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


WE now come to the history of Mr. Clarke and his party, whom we left at the forks in August last, on his way to his winter-quarters at Spokane. Having proceeded up the South-branch, or Louis River, for about fifty miles, he reached the Catatouch band, at the mouth of the Pavilion River. The Catatouches are a small and friendly tribe of the great Nez Percé nations, and the lowest of them on the South-branch. This spot terminated Mr. Clarke's voyage by water. From thence his route lay across land to the Spokane River, distant about 170 miles. Leaving his canoes under the care of the friendly Catatouch chief, he purchased horses from the Indians for the transportation of his goods.

Mr. Clarke had four clerks with him, Messrs Pullet, Farnham, M'Lennan, and Cox. He had also more men and merchandize than any of the other parties, as it was supposed he would have most to do in opposing a formidable opposition.

Having purchased a sufficient number of horses, he left the Pavilion on the 10th of August, and set out on his journey by land. He had not proceeded far, however, when he got into some little difficulties with his people. They had started together; but before they had been two hours on the march, some of them lagged so far behind that the motley cavalcade outstretched a mile in length; while Mr. Clarke, like a general at the head of an army, had to keep riding backwards and forwards to keep together the broken line of stragglers, the greater part of whom being on foot, and having to keep up with horses, over a barren and sandy plain, in the hot and sultry weather of a Columbia summer, had a task too severe, perhaps, even for the best travellers.

The most refractory of the rear-guard was Mr. Cox—the little Irishman, as he was generally called. Mr. Clarke riding back ordered him, in an angry tone, to quicken his steps. "Give me a horse," said Cox, "and I'll ride with yourself at the head." At this reply Mr. Clarke raised his whip—some say he put his threats in execution—and then rode of. Be that as it may, Cox slunk off and took to the mountains; the party moved on, and Cox remained behind. The sixth day the party arrived at Spokane. Indians were then sent out in all directions; but it was the seventh day after the party had reached its destination before Cox made his appearance. The Indians had picked him up in a most destitute and forlorn condition on the thirteenth day of his wayward pilgrimage; his clothes all torn, his feet bare, and his belly empty. When I was there in the winter, Cox had hardly recovered yet. Mr. Clarke's mode of trading might do for a bourgeois; but it was not it for a clerk. What was considered moderate at Spokane would be denounced as exorbitant at Oakinaken. Mr. Clarke was extravagant; but to be called by the Indians a generous chief was his greatest glory.

Mr. Clarke established himself at the corner of the opposition poet; and being formerly a North-Wester himself, he was up to the rigs of his opponents. The Indians were assembled, bug speeches were made, and mighty things were promised on both sides, but never fulfilled. As soon as Mr. Clarke had got himself and property under shelter, following the North-West system, he gave a grand ball to his men, and appointed three or four of the most conceited and blustering fellows in his party to be a guard, such as the Sioux and other savage nations employ as instruments of tyranny in the hands of despotic chiefs. These fellows wore feathers in their caps, the insignia of their office. To challenge, fight, and bully their opponents, stand at the heels of their bourgeois, to be ready at a wink to do whatever he commands them, is their duty; and they understand it well. All the preIiminary steps being taken, Mr. Clarke set about establishing outposts, to compete with his opponents and keep them in check.

Mr. Fillet, with some men and a supply of goods, was sent to the Cootanais to oppose Mr. Mantour on the part of the North-West. Mr. Fillet travelled a great deal, and turned his time to good account.- Both were zealous traders, and they could fight a duel as well as buy a skin, for they carried pistols as well as goods along with them. They therefore fought and traded alternately, but always spared the thread of life, and in the spring parted good friends.

Mr. Fanhain was fitted out for the Selifit, or Flathead tribe,—crossed with them the Rocky Mountains--visited the head waters of the Missouri—saw much of the country, and made a good trade. Famliam was a bustling, active, and enterpiizing fellow.

