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


ALL parties being now at their posts, for the first time a meeting of the partners was convened, at which the following resolutions, among others, were passedó" That Mr. David Stuart proceed to his post at Oakinacken, explore the country, northward, and establish another post between that and New Caledonia: That Mr. M'Kenzie winter on the Snake country; recover the goods left in cache there by Mr. Hunt; and report on the state of the country: That Mr. Clarke winter at Spokane, as an intermediate post, between Mr. Stuart on the north and Mr. M'Kenzie on the south, in order to oppose and keep in check the North-West Company established them: That Mr. Robert Stuart proceed to St. Louis acres land, with despatches for Mr. Astor: That all these several parties, for mutual safety, advance together as far as the forks, or entrance of the great south branch." It was likewise settled at this council "That Mr. Hunt should accompany the ship Beaver to the Russian settlements on his coasting trip." These preparatory steps being taken, the several parties, numbering sixty two persons, left Astoria for the interior on the 29th of June.

This was the first formidable and regular party that left Astoria, which seemed to impart to the concern a character of permanency and success, and was conducted by Mr. Clarke, the brightest star in the Columbian constellation, as Mr. Astor expressed himself for to him, by mutual consent, was conceded the important command.

On their progress, no interruption impeded the party till they reached the cascades, where the Indians were rather troublesome, and shot a few arrows at the canoes as they passed; but on the party landing all was submission; the portage was made; and the party advanced at a rapid rate till they reached the hag narrows: that intricate and gloomy pass is constantly infested with gambling Indians of the vilest character.

Here, as usual, the thievish subjects of Wyeanpa assembled in numbers and showed a formidable and determined front. To one used to their gasconading threats, there was nothing in all this to intimidate; but to Mr. Clarke, although a man of nerve on most occasions, the sight was overwhelming. He stood appalled, and almost speechless. In short, he looked upon all as irretrievably lost. To advance, to retreat, or to stand still with safety, seemed to him equally hopeless. Guards and patrols were stationed round the tempting bales of goods, and days and nights wasted in useless harangues and parleys, without result. Mr. Clarke's lofty tent, pitched in the centre of the arena, as a beacon on the top of a hill shining afar, was guarded on every side by trusty Sandwich Islanders; while the rest, forming the circumvallation, had to protect all within. This state of things continued for several days and nights, until Mr. M'Kenzie and Mr. David Stuart, taking a voluntary stroll for upwards of two miles through the Indian camp, proved by their safe return that the alarm and fears of Mr. Clarke were utterly groundless, and urged him to press forward, as every moment's delay only increased the danger.

Mr. Clarke, however, viewed their situation as desperate, and the thought of advancing as utterly hopeless. Mr. M'Kenzie then told him that he could wait no longer, but would proceed with his own party, alone; Mr. Stuart said the same. To this threat Mr. Clarke replied, that if they could pass he could pass also, but would not answer for the consequences. Mr. M'Kenzie replied that he would answer for them, and therefore took upon himself the command, and immediately ordered the tents to be struck and the party to advance. The party advanced accordingly, and by adopting judicious arrangements got through the suspicious pass without molestation or loss.

Before we proceed further, however, we may here mention that whilst M'Kenzie and Stuart were on their ramble through the Indian camp, they saw in a corner of one of the chief's lodges the rifle which had been taken from Mr. Reed when he was wounded, and they were resolved at all hazards to recover it.

As soon, therefore, as all were safe above the narrows, M'Kenzie took eight men, well armed, with him, and went direct to the chief's lodge; then stationing four of his men at the door, he, himself, went in with the other four, and demanded the stolen rifle; but the chief denied that he had it, or that it was in his lodge. Mr. M'Kenzie, however, insisted that it was there, and said he was determined to have it; and seeing that fair means would not avail he drew his dagger, and began to turn over and cut up everything that came in his way, until at last the rifle was discovered, when M'Kenzie upbraided the chief for falsehood and dishonesty, took the rifle, and with his party made for the door of the lodge. The Indians were now assembling together in crowds; but before they had time to decide on any step, M'Kenzie and his men were out of their reach, carrying the rifle with them. The business was well med, for had they delayed some minutes loafer in the lodge, it is hard to say what the consequences might have been. Early in the morning our party proceeded on their journey; passed the falls, and encamped for the night near the spot where Mr. Crooks and John Day had been robbed on their forlorn adventures down the river..

