Townsend's Across the Rockies to the Columbia


CHAPTER XIV

Indians of the Columbia - their melancholy condition - Departure of Mr. Nuttall and Dr. Gairdner - A new vocation - Arrival of the Rev. Samuel Parker - his object - Departure of the American brig - Swans - Indian mode of taking them - A large wolf - An Indian mummy - A night adventure - A discovery, and restoration of stolen property - Fraternal tenderness of an Indian - Indian vengeance - Death of Waskema, the Indian girl - "Busybody," the little chief - A village of Kowalitsk Indians - Ceremony of "making medicine" - Exposure of an impostor - Success of legitimate medicines - Departure from Fort Vancouver for a visit to the interior - Arrival of a stranger - "Cape Horn" - Tilki, the Indian chief - Indian villages - Arrival at Fort Walla-walla - Sharptailed grouse - Commencement of a journey to the Blue mountains.

The Indians of the Columbia were once a numerous and powerful people; the shore of the river, for scores of miles, was lined with their villages; the council fire was frequently lighted, the pipe passed round, and the destinies of the nation deliberated upon. War was declared against neighboring tribes; the deadly tomahawk was lifted, and not buried until it was red with the blood of the savage; the bounding deer was hunted, killed, and his antlers ornamented the wigwam of the red man; the scalps of his enemies hung drying in the smoke of his lodge, and the Indian was happy. Now, alas! where is he? - gone; - gathered to his fathers and to his happy hunting grounds; his place knows him no more. The spot where once stood the thickly peopled village, the smoke curling and wreathing above the closely packed lodges, the lively children playing in the front, and their indolent parents lounging on their mats, is now only indicated by a heap of undistinguishable ruins. The depopulation here has been truly fearful. A gentleman to]d me, that only four years ago, as he wandered near what had formerly been a thickly peopled village, he counted no less than sixteen dead, men and women, lying unburied and festering in the sun in front of their habitations. Within the houses all were sick; not one had escaped the contagion; upwards of a hundred individuals, men, women, and chil- dren, were writhing in agony on the floors of the houses, with no one to render them any assistance. Some were in the dying struggle, and clenching with the convulsive grasp of death their disease-worn companions, shrieked and howled in the last sharp agony.

Probably there does not now exist one, where, five years ago, there were a hundred Indians; and in sailing up the river, from the cape to the cascades, the only evidence of the existence of the Indian, is an occasional miserable wigwam, with a few wretched, half-starved occupants. In some other places they are rather more numerous; but the thoughtful observer cannot avoid perceiving that in a very few years the race must, in the nature of things, become extinct; and the time is probably not far distant, when the little trinkets and toys of this people will be picked up by the curious, and valued as mementoes of a nation passed away for ever from the face of the earth. The aspect of things is very melancholy. It seems as if the fiat of the Creator had gone forth, that these poor denizens of the forest and the stream should go hence, and be seen of men no more.

In former years, when the Indians were numerous, long after the establishment of this fort, it was not safe for the white men attached to it to venture beyond the protection of its guns without being fully armed. Such was the jealousy of the natives towards them, that various deep laid schemes were practiced to obtain possession of the post, and massacre all whom it had harbored; now, however, they are as submissive as children. Some have even entered into the services of the whites, and when once the natural and persevering indolence of the man is worn off, he will work well and make himself useful.

About two hundred miles southward, the Indians are said to be in a much more flourishing condition, and their hostility to the white people to be most deadly. They believe that we brought with us the fatal fever which has ravaged this portion of the country, and the consequence is, that they kill without mercy every white man who trusts himself amongst them.

October 1st. - Doctor Gairdner, the surgeon of Fort Vancouver, took passage a few days ago to the Sandwich Islands, in one of the Company's vessels. He has been suffering for several months, with a pulmonary affection, and is anxious to escape to a milder and more salubrious climate. In his absence, the charge of the hospital will devolve on me, and my time will thus be employed through the coming winter. There are at present but few cases of sickness, mostly ague and fever, so prevalent at this season. My companion, Mr. Nuttall, was also a passenger in the same vessel. From the islands, he will probably visit California, and either return to the Columbia by the next ship, and take the route across the mountains, or double Cape Horn to reach his home.

