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The Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, Oregon and California by Brevet Col. J.C. Fremont

Part 6 out of 9

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gradually ascending a mountain; and, after a hard journey of seven hours,
we came to some naked places among the timber, where a few tufts of grass
showed above the snow, on the side of a hollow; and here we encamped. Our
cow, which every day got poorer, was killed here, but the meat was rather

16th.--We traveled this morning through snow about three feet deep, which,
being crusted, very much cut the feet of our animals. The mountain still
gradually rose; we crossed several spring heads covered with quaking asp;
otherwise it was all pine forest. The air was dark with falling snow,
which everywhere weighed down the trees. The depths of the forest were
profoundly still; and below, we scarcely felt a breath of the wind which
whirled the snow through their branches. I found that it required some
exertion of constancy to adhere steadily to one course through the woods,
when we were uncertain how far the forest extended, or what lay beyond;
and, on account of our animals, it would be bad to spend another night on
the mountain. Towards noon the forest looked clear ahead, appearing
suddenly to terminate; and beyond a certain point we could see no trees.
Riding rapidly ahead to this spot, we found ourselves on the verge of a
vertical and rocky wall of the mountain. At our feet--more than a thousand
feet below--we looked into a green prairie country, in which a beautiful
lake, some twenty miles in length, was spread along the foot of the
mountains, its shores bordered with green grass. Just then the sun broke
out among the clouds, and illuminated the country below; while around us
the storm raged fiercely. Not a particle of ice was to be seen on the
lake, or snow on its borders, and all was like summer or spring. The glow
of the sun in the valley below brightened up our hearts with sudden
pleasure; and we made the woods ring with joyful shouts to those behind;
and gradually, as each came up, he stopped to enjoy the unexpected scene.
Shivering on snow three feet deep, and stiffening in a cold north wind, we
exclaimed at once that the names of Summer Lake and Winter Ridge should be
applied to these two proximate places of such sudden and violent contrast.

We were now immediately on the verge of the forest land, in which we had
been traveling so many days; and, looking forward to the east, scarce a
tree was to be seen. Viewed from our elevation, the face of the country
exhibited only rocks and grass, and presented a region in which the
artemisia became the principal wood, furnishing to its scattered
inhabitants fuel for their fires, building material for their huts, and
shelter for the small game which ministers to their hunger and nakedness.
Broadly marked by the boundary at the mountain wall, and immediately below
us, were the first waters of that Great Interior Basin which has the
Wahsatch and Bear River mountains for its eastern, and the Sierra Nevada
for its western rim; and the edge of which we had entered upwards of three
months before, at the Great Salt Lake.

When we had sufficiently admired the scene below, we began to think about
descending, which here was impossible, and we turned towards the north,
traveling always along the rocky wall. We continued on for four or five
miles, making ineffectual attempts at several places; and at length
succeeded in getting down at one which was extremely difficult of descent.
Night had closed in before the foremost reached the bottom, and it was
dark before we all found ourselves together in the valley. There were
three or four half-dead dry cedar-trees on the shore, and those who first
arrived kindled bright fires to light on the others. One of the mules
rolled over and over two or three hundred feet into a ravine, but
recovered himself without any other injury than to his pack; and the
howitzer was left midway the mountain until morning. By observation, the
latitude of this encampment is 42 deg. 57' 22". It delayed us until near noon
the next day to recover ourselves and put every thing in order; and we
made only a short camp along the western shore of the lake, which, in the
summer temperature we enjoyed to-day, justified the name we had given it.
Our course would have taken us to the other shore, and over the highlands
beyond; but I distrusted the appearance of the country, and decided to
follow a plainly-beaten Indian trail leading along this side of the lake.
We were now in a country where the scarcity of water and of grass makes
traveling dangerous, and great caution was necessary.

18th.--We continued on the trail along the narrow strip of land between
the lake and the high rocky wall, from which we had looked down two days
before. Almost every half mile we crossed a little spring, or stream of
pure cold water, and the grass was certainly as fresh and green as in the
early spring. From the white efflorescence along the shore of the lake, we
were enabled to judge that the water was impure, like that of lakes we
subsequently found, but the mud prevented us from approaching it. We
encamped near the eastern point of the lake, where there appeared between
the hills a broad and low connecting hollow with the country beyond. From
a rocky hill in the rear, I could see, marked out by a line of yellow
dried grass, the bed of a stream, which probably connected the lake with
other waters in the spring.

The observed latitude of this encampment is 42 deg. 42' 37".

19th.--After two hours' ride in an easterly direction, through a low
country, the high ridge with pine forest still to our right, and a rocky
and bald but lower one on the left, we reached a considerable fresh-water
stream, which issues from the piny mountains. So far as we had been able
to judge, between this stream and the lake we had crossed dividing
grounds, and there did not appear to be any connection, as might be
inferred from the impure condition of the lake water.

The rapid stream of pure water, roaring along between banks overhung with
aspens and willows, was a refreshing and unexpected sight; and we followed
down the course of the stream, which brought us soon into a marsh, or dry
lake, formed by the expanding waters of the stream. It was covered with
high reeds and rushes, and large patches of ground had been turned up by
the squaws in digging for roots, as if a farmer had been preparing the
land for grain. I could not succeed in finding the plant for which they
had been digging. There were frequent trails, and fresh tracks of Indians;
and, from the abundant signs visible, the black-tailed hare appears to be
numerous here. It was evident that, in other seasons, this place was a
sheet of water. Crossing this marsh towards the eastern hills, and passing
over a bordering plain of heavy sands, covered with artemisia, we encamped
before sundown on the creek, which here was very small, having lost its
water in the marshy grounds. We found here tolerably good grass. The wind
to-night was high, and we had no longer our huge pine fires, but were
driven to our old resource of small dried willows and artemisia. About 12
miles ahead, the valley appears to be closed in by a high, dark-looking

20th.--Traveling for a few hours down the stream this morning, we turned
the point of a hill on our left, and came suddenly in sight of another and
much larger lake, which, along its eastern shore, was closely bordered by
the high black ridge which walled it in by a precipitous face on this
side. Throughout this region the face of the country is characterized by
these precipices of black volcanic rock, generally enclosing the valleys
of streams, and frequently terminating the hills. Often, in the course of
our journey, we would be tempted to continue our road up the gentle ascent
of a sloping hill, which, at the summit, would terminate abruptly in a
black precipice. Spread out over a length of 20 miles, the lake, when we
first came in view, presented a handsome sheet of water, and I gave to it
the name of Lake Abert, in honor of the chief of the corps to which I
belonged. The fresh-water stream we had followed emptied into the lake by
a little fall; and I was doubtful for a moment whether to go on, or encamp
at this place. The miry ground in the neighborhood of the lake did not
allow us to examine the water conveniently, and, being now on the borders
of a desert country, we were moving cautiously. It was, however, still
early in the day, and I continued on trusting either that the water would
be drinkable or that we should find some little spring from the hill-side.
We were following an Indian trail which led along the steep rocky
precipice--a black ridge along the western shore holding out no prospect
whatever. The white efflorescences which lined the shore like a bank of
snow, and the disagreeable odor which filled the air as soon as we came
near, informed us too plainly that the water belonged to one of those
fetid salt lakes which are common in this region. We continued until late
in the evening to work along the rocky shore, but, as often afterwards,
the dry, inhospitable rock deceived us; and, halting on the lake, we
kindled up fires to guide those who were straggling along behind. We tried
the water, but it was impossible to drink it, and most of the people to-
night lay down without eating; but some of us, who had always a great
reluctance to close the day without supper, dug holes along the shore, and
obtained water, which, being filtered, was sufficiently palatable to be
used, but still retained much of its nauseating taste. There was very
little grass for the animals, the shore being lined with a luxuriant
growth of chenopodiaceous shrubs, which burned with a quick bright flame,
and made our firewood.

The next morning we had scarcely traveled two hours along the shore, when
we reached a place where the mountains made a bay, leaving at their feet a
low bottom around the lake. Here we found numerous hillocks covered with
rushes, in the midst of which were deep holes, or springs, of pure water;
and the bottom was covered with grass, which, although of a salt and
unwholesome quality, and mixed with saline efflorescences, was still
abundant, and made a good halting-place to recruit our animals, and we
accordingly encamped here for the remainder of the day. I rode ahead
several miles to ascertain if there was any appearance of a water-course
entering the lake, but found none, the hills preserving their dry
character, and the shore of the lake sprinkled with the same white powdery
substance, and covered with the same shrubs. There were flocks of ducks on
the lake, and frequent tracks of Indians along the shore, where the grass
had been recently burnt by their fires.

We ascended the bordering mountain, in order to obtain a more perfect view
of the lake, in sketching its figure: hills sweep entirely around its
basin, from which the waters have no outlet.

22d.--To-day we left this forbidding lake. Impassable rocky ridges barred
our progress to the eastward, and I accordingly bore off towards the
south, over an extensive sage-plain. At a considerable distance ahead, and
a little on our left, was a range of snowy mountains, and the country
declined gradually towards the foot of a high and nearer ridge,
immediately before us, which presented the feature of black precipices now
becoming common to the country. On the summit of the ridge, snow was
visible; and there being every indication of a stream at its base, we rode
on until after dark, but were unable to reach it, and halted among the
sage-bushes on the open plain, without either grass or water. The two
India-rubber bags had been filled with water in the morning, which
afforded sufficient for the camp; and rain in the night formed pools,
which relieved the thirst of the animals. Where we encamped on the bleak
sandy plain, the Indians had made huts or circular enclosures, about four
feet high and twelve feet broad, of artemisia bushes. Whether these had
been forts or houses, or what they had been doing in such a desert place,
we could not ascertain.

23d.--The weather is mild; the thermometer at daylight 38 deg.; the wind
having been from the southward for several days. The country has a very
forbidding appearance, presenting to the eye nothing but sage, and barren
ridges. We rode up towards the mountain, along the foot of which we found
a lake, that we could not approach on account of the mud; and, passing
around its southern end, ascended the slope at the foot of the ridge,
where in some hollows we had discovered bushes and small trees--in such
situations, a sure sign of water. We found here several springs, and the
hill-side was well sprinkled with a species of _festuca_--a better
grass than we had found for many days. Our elevated position gave us a
good view over the country, but we discovered nothing very encouraging.
Southward, about ten miles distant, was another small lake, towards which
a broad trail led along the ridge; and this appearing to afford the most
practicable route, I determined to continue our journey in that direction.

24th.--We found the water at the lake tolerably pure, and encamped at the
farther end. There were some good grass and canes along the shore, and the
vegetables at this place consisted principally of chenopodiaceous shrubs.

25th.--We were roused on Christmas morning by a discharge from the small-
arms and howitzer, with which our people saluted the day; and the name of
which we bestowed on the lake. It was the first time, perhaps, in this
remote and desolate region, in which it had been so commemorated. Always,
on days of religious or national commemoration, our voyageurs expect some
unusual allowance; and having nothing else, I gave them each a little
brandy, (which was carefully guarded, as one of the most useful articles a
traveler can carry,) with some coffee and sugar, which here, where every
eatable was a luxury, was sufficient to make them a feast. The day was
sunny and warm; and resuming our journey, we crossed some slight dividing
grounds into a similar basin, walled in on the right by a lofty mountain
ridge. The plainly-beaten trail still continued, and occasionally we
passed camping-grounds of the Indians, which indicated to me that we were
on one of the great thoroughfares of the country. In the afternoon I
attempted to travel in a more eastern direction; but after a few laborious
miles, was beaten back into the basin by an impassable country. There were
fresh Indian tracks about the valley, and last night a horse was stolen.
We encamped on the valley bottom, where there was some cream-like water in
ponds, colored by a clay soil, and frozen over. Chenopodiaceous shrubs
constituted the growth, and made again our firewood. The animals were
driven to the hill, where there was tolerably good grass.

26th.--Our general course was again south. The country consists of larger
or smaller basins, into which the mountain waters run down, forming small
lakes: they present a perfect level, from which the mountains rise
immediately and abruptly. Between the successive basins, the dividing
grounds are usually very slight; and it is probable that in the seasons of
high water, many of these basins are in communication. At such times there
is evidently an abundance of water, though now we find scarcely more than
the dry beds. On either side, the mountains, though not very high, appear
to be rocky and sterile. The basin in which we were traveling declined
towards the southwest corner, where the mountains indicated a narrow
outlet; and, turning round a rocky point or cape, we continued up a
lateral branch valley, in which we encamped at night, on a rapid, pretty
little stream of fresh water, which we found unexpectedly among the sage,
near the ridge, on the right side of the valley. It was bordered with
grassy bottoms and clumps of willows; the water partially frozen. This
stream belongs to the basin we had left. By a partial observation to-
night, our camp was found to be directly on the 42d parallel. To-night a
horse belonging to Carson, one of the best we had in the camp, was stolen
by the Indians.

