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The Adventures of Captain Bonneville by Washington Irving

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The Adventures of Captain
digested from his journal by
Washington Irving

Originally published in 1837

Introductory Notice

WHILE ENGAGED in writing an account of the grand enterprise of
Astoria, it was my practice to seek all kinds of oral information
connected with the subject. Nowhere did I pick up more
interesting particulars than at the table of Mr. John Jacob
Astor; who, being the patriarch of the fur trade in the United
States, was accustomed to have at his board various persons of
adventurous turn, some of whom had been engaged in his own great
undertaking; others, on their own account, had made expeditions
to the Rocky Mountains and the waters of the Columbia.

Among these personages, one who peculiarly took my fancy was
Captain Bonneville, of the United States army; who, in a rambling
kind of enterprise, had strangely ingrafted the trapper and
hunter upon the soldier. As his expeditions and adventures will
form the leading theme of the following pages, a few biographical
particulars concerning him may not be unacceptable.

Captain Bonneville is of French parentage. His father was a
worthy old emigrant, who came to this country many years since,
and took up his abode in New York. He is represented as a man not
much calculated for the sordid struggle of a money-making world,
but possessed of a happy temperament, a festivity of imagination,
and a simplicity of heart, that made him proof against its rubs
and trials. He was an excellent scholar; well acquainted with
Latin and Greek, and fond of the modern classics. His book was
his elysium; once immersed in the pages of Voltaire, Corneille,
or Racine, or of his favorite English author, Shakespeare, he
forgot the world and all its concerns. Often would he be seen in
summer weather, seated under one of the trees on the Battery, or
the portico of St. Paul's church in Broadway, his bald head
uncovered, his hat lying by his side, his eyes riveted to the
page of his book, and his whole soul so engaged, as to lose all
consciousness of the passing throng or the passing hour.

Captain Bonneville, it will be found, inherited something of his
father's bonhommie, and his excitable imagination; though the
latter was somewhat disciplined in early years, by mathematical
studies. He was educated at our national Military Academy at West
Point, where he acquitted himself very creditably; thence, he
entered the army, in which he has ever since continued.

The nature of our military service took him to the frontier,
where, for a number of years, he was stationed at various posts
in the Far West. Here he was brought into frequent intercourse
with Indian traders, mountain trappers, and other pioneers of the
wilderness; and became so excited by their tales of wild scenes
and wild adventures, and their accounts of vast and magnificent
regions as yet unexplored, that an expedition to the Rocky
Mountains became the ardent desire of his heart, and an
enterprise to explore untrodden tracts, the leading object of his

By degrees he shaped his vague day-dream into a practical
reality. Having made himself acquainted with all the requisites
for a trading enterprise beyond the mountains, he determined to
undertake it. A leave of absence, and a sanction of his
expedition, was obtained from the major general in chief, on his
offering to combine public utility with his private projects, and
to collect statistical information for the War Department
concerning the wild countries and wild tribes he might visit in
the course of his journeyings.

Nothing now was wanting to the darling project of the captain,
but the ways and means. The expedition would require an outfit of
many thousand dollars; a staggering obstacle to a soldier, whose
capital is seldom any thing more than his sword. Full of that
buoyant hope, however, which belongs to the sanguine temperament,
he repaired to New-York, the great focus of American enterprise,
where there are always funds ready for any scheme, however
chimerical or romantic. Here he had the good fortune to meet with
a gentleman of high respectability and influence, who had been
his associate in boyhood, and who cherished a schoolfellow
friendship for him. He took a general interest in the scheme of
the captain; introduced him to commercial men of his
acquaintance, and in a little while an association was formed,
and the necessary funds were raised to carry the proposed measure
into effect. One of the most efficient persons in this
association was Mr. Alfred Seton, who, when quite a youth, had
accompanied one of the expeditions sent out by Mr. Astor to his
commercial establishments on the Columbia, and had distinguished
himself by his activity and courage at one of the interior posts.
Mr. Seton was one of the American youths who were at Astoria at
the time of its surrender to the British, and who manifested such
grief and indignation at seeing the flag of their country hauled
down. The hope of seeing that flag once more planted on the
shores of the Columbia, may have entered into his motives for
engaging in the present enterprise.

Thus backed and provided, Captain Bonneville undertook his
expedition into the Far West, and was soon beyond the Rocky
Mountains. Year after year elapsed without his return. The term
of his leave of absence expired, yet no report was made of him at
head quarters at Washington. He was considered virtually dead or
lost and his name was stricken from the army list.

It was in the autumn of 1835 at the country seat of Mr. John
Jacob Astor, at Hellgate, that I first met with Captain
Bonneville He was then just returned from a residence of upwards
of three years among the mountains, and was on his way to report
himself at head quarters, in the hopes of being reinstated in the
service. From all that I could learn, his wanderings in the
wilderness though they had gratified his curiosity and his love
of adventure had not much benefited his fortunes. Like Corporal
Trim in his campaigns, he had "satisfied the sentiment," and that
was all. In fact, he was too much of the frank, freehearted
soldier, and had inherited too much of his father's temperament,
to make a scheming trapper, or a thrifty bargainer.

There was something in the whole appearance of the captain that
prepossessed me in his favor. He was of the middle size, well
made and well set; and a military frock of foreign cut, that had
seen service, gave him a look of compactness. His countenance was
frank, open, and engaging; well browned by the sun, and had
something of a French expression. He had a pleasant black eye, a
high forehead, and, while he kept his hat on, the look of a man
in the jocund prime of his days; but the moment his head was
uncovered, a bald crown gained him credit for a few more years
than he was really entitled to.

Being extremely curious, at the time, about every thing connected
with the Far West, I addressed numerous questions to him. They
drew from him a number of extremely striking details, which were
given with mingled modesty and frankness; and in a gentleness of
manner, and a soft tone of voice, contrasting singularly with the
wild and often startling nature of his themes. It was difficult
to conceive the mild, quiet-looking personage before you, the
actual hero of the stirring scenes related.

In the course of three or four months, happening to be at the
city of Washington, I again came upon the captain, who was
attending the slow adjustment of his affairs with the War
Department. I found him quartered with a worthy brother in arms,
a major in the army. Here he was writing at a table, covered with
maps and papers, in the centre of a large barrack room,
fancifully decorated with Indian arms, and trophies, and war
dresses, and the skins of various wild animals, and hung round
with pictures of Indian games and ceremonies, and scenes of war
and hunting. In a word, the captain was beguiling the tediousness
of attendance at court, by an attempt at authorship; and was
rewriting and extending his travelling notes, and making maps of
the regions he had explored. As he sat at the table, in this
curious apartment, with his high bald head of somewhat foreign
cast, he reminded me of some of those antique pictures of authors
that I have seen in old Spanish volumes.

The result of his labors was a mass of manuscript, which he
subsequently put at my disposal, to fit it for publication and
bring it before the world. I found it full of interesting details
of life among the mountains, and of the singular castes and
races, both white men and red men, among whom he had sojourned.
It bore, too, throughout, the impress of his character, his
bonhommie, his kindliness of spirit, and his susceptibility to
the grand and beautiful.

That manuscript has formed the staple of the following work. I
have occasionally interwoven facts and details, gathered from
various sources, especially from the conversations and journals
of some of the captain's contemporaries, who were actors in the
scenes he describes. I have also given it a tone and coloring
drawn from my own observation, during an excursion into the
Indian country beyond the bounds of civilization; as I before
observed, however, the work is substantially the narrative of the
worthy captain, and many of its most graphic passages are but
little varied from his own language.

I shall conclude this notice by a dedication which he had made of
his manuscript to his hospitable brother in arms, in whose
quarters I found him occupied in his literary labors; it is a
dedication which, I believe, possesses the qualities, not always
found in complimentary documents of the kind, of being sincere,
and being merited.

whose jealousy of its honor, whose anxiety for its interests, and
whose sensibility for its wants, have endeared him to the service
as The Soldier's Friend;
and whose general amenity, constant cheerfulness. disinterested
hospitality, and unwearied benevolence, entitle him to the still
loftier title of The Friend of Man,
this work is inscribed, etc.



State of the fur trade of the Rocky Mountains American
enterprises General Ashley and his associates Sublette, a famous
leader Yearly rendezvous among the mountains Stratagems and
dangers of the trade Bands of trappers Indian banditti Crows and
Blackfeet Mountaineers Traders of the Far West Character and
habits of the trapper

IN A RECENT WORK we have given an account of the grand enterprise
of Mr. John Jacob Astor to establish an American emporium for the
fur trade at the mouth of the Columbia, or Oregon River; of the
failure of that enterprise through the capture of Astoria by the
British, in 1814; and of the way in which the control of the
trade of the Columbia and its dependencies fell into the hands of
the Northwest Company. We have stated, likewise, the unfortunate
supineness of the American government in neglecting the
application of Mr. Astor for the protection of the American flag,
and a small military force, to enable him to reinstate himself in
the possession of Astoria at the return of peace; when the post
was formally given up by the British government, though still
occupied by the Northwest Company. By that supineness the
sovereignty in the country has been virtually lost to the United
States; and it will cost both governments much trouble and
difficulty to settle matters on that just and rightful footing on
which they would readily have been placed had the proposition of
Mr. Astor been attended to. We shall now state a few particulars
of subsequent events, so as to lead the reader up to the period
of which we are about to treat, and to prepare him for the
circumstances of our narrative.

In consequence of the apathy and neglect of the American
government, Mr. Astor abandoned all thoughts of regaining
Astoria, and made no further attempt to extend his enterprises
beyond the Rocky Mountains; and the Northwest Company considered
themselves the lords of the country. They did not long enjoy
unmolested the sway which they had somewhat surreptitiously
attained. A fierce competition ensued between them and their old
rivals, the Hudson's Bay Company; which was carried on at great
cost and sacrifice, and occasionally with the loss of life. It
ended in the ruin of most of the partners of the Northwest
Company; and the merging of the relics of that establishment, in
1821, in the rival association. From that time, the Hudson's Bay
Company enjoyed a monopoly of the Indian trade from the coast of
the Pacific to the Rocky Mountains, and for a considerable extent
north and south. They removed their emporium from Astoria to Fort
Vancouver, a strong post on the left bank of the Columbia River,
about sixty miles from its mouth; whence they furnished their
interior posts, and sent forth their brigades of trappers.

The Rocky Mountains formed a vast barrier between them and the
United States, and their stern and awful defiles, their rugged
valleys, and the great western plains watered by their rivers,
remained almost a terra incognita to the American trapper. The
difficulties experienced in 1808, by Mr. Henry of the Missouri
Company, the first American who trapped upon the head-waters of
the Columbia; and the frightful hardships sustained by Wilson P.
Hunt, Ramsay Crooks, Robert Stuart, and other intrepid Astorians,
in their ill-fated expeditions across the mountains, appeared for
a time to check all further enterprise in that direction. The
American traders contented themselves with following up the head
branches of the Missouri, the Yellowstone, and other rivers and
streams on the Atlantic side of the mountains, but forbore to
attempt those great snow-crowned sierras.