The Indians, however, flocked round our party as if nothing had happened, and among the rest the ruffian who took John Day's rifle was recognised. He was immediately laid hold of and secured in one of the canoes. Mr. Crooks's rifle was alone recovered. Some were for hanging the offender, others were for cutting his ears off; but after keeping him a prisoner for two days, he was set at liberty without any further punishment; and, under all circumstances, that was perhaps the wisest course. Before he went off, however, Mr. M'LelIan, to show him the effect of fire-arms in the hands of the whites, set up a piece of board, with a white spot on it, only two inches, in diameter, and in three successive shots, at a hundred yards distance, with his rifle he pierced the bull's eye; then stopping up the holes of two of the shots, put in the third, and broke it with two successive shots at the same distance.

On passing the Umatallow, Yeck-a-.tap-am was not forgotten, Mr. Crooks giving him a chief's coat in return for the kindness shown to the latter while in distress.

On the 29th of July, all the parties arrived safe at Walla-Walla; here they we to separate, and here it was that Mr. Robert Stuart, after staying for two lays with Tummeatapam, and purchasing ten horses, the number requisite for his journey overland, took his departure for St. Louis. The party consisted of Mr. Stuart, Benjamin Jones, Andre Vailar, Francis Le Cleve, and Mr. Crooks and Mr. M'Lellan. The two latter gentlemen relinquished all connection with the concern, and joined the party for St. Louis. This little, held, and courageous party bade adieu to their associates, and commenced their perilous undertaking on the 31st of July. In the mean time, the main party struck off at the forks, leaving M'Kenzie and Clarke on their way up the Snake River, or south branch, to their respective destinations. We shall, for the present, accompany Mr. David Stuart to his wintering ground, and back again to this place, where the parties agreed to meet in the following June. The histories of the other parties shall be recounted hereafter, each in its proper place.

From the forks, Mr. Stuart and his party, ascending the north branch, continued, their voyage, and arrived at Oakinacken on the 12th of August Here it will be remembered that when the party left this on the 28th of April for Astoria, I remained at Oakinachen, having only Mr. M'Gillis and one man, named Boullard, with me. On the. 6th of May I started with Boullard and an Indian, with sixteen horses, on a trading excursion, and following Mr. Stuart's route of last winter, reached the She Whaps on Thompson's River, the tenth day, and there encamped at a place called by the Indians Cumcloups, near the entrance of the north branch. From this station I sent messages to the different tribes around, who soon assembled, bringing with them their furs. Here we stayed for ten days. The number of Indians collected on the occasion could not have been less than 2,000. Not expecting to see so many, I had taken but a small quantity of goods with me; nevertheless, we loaded all our horsesóso anxious were they, to trade, and so fond of tobacco, that one morning before breakfast I obtained one hundred and ten beavers for leaf-tobacco, at the rate of five leaves per skin; and at last, when I had but one yard of white cotton remaining, one of the chiefs gave me twenty prime beaver skins for it.

Having now finished our trade, we prepared to return home; but before we could get our odds-and-ends ready, Boullard, my trusty second, got involved in a love affair, which had nearly involved us all in a. disagreeable scrape with the Indians. This was the very man Mr. Stuart got from Mr. Thompson in exchange for Cox, the Owhyhee. He was as full of latent tricks as a serpent is of guile. Unknown to me, the old fellow had been teasing the Indians for a wife, and had already an old squaw at his heels, but could not raise the wind to pay the whole purchase money. With an air of effrontery he asked me to unload one of my horses to satisfy the demands of the old father-in-law, and because I refused him, he threatened to leave me and to remain with the savages. Provoked at his conduct, I suddenly turned round and horsewhipped the fellow, and, fortunately, the Indians did not interfere. The castigation had a good effect: it brought the amorous gallant to his sensesóthe squaw was left behind. We started; but were frequently impeded on our journey by the sudden rise of the rivers. As we were often obliged to swim our horses, our packs of beaver got now and then wet, but without sustaining any serious injury; and on the 12th of July we reached home, well pleased both with our trade and the reception we had met with from the Indians. On this trip we had frequent opportunities of paying attention to the aspect and topography of the country through which we passed.

On the 25th of August, Mr. Stuart, with his men and merchandise, left Oakinacken to winter among the She Wimps, appointing me, as a recompense for my successful voyage to Cumcloups, to the post of Oakinacken. Although not hitherto formally appointed, I had virtually been in charge of it since its first establishment. Having escorted Mr. Stuart for seventy miles, I returned to prepare my own post for the winter operations. After spending all the autumn in trading excursions, according to the custom of the country, I resolved on the 2nd of December to pay a visit to Mr. John Clarke, at Fort Spokane, which place we reached on the fourth day. Spokane lies due east from Oaldnachenódistant about 154 miles, The face of the country is rocky and barren.