27th.--We continued up the valley of the stream, the principal branch of
which here issues from a bed of high mountains. We turned up a branch to
the left, and fell into an Indian trail, which conducted us by a good road
over open bottoms along the creek, where the snow was five or six inches
deep. Gradually ascending, the trail led through a good broad pass in the
mountain, where we found the snow about one foot deep. There were some
remarkably large cedars in the pass, which were covered with an unusual
quantity of frost, which we supposed might possibly indicate the
neighborhood of water; and as, in the arbitrary position of Mary's lake,
we were already beginning to look for it, this circumstance contributed to
our hope of finding it near. Descending from the mountain, we reached
another basin, on the flat lake bed of which we found no water, and
encamped among the sage on the bordering plain, where the snow was still
about one foot deep. Among this the grass was remarkably green, and to-
night the animals fared tolerably well.

28th.--The snow being deep, I had determined, if any more horses were
stolen, to follow the tracks of the Indians into the mountains, and put a
temporary check to their sly operations; but it did not occur again.

Our road this morning lay down a level valley, bordered by steep
mountainous ridges, rising very abruptly from the plain. Artemisia was the
principal plant, mingled with Fremontia and the chenopodiaceous shrubs.
The artemisia was here extremely large, being sometimes a foot in
diameter, and eight feet high. Riding quietly along over the snow, we came
suddenly upon smokes rising among these bushes; and, galloping up, we
found two huts, open at the top, and loosely built of sage, which appeared
to have been deserted at the instant; and, looking hastily around, we saw
several Indians on the crest of the ridge near by, and several others
scrambling up the side. We had come upon them so suddenly, that they had
been well-nigh surprised in their lodges. A sage fire was burning in the
middle; a few baskets made of straw were lying about, with one or two
rabbit-skins; and there was a little grass scattered about, on which they
had been lying. "Tabibo--bo!" they shouted from the hills--a word which,
in the Snake language, signifies _white_--and remained looking at us
from behind the rocks. Carson and Godey rode towards the hill, but the men
ran off like deer. They had been so much pressed, that a woman with two
children had dropped behind a sage-bush near the lodge, and when Carson
accidentally stumbled upon her, she immediately began screaming in the
extremity of fear, and shut her eyes fast to avoid seeing him. She was
brought back to the lodge, and we endeavored in vain to open a
communication with the men. By dint of presents, and friendly
demonstrations, she was brought to calmness; and we found that they
belonged to the Snake nation, speaking the language of that people. Eight
or ten appeared to live together, under the same little shelter; and they
seemed to have no other subsistence than the roots or seeds they might
have stored up, and the hares which live in the sage, and which they are
enabled to track through the snow, and are very skilful in killing. Their
skins afford them a little scanty covering. Herding together among bushes,
and crouching almost naked over a little sage fire, using their instinct
only to procure food, these may be considered, among human beings, the
nearest approach to the animal creation. We have reason to believe that
these had never before seen the face of a white man.

The day had been pleasant, but about two o'clock it began to blow; and
crossing a slight dividing ground we encamped on the sheltered side of a
hill, where there was good bunch-grass, having made a day's journey of 24
miles. The night closed in, threatening snow; but the large sage-bushes
made bright fires.

29th.--The morning mild, and at 4 o'clock it commenced snowing. We took
our way across a plain, thickly covered with snow, towards a range of
hills in the southeast. The sky soon became so dark with snow, that little
could be seen of the surrounding country; and we reached the summit of the
hills in a heavy snow-storm. On the side we had approached, this had
appeared to be only a ridge of low hills and we were surprised to find
ourselves on the summit of a bed of broken mountains, which, as far as the
weather would permit us to see, declined rapidly to some low country
ahead, presenting a dreary and savage character; and for a moment I looked
around in doubt on the wild and inhospitable prospect, scarcely knowing
what road to take which might conduct us to some place of shelter for the
night. Noticing among the hills the head of a grassy hollow, I determined
to follow it, in the hope that it would conduct us to a stream. We
followed a winding descent for several miles, the hollow gradually
broadening into little meadows, and becoming the bed of a stream as we
advanced; and towards night we were agreeably surprised by the appearance
of a willow grove, where we found a sheltered camp, with water and
excellent and abundant grass. The grass, which was covered by the snow on
the bottom, was long and green, and the face of the mountain had a more
favorable character in its vegetation, being smoother, and covered with
good bunch-grass. The snow was deep, and the night very cold. A broad
trail had entered the valley from the right, and a short distance below
the camp were the tracks where a considerable party of Indians had passed
on horseback, who had turned out to the left, apparently with the view of
crossing the mountains to the eastward.

30th.--After following the stream for a few hours in a southeasterly
direction, it entered a canon where we could not follow; but, determined
not to leave the stream, we searched a passage below, where we could
regain it, and entered a regular narrow valley. The water had now more the
appearance of a flowing creek; several times we passed groves of willows,
and we began to feel ourselves out of all difficulty. From our position,
it was reasonable to conclude that this stream would find its outlet in
Mary's lake, and conduct us into a better country. We had descended
rapidly, and here we found very little snow. On both sides, the mountains
showed often stupendous and curious-looking rocks, which at several places
so narrowed the valley, that scarcely a pass was left for the camp. It was
a singular place to travel through--shut up in the earth, a sort of chasm,
the little strip of grass under our feet, the rough walls of bare rock on
either hand, and the narrow strip of sky above. The grass to-night was
abundant, and we encamped in high spirits.

31st.--After an hour's ride this morning, our hopes were once more
destroyed. The valley opened out, and before us again lay one of the dry
basins. After some search, we discovered a high-water outlet, which
brought us in a few miles, and by a descent of several hundred feet, into
a long, broad basin, in which we found the bed of the stream, and obtained
sufficient water by cutting the ice. The grass on the bottoms was salt and

Here we concluded the year 1843, and our new year's eve was rather a
gloomy one. The result of our journey began to be very uncertain; the
country was singularly unfavorable to travel; the grasses being frequently
of a very unwholesome character, and the hoofs of our animals were so worn
and cut by the rocks, that many of them were lame, and could scarcely be
got along.


New Year's day, 1844.--We continued down the valley, between a dry-looking
black ridge on the left, and a more snowy and high one on the right. Our
road was bad along the bottom, being broken by gullies and impeded by
sage, and sandy on the hills, where there is not a blade of grass, nor
does any appear on the mountains. The soil in many places consists of a
fine powdery sand, covered with a saline efflorescence; and the general
character of the country is desert. During the day we directed our course
towards a black cape, at the foot of which a column of smoke indicated hot

2d.--We were on the road early. The face of the country was hidden by
falling snow. We traveled along the bed of the stream, in some places dry,
in others covered with ice; the traveling being very bad, through deep
fine sand, rendered tenacious by a mixture of clay. The weather cleared up
a little at noon, and we reached the hot springs of which we had seen the
vapor the day before. There was a large field of the usual salt grass
here, peculiar to such places. The country otherwise is a perfect barren,
without a blade of grass, the only plant being some dwarf Fremontias. We
passed the rocky cape, a jagged broken point, bare and torn. The rocks are
volcanic, and the hills here have a burnt appearance--cinders and coal
occasionally appearing as at a blacksmith's forge. We crossed the large
dry bed of a muddy lake in a southeasterly direction, and encamped at
night, without water and without grass, among sage-bushes covered with
snow. The heavy road made several mules give out to-day; and a horse,
which had made the journey from the States successfully, thus far, was
left on the trail.

3d.--A fog, so dense that we could not see a hundred yards, covered the
country, and the men that were sent out after the horses were bewildered
and lost; and we were consequently detained at camp until late in the day.
Our situation had now become a serious one. We had reached and run over
the position where, according to the best maps in my possession, we should
have found Mary's lake or river. We were evidently on the verge of the
desert which had been reported to us; and the appearance of the country
was so forbidding, that I was afraid to enter it, and determined to bear
away to the southward, keeping close along the mountains, in the full
expectation of reaching the Buenaventura river. This morning I put every
man in the camp on foot--myself, of course, among the rest--and in this
manner lightened by distribution the loads of the animals. We traveled
seven or eight miles along the ridge bordering the valley, and encamped
where there were a few bunches of grass on the bed of a hill-torrent,
without water. There were some large artemisias; but the principal plants
are chenopodiaceous shrubs. The rock composing the mountains is here
changed suddenly into white granite. The fog showed the tops of the hills
at sunset, and stars enough for observations in the early evening, and
then closed over us as before. Latitude by observation, 40 deg. 48' 15".

4th.--The fog to-day was still more dense, and the people again were
bewildered. We traveled a few miles around the western point of the ridge,
and encamped where there were a few tufts of grass, but no water. Our
animals now were in a very alarming state, and there was increased anxiety
in the camp.

5th.--Same dense fog continued, and one of the mules died in camp this
morning. I have had occasion to remark, on such occasions as these, that
animals which are about to die leave the band, and, coming into the camp;
lie down about the fires. We moved to a place where there was a little
better grass, about two miles distant. Taplin, one of our best men, who
had gone out on a scouting excursion, ascended a mountain near by, and to
his surprise emerged into a region of bright sunshine, in which the upper
parts of the mountain were glowing, while below all was obscured in the
darkest fog.

6th.--The fog continued the same, and, with Mr. Preuss and Carson, I
ascended the mountain, to sketch the leading features of the country as
some indication of our future route, while Mr. Fitzpatrick explored the
country below. In a very short distance we had ascended above the mist,
but the view obtained was not very gratifying. The fog had partially
cleared off from below when we reached the summit; and in the southwest
corner of a basin communicating with that in which we had encamped, we saw
a lofty column of smoke, 16 miles distant, indicating the presence of hot
springs. There, also, appeared to be the outlet of those draining channels
of the country; and, as such places afforded always more or less grass, I
determined to steer in that direction. The ridge we had ascended appeared
to be composed of fragments of white granite. We saw here traces of sheep
and antelope.

Entering the neighboring valley, and crossing the bed of another lake,
after a hard day's travel over ground of yielding mud and sand, we reached
the springs, where we found an abundance of grass, which, though only
tolerably good, made this place, with reference to the past, a refreshing
and agreeable spot.

This is the most extraordinary locality of hot springs we had met during
the journey. The basin of the largest one has a circumference of several
hundred feet; but there is at one extremity a circular space of about
fifteen feet in diameter, entirely occupied by the boiling water. It boils
up at irregular intervals, and with much noise. The water is clear, and
the spring deep: a pole about sixteen feet long was easily immersed in the
centre; but we had no means of forming a good idea of the depth. It was
surrounded on the margin with a border of _green_ grass, and near the
shore the temperature of the water was 206 deg.. We had no means of
ascertaining that of the centre, where the heat was greatest; but, by
dispersing the water with a pole, the temperature at the margin was
increased to 208 deg., and in the centre it was doubtless higher. By driving
the pole towards the bottom, the water was made to boil up with increased
force and noise. There are several other interesting places, where water
and smoke or gas escape; but they would require a long description. The
water is impregnated with common salt, but not so much as to render it
unfit for general cooking; and a mixture of snow made it pleasant to

In the immediate neighborhood, the valley bottom is covered almost
exclusively with chenopodiaceous shrubs, of greater luxuriance, and larger
growth, than we have seen them in any preceding part of the journey.

I obtained this evening some astronomical observations.

Our situation now required caution. Including those which gave out from
the injured condition of their feet, and those stolen by Indians, we had
lost, since leaving the Dalles of the Columbia, fifteen animals; and of
these, nine had been left in the last few days. I therefore determined,
until we should reach a country of water and vegetation, to feel our way
ahead, by having the line of route explored some fifteen or twenty miles
in advance, and only to leave a present encampment when the succeeding one
was known.

