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The Adventures of Captain Bonneville by Washington Irving

Part 4 out of 7

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the neck.

In the meantime the Indians took possession of the deserted camp,
with all the traps, accoutrements, and horses. While they were
busy among the spoils, a solitary trapper, who had been absent at
his work, came sauntering to the camp with his traps on his back.
He had approached near by, when an Indian came forward and
motioned him to keep away; at the same moment, he was perceived
by his comrades on the island, and warned of his danger with loud
cries. The poor fellow stood for a moment, bewildered and aghast,
then dropping his traps, wheeled and made off at full speed,
quickened by a sportive volley which the Indians rattled after

In high good humor with their easy triumph, the savages now
formed a circle round the fire and performed a war dance, with
the unlucky trappers for rueful spectators. This done, emboldened
by what they considered cowardice on the part of the white men,
they neglected their usual mode of bush-fighting, and advanced
openly within twenty paces of the willows. A sharp volley from
the trappers brought them to a sudden halt, and laid three of
them breathless. The chief, who had stationed himself on an
eminence to direct all the movements of his people, seeing three
of his warriors laid low, ordered the rest to retire. They
immediately did so, and the whole band soon disappeared behind a
point of woods, carrying off with them the horses, traps, and the
greater part of the baggage.

It was just after this misfortune that the party of ten men
discovered this forlorn band of trappers in a fortress, which
they had thrown up after their disaster. They were so perfectly
dismayed, that they could not be induced even to go in quest of
their traps, which they had set in a neighboring stream. The two
parties now joined their forces, and made their way, without
further misfortune, to the rendezvous.

Captain Bonneville perceived from the reports of these parties,
as well as from what he had observed himself in his recent march,
that he was in a neighborhood teeming with danger. Two wandering
Snake Indians, also, who visited the camp, assured him that there
were two large bands of Crows marching rapidly upon him. He broke
up his encampment, therefore, on the 1st of September, made his
way to the south, across the Littlehorn Mountain, until he
reached Wind River, and then turning westward, moved slowly up
the banks of that stream, giving time for his men to trap as he
proceeded. As it was not in the plan of the present hunting
campaigns to go near the caches on Green River, and as the
trappers were in want of traps to replace those they had lost,
Captain Bonneville undertook to visit the caches, and procure a
supply. To accompany him in this hazardous expedition, which
would take him through the defiles of the Wind River Mountains,
and up the Green River valley, he took but three men; the main
party were to continue on trapping up toward the head of Wind
River, near which he was to rejoin them, just about the place
where that stream issues from the mountains. We shall accompany
the captain on his adventurous errand.

Captain Bonneville sets out for Green River valley Journey up
the Popo Agie Buffaloes The staring white bears The smoke The
warm springs
Attempt to traverse the Wind River Mountains The Great
Slope Mountain dells and chasms Crystal lakes Ascent of a snowy
peak Sublime prospect A panorama "Les dignes de pitie," or wild
men of the mountains

HAVING FORDED WIND RIVER a little above its mouth, Captain
Bonneville and his three companions proceeded across a gravelly
plain, until they fell upon the Popo Agie, up the left bank of
which they held their course, nearly in a southerly direction.
Here they came upon numerous droves of buffalo, and halted for
the purpose of procuring a supply of beef. As the hunters were
stealing cautiously to get within shot of the game, two small
white bears suddenly presented themselves in their path, and,
rising upon their hind legs, contemplated them for some time with
a whimsically solemn gaze. The hunters remained motionless;
whereupon the bears, having apparently satisfied their curiosity,
lowered themselves upon all fours, and began to withdraw. The
hunters now advanced, upon which the bears turned, rose again
upon their haunches, and repeated their serio-comic examination.
This was repeated several times, until the hunters, piqued at
their unmannerly staring, rebuked it with a discharge of their
rifles. The bears made an awkward bound or two, as if wounded,
and then walked off with great gravity, seeming to commune
together, and every now and then turning to take another look at
the hunters. It was well for the latter that the bears were but
half grown, and had not yet acquired the ferocity of their kind.

The buffalo were somewhat startled at the report of the firearms;
but the hunters succeeded in killing a couple of fine cows, and,
having secured the best of the meat, continued forward until some
time after dark, when, encamping in a large thicket of willows,
they made a great fire, roasted buffalo beef enough for half a
score, disposed of the whole of it with keen relish and high
glee, and then "turned in" for the night and slept soundly, like
weary and well fed hunters.

At daylight they were in the saddle again, and skirted along the
river, passing through fresh grassy meadows, and a succession of
beautiful groves of willows and cotton-wood. Toward evening,
Captain Bonneville observed a smoke at a distance rising from
among hills, directly in the route he was pursuing. Apprehensive
of some hostile band, he concealed the horses in a thicket, and,
accompanied by one of his men, crawled cautiously up a height,
from which he could overlook the scene of danger. Here, with a
spy-glass, he reconnoitred the surrounding country, but not a
lodge nor fire, not a man, horse, nor dog, was to be discovered;
in short, the smoke which had caused such alarm proved to be the
vapor from several warm, or rather hot springs of considerable
magnitude, pouring forth streams in every direction over a bottom
of white clay. One of the springs was about twenty-five yards in
diameter, and so deep that the water was of a bright green color.

They were now advancing diagonally upon the chain of Wind River
Mountains, which lay between them and Green River valley. To
coast round their southern points would be a wide circuit;
whereas, could they force their way through them, they might
proceed in a straight line. The mountains were lofty, with snowy
peaks and cragged sides; it was hoped, however, that some
practicable defile might be found. They attempted, accordingly,
to penetrate the mountains by following up one of the branches of
the Popo Agie, but soon found themselves in the midst of
stupendous crags and precipices that barred all progress.
Retracing their steps, and falling back upon the river, they
consulted where to make another attempt. They were too close
beneath the mountains to scan them generally, but they now
recollected having noticed, from the plain, a beautiful slope
rising, at an angle of about thirty degrees, and apparently
without any break, until it reached the snowy region. Seeking
this gentle acclivity, they began to ascend it with alacrity,
trusting to find at the top one of those elevated plains which
prevail among the Rocky Mountains. The slope was covered with
coarse gravel, interspersed with plates of freestone. They
attained the summit with some toil, but found, instead of a
level, or rather undulating plain, that they were on the brink of
a deep and precipitous ravine, from the bottom of which rose a
second slope, similar to the one they had just ascended. Down
into this profound ravine they made their way by a rugged path,
or rather fissure of the rocks, and then labored up the second
slope. They gained the summit only to find themselves on another
ravine, and now perceived that this vast mountain, which had
presented such a sloping and even side to the distant beholder on
the plain, was shagged by frightful precipices, and seamed with
longitudinal chasms, deep and dangerous.

In one of these wild dells they passed the night, and slept
soundly and sweetly after their fatigues. Two days more of
arduous climbing and scrambling only served to admit them into
the heart of this mountainous and awful solitude; where
difficulties increased as they proceeded. Sometimes they
scrambled from rock to rock, up the bed of some mountain stream,
dashing its bright way down to the plains; sometimes they availed
themselves of the paths made by the deer and the mountain sheep,
which, however, often took them to the brinks of fearful
precipices, or led to rugged defiles, impassable for their
horses. At one place, they were obliged to slide their horses
down the face of a rock, in which attempt some of the poor
animals lost their footing, rolled to the bottom, and came near
being dashed to pieces.

In the afternoon of the second day, the travellers attained one
of the elevated valleys locked up in this singular bed of
mountains. Here were two bright and beautiful little lakes, set
like mirrors in the midst of stern and rocky heights, and
surrounded by grassy meadows, inexpressibly refreshing to the
eye. These probably were among the sources of those mighty
streams which take their rise among these mountains, and wander
hundreds of miles through the plains.

In the green pastures bordering upon these lakes, the travellers
halted to repose, and to give their weary horses time to crop the
sweet and tender herbage. They had now ascended to a great height
above the level of the plains, yet they beheld huge crags of
granite piled one upon another, and beetling like battlements far
above them. While two of the men remained in the camp with the
horses, Captain Bonneville, accompanied by the other men [man],
set out to climb a neighboring height, hoping to gain a
commanding prospect, and discern some practicable route through
this stupendous labyrinth. After much toil, he reached the summit
of a lofty cliff, but it was only to behold gigantic peaks rising
all around, and towering far into the snowy regions of the
atmosphere. Selecting one which appeared to be the highest, he
crossed a narrow intervening valley, and began to scale it. He
soon found that he had undertaken a tremendous task; but the
pride of man is never more obstinate than when climbing
mountains. The ascent was so steep and rugged that he and his
companion were frequently obliged to clamber on hands and knees,
with their guns slung upon their backs. Frequently, exhausted
with fatigue, and dripping with perspiration, they threw
themselves upon the snow, and took handfuls of it to allay their
parching thirst. At one place, they even stripped off their coats
and hung them upon the bushes, and thus lightly clad, proceeded
to scramble over these eternal snows. As they ascended still
higher, there were cool breezes that refreshed and braced them,
and springing with new ardor to their task, they at length
attained the summit.

Here a scene burst upon the view of Captain Bonneville, that for
a time astonished and overwhelmed him with its immensity. He
stood, in fact, upon that dividing ridge which Indians regard as
the crest of the world; and on each side of which, the landscape
may be said to decline to the two cardinal oceans of the globe.
Whichever way he turned his eye, it was confounded by the
vastness and variety of objects. Beneath him, the Rocky Mountains
seemed to open all their secret recesses: deep, solemn valleys;
treasured lakes; dreary passes; rugged defiles, and foaming
torrents; while beyond their savage precincts, the eye was lost
in an almost immeasurable landscape; stretching on every side
into dim and hazy distance, like the expanse of a summer's sea.
Whichever way he looked, he beheld vast plains glimmering with
reflected sunshine; mighty streams wandering on their shining
course toward either ocean, and snowy mountains, chain beyond
chain, and peak beyond peak, till they melted like clouds into
the horizon. For a time, the Indian fable seemed realized: he had
attained that height from which the Blackfoot warrior, after
death, first catches a view of the land of souls, and beholds the
happy hunting grounds spread out below him, brightening with the
abodes of the free and generous spirits. The captain stood for a
long while gazing upon this scene, lost in a crowd of vague and
indefinite ideas and sensations. A long-drawn inspiration at
length relieved him from this enthralment of the mind, and he
began to analyze the parts of this vast panorama. A simple
enumeration of a few of its features may give some idea of its
collective grandeur and magnificence.

The peak on which the captain had taken his stand commanded the
whole Wind River chain; which, in fact, may rather be considered
one immense mountain, broken into snowy peaks and lateral spurs,
and seamed with narrow valleys. Some of these valleys glittered
with silver lakes and gushing streams; the fountain heads, as it
were, of the mighty tributaries to the Atlantic and Pacific
Oceans. Beyond the snowy peaks, to the south, and far, far below
the mountain range, the gentle river, called the Sweet Water, was
seen pursuing its tranquil way through the rugged regions of the
Black Hills. In the east, the head waters of Wind River wandered
through a plain, until, mingling in one powerful current, they
forced their way through the range of Horn Mountains, and were
lost to view. To the north were caught glimpses of the upper
streams of the Yellowstone, that great tributary of the Missouri.
In another direction were to be seen some of the sources of the
Oregon, or Columbia, flowing to the northwest, past those
towering landmarks the Three Tetons, and pouring down into the
great lava plain; while, almost at the captain's feet, the Green
River, or Colorado of the West, set forth on its wandering
pilgrimage to the Gulf of California; at first a mere mountain
torrent, dashing northward over a crag and precipice, in a
succession of cascades, and tumbling into the plain where,
expanding into an ample river, it circled away to the south, and
after alternately shining out and disappearing in the mazes of
the vast landscape, was finally lost in a horizon of mountains.
The day was calm and cloudless, and the atmosphere so pure that
objects were discernible at an astonishing distance. The whole of
this immense area was inclosed by an outer range of shadowy
peaks, some of them faintly marked on the horizon, which seemed
to wall it in from the rest of the earth.

