Departure of Mr. McKay's party, Captain Stewart, and the missionaries - Debauch at the fort - Departure of the company - Poor provision - Blackfeet hunting ground - A toilsome journey, and sufferings from thirst - Goddin's creek - Antoine Goddin, the trapper - Scarcity of game - A buffalo - Rugged mountains - Comforting reflections of the traveller - More game - Unusual economy - Habits of the white wolf - "Thornburg's pass" - Difficult travelling - The captain in jeopardy among the snow - A countermarch - Deserted Banneck camp - Toilsome and dangerous passage of the mountain - Mallade river - Beaver dams, and beaver - A party of Snake Indians - Scarcity of pasture - Another Banneck camp - "Kamas prairie" - Indian mode of preparing the kamas - Racine blanc, or biscuit root - Travelling over the hills - Loss of horses by fatigue - Boisee or Big-wood river - Salmon - Choke-cherries, &c.
On the 30th of July, Mr. McKay and his party left us for Fort Vancouver, Captain Stewart and our band of missionaries accompanying them. The object of the latter in leaving us, is, that they may have an opportunity of travelling more slowly than we should do, on account, and for the benefit of the horned cattle which they are driving to the lower country. We feel quite sad in the prospect of parting from those with whom we have endured some toil and danger, and who have been to some of us as brothers, throughout our tedious journey; but, if no unforeseen accident occurs, we hope to meet them all again at Walla-Walla, the upper fort on the Columbia. As the party rode off, we fired three rounds, which were promptly answered, and three times three cheers wished the travellers success.
August 5th. At sunrise this morning, the "star-spangled banner" was raised on the flag-staff at the fort, and a salute fired by the men, who, according to orders, assembled around it. All in camp were then allowed the free and uncontrolled use of liquor, and, as usual, the consequence was a scene of rioting, noise, and fighting, during the whole day; some became so drunk that their senses fled them entirely, and they were therefore harmless; but by far the greater number were just sufficiently under the influence of the vile trash, to render them in their conduct disgusting and tiger-like. We had "gouging," biting, fisticuffing, and "stamping" in the most "scientific" perfection; some even fired guns and pistols at each other, but these weapons were mostly harmless in the unsteady hands which employed them. Such scenes I hope never to witness again; they are absolutely sickening, and cause us to look upon our species with abhorrence and loathing. Night at last came, and cast her mantle over our besotted camp; the revel was over, and the men retired to their pallets peaceably, but not a few of them will bear palpable evidence of the debauch of the 5th of August.
The next morning we commenced packing, and at 11 o'clock bade adieu to "Fort Hall." Our company now consists of but thirty men, several Indian women, and one hundred and sixteen horses. We crossed the main Snake or Shoshone river, at a point about three miles from the fort. It is here as wide as the Missouri at Independence, but, beyond comparison, clearer and more beautiful.
Immediately on crossing the river, we entered upon a wide, sandy plain, thickly covered with wormwood, and early in the afternoon, encamped at the head of a delightful spring, about ten miles from our starting place.
On the route, our hunters killed a young grizzly bear, which, with a few grouse, made us an excellent dinner. Fresh meat is now very grateful to our palates, as we have been living for weeks past on nothing but poor, dried buffalo, the better, and far the larger part, having been deposited in the fort for the subsistence of the men who remain. We have no flour, nor vegetables of any kind, and our meat may be aptly compared to dry chips, breaking short off in our fingers; and when boiled to soften it a little, and render it fit for mastication, not a star appears in the pot. It seems astonishing that life can be sustained upon such miserable fare, and yet our men (except when under the influence of liquor) have never murmured, but have always eaten their crusty meal, and drunk their cold water with light and excellent spirits. We hope soon to fall in with the buffalo, and we shall then endeavor to prepare some good provision to serve until we reach the salmon region.
We shall now, for about ten days, be travelling through the most dangerous country west of the mountains, the regular hunting ground of the Blackfeet Indians, who are said to be often seen here in parties of hundreds, or even thousands, scouring the plains in pursuit of the buffalo. Traders, therefore, seldom travel this route without meeting them, and being compelled to prove their valor upon them; the white men are, however, generally the victors, although their numbers are always vastly inferior.
