Part 2 out of 9
whites. The first village they encountered was a very large one,
and the chief induced them to remain with him for nearly a week,
during which time they went out on a buffalo-hunt with their newly
found friends. They were not satisfied, however, with the region,
it being not nearly so fruitful in beaver as the country south of
the Crows, so they made a detour to the south.
When about to leave the generous Crows, one of Captain Williams' men,
whose name was Rose, expressed his intention to abandon the party and
take up his life with the Indians. It appears that while Rose was in
the village he was not able to resist the charms of a certain Crow
maiden, whom he afterward chose as his wife, with whom he lived
happily for several years. When Rose joined Captain Williams' party,
his antecedents were entirely unknown to that grand old frontiersman.
It turned out that he was one of those desperadoes of the then remote
frontier, who had been outlawed for his crimes farther east, and whose
character was worse than any savage, with whom even now such men
sometimes consort. Rose had formerly belonged to a gang of pirates
who infested the islands of the Mississippi, plundering boats as they
travelled up and down the river. They sometimes shifted the scene of
their robberies to the shore, waylaid voyagers on their route to
New Orleans, and often perpetrated the most cold-blooded murders.
When the villanous horde of cut-throats was broken up, Rose betook
himself to the upper wilderness, and when Captain Williams was forming
his company at St. Louis, he came forward and offered himself.
Captain Williams was not at all pleased with the sinister looks of
the fellow, suspecting that his character was not good, but it was
a difficult matter to induce men to join an expedition fraught with
so much daring and danger. So the refugee was dropped among the Crows,
whose habits of life were much more congenial to the feelings of
such a man than the restraints of civilization.
The Crow chief at the time of the visit of Captain Williams' party
to their nation was Ara-poo-ish, who was succeeded by the famous
Jim Beckwourth, who remained at the head of the tribe for many years.
When Captain Williams arrived at the headwaters of the Platte,
the party met with another disaster. Early one morning seven of
the men, including the captain, went out to bring in their horses
which had been turned out to graze the evening before. As they were
still in the country of the Crows, whom they regarded as their firm
friends, they had not exercised their usual precaution of securely
picketing their animals. They merely had tied their two forefeet
loosely together to prevent them from straying too far, while they
retired to the shelter of some friendly timber a short distance away,
and lying down on their buffalo-robes, went to sleep. When they
set out for their animals they could not be found. A trail, however,
plainly discernible in the deep, dewy grass, was soon discovered,
very fresh, leading across a low divide. They also came upon several
of the rawhide strips by which their horses had been hobbled.
These were not broken, but had evidently been unfastened,
a circumstance that filled the minds of the party with the most
painful anxiety. They continued on the trail of the missing animals,
to the top of a ridge, where they were suddenly confronted by a band
of about sixty Indians. The savages appeared to be busy preparing
an attack upon the party, for when the Indians observed the white men
they immediately mounted their ponies, and dashed right down the hill
toward them, at the same moment making the hills echo with their
diabolical whoops. Captain Williams urged his men to make their
escape to the timber, but before they could reach it five of them
were overtaken, killed, and scalped! The captain and one other man
succeeded in reaching the clump of trees, though very closely pursued.
The remaining men who were left in camp, seeing the savages coming,
snatched up their rifles, and each hiding himself behind the trunk
of a tree opened fire upon them. That movement caused the savages
to wheel around and dash back, but they left several of their
comrades dead and wounded upon the ground. In a few moments the
infuriated Indians made another charge, shouting and whooping as
only savages can, and launched a shower of arrows into the timber.
The underbrush was very dense, which prevented them from riding into
the timber, and also from seeing the exact whereabouts of Captain
Williams and his men. It was a most fortunate circumstance, for
they would have been cut off if they had been out on the open prairie,
but as they could plainly see the savages, they took careful aim,
and at each report of the rifle a savage was brought to the ground.
The Indians made four successive charges, and discovering they were
not able to dislodge the little band of brave white men, they finally
abandoned the fight and rode away. Nineteen of the Indians were
killed by Captain Williams' party, but it was a sad victory, for now
only ten men were left of the original twenty, and they were without
a single horse to ride or pack their equipage upon.
Certainly expecting that the savages would shortly return with
reënforcements, the sad little company hurriedly gathered up their
furs and as many traps as the ten men could carry, and travelled about
ten miles, keeping close to the timber. When darkness came on they
crept into a very dense growth of underbrush, where they passed the
greater part of the night in erecting a scaffold upon which they
cached their furs, traps, and other things which they found
inconvenient to carry.
As the prospects of the company were now gloomy in the extreme,
the spirits of the men drooped and their hearts became sad.
They were many hundreds of miles from any settlement, in the heart
of a wilderness almost boundless, and beset on every side by lurking
savages ready at any moment to dash in upon them when an opportunity
Of course, the project of crossing the Rocky Mountains and trapping
at the headwaters of the Columbia had now to be abandoned.
They wandered about, meeting with various adventures, until only
Captain Williams and two others of the party were left. At last
they agreed to separate, the two intending to attempt the difficult
passage back to St. Louis, while the brave captain remained, and
finally reached the great Arkansas Valley in safety.
In 1812 General William H. Ashley, the head of the Rocky Mountain
Fur Company, travelled up the Platte Valley, which a few years
previously had been traversed by Captain Ezekiel Williams, whose
routes were nearly the same. This party had a particularly hard time.
Before they reached the buffalo country the Indians had driven every
In the company there were two Spaniards, who were one morning left
behind at camp to catch some horses that had strayed. The two men
stopped at the house of a respectable white woman, and finding her
without protection, they assaulted her. They were pursued to the
camp by a number of the settlers, who made the outrage known to the
trappers. They all regarded the crime with the utmost abhorrence,
and felt mortified that any of their party should be guilty of conduct
so revolting. The culprits were arrested, and they at once admitted
their guilt. A council was called in the presence of the settlers,
and the men were offered their choice of two punishments: either to be
hanged to the nearest tree, or to receive one hundred lashes each on
the bare back. They chose the latter, which was immediately inflicted
upon them by four of the trappers. Having no cat-o'-nine-tails in
their possession, the lashes were inflicted with hickory withes.
Their backs were terribly lacerated, and the blood flowed in streams
to the ground. The following morning the two Spaniards and two of the
best horses were missing from the camp; they were not pursued, however,
but by the tracks it was discovered they had started for New Mexico.
There were thirty-four men in the party, including the general, and
a harder-looking set for want of nourishment could hardly be imagined.
They moved forward hoping to find game, as their allowance was half
a pint of flour a day per man. This was made into a kind of gruel.
If it happened that a duck or goose was killed, it was shared as
fairly as possible.
There were no jokes, no fireside stories, no fun; each man rose in
the morning with the gloom of the preceding night filling his mind;
they built their fires without saying a word, and partook of their
scanty repast in silence.
At last an order was given for the hunters to sally out and try their
fortunes. Jim Beckwourth, who was one of the party, a mere youth
then, tells of the success in the following words:—
I seized my rifle and issued from camp alone, feeling so
reduced in strength that my mind involuntarily reverted to
the extremity I had been brought to by my youthful folly in
coming into such a desert waste. About three hundred yards
from the camp I saw two teal ducks; I levelled my rifle, and
handsomely decapitated one. This was a temptation to my
constancy; appetite and conscientiousness had a long strife
as to the disposal of the booty. I reflected that it would be
but an inconsiderable trifle to the mess of four hungry men,
while to roast and eat him myself would give me strength to
hunt for more. A strong inward feeling remonstrated against
such an invasion of the rights of my starving messmates;
but if, by fortifying myself, I gained ability to procure
something more substantial than a teal duck, my dereliction
would be sufficiently atoned for, and my overruling appetite
at the same time gratified.
Had I admitted my messmates to the argument, they might
possibly have carried it adversely. But I received the
conclusion as valid; so, roasting it without ceremony in
the bushes, I devoured the duck alone, and felt greatly
invigorated by the meal.
Passing up the stream, I pushed forward to fulfil my obligation.
At the distance of about a mile from the camp, I came across
a narrow deer-trail through some bushes, and directly across
the trail, with only the centre of his body visible (his two
extremities being hidden by the rushes), not more than fifty
yards distant, I saw a fine large buck standing. I did not
wait for a nearer shot. I fired, and broke his neck.
I despatched him by drawing my knife across his throat, and,
having partially dressed him, hung him on a tree close by.
Proceeding onward, I met a large wolf, attracted, probably,
by the scent of the deer. I shot him, and, depriving him
of his meal, devoted him for a repast to the camp. Before I
returned, I succeeded in killing three good-sized elk, which,
added to the former, afforded a pretty good display of meat.
I then returned near enough to the camp to signal them to
come to my assistance. They had heard the reports of my
rifle, and, knowing that I would not waste ammunition,
had been expecting to see me return with game. All who were
able turned out at my summons, and, when they saw the booty
awaiting them, their faces were irradiated with joy.
Each man shouldered his load, but there was not one capable
of carrying the weight of forty pounds. The game being all
brought into camp, the fame of Jim Beckwourth was celebrated
by all tongues. Amid all this gratulation, I could not
separate my thoughts from the duck which had supplied my
clandestine meal in the bushes. I suffered them to appease
their hunger before I ventured to tell my comrades of the
offence of which I had been guilty. All justified my conduct,
declaring my conclusions obvious. As it turned out, my
proceeding was right enough; but if I had failed to meet with
any game, I had been guilty of an offence which would have
haunted me ever after.
The following day we started up the river, and, after
progressing some four or five miles, came in sight of plenty
of deer sign. The general ordered a halt, and directed all
hunters out as before. We sallied out in different directions,
our general, who was a good hunter, being one of the number.
At a short distance from the camp I discovered a large buck
passing slowly between myself and the camp, at about
pistol-shot distance. As I happened to be standing against
a tree, he had not seen me. I fired, the ball passed through
his body, and whizzed past the camp. Leaving him,
I encountered a second deer within three-quarters of a mile.
I shot him and hung him on a limb. Encouraged with my success,
I climbed a tree to get a fairer view of the ground.
Looking around from my elevated position, I perceived some
large dark-coloured animal grazing on the side of a hill,
about a mile and a half distant. I was determined to have
a shot at him, whatever he might be. I knew meat was
in demand, and that fellow, well-stored, was worth a thousand
I therefore approached with the greatest precaution to within
fair rifle-shot distance, scrutinizing him very closely,
and still unable to make out what he was. I could see
no horns; if it was a bear, I thought him an enormous one.
I took sight at him over my faithful rifle, which had never
failed me, and then set it down, to contemplate the huge
animal still further. Finally I resolved to let fly.