16th.'Several days since, the Rev. Samuel Parker, of Ithaca, N. York, arrived at the fort. He left his home last May, travelled to the rendezvous on the Colorado, with the fur company of Mr. Fontinelle, and performed the remainder of the journey with the Nez Perce or Cheaptin Indians. His object is to examine the country in respect to its agricultural and other facilities, with a view to the establishment of missions among the Indians. He will probably return to the States next spring, and report the result of his observations to the board of commissioners, by whose advice his pioneer journey has been undertaken. [Mr. Parker has since published an account of this tour, to which the reader is referred, for much valuable information, relative to the condition of the Indians on our western frontier. - TOWNSEND.]

On the 17th, I embarked with this gentleman in a canoe, for a visit to the lower part of the river. We arrived at the American brig in the afternoon, on board of which we quartered for the night, and the next morning early, the vessel cast off from the shore. She has her cargo of furs and salmon on board, and is bound to Boston, via the Sandwich and Society Islands. Mr. Parker took passage in her to Fort George, and in the afternoon I returned in my canoe to Vancouver.

December 1st. - The weather is now unusually fine. Instead of the drenching rains which generally prevail during the winter months, it has been for some weeks clear and cool, the thermometer ranging from 35deg to 45deg.

The ducks and geese, which have swarmed throughout the country during the latter part of the autumn, are leaving us, and the swans are arriving in great numbers. These are here, as in all other places, very shy; it is difficult to approach them without cover; but the Indians have adopted a mode of killing them which is very successful; that of drifting upon the flocks at night, in a canoe, in the bow of which a large fire of pitch pine has been kindled. The swans are dazzled, and apparently stupefied by the bright light, and fall easy victims to the craft of the sportsman.

20th.' Yesterday one of the Canadians took an enormous wolf in a beaver-trap. It is probably a distinct species from the common one, (lupus,) much larger and stronger, and of a yellowish cinereous color. The man states that he found considerable difficulty in capturing him, even after the trap had been fastened on his foot. Unlike the lupus, (which is cowardly and cringing when made prisoner,) he showed fight, and seizing the pole in his teeth, with which the man attempted to despatch him, with one backward jerk, threw his assailant to the ground, and darted at him, until checked by the trap chain. He was finally shot, and I obtained his skin, which I have preserved.

I have just had a visit from an old and intelligent Indian chief, who lives near. It is now almost midnight, but for the last hour I have heard the old man wandering about like an unquiet spirit, in the neighborhood of my little mansion, and singing snatches of the wild, but sweetly musical songs of his tribe. It is a bitter night, and supposing the old man might be cold, I invited him to a seat by my comfortable fire.

He says, "eighty snows have chilled the earth since Maniquon was born." Maniquon has been a great warrior; he has himself taken twenty scalps between the rising and setting of the sun. Like most old people, he is garrulous, and, like all Indians, fond of boasting of his warlike deeds. I can sit for hours and hear old Maniquon relate the particulars of his numerous campaigns, his ambushes, and his "scrimmages," as old Hawk-eye would say. When he once gets into the spirit of it, he springs upon his feet, his old, sunken eyes sparkle like diamonds set in bronze, and he whirls his shrunken and naked arm around his head, as though it still held the deadly tomahawk. But in the midst of his excitement, seeming suddenly to recollect his fallen state, he sinks into his chair.

"Maniquon is not a warrior now - he will never raise his axe again - his young men have deserted his lodge - his sons will go down to their graves, and the squaws will not sing of their great deeds."

I have several times heard him speak the substance of these words in his own language, and in one instance he concluded thus:

"And who made my people what they are ?" This question was put in a low voice, almost a whisper, and was accompanied by a look so savage and malignant, that I almost quailed before the imbecile old creature. I, however, answered quickly, without giving him time to reply to his own question.

"The Great Spirit, Maniquon," pointing with my finger impressively upwards.

"Yes, yes ' it was the Great Spirit; it was not the white man," I could have been almost angry with the old Indian for the look of deadly hostility with which he uttered these last words, but that I sympathized with his wounded pride, and pitied his sorrows too much to harbor any other feeling than commiseration for his manifold wrongs.

February 3d, 1836.' During a visit to Fort William, last week, I saw, as I wandered through the forest, about three miles from the house, a canoe, deposited, as is usual, in the branches of a tree, some fourteen feet from the ground. Knowing that it contained the body of an Indian, I ascended to it for the purpose of abstracting the skull; but upon examination, what was my surprise to find a perfect, embalmed body of a young female, in a state of preservation equal to any which I had seen from the catacombs of Thebes. I determined to obtain possession of it, but as this was not the proper time to carry it away, I returned to the fort, and said nothing of the discovery which I had made.

