Journal of Peter Skene Ogden; Snake Expedition, 1828-1829
(As copied by Miss Agnes C. Laut in 1905, from Original in Hudson's Bay Company House, London, England.)
September Monday 22nd. This day at 8 A. M. I took my departure from Fort Nez Perces once more for the Snake Country. at 3 P. M. I joined my party at the foot of the mountains(1) waiting my arrival. We are well provided regarding horses and traps but of indifferent quality. I am confident if we find beaver we shall always find ways of conveying them to Columbia River.
Tuesday 23rd. At sunrise horses were assembled two found missing as we have a long days march and hard roads, I gave orders to start, remaining in the rear to look for the strays, one of the men requested to return to the fort for medicine this I granted. At 10 we found the lost horses and I overtook camp in the middle of the mountain, 9 of our horses gave out.
Wednesday Ag. 24. Our horses were soon found. At 7 A. M. we started and reached the entrance of Grand Rondeau(2) at sunset all safe with the exception of 3/2 bg of pease lost by a horse taking fright.
Thursday 25th. Late in the night, the sick man arrived from the fort. He obtained some relief. I recd a few lines from Mr. Black. He has no complaint. We remained to make our tent poles(3) beyond this is no wood fit for the purpose. Two of the trappers started with traps. Hunters also started in pursuit of game but returned without success.
Friday 26th. Started at an early hour 6 A. M. and encamped on the Grand Ronde at 2 P. M. our horses fatigued, 8 in the rear -- wild horses are very unfit for a long journey. Two trappers joined us with 4 beaver.
Saturday 27th. Started at 7 A. M. crossed the Grand Ronde, ascended high stony hills advanced 6 miles, encamped on a small creek, 12 trappers started with their traps. They are to join us in 2 days.
Sunday Sept 28th. Reached the fork of Powder River. Trappers came in with 9 beaver.
Monday Sept 29. Encamped on Powder River; heat very great; 7 beaver.
Tuesday 30th Sept. Sent off 6 men with lodges to Burnt River from thence to go up River Malheur where we shall meet. Also sent off 5 men across country to rejoin us on the forks of Malheur. It is only by dividing that returns can be made. Encamped at the Fountain.(4) One trap gave us 11 beaver.
Wednesday 1st Oct. Encamped on fork of Burnt River.
Thursday 2nd Oct. Encamped half way down Burnt River, a hilly country; 10 beaver.
Sunday 5th. Appointed Payette and 7 trappers and 3 Indians to proceed to north and south branches. In case of seeing Americans I gave Payette a small trading assortment.
Monday 6th. did not reach unfortunate Malheur River till 4 P. M. At this point a Snake Indian was to assist as guide but so far no sign.
Thursday 9th Oct. One of the 5 men who started on the 20th arrived with word 8 of their horses were stolen 2 nights ago, and success in beaver is not great. In three days I shall join this party.
Saturday 11th Oct. At dusk reached a small fall of River Malheur a stony hilly road.
Friday 17 Oct. One of the party who separated from us on Powder River arrived. I shall proceed to Sandwich Island River. Our trip gave us 7 beaver.
Sunday 26th Oct. Started at day break. Advanced six miles. Reached a long lake,(5)
not suspecting the water was salt we advanced, when discovering it, we were obliged to retrace our steps to a small brook and camped at 4 P. M. having travelled all day to little purpose. Course S. E.
Monday 27th. Started at 7 A. M. following the banks of Salt Lake 9 miles long 4 wide without a discharge. We passed a hot spring in a boiling state strong smell of sulphur, tracks and huts of Indians. All have fled.
Saturday 1st November. Started at 7 A. M. our tracks this day between mountains on both sides over a plain covered with worm wood. The men saw 2 Indians whom they secured and brought to camp. More stupid brutes I never saw nor could we make him understand our meaning. Gave him a looking glass and his liberty. In less than 10 minutes he was far from us.
Monday 3rd. Had not advanced 3 miles when we found 3 large lakes covered with wild fowl, The water's have the taste of Globular salts.
