Part 1 out of 9
This eBook was produced by Michael Overton.
THE GREAT SALT LAKE TRAIL
By COLONEL HENRY INMAN
Late Assistant Quartermaster, United States Army
Author of _The Old Santa Fé Trail_, Etc.
And COLONEL WILLIAM F. CODY, “Buffalo Bill”
Late Chief of Scouts
Etext Edition edited by MICHAEL S. OVERTON
1898 (original edition), 2002 (Etext edition)
See PUBLICATION INFORMATION at the end of this Etext for a more
complete bibliographic listing of the original source.
There are seven historic trails crossing the great plains of the
interior of the continent, all of which for a portion of their
distance traverse the geographical limits of what is now the
prosperous commonwealth of Kansas.
None of these primitive highways, however, with the exception of that
oldest of all to far-off Santa Fé, has a more stirring story than
that known as the Salt Lake Trail.
Over this historical highway the Mormons made their lonely Hegira to
the valley of that vast inland sea. On its shores they established
a city, marvellous in its conception, and a monument to the ability
of man to overcome almost insuperable obstacles—the product of a
faith equal to that which inspired the crusader to battle to the death
for the possession of the Holy Sepulchre.
Over this route, also, were made those world-renowned expeditions
by Fremont, Stansbury, Lander, and others of lesser fame, to the
heart of the Rocky Mountains, and beyond, to the blue shores of the
Over the same trackless waste the Pony Express executed those
marvellous feats in annihilating distance, and the once famous
Overland Stage lumbered along through the seemingly interminable
desert of sage-brush and alkali dust—avant-courières of the telegraph
and the railroad.
One of the collaborators of this volume, Colonel W. F. Cody (“Buffalo
Bill”), began his remarkable career, as a boy, on the Salt Lake Trail,
and laid the foundations of a life which has made him a conspicuous
American figure at the close of this century.
It is not the intention of the authors of this work to deal in the
slightest manner with Mormonism as a religion. An immense mass of
literature on the subject is to be found in every public library, both
in its defence and in its condemnation. The latter preponderates, and
often seems to be inspired by an inexcusable ingenuity in exaggeration.
Of the trials of the Mormons during their toilsome march and their
difficulties with the government during the Civil War, this work will
treat in a limited way, but its scope is to present the story of the
Trail in the days long before the building of a railroad was believed
to be possible. It will deal with the era of the trapper, the scout,
the savage, and the passage of emigrants to the gold fields of
California—when the only route was by the overland trail—and with
the adventures which marked the long and weary march.
CHAPTER I. EXPLORING EXPEDITIONS. Proposed Exploring Expedition
across the Northern Part of the Continent in 1774—Sir Alexander
Mackenzie's Expedition—The Expedition of Lewis and Clarke—Hunt's
Tour in 1810—March of Robert Stuart eastwardly.
CHAPTER II. THE OLD TRAPPERS. Captain Ezekiel Williams' Expedition
to the Platte Valley in 1807—Character of the Old Trapper—The Outfit
of his Men—Crosses the River—Immense Herds of Buffalo—Death of
their Favourite Hound—A Lost Trapper—A Prairie Burial—A Wolf-chase
after a Buffalo—An Indian Lochinvar—The Crow Indians—Their Country
—Rose, the Scapegoat Refugee—The Lost Trappers—A Battle with
CHAPTER III. JIM BECKWOURTH. General W. H. Ashley's Trapping
Expedition—Jim Beckwourth's Story—Two Axe—Kill Fourteen Hundred
Buffaloes—The Surround—Expedition is divided—Boats are built—
Green River Suck—Indians murder Le Brache—Beckwourth meets Castenga.
CHAPTER IV. CAPTAIN SUBLETTE'S EXPEDITION. Captain William
Sublette's Expedition in 1832—They meet Nathaniel J. Wyeth's Party—
Arrive at Green River Valley—Attacked by Indians—Antoine Godin
shoots a Blackfoot Chief—Fight between Whites, Flatheads, and
Blackfeet—An Indian Heroine—Major Stephen H. Long's Scientific
Expedition in 1820—Captain Bonneville's Expedition in 1832—
Lieutenant John C. Fremont's Expedition in 1842 to the Wind River
CHAPTER V. TRADING-POSTS AND THEIR STORIES. Trading-posts of the
Great Fur Companies—Fort Vasquez—Fort Laramie—Fort Platte—Fort
Bridger—Incidents at Fort Platte—A Drunken Spree—Death and Burial
of Susu-Ceicha—Insult to Big Eagle—Bull Tail's Effort to sell his
Daughter for a Barrel of Whiskey—A Rare Instance of a Trader's Honour.
CHAPTER VI. THE MORMONS. The Most Desolate of Deserts made to
blossom as the Rose—The Mormon Hegira—Pilgrim's Outfit—Curious
Guide-posts—The Hand-cart Expedition—Sufferings and Hardships during
the Exodus—An Impending War—General Harney's Expedition—Mormon
Tactics—Destroy the Supplies—Privations of the United States army
—President backs down—Salt Lake City—Brigham Young's Vision—
CHAPTER VII. MOUNTAIN MEADOWS MASSACRE. Mountain Meadows Massacre—
Indians attack the Wagons—Lee offers Protection—Ambushed by Lee—
Lee flies to the Mountains—Mormon Church acquitted—Execution of
John D. Lee—Temporary Toll-bridges—Indian Raids on Cattle Ranches—
Stuttering Brown—Graves along the Trail.
CHAPTER VIII. THE PONY EXPRESS. The Problem of the Mails between
Atlantic and Pacific—The World-famed Pony Express—Necessity for it
—Its Originator—The Firm of Majors, Russell, & Waddell—The Route—
Organization—Its Paraphernalia—Daring Riders—J. G. Kelley's Story—
Colonel Cody's Story—Incidents and Stories—Old Whipsaw and Little
Cayuse, the Pawnee—Slade, the Desperado—The Lynching of Slade—
Establishment of the Telegraph.
CHAPTER IX. THE STAGE ROUTE TO THE PACIFIC. Discovery of Gold near
Pike's Peak—Exodus from Missouri—The Creation of the Overland Stage
Route to the Pacific Coast—Messrs. Russell and Jones' Failure—
Russell, Majors, & Waddell's Successful Establishment of a New Line—
Hockaday and Liggett's “One-horse” Affair—Advent of the First
Stage-coach into Denver—Financial Embarrassment—Ben Holliday—
Description of the Outfit of the Route—Incidents and Adventures.
CHAPTER X. SCENERY ON THE TRAIL. Scenery and Historical Localities
on the Route of the Old Trail—Loup Fork—De Smet's Account of a
Waterspout—Wood River—Brady's Island—Ash Hollow—Johnson's Creek—
Scott's Bluff—Independence Rock and its Legend—Chimney Rock—
Crazy Woman's Creek—Laramie Plains—Legends and Traditions about
the Great Salt Lake—Early Surveys.
CHAPTER XI. INDIAN TRIBES ON THE TRAIL. The Indian Tribes of the
Salt Lake Trail—The Otoes—I-e-tan—Blue-Eyes shot by I-e-tan—
The Pawnees—Their Tribal Mark—Legends and Traditions—Human
CHAPTER XII. SIOUX AND THEIR TRADITIONS. The Sioux Nation—Cause of
their Hatred for the Whites—A Chief of the Brûlé Sioux tells a Story
—The Scarred-Arms—Story of the Six Sioux and the Mysterious Woman—
The Place of the Death Song—Wa-shu-pa and Ogallalla—Indian Fight at
Ash Hollow—Indian Tradition of a Flood.
CHAPTER XIII. THE CROWS. The Crows—Council at Fort Philip Kearny
in July, 1866—A-ra-poo-ash—Jim Beckwourth in a Fight between Crows
and Blackfeet—Beckwourth and the Great Medicine Kettle—The Missionary
and the Crows—The Legend of the Blind Men—The Pis-kun.
CHAPTER XIV. FOLK-LORE OF BLACKFEET. Folk-lore of Blackfeet—
The Lost Children—The Wolf-Man—The Utes—Massacre of Major
Thornburgh's Command on the White River—The Great Chief Ouray—
Piutes—Their Theories of the Heavens—The Big Medicine Springs—
Closed Hand—Man afraid of his Horses—No Knife—Sitting Bull—
CHAPTER XV. SIOUX WAR OF 1863. Sioux War of 1863—Spotted Tail—
George P. Belden's Account—Sergeants Hiles and Rolla—Belden and
Nelson have an Adventure—Belden maps the Country—Guarding Ben
Holliday's Coaches—An Involuntary Highwayman—Capturing Sioux at
Gilman's Ranch—Morrow's Ranch—Bentz and Wise—Attack on the Ambulance
—Peace Commission—Massacre of Colonel Fetterman's Command at Fort
CHAPTER XVI. BUFFALO BILL'S ADVENTURES. Buffalo Bill's Adventures
on the Salt Lake Trail—In Charge of a Herd of Beef Cattle—Kills an
Indian—With Lew Simpson—Held up—Attacked at Cedar Bluffs—A Brush
with Sioux—The Print of a Woman's Shoe—Capture a Village—Buffalo
Bill shoots Tall Bull.
CHAPTER XVII. MASSACRE OF CUSTER'S COMMAND. Buffalo Bill's
Adventures continued—Hunting at Fort McPherson—Indians steal his
Favourite Pony—The Chase—Scouting under General Duncan—Pawnee
Sentries—A Deserted Squaw—A Joke on McCarthy—Scouting for Captain
Meinhold—Texas Jack—Buckskin Joe—Sitting Bull and the Indian War
of 1876—Massacre of Custer and his Command—Buffalo Bill takes the
First Scalp for Custer—Yellow Hand, Son of Cut Nose—Carries
Despatches for Terry—Good-by to the General.
CHAPTER XVIII. IN A TRAPPER'S BIVOUAC. Around the Camp-fire in a
Trapper's Bivouac—Telling Stories of the Old Trail—Old Hatcher's
Trip to the Infernal Regions—Colonel Cody's Story of California Joe
—A Practical Joke.
CHAPTER XIX. KIT CARSON ON THE YELLOWSTONE. More Stories of the Trail
—Frazier and the Bear—An Indian Elopement—The Ogallallas and the
Brûlés—Chaf-fa-ly-a—Kit Carson on the Yellowstone—Battle with the
Blackfeet—Carson, Bridger, and Baker on the Platte—Jim Cockrell—
Peg Leg Smith.
CHAPTER XX. BUILDING THE UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD. The Story of the
Building of the Union Pacific Railroad—Extract from General Sherman's
Memoirs—General Dodge's Description of the Country when he first
saw it—Explorations for a Route—Conference with President Lincoln—
Location of the Military Post of D. A. Russell and the Town of Cheyenne
—Driving the Last Spike.
As early as a hundred and thirty-five years ago, shortly after England
had acquired the Canadas, Captain Jonathan Carver, who had been
an officer in the British provincial army, conceived the idea of
fitting out an expedition to cross the continent between the forty-third
and forty-sixth degrees of north latitude. His intention was to
measure the breadth of North America at its widest part, and to find
some place on the Pacific coast where his government might establish
a military post to facilitate the discovery of a “northwest passage,”
or a line of communication between Hudson's Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
In 1774 he was joined in his proposed scheme by Mr. Richard Whitworth,
a member of the British Parliament, and a man of great wealth.
Their plan was to form a company of fifty or sixty men, and with them
to travel up one of the forks of the Missouri River, explore the
mountains, and find the source of the Oregon. They intended to sail
down that stream to its mouth, erect a fort, and build vessels to
enable them to continue their discoveries by sea.
