Adventures of the First
Settlers on the Oregon and Columbia Rivers Chapter X
WE have already mentioned the departure of the land
expedition from Montreal, and now propose to follow up its history,
through its zig-zag windings and perils, to Columbia, the place of its
The gentleman appointed to head the adventurous
party was Mr. Wilson Price Hunt, a citizen of the United Statesa person
every way qualified for the arduous undertaking. Had Mr. Astor been as
fortunate in his choice of a marine commander to conduct his expedition by
sea as he was in that of his land expedition, a very different result
would have ensued.
Mr. Hunt was also accompanied on this journey by Mr.
Donald M'Kenzie, another partner, who had formerly been in the service of
the North-West Company. This gentleman had already acquired great
experience in the Indian countries, was bold, robust, and peculiarly
qualified to lead Canadian voyageurs through thick and thin. Mr. Astor
placed great confidence in his abilities, perseverance, and prudenee.
Under, therefore, two such leaders as Hunt and M'Kenzie,
he had, in fact, everything to hope and little to fear.
The trumpet of enterprize was, therefore, no sooner
sounded at the office of the new company for recruits, than crowds of
blustering voyageurs, of all grades and qualities, flocked thither to
enrol themselves under the banner of this grand undertaking. Money was
tempting, and Jean Baptiste has ever been fond of novelty. The list of
adventurers therefore might have been filled up in an hour; but a
different line was pursued. M'Kenzie was too sagacious and wary to be
taken in by appearances; he drew a line of distinction, and selected those
only who had already given proofs of capacity. The picking and choosing
system, however, gave great offence to many; consequently, those who had
been rejected put every iron in the fire, out of pure spite, to discourage
those already engaged, or about to engage; and the
money once expended, little persuasion was required to effect their
Mr. M'Kenzie, from his knowledge
of the Canadian character, wished to engage at once a sufficient number
for the enterprize, so that no subsequent delays might interrupt their
progress; and this was generally allowed to be the better plan, as we
shall have occasion to notice hereafter. But Mr. Huntgrave, steady, and
straightforward, himselfdetested the volatile gaiety and ever-changing
character of the Canadian voyageurs, and gave a decided preference to
Americans, and the mongrel Creoles of the south, who, as he alleged, might
be got on the route, either at Mackina or St. Louis; and this was the plan
ultimately adopted: so that no more Canadian voyageurs were taken than
were barely sufficient to man one large canoe. These men, however, were
voyageurs of the first class, whose well-tried experience on the lakes,
rivers, and frozen regions of the north, made them anticipate the
pleasures of a holiday voyage on the waters of the southhardy veterans,
who thought of nothing but to toil and obey. Such were the mensecond to
no canoe-men in Canada that joined the expedition at Montreal. The party
now assembled in high spirits, and after bidding a dozen adieux to their
friends and companions, embarked at La Chine on the 5th of July. On
arriving at St. Anne's, the devout voyageurs, according to usual custom,
expressed a wish to go on shore to make their vows at the holy shrine
before leaving the island. There, prostrated on the ground, they received
the priest's benediction; then embarking, with pipes and song, hied their
way up the Ottawa or Grand River for Mackina, which place they reached on
the seventeenth day.
Michiliinackina, or Mackinaw, was
their first resting-place after leaving La Chine; and here they had again
to recommence the recruiting service, as at Montrealwith this difference,
however, that the Montreal men are expert canoe-men, the Mackina men
expert bottle-men. That Canadians in general drink, and sometimes even to
excess, must be admitted; but to see drunkenness and debauchery, with all
their concomitant vices, carried on systeinatically, it is necessary to
Here Hunt and M'Kenzie in vain
sought recruits, at least such as would suit their purpose; for in the
morning they were found drinking, at noon drunk, in the evening dead
drunk, and in the night seldom sober. Hogarth's drunkards in Gin Lane and
Beer Alley were nothing compared to the drunkards of Mackina at this time.
Every nook and corner in the whole island swarmed, at all hours of the day
and night, with motley groups of uproarious tipplers and whisky-hunters.
Mackina at this time resembled a great bedlam, the frantic inmates running
to and fro in wild forgetfulness; so that Mr. Hunt, after spending several
weeks, could only pick up a few disorderly Canadians, already ruined in
mind and body; whilst the cross-breeds and Yankees kept aloof, viewing the
expedition, as an army views a forlorn hope, as destined to destruction.
