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


WHEN we left Mr. Stuart on the 31st of July last, he had then just mounted his horse on his journey across land for St. Louis; we now propose keeping him company, and will make such remarks during his perilous route as barren, wild, and savage hordes may from time to time suggest.

From Walla Walla the party journeyed onwards, first over the open plains, and next across the Blue Mountains, till at length they fell on the Great Snake River, along which they occasionally continued their route for many days without any interesting occurrence till the 20th of August, when they, by mere chance, stumbled on Mr. Miller, and three of the beaver-trappers, Hoback, Resner, and Robinson, fitted out by Mr. Hunt.

It will be remembered that Mr. Miller abruptly left Mr. Hunt and party to join one of the trapping parties. The joy manifested by both parties at meeting was, as might be expected, the most cordial and lively. They swore that they had met to part no more till they parted in that land which had given them birth. So Mr. Miller and his prodigal children joined Mr. Stuart with the determination to follow him to St. Louis. These wanderers had been twice robbed by the Indians, had exhausted their strength, wasted their means, and saved nothing; and seemed on the present occasion quite overjoyed and happy at the prospect of once more returning to their native homes. Yet what will the reader think when he is told that only eight days after all these fine resolutions, they again expressed a wish to remain where they were, and try- their fortune once more in the wilderness! Strange infatuation! Change of climate seldom makes a change of character. Mr. Stuart reasoned with them, but in vain; and at last, seeing them resolved, he supplied them with a new and full equipment of everything they wanted. So the parties separated; Mr. Miller following Mr. Stuart and his party, while the other three trappers bade them farewell, and stayed behind.

On the 7th of September they left the Great Snake River, and entered the defiles of the mountains.. Here they met some saucily-disposed Crow Indians; but they got clear of them without harm, and Mr. Stuart continued his toilsome journey, winding his way among the rugged and rapid streams near the source of the Great Snake River to which they drew near again, in the hopes of avoiding the Crows; but it mattered little what course they steered, or what direction they took, the Crows were everywhere at their heels; and in front provisions were also scarce, and the party were now much reduced by hunger and fatigue.

On the 19th, early in the morning, the Crows, like a Scythian horde, dashed on their little camp, giving the Indian war-whoop, and swept all their horses off in a moment. This misfortune left them in an awful plight. They stood motionless and hopeless. They had now to turn over a new leaf, and from mounted cavalry, to become foot soldiers. They now set about making up each man's load, and what they could not carry they destroyed on the spot rather than let any of it fall into the hands of their implacable enemies, for their every movement was now watched with an eagle's eye by the Indians on the heights. To avoid, therefore, the hostile Crows, they had to shun the buffalo, and run the risk of starving or of going right into the jaws of the Blackfeet; but there was no alternative, and to lessen the evil as much as possible they bent their course northward, through a country, in Mr. Stuart's own words, "more fit for goats than men;" and so closely were they watched by the savages, that they could not venture to separate for the purpose of hunting. They had likewise to keep watch by night, and were every moment in danger of being surrounded or waylaid in the narrow and intricate defiles through which they had to pass.

Yet these trying circumstances, when danger stared them in the face, failed to unite them together in heart and hand. Mr. M'Lellan, with a fool-hardiness and wayward disposition peculiar to himself; left the party in a pet, nor was it till the tenth day afterwards that he was picked up, lying in his cheerless and forlorn encampment, without fire or food, and reduced through hunger, fatigue, and cold to a mere skeleton. Always perverse and stubborn, he had now become peevish and sullen, yet in this torpid and reduced state he revived on seeing his friends, became cheerful, and joyfully joined the party again; but being unable to carry anything, or even to walk, the party halted for two days that he might recruit a little, and then his rifle, pistols, and other things being carried by the others, the party set forward on their journey. They wandered about for five days and nights without a mouthful to eat, and were now reduced to the last extremity; nor had they strength to make use of their rifles, although now and then some deer were seen.

On the 15th of October, the sixth day of their fasting, just as the party had halted for the night, Le Clerc, one of the Canadians, proposed to cast lots, saying, "It is better one should die than that all should perish." Mr. Stuart reproved him severely; and as the fellow stood haggard and wild before him, with his rifle in his hand, he ordered the others to wrest it from his grasp. A watch was kept all night, nor did Mr. Stuart himself close an eye. During this scene, M'Lellan, scarcely able to move, kept eyeing Le Clerc all the time, and looking round for his rifle; but Mr. Stuart had put it out of the way. Next day, however, Providence directed their forlorn steps to an old and solitary buffalo-bull, which they managed to kill, and this fortunate rencontre saved their lives.