Taking with me Godey and Carson, I made to-day a thorough exploration of
the neighboring valleys, and found in a ravine, in the bordering
mountains, a good encamping place, where was water in springs, and a
sufficient quantity of grass for a night. Overshadowing the springs were
some trees of the sweet cottonwood, which, after a long interval of
absence, we saw again with pleasure; regarding them as harbingers of a
better country. To us, they were eloquent of green prairies and buffalo.
We found here a broad and plainly-marked trail, on which there were tracks
of horses, and we appeared to have regained one of the thoroughfares which
pass by the watering-places of the country. On the western mountains of
the valley, with which this of the boiling spring communicates, we
remarked scattered cedars--probably indicating that we were on the borders
of the timbered region extending to the Pacific. We reached the camp at
sunset, after a day's ride of about 40 miles. The horses we rode were in
good order, being of some that were kept for emergencies, and rarely used.

Mr. Preuss had ascended one of the mountains, and occupied the day in
sketching the country; and Mr. Fitzpatrick had found, a few miles distant,
a hollow of excellent grass and pure water, to which the animals were
driven, as I remained another day to give them an opportunity to recruit
their strength. Indians appear to be everywhere prowling about like wild
animals, and there is a fresh trail across the snow in the valley near.

Latitude of the boiling springs, 40 deg. 39' 46".

On the 9th we crossed over to the cottonwood camp. Among the shrubs on the
hills were a few bushes of _ephedra occidentalis_, which afterwards
occurred frequently along the road, and, as usual, the lowlands were
occupied with artemisia. While the party proceeded to this place, Carson
and myself reconnoitred the road in advance, and found another good
encampment for the following day.

10th.--We continued our reconnoissance ahead, pursuing a south direction
in the basin along the ridge; the camp following slowly after. On a large
trail there is never any doubt of finding suitable places for encampments.
We reached the end of the basin, where we found, in a hollow of the
mountain which enclosed it, an abundance of good bunch-grass. Leaving a
signal for the party to encamp, we continued our way up the hollow,
intending to see what lay beyond the mountain. The hollow was several
miles long, forming a good pass; the snow deepening to about a foot as we
neared the summit. Beyond, a defile between the mountains descended
rapidly about two thousand feet; and, filling up all the lower space, was
a sheet of green water, some twenty miles broad. It broke upon our eyes
like the ocean. The neighboring peaks rose high above us, and we ascended
one of them to obtain a better view. The waves were curling in the breeze,
and their dark-green color showed it to be a body of deep water. For a
long time we sat enjoying the view, for we had become fatigued with
mountains, and the free expanse of moving waves was very grateful. It was
set like a gem in the mountains, which, from our position, seemed to
enclose it almost entirely. At the western end it communicated with the
line of basins we had left a few days since; and on the opposite side it
swept a ridge of snowy mountains, the foot of the great Sierra. Its
position at first inclined us to believe it Mary's lake, but the rugged
mountains were so entirely discordant with descriptions of its low rushy
shores and open country, that we concluded it some unknown body of water,
which it afterwards proved to be.

On our road down, the next day, we saw herds of mountain sheep, and
encamped on a little stream at the mouth of the defile, about a mile from
the margin of the water, to which we hurried down immediately. The water
is so slightly salt, that, at first, we thought it fresh, and would be
pleasant to drink when no other could be had. The shore was rocky--a
handsome beach, which reminded us of the sea. On some large _granite_
boulders that were scattered about the shore, I remarked a coating of
calcareous substance, in some places a few inches, and in others a foot in
thickness. Near our camp, the hills, which were of primitive rock, were
also covered with this substance, which was in too great quantity on the
mountains along the shore of the lake to have been deposited by water, and
has the appearance of having been spread over the rocks in mass.

[Footnote: The label attached to a specimen of this rock was lost; but I
append an analysis of that which, from memory, I judge to be the specimen:

Carbonate of lime------------------ 77.31
Carbonate of magnesia-------------- 5.25
Oxide of iron---------------------- 1.60
Alumina---------------------------- 1.05
Silica----------------------------- 8.55
Organic matter, water, and loss---- 6.24

Where we had halted appeared to be a favorite camping-place for Indians.

13th.--We followed again a broad Indian trail along the shore of the lake
to the southward. For a short space we had room enough in the bottom; but,
after traveling a short distance, the water swept the foot of the
precipitous mountains, the peaks of which are about 3,000 feet above the
lake. The trail wound along the base of these precipices, against which
the water dashed below, by a way nearly impracticable for the howitzer.
During a greater part of the morning the lake was nearly hid by a snow-
storm, and the waves broke on the narrow beach in a long line of foaming
serf, five or six feet high. The day was unpleasantly cold, the wind
driving the snow sharp against our faces; and, having advanced only about
12 miles, we encamped in a bottom formed by a ravine, covered with good
grass, which was fresh and green.

We did not get the howitzer into camp, but were obliged to leave it on the
rocks until morning. We saw several flocks of sheep, but did not succeed
in killing any. Ducks were riding on the waves, and several large fish
were seen. The mountain sides were crusted with the calcareous cement
previously mentioned. There were chenopodiaceous and other shrubs along
the beach; and, at the foot of the rocks, an abundance of _ephedra
occidentalis_, whose dark-green color makes them evergreens among the
shrubby growth of the lake. Towards evening the snow began to fall
heavily, and the country had a wintry appearance.

The next morning the snow was rapidly melting under a warm sun. Part of
the morning was occupied in bringing up the gun; and, making only nine
miles, we encamped on the shore, opposite a very remarkable rock in the
lake, which had attracted our attention for many miles. It rose, according
to our estimate, 600 feet above the water, and, from the point we viewed
it, presented a pretty exact outline of the great pyramid of Cheops. Like
other rocks along the shore, it seemed to be incrusted with calcareous
cement. This striking feature suggested a name for the lake, and I called
it Pyramid Lake; and though it may be deemed by some a fanciful
resemblance, I can undertake to say that the future traveler will find
much more striking resemblance between this rock and the pyramids of
Egypt, than there is between them and the object from which they take
their name.

The elevation of this lake above the sea is 4,890 feet, being nearly 700
feet higher than the Great Salt lake, from which it lies nearly west, and
distant about eight degrees of longitude. The position and elevation of
this lake make it an object of geographical interest. It is the nearest
lake to the western rim, as the Great Salt lake is to the eastern rim, of
the Great Basin which lies between the base of the Rocky mountains and the
Sierra Nevada--and the extent and character of which, its whole
circumference and contents, it is so desirable to know.

The last of the cattle which had been driven from the Dalles was killed
here for food, and was still in good condition.

15th.--A few poor-looking Indians made their appearance this morning, and
we succeeded in getting one into the camp. He was naked, with the
exception of a tunic of hare-skins. He told us that there was a river at
the end of the lake, but that he lived in the rocks near by. From the few
words our people could understand, he spoke a dialect of the Snake
language; but we were not able to understand enough to know Whether the
river ran in or out, or what was its course; consequently, there still
remained a chance that this might be Mary's lake.

Groves of large cottonwood, which we could see at the mouth of the river,
indicated that it was a stream of considerable size, and, at all events,
we had the pleasure to know that now we were in a country where human
beings could live. Accompanied by the Indian, we resumed our road, passing
on the way several caves in the rock where there were baskets and reeds,
but the people had disappeared. We saw also horse-tracks along the shore.

Early in the afternoon, when we were approaching the groves at the mouth
of the river, three or four Indians met us on the trail. We had an
explanatory conversation in signs, and then we moved on together towards
the village, which the chief said was encamped on the bottom.

Reaching the groves, we found the _inlet_ of a large freshwater
stream, and all at once were satisfied that it was neither Mary's river
nor the waters of the Sacramento, but that we had discovered a large
interior lake, which the Indians informed us had no outlet. It is about 35
miles long, and, by the mark of the water-line along the shore, the spring
level is about 12 feet above its present waters. The chief commenced
speaking in a loud voice as we approached; and parties of Indians, armed
with bows and arrows, issued from the thickets. We selected a strong place
for our encampment--a grassy bottom, nearly enclosed by the river, and
furnished with abundant firewood. The village, a collection of straw huts,
was a few hundred yards higher up. An Indian brought in a large fish to
trade, which we had the inexpressible satisfaction to find was a salmon-
trout; we gathered round him eagerly. The Indians were amused with our
delight, and immediately brought in numbers, so that the camp was soon
stocked. Their flavor was excellent--superior, in fact, to that of any
fish I have ever known. They were of extraordinary size--about as large as
the Columbia River salmon--generally from two to four feet in length. From
the information of Mr. Walker, who passed among some lakes lying more to
the eastward, this fish is common to the streams of the inland lakes. He
subsequently informed me that he had obtained them weighing six pounds
when cleaned and the head taken off, which corresponds very well with the
size of those obtained at this place. They doubtless formed the
subsistence of these people, who hold the fishery in exclusive possession.

I remarked that one of them gave a fish to the Indian we had first seen,
which he carried off to his family. To them it was probably a feast; being
of the Digger tribe, and having no share in the fishery, living generally
on seeds and roots. Although this was a time of the year when the fish
have not yet become fat, they were excellent, and we could only imagine
what they are at the proper season. These Indians were very fat, and
appeared to live an easy and happy life. They crowded into the camp more
than was consistent with our safety, retaining always their arms; and, as
they made some unsatisfactory demonstrations, they were given to
understand that they would not be permitted to come armed into the camp;
and strong guards were kept with the horses. Strict vigilance was
maintained among the people, and one-third at a time were kept on guard
during the night. There is no reason to doubt that these dispositions,
uniformly preserved, conducted our party securely through Indians famed
for treachery.

In the mean time, such a salmon-trout feast as is seldom seen was going on
in our camp; and every variety of manner in which fish could be prepared--
boiled, fried, and roasted in the ashes--was put into requisition; and
every few minutes an Indian would be seen running off to spear a fresh
one. Whether these Indians had seen whites before, we could not be
certain; but they were evidently in communication with others who had, as
one of them had some brass buttons, and we noticed several other articles
of civilized manufacture. We could obtain from them but little information
respecting the country. They made on the ground a drawing of the river,
which they represented as issuing from another lake in the mountains three
or four days distant, in a direction a little west of south; beyond which,
they drew a mountain; and further still, two rivers; on one of which they
told us that people like ourselves traveled. Whether they alluded to the
settlements on the Sacramento, or to a party from the United States which
had crossed the Sierra about three degrees to the southward, a few years
since, I am unable to determine.

I tried unsuccessfully to prevail on some of them to guide us for a few
days on the road, but they only looked at each other and laughed.

The latitude of our encampment, which may be considered the mouth of the
inlet, is 39 deg. 51' 13" by our observations.

16th.--This morning we continued our journey along this beautiful stream,
which we naturally called the Salmon Trout river. Large trails led up on
either side; the stream was handsomely timbered with large cottonwoods;
and the waters were very clear and pure. We were traveling along the
mountains of the great Sierra, which rose on our right, covered with snow;
but below the temperature was mild and pleasant. We saw a number of dams
which the Indians had constructed to catch fish. After having made about
18 miles, we encamped under some large cottonwoods on the river bottom,
where there was tolerably good grass.

17th.--This morning we left the river, which here issues from mountains on
the west. With every stream I now expected to see the great Buenaventura;
and Carson hurried eagerly to search, on every one we reached, for beaver
cuttings, which he always maintained we should find only on waters that
ran to the Pacific; and the absence of such signs was to him a sure
indication that the water had no outlet from the Great Basin. We followed
the Indian trail through a tolerably level country, with small sage-
bushes, which brought us, after 20 miles' journey, to another large
stream, timbered with cottonwood, and flowing also out of the mountains,
but running more directly to the eastward.

On the way we surprised a family of Indians in the hills; but the man ran
up the mountain with rapidity; and the woman was so terrified, and kept up
such a continued screaming, that we could do nothing with her, and were
obliged to let her go.

18th.--There were Indian lodges and fish-dams on the stream. There were no
beaver cuttings on the river; but below, it turned round to the right;
and, hoping that it would prove a branch of the Buenaventura, we followed
it down for about three hours, and encamped.

I rode out with Mr. Fitzpatrick and Carson to reconnoitre the country,
which had evidently been alarmed by the news of our appearance. This
stream joined with the open valley of another to the eastward; but which
way the main water ran, it was impossible to tell. Columns of smoke rose
over the country at scattered intervals--signals by which the Indians
here, as elsewhere, communicate to each other that enemies are in the
country. It is a signal of ancient and very universal application among

Examining into the condition of the animals when I returned into the camp,
I found their feet so much cut up by the rocks, and so many of them lame,
that it was evidently impossible that they could cross the country to the
Rocky mountains. Every piece of iron that could be used for the purpose
had been converted into nails, and we could make no further use of the
shoes we had remaining. I therefore determined to abandon my eastern
course, and to cross the Sierra Nevada into the valley of the Sacramento,
wherever a practicable pass could be found. My decision was heard with joy
by the people, and diffused new life throughout the camp.