Mr. Hunt now saw and confessed his error in not taking M'Keazie's salutary
advice to engage more voyageurs at Montreal, but regretted most of all the
precious time they had lost to no purpose at Mackina, and therefore set
about leaving it as soon as possible.
But before we take our leave of a
place so noted for gallantry and gossiping, we may observe that it was, at
the date of this narrative, the chief rendezvous of the Mackina Fur
Company, and a thousand other petty associations of trappers and
adventurers, all in some way or other connected with the Indian trade.
Here then Mackina was the great outfitting mart of the souththe centre
and head-quarters of all those adventurers who frequented the Mississippi
and Missouri waters in search of furs and peltries.
These different parties visit
Mackina but once a year, and on these occasions make up for their dangers
and privations among the Indians by rioting, carousing, drinking, and
spending all their gains in a few weeks, sometimes in a few days; and then
they return again to the Indians and the wilderness. In this manner these
dissolute spendthrifts spin out, in feasting and debauchery, a miserable
existence, neither fearing God nor regarding man, till the knife of the
savage, or some other violent death, despatches them unpitied.
In the fur trade of the north
many have attained to a competency, not a few to independence, and many
have realized fortunes after a servitude of years; but in the slippery and
ruinous traffic of the south many fortunes have been lost, and an awful
sacrifice made of human life; so that of all the adventurers engaged, for
half a century past, in the fur trade of that licentious quarter, few,
very few indeed, ever left it with even a bare competency.
At Mackina, Mr. Crooks, formerly
a trader on the Missouri, joined the expedition as a partner. The odds and
ends being now put together, and all ready for a start, the expedition
left Mackina on the 12th of August, and crossing over the lake to Green
Bay, proceeded up Fox River, then down to Prairie du Chien by the
Wisconsin, and from thence drifted down the great Mississippi to St.
Loins, where they landed on the 3rd of September.
No sooner had the St. Louis
papers announced the arrival of Astor's expedition at that place, than the
rendezvous of Hunt and M'Kenzie teemed with visitors of all grades,
anxious to enlist in the new company. Pleased with the flattering prospect
of soon completing their number, they commenced selecting such
countenances as bespoke health and vigour; but, alas! few of that
description was to be found in the crowd.
The motley group that presented
itself coull boast of but few vigorous and efficient hands, being
generally little better, if not decidedly worse, than those lounging about
the streets of Mackina, a medley of French Creoles, old and worn-out
Canadians, Spanish renegades, with a mixture of Indians and Indian half-breds,
enervated by indolence, debauchery, and a warm climate. Here, again, Mr.
Hunt's thoughts turned to Canada; and in the bitterness of disappointment
he was heard to say, "No place like Montreal for hardy and expert
voyageurs!" Several Yankees, however, sleek and tall as the pines of the
forest, engaged as hunters and trappers; but here again another difficulty
presented itself, the sapient Yankees, accustomed to the good things of
St. Louis, must have their dainties, their tea, their coffee, and their
grog. This caused a jealousy; the Canadians, who lived on the usual coarse
fare of the north, began to complain, and insisted on receiving the same
treatment which the hunters and trappers had,such is the force of
example; and dissatisfaction once raised is not so easily allayed again.
To adjust these differences, Mr. Hunt adopted an expedient which, in place
of proving a remedy, rather augmented the evil. Thinking it easier, or at
all events cheaper, to reduce his own countrymen, being but few in number,
to the Canadian pot-luck, rather than pamper Jean Baptiste with luxurious
notions, he issued his orders accordingly, that all denominations should
fare alike; but Jonathan was not to be told what he was to eat, nor what
he was to drink. Finding, however, Mr. Hunt determined to enforce the
order, the new corners shouldered their rifles to a man, and, in the true
spirit of Yankee independence, marched off with their advance in their
pockets, and the expedition saw them no more; and not only that, .but they
raised such a hue-and-cry against the parsimonious conduct of the new
enterprize, that not a man could be afterwards got to engage; and this
state of things the other traders, and particularly the Missouri Fur
Company, turned to their advantage, by representing to the people the
horrors, the dangers, and privations that awaited our adventurous friends;
that if they were fortunate enough to escape being scalped by the Indians,
they would assuredly be doomed, like Nebuchodnezzar, to eat grass, and
never would return to tell the sad tale of their destruction.