One of the first to revive these tramontane expeditions was
General Ashley, of Missouri, a man whose courage and achievements
in the prosecution of his enterprises have rendered him famous in
the Far West. In conjunction with Mr. Henry, already mentioned,
he established a post on the banks of the Yellowstone River in
1822, and in the following year pushed a resolute band of
trappers across the mountains to the banks of the Green River or
Colorado of the West, often known by the Indian name of the
Seeds-ke-dee Agie. This attempt was followed up and sustained by
others, until in 1825 a footing was secured, and a complete
system of trapping organized beyond the mountains.

It is difficult to do justice to the courage, fortitude, and
perseverance of the pioneers of the fur trade, who conducted
these early expeditions, and first broke their way through a
wilderness where everything was calculated to deter and dismay
them. They had to traverse the most dreary and desolate
mountains, and barren and trackless wastes, uninhabited by man,
or occasionally infested by predatory and cruel savages. They
knew nothing of the country beyond the verge of their horizon,
and had to gather information as they wandered. They beheld
volcanic plains stretching around them, and ranges of mountains
piled up to the clouds, and glistening with eternal frost: but
knew nothing of their defiles, nor how they were to be penetrated
or traversed. They launched themselves in frail canoes on rivers,
without knowing whither their swift currents would carry them, or
what rocks and shoals and rapids they might encounter in their
course. They had to be continually on the alert, too, against the
mountain tribes, who beset every defile, laid ambuscades in their
path, or attacked them in their night encampments; so that, of
the hardy bands of trappers that first entered into these
regions, three-fifths are said to have fallen by the hands of
savage foes.

In this wild and warlike school a number of leaders have sprung
up, originally in the employ, subsequently partners of Ashley;
among these we may mention Smith, Fitzpatrick, Bridger, Robert
Campbell, and William Sublette; whose adventures and exploits
partake of the wildest spirit of romance. The association
commenced by General Ashley underwent various modifications. That
gentleman having acquired sufficient fortune, sold out his
interest and retired; and the leading spirit that succeeded him
was Captain William Sublette; a man worthy of note, as his name
has become renowned in frontier story. He is a native of
Kentucky, and of game descent; his maternal grandfather, Colonel
Wheatley, a companion of Boon, having been one of the pioneers of
the West, celebrated in Indian warfare, and killed in one of the
contests of the "Bloody Ground." We shall frequently have
occasion to speak of this Sublette, and always to the credit of
his game qualities. In 1830, the association took the name of the
Rocky Mountain Fur Company, of which Captain Sublette and Robert
Campbell were prominent members.

In the meantime, the success of this company attracted the
attention and excited the emulation of the American Fur Company,
and brought them once more into the field of their ancient
enterprise. Mr. Astor, the founder of the association, had
retired from busy life, and the concerns of the company were ably
managed by Mr. Ramsay Crooks, of Snake River renown, who still
officiates as its president. A competition immediately ensued
between the two companies for the trade with the mountain tribes
and the trapping of the head-waters of the Columbia and the other
great tributaries of the Pacific. Beside the regular operations
of these formidable rivals, there have been from time to time
desultory enterprises, or rather experiments, of minor
associations, or of adventurous individuals beside roving bands
of independent trappers, who either hunt for themselves, or
engage for a single season, in the service of one or other of the
main companies.

The consequence is that the Rocky Mountains and the ulterior
regions, from the Russian possessions in the north down to the
Spanish settlements of California, have been traversed and
ransacked in every direction by bands of hunters and Indian
traders; so that there is scarcely a mountain pass, or defile,
that is not known and threaded in their restless migrations, nor
a nameless stream that is not haunted by the lonely trapper.

The American fur companies keep no established posts beyond the
mountains. Everything there is regulated by resident partners;
that is to say, partners who reside in the tramontane country,
but who move about from place to place, either with Indian
tribes, whose traffic they wish to monopolize, or with main
bodies of their own men, whom they employ in trading and
trapping. In the meantime, they detach bands, or "brigades" as
they are termed, of trappers in various directions, assigning to
each a portion of country as a hunting or trapping ground. In the
months of June and July, when there is an interval between the
hunting seasons, a general rendezvous is held, at some designated
place in the mountains, where the affairs of the past year are
settled by the resident partners, and the plans for the following
year arranged.

To this rendezvous repair the various brigades of trappers from
their widely separated hunting grounds, bringing in the products
of their year's campaign. Hither also repair the Indian tribes
accustomed to traffic their peltries with the company. Bands of
free trappers resort hither also, to sell the furs they have
collected; or to engage their services for the next hunting

To this rendezvous the company sends annually a convoy of
supplies from its establishment on the Atlantic frontier, under
the guidance of some experienced partner or officer. On the
arrival of this convoy, the resident partner at the rendezvous
depends to set all his next year's machinery in motion.

Now as the rival companies keep a vigilant eye upon each other,
and are anxious to discover each other's plans and movements,
they generally contrive to hold their annual assemblages at no
great distance apart. An eager competition exists also between
their respective convoys of supplies, which shall first reach its
place of rendezvous. For this purpose, they set off with the
first appearance of grass on the Atlantic frontier and push with
all diligence for the mountains. The company that can first open
its tempting supplies of coffee, tobacco, ammunition, scarlet
cloth, blankets, bright shawls, and glittering trinkets has the
greatest chance to get all the peltries and furs of the Indians
and free trappers, and to engage their services for the next
season. It is able, also, to fit out and dispatch its own
trappers the soonest, so as to get the start of its competitors,
and to have the first dash into the hunting and trapping grounds.

A new species of strategy has sprung out of this hunting and
trapping competition. The constant study of the rival bands is to
forestall and outwit each other; to supplant each other in the
good will and custom of the Indian tribes; to cross each other's
plans; to mislead each other as to routes; in a word, next to his
own advantage, the study of the Indian trader is the disadvantage
of his competitor.

The influx of this wandering trade has had its effects on the
habits of the mountain tribes. They have found the trapping of
the beaver their most profitable species of hunting; and the
traffic with the white man has opened to them sources of luxury
of which they previously had no idea. The introduction of
firearms has rendered them more successful hunters, but at the
same time, more formidable foes; some of them, incorrigibly
savage and warlike in their nature, have found the expeditions of
the fur traders grand objects of profitable adventure. To waylay
and harass a band of trappers with their pack-horses, when
embarrassed in the rugged defiles of the mountains, has become as
favorite an exploit with these Indians as the plunder of a
caravan to the Arab of the desert. The Crows and Blackfeet, who
were such terrors in the path of the early adventurers to
Astoria, still continue their predatory habits, but seem to have
brought them to greater system. They know the routes and resorts
of the trappers; where to waylay them on their journeys; where to
find them in the hunting seasons, and where to hover about them
in winter quarters. The life of a trapper, therefore, is a
perpetual state militant, and he must sleep with his weapons in
his hands.

A new order of trappers and traders, also, has grown out of this
system of things. In the old times of the great Northwest
Company, when the trade in furs was pursued chiefly about the
lakes and rivers, the expeditions were carried on in batteaux and
canoes. The voyageurs or boatmen were the rank and file in the
service of the trader, and even the hardy "men of the north,"
those great rufflers and game birds, were fain to be paddled from
point to point of their migrations.

A totally different class has now sprung up:--"the Mountaineers,"
the traders and trappers that scale the vast mountain chains, and
pursue their hazardous vocations amidst their wild recesses. They
move from place to place on horseback. The equestrian exercises,
therefore, in which they are engaged, the nature of the countries
they traverse, vast plains and mountains, pure and exhilarating
in atmospheric qualities, seem to make them physically and
mentally a more lively and mercurial race than the fur traders
and trappers of former days, the self-vaunting "men of the
north." A man who bestrides a horse must be essentially different
from a man who cowers in a canoe. We find them, accordingly,
hardy, lithe, vigorous, and active; extravagant in word, and
thought, and deed; heedless of hardship; daring of danger;
prodigal of the present, and thoughtless of the future.

A difference is to be perceived even between these mountain
hunters and those of the lower regions along the waters of the
Missouri. The latter, generally French creoles, live comfortably
in cabins and log-huts, well sheltered from the inclemencies of
the seasons. They are within the reach of frequent supplies from
the settlements; their life is comparatively free from danger,
and from most of the vicissitudes of the upper wilderness. The
consequence is that they are less hardy, self-dependent and
game-spirited than the mountaineer. If the latter by chance comes
among them on his way to and from the settlements, he is like a
game-cock among the common roosters of the poultry-yard.
Accustomed to live in tents, or to bivouac in the open air, he
despises the comforts and is impatient of the confinement of the
log-house. If his meal is not ready in season, he takes his
rifle, hies to the forest or prairie, shoots his own game, lights
his fire, and cooks his repast. With his horse and his rifle, he
is independent of the world, and spurns at all its restraints.
The very superintendents at the lower posts will not put him to
mess with the common men, the hirelings of the establishment, but
treat him as something superior.

There is, perhaps, no class of men on the face of the earth, says
Captain Bonneville, who lead a life of more continued exertion,
peril, and excitement, and who are more enamored of their
occupations, than the free trappers of the West. No toil, no
danger, no privation can turn the trapper from his pursuit. His
passionate excitement at times resembles a mania. In vain may the
most vigilant and cruel savages beset his path; in vain may rocks
and precipices and wintry torrents oppose his progress; let but a
single track of a beaver meet his eye, and he forgets all dangers
and defies all difficulties. At times, he may be seen with his
traps on his shoulder, buffeting his way across rapid streams,
amidst floating blocks of ice: at other times, he is to be found
with his traps swung on his back clambering the most rugged
mountains, scaling or descending the most frightful precipices,
searching, by routes inaccessible to the horse, and never before
trodden by white man, for springs and lakes unknown to his
comrades, and where he may meet with his favorite game. Such is
the mountaineer, the hardy trapper of the West; and such, as we
have slightly sketched it, is the wild, Robin Hood kind of life,
with all its strange and motley populace, now existing in full
vigor among the Rocky Mountains.

Having thus given the reader some idea of the actual state of the
fur trade in the interior of our vast continent, and made him
acquainted with the wild chivalry of the mountains, we will no
longer delay the introduction of Captain Bonneville and his band
into this field of their enterprise, but launch them at once upon
the perilous plains of the Far West.


Departure from Fort Osage Modes of transportation Pack-
horses Wagons Walker and Cerre; their characters Buoyant feelings
on launching upon the prairies Wild equipments of the
trappers Their gambols and antics Difference of character between
the American and French trappers Agency of the Kansas General
Clarke White Plume, the Kansas chief Night scene in a trader's
camp Colloquy between White Plume and the captain Bee-
hunters Their expeditions Their feuds with the Indians Bargaining
talent of White Plume

IT WAS ON THE FIRST of May, 1832, that Captain Bonneville took
his departure from the frontier post of Fort Osage, on the
Missouri. He had enlisted a party of one hundred and ten men,
most of whom had been in the Indian country, and some of whom
were experienced hunters and trappers. Fort Osage, and other
places on the borders of the western wilderness, abound with
characters of the kind, ready for any expedition.