Taking good aim, I pulled the trigger, the rifle cracked,
and then I made rapid retreat toward the camp. After running
about two hundred yards, and hearing nothing of a movement
behind me, I ventured to look around, and to my great joy
I saw the animal had fallen.
Continuing my course to camp, I encountered the general,
who, perceiving blood on my hands, addressed me: “Have you
shot anything, Jim?”
I replied, “Yes, sir.”
“What have you shot?”
“Two deer and something else,” I answered.
“And what is something else?” he inquired.
“I do not know, sir.”
“What did he look like?” the general interrogated.
“Had he horns?”
“I saw no horns, sir.”
“What colour was the animal?”
“You can see him, General,” I replied, “by climbing yonder
The general ascended the tree accordingly, and, looking
through his spy-glass, which he always carried, exclaimed,
“A buffalo, by heavens!” and coming nimbly down the tree,
he gave orders for us to take a couple of horses, and go
and dress the buffalo, and bring him to camp.
I suggested that two horses would not carry the load;
six were therefore despatched for the purpose, and they
all came back well packed with the remains.
That was the first buffalo I had ever seen though I had
travelled hundreds of miles in the buffalo country.
The conviction weighing upon my mind that it was a huge bear
I was approaching had so excited me that, although within
fair gun-shot, I actually could not see his horns.
The general and my companions had many a hearty laugh at
my expense, he often expressing wonder that my keen eye
could not, when close to the animal, perceive the horns,
while he could see them plainly nearly two miles away.
When we moved up the river again, we hoped to fall in with
game, though unfortunately found but little in our course.
When we had advanced some twenty miles we halted.
Our position looked threatening. It was midwinter, and
everything around us bore a gloomy aspect. We were without
any provisions, and we saw no means of obtaining any.
At this crisis, six or seven Indians of the Pawnee Loup band
came into our camp. Knowing them to be friendly, we were
overjoyed to see them. They informed our interpreter that
their village was only four miles distant, which at once
accounted for the absence of game. They invited us to their
lodges, where they could supply us with everything we needed,
but on representing to them our scarcity of horses, and the
quantity of peltry we had no means of packing, they
immediately started off to their village. Our interpreter
accompanied them, in quest of horses, and speedily returned
with a sufficient number. Packing our effects, we accompanied
them to the village, Two Axe and a Spaniard named Antoine
Behele, chief of the band, forming part of our escort.
Arrived at their village, we replaced our lost horses by
purchasing others in their stead, and now everything being
ready for our departure, our general informed Two Axe of
his wish to get on.
Two Axe objected: “My men are about to surround the buffalo,”
he said; “if you go now, you will frighten them. You must stay
four days more, then you may go.” His word was law, so we
Within the four days appointed they made the “surround,” and
killed fourteen hundred buffaloes. The tongues were counted
by General Ashley himself, and thus I can guarantee the
There were engaged in this hunt from one to two thousand
Indians, some mounted and others on foot. They encompassed
a large space where the buffalo were contained, and,
closing in around them on all sides, formed a complete circle.
The circle at first enclosed measured say six miles in
diameter, with an irregular circumference determined by
the movements of the herd. When the “surround” was formed,
the hunters radiated from the main body to the right and left,
and the ring was entire. The chief then gave the order to
charge, which was communicated along the ring with
lightning-like speed; every man then rushed to the centre,
and the work of destruction began. The unhappy victims,
finding themselves hemmed in on every side, ran this way and
that in their mad efforts to escape. Finding all chance of
escape impossible, and seeing their slaughtered fellows
drop dead at their feet, they bellowed with fright, and in
the confusion that whelmed them lost all power of resistance.
The slaughter generally lasted two or three hours, and seldom
many got clear of the weapons of their assailants.
The field over the “surround” presented the appearance of one
vast slaughter-house. He who had been the most successful in
the work of devastation was celebrated as a hero, and received
the highest honours from the fair sex, while he who had been
so unfortunate as not to have killed a single buffalo was
jeered at and ridiculed by the whole band.
The “surround” accomplished, we received permission from
Two Axe to take up our line of march. Accordingly we started
along the river, and had only proceeded five miles from the
village when we found that the Platte forked. Taking the
South Fork, we journeyed on some six miles and camped.
So we continued every day, making slow progress, some days
not advancing more than four or five miles, until we had
left the Pawnee villages three hundred miles in our rear.
We found plenty of buffalo along our route until we approached
the Rocky Mountains, when the buffalo, as well as all other
game, became scarce, and we had to resort to the beans and
corn supplied to us by the Pawnees.
Not finding any game for a number of days, we again felt
alarmed for our safety. The snow was deep on the ground,
and our poor horses could obtain no food but the boughs and
bark of the cottonwood trees. Still we pushed forward,
seeking to advance as far as possible, in order to open a
trade with the Indians, and occupy ourselves in trapping
during the finish of the season. We were again put upon
reduced rations, one pint of beans per day being the allowance
to a mess of four men, with other articles in proportion.
We travelled on till we arrived at Pilot Butte, where two
misfortunes befell us. A great portion of our horses were
stolen by the Crow Indians, and General Ashley was taken sick,
caused, beyond doubt, by exposure and insufficient fare.
Our condition was growing worse and worse; and, as a measure
best calculated to procure relief, we all resolved to go
on a general hunt, and bring home something to supply our
pressing necessities. All who were able, therefore, started
in different directions, our customary mode of hunting.
I travelled, as near as I could judge, about ten miles from
the camp, and saw no signs of game. I reached a high point
of land, and, on taking a general survey, I discovered
a river which I had never seen in this region before. It was
of considerable size, flowing four or five miles distant,
and on its banks I observed acres of land covered with moving
masses of buffalo. I hailed this as a perfect godsend, and
was overjoyed with the feeling of security infused by my
opportune discovery. However, fatigued and weak, I accelerated
my return to the camp, and communicated my success to my
companions. Their faces brightened up at the intelligence,
and all were impatient to be at them.
The general, on learning my intelligence, desired us to move
forward to the river with what horses we had left, and each
man to carry on his back a pack of the goods that remained
after loading the cattle. He farther desired us to roll up
snow to provide him with a shelter, and to return the next day
to see if he survived. The men, in their eagerness to get
to the river (which is now called Green River), loaded
themselves so heavily that three or four were left with
nothing but their rifles to carry.
We all feasted ourselves to our hearts' content upon the
delicious, coarse-grained flesh of the buffalo, of which
there was an unlimited supply. There were, besides, plenty
of wild geese and teal ducks on the river—the latter, however,
I very seldom ventured to kill. One day several of us were
out hunting buffalo, the general, who, by the way, was a very
good shot, being among the number. The snow had blown from
the level prairie, and the wind had drifted it in deep masses
over the margins of the small hills, through which the buffalo
had made trails just wide enough to admit one at a time.
These snow-trails had become quite deep—like all snow-trails
in the spring of the year—thus affording us a fine
opportunity for lurking in one trail, and shooting a buffalo
in another. The general had wounded a bull, which, smarting
with pain, made a furious plunge at his assailant, burying
him in the snow with a thrust from his savage-looking head
and horns. I, seeing the danger in which he was placed,
sent a ball into the beast just behind the shoulder, instantly
dropping him dead. The general was rescued from almost
certain death, having received only a few scratches in the
After remaining in camp four or five days, the general
resolved upon dividing our party into detachments of four or
five men each, and sending them upon different routes,
in order the better to accomplish the object of our perilous
journey, which was the collecting of all the beaver-skins
possible while the fur was yet valuable. Accordingly we
constructed several boats of buffalo-hides for the purpose
of descending the river and proceeding along any of its
tributaries that might lie in our way.
One of our boats being finished and launched, the general
sprang into it to test its capacity. The boat was made fast
by a slender string, which snapping with a sudden jerk,
the boat was drawn into the current and drifted away,
general and all, in the direction of the opposite shore.
It will be necessary, before I proceed further, to give the
reader a description, in as concise a manner as possible,
of this “Green River Suck.”
We were camped, as we had discovered during our frequent
excursions, at the head of a great fall of Green River,
where it passes through the Utah Mountains. The current,
at a small distance from our camp, became exceedingly rapid,
and drew toward the centre from each shore. This place we
named the Suck. This fall continued for six or eight miles,
making a sheer descent, in the entire distance, of over
two hundred and fifty feet. The river was filled with rocks
and ledges, and frequent sharp curves, having high mountains
and perpendicular cliffs on either side. Below our camp,
the river passed through a cañon, which continued below
the fall to a distance of twenty-five or thirty miles.
Wherever there was an eddy or a growth of willows, there was
sure to be found a beaver lodge; the cunning creatures having
selected that secluded, and, as they doubtless considered,
inaccessible spot, to conceal themselves from the watchful
eye of the trapper.
After caching our peltry and goods by burying them in safe
places, we received instructions from our general to
rendezvous at the “Suck” by the first of July following.
Bidding each other adieu, for we could hardly expect we should
meet again, we took up our different lines of march.
Our party was led by one Clements, and consisted of six,
among whom was the boy Baptiste; he always insisted on
remaining with his brother (as he called me). Our route was
up the river—a country that none of us had ever seen before—
where the foot of the white man has seldom, if ever, left
its print. We were very successful in finding beaver as we
progressed, and we obtained plenty of game for the wants of
our small party. Wherever we hauled up a trap, we usually
found a beaver, besides a considerable number we killed with
In moving up the river we came to a small stream—one of the
tributaries of Green River—which we named Horse Creek,
in honour of a wild horse we found on its banks. The creek
abounded with the objects of our search, and in a very few
days we succeeded in taking over one hundred beavers,
the skins of which were worth ten dollars per pound in
St. Louis. Sixty skins, when dried, formed a pack of
one hundred pounds. After having finished our work on
Horse Creek, we returned to the main river, and proceeded on,
meeting with very good success, until we encountered another
branch, which we subsequently named Le Brache Creek, from
our comrade who was murdered by the Indians. Our success was
much greater here than at any point since leaving the Suck,
and we followed it up until we came to a deep cañon, in which
The next day, while the men were variously engaged about
the camp, happening to be in a more elevated position than
the others, I saw a party of Indians approaching within
a few yards, evidently unaware of our being in their
neighbourhood. I immediately shouted, “Indians! Indians!
to your guns, men!” and levelled my rifle at the foremost
of them. They held up their hands, saying, “Bueno! bueno!”
meaning that they were good or friendly; at which my
companions cried out to me, “Don't fire! don't fire! they are
friendly—they speak Spanish.” But we were sorry afterward
we did not all shoot. Our horses had taken fright at the
confusion and ran up the cañon. Baptiste and myself went
in pursuit of them. When we came back with them we found
sixteen Indians sitting around our camp smoking, and jabbering
their own tongue, which none of us could understand.
