars. They stripped themselves entirely naked, and every ten piled their accoutrements together, blankets, saddles, weapons, &c., on a tent skin made of buffalo robes, and tying it up in a large round bundle, threw it into the river and plunged after, some swimming with these huge heaps, floating like corks, and others riding the horses or holding by the tails till they had all crossed the river. Arrived on the opposite bank, which they reached in little less time than I have taken to describe their passage, they dressed, mounted their horses, and marched off two and two, as before, and were quickly out of our sight.
Here we parted from our companions, who were going to the Columbia, and who returned hence to the Forks with the goods and amunition for their trip, while we, the homeward bound, continued our course down the river in the canoes and the boat they had left, to the Fort on the Big Horn. We remained here several days, repairing a keel boat left by Manuel two years before, which we loaded with the goods from the canoes, and then recommended our descent of the Yellow Stone with the canoes and two boats. Col. Menard accompanied us in one of the boats, and I with two companions kept to our canoe in advance of the others for the purpose of killing game. On reaching the place "cacheing" the goods and leaving the boats, on account of the ice the year before, Menard verified his suspicions of the Gros Ventres whom he met on the Twenty-five Yard river. The pit containing the goods and effects of the men had been opened and forty trunks robbed of their contents. Another pit containing the company's goods had also been opened, and the most valuable of its store left by Menard was taken off by the Gros Ventres. They had also cut up and nearly destroyed the boats. We required one with the fragments of the other, and then passed down the river with three boats. I kept ahead as before in my skin canoe. This river is very rapid throughout its whole course, and very shallow. We were now near the Falls which are difficult and dangerous of navigation. In the morning I killed two buffalos with my pistol and rifle, and my two companions killed two more, which we up and stowed away. We approached the Falls sooner than we expected, and were directing our course to the left side among the sunken rocks and breakers, where we would certainly have been lost, when we heard a gun behind and saw the men on the boats waving us with handkerchiefs to the right. We were barely able to gain the channel, when the canoe shot down the descent with wonderful rapidity. We flew along the water like a sledge down an icy hill. My two companions lay in the bottom of the canoe, which frequently rebounded from the waves made by the rocks under the water and stood nearly upright. The waves washed over us and nearly filled the canoe with water. The boats behind commenced the descent soon after we had ended it in safety. They several times struck and one of them hung fast on a concealed rock. We hauled our canoe ashore, carried it above, and coming down to the foundered boat and lighting it of part of its load, we got it off the rocks. We now passed rapidly down to the Missouri river, where I left my friendly canoe and went aboard one of the boats. Here my spirits were cheered with the near prospect of home. I longed to see the familiar faces of kindred and friends with a yearning of the heart, which few can realize who have not wandered as I had done, among savages and wild beasts and made the earth my bed and the sky my canopy for more than a year. My way homeward was clear and comparatively safe; the tribes along the river being friendly, or if hostile, unable to annoy us as the Blackfeet had done so long in the prairies.
In my wanderings in this expedition I saw much of the Indians and their manner of living. Those in this region were then more savage, less degraded, and more virtuous than they are at the present time. The white man and his "fire water" have sadly demoralized them, thinned their numbers, and will soon sink them into oblivion. They are no longer the proud, hauty, simple minded warriors and orators that I found so many of them to be in 1809-10. Sunk in poverty and intemperance, they are fast dwindling away. I have seen some of the finest specimens of men among our North American Indians. I have seen Chiefs with the dignity of real Princes and the eloquence of real orators, and Braves with the valor of the ancient Spartans. Their manner of speaking is extremely dignified and energetic. They gesticulate with infinite grace, freedom and animation. Their words flow deliberately, conveying their ideas with great force and vividness of expression, deep into the hearts of their hearers. Among their speakers I recognized all the essentials in manner of consumate orators. I shall have occasion, in the following chapters to bring out some of their nobler qualities in bolder relief than was possible in the preceding, on account of the more intimate relations I afterwards formed with these children of nature and the prairies.
In five days after entering the Missouri, we descended to the Gros Ventre village and our Fort, and were there joyfully received by our old companions. Whiskey flowed like milk and honey in the land of Canaan, being sold to the men by the disinterested and benevolent gentlemen of the Missouri Fur Company, for the moderate sum of twelve dollars per gallon, they taking in payment, beaver skins at one dollar and a half, each, which were worth in St. Louis, six. Their prices for every thing else were in about the same proportion. Even at this price some of the men bought whiskey by the bucket full, and drank.
'Till they forgot their loves and debts
And cared for grief na mair.