It is to be regretted that Captain Bonneville had no instruments
with him with which to ascertain the altitude of this peak. He
gives it as his opinion that it is the loftiest point of the
North American continent; but of this we have no satisfactory
proof. It is certain that the Rocky Mountains are of an altitude
vastly superior to what was formerly supposed. We rather incline
to the opinion that the highest peak is further to the northward,
and is the same measured by Mr. Thompson, surveyor to the
Northwest Company; who, by the joint means of the barometer and
trigonometric measurement, ascertained it to be twenty-five
thousand feet above the level of the sea; an elevation only
inferior to that of the Himalayas.

For a long time, Captain Bonneville remained gazing around him
with wonder and enthusiasm; at length the chill and wintry winds,
whirling about the snow-clad height, admonished him to descend.
He soon regained the spot where he and his companions [companion]
had thrown off their coats, which were now gladly resumed, and,
retracing their course down the peak, they safely rejoined their
companions on the border of the lake.

Notwithstanding the savage and almost inaccessible nature of
these mountains, they have their inhabitants. As one of the party
was out hunting, he came upon the solitary track of a man in a
lonely valley. Following it up, he reached the brow of a cliff,
whence he beheld three savages running across the valley below
him. He fired his gun to call their attention, hoping to induce
them to turn back. They only fled the faster, and disappeared
among the rocks. The hunter returned and reported what he had
seen. Captain Bonneville at once concluded that these belonged to
a kind of hermit race, scanty in number, that inhabit the highest
and most inaccessible fastnesses. They speak the Shoshonie
language, and probably are offsets from that tribe, though they
have peculiarities of their own, which distinguish them from all
other Indians. They are miserably poor; own no horses, and are
destitute of every convenience to be derived from an intercourse
with the whites. Their weapons are bows and stone-pointed arrows,
with which they hunt the deer, the elk, and the mountain sheep.
They are to be found scattered about the countries of the
Shoshonie, Flathead, Crow, and Blackfeet tribes; but their
residences are always in lonely places, and the clefts of the

Their footsteps are often seen by the trappers in the high and
solitary valleys among the mountains, and the smokes of their
fires descried among the precipices, but they themselves are
rarely met with, and still more rarely brought to a parley, so
great is their shyness, and their dread of strangers.

As their poverty offers no temptation to the marauder, and as
they are inoffensive in their habits, they are never the objects
of warfare: should one of them, however, fall into the hands of a
war party, he is sure to be made a sacrifice, for the sake of
that savage trophy, a scalp, and that barbarous ceremony, a scalp
dance. These forlorn beings, forming a mere link between human
nature and the brute, have been looked down upon with pity and
contempt by the creole trappers, who have given them the
appellation of "les dignes de pitie," or "the objects of pity.";
They appear more worthy to be called the wild men of the


A retrogade move Channel of a mountain torrent Alpine
scenery Cascades Beaver valleys Beavers at work Their
architecture Their modes of felling trees Mode of trapping
beaver Contests of skill A beaver "up to trap" Arrival at the
Green River caches

THE VIEW from the snowy peak of the Wind River Mountains, while
it had excited Captain Bonneville's enthusiasm, had satisfied him
that it would be useless to force a passage westward, through
multiplying barriers of cliffs and precipices. Turning his face
eastward, therefore, he endeavored to regain the plains,
intending to make the circuit round the southern point of the
mountain. To descend, and to extricate himself from the heart of
this rock-piled wilderness, was almost as difficult as to
penetrate it. Taking his course down the ravine of a tumbling
stream, the commencement of some future river, he descended from
rock to rock, and shelf to shelf, between stupendous cliffs and
beetling crags that sprang up to the sky. Often he had to cross
and recross the rushing torrent, as it wound foaming and roaring
down its broken channel, or was walled by perpendicular
precipices; and imminent was the hazard of breaking the legs of
the horses in the clefts and fissures of slippery rocks. The
whole scenery of this deep ravine was of Alpine wildness and
sublimity. Sometimes the travellers passed beneath cascades which
pitched from such lofty heights that the water fell into the
stream like heavy rain. In other places, torrents came tumbling
from crag to crag, dashing into foam and spray, and making
tremendous din and uproar.

On the second day of their descent, the travellers, having got
beyond the steepest pitch of the mountains, came to where the
deep and rugged ravine began occasionally to expand into small
levels or valleys, and the stream to assume for short intervals a
more peaceful character. Here, not merely the river itself, but
every rivulet flowing into it, was dammed up by communities of
industrious beavers, so as to inundate the neighborhood, and make
continual swamps.

During a mid-day halt in one of these beaver valleys, Captain
Bonneville left his companions, and strolled down the course of
the stream to reconnoitre. He had not proceeded far when he came
to a beaver pond, and caught a glimpse of one of its painstaking
inhabitants busily at work upon the dam. The curiosity of the
captain was aroused, to behold the mode of operating of this
far-famed architect; he moved forward, therefore, with the utmost
caution, parting the branches of the water willows without making
any noise, until having attained a position commanding a view of
the whole pond, he stretched himself flat on the ground, and
watched the solitary workman. In a little while, three others
appeared at the head of the dam, bringing sticks and bushes. With
these they proceeded directly to the barrier, which Captain
Bonneville perceived was in need of repair. Having deposited
their loads upon the broken part, they dived into the water, and
shortly reappeared at the surface. Each now brought a quantity of
mud, with which he would plaster the sticks and bushes just
deposited. This kind of masonry was continued for some time,
repeated supplies of wood and mud being brought, and treated in
the same manner. This done, the industrious beavers indulged in a
little recreation, chasing each other about the pond, dodging and
whisking about on the surface, or diving to the bottom; and in
their frolic, often slapping their tails on the water with a loud
clacking sound. While they were thus amusing themselves, another
of the fraternity made his appearance, and looked gravely on
their sports for some time, without offering to join in them. He
then climbed the bank close to where the captain was concealed,
and, rearing himself on his hind quarters, in a sitting position,
put his forepaws against a young pine tree, and began to cut the
bark with his teeth. At times he would tear off a small piece,
and holding it between his paws, and retaining his sedentary
position, would feed himself with it, after the fashion of a
monkey. The object of the beaver, however, was evidently to cut
down the tree; and he was proceeding with his work, when he was
alarmed by the approach of Captain Bonneville's men, who, feeling
anxious at the protracted absence of their leader, were coming in
search of him. At the sound of their voices, all the beavers,
busy as well as idle, dived at once beneath the surface, and were
no more to be seen. Captain Bonneville regretted this
interruption. He had heard much of the sagacity of the beaver in
cutting down trees, in which, it is said, they manage to make
them fall into the water, and in such a position and direction as
may be most favorable for conveyance to the desired point. In the
present instance, the tree was a tall straight pine, and as it
grew perpendicularly, and there was not a breath of air stirring
the beaver could have felled it in any direction he pleased, if
really capable of exercising a discretion in the matter. He was
evidently engaged in "belting" the tree, and his first incision
had been on the side nearest to the water.

Captain Bonneville, however, discredits, on the whole, the
alleged sagacity of the beaver in this particular, and thinks the
animal has no other aim than to get the tree down, without any of
the subtle calculation as to its mode or direction of falling.
This attribute, he thinks, has been ascribed to them from the
circumstance that most trees growing near water-courses, either
lean bodily toward the stream, or stretch their largest limbs in
that direction, to benefit by the space, the light, and the air
to be found there. The beaver, of course, attacks those trees
which are nearest at hand, and on the banks of the stream or
pond. He makes incisions round them, or in technical phrase,
belts them with his teeth, and when they fall, they naturally
take the direction in which their trunks or branches

"I have often," says Captain Bonneville, "seen trees measuring
eighteen inches in diameter, at the places where they had been
cut through by the beaver, but they lay in all directions, and
often very inconveniently for the after purposes of the animal.
In fact, so little ingenuity do they at times display in this
particular, that at one of our camps on Snake River, a beaver was
found with his head wedged into the cut which he had made, the
tree having fallen upon him and held him prisoner until he died."

Great choice, according to the captain, is certainly displayed by
the beaver in selecting the wood which is to furnish bark for
winter provision. The whole beaver household, old and young, set
out upon this business, and will often make long journeys before
they are suited. Sometimes they cut down trees of the largest
size and then cull the branches, the bark of which is most to
their taste. These they cut into lengths of about three feet,
convey them to the water, and float them to their lodges, where
they are stored away for winter. They are studious of cleanliness
and comfort in their lodges, and after their repasts, will carry
out the sticks from which they have eaten the bark, and throw
them into the current beyond the barrier. They are jealous, too,
of their territories, and extremely pugnacious, never permitting
a strange beaver to enter their premises, and often fighting with
such virulence as almost to tear each other to pieces. In the
spring, which is the breeding season, the male leaves the female
at home, and sets off on a tour of pleasure, rambling often to a
great distance, recreating himself in every clear and quiet
expanse of water on his way, and climbing the banks occasionally
to feast upon the tender sprouts of the young willows. As summer
advances, he gives up his bachelor rambles, and bethinking
himself of housekeeping duties, returns home to his mate and his
new progeny, and marshals them all for the foraging expedition in
quest of winter provisions.

After having shown the public spirit of this praiseworthy little
animal as a member of a community, and his amiable and exemplary
conduct as the father of a family, we grieve to record the perils
with which he is environed, and the snares set for him and his
painstaking household.

Practice, says Captain Bonneville, has given such a quickness of
eye to the experienced trapper in all that relates to his
pursuit, that he can detect the slightest sign of beaver, however
wild; and although the lodge may be concealed by close thickets
and overhanging willows, he can generally, at a single glance,
make an accurate guess at the number of its inmates. He now goes
to work to set his trap; planting it upon the shore, in some
chosen place, two or three inches below the surface of the water,
and secures it by a chain to a pole set deep in the mud. A small
twig is then stripped of its bark, and one end is dipped in the
"medicine," as the trappers term the peculiar bait which they
employ. This end of the stick rises about four inches above the
surface of the water, the other end is planted between the jaws
of the trap. The beaver, possessing an acute sense of smell, is
soon attracted by the odor of the bait. As he raises his nose
toward it, his foot is caught in the trap. In his fright he
throws a somerset into the deep water. The trap, being fastened
to the pole, resists all his efforts to drag it to the shore; the
chain by which it is fastened defies his teeth; he struggles for
a time, and at length sinks to the bottom and is drowned.