Their plan was sanctioned by the English government, but the breaking
out of the American Revolution defeated the bold project. This was
the first attempt to explore the wilds of the interior of the continent.
Thirty years later Sir Alexander Mackenzie crossed the continent
on a line which nearly marks the fifty-third degree of north latitude.
Some time afterwards, when that gentleman published the memoirs of
his expedition, he suggested the policy of opening intercourse between
the two oceans. By this means, he argued, the entire command of
the fur trade of North America might be obtained from latitude
forty-eight north, to the pole, excepting in that territory held
by Russia. He also prophesied that the relatively few American
adventurers who had been enjoying a monopoly in trapping along the
Northwest Coast would instantly disappear before a well-regulated trade.
The government of the United States was attracted by the report of
the English nobleman, and the expedition of Lewis and Clarke was
fitted out. They accomplished in part what had been projected
by Carver and Whitworth. They learned something of the character
of the region heretofore regarded as a veritable terra incognita.
On the 14th of May, 1804, the expedition of Lewis and Clarke left
St. Louis, following the course of the Missouri River, and returning
by the same route two years later. There were earlier explorations,
far to the south, but none of them reached as high up as the Platte.
Lewis and Clarke themselves merely viewed its mouth.
In 1810 a Mr. Hunt, who was employed by the Northwest Fur Company,
and Mr. Donald M'Kenzie, with a number of trappers under their charge,
were to make a journey to the interior of the continent, but, hampered
by the opposition of the Missouri Fur Company, they were compelled to
abandon the enterprise, and it was not until the beginning of 1812
that their historic journey was commenced.
On the 17th of January, while their boats landed at one of the old
villages established by the original French colonists of the region
then known as the Province of Louisiana, they met the celebrated
Daniel Boone, who was then in his eighty-fifth year, and the next
morning they were visited by John Coulter, who had been with Lewis and
Clarke on their memorable expedition eight years previously.
Since the return of Lewis and Clarke's expedition, Coulter had made
a wonderful journey on his own account. He floated down the whole
length of the Missouri River in a small canoe, accomplishing the
passage of three thousand miles in a month.
On the 8th of April Hunt's party came in sight of Fort Osage,
where they remained for three days, and were delightfully entertained
by the officers of the garrison. On the 10th they again embarked and
ascended the Missouri. On the 28th the party landed at the mouth
of the Platte and ate their breakfast on one of the islands there.
After passing the mouth of the river Platte, they camped on its banks
a short distance above Papillion Creek. On the 10th of May they
reached the village of the Omahas, camped in its immediate neighbourhood,
and on the 15th of the same month they started for the interior of
the continent. Their route lay far north of a line drawn parallel
to the Platte Valley, but they entered it after travelling through
the Black Hills, somewhere near the headwaters of the river from which
the beautiful valley takes its name. After untold hardships and
sufferings the party arrived at Astoria on the following February,
having travelled a distance of thirty-five hundred miles. They had
taken a circuitous route, for Astoria is only eighteen hundred miles,
in a direct line, from St. Louis.
The first authentic account of an expedition through the valley of the
Platte was that of Mr. Robert Stuart, in the employ of John Jacob Astor.
He was detailed to carry despatches from the mouth of the Columbia to
New York, informing Mr. Astor of the condition of his venture on the
remote shores of the Pacific. The mission entrusted to Mr. Stuart
was filled with perils, and he was selected for the dangerous duty
on account of his nerve and strength. He was a young man, and although
he had never crossed the Rocky Mountains, he had already given proofs,
on other perilous expeditions, of his competence for the new duty.
His companions were Ben Jones and John Day, both Kentuckians,
two Canadians, and some others who had become tired of the wild life,
and had determined to go back to civilization.
They all left Astoria on the 29th of June, 1812, and reached the
headwaters of the Platte, thence they travelled down the valley to
its mouth, and embarked in boats for St. Louis.
When they reached the Snake River deserts, great sandy plains
stretched out before them. Only occasionally were there intervales of
grass, and the miserable herbage was saltweed, resembling pennyroyal.
The desponding party looked in vain for some relief from the lifeless
landscape. All game had apparently shunned the dreary, sun-parched
waste, but hunger was now and then appeased by a few fish which they
caught in the streams, or some sun-dried salmon, or a dog given to them
by the kind-hearted Shoshones whose lodges they sometimes came across.
At last the party tired of this weary route. They determined to
leave the banks of the barren Snake River, so, under the guidance
of a Mr. Miller who had previously trapped in that region, they were
conducted across the mountains and out of the country of the dreaded
Blackfeet. Miller soon proved a poor guide, and again the party
became bewildered among rugged hills, unknown streams, and the burned
and grassless prairies.
Finally they arrived on the banks of a river, on which their guide
assured them he had trapped, and to which they gave the name of Miller,
but it was really the Bear River which flows into Great Salt Lake.
They continued along its banks for three days, subsisting very
precariously on fish.
They soon discovered that they were in a dangerous region. One evening,
having camped rather early in the afternoon, they took their
fishing-tackle and prepared to fish for their supper. When they
returned to their camp, they were surprised to see a number of savages
prowling round. They proved to be Crows, whose chief was a giant,
very dark, and looked the rogue that they found him to be.
He ordered some of his warriors to return to their camp, near by,
and bring buffalo meat for the starving white men. Notwithstanding
the apparent kindness of this herculean chief, there was something
about him that filled the white men with distrust. Gradually the
number of his warriors increased until there were over a score of
them in camp. They began to be inquisitive and troublesome, and
the whites felt great concern for their horses, each man keeping
a close watch upon the movements of the Indians.
As no unpleasant demonstrations had been made by the savages, and
as the party had bought all the buffalo meat they had brought,
Mr. Stuart began to make preparations in the morning for his departure.
The savages, however, were for further dealings with their newly found
pale friends, and above everything else they wanted gunpowder,
for which they offered to trade horses. Mr. Stuart declined to
accommodate them. At this they became more impudent, and demanded
the powder, but were again refused.
The gigantic chief now stepped forward with an important air, and
slapping himself upon the breast, he gave the men to understand that
he was a chief of great power. He said that it was customary for
great chiefs to exchange presents when they met. He therefore
requested Mr. Stuart to dismount and give him the horse he was riding.
Mr. Stuart valued the animal very highly, so he shook his head at
the demand of the savage. Upon this the Indian walked up, and taking
hold of Mr. Stuart, began to push him backward and forward in his
saddle, as if to impress upon him that he was in his power.
Mr. Stuart preserved his temper and again shook his head negatively.
The chief then seized the bridle, gave it a jerk that scared the
horse, and nearly brought Mr. Stuart to the ground. Mr. Stuart
immediately drew his pistol and presented it at the head of the
impudent savage. Instantly his bullying ended, and he dodged behind
the horse to get away from the intended shot. As the rest of the
Crow warriors were looking on at the movement of their chief,
Mr. Stuart ordered his men to level their rifles at them, but not
to fire. Upon this demonstration the whole band incontinently fled,
and were soon out of sight.
The chief, finding himself alone, with true savage dissimulation
began to laugh, and pretended the whole affair was intended only
as a joke. Mr. Stuart did not relish this kind of joking, but it
would not do to provoke a quarrel; so he joined the chief in his
laugh with the best grace he could affect, and to pacify the savage
for his failure to procure the horse, gave him some powder, and
they parted professedly the best of friends.
It was discovered, after the savage had cleared out, that they had
managed to steal nearly all the cooking utensils of the party.
To avoid meeting the savages again, Mr. Stuart changed his route
farther to the north, leaving Bear River, and following a large branch
of that stream which came down from the mountains. After marching
twenty-five miles from the scene of their meeting with the Crows,
they camped, and that night hobbled all their animals. They preserved
a strict guard, and every man slept with his rifle on his arm,
as they suspected the savages might attempt to stampede their horses.
Next day their course continued northward, and soon their trail began
to ascend the hills, from the top of which they had an extended view
of the surrounding country. Not the sign of an Indian was to be seen,
but they did not feel secure and kept a very vigilant watch upon
every ravine and defile as they approached it. Making twenty-one
miles that day, they encamped on the bank of another stream still
running north. While there an alarm of Indians was given, and
instantly every man was on his feet with rifle ready to sell his life
only at the greatest cost. Indians there were, but they proved to be
three miserable Snakes, who were no sooner informed that a band of
Crows were in the neighbourhood, than they ran off in great trepidation.
Six days afterward they encamped on the margin of Mud River, nearly
a hundred and fifty miles from where they had met the impudent Crows.
Now the party began to believe themselves beyond the possibility of
any further trouble from them, and foolishly relaxed their usual
vigilance. The next morning they were up at the first streak of day,
and began to prepare their breakfast, when suddenly the cry of
“Indians! Indians! to arms! to arms!” sounded through the camp.
In a few moments a mounted Crow came riding past the camp, holding
in his hand a red flag, which he waved in a furious manner, as he
halted on the top of a small divide. Immediately a most diabolical
yell broke forth from the opposite side of the camp where the horses
were picketed, and a band of paint-bedaubed savages came rushing to
where they were feeding. In a moment the animals took fright and
dashed towards the flag-bearer, who vigorously kicked the flanks of
his pony, and loped off, followed by the stampeded animals which
were hurried on by the increasing yells of the retreating savages.
When the alarm was first given, Mr. Stuart's men seized their rifles
and tried to cut off the Indians who were after their horses, but
their attention was suddenly attracted by the yells in the opposite
direction. The savages, as they supposed, intended to make a raid
on their camp equipage, and they all turned to save it. But when
the horses had been secured the reserve party of savages dashed by
the camp, whooping and yelling in triumph, and the very last one of
them was the gigantic chief who had tried to joke with Mr. Stuart.
As he passed the latter, he checked up his animal, raised himself
in the saddle, shouted some insults, and rode on.
The rifle of one of the men, Ben Jones, was instantly levelled at
the chief, and he was just about to pull the trigger, when Mr. Stuart
exclaimed, “Not for your life! not for your life, you will bring
destruction upon us all!”
It was a difficult matter to restrain Ben, when the target could be
so easily pierced, and he begged, “Oh, Mr. Stuart, only let me have
one crack at the infernal rascal, and you may keep all the pay that
is due me.”
“By heavens, if you fire, I will blow your brains out!” exclaimed
By that time the chief was far beyond rifle range, and the whole
daring band of savages, with all the horses, were passing out of sight
over the hills, their red flag still waving and the valley echoing
to their yells and demoniacal laughter.
The unhorsed travellers were dismayed at the situation in which they
found themselves. A long journey was still before them, over rocky
mountains and wind-swept plains, which they must now painfully
traverse on foot, carrying on their backs everything necessary for
They selected from their camp equipage such articles as were absolutely
necessary for their journey, and those things which they could not
carry were cached. It required a whole day to make ready for their
wearisome march. Next morning they were up at the break of day.
They had set a beaver-trap in the river the night before, and rejoiced
to find that they had caught one of the animals, which served as a
meal for the whole party.
On his way back with the prize, the man who had gone for it, casually
looking up at a cliff several hundred feet high, saw what he thought
were a couple of wolves looking down upon him. Paying no attention
to them, he walked on toward camp, when happening to look back,
he still saw the watchful eyes peering over the edge of the precipice.
It now flashed upon him that they might not be wolves at all, but
On reaching camp he called the attention of Stuart and his companions
to what he had observed, and at first they too entertained the idea
that they were wolves, but soon satisfied themselves that they
were savages. If their surmises were true, the party was satisfied
that the whereabouts of their caches were known, and determined that
their contents should not fall into the hands of the savages.
So they were opened, and everything the men could not carry away
was either burned or thrown into the river.