That night, at the witching hour of twelve, I furnished myself with a rope, and launched a small canoe, which I paddled up against the current to a point opposite the mummy tree. Here I ran my canoe ashore, and removing my shoes and stockings, proceeded to the tree, which was about a hundred yards from the river. I ascended, and making the rope fast around the body, lowered it gently to the ground; then arranging the fabric which had been displaced, as neatly as the darkness allowed, I descended, and taking the body upon my shoulders, bore it to my canoe, and pushed off into the stream. On arriving at the fort, I deposited my prize in the store house, and sewed around it a large Indian mat, to give it the appearance of a bale of guns. Being on a visit to the fort, with Indians whom I had engaged to paddle my canoe, I thought it unsafe to take the mummy on board when I returned to Vancouver the next day, but left directions with Mr. Walker to stow it away under the hatches of a little schooner, which was running twice a week between the two forts.

On the arrival of this vessel, several days after, I received, instead of the body, a note from Mr. Walker, stating that an Indian had called at the fort, and demanded the corpse. He was the brother of the deceased, and had been in the habit of visiting the tomb of his sister every year. He had now come for that purpose, from his residence near the "tum-water," (cascades,) and his keen eye had detected the intrusion of a stranger on the spot hallowed to him by many successive pilgrimages. The canoe of his sister was tenantless, and he knew the spoiler to have been a white man, by the tracks upon the beach, which did not incline inward like those of an Indian.

The case was so clearly made out, that Mr. W. could not deny the fact of the body being in the house, and it was accordingly delivered to him, with a present of several blankets, to prevent the circumstance from operating upon his mind to the prejudice of the white people. The poor Indian took the body of his sister upon his shoulders, and as he walked away, grief got the better of his stoicism, and the sound of his weeping was heard long after he had entered the forest.

25th.'Several weeks ago the only son of Ke-ez-a-no, the principal chief of the Chinooks, died. The father was almost distracted with grief, and during the first paroxysm attempted to take the life of the boy's mother, supposing that she had exerted an evil influence over him which had caused his death. She was compelled to fly in consequence, and put herself under the protection of Dr. McLoughlin, who found means to send her to her people below. Disappointed in this scheme of vengeance, the chief determined to sacrifice all whom he thought had ever wronged his son, or treated him with indignity; and the first victim whom he selected was a very pretty and accomplished Chinook girl, named Waskema, who was remarkable for the exceeding beauty of her long black hair. Waskema had been solicited by the boy in marriage, but had refused him, and the matter had been long forgotten, until it was revived in the recollection of the father by the death of his son. Ke-ez-a-no despatched two of his slaves to Fort William, (where the girl was at that time engaged in making moccasins for Mr. W. and where I had seen her a short time previously,) who hid themselves in the neighborhood until the poor creature had embarked in her canoe alone to return to her people, when they suddenly rushed upon her from the forest which skirted the river, and shot two balls through her bosom. The body was then thrown into the water, and the canoe broken to pieces on the beach.

Tapeo the brother of Waskema delivered to me a letter from Mr. W. detailing these circumstances, and amid an abundance of tears which he shed for the loss of his only and beloved sister, he denounced the heaviest vengeance upon her murderer. These threats, however, I did not regard, as I knew the man would never dare to raise his hand against his chief, but as expression relieves the overcharged heart, I did not check his bursts of grief and indignation.

A few days after this, Ke-ez-a-no himself stalked into my room. After sitting a short time in silence, he asked if I believed him guilty of the murder of Waskema. I replied that I did, and that if the deed had been committed in my country, he would be hanged. He denied all agency in the matter, and placing one hand upon his bosom, and pointing upwards with the other, called God to witness that he was innocent. For the moment I almost believed his asseverations; but calling to mind the strong and undeniable evidence against him, with a feeling of horror and repugnance, I opened the door and bowed him out of the house.

