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


ASTORIA now became the scene of business and bustle. A council was convened, and a second meeting of the partners took place. Last year their expectations were raised to the highest pitch, and everything promised an abundant harvest of wealth and glory: the present state of affairs was some, what clouded with reverses and cross-purposes. The resolutions of M'Dougall and M'Kenzie last winter to abandon the undertaking, were now discussed anew: on the one hand, M'Dougail found great fault with Clarke and Stuart for not taking such steps for leaving the country as were pointed out in the resolutions alluded to; on the other hand, these gentlemen were equally displeased with M'Dougall for having acted, as they considered, prematurely and without their consent. Two days were spent in mutual recrimination: at hat M'Kerizie, who had hitherto left both parties to settle the dispute the best way they could, now sided with M'Dougall, and poured forth such a torrent of persuasive eloquence, backed by facts, that the opposite party were reduced to silence.

"Gentlemen," said he, "why do you hesitate so long between two opinions? your eyes ought to have been opened before now to your own interests. In the present critical conjuncture, there is no time to be lost: let us then, by a timely measure, save what we can, lest a British ship of war enter the river and seize all. We have been long enough the dupes of a vacillating policy—a policy which showed itself at Montreal on our first outset, in refusing to engage at once a sufficient number of able hands.

"At Nodowa that policy was equally conspicuous. Did not Astor's private missive to Mr. Hunt at that place give umbrage to all? Did not his private orders to Mr. Hunt to put his nephew, with one scratch of his pen, over the heads of all the clerks in the concern add to that umbrage? Could there be anything more impolitic and unjust? Could there be any measure more at variance with the letter and the spirit of the articles of agreement? Did not his private instructions to his captains annihilate the power and authority of the partners? When the unfortunate Tonquin left this, what did she leave behind? did she not, by virtue of Astor's private instructions to her captain, carry everything off that was worth carrying off? Has not the same line of policy been pursued in the case of the Beaver? And this year there is no ship at all! Has it not been obvious from the beginning, that under Astor's policy we can never prosper? and, besides, there are other untoward matters over which Mr. Astor had no control, such as the delay of the Beaver, the absence of Mr. Hunt, our formidable rivals the North-West Company, and, to crown all, the declaration of war.

"Now, gentlemen, all these inauspicious circumstances taken together point out, in my opinion, the absolute necessity of abandoning the enterprize as soon as possible. We owe it to Astor—we owe it to ourselves; and our authority for adopting such a course is based on the 15th and 16th articles of the copartnership, which authorize us at any time within the period of five years to abandon the undertaking, should it prove impracticable or unprofitable. Not, gentlemen, that there is any fault in the country—no country, as to valuable furs, can hold out better prospects; but Astor's policy, and a chain of misfortunes, have ruined all. Astor, with all his sagacity, either does not or will not understand the business. The system we were bound to follow was bad, and that system we cannot alter; so that we are bound in honour to deliver the whole back into the hands from which we received it—and the sooner the better." These representations, stamped with the authority of experience, had the desired effect; the resolution to abandon the country was adopted, and Messrs. Stuart and Clarke gave it their cordial consent: as it was now too late to carry it into execution this year, it was postponed till the next; and the 1st of June was the time fixed upon for our departure.

These preliminary arrangements being now completed, a resolution was signed on the 1st of July, by all the partners present, to dissolve the concern and abandon the enterprize the next year. It was then resolved that Mr. Stuart should betake himself to his post at the She Whaps, and that Mr. Clarke should proceed to Spokane, while Mr. M'Kenzie was to winter on the Wallamitte, with the express understanding that we were all to meet again at Astoria next May, and to take our final departure from that establishment on the 1st of June, unless a new supply should arrive, and peace be concluded before that time. That Mr. Reed, with some hunters and trappers, should pass the winter in the Snake country, collect the stragglers still wandering through that quarter, and at a certain point await the arrival of the main body, and join it on its way across.

Meanwhile, Mr. M'Dougall was still to continue in the command of Astoria until Mr. Hunt's return. M'Dougall was also empowered, in the event of Mr. Hunt's non-arrival, to treat with Mr. M'Tavish for the transfer of all the goods and furs belonging to the Pacific Fur Company in the country, at certain fixed prices, should that gentleman be disposed to purchase on behalf of the North-West Company, considering a sale of this nature, under all circumstances, to be a safer speculation than the conveyance of so much property across the long and dangerous route to St. Louis. Such were the resolutions passed on the present occasion, and copies of them all were delivered over to M'Tavish, to be forwarded to Mr. Astor by the North-West Company's winter express. The parties then left Astoria for the interior on the 5th of July.

We have now so often related the voyage up and down the Columbia, that on the present occasion it will not be necessary to dwell on minute details; suffice it to say, therefore, that we reached the cascades or first barrier without any remarkable occurrence, till we got opposite to Strawberry Island, where one of the canoes in ascending the rapid, sheered out in the stream, whirled round and round, and upset. With great difficulty and danger the men were saved, but a good deal of property was irrecoverably lost, and, among other things, a box of mine, containing books and mathematical instruments, quadrant, sextant, and a valuable pair of pistols—all went to the bottom. It is a singular fact, that we have never yet once been able to pass this Charybdis without paying tribute either to the natives or the whirlpools: but misfortunes seldom come alone, and to add to the confusion, as we were all running to and fro saving