They passed the night and next day with us in apparent
friendship. Thinking this conduct assumed, from the fact
that they rather overdid the thing, we deemed it prudent to
retrace our steps to the open prairie, where, if they did
intend to commence an attack upon us, we should have a fairer
chance of defending ourselves. Accordingly we packed up
and left, all the Indians following us.
The next day they continued to linger about the camp. We had
but slight suspicion of their motives, although, for security,
we kept constant guard upon them. From this they proceeded
to certain liberties (which I here strictly caution all
emigrants and mountaineers against ever permitting), such as
handling our guns, except the arms of the guard, piling them,
and then carrying them together. At length one of the Indians
shouldered all the guns, and, starting off with them ran
fifty yards from camp. Mentioning to my mates I did not like
the manœuvres of these fellows, I started after the Indian
and took my gun from him, Baptiste doing the same, and we
brought them back to camp. Our companions chided us for
doing so, saying we should anger the Indians by doubting
their friendship. I said I considered my gun as safe in my
own hands as in the hands of a strange savage; if they chose
to give up theirs, they were at liberty to do so.
When night came on, we all lay down except poor Le Brache,
who kept guard, having an Indian with him to replenish the
fire. Some of the men had fallen asleep, lying near by,
when we were all suddenly startled by a loud cry from
Le Brache and the instant report of a gun, the contents of
which passed between Baptiste and myself, who both occupied
one bed, the powder burning a hole in our upper blankets.
We were all up in an instant. An Indian had seized my rifle,
but I instantly wrenched it from him, though I acknowledge
I was too terrified to shoot. When we had in some measure
recovered from our sudden fright, I hastened to Le Brache,
and discovered that a tomahawk had been sunk in his head,
and there remained. I pulled it out, and in examining the
ghastly wound, buried all four fingers of my right hand in
his brain. We bound up his head, but he was a corpse in
a few moments.
Not an Indian was then to be seen, but we well knew they were
in the bushes close by, and that, in all probability,
we should every one share the fate of our murdered comrade.
What to do now was the universal inquiry. With the butt of
my rifle I scattered the fire, to prevent the Indians making
a sure mark of us. We then proceeded to pack up with the
utmost despatch, intending to move into the open prairie,
where, if they attacked us again, we could at least defend
ourselves, notwithstanding our disparity of numbers, we being
but five to sixteen.
On searching for Le Brache's gun, it was nowhere to be found,
the Indian who had killed him having doubtless carried it off.
While hastily packing our articles, I very luckily found five
quivers well stocked with arrows, the bows attached, together
with two Indian guns. These well supplied our missing rifle,
for I had practised so much with bow and arrow that I was
considered a good shot.
When in readiness to leave, our leader inquired in which
direction the river lay; his agitation had been so great that
his memory had failed him. I directed the way, and desired
every man to put the animals upon their utmost speed until
we were safely out of the willows, which order was complied
with. While thus running the gauntlet, the balls and arrows
whizzed around us as fast as our hidden enemies could send
them. Not a man was scratched, however, though two of our
horses were wounded, my horse having received an arrow in
the neck, and another being wounded near the hip, both
slightly. Pursuing our course we arrived soon in the open
ground, where we considered ourselves comparatively safe.
Arriving at a small rise in the prairie, I suggested to our
leader that this would be a good place to make a stand, for
if the Indians followed us we had the advantage in position.
“No,” said he, “we will proceed on to New Mexico.”
I was astonished at his answer, well knowing—though but
slightly skilled in geography—that New Mexico must be many
hundreds of miles farther south. However, I was not captain
and we proceeded. Keeping the return track, we found
ourselves, in the afternoon of the following day, about sixty
miles from the scene of the murder.
The assault had been made, as we afterward learned, by three
young Indians, who were ambitious to distinguish themselves
in the minds of their tribe by the massacre of an American
We were still descending the banks of the Green River, which
is the main branch of the Colorado, when, about the time
mentioned above, I discovered horses in the skirt of the
woods on the opposite side. My companions pronounced them
buffalo, but I was confident they were horses, because I
could distinguish white ones among them. Proceeding still
farther, I discovered men with the horses, my comrades still
confident I was in error. Speedily, however, they all became
satisfied of my correctness, and we formed the conclusion that
we had come across a party of Indians. We saw by their
manœuvres that they had discovered us, for they were then
collecting all their property together.
We held a short council, which resulted in a determination
to retreat toward the mountains. I, for one, was tired of
retreating, and refused to go farther, Baptiste joining me
in my resolve. We took up a strong position in a place of
difficult approach; and having our guns and ammunition and
an abundance of arrows for defence, considering our numbers,
we felt ourselves rather a strong garrison. The other three
left us to our determination to fall together, and took to
the prairie; but, changing their minds, they returned, and
joined us in our position, deeming our means of defence better
in one body than when divided. We all, therefore, determined
to sell our lives as dearly as possible should the enemy
attack us, feeling sure that we could kill five times our
number before we were overpowered, and that we should, in all
probability, beat them off.
By this time the supposed enemy had advanced toward us, and
one of them hailed us in English as follows:—
“Who are you?”
“We are trappers.”
“What company do you belong to?”
“Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!,” they all shouted, and we, in turn,
exhausted our breath in replying.
“Is that you, Jim Beckwourth?” said a voice from the party.
“Yes. Is that you, Castenga?” I replied.
He answered in the affirmative, and there arose another
We inquired where their camp was. They informed us it was
two miles below, at the ford. Baptiste and myself mounted
our horses, descended the bank, plunged into the river, and
were soon exchanging salutations with another of the general's
old detachments. They also had taken us for Indians, and
had gathered in their horses while we took up our position
That night was spent in general rejoicing, in relating our
adventures, and recounting our various successes and reverses.
There is as much heartfelt joy experienced in falling in with
a party of fellow-trappers in the mountains as is felt at sea
when, after a long voyage, a friendly vessel just from port
is spoken and boarded. In both cases a thousand questions
are asked; all have wives, sweethearts, or friends to inquire
after, and then the general news from the States is taken up
The party we had fallen in with consisted of sixteen men.
They had been two years out; had left Fort Yellowstone only
a short time previously, and were provided with every
necessity for a long excursion. They had not seen the
general, and did not know he was in the mountains. They had
lost some of their men, who had fallen victims to the Indians,
but in trapping had been generally successful. Our little
party also had done extremely well, and we felt great
satisfaction in displaying to them seven or eight packets of
sixty skins each. We related to them the murder of Le Brache,
and every trapper boiled with indignation at the recital.
All wanted instantly to start in pursuit, and revenge upon
the Indians the perpetration of their treachery; but there was
no probability of overtaking them, and they suffered their
anger to cool down.
The second day after our meeting, I proposed that the most
experienced mountaineers of their party should return with
Baptiste and myself to perform the burial rites of our friend.
I proposed three men, with ourselves, as sufficient for the
sixteen Indians, in case we should fall in with them, and
they would certainly be enough for the errand if we met
no one. My former comrades were too tired to return.
We started and arrived at our unfortunate camp, but the body
of our late friend was not to be found, though we discovered
some of his long black hair clotted with blood.
On raising the traps which we had set before our precipitate
departure, we found a beaver in every one except four, which
contained each a leg, the beavers having amputated them with
their teeth. We then returned to our companions, and moved
on to Willow Creek, where we were handy to the caches of
our rendezvous at the Suck. It was now about June 1, 1822.
Here we spent our time very pleasantly, occupying ourselves
with hunting, fishing, target-shooting, footracing, gymnastic
and sundry other exercises. The other detachments now
came in, bringing with them quantities of peltry, all having
met with very great success.
CAPTAIN SUBLETTE'S EXPEDITION.
In 1832 Captain William Sublette, a partner in the Rocky Mountain
Fur Company, and one of the most active, intrepid, and renowned
leaders in the trade, started on a trapping expedition up the Platte
Valley. He was accompanied by Robert Campbell, another of the
pioneers in the fur industry, and sixty men well mounted, with their
camp equipage carried on packhorses.
At Independence, Missouri, he met a party commanded by Nathaniel J.
Wyeth of Boston, Massachusetts. Mr. Wyeth, having conceived the idea
that a profitable salmon fishery connected with the fur trade might
be established at the mouth of the Columbia River, had accordingly
invested a great deal of capital. He had calculated, as he supposed,
for the Indian trade, and had enlisted in his employ a number of
Eastern men who had never been West, and were totally unacquainted
with its dangerous travel.
Wyeth and his men found themselves completely at a loss when they
reached Independence, the then frontier post. None of them except
the leader had ever seen an Indian or handled a rifle. They had
neither guide nor interpreter, and were totally ignorant of the way
to deal with the savages, or provide food for themselves during long
marches over barren plains and wild mountains. In this predicament
Captain Sublette found them, and in the bigness of his heart kindly
took them in tow. Both parties travelled amicably together, and
they arrived without accident on the upper branches of the Platte.
Sublette, Campbell, Wyeth, and their parties pursued their march
westward unmolested, and arrived in the Green River Valley. While in
camp one night on the bank of a small stream, toward morning a band
of Indians burst upon them, yelling, whooping, and discharging
a flight of arrows. No harm was done, however, excepting the wounding
of a mule and the stampeding of several of their horses.
On the 17th of July, a small party of fourteen, led by Milton Sublette,
brother of the captain, set out with the intention of proceeding to
the southwest. They were accompanied by Sinclair and fifteen free
trappers. Wyeth, also, and his New England band of beaver hunters
and salmon fishers, now dwindled down to eleven, took this opportunity
to prosecute their cruise in the wilderness, accompanied by such
On the first day they proceeded about eight miles to the southeast,
and encamped for the night. On the following morning, just as they
were preparing to leave camp, they observed a moving mass pouring
down a defile of the mountains. They at first supposed them to be
another party of trappers, whose arrival had been daily expected.
Wyeth, however, reconnoitred them with a spy-glass, and soon perceived
they were Indians. They were divided into two bands, forming,
in the whole, about one hundred and fifty persons, men, women, and
children. Some were on horseback, fantastically painted and arrayed,
with scarlet blankets fluttering in the wind. The greater part,
however, were on foot. They had perceived the trappers before they
were themselves discovered, and came down yelling and whooping into
the plain. On nearer approach, they were ascertained to be Blackfeet.
One of the trappers of Sublette's brigade, a half-breed, named
Antoine Godin, now mounted his horse, and rode forth as if to hold
a conference. In company with Antoine was a Flathead Indian,
whose once powerful tribe had been completely broken down in their
wars with the Blackfeet. Both of them, however, cherished the most
vengeful hostility against these marauders of the mountains.