During the carousel an incident occurred that nearly brought ruin upon us all. Three Shawnee Indians in the company from Kaskaskia, had started from the Upper Yellow Stone in a skin canoe, in advance, and had arrived a day or two before us. In their way down, one of them named Placota had wantonly killed a Crow Indian on the Yellow Stone, and a Gros Ventre on the Missouri, about sixty miles above the village, and taken their scalps. In his drunken fit Placota brought out one of these scalps in full view of the friendly Gros Ventres. Menard caught it out of his hand and hid it from view. The Indians became greatly excited, crowded around us and demanded to know whose scalp it was. Menard then produced to them the scalp of the Indian whom Cheek had killed and which they had seen before. They said this was a "dry" and the other a "green" scalp. We at last, and with great difficulty, pacified them and quieted their suspicions. Placota, who was raging mad, by Menard's orders was tied behind the trading house till he became sober, when I released him on his promise of good behavior.
This tribe was then very powerful, having in all five villages, and mustering, in case of emergency, as many as three thousand warriors. I have already noticed their character and warlike qualities. A singular custom prevails among them in cutting off a finger or inflicting a severe wound in remembrance of any severe misfortune. Few of the men thirty years of age, were without the marks of these wounds, made on the death of some near relation or on occasion of a defeat of the nation in war. Some I saw with three and one with four fingers cut off. I saw a young man bewailing the death of his father in a battle with the Blackfeet. He had compelled his friends to draw leather cords through the flesh under his arms and on his back, and attaching three Buffalo skulls, weighing at least twenty-five pounds, to the ends of the cords he dragged them over the ground after him through the village, moaning and lamenting in great distress. At their meals, the Indians on the Missouri, throw the first piece of meat in the direction of an absent friend. In smoking, they send the first whiff upwards in honor of the Great Spirit, the second downward as a tribute to their great mother, the third to the right and the fourth to the left, in thanks to the Great Spirit for the game. He sends them so abundantly on the bosom of the earth. Their name for Chief is Inca, the same as that of the South American and Mexican Indians. For knife they say messa; for horses, cowalla. A comparison of their languages will show an identity in their origin and race. They secure their dead by setting four poles, forked at the top, and about twenty five feet in height, in the ground. On these they put a scaffold of buffalo skin, fastened to the poles, and on this the corpse is placed, covered by a buffalo skin bound around it very tightly. In this way the corpse is protected from the birds and beasts, and thus it remains till the scaffold falls by decay. The bones are then gathered by the relatives and put into a common heap. I saw in the rear of the Gros Ventre village an immense extent of ground covered by these tombs in the air, and near by was a heap of skulls and bones which had fallen to the earth from these air graves.
After a few day's stay at the Fort and village, we again started down the river with Col. Menard and two boats. We arrived at St. Louis in the month of August, A. D. 1810, without any occurrence of interest on the voyage. We never got our dues or any thing of the least similitude to justice from the company. They brought me in their debt two hundred dollars, and some of the other Americans, for still larger sums. The reader may ask how this could be. He can easily imagine the process when he is told that the company charged us six dollars per pound for powder, three dollars for lead, six dollars for coarse calico shirts, one dollar and a half per yard for coarse tow linen for tents, the same for a common butcher knife, and so on, and allowed us only what I have mentioned for our beaver skins, our only means of payment. Capt. Lewis told me not to lay in any supplies in St. Louis, as the Company had plenty and could sell them to me as cheaply as I could get them in St. Louis, or nearly so, allowing only for a reasonable profit. Lewis did not intend to deceive us and was chagrined at the villanous conduct of the Company afterwards. This, with the fraudulent violation of their contracts and promises in the Indian country, by this concern, makes up a piece of extortion, fraud and swindling, that ought to consign the parties engaged in it to eternal infamy. The heaviest blame must rest on the unprincipled Liza; but the rest of the company must suffer the stigma of having connived at and profited by the villainy, if they did not actually originate and urge it onward. I sued them on my contract, and was the only one who did so. After many delays and continuances from term to term, I was glad to get rid of the suits and them, by giving my note for one hundred dollars to the Company. This, with my debt to Colter, made me a loser to the amount of three hundred dollars by one years trapping on the head waters of the Missouri. Some of the Americans, however, fared much worse, and were deterred from returning to the settlements at all, by their debts to the Company, which they were hopeless of discharging by any ordinary business in which they could engage. Such is one instance of the kind and considerate justice of wealth, to defenceless poverty, beautifully illustrating the truth of the sentiment uttered by somebody, "take care of the rich and the rich will take care of the poor."