7th. We were moving this morning with the dawn, and travelled steadily the whole day, over one of the most arid plains we have seen, covered thickly with jagged masses of lava, and twisted wormwood bushes. Both horses and men were jaded to the last degree; the former from the rough, and at times almost impassable nature of the track, and the latter from excessive heat and parching thirst. We saw not a drop of water during the day, and our only food was the dried meat before spoken of, which we carried and chewed like biscuits as we travelled. There are two reasons by which the extreme thirst which the way-farer suffers in these regions, may be accounted for; first, the intense heat of the sun upon the open and exposed plains; and secondly, the desiccation to which every thing here is subject. The air feels like the breath of a sirocco, the tongue becomes parched and horny, and the mouth, nose, and eyes are incessantly assailed by the fine pulverized lava, which rises from the ground with the least breath of air. Bullets, pebbles of chalcedony, and pieces of smooth obsidian, were in great requisition to-day; almost every man was mumbling some of these substances, in an endeavor to assuage his burning thirst. The camp trailed along in a lagging and desponding line over the plain for a mile or more, the poor horses' heads hanging low, their tongues protruding to their utmost extent, and their riders scarcely less drooping and spiritless. We were a sad and most forlorn looking company, certainly; not a man of us had any thing to say, and none cared to be interrupted in his blissful dream of cool rivers and streams. Occasionally we would pass a ravine or gorge in the hills, by which one side of the plain was bounded, and up this some of the men would steer, leaping over blocks of lava, and breaking a path through the dense bushes; but the poor searcher soon returned, disheartened and woebegone, and those who had waited anxiously to hear his cheering call, announcing success, passed onward without a word. One of our men, a mulatto, after failing in a forage of this sort, cast himself resolutely from his horse to the ground, and declared that he would lie there till he died; "there was no water in the cursed country and he might as well die here as go farther." Some of us tried to infuse a little courage into him, but it proved of no avail, and each was too much occupied with his own particular grief to use his tongue much in persuasion; so we left him to his fate.
Soon after nightfall, some signs of water were seen in a small valley to our left, and, upon ascending it, the foremost of the party found a delightful little cold spring; but they soon exhausted it, and then commenced, with axes and knives, to dig it out and enlarge it. By the time that Mr. N., and myself arrived, they had excavated a large space which was filled to overflowing with muddy water. We did not wait for it to settle, however, but throwing ourselves flat upon the ground, drank until we were ready to burst. The tales which I had read of suffering travellers in the Arabian deserts, then recurred with some force to my recollection, and I thought I could,though in a very small measure,appreciate their sufferings by deprivation, and their unmingled delight and satisfaction in the opportunity of assuaging them.
Poor Jim, the mulatto man, was found by one of the people, who went back in search of him, lying where he had first fallen, and either in a real or pretended swoon, still obstinate about dying, and scarcely heeding the assurances of the other that water was within a mile of him. He was, however, at length dragged and carried into camp, and soused head foremost into the mud puddle, where he guzzled and guzzled until his eyes seemed ready to burst from his head, and he was lifted out and laid dripping and flaccid upon the ground.
The next morning we made an early start towards a range of willows which we could distinctly see, at the distance of fifteen or twenty miles, and which we knew indicated Goddin's creek, so called from a Canadian of that name who was killed in this vicinity by the Blackfeet. Goddin's son, a half-breed, is now with us as a trapper; he is a fine sturdy fellow, and of such strength of limb and wind, that he is said to be able to run down a buffalo on foot, and kill him with arrows.
Goddin's creek was at length gained, and after travelling a few miles along its bank we encamped in some excellent pasture. Our poor horses seemed inclined to make up for lost time here, as yesterday their only food was the straggling blades of a little dry and parched grass growing among the wormwood on the hills.
We have been considerably disappointed in not seeing any buffalo to-day, and their absence here has occasioned some fear that we may not meet with them on our route. Should this be the case, we shall have to depend upon such small game, hares, grouse, &c., as may happen to lie in our path. In a short time, however, even this resource will fail; and if we do not happen to see Indians on the upper waters of the Columbia, from whom we can purchase dried salmon, we shall be under the necessity of killing our horses for food.
