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Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon and Columbia Rivers
Chapter XI


As the spring advanced, various resolutions were passed, and preparations made in furtherance of the views of the concern for the current year. In the prosecution of these plans, three parties were set on foot for the interior; one, consisting of three men, under Mr. Reed, for New York, overland; another, under Mr. Farnham, for the goods left en cache by Mr. Hunt on his journey; and a third, to be conducted by Mr. Robert Stuart, for Oakinacken, with supplies for that post.

On the 22nd of March, all these parties, consisting of seventeen men, left Astoria together, under the direction of Mr. Stuart. On the departure of the party, Mr. M'Lellan, following the example of his colleague, Mi. Miller, abruptly resigned, and joined the party for New York. This gentleman possessed many excellent qualities, but they were all obscured and thrown into the shade by a fickle and unsteady mind.

Everything went on smoothly till the party reached the long narrows; that noted resort of plunderers, where few can pass without paying a heavy tax; but there, while in the act of making the portage, the party being unavoidably divided, they were furiously attacked by a strong party of Indians, Mr. Reed, bearer of the express for New York, was knocked down in the scuffle, and severely wounded; and had not M'Lellan, with a bravery and presence of mind peculiar to himself, leaped dexterously over a canoe, he would have been felled to the ground; but his agility saved him, and in all probability saved the whole party, for he instantly shot the man who aimed the blow, then drawing a pistol from his belt, shot him who had assailed Reed dead at his feet; then clapping his hand to his mouth, in the true Indian style, he gave the war-whoop, fired his rifle, and the Indians fled. During the critical scuffle, the despatches were carried off by the savages, and a few other articles of but little value. The firing and the war-whoop summoned in a moment all the whites together, and the Indians, being panic-struck at M'Lellan's heroic conduct, retired rather disconcerted, giving Mr. Stuart and his party time to collect their property, embark, and depart.

They had not proceeded far, however, when the Indians assembled again in battle array, and taking up a position some distance ahead, appeared determined to dispute the passage. But Mr. Stuart was on the alert, and took up his station on a rock some distance from the shore, and from the savages also; when, after a momentary suspense, and many wild flourishes and threats on the part of the Indians, a parley ensued, and Mr. Stuart had the good fortune to negotiate a peace. Six blankets and a few trifling articles satisfied the Indians, or at least they preferred them to the doubtful issue of a second attack. As soon, therefore, as they had received the stipulated oblation for their dead, they retired, and our friends pursued their journey without any further molestation; but for some days and nights after, our party kept a good look-out.

Mr. Stuart, although brave and prudent, erred in attempting to pass the portage in the night; that stealthy proceeding revealed their fears or weakness, and was, in all probability, the cause of the whole disaster. Mr. Reed gradually recovered, but the despatches were lost; so that there was an end to the expedition overland. Mr. Reed and his men therefore accompanied Mr. Stuart, as did Mr. Farnham and the cache party; it not being considered prudent to divide. The party now continued their route together, and arrived safe at Oakinacken on the 24th of April. Here they remained for five days, when the party left for Astoria, in four canoes, carrying off with them 2500 beaver skins. Mr. David Stuart and two of our men accompanied the party down, leaving at Oakinacken only myself, Mr. Donald M'Gillis, and one man.

On their way down, one morning a little after sunrise, while near the Umatallow River, where a crowd of Indians were assembled together, they were bailed loudly in English to "come on shore." The canoes instantly closed together, and listened with some anxiety to hear the words repeated. They had no sooner done so than the voice again called out to "come on shore." To shore the canoes instantly steered; when, to the surprise of all, who should be there, standing like two spectres, but Mr. Crooks and John Day, who, it will be remembered, had been left by Mr. Hunt among the Snake Indians the preceding autumn; but so changed and emaciated were they, that our people for some time could scarcely recognise them to be white men; and we cannot do better here than give their story in their own words. The following is, therefore, Mr. Crooks's account of their adventures and their sufferings:

"After being left by Mr. Hunt, we remained for some time with the Snakes, who were very kind to us. When they had anything to eat, we ate also; but they soon departed, and being themselves without provisions, of course they left us without any. We had to provide for ourselves the best way we could. As soon, therefore, as the Indians went off, we collected some brushwood and coarse hay, and made a sort of booth or wigwam to shelter us from the cold; we then collected some firewood; but before we got things in order, John Day grew so weak that when he sat down he could not rise again without h4 Following the example of the Indiana, I dug up roots for our sustenance; but not knowing how to cook them, we were nearly poisoned. In this plight, we unfortunately let the fire go out, and for a day and night we both lay in a torpid state, unable to strike fire, or to collect dry fuel. We had now been a day without food, or even water to drink, and death appeared inevitable.. But Providence is ever kind. Two straggling Indians happening to come our way, relieved us. They made us a fire, got us some water, and gave us something to eat; bat seeing some roots we had collected for food lying in a corner, they gave us to understand that they would poison us if we ate them. If we had had afire, those very roots would have been our last food, for we had nothing else to eat; and who can tell but the hand of a kind and superintending Providence was in all this? These poor fellows staid with us the greater part of two days, and gave us at their departure about two pounds of venison. We were really sorry to lose them.