The Blackfeet came to a halt. One of the chiefs advanced singly and
unarmed, bearing the pipe of peace. This overture was certainly
pacific; but Antoine and the Flathead were predisposed to hostility,
and pretended to consider it a treacherous movement.
“Is your piece charged?” said Antoine to his companion.
“Then cock it and follow me.”
They met the Blackfoot chief half-way. He extended his hand in
friendship. Antoine grasped it.
“Fire!” cried he.
The Flathead levelled his piece, and brought the Blackfoot to the
ground. Antoine snatched off his scarlet blanket, which was richly
ornamented, and galloped away with it as a trophy to the camp,
the bullets of the enemy whistling after him. The Indians
immediately threw themselves into the edge of a swamp, among willows
and cottonwood trees, interwoven with vines. Here they began to
fortify themselves, the women digging a trench and throwing up a
breastwork of logs and branches, deep hid in the bosom of the wood,
while the warriors skirmished at the edge to keep the trappers at bay.
The latter took their station in front, whence they kept up a
scattering fire. As to Wyeth, and his little band of “down easters,”
they were perfectly astounded by this second specimen of life in the
wilderness; the men, being especially unused to bush-fighting and
the use of the rifle, were at a loss how to act. Wyeth, however,
acted as a skilful commander. He got all the horses into camp and
secured them; then, making a breastwork of his packs of goods,
he charged his men to remain in the garrison, and not to stir out
of their fort. For himself, he mingled with the other leaders,
determined to take his share in the conflict.
In the meantime, an express had been sent off to the rendezvous for
reënforcements. Captain Sublette and his associate, Campbell,
were at their camp when the express came galloping across the plain,
waving his cap, and giving the alarm, “Blackfeet! Blackfeet!
a fight in the upper part of the valley!—to arms! to arms!”
The alarm was passed from camp to camp. It was a common cause.
Every one turned out with horse and rifle. The Nez Percés and
Flatheads joined. As fast as the trappers could arm and mount
they galloped off; the valley was soon alive with white men and
Indians scouring at full speed.
Sublette ordered his party to keep to the camp, being recruits from
St. Louis, and unused to Indian warfare, but he and his friend
Campbell prepared for action. Throwing off their coats, rolling up
their sleeves, and arming themselves with pistols and rifles, they
mounted their horses and dashed forward among the first. As they
rode along they made their wills in soldier-like style, each stating
how his effects should be disposed of in case of his death, and
appointing the other as his executor.
The Blackfeet warriors had supposed that the party of Milton Sublette
was all the foe they had to deal with, and were astonished to behold
the whole valley suddenly swarming with horsemen, galloping to the
field of action. They withdrew into their fort, which was completely
hidden from sight in the dark and tangled wood. Most of their women
and children had retreated to the mountains. The trappers now
sallied out and approached the swamp, firing into the thickets at
random. The Blackfeet had a better sight of their adversaries, who
were in the open field, and a half-breed was wounded in the shoulder.
When Captain Sublette arrived, he urged the men to penetrate the
swamp and storm the fort, but all hung back in awe of the dismal
horrors of the place, and the danger of attacking such desperadoes
in their savage den. The very Indian allies, though accustomed
to bush-fighting, regarded it as almost impenetrable, and full of
frightful danger. Sublette was not to be turned from his purpose,
but offered to lead the way into the swamp. Campbell stepped
forward to accompany him. Before entering the perilous wood,
Sublette took his brothers aside, and told them that in case he fell,
Campbell, who knew his will, was to be his executor. This done,
he grasped his rifle and pushed into the thickets, followed by
Campbell. Sinclair, the partisan from Arkansas, was at the edge of
the wood with his brother and a few of his men. Excited by the
gallant example of the two friends, he pressed forward to share
The swamp was produced by the labours of the beaver, which, by
damming up the stream, had inundated a portion of the valley.
The place was overgrown with woods and thickets, so closely matted
and entangled that it was impossible to see ten paces ahead, and
the three associates in peril had to crawl along, one after another,
making their way by putting the branches and vines aside, but doing
it with great caution, lest they should attract the eye of some
lurking marksman. They took the lead by turns, each advancing some
twenty yards at a time, and now and then hallooing to their men
to come on. Some of the latter gradually entered the swamp, and
followed a little distance in the rear.
They had now reached a more open part of the wood, and had glimpses of
the rude fortress from between the trees. It was a mere breastwork,
of logs and branches, with blankets, buffalo-robes, and the leather
covers of lodges extended around the top as a screen. The movement
of the leaders as they groped their way had been descried by the
sharp-sighted enemy. As Sinclair, who was in the advance, was putting
some branches aside, he was shot through the body. He fell on the
spot. “Take me to my brother,” said he to Campbell. The latter gave
him in charge of some of the men, who conveyed him out of the swamp.
Sublette now took the advance. As he was reconnoitring the fort,
he perceived an Indian peeping through an aperture. In an instant
his rifle was levelled and discharged, and the ball struck the savage
in the eye. While he was reloading he called to Campbell, and
pointed out the hole to him: “Watch that place, and you will soon
have a fair chance for a shot.” Scarce had he uttered the words
when a ball struck him in the shoulder, and almost wheeled him around.
His first thought was to take hold of his arm with his other hand,
and move it up and down. He ascertained, to his satisfaction, that
the bone was not broken. The next moment he was so faint he could
not stand. Campbell took him in his arms and carried him out of
the thicket. The same shot that struck Sublette wounded another man
in the head.
A brisk fire was now opened by the mountaineers from the wood,
answered occasionally from the fort. Unluckily, the trappers and
their allies, in searching for the fort, had got scattered, so that
Wyeth and a number of Nez Percés approached it on the northwest side,
while others did the same from the opposite quarter. A cross-fire
thus took place, which occasionally did mischief to friends as well as
foes. An Indian, close to Wyeth, was shot down by a ball which,
he was convinced, had been sped from the rifle of a trapper on the
other side of the fort.
The number of whites and their Indian allies had by this time so much
increased, by arrivals from the rendezvous, that the Blackfeet were
completely overmatched. They kept doggedly in their fort, however,
making no effort to surrender. An occasional firing into the
breastwork was kept up during the day. Now and then one of the
Indian allies, in bravado, would rush up to the fort, fire over the
ramparts, tear off a buffalo-robe or a scarlet blanket, and return
with it in triumph to his comrades. Most of the savage garrison
who fell, however, were killed in the first part of the attack.
At one time it was resolved to set fire to the fort, and the squaws
belonging to the allies were employed to collect combustibles.
This, however, was abandoned, the Nez Percés being unwilling to
destroy the robes and blankets, and other spoils of the enemy,
which they felt sure would fall into their hands.
The Indians, when fighting, are prone to taunt and revile each other.
During one of the pauses of the battle the voice of a Blackfoot was
“So long,” said he, “as we had powder and ball, we fought you in
the open field; when those were spent we retreated here to die with
our women and children. You may burn us in our fort; but stay by
our ashes, and you who are so hungry for fighting will soon have
enough. There are four hundred lodges of our brethren at hand.
They will soon be here—their arms are strong—their hearts are big—
they will avenge us!”
This speech was translated two or three times by Nez Percés and
creole interpreters. By the time it was rendered into English the
chief was made to say that four hundred lodges of his tribe were
attacking the encampment at the other end of the valley. Every one
now hurried to the defence of the rendezvous. A party was left to
watch the fort; the rest galloped off to the camp. As night came on,
the trappers drew out of the swamp, and remained about the skirts
of the wood. By morning their companions returned from the
rendezvous, with the report that all was safe. As the day opened,
they ventured within the swamp and approached the fort. All was
silent. They advanced up to it without opposition. They entered;
it had been abandoned in the night, and the Blackfeet had effected
their retreat, carrying off their wounded on litters made of branches,
leaving bloody traces on the grass. The bodies of ten Indians were
found within the fort, among them the one shot in the eye by Sublette.
The Blackfeet afterward reported that they had lost twenty-six
warriors in this battle. Thirty-two horses were likewise found killed;
among them were some of those recently carried off from Sublette's
party, which showed that these were the very savages that had attacked
him. They proved to be an advance party of the main body of Blackfeet,
which had been upon Sublette's trail for some time. Five white men
and one half-breed were killed and several wounded. Seven of the
Nez Percés were also killed, and six wounded. They had an old chief
who was reputed to be invulnerable. In the course of the action
he was hit by a spent ball, and threw up blood; but his skin was
unbroken. His people were now fully convinced that he was proof
against a rifle-shot.
A striking circumstance is related as having occurred the morning
after the battle. As some of the trappers and their Indian allies
were approaching the fort, through the woods, they beheld an Indian
woman, of noble form and features, leaning against a tree.
Their surprise at her lingering there alone, to fall into the hands
of her enemies, was dispelled when they saw the corpse of a warrior
at her feet. Either she was so lost in her grief as not to perceive
their approach, or a proud spirit kept her silent and motionless.
The Indians set up a yell on discovering her, and before the trappers
could interfere, her mangled body fell upon the corpse which she had
refused to abandon. It is an instance of female devotion, even to
the death, which is undoubtedly true.
After the battle the party of Milton Sublette, together with the free
trappers, and Wyeth's New England band, remained some days at the
rendezvous to see if the main body of Blackfeet intended to make an
attack. Nothing of the kind occurred, so they once more put
themselves in motion, and proceeded on their route toward the southwest.
Captain Sublette, having distributed his supplies, had intended to
set off on his return to St. Louis, taking with him the peltries
collected from the trappers and Indians. His wound, however, obliged
him to postpone his departure. Several who were to have accompanied
him became impatient at his delay. Among these was a young Bostonian,
Mr. Joseph More, one of the followers of Mr. Wyeth, who had seen
enough of mountain life and savage warfare, and was eager to return
to the abodes of civilization. He and six others, among whom were
a Mr. Foy of Mississippi, Mr. Alfred K. Stephens of St. Louis, and
two grandsons of the celebrated Daniel Boone, set out together,
in advance of Sublette's party, thinking they would make their own
way through the mountains.
It was just five days after the battle of the swamp that these seven
companions were making their way through Jackson's Hole, a valley not
far from the Three Tetons, when, as they were descending a hill,
a party of Blackfeet, who lay in ambush, started up with terrific
yells. The horse of the young Bostonian, who was in front, wheeled
round with affright, and threw his unskilful rider. The young man
scrambled up the side of the hill, but, unaccustomed to such wild
scenes, lost his presence of mind, and stood as if paralysed on the
edge of the bank, until the Blackfeet came up and slew him on the
spot. His comrades had fled on the first alarm; but two of them,
Foy and Stephens, seeing his danger, paused when they had got
half-way up the hill, turned back, dismounted, and hastened to his
assistance. Foy was instantly killed. Stephens was severely wounded,
but escaped, to die five days afterward. The survivors returned
to the camp of Captain Sublette, bringing tidings of this new
disaster. That hardy leader, as soon as he could bear the journey,
set out on his return to St. Louis, accompanied by Campbell.