We perhaps derive one advantage, however, from the absence of game here, that of there being less probability of lurking Blackfeet in the vicinity; but this circumstance, convenient as it is, does not compensate for empty stomachs, and I believe the men would rather fight for the privilege of obtaining food, than live without it.
The next morning we left Goddin's creek, and travelled for ten miles over a plain, covered as usual with wormwood bushes and lava. Early in the day, the welcome cry of "a buffalo! a buffalo!" was heard from the head of the company, and was echoed joyfully along the whole line. At the moment, a fine large bull was seen to bound from the bushes in our front, and tear off with all his speed over the plain. Several hunters gave him chase immediately, and in a few minutes we heard the guns that proclaimed his death. The killing of this animal is a most fortunate circumstance for us: his meat will probably sustain us for three or four days, and by that time we are sanguine of procuring other provision. The appearance of this buffalo is not considered indicative of the vicinity of others: he is probably a straggler from a travelling band, and has been unable to proceed with it, in consequence of sickness or wounds.
On leaving the plain this morning, we struck into a defile between some of the highest mountains we have yet seen. In a short time we commenced ascending, and continued passing over them, until late in the afternoon, when we reached a plain about a mile in width, covered with excellent grass, and a delightful cool stream flowing through the middle of it. Here we encamped, having travelled twenty-seven miles.
Our journey, to-day, has been particularly laborious. We were engaged for several hours, constantly in ascending and descending enormous rocky hills, with scarcely the sign of a valley between them; and some of them so steep, that our horses were frequently in great danger of falling, by making a mis-step on the loose, rolling stones. I thought the Black Hills, on the Platte, rugged and difficult of passage, but they sink into insignificance when compared with these.
We observed, on these mountains, large masses of greenstone, and beautiful pebbles of chalcedony and fine agate; the summits of the highest are covered with snow. In the mountain passes, we found an abundance of large, yellow currants, rather acid, but exceedingly palatable to men who have been long living on animal food exclusively. We all ate heartily of them; indeed, some of our people became so much attached to the bushes, that we had considerable difficulty to induce them to travel again.
10th. We commenced our march at seven this morning, proceeding up a narrow valley, bordering our encampment in a north-easterly direction. The ravine soon widened, until it became a broad, level plain, covered by the eternal "sage" bushes, but was much less stony than usual. About mid-day, we left the plain, and shaped our course over a spur of one of the large mountains; then taking a ravine, in about an hour we came to the level land, and struck Goddin's creek again, late in the afternoon.
Our provision was exhausted at breakfast, this morning, (most of our bull meat having been given to a band of ten trappers, who left us yesterday,) we had seen no game on our route, and we were therefore preparing ourselves to retire supperless to our pallets, when Richardson and Sansbury were descried approaching the camp and, to our great comfort, we observed that they had meat on their saddles. When they arrived, however, we were somewhat disappointed to find that they had only killed a calf, but they had brought the entire little animal with them, the time for picking and choosing of choice pieces having passed with us; and after making a hearty meal, we wrapped ourselves in our blankets and slept soundly. Although but a scant breakfast was left for us in the morning, and we knew not if any dinner would fall in our way, yet "none of these things moved us;" we lived altogether upon the present, and heeded not the future. We had always been provided for; often, when we had despaired of procuring sustenance, and when the pangs of hunger had soured our temper, and made us quarrelsome, when we thought there was no prospect before us but to sacrifice our valuable horses, or die of starvation, have the means been provided for our relief. A buffalo, an elk, or an antelope, has appeared like the goat provided for the faithful Abraham, to save a more valuable life, and I hope that some of us have been willing, reverently to acknowledge from whom these benefits and blessings have been received.