Both the Cootanais and Selish tribes hire and range along the foot of the mountains, often. crossing them, and have frequent encounters with the Blackfeet, by whom they have suffered greatly, of late years; the Blackfeet being too numerous for them.

Mr. M'Lennan was stationed at the Pointed Hearts, or Sketch-hugh Lake. In going to his destination, he was rather unlucky, for his canoe upset in crossing the lake, and swamped his goods; but he swam like a fish, got the two men he had with him into the canoe again, then kept diving like a seal, although the weather was cold and the water deep, till he recovered the most of his property: his exertions on this occasion astonished every one who knew the difficulties of the task. M'Lennan was hardy as steel, and bold as a lion: he made a very good and a very cheap trade, and was altogether a favourite among the Indians.

Spring now drawing nigh, Mr. Clarke got in all his outposts and scouts, and left Spokane, with thirty- two horses loaded with furs, on the 25th of May: a confidential man, named Pion, a newly-promoted clerk, with three men, was left in charge of the post. The party performed the journey across land to the Pavilion in six days, and found the canoes, which had been left there in charge of the Catatouch chief, all safe.

The most trivial incidents sometimes prove instructive, and may in their consequences afford an important lesson. As soon as Mr. Clarke arrived at the Pavilion, and found his canoes safe, pleased at the conduct of the chief, he made him a present of some ammunition and tobacco; this done, they, set about packing up the different articles in order to embark, and among others two silver goblets belonging to Mr. Clarke himself, who took this opportunity of showing them to the chief, and expatiated on their high value; then pouring a little wine into one of them made the chief drink out of it, telling him when done that he was a greater man now than ever he was before. The chief was delighted, and turning the goblet over and over in his hands, and looking at it with intense interest, handed it over to the next great man, and he to another, and so on till, like the pipe of peace, it had gone round the whole circle. The precious curiosity was then laid by, and the Indians retired.

Next morning, however, the pearl of great price was gone! everything in and about the camp was turned topsy-turvy in search of the silver goblet, but to no purpose: all business was now suspended—the goblet must be found. At last it was conjectured the Indians must have stolen it; and Mr. Clarke, with fury in his countenance, assembled the whole- Catatouch camp, and made known his loss—the loss of his silver goblet! he coaxed, he flattered, he threatened to bring down vengeance upon the whole tribe for the loss of his goblet, and, in his wrath and vexation, denounced death upon the offender should he be discovered. The poor Indians stood gazing in amazement; they sympathized with him, pitied him, and deplored his loss; and promised to do their utmost to find the goblet: with this solemn declaration they went off, the whole tribe was called together, the council sat, and soon afterwards they returned in a body, like messengers of peace, bringing the glad tidings to Mr. Clarke that the silver goblet was found; at the same time the chief; step.. ping forward and spreading out his robe, laid the precious vessel before him. "Where is the thief?" vociferated Mr Clarke. The chief then pointed to a fellow sitting in the ring as the criminal. "I swore," said Mr. Clarke, "that the thief should die, and white men never break their word." The fellow was told of his fide; but he kept smiling, thinking himself; according to Indian custom, perfectly safe; for the moment the stolen article is returned to the rightful owner, according to the maxims of Indian law, the culprit is exonerated. Mr. Clarke, however, thought otherwise, and, like Herod of old, for the sake of his oath considered himself bound to put his threat into execution, and therefore instantly commanded the poor, unsuspecting wretch to be hung up —and hung he was accordingly; and the unhallowed deed was aggravated by the circumstance of their taking the poles of his own ledge to make the gallows

The Indians all the time could not believe that the whites were in earnest, till they beheld the lifeless body. The deed was, however, no sooner committed than Mr. Clarke grew alarmed. The chief, throwing down his robe on the ground, a sign of displeasure, harangued his people, who immediately after mounted their fleetest horses, and scampered off in all directions to circulate the news and assemble the surrounding tribes, to take vengeance on the whites. In the mean time, leaving the enraged Indians to follow their inclination, the cans were thrown into the water, loaded, and down the current Mr. Clarke and his men pushed their way day, and night till they reached the Walla Walla, where they, arrived safe on the 4th of June; and here we shall leave them for the present, while we detail M'Ken7ie'e winter adventures. Fortunately for the whites, the defunct Indian was a person of very low degree, even in the estimation of the Indians themselves, being an outcast without friends or relatives, which made them less bent on revenge, but not the lees disposed to annoy, as we shall have occasion to notice hereafter.