On account of this delay they were not able to leave the place until
about ten o'clock. They marched along the bank of the river, and
made but eighteen miles in two days, when they were obliged to stop
and build two rafts with which to cross the stream. Discovering that
their rafts were very strong and able to withstand the roughness of
the current, instead of crossing, they floated on down the river.
For three days they kept on, staying only to camp on land at night.
On the evening of the third day, as they approached a little island,
much to their joy they discovered a herd of elk. A hunter who was
put on shore wounded one, which immediately took to the water, but
being too weak to stem the current it was overtaken and drawn ashore.
As a storm was brewing, they camped on the bank where they had
drawn up the elk. They remained there all the next day, protecting
themselves as best they could from the rain, hail, and snow, which
fell heavily. Now they employed themselves by drying a part of the
meat they had secured; and when cutting up the carcass of the animal,
they discovered it had been shot at by hunters not more than a week
previously, as an arrow-head and a musket-ball were still in the
wounds. Under other circumstances such a matter would have been
regarded as trivial, but as they knew the Snake Indians had no guns,
the presence of the bullet indicated that the elk could not have been
wounded by one of them. They were aware that they were on the edge
of the Blackfeet country, and as these savages were supplied with
firearms, it was surmised that some of that hostile tribe must have
been lately in the neighbourhood. This idea ended the peace of mind
they had enjoyed while they were floating down the river.
For three more days they stuck to their rafts and drifted slowly down
the stream, until they had reached a point which in their judgment
was about a hundred miles from where they embarked.
The lofty mountains having now dwindled to mere hills, they landed
and prepared to continue their journey on foot. They spent a day
making moccasins, packing their meat in bundles of twenty pounds
for each man to carry, then leaving the river they marched toward
the northeast. It was a slow, wearisome tramp, as a part of the way
lay through the bottoms covered with cottonwood and willows, and
over rough hills and rocky prairies. Some antelope came within
rifle range, but they dared not fire, fearing the report would
betray them to the Blackfeet.
That day they came upon the trail of a horse, and in the evening
halted on the bank of a small stream which had evidently been an
Indian camping-place about three weeks ago.
In the morning when ready to leave, they again saw the Indian trail,
which after a while separated in every direction, showing that the
band had broken up into small hunting-parties. In all probability
the savages were still somewhere in the vicinity, so it behooved the
white men to move with the greatest caution. The utmost vigilance
was exercised, but not a sign was seen, and at night they camped
in a deep ravine which concealed them from the level of the
The next morning at daylight the march was resumed, but before they
came out of the ravine on to the level prairie a council was held
as to the best course to pursue. It was deemed prudent to make
a bee-line across the mountains, over which the trail would be
very rugged and difficult, but more secure. One of the party named
M'Lellan, a bull-headed, impatient Scotchman, who had been rendered
more so by the condition of his feet which were terribly swollen
and sore, swore he had rather face all the Blackfeet in the country
than attempt the tedious journey over the mountains. As the others
did not agree with his opinion, they all began to climb the hills,
the younger men trying to see who would reach the top of the divide
first. M'Lellan, who was double the age of some of his companions,
began to fall in the rear for want of breath. It was his turn that
day to carry the old beaver-trap, and finding himself so far behind
the others, he suddenly stopped and declared he would carry it no
farther, at the same time throwing it as far down the hill as he
could. He was then offered a package of dried meat in its place,
but this in his rage he threw upon the ground, asserting that those
might carry it who wanted it; he could secure all the food he wanted
with his rifle. Then turning off from the party he walked along
the base of the mountain, letting those, he said, climb rocks who
were afraid to face Indians. Mr. Stuart and all his companions
attempted to impress him with the rashness of his conduct, but
M'Lellan was deaf to every remonstrance and kept on the way he had
determined to go.
As they felt they were now in a dangerous neighbourhood, and did not
dare to fire a rifle, they were compelled to depend upon the old
beaver-trap for their subsistence. The stream on which they were
encamped was filled with beaver sign, and the redoubtable Ben Jones
set out at daybreak with the hope of catching one of the sleek fur
animals. While making his way through a bunch of willows he heard
a crashing sound to his right, and looking in that direction, saw
a huge grizzly bear coming toward him with a terrible snort.
The Kentuckian was afraid of neither man nor beast, and drawing up
his rifle, let fly. The bear was wounded, but instead of rushing
upon his foe as is usually the case with a wounded grizzly, he ran
back into the thicket and thus escaped.
They were compelled to remain some days at this camp, and as the
beaver-trap failed to supply them with food, it became absolutely
necessary to take the chances of discovery by the Indians, in order
to live, and Ben Jones was permitted to make a tour with his rifle
some distance from the camp, defying both bears and Blackfeet.
He had not been absent more than two hours when he came upon a herd
of elk and killed five of them. When he reported his good news,
the party immediately moved their camp to the carcasses, about
six miles distant.
After marching a few days more, hunger again returned, the keenest
of their sufferings. The small amount of bear and elk meat which
they had been able to carry in addition to their other equipage
lasted but a short time, and in their anxiety to get ahead they had
little time to hunt. As scarcely any game crossed their trail,
they lived for three days upon nothing but a small duck and a few
miserable fish. They saw numbers of antelope, but they were very
wild and they succeeded in killing only one. It was poor in flesh
and very small, but they lived on it for several days.
After a while they came across the trail of the obstinate M'Lellan,
who was still ahead of them, and had encamped the night before on
the very stream where they now were. They saw the embers of the fire
by which he had slept, and remains of a wolf of which he had eaten.
He had evidently fared better than themselves at this encampment,
for they had not a mouthful to eat. The next day, about noon,
they arrived at the prairies where the headwaters of the stream
appeared to form, and where they expected to find buffalo in abundance.
Not even a superannuated bull was to be seen; the whole region was
deserted. They kept on for several miles farther, following the
bank of the stream and eagerly looking for beaver sign. Upon finding
some they camped, and Ben Jones set his trap. They were hardly
settled in camp when they perceived a large column of smoke rising
in the clear air some distance to the southwest. They regarded it
joyously, for they hoped it might be an Indian camp where they could
get something to eat, as their pangs of hunger had now overcome
their dread of the terrible Blackfeet.
Le Clerc, one of the Canadians, was instantly despatched by Mr. Stuart
to reconnoitre; and the travellers sat up till a late hour, watching
and listening for his return, hoping he might bring them food.
Midnight arrived, but Le Clerc did not make his appearance, and they
lay down once more supperless to sleep, hoping that their old
beaver-trap might furnish them with a breakfast.
At daybreak they hastened, eager and famishing, to the trap, but
found in it only the forepaw of a beaver, the sight of which
tantalized their hunger and added to their dejection. They resumed
their journey with flagging spirits, but had not gone far when they
perceived Le Clerc approaching at a distance. They hastened to meet
him, in hope of tidings of good cheer. He had nothing to give them
but news of that strange wanderer, M'Lellan. The smoke had arisen
from his encampment which took fire while he was fishing at some
little distance from it. Le Clerc found him in a forlorn condition.
His fishing had been unsuccessful, and during twelve days that he had
been wandering alone through the savage mountains he had found
scarcely anything to eat. He had been ill, sick at heart, and still
had pressed forward; but now his strength and his stubbornness
were exhausted. He expressed his satisfaction that Mr. Stuart and
his party were near, and said he would wait at his camp for their
arrival, hoping they would give him something to eat, for without
food he declared he should not be able to go much farther.
When the party reached the place they found the poor fellow lying
on a bunch of withered grass, wasted to a skeleton, and so feeble
that he could scarcely raise his head or speak. The presence of his
old comrades seemed to revive him; but they had no food to give him,
for they themselves were almost starving. They urged him to rise
and accompany them, but he shook his head. It was all in vain,
he said; there was no prospect of their getting speedy relief,
and without it he would perish by the way; he might as well,
therefore, stay and die where he was. At length, after much
persuasion, they got him upon his legs; his rifle and other effects
were shared among them, and he was cheered and aided forward.
In this way they proceeded for seventeen miles, over a level plain
of sand, until, seeing a few antelopes in the distance, they camped
on the margin of a small stream. All now, that were capable of
the exertion, turned out to hunt for a meal. Their efforts were
fruitless, and after dark they returned to their camp famished
almost to desperation.
As they were preparing for the third time to lie down to sleep without
a mouthful of food, Le Clerc, one of the Canadians, gaunt and wild
with hunger, approached Mr. Stuart with his gun in his hand. It was
all in vain, he said, to attempt to proceed any farther without food.
They had a barren plain before them, three or four days' journey in
extent, on which nothing was to be procured. They must all perish
before they could get to the end of it. It was better, therefore,
that one should die to save the rest. He proposed, therefore, that
they should cast lots, adding, as an inducement for Mr. Stuart to
assent to the proposition, that he, as leader of the party, should be
Mr. Stuart shuddered at the horrible proposition, and endeavoured to
reason with the man, but his words were unavailing. At length,
snatching up his rifle, he threatened to shoot him on the spot
if he persisted. The famished wretch dropped on his knees, begged
pardon in the most abject terms, and promised never again to offend
him with such a suggestion.
Quiet being restored to the forlorn encampment, each one sought repose.
Mr. Stuart, however, was so exhausted by the agitation of the past
scene, acting upon his emaciated frame, that he could scarcely crawl
to his miserable bed, where, notwithstanding his fatigues, he passed
a sleepless night, reflecting upon their dreary situation and the
desperate prospect before them.
At daylight the next morning they were up and on their way; they had
nothing to detain them, no breakfast to prepare, and to linger was
to perish. They proceeded, however, but slowly, for all were faint
and weak. Here and there they passed the skulls and bones of buffaloes.
This showed that these animals must have been hunted there during the
past season, and the sight of the bones served only to mock their
misery. After travelling about nine miles along the plain, they
ascended a range of hills, and had scarcely gone two miles farther,
when, to their great joy, they discovered a superannuated buffalo bull
which had been driven from some herd and had been hunted and harassed
through the mountains. They all stretched themselves out to encompass
and make sure of this solitary animal, for their lives depended on
their success. After considerable trouble and infinite anxiety,
they at length succeeded in killing him. He was instantly flayed and
cut up, and so ravenous were they that they devoured some of the
When they had rested they proceeded, and after crossing a mountain
ridge, and traversing a plain, they waded one of the branches of
the Spanish River. On ascending its bank, they met about a hundred
and thirty Indians of the Snake tribe. They were friendly in their
demeanour, and conducted the starving trappers to their village,
which was about three miles distant. It consisted of about forty
lodges, constructed principally of pine branches. The Snakes,
like most of their nation, were very poor. The marauding Crows,
in their late excursion through the country, had picked this unlucky
band to the bone, carrying off their horses, several of their squaws,
and most of their effects. In spite of their poverty, they were
hospitable in the extreme, and made the hungry strangers welcome to
their cabins. A few trinkets procured from them a supply of buffalo
meat, together with leather for moccasins, of which the party were
greatly in need. The most valuable prize obtained from them,
however, was a horse. It was a sorry old animal in truth, and it
was the only one which remained to the poor fellows, after the fell
swoop of the Crows. They were prevailed upon to part with it to
their guests for a pistol, an axe, a knife, and a few other trifling
By sunrise on the following morning, the travellers had loaded their
old horse with buffalo meat, sufficient for five days' provisions,
and, taking leave of their poor but hospitable friends, set forth
in somewhat better spirits, though the increasing cold weather and
the sight of the snowy mountains which they had yet to traverse were
enough to chill their very hearts. The country along the branch of
the river as far as they could see was perfectly level, bounded by
ranges of lofty mountains, both east and west. They proceeded about
three miles south, where they came again upon the large trail of the
Crow Indians, which they had crossed four days previously. It was
made, no doubt, by the same marauding band which had plundered the
Snakes; and which, according to the account of the latter, was now
camped on a stream to the eastward. The trail kept on to the southeast,
and was so well beaten by horse and foot that they supposed at least
a hundred lodges had passed along it. As it formed, therefore,
a convenient highway, and ran in a proper direction, they turned
into it, and determined to keep it as long as safety would permit,
as the Crow encampment must be some distance off, and it was not
likely those savages would return upon their steps. They travelled
forward, all that day, in the track of their dangerous predecessors,
which led them across mountain streams, and along ridges, through
narrow valleys, all tending generally to the southeast. The wind
blew cold from the northeast, with occasional flurries of snow,
which made them camp early, on the sheltered banks of a brook.