March 1st. - There is an amusing little Indian living in this neighborhood, who calls himself "tanas tie," (little chief,) and he is so probably in every sense of the term. In person, he stands about four feet six, in his moccasins; but no exquisite in the fashionable world, no tinselled dandy in high life, can strut and stamp, and fume with more dignity and self consequence. His name, he says, is Qualaskin; but in the fort, he is known by the cognomen of "busy body," from his restless anxiety to pry into every body's business, and his curiosity to know the English name of every article he sees; ikata ookook?'ikata ookook ? (what is this?'what is this?) kahtah pasiooks yahhalle? (what is its English name?) are expressions which he is dinning in your ears, whenever he enters a room in the fort. If you answer him, he attempts the pronunciation after you, and it is often not a little ludicrous. He is evidently proud of the name the white people have given him, not understanding its import, but supposing it to be a title of great honor and dignity. If he is asked his Indian name, he answers very modestly, Qualaskin, (muddy river,) but if his pasiooks yahhalle is required, he puffs up his little person to its utmost dimensions, and tells you with a simper of pride and self complacency, that it is "mizzy moddy."

16th. ' Doctor W. F. Tolmie, one of the surgeons of the Hudson's Bay Company, has just arrived from Fort Langley, on the coast, and has relieved me of the charge of the hospital, which will afford me the opportunity of peregrinating again in pursuit of specimens. The spring is just opening, the birds are arriving, the plants are starting from the ground, and in a few weeks, the wide prairies of the Columbia will appear like the richest flower gardens.

May 13th. ' Two days ago I left the fort, and am now encamped on a plain below Warrior's point. Near me are several large lodges of Kowalitsk Indians; in all probably one hundred persons. As usual, they give me some trouble by coming around and lolling about my tent, and importuning me for the various little articles that they see. My camp-keeper, however, (a Klikatat,) is an excellent fellow, and has no great love for Kowalitsk Indians, so that the moment he sees them becoming troublesome, he clears the coast, sans ceremonie. There is in one of the lodges a very pretty little girl, sick with intermittent fever; and to-day the "medicine man" has been exercising his functions upon the poor little patient; pressing upon its stomach with his brawny hands until it shrieked with the pain, singing and muttering his incantations, whispering in its ears, and exhorting the evil spirit to pass out by the door, &c. These exhibitions would be laughable did they not involve such serious consequences, and for myself I always feel so much indignation against the unfeeling impostor who operates, and pity for the deluded creatures who submit to it, that any emotions but those of risibility are excited.

I had a serious conversation with the father of this child, in which I attempted to prove to him, and to some twenty or thirty Indians who were squatted about the ground near, that the "medicine man" was a vile impostor, that he was a fool and a liar, and that his manipulations were calculated to increase the sufferings of the patient instead of relieving them. They all listened in silence, and with great attention to my remarks, and the wily conjurer himself had the full benefit of them: he stood by during the whole time, assuming an expression of callous indifference which not even my warmest vituperations could affect. Finally I offered to exhibit the strongest proof of the truth of what I had been saying, by pledging myself to cure the child in three days, provided the "medicine man" was dismissed without delay. This, the father told me, required some consideration and consultation with his people, and I immediately left the lodge and took the way to my camp, to allow them an opportunity of discussing the matter alone.

Early next morning the Indian visited me, with the information that the "medicine man" had departed, and he was now anxious that I should make trial of my skill. I immediately administered to the child an active cathartic, followed by sulphate of quinine, which checked the disease, and in two days the patient was perfectly restored.

In consequence of my success in this case, I had an application to administer medicine to two other children similarly affected. My stock of quinine being exhausted, I determined to substitute an extract of the bark of the dogwood, (Corpus Nuttalli,) and taking one of the parents into the wood with his blanket, I soon chipped off a plentiful supply, returned, boiled it in his own kettle, and completed the preparation in his lodge, with most of the Indians standing by, and staring at me, to comprehend the process.

This was exactly what I wished; and as I proceeded, I took some pains to explain the whole matter to them, in order that they might at a future time be enabled to make use of a really valuable medicine, which grows abundantly every where throughout the country. I have often thought it strange that the sagacity of the Indians should not long ago have made them acquainted with this remedy; and I believe, if they had used it, they would not have had to mourn the loss of hundreds, or even thousands of their people who have been swept away by the demon of ague and fever.

I administered to each of the children about a scruple of the extract per day. The second day they escaped the paroxysm, and on the third were entirely well.

June 26th.'I left Vancouver yesterday, with the summer brigade, for a visit to Walla-walla, and its vicinity. The gentlemen of the party are, Peter Ogden, Esq., chief factor, bound to New Caledonia, Archibald McDonald, Esq., for Colville, and Samuel Black, Esq., for Thompson's river, and the brigade consists of sixty men, with nine boats.