The ordinary mode of transportation in these great inland
expeditions of the fur traders is on mules and pack-horses; but
Captain Bonneville substituted wagons. Though he was to travel
through a trackless wilderness, yet the greater part of his route
would lie across open plains, destitute of forests, and where
wheel carriages can pass in every direction. The chief difficulty
occurs in passing the deep ravines cut through the prairies by
streams and winter torrents. Here it is often necessary to dig a
road down the banks, and to make bridges for the wagons.

In transporting his baggage in vehicles of this kind, Captain
Bonneville thought he would save the great delay caused every
morning by packing the horses, and the labor of unpacking in the
evening. Fewer horses also would be required, and less risk
incurred of their wandering away, or being frightened or carried
off by the Indians. The wagons, also, would be more easily
defended, and might form a kind of fortification in case of
attack in the open prairies. A train of twenty wagons, drawn by
oxen, or by four mules or horses each, and laden with
merchandise, ammunition, and provisions, were disposed in two
columns in the center of the party, which was equally divided
into a van and a rear-guard. As sub-leaders or lieutenants in his
expedition, Captain Bonneville had made choice of Mr. J. R.
Walker and Mr. M. S. Cerre. The former was a native of Tennessee,
about six feet high, strong built, dark complexioned, brave in
spirit, though mild in manners. He had resided for many years in
Missouri, on the frontier; had been among the earliest
adventurers to Santa Fe, where he went to trap beaver, and was
taken by the Spaniards. Being liberated, he engaged with the
Spaniards and Sioux Indians in a war against the Pawnees; then
returned to Missouri, and had acted by turns as sheriff, trader,
trapper, until he was enlisted as a leader by Captain Bonneville.

Cerre, his other leader, had likewise been in expeditions to
Santa Fe, in which he had endured much hardship. He was of the
middle size, light complexioned, and though but about twenty-five
years of age, was considered an experienced Indian trader. It was
a great object with Captain Bonneville to get to the mountains
before the summer heats and summer flies should render the
travelling across the prairies distressing; and before the annual
assemblages of people connected with the fur trade should have
broken up, and dispersed to the hunting grounds.

The two rival associations already mentioned, the American Fur
Company and the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, had their several
places of rendezvous for the present year at no great distance
apart, in Pierre's Hole, a deep valley in the heart of the
mountains, and thither Captain Bonneville intended to shape his

It is not easy to do justice to the exulting feelings of the
worthy captain at finding himself at the head of a stout band of
hunters, trappers, and woodmen; fairly launched on the broad
prairies, with his face to the boundless West. The tamest
inhabitant of cities, the veriest spoiled child of civilization,
feels his heart dilate and his pulse beat high on finding himself
on horseback in the glorious wilderness; what then must be the
excitement of one whose imagination had been stimulated by a
residence on the frontier, and to whom the wilderness was a
region of romance!

His hardy followers partook of his excitement. Most of them had
already experienced the wild freedom of savage life, and looked
forward to a renewal of past scenes of adventure and exploit.
Their very appearance and equipment exhibited a piebald mixture,
half civilized and half savage. Many of them looked more like
Indians than white men in their garbs and accoutrements, and
their very horses were caparisoned in barbaric style, with
fantastic trappings. The outset of a band of adventurers on one
of these expeditions is always animated and joyous. The welkin
rang with their shouts and yelps, after the manner of the
savages; and with boisterous jokes and light-hearted laughter. As
they passed the straggling hamlets and solitary cabins that
fringe the skirts of the frontier, they would startle their
inmates by Indian yells and war-whoops, or regale them with
grotesque feats of horsemanship, well suited to their halfsavage
appearance. Most of these abodes were inhabited by men who had
themselves been in similar expeditions; they welcomed the
travellers, therefore, as brother trappers, treated them with a
hunter's hospitality, and cheered them with an honest God speed
at parting.

And here we would remark a great difference, in point of
character and quality, between the two classes of trappers, the
"American" and "French," as they are called in contradistinction.
The latter is meant to designate the French creole of Canada or
Louisiana; the former, the trapper of the old American stock,
from Kentucky, Tennessee, and others of the western States. The
French trapper is represented as a lighter, softer, more
self-indulgent kind of man. He must have his Indian wife, his
lodge, and his petty conveniences. He is gay and thoughtless,
takes little heed of landmarks, depends upon his leaders and
companions to think for the common weal, and, if left to himself,
is easily perplexed and lost.

The American trapper stands by himself, and is peerless for the
service of the wilderness. Drop him in the midst of a prairie, or
in the heart of the mountains, and he is never at a loss. He
notices every landmark; can retrace his route through the most
monotonous plains, or the most perplexed labyrinths of the
mountains; no danger nor difficulty can appal him, and he scorns
to complain under any privation. In equipping the two kinds of
trappers, the Creole and Canadian are apt to prefer the light
fusee; the American always grasps his rifle; he despises what he
calls the "shot-gun." We give these estimates on the authority of
a trader of long experience, and a foreigner by birth. "I
consider one American," said he, "equal to three Canadians in
point of sagacity, aptness at resources, self-dependence, and
fearlessness of spirit. In fact, no one can cope with him as a
stark tramper of the wilderness."

Beside the two classes of trappers just mentioned, Captain
Bonneville had enlisted several Delaware Indians in his employ,
on whose hunting qualifications he placed great reliance.

On the 6th of May the travellers passed the last border
habitation, and bade a long farewell to the ease and security of
civilization. The buoyant and clamorous spirits with which they
had commenced their march gradually subsided as they entered upon
its difficulties. They found the prairies saturated with the
heavy cold rains, prevalent in certain seasons of the year in
this part of the country, the wagon wheels sank deep in the mire,
the horses were often to the fetlock, and both steed and rider
were completely jaded by the evening of the 12th, when they
reached the Kansas River; a fine stream about three hundred yards
wide, entering the Missouri from the south. Though fordable in
almost every part at the end of summer and during the autumn, yet
it was necessary to construct a raft for the transportation of
the wagons and effects. All this was done in the course of the
following day, and by evening, the whole party arrived at the
agency of the Kansas tribe. This was under the superintendence of
General Clarke, brother of the celebrated traveller of the same
name, who, with Lewis, made the first expedition down the waters
of the Columbia. He was living like a patriarch, surrounded by
laborers and interpreters, all snugly housed, and provided with
excellent farms. The functionary next in consequence to the agent
was the blacksmith, a most important, and, indeed, indispensable
personage in a frontier community. The Kansas resemble the Osages
in features, dress, and language; they raise corn and hunt the
buffalo, ranging the Kansas River, and its tributary streams; at
the time of the captain's visit, they were at war with the
Pawnees of the Nebraska, or Platte River.

The unusual sight of a train of wagons caused quite a sensation
among these savages; who thronged about the caravan, examining
everything minutely, and asking a thousand questions: exhibiting
a degree of excitability, and a lively curiosity totally opposite
to that apathy with which their race is so often reproached.

The personage who most attracted the captain's attention at this
place was "White Plume," the Kansas chief, and they soon became
good friends. White Plume (we are pleased with his chivalrous
soubriquet) inhabited a large stone house, built for him by order
of the American government: but the establishment had not been
carried out in corresponding style. It might be palace without,
but it was wigwam within; so that, between the stateliness of his
mansion and the squalidness of his furniture, the gallant White
Plume presented some such whimsical incongruity as we see in the
gala equipments of an Indian chief on a treaty-making embassy at
Washington, who has been generously decked out in cocked hat and
military coat, in contrast to his breech-clout and leathern
legging; being grand officer at top, and ragged Indian at bottom.

White Plume was so taken with the courtesy of the captain, and
pleased with one or two presents received from him, that he
accompanied him a day's journey on his march, and passed a night
in his camp, on the margin of a small stream. The method of
encamping generally observed by the captain was as follows: The
twenty wagons were disposed in a square, at the distance of
thirty-three feet from each other. In every interval there was a
mess stationed; and each mess had its fire, where the men cooked,
ate, gossiped, and slept. The horses were placed in the centre of
the square, with a guard stationed over them at night.

The horses were "side lined," as it is termed: that is to say,
the fore and hind foot on the same side of the animal were tied
together, so as to be within eighteen inches of each other. A
horse thus fettered is for a time sadly embarrassed, but soon
becomes sufficiently accustomed to the restraint to move about
slowly. It prevents his wandering; and his being easily carried
off at night by lurking Indians. When a horse that is "foot free"
is tied to one thus secured, the latter forms, as it were, a
pivot, round which the other runs and curvets, in case of alarm.
The encampment of which we are speaking presented a striking
scene. The various mess-fires were surrounded by picturesque
groups, standing, sitting, and reclining; some busied in cooking,
others in cleaning their weapons: while the frequent laugh told
that the rough joke or merry story was going on. In the middle of
the camp, before the principal lodge, sat the two chieftains,
Captain Bonneville and White Plume, in soldier-like communion,
the captain delighted with the opportunity of meeting on social
terms with one of the red warriors of the wilderness, the
unsophisticated children of nature. The latter was squatted on
his buffalo robe, his strong features and red skin glaring in the
broad light of a blazing fire, while he recounted astounding
tales of the bloody exploits of his tribe and himself in their
wars with the Pawnees; for there are no old soldiers more given
to long campaigning stories than Indian "braves."

The feuds of White Plume, however, had not been confined to the
red men; he had much to say of brushes with bee hunters, a class
of offenders for whom he seemed to cherish a particular
abhorrence. As the species of hunting prosecuted by these
worthies is not laid down in any of the ancient books of venerie,
and is, in fact, peculiar to our western frontier, a word or two
on the subject may not be unacceptable to the reader.

The bee hunter is generally some settler on the verge of the
prairies; a long, lank fellow, of fever and ague complexion,
acquired from living on new soil, and in a hut built of green
logs. In the autumn, when the harvest is over, these; frontier
settlers form parties of two or three, and prepare for a bee
hunt. Having provided themselves with a wagon, and a number of
empty casks, they sally off, armed with their rifles, into the
wilderness, directing their course east, west, north, or south,
without any regard to the ordinance of the American government,
which strictly forbids all trespass upon the lands belonging to
the Indian tribes.

The belts of woodland that traverse the lower prairies and border
the rivers are peopled by innumerable swarms of wild bees, which
make their hives in hollow trees and fill them with honey tolled
from the rich flowers of the prairies. The bees, according to
popular assertion, are migrating like the settlers, to the west.
An Indian trader, well experienced in the country, informs us
that within ten years that he has passed in the Far West, the bee
has advanced westward above a hundred miles. It is said on the
Missouri, that the wild turkey and the wild bee go up the river
together: neither is found in the upper regions. It is but
recently that the wild turkey has been killed on the Nebraska, or
Platte; and his travelling competitor, the wild bee, appeared
there about the same time.

Be all this as it may: the course of our party of bee hunters is
to make a wide circuit through the woody river bottoms, and the
patches of forest on the prairies, marking, as they go out, every
tree in which they have detected a hive. These marks are
generally respected by any other bee hunter that should come upon
their track. When they have marked sufficient to fill all their
casks, they turn their faces homeward, cut down the trees as they
proceed, and having loaded their wagon with honey and wax, return
well pleased to the settlements.