In the evening the two Canadians, Vallee and Le Clerc, killed a
young buffalo bull which was in good condition and afforded them an
excellent supply of fresh beef. They loaded their spits, therefore,
and filled their camp kettle with meat, and while the wind whistled
and the snow whirled around them, they huddled round a rousing fire,
basked in its warmth, and comforted both soul and body with a hearty
and invigorating meal. No enjoyments have greater zest than these,
snatched in the very midst of difficulty and danger; and it is
probable the poor wayworn and weather-beaten travellers relished
these creature comforts the more highly on account of the surrounding
desolation and the dangerous proximity of the Crows.
The snow which had fallen in the night made it late in the morning
before the party loaded their solitary packhorse, and resumed their
march. They had not gone far before the trail of the Crows, which
they were following, changed its direction, and bore to the north
of east. They had already begun to feel themselves on dangerous
ground, in travelling it, as they might be descried by scouts or spies
of that race of Ishmaelites, whose predatory life required them to
be constantly on the alert. On seeing the trail turn so much to
the north, therefore, they abandoned it, and kept on their course
to the southeast for eighteen miles, through a beautiful undulating
country, having the main chain of mountains on the left, and a
considerable elevated ridge on the right.
That evening they encamped on the banks of a small stream, in the
open prairie. The northeast wind was keen and cutting, and as they
had nothing but a scanty growth of sage-brush wherewith to make a fire,
they wrapped themselves in their blankets at an early hour. In the
course of the evening M'Lellan, who had now regained his strength,
killed a buffalo, but it was some distance from the camp, and they
postponed supplying themselves from its carcass until morning.
The next day the cold continued, accompanied by snow. They set
forward on their bleak and toilsome way, keeping to the northeast,
toward the lofty summit of a mountain which it was necessary for them
to cross. Before they reached its base they passed another large
trail, a little to the right of a point of the mountain. This they
supposed to have been made by another band of Crows.
The severity of the weather compelled them to encamp at the end of
fifteen miles on the skirts of the mountain, where they found
sufficient dry aspen trees to supply them with fire, but they sought
in vain about the neighbourhood for a spring or rill of water.
The next day, on arriving at the foot of the mountain, the travellers
found water oozing out of the earth, and resembling, in look and taste,
that of the Missouri. Here they encamped for the night, and supped
sumptuously upon their mountain mutton, which they found in good
For two days they kept on in an eastwardly direction, against wintry
blasts and occasional storms. They suffered, also, from scarcity
of water, having frequently to use melted snow; this, with the want
of pasturage, reduced their old packhorse sadly. They saw many tracks
of buffalo, and some few bulls, which, however, got the wind of them
and scampered off.
On the 26th of October, they changed their course to the northeast,
toward a wooded ravine in a mountain. At a small distance from its
base, to their great joy, they discovered an abundant stream,
running between willowed banks. Here they halted for the night.
Ben Jones having luckily trapped a beaver and killed two buffalo bulls,
they remained there the next day, feasting, reposing, and allowing
their jaded horse to rest from his labours.
Pursuing the course of this stream for about twenty miles, they came
to where it forced a passage through a range of hills, covered with
cedars, into an extensive low country, affording excellent pasturage
to numerous herds of buffalo. Here they killed three cows, which
were the first they had been able to get, having heretofore had to
content themselves with bull-beef, which at this season of the year
is very poor. The hump meat and tongues afforded them a repast fit
for an epicure.
It was now late in the season and they were convinced it would be
suicidal to continue their journey on foot, as still many hundred
miles lay before them to the Missouri River. The absorbing question
now was where to choose a suitable wintering place; they happened
the next day to come upon a bend of the river which appeared to be
just the spot they were seeking. Here was a beautiful low point
of land, covered by cottonwood, and surrounded by a thick growth
of willow, which yielded both shelter and fuel, as well as material
for building. The river swept by in a strong current about a hundred
and fifty yards wide. To the southeast were mountains of moderate
height, the nearest about two miles off, but the whole chain ranging
to the east, south, and southwest, as far as the eye could reach.
Their summits were crowned with extensive tracts of pitch-pine,
checkered with small patches of the quivering aspen. Lower down
were thick forests of firs and red cedars, growing out in many places
from the very fissures of the rocks. The mountains were broken and
precipitous, with huge bluffs protruding from among the forests.
Their rocky recesses and beetling cliffs afforded retreats to
innumerable flocks of the bighorn, while their woody summits and
ravines abounded with bears and black-tailed deer. These, with the
numerous herds of buffalo that ranged the lower grounds along the
river, promised the travellers abundant cheer in their winter quarters.
On the 2d of November, they pitched their camp for the winter on
the woody point, and their first thought was to obtain a supply of
provisions. Ben Jones and the two Canadians accordingly sallied forth,
accompanied by two other members of the party, leaving but one to watch
the camp. Their hunting was uncommonly successful. In the course of
two days they killed thirty-two buffaloes, and collected their meat
on the margin of a small brook, about a mile distant. Fortunately
the river was frozen over, so that the meat was easily transported
to the encampment. On a succeeding day a herd of buffalo came
trampling through the woody bottom on the river banks, and fifteen
more were killed.
It was soon discovered, however, that there was game of a more
dangerous nature in their neighbourhood. On one occasion Mr. Crooks
wandered about a mile from camp, and had ascended a small hill
commanding a view of the river; he was without his rifle, a rare
circumstance, for in these wild regions, where one may at any moment
meet a wild animal or a hostile Indian, it is customary never to stir
out from the camp unarmed. The hill where he stood overlooked the
spot where the killing of the buffalo had taken place. As he was
gazing around, his eye was caught by an object below, moving directly
toward him. To his dismay he discovered it to be a she grizzly
with two cubs. There was no tree at hand into which he could climb,
and to run would only be to invite pursuit, as he would soon be
overtaken. He threw himself on the ground, therefore, and lay
motionless, watching the movements of the animal with intense anxiety.
It continued to advance until at the foot of the hill, where it turned,
and made into the woods, having probably gorged itself with buffalo
flesh. Mr. Crooks made all possible haste back to camp, rejoicing at
his escape, and determined never to stir out again without his rifle.
A few days afterwards a grizzly bear was shot at a short distance
from camp by Mr. Miller.
As the slaughter of so many buffaloes had provided the party with
beef for the winter, even if they met with no further supply, they now
set to work with heart and hand to build a comfortable shelter.
In a little while the woody promontory rang with the unwonted sound
of the axe. Some of its lofty trees were laid low, and by the second
evening the cabin was complete. It was eight feet wide, and eighteen
feet long. The walls were six feet high, and the whole was covered
with buffalo-skins. The fireplace was in the centre, and the smoke
found its way out by a hole in the roof.
The hunters were next sent out to procure deerskins for garments,
moccasins, and other purposes. They made the mountains echo with
their rifles, and, in the course of two days' hunting, killed
twenty-eight bighorn and black-tailed deer.
The party now revelled in abundance. After all they had suffered
from hunger, cold, fatigue, and watchfulness; after all their perils
from treacherous and savage men, they exulted in the snugness and
security of their isolated cabin, hidden, as they thought, even from
the prying eyes of Indian scouts, and stored with creature comforts.
They looked forward to a winter of peace and quietness; of roasting,
broiling, and boiling, feasting upon venison, mountain mutton,
bear's meat, marrow-bones, buffalo humps, and other hunters' dainties;
of dozing and reposing around their fire, gossiping over past dangers
and adventures, telling long hunting stories—until spring should
return; when they would make canoes of buffalo-skins, and float down
From such halcyon dreams they were startled one morning, at daybreak,
by a savage yell, and jumped for their rifles. The yell was repeated
by two or three voices. Cautiously peeping out, they beheld, to their
dismay, several Indian warriors among the trees, all armed and
painted in warlike style, evidently bent on some hostile purpose.
Miller changed countenance as he regarded them. “We are in trouble,”
said he, “these are some of the rascally Arapahoes that robbed me
last year.” Not a word was uttered by the rest of the party;
they silently slung their powder-horns, ball-pouches, and prepared
themselves for battle. M'Lellan, who had taken his gun to pieces
the evening before, put it together in all haste. He proposed that
they should break out the clay from between the logs, so as to be able
to fire upon the enemy.
“Not yet,” replied Stuart; “it will not do to show fear or distrust;
we must first hold a parley. Some one must go out and meet them as
Who was to undertake the task? It was full of peril, as the envoy
might be shot down at the threshold.
“The leader of a party,” said Miller, “always takes the advance.”
“Good!” replied Stuart; “I am ready.” He immediately went forth;
one of the Canadians followed him; the rest of the party remained
in garrison, to keep the savages in check.
Stuart advanced, holding his rifle in one hand and extending the other
to the savage who appeared to be the chief. The latter stepped forward
and took it; his men followed his example, and all shook hands with
Stuart, in token of friendship. They now explained their errand.
They were a war-party of Arapahoe braves. Their village lay on a
stream several days' journey to the eastward. It had been attacked
and ravaged during their absence by a band of Crows, who had carried off
several of their women and most of their horses. They were in quest
of vengeance. For sixteen days they had been tracking the Crows
about the mountains, but had not yet come upon them. In the meantime
they had met with scarcely any game, and were half famished.
About two days previously they had heard the report of firearms
among the mountains, and on searching in the direction of the sound,
had come to a place where a deer had been killed. They had followed
the trail and it had brought them to the cabin.
Mr. Stuart now invited the chief and another, who appeared to be his
lieutenant, into the cabin, but made signs that no one else was
to enter. The rest halted at the door and others came straggling up,
until the whole party, to the number of twenty-three, were gathered
in front. They were armed with bows and arrows, tomahawks,
scalping-knives, and a few had guns. All were painted and dressed
for war, having a savage and fierce appearance. Mr. Miller recognized
among them some of the very fellows who had robbed him the preceding
year, and put his comrades on their guard. Every man stood ready
to resist the first act of hostility, but the savages conducted
themselves peaceably, and showed none of that swaggering arrogance
which a war-party is apt to assume.
On entering the cabin, the chief and his lieutenant cast a wistful
look at the rafters, hung with venison and buffalo meat. Mr. Stuart
made a merit of necessity, and invited them to help themselves.
They did not wait to be pressed. The beams were soon eased of their
burden; venison and beef were passed out to the crew before the door,
and a scene of gormandizing commenced which few can imagine who have
not witnessed the gastronomical powers of an Indian after an interval
of fasting. This was kept up throughout the day; they paused now and
then, it is true, for a brief interval, but only to renew the charge
with fresh ardour. The chief and the lieutenant surpassed all the
rest in the vigour and perseverance of their attacks; as if, from
their station, they were bound to signalize themselves in all
onslaughts. Mr. Stuart kept them well supplied with choice bits,
for it was his policy to overfeed them, and keep them from leaving
the cabin, where they served as hostages for the good conduct of their
followers. Once only in the course of the day did the chief sally
forth. Mr. Stuart and one of the men accompanied him, armed with
their rifles, but without betraying any distrust. He soon returned,
and renewed his attack upon the larder. In a word, he and his worthy
coadjutor, the lieutenant, ate until they were both stupefied.