On the day following, Richardson killed two buffalo, and brought his horse heavily laden with meat to the camp. Our good hunter walked himself, that the animal might be able to bear the greater burthen. After depositing the meat in the camp, he took a fresh horse, and accompanied by three men, returned to the spot where the game had been killed, (about four miles distant,) and in the evening, brought in every pound of it, leaving only the heavier bones. The wolves will be disappointed this evening; they are accustomed to dainty picking when they glean after the hunters, but we have now abandoned the "wasty ways" which so disgraced us when game was abundant; the despised leg bone, which was wont to be thrown aside with such contempt, is now polished of every tendon of its covering, and the savory hump is used as a kind of dessert after a meal of coarser meat.
Speaking of wolves, I have often been surprised at the perseverance and tenacity with which these animals will sometimes follow the hunter for a whole day, to feed upon the carcass he may leave behind him. When an animal is killed, they seem to mark the operation, and stand still at a most respectful distance, with drooping tail and ears, as though perfectly indifferent to the matter in progress. Thus will they stand until the game is butchered, the meat placed upon the saddle, and the hunter is mounted and on his way; then, if he glances behind him, he will see the wily forager stealthily crawling and prowling along towards the smoking remains, and pouncing upon it, and tearing it with tooth and nail, immediately as he gets out of reach.
During the day, the wolves are shy, and rarely permit an approach to within gun-shot; but at night, (where game is abundant,) they are so fearless as to come quite within the purlieus of the camp, and there sit, a dozen together, and howl hideously for hours. This kind of serenading, it may be supposed, is not the most agreeable; and many a time when on guard, have I observed the unquiet tossing of the bundles of blankets near me, and heard issue from them, the low, husky voice of some disturbed sleeper, denouncing heavy anathemas on the unseasonable music.
12th. We shaped our course, this morning, towards what appeared to us a gap in a high and rugged mountain, about twenty miles ahead. After proceeding eight or ten miles, the character of the country underwent a remarkable and sudden change. Instead of the luxuriant sage bushes, by which the whole plains have hitherto been covered, and the compact and dense growth of willows which has uniformly fringed every stream and rivulet, the ground was completely denuded; not a single shrub was to be seen, nor the smallest appearance of vegetation, except in small patches near the water. The mountains, also, which had generally been rocky, and covered with low, tangled bushes, here abound in beautiful and shapely pine trees. Some of the higher peaks are, however, completely bare, and capped with enormous masses of snow.
After we had travelled about twelve miles, we entered a defile between the mountains, about five hundred yards wide, covered, like the surrounding country, with pines; and, as we proceeded, the timber grew so closely, added to a thick undergrowth of bushes, that it appeared almost impossible to proceed with our horses. The farther we advanced, the more our difficulties seemed to increase; obstacles of various kinds impeded our progress; fallen trees, their branches tangled and matted together, large rocks and deep ravines, holes in the ground, into which our animals would be precipitated without the possibility of avoiding them, and an hundred other difficulties which beggar description.
We travelled for six miles through such a region as I have attempted to describe, and at 2 o'clock encamped in a clear spot of ground, where we found excellent grass, and a cold, rapid stream. Soon after we stopped, Captain W. and Richardson left us, to look for a pass through the mountains, or for a spot where it would be possible to cross them. Strange as it may appear, yet in this desolate and almost impassable region we have observed, to-day, the tracks of a buffalo which must have passed here last night, or this morning; at least so our hunters say, and they are rarely deceived in such matters.
Captain W. and Richardson returned early next morning, with the mortifying intelligence that no practicable pass through the mountain could be found. They ascended to the very summit of one of the highest peaks, above the snow and the reach of vegetation, and the only prospect which they had beyond, was a confused mass of huge angular rocks, over which even a wild goat could scarcely have made his way. Although they utterly failed in the object of their exploration, yet they were so fortunate as to kill a buffalo, (the buffalo,) the meat of which they brought on their horses.