Now it so happens that the Indians relish wild honey as highly as
do the white men, and are the more delighted with this natural
luxury from its having, in many instances, but recently made its
appearance in their lands. The consequence is numberless disputes
and conflicts between them and the bee hunters: and often a party
of the latter, returning, laden with rich spoil, from one of
their forays, are apt to be waylaid by the native lords of the
soil; their honey to be seized, their harness cut to pieces, and
themselves left to find their way home the best way they can,
happy to escape with no greater personal harm than a sound

Such were the marauders of whose offences the gallant White Plume
made the most bitter complaint. They were chiefly the settlers of
the western part of Missouri, who are the most famous bee hunters
on the frontier, and whose favorite hunting ground lies within
the lands of the Kansas tribe. According to the account of White
Plume, however, matters were pretty fairly balanced between him
and the offenders; he having as often treated them to a taste of
the bitter, as they had robbed him of the sweets.

It is but justice to this gallant chief to say that he gave
proofs of having acquired some of the lights of civilization from
his proximity to the whites, as was evinced in his knowledge of
driving a bargain. He required hard cash in return for some corn
with which he supplied the worthy captain, and left the latter at
a loss which most to admire, his native chivalry as a brave, or
his acquired adroitness as a trader.


Wide prairies Vegetable productions Tabular hills Slabs of
sandstone Nebraska or Platte River Scanty fare Buffalo
skulls Wagons turned into boats Herds of buffalo Cliffs
resembling castles The chimney Scott's Bluffs Story connected
with them The bighorn or ahsahta Its nature and habits Difference
between that and the "woolly sheep," or goat of the mountains

FROM THE MIDDLE to the end of May, Captain Bonneville pursued a
western course over vast undulating plains, destitute of tree or
shrub, rendered miry by occasional rain, and cut up by deep
water-courses where they had to dig roads for their wagons down
the soft crumbling banks and to throw bridges across the streams.
The weather had attained the summer heat; the thermometer
standing about fifty-seven degrees in the morning, early, but
rising to about ninety degrees at noon. The incessant breezes,
however, which sweep these vast plains render the heats
endurable. Game was scanty, and they had to eke out their scanty
fare with wild roots and vegetables, such as the Indian potato,
the wild onion, and the prairie tomato, and they met with
quantities of "red root," from which the hunters make a very
palatable beverage. The only human being that crossed their path
was a Kansas warrior, returning from some solitary expedition of
bravado or revenge, bearing a Pawnee scalp as a trophy.

The country gradually rose as they proceeded westward, and their
route took them over high ridges, commanding wide and beautiful
prospects. The vast plain was studded on the west with
innumerable hills of conical shape, such as are seen north of the
Arkansas River. These hills have their summits apparently cut off
about the same elevation, so as to leave flat surfaces at top. It
is conjectured by some that the whole country may originally have
been of the altitude of these tabular hills; but through some
process of nature may have sunk to its present level; these
insulated eminences being protected by broad foundations of solid

Captain Bonneville mentions another geological phenomenon north
of Red River, where the surface of the earth, in considerable
tracts of country, is covered with broad slabs of sandstone,
having the form and position of grave-stones, and looking as if
they had been forced up by some subterranean agitation. "The
resemblance," says he, "which these very remarkable spots have in
many places to old church-yards is curious in the extreme. One
might almost fancy himself among the tombs of the pre-Adamites."

On the 2d of June, they arrived on the main stream of the
Nebraska or Platte River; twenty-five miles below the head of the
Great Island. The low banks of this river give it an appearance
of great width. Captain Bonneville measured it in one place, and
found it twenty-two hundred yards from bank to bank. Its depth
was from three to six feet, the bottom full of quicksands. The
Nebraska is studded with islands covered with that species of
poplar called the cotton-wood tree. Keeping up along the course
of this river for several days, they were obliged, from the
scarcity of game, to put themselves upon short allowance, and,
occasionally, to kill a steer. They bore their daily labors and
privations, however, with great good humor, taking their tone, in
all probability, from the buoyant spirit of their leader. "If the
weather was inclement," said the captain, "we watched the clouds,
and hoped for a sight of the blue sky and the merry sun. If food
was scanty, we regaled ourselves with the hope of soon falling in
with herds of buffalo, and having nothing to do but slay and
eat." We doubt whether the genial captain is not describing the
cheeriness of his own breast, which gave a cheery aspect to
everything around him.

There certainly were evidences, however, that the country was not
always equally destitute of game. At one place, they observed a
field decorated with buffalo skulls, arranged in circles, curves,
and other mathematical figures, as if for some mystic rite or
ceremony. They were almost innumerable, and seemed to have been a
vast hecatomb offered up in thanksgiving to the Great Spirit for
some signal success in the chase.

On the 11th of June, they came to the fork of the Nebraska, where
it divides itself into two equal and beautiful streams. One of
these branches rises in the west-southwest, near the headwaters
of the Arkansas. Up the course of this branch, as Captain
Bonneville was well aware, lay the route to the Camanche and
Kioway Indians, and to the northern Mexican settlements; of the
other branch he knew nothing. Its sources might lie among wild
and inaccessible cliffs, and tumble and foam down rugged defiles
and over craggy precipices; but its direction was in the true
course, and up this stream he determined to prosecute his route
to the Rocky Mountains. Finding it impossible, from quicksands
and other dangerous impediments, to cross the river in this
neighborhood, he kept up along the south fork for two days,
merely seeking a safe fording place. At length he encamped,
caused the bodies of the wagons to be dislodged from the wheels,
covered with buffalo hide, and besmeared with a compound of
tallow and ashes; thus forming rude boats. In these, they ferried
their effects across the stream, which was six hundred yards
wide, with a swift and strong current. Three men were in each
boat, to manage it; others waded across pushing the barks before
them. Thus all crossed in safety. A march of nine miles took them
over high rolling prairies to the north fork; their eyes being
regaled with the welcome sight of herds of buffalo at a distance,
some careering the plain, others grazing and reposing in the
natural meadows.

Skirting along the north fork for a day or two, excessively
annoyed by musquitoes and buffalo gnats, they reached, in the
evening of the 17th, a small but beautiful grove, from which
issued the confused notes of singing birds, the first they had
heard since crossing the boundary of Missouri. After so many days
of weary travelling through a naked, monotonous and silent
country, it was delightful once more to hear the song of the
bird, and to behold the verdure of the grove. It was a beautiful
sunset, and a sight of the glowing rays, mantling the tree-tops
and rustling branches, gladdened every heart. They pitched their
camp in the grove, kindled their fires, partook merrily of their
rude fare, and resigned themselves to the sweetest sleep they had
enjoyed since their outset upon the prairies.

The country now became rugged and broken. High bluffs advanced
upon the river, and forced the travellers occasionally to leave
its banks and wind their course into the interior. In one of the
wild and solitary passes they were startled by the trail of four
or five pedestrians, whom they supposed to be spies from some
predatory camp of either Arickara or Crow Indians. This obliged
them to redouble their vigilance at night, and to keep especial
watch upon their horses. In these rugged and elevated regions
they began to see the black-tailed deer, a species larger than
the ordinary kind, and chiefly found in rocky and mountainous
countries. They had reached also a great buffalo range; Captain
Bonneville ascended a high bluff, commanding an extensive view of
the surrounding plains. As far as his eye could reach, the
country seemed absolutely blackened by innumerable herds. No
language, he says, could convey an adequate idea of the vast
living mass thus presented to his eye. He remarked that the bulls
and cows generally congregated in separate herds.

Opposite to the camp at this place was a singular phenomenon,
which is among the curiosities of the country. It is called the
chimney. The lower part is a conical mound, rising out of the
naked plain; from the summit shoots up a shaft or column, about
one hundred and twenty feet in height, from which it derives its
name. The height of the whole, according to Captain Bonneville,
is a hundred and seventy-five yards. It is composed of indurated
clay, with alternate layers of red and white sandstone, and may
be seen at the distance of upward of thirty miles.

On the 21st, they encamped amidst high and beetling cliffs of
indurated clay and sandstone, bearing the semblance of towers,
castles, churches, and fortified cities. At a distance, it was
scarcely possible to persuade one's self that the works of art
were not mingled with these fantastic freaks of nature. They have
received the name of Scott's Bluffs, from a melancholy
circumstance. A number of years since, a party were descending
the upper part of the river in canoes, when their frail barks
were overturned and all their powder spoiled. Their rifles being
thus rendered useless, they were unable to procure food by
hunting and had to depend upon roots and wild fruits for
subsistence. After suffering extremely from hunger, they arrived
at Laramie's Fork, a small tributary of the north branch of the
Nebraska, about sixty miles above the cliffs just mentioned. Here
one of the party, by the name of Scott, was taken ill; and his
companions came to a halt, until he should recover health and
strength sufficient to proceed. While they were searching round
in quest of edible roots, they discovered a fresh trail of white
men, who had evidently but recently preceded them. What was to be
done? By a forced march they might overtake this party, and thus
be able to reach the settlements in safety. Should they linger,
they might all perish of famine and exhaustion. Scott, however,
was incapable of moving; they were too feeble to aid him forward,
and dreaded that such a clog would prevent their coming up with
the advance party. They determined, therefore, to abandon him to
his fate. Accordingly, under presence of seeking food, and such
simples as might be efficacious in his malady, they deserted him
and hastened forward upon the trail. They succeeded in overtaking
the party of which they were in quest, but concealed their
faithless desertion of Scott; alleging that he had died of

On the ensuing summer, these very individuals visiting these
parts in company with others, came suddenly upon the bleached
bones and grinning skull of a human skeleton, which, by certain
signs they recognized for the remains of Scott. This was sixty
long miles from the place where they had abandoned him; and it
appeared that the wretched man had crawled that immense distance
before death put an end to his miseries. The wild and picturesque
bluffs in the neighborhood of his lonely grave have ever since
borne his name.

Amidst this wild and striking scenery, Captain Bonneville, for
the first time, beheld flocks of the ahsahta or bighorn, an
animal which frequents these cliffs in great numbers. They accord
with the nature of such scenery, and add much to its romantic
effect; bounding like goats from crag to crag, often trooping
along the lofty shelves of the mountains, under the guidance of
some venerable patriarch with horns twisted lower than his
muzzle, and sometimes peering over the edge of a precipice, so
high that they appear scarce bigger than crows; indeed, it seems
a pleasure to them to seek the most rugged and frightful
situations, doubtless from a feeling of security.

This animal is commonly called the mountain sheep, and is often
confounded with another animal, the "woolly sheep," found more to
the northward, about the country of the Flatheads. The latter
likewise inhabits cliffs in summer, but descends into the valleys
in the winter. It has white wool, like a sheep, mingled with a
thin growth of long hair; but it has short legs, a deep belly,
and a beard like a goat. Its horns are about five inches long,
slightly curved backwards, black as jet, and beautifully
polished. Its hoofs are of the same color. This animal is by no
means so active as the bighorn; it does not bound much, but sits
a good deal upon its haunches. It is not so plentiful either;
rarely more than two or three are seen at a time. Its wool alone
gives a resemblance to the sheep; it is more properly of the
flesh is said to have a musty flavor; some have thought the
fleece might be valuable, as it is said to be as fine as that of
the goat Cashmere, but it is not to be procured in sufficient

The ahsahta, argali, or bighorn, on the contrary, has short hair
like a deer, and resembles it in shape, but has the head and
horns of a sheep, and its flesh is said to be delicious mutton.
The Indians consider it more sweet and delicate than any other
kind of venison. It abounds in the Rocky Mountains, from the
fiftieth degree of north latitude, quite down to California;
generally in the highest regions capable of vegetation; sometimes
it ventures into the valleys, but on the least alarm, regains its
favorite cliffs and precipices, where it is perilous, if not
impossible for the hunter to follow.