On the 18th, the wanderers fell in with a straggling camp of Snakes, from whom they purchased a sorry old horse, the only one the ruffian Crows had left with them. This horse appeared in their eyes a prize of no small value. With him they set out, not a little cheered and comforted by the two lucky acquisitions—the old bull and the old horse. Our party were then wandering between the lofty Pilot-. knobs and the head-waters of the Missouri; but far from the latter. They now kept veering more to the east, and advancing irregularly, as the valleys and ravines opened a road for them to pass, till the snow and cold weather precluded all hopes of getting much farther for this season, so that they began to lookout for a place of security, and rest from their fatigues.

On the 2nd of November they pitched their camp for winter; built a log-hut, and the buffalo being Plenty, and the party tolerably recovered in strength, they soon laid in an ample stock of provisions; but in the wilderness all plans are precarious, hopes delusive. Our friends had not been long in their comfortable quarters before they were pestered with unwelcome visitors, for a war party of Arapahays discovered their retreat, and annoyed them so much that they thought it best to look out for some other quarters, more secluded and secure.

On the 13th of December they abandoned their dwelling with infinite regret, and setting out through deep snows, over a rugged and inhospitable country, they travelled for fifteen days, when a bleak and boundless plain presented itself before them. Here they held a consultation. The plain before them, destitute both of animals and firewood, appeared like an ocean of despair. The more they reflected, the more awful did their situation appear. At last they retraced their wearied steps for about eighty miles, and took up a second position.

On the 30th of December they again pitched their winter camp, built a house, laid in a stock of food, and found themselves once more in comfortable quarters. In this last retreat the Indians did not find them out, and there they awaited the return of spring.

On the 20th of March they broke up their winter quarters, and in two canoes, made during the winter, they essayed to push their way down a broad but shoal river. In this, however, they failed, and leaving their canoes they took to land again with their old but faithful Snake-horse. All this time they were wandering in hopes of reaching some known branch of the Missouri: for they had lost their way, and did not know where they were for the last three months.

On the 1st of April the party fell in with an Indian of the Otto tribe. This stranger gave them to understand that they were then treading on the banks of the River Platte, and not far from white men. The same Indian then conducted them to Messrs. Dornin and Roi, two Indian traders, established in that quarter. From these gentlemen Mr. Stuart got the first news of the war between Great Britain and the States; and they also undertook to furnish him with a canoe for the voyage down the Missouri, in exchange for the old and faithful Snake-horse.

On the 16th they all embarked, and after descending about fifty miles on the River Platte they found themselves on the broad and majestic Missouri, down which with buoyant spirits they now pushed their way, without accident or interruption, till they reached St. Louis on the 30th of April. Mr. Stuart lost no time in acquainting Mr. Astor with his safe arrival at that place with despatches from Columbia, and that the success and prospect of affairs there were such as to warrant the most flattering results.

The information conveyed by Mr. Stuart was bailed by Mr. Astor as a sure presage of future prosperity: and, in his exultation, he said, " That will do; I have hit the nail on the head." Mr. Stuart's journey with so small a party, across a region so distant, wild, and hostile, was fraught with many perils and privations. During the period of ten long months, he was never free from danger and anxiety. The eventual success of that expedition, so often reduced to extremities, reflects great credit on him who conducted it Leaving now Mr. Stuart to enjoy himself among his friends at St. Louis, we shall go back to Columbia again to see what has been doing in the Wallamitte quarter.

The Wailamitte quarter has always been considered by the whites as the garden of the Columbia, particularly in an agricultural point of view, and certain animals of the chace; but in the article of beaver, the great staple commodity of the Indian trader, several other places, such as the Cowlitz, Blue Mountains, and She Whaps, equal, if not surpass it. In the spring of 1812, Mr. M'Kenzie had penetrated some hundred miles up the Wailamitte River, but more with the view of exploring the southern quarter, seeing the Indians, and studying the topography of the country, than for the purpose of procuring beaver. This year another party, fitted out by M'Dougall on a beaver-trading excursion, spent some months in that quarter, among the Col-lap-poh-yea-ass. These parties penetrated nearly to the source of the Wallamitte, a distance of five hundred miles. It enters the Columbia by two channels, not far distant from each other; the most westerly is the main branch, and is distant from Cape Disappointment from eighty to ninety- miles, following the course of the river. The Waliamitte lies in the direction of south and north, and runs parallel with the seacoast; that is, its source lies south and its course north. In ascending the river the surrounding country is most delightful, and the first barrier to be met with is about forty miles up from its mouth.

