Townsend's Across the Rockies to the Columbia


CHAPTER XV

A village of Kayouse Indians - their occupation - appearance and dresses of the women - family worship - its good effects - Visit to the Blue mountains - Dusky grouse - Return to Walla-walla - Arrival of Mr. McLeod, and the missionaries - Letters from home - Death of Antoine Goddin, the trapper - A renegado white man - Assault by the Walla-walla Indians - Missionary duties - Passage down the Columbia - Rapids - A dog for supper - Prairies on fire - A nocturnal visit - Fishing Indians - Their romantic appearance - Salmon huts - The shoots - Dangerous navigation - Death of Tilki - Seals - Indian stoicism and contempt of pain - Skookoom, the strong chief - his death - Maiming, an evidence of grief - Arrival at Fort Vancouver - A visit to Fort George - Indian cemeteries - Lewis and Clarke's house - A medal - Visit to Chinook - Hospitality of the Indians - Chinamus' house - The idol - Canine inmates.

July 26th.- At noon, to-day, we arrived at the Utalla, or Emmitilly river, where we found a large village of Kayouse Indians, engaged in preparing kamas. Large quantities of this root were strewed about on mats and buffalo robes; some in a crude state, and a vast quantity pounded, to be made into cakes for winter store. There are of the Indians, about twelve or fifteen lodges. A very large one, about sixty feet long by fifteen broad, is occupied by the chief, and his immediate family. This man I saw when I arrived at Walla-walla, and I have accepted an invitation to make my home in his lodge while I remain here. The house is really a very comfortable one; the rays of the sun are completely excluded, and the ground is covered with buffalo robes. There are in the chief's lodge about twenty women, all busy as usual; some pounding kamas, others making leathern dresses, moccasins, &c. Several of the younger of these are very good looking,'I might almost say handsome. Their heads are of the natural form,'not flattened and contorted in the horrible manner of the Chinooks;'their faces are inclining to oval, and their eyes have a peculiarly sleepy and languishing appearance. They seem as if naturally inclined to lasciviousness, but if this feeling exists, it is effectually checked by their self-enacted laws, which are very severe in this respect, and in every instance rigidly enforced. The dresses of the women, (unlike the Chinooks, they all have dresses,) are of deer or antelope skin, more or less ornamented with beads and hyquas. [A long white shell, of the genus Dentalium, found on the coast.' TOWNSEND.] It consists of one piece, but the part covering the bust, projects over the lower portion of the garment, and its edges are cut into strings, to which a quantity of blue beads are generally attached.

In the evening all the Indians belonging to the village assembled in our lodge, and, with the chief for minister, performed divine service, or family worship. This, I learn, is their invariable practice twice every twenty-four hours, at sunrise in the morning, and after supper in the evening. When all the people had gathered, our large lodge was filled. On entering, every person squatted on the ground, and the clerk (a sort of sub-chief) gave notice that the Deity would now be addressed. Immediately the whole audience rose to their knees, and the chief supplicated for about ten minutes in a very solemn, but low tone of voice, at the conclusion of which an amen was pronounced by the whole company, in a loud, swelling sort of groan. Three hymns were then sung, several of the individuals present leading in rotation, and at the conclusion of each, another amen. The chief then pronounced a short exhortation, occupying about fifteen minutes, which was repeated by the clerk at his elbow in a voice loud enough to be heard by the whole assembly. At the conclusion of this, each person rose, and walked to one of the doors of the lodge, where, making a low inclination of his body, and pronouncing the words "tots sekan," (good night,) to the chief, he departed to his home.

I shall hear this ceremony every night and morning while I remain, and so far from being irksome, it is agreeable to me. It is pleasant to see these poor degraded creatures performing a religious service; for to say nothing of the good influence which it will exert in improving their present condition, it will probably soften and harmonize their feelings, and render them fitter subjects for the properly qualified religious instruction which it is desirable they may some day receive.