An alarm Crow Indians Their appearance Mode of approach Their
vengeful errand Their curiosity Hostility between the Crows and
Blackfeet Loving conduct of the Crows Laramie's Fork First
navigation of the Nebraska Great elevation of the country Rarity
of the atmosphere Its effect on the wood-work of wagons Black
Hills Their wild and broken scenery Indian dogs Crow trophies
Sterile and dreary country Banks of the Sweet Water Buffalo
hunting Adventure of Tom Cain the Irish cook

WHEN ON THE MARCH, Captain Bonneville always sent some of his
best hunters in the advance to reconnoitre the country, as well
as to look out for game. On the 24th of May, as the caravan was
slowly journeying up the banks of the Nebraska, the hunters came
galloping back, waving their caps, and giving the alarm cry,
Indians! Indians!

The captain immediately ordered a halt: the hunters now came up
and announced that a large war-party of Crow Indians were just
above, on the river. The captain knew the character of these
savages; one of the most roving, warlike, crafty, and predatory
tribes of the mountains; horse-stealers of the first order, and
easily provoked to acts of sanguinary violence. Orders were
accordingly given to prepare for action, and every one promptly
took the post that had been assigned him in the general order of
the march, in all cases of warlike emergency.

Everything being put in battle array, the captain took the lead
of his little band, and moved on slowly and warily. In a little
while he beheld the Crow warriors emerging from among the bluffs.
There were about sixty of them; fine martial-looking fellows,
painted and arrayed for war, and mounted on horses decked out
with all kinds of wild trappings. They came prancing along in
gallant style, with many wild and dexterous evolutions, for none
can surpass them in horsemanship; and their bright colors, and
flaunting and fantastic embellishments, glaring and sparkling in
the morning sunshine, gave them really a striking appearance.

Their mode of approach, to one not acquainted with the tactics
and ceremonies of this rude chivalry of the wilderness, had an
air of direct hostility. They came galloping forward in a body,
as if about to make a furious charge, but, when close at hand,
opened to the right and left, and wheeled in wide circles round
the travellers, whooping and yelling like maniacs.

This done, their mock fury sank into a calm, and the chief,
approaching the captain, who had remained warily drawn up, though
informed of the pacific nature of the maneuver, extended to him
the hand of friendship. The pipe of peace was smoked, and now all
was good fellowship.

The Crows were in pursuit of a band of Cheyennes, who had
attacked their village in the night and killed one of their
people. They had already been five and twenty days on the track
of the marauders, and were determined not to return home until
they had sated their revenge.

A few days previously, some of their scouts, who were ranging the
country at a distance from the main body, had discovered the
party of Captain Bonneville. They had dogged it for a time in
secret, astonished at the long train of wagons and oxen, and
especially struck with the sight of a cow and calf, quietly
following the caravan; supposing them to be some kind of tame
buffalo. Having satisfied their curiosity, they carried back to
their chief intelligence of all that they had seen. He had, in
consequence, diverged from his pursuit of vengeance to behold the
wonders described to him. "Now that we have met you," said he to
Captain Bonneville, "and have seen these marvels with our own
eyes, our hearts are glad." In fact, nothing could exceed the
curiosity evinced by these people as to the objects before them.
Wagons had never been seen by them before, and they examined them
with the greatest minuteness; but the calf was the peculiar
object of their admiration. They watched it with intense interest
as it licked the hands accustomed to feed it, and were struck
with the mild expression of its countenance, and its perfect

After much sage consultation, they at length determined that it
must be the "great medicine" of the white party; an appellation
given by the Indians to anything of supernatural and mysterious
power that is guarded as a talisman. They were completely thrown
out in their conjecture, however, by an offer of the white men to
exchange the calf for a horse; their estimation of the great
medicine sank in an instant, and they declined the bargain.

At the request of the Crow chieftain the two parties encamped
together, and passed the residue of the day in company. The
captain was well pleased with every opportunity to gain a
knowledge of the "unsophisticated sons of nature," who had so
long been objects of his poetic speculations; and indeed this
wild, horse-stealing tribe is one of the most notorious of the
mountains. The chief, of course, had his scalps to show and his
battles to recount. The Blackfoot is the hereditary enemy of the
Crow, toward whom hostility is like a cherished principle of
religion; for every tribe, besides its casual antagonists, has
some enduring foe with whom there can be no permanent
reconciliation. The Crows and Blackfeet, upon the whole, are
enemies worthy of each other, being rogues and ruffians of the
first water. As their predatory excursions extend over the same
regions, they often come in contact with each other, and these
casual conflicts serve to keep their wits awake and their
passions alive.

The present party of Crows, however, evinced nothing of the
invidious character for which they are renowned. During the day
and night that they were encamped in company with the travellers,
their conduct was friendly in the extreme. They were, in fact,
quite irksome in their attentions, and had a caressing manner at
times quite importunate. It was not until after separation on the
following morning that the captain and his men ascertained the
secret of all this loving-kindness. In the course of their
fraternal caresses, the Crows had contrived to empty the pockets
of their white brothers; to abstract the very buttons from their
coats, and, above all, to make free with their hunting knives.

By equal altitudes of the sun, taken at this last encampment,
Captain Bonneville ascertained his latitude to be 41 47' north.
The thermometer, at six o'clock in the morning, stood at
fifty-nine degrees; at two o'clock, P. M., at ninety-two degrees;
and at six o'clock in the evening, at seventy degrees.

The Black Hills, or Mountains, now began to be seen at a
distance, printing the horizon with their rugged and broken
outlines; and threatening to oppose a difficult barrier in the
way of the travellers.

On the 26th of May, the travellers encamped at Laramie's Fork, a
clear and beautiful stream, rising in the west-southwest,
maintaining an average width of twenty yards, and winding through
broad meadows abounding in currants and gooseberries, and adorned
with groves and clumps of trees.

By an observation of Jupiter's satellites, with a Dolland
reflecting telescope, Captain Bonneville ascertained the
longitude to be 102 57' west of Greenwich.

We will here step ahead of our narrative to observe that about
three years after the time of which we are treating, Mr. Robert
Campbell, formerly of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, descended
the Platte from this fork, in skin canoes, thus proving, what had
always been discredited, that the river was navigable. About the
same time, he built a fort or trading post at Laramie's Fork,
which he named Fort William, after his friend and partner, Mr.
William Sublette. Since that time, the Platte has become a
highway for the fur traders.

For some days past, Captain Bonneville had been made sensible of
the great elevation of country into which he was gradually
ascending by the effect of the dryness and rarefaction of the
atmosphere upon his wagons. The wood-work shrunk; the paint boxes
of the wheels were continually working out, and it was necessary
to support the spokes by stout props to prevent their falling
asunder. The travellers were now entering one of those great
steppes of the Far West, where the prevalent aridity of the
atmosphere renders the country unfit for cultivation. In these
regions there is a fresh sweet growth of grass in the spring, but
it is scanty and short, and parches up in the course of the
summer, so that there is none for the hunters to set fire to in
the autumn. It is a common observation that "above the forks of
the Platte the grass does not burn." All attempts at agriculture
and gardening in the neighborhood of Fort William have been
attended with very little success. The grain and vegetables
raised there have been scanty in quantity and poor in quality.
The great elevation of these plains, and the dryness of the
atmosphere, will tend to retain these immense regions in a state
of pristine wildness.

In the course of a day or two more, the travellers entered that
wild and broken tract of the Crow country called the Black Hills,
and here their journey became toilsome in the extreme. Rugged
steeps and deep ravines incessantly obstructed their progress, so
that a great part of the day was spent in the painful toil of
digging through banks, filling up ravines, forcing the wagons up
the most forbidding ascents, or swinging them with ropes down the
face of dangerous precipices. The shoes of their horses were worn
out, and their feet injured by the rugged and stony roads. The
travellers were annoyed also by frequent but brief storms, which
would come hurrying over the hills, or through the mountain
defiles, rage with great fury for a short time, and then pass
off, leaving everything calm and serene again.

For several nights the camp had been infested by vagabond Indian
dogs, prowling about in quest of food. They were about the size
of a large pointer; with ears short and erect, and a long bushy
tail--altogether, they bore a striking resemblance to a wolf.
These skulking visitors would keep about the purlieus of the camp
until daylight; when, on the first stir of life among the
sleepers, they would scamper off until they reached some rising
ground, where they would take their seats, and keep a sharp and
hungry watch upon every movement. The moment the travellers were
fairly on the march, and the camp was abandoned, these starving
hangers-on would hasten to the deserted fires, to seize upon the
half-picked bones, the offal and garbage that lay about; and,
having made a hasty meal, with many a snap and snarl and growl,
would follow leisurely on the trail of the caravan. Many attempts
were made to coax or catch them, but in vain. Their quick and
suspicious eyes caught the slightest sinister movement, and they
turned and scampered off. At length one was taken. He was
terribly alarmed, and crouched and trembled as if expecting
instant death. Soothed, however, by caresses, he began after a
time to gather confidence and wag his tail, and at length was
brought to follow close at the heels of his captors, still,
however, darting around furtive and suspicious glances, and
evincing a disposition to scamper off upon the least alarm.

On the first of July the band of Crow warriors again crossed
their path. They came in vaunting and vainglorious style;
displaying five Cheyenne scalps, the trophies of their vengeance.
They were now bound homewards, to appease the manes of their
comrade by these proofs that his death had been revenged, and
intended to have scalp-dances and other triumphant rejoicings.
Captain Bonneville and his men, however, were by no means
disposed to renew their confiding intimacy with these crafty
savages, and above all, took care to avoid their pilfering
caresses. They remarked one precaution of the Crows with respect
to their horses; to protect their hoofs from the sharp and jagged
rocks among which they had to pass, they had covered them with
shoes of buffalo hide.

The route of the travellers lay generally along the course of the
Nebraska or Platte, but occasionally, where steep promontories
advanced to the margin of the stream, they were obliged to make
inland circuits. One of these took them through a bold and stern
country, bordered by a range of low mountains, running east and
west. Everything around bore traces of some fearful convulsion
of nature in times long past. Hitherto the various strata of rock
had exhibited a gentle elevation toward the southwest, but here
everything appeared to have been subverted, and thrown out of
place. In many places there were heavy beds of white sandstone
resting upon red. Immense strata of rocks jutted up into crags
and cliffs; and sometimes formed perpendicular walls and
overhanging precipices. An air of sterility prevailed over these
savage wastes. The valleys were destitute of herbage, and
scantily clothed with a stunted species of wormwood, generally
known among traders and trappers by the name of sage. From an
elevated point of their march through this region, the travellers
caught a beautiful view of the Powder River Mountains away to the
north, stretching along the very verge of the horizon, and
seeming, from the snow with which they were mantled, to be a
chain of small white clouds, connecting sky and earth.