27th.' We arrived yesterday at the upper cascades, and made in the course of the day three portages. As is usual in this place, it rained almost constantly, and the poor men engaged in carrying the goods, were completely drenched. A considerable number of Indians are employed here in fishing, and they supply us with an abundance of salmon. Among them I recognise many of my old friends from below.

28th.' This morning the Indian wife of one of the men gave birth to a little girl. The tent in which she was lying was within a few feet of the one which I occupied, and we had no intimation of the matter being in progress until we heard the crying of the infant. It is truly astonishing with what ease the parturition of these women is performed; they generally require no assistance in delivery, being fully competent to manage the whole paraphernalia themselves. In about half an hour after this event we got under way, and the woman walked to the boat, carrying her new born infant on her back, embarked, laughed, and talked as usual, and appeared in every respect as well as if nothing had happened.

This woman is a most noble specimen of bone and muscle, and so masculine in appearance, that were she to cast the petticoat, and don the breeches, the cheat would never be discovered, and but few of the lords of the creation would be willing to face the Amazon. She is particularly useful to her husband. As he is becoming rather infirm, she can protect him most admirably. If he wishes to cross a stream in travelling without horses or boats, she plunges in without hesitation, takes him upon her back, and lands him safely and expeditiously upon the opposite bank. She can also kill and dress an elk, run down and shoot a buffalo, or spear a salmon for her husband's breakfast in the morning, as well as any man-servant he could employ. Added to all this, she has, in several instances, saved his life in skirmishes with Indians, at the imminent risk of her own, so that he has some reason to be proud of her.

In the afternoon, we passed the bold, basaltic point, known to the voyageurs by the name of "Cape Horn." The wind here blew a perfect hurricane, and but for the consummate skill of those who managed our boats, we must have had no little difficulty.

30th.' We were engaged almost the whole of this day in making portages, and I had, in consequence, some opportunity of prosecuting my researches on the land. We have now passed the range of vegetation; there are no trees or even shrubs; nothing but huge, jagged rocks of basalt, and interminable sand heaps. I found here a large and beautiful species of marmot, (the Arctomys Richardsonii,) several of which I shot. Encamped in the evening at the village of the Indian chief, Tilki. I had often heard of this man, but I now saw him for the first time. His person is rather below the middle size, but his features are good, with a Roman cast, and his eye is deep black, and unusually fine. He appears to be remarkably intelligent, and half a century before the generality of his people in civilization.

July 3d.' This morning we came to the open prairies, covered with wormwood bushes. The appearance, and strong odor of these, forcibly remind me of my journey across the mountains, when we frequently saw no vegetation for weeks, except this dry and barren looking shrub.

The Indians here are numerous, and are now engaged in catching salmon, lamprey eels, &c. They take thousands of the latter, and they are seen hanging in great numbers in their lodges to dry in the smoke. As soon as the Indians see us approach, they leave their wigwams, and run out towards us, frequently wading to their breasts in the water, to get near the boats. Their constant cry is pi-pi, pi-pi, (tobacco, tobacco,) and they bring a great variety of matters to trade for this desirable article; fish, living birds of various kinds, young wolves, foxes, minks, &c.

On the evening of the 6th, we arrived at Walla-walla or Nez Perces fort, where I was kindly received by Mr. Pambrun, the superintendent.

The next day the brigade left us for the interior, and I shouldered my gun for an excursion through the neighborhood. On the west side of the little Walla-walla river, I saw, during a walk of two miles, at least thirty rattlesnakes, and killed five that would not get out of my way; They all seemed willing to dispute the ground with me, shaking their rattles, coiling and darting at me with great fury. I returned to the fort in the afternoon with twenty-two sharp-tailed grouse, (Tetrao phasianellus,) the product of my day's shooting.

25th.'I mounted my horse this morning for a journey to the Blue mountains. I am accompanied by a young half breed named Baptiste Dorion, [This is the son of old Pierre Dorion, who makes such a conspicuous figure in Irving's "Astoria." ' TOWNSEND.] who acts as guide, groom, interpreter, &c., and I have a pack horse to carry my little nick-nackeries. We shaped our course about N. E. over the sandy prairie, and in the evening encamped on the Morro river,having made about thirty miles.

On our way, we met two Walla-walla Indians driving down a large band of horses. They inform us that the Snakes have crossed the mountain to commence their annual thieving of horses, and they are taking them away to have them secure. I shall need to keep a good look out to my own small caravan, or I shall be under the necessity of turning pedestrian.