The next morning, my friend the chief furnished me with fresh horses, and I and my attendant, with two Indian guides, started for a trip to the mountain. We passed up one of the narrow valleys or gorges which here run at right angles from the alpine land, and as we ascended, the scenery became more and more wild, and the ground rough and difficult of passage, but I had under me one of the finest horses I ever rode; he seemed perfectly acquainted with the country; I had but to give him his head, and not attempt to direct him, and he carried me triumphantly through every difficulty. Immediately as we reached the upper land, and the pine trees, we saw large flocks of the dusky grouse, (Tetrao obscurus,) a number of which we killed. Other birds were, however, very scarce. I am at least two months too late, and I cannot too much regret the circumstance. Here is a rich field for the ornithologist at the proper season. We returned to our lodge in the evening loaded with grouse, but with very few specimens to increase my collection.

29th.' Early this morning our Indians struck their lodges, and commenced making all their numerous movables into bales for packing on the horses. I admired the facility and despatch with which this was done; the women alone worked at it, the men lolling around, smoking and talking, and not even once directing their fair partners in their task. The whole camp travelled with me to Walla-walla, where we arrived the next day.

Sept. 1st. - Mr. John M'Leod, a chief trader of the Hudson's Bay Company, arrived this morning from the rendezvous, with a small trading party. I had been anxiously expecting this gentleman for several weeks, as I intended to return with him to Vancouver. He is accompanied by several Presbyterian missionaries, the Rev. Mr. Spalding and Doctor Whitman, with their wives, and Mr. Gray, teacher. Doctor Whitman presented me with a large pacquet of letters from my beloved friends at home. I need not speak of the emotions excited by their reception, nor of the trembling anxiety with which I tore open the envelope and devoured the contents. This is the first intelligence which I have received from them since I left the state of Missouri, and was as unexpected as it was delightful.

Mr. M'Leod informed me of the murder of Antoine Goddin, the half-breed trapper, by the Blackfeet Indians, at Fort Hall. - A band of these Indians appeared on the shore of the Portneuf river, opposite the fort, headed by a white man named Bird. - This man requested Goddin, whom he saw on the opposite side of the river, to cross to him with a canoe, as he had beaver which he wished to trade. The poor man accordingly embarked alone, and landing near the Indians, joined the circle which they had made, and smoked the pipe of peace with them. While Goddin was smoking in his turn, Bird gave a sign to the Indians, and a volley was fired into his back. While he was yet living, Bird himself tore the scalp from the poor fellow's head, and deliberately cut Captain Wyeth's initials, N. J. W. in large letters upon his forehead. He then hallooed to the fort people, telling them to bury the carcass if they wished, and immediately went off with his party.

This Bird was formerly attached to the Hudson's Bay Company, and was made prisoner by the Blackfeet, in a skirmish several years ago. He has since remained with them, and has become a great chief, and leader of their war parties. He is said to be a man of good education, and to possess the most unbounded influence over the savage people among whom he dwells. He was known to be a personal enemy of Goddin, whom he had sworn to destroy on the first opportunity.

We also hear, that three of Captain Wyeth's men who lately visited us, had been assaulted on their way to Fort Hall, by a band of Walla-walla Indians, who, after beating them severely, took from them all their horses, traps, ammunition, and clothing. They were, however, finally induced to return them each a horse and gun, in order that they might proceed to the interior, to get fresh supplies. This was a matter of policy on the part of the Indians, for if the white men had been compelled to travel on foot, they would have come immediately here to procure fresh horses, &c., and thus exposed the plunderers. Mr. Pambrun is acquainted with the ringleader of this band of marauders, and intends to take the first opportunity of inflicting upon him due punishment, as well as to compel him to make ample restitution for the stolen property, and broken heads of the unoffending trappers.

I have had this evening, some interesting conversation with our guests, the missionaries. They appear admirably qualified for the arduous duty to which they have devoted themselves, their minds being fully alive to the mortifications and trials incident to a residence among wild Indians; but they do not shrink from the task, believing it to be their religious duty to engage in this work. The ladies have borne the journey astonishingly; they look robust and healthy.

3d.' Mr. M'Leod and myself embarked in a large batteau, with six men, and bidding farewell to Mr. Pambrun and the missionaries, were soon gliding down the river. We ran, to-day, several rapids, and in the evening encamped about fifteen miles below the mouth of the Utalla river.