Upon rocky bottoms, where it is not possible to plant the pole,
it is thrown into the stream. The beaver, when entrapped, often
gets fastened by the chain to sunken logs or floating timber; if
he gets to shore, he is entangled in the thickets of brook
willows. In such cases, however, it costs the trapper diligent
search, and sometimes a bout at swimming, before he finds his

Occasionally it happens that several members of a beaver family
are trapped in succession. The survivors then become extremely
shy, and can scarcely be "brought to medicine," to use the
trapper's phrase for "taking the bait." In such case, the trapper
gives up the use of the bait, and conceals his traps in the usual
paths and crossing places of the household. The beaver now being
completely "up to trap," approaches them cautiously, and springs
them ingeniously with a stick. At other times, he turns the traps
bottom upwards, by the same means, and occasionally even drags
them to the barrier and conceals them in the mud. The trapper now
gives up the contest of ingenuity, and shouldering his traps,
marches off, admitting that he is not yet "up to beaver."

On the day following Captain Bonneville's supervision of the
industrious and frolicsome community of beavers, of which he has
given so edifying an account, he succeeded in extricating himself
from the Wind River Mountains, and regaining the plain to the
eastward, made a great bend to the south, so as to go round the
bases of the mountains, and arrived without further incident of
importance, at the old place of rendezvous in Green River valley,
on the 17th of September.

He found the caches, in which he had deposited his superfluous
goods and equipments, all safe, and having opened and taken from
them the necessary supplies, he closed them again; taking care to
obliterate all traces that might betray them to the keen eyes of
Indian marauders.


Route toward Wind River Dangerous neighborhood Alarms and
precautions A sham encampment Apparition of an Indian
spy Midnight move A mountain defile The Wind River
valley Tracking a party Deserted camps Symptoms of Crows Meeting
of comrades A trapper entrapped Crow pleasantry Crow spies A
decampment Return to Green River valley Meeting with
Fitzpatrick's party Their adventures among the Crows Orthodox

ON THE 18TH of September, Captain Bonneville and his three
companions set out, bright and early, to rejoin the main party,
from which they had parted on Wind River. Their route lay up the
Green River valley, with that stream on their right hand, and
beyond it, the range of Wind River Mountains. At the head of the
valley, they were to pass through a defile which would bring them
out beyond the northern end of these mountains, to the head of
Wind River; where they expected to meet the main party, according
to arrangement.

We have already adverted to the dangerous nature of this
neighborhood, infested by roving bands of Crows and Blackfeet; to
whom the numerous defiles and passes of the country afford
capital places for ambush and surprise. The travellers,
therefore, kept a vigilant eye upon everything that might give
intimation of lurking danger.

About two hours after mid-day, as they reached the summit of a
hill, they discovered buffalo on the plain below, running in
every direction. One of the men, too, fancied he heard the report
of a gun. It was concluded, therefore, that there was some party
of Indians below, hunting the buffalo.

The horses were immediately concealed in a narrow ravine; and the
captain, mounting an eminence, but concealing himself from view,
reconnoitred the whole neighborhood with a telescope. Not an
Indian was to be seen; so, after halting about an hour, he
resumed his journey. Convinced, however, that he was in a
dangerous neighborhood, he advanced with the utmost caution;
winding his way through hollows and ravines, and avoiding, as
much as possible, any open tract, or rising ground, that might
betray his little party to the watchful eye of an Indian scout.

Arriving, at length, at the edge of the open meadow-land
bordering on the river, he again observed the buffalo, as far as
he could see, scampering in great alarm. Once more concealing the
horses, he and his companions remained for a long time watching
the various groups of the animals, as each caught the panic and
started off; but they sought in vain to discover the cause.

They were now about to enter the mountain defile, at the head of
Green River valley, where they might be waylaid and attacked;
they, therefore, arranged the packs on their horses, in the
manner most secure and convenient for sudden flight, should such
be necessary. This done, they again set forward, keeping the most
anxious look-out in every direction.

It was now drawing toward evening; but they could not think of
encamping for the night, in a place so full of danger. Captain
Bonneville, therefore, determined to halt about sunset, kindle a
fire, as if for encampment, cook and eat supper; but, as soon as
it was sufficiently dark, to make a rapid move for the summit of
the mountain, and seek some secluded spot for their night's

Accordingly, as the sun went down, the little party came to a
halt, made a large fire, spitted their buffalo meat on wooden
sticks, and, when sufficiently roasted, planted the savory viands
before them; cutting off huge slices with their hunting knives,
and supping with a hunter's appetite. The light of their fire
would not fail, as they knew, to attract the attention of any
Indian horde in the neighborhood; but they trusted to be off and
away, before any prowlers could reach the place. While they were
supping thus hastily, however, one of their party suddenly
started up and shouted "Indians! " All were instantly on their
feet, with their rifles in their hands; but could see no enemy.
The man, however, declared that he had seen an Indian advancing,
cautiously, along the trail which they had made in coming to the
encampment; who, the moment he was perceived, had thrown himself
on the ground, and disappeared. He urged Captain Bonneville
instantly to decamp. The captain, however, took the matter more
coolly. The single fact, that the Indian had endeavored to hide
himself, convinced him that he was not one of a party, on the
advance to make an attack. He was, probably, some scout, who had
followed up their trail, until he came in sight of their fire. He
would, in such case, return, and report what he had seen to his
companions. These, supposing the white men had encamped for the
night, would keep aloof until very late, when all should be
asleep. They would, then, according to Indian tactics, make their
stealthy approaches, and place themselves in ambush around,
preparatory to their attack, at the usual hour of daylight.

Such was Captain Bonneville's conclusion; in consequence of
which, he counselled his men to keep perfectly quiet, and act as
if free from all alarm, until the proper time arrived for a move.
They, accordingly, continued their repast with pretended appetite
and jollity; and then trimmed and replenished their fire, as if
for a bivouac. As soon, however, as the night had completely set
in, they left their fire blazing; walked quietly among the
willows, and then leaping into their saddles, made off as
noiselessly as possible. In proportion as they left the point of
danger behind them, they relaxed in their rigid and anxious
taciturnity, and began to joke at the expense of their enemy;
whom they pictured to themselves mousing in the neighborhood of
their deserted fire, waiting for the proper time of attack, and
preparing for a grand disappointment.

About midnight, feeling satisfied that they had gained a secure
distance, they posted one of their number to keep watch, in case
the enemy should follow on their trail, and then, turning
abruptly into a dense and matted thicket of willows, halted for
the night at the foot of the mountain, instead of making for the
summit, as they had originally intended.

A trapper in the wilderness, like a sailor on the ocean, snatches
morsels of enjoyment in the midst of trouble, and sleeps soundly
when surrounded by danger. The little party now made their
arrangements for sleep with perfect calmness; they did not
venture to make a fire and cook, it is true, though generally
done by hunters whenever they come to a halt, and have
provisions. They comforted themselves, however, by smoking a
tranquil pipe; and then calling in the watch, and turning loose
the horses, stretched themselves on their pallets, agreed that
whoever should first awake, should rouse the rest, and in a
little while were all as sound asleep as though in the midst of a

A little before day, they were all on the alert; it was the hour
for Indian maraud. A sentinel was immediately detached, to post
himself at a little distance on their trail, and give the alarm,
should he see or hear an enemy.

With the first blink of dawn, the rest sought the horses; brought
them to the camp, and tied them up, until an hour after sunrise;
when, the sentinel having reported that all was well, they sprang
once more into their saddles, and pursued the most covert and
secret paths up the mountain, avoiding the direct route.

At noon, they halted and made a hasty repast; and then bent their
course so as to regain the route from which they had diverged.
They were now made sensible of the danger from which they had
just escaped. There were tracks of Indians, who had evidently
been in pursuit of them; but had recently returned, baffled in
their search.

Trusting that they had now got a fair start, and could not be
overtaken before night, even in case the Indians should renew the
chase, they pushed briskly forward, and did not encamp until
late; when they cautiously concealed themselves in a secure nook
of the mountains.

Without any further alarm, they made their way to the head waters
of Wind River, and reached the neighborhood in which they had
appointed the rendezvous with their companions. It was within the
precincts of the Crow country; the Wind River valley being one of
the favorite haunts of that restless tribe. After much searching,
Captain Bonneville came upon a trail which had evidently been
made by his main party. It was so old, however, that he feared
his people might have left the neighborhood; driven off, perhaps
by some of those war parties which were on the prowl. He
continued his search with great anxiety, and no little fatigue;
for his horses were jaded, and almost crippled, by their forced
marches and scramblings through rocky defiles.

On the following day, about noon, Captain Bonneville came upon a
deserted camp of his people, from which they had, evidently,
turned back; but he could find no signs to indicate why they had
done so; whether they had met with misfortune, or molestation, or
in what direction they had gone. He was now, more than ever,

On the following day, he resumed his march with increasing
anxiety. The feet of his horses had by this time become so worn
and wounded by the rocks, that he had to make moccasons for them
of buffalo hide. About noon, he came to another deserted camp of
his men; but soon after lost their trail. After great search, he
once more found it, turning in a southerly direction along the
eastern bases of the Wind River Mountains, which towered to the
right. He now pushed forward with all possible speed, in hopes of
overtaking the party. At night, he slept at another of their
camps, from which they had but recently departed. When the day
dawned sufficiently to distinguish objects, he perceived the
danger that must be dogging the heels of his main party. All
about the camp were traces of Indians who must have been prowling
about it at the time his people had passed the night there; and
who must still be hovering about them. Convinced, now, that the
main party could not be at any great distance, he mounted a scout
on the best horse, and sent him forward to overtake them, to warn
them of their danger, and to order them to halt, until he should
rejoin them.

In the afternoon, to his great joy, he met the scout returning,
with six comrades from the main party, leading fresh horses for
his accommodation; and on the following day (September 25th), all
hands were once more reunited, after a separation of nearly three
weeks. Their meeting was hearty and joyous; for they had both
experienced dangers and perplexities.

The main party, in pursuing their course up the Wind River
valley, had been dogged the whole way by a war party of Crows. In
one place, they had been fired upon, but without injury; in
another place, one of their horses had been cut loose, and
carried off. At length, they were so closely beset, that they
were obliged to make a retrogade move, lest they should be
surprised and overcome. This was the movement which had caused
such perplexity to Captain Bonneville.