As they had a number of packhorses, richly laden with peltries,
to convoy, they chose a different route through the mountains,
out of the way, as they hoped, of the lurking bands of Blackfeet.
They succeeded in making the frontier in safety.
On the 1st of May, 1832, Captain B. E. Bonneville, of the Seventh
United States Infantry, having obtained leave of absence from
Major-General Alexander Macomb, left Fort Osage, at his own expense,
on a perilous exploration of the country to the Rocky Mountains and
His party consisted of one hundred and ten men, the majority of whom
were experienced hunters and trappers. Their means of transportation
were twenty wagons, drawn by oxen or by four mules each, loaded with
ammunition, provisions, and some merchandise intended for trading
with the Indians. The wagons were moved in two columns, the men
marching in such a manner before and behind as to form an advance and
rear guard. This caravan of Captain Bonneville's undoubtedly
contained the first wagons that the Indians had ever seen, and as
they passed through their country, they created a novel sensation
among the savages. They examined everything about them minutely,
and asked a thousand questions, an unusual change from their
generally apathetic character.
On the march the captain invariably sent his hunters and scouts ahead,
to reconnoitre the country, as well as to procure game for the command.
On the 24th of May, as the caravan was slowly moving westward,
the scouts came rushing back, waving their caps, and shouting,
A halt was immediately ordered, and it was discovered that a large
party of Crows were on the river, just above where the caravan then
was. The captain, knowing that the tribe was noted for warlike deeds
and expertness in horse-stealing, gave orders to prepare for action.
All were soon ready for any emergency, the party moved on in battle
array, and in a short time about sixty Crow warriors emerged from
the bluffs. They were painted in the most approved style of savage
art, well mounted on fine ponies, and evidently ready for a battle.
They approached the caravan in true Indian method, cavorting around
on their spirited animals, rushing on as if they intended to make
a charge, but when at the proper distance suddenly opened right and
left, wheeled around the travellers at the same instant, whooping
and yelling diabolically. Their first wild demonstration of spoiling
for a fight having cooled down, they stopped, and the chief rode up
to the captain, extended his hand, which of course he took; and after
a pipe was smoked, nothing could exceed the spirit of friendliness
They were on a raid against a band of Cheyennes who had attacked
their village in the night and killed one of their tribe. They had
already been on the trail for twenty-five days, and said they were
determined never to return to their homes until they had had their
They had been secretly hanging on the trail of Captain Bonneville's
party and were astonished at the wagons and oxen, but were especially
amazed by the appearance of a cow and calf quietly walking alongside.
They supposed them to be some kind of tame buffalo. They regarded
them as “big medicine,” but when it was told them that the white men
would trade the calf for a horse, their wonder ceased, their
estimation of its wonderful power sank to zero, and they declined
to make the exchange.
On the 2d of June the Platte River was reached, about twenty-five
miles below Grand Island. Captain Bonneville measured the stream
at that point, found it to be twenty-two hundred yards wide, and
from three to six feet deep, the bottom full of quicksand.
On the 11th of the same month the party arrived at the forks of the
Platte, but finding it impossible to cross on account of the quicksand,
they travelled for two days along the south branch, trying to discover
a safe fording-place. At last they camped, took off the bodies of
the wagons, covered them with buffalo-hides, and smearing them with
tallow and ashes, thus turned them into boats. In these they ferried
themselves and their effects across the stream, which was six hundred
yards wide, with a very swift current.
After successfully crossing the river, the line of march was toward
the North Fork, a distance of nine miles from their ford. Terribly
annoyed by swarms of gnats and mosquitoes, they followed the
meanderings of the stream, and on the evening of the 17th arrived at
a beautiful grove, resonant with the songs of birds, the first they
had heard since leaving the banks of the Missouri.
Captain Bonneville made a camp at Chimney Rock, the height of which,
according to his triangulation, was one hundred and seventy-five yards.
On the 21st he made camp amidst the high and beetling cliffs, known
a few years afterward as Scott's Bluffs.
The route of Captain Bonneville's march was generally along the bank
of the Platte River, but frequently he was compelled, because of the
steep bluffs which bounded it, to make inland detours.
In July he camped on a branch of the Sweetwater, which by measurement
was sixty feet wide and four or five deep, flowing between low banks
over a sandy soil. At that point numerous herds of buffalo were seen.
On the 12th of July, the caravan reached Laramie's Fork, and,
abandoning the Platte, made a detour to the southwest. In two days
afterward they camped on the bank of the Sweetwater. Up that stream
they moved for several days, and on the 20th of July first caught
a glimpse of the Rocky Mountains, which they crossed and then went
on to the Pacific coast.
On the 13th of July of the following year after his tour through the
Rocky Mountains, Bonneville arrived in the Green River Valley, which
he now found covered in every direction with buffalo carcasses.
It was evident that the Indians had recently been there and in great
numbers. Alarmed at what he saw, the captain halted as soon as
night came on, and sent out his scouts to the trappers' rendezvous
at Horse Creek, where he expected to meet a party. When the scouts
returned with some of the trappers, his mind was relieved by the
information that the great slaughter of the buffaloes had been made
by a band of friendly Shoshones.
The Green River Valley, at the time of Captain Bonneville's visit,
was one of the general rendezvous of the trappers, traders, and
Indians. There he got together a band of some of the most experienced
men of the mountains, and determined to continue to explore into
unknown regions farther west. His objective point was the Great
Salt Lake, of which he had heard such wonderful accounts, and on
the 24th of July he started from the Green River Valley with forty
men to explore that inland sea.
In the spring of 1835 Captain Bonneville returned to the Green River
Valley, and from there pursued his course down the Platte, reaching
the frontier settlements on the 22d of August, having been absent
over three years. During all that time he had made no report to the
War Department, which thought he had perished on his venturesome
journey, and his name was stricken from the rolls of the army.
Several months after his arrival in Washington, and a satisfactory
explanation having been rendered, he was restored to his position.
On the 22d of May, 1842, Lieutenant John C. Fremont, of the
United States Corps of Army Engineers, arrived at St. Louis in
pursuance of orders from the War Department, to command an exploring
expedition westward to the Wind River Mountains. On the 10th of June
he started with the celebrated Kit Carson as his chief guide;
his route was up the Kansas River to the Blue, thence across to the
Platte, which he reached on the 25th. The principal object of his
expedition was a survey of the North Fork of that river. He found
the width of the stream, immediately below the junction of its two
principal branches, to be 5350 feet. Hunting buffalo and an
occasional Indian scare were the only important incidents of his
march up the valley. The expedition returned by the same route and
arrived at the mouth of the Platte on the 1st of October.
Before reaching Laramie's Fork, he met on the 28th of June a party
of fourteen trappers, in the employ of the American Fur Company,
making their way on foot with their blankets and light camp equipage
on their backs. Two months previously they had started from the mouth
of the Laramie River in boats loaded with furs destined for the
St. Louis market. They had taken advantage of the June freshet, and
were rapidly carried down as far as Scott's Bluffs. There the water
spread out into the valley, and the stream was so shallow they were
compelled to unload the principal part of their cargo. This they
secured as well as possible, and left a few of their men to guard it.
They continued struggling on with their boats in the sand and mud
fifteen or twenty days longer, then, farther progress being impossible,
they cached their remaining furs and property in trees on the bank of
the river, and, each man carrying what he could on his back, started
on foot for St. Louis. The party was entirely out of tobacco when
they were met by Fremont, who kindly gave them enough to last them
on their homeward journey.
During the next decade the Platte Valley witnessed a wonderful change.
From the habitat of the lonely trapper, hunting on its many streams,
it became the chosen route of a vast migration, seeking possession of
the virgin soil of far-off Oregon, or attracted by the discovery of
gold in California. The hegira of the Mormons to the sequestered
basin of the Great Salt Lake also swelled the stream, and was
followed soon after by the establishment of the overland stage,
the pony express, and the building of the Union Pacific Railroad.
TRADING-POSTS AND THEIR STORIES.
As early as the first decade of the present century, the great fur
companies sent out expeditions up the valley of the Platte in the
charge of their agents, to trap the beaver and other animals valuable
for their beautiful skins. The hardships of these pioneers in the
beginning of a trade which in a short time assumed gigantic proportions
are a story of suffering and privation which has few parallels in the
history of the development of our mid-continent region. Until the
establishment of the several trading-posts, the lives of these men
were continuous struggles for existence, as no company could possibly
transport provisions sufficient to last beyond the most remote
settlements, and the men were compelled to depend entirely upon their
rifles for a supply of food. When posts were located at convenient
distances from each other in the desolate country where their vocation
was carried on, the chances of the trapper for regular meals every day
were materially enhanced. Before the establishment of these
rendezvous, where everything necessary for his comfort was kept,
the trapper subsisted on deer, bear-meat, buffalo, and wild turkeys
—the latter were found in abundance everywhere. In times of great
scarcity, he was frequently compelled to resort to dead horses.
His coffee, and perhaps a scant supply of flour which he had brought
from the last settlement, would rarely suffice until he reached the
foot of the mountains; and even when obtainable the price was so
exorbitant that but few of the early adventurers could indulge in
The first trading-post was established at the mouth of Clear Creek,
in 1832, by Louis Vasquez, and named Fort Vasquez, after its
proprietor, but never grew into much importance and was soon abandoned.
Fort Laramie, one of the most celebrated rendezvous of the trappers,
was erected in 1834, by William Sublette and Robert Campbell of
St. Louis, agents of the American Fur Company. It was first called
Fort William, in honour of Sublette; later Fort John, and finally
christened Fort Laramie, after the river which took its name from
Joseph Laramie, a French-Canadian trapper of the earliest fur-hunting
period, who was murdered by the Indians near the mouth of the river.
It was located in the immediate region of the Ogallalla and Brule
bands of the great Sioux nation, and not very remote from that of
the Cheyennes and Arapahoes.
In 1835 the fort was sold to Milton Sublette, Jim Bridger, and others
of the American Fur Company, and the year following was by them
rebuilt at a cost of ten thousand dollars. It remained a private
establishment until 1849, the year of the discovery of gold in
California, when the government bought and transformed it into
a military post, to awe the savages who infested the trail to the
Pacific, which had then become the great highway of the immense
exodus from the Eastern states to the gold regions of that coast.
The original structure was built in the usual style of all Indian
trading-stations of that day, of adobes, or sun-dried bricks. It was
enclosed by walls twenty feet high and four feet thick, encompassing
an area two hundred and fifty feet long by two hundred wide. At the
diagonal northwest and southwest corners, adobe bastions were erected,
commanding every approach to the place.