This running of rapids appears rather a dangerous business to those unaccustomed to it, and it is in reality sufficiently hazardous, except when performed by old and skilful hands. Every thing depends upon the men who manage the bow and stern of the boat. The moment she enters the rapid, the two guides lay aside their oars taking in their stead paddles, such as are used in the management of a canoe. The middle-men ply their oars; the guides brace themselves against the gunwale of the boat, placing their paddles edge- wise down her sides, and away she goes over the curling, foaming, and hissing waters, like a race horse.

We passed to-day several large lodges of Indians, from whom we wished to have purchased fish, but they had none, or were not willing to spare any, so that we were compelled to purchase a dog for supper. I have said we, but I beg leave to correct myself, as I was utterly averse to the proceeding; not, however, from any particular dislike to the quality of the food, (I have eaten it repeatedly, and relished it,) but I am always unwilling, unless when suffering absolute want, to take the life of so noble and faithful an animal. Our hungry oarsmen, however, appeared to have no such scruples. The Indian called his dog, and he came to him, wagging his tail! He sold his companion for ten balls and powder! One of our men approached the poor animal with an axe. I turned away my head to avoid the sight, but I heard the dull, sodden sound of the blow. The tried friend and faithful companion lay quivering in the agonies of death at its master's feet.

We are enjoying a most magnificent sight at our camp this evening. On the opposite side of the river, the Indians have fired the prairie, and the whole country for miles around is most brilliantly illuminated. Here am I sitting crosslegged on the ground, scribbling by the light of the vast conflagration with as much ease as if I had a ton of oil burning by my side; but my eyes are every moment involuntarily wandering from the paper before me, to contemplate and admire the grandeur of the distant scene. The very heavens them- selves appear ignited, and the fragments of ashes and burning grass-blades, ascending and careering about through the glowing firmament, look like brilliant and glorious birds let loose to roam and revel amid this splendid scene. It is past midnight: every one in the camp is asleep, and I am this moment visited by half a dozen Indian fishermen, who are peering over my shoulders, and soliciting a smoke, so that I shall have to stop, and fill my calamet.

5th.' The Indians are numerous along the river, and all engaged in fishing; as we pass along, we frequently see them posted upon the rocks overhanging the water, surveying the boiling and roaring flood below, for the passing salmon. In most instances, an Indian is seen entirely alone in these situations, often standing for half an hour perfectly still, his eyes rivetted upon the torrent, and his long fish spear poised above his head. The appearance of a solitary and naked savage thus perched like an eagle upon a cliff, is sometimes, ' when taken in connexion with the wild and rugged river scenery,' very picturesque. The spear is a pole about twelve feet in length, at the end of which a long wooden fork is made fast, and between the tines is fixed a barbed iron point. They also, in some situations, use a hand scoopnet, and stand upon scaffolds ingeniously constructed over the rapid water. Their winter store of dried fish is stowed away in little huts of mats and branches, closely interlaced, and also in caches under ground. It is often amusing to see the hungry ravens tearing and tugging at the strong twigs of the houses, in a vain attempt to reach the savory food within.

In the afternoon, we passed John Day's river, and encamped about sunset at the "shoots." Here is a very large village of Indians, (the same that I noticed in my journal, on the passage down,) and we are this evening surrounded by some scores of them.

6th.'We made the portage of the shoots this morning by carrying our boat and baggage across the land, and in half an hour, arrived at one of the upper dalles. Here Mr. M'Leod and myself debarked, and the men ran the dall. We walked on ahead to the most dangerous part, and stood upon the rocks about a hundred feet above to observe them. It really seemed exceedingly dangerous to see the boat dashing ahead like lightning through the foaming and roaring waters, sometimes raised high above the enormous swells, and dashed down again as if she were seeking the bottom with her bows, and at others whirled around and nearly sucked under by the whirlpools constantly forming around her. But she stemmed every thing gallantly, under the direction of our experienced guides, and we soon embarked again, and proceeded to the lower dalles. Here it is utterly impossible, in the present state of the water, to pass, so that the boat and baggage had to be carried across the whole portage. This occupied the remainder of the day, and we encamped in the evening at a short distance from the lower villages. The Indians told us with sorrowful faces of the recent death of their principal chief, Tilki. Well, thought I, the white man has lost a friend, and long will it be before we see his like again! The poor fellow was unwell when I last saw him, with a complaint of his breast, which I suspected to be pulmonary. I gave him a few simple medicines, and told him I should soon see him again. Well do I remember the look of despondency with which he bade me farewell, and begged me to return soon and give him more medicine. About two weeks since he ruptured a blood vessel, and died in a short time.