The whole party now remained encamped for two or three days, to
give repose to both men and horses. Some of the trappers,
however, pursued their vocations about the neighboring streams.
While one of them was setting his traps, he heard the tramp of
horses, and looking up, beheld a party of Crow braves moving
along at no great distance, with a considerable cavalcade. The
trapper hastened to conceal himself, but was discerned by the
quick eye of the savages. With whoops and yells, they dragged him
from his hiding-place, flourished over his head their tomahawks
and scalping-knives, and for a time, the poor trapper gave
himself up for lost. Fortunately, the Crows were in a jocose,
rather than a sanguinary mood. They amused themselves heartily,
for a while, at the expense of his terrors; and after having
played off divers Crow pranks and pleasantries, suffered him to
depart unharmed. It is true, they stripped him completely, one
taking his horse, another his gun, a third his traps, a fourth
his blanket, and so on, through all his accoutrements, and even
his clothing, until he was stark naked; but then they generously
made him a present of an old tattered buffalo robe, and dismissed
him, with many complimentary speeches, and much laughter. When
the trapper returned to the camp, in such sorry plight, he was
greeted with peals of laughter from his comrades and seemed more
mortified by the style in which he had been dismissed, than
rejoiced at escaping with his life. A circumstance which he
related to Captain Bonneville, gave some insight into the cause
of this extreme jocularity on the part of the Crows. They had
evidently had a run of luck, and, like winning gamblers, were in
high good humor. Among twenty-six fine horses, and some mules,
which composed their cavalcade, the trapper recognized a number
which had belonged to Fitzpatrick's brigade, when they parted
company on the Bighorn. It was supposed, therefore, that these
vagabonds had been on his trail, and robbed him of part of his

On the day following this affair, three Crows came into Captain
Bonneville's camp, with the most easy, innocent, if not impudent
air imaginable; walking about with the imperturbable coolness and
unconcern, in which the Indian rivals the fine gentleman. As they
had not been of the set which stripped the trapper, though
evidently of the same band, they were not molested. Indeed,
Captain Bonneville treated them with his usual kindness and
hospitality; permitting them to remain all day in the camp, and
even to pass the night there. At the same time, however, he
caused a strict watch to be maintained on all their movements;
and at night, stationed an armed sentinel near them. The Crows
remonstrated against the latter being armed. This only made the
captain suspect them to be spies, who meditated treachery; he
redoubled, therefore, his precautions. At the same time, he
assured his guests, that while they were perfectly welcome to the
shelter and comfort of his camp, yet, should any of their tribe
venture to approach during the night, they would certainly be
shot; which would be a very unfortunate circumstance, and much to
be deplored. To the latter remark, they fully assented; and
shortly afterward commenced a wild song, or chant, which they
kept up for a long time, and in which they very probably gave
their friends, who might be prowling round the camp, notice that
the white men were on the alert. The night passed away without
disturbance. In the morning, the three Crow guests were very
pressing that Captain Bonneville and his party should accompany
them to their camp, which they said was close by. Instead of
accepting their invitation, Captain Bonneville took his departure
with all possible dispatch, eager to be out of the vicinity of
such a piratical horde; nor did he relax the diligence of his
march, until, on the second day, he reached the banks of the
Sweet Water, beyond the limits of the Crow country, and a heavy
fall of snow had obliterated all traces of his course.

He now continued on for some few days, at a slower pace, round
the point of the mountain toward Green River, and arrived once
more at the caches, on the 14th of October.

Here they found traces of the band of Indians who had hunted them
in the defile toward the head waters of Wind River. Having lost
all trace of them on their way over the mountains, they had
turned and followed back their trail down the Green River valley
to the caches. One of these they had discovered and broken open,
but it fortunately contained nothing but fragments of old iron,
which they had scattered about in all directions, and then
departed. In examining their deserted camp, Captain Bonneville
discovered that it numbered thirty-nine fires, and had more
reason than ever to congratulate himself on having escaped the
clutches of such a formidable band of freebooters.

He now turned his course southward, under cover of the mountains,
and on the 25th of October reached Liberge's Ford, a tributary of
the Colorado, where he came suddenly upon the trail of this same
war party, which had crossed the stream so recently that the
banks were yet wet with the water that had been splashed upon
them. To judge from their tracks, they could not be less than
three hundred warriors, and apparently of the Crow nation.

Captain Bonneville was extremely uneasy lest this overpowering
force should come upon him in some place where he would not have
the means of fortifying himself promptly. He now moved toward
Hane's Fork, another tributary of the Colorado, where he
encamped, and remained during the 26th of October. Seeing a large
cloud of smoke to the south, he supposed it to arise from some
encampment of Shoshonies, and sent scouts to procure information,
and to purchase a lodge. It was, in fact, a band of Shoshonies,
but with them were encamped Fitzpatrick and his party of
trappers. That active leader had an eventful story to relate of
his fortunes in the country of the Crows. After parting with
Captain Bonneville on the banks of the Bighorn, he made for the
west, to trap upon Powder and Tongue Rivers. He had between
twenty and thirty men with him, and about one hundred horses. So
large a cavalcade could not pass through the Crow country without
attracting the attention of its freebooting hordes. A large band
of Crows was soon on their traces, and came up with them on the
5th of September, just as they had reached Tongue River. The Crow
chief came forward with great appearance of friendship, and
proposed to Fitzpatrick that they should encamp together. The
latter, however, not having any faith in Crows, declined the
invitation, and pitched his camp three miles off. He then rode
over with two or three men, to visit the Crow chief, by whom he
was received with great apparent cordiality. In the meantime,
however, a party of young braves, who considered them absolved by
his distrust from all scruples of honor, made a circuit
privately, and dashed into his encampment. Captain Stewart, who
had remained there in the absence of Fitzpatrick, behaved with
great spirit; but the Crows were too numerous and active. They
had got possession of the camp, and soon made booty of every
thing --carrying off all the horses. On their way back they met
Fitzpatrick returning to his camp; and finished their exploit by
rifling and nearly stripping him.

A negotiation now took place between the plundered white men and
the triumphant Crows; what eloquence and management Fitzpatrick
made use of, we do not know, but he succeeded in prevailing upon
the Crow chieftain to return him his horses and many of his
traps; together with his rifles and a few rounds of ammunition
for each man. He then set out with all speed to abandon the Crow
country, before he should meet with any fresh disasters.

After his departure, the consciences of some of the most orthodox
Crows pricked them sorely for having suffered such a cavalcade to
escape out of their hands. Anxious to wipe off so foul a stigma
on the reputation of the Crow nation, they followed on his trial,
nor quit hovering about him on his march until they had stolen a
number of his best horses and mules. It was, doubtless, this same
band which came upon the lonely trapper on the Popo Agie, and
generously gave him an old buffalo robe in exchange for his
rifle, his traps, and all his accoutrements. With these
anecdotes, we shall, for present, take our leave of the Crow
country and its vagabond chivalry.

A region of natural curiosities The plain of white clay Hot
springs The Beer Spring Departure to seek the free trappers Plain
of Portneuf Lava Chasms and gullies Bannack Indians Their hunt
of the buffalo Hunter's feast Trencher heroes Bullying of an
absent foe The damp comrade The Indian spy Meeting with
Hodgkiss His adventures Poordevil Indians Triumph of the
Bannacks Blackfeet policy in war

CROSSING AN ELEVATED RIDGE, Captain Bonneville now came upon Bear
River, which, from its source to its entrance into the Great Salt
Lake, describes the figure of a horse-shoe. One of the principal
head waters of this river, although supposed to abound with
beaver, has never been visited by the trapper; rising among
rugged mountains, and being barricadoed [sic] by fallen pine
trees and tremendous precipices.

Proceeding down this river, the party encamped, on the 6th of
November, at the outlet of a lake about thirty miles long, and
from two to three miles in width, completely imbedded in low
ranges of mountains, and connected with Bear River by an
impassable swamp. It is called the Little Lake, to distinguish it
from the great one of salt water.

On the 10th of November, Captain Bonneville visited a place in
the neighborhood which is quite a region of natural curiosities.
An area of about half a mile square presents a level surface of
white clay or fuller's earth, perfectly spotless, resembling a
great slab of Parian marble, or a sheet of dazzling snow. The
effect is strikingly beautiful at all times: in summer, when it
is surrounded with verdure, or in autumn, when it contrasts its
bright immaculate surface with the withered herbage. Seen from a
distant eminence, it then shines like a mirror, set in the brown
landscape. Around this plain are clustered numerous springs of
various sizes and temperatures. One of them, of scalding heat,
boils furiously and incessantly, rising to the height of two or
three feet. In another place, there is an aperture in the earth,
from which rushes a column of steam that forms a perpetual cloud.
The ground for some distance around sounds hollow, and startles
the solitary trapper, as he hears the tramp of his horse giving
the sound of a muffled drum. He pictures to himself a mysterious
gulf below, a place of hidden fires, and gazes round him with awe
and uneasiness.

The most noted curiosity, however, of this singular region, is
the Beer Spring, of which trappers give wonderful accounts. They
are said to turn aside from their route through the country to
drink of its waters, with as much eagerness as the Arab seeks
some famous well of the desert. Captain Bonneville describes it
as having the taste of beer. His men drank it with avidity, and
in copious draughts. It did not appear to him to possess any
medicinal properties, or to produce any peculiar effects. The
Indians, however, refuse to taste it, and endeavor to persuade
the white men from doing so.

We have heard this also called the Soda Spring, and described as
containing iron and sulphur. It probably possesses some of the
properties of the Ballston water.

The time had now arrived for Captain Bonneville to go in quest of
the party of free trappers, detached in the beginning of July,
under the command of Mr. Hodgkiss, to trap upon the head waters
of Salmon River. His intention was to unite them with the party
with which he was at present travelling, that all might go into
quarters together for the winter. Accordingly, on the 11th of
November, he took a temporary leave of his band, appointing a
rendezvous on Snake River, and, accompanied by three men, set out
upon his journey. His route lay across the plain of the Portneuf,
a tributary stream of Snake River, called after an unfortunate
Canadian trapper murdered by the Indians. The whole country
through which he passed bore evidence of volcanic convulsions and
conflagrations in the olden time. Great masses of lava lay
scattered about in every direction; the crags and cliffs had
apparently been under the action of fire; the rocks in some
places seemed to have been in a state of fusion; the plain was
rent and split with deep chasms and gullies, some of which were
partly filled with lava.

They had not proceeded far, however, before they saw a party of
horsemen, galloping full tilt toward them. They instantly turned,
and made full speed for the covert of a woody stream, to fortify
themselves among the trees. The Indians came to a halt, and one
of them came forward alone. He reached Captain Bonneville and his
men just as they were dismounting and about to post themselves. A
few words dispelled all uneasiness. It was a party of twenty-five
Bannack Indians, friendly to the whites, and they proposed,
through their envoy, that both parties should encamp together,
and hunt the buffalo, of which they had discovered several large
herds hard by. Captain Bonneville cheerfully assented to their
proposition, being curious to see their manner of hunting.

Both parties accordingly encamped together on a convenient spot,
and prepared for the hunt. The Indians first posted a boy on a
small hill near the camp, to keep a look-out for enemies. The
"runners," then, as they are called, mounted on fleet horses, and
armed with bows and arrows, moved slowly and cautiously toward
the buffalo, keeping as much as possible out of sight, in hollows
and ravines. When within a proper distance, a signal was given,
and they all opened at once like a pack of hounds, with a full
chorus of yells, dashing into the midst of the herds, and
launching their arrows to the right and left. The plain seemed
absolutely to shake under the tramp of the buffalo, as they
scoured off. The cows in headlong panic, the bulls furious with
rage, uttering deep roars, and occasionally turning with a
desperate rush upon their pursuers. Nothing could surpass the
spirit, grace, and dexterity, with which the Indians managed
their horses; wheeling and coursing among the affrighted herd,
and launching their arrows with unerring aim. In the midst of the
apparent confusion, they selected their victims with perfect
judgment, generally aiming at the fattest of the cows, the flesh
of the bull being nearly worthless, at this season of the year.
In a few minutes, each of the hunters had crippled three or four
cows. A single shot was sufficient for the purpose, and the
animal, once maimed, was left to be completely dispatched at the
end of the chase. Frequently, a cow was killed on the spot by a
single arrow. In one instance, Captain Bonneville saw an Indian
shoot his arrow completely through the body of a cow, so that it
struck in the ground beyond. The bulls, however, are not so
easily killed as the cows, and always cost the hunter several
arrows; sometimes making battle upon the horses, and chasing them
furiously, though severely wounded, with the darts still sticking
in their flesh.