Tuesday 4th Nov. The three men in advance discovered 4 Indians one of whom directed them to follow the trail to a large river and he advanced some distance with them, then deserted. A cold night. Reached a bend of the river and camped. Indians are most numerous, their subsistence grass roots and wild fowl. They fly in all directions. We are the first whites they have seen and they think we have come with no good intentions.
Wednesday 5th Nov. Sent out 6 men to ascend the mountains in the highest parts and reconnoitre, followed the Indian back to the sources of the river. Passed the night without supper or sleep unable to come back to camp.
FridaY 7 Nov. At 7 A. M. we crossed over the river wh. from running thro' a number of lakes I have named River of the Lakes, although not a wide stream certainly a long one.
Saturday 8 Nov. Crossed a plain and reached a stream similar in size to the River of the Lakes. The banks of the river are lined with huts and the river has natives most numerous.
Sunday 9th Nov. One of the hunters in advance returned with word this river discharges into a lake no water or grass beyond only hills of sand. Reached the lake and camped. Surprised to find tho' the river discharges in the lake and takes a subterranean passage it appears again taking an easterly course. Had not advanced 4 miles when a large stream appeared lined with willows. So glad was I to see it that at the risk of my life, over swamps, hills and rocks, I made all speed to reach it and the first thing I saw was a beaver house well stocked.
Monday 10th Nov. Long before dawn of day every trap, trapper was in motion. As dawn came the camp was deserted, success to them. I gave orders for all to ascend the river as the season is now advanced we may expect the river to be frozen. Should this river flow to Sandwich Island River I trust we shall have full time to trap it.
Tuesday 11th. To ascertain if possible what course this river takes, I started at daylight and continued down the river till one P. M. As far as I could see, it must return from whence it came. Found trappers had arrived at night with 50 beavers.
Thursday 13th. Had a cold night. Half our trappers absent. Those that came in brought 30 beaver. 6 Indians paid us a visit and traded 3 beaver. On asking what they had done with other skins, they pointed to their shoes and examination showed them to be made of beaver. This accounts for beaver being so wild. They told us toward the sources we shall find beaver more numerous.
Monday 17th Nov. Started with the camp to find grass for the horses. Advanced 6 miles 6 of the trappers came in with 41 beaver. The river is scarce of wood.
Tuesday 18 Nov. At this season last year, we were surrounded by snow and ice. Weather is mild as September and the rattlesnakes have not yet gone. This gives us hope the winter will be mild.
Wednesday 19 Nov. At 8 A. M. we started following the stream advanced 10 miles and encamped as usual on the banks of the river lined with deserted Indian villages, no less than 50 tents. 150 Indians paid us a visit, miserable looking wretches, with scarcely any covering, the greater part without bows and arrows without any defence. They were fat and in good condition. Six trappers came in with 58 beaver, and 10 traded from the Indians make 68. They report the river lined with Indians. On our arrival, they took us for a war party but are now convinced we war only on the beaver. They annoy us and have stolen 2 traps. By following us they make the beaver very wild.
Thursday 20th Nov. Again 60 beaver to skin and dress. I wish the same cause may often detain us. Recovered one trap. 300 Indians around our camp: very peacable. This river takes a southern course.
Saturday 22nd. 52 beaver; the river still fine; dead water and willows in abundance: gale of wind from the south and appearances of rain.
Sunday 23rd. Rain: three Snake Indians arrived and informed us they were from the Twin Falls(6) of the Snakes and that 2 mos. since 6 Americans had been killed there, by the Snake camp. I am confident it is not Payette's Party, as they were not to go in that direction. Course south, mountains visible in all directions. We need 200 to complete our 1st thousand beaver.
Tuesday 25th Nov. stormy night: 2 inches of snow. Bad weather and the arrival of one of the trappers late last night dangerously ill prevented us raising camp. This poor man stands but a slight chance of recovery.
Wednesday Aug 26th. The sick man dangerously ill. On requesting if we could raise camp he replied he could not move and requested us as an act of charity to end his sufferings by throwing him in the river. I am not of opinion he will recover. Yet he may linger for days.