Toward evening the Indians made their preparations for the night
according to the practice of war-parties. Those outside of the cabin
threw up two breastworks, into which they retired at a tolerably
early hour, and slept like overfed hounds. As to the chief and his
lieutenant, they slept inside, and in the course of the night they
got up two or three times to eat. The travellers took turns, one at
a time, to mount guard until morning. Scarcely had the day dawned
when the gormandizing was renewed by the whole band, and carried on
with surprising vigour until ten o'clock, when all prepared to depart.
They had still six days' journey to make, they said, before they could
come up with the Crows, who, they understood, were encamped on a river
to the north. Their way lay through a hungry country where there
was no game; they would, moreover, have but little time to hunt;
they therefore craved a small supply of provisions for the journey.
Mr. Stuart again, invited them to help themselves. They did so with
keen forethought, taking the choicest parts of the meat, and leaving
the late plenteous larder almost bare. Their next request was for
a supply of ammunition. They had guns, but no powder and ball.
They promised to pay magnificently out of the spoils of their foray.
“We are poor now,” said they, “and are obliged to go on foot, but we
shall soon come back laden with booty, and all mounted on horseback,
with scalps hanging at our bridles. We will then give each of you
a horse to keep you from being tired on your journey.”
“Well,” said Mr. Stuart, “when you bring the horses, you shall have
the ammunition, but not before.” The Indians saw by his determined
tone that all further entreaty would be unavailing, so they desisted,
with a good-humoured laugh, and went off exceedingly well freighted,
both within and without, promising to be back again in the course of
No sooner were they out of hearing than the luckless travellers held
another council. The security of their cabin was at an end, and
with it all their dreams of a quiet and cosey winter. They were
between two fires. On one side were their old enemies, the Crows;
on the other side, the Arapahoes, no less dangerous freebooters.
As to the moderation of this war-party, they considered it assumed,
to put them off their guard against some more favourable opportunity
for a surprisal. It was determined, therefore, not to await their
return, but to abandon with all speed this dangerous neighbourhood.
The interval of comfort and repose which the party had enjoyed in
their cabin rendered the renewal of their fatigues intolerable for
the first two or three days. The snow lay deep, and was slightly
frozen on the surface, but not sufficiently to bear their weight.
Their feet became sore by breaking through the crust, and their limbs
weary by floundering on without a firm foothold. So exhausted and
dispirited were they, that they began to think it would be better
to remain and run the risk of being killed by the Indians, than to
drag on thus painfully, with the probability of perishing by the way.
Their miserable horse fared no better than themselves, having for the
first day or two no other forage than the ends of willow twigs, and
the bark of the cottonwood tree.
They all, however, appeared to gain patience and hardihood as they
proceeded, and for fourteen days kept steadily on, making a distance
of about three hundred miles.
During the last three days of their fortnight's travel, however,
the face of the country changed. The timber gradually diminished,
until they could scarcely find fuel sufficient for culinary purposes.
The game grew more and more scanty, and finally none was to be seen
but a few miserable broken-down buffalo bulls, not worth killing.
The snow lay fifteen inches deep, and made the travelling grievously
painful and toilsome. At length they came to an immense plain,
where no vestige of timber was to be seen, not a single quadruped
to enliven the desolate landscape. Here, then, their hearts failed
them, and they held another consultation. The width of the river,
which was nearly a mile, its extreme shallowness, the frequency of
quicksands, and various other characteristics, had at length made
them sensible of their errors with respect to it, and they now came
to the correct conclusion that they were on the banks of the Platte.
What were they to do? Pursue its course to the Missouri? To go on
at this season of the year seemed dangerous in the extreme.
There was no prospect of obtaining either food or fuel. The country
was destitute of trees, and though there might be driftwood along
the river, it lay too deep beneath the snow for them to find it.
The weather was threatening a change, and a snow-storm on these
boundless wastes might prove as fatal as a whirlwind of sand on an
Arabian desert. After much deliberation, it was at length determined
to retrace their last three days' journey of seventy-seven miles,
to a place where they had seen a sheltering growth of forest-trees,
and where there was an abundance of game. Here they would once more
set up their winter quarters, and await the opening of navigation
to launch themselves in canoes.
Accordingly, on the 27th of December they faced about, retraced their
steps, and on the 30th regained the part of the river in question.
They encamped on the margin of the river, in a grove where there were
trees large enough for canoes. Here they put up a shed for immediate
shelter, and at once proceeded to erect a cabin. New Year's Day
dawned when but one wall of their cabin was completed; the genial and
jovial day, however, was not permitted to pass uncelebrated, even by
this weather-beaten crew of wanderers. All work was suspended, except
that of roasting and boiling. The choicest of the buffalo meat, with
tongues, humps, and marrow-bones, were devoured in quantities that
would have astonished any one who has not lived among hunters and
Indians. As an extra regale, having nothing to smoke, they cut up an
old tobacco pouch, still redolent with the potent herb, and smoked it
in honour of the day. Thus for a time, in present revelry, however
uncouth, they forgot all past troubles and anxieties about the future,
and their forlorn shelter echoed with the sound of gayety.
The next day they resumed their labours, and by the sixth of the month
the cabin was complete. They soon killed abundance of buffalo, and
again laid in a stock of winter provisions.
The party was more fortunate in this its second cantonment.
The winter passed away without any Indian visitors; and the game
continued to be plentiful in the neighbourhood. They felled two large
trees, and shaped them into canoes, and, as the spring opened, and
a thaw of several days melted the ice in the river, they made every
preparation for embarking. On the 8th of March they launched forth
in their canoes, but soon found that the river had not depth sufficient
even for such slender barks. It expanded into a wide, but extremely
shallow stream, with many sandbars, and occasionally various channels.
They got one of their canoes a few miles down it, with extreme
difficulty, sometimes wading, and dragging it over the shoals. At last
they had to abandon the attempt, and to resume their journey on foot,
aided by their faithful old packhorse, which had recruited strength
during the winter.
The weather delayed them for several days, having suddenly become more
rigorous than it had been at any time during the winter; but on the
20th of March they were again on their journey.
In two days they arrived at the vast naked prairie, the wintry aspect
of which had caused them in December to pause and turn back. It was
now clothed with the early verdure of spring, and plentifully stocked
with game. Still, when obliged to bivouac on its bare surface,
without any covering, by a scanty fire of buffalo-chips, they found
the night-blasts piercingly cold. On one occasion a herd of buffalo
having strayed near their evening camp, they killed three of them
merely for their hides, wherewith to make a shelter for the night.
They journeyed on for about a hundred miles, and the first landmark
by which they were able to conjecture their position with any degree
of confidence was an island about seventy miles in length, which they
presumed to be Le Grande Isle. They now knew that they were not
a very great distance from the Missouri River, if their presumption
was correct. They went on, therefore, with renewed hope, and on the
evening of the third day met an Otoe Indian, who informed them they
were but a short distance from the Missouri. He also told them of the
war that had been progressing between the United States and England.
This was news to them indeed, for during that whole period they had
been beyond the possibility of learning anything of civilized affairs.
The Indian conducted them to his village, where they were delighted
to meet two white trappers recently arrived from St. Louis. A bargain
was now made with one of them, who agreed to furnish them with a canoe
and provisions for the voyage, in exchange for their venerable
traveller, the old horse. In a few days they started and arrived at
Fort Osage, where they were again received hospitably by the officers
of the garrison, and where they enjoyed that luxury, bread, which
they had not tasted for over a year. Reëmbarking, they arrived
in St. Louis on the 30th of April, without experiencing any further
adventure worthy of note.
THE OLD TRAPPERS.
On the return of Lewis and Clarke's expedition from the Rocky Mountains
where they had wintered with the Mandans, a celebrated chief of that
tribe, Big White, was induced to accompany Captain Lewis to Washington
in order that he might see the President, and learn something of the
power of the people of the country far to the East.
The Mandans at that time were at war with the Sioux, and Big White was
fearful that on his return to his own tribe some of the Sioux might
cut him and his party off, so he hesitated at first to accept the
invitation; but upon Captain Clarke assuring him that the government
would send a guard of armed men to protect and convoy him safely to
his own country, the chief assented, and took with him his wife and son.
In the spring of 1807, Big White set out on his return to the Mandan
country. The promised escort, comprising twenty men under the command
of Captain Ezekiel Williams, a noted frontiersman, left St. Louis to
guard him and to explore the region of the then unknown far West.
Each man of the party carried a rifle, together with powder and lead
to last him for a period of two years. They also took with them six
traps to each person, for it was the intention of the expedition,
after it had seen the brave Mandan safely to his own home, to hunt
for beaver and other fur-bearing animals in the recesses of the vast
region beyond the Missouri.
Pistols, knives, camp kettles, blankets, and other camp equipage
necessary to the success of the expedition and the comfort of the men
were carried on extra packhorses. He did not forget to take gewgaws
and trinkets valued by the savage, as presents to the chiefs of the
several tribes they might chance to meet.
It will be remembered by the student of history that the expedition
of Lewis and Clarke was confined to the Missouri River. They went up
that stream and returned by the same route, and as Lieutenant Pike
started west in 1805, it is claimed that this expedition of Captain
Williams, overland to the Rocky Mountains, was the second ever
undertaken by citizens of the United States. The difficulties which
they expected to encounter, having no knowledge of the country through
which they were to pass, as may be surmised, were numerous and trying.
When leaving the Mandan chief at his village, near the mouth of the
Yellowstone, that excellent Indian gave the party some timely advice,
and it prevented their absolute annihilation on several occasions.
Captain Williams was especially urged to exercise the greatest
vigilance day and night; to pay the strictest attention to the
position of his camps and the picketing of his animals. He was told
that, although the average Indian generally relied upon surprises on
their raids, they were not rash and careless, rarely attacking a party
that was prepared and on the lookout.
Captain Williams was a man of the most persistent perseverance,
patience, and unflinching courage, coupled with that determination of
character which has been the saving attribute of nearly all our famous
mountaineers from the earliest days. His men, too, were all used to
the privations and hardships that a life on the border demands, for
Missouri, at the time of the expedition, was a wilderness in the most
rigid definition of the term. All were splendid shots with the rifle,
and could hit the eye of a squirrel whether the animal stood still or
was running up the trunk of a tree.
The distance they travelled each day averaged about twenty-five miles.
When they were ready to camp, they selected a position where wood and
water were plentiful, and the grass good for their animals. For the
first eight or ten nights they would kindle great fires, around which
they gathered, ate the fat venison their hunters had killed through
the day, and told stories of hunting and logging back in the mighty
forests of Missouri. When they reached the region of the Platte they
were forced to abandon this careless practice, for they were now
entering a region infested by hostile savages, and they found it
necessary to act upon the suggestions of the Mandan chief, and be
constantly on their guard.
For the distance of about two hundred and fifty miles from the
Missouri they did not find game very abundant, although they never
suffered, as there was always enough to supply their wants.
The timber began to thin out too, and they were obliged to resort
for their fire to the bois de vache, or buffalo-chips.