The grand scamper of the hunt being over, the Indians proceeded
to dispatch the animals that had been disabled; then cutting up
the carcasses, they returned with loads of meat to the camp,
where the choicest pieces were soon roasting before large fires,
and a hunters' feast succeeded; at which Captain Bonneville and
his men were qualified, by previous fasting, to perform their
parts with great vigor.

Some men are said to wax valorous upon a full stomach, and such
seemed to be the case with the Bannack braves, who, in proportion
as they crammed themselves with buffalo meat, grew stout of
heart, until, the supper at an end, they began to chant war
songs, setting forth their mighty deeds, and the victories they
had gained over the Blackfeet. Warming with the theme, and
inflating themselves with their own eulogies, these magnanimous
heroes of the trencher would start up, advance a short distance
beyond the light of the fire, and apostrophize most vehemently
their Blackfeet enemies, as though they had been within hearing.
Ruffling, and swelling, and snorting, and slapping their breasts,
and brandishing their arms, they would vociferate all their
exploits; reminding the Blackfeet how they had drenched their
towns in tears and blood; enumerate the blows they had inflicted,
the warriors they had slain, the scalps they had brought off in
triumph. Then, having said everything that could stir a man's
spleen or pique his valor, they would dare their imaginary
hearers, now that the Bannacks were few in number, to come and
take their revenge--receiving no reply to this valorous bravado,
they would conclude by all kinds of sneers and insults, deriding
the Blackfeet for dastards and poltroons, that dared not accept
their challenge. Such is the kind of swaggering and rhodomontade
in which the "red men" are prone to indulge in their vainglorious
moments; for, with all their vaunted taciturnity, they are
vehemently prone at times to become eloquent about their
exploits, and to sound their own trumpet.

Having vented their valor in this fierce effervescence, the
Bannack braves gradually calmed down, lowered their crests,
smoothed their ruffled feathers, and betook themselves to sleep,
without placing a single guard over their camp; so that, had the
Blackfeet taken them at their word, but few of these braggart
heroes might have survived for any further boasting.

On the following morning, Captain Bonneville purchased a supply
of buffalo meat from his braggadocio friends; who, with all their
vaporing, were in fact a very forlorn horde, destitute of
firearms, and of almost everything that constitutes riches in
savage life. The bargain concluded, the Bannacks set off for
their village, which was situated, they said, at the mouth of the
Portneuf, and Captain Bonneville and his companions shaped their
course toward Snake River.

Arrived on the banks of that river, he found it rapid and
boisterous, but not too deep to be forded. In traversing it,
however, one of the horses was swept suddenly from his footing,
and his rider was flung from the saddle into the midst of the
stream. Both horse and horseman were extricated without any
damage, excepting that the latter was completely drenched, so
that it was necessary to kindle a fire to dry him. While they
were thus occupied, one of the party looking up, perceived an
Indian scout cautiously reconnoitring them from the summit of a
neighboring hill. The moment he found himself discovered, he
disappeared behind the hill. From his furtive movements, Captain
Bonneville suspected him to be a scout from the Blackfeet camp,
and that he had gone to report what he had seen to his
companions. It would not do to loiter in such a neighborhood, so
the kindling of the fire was abandoned, the drenched horseman
mounted in dripping condition, and the little band pushed forward
directly into the plain, going at a smart pace, until they had
gained a considerable distance from the place of supposed danger.
Here encamping for the night, in the midst of abundance of sage,
or wormwood, which afforded fodder for their horses, they kindled
a huge fire for the benefit of their damp comrade, and then
proceeded to prepare a sumptuous supper of buffalo humps and
ribs, and other choice bits, which they had brought with them.
After a hearty repast, relished with an appetite unknown to city
epicures, they stretched themselves upon their couches of skins,
and under the starry canopy of heaven, enjoyed the sound and
sweet sleep of hardy and well-fed mountaineers.

They continued on their journey for several days, without any
incident worthy of notice, and on the 19th of November, came upon
traces of the party of which they were in search; such as burned
patches of prairie, and deserted camping grounds. All these were
carefully examined, to discover by their freshness or antiquity
the probable time that the trappers had left them; at length,
after much wandering and investigating, they came upon the
regular trail of the hunting party, which led into the mountains,
and following it up briskly, came about two o'clock in the
afternoon of the 20th, upon the encampment of Hodgkiss and his
band of free trappers, in the bosom of a mountain valley.

It will be recollected that these free trappers, who were masters
of themselves and their movements, had refused to accompany
Captain Bonneville back to Green River in the preceding month of
July, preferring to trap about the upper waters of the Salmon
River, where they expected to find plenty of beaver, and a less
dangerous neighborhood. Their hunt had not been very successful.
They had penetrated the great range of mountains among which some
of the upper branches of Salmon River take their rise, but had
become so entangled among immense and almost impassable
barricades of fallen pines, and so impeded by tremendous
precipices, that a great part of their season had been wasted
among these mountains. At one time, they had made their way
through them, and reached the Boisee River; but meeting with a
band of Bannack Indians, from whom they apprehended hostilities,
they had again taken shelter among the mountains, where they were
found by Captain Bonneville. In the neighborhood of their
encampment, the captain had the good fortune to meet with a
family of those wanderers of the mountains, emphatically called
"les dignes de pitie," or Poordevil Indians. These, however,
appear to have forfeited the title, for they had with them a fine
lot of skins of beaver, elk, deer, and mountain sheep. These,
Captain Bonneville purchased from them at a fair valuation, and
sent them off astonished at their own wealth, and no doubt
objects of envy to all their pitiful tribe.

Being now reinforced by Hodgkiss and his band of free trappers,
Captain Bonneville put himself at the head of the united parties,
and set out to rejoin those he had recently left at the Beer
Spring, that they might all go into winter quarters on Snake
River. On his route, he encountered many heavy falls of snow,
which melted almost immediately, so as not to impede his march,
and on the 4th of December, he found his other party, encamped at
the very place where he had partaken in the buffalo hunt with the

That braggart horde was encamped but about three miles off, and
were just then in high glee and festivity, and more swaggering
than ever, celebrating a prodigious victory. It appeared that a
party of their braves being out on a hunting excursion,
discovered a band of Blackfeet moving, as they thought, to
surprise their hunting camp. The Bannacks immediately posted
themselves on each side of a dark ravine, through which the enemy
must pass, and, just as they were entangled in the midst of it,
attacked them with great fury. The Blackfeet, struck with sudden
panic, threw off their buffalo robes and fled, leaving one of
their warriors dead on the spot. The victors eagerly gathered up
the spoils; but their greatest prize was the scalp of the
Blackfoot brave. This they bore off in triumph to their village,
where it had ever since been an object of the greatest exultation
and rejoicing. It had been elevated upon a pole in the centre of
the village, where the warriors had celebrated the scalp dance
round it, with war feasts, war songs, and warlike harangues. It
had then been given up to the women and boys; who had paraded it
up and down the village with shouts and chants and antic dances;
occasionally saluting it with all kinds of taunts, invectives,
and revilings.

The Blackfeet, in this affair, do not appear to have acted up to
the character which has rendered them objects of such terror.
Indeed, their conduct in war, to the inexperienced observer, is
full of inconsistencies; at one time they are headlong in
courage, and heedless of danger; at another time cautious almost
to cowardice. To understand these apparent incongruities, one
must know their principles of warfare. A war party, however
triumphant, if they lose a warrior in the fight, bring back a
cause of mourning to their people, which casts a shade over the
glory of their achievement. Hence, the Indian is often less
fierce and reckless in general battle, than he is in a private
brawl; and the chiefs are checked in their boldest undertakings
by the fear of sacrificing their warriors.

This peculiarity is not confined to the Blackfeet. Among the
Osages, says Captain Bonneville, when a warrior falls in battle,
his comrades, though they may have fought with consummate valor,
and won a glorious victory, will leave their arms upon the field
of battle, and returning home with dejected countenances, will
halt without the encampment, and wait until the relatives of the
slain come forth and invite them to mingle again with their


Winter camp at the Portneuf Fine springs The Bannack
Indians Their honesty Captain Bonneville prepares for an
expedition Christmas The American Falls Wild scenery Fishing
Falls Snake Indians Scenery on the Bruneau View of volcanic
country from a mountain Powder River Shoshokoes, or Root
Diggers Their character, habits, habitations, dogs Vanity at its
last shift

IN ESTABLISHING his winter camp near the Portnenf, Captain
Bonneville had drawn off to some little distance from his Bannack
friends, to avoid all annoyance from their intimacy or
intrusions. In so doing, however, he had been obliged to take up
his quarters on the extreme edge of the flat land, where he was
encompassed with ice and snow, and had nothing better for his
horses to subsist on than wormwood. The Bannacks, on the
contrary, were encamped among fine springs of water, where there
was grass in abundance. Some of these springs gush out of the
earth in sufficient quantity to turn a mill; and furnish
beautiful streams, clear as crystal, and full of trout of a large
size, which may be seen darting about the transparent water.

Winter now set in regularly. The snow had fallen frequently, and
in large quantities, and covered the ground to a depth of a foot;
and the continued coldness of the weather prevented any thaw.

By degrees, a distrust which at first subsisted between the
Indians and the trappers, subsided, and gave way to mutual
confidence and good will. A few presents convinced the chiefs
that the white men were their friends; nor were the white men
wanting in proofs of the honesty and good faith of their savage
neighbors. Occasionally, the deep snow and the want of fodder
obliged them to turn their weakest horses out to roam in quest of
sustenance. If they at any time strayed to the camp of the
Bannacks, they were immediately brought back. It must be
confessed, however, that if the stray horse happened, by any
chance, to be in vigorous plight and good condition, though he
was equally sure to be returned by the honest Bannacks, yet it
was always after the lapse of several days, and in a very gaunt
and jaded state; and always with the remark that they had found
him a long way off. The uncharitable were apt to surmise that he
had, in the interim, been well used up in a buffalo hunt; but
those accustomed to Indian morality in the matter of horseflesh,
considered it a singular evidence of honesty that he should be
brought back at all.

Being convinced, therefore, from these, and other circumstances,
that his people were encamped in the neighborhood of a tribe as
honest as they were valiant, and satisfied that they would pass
their winter unmolested, Captain Bonneville prepared for a
reconnoitring expedition of great extent and peril. This was, to
penetrate to the Hudson's Bay establishments on the banks of the
Columbia, and to make himself acquainted with the country and the
Indian tribes; it being one part of his scheme to establish a
trading post somewhere on the lower part of the river, so as to
participate in the trade lost to the United States by the capture
of Astoria. This expedition would, of course, take him through
the Snake River country, and across the Blue Mountains, the
scenes of so much hardship and disaster to Hunt and Crooks, and
their Astorian bands, who first explored it, and he would have to
pass through it in the same frightful season, the depth of

The idea of risk and hardship, however, only served to stimulate
the adventurous spirit of the captain. He chose three companions
for his journey, put up a small stock of necessaries in the most
portable form, and selected five horses and mules for themselves
and their baggage. He proposed to rejoin his band in the early
part of March, at the winter encampment near the Portneuf. All
these arrangements being completed, he mounted his horse on
Christmas morning, and set off with his three comrades. They
halted a little beyond the Bannack camp, and made their Christmas
dinner, which, if not a very merry, was a very hearty one, after
which they resumed their journey.