The number of buildings were twelve in all: there were five
sleeping-rooms, kitchen, warehouse, icehouse, meat-house, blacksmith
shop, and carpenter shop. The enclosed corral had a capacity for
two hundred animals. The corral was separated from the buildings by
a partition, and the area in which the buildings were located was
a square, while the corral was a rectangle, into which, at night,
the horses and mules were secured. In the daytime, too, when the
presence of Indians indicated danger of the animals being stolen,
they were run into the enclosure.
The roofs of the buildings within the square were close against
the walls of the fort, and in case of necessity could be utilized
as a banquette from which to repulse any attack of the savages.
The main entrance to the enclosure had two gates, with an arched
passage intervening. A small window opened from an adjoining room
into this passage, so that when the gates were closed and barred
any one might still hold communication, through this narrow aperture,
with those within. Suspicious characters, especially the savages,
could do their trading without the necessity of being admitted into
the fort proper. At times when danger was apprehended from an attack
by the Indians, the gates were kept shut and all business transacted
through the window.
About thirty men were usually employed at Fort Laramie when the trade
was at its height, as that station monopolized nearly the entire
Indian trade of the whole region tributary to it. There the famous
frontiersmen, Kit Carson, Jim Bridger, Jim Baker, Jim Beckwourth,
and others, who in those remote times constituted the pioneers of
the primitive civilization of the country, made their headquarters.
The officials of the fur companies stationed at Fort Laramie ruled
with an absolute authority. They were as potent in their sway as
the veriest despot, for they had no one to dispute their right to
lord it over all. The nearest army outposts were seven hundred miles
to the east, and, like the viceroys of Spain after the conquest
of Mexico, they were a law unto themselves.
In its palmy days Fort Laramie swarmed with women and children,
whose language, like their complexions, was much mixed. All lived
almost exclusively on buffalo meat dried in the sun, and their
hunters had to go sometimes fifty miles to find a herd of buffaloes.
After a while there were a few domestic cattle introduced, and the
conditions changed somewhat.
No military frontier post in the United States was so beautifully
located as Fort Laramie. Surrounded by big bluffs at the intersection
of the Laramie and Platte rivers, forming a valley unsurpassed in
the fertility of its soil, together with the richness of its natural
vegetation, it was an oasis in the desert. The glory of the once
charming place has departed forever. It was abandoned by the
government a few years ago, as it was no longer a military necessity,
the savage tribes which it watched having either become tame or
removed to far-off reservations.
In 1826 Jim Bridger joined General Ashley's trapping expedition, and
eleven years afterward, in 1837, built Fort Bridger, for a long time
one of the most famous of the trading-posts. It was located on
the Black Fork of Green River where that stream branched into
three principal channels, forming several large islands, upon one of
which the fort was erected. It was constructed of two adjoining
log houses, with sod roofs, enclosed by a fence of pickets eight feet
high, and, as was usual, the offices and sleeping-apartments opened
into a square, protected from attacks by the Indians by a massive
timber gate. Into the corral all the animals were driven at night
to guard them from being stolen, or devoured by wild beasts.
The fort was inhabited by about fifty whites, Indians, and half-breeds.
The fort was the joint property of Bridger and Vasquez. Upon the
Mormon occupation of the region the owners were obliged to abandon it,
on account of disagreements with that sect, in 1853.
Fort Platte, another trading-post belonging to the American Fur
Company, was situated about three-fourths of a mile above the mouth
of the Laramie River, on the left bank of the North Platte, and
constructed in the same general way described in the preceding
paragraphs. As it is naturally to be supposed, there existed always
a desperate rivalry between the two forts. Some of the scenes enacted
there long ago are full of blood-curdling adventure and reckless
indifference to the preservation of life. The following is a true
picture of one of the annual gatherings of the Indian trappers who
came there to dispose of their season's furs, more than fifty
The night of our arrival at Fort Platte was the signal for a
grand jollification by all hands, with two or three exceptions,
who soon got most gloriously drunk, and such an illustration
of the beauties of harmony as was then presented would have
rivalled Bedlam itself, or even the famous council-chamber
beyond the Styx.
Yelling, screeching, firing, fighting, swearing, drinking,
and such like interesting performances were kept up without
intermission—and woe to the poor fellow who looked for repose
that night. He might have as well thought of sleeping with
a thousand cannons booming at his ears.
The scene was prolonged till sundown the next day, and several
made their egress from this beastly carousal minus shirts and
coats, with swollen eyes, bloody noses, and empty pockets
—the latter circumstance will be understood upon the mere
mention of the fact that liquor was sold for four dollars
The day following was ushered in by the enactment of another
scene of comico-tragical character.
The Indians camped in the vicinity, being extremely solicitous
to imitate the example of their illustrious predecessors,
commenced their demands for fire-water as soon as the first
tints of morning began to paint the east; and, before the sun
had told an hour of his course, they were pretty well advanced
in the state of “How come you so?” and seemed to exercise
their musical powers in wonderful rivalry with their white
Men, women, and children were seen running from lodge to lodge
with vessels of liquor, inviting their friends and relatives
to drink; while whooping, singing, drunkenness, and trading
for fresh supplies to administer to the demands of
intoxication had evidently become the order of the day.
Soon individuals were seen passing from one another, with
mouths full of the coveted fire-water, drawing the lips of
favoured friends to close contact, as if to kiss, and ejecting
the contents of their own into the eager mouths of others
—thus affording the delighted recipients tests of fervent
esteem in the heat and strength of their strange draught.
At this stage of the game the American Fur Company, as was
charged, commenced to deal out to them gratuitously, strong
drugged liquor for the double purpose of preventing the sale
of the article by its competitor in trade, and of creating
sickness, or inciting contention among the Indians while
under the influence of sudden intoxication, hoping thereby
to induce the latter to charge its ill effects upon an
opposite source, and thus by destroying the credit of its
rival to monopolize the whole trade.
It is hard to predict with certainty what would have been
the result of this reckless policy, had it been continued
through the day. Already its effects became apparent, and
small knots of drunken Indians were seen in various directions,
quarreling, preparing to fight, or fighting, while others
lay stretched upon the ground in helpless impotency, or
staggered from place to place with all the revolting
attendants of intoxication.
The drama, however, was brought to a temporary close by an
incident which made a strange contrast in its immediate
One of the head chiefs of the Brule village, in riding at full
speed from Fort John to Fort Platte, being a little too drunk
to navigate, plunged headlong from his horse, and broke his
neck when within a few rods of his destination. Then was
a touching display of confusion and excitement. Men and
squaws commenced squalling like children—the whites were bad,
very bad, said they, in their grief, to give Susu-Ceicha
the fire-water that caused his death. But the height of
their censure was directed against the American Fur Company,
as its liquor had done the deed.
The corpse of the deceased chief was brought to the fort by
his relatives with a request that the whites should assist
at his burial; but they were in a sorry plight for such
a service. There were found some sufficiently sober for the
task, however, and they accordingly commenced operations.
A scaffold was erected for the reception of the body, which,
in the meantime, had been fitted for its last airy tenement.
The duty was performed in the following manner: It was first
washed, then arrayed in the habiliments last worn by the
deceased during life, and sewed in several envelopes of
lodge-skin with his bows and arrows and pipe. This done,
all things were ready for the proposed burial.
The corpse was borne to its final resting-place, followed by
a throng of relatives and friends. While moving onward with
the dead, the train of mourners filled the air with
lamentations and rehearsals of the virtues and meritorious
deeds of their late chief.
Arrived at the scaffold, the corpse was carefully reposed
upon it facing the east, while beneath its head was placed
a small sack of meat, tobacco, and vermilion, with a comb,
looking-glass, and knife, and at its feet a small banner that
had been carried in the procession. A covering of scarlet
cloth was then spread over it, and the body firmly lashed
to its place by long strips of rawhide. This done, the horse
of the chieftain was produced as a sacrifice for the benefit
of his master in his long journey to the celestial
Then first, encircling it at a respectful distance, were
seated the old men, next the young men and the warriors, and
next the squaws and children. Etespa-huska (The Long Bow),
eldest son of the deceased, thereupon commenced speaking,
while the weeping throng ceased its tumult to listen to
“O Susu-Ceicha! thy son bemourns thee, even as were wont the
fledglings of the war-eagle to cry for the one that nourished
them, when thy swift arrow had laid him in the dust. Sorrow
fills the heart of Etespa-huska; sadness crushes it to the
ground and sinks it beneath the sod upon which he treads.
“Thou hast gone, O Susu-Ceicha! Death hath conquered thee,
whom none but death could conquer; and who shall now teach
thy son to be brave as thou wast brave; to be good as thou
wast good; to fight the foe of thy people and acquaint thy
chosen ones with the war-song of triumph; to deck his lodge
with the scalps of the slain, and bid the feet of the young
move swiftly in the dance? And who shall teach Etespa-huska
to follow the chase and plunge his arrows into the yielding
sides of the tired bull?”
Thus for half an hour did the young man tell of the virtues
and great deeds of his father, and the moment he had finished,
a tremendous howl of grief burst from the whole assemblage,
men, women, and children alike. When the wailing ceased
they all returned to their respective lodges.
The sad event of the day put a stop to the dissipation of
the savages, and not long afterward they commenced to pull
down their respective lodges, and removed to the neighbourhood
of the buffalo, for the purpose of selecting their winter
Two weeks later a band of Brules arrived in the vicinity of
the fort and opened a brisk trade in liquor by indulging in
a drunken spree.
The savages crowded the fort houses seeking articles, and
soon became a terrible nuisance. One room in particular was
constantly thronged to the exclusion of its regular occupants,
when the latter, losing all patience with the savages, adopted
the following plan to get rid of them.
After closely covering the chimney, by the aid of some
half-rotten chips a dense smoke was raised, the doors and
windows being closed at the same time to prevent its escape,
and in an instant the apartment became filled to the point of
suffocation—too much so for the Indians, who gladly made
a precipitate retreat.
They were told it was the “Long-Knife Medicine.” During
the visit of the savages at the fort, a warrior called
“Big Eagle” was struck over the head by a half-drunken trader,
an incident which came very near terminating seriously, but
fortunately did not. It might have ended in the massacre of
all the whites had not some of the more level-headed promptly
interfered and with much effort succeeded in pacifying the
enraged chief by presenting him with a horse.
At first the savage would admit of no compromise short of
the offender's blood. He had been struck by the white man,
and blood alone must atone for the aggression. Unless that
should wipe out the disgrace he could never again hold up his
head among his people—they would call him a coward, and say
a white man struck the Big Eagle and he dared not resent it.