Latitude, by observation, 39 deg. 24' 16".

19th.--A great number of smokes are still visible this morning, attesting
at once the alarm our appearance had spread among these people, and their
ignorance of us. If they knew the whites, they would understand that their
only object in coming among them was to trade, which required peace and
friendship; but they have nothing to trade--consequently, nothing to
attract the white man; hence their fear and flight.

At daybreak we had a heavy snow; but set out, and, returning up the
stream, went out of our way in a circuit over a little mountain; and
encamped on the same stream, a few miles above, in latitude 39 deg. 19' 21" by

20th.--To-day we continued up the stream, and encamped on it close to the
mountains. The freshly fallen snow was covered with the tracks of Indians,
who had descended from upper waters, probably called down by the smokes in
the plain.

We ascended a peak of the range, which commanded a view of this stream
behind the first ridge, where it was winding its course through a somewhat
open valley, and I sometimes regret that I did not make the trial to cross
here; but while we had fair weather below, the mountains were darkened
with falling snow, and, feeling unwilling to encounter them, we turned
away again to the southward. In that direction we traveled the next day
over a tolerably level country, having always the high mountains on the
west. There was but little snow or rock on the ground; and, after having
traveled 24 miles, we encamped again on another large stream, running off
to the northward and eastward, to meet that we had left. It ran through
broad bottoms, having a fine meadow-land appearance.

Latitude 39 deg. 01' 53".

22d.--We traveled up the stream about fourteen miles, to the foot of the
mountains, from which one branch issued in the southwest, the other
flowing S.S.E. along their base. Leaving camp below, we ascended the range
through which the first stream passed, in a canon; on the western side was
a circular valley about 15 miles long, through which the stream wound its
way, issuing from a gorge in the main mountain, which rose abruptly
beyond. The valley looked yellow with faded grass; and the trail we had
followed was visible, making towards the gorge, and this was evidently a
pass; but again, while all was bright sunshine on the ridge and on the
valley where we were, the snow was falling heavily in the mountains. I
determined go still to the southward, and encamped on the stream near the
forks, the animals being fatigued and the grass tolerably good.

The rock of the ridge we had ascended is a compact lava, assuming a
granitic appearance and structure, and containing, in some places, small
nodules of obsidian. So far as composition and aspect are concerned, the
rock in other parts of the ridge appears to be granite; but it is probable
that this is only a compact form of lava of recent origin.

By observation, the elevation of the encampment was 5,020 feet; and the
latitude 38 deg. 49' 54".

23d.--We moved along the course of the other branch towards the southeast,
the country affording a fine road; and, passing some slight dividing-
grounds, descended towards the valley of another stream. There was a
somewhat rough-looking mountain ahead, which it appeared to issue from, or
to enter--we could not tell which; and as the course of the valley and the
inclination of the ground had a favorable direction, we were sanguine to
find here a branch of the Buenaventura; but were again disappointed,
finding it an inland water, on which we encamped after a day's journey of
24 miles. It was evident that, from the time we descended into the plain
at Summer lake, we had been flanking the great range of mountains which
divided the Great Basin from the waters of the Pacific; and that the
continued succession, and almost connection, of lakes and rivers which we
encountered, were the drainings of that range. Its rains, springs, and
snows, would sufficiently account for these lakes and streams, numerous as
they were.

24th.--A man was discovered running towards the camp as we were about to
start this morning, who proved to be an Indian of rather advanced age--a
sort of forlorn hope, who seemed to have been worked up into the
resolution of visiting the strangers who were passing through the country.
He seized the hand of the first man he met as he came up, out of breath,
and held on, as if to assure himself of protection. He brought with him,
in a little skin bag, a few pounds of the seeds of a pine-tree, which to-
day we saw for the first time, and which Dr. Torrey has described as a new
species, under the name of _pinus monophyllus_; in popular language
it might be called the _nut pine_. We purchased them all from him.
The nut is oily, of very agreeable flavor, and must be very nutritious, as
it constitutes the principal subsistence of the tribes among which we were
now traveling. By a present of scarlet cloth, and other striking articles,
we prevailed upon this man to be our guide of two days' journey. As
clearly as possible by signs, we made him understand our object; and he
engaged to conduct us in sight of a good pass which he knew. Here we
ceased to hear the Shoshonee language--that of this man being perfectly
unintelligible. Several Indians, who had been waiting to see what
reception he would meet with, now came into camp; and, accompanied by the
new-comers, we resumed our journey.

The road led us up the creek, which here becomes a rather rapid mountain
stream, fifty feet wide, between dark-looking hills without snow; but
immediately beyond them rose snowy mountains on either side, timbered
principally with the nut pine. On the lower grounds, the general height of
this tree is twelve to twenty feet, and eight inches the greatest
diameter; it is rather branching, and has a peculiar and singular, but
pleasant odor. We followed the river for only a short distance along a
rocky trail, and crossed it at a dam which the Indians made us comprehend
had been built to catch salmon trout. The snow and ice were heaped up
against it three or four feet deep entirely across the stream.

Leaving here the stream, which runs through impassable canons, we
continued our road over a very broken country, passing through a low gap
between the snowy mountains. The rock which occurs immediately in the pass
has the appearance of impure sandstone, containing scales of black mica.
This may be only a stratified lava. On issuing from the gap, the compact
lava, and other volcanic products usual in the country, again occurred. We
descended from the gap into a wide valley, or rather basin, and encamped
on a small tributary to the last stream, on which there was very good
grass. It was covered with such thick ice, that it required some labor
with pickaxes to make holes for the animals to drink. The banks are
lightly wooded with willow, and on the upper bottoms are sage and
Fremontia, with _ephedra occidentalis_, which begins to occur more
frequently. The day has been a summer one, warm and pleasant; no snow on
the trail, which, as we are all on foot, makes traveling more agreeable.
The hunters went into a neighboring mountain, but found no game. We have
five Indians in camp to-night.

25th.--The morning was cold and bright, and as the sun rose the day became
beautiful. A party of twelve Indians came down from the mountains to trade
pine nuts, of which each one carried a little bag. These seemed now to be
the staple of the country; and whenever we met an Indian, his friendly
salutation consisted in offering a few nuts to eat and to trade; their
only arms were bows and flint-pointed arrows. It appeared that in almost
all the valleys the neighboring bands were at war with each other; and we
had some difficulty in prevailing on our guides to accompany us on this
day's journey, being at war with the people on the other side of a large
snowy mountain which lay before us.

The general level of the country appeared to be getting higher, and we
were gradually entering the heart of the mountains. Accompanied by all the
Indians, we ascended a long ridge, and reached a pure spring at the edge
of the timber, where the Indians had waylaid and killed an antelope, and
where the greater part of them left us. Our pacific conduct had quieted
their alarms; and though at war among each other, yet all confided in us--
thanks to the combined effects of power and kindness--for our arms
inspired respect, and our little presents and good treatment conciliated
their confidence. Here we suddenly entered snow six inches deep, and the
ground was a little rocky, with volcanic fragments, the mountain appearing
to be composed of such rock. The timber consists principally of nut pines,
(_pinus monophyllus_,) which here are of larger size--12 to 15 inches
in diameter; heaps of cones lying on the ground, where the Indians have
gathered the seeds.

The snow deepened gradually as we advanced. Our guides wore out their
moccasins; and putting one of them on a horse, we enjoyed the unusual
sight of an Indian who could not ride. He could not even guide the animal,
and appeared to have no knowledge of horses. The snow was three or four
feet deep on the summit of the, pass; and from this point the guide
pointed out our future road, declining to go any further. Below us was a
little valley; and beyond this the mountains rose higher still, one ridge
above another, presenting a rude and rocky outline. We descended rapidly
to the valley: the snow impeded us but little; yet it was dark when we
reached the foot of the mountain.

The day had been so warm that our moccasins were wet with melting snow;
but here, as soon as the sun begins to decline, the air gets suddenly
cold, and we had great difficulty to keep our feet from freezing--our
moccasins being frozen perfectly stiff. After a hard day's march of 27
miles, we reached the river some time after dark, and found the snow about
a foot deep on the bottom--the river being entirely frozen over. We found
a comfortable camp, where there were dry willows abundant, and we soon had
blazing fires. A little brandy, which I husbanded with great care,
remained, and I do not know any medicine more salutary, or any drink
(except coffee) more agreeable, than this in a cold night and after a hard
day's march. Mr. Preuss questioned whether the famed nectar ever possessed
so exquisite a flavor. All felt it to be a reviving cordial.

The next morning, when the sun had not yet risen over the mountains, the
thermometer was at 2 deg. below zero; but the sky was bright and pure, and the
weather changed rapidly into a pleasant day of summer. I remained encamped
in order to examine the country, and allow the animals a day of rest, the
grass being good and abundant under the snow.

The river is fifty or eighty feet wide, with a lively current, and very
clear water. It forked a little above our camp, one of its branches coming
directly from the south. At its head appeared to be a handsome pass; and
from the neighboring heights we could see, beyond, a comparatively low and
open country, which was supposed to form the valley of the Buenaventura.
The other branch issued from a nearer pass, in a direction S. 75 deg. W.,
forking at the foot of the mountain, and receiving a part of its waters
from a little lake. I was in advance of the camp when our last guides had
left us; but, so far as could be understood, this was the pass which they
had indicated, and, in company with Carson, to-day I set out to explore
it. Entering the range, we continued in a northwesterly direction up the
valley, which here bent to the right. It was a pretty open bottom, locked
between lofty mountains, which supplied frequent streams as we advanced.
On the lower part they were covered with nut-pine trees, and above with
masses of pine, which we easily recognised, from the darker color of the
foliage. From the fresh trails which occurred frequently during the
morning, deer appeared to be remarkably numerous in the mountain.

We had now entirely left the desert country, and were on the verge of a
region which, extending westward to the shores of the Pacific, abounds in
large game, and is covered with a singular luxuriance of vegetable life.

The little stream grew rapidly smaller, and in about twelve miles we had
reached its head, the last water coming immediately out of the mountain on
the right; and this spot was selected for our next encampment. The grass
showed well in sunny places; but in colder situations the snow was deep,
and began to occur in banks, through which the horses found some
difficulty in breaking a way.

To the left, the open valley continued in a southwesterly direction, with
a scarcely perceptible ascent, forming a beautiful pass, the exploration
of which we deferred until the next day, and returned to the camp.

To-day an Indian passed through the valley, on his way into the mountains,
where he showed us was his lodge. We comprehended nothing of his language;
and, though he appeared to have no fear, passing along in full view of the
camp, he was indisposed to hold any communication with us, but showed the
way he was going, and pointed for us to go on our road.

By observation, the latitude of this encampment was 38 deg. 18' 01", and the
elevation above the sea 6,310 feet.

27th.--Leaving the camp to follow slowly, with directions to Carson to
encamp at the place agreed on, Mr. Fitzpatrick and myself continued the
reconnoissance. Arriving at the head of the stream, we began to enter the
pass--passing occasionally through open groves of large pine-trees, on the
warm side of the defile, where the snow had melted away, occasionally
exposing a large Indian trail. Continuing along a narrow meadow, we
reached, in a few miles, the gate of the pass, where there was a narrow
strip of prairie, about 50 yards wide, between walls of granite rock. On
either side rose the mountains, forming on the left a rugged mass, or
nucleus, wholly covered with deep snow, presenting a glittering and icy
surface. At the time, we supposed this to be the point into which they
were gathered between the two great rivers, and from which the waters
flowed off to the bay. This was the icy and cold side of the pass, and the
rays of the sun hardly touched the snow. On the left, the mountains rose
into peaks, but they were lower and secondary, and the country had a
somewhat more open and lighter character. On the right were several hot
springs, which appeared remarkable in such a place. In going through, we
felt impressed by the majesty of the mountain, along the huge wall of
which we were riding. Here there was no snow; but immediately beyond was a
deep bank, through which we dragged our horses with considerable effort.
We then immediately struck upon a stream, which gathered itself rapidly,
and descended quick; and the valley did not preserve the open character of
the other side, appearing below to form a canon. We therefore climbed one
of the peaks on the right, leaving our horses below; but we were so much
shut up that we did not obtain an extensive view, and what we saw was not
very satisfactory, and awakened considerable doubt. The valley of the
stream pursued a northwesterly direction, appearing below to turn sharply
to the right, beyond which further view was cut off. It was, nevertheless,
resolved to continue our road the next day down this valley, which we
trusted still would prove that of the middle stream between the two great
rivers. Towards the summit of this peak, the fields of snow were four or
five feet deep on the northern side; and we saw several large hares, which
had on their winter color, being white as the snow around them.