They were obliged to travel slowly, to spare their horses; for
the snow had increased in depth to eighteen inches; and though
somewhat packed and frozen, was not sufficiently so to yield firm
footing. Their route lay to the west, down along the left side of
Snake River; and they were several days in reaching the first, or
American Falls. The banks of the river, for a considerable
distance, both above and below the falls, have a volcanic
character: masses of basaltic rock are piled one upon another;
the water makes its way through their broken chasms, boiling
through narrow channels, or pitching in beautiful cascades over
ridges of basaltic columns.

Beyond these falls, they came to a picturesque, but
inconsiderable stream, called the Cassie. It runs through a level
valley, about four miles wide, where the soil is good; but the
prevalent coldness and dryness of the climate is unfavorable to
vegetation. Near to this stream there is a small mountain of mica
slate, including garnets. Granite, in small blocks, is likewise
seen in this neighborhood, and white sandstone. From this river,
the travellers had a prospect of the snowy heights of the Salmon
River Mountains to the north; the nearest, at least fifty miles

In pursuing his course westward, Captain Bonneville generally
kept several miles from Snake River, crossing the heads of its
tributary streams; though he often found the open country so
encumbered by volcanic rocks, as to render travelling extremely
difficult. Whenever he approached Snake River, he found it
running through a broad chasm, with steep, perpendicular sides of
basaltic rock. After several days' travel across a level plain,
he came to a part of the river which filled him with astonishment
and admiration. As far as the eye could reach, the river was
walled in by perpendicular cliffs two hundred and fifty feet
high, beetling like dark and gloomy battlements, while blocks and
fragments lay in masses at their feet, in the midst of the
boiling and whirling current. Just above, the whole stream
pitched in one cascade above forty feet in height, with a
thundering sound, casting up a volume of spray that hung in the
air like a silver mist. These are called by some the Fishing
Falls, as the salmon are taken here in immense quantities. They
cannot get by these falls.

After encamping at this place all night, Captain Bonneville, at
sunrise, descended with his party through a narrow ravine, or
rather crevice, in the vast wall of basaltic rock which bordered
the river; this being the only mode, for many miles, of getting
to the margin of the stream.

The snow lay in a thin crust along the banks of the river, so
that their travelling was much more easy than it had been
hitherto. There were foot tracks, also, made by the natives,
which greatly facilitated their progress. Occasionally, they met
the inhabitants of this wild region; a timid race, and but
scantily provided with the necessaries of life. Their dress
consisted of a mantle about four feet square, formed of strips of
rabbit skins sewed together; this they hung over their shoulders,
in the ordinary Indian mode of wearing the blanket. Their weapons
were bows and arrows; the latter tipped with obsidian, which
abounds in the neighborhood. Their huts were shaped like
haystacks, and constructed of branches of willow covered with
long grass, so as to be warm and comfortable. Occasionally, they
were surrounded by small inclosures of wormwood, about three feet
high, which gave them a cottage-like appearance. Three or four of
these tenements were occasionally grouped together in some wild
and striking situation, and had a picturesque effect. Sometimes
they were in sufficient number to form a small hamlet. From these
people, Captain Bonneville's party frequently purchased salmon,
dried in an admirable manner, as were likewise the roes. This
seemed to be their prime article of food; but they were extremely
anxious to get buffalo meat in exchange.

The high walls and rocks, within which the travellers had been so
long inclosed, now occasionally presented openings, through which
they were enabled to ascend to the plain, and to cut off
considerable bends of the river.

Throughout the whole extent of this vast and singular chasm, the
scenery of the river is said to be of the most wild and romantic
character. The rocks present every variety of masses and
grouping. Numerous small streams come rushing and boiling through
narrow clefts and ravines: one of a considerable size issued from
the face of a precipice, within twenty-five feet of its summit;
and after running in nearly a horizontal line for about one
hundred feet, fell, by numerous small cascades, to the rocky bank
of the river.

In its career through this vast and singular defile, Snake River
is upward of three hundred yards wide, and as clear as spring
water. Sometimes it steals along with a tranquil and noiseless
course; at other times, for miles and miles, it dashes on in a
thousand rapids, wild and beautiful to the eye, and lulling the
ear with the soft tumult of plashing waters.

Many of the tributary streams of Snake River, rival it in the
wildness and picturesqueness of their scenery. That called the
Bruneau; is particularly cited. It runs through a tremendous
chasm, rather than a valley, extending upwards of a hundred and
fifty miles. You come upon it on a sudden, in traversing a level
plain. It seems as if you could throw a stone across from cliff
to cliff; yet, the valley is near two thousand feet deep: so that
the river looks like an inconsiderable stream. Basaltic rocks
rise perpendicularly, so that it is impossible to get from the
plain to the water, or from the river margin to the plain. The
current is bright and limpid. Hot springs are found on the
borders of this river. One bursts out of the cliffs forty feet
above the river, in a stream sufficient to turn a mill, and sends
up a cloud of vapor.

We find a characteristic picture of this volcanic region of
mountains and streams, furnished by the journal of Mr. Wyeth,
which lies before us; who ascended a peak in the neighborhood we
are describing. From this summit, the country, he says, appears
an indescribable chaos; the tops of the hills exhibit the same
strata as far as the eye can reach; and appear to have once
formed the level of the country; and the valleys to be formed by
the sinking of the earth, rather than the rising of the hills.
Through the deep cracks and chasms thus formed, the rivers and
brooks make their way, which renders it difficult to follow them.
All these basaltic channels are called cut rocks by the trappers.
Many of the mountain streams disappear in the plains; either
absorbed by their thirsty soil, and by the porous surface of the
lava, or swallowed up in gulfs and chasms.

On the 12th of January (1834), Captain Bonneville reached Powder
River; much the largest stream that he had seen since leaving the
Portneuf. He struck it about three miles above its entrance into
Snake River. Here he found himself above the lower narrows and
defiles of the latter river, and in an open and level country.
The natives now made their appearance in considerable numbers,
and evinced the most insatiable curiosity respecting the white
men; sitting in groups for hours together, exposed to the
bleakest winds, merely for the pleasure of gazing upon the
strangers, and watching every movement. These are of that branch
of the great Snake tribe called Shoshokoes, or Root Diggers, from
their subsisting, in a great measure, on the roots of the earth;
though they likewise take fish in great quantities, and hunt, in
a small way. They are, in general, very poor; destitute of most
of the comforts of life, and extremely indolent: but a mild,
inoffensive race. They differ, in many respects, from the other
branch of the Snake tribe, the Shoshonies; who possess horses,
are more roving and adventurous, and hunt the buffalo.

On the following day, as Captain Bonneville approached the mouth
of Powder River, he discovered at least a hundred families of
these Diggers, as they are familiarly called, assembled in one
place. The women and children kept at a distance, perched among
the rocks and cliffs; their eager curiosity being somewhat dashed
with fear. From their elevated posts, they scrutinized the
strangers with the most intense earnestness; regarding them with
almost as much awe as if they had been beings of a supernatural

The men, however, were by no means so shy and reserved; but
importuned Captain Bonneville and his companions excessively by
their curiosity. Nothing escaped their notice; and any thing they
could lay their hands on underwent the most minute examination.
To get rid of such inquisitive neighbors, the travellers kept on
for a considerable distance, before they encamped for the night.

The country, hereabout, was generally level and sandy; producing
very little grass, but a considerable quantity of sage or
wormwood. The plains were diversified by isolated hills, all cut
off, as it were, about the same height, so as to have tabular
summits. In this they resembled the isolated hills of the great
prairies, east of the Rocky Mountains; especially those found on
the plains of the Arkansas.

The high precipices which had hitherto walled in the channel of
Snake River had now disappeared; and the banks were of the
ordinary height. It should be observed, that the great valleys or
plains, through which the Snake River wound its course, were
generally of great breadth, extending on each side from thirty to
forty miles; where the view was bounded by unbroken ridges of

The travellers found but little snow in the neighborhood of
Powder River, though the weather continued intensely cold. They
learned a lesson, however, from their forlorn friends, the Root
Diggers, which they subsequently found of great service in their
wintry wanderings. They frequently observed them to be furnished
with long ropes, twisted from the bark of the wormwood. This they
used as a slow match, carrying it always lighted. Whenever they
wished to warm themselves, they would gather together a little
dry wormwood, apply the match, and in an instant produce a
cheering blaze.

Captain Bonneville gives a cheerless account of a village of
these Diggers, which he saw in crossing the plain below Powder
River. "They live," says he, "without any further protection from
the inclemency of the season, than a sort of break-weather, about
three feet high, composed of sage (or wormwood), and erected
around them in the shape of a half moon." Whenever he met with
them, however, they had always a large suite of half-starved
dogs: for these animals, in savage as well as in civilized life,
seem to be the concomitants of beggary.

These dogs, it must be allowed, were of more use than the beggary
curs of cities. The Indian children used them in hunting the
small game of the neighborhood, such as rabbits and prairie dogs;
in which mongrel kind of chase they acquitted themselves with
some credit.

Sometimes the Diggers aspire to nobler game, and succeed in
entrapping the antelope, the fleetest animal of the prairies. The
process by which this is effected is somewhat singular. When the
snow has disappeared, says Captain Bonneville, and the ground
become soft, the women go into the thickest fields of wormwood,
and pulling it up in great quantities, construct with it a hedge,
about three feet high, inclosing about a hundred acres. A single
opening is left for the admission of the game. This done, the
women conceal themselves behind the wormwood, and wait patiently
for the coming of the antelopes; which sometimes enter this
spacious trap in considerable numbers. As soon as they are in,
the women give the signal, and the men hasten to play their part.
But one of them enters the pen at a time; and, after chasing the
terrified animals round the inclosure, is relieved by one of his
companions. In this way the hunters take their turns, relieving
each other, and keeping up a continued pursuit by relays, without
fatigue to themselves. The poor antelopes, in the end, are so
wearied down, that the whole party of men enter and dispatch them
with clubs; not one escaping that has entered the inclosure. The
most curious circumstance in this chase is, that an animal so
fleet and agile as the antelope, and straining for its life,
should range round and round this fated inclosure, without
attempting to overleap the low barrier which surrounds it. Such,
however, is said to be the fact; and such their only mode of
hunting the antelope.

Notwithstanding the absence of all comfort and convenience in
their habitations, and the general squalidness of their
appearance, the Shoshokoes do not appear to be destitute of
ingenuity. They manufacture good ropes, and even a tolerably fine
thread, from a sort of weed found in their neighborhood; and
construct bowls and jugs out of a kind of basket-work formed from
small strips of wood plaited: these, by the aid of a little wax,
they render perfectly water tight. Beside the roots on which they
mainly depend for subsistence, they collect great quantities of
seed, of various kinds, beaten with one hand out of the tops of
the plants into wooden bowls held for that purpose. The seed thus
collected is winnowed and parched, and ground between two stones
into a kind of meal or flour; which, when mixed with water, forms
a very palatable paste or gruel.