An Indian considers it the greatest indignity to receive a blow from
any one, even from his own brother; and unless the affair is settled
by the bestowal of a trespass offering on the part of the aggressor,
he is almost sure to seek revenge, either through blood or the
destruction of property. This is more an especial characteristic
of the Sioux than of any other of the savage tribes.
The liquor-traffic was a most infamous one, as an abundance of facts
In November, 1855, the American Fur Company, from Fort John, sent
a quantity of their drugged liquor to an Indian village on the
Chugwater, as a gift, for the purpose of preventing the sale of that
article by their competitors in trade. The consequence was that
the poor creatures all got beastly drunk, and a fight ensued, in which
two chiefs, Bull Bear and Yellow Lodge, and six of their personal
friends were murdered. Fourteen others who took part in the fracas
were badly wounded. Soon afterward another affair of the same
character occurred, and resulted in the death of three of the savages.
Many were killed in like quarrels in the several Indian villages.
The liquor used in this nefarious trade was generally third or
fourth proof whiskey, which, after being diluted by a mixture of
three parts water, was sold to the savages at the exorbitant rate of
three cups for a single buffalo-robe, each cup holding about three
gills. That was not all: sometimes the cup was not more than half
filled; then again the act of measuring was also a rascally
transaction, for when the poor savage became so drunk that he could
not see, he was cheated—more water was added, the unlucky purchaser
not receiving more than one-fourth of what he paid for. There were
still other modes of cheating poor Lo.
To further show how demoralizing the traffic was I will relate an
instance: “Old Bull Tail,” a chief of the Sioux, had an only daughter,
who was named Chint-zille. She was very handsome as savage beauty
goes, and the old chief really loved her, for the North American
Indian is possessed of as much devotion to his family as is to be
found in the most cultivated of the white race; but the old fellow
was inordinately fond of getting drunk, and at one time, not having
the wherewithal to procure the necessary liquor, made up his mind
that he would trade his daughter for a sufficient quantity.
One morning he entered the store of a trader, accompanied by
Chint-zille. The following dialogue took place:
“Bull Tail is welcome to the lodge of the Long-Knife; but why is his
daughter, the pride of his heart, bathed in tears? It pains me that
one so beautiful should weep.”
The old chief answered: “Chint-zille is a foolish girl. Her father
loves her, and therefore she cries.”
“There should be greater cause for grief than that.”
“The Long-Knife speaks well.”
“How then can she sorrow? Tell her to speak to me, that I may whisper
words of comfort in her ear.”
“I will tell you, Long-Knife: Bull Tail loves his daughter very much;
he loves Long-Knife very much! he loves them both very much.
The Great Spirit has put the thought into his mind that both alike
might be his children; then would his heart leap for joy at the
twice-spoken name of father!”
“I do not understand the meaning of Bull Tail's words.”
“Sure, Long-Knife, you are slow to understand! Bull Tail would give
his daughter to the Long-Knife. Does not Long-Knife love Chint-zille?”
“If I should say no, my tongue would lie; Long-Knife has no wife,
and who, like the lovely Chint-zille, is so worthy that he should
take her to his bosom? How can I show my gratitude to her noble
“The gift is free, and Bull Tail will be too glad in its acceptance,
his friends will all be glad with him. But that they may bless the
Long-Knife, let him fill up the hollow-wood with fire-water, and
Bull Tail will take it to his lodge; then Chint-zille will be yours.”
“But Chint-zille grieves, she does not love the Long-Knife.”
“Chint-zille is foolish. Let the Long-Knife measure the fire-water,
and she shall be yours.”
“No, Long-Knife will not do this; Chint-zille should never be the
wife of the man she does not love.”
The old chief pleaded for a long time with the trader to take the
girl and give him the liquid, but the trader was inexorable; he would
not form any such tangling alliance, so the old chief failed to get
the liquor, and he left the house with mortification and shame
depicted on his withered face.
Utah was settled in 1847 by a religious community of people generally
known by the name of Mormons, but they style themselves,
“The Latter-day Saints of the Church of Jesus Christ.”
In the great valley of a vast inland sea, the existence of which was
unknown to the world seventy-five years ago, whose surroundings were
a desert in the most rigid definition of the term, a great
commonwealth has been established unparalleled in the history of
its origin by that of any of the civilized countries of the world.
Out of the most desolate of our vast arid interior areas, in less than
half a century has been evolved not only a magnificent garden spot,
but a great city with all the adjuncts of our most modern civilization.
Rich in its architecture, progressive in its art, with a literature
that is marvellous when the conditions from which it has sprung are
seriously considered, the Mormon community meets all the demands of
our ever advancing civilization.
Neither the love of gold, nor the cupidity of conquest, those
characteristics which have subordinated other portions of the
New World to the restless ambition of man, were the causes that have
revolutionized both the physical character and the social conditions
of the now wealthy and prosperous state of Utah. As Bancroft very
Utah was settled upon an entirely new idea of God's revelation
to the world. Old faiths have been worked over and over;
colonies have been built upon those tenets, but never before
have any results comparable to those which characterize that
of the Mormon faith been attained, in founding a community,
based as it is upon an entirely new religion.
Originating east of the Mississippi, perhaps no sect in modern times
has been so persecuted as was that of the Mormons in their early days.
So great and unbearable had this persecution become that it was
determined by their leaders to seek some remote spot where they could
worship according to their own ideas, without fear of molestation.
The Mormon emigration to Utah was seriously considered by Brigham
Young years before 1847, the date of their exodus. It is claimed
that he was but carrying out the plans of Joseph Smith, who early in
1842 said that his people “would yet be driven to the Rocky Mountains,
where they would be able to build a city of their own free from all
In confirmation of this the following extract from Heber C. Kimball's
diary shows that a migration to some point west of the Rocky Mountains
Nauvoo Temple, December 31, 1845—President Young and myself
are superintending the operations of the day, examining maps
with reference to selecting a location for the Saints west of
the Rocky Mountains, and reading the various works which have
been written and published by travellers in those regions.
When it had been determined to leave for the Great Basin, winter
quarters were established on the Elk Horn River; and on the morning
of the 9th of April, 1847, the migration began, but was not fairly
inaugurated until the 14th. The party were allowed a wagon, two oxen,
two milch cows, and a tent, to every ten of their number. For each
wagon there was supplied a thousand pounds of flour, fifty pounds
of rice, sugar, and bacon, thirty of beans, twenty of dried apples
or peaches, twenty-five of salt, five of tea, a gallon of vinegar,
and ten bars of soap. Every able-bodied man was compelled to carry
a rifle or musket. His wagon served for bed and kitchen, and was
occasionally used as a boat in crossing the streams. A day's journey
averaged about thirteen miles, with a rest at noon to dine and to
allow the cattle to graze.
For the benefit of those who were following them, the first party of
Mormons adopted some curious devices to inform their friends among
the latter how they were progressing. For post-offices, they used
the bleached buffalo-skulls found on the prairie, which, after the
letters were placed inside, they suspended from the limbs of trees
along the route. For guide-posts and to indicate their camping-places,
they painted on the bald fronts of other buffalo-skulls the date and
number of miles they had made.
After over three months of hardship and suffering, this party of
pioneers reached the portals of their destination. On the 19th of
July, 1847, two of the number started from the advance camp soon after
sunrise to make a reconnoissance of the road, which left Cañon Creek
and ran along through a ravine to the west.
The ascent was gradual for about four miles, when the dividing
ridge was reached. Here the two pioneers tied their horses,
and on foot ascended a near-by mountain, Big Mountain by name,
to obtain a glimpse of the country. Previously, from the
peaks of that neighbourhood, the pathfinder of the pioneer
band had been met by a series of towering, snow-capped
mountains, piled seemingly one upon the other, ever greeting
his tired vision as he gazed eagerly westward, looking for
the Promised Land. But this time a different view was exposed.
To the southwest, through a vista of gradually-sloping
mountains, through an opening in the cañons, the light blue
and the fleecy white clouds above seemed to be sinking into
a plain of gold. Two small portions of a level prairie were
visible, and beyond rose a series of blue mountains, their
peaks tipped with snow. It was the Valley of the Great Salt
From the summit of the Big Mountain, they gazed long and
earnestly on the glorious view. First they looked upon the
high walls surrounding their position at the time, but ever
would their eyes turn longingly to that little panorama of
life and colour which appeared through a gap in the mountains,
the yellow and green of the valley, the blue and white of the
sky, with a foreground of dark mountains clothed in darker
shrubbery. The Oquirrhs rose majestically in the centre of
the picture, and far beyond them a dim, shadowy outline of
the Onaqui range, which completed the glorious landscape.
Previous to their arrival in the valley, on the 23d of June, the
Mormons met Jim Bridger and two of his employees en route to Fort
Laramie. Bridger was told that he was the man of all men whom they
had been looking for, upon which he advised them to camp right where
they were, and he would tell them all he knew about the country and
the region around the Great Basin. Camp was accordingly made,
Bridger took supper with Brigham Young, and the information he had to
impart was given in the old trapper's usual irregular way. Learning
that the destination of the Mormons was in the Desert of the Salt Lake
Valley, Bridger offered to give one thousand dollars for the first ear
of corn raised there. “Wait a little,” said the president of the
Mormons, “and we will show you.” In describing to Brigham Young the
Great Salt Lake, which he called “Sevier Lake,” he said that some of
his men had spent three months going around it in canoes hunting
beaver, and that the distance was five hundred and fifty miles.
In 1856 thousands of European converts to the new religion emigrated
to Utah. On their arrival in this country, however, they had very
little spare cash. It was therefore decided by those in authority
that they should cross the plains with hand-carts, in which was to
be hauled their baggage. Wagons were provided for tents, provisions,
and those who were not able to walk.
In a circular published in Liverpool by the Presidency of the British
Isles, among other things it recited that “The Lord, through his
Prophet, says of the poor, let them gird up their loins, and walk
through, and nothing shall hinder them.”
Iowa City was the point where the poor emigrants were outfitted and
received their hand-carts. These were somewhat primitive in
The shafts being about five feet long, and of hickory or oak,
with crosspieces, one of them serving for a handle, forming
the bed of the cart, under the centre of which was a wooden
axletree, the wheels being also made of wood, with a light
iron band, and the entire weight of the vehicle about sixty
pounds. Better carts were provided in subsequent years.