Saturday 29th. Trappers started at dawn of day. I wish it was in my power to follow them but the sick man cannot stir.
Thursday 4 Dec. Cold, severe. Sick man no better. If the weather would moderate I would make an attempt to move. It is the general opinion he cannot survive. At all events by care and attention we shall not hasten his death, nor prevent recovery; but are in a critical situation, our horses starving, our provisions low. Granting it may hasten the death of our sick man, we have no alternative left. God forbid it should hasten his death. At the same time the interests of the others who are now becoming most anxious from the low ebb of provisions must be attended to. So long as they had food, there was no murmur. Now it is the reverse and I cannot blame them.
Saturday 6th Dec. With 2 men to assist the sick man, we raised camp, had a fire made and place cleared for his arrival. He did not suffer more than usual. One Snake tells us we shall soon reach buffalo.
Monday 8th. At 9 A. M. we started. I gave the sick man 2 men to assist him and lead his horse, taking every precaution to have him well covered with robes and blankets as from the cold and our having a long point of land to cross over, we had a hilly road, snow 2 ft. deep, camp 3 P. M. Shortly after one of the men in charge of the sick man arrived and reported the horse had become so fatigued they could not advance. I sent off 2 horses to their aid. About 7 P. M. they arrived. He does not complain of having suffered. Course S. E.
Tuesday 9th. From the sufferings of the man during the night, it was impossible to raise camp. Cold most severe. The river fast bound with ice. Provisions very low. Not a track of an animal to be seen.
Wednesday 10th. Cold. 2 men came forward this A. M. and volunteered to remain with the sick man as the latter requested I would consent to go on without him in quest of provisions and not apprehending danger from natives, I gave my consent. In fact there was no alternative. It is impossible for the whole party to remain here and feed on horse flesh for four months. 100 would scarcely suffice, and what would become of us afterwards? I secured an Indian to accompany us as guide, informing them of our intention to return and not to molest those I left behind, otherwise I would not only retaliate on them, but on the one who accompanied us. I gave the men a bag of pease and a 3 yr. old colt and strict orders of every precaution for their safety. At 10 A. M. we started along the banks of the River: crossed over on the ice and camped at sunset.
Thursday 18 Dec. At 9 A. M. we started. Travelled over a level country until 2 P. M. when we crossed over a large range of high hills and descended a very high hill where we reached a fine level plain with scarcely any snow. Here we found a small lake and encamped at dusk. Course east. Our guide informed us we were near the Utas Country not far distant from Salt Lake. I am fully aware we shall find nothing but salt water not palatable in our starving state.
Friday 19th Dec. 10 A. M. started north east over a barren plain covered with worm wood at a good pace till night when finding snow in abundance I camped. 2 horses killed for food. A gloomy barren country. Except for tracks of wolves no other animals seen.
Sunday 21st. Our guide informed me by starting at an early hour we would find water for camp, which our horses stand greatly in need of. Tho' we travelled as fast as our worn out horses could, it was night ere we crossed the plain and reached a small brook and piercing the ice found the water too salt to drink but by melting the ice it was tolerable. This day the (___) killed an antelope. A large herd seen but very wild.
Monday 22nd. Our horses appeared to relish the salt water for we had difficulty driving them from it. At 2 P. M. fell on a large Indian track of not long since Snakes wh. appear to be travelling in the same direction as we, no doubt in pursuit of the same object.
Tuesday 23rd. It was fortunate we had a track. Otherwise from the fog we should have been obliged to remain in camp.
Wednesday 24th. Our guide quarrelled over horses and deserted.
Friday 26th. Had a distant view of great Salt Lake. heavy fogs around it. Country is covered with cedars. From the tracks, buffalo must be abundant. At present none. On the eve of camping we were surprised to see our guide come in with a cheerful countenance. He informed us he had seen an Indian who reported buffalo, not far off. I trust this is true, as we are wretched reduced to skin and bone. Hunters killed 3 antelope. This will assist, tho' poor food at this season, but far preferable to horse flesh that die of disease.