One day, two of the hunters killed a brace of very fat deer close to
camp, and when the animals were dressed and their carcasses hung up
to a huge limb, the viscera and other offal attracted a band of hungry
wolves. Not less than twenty of the impudent, famishing brutes
battened in luxurious frenzy on the inviting entrails and feet of the
slaughtered deer. The wolves were of all sizes and colours; those
that were the largest kept their smaller congeners away from the feast
until they were themselves gorged, and then allowed the little ones to
gather up the fragments. While the latter were waiting their turn
with a constant whining and growling, the dogs of the expedition
barked an accompaniment to the howls of the impatient animals, and
soon made a break for the pack. They chased them around the trees and
out on the open prairie, when they turned upon the dogs and drove them
back to camp. One of the most plucky of the dogs made a bold stand,
but was seized by as many of the wolves as could get hold of him, and
he was torn to shreds almost instantly.
The trappers did not want to waste any lead on the worthless animals,
but in the darkness set some of their beaver-traps, which they baited
with pieces of venison suspended just above them on a projecting limb
of a tree. In the morning, when the trappers went out to look for
their supposed victims, both the meat and the traps were gone.
They had, in their inexperience, forgotten to fasten the traps to
anything, and if any of the wolves were caught, they had walked off,
traps and all!
While all were at breakfast, one of the mortified hunters, disgusted
at the loss of his trap, went off with the intention of tracking the
wolf that had carried it away, thinking perhaps if the animal had got
rid of it he would find it on its trail. Sure enough, a wolf had been
caught by this man's trap, and in dragging it along had left in the
grass a very distinct trail, by which he was easily followed.
He was tracked into a thicket of hazel, entrance to which was almost
impossible, so rank and tangled was its growth. No doubt the wolf
was alive, but how to recover his trap was an enigma to the hunter.
He called the dogs and endeavoured to get them to go in, but, after
their experience of the night before, they, with the most terrible
howls, declined to make the attempt. Then it was observed that near
the clump of hazel was a large oak-tree, from whose limbs an extended
view of the centre of the thicket could be had. One of the hunters,
at the suggestion of Captain Williams, climbed the tree, and shot the
wolf with his rifle. The danger having passed, the wolf was dragged
from his retreat, and it was discovered that one of his forefeet had
been caught in the trap. He was an immense fellow, and nearly black
In the early days of the frontier, the following method was sometimes
employed to rid a camp of wolves. Several fishhooks were tied
together by their shanks, with a sinew, and the whole placed in the
centre of a piece of tempting fresh meat, which was dropped where the
bait was most likely to be found by the prowling beasts. The hooks
were so completely buried in the meat as to prevent their being shaken
off by the animal that seized the bait. It is an old trapper's belief
that a wolf never takes up a piece of food without shaking it well
before he attempts to eat it, so that when the unlucky animal had
swallowed the wicked morsel, he commenced at once to howl most horribly,
tear his neck, and run incontinently from the place. As wolves rarely
travel alone, but are gregarious in their habits, the moment the brute
has swallowed the bait and commenced to run, all make after him.
His fleeing is contagious, and they seldom come back to that spot
again. Sometimes the pack will run for fifty miles before stopping.
One night, while encamped on the Platte, five of their horses were
missing when daylight came. At first they thought the Indians had
run them off; but, on second thought, Captain Williams argued that
the animals could not have been stolen. If the Indians had been able
to take the five, they could as easily have taken the whole herd.
This induced the men to go out and institute a search for the missing
animals. Their trail, made very plain by the dew, was soon found in
the grass, and soon all were returned to camp. The horses had cleared
themselves of their hobbles, and were going off in the direction of
their far-away home, and it was not until dark that the camp was
reached. Thus a whole day was lost, but as they were yet within
comparatively safe distance of the river, no harm resulted from their
carelessness. Now greater caution must be observed, for their journey
was to be a long one; it led through a region occupied by hostile
tribes who would watch them with an energy possible only to the North
American savage. The Indians would waylay them in every ravine,
watch them every moment from the hilltops for the purpose of gaining
an advantage, hoping always to surprise them, steal their horses,
and take their scalps if possible.
From that day the company adopted new tactics; they travelled until
an hour before sundown, then halted, unsaddled their animals, and
picketed them out to graze. In the meantime their supper was prepared,
the fires lighted, and, after resting long enough for their horses to
have filled themselves, generally after dark, they were brought in,
saddled, the fires were renewed, and the company would start on for
another camp eight or ten miles away, before again halting for the
night. Of course, at the new camp no fires were kindled, and the men
rested in security from a possible attack by the savages.
One day the company came upon a band of friendly Kansas Indians who
were out on an annual buffalo-hunt, and Captain Williams resolved to
spend two or three days with this tribe, and indulge in a buffalo-hunt
with them. The whole country through which they were now travelling
was literally covered with the great shaggy monsters; thousands and
thousands could be seen from every point. The buffalo had not yet
been frightened. Early the next morning, a dozen of the Kansas
Indians, splendidly mounted, with spears, bows, and arrows for
weapons, with the same number of Captain Williams' men, started for
the herd grazing so unsuspiciously a few miles off. The Indians were
not only excellent hunters, but very superior horsemen, their animals
familiar with the habits of the huge beasts they were to encounter,
and well-trained in all the quick movements so necessary to a
successful hunt. But it was not so with the men of Captain Williams'
party. Many of them had never seen a buffalo before, and though
skilful hunters in their native woods on the Missouri River, they were
wholly unacquainted with the habits of the immense beasts they were
now to kill. Their horses, too, were as unused to the sight of a
buffalo as their riders, and in consequence were badly frightened
at the first sight of the ungainly animals. The men, of course,
used their rifles, which in those days were altogether too cumbersome
for hunting the buffalo.
The party soon came in view of the herd, which was quietly grazing
about a mile off. Then the men dismounted, cinched up their saddles,
and getting their arms ready for the attack, in a few moments of brisk
riding were on the edge of the vast herd. Every man picked out his
quarry and dashed after it, the Indians selecting the bulls, as they
were fatter at that time of year. The cows had calves at their sides
and were much thinner. In a moment the very earth seemed to tremble
under the sharp clatter of the hoofs of the now thoroughly alarmed
beasts, and the sound as they dashed away was like distant thunder.
The Indians and their horses seemed to understand their business
at once. Advancing up to a buffalo, the savage discharged his bow
and launched his spear with unerring aim, and the moment it was seen
that a buffalo was mortally wounded, off he would ride to another
animal, leaving the dying victim where it fell.
For more than two hours the hard work was kept up until a dozen or
more of the huge bulls were dead upon the prairie within the radius
of a couple of miles. The Indians had averaged more than a buffalo
apiece, while Captain Williams' men had signally failed to bring down
a single bull, because they were unable to handle their rifles while
riding. In fact, several of the white men were carried away by their
unmanageable animals for miles from the scene of the hunt. One was
thrown from his saddle. One horse had in his mad fright rushed upon
an infuriated bull that had been wounded, and was disembowelled and
killed in a moment. Its rider was compelled to walk to the camp,
deeply mortified at his discomfiture.
The savages invariably exercised an amount of coolness on a buffalo-hunt
that would astonish the average white man. They never let an arrow
fly until they were certain of its effect. Sometimes a single arrow
would suffice to kill the largest of bulls. Sometimes, so great was
the force given, an arrow would pass obliquely through the body, when
a bone was not struck in its passage.
Captain Williams' party had now an abundance of delicious buffalo meat,
but it was at the expense of a horse, a considerable balance on the
debtor side, considering the long and weary march yet to be made.
Providence seems to have come luckily to the relief of the party at
this juncture, for, one of the savages having taken a particular
fancy to one of the dogs of the outfit, he offered to exchange a fine
young horse for it. His offer was gladly acceded to by the captain.
The Indian was pleased with the bargain, but not more so than the
The next day Captain Williams crossed the Platte a short distance
below the junction of the North and South Forks, and just before
sundown, as usual, halted to graze the horses and prepare their
evening meal. In a few moments the dog that had been exchanged for
a horse came into camp, and appeared overjoyed to see his white
friends again. A piece of buffalo-hide was attached to his neck.
He had been tied, but had succeeded in gnawing the lariat in two,
and thus made his escape, following the trail of the party he knew
The region through which Captain Williams' party was now travelling
was dotted with the various animals which at that early period were
so numerous on the grand prairies of the Platte. Conspicuous,
of course, were vast herds of buffalo, and near the outer edge of the
nearest could be distinctly seen a pack of hungry wolves, eagerly
watching for a chance to hamstring one of the superannuated bulls
which stood alone, remote from all his companions, in all the misery
of his forlorn abandonment.
In the afternoon, as the party were riding silently along the trail
by the margin of the river, a rumbling, muffled sound was heard,
like the mutterings of thunder below the horizon. One of the Indians
whom Captain Williams had induced to accompany him for some distance
farther into the wilderness, told him that the noise was made by a
stampeded herd of buffalo, and the sound became clearer and more
distinct. He believed the frightened animals were rushing in the
direction of the company, and if his surmises were true, there was
danger in store. For more than an hour the rumbling continued,
sounding louder and louder, until at last a surging, dark-looking
mass of rapidly moving animals was visible on the horizon, seeming to
cover the entire surface of the prairie as far as the eye could see.
There was but one thing to do; either the herd must be divided by some
means, or death to all was inevitable. Accordingly the horses were
hobbled, and the men rushed toward the approaching mass of surging
animals, firing off their rifles as rapidly and shouting as loudly as
they could. Luckily for the hunters, as the vast array of frightened
buffaloes came toward them, the leaders, with bloodshot eyes, stared
for a moment at the new object of terror, divided to the right and
left, passing the now thoroughly alarmed men with only about fifty or
sixty yards between them.
For more than an hour the hard work of yelling and firing off their
rifles had to be kept up before the danger was over. The buffalo
appeared to be more badly frightened at the yells of the Indian
than at anything else that confronted them. One of the beautiful
greyhounds belonging to the company became demoralized, and, running
into the midst of the rushing herd as it passed by, was cruelly
trampled to death in an instant.
In the early days it was generally believed that, when buffalo were
seen stampeding in the manner described, they were being chased by
Indians; and the party, surmising this to be the cause of the present
onward rush of the animals, although getting short of their meat
rations, did not deem it prudent to kill any, so the vast herd of
the coveted animals was allowed to pass by without a shot being fired
The delay caused by the stampede made the party very late in making
their usual afternoon camp, and when they started on their hard march
again, three of the men were detailed to hunt for game. They were
told to join the company at a bunch of timber just visible low down
on the western horizon, apparently about six miles distant, but as
afterward proved it was much farther.
The men who were ordered out by the captain were warned to observe
the strictest vigilance, and particularly not to separate from each
other, as it was evident they were in a dangerous country, and their
safety depended upon their keeping within supporting distance.
The main body of the party arrived at the bunch of timber about
sundown, and partook of a very slight repast, as the meat, upon which
they depended almost entirely, was nearly exhausted. About dark,
however, two of the hunters who had left in the afternoon came into
camp bringing with them a fine deer. They reported that their
companion had left them to get a shot at a herd of elk a mile away,
and while going after the deer which they had killed they lost sight
of him. They also stated that they had seen three horsemen going in
the direction which the missing man had taken. This painful news
created the greatest alarm in the camp; it was too late and dark to
go out in search of their missing comrade, and if he were still alive
he would be compelled to remain entirely unprotected during the night
on the prairie. The captain at first thought of kindling a large fire,
hoping that the lost man would see the light and find his way in.
As this plan would betray the presence of the whole party to any
Indians who might be prowling about, it was wisely abandoned.
So the little camp-fires were extinguished, and a double guard posted,
for it was believed that, if the Indians had killed their comrade,
they would be likely to attack the main camp at dawn, the hour
usually selected for such raids.