Some of these people, more provident and industrious than the
rest, lay up a stock of dried salmon, and other fish, for winter:
with these, they were ready to traffic with the travellers for
any objects of utility in Indian life; giving a large quantity in
exchange for an awl, a knife, or a fish-hook. Others were in the
most abject state of want and starvation; and would even gather
up the fish-bones which the travellers threw away after a repast,
warm them over again at the fire, and pick them with the greatest

The farther Captain Bonneville advanced into the country of these
Root Diggers, the more evidence he perceived of their rude and
forlorn condition. "They were destitute," says he, "of the
necessary covering to protect them from the weather; and seemed
to be in the most unsophisticated ignorance of any other
propriety or advantage in the use of clothing. One old dame had
absolutely nothing on her person but a thread round her neck,
from which was pendant a solitary bead."

What stage of human destitution, however, is too destitute for
vanity! Though these naked and forlorn-looking beings had neither
toilet to arrange, nor beauty to contemplate, their greatest
passion was for a mirror. It was a "great medicine," in their
eyes. The sight of one was sufficient, at any time, to throw them
into a paroxysm of eagerness and delight; and they were ready to
give anything they had for the smallest fragment in which they
might behold their squalid features. With this simple instance of
vanity, in its primitive but vigorous state, we shall close our
remarks on the Root Diggers.

Temperature of the climate Root Diggers on horseback An Indian
guide Mountain prospects The Grand Rond Difficulties on Snake
River A scramble over the Blue Mountains Sufferings from
hunger Prospect of the Immahah Valley The exhausted traveller

THE TEMPERATURE of the regions west of the Rocky Mountains is
much milder than in the same latitudes on the Atlantic side; the
upper plains, however, which lie at a distance from the
sea-coast, are subject in winter to considerable vicissitude;
being traversed by lofty "sierras," crowned with perpetual snow,
which often produce flaws and streaks of intense cold This was
experienced by Captain Bonneville and his companions in their
progress westward. At the time when they left the Bannacks Snake
River was frozen hard: as they proceeded, the ice became broken
and floating; it gradually disappeared, and the weather became
warm and pleasant, as they approached a tributary stream called
the Little Wyer; and the soil, which was generally of a watery
clay, with occasional intervals of sand, was soft to the tread of
the horses. After a time, however, the mountains approached and
flanked the river; the snow lay deep in the valleys, and the
current was once more icebound.

Here they were visited by a party of Root Diggers, who were
apparently rising in the world, for they had "horse to ride and
weapon to wear," and were altogether better clad and equipped
than any of the tribe that Captain Bonneville had met with. They
were just from the plain of Boisee River, where they had left a
number of their tribe, all as well provided as themselves; having
guns, horses, and comfortable clothing. All these they obtained
from the Lower Nez Perces, with whom they were in habits [sic] of
frequent traffic. They appeared to have imbibed from that tribe
their noncombative principles, being mild and inoffensive in
their manners. Like them, also, they had something of religious
feelings; for Captain Bonneville observed that, before eating,
they washed their hands, and made a short prayer; which he
understood was their invariable custom. From these Indians, he
obtained a considerable supply of fish, and an excellent and
well-conditioned horse, to replace one which had become too weak
for the journey.

The travellers now moved forward with renovated spirits; the
snow, it is true, lay deeper and deeper as they advanced, but
they trudged on merrily, considering themselves well provided for
the journey, which could not be of much longer duration.

They had intended to proceed up the banks of Gun Creek, a stream
which flows into Snake River from the west; but were assured by
the natives that the route in that direction was impracticable.
The latter advised them to keep along Snake River, where they
would not be impeded by the snow. Taking one of the Diggers for a
guide, they set off along the river, and to their joy soon found
the country free from snow, as had been predicted, so that their
horses once more had the benefit of tolerable pasturage. Their
Digger proved an excellent guide, trudging cheerily in the
advance. He made an unsuccessful shot or two at a deer and a
beaver; but at night found a rabbit hole, whence he extracted the
occupant, upon which, with the addition of a fish given him by
the travellers, he made a hearty supper, and retired to rest,
filled with good cheer and good humor.

The next day the travellers came to where the hills closed upon
the river, leaving here and there intervals of undulating meadow
land. The river was sheeted with ice, broken into hills at long
intervals. The Digger kept on ahead of the party, crossing and
recrossing the river in pursuit of game, until, unluckily,
encountering a brother Digger, he stole off with him, without the
ceremony of leave-taking.

Being now left to themselves, they proceeded until they came to
some Indian huts, the inhabitants of which spoke a language
totally different from any they had yet heard. One, however,
understood the Nez Perce language, and through him they made
inquiries as to their route. These Indians were extremely kind
and honest, and furnished them with a small quantity of meat; but
none of them could be induced to act as guides.

Immediately in the route of the travellers lay a high mountain,
which they ascended with some difficulty. The prospect from the
summit was grand but disheartening. Directly before them towered
the loftiest peaks of Immahah, rising far higher than the
elevated ground on which they stood: on the other hand, they were
enabled to scan the course of the river, dashing along through
deep chasms, between rocks and precipices, until lost in a
distant wilderness of mountains, which closed the savage

They remained for a long time contemplating, with perplexed and
anxious eye, this wild congregation of mountain barriers, and
seeking to discover some practicable passage. The approach of
evening obliged them to give up the task, and to seek some
camping ground for the night. Moving briskly forward, and
plunging and tossing through a succession of deep snow-drifts,
they at length reached a valley known among trappers as the
"Grand Rond," which they found entirely free from snow.

This is a beautiful and very fertile valley, about twenty miles
long and five or six broad; a bright cold stream called the
Fourche de Glace, or Ice River, runs through it. Its sheltered
situation, embosomed in mountains, renders it good pasturaging
ground in the winter time; when the elk come down to it in great
numbers, driven out of the mountains by the snow. The Indians
then resort to it to hunt. They likewise come to it in the summer
time to dig the camash root, of which it produces immense
quantities. When this plant is in blossom, the whole valley is
tinted by its blue flowers, and looks like the ocean when
overcast by a cloud.

After passing a night in this valley, the travellers in the
morning scaled the neighboring hills, to look out for a more
eligible route than that upon which they had unluckily fallen;
and, after much reconnoitring, determined to make their way once
more to the river, and to travel upon the ice when the banks
should prove impassable.

On the second day after this determination, they were again upon
Snake River, but, contrary to their expectations, it was nearly
free from ice. A narrow riband ran along the shore, and sometimes
there was a kind of bridge across the stream, formed of old ice
and snow. For a short time, they jogged along the bank, with
tolerable facility, but at length came to where the river forced
its way into the heart of the mountains, winding between
tremendous walls of basaltic rock, that rose perpendicularly from
the water's edge, frowning in bleak and gloomy grandeur. Here
difficulties of all kinds beset their path. The snow was from two
to three feet deep, but soft and yielding, so that the horses had
no foothold, but kept plunging forward, straining themselves by
perpetual efforts. Sometimes the crags and promontories forced
them upon the narrow riband of ice that bordered the shore;
sometimes they had to scramble over vast masses of rock which had
tumbled from the impending precipices; sometimes they had to
cross the stream upon the hazardous bridges of ice and snow,
sinking to the knee at every step; sometimes they had to scale
slippery acclivities, and to pass along narrow cornices, glazed
with ice and sleet, a shouldering wall of rock on one side, a
yawning precipice on the other, where a single false step would
have been fatal. In a lower and less dangerous pass, two of their
horses actually fell into the river; one was saved with much
difficulty, but the boldness of the shore prevented their
rescuing the other, and he was swept away by the rapid current.

In this way they struggled forward, manfully braving difficulties
and dangers, until they came to where the bed of the river was
narrowed to a mere chasm, with perpendicular walls of rock that
defied all further progress. Turning their faces now to the
mountain, they endeavored to cross directly over it; but, after
clambering nearly to the summit, found their path closed by
insurmountable barriers.

Nothing now remained but to retrace their steps. To descend a
cragged mountain, however, was more difficult and dangerous than
to ascend it. They had to lower themselves cautiously and slowly,
from steep to steep; and, while they managed with difficulty to
maintain their own footing, to aid their horses by holding on
firmly to the rope halters, as the poor animals stumbled among
slippery rocks, or slid down icy declivities. Thus, after a day
of intense cold, and severe and incessant toil, amidst the
wildest of scenery, they managed, about nightfall, to reach the
camping ground, from which they had started in the morning, and
for the first time in the course of their rugged and perilous
expedition, felt their hearts quailing under their multiplied

A hearty supper, a tranquillizing pipe, and a sound night's
sleep, put them all in better mood, and in the morning they held
a consultation as to their future movements. About four miles
behind, they had remarked a small ridge of mountains approaching
closely to the river. It was determined to scale this ridge, and
seek a passage into the valley which must lie beyond. Should they
fail in this, but one alternative remained. To kill their horses,
dry the flesh for provisions, make boats of the hides, and, in
these, commit themselves to the stream--a measure hazardous in
the extreme.

A short march brought them to the foot of the mountain, but its
steep and cragged sides almost discouraged hope. The only chance
of scaling it was by broken masses of rock, piled one upon
another, which formed a succession of crags, reaching nearly to
the summit. Up these they wrought their way with indescribable
difficulty and peril, in a zigzag course, climbing from rock to
rock, and helping their horses up after them; which scrambled
among the crags like mountain goats; now and then dislodging some
huge stone, which, the moment they had left it, would roll down
the mountain, crashing and rebounding with terrific din. It was
some time after dark before they reached a kind of platform on
the summit of the mountain, where they could venture to encamp.
The winds, which swept this naked height, had whirled all the
snow into the valley beneath, so that the horses found tolerable
winter pasturage on the dry grass which remained exposed. The
travellers, though hungry in the extreme, were fain to make a
very frugal supper; for they saw their journey was likely to be
prolonged much beyond the anticipated term.

In fact, on the following day they discerned that, although
already at a great elevation, they were only as yet upon the
shoulder of the mountain. It proved to be a great sierra, or
ridge, of immense height, running parallel to the course of the
river, swelling by degrees to lofty peaks, but the outline gashed
by deep and precipitous ravines. This, in fact, was a part of the
chain of Blue Mountains, in which the first adventurers to
Astoria experienced such hardships.

We will not pretend to accompany the travellers step by step in
this tremendous mountain scramble, into which they had
unconsciously betrayed themselves. Day after day did their toil
continue; peak after peak had they to traverse, struggling with
difficulties and hardships known only to the mountain trapper. As
their course lay north, they had to ascend the southern faces of
the heights, where the sun had melted the snow, so as to render
the ascent wet and slippery, and to keep both men and horses
continually on the strain; while on the northern sides, the snow
lay in such heavy masses, that it was necessary to beat a track
down which the horses might be led. Every now and then, also,
their way was impeded by tall and numerous pines, some of which
had fallen, and lay in every direction.

In the midst of these toils and hardships, their provisions gave
out. For three days they were without food, and so reduced that
they could scarcely drag themselves along. At length one of the
mules, being about to give out from fatigue and famine, they
hastened to dispatch him. Husbanding this miserable supply, they
dried the flesh, and for three days subsisted upon the nutriment
extracted from the bones. As to the meat, it was packed and
preserved as long as they could do without it, not knowing how
long they might remain bewildered in these desolate regions.