To each one hundred persons were furnished twenty hand-carts, five
tents, three or four milch cows, and a wagon with three yoke of oxen
to convey the provisions and camp equipage. The quantity of clothing
and bedding was limited to seventeen pounds per capita, and the
freight of each cart, including cooking utensils, was about one
One of the companies reached the old winter quarters near the middle
of August, and there held a meeting to decide whether they should
continue the journey or encamp for the winter. They had yet more than
a thousand miles to travel, and with their utmost efforts could not
expect to arrive in the valley until late in November. The matter was
left with the elders, all of whom, excepting one named Levi Savage,
counselled them to go forward and trust in the Lord, who would surely
protect them. Savage declared that they should trust, also, to such
common sense as the Lord had given them. From his certain knowledge,
the company, containing as it did so large a number of the aged and
infirm, of women and children, could not cross the mountains thus late
in the season without much suffering, sickness, and death. He was
overruled and rebuked for want of faith. “Brethren and sisters,” he
replied, “what I have said I know to be true; but seeing you are going
forward, I will go with you. May God in his mercy preserve us.”
The company set forth from their camp on the 18th, and on each
hand-cart was now placed a ninety-eight pound sack of flour, as the
wagons could not carry the entire load. At first they travelled about
fifteen miles a day, although delays were caused by the breaking of
wheels and axles. The heat and aridity of the plains and mountains
speedily made many of the cart-wheels rickety and unable to sustain
their burdens without frequent repairs. Some shod the axles of their
carts with old leather, others with tin from the plates and kettles
of their mess outfit; and for grease they used their allowance of
bacon, and even their soap, of which they had but little. On reaching
Wood River the cattle stampeded, and thirty head were lost, the
remainder being only sufficient to allow one yoke to each wagon.
The beef cattle, milch cows, and heifers were used as draft animals,
but were of little service, and it was found necessary to place
another sack of flour on each hand-cart. The issue of beef was then
stopped, the cows gave no milk, and the daily ration was reduced to
a pound of flour, with a little rice, sugar, coffee, and bacon,
an allowance which only furnished breakfast for some of the men,
who fasted for the remainder of the day.
While encamped on the North Fork of the Platte the emigrants were
overtaken by another party of elders, returning from foreign missions,
who gave them what encouragement they could. “Though it might storm
on their right and on their left the Lord would keep open their way
before them, and they would reach Zion in safety.” After camping with
them for one night, the elders went on their way, promising to leave
provisions for them at Fort Laramie if possible, and to send them aid
from Salt Lake City. On reaching Laramie no provisions were found,
and rations were again reduced, men able to work receiving twelve
ounces of flour daily, women and old men nine ounces, and children
from four to eight ounces.
As the emigrants travelled along the banks of the Sweetwater,
the nights became severe, and their bed-covering was now insufficient.
Before them were the mountains clad almost to the base with snow,
where already the storms of winter were gathering. Gradually the
old and infirm began to droop, and soon deaths became frequent,
the companies seldom leaving their camping-ground without burying one
or more of the party. Then able-bodied men began to succumb, a few
of them continuing to pull their carts before they died, and one or
two even on the day of their deaths. On the morning when the first
snow-storm occurred, the last ration of flour was issued, and a march
of sixteen miles was before them to the nearest camping-ground on
the Sweetwater. The task seemed hopeless, but at noon a wagon
drove up, containing Joseph A. Young and Stephen Taylor, from Salt
Lake City, who told them that a train of supplies would reach them
in a day or two. Thus encouraged, the emigrants pushed forward.
By doubling their teams, and by the strongest of the party helping
the weak to drag their carts, all reached the camping-ground, though
some of the cattle perished, and during the night five persons died
of cold and exhaustion.
In the morning the snow was a foot deep, and there remained only two
barrels of biscuits, a few pounds of sugar and dried apples, and
a quarter of a sack of rice. Two of the disabled cattle were killed,
their carcasses issued for beef, and on this and a small dole of
biscuits the emigrants were told that they must subsist until
supplies reached them. The small remnant of provisions was reserved
for the young children and the sick. It was now decided to remain
in camp, while the captain with one of the elders went in search of
the supply-trains. The small allowance of beef and biscuit was
consumed the first day, and on the second day more cattle were killed
and eaten without biscuit. On the next day there was nothing to eat,
for no more cattle could be spared. Still the supplies came not,
being delayed by the same storm which the emigrants had encountered.
During these three days many died and numbers sickened. Some expired
in the arms of those who were themselves almost at the point of death.
Mothers wrapped with their dying hands the remnant of their tattered
clothing around the wan forms of their perishing infants. The most
pitiful sight of all was to see strong men begging for the morsel
of food that had been set apart for the sick and helpless.
It was now the evening of the third day, and the sun was sinking
behind the snow-clad ranges which could be traced far to the west
amid the clear, frosty atmosphere of the desert. There were many who,
while they gazed on this scene, did not expect to see the light of
another day, and there were many who cared for life no longer, having
lost all that makes life precious. They retired to their tents and
commanded themselves to their Maker, lay down to rest, perchance
to die. But presently a shout of joy was raised. From an eminence
near the western portion of the camp covered wagons were seen
approaching, with the captain at their head. Immediately about half
of the provisions, together with a quantity of warm clothing,
blankets, and buffalo-robes were distributed to the companies.
The remainder was sent forward under charge of Grant for the use of
But the troubles of the hand-cart emigrants were not yet at an end.
Some were already beyond all human aid, some had lost their reason,
and around others the blackness of despair had settled, all efforts
to rouse them from their stupor being unavailing. Each day the
weather grew colder, and many were frost-bitten, losing fingers,
toes, or ears, one sick man who held on to the wagon bars to avoid
jolting having all his fingers frozen. At a camping-ground at
Willow Creek, a tributary of the Sweetwater, fifteen people were
buried, thirteen of them having been frozen to death. Near South
Pass another company of the brethren met them, with supplies from
Salt Lake City, and from the trees near their camp several quarters
of fat beef were suspended—“a picture,” says Chislett, who had charge
of one of the companies, “that far surpassed the paintings of the
ancient masters.” From this point warm weather prevailed, and fresh
teams from the valley constantly met them, distributing provisions
sufficient for their needs, and then travelling eastward to meet
the other company.
On reaching Salt Lake City on the 9th of November, it was found that
sixty-seven out of a total of four hundred and twenty had died on
the journey. Of the six hundred emigrants included in Martin's
detachment, which arrived there three weeks later, a smaller
percentage perished. The storm which overtook the party on the
Sweetwater reached them on the North Platte. There they encamped
and waited about ten days for the weather to moderate. Their rations
were reduced to four ounces of flour per head a day, for a few days,
until relief came. On arriving at Salt Lake City the survivors were
received with the utmost kindness.
On their arrival at Devil's Gate on the Sweetwater, twenty men
belonging to the other company were left in charge of stock,
merchandise, and baggage, with orders to follow in the spring.
The snow fell deep, and many of the cattle were devoured by the
wolves, while others perished from cold. The rest were slaughtered,
and on their frozen carcasses the men subsisted, their small stock
of flour and salt now being exhausted. Game was scarce in the
neighbourhood, and with their utmost care the supply of food could
not hold out until spring. Two of the men, with the only horses
that remained, were sent to Platte Bridge to obtain supplies; but the
animals were lost, and they returned empty-handed. Presently the
meat was all consumed, and then their only resource was the hides,
which were cut into small pieces and soaked in hot water, after the
hair had been removed. When the last hide had been eaten, nothing
remained but their boot-tops and the scraps of leather from their
wagon. Even the neck-piece of a buffalo-skin which had served as
a door-mat was used for food. Thus they kept themselves alive until
spring, when they subsisted on thistle-roots and wild garlic, until
at length relief came from Salt Lake City.
On the 5th of December, 1857, John B. Floyd, then Secretary of War,
in his report to James Buchanan, President of the United States,
states that the people of Utah implicitly obeyed their prophet, and
that from the first day of their settlement in the territory it had
been their aim to secede from the Union. He says that for years
they had not even pretended obedience to Federal authority, and that
they encouraged roaming bands of Indians to rob and massacre the
emigrants bound for the Pacific coast.
Previous to the assembling of any troops for duty in Utah to enforce
obedience to the laws of the government, an opinion was asked of
General Winfield Scott, then commanding the army, as to the feasibility
of sending an armed expedition into the territory. Scott's decision
was most emphatically against the proposition to send troops there
so late in the season. The general's advice was not heeded, however,
and in May orders were promulgated that the Fifth and Tenth Infantry,
the Second Dragoons, and a battery of the Fourth Artillery should
assemble at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, with the Valley of the Salt Lake
as their objective point.
In June, 1858, more than six thousand troops were mobilized for Utah,
and the command was given to Brigadier-General W. S. Harney.
In the whole military history of the country, before the Civil War,
no expedition had ever been better equipped and rationed than that
which was to be called “The Army of Occupation in Utah.” Thousands
of cattle and immense supply-trains were started across the plains
in advance. The price for the transportation was twenty-two cents
These exorbitant contracts made the lucky individuals who had
secured them very wealthy. By a little political wire-pulling he who
had secured the flour contract obtained permission to provide the
troops with Utah flour. It cost him but seven cents a pound, but he
received the twenty-two cents which it would have cost to have
transported it from the States.
This large army was stationed in Utah Territory for nearly four years.
It is stated on good authority that the private soldiers asked of
each other, “Why were we sent here? Why are we kept here?” while
the common people wondered whether the authorities at Washington kept
them there to make the contractors rich.
At that time the people of the territory were in a starving condition
in consequence of the failure of crops and the unusually severe
winter of 1856-1857. There were thousands who for over a year had
never realized what a full meal meant; children by the hundreds
“endured the gnawings of hunger until hunger had become to them
a second nature”; yet despite this condition of affairs the orders
issued to General Harney from Washington display a lamentable
ignorance, or a determination to compel the Mormons to feed the
troops on the basis of the miracle of “the loaves and fishes.”
His instructions were as follows:
It is not doubted that a surplus of provisions and forage,
beyond the wants of the resident population, will be found
in the Valley of Utah, and that the inhabitants, if assured
by energy and justice, will be ready to sell them to the
troops. Hence, no instructions are given you for the extreme
event of the troops being in absolute need of such supplies,
and their being with-held by the inhabitants. The necessities
of such an occasion would furnish a law for your guidance.
Exactly the reverse of what was intended by the authorities at
Washington occurred in Utah. In another chapter it is shown how the
Mormons stampeded the cattle of the supply-trains, and robbed them
of their contents, so it will be perceived that the Mormons themselves
subsisted on the rations intended for the troops, completely
controverting what was implied in the orders to General Harney.
On the day after the departure from Salt Lake of the officers sent
on a special mission to investigate the condition of affairs in Utah,
Brigham Young issued a proclamation declaring martial law in Utah,
forbidding all armed forces to enter the territory under any pretence
whatever, and ordering the Mormon militia to be in readiness to march
at a moment's notice. It is probable that the Nauvoo Legion, which