On the same day, after the Indians had left us, a very large wolf came prowling about our hut, when John Day, with great exertions and good luck, shot the ferocious animal dead; and to this fortunate hit I think we owed our lives. The flesh of the wolf we out up and dried, and laid it by for some future emergency, and in the mean time feasted upon the skin; nor did we throw away the bones, but pounded them between stones, and with some roots made a kind of broth, which, in our present circumstances, we found very good. After we had recovered our strength a little, and were able to walk, we betook ourselves to the mountains in search of game; and, when unsuccessful in the chase, we had recourse to our dried wolf. For two months we wandered about, barely sustaining life with our utmost exertions. All this time we kept travelling to and fro, until we happened, by mere chance, to fall on the Umatallow River; and then following it, we made the Columbia about a mile above this place, on the 15th day of April, according to our reckoning. Our clothes being all torn and worn out, we suffered severely from cold; but on reaching this place, the Indians were very kind to us. This man," pointing to an old grey-headed Indian, called Yeck-a-tap-am, "in particular treated us like a father. After resting ourselves for two days with the good old man and his people, we set off, following the current, in the delusive hope of being able to reach our friends at the mouth of the Columbia, as the Indians gave us to understand that white men had gone down there in the winter, which we supposed must have been Mr. Hunt and his party.

We had proceeded on our journey nine days, without interruption, and were not far from the falls, which the Indians made us comprehend by uttering the word 'tumm,' which we understood to mean noise or fall; when one morning, as we were sitting near the river, gazing on the beautiful stream before us, the Indians in considerable numbers collected around us, in the usual friendly manner: after some little time, however, one of them got up, and, under pretence of measuring the length of my rifle with his bow, took it in his hands; another in the same manner, and at the same moment, took John Day's rifle from him. The moment our guns were in their possession, the two Indians darted out of the crowd to some distance, and assuming a menacing attitude, pointed them at us; in the same instant, all the others fled from us and joined the two who had carried off our guns. All began to intimate to us by signs, in the most uproarious and wild manner, that some of their people had been killed by the whites, and threatened to kill us in turn. In this critical conjunction, John Day drew his knife, with the intention of rushing upon the fellows to get hold of his gun; but I pointed out to him the folly of such a step, which must have instantly proved fatal to us, and he desisted.

"The Indians then closed in upon us, with guns pointed and bows drawn, on all sides, and by force stripped us of our clothes, ammunition, knives, and everything else, leaving us naked as the day we were born, and, by their movements and gestures, it appeared evident that there was a disposition on their part to kill us; but, after a long and angry debate, in which two or three old men seemed to befriend us, they made signs for us to be off: seeing the savages determined, and more of them still collecting, we slowly turned round, and went up the river again, expecting every moment to receive a ball or an arrow. After travelling some little distance, we looked back and saw the savages quarrelling about the division of the booty; but fearing pursuit, we left the river and took to the hills. All that day we travelled without tasting food, and at night concealed ourselves among the rocks--without fin!, food, or clothing. Next day we drew near to the river, and picked up some fish-bones at a deserted Indian encampment; with these we returned to the rocks again, and pounding them with stones, tried to eat a little, but could not manage to swallow any: that night also we hid ourselves among the rocks, but at last we resolved to keep by the river, and, as it seemed impossible to avoid death, either by the Indians or starvation, to brave all dangers in the attempt to reach our good old friend Yeck-a-tap-am and Providence still guarded us.

"Soon after we arrived at the river, we unexpectedly fell on a small Indian hut, with only two old people and a child in it: we approached with hesitating and doubtful steps, but on entering the solitary wigwam, the poor inmates were more frightened than ourselves; and, had they had timely notice of our approach, they would have certainly fled. The good people, however, gave us fish, broth, and roots to eat; and this was the first food we had tasted, and the first fire we had seen, for four days and four nights. Our feet were severely cut and bleeding, for want of shoes; yet we lost no time, but set off, and arrived here three days ago, and our good old Mend, Yeck-a-tap-am, received us again with open arms, and gave us these skins to cover our nakedness, as ye now see.

"The good old man then killed a horse, which his people out up and dried for us, and with that supply we had resbived to set out this very day and retrace our steps back again to St. Louis overland, and when you came in sight we were just in the act of tying up our little bundles; regretting, most of all, that we had no means of recompensing our good and faithful friend Yeck-a-tap-am."

Mr. Crooks having concluded his narrative, Mr. Stuart called the old man to him, and clothed him from bead to foot for his friendly services. Mr. Crooks and his fellow-sufferer then cordially shaking hands with Yeck.-a-tap-am, the party pushed off, and continued their voyage. On arriving at the place where Crooks had been robbed, the party put on shore; but the Indians, having notice of their approach, fled to the interior; so that they had no opportunity of either recovering the guns or inquiring into the affair.

From the long narrows the party met with no interruption, but continued their route till they reached Astoria, on the 12th of May, where Crooks and all the party were greeted with a hearty welcome; and what made the meeting more joyous was the safe arrival, three days previous, of the Company's ship Beaver from New York, with a supply of goods, and a reinforcement of men.


 


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