Here the navigation is interrupted by a ledge of rocks running across the river from side to side, in the form of an irregular horse-shoe, over which the whole body of water falls at one leap down a precipice of about forty feet, called the Falls. To this place, and no farther, the salmon ascend, and during the summer months they are caught in great quantities. At this place, therefore, all the Indians throughout the surrounding country assemble, gamble, and gormandize for months together. From the mouth of the Wallamitte up to the falls it is navigable for boats only, and from the falls to its source for canoes, and it is sufficiently deep for the ordinary purposes of the Indian trader. The banks of the river throughout are low, and skirted in the distance by a chain of moderately high lands on each side, interspersed here and there with clumps of wide-spreading oaks, groves of pine, and a variety of other kinds of wood. Between these high lands, lie what is called the Valley of the Wallamitte, the frequented haunts of innumerable herds of elk and deer.

The natives are very numerous and well disposed; yet they are an indolent and sluggish race, and live exceedingly poor in a very rich country. When our people were travelling there, the moment the report of a gun was heard forth came the natives; men, women, and children would follow the sound like a swarm of bees, and feast and gormandize on the offal of the game, like so many vultures round a dead carcass; yet every Indian has his quiver full of arrows, and few natives are more expert with the bow. The names of the different tribes, beginning at the mouth of the river and taking them in succession as we ascend, may be ranged in the following order:—Wa-come-app, Naw-moo-it, Chilly-Chandize, Shook-any, Coupé, She-hees, Long-tongue-buff, La-malle, and Pee-you tribes; but as a great nation they are known under the general name of Col-lappoh-yea-ass, and are governed by four principal chiefs. The most eminent and powerful goes by the name of Key-ass-no. The productiveness of their country is, probably, the chief cause of their extreme apathy and indolence; for it requires so little exertion to provide for their wants, that even that little is not attended to; they are honest and harmless, yet there is a singular mixture of simplicity and cunning about them. The river, towards its head-waters, branches out into numerous little streams, which rise in the mountains. There is also another fine river near the source of the Wallamitte; but lying rather in the direction of east and west, called the Imp-qua; this river empties itself into the ocean. The finest hunting-ground on the Wallamitte is towards the Imp.-qua. There beaver is abundant, and the party that went there to trade this year made handsome returns; but the Indians throughout are so notoriously lazy that they can hardly be prevailed upon to hunt or do anything else that requires exertion.

Yet, with all their apathy and inertness, we find that they can be roused into action; for while M'Kenzie was visiting their country, a slight quarrel took place between some of them and a white man, named Jervais, at the Wa-come-app village. Jervais had beaten one of the Indians, which gave great offence to the tribe; and they had been muttering threats in consequence. M'Dougall, hearing of the circumstance, sent off a letter to apprize M'Kenzie, that he might keep a good look-out on his way back, as the Indians intended to intercept or waylay him. M'Kenzie arrived at the hostile camp, situate at the mouth of the Wallamitte, crossed to the opposite or north side of the Columbia, and then went on shore, without in the least suspecting what was going on, although he had remarked once or twice to his people, the unusual multitude of Indians collected together, and their bold and daring appearance; and also that Key-ass-no, the chief, had not come to see them. On his way up, M'Kenzie had left his boat at the falls till his return, and now took it down with him. While he was revolving in his mind those suspicious appearances, one of a neighbouring tribe slipped into his band, privately, M'Dougall's letter. The moment he read the letter he was convinced of his critical situation, and whispered to his men to be ready to embark at a moment's warning. But, behold, the tide had left his boat high and dry on the beach. What was now to be done? Always fertile, however, in expedients, he feigned the greatest confidence in the Indians, and at the same time adopted a stratagem to deceive them. He told them he had some thoughts of building among them, and would now look out for a suitable site; for which reason, he said, he would stay with them for the night, and requested them to prepare a good encampment for him, which they immediately set about doing. This threw the Indians off their guard, as they could then accomplish their purpose more effectually, and with less risk. This manoeuvre had the desired effect. Some of the Indians were busied in clearing the encampment; others he amused in looking out for a place to build, till the following tide set his boat afloat again; then taking advantage of it, he and his men instantly embarked and pushed before the current, leaving the Indians in painful disappointment, gazing at one another. Next morning they arrived safe among their friends at Astoria.