Mr. M'Kenzie and party before mentioned accompanied Mr. Clarke up the South-branch as far as the Pavilion: here Clarke and his party forked off for Spokane in August, leaving M'Kenzie to prosecute his voyage up the same river till he reached the very centre of the Great Shahaptain, or Nez Percé nation, where he established himself for the winter. By way of clearing up some points not very intelligible to many, we may here mention that the Great Snake River, Louis River, South-brands, Shahaptain River, anti Nez Percé River, are all one and the same stream, with different denominations.

As soon as M'Kenzie had got his goods safe under cover, he sent of Mr. Reed, at the head of a small party, to bring the caches of goods left by Mr. Hunt to his own post. On his way, be picked up seven of the Canadians belonging to the trapping parties fitted out by Mr. Hunt on his land expedition: these were, Dubreuil, Carson, the gunsmith, Delaunay, St. Michel, Turcotte, Landrie, and La Chapelle, the blacksmith. Some of these fellows, despairing of ever reaching the Columbia, and no doubt thinking the caches would be lost, went, accompanied by a band of the Snakes, and rifled several of them; and what they did not take was destroyed by the rains, the wolves, and other animals: some, however, had not been touched, and these Mr. Reed and his party carried of with them to M'Kenzie's post, which place they reached at the end of thirty-five days.

On questioning the wanderers, the true story of the cache robbery came out; for M'Kenzie learned from Turcotte and La Chapelle, that, having lost their horses by a marauding party of Blackfeet, and being otherwise destitute, they, in company with Landrie, meditated a descent upon the caches in order to supply their wants, and took the Snakes along with them as a safeguard; with their share of the spoil they purchased more horses, then following the Snakes to the Buffalo, they were again surprised by. the Blackfeet, lost their horses and everything else, and were left as poor, if not poorer, than before. Filled with remorse, they promised to live honest men the rest of their lives.

M'Kenzie now began to learn the true character of the Indians about him. Their occupations were war and buffalo-hunting. Their country did not abound in furs, nor would men accustomed to an indolent and roving life submit to the drudgery of killing beavers. They spurned the idea of crawling about in search of furs; "Such a life," they said, "was only fit for women and slaves." They were, moreover, insolent and independent. I say independent, because their horses procured them guns and ammunition; the buffaloes provided them with food and clothing; and war gave them renown, Such men held out but poor prospects to the fur- trader; so that M'Kenzie soon got sick of them, and weary of the place. He then equipped the seven Snake wanderers, and sent them out to trap beaver; but they had to go to the mountains, and on their way thither the Indians annoyed them, stole their traps, and frightened them back again to the post. M'Kenzie then resolved to abandon that post, and proceed further up the river; but before taking this step, he went over to Spokane to visit Mr. Clarke; and while there, Mr. John George M'Tavish, a partner of the North-West Company, arrived with a strong reinforcement of men and goods from the east side of the mountains, bringing an account of the war between Great Britain and the United States. On receiving this unwelcome news, M'Kenzie hastened back to his post; but instead of removing further up, as he had contemplated, be put his goods in cache, and set off with all his men for Astoria, where he arrived on the 15th of January 1813.