The night passed slowly on; nothing disturbed the hunters except their
anxiety for their lost comrade. At the faintest intimation of the
coming dawn, ten of the party, including the two who had been with
the missing man the previous afternoon, set out on their quest for
their lost companion. They first went back to the spot where they
remembered having last seen him, but there was not a sign of him;
not even the track of his horse's hoofs could be seen. The men
fired off their rifles as they rode along, and occasionally called out
his name, but not a sound came back in response. At last they were
rewarded by the sight of a horse standing in a bunch of willows.
As they approached him, they were welcomed by his neighing. They then
halted, and continued their shouting and calling by name, but not an
answer did they get. They were now confirmed in their belief that
their comrade had been killed by the Indians, who were in possession
of his horse, and at that moment hidden in the bunch of willows
before them. They were determined to know positively, so they
approached the spot very cautiously, with their fingers on the
triggers of their rifles, ready to repel an attack. When they had
approached sufficiently near, they saw that the horse was carefully
fastened to the brush, and a short distance away was Carson
lying down with his head resting on the saddle! At first the men
thought him dead, but found out that he was only in a profound sleep,
indeed, really enjoying the most delightful dreams. When they aroused
him he appeared bewildered for a moment, but soon recovered his normal
condition, and related his story to his now happy companions. He said
that in his eagerness to get the elk he lost his bearings, and
wandered about until midnight. He hoped that he might catch a glimpse
of their camp-fire, but failing in that, being tired and hungry,
he laid himself down and tried to sleep; but pondering upon his danger
he lay awake until daylight, and had just dropped into a deep slumber
when they found him, and he slept so soundly that he failed to hear
them call. He said that he saw the Indians on horseback seen by the
other men; they passed by him within a hundred yards, but did not
see him, as he was already hidden in the willows where he was found.
The lost man being found, the party returned to camp and resumed its
journey, exercising renewed caution, as the signs of Indians grew
thicker as they moved on. Tracks of the savages' horses and the
remains of their camp-fires were now of frequent occurrence, and the
game along the trail was easily frightened, another sign of the late
presence of Indians.
About noon some mounted Indians were discovered by the aid of the
captain's field-glass, on a divide, evidently watching the movements
of the party. They were supposed to be runners of some hostile tribe,
who intended that night to steal upon them and take their horses, and
possibly attempt to take their scalps. Toward night the same Indians
were again observed following the trail of the party, and they were
now satisfied the savages were dogging them. Having arrived at the
margin of a small stream of very pure water, they halted for an hour
or more, allowing the Indians, who were evidently watching every
movement, to believe their intention was to camp for the night at
that spot. As soon as the animals were sufficiently rested, however,
and had filled themselves with the nutritious grass growing so
luxuriantly all around them, they saddled up, first having added a
large amount of fresh fuel to their fires, and started on. They made
a detour to the north in order to deceive the savages as much as
possible as to their real course. The ruse had the desired effect,
for after travelling about ten miles farther, they slept soundly until
the next morning, without fires, on a delicious piece of green sod.
At the first streak of dawn the men were in their saddles again,
having outwitted the Indians completely. It was about the first
of June; and one day, soon after they had gotten rid of their savage
spies, one of the party was stricken down with a severe sickness,
and they were compelled to lie in camp and attend to the sufferings
of their unfortunate comrade. He had a high fever, grew delirious,
and as in those days bleeding was considered a panacea for all the
ills that flesh is heir to, the captain made several abortive attempts
to draw the diseased blood from the poor man, but failed completely.
He also dosed his victim with copious draughts of calomel, but the
result was far from salutary; the man grew worse, but the party
determined to remain with him until he did get better or death
relieved him of his sufferings. Accordingly, to make themselves more
secure from probable attacks of the Indians, they threw up a rude
breastwork of earth, behind which they established themselves and
felt thereafter a greater degree of security.
Some of the men were despatched on a hunt for meat, and shortly
returned with part of the carcass of a young buffalo cow, and one
antelope, which was the first they had been able to kill. The man who
killed it said that he resorted to the tactics generally adopted by
the Indians. The timid animal would not allow him to approach within
rifle-shot, until he had excited its curiosity by fastening a
handkerchief on the end of his ramrod. As soon as the antelope saw it,
it gradually walked toward him until so near that he was assured that
his piece would carry that far. It actually came within thirty yards
of him, and he shot it while lying prone on the ground, the graceful
animal noticing nothing but the white rag that had attracted its
On the afternoon of that day a band of savages, mounted on fine horses,
made their appearance near the camp, and looked upon the white men
with great curiosity. It was soon learned that they were Pawnees,
and with some little trouble they were enticed to come in, and a talk
was had with their leader. They proved to be a party out after some
Osages who had stolen a number of horses. They had been lucky enough
to overtake them, and had killed nearly all the thieves, regained
their horses, and had a number of the enemies' scalps. The Pawnees
had met Captain Lewis the year before, and having received some
presents from him were inclined to regard the whites as a friendly
people. This impression the captain further confirmed by himself
making them gifts of some tobacco and trifling trinkets. They were
shown around the camp, and seemed to sympathize deeply with the
sick man, who was lying on his blankets in a dying condition.
They gathered some roots from the prairie, and assured the captain
that if the man would take them he would certainly recover; they also
urged their manner of sweating and bathing, but the appliances were
not at hand, so the advice had to be declined.
That evening the sick man died; an event that was looked for, but
not so soon. His body was immediately wrapped in his blanket and
deposited in a grave. On the bark of a tree standing near, his name,
“William Hamilton,” and the date of his death were rudely carved
with a jack-knife by one of the party.
Early in the morning the occupants of the camp were shocked at the
sight of a pack of wolves most industriously at work on the grave
trying to unearth the body of their unfortunate comrade. All the men
suddenly and almost simultaneously attempted to fire their rifles
at the pack, but were checked by the captain, who urged that the
report of their arms might bring down upon them a band of Indians
who were not so friendly as the Pawnees. With great difficulty the
wolves were driven off, and the grave was covered with heavy logs
and the largest stones that could be procured in the vicinity.
The party then continued on their journey, feeling very sad over
the loss of Hamilton, for he was beloved by all on account of his
In the afternoon a great commotion was noticed far ahead of them
on the prairie. At first they could not determine its cause, but
presently the captain, bringing his glass to bear upon the objects,
discovered it to be a small band of wolves in full chase after a
superannuated buffalo bull, which had been driven out of the herd
by the younger ones.
The frightened animal was coming directly toward the party with the
excited wolves close at his heels. There were twelve wolves, and
evidently they had had a long chase, as both they and the buffalo
were nearly exhausted. The party stopped to witness the novel fight,
a scene so foreign to anything they had witnessed before. The wolves
were close around the buffalo, snapping incessantly at his heels,
in their endeavour to hamstring him. They did not hold on like a dog,
but at every jump at the poor beast they would bring away a mouthful
of his flesh, which they gulped down as they ran. So fierce was the
chase that the famishing wolves did not observe the men until they
came within ten yards of them; even then they did not appear to be
much frightened, but scampered off a short distance, sat on their
haunches, licked their bloody chops, and appeared to be waiting with
the utmost impatience to renew the chase again. The buffalo had
suffered severely, and he was ultimately brought to the ground.
The party left him to his fate, and as they rode away they could see
the ravenous pack, with fresh impetuosity, tearing the poor beast
to pieces with true canine ferocity.
That evening, after the party had fixed their camp for the night,
two young Indians, a man and a squaw, rode up and alighted in the
midst of the company, apparently worn out from hard riding.
Their sudden appearance filled the company with amazement, and the
safety of all demanded an immediate explanation, for they all thought
that the young savage might be a runner or spy of some hostile band,
who were meditating an attack upon them. But they were rather
nonplussed upon seeing the youthful maiden; they could not believe
that their first conjectures were correct, her presence precluded
such a possibility. They had been told by Big White that war-parties
never encumbered themselves with women, and the jaded condition of
the young people's horses to some extent allayed their fears, for it
was evident the Indians had made a long and severe journey.
The captain requested the Indian who had accompanied his party thus far
to interrogate them as to what was their destination, and why they
had come so unceremoniously into the camp. It was soon learned that
the boy was a Pawnee who had been captured by a band of Sioux a year
or more ago, and was carried by them to their village far up the
Missouri, in which he had remained a prisoner until an opportunity
had offered to make his escape. The young girl with him was a Sioux,
for whom he had conceived a liking while among her tribe.
Their story, divested of the crude manner in which it was interpreted
by the Mandan and put into intelligent English, was as follows:—
The boy belonged to the Pawnee Loups, whose tribe lived on the Wolf
Fork of the Platte. One day, in company with several of his young
comrades, he had gone down to the river to indulge in the luxury
of a swim, and while they were amusing themselves in the water,
a raiding band of the Tetons came suddenly upon them, making a
prisoner of him while the others managed to make their escape.
He was instantly snatched up, tied on a horse, and hurried away.
The animal he rode was led by one of the band, and goaded on by
another who followed immediately behind. They travelled night and day
until they reached a point entirely free from the possibility of being
followed, and then he was leisurely conveyed to the main village at
the Great Bend of the Missouri. As their prisoner happened to be the
son of a grand chief of the Pawnees, he was greatly prized as a
captive, and, on that account, was placed in the family of a principal
chief of the Tetons. He was only sixteen years old according to his
statement, but he was already fully five and a half feet high, and one
of the handsomest and best proportioned Indians that Captain Williams
had ever seen.
He said that his name was Do-ran-to, and that it is frequently the
lot of Indian captives, to some extent, to occupy the relation of
servants or slaves to their captors, and to be assigned to those
menial and domestic offices which are never performed by men among
the Indians, but constitute the employment of the women. To be
compelled to fill such a position in the village was very mortifying
to the Indian pride of Do-ran-to, the heir to a chieftainship in his
own tribe; but he became somewhat reconciled to it, as it threw him
in the company of a beautiful daughter of the principal man in the
village, whose name was Ni-ar-gua.
Do-ran-to was never permitted to go to war or to hunt the buffalo,
a mode of life too tame and inactive for one of his restless spirit;
but the compensation was in the frequent opportunities it gave him
of walking and talking with the beautiful Ni-ar-gua, over whose heart
he had soon gained a complete victory.
It would not do, however, for the daughter of a distinguished chief
to be the wife of a captive slave, belonging, too, to a tribe toward
which the Tetons entertained a hereditary hostility. It would be a
flagrant violation of every rule of Indian etiquette. The mother of
the youthful Ni-ar-gua, like her white match-making sisters, soon
noticed the growing familiarity of the two lovers, and she like a good
wife reported the matter to her husband, the chief. The intelligence
was entirely unexpected, and by no means very agreeable to his feeling
of pride, so, after the savage method of disciplining refractory
daughters, Ni-ar-gua was not only roughly reproved for her temerity,
but received a good lodge-poling from her irate father, besides.
He also threatened to shoot an arrow through the heart of Do-ran-to
for his impudent pretensions. The result, however, of the attempt
to break the match, as in similar cases in civilized life, was not
only unsuccessful, but served to increase the flame it was intended
to extinguish, and to strengthen instead of dissolve the attachment
between the two.
If now their partiality for each other was not visible and open,
they were none the less determined to carry out their designs.
When the young Pawnee perceived that there were difficulties in
the way, which would ever be insuperable while he remained a prisoner
among the Tetons, he immediately conceived the idea of eloping to
his own people, and embraced the first opportunity to apprise
Ni-ar-gua of his design. The proposition met with a hearty response
on her part. She was ready to go with him wherever he went, and
to die where he died.