I had never seen Mr. Clarke before; but certainly a more affable, generous and kind gentleman in his own house could not be met with.

Ding the three days I remained with him, I had frequent opportunities of observing the sly and underhand dealings of the competing parties, for the opposition poets of the North-West Company and Mr. Clarke were built contiguous to each other. When. the two parties happened to meet, they made the amplest protestations of friendship and kindness, and a stranger, unacquainted with the politics of Indian trade, would have pronounced them sincere; but the moment their backs were turned, they tore the other to pieces. Each party had its manoeuvring scouts out in all directions, watching the motions of the Indians, and laying plots and plans to entrap or loll each other. He that got most skins, never minding the cost or the crime, was the cleverest. fellow; amid under such tutors the Indians were apt disciples. They played their tricks also, and turned the foibles and wiles of their teachers to their own advantage.

Leaving Spokane Fort, we turned towards home again.. In the evening of the 13th, not far from home, as we were ascending a very steep hill, at the top of which is a vast plain, I and my man had to walk, leaving our horses to shift for themselves, and climb up as they could; and so steep and intricate were the windings that I had to throw of my coat, which, together with my gun, I laid on one of the pack-horses. The moment we reached the top, and before we could gather our horses or look about us, we were overtaken by a tremendous cold snowstorm; the sun became instantly obscured, and the wind blew a hurricane. We were taken by surprise. I immediately called out to the men to shift for themselves, and let the horses do the same. Just at this moment I accidentally came in contact with one of the loaded horses, for such was the darkness that we could not see three feet ahead; but, unfortunately, it was not the horse on which I had laid my coat and gun. I instantly cut the tyings, threw off the load, and mounting on the pack-saddle rode off at full speed through the deep snow, in the hopes of reaching a well-known place of shelter not far off; but in the darkness and confusion I missed the place, and at last got so benumbed with cold that I could ride no farther; and, besides, my horse was almost exhausted. In this night I dismounted and took to walking, in order to warm myself but no place of shelter was to be found. Night came on; the storm increased in violence; my horse gave up; and I myself was so exhausted, wandering through the deep snow, that I could go no further. Here I halted, unable to decide what to do. My situation appeared desperate: without my coat; without my gun; without even a fire-steel. In such a situation I must perish. At last I resolved on digging a hole in the snow; but in trying to do so, I was several times in danger of being suffocated with the drift and eddy. In this dilemma I unsaddled my horse, which stood motionless as a statue in the snow. I put the saddle under me, and the saddle-cloth, about the size of a handkerchief, round my shoulders, then squatted down in the dismal hole, more likely to prove my grave than a shelter. On entering the hole I said to myself, "Keep awake and live; sleep and die." I had not been long, however, in this dismal burrow before the cold, notwithstanding my utmost exertions to keep my feet warm, gained so fast upon me that I was obliged to take off my, shoes, then pull my trousers, by little and little, over my feet, till at last I had the waistband round my toes; and all would not do. I was now reduced to the last shift, and tried to keep my feet warm at the risk of freezing my body. At last I had scarcely strength to move a limb; the cold was gaining fast upon me; and the inclination to sleep almost overcame me. In this condition I passed the whole night; nor did the morning promise me much relief; yet I thought it offered me a glimpse of hope, and that hope induced me to endeavour to break out of my snowy prison. I tried, but in vain, to put on my frozen shoes; I tried again and again before I could succeed. I then dug my saddle out of the snow, and after repeated efforts, reached the horse and put the saddle on; but could not myself get into the saddle. Ten o'clock next day came before there was any abatement of the storm, and when it did clear up a little I knew not where I was; still it was cheering to see the storm abate. I tried again to get into the saddle; and when I at last succeeded, my half-frozen horse refused to carry me, for he could scarcely lift a leg. I then alighted and tried to walk; but the storm broke out again with redoubled violence. I saw no hope of saving myself but to kill the horse, open him, and get into his body, and I drew my hunting-knife for the purpose; but then it occurred to me that the body would freeze, and that I could not, in that case, extricate myself. I therefore abandoned the idea, laid my knife by, and tried again to walk, and again got into the saddle. The storm now abating a little, my horse began to move; and I kept wandering about through the snow till three o'clock in the afternoon, when the storm abated altogether; and the sun coming out, I recognised my position. I was then not two miles from my own house, where I arrived at dusk; and it was high time, for I could not have gone much farther; and after all it was my poor horse that saved me, for had I set out on foot, I should never, in my exhausted condition, have reached the house.