M'Kenzie was dismayed on reading Astoria to find that the Beaver had not returned. M'Doogsll and M'Kenzie, weighing circumstances, concluded that all was hopeless. The North-West Company now strong in numbers and well supplied with goods; the Torquin lost, and the Beaver not returned, nor any account of her; add to these untoward circumstances, the declaration of war. In this gloomy state of things, M'Kenzie and M'Dougall were of opinion that prompt measures should be adopted for abandoning the undertaking altogether, and that ways and means should be concerted to remove the furs and goods at Astoria into the interior, to be out of the way of British ships of war entering the river.

On the 2nd of February, M'Kenzie turned his face towards the interior; and in two canoes, with eighteen men, pushed on to his poet, having letter from M'Dougall pointing out the actual state of things, and informing Messrs. Clarke and Stuart of the resolution entered into between himself and M'Kenzie for abandoning the enterprize early in the spring. Messrs. Stuart and Clarke, however, viewed things in a different light, and condemned the proposed step as premature.

On his way up, Mr. M'Kenzie met two North-West canoes sweeping down the current. In these were M'Tavish, two clerks, and twenty men, on their way to the mouth, of the Columbia, to meet the far-famed ship Isaac Todd, destined for that rt. On the twenty-second day after leaving Astoria, Mr. M'Kenzie arrived at his post on the Shahaptain River; but was mortified to find his cache robbed.

The Indians indicated their guilt by their shyness, scarcely one of them came to visit the trader. M'Kenzie therefore summoned the chiefs, and they appeared, expecting no doubt to receive something. When they were all seated, he opened the business of the cache, and demanded the goods; adding, that if they were given up, friendship would again be restored. But they all, with one accord, denied having any knowledge of, or hand in, the pillage or robbery. They admitted the fact of the robbery, but denied that they were in any way accessory to it. They regretted the misconduct of their young men; but the goods were now gone, and they could do nothing; and so the conference ended. Seeing that the chiefs would not assist to recover the stolen property, and that every hour's delay lessened the chance of regaining it, M'Kenzie at once resolved on a bold and hazardous step; namely, to dash into the heart of the Indian camp, and recover what he could. Accordingly next morning, alter depositing in a safe place the few articles he had brought with him, he and his little band, armed cap-a-pie, set out on foot for the camp. On their approach, the Indians, suspecting something, turned out in groups here and there, also armed. But M'Kenzie, without a moment's hesitation, or giving them time to reflect, ordered Mr. Seaton, who commanded the men, to surround the first wigwam or lodge reached with charged bayonets, while he himself and Mr. Reed entered the lodge, ransacked it, turning everything topsy-turvy, and with their drawn daggers cutting and ripping open everything that might be supposed to conceal the stolen property. In this manner they went from one lodge to another till they had searched five or six with various success, when the chiefs demanded a parley, and gave M'Kenzie to understand that if he desisted they would do the business themselves, and more effectually. M'Kenzie, after some feigned reluctance, at last agreed to the chiefs' proposition. They then asked him to withdraw; but this he peremptorily refused, knowing from experience that they were least exposed in the camp; for Indians are always averse to hostilities taking place in their camp, in the midst of their women and children. Had the Indians foreseen or been aware of the intention of the whites, they would never have allowed them within their camp. But they were taken by surprise, and that circumstance saved the whites. However, as soon as the chiefs undertook the business, M'Kenzie and his men stood still and looked on. The chiefs went from house to house, and after about three hours time they returned, bringing with them a large portion of the property, and delivered it to M'Kenzie, when he and his men left the camp and returned home, bearing off in triumph the fruits of their valour; and well pleased with their hairbreadth adventure; an adventure not to be repeated. And under all circumstances, it was at the time considered the boldest step ever taken by the whites on Columbian ground.