Wyeth told us of a narrow escape he had while travelling on foot near the summit of one of the peaks. He was walking on a ridge which sloped from the top at an angle of about forty degrees, and terminated, at its lower part, in a perpendicular precipice of a thousand or twelve hundred feet. He was moving along in the snow cautiously, near the lower edge, in order to attain a more level spot beyond, when his feet slipped and he fell. Before he could attempt to fix himself firmly, he slid down the declivity till within a few feet of the frightful precipice. At the instant of his fall, he had the presence of mind to plant the rifle which he held in one hand, and his knife which he drew from the scabbard with the other, into the snow, and as he almost tottered on the verge, he succeeded in checking himself, and holding his body perfectly still. He then gradually moved, first the rifle and then the knife, backward up the slanting hill behind him, and fixing them firmly, drew up his body parallel to them. In this way he moved slowly and surely until he had gained his former station, when, without further difficulty, he succeeded in reaching the more level land.
After a good breakfast, we packed our horses, and struck back on our trail of yesterday, in order to try another valley which we observed bearing parallel with this, at about three miles distant, and which we conclude must of course furnish a path through the mountain. Although our difficulties in returning by the same wretched route were very considerable, yet they were somewhat diminished by the road having been partially broken, and we were enabled also to avoid many of the sloughs and pitfalls which had before so much incommoded us. We have named this rugged valley, "Thornburg's pass," after one of our men of this name, (a tailor,) whom we have to thank for leading us into all these troubles. Thornburg crossed this mountain two years ago, and might therefore be expected to know something of the route, and as he was the only man in the company who had been here, Captain W. acted by his advice, in opposition to his own judgment, which had suggested the other valley as affording a more probable chance of success. As we are probably the only white men who have ever penetrated into this most vile and abominable region, we conclude that the name we have given it must stand, from priority.
In the bushes, along the stream in this valley, the blacktailed deer (Cervus macrourus) is abundant. The beautiful creatures frequently bounded from their cover within a few yards of us, and trotted on before us like domestic animals; "they are so unacquainted with man" and his cruel arts, that they seem not to fear him.
We at length arrived on the open plain again, and in our route towards the other valley, we came to a large, recent Indian encampment, probably of Bannecks, who are travelling down to the fisheries on Snake river. [We afterwards learned, that only three days before our arrival, a hard contested, and most sanguinary battle, had been fought on this spot, between the Bannecks and Blackfeet, in which the former gained a signal and most complete victory, killing upwards of forty of their adversaries, and taking about three dozen scalps. The Blackfeet, although the much larger party, were on foot, but the Bannecks, being all well mounted, had a very decided advantage; and the contest occured on an open plain, where there was no chance of cover, the Blackfeet were run down with horses, and, without being able to load their guns, were trampled to death, or killed with salmon spears and axes. This was not the first time that we narrowly escaped a contest with this savage and most dreaded tribe. If we had passed there but a few days earlier, there is every probability to suppose that we should have been attacked, as our party at that time consisted of but twenty-six men.] We here took their trail which led up the valley to which we had been steering. The entrance was very similar in appearance to that of Thornburg's pass, and it is therefore not very surprising that our guide should have been deceived. We travelled rapidly along the level land at the base of the mountain, for about three miles; we then began to ascend, and our progress was necessarily slow and tedious. The commencement of the Alpine path was, however, far better than we had expected, and we entertained the hope that the passage could be made without difficulty or much toil, but the farther we progressed, the more laborious the travelling became. Sometimes we mounted steep banks of intermingled flinty rock, and friable slate, where our horses could scarcely obtain a footing, frequently sliding down several feet on the looser broken stones: again we passed along the extreme verge of tremendous precipices at a giddy height, whereat almost every step the stones and earth would roll from under our horses' feet, and we could hear them strike with a dull, leaden sound on the craggy rocks below. The whole journey, to-day, from the time we arrived at the heights, until we had crossed the mountain, has been a most fearful one. For myself, I might have diminished the danger very considerably, by adopting the plan pursued by the rest of the company, that of walking, and leading my horse over the most dangerous places, but I have been suffering for several days with a lame foot, and am wholly incapable of such exertion. I soon discovered that an attempt to guide my horse over the most rugged and steepest ranges was worse than useless, so I dropped the rein upon the animal's neck, and allowed him to take his own course, closing my eyes and keeping as quiet as possible in the saddle. But I could not forbear starting occasionally, when the feet of my horse would slip on a stone, and one side of him would slide rapidly towards the edge of the precipice, but I always recovered myself by a desperate effort, and it was fortunate for me that I did so.