Sunday 28th. With my consent 8 men started in advance in quest of food, the party having been three days without food. Here we are at the end of Great Salt Lake having this season explored one half of the north side of it and can safely assert as the Americans have of the south side that it is a barren country destitute of everything. Continued over a barren plain. Seeing it was impossible to reach the mountains we encamped.
Monday 29th. Late ere our horses were found. Had not advanced more than half a mile when we found 2 springs of fresh water for our poor horses. We continued till 3 P. M. when we reached the mountains and camped. Here again disappointed, no water. One of our horses fell down so weak and reduced he could rise no more. I had him killed and the meat gave those most in want. To be reduced to food of diseased horses is not desirable.
Tuesday 30th. Descended into a level plain and found 2 camps of Snake Indians who can give little assistance in provisions. The men who started on the 28th succeeded in killing 2 buffalo. There was no appearance of any herd. Indians numerous but not troublesome.
1829 Thursday 1 Jan. One of the trappers left in charge of the sick man arrived with his horse fatigued and informed me that our sick man Joseph Paul died 8 days after we left suffering most severely, a young man only 29, steady and a first rate trapper. There remains now only one man of all the Snake men of 1829.(7)
All have been killed with the exception of 2 who died a natural death and are scattered over the Snake Country. It is incredible the number that have fallen in this country. I sent 2 horses back to assist the remaining man to camp.
Saturday 3rd. This day kept by all as a feast and I gave all a dram and a foot of tobacco per man. I purpose remaining to rest our horses. They would require a month to have their feet healed.
Sunday 4 Jan. Two men in the rear arrived but a woman two children and one pack of beaver 9 traps and 6 horses have been lost for 3 days. Among so many Indians I apprehend the worst and sent 4 men to the place she was last seen. Four Indians arrived well armed. Traps gave 11 beaver as good fur as in the Columbia.
Monday 5th Jan. Truly glad to see the lost women with all the property. She blames herself for having gone astray. Day after she lost our tracks she fell in with 2 Indians who behaved most kindly towards her, defended her property from other Indians who attempted to molest her and rendered her every assistance. It is strange there should be beaver here as the Americans have been in this country for 4 years. I cannot ascertain if this stream,(8) discharges in Salt Lake or in Bear River. 14 beaver. I omitted to assert that I sent 10 Indians to Snake River with a letter addressed to Mr. C. Grant intimating I could not form a union with him owing to the low state of my horses recommending him to the South Branch,(9) sending this letter by a Snake Chief, but they inform me there are no traders in that quarter. So I suppose the York Factory(10) Snake expedition has been retarded; and the accounts they give of the Americans corresponds with the traders here -- they had all gone towards the Flat Head Country probably to the Blackfeet; no buffalo in the Snake River; but Blackfeet numerous.
Monday 12th. A stormy night. Crossed over the height of land and camped on the forks of Portneuf River. We must cross to the waters of Bear's River and if there be no Americans I expect to find buffalo. On the lower part of this river, the Snake camp is starving.
Thursday 15th. We have commenced our 2nd thousand of beaver. I do not despair of completing 2 more before reaching Nez Perces. From Payette's party no accounts have come.
Tuesday 17 Jan. The cold has not moderated for a month but on the increase: a sick man still complaining. I have given him all the purges I have and it is his duty to recover; for he can expect no more assistance from me.(11)
Monday 29th March. In sight of Salt Lake again. As there appears to be a defile for crossing the mountains, I proposed for our men to fish and follow by track of 1826. The Blackfeet and Snakes are now scattered in quest of fish and roots. I am in hopes the party will collect 400 beaver. This leaves me only 14 men and if I may judge from what I saw last fall an unknown River, we shall require to he on our guard against Indians. It being the first year we have had any intercourse with the Indians they are very shy. Since starting from Fort Nez Perces my party is divided into three. God prosper us all! To the separating party I gave directions to reach the Columbia by the 30th of July, gave the charge to Plante.