Though the thermometer at mid-day ranged from eighty to ninety,
and even sometimes rose to ninety-three degrees, yet occasional
spots of snow were to be seen on the tops of the low mountains,
among which the travellers were journeying; proofs of the great
elevation of the whole region.

The Nebraska, in its passage through the Black Hills, is confined
to a much narrower channel than that through which it flows n the
plains below; but it is deeper and clearer, and rushes with a
stronger current. The scenery, also, is more varied and
beautiful. Sometimes it glides rapidly but smoothly through a
picturesque valley, between wooded banks; then, forcing its way
into the bosom of rugged mountains, it rushes impetuously through
narrow defiles, roaring and foaming down rocks and rapids, until
it is again soothed to rest in some peaceful valley.

On the 12th of July, Captain Bonneville abandoned the main stream
of the Nebraska, which was continually shouldered by rugged
promontories, and making a bend to the southwest, for a couple of
days, part of the time over plains of loose sand, encamped on the
14th on the banks of the Sweet Water, a stream about twenty yards
in breadth, and four or five feet deep, flowing between low banks
over a sandy soil, and forming one of the forks or upper branches
of the Nebraska. Up this stream they now shaped their course for
several successive days, tending, generally, to the west. The
soil was light and sandy; the country much diversified.
Frequently the plains were studded with isolated blocks of rock,
sometimes in the shape of a half globe, and from three to four
hundred feet high. These singular masses had occasionally a very
imposing, and even sublime appearance, rising from the midst of a
savage and lonely landscape.

As the travellers continued to advance, they became more and more
sensible of the elevation of the country. The hills around were
more generally capped with snow. The men complained of cramps and
colics, sore lips and mouths, and violent headaches. The
wood-work of the wagons also shrank so much that it was with
difficulty the wheels were kept from falling to pieces. The
country bordering upon the river was frequently gashed with deep
ravines, or traversed by high bluffs, to avoid which, the
travellers were obliged to make wide circuits through the plains.
In the course of these, they came upon immense herds of buffalo,
which kept scouring off in the van, like a retreating army.

Among the motley retainers of the camp was Tom Cain, a raw
Irishman, who officiated as cook, whose various blunders and
expedients in his novel situation, and in the wild scenes and
wild kind of life into which he had suddenly been thrown, had
made him a kind of butt or droll of the camp. Tom, however, began
to discover an ambition superior to his station; and the
conversation of the hunters, and their stories of their exploits,
inspired him with a desire to elevate himself to the dignity of
their order. The buffalo in such immense droves presented a
tempting opportunity for making his first essay. He rode, in the
line of march, all prepared for action: his powder-flask and
shot-pouch knowingly slung at the pommel of his saddle, to be at
hand; his rifle balanced on his shoulder. While in this plight, a
troop of Buffalo came trotting by in great alarm. In an instant,
Tom sprang from his horse and gave chase on foot. Finding they
were leaving him behind, he levelled his rifle and pulled [the]
trigger. His shot produced no other effect than to increase the
speed of the buffalo, and to frighten his own horse, who took to
his heels, and scampered off with all the ammunition. Tom
scampered after him, hallooing with might and main, and the wild
horse and wild Irishman soon disappeared among the ravines of the
prairie. Captain Bonneville, who was at the head of the line, and
had seen the transaction at a distance, detached a party in
pursuit of Tom. After a long interval they returned, leading the
frightened horse; but though they had scoured the country, and
looked out and shouted from every height, they had seen nothing
of his rider.

As Captain Bonneville knew Tom's utter awkwardness and
inexperience, and the dangers of a bewildered Irishman in the
midst of a prairie, he halted and encamped at an early hour, that
there might be a regular hunt for him in the morning.

At early dawn on the following day scouts were sent off in every
direction, while the main body, after breakfast, proceeded slowly
on its course. It was not until the middle of the afternoon that
the hunters returned, with honest Tom mounted behind one of them.
They had found him in a complete state of perplexity and
amazement. His appearance caused shouts of merriment in the
camp,--but Tom for once could not join in the mirth raised at his
expense: he was completely chapfallen, and apparently cured of
the hunting mania for the rest of his life.


Magnificent scenery Wind River Mountains Treasury of waters A
stray horse An Indian trail Trout streams The Great Green River
Valley An alarm A band of trappers Fontenelle, his
information Sufferings of thirst Encampment on the Seeds-ke-
dee Strategy of rival traders Fortification of the camp The
Blackfeet Banditti of the mountains Their character and habits

IT WAS ON THE 20TH of July that Captain Bonneville first came in
sight of the grand region of his hopes and anticipations, the
Rocky Mountains. He had been making a bend to the south, to avoid
some obstacles along the river, and had attained a high, rocky
ridge, when a magnificent prospect burst upon his sight. To the
west rose the Wind River Mountains, with their bleached and snowy
summits towering into the clouds. These stretched far to the
north-northwest, until they melted away into what appeared to be
faint clouds, but which the experienced eyes of the veteran
hunters of the party recognized for the rugged mountains of the
Yellowstone; at the feet of which extended the wild Crow country:
a perilous, though profitable region for the trapper.

To the southwest, the eye ranged over an immense extent of
wilderness, with what appeared to be a snowy vapor resting upon
its horizon. This, however, was pointed out as another branch of
the Great Chippewyan, or Rocky chain; being the Eutaw Mountains,
at whose basis the wandering tribe of hunters of the same name
pitch their tents. We can imagine the enthusiasm of the worthy
captain when he beheld the vast and mountainous scene of his
adventurous enterprise thus suddenly unveiled before him. We can
imagine with what feelings of awe and admiration he must have
contemplated the Wind River Sierra, or bed of mountains; that
great fountainhead from whose springs, and lakes, and melted
snows some of those mighty rivers take their rise, which wander
over hundreds of miles of varied country and clime, and find
their way to the opposite waves of the Atlantic and the Pacific.

The Wind River Mountains are, in fact, among the most remarkable
of the whole Rocky chain; and would appear to be among the
loftiest. They form, as it were, a great bed of mountains, about
eighty miles in length, and from twenty to thirty in breadth;
with rugged peaks, covered with eternal snows, and deep, narrow
valleys full of springs, and brooks, and rock-bound lakes. From
this great treasury of waters issue forth limpid streams, which,
augmenting as they descend, become main tributaries of the
Missouri on the one side, and the Columbia on the other; and give
rise to the Seeds-ke-dee Agie, or Green River, the great Colorado
of the West, that empties its current into the Gulf of

The Wind River Mountains are notorious in hunters' and trappers'
stories: their rugged defiles, and the rough tracts about their
neighborhood, having been lurking places for the predatory hordes
of the mountains, and scenes of rough encounter with Crows and
Blackfeet. It was to the west of these mountains, in the valley
of the Seeds-ke-dee Agie, or Green River, that Captain Bonneville
intended to make a halt for the purpose of giving repose to his
people and his horses after their weary journeying; and of
collecting information as to his future course. This Green River
valley, and its immediate neighborhood, as we have already
observed, formed the main point of rendezvous, for the present
year, of the rival fur companies, and the motley populace,
civilized and savage, connected with them. Several days of rugged
travel, however, yet remained for the captain and his men before
they should encamp in this desired resting-place.

On the 21st of July, as they were pursuing their course through
one of the meadows of the Sweet Water, they beheld a horse
grazing at a little distance. He showed no alarm at their
approach, but suffered himself quietly to be taken, evincing a
perfect state of tameness. The scouts of the party were instantly
on the look-out for the owners of this animal; lest some
dangerous band of savages might be lurking in the vicinity. After
a narrow search, they discovered the trail of an Indian party,
which had evidently passed through that neighborhood but
recently. The horse was accordingly taken possession of, as an
estray; but a more vigilant watch than usual was kept round the
camp at nights, lest his former owners should be upon the prowl.

The travellers had now attained so high an elevation that on the
23d of July, at daybreak, there was considerable ice in the
waterbuckets, and the thermometer stood at twenty-two degrees.
The rarefy of the atmosphere continued to affect the wood-work of
the wagons, and the wheels were incessantly falling to pieces. A
remedy was at length devised. The tire of each wheel was taken
off; a band of wood was nailed round the exterior of the felloes,
the tire was then made red hot, replaced round the wheel, and
suddenly cooled with water. By this means, the whole was bound
together with great compactness.

The extreme elevation of these great steppes, which range along
the feet of the Rocky Mountains, takes away from the seeming
height of their peaks, which yield to few in the known world in
point of altitude above the level of the sea.

On the 24th, the travellers took final leave of the Sweet Water,
and keeping westwardly, over a low and very rocky ridge, one of
the most southern spurs of the Wind River Mountains, they
encamped, after a march of seven hours and a half, on the banks
of a small clear stream, running to the south, in which they
caught a number of fine trout.

The sight of these fish was hailed with pleasure, as a sign that
they had reached the waters which flow into the Pacific; for it
is only on the western streams of the Rocky Mountains that trout
are to be taken. The stream on which they had thus encamped
proved, in effect, to be tributary to the Seeds-ke-dee Agie, or
Green River, into which it flowed at some distance to the south.

Captain Bonneville now considered himself as having fairly passed
the crest of the Rocky Mountains; and felt some degree of
exultation in being the first individual that had crossed, north
of the settled provinces of Mexico, from the waters of the
Atlantic to those of the Pacific, with wagons. Mr. William
Sublette, the enterprising leader of the Rocky Mountain Fur
Company, had, two or three years previously, reached the valley
of the Wind River, which lies on the northeast of the mountains;
but had proceeded with them no further.

A vast valley now spread itself before the travellers, bounded on
one side by the Wind River Mountains, and to the west, by a long
range of high hills. This, Captain Bonneville was assured by a
veteran hunter in his company, was the great valley of the
Seedske-dee; and the same informant would have fain persuaded him
that a small stream, three feet deep, which he came to on the
25th, was that river. The captain was convinced, however, that
the stream was too insignificant to drain so wide a valley and
the adjacent mountains: he encamped, therefore, at an early hour,
on its borders, that he might take the whole of the next day to
reach the main river; which he presumed to flow between him and
the distant range of western hills.

On the 26th of July, he commenced his march at an early hour,
making directly across the valley, toward the hills in the west;
proceeding at as brisk a rate as the jaded condition of his
horses would permit. About eleven o'clock in the morning, a great
cloud of dust was descried in the rear, advancing directly on the
trail of the party. The alarm was given; they all came to a halt,
and held a council of war. Some conjectured that the band of
Indians, whose trail they had discovered in the neighborhood of
the stray horse, had been lying in wait for them in some secret
fastness of the mountains; and were about to attack them on the
open plain, where they would have no shelter. Preparations were
immediately made for defence; and a scouting party sent off to
reconnoitre. They soon came galloping back, making signals that
all was well. The cloud of dust was made by a band of fifty or
sixty mounted trappers, belonging to the American Fur Company,
who soon came up, leading their pack-horses. They were headed by
Mr. Fontenelle, an experienced leader, or "partisan," as a chief
of a party is called in the technical language of the trappers.