Now there was a young warrior of her own tribe who also desired the
hand of the Teton belle, and he greatly envied the position Do-ran-to
occupied in the eyes of Ni-ar-gua. In fact, he entertained the most
deadly hate toward the Pawnee captive, and suffered no opportunity
to show it to pass unimproved. Do-ran-to was by no means ignorant
of the young warrior's feelings of jealousy and hate, but he felt
his disability as an alien in the tribe, and pursued a course of
forbearance as most likely to ensure the accomplishment of his designs.
Still, there were bounds beyond which his code of honour would not
suffer his enemy to pass. On one occasion, the young brave offered
Do-ran-to the greatest and most intolerable insult which in the
estimation of Western tribes one man can give to another.
The person on whom this indignity is cast, by a law among the tribes,
may take away the life of the offender if he can; but it is customary,
and thought more honourable, to settle the difficulty by single
combat, in which the parties may use the kind of weapons on which
they mutually agree. Public sentiment will admit of no compromise.
If no resistance is offered to the insult, the person insulted is
thenceforth a disgraced wretch, a dog, and universally despised.
Do-ran-to forthwith demanded satisfaction of the young Sioux, who,
by the way, was only too anxious to give it, being full of game and
mettle, as well as sanguine as to the victory he would gain over the
hated young Pawnee. They agreed to settle their difficulty by single
combat, and the weapons to be used were war-clubs and short knives.
A suitable place was selected. The whole village of the Tetons
emptied itself to witness the combat. Men, women, and children
swarmed about the arena. The two youthful combatants made their
appearance, stark naked, and took their positions about thirty yards
apart. Just when the signal was given, Do-ran-to's eye caught that
of his betrothed Ni-ar-gua in the crowd. Then said his heart,
“Be strong and my arm big!” There was no fear then in Do-ran-to.
As the champions advanced toward each other, the Sioux was too
precipitate, and by the impulse of the charge was carried rather
beyond Do-ran-to, who, being more cool and deliberate, gave him,
as he passed, a blow on the back of the neck with his war-club that
perfectly stunned him and brought him to the ground. Do-ran-to then
sprang upon him and despatched him by a single thrust of his knife.
The relatives of the unfortunate Sioux raised a loud lament, and,
with that piteous kind of howling peculiar to savages, bore him away.
Do-ran-to was now regarded as a young brave, and was greatly advanced
in the general esteem of the village. He must now be an adopted son,
and no longer a woman, but go to war, and hunt the buffalo, the elk,
and the antelope.
The father of Ni-ar-gua, however, must in this matter be excepted.
In the general excitement in behalf of the lucky captive he lagged
behind, and was reserved and sullen. Having conceived a dislike
for him, he was not inclined to confer upon him the honours he had
so fairly won. And then it would not do to appear delighted with
the valour of the young Pawnee. Ni-ar-gua was his favourite child,
and she must be the wife of some distinguished personage. But the
chief was doomed, as many a father is, to be outwitted by his daughter
in matters of this kind. At a time when he was absent, holding
a council with a neighbouring tribe of the Sioux upon great national
affairs, Do-ran-to picked out two of the chief's best horses on which
to escape with the girl to his own tribe. Ni-ar-gua was ready.
When the village was sunk in a profound sleep, she met him in a
sequestered spot, bringing a supply of provisions for their intended
trip. In a moment they were in their saddles and away!
They were not less than three “sleeps” from his own people, and
would be followed by some of the Tetons as long as there was any hope
of overtaking them. By morning, however, there would be such a
wide space between them and their pursuers as to make their escape
entirely practicable, if no mishap befell them on the way. They had
good horses, good hearts, a good country to travel over, and above
all a good cause, and why not good luck?
They travelled night and day, never stopping any longer than was
absolutely necessary to rest their horses. After his story was told,
the captain tried to prevail upon the young couple to remain with
the company until morning, and enjoy that rest and refreshment which
he and the girl so much needed; but the gallant young savage said
that they had not slept since they had set out on their flight,
nor did they even dare to think of closing their eyes before they
should reach the village of the Pawnees. He knew that he would be
pursued as long as there was any hope of overtaking him; and he also
knew what his doom would be if he again fell into the hands of the
Sioux. Having remained, therefore, in the camp scarcely an hour,
the two fugitive lovers were again on the wing, flying over the green
prairie, guided by the light of a full and beautiful moon, and
animated and sustained by the purity of their motives and the hope
of soon reaching a place of safety and protection.
Captain Williams' party could not but admire the courage of the
Teton beauty, the cheerfulness, and even hilarity that she manifested
while in their camp. When ready to start off, she leaped from the
ground, unassisted, into her Indian saddle, reined up her horse,
and was instantly beside him with whom she was now ready to share
any trial and brave any danger. It was an exhibition of female
fortitude, that kind of heroism, peculiar to the sex in all races,
which elevates woman to a summit perfectly inaccessible to man.
The party moved on the next day, and the utmost caution was necessary
to prevent it from being cut off, for the region through which they
were now passing was infested with many bands of Sioux—a terror to
all other tribes on account of their superior numbers. The several
bands were scattered from the waters of the Platte to the Black Hills,
and for a number of years resisted all efforts made by various
expeditions to push forward to the upper tribes.
One day, after leaving their camp where the Indian lovers had come
so suddenly upon them, a large herd of buffaloes was observed feeding
very quietly about a quarter of a mile from their line of travel,
offering those an opportunity who desired to show their horsemanship
and skill in a hunt. Although they had an abundance of meat, and
it was the purpose of the captain that there should be no more
shooting than was absolutely necessary, the impetuous Carson asked
permission to try his hand.
The captain reluctantly granted his request, as it was nearly sundown,
and the company had come to its accustomed halt. The more experienced
of the men urged Carson not to venture too near the object of
his pursuit, nor too far from the camp, as both steps might be
accompanied with danger to all. The young man felt it to be the
safer plan to undertake the hunt on horseback, and as the heavy
rifles of those days were not so easily handled as the modern arm,
he armed himself with two braces of pistols. The buffalo very soon
observed his approach, became frightened, and incontinently put off
at full speed. This made it necessary that the hunter should increase
his speed, and immediately horse, hunter, and buffalo were out of
sight of the camp.
Having completed their evening meal and grazed their animals,
the party would have moved on, but Carson had not yet returned.
Night came on rapidly and still he did not make his appearance.
Many fears for his safety were now entertained in the camp, and
the suspicious circumstance of his prolonged absence generally
prevented the men from sleeping at all that night. Early in the
morning a party went out to hunt him, and without much difficulty
found him. He was sitting on a large rock near the stream,
perfectly lost. Some of the men while looking for him had discovered
him when about a mile away, and naturally supposed he was an Indian,
as they could see no horse, and were very near leaving him to his
fate; but the thought that they might be mistaken prompted them to
approach, and they recognized him. According to his story he chased
the buffalo for five or six miles, and for some time could not
induce his horse to go near enough to the animals for him to use
his pistols with any effect. After repeated unsuccessful attempts,
however, he was enabled to ride up to the side of an immense bull,
and commenced to fire at him as he ran. His repeated shots threw
the animal into the greatest rage, and as horse, bull, and rider
were dashing down the slope of the hill, the infuriated bull suddenly
stopped short, turned round, and began to battle. The horse, not
trained to such dangerous tactics, following immediately behind
the bull, became at the moment perfectly unmanageable, rushed upon
the horns of the buffalo, and his rider was thrown headlong to the
ground. When he had recovered himself, and got on his feet again,
he saw the buffalo running off as fast as his legs could carry him,
but found that his horse was so badly wounded as to be of no further
use to him. When he gathered his senses, he would have gladly gone
back to the camp, but in the excitement of the chase he had paid
no attention to the direction he was going, and was absolutely lost.
He wandered about, and at last coming to a willow copse crawled in
and slept until morning. At the first streak of dawn he crawled out
of his hiding-place, and very cautiously examined the prairie all
around him to learn whether any Indians had been prowling about.
Observing nothing that indicated any danger, he set out with the
intention of finding the party, and had tramped around until hunger
and fatigue had compelled him to sit down where they had found him.
As the party returned to camp they discovered Carson's horse;
he was dead, and a pack of hungry wolves had already nearly devoured
him. In fact it was the general idea that the horse had been killed
by the wolves, as the whole country was infested by them, and,
scenting the blood of the wounded animal, soon put an end to his
misery. They had commenced upon the saddle, and had so torn and
chewed it that it was perfectly useless.
Upon his arrival in camp the crestfallen Carson was asked a hundred
questions, but he did not feel like being taunted, as he had gone
without a morsel to eat for fifteen hours, had undergone great
fatigue, and was considerably bruised from his tumble off his horse.
Several nights after Carson's escapade, about an hour after dark
the party saw before them a light which they thought might indicate
the proximity of an Indian camp. As some of the men who had been
out to reconnoitre approached it, they discovered they were not
mistaken in their surmises, and upon their return to camp and
reporting what they had seen, the captain thought it a wise plan
to move out as quickly as possible. The Indians whom they had seen
numbered about a hundred, and they were seated around about fifteen
fires; some of them were women and they appeared to be very busy
drying meat; the party had evidently been out on a hunt. A large
number of horses were grazing in the vicinity of the camp, and the
majority of the warriors were smoking their pipes, while their squaws
were hard at work.
Captain Williams pushed ahead all that night and the greater portion
of the next day before he dared to go into camp. They continued on
for several days more, then made a temporary camp for the purpose of
trapping for beaver. In a short time the men and horses recovered
from the effects of their toilsome journey. The latter began to get
fat, their feet and backs, which had become sore, were healing up
rapidly, and they were soon in as fine a condition as when they left
St. Louis. The men were having a good time, securing plenty of
beaver, and the camp resounded with laughter at the jokes which were
For several weeks they had seen no signs of Indians, but one morning
one of the men discovered that an Indian had been caught in a trap,
from which, however, he had extricated himself, as it was found near
the spot where it had been set. A day or two afterward, ten of the
party left the camp on a buffalo-hunt. At the beginning of the chase
the buffalo were not more than a mile from the camp, but they were
pursued for more than three or four miles, which led the party into
danger. A band of Blackfeet, numbering at least a hundred, suddenly
appeared over a divide, and, splendidly mounted on trained ponies,
came toward the hunters as fast as their animals could carry them.
Five of Captain Williams' men made their escape, and reached the
camp, but the remainder were cut off, and immediately killed and
scalped. The five who made their escape were chased to within a
half-mile of the camp by several of the savages, one of whom, after
his comrades had wheeled their horses on seeing the men ready for
them, persistently kept on, evidently eager to get another scalp.
He paid for his rashness with his life, as one of the hunters who had
not yet discharged his rifle sent a bullet after him, which shot him
through and through, and he tumbled from his animal stone dead.
The loss of five men from a party which originally numbered only
twenty had a very depressing effect upon those who were left, and
Captain Williams felt that his situation was very critical.
He expected every moment to see a large band of the Blackfeet
come down upon him. He was now certain of one thing; he knew that
his party had been watched by the savages for several days, as they
had noticed several times, during the past week, objects which they
believed to have been wolves, moving on the summits of the divides,
but after their unfortunate skirmish with the Indians they felt sure
that what they had taken to be wolves were in fact savages.
The fight with its disastrous results had occurred late in the
afternoon, so that it was not long before the party made their first
camp for the night. The horses were all brought in and picketed near,
the traps gathered as fast as possible, and everything made ready for
a hasty departure as soon as darkness should close in upon them.
Large fires were lighted as usual, only more than the usual number
were kindled, and at midnight the sorrowful party mounted their
animals and set off.
They travelled as fast as their horses could walk for fully twenty-four
hours before they dared make another halt, but they soon found
themselves in the country of the Crows, who were friendly with the