How my men weathered the storm we shall presently see. Two of them got home a little before myself, but much frost-bitten. The other two had not made their appearance yet; but some Indians were instantly despatched in search of them; and was found that night; the other not till the next day. He was carried home almost in a dying ate, but ultimately recovered. One of the horses was found dead; all the rest were recovered but the load which I had thrown off the horse which I rode was totally destroyed by the wolves. Such a destructive storm had not been felt in these parts for many years previous. An Indian, with his whole family, consisting of seven persons, perished by it; two more were severely frost bitten, and more than twenty horses were lost.

On the 20th of December, just six days after my return from Spokane, I set out with one man on a visit to Mr. Stuart, at the She Whaps, said arrived at Cumeloups on the last day of the year; soon after, Mr. Stuart reached his wintering place. The North-West, jealous of that quarter, followed hard at his heels, and built alongside of him. So that there was opposition there as well as at Mr. Clarke's place, but without the trickery and manoeuvring. M La Roeque, the North-West clerk in charge, and Mr. Stuart, were open and candid, and on friendly terms. The field before them was wide enough for both parties, and, what is more, they thought it so; consequently they followed a fair and straightforward course of trade; with Mr. Stuart I remained five days, and in coming home I took a near and unknown route, in order to explore a part of the country I had not seen before; but I chose a bad season of the year to satisfy my curiosity: we got bewildered in the mountains and deep snows, our progress was exceedingly slow, tedious, and discouraging. We were at one time five days at making as many miles, our horses suffered greatly, had nothing to eat for four days and four nights, not a blade of grass appearing above the snow, and their feet were so frightfully out with the crust on the mow that they could scarcely move, so that we were within a hair's breadth of losing every one of them.

One evening, the fuel being damp, we were unable to kindle a brisk fire. In this predicament, I called on Jacques to give me a little powder, a customary thing in such cases; but in place of handing me a little powder, or taking a little out in his hand, wise Jacques, uncorking his horn, began to pour it out on the heated coal. It instantly exploded, and blew all up before it, sending Jacques himself sprawling six feet from where he stood, and myself nearly as far, both for some time stunned and senseless, while the fire was completely extinguished.

We, however, received no injury beyond the fright, though Jacques held the horn in his hand when it was blown to atoms. On recovering, we were not in the best humour, and sat down for some time in gloomy mood; cold, however, soon admonished us to try again; but it was midnight before we could get a fire lighted and ourselves warmed, and we passed a disagreeable night without sleep or food. We hastened next morning from this unlucky encampment, and getting clear of the mountains, we descended into a low and pleasant valley, where we found the Indians I had been in search of, and something both for ourselves and our horses to eat. At the Indian camp we remained one day, got the information we required about the country, procured some furs, and then, following the course of the Samilk-a-meigh River, got to Oakinacken at the forks; thence we travelled almost day and night till the 24th of January, when we reached home again. On this journey we met with several cross purposes, and suffered a good deal from both cold and hunger, so that I got heartily tired of visiting. During my absence, Mr. M'Gillis managed matters at the post very well. Several other trading trips took place in the course of the spring, and these, with the ordinary routine business of the place, kept our hands full till the hour of embarkation arrived. In the course of the last year I had travelled in various directions through the country, 3,355 miles.

On the 13th of May, Mr. Stuart, with his men and furs, arrived from the She Whaps. In reference to his post, he remarked, "I have passed a winter nowise unpleasant, the opposition, it is true, gave me a good deal of anxiety when it first arrived, but we agreed very well, and made as much, perhaps more, than if we had been enemies. I sent out parties. in all directions, north as far as Fraser's River, and for two hundred miles up the south branch. The accounts from all quarters were most satisfactory. The country is everywhere rich in furs, and the natives very peaceable. The She Whaps will be one of the best beaver posts in the country, and I have now brought a fine stock of valuable furs with me."

After remaining at Oakinacken for ten days, to get the furs packed and pressed, Mr. Stuart and myself, with the men and furs, set out for Walla Walla, the place of general rendezvous settled upon last summer, where we arrived on the 30th of May; the other parties not having yet come in.


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