We see great numbers of seals as we pass along. Immediately below the Dalles they are particularly abundant, being attracted thither by the vast shoals of salmon which seek the turbulent water of the river. We occasionally shoot one of them as he raises his dog-like head above the surface, but we make no use of them; they are only valuable for the large quantity of oil which they yield.

We observe on the breasts and bellies of many of the Indians here, a number of large red marks, mostly of an oval form, sometimes twenty or thirty grouped together. These are wounds made by their own hands, to display to their people the unwavering and stoical resolution with which they can endure pain. A large fold of the skin is taken up with the fingers, and sliced off with a knife; the surrounding fibre then retreats, and a large and ghastly looking wound remains. Many that I saw to-day are yet scarcely cicatrized. There is a chief here who obtained the dignity which he now enjoys, solely by his numerous and hardy feats of this kind. He was originally a common man, and possessed but one wife; he has now six, and any of the tribe would think themselves honored by his alliance. He is a most gigantic fellow, about six feet four inches in height, and remarkably stout and powerful. The whole front of his person is covered with the red marks of which I have spoken, and he displays with considerable pride the two scars of a bullet, which entered the left breast, and passed out below the shoulder blade. This wound he also made with his own hand, by placing the muzzle of his gun against his breast, and pressing the trigger with his toe; and by this last, and most daring act, he was raised to the chief command of all the Indians on the north side of the river. Now that Tilki is no more, he will probably be chosen chief of all the country from the cascades to Walla-walla. I asked him if he felt no fear of death from the wound in his chest, at the time it was inflicted. He said, no; that his heart was strong, and that a bullet could never kill him. He told me that he was entirely well in a week after this occurrence, but that for two days he vomited blood constantly. He is named by the Indians "Skookoom," (the strong.)

About six weeks after, Mr. M'Leod, who again returned from a visit to Walla-walla, informed me that the strong chief was dead. A bullet, (or rather two of them,) killed him at last, in spite of his supposed invulnerability. He was shot by one of his people in a fit of jealousy. Skookoom had assisted Mr. M'Leod with his boats across the portage, and, being a chief, he of course received more for the service than a common man. This wretch, who was but a serf in the tribe, chose to be offended by it, and vented his rage by murdering his superior. He fired a ball from his own gun into his breast, which brought him to the ground, and then despatched him with a second, which he seized from another. So poor Skookoom has passed away, and such is the frail tenure upon which an Indian chief holds his authority and his life. The murderer will no doubt soon die by the hand of some friend or relative of the deceased; he in his turn will be killed by another, and as usual, the bloody business will go on indefinitely, and may even tend to produce an open war between the rival parties.

I saw an old man here, apparently eighty years of age, who had given himself three enormous longitudinal gashes in his leg, to evince his grief for the loss of Tilki. From the sluggishness of the circulation in the body of the poor old creature, combined with a morbid habit, these wounds show no disposition to heal. I dressed his limb, and gave him a strict charge to have it kept clean, but knowing the universal carelessness of Indians in this respect, I fear my directions will not be attended to, and the consequence will probably be, that the old man will die miserably. I spoke to him of the folly of such inflictions, and took this opportunity of delivering a short lecture upon the same subject to the others assembled in his lodge.

At 11 o'clock next day we arrived at the cascades, where we made the long portage, and at nine in the evening encamped in an ash grove, six miles above Prairie de The.

On the 8th, reached Vancouver, where we found two vessels which had just arrived from England.

On the 24th, I embarked in a canoe with Indians for Fort George, and arrived in two days. Here I was kindly received by the superintendent, Mr. James Birnie,and promised every assistance in forwarding my views.