Mr. Fontenelle informed Captain Bonneville that he was on his way
from the company's trading post on the Yellowstone to the yearly
rendezvous, with reinforcements and supplies for their hunting
and trading parties beyond the mountains; and that he expected to
meet, by appointment, with a band of free trappers in that very
neighborhood. He had fallen upon the trail of Captain
Bonneville's party, just after leaving the Nebraska; and, finding
that they had frightened off all the game, had been obliged to
push on, by forced marches, to avoid famine: both men and horses
were, therefore, much travel-worn; but this was no place to halt;
the plain before them he said was destitute of grass and water,
neither of which would be met with short of the Green River,
which was yet at a considerable distance. He hoped, he added, as
his party were all on horseback, to reach the river, with hard
travelling, by nightfall: but he doubted the possibility of
Captain Bonneville's arrival there with his wagons before the day
following. Having imparted this information, he pushed forward
with all speed.

Captain Bonneville followed on as fast as circumstances would
permit. The ground was firm and gravelly; but the horses were too
much fatigued to move rapidly. After a long and harassing day's
march, without pausing for a noontide meal, they were compelled,
at nine o'clock at night, to encamp in an open plain, destitute
of water or pasturage. On the following morning, the horses were
turned loose at the peep of day; to slake their thirst, if
possible, from the dew collected on the sparse grass, here and
there springing up among dry sand-banks. The soil of a great part
of this Green River valley is a whitish clay, into which the rain
cannot penetrate, but which dries and cracks with the sun. In
some places it produces a salt weed, and grass along the margins
of the streams; but the wider expanses of it are desolate and
barren. It was not until noon that Captain Bonneville reached the
banks of the Seeds-ke-dee, or Colorado of the West; in the
meantime, the sufferings of both men and horses had been
excessive, and it was with almost frantic eagerness that they
hurried to allay their burning thirst in the limpid current of
the river.

Fontenelle and his party had not fared much better; the chief
part had managed to reach the river by nightfall, but were nearly
knocked up by the exertion; the horses of others sank under them,
and they were obliged to pass the night upon the road.

On the following morning, July 27th, Fontenelle moved his camp
across the river; while Captain Bonneville proceeded some little
distance below, where there was a small but fresh meadow yielding
abundant pasturage. Here the poor jaded horses were turned out to
graze, and take their rest: the weary journey up the mountains
had worn them down in flesh and spirit; but this last march
across the thirsty plain had nearly finished them.

The captain had here the first taste of the boasted strategy of
the fur trade. During his brief, but social encampment, in
company with Fontenelle, that experienced trapper had managed to
win over a number of Delaware Indians whom the captain had
brought with him, by offering them four hundred dollars each for
the ensuing autumnal hunt. The captain was somewhat astonished
when he saw these hunters, on whose services he had calculated
securely, suddenly pack up their traps, and go over to the rival
camp. That he might in some measure, however, be even with his
competitor, he dispatched two scouts to look out for the band of
free trappers who were to meet Fontenelle in this neighborhood,
and to endeavor to bring them to his camp.

As it would be necessary to remain some time in this
neighborhood, that both men and horses might repose, and recruit
their strength; and as it was a region full of danger, Captain
Bonneville proceeded to fortify his camp with breastworks of logs
and pickets.

These precautions were, at that time, peculiarly necessary, from
the bands of Blackfeet Indians which were roving about the
neighborhood. These savages are the most dangerous banditti of
the mountains, and the inveterate foe of the trappers. They are
Ishmaelites of the first order, always with weapon in hand, ready
for action. The young braves of the tribe, who are destitute of
property, go to war for booty; to gain horses, and acquire the
means of setting up a lodge, supporting a family, and entitling
themselves to a seat in the public councils. The veteran warriors
fight merely for the love of the thing, and the consequence which
success gives them among their people.

They are capital horsemen, and are generally well mounted on
short, stout horses, similar to the prairie ponies to be met with
at St. Louis. When on a war party, however, they go on foot, to
enable them to skulk through the country with greater secrecy; to
keep in thickets and ravines, and use more adroit subterfuges and
stratagems. Their mode of warfare is entirely by ambush,
surprise, and sudden assaults in the night time. If they succeed
in causing a panic, they dash forward with headlong fury: if the
enemy is on the alert, and shows no signs of fear, they become
wary and deliberate in their movements.

Some of them are armed in the primitive style, with bows and
arrows; the greater part have American fusees, made after the
fashion of those of the Hudson's Bay Company. These they procure
at the trading post of the American Fur Company, on Marias River,
where they traffic their peltries for arms, ammunition, clothing,
and trinkets. They are extremely fond of spirituous liquors and
tobacco; for which nuisances they are ready to exchange not
merely their guns and horses, but even their wives and daughters.
As they are a treacherous race, and have cherished a lurking
hostility to the whites ever since one of their tribe was killed
by Mr. Lewis, the associate of General Clarke, in his exploring
expedition across the Rocky Mountains, the American Fur Company
is obliged constantly to keep at that post a garrison of sixty or
seventy men.

Under the general name of Blackfeet are comprehended several
tribes: such as the Surcies, the Peagans, the Blood Indians, and
the Gros Ventres of the Prairies: who roam about the southern
branches of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers, together with
some other tribes further north.

The bands infesting the Wind River Mountains and the country
adjacent at the time of which we are treating, were Gros Ventres
of the Prairies, which are not to be confounded with Gros Ventres
of the Missouri, who keep about the lower part of that river, and
are friendly to the white men.

This hostile band keeps about the headwaters of the Missouri, and
numbers about nine hundred fighting men. Once in the course of
two or three years they abandon their usual abodes, and make a
visit to the Arapahoes of the Arkansas. Their route lies either
through the Crow country, and the Black Hills, or through the
lands of the Nez Perces, Flatheads, Bannacks, and Shoshonies. As
they enjoy their favorite state of hostility with all these
tribes, their expeditions are prone to be conducted in the most
lawless and predatory style; nor do they hesitate to extend their
maraudings to any party of white men they meet with; following
their trails; hovering about their camps; waylaying and dogging
the caravans of the free traders, and murdering the solitary
trapper. The consequences are frequent and desperate fights
between them and the "mountaineers," in the wild defiles and
fastnesses of the Rocky Mountains.

The band in question was, at this time, on their way homeward
from one of their customary visits to the Arapahoes; and in the
ensuing chapter we shall treat of some bloody encounters between
them and the trappers, which had taken place just before the
arrival of Captain Bonneville among the mountains.


Sublette and his band Robert Campbell Mr. Wyeth and a band of
"down-easters" Yankee enterprise Fitzpatrick His adventure with
the Blackfeet A rendezvous of mountaineers The battle of Pierre's
Hole An Indian ambuscade Sublette's return

LEAVING CAPTAIN BONNEVILLE and his band ensconced within their
fortified camp in the Green River valley, we shall step back and
accompany a party of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company in its
progress, with supplies from St. Louis, to the annual rendezvous
at Pierre's Hole. This party consisted of sixty men, well
mounted, and conducting a line of packhorses. They were commanded
by Captain William Sublette, a partner in the company, and one of
the most active, intrepid, and renowned leaders in this half
military kind of service. He was accompanied by his associate in
business, and tried companion in danger, Mr. Robert Campbell, one
of the pioneers of the trade beyond the mountains, who had
commanded trapping parties there in times of the greatest peril.

As these worthy compeers were on their route to the frontier,
they fell in with another expedition, likewise on its way to the
mountains. This was a party of regular "down-easters," that is to
say, people of New England, who, with the all-penetrating and
all-pervading spirit of their race, were now pushing their way
into a new field of enterprise with which they were totally
unacquainted. The party had been fitted out and was maintained
and commanded by Mr. Nathaniel J. Wyeth, of Boston. This
gentleman had conceived an idea that a profitable fishery for
salmon might be established on the Columbia River, and connected
with the fur trade. He had, accordingly, invested capital in
goods, calculated, as he supposed, for the Indian trade, and had
enlisted a number of eastern men in his employ, who had never
been in the Far West, nor knew anything of the wilderness. With
these, he was bravely steering his way across the continent,
undismayed by danger, difficulty, or distance, in the same way
that a New England coaster and his neighbors will coolly launch
forth on a voyage to the Black Sea, or a whaling cruise to the

With all their national aptitude at expedient and resource, Wyeth
and his men felt themselves completely at a loss when they
reached the frontier, and found that the wilderness required
experience and habitudes of which they were totally deficient.
Not one of the party, excepting the leader, had ever seen an
Indian or handled a rifle; they were without guide or
interpreter, and totally unacquainted with "wood craft" and the
modes of making their way among savage hordes, and subsisting
themselves during long marches over wild mountains and barren

In this predicament, Captain Sublette found them, in a manner
becalmed, or rather run aground, at the little frontier town of
Independence, in Missouri, and kindly took them in tow. The two
parties travelled amicably together; the frontier men of
Sublette's party gave their Yankee comrades some lessons in
hunting, and some insight into the art and mystery of dealing
with the Indians, and they all arrived without accident at the
upper branches of the Nebraska or Platte River.

In the course of their march, Mr. Fitzpatrick, the partner of the
company who was resident at that time beyond the mountains, came
down from the rendezvous at Pierre's Hole to meet them and hurry
them forward. He travelled in company with them until they
reached the Sweet Water; then taking a couple of horses, one for
the saddle, and the other as a pack-horse, he started off express
for Pierre's Hole, to make arrangements against their arrival,
that he might commence his hunting campaign before the rival

Fitzpatrick was a hardy and experienced mountaineer, and knew all
the passes and defiles. As he was pursuing his lonely course up
the Green River valley, he described several horsemen at a
distance, and came to a halt to reconnoitre. He supposed them to
be some detachment from the rendezvous, or a party of friendly
Indians. They perceived him, and setting up the war-whoop, dashed
forward at full speed: he saw at once his mistake and his
peril--they were Blackfeet. Springing upon his fleetest horse,
and abandoning the other to the enemy, he made for the mountains,
and succeeded in escaping up one of the most dangerous defiles.
Here he concealed himself until he thought the Indians had gone
off, when he returned into the valley. He was again pursued, lost
his remaining horse, and only escaped by scrambling up among the
cliffs. For several days he remained lurking among rocks and
precipices, and almost famished, having but one remaining charge
in his rifle, which he kept for self-defence.

In the meantime, Sublette and Campbell, with their fellow
traveller, Wyeth, had pursued their march unmolested, and arrived
in the Green River valley, totally unconscious that there was any
lurking enemy at hand. They had encamped one night on the banks
of a small stream, which came down from the Wind River Mountains,
when about midnight, a band of Indians burst upon their camp,
with horrible yells and whoops, and a discharge of guns and
arrows. Happily no other harm was done than wounding one mule,
and causing several horses to break loose from their pickets. The
camp was instantly in arms; but the Indians retreated with yells
of exultation, carrying off several of the horses under cover of
the night.