One of the men was now dispatched ahead, to reconnoitre the
country, and to discover, if possible, some more practicable
route. In the meantime, the rest of the party moved on slowly.
After a lapse of three days, the scout rejoined them. He informed
them that Snake River ran immediately below the sierra or
mountainous ridge, upon which they were travelling; that it was
free from precipices, and was at no great distance from them in a
direct line; but that it would be impossible for them to reach it
without making a weary circuit. Their only course would be to
cross the mountain ridge to the left.

Up this mountain, therefore, the weary travellers directed their
steps; and the ascent, in their present weak and exhausted state,
was one of the severest parts of this most painful journey. For
two days were they toiling slowly from cliff to cliff, beating at
every step a path through the snow for their faltering horses. At
length they reached the summit, where the snow was blown off; but
in descending on the opposite side, they were often plunging
through deep drifts, piled in the hollows and ravines.

Their provisions were now exhausted, and they and their horses
almost ready to give out with fatigue and hunger; when one
afternoon, just as the sun was sinking behind a blue line of
distant mountain, they came to the brow of a height from which
they beheld the smooth valley of the Immahah stretched out in
smiling verdure below them.

The sight inspired almost a frenzy of delight. Roused to new
ardor, they forgot, for a time, their fatigues, and hurried down
the mountain, dragging their jaded horses after them, and
sometimes compelling them to slide a distance of thirty or forty
feet at a time. At length they reached the banks of the Immahah.
The young grass was just beginning to sprout, and the whole
valley wore an aspect of softness, verdure, and repose,
heightened by the contrast of the frightful region from which
they had just descended. To add to their joy, they observed
Indian trails along the margin of the stream, and other signs,
which gave them reason to believe that there was an encampment of
the Lower Nez Perces in the neighborhood, as it was within the
accustomed range of that pacific and hospitable tribe.

The prospect of a supply of food stimulated them to new exertion,
and they continued on as fast as the enfeebled state of
themselves and their steeds would permit. At length, one of the
men, more exhausted than the rest, threw himself upon the grass,
and declared he could go no further. It was in vain to attempt to
rouse him; his spirit had given out, and his replies only showed
the dogged apathy of despair. His companions, therefore, encamped
on the spot, kindled a blazing fire, and searched about for roots
with which to strengthen and revive him. They all then made a
starveling repast; but gathering round the fire, talked over past
dangers and troubles, soothed themselves with the persuasion that
all were now at an end, and went to sleep with the comforting
hope that the morrow would bring them into plentiful quarters.


Progress in the valley An Indian cavalier The captain falls into
a lethargy A Nez Perce patriarch Hospitable treatment The bald
head Bargaining Value of an old plaid cloak The family horse
The cost of an Indian present

A TRANQUIL NIGHT'S REST had sufficiently restored the broken down
traveller to enable him to resume his wayfaring, and all hands
set forward on the Indian trail. With all their eagerness to
arrive within reach of succor, such was their feeble and
emaciated condition, that they advanced but slowly. Nor is it a
matter of surprise that they should almost have lost heart, as
well as strength. It was now (the 16th of February) fifty-three
days that they had been travelling in the midst of winter,
exposed to all kinds of privations and hardships: and for the
last twenty days, they had been entangled in the wild and
desolate labyrinths of the snowy mountains; climbing and
descending icy precipices, and nearly starved with cold and

All the morning they continued following the Indian trail,
without seeing a human being, and were beginning to be
discouraged, when, about noon, they discovered a horseman at a
distance. He was coming directly toward them; but on discovering
them, suddenly reined up his steed, came to a halt, and, after
reconnoitring them for a time with great earnestness, seemed
about to make a cautious retreat. They eagerly made signs of
peace, and endeavored, with the utmost anxiety, to induce him to
approach. He remained for some time in doubt; but at length,
having satisfied himself that they were not enemies, came
galloping up to them. He was a fine, haughty-looking savage,
fancifully decorated, and mounted on a high-mettled steed, with
gaudy trappings and equipments. It was evident that he was a
warrior of some consequence among his tribe. His whole deportment
had something in it of barbaric dignity; he felt, perhaps, his
temporary superiority in personal array, and in the spirit of his
steed, to the poor, ragged, travel-worn trappers and their
half-starved horses. Approaching them with an air of protection,
he gave them his hand, and, in the Nez Perce language, invited
them to his camp, which was only a few miles distant; where he
had plenty to eat, and plenty of horses, and would cheerfully
share his good things with them.

His hospitable invitation was joyfully accepted: he lingered but
a moment, to give directions by which they might find his camp,
and then, wheeling round, and giving the reins to his mettlesome
steed, was soon out of sight. The travellers followed, with
gladdened hearts, but at a snail's pace; for their poor horses
could scarcely drag one leg after the other. Captain Bonneville,
however, experienced a sudden and singular change of feeling.
Hitherto, the necessity of conducting his party, and of providing
against every emergency, had kept his mind upon the stretch, and
his whole system braced and excited. In no one instance had he
flagged in spirit, or felt disposed to succumb. Now, however,
that all danger was over, and the march of a few miles would
bring them to repose and abundance, his energies suddenly
deserted him; and every faculty, mental and physical, was totally
relaxed. He had not proceeded two miles from the point where he
had had the interview with the Nez Perce chief, when he threw
himself upon the earth, without the power or will to move a
muscle, or exert a thought, and sank almost instantly into a
profound and dreamless sleep. His companions again came to a
halt, and encamped beside him, and there they passed the night.

The next morning, Captain Bonneville awakened from his long and
heavy sleep, much refreshed; and they all resumed their creeping
progress. They had not long been on the march, when eight or ten
of the Nez Perce tribe came galloping to meet them, leading fresh
horses to bear them to their camp. Thus gallantly mounted, they
felt new life infused into their languid frames, and dashing
forward, were soon at the lodges of the Nez Perces. Here they
found about twelve families living together, under the
patriarchal sway of an ancient and venerable chief. He received
them with the hospitality of the golden age, and with something
of the same kind of fare; for, while he opened his arms to make
them welcome, the only repast he set before them consisted of
roots. They could have wished for something more hearty and
substantial; but, for want of better, made a voracious meal on
these humble viands. The repast being over, the best pipe was
lighted and sent round: and this was a most welcome luxury,
having lost their smoking apparatus twelve days before, among the

While they were thus enjoying themselves, their poor horses were
led to the best pastures in the neighborhood, where they were
turned loose to revel on the fresh sprouting grass; so that they
had better fare than their masters.

Captain Bonneville soon felt himself quite at home among these
quiet, inoffensive people. His long residence among their
cousins, the Upper Nez Perces, had made him conversant with their
language, modes of expression, and all their habitudes. He soon
found, too, that he was well known among them, by report, at
least, from the constant interchange of visits and messages
between the two branches of the tribe. They at first addressed
him by his name; giving him his title of captain, with a French
accent: but they soon gave him a title of their own; which, as
usual with Indian titles, had a peculiar signification. In the
case of the captain, it had somewhat of a whimsical origin.

As he sat chatting and smoking in the midst of them, he would
occasionally take off his cap. Whenever he did so, there was a
sensation in the surrounding circle. The Indians would half rise
from their recumbent posture, and gaze upon his uncovered head,
with their usual exclamation of astonishment. The worthy captain
was completely bald; a phenomenon very surprising in their eyes.
They were at a loss to know whether he had been scalped in
battle, or enjoyed a natural immunity from that belligerent
infliction. In a little while, he became known among them by an
Indian name, signifying "the bald chief." "A sobriquet," observes
the captain, "for which I can find no parallel in history since
the days of 'Charles the Bald.'"

Although the travellers had banqueted on roots, and been regaled
with tobacco smoke, yet their stomachs craved more generous fare.
In approaching the lodges of the Nez Perces, they had indulged in
fond anticipations of venison and dried salmon; and dreams of the
kind still haunted their imaginations, and could not be conjured
down. The keen appetites of mountain trappers, quickened by a
fortnight's fasting, at length got the better of all scruples of
pride, and they fairly begged some fish or flesh from the
hospitable savages. The latter, however, were slow to break in
upon their winter store, which was very limited; but were ready
to furnish roots in abundance, which they pronounced excellent
food. At length, Captain Bonneville thought of a means of
attaining the much-coveted gratification.

He had about him, he says, a trusty plaid; an old and valued
travelling companion and comforter; upon which the rains had
descended, and the snows and winds beaten, without further effect
than somewhat to tarnish its primitive lustre. This coat of many
colors had excited the admiration, and inflamed the covetousness
of both warriors and squaws, to an extravagant degree. An idea
now occurred to Captain Bonneville, to convert this rainbow
garment into the savory viands so much desired. There was a
momentary struggle in his mind, between old associations and
projected indulgence; and his decision in favor of the latter was
made, he says, with a greater promptness, perhaps, than true
taste and sentiment might have required. In a few moments, his
plaid cloak was cut into numerous strips. "Of these," continues
he, "with the newly developed talent of a man-milliner, I
speedily constructed turbans a la Turque, and fanciful head-gears
of divers conformations. These, judiciously distributed among
such of the womenkind as seemed of most consequence and interest
in the eyes of the patres conscripti, brought us, in a little
while, abundance of dried salmon and deers' hearts; on which we
made a sumptous supper. Another, and a more satisfactory smoke,
succeeded this repast, and sweet slumbers answering the peaceful
invocation of our pipes, wrapped us in that delicious rest, which
is only won by toil and travail." As to Captain Bonneville, he
slept in the lodge of the venerable patriarch, who had evidently
conceived a most disinterested affection for him; as was shown on
the following morning. The travellers, invigorated by a good
supper, and "fresh from the bath of repose," were about to resume
their journey, when this affectionate old chief took the captain
aside, to let him know how much he loved him. As a proof of his
regard, he had determined to give him a fine horse, which would
go further than words, and put his good will beyond all question.
So saying, he made a signal, and forthwith a beautiful young
horse, of a brown color, was led, prancing and snorting, to the
place. Captain Bonneville was suitably affected by this mark of
friendship; but his experience in what is proverbially called
"Indian giving," made him aware that a parting pledge was
necessary on his own part, to prove that his friendship was
reciprocated. He accordingly placed a handsome rifle in the hands
of the venerable chief, whose benevolent heart was evidently
touched and gratified by this outward and visible sign of amity.

Having now, as he thought, balanced this little account of
friendship, the captain was about to shift his saddle to this
noble gift-horse when the affectionate patriarch plucked him by
the sleeve, and introduced to him a whimpering, whining,
leathern-skinned old squaw, that might have passed for an
Egyptian mummy, without drying. "This," said he, "is my wife; she
is a good wife--I love her very much.--She loves the horse--she
loves him a great deal--she will cry very much at losing him.--I
do not know how I shall comfort her--and that makes my heart very

What could the worthy captain do, to console the tender-hearted
old squaw, and, peradventure, to save the venerable patriarch
from a curtain lecture? He bethought himself of a pair of
ear-bobs: it was true, the patriarch's better-half was of an age
and appearance that seemed to put personal vanity out of the
question, but when is personal vanity extinct? The moment he
produced the glittering earbobs, the whimpering and whining of
the sempiternal beldame was at an end. She eagerly placed the
precious baubles in her ears, and, though as ugly as the Witch of
Endor, went off with a sideling gait and coquettish air, as
though she had been a perfect Semiramis.

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