This dispute with the Indians led to others; and if the whites got the upper hand in the late affair, the Indians were determined to be even with them in another way—for not a single horse would they sell, and on horse-flesh M'Kenzie and his men had to depend. On this head various conferences took place between the parties, and higher prices than usual were tendered; but the chiefs were inexorable. They had resolved either to drive the whites off their country altogether, or make them pay the most extravagant prices. The object of the whites in delaying their departure was to procure horses, which would be absolutely required in the event of Messrs. Stuart and Clarke acceding to the views of M'Dougall and M'Kenzie; but the Indians, free and independent as the air they breathed or the wind that blew, could not brook the restraint which the whites were always affecting to exercise over them. After some little time, all intercourse between the parties was at an end; not an Indian was to be seen about M'Kenzie's camp, except by stealth in the night, to beg, curry favour, or carry reports, yet five of these secret spies were always kept in pay by M'Kenzie to watch the motions of the Indians, and through them he knew every move in the hostile camp.

At this time one of the spies reported that the Indians had plotted together to starve M'Kenzie into terms, or drive him off altogether. M'Kenzie, on his part, had recourse to a. stratagem to bring them to terms. Both were an the at. When the whites had nothing to eat, the articles usually paid for a horse were tied up in a bundle; that done, M'Kenzie, with ten or twelve of his men, would sally forth with their rifles to the grazing grounds of the horses, shoot the fattest they could find, and carry, off the flesh to their camp; leaving the price stuck upon a pole alongside the head of the dead horse.

This manoeuvre succeeded several times, and annoyed the Indians very much; some of them lost their best horses by it. Then it was that they combined to attack the whites in their camp. This news was brought M'Kenzie by one of his hired spies, and was confirmed by the fact of an Indian offering to sell a home for powder and ball only. From various other suspicious circumstances, there remained but little doubt on the minds of the whites but that there was some dark design in agitation. In this critical conjuncture, M'Kenzie again eluded their grasp by ensconcing himself and his party in an island in the middle of the river. There they remained, in a manner blockaded by the Indians; but not so closely watched but that they appeared every now and then with their long rifles among the Shabaptain horses; so that the Indians grew tired of their predatory excursions, and therefore sent a messenger to M'Kenzie. A parley ensued between the main land and the island; the result of which was, that the Indians agreed to sell horses to the whites at the usual price—the whites, on their. part, to give up their marauding practices.

Notwithstanding this formal treaty, the whites did not put implicit faith in their Indian allies, nor deem it prudent to leave the island; but the trade in horses went on briskly, and without interruption, M'Kenzie getting all his wants supplied. He bought, besides an extra reserve of eighty horses for contingencies, which he sent off to Spokane; and on the return of his men he left the island, apparently on good terms with the Indians, and reached the Wails Walla, to join his associates, on the 1st of June.

When we reached the Walla Walla on the 30th of May, as already mentioned, we were at a loss to account for the unusual movement and stir among the Indians, who seemed to be assembling from all quarters in great haste. The mystery was, however, soon cleared up when Mr. Clarke joined us, and related the affair of the silver goblet at the Catatouch camp. What did Stuart and M'Kenzie say? What could any man say? The reckless deed had been committed, and Clarke's countenance fell when the general voice of disapprobation was raised against him. The Indians all along kept flying to and &o, whooping and yelling in wild commotion. At this time, Tummeatapam came riding up to our camp at full speed. "What have you done, my friends?" called out the old and agitated chief. "You have spilt blood on our lands!" Then pointing to a cloud of dust raised by the Indians, who were coming down upon us in wild confusion -" There, my friends, do you see them? What can I do?" The chief did not dismount, but wheeling round his horse again, off he went like a shot, leaving us to draw a salutary inference from the words "What can I do?"—meaning, no doubt, that we had better be off immediately. Taking the hint, we lost no time. Tents were struck; some had breakfasted, some not—kettles and dishes were all huddled together and bundled into the canoe, and, embarking pell-mell, we pushed with all haste from the inauspicious shore. We pushed our way down the current, passing the falls, the narrows, and the cascades, without the least interruption, and arrived safe at Astoria on the 14th day of June. And here we shall leave the party to recount to each other their various exploits, while we take up the thread of Mr. Stuart's adventures from Columbia to St. Louis.


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