While Mr. Hunt's affairs thus
seemed almost at a stand, a new impulse was given to the expedition by the
timely acquisition of another partner, a Mr. Miller, who had been a trader
up the Missouri, had considerable experience among Indians along the route
to be followed, and was a great favourite with the people at St. Louis. As
soon, therefore, as Mr. Miller joined the expedition, people from all
quarters began again to enlist under the banner of the new company.
Canoemen, hunters, trappers, and interpreters were no longer wanting, and
the number of each being completed, the expedition left St Louis, after a
vexatious delay of forty-eight days.
On the 21st of October the
expedition started in three boats, and soon after reached the mouth of the
Missouri, up which the party proceeded. Our Canadian voyageurs were now
somewhat out of their usual element Boats and oars, the mode of navigating
the great rivers of the south, were new to men who had been brought up to
the paddle, the cheering song, and the bark canoe of the north.. They
detested the heavy and languid drag of a Mississippi boat, and sighed for
the paddle and song of former days. They soon, however, became expert at
the oar, and Mr. Hunt, who was somewhat partial to the south men, was
forced to acknowledge that their merits were not to he compared to the
steady,. persevering, habits of the men of the north. Yet the progress was
but slow, scarcely averaging twenty- one miles a day, so that it was the
16th of November before they reached the Nodowa, a distance of only 450
miles up the Missouri, and there, from the coldness of the weather and
lateness of the season, they were obliged to winter.
Mr. M'Kenzie, accustomed, during
the days of the North-West, to start from Montreal and reach the mouth of
Columbia. river, or Great Bear's Lake, the same season, did not muck like
this slow travelling, and had his advice been acted on, the expedition, in
place of wintering at the Nodowa, would have wintered on the waters of the
Here it was that Mr. M'Lellan,
another partner, joined the expedition. This gentleman was one of the
first shots in America, nothing could escape his keen eye and steady hand;
hardy, enterprizing, and brave as a lion: on the whole, he was considered
a great acquisition to the party.
After settling the winter
quarters, Mr. Hunt returned to St. Louis, which place he reached on the
20th of January 1811, and before he joined his wintering friends at the
Nodowa River again, it was the 17th of April.
During Mr. Hunt's visit at St.
Louis, orders arrived, among other instructions, from Mr. Astor, that the
sole command of the expedition should be vested in him alone, although
hitherto it was intrusted to Hunt and M'Kenzie. This underhand proceeding
of Astor's gave umbrage to the other partners, and particularly to
M'Kenzie, and added new difficulties to Mr. Hunt's situation, by throwing
the whole responsibility of the enterprize upon him alone; but such was
Astor, that no confidence could be placed in his arrangements; his
measures, like the wind, were ever changing.
During Mr. Hunt's absence,
several changes had taken place in the wintering camp; some of the men had
deserted, others again, under various pretences shook themselves clear of
the ill-omened undertaking, and even after Mr. Hunt's return, several more
turned their backs and walked off, without the least compunction, and all
those who so unceremoniously and treacherously left the expedition,
excepting one, were Americans. Mr. Hunt, in his eagerness to press
forward, was perfectly, worn out with anxiety.
On the 22d of April, however, the adventurers broke
up their camp, or winter quarters, and bent their course up the strong and
rapid current of the Missouri, no less formidable in itself; than
dangerous on account of the numerous savage hordes that infest its banks.
On the 14th of September the party reached the
heights of the Rocky Mountains, safe and in good spirits, after many
hairbreadth escapes, and drew near to the Pilot Knobs, or Trois Tetons,
that great landmark, so singular and conspicuous, near which is the
romantic source of Louis River, or the great south branch of the Columbia.