Late in the afternoon, we completed the passage across the mountain, and with thankful hearts, again trod the level land. We entered here a fine rich valley or plain, of about half a mile in width, between two ranges of the mountain. It was profusely covered with willow, and through the middle of it, ran a rapid and turbulent mountain torrent, called Mallade river. It contains a great abundance of beaver, their recent dams being seen in great numbers, and in the night, when all was quiet, we could hear the playful animals at their gambols, diving from the shore into the water, and striking the surface with their broad tails. The sound, altogether, was not unlike that of children at play, and the animated description of a somewhat similar scene, in the "Mohicans," recurred to my recollection, where the single-minded Gamut is contemplating with feelings of strong reprobation, the wayward freaks of what he supposes to be a bevy of young savages.
14th. - We travelled down the Mallade river, and followed the Indian trail through the valley. The path frequently passed along near the base of the mountain, and then wound its way a considerable distance up it, to avoid rocky impediments and thick tangled bushes below, so that we had some climbing to do; but the difficulties and perils of the route of yesterday are still so fresh in our memory, that all minor things are disregarded, at least by us. Our poor horses, however, no doubt feel differently, as they are very tired and foot sore.
The next day we came to a close and almost impenetrable thicket of tangled willows, through which we had great difficulty in urging our horses. The breadth of the thicket was about one hundred yards, and a full hour was consumed in passing through it. We then entered immediately a rich and beautiful valley, covered profusely with a splendid blue Lupin. The mountains on either side are of much less height than those we have passed, and entirely bare, the pine trees which generally cover and ornament them, having disappeared. During the morning, we ascended and descended several high and stony hills, and early in the afternoon, emerged upon a large, level prairie, and struck a branch of Mallade river, where we encamped.
While we were unloading, we observed a number of Indians ahead, and not being aware of their character, stood with our horses saddled, while Captain W. and Richardson rode out to reconnoitre. In about half an hour they returned, and informed us that they were Snakes who were returning from the fisheries, and travelling towards the buffalo on the " big river," (Shoshone.) We therefore unsaddled our poor jaded horses and turned them out to feed upon the luxuriant pasture around the camp, while we, almost equally jaded, threw ourselves down in our blankets to seek a little repose and quiet after the toils and fatigues of a long day's march.
Soon after we encamped, the Snake chief and two of his young men visited us. We formed a circle around our lodge and smoked the pipe of peace with them, after which we made them each a present of a yard of scarlet cloth for leggings, some balls and powder, a knife, and a looking glass. Captain W. then asked them a number of questions, through an interpreter, relative to the route, the fishery, &c. &c.,and finally bought of them a small quantity of dried salmon, and a little fermented kamas or quamash root. The Indians remained with us until dark, and then left us quietly for their own camp. There are two lodges of them, in all about twenty persons, but none of them presumed to come near us, with the exception of the three men, two squaws, and a few children. The chief is a man about fifty years of age, tall, and dignified looking, with large, strong aqualine features. His manners were cordial and agreeable, perhaps remarkably so, and he exhibited very little of that stoical indifference to surrounding objects which is so characteristic of an Indian. His dress consisted of plain leggings of deer skin, fringed at the sides, unembroidered moccasins, and a marro or waist-covering of antelope skin dressed without removing the hair. The upper part of his person was simply covered with a small blanket, and his ears were profusely ornamented with brass rings and beads. The men and squaws who accompanied him, were entirely naked, except that the latter had marro's of deer skin covering the loins.
The next morning we steered west across the wide prairie, crossing within every mile or two, a branch of the tortuous Mallade, near each of which good pasture was seen; but on the main prairie scarcely a blade of grass could be found, it having lately been fired by the Indians to improve the crops of next year. We have seen to-day some lava and basalt again on the sides of the hills, and on the mounds in the plain, but the level land was entirely free from it.