This was somewhat of a disagreeable foretaste of mountain life to
some of Wyeth's band, accustomed only to the regular and peaceful
life of New England; nor was it altogether to the taste of
Captain Sublette's men, who were chiefly creoles and townsmen
from St. Louis. They continued their march the next morning,
keeping scouts ahead and upon their flanks, and arrived without
further molestation at Pierre's Hole.

The first inquiry of Captain Sublette, on reaching the
rendezvous, was for Fitzpatrick. He had not arrived, nor had any
intelligence been received concerning him. Great uneasiness was
now entertained, lest he should have fallen into the hands of the
Blackfeet who had made the midnight attack upon the camp. It was
a matter of general joy, therefore, when he made his appearance,
conducted by two half-breed Iroquois hunters. He had lurked for
several days among the mountains, until almost starved; at length
he escaped the vigilance of his enemies in the night, and was so
fortunate as to meet the two Iroquois hunters, who, being on
horseback, conveyed him without further difficulty to the
rendezvous. He arrived there so emaciated that he could scarcely
be recognized.

The valley called Pierre's Hole is about thirty miles in length
and fifteen in width, bounded to the west and south by low and
broken ridges, and overlooked to the east by three lofty
mountains, called the three Tetons, which domineer as landmarks
over a vast extent of country.

A fine stream, fed by rivulets and mountain springs, pours
through the valley toward the north, dividing it into nearly
equal parts. The meadows on its borders are broad and extensive,
covered with willow and cotton-wood trees, so closely interlocked
and matted together as to be nearly impassable.

In this valley was congregated the motley populace connected with
the fur trade. Here the two rival companies had their
encampments, with their retainers of all kinds: traders,
trappers, hunters, and half-breeds, assembled from all quarters,
awaiting their yearly supplies, and their orders to start off in
new directions. Here, also, the savage tribes connected with the
trade, the Nez Perces or Chopunnish Indians, and Flatheads, had
pitched their lodges beside the streams, and with their squaws,
awaited the distribution of goods and finery. There was,
moreover, a band of fifteen free trappers, commanded by a gallant
leader from Arkansas, named Sinclair, who held their encampment a
little apart from the rest. Such was the wild and heterogeneous
assemblage, amounting to several hundred men, civilized and
savage, distributed in tents and lodges in the several camps.

The arrival of Captain Sublette with supplies put the Rocky
Mountain Fur Company in full activity. The wares and merchandise
were quickly opened, and as quickly disposed of to trappers and
Indians; the usual excitement and revelry took place, after which
all hands began to disperse to their several destinations.

On the 17th of July, a small brigade of fourteen trappers, led by
Milton Sublette, brother of the captain, set out with the
intention of proceeding to the southwest. They were accompanied
by Sinclair and his fifteen free trappers; Wyeth, also, and his
New England band of beaver hunters and salmon fishers, now
dwindled down to eleven, took this opportunity to prosecute their
cruise in the wilderness, accompanied with such experienced
pilots. On the first day, they proceeded about eight miles to the
southeast, and encamped for the night, still in the valley of
Pierre's Hole. On the following morning, just as they were
raising their camp, they observed a long line of people pouring
down a defile of the mountains. They at first supposed them to be
Fontenelle and his party, whose arrival had been daily expected.
Wyeth, however, reconnoitred them with a spy-glass, and soon
perceived they were Indians. They were divided into two parties,
forming, in the whole, about one hundred and fifty persons, men,
women, and children. Some were on horseback, fantastically
painted and arrayed, with scarlet blankets fluttering in the
wind. The greater part, however, were on foot. They had perceived
the trappers before they were themselves discovered, and came
down yelling and whooping into the plain. On nearer approach,
they were ascertained to be Blackfeet.

One of the trappers of Sublette's brigade, a half-breed named
Antoine Godin, now mounted his horse, and rode forth as if to
hold a conference. He was the son of an Iroquois hunter, who had
been cruelly murdered by the Blackfeet at a small stream below
the mountains, which still bears his name. In company with
Antoine rode forth a Flathead Indian, whose once powerful tribe
had been completely broken down in their wars with the Blackfeet.
Both of them, therefore, cherished the most vengeful hostility
against these marauders of the mountains. The Blackfeet came to a
halt. One of the chiefs advanced singly and unarmed, bearing the
pipe of peace. This overture was certainly pacific; but Antoine
and the Flathead were predisposed to hostility, and pretended to
consider it a treacherous movement.

"Is your piece charged?" said Antoine to his red companion.

"It is."

"Then cock it, and follow me."

They met the Blackfoot chief half way, who extended his hand in
friendship. Antoine grasped it.

"Fire! " cried he.

The Flathead levelled his piece, and brought the Blackfoot to the
ground. Antoine snatched off his scarlet blanket, which was
richly ornamented, and galloped off with it as a trophy to the
camp, the bullets of the enemy whistling after him. The Indians
immediately threw themselves into the edge of a swamp, among
willows and cotton-wood trees, interwoven with vines. Here they
began to fortify themselves; the women digging a trench, and
throwing up a breastwork of logs and branches, deep hid in the
bosom of the wood, while the warriors skirmished at the edge to
keep the trappers at bay.

The latter took their station in a ravine in front, whence they
kept up a scattering fire. As to Wyeth, and his little band of
"downeasters," they were perfectly astounded by this second
specimen of life in the wilderness; the men, being especially
unused to bushfighting and the use of the rifle, were at a loss
how to proceed. Wyeth, however, acted as a skilful commander. He
got all his horses into camp and secured them; then, making a
breastwork of his packs of goods, he charged his men to remain in
garrison, and not to stir out of their fort. For himself, he
mingled with the other leaders, determined to take his share in
the conflict.

In the meantime, an express had been sent off to the rendezvous
for reinforcements. Captain Sublette, and his associate,
Campbell, were at their camp when the express came galloping
across the plain, waving his cap, and giving the alarm;
"Blackfeet! Blackfeet! a fight in the upper part of the
valley!--to arms! to arms!"

The alarm was passed from camp to camp. It was a common cause.
Every one turned out with horse and rifle. The Nez Perces and
Flatheads joined. As fast as horseman could arm and mount he
galloped off; the valley was soon alive with white men and red
men scouring at full speed.

Sublette ordered his men to keep to the camp, being recruits from
St. Louis, and unused to Indian warfare. He and his friend
Campbell prepared for action. Throwing off their coats, rolling
up their sleeves, and arming themselves with pistols and rifles,
they mounted their horses and dashed forward among the first. As
they rode along, they made their wills in soldier-like style;
each stating how his effects should be disposed of in case of his
death, and appointing the other his executor.

The Blackfeet warriors had supposed the brigade of Milton
Sublette all the foes they had to deal with, and were astonished
to behold the whole valley suddenly swarming with horsemen,
galloping to the field of action. They withdrew into their fort,
which was completely hid from sight in the dark and tangled wood.
Most of their women and children had retreated to the mountains.
The trappers now sallied forth and approached the swamp, firing
into the thickets at random; the Blackfeet had a better sight at
their adversaries, who were in the open field, and a half-breed
was wounded in the shoulder.

When Captain Sublette arrived, he urged to penetrate the swamp
and storm the fort, but all hung back in awe of the dismal
horrors of the place, and the danger of attacking such
desperadoes in their savage den. The very Indian allies, though
accustomed to bushfighting, regarded it as almost impenetrable,
and full of frightful danger. Sublette was not to be turned from
his purpose, but offered to lead the way into the swamp. Campbell
stepped forward to accompany him. Before entering the perilous
wood, Sublette took his brothers aside, and told them that in
case he fell, Campbell, who knew his will, was to be his
executor. This done, he grasped his rifle and pushed into the
thickets, followed by Campbell. Sinclair, the partisan from
Arkansas, was at the edge of the wood with his brother and a few
of his men. Excited by the gallant example of the two friends, he
pressed forward to share their dangers.

The swamp was produced by the labors of the beaver, which, by
damming up a stream, had inundated a portion of the valley. The
place was all overgrown with woods and thickets, so closely
matted and entangled that it was impossible to see ten paces
ahead, and the three associates in peril had to crawl along, one
after another, making their way by putting the branches and vines
aside; but doing it with caution, lest they should attract the
eye of some lurking marksman. They took the lead by turns, each
advancing about twenty yards at a time, and now and then
hallooing to their men to follow. Some of the latter gradually
entered the swamp, and followed a little distance in their rear.

They had now reached a more open part of the wood, and had
glimpses of the rude fortress from between the trees. It was a
mere breastwork, as we have said, of logs and branches, with
blankets, buffalo robes, and the leathern covers of lodges,
extended round the top as a screen. The movements of the leaders,
as they groped their way, had been descried by the sharp-sighted
enemy. As Sinclair, who was in the advance, was putting some
branches aside, he was shot through the body. He fell on the
spot. "Take me to my brother,'' said he to Campbell. The latter
gave him in charge to some of the men, who conveyed him out of
the swamp.

Sublette now took the advance. As he was reconnoitring the fort,
he perceived an Indian peeping through an aperture. In an instant
his rifle was levelled and discharged, and the ball struck the
savage in the eye. While he was reloading, he called to Campbell,
and pointed out to him the hole; "Watch that place," said he,
"and you will soon have a fair chance for a shot." Scarce had he
uttered the words, when a ball struck him in the shoulder, and
almost wheeled him around. His first thought was to take hold of
his arm with his other hand, and move it up and down. He
ascertained, to his satisfaction, that the bone was not broken.
The next moment he was so faint that he could not stand. Campbell
took him in his arms and carried him out of the thicket. The same
shot that struck Sublette wounded another man in the head.

A brisk fire was now opened by the mountaineers from the wood,
answered occasionally from the fort. Unluckily, the trappers and
their allies, in searching for the fort, had got scattered, so
that Wyeth, and a number of Nez Perces, approached the fort on
the northwest side, while others did the same on the opposite
quarter. A cross-fire thus took place, which occasionally did
mischief to friends as well as foes. An Indian was shot down,
close to Wyeth, by a ball which, he was convinced, had been sped
from the rifle of a trapper on the other side of the fort.

The number of whites and their Indian allies had by this time so
much increased by arrivals from the rendezvous, that the
Blackfeet were completely overmatched. They kept doggedly in
their fort, however, making no offer of surrender. An occasional
firing into the breastwork was kept up during the day. Now and
then, one of the Indian allies, in bravado, would rush up to the
fort, fire over the ramparts, tear off a buffalo robe or a
scarlet blanket, and return with it in triumph to his comrades.
Most of the savage garrison that fell, however, were killed in
the first part of the attack.

At one time it was resolved to set fire to the fort; and the
squaws belonging to the allies were employed to collect
combustibles. This however, was abandoned; the Nez Perces being
unwilling to destroy the robes and blankets, and other spoils of
the enemy, which they felt sure would fall into their hands.

The Indians, when fighting, are prone to taunt and revile each
other. During one of the pauses of the battle, the voice of the
Blackfeet chief was heard.

"So long," said he, "as we had powder and ball, we fought you in
the open field: when those were spent, we retreated here to die
with our women and children. You may burn us in our fort; but,

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