The winter day is short in the mountains, the sun having but a small space
of sky to travel over in the visible part above our horizon; and the
moment his rays are gone, the air is keenly cold. The interest of our work
had detained us long, and it was after nightfall when we reached the camp.

28th.--To-day we went through the pass with all the camp, and, after a
hard day's journey of twelve miles, encamped on a high point where the
snow had been blown off, and the exposed grass afforded a scanty pasture
for the animals. Snow and broken country together made our traveling
difficult; we were often compelled to make large circuits, and ascend the
highest and most exposed ridges, in order to avoid snow, which in other
places was banked up to a great depth.

During the day a few Indians were seen circling around us on snow-shoes,
and skimming along like birds; but we could not bring them within speaking
distance. Godey, who was a little distance from the camp, had sat down to
tie his moccasins, when he heard a low whistle near, and, looking up, saw
two Indians half hiding behind a rock about forty yards distant; they
would not allow him to approach, but breaking into a laugh, skimmed off
over the snow, seeming to have no idea of the power of firearms, and
thinking themselves perfectly safe when beyond arm's length.

To-night we did not succeed in getting the howitzer into camp. This was
the most laborious day we had yet passed through, the steep ascents and
deep snow exhausting both men and animals. Our single chronometer had
stopped during the day, and its error in time occasioned the loss of an
eclipse of a satellite this evening. It had not preserved the rate with
which we started from the Dalles, and this will account for the absence of
longitudes along this interval of our journey.

29th.--From this height we could see, at a considerable distance below,
yellow spots in the valley, which indicated that there was not much snow.
One of these places we expected to reach to-night; and some time being
required to bring up the gun, I went ahead with Mr. Fitzpatrick and a few
men, leaving the camp to follow, in charge of Mr. Preuss. We followed a
trail down a hollow where the Indians had descended, the snow being so
deep that we never came near the ground; but this only made our descent
the easier, and, when we reached a little affluent to the river, at the
bottom, we suddenly found ourselves in presence of eight or ten Indians.
They seemed to be watching our motions, and, like the others, at first
were indisposed to let us approach, ranging themselves like birds on a
fallen log, on the hill-side above our heads, where, being out of our
reach, they thought themselves safe. Our friendly demeanor reconciled
them, and, when we got near enough, they immediately stretched out to us
handfuls of pine-nuts, which seemed an exercise of hospitality. We made
them a few presents, and, telling us that their village was a few miles
below, they went on to let their people know what we were. The principal
stream still running through an impracticable canon, we ascended a very
steep hill, which proved afterwards the last and fatal obstacle to our
little howitzer, which was finally abandoned at this place. We passed
through a small meadow a few miles below, crossing the river, which depth,
swift current, and rock, made it difficult to ford; and, after a few more
miles of very difficult trail, issued into a larger prairie bottom, at the
farther end of which we encamped, in a position rendered strong by rocks
and trees. The lower parts of the mountain were covered with the nut-pine.
Several Indians appeared on the hill-side, reconnoitring the camp, and
were induced to come in; others came in during the afternoon; and in the
evening we held a council. The Indians immediately made it clear that the
waters on which we were also belonged to the Great Basin, in the edge of
which we had been since the 17th of December; and it became evident that
we had still the great ridge on the left to cross before we could reach
the Pacific waters.

We explained to the Indians that we were endeavoring to find a passage
across the mountains into the country of the whites, whom we were going to
see; and told them that we wished them to bring us a guide, to whom we
would give presents of scarlet cloth, and other articles, which were shown
to them. They looked at the reward we offered, and conferred with each
other, but pointed to the snow on the mountain, and drew their hands
across their necks, and raised them above their heads, to show the depth;
and signified that it was impossible for us to get through. They made
signs that we must go to the southward, over a pass through a lower range,
which they pointed out: there, they said, at the end of one day's travel,
we would find people who lived near a pass in the great mountain; and to
that point they engaged to furnish us a guide. They appeared to have a
confused idea, from report, of whites who lived on the other side of the
mountain; and once, they told us, about two years ago, a party of twelve
men like ourselves had ascended their river, and crossed to the other
waters. They pointed out to us where they had crossed; but then, they
said, it was summer time; but now it would be impossible. I believe that
this was a party led by Mr. Chiles, one of the only two men whom I know to
have passed through the California mountains from the interior of the
Basin--Walker being the other; and both were engaged upwards of twenty
days, in the summer time, in getting over. Chiles's destination was the
bay of San Francisco, to which he descended by the Stanislaus river; and
Walker subsequently informed me that, like myself, descending to the
southward on a more eastern line, day after day he was searching for the
Buenaventura, thinking that he had found it with every new stream, until,
like me, he abandoned all idea of its existence, and, turning abruptly to
the right, crossed the great chain. These were both western men, animated
with the spirit of exploratory enterprise which characterizes that people.

The Indians brought in during the evening an abundant supply of pine-nuts,
which we traded from them. When roasted, their pleasant flavor made them
an agreeable addition to our now scanty store of provisions, which were
reduced to a very low ebb. Our principal stock was in peas, which it is
not necessary to say contain scarcely any nutriment. We had still a little
flour left, some coffee, and a quantity of sugar, which I reserved as a
defence against starvation.

The Indians informed us that at certain seasons they have fish in their
waters, which we supposed to be salmon-trout: for the remainder of the
year they live upon the pine-nuts, which form their great winter
subsistence--a portion being always at hand, shut up in the natural
storehouse of the cones. At present, they were presented to us as a whole
people living upon this simple vegetable.

The other division of the party did not come in to-night, but encamped in
the upper meadow, and arrived the next morning. They had not succeeded in
getting the howitzer beyond the place mentioned, and where it had been
left by Mr. Preuss, in obedience to my orders; and, in anticipation of the
snow-banks and snow-fields still ahead, foreseeing the inevitable
detention to which it would subject us, I reluctantly determined to leave
it there for the time. It was of the kind invented by the French for the
mountain part of their war in Algiers; and the distance it had come with
us proved how well it was adapted to its purpose. We left it, to the great
sorrow of the whole party, who were grieved to part with a companion which
had made the whole distance from St. Louis, and commanded respect for us
on some critical occasions, and which might be needed for the same purpose

30th.--Our guide, who was a young man, joined us this morning; and,
leaving our encampment late in the day, we descended the river, which
immediately opened out into a broad valley, furnishing good traveling
ground. In a short distance we passed the village, a collection of straw
huts; and a few miles below, the guide pointed out the place where the
whites had been encamped, before they entered the mountain. With our late
start we made but ten miles, and encamped on the low river-bottom, where
there was no snow, but a great deal of ice; and we cut piles of long grass
to lay under our blankets, and fires were made of large dry willows,
groves of which wooded the stream. The river took here a northeasterly
direction, and through a spur from the mountains on the left was the gap
where we were to pass the next day.

31st.--We took our way over a gently rising ground, the dividing ridge
being tolerably low; and traveling easily along a broad trail, in twelve
or fourteen miles reached the upper part of the pass, when it began to
snow thickly, with very cold weather. The Indians had only the usual
scanty covering, and appeared to suffer greatly from the cold. All left
us, except our guide. Half hidden by the storm, the mountains looked
dreary; and, as night began to approach, the guide showed great reluctance
to go forward. I placed him between two rifles, for the way began to be
difficult. Traveling a little farther, we struck a ravine, which the
Indian said would conduct us to the river; and as the poor fellow suffered
greatly, shivering in the snow which fell upon his naked skin, I would not
detain him any longer; and he ran off to the mountain, where he said was a
hut near by. He had kept the blue and scarlet cloth I had given him
tightly rolled up, preferring rather to endure the cold than to get them
wet. In the course of the afternoon, one of the men had his foot
frostbitten; and about dark we had the satisfaction to reach the bottoms
of a stream timbered with large trees, among which we found a sheltered
camp, with an abundance of such grass as the season afforded for the
animals. We saw before us, in descending from the pass, a great continuous
range, along which stretched the valley of the river; the lower parts
steep, and dark with pines, while above it was hidden in clouds of snow.
This we felt instantly satisfied was the central ridge of the Sierra
Nevada, the great California mountain, which only now intervened between
us and the waters of the bay. We had made a forced march of 26 miles, and
three mules had given out on the road. Up to this point, with the
exception of two stolen by Indians, we had lost none of the horses which
had been brought from the Columbia river, and a number of these were still
strong and in tolerably good order. We had now 67 animals in the band.

We had scarcely lighted our fires, when the camp was crowded with nearly
naked Indians; some of them were furnished with long nets in addition to
bows, and appeared to have been out on the sage hills to hunt rabbits.
These nets were perhaps 30 to 40 feet long, kept upright in the ground by
slight sticks at intervals, and were made from a kind of wild hemp, very
much resembling in manufacture those common among the Indians of the
Sacramento valley. They came among us without any fear, and scattered
themselves about the fires, mainly occupied in gratifying their
astonishment. I was struck by the singular appearance of a row of about a
dozen, who were sitting on their haunches perched on a log near one of the
fires, with their quick sharp eyes following every motion.

We gathered together a few of the most intelligent of the Indians, and
held this evening an interesting council. I explained to them my
intentions. I told them that we had come from a very far country, having
been traveling now nearly a year, and that we were desirous simply to go
across the mountain into the country of the other whites. There were two
who appeared particularly intelligent--one, a somewhat old man. He told me
that, before the snows fell, it was six sleeps to the place where the
whites lived, but that now it was impossible to cross the mountain on
account of the deep snow; and showing us, as the others had done, that it
was over our heads, he urged us strongly to follow the course of the
river, which he said would conduct us to a lake in which there were many
large fish. There, he said, were many people; there was no snow on the
ground; and we might remain there until the spring. From their
descriptions, we were enabled to judge that we had encamped on the upper
water of the Salmon Trout river. It is hardly necessary to say that our
communication was only by signs, as we understood nothing of their
language; but they spoke, notwithstanding, rapidly and vehemently,
explaining what they considered the folly of our intentions, and urging us
to go down to the lake. _Tah-ve_, a word signifying snow, we very
soon learned to know, from its frequent repetition. I told him that the
men and the horses were strong, that we would break a road through the
snow; and spreading before him our bales of scarlet cloth, and trinkets,
showed him what we would give for a guide. It was necessary to obtain one,
if possible; for I had determined here to attempt the passage of the
mountain. Pulling a bunch of grass from the ground, after a short
discussion among themselves, the old man made us comprehend, that if we
could break through the snow, at the end of three days we would come down
upon grass, which he showed us would be about six inches high, and where,
the ground was entirely free. So far, he said, he had been in hunting for
elk; but beyond that (and he closed his eyes) he had seen nothing; but
there was one among them who had been to the whites, and, going out of the
lodge, he returned with a young man of very intelligent appearance. Here,
said he, is a young man who has seen the whites with his own eyes; and he
swore, first by the sky, and then by the ground, that what he said was
true. With a large present of goods, we prevailed upon this young man to
be our guide, and he acquired among us the name of Melo--a word signifying
friend, which they used very frequently. He was thinly clad, and nearly
barefoot; his moccasins being about worn out. We gave him skins to make a
new pair, and to enable him to perform his undertaking to us. The Indians
remained in the camp during the night, and we kept the guide and two
others to sleep in the lodge with us--Carson lying across the door, and
having made them comprehend the use of our fire arms.


1st.--The snow, which had intermitted in the evening, commenced falling
again in the course of the night; and it snowed steadily all day. In the
morning I acquainted the men with my decision, and explained to them that
necessity required us to make a great effort to clear the mountains. I
reminded them of the beautiful valley of the Sacramento, with which they
were familiar from the descriptions of Carson, who had been there some
fifteen years ago, and who, in our late privations, had delighted us in
speaking of its rich pastures and abounding game, and drew a vivid
contrast between its summer climate, less than a hundred miles distant,
and the falling snow around us. I informed them (and long experience had
given them confidence in my observations and good instruments) that almost
directly west, and only about 70 miles distant, was the great farming
establishment of Captain Sutter--a gentleman who had formerly lived in
Missouri, and, emigrating to this country, had become the possessor of a
principality. I assured them that, from the heights of the mountain before
us, we should doubtless see the valley of the Sacramento river, and with
one effort place ourselves again in the midst of plenty. The people
received this decision with the cheerful obedience which had always
characterized them, and the day was immediately devoted to the
preparations necessary to enable us to carry it into effect. Leggins,
moccasins, clothing--all were put into the best state to resist the cold.
Our guide was not neglected. Extremity of suffering might make him desert;
we therefore did the best we could for him. Leggins, moccasins, some
articles of clothing, and a large green blanket, in addition to the blue
and scarlet cloth, were lavished upon him, and to his great and evident
contentment. He arrayed himself in all his colors, and, clad in green,
blue, and scarlet, he made a gay-looking Indian; and, with his various
presents, was probably richer and better clothed than any of his tribe had
ever been before.