From the Nodowa, to the Pilot Knobs occupied them one hundred and
The Pilot Knobs, so cheering to our wayfaring
friends, proved but the beginning of their real troubles: for, after
various projects and plans, it was resolved, on the 18th of October, to
abandon their hitherto serviceable and trusty horses, and they were,
therefore, turned loose, to the number of one hundred and eighty, and the
party embarking in fifteen crazy and frail canoes, undertook to descend
the rugged and boiling channels of the head waters of the great south
branch of the Columbia. Having proceeded about 350 miles, they were at
last compelled to abandon the project of navigating these. bold and
dangerous waters; but not before one of their best steersmen was drowned,
and they were convinced as to the impracticability of
proceeding by water.
At this time, two small and
separate parties, consisting in all of twelve persons, were fitted out as
trappers to hunt the beaver, and, to the astonishment of all, Mr. Miller,
in one of his headstrong fits, turned his bank on the expedition abruptly,
and became a trapper also.
The canoes being now abandoned
altogether, various plans were thought of; two or three parties were sent
out as scouts, to try and fall in with Indians, provisions being now so
scarce that the most gloomy apprehensions were entertained. These parties,
however, saw but few Indians, and those few were destitute themselves. At
this time a starving dog that could hardly crawl along was a feast to our
people, and even the putrid and rotten skins of animals were resorted to
in order to sustain life. Whilst these parties were exhausting themselves
to little or no purpose, another party attempted to recover the horses,
which had been so thoughtlessly and imprudently left behind; but they
returned unsuccessful, after a week's trial and hunger. A fifth party was
despatched ahead to explore the river, and they, also returned with the
most gloomy presageall failed, and all fell back again on the cheerless
camp, to augment the general despondency; the party now, as a last
resource, set about depositing and securing the goods and baggage, by
putting them in caches; this done, the party finally separated into four
bands, each headed by a partner, and the object of one and all was, to
reach the mouth of the Columbia by the best and shortest way. That part of
the country where they were was destitute of game, and the provisions of
the whole party taken together were scarcely enough for two days' journey.
At that season of the year, the Indians retire to the distant mountains,
and leave the river till the return of spring, which accounts for their
absence at this time.
We have already stated that one
man, named Clappine, had been drownedanother of the name of Prevost had
become deranged through starvation, and drowned himselfand a. third,
named Carrier, lingered behind and perished; these fatal disasters
happened in the parties conducted by Messrs. Hunt and Crooks. M'Kenzie and
his party were more fortunate: as soon as the division of the men and
property took place, that bold North-Wester called his little band
together,"Now, my friends," said he, "there is still hope before us; to
linger on our way, to return back, or to be discouraged and stand still,
is death--a death of all others the most miserable; therefore, take
courage; let us persevere and push on ahead, and all will end well; the
foremost will find something to eat, the last may fare worse." On hearing
these cheering words, the poor fellows took off their caps, gave three
cheers, and at once shot ahead. They kept as near the river as possible,
and got on wonderfully well, until they came into the narrow and rugged
defiles of the Blue Mountains: there they suffered much, and were at one
time five days without a mouthful to eat, when, fortunately, they caught a
beaver; and on this small animal and its skin, scarcely a mouthful to
each, the whole party had to subsist for three days. At this time some of
them were so reduced that M'Kenzie himself had to carry on his own back
two of his men's blankets, being a strong and robust man, and long
accustomed to the hardships and hard fare of the north. He alone, of all
the party, stood the trial well; and, by still cheering and encouraging
his men on, he brought them at length to the main waters of the Columbia,
at Walla-Walla, a little below the great forks; from thence they descended
with the current to the long looked-for Astoria, where they arrived safe
and sound on the 10th of January 1812.
Mr. Hunt and the other parties
still lingered behind; and from the severe trials and privations which
M'Kenzie, who was reckoned the boldest and most experienced adventurer in
the expedition, suffered, fears were entertained as to the safety of the
other parties, more particularly as many gloomy reports had reached
Astoria; some saying that they had been killed by the Indians, others that
they had died of hunger in the mountains; but at last, on the 15th of
February, the joyful cry of white men approaching, announced at Astoria
the glad tidings of Mr. Hunt's arrival.
The emaciated, downcast looks and
tattered garments of our friends, all bespoke their extreme sufferings
during a tong and severe winter. To that Being alone who preserveth all
those who put their trust in Him, were in this instance due, and at all
times, our thanksgiving and gratitude.
This comment system requires
you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an
account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or
Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these
companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All
comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator
has approved your comment.