Tuesday 30th. This morning 12 men 24 horses and all our traps started for Unknown River. They will reach the river 8 days before me. I wish them success. All is now in motion. Reached Foggy Encampment,(12) the weather being clear had a good view of Salt Lake and Mountain Island(13) prom. point which from its snow must be very high. On both sides of the Salt Lake is high land surrounded by mountains. Beyond these mountains west tho' the lake has no discharge, there must be a large river in a barren country.
Thursday 8 Ap. At 11 A. M. we reached the forks of Unknown River, and found trappers awaiting with 43 beaver. Our trappers being at the upper part of the river and finding no beaver have gone down. Crossed over the river still very low and decended down the stream finding Indians fishing salmon trout.
Sunday 11 Ap. Reached the place where we left this river last fall. Three of the absent trappers arrived with 57 beaver.
Tuesday 13 Apr. Continued our course down the river to within a mile of Paul's Grave where we found the other trappers with 50 beaver. We shall steer our course in quest of Sandwich Island River 4 days travel from Unknown River. All the Indians say we shall find beaver there. Paul's grave examined. All safe.
Thursday 15 April: Crossed mtns. and plain and reached the junction of the forks of Sandwich Island River. Trappers took 32 beaver.
Sunday 2nd May: Sandwich Island River has disappointed us in beaver. I must retrace our way to Unknown River.
Saturday 7th May: Before starting this day, I learned 2 Indians who accompanied us from the Columbia started last night on a horse thieving expedition. Hunting to-day they discovered tracks of horses and are gone in pursuit to rejoin us in 4 days. They stand a chance of losing their lives.
Sunday 8th. Followed down Unknown River. Keep most strict watch day and night on our horses. The Snakes on this river dress in beaver skin. Trappers brought in 41 beaver. We require 300 to complete our 2nd M. The horse thieving Indians have come back, having been pursued and compelled to abandon the 5 horses they stole. Country is level as far as the eye can see. I am at a loss to know where this river discharges.
Sunday 15th May: Started at dawn to escape the heat, the journey over beds of sand the horses sinking half leg deep, the country level tho' at distance hilly, course S. W. The Indians are not numerous in this quarter, but from the number of fires seen on the mountains are fully aware of our presence, and we must look out for our horses. 75 traps produced 37 beaver. This is tolerable; for we usually receive only a third. In no part have I found beaver so abundant. The total number of American trappers in this region at this time exceeds 80. I have only 28 trappers, 15 in 2 parties, and shall be well pleased if one of the 2 parties escapes. The trappers now average 125 beaver a man and are greatly pleased with their success.
Tuesday 17th May. large tracks of pelicans seen indicate a lake. If it prove salt; beaver will be at an end. Two Indians seen at a distance.
Thursday 21st May. Remained in camp to dry our beaver. One of the trappers in the rear visiting his traps had his horses stolen before he could come out of the bushes the Indian was nearly out of sight. Another trapper who had been to the lower part of the river to set traps was on his return when 4 Indians seized his gun and would have taken his life had he not escaped, 3 arrows being sent after him. This is a strong tribe of natives probably the same branch as in Pitts River very daring.(14) I have ordered the trappers to go out only in twos and to be strictly on their guard.
Friday 27th May. Encamped within a mile of a large lake.(15) The river is not half the size it was, no doubt spreading in the swamp we have passed. It is 2 1/2 ft. deep and only 10 yds. wide. We may now think of retracing our steps. It is too far on in the season to proceed on discovery. Course S. W.