I have already said that our provisions were very low; we had neither
tallow nor grease of any kind remaining, and the want of salt became one
of our greatest privations. The poor dog which had been found in the Bear
River valley, and which had been a _compagnon de voyage_ ever since,
had now become fat, and the mess to which it belonged, requested
permission to kill it. Leave was granted. Spread out on the snow, the meat
looked very good; and it made a strengthening meal for the greater part of
the camp. Indians brought in two or three rabbits during the day, which
were purchased from them.

The river was 40 to 70 feet wide, and now entirely frozen over. It was
wooded with large cottonwood, willow, and _grain de boeuf_. By
observation, the latitude of this encampment was 38 deg. 37' 18".

2d.--It had ceased snowing, and this morning the lower air was clear and
frosty; and six or seven thousand feet above, the peaks of the Sierra now
and then appeared among the rolling clouds, which were rapidly dispersing
before the sun. Our Indian shook his head as he pointed to the icy
pinnacles, shooting high up into the sky, and seeming almost immediately
above us. Crossing the river on the ice, and leaving it immediately, we
commenced the ascent of the mountain along the valley of a tributary
stream. The people were unusually silent, for every man knew that our
enterprise was hazardous; and the issue doubtful.

The snow deepened rapidly, and it soon became necessary to break a road.
For this service, a party of ten was formed, mounted on the strongest
horses, each man in succession opening the road on foot, or on horseback,
until himself and his horse became fatigued, when he stepped aside, and,
the remaining number passing ahead, he took his station in the rear.
Leaving this stream, and pursuing a very direct course, we passed over an
intervening ridge to the river we had left. On the way we passed two low
huts entirely covered with snow, which might very easily have escaped
observation. A family was living in each; and the only trail I saw in the
neighborhood was from the door-hole to a nut-pine tree near, which
supplied them with food and fuel. We found two similar huts on the creek
where we next arrived; and, traveling a little higher up, encamped on its
banks in about four feet depth of snow. Carson found near, an open hill-
side, where the wind and the sun had melted the snow, leaving exposed
sufficient bunch-grass for the animals to-night.

The nut-pines were now giving way to heavy timber, and there were some
immense pines on the bottom, around the roots of which the sun had melted
away the snow; and here we made our camp and built huge fires. To-day we
had traveled 16 miles, and our elevation above the sea was 6,760 feet.

3d.--Turning our faces directly towards the main chain, we ascended an
open hollow along a small tributary to the river, which, according to the
Indians, issues from a mountain to the south. The snow was so deep in the
hollow, that we were obliged to travel along the steep hill-sides, and
over spurs, where the wind and sun had in places lessened the snow, and
where the grass, which appeared to be in good quality along the sides of
the mountains, was exposed. We opened our road in the same way as
yesterday, but made only seven miles, and encamped by some springs at the
foot of a high and steep hill, by which the hollow ascended to another
basin in the mountain. The little stream below was entirely buried in
snow. The springs were shaded by the boughs of a lofty cedar, which here
made its first appearance; the usual height was 120 to 130 feet, and one
that was measured near by was six feet in diameter.

There being no grass exposed here, the horses were sent back to that which
we had seen a few miles below. We occupied the remainder of the day in
beating down a road to the foot of the hill, a mile or two distant; the
snow being beaten down when moist, in the warm part of the day, and then
hard frozen at night, made a foundation that would bear the weight of the
animals next morning. During the day several Indians joined us on snow-
shoes. These were made of a circular hoop, about a foot in diameter, the
interior space being filled with an open network of bark.

4th.--I went ahead early with two or three men, each with a led horse to
break the road. We were obliged to abandon the hollow entirely, and work
along the mountain-side, which was very steep, and the snow covered with
an icy crust. We cut a footing as we advanced, and trampled a road through
for the animals; but occasionally one plunged outside the trail, and
slided along the field to the bottom, a hundred yards below. Late in the
day we reached another bench in the hollow, where, in summer, the stream
passed over a small precipice. Here was a short distance of dividing
ground between the two ridges, and beyond an open basin, some ten miles
across, whose bottom presented a field of snow. At the further or western
side rose the middle crest of the mountain, a dark-looking ridge of
volcanic rock.

The summit line presented a range of naked peaks, apparently destitute of
snow and vegetation; but below, the face of the whole country was covered
with timber of extraordinary size.

Towards a pass which the guide indicated here, we attempted in the
afternoon to force a road; but after a laborious plunging through two or
three hundred yards, our best horses gave out, entirely refusing to make
any further effort, and, for the time, we were brought to a stand. The
guide informed us that we were entering the deep snow, and here began the
difficulties of the mountain; and to him, and almost to all, our
enterprise seemed hopeless. I returned a short distance back, to the break
in the hollow, where I met Mr. Fitzpatrick.

The camp had been occupied all the day in endeavoring to ascend the hill,
but only the best horses had succeeded; the animals, generally, not having
sufficient strength to bring themselves up without the packs; and all the
line of road between this and the springs was strewed with camp-stores and
equipage, and horses floundering in snow. I therefore immediately encamped
on the ground with my own mess, which was in advance, and directed Mr.
Fitzpatrick to encamp at the springs, and send all the animals, in charge
of Tabeau, with a strong guard, back to the place where they had been
pastured the night before. Here was a small spot of level ground,
protected on one side by the mountain, and on the other sheltered by a
little ridge of rock. It was an open grove of pines, which assimilated in
size to the grandeur of the mountain, being frequently six feet in

To-night we had no shelter, but we made a large fire around the trunk of
one of the huge pines; and covering the snow with small boughs, on which
we spread our blankets, soon made ourselves comfortable. The night was
very bright and clear, though the thermometer was only at 10 deg.. A strong
wind, which sprang up at sundown, made it intensely cold; and this was one
of the bitterest nights during the journey.

Two Indians joined our party here; and one of them, an old man,
immediately began to harangue us, saying that ourselves and animals would
perish in the snow; and that if we would go back, he would show us another
and a better way across the mountain. He spoke in a very loud voice, and
there was a singular repetition of phrases and arrangement of words, which
rendered his speech striking and not unmusical.

We had now begun to understand some words, and, with the aid of signs,
easily comprehended the old man's simple ideas. "Rock upon rock--rock upon
rock--snow upon snow," said he; "even if you get over the snow, you will
not be able to get down from the mountains." He made us the sign of
precipices, and showed us how the feet of the horses would slip, and throw
them off from the narrow trails that led along their sides. Our Chinook,
who comprehended even more readily than ourselves, and believed our
situation hopeless, covered his head with his blanket, and began to weep
and lament. "I wanted to see the whites," said he; "I came away from my
own people to see the whites, and I wouldn't care to die among them, but
here"--and he looked around into the cold night and gloomy forest, and,
drawing his blanket over his head, began again to lament.

Seated around the tree, the fire illuminating the rocks and the tall bolls
of the pines round about, and the old Indian haranguing, we presented a
group of very serious faces.

5th.--The night had been too cold to sleep, and we were up very early. Our
guide was standing by the fire with all his finery on; and seeing him
shiver in the cold, I threw on his shoulders one of my blankets. We missed
him a few minutes afterwards, and never saw him again. He had deserted.
His bad faith and treachery were in perfect keeping with the estimate of
Indian character, which a long intercourse with this people had gradually
forced upon my mind.

While a portion of the camp were occupied in bringing up the baggage to
this point, the remainder were busied in making sledges and snow-shoes. I
had determined to explore the mountain ahead, and the sledges were to be
used in transporting the baggage.

The mountains here consisted wholly of a white micaceous granite. The day
was perfectly clear, and, while the sun was in the sky, warm and pleasant.

By observation our latitude was 38 deg. 42' 26"; and elevation by the boiling
point, 7,400 feet.

6th.--Accompanied by Mr. Fitzpatrick, I set out to-day with a
reconnoitring party on snow-shoes. We marched all in single file,
trampling the snow as heavily as we could. Crossing the open basin, in a
march of about ten miles we reached the top of one of the peaks, to the
left of the pass indicated by our guide. Far below us, dimmed by the
distance, was a large snowless valley, bounded on the western side, at the
distance of about a hundred miles, by a low range of mountains, which
Carson recognised with delight as the mountains bordering the coast.
"There," said he, "is the little mountain--it is fifteen years since I saw
it; but I am just as sure as if I had seen it yesterday." Between us,
then, and this low coast range was the valley of the Sacramento; and no
one who had not accompanied us through the incidents of our life for the
last few months could realize the delight with which at last we looked
down upon it. At the distance of apparently 30 miles beyond us were
distinguished spots of prairie; and a dark line which could be traced with
the glass, was imagined to be the course of the river; but we were
evidently at a great height above the valley, and between us and the
plains extended miles of snowy fields and broken ridges of pine-covered

It was late in the day when we turned towards the camp; and it grew
rapidly cold as it drew towards night. One of the men became fatigued, and
his feet began to freeze, and building a fire in the trunk of a dry old
cedar, Mr. Fitzpatrick remained with him until his clothes could be dried,
and he was in a condition to come on. After a day's march of 20 miles, we
straggled into the camp one after another, at nightfall; the greater
number excessively fatigued, only two of the party having ever traveled on
snow-shoes before.

All our energies are now directed to getting our animals across the snow;
and it was supposed that after all the baggage had been drawn with the
sleighs over the trail we had made, it would be sufficiently hard to bear
our animals. At several places between this point and the ridge, we had
discovered some grassy spots, where the wind and sun had dispersed the
snow from the sides of the hills, and these were to form resting-places to
support the animals for a night in their passage across. On our way across
we had set on fire several broken stumps, and dried trees, to melt holes
in the snow for the camps. Its general depth was five feet; but we passed
over places where it was 20 feet deep, as shown by the trees. With one
party drawing sleighs loaded with baggage, I advanced to-day about four
miles along the trail, and encamped at the first grassy spot, where we
expected to bring our horses. Mr. Fitzpatrick, with another party,
remained behind, to form an intermediate station between us and the

8th.--The night has been extremely cold; but perfectly still, and
beautifully clear. Before the sun appeared this morning, the thermometer
was 3 deg. below zero; 1 deg. higher, when his rays struck the lofty peaks; and 0 deg.
when they reached our camp.

Scenery and weather, combined, must render these mountains beautiful in
summer; the purity and deep-blue color of the sky are singularly
beautiful; the days are sunny and bright, and even warm in the noon hours;
and if we could be free from the many anxieties that oppress us, even now
we would be delighted here; but our provisions are getting fearfully
scant. Sleighs arrived with baggage about ten o'clock; and leaving a
portion of it here, we continued on for a mile and a half, and encamped at
the foot of a long hill on this side of the open bottom.

Bernier and Godey, who yesterday morning had been sent to ascend a higher
peak, got in, hungry and fatigued. They confirmed what we had already
seen. Two other sleighs arrived in the afternoon; and the men being
fatigued, I gave them all tea and sugar. Snow clouds began to rise in the
S.S.W.; and, apprehensive of a storm, which would destroy our road, I sent
the people back to Mr. Fitzpatrick, with directions to send for the
animals in the morning. With me remained Mr. Preuss, Mr. Talbot, and
Carson, with Jacob.

Elevation of the camp, by the boiling point, is 7,920 feet.

9th.--During the night the weather changed, the wind rising to a gale, and
commencing to snow before daylight; before morning the trail was covered.
We remained quiet in camp all day, in the course of which the weather
improved. Four sleighs arrived towards evening, with the bedding of the
men. We suffer much from the want of salt; and all the men are becoming
weak from insufficient food.

10th.--Taplin was sent back with a few men to assist Mr. Fitzpatrick; and
continuing on with three sleighs carrying a part of the baggage, we had
the satisfaction to encamp within two and a half miles of the head of the
hollow, and at the foot of the last mountain ridge. Here two large trees
had been set on fire, and in the holes, where the snow had been melted
away, we found a comfortable camp.