At noon on the 17th, we passed a deserted Indian camp, probably of the same people whose trail we have been following. There were many evident signs of the Indians having but recently left it, among which was that of several white wolves lurking around in the hope of finding remnants of meat, but, as a Scotchman would say, " I doubt they were mistaken," for meat is scarce here, and the frugal Indians rarely leave enough behind them to excite even the famished stomach of the lank and hungry wolf. The encampment here has been but a temporary one, occupying a little valley densely overgrown with willows, the tops of which have been bent over, and tied so as to form a sort of lodge; over these, they have probably stretched deer skins or blankets, to exclude the rays of the sun. Of these lodges there are about forty in the valley, so that the party must have been a large one.
In the afternoon we arrived at "Kamas prairie," so called from a vast abundance of this esculent root which it produces, (the Kamassa esculenta, of Nuttall.) The plain is a beautiful level one of about a mile over, hemmed in by low, rocky hills, and in spring, the pretty blue flowers of the Kamas are said to give it a peculiar, and very pleasing appearance. At this season, the flowers do not appear, the vegetable being indicated only by little dry stems which protrude all over the ground among the grass.
We encamped here, near a small branch of Mallade river; and soon after, all hands took their kettles and scattered over the prairie to dig a mess of kamas. We were, of course, eminently successful, and were furnished thereby with an excellent and wholesome meal. When boiled, this little root is palatable, and somewhat resembles the taste of the common potato; the Indian mode of preparing it, is, however, the best that of fermenting it in pits under ground, into which hot stones have been placed. It is suffered to remain in these pits for several days; and when removed, is of a dark brown color, about the consistence of softened glue, and sweet, like molasses. It is then often made into large cakes, by being mashed, and pressed together, and slightly baked in the sun. There are several other kinds of bulbous and tuberous roots, growing in these plains, which are eaten by the Indians, after undergoing a certain process of fermentation or baking. Among these, that which is most esteemed, is the white or biscuit root, the Racine blanc of the Canadians, (Eulophus ambiguus, of Nuttall.) This is dried, pulverized with stones, and after being moistened with water, is made into cakes and baked in the sun. The taste is not unlike that of a stale biscuit, and to a hungry man, or one who has long subsisted without vegetables of any kind, is rather palatable.
On the morning of the 18th, we commenced ascending the hills again, and had a laborious and toilsome day's march. One of our poor wearied horses gave up, and stopped; kicking, and cuffing, and beating had no effect to make him move; the poor animal laid himself down with his load, and after this was detached and shifted to the back of another, we left him where he fell, to recruit, and fall into the hands of the Indians, or die among the and hills. This is the first horse we have lost in this manner; but we have great fears that many others will soon fail, as their riders and drivers are compelled to use the whip constantly, to make them walk at the slowest gait. We comfort ourselves, however, by supposing that we have now nearly passed the most rugged country on the route, and hope, before many days, to reach the valley of the Shoshone, where the country will be level, and the pasture good. We are anxious, also, to fall in with the Snake Indians, in order to get a supply of salmon, as we have been living for several days on a short allowance of wretched, dry meat, and this poor pittance is now almost exhausted.
19th.-This morning was cold, the thermometer stood at 28 deg, and a thick skim of ice was in the camp kettles at sunrise. Another hard day's travel over the hills, during which we lost two of our largest and stoutest horses. Towards evening, we descended to a fine large plain, and struck Boisee, or Big Wood river, on the borders of which we encamped. This is a beautiful stream, about one hundred yards in width, clear as crystal, and, in some parts, probably twenty feet deep. It is literally crowded with salmon, which are springing from the water almost constantly. Our mouths are watering most abundantly for some of them, but we are not provided with suitable implements for taking any, and must therefore depend for a supply on the Indians, whom we hope soon to meet.
We found, in the mountain passes, to-day, a considerable quantity of a small
fruit called the choke-cherry, a species of prunus, growing on low bushes. When
ripe, they are tolerable eating, somewhat astringent, however, producing upon
the mouth the same effect, though in a less degree, as the unripe persimmon.
They are now generally green, or we should feast luxuriantly upon them, and
render more tolerable our miserable provision. We have seen, also, large patches
of service bushes, but no fruit. It seems to have failed this year, although
ordinarily so abundant that it constitutes a large portion of the vegetable food
of both Indians and white trappers who visit these regions.