Saturday 28th May. 3 of the trappers came in with word of more traps stolen. He pursued the thieves and punished them but could not recover the traps. A man who had gone to explore the lake at this moment dashed in and gave the alarm of the enemy. He had a most narrow escape, only the fleetness of his horse saved his life. When rounding a point within sight of the lake, 20 men on horse back gave the war cry. He fled. An Indian would have overtaken him, but he discharged his gun. He says the hills are covered with Indians. I gave orders to secure the horses, 10 men then started in advance to ascertain what the Indians were doing but not to risk a battle as we were too weak. They reported upwards of 200 Indians marching on our camp. They came on. Having signalled a spot for them about 500 yards from our camp, I desired them to be seated. This order was obeyed.(16) From their dress and drums and the fact only one elderly man was with them, I concluded it was a war party. If they had not been discovered, they had intended to attack us, weak as we were in guns -- only 12 -- they would have been successful. It was a narrow escape. They gave us the following information through the Snake interpreter: this river discharges in a lake which has no outlet. In 8 days, march (westward) there is a large river but no beaver, salmon abundant. There is also another river which must be Pitt's River. We saw rifles ammunition and arms among them and I think this must be the plunder of Smith's(17) party of 10, who were murdered here in the fall. They requested to be allowed to enter the camp. I refused. A more daring set I have not seen.
Sunday 29 May. The night dark and stormy, but this morning all safe. The Indians had fires all night. As I do not wish to infringe on McLeod's territory, I gave orders to raise camp and return. McLeod's territory is the water discharging in the ocean.(18) If Mr. McLeod has succeeded in reaching Bona Ventura he must have crossed this strewn. We have only 50 traps remaining and my party are too weak to advance. I told the Indians in three months they would see us again.(19)
Thursday 2nd of June. We are directing our course to Sylvaille's River Day's Defile and Snake River, Unknown River is known as Swampy River or Paul's River,(20) as he must remain here till the great trumpet shall sound.
Sunday 5th June: Left Unknown River in the rear.
Saturday 25th June: we are now across the Blue Mountains reaching a small fork of Day's River. Hope to reach Nez Perces in 12 days.
Tuesday 5 July: As the track to Nez Perces is now well known, and no danger to be apprehended, I shall to-morrow leave with 2 men for the fort. Thus ends my 5th trip to the Snake Country. We have no cause to complain of our returns.(21)
1. The same place as the year before, probably near Milton, Oregon.
2. Near Summerville, Union county, Oregon.
3. These lodgepoles were destined to he dragged a long way and their marks across the Plains and mountains served to mark the track of future wagon and stage and railroads.
4. Query: Where was this fountain or spring on Powder river?
5. Evidently now on waters draining toward the south, and in a region not known to have been explored before this time.
6. Twin Falls is a more prominent locality now than then.
7. Evidently a mistaken figure and the year 1819 intended, which was the first year the Northwesters, predecessors of the H. B. Co., sent a trapping party to the Snake Country.
8. Probably the Malade river in Northern Utah.
9. That is, Snake river.
10. See entry of Dec. 14th, 1827, in next previous journal
11. Mr. Ogden should have been called Doctor Ogden.
12. Their camp on Dec. 23rd last.
13. Promontory Point?
14. Modoc Indians
15. Marked Unknown Lake on Ogden's map, and the place where 280 Indians attacked him and he turned back.
16. Proves very conclusively that Mr. Ogden was a man of nerve. He had only fourteen men with him.
17. Must refer to the experience of Jed. S. Smith with the Mohave Indians further to the south on his way to California in the Fall of 1827.
18. The Mr. McLeod who was afterward a familiar figure in the Snake Country, representing the H. B. Co. at the annual rendezvous and showing kindness to the Amer. missionaries en route to Oregon.
19. Mr. Ogden kept his appointment. The following fall he passed this way on the way to California, of which journey we have no record.
20. A few more names for this river, which should rightly be designated Ogden river, instead of the Humboldt. Maj. Chittenden and others speak of being called Mary's river, which evidently was merely a trapper's story similar to another told by Jos. V. Meek to Mrs. Victor; see Or. Hist. Quarterly for Nov., 1909.
21. According to previous entry on the 15th of May the catch amounted to 125 beaver to the man or over 3500, with the two detached parties to hear from as to later success. The responsibility of getting these valuable furs to the Columbia in safety must have been considerable. One authority (John Keist Lord) states that they were transported in packs of sixty pounds each and two packs to the horse.