The wind kept the air filled with snow during the day; the sky was very
dark in the southwest, though elsewhere very clear. The forest here has a
noble appearance; and tall cedar is abundant; its greatest height being
130 feet, and circumference 20, three or four feet above the ground; and
here I see for the first time the white pine, of which there are some
magnificent trees. Hemlock spruce is among the timber, occasionally as
large as eight feet in diameter, four feet above the ground; but, in
ascending, it tapers rapidly to less than one foot at the height of eighty
feet. I have not seen any higher than 130 feet, and the slight upper part
is frequently broken off by the wind. The white spruce is frequent; and
the red pine (_pinus colorado_ of the Mexicans) which constitutes the
beautiful forest along the banks of the Sierra Nevada to the northward, is
here the principal tree, not attaining a greater height than 140 feet,
though with sometimes a diameter of 10. Most of these trees appeared to
differ slightly from those of the same kind on the other side of the

The elevation of the camp by the boiling point, is 8,050 feet. We are now
1,000 feet above the level of the South Pass in the Rocky mountains; and
still we are not done ascending. The top of a flat ridge near was bare of
snow, and very well sprinkled with bunch-grass, sufficient to pasture the
animals two or three days; and this was to be their main point of support.
This ridge is composed of a compact trap, or basalt of a columnar
structure; over the surface are scattered large boulders of porous trap.
The hills are in many places entirely covered with small fragments of
volcanic rock.

Putting on our snow-shoes, we spent the afternoon in exploring a road
ahead. The glare of the snow, combined with great fatigue, had rendered
many of the people nearly blind; but we were fortunate in having some
black silk handkerchiefs, which, worn as veils, very much relieved the

11th.--High wind continued, and our trail this morning was nearly
invisible--here and there indicated by a little ridge of snow. Our
situation became tiresome and dreary, requiring a strong exercise of
patience and resolution.

In the evening I received a message from Mr. Fitzpatrick, acquainting me
with the utter failure of his attempt to get our mules and horses over the
snow--the half-hidden trail had proved entirely too slight to support
them, and they had broken through, and were plunging about or lying half
buried in snow. He was occupied in endeavoring to get them back to his
camp; and in the mean time sent to me for further instructions. I wrote to
him to send the animals immediately back to their old pastures; and, after
having made mauls and shovels, turn in all the strength of his party to
open and beat a road through the snow, strengthening it with branches and
boughs of the pines.

12th.--We made mauls, and worked hard at our end of the road all day. The
wind was high, but the sun bright, and the snow thawing. We worked down
the face of the hill, to meet the people at the other end. Towards sundown
it began to grow cold, and we shouldered our mauls and trudged back to

13th.--We continued to labor on the road; and in the course of the day had
the satisfaction to see the people working down the face of the opposite
hill, about three miles distant. During the morning we had the pleasure of
a visit from Mr. Fitzpatrick, with the information that all was going on
well. A party of Indians had passed on snow-shoes, who said they were
going to the western side of the mountain after fish. This was an
indication that the salmon were coming up the streams; and we could hardly
restrain our impatience as we thought of them, and worked with increased

The meat train did not arrive this evening, and I gave Godey leave to kill
our little dog, (Tlamath,) which he prepared in Indian fashion; scorching
off the hair, and washing the skin with soap and snow, and then cutting it
up into pieces, which were laid on the snow. Shortly afterwards, the
sleigh arrived with a supply of horse-meat; and we had to-night an
extraordinary dinner--pea-soup, mule, and dog.

14th.--The dividing ridge of the Sierra is in sight from this encampment.
Accompanied by Mr. Preuss, I ascended to-day the highest peak to the
right; from which we had a beautiful view of a mountain lake at our feet,
about fifteen miles in length, and so entirely surrounded by mountains
that we could not discover an outlet. We had taken with us a glass; but
though we enjoyed an extended view, the valley was half hidden in mist, as
when we had seen it before. Snow could be distinguished on the higher
parts of the coast mountains; eastward, as far as the eye could extend, it
ranged over a terrible mass of broken snowy mountains, fading off blue in
the distance. The rock composing the summit consists of a very coarse,
dark, volcanic conglomerate; the lower parts appeared to be of a slaty
structure. The highest trees were a few scattering cedars and aspens. From
the immediate foot of the peak, we were two hours reaching the summit, and
one hour and a quarter in descending. The day had been very bright, still,
and clear, and spring seems to be advancing rapidly. While the sun is in
the sky, the snow melts rapidly, and gushing springs cover the face of the
mountain in all the exposed places; but their surface freezes instantly
with the disappearance of the sun.

I obtained to-night some observations; and the result from these, and
others made during our stay, gives for the latitude 38 deg. 41' 57", longitude
120 deg. 25' 57", and rate of the chronometer 25.82".

16th.--We had succeeded in getting our animals safely to the first grassy
hill; and this morning I started with Jacob on a reconnoitring expedition
beyond the mountain. We traveled along the crests of narrow ridges,
extending down from the mountain in the direction of the valley, from
which the snow was fast melting away. On the open spots was tolerably good
grass; and I judged we should succeed in getting the camp down by way of
these. Towards sundown we discovered some icy spots in a deep hollow; and,
descending the mountain, we encamped on the head-water of a little creek,
where at last the water found its way to the Pacific.

The night was clear and very long. We heard the cries of some wild
animals, which had been attracted by our fire, and a flock of geese passed
over during the night. Even these strange sounds had something pleasant to
our senses in this region of silence and desolation.

We started again early in the morning. The creek acquired a regular
breadth of about 20 feet, and we soon began to hear the rushing of the
water below the icy surface, over which we traveled to avoid the snow; a
few miles below we broke through, where the water was several feet deep,
and halted to make a fire and dry our clothes. We continued a few miles
farther, walking being very laborious without snow-shoes.

I was now perfectly satisfied that we had struck the stream on which Mr.
Sutler lived; and, turning about, made a hard push, and reached the camp
at dark. Here we had the pleasure to find all the remaining animals, 57 in
number, safely arrived at the grassy hill near the camp; and here, also,
we were agreeably surprised with the sight of an abundance of salt. Some
of the horse-guard had gone to a neighboring hut for pine nuts, and
discovered unexpectedly a large cake of very white fine-grained salt,
which the Indians told them they had brought from the other side of the
mountain; they used it to eat with their pine nuts, and readily sold it
for goods.

On the 19th, the people were occupied in making a road and bringing up the
baggage; and, on the afternoon of the next day, _February_ 20, 1844,
we encamped, with the animals and all the _materiel_ of the camp, on
the summit of the PASS in the dividing ridge, 1,000 miles by our traveled
road from the Dalles to the Columbia.

The people, who had not yet been to this point, climbed the neighboring
peak to enjoy a look at the valley.

The temperature of boiling water gave for the elevation of the encampment,
9,338 feet above the sea.

This was 2,000 feet higher than the South Pass in the Rocky mountains, and
several peaks in view rose several thousand feet still higher. Thus, at
the extremity of the continent, and near the coast, the phenomenon was
seen of a range of mountains still higher than the great Rocky mountains
themselves. This extraordinary fact accounts for the Great Basin, and
shows that there must be a system of small lakes and rivers here scattered
over a flat country, and which the extended and lofty range of the Sierra
Nevada prevents from escaping to the Pacific ocean. Latitude 38 deg. 44';
longitude 120 deg. 28'.

Thus the Pass in the Sierra Nevada, which so well deserves its name of
Snowy mountain, is eleven degrees west and about four degrees south of the
South Pass.

21st.--We now considered ourselves victorious over the mountain; having
only the descent before us, and the valley under our eyes, we felt strong
hope that we should force our way down. But this was a case in which the
descent was _not_ facile. Still deep fields of snow lay between them,
and there was a large intervening space of rough-looking mountains,
through which we had yet to wind our way. Carson roused me this morning
with an early fire, and we were all up long before day, in order to pass
the snow-fields before the sun should render the crust soft. We enjoyed
this morning a scene at sunrise, which even here was unusually glorious
and beautiful. Immediately above the eastern mountains was repeated a
cloud-formed mass of purple ranges, bordered with bright yellow gold; the
peaks shot up into a narrow line of crimson cloud, above which the air was
filled with a greenish orange; and over all was the singular beauty of the
blue sky. Passing along a ridge which commanded the lake on our right, of
which we began to discover an outlet through a chasm on the west, we
passed over alternating open ground and hard-crusted snow-fields which
supported the animals, and encamped on the ridge, after a journey of six
miles. The grass was better than we had yet seen, and we were encamped in
a clump of trees 20 or 30 feet high, resembling white pine. With the
exception of these small clumps, the ridges were bare; and, where the snow
found the support of the trees, the wind had blown it up into banks 10 or
15 feet high. It required much care to hunt out a practicable way, as the
most open places frequently led to impassable banks.

We had hard and doubtful labor yet before us, as the snow appeared to be
heavier where the timber began further down, with few open spots.
Ascending a height, we traced out the best line we could discover for the
next day's march, and had at least the consolation to see that the
mountain descended rapidly. The day had been one of April--gusty, with a
few occasional flakes of snow--which, in the afternoon, enveloped the
upper mountain in clouds. We watched them anxiously, as now we dreaded a
snow-storm. Shortly afterwards we heard the roll of thunder, and, looking
towards the valley, found it enveloped in a thunder-storm. For us, as
connected with the idea of summer, it had a singular charm, and we watched
its progress with excited feelings until nearly sunset, when the sky
cleared off brightly, and we saw a shining line of water directing its
course towards another, a broader and larger sheet. We knew that these
could be no other than the Sacramento and the Bay of San Francisco; but,
after our long wandering in rugged mountains, where so frequently we had
met with disappointments, and where the crossing of every ridge displayed
some unknown lake or river, we were yet almost afraid to believe that we
were at last to escape into the genial country of which we had heard so
many glowing descriptions, and dreaded to find some vast interior lake,
whose bitter waters would bring us disappointment. On the southern shore
of what appeared to be the bay could be traced the gleaming line where
entered another large stream; and again the Buenaventura rose up in our

Carson had entered the valley along the southern side of the bay, and
remembered perfectly to have crossed the mouth of a very large stream,
which they had been obliged to raft; but the country then was so entirely
covered with water from snow and rain, that he had been able to form no
correct impressions of water-courses.

We had the satisfaction to know that at least there were people below.
Fires were lit up in the valley just at night, appearing to be in answer
to ours; and these signs of life renewed, in some measure, the gayety of
the camp. They appeared so near, that we judged them to be among the
timber of some of the neighboring ridges; but, having them constantly in
view day after day, and night after night, we afterwards found them to be
fires that had been kindled by the Indians among the _tulares_, on
the shore of the bay, 80 miles distant.

Among the very few plants that appeared here, was the common blue flax.
To-night a mule was killed for food.

22d.--Our breakfast was over long before day. We took advantage of the
coolness of the early morning to get over the snow, which to-day occurred
in very deep banks among the timber; but we searched out the coldest
places, and the animals passed successfully with their loads over the hard
crust. Now and then the delay of making a road occasioned much labor and
loss of time. In the after part of the day, we saw before us a handsome
grassy ridge point; and, making a desperate push over a snow-field 10 to
15 feet deep, we happily succeeded in getting the camp across, and
encamped on the ridge, after a march of three miles. We had again the
prospect of a thunder-storm below, and to-night we killed another mule--
now our only resource from starvation.

We satisfied ourselves during the day that the lake had an outlet between
two ranges on the right; and with this, the creek on which I had encamped
probably effected a junction below. Between these, we were descending.

We continued to enjoy the same delightful weather; the sky of the same
beautiful blue, and such a sunset and sunrise as on our Atlantic coast we
could scarcely imagine. And here among the mountains, 9,000 feet above the
sea, we have the deep-blue sky and sunny climate of Smyrna and Palermo,
which a little map before me shows are in the same latitude.

The elevation above the sea, by the boiling point, is 8,565 feet.