30th.'I visited to-day some cemeteries in the neighborhood of the fort, and obtained the skulls of four Indians. Some of the bodies were simply deposited in canoes, raised five or six feet from the ground, either in the forks of trees, or supported on stakes driven into the earth. In these instances it was not difficult to procure the skulls without disarranging the fabric; but more frequently, they were nailed in boxes, or covered by a small canoe, which was turned bottom upwards, and placed in a larger one, and the whole covered by strips of bark, carefully arranged over them. It was then necessary to use the utmost caution in removing the covering, and also to be careful to leave every thing in the same state in which it was found. I thought several times to-day, as I have often done in similar situations before: ' Now suppose an Indian were to step in here, and see me groping among the bones of his fathers, and laying unhallowed hands upon the mouldering remains of his people, what should I say? ' I know well what the Indian would do. He would instantly shoot me, unless I took the most effectual measures to prevent it; but could I have time allowed me to temporize a little, I could easily disarm his hostility and ensure his silence, by the offer of a shirt or a blanket; but the difficulty in most cases would be, that in a paroxysm of rage he would put a bullet through your head, and then good bye to temporizing. Luckily for my pursuits in this way, there are at present but few Indians here, and I do not therefore incur much risk; were it otherwise, there would be no little danger in these aggressions.

The corpses of the several different tribes which are buried here, are known by the difference in the structure of their canoes; and the sarcophagi of the chiefs from those of the common people, by the greater care which has been manifested in the arrangement of the tomb.

October 14th.' I walked to-day around the beach to the foot of Young's bay, a distance of about ten miles, to see the remains of the house in which Lewis and Clark's party resided during the winter which they spent here. The logs of which it is composed, are still perfect, but the roof of bark has disappeared, and the whole vicinity is overgrown with thorn and wild currant bushes.

One of Mr. Birnie's children found, a few days since, a large silver medal, which had been brought here by Lewis and Clark, and had probably been presented to some chief, who lost it. On one side was a head, with the name "Th. Jefferson, President of the United States, 1801.", On the other, two hands interlocked, surmounted by a pipe and tomahawk; and above the words, "Peace and Friendship."

15th.' This afternoon I embarked in a canoe with Chinamus, and went with him to his residence at Chinook. The chief welcomed me to his house in a style which would do no discredit to a more civilized person. His two wives were ordered to make a bed for me, which they did by piling up about a dozen of their soft mats, and placing my blankets upon them, and a better bed I should never wish for. I was regaled, before I retired, with sturgeon, salmon, wappatoos, cranberries, and every thing else that the mansion afforded, and was requested to ask for any thing I wanted, and it should be furnished me. Whatever may be said derogatory to these people, I can testify that inhospitality is not among the number of their failings. I never went into the house of an Indian in my life, in any part of the country, without being most cordially received and welcomed.

The chief's house is built in the usual way, of logs and hewn boards, with a roof of cedar bark, and lined inside with mats. The floor is boarded and matted, and there is a depression in the ground about a foot in depth and four feet in width, extending the whole length of the building in the middle, where the fires are made.

In this, as in almost every house, there is a large figure, or idol, rudely carved and painted upon a board, and occupying a conspicuous place. To this figure many of the Indians ascribe supernatural powers. Chinamus says that if he is in any kind of danger, and particularly, if he is under the influence of an evil spell, he has only to place himself against the image, and the difficulty, of whatever kind, vanishes at once. This certainly savors of idolatry, although I believe they never address the uncouth figure as a deity. Like all other Indians, they acknowledge a great and invisible spirit, who governs and controls, and to whom all adoration is due.

Attached to this establishment, are three other houses, similarly constructed, inhabited by about thirty Indians, and at least that number of dogs. These, although very useful animals in their place, are here a great nuisance. They are of no possible service to the Indians, except to eat their provisions, and fill their houses with fleas, and a stranger ap- proaching the lodges, is in constant danger of being throttled by a legion of fierce brutes, who are not half as hospitable as their masters.

I remained here several days, making excursions through the neighborhood, and each time when I returned to the lodge, the dogs growled and darted at me. I had no notion of being bitten, so I gave the Indians warning, that unless the snarling beasts were tied up when I came near, I would shoot every one of them. The threat had the effect desired, and after this, whenever I approached the lodges, there was a universal stir among the people, and the words, "iskam kahmooks, iskam kahmooks, kalak'alah tie chahko," (take up your dogs, take up your dogs, the bird chief is coming,) echoed through the little village, and was followed by the yelping and snarling of dozens of wolf-dogs, and "curs of low degree," all of which were gathered in haste to the cover and protection of one of the houses.