Before we close the account of this year's campaign, we must take up the subject of the ship Beaver, Capt. Sowle, from New York, with the annual supplies, who arrived at Astoria, as we have before noticed, on the 9th of May, after a voyage of 212 days. The Beaver remained at the infant establishment of Astoria till the 4th of August. On the 6th, she crossed the bar with some difficulty, having grounded twice, which so frightened old Sowle, the captain, that he was heard to say "I'II never cross you again." Having cleared the bar, she left the Columbia on a three months' cruise along the coast, towards the Russian settlements at Kamtschatka, intending to be back again about the latter end of October, and as had been settled upon in the council of partners. Mr. Hunt was on board. It may, however, be easily inferred that this was a part of Astor's general plan, that the man at the head of affairs should accompany the ship on her coasting trip. It was so with the Tonquin, as well as with the Beaver; and this again goes far too prove how little Astor cared about the Columbia, or those carrying on the business there, when the man at the head of the establishment was liable to be removed from his important charge, and sent as a peddling supercargo on board the ship, merely for the purpose of receiving a few seal-skins from old Count Baranhoff, at Kamtschatka. This, as I have already said, was done by Astor's orders; for he, in his arm-chair at New York, regulated all the springs of action at Astoria, just as if he had been on the spot. Work well, work ill, his commands remained like the laws of the Medes and Persians: there was no discretionary power left to alter them.

The ship, therefore, with Mr. Hunt on board, reached her destination without any accident or delay; visited New Archangel, Sitka, and St. Paul's, taking in at these places a valuable cargo of furs, chiefly seal-skins; but was detained in these boisterous seas much longer than had been calculated upon, for she had not left the most northern of these parts, which is St. Paul's, before the beginning of November.

And here we have another instance of that fatal policy pursued by Astor in giving to his captains powers which made them independent of the consignees. This was the case with Captain Thorn, who left what he pleased, and carried off what he pleased; and when M'Dougall and the other parties remonstrated with him for leaving the infant colony so bare, he put his hand in his pocket and produced his instructions from Astor, which at once shut their mouths. The same game was now played by Captain Sowle. Mr. Hunt could not prevail upon him, on his way back from the Russian settlements, to touch at Columbia; and when Mr. Hunt threatened to remove him and give the command to another, he then, as Captain Thorn had done before him, produced his private instructions from Mr. Astor, justifying his proceedings; for after Mr. Hunt's arrival at Columbia, he often repeated, in the anguish of his soul, that "the underhand policy of Astor and the conduct of his captains had ruined the undertaking." In this perplexing situation, Mr. Hunt had to submit, and Captain Sowle, spreading his canvass, steered for the Sandwich Islands direct, carrying Mr. Hunt, like a prisoner, along with him. From the Sandwich Islands, the Beaver sailed for Canton, in the first week of January 1813; a serious loss to Astor, and the ruin of Astoria.

It was a part of Mr. Astor's general plan to supply the Russian factories along the coast with goods; and it would appear, from the conduct of his captains, that to this branch of the undertaking he devoted his chief attention; reserving for them the choicest part of all his cargoes, and for Columbia the mere refuse. This alone gave great umbrage to the partners at Astoria; it soured their dispositions to see many articles which they stood in need of pass by their door.

While at Woahoo, Mr. Hunt heard some faint rumours of the war, but nothing certain. The Boston merchants had, at a great expense, fitted out, it was said, a despatch ship for the Pacific, in order to apprise the coasting vessels there of the declaration of war. But Mr. Hunt could gain no certain information on that head; because Astor had not contributed his mite towards the expense of fitting out the vessel, they were determined not to let the least hint of it reach Hunt, who was therefore left in the dark. Can anything point out in a clearer light Astor's indifference about the fate of his little devoted colony at Columbia, than his not joining the Boston merchants, or taking any steps whatever to apprise the Astorians of the war?

In the mean time, Mr. Hunt waited at the Sandwich Islands, in the hope that another annual ship from New York might cast up for the relief of Astoria; but waited in vain. At last, by the arrival of the ship Albatross, Captain Smith, from Canton, he was no longer in doubt as to the declaration of war; and this increased his anxiety to get back to Astoria. Chartering, therefore, the ship Albatross, he sailed in her, after a ruinous delay, and arrived safe at Astoria on the 20th of August. And this brings the parties once more to Astoria, and closes the transactions of the year.


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