23d.--This was our most difficult day; we were forced off the ridges by
the quantity of snow among the timber, and obliged to take to the mountain
sides, where occasionally rocks and a southern exposure afforded us a
chance to scramble along. But these were steep, and slippery with snow and
ice; and the tough evergreens of the mountain impeded our way, tore our
skins, and exhausted our patience. Some of us had the misfortune to wear
moccasins with _parfleche_ soles, so slippery that we could not keep
our feet, and generally crawled across the snow-beds. Axes and mauls were
necessary to-day, to make a road through the snow. Going ahead with Carson
to reconnoitre the road, we reached in the afternoon the river which made
the outlet of the lake. Carson sprang over, clear across a place where the
stream was compressed among rocks, but the _parfleche_ sole of my
moccasin glanced from the icy rock, and precipitated me into the river. It
was some few seconds before I could recover myself in the current, and
Carson, thinking me hurt, jumped in after me, and we both had an icy bath.
We tried to search awhile for my gun, which had been lost in the fall, but
the cold drove us out; and making a large fire on the bank, after we had
partially dried ourselves we went back to meet the camp. We afterwards
found that the gun had been slung under the ice which lined the banks of
the creek.

Using our old plan of breaking roads with alternate horses, we reached the
creek in the evening, and encamped on a dry open place in the ravine.

Another branch, which we had followed, here comes in on the left; and from
this point the mountain wall, on which we had traveled to-day, faces to
the south along the right bank of the river, where the sun appears to have
melted the snow; but the opposite ridge is entirely covered. Here, among
the pines, the hill-side produces but little grass--barely sufficient to
keep life in the animals. We had the pleasure to be rained upon this
afternoon; and grass was now our greatest solicitude. Many of the men
looked badly; and some this evening were giving out.

24th.--We rose at three in the morning for an astronomical observation,
and obtained for the place a lat. of 38 deg. 46' 58"; long. 120 deg. 34' 20". The
sky was clear and pure, with a sharp wind from the northeast, and the
thermometer 2 deg. below the freezing point.

We continued down the south face of the mountain; our road leading over
dry ground, we were able to avoid the snow almost entirely. In the course
of the morning, we struck a footpath, which we were generally able to
keep; and the ground was soft to our animals' feet, being sandy, or
covered with mould. Green grass began to make its appearance, and
occasionally we passed a hill scatteringly covered with it. The character
of the forest continued the same; and, among the trees, the pine with
sharp leaves and very large cones was abundant, some of them being noble
trees. We measured one that had 10 feet diameter, though the height was
not more than 130 feet. All along, the river was a roaring torrent, its
fall very great; and, descending with a rapidity to which we had long been
strangers, to our great pleasure oak-trees appeared on the ridge, and soon
became very frequent; on these I remarked great quantities of mistletoe.
Rushes began to make their appearance; and at a small creek where they
were abundant, one of the messes was left with the weakest horses, while
we continued on.

The opposite mountain-side was very steep and continuous--unbroken by
ravines, and covered with pines and snow; while on the side we were
traveling, innumerable rivulets poured down from the ridge. Continuing on,
we halted a moment at one of these rivulets, to admire some beautiful
evergreen-trees, resembling live-oak, which shaded the little stream. They
were forty to fifty feet high, and two in diameter, with a uniform tufted
top; and the summer green of their beautiful foliage, with the singing
birds, and the sweet summer wind which was whirling about the dry oak
leaves, nearly intoxicated us with delight; and we hurried on, filled with
excitement, to escape entirely from the horrid region of inhospitable
snow, to the perpetual spring of the Sacramento.

When we had traveled about ten miles, the valley opened a little to an oak
and pine bottom, through which ran rivulets closely bordered with rushes,
on which our half-starved horses fell with avidity; and here we made our
encampment. Here the roaring torrent has already become a river, and we
had descended to an elevation of 3,864 feet.

Along our road to-day the rock was a white granite, which appears to
constitute the upper part of the mountains on both the eastern and western
slopes; while between, the central is a volcanic rock.

Another horse was killed to-night, for food.

25th.--Believing that the difficulties of the road were passed, and
leaving Mr. Fitzpatrick to follow slowly, as the condition of the animals
required, I started ahead this morning with a party of eight, consisting
of myself, Mr. Preuss and Mr. Talbot, Carson, Derosier, Towns, Proue, and
Jacob. We took with us some of the best animals, and my intention was to
proceed as rapidly as possible to the house of Mr. Sutter, and return to
meet the party with a supply of provisions and fresh animals.

Continuing down the river, which pursued a very direct westerly course
through a narrow valley, with only a very slight and narrow bottom-land,
we made twelve miles, and encamped at some old Indian huts, apparently a
fishing-place on the river. The bottom was covered with trees of deciduous
foliage, and overgrown with vines and rushes. On a bench of the hill near
by, was a hill of fresh green grass, six inches long in some of the tufts
which I had the curiosity to measure. The animals were driven here; and I
spent part of the afternoon sitting on a large rock among them, enjoying
the pauseless rapidity with which they luxuriated on the unaccustomed

The forest was imposing to-day in the magnificence of the trees; some of
the pines, bearing large cones, were 10 feet in diameter. Cedars also
abounded, and we measured one 281/2 feet in circumference, four feet from
the ground. This noble tree seemed here to be in its proper soil and
climate. We found it on both sides of the Sierra, but most abundant on the

26th.--We continued to follow the stream, the mountains on either hand
increasing in height as we descended, and shutting up the river narrowly
in precipices, along which we had great difficulty to get our horses.

It rained heavily during the afternoon, and we were forced off the river
to the heights above; whence we descended, at night-fall, the point of a
spur between the river and a fork of nearly equal size, coming in from the
right. Here we saw, on the lower hills, the first flowers in bloom, which
occurred suddenly, and in considerable quantity--one of them a species of

The current in both streams (rather torrents than rivers) was broken by
large boulders. It was late, and the animals fatigued; and not succeeding
to find a ford immediately, we encamped, although the hill-side afforded
but a few stray bunches of grass, and the horses, standing about in the
rain, looked very miserable.

27th.--We succeeded in fording the stream, and made a trail by which we
crossed the point of the opposite hill, which, on the southern exposure,
was prettily covered with green grass, and we halted a mile from our last
encampment. The river was only about 60 feet wide, but rapid, and
occasionally deep, foaming among boulders, and the water beautifully
clear. We encamped on the hill-slope, as there was no bottom level, and
the opposite ridge is continuous, affording no streams.

We had with us a large kettle; and a mule being killed here, his head was
boiled in it for several hours, and made a passable soup for famished

Below, precipices on the river forced us to the heights, which we ascended
by a steep spur 2,000 feet high. My favorite horse, Proveau, had become
very weak, and was scarcely able to bring himself to the top. Traveling
here was good, except in crossing the ravines, which were narrow, steep,
and frequent. We caught a glimpse of a deer, the first animal we had seen;
but did not succeed in approaching him. Proveau could not keep up, and I
left Jacob to bring him on, being obliged to press forward with the party,
as there was no grass in the forest. We grew very anxious as the day
advanced and no grass appeared, for the lives of our animals depended on
finding it to-night. They were in just such a condition that grass and
repose for the night enabled them to get on the next day. Every hour we
had been expecting to see open out before us the valley, which, from the
mountain above, seemed almost at our feet. A new and singular shrub, which
had made its appearance since crossing the mountain, was very frequent to-
day. It branched out near the ground, forming a clump eight to ten feet
high, with pale-green leaves, of an oval form; and the body and branches
had a naked appearance, as if stripped of the bark, which is very smooth
and thin, of a chocolate color, contrasting well with the pale green of
the leaves. The day was nearly gone; we had made a hard day's march, and
found no grass. Towns became light-headed, wandering off into the woods
without knowing where he was going, and Jacob brought him back.

Near night-fall we descended into the steep ravine of a handsome creek 30
feet wide, and I was engaged in getting the horses up the opposite hill,
when I heard a shout from Carson, who had gone ahead a few hundred yards--
"Life yet," said he, as he came up, "life yet; I have found a hill-side
sprinkled with grass enough for the night." We drove along our horses, and
encamped at the place about dark, and there was just room enough to make a
place for shelter on the edge of the stream. Three horses were lost to-
day--Proveau; a fine young horse from the Columbia, belonging to Charles
Towns; and another Indian horse, which carried our cooking utensils. The
two former gave out, and the latter strayed off into the woods as we
reached the camp.

29th.--We lay shut up in the narrow ravine, and gave the animals a
necessary day; and men were sent back after the others. Derosier
volunteered to bring up Proveau, to whom he knew I was greatly attached,
as he had been my favorite horse on both expeditions. Carson and I climbed
one of the nearest mountains; the forest land still extended ahead, and
the valley appeared as far as ever. The pack-horse was found near the
camp; but Derosier did not get in.


1st.--Derosier did not get in during the night, and leaving him to follow,
as no grass remained here, we continued on over the uplands, crossing many
small streams, and camped again on the river, having made six miles. Here
we found the hillside covered (although lightly) with fresh green grass;
and from this time forward we found it always improving and abundant.

We made a pleasant camp on the river hill, where were some beautiful
specimens of the chocolate-colored shrub, which were a foot in diameter
near the ground, and fifteen to twenty feet high. The opposite ridge runs
continuously along, unbroken by streams. We are rapidly descending into
the spring, and we are leaving our snowy region far behind; every thing is
getting green; butterflies are swarming; numerous bugs are creeping out,
wakened from their winter's sleep; and the forest flowers are coming into
bloom. Among those which appeared most numerously to-day was
_dodecatheon dentatum_.

We began to be uneasy at Derosier's absence, fearing he might have been
bewildered in the woods. Charles Towns, who had not yet recovered his
mind, went to swim in the river, as if it were summer, and the stream
placid, when it was a cold mountain torrent foaming among the rocks. We
were happy to see Derosier appear in the evening. He came in, and, sitting
down by the fire, began to tell us where he had been. He imagined he had
been gone several days, and thought we were still at the camp where he had
left us; and we were pained to see that his mind was deranged. It appeared
that he had been lost in the mountain, and hunger and fatigue, joined to
weakness of body and fear of perishing in the mountains, had crazed him.
The times were severe when stout men lost their minds from extremity of
suffering--when horses died--and when mules and horses, ready to die of
starvation, were killed for food. Yet there was no murmuring or

A short distance below our encampment the river mountains terminated in
precipices, and, after a fatiguing march of only a few miles, we encamped
on a bench where there were springs, and an abundance of the freshest
grass. In the mean time, Mr. Preuss continued on down the river, and,
unaware that we had encamped so early in the day, was lost. When night
arrived, and he did not come in, we began to understand what had happened
to him; but it was too late to make any search.

3d.--We followed Mr. Preuss' trail for a considerable distance along the
river, until we reached a place where he had descended to the stream below
and encamped. Here we shouted and fired guns, but received no answer; and
we concluded that he had pushed on down the stream. I determined to keep
out from the river, along which it was nearly impracticable to travel with
animals, until it should form a valley. At every step the country improved
in beauty; the pines were rapidly disappearing, and oaks became the
principal trees of the forest. Among these, the prevailing tree was the
evergreen oak, (which, by way of distinction, we call the _live-
oak_;) and with these occurred frequently a new species of oak bearing
a long slender acorn, from an inch to an inch and a half in length, which
we now began to see formed the principal vegetable food of the inhabitants
of this region. In a short distance we crossed a little rivulet, where
were two old huts, and near by were heaps of acorn hulls. The ground round
about was very rich, covered with an exuberant sward of grass; and we sat
down for a while in the shade of the oaks, to let the animals feed. We
repeated our shouts for Mr. Preuss; and this time were gratified with an
answer. The voice grew rapidly nearer, ascending from the river; but when
we expected to see him emerge, it ceased entirely. We had called up some
straggling Indian--the first we had met, although for two days back we had
seen tracks--who, mistaking us for his fellows, had been only undeceived
on getting close up. It would have been pleasant to witness his
astonishment; he would not have been more frightened had some of the old
mountain spirits they are so much afraid of suddenly appeared in his path.
Ignorant of the character of these people, we had now an additional cause
of uneasiness in regard to Mr. Preuss; he had no arms with him, and we
began to think his chance doubtful. We followed on a trail, still keeping
out from the river, and descended to a very large creek, dashing with
great velocity over a pre-eminently rocky bed, and among large boulders.
The bed had sudden breaks, formed by deep holes and ledges of rock running
across. Even here, it deserves the name of _Rock_ creek, which we
gave to it. We succeeded in fording it, and toiled about three thousand
feet up the opposite hill. The mountains now were getting sensibly lower;
but still there is no valley on the river, which presents steep and rocky
banks; but here, several miles from the river, the country is smooth and
grassy; the forest has no undergrowth; and in the open valleys of
rivulets, or around spring-heads, the low groves of live-oak give the
appearance of orchards in an old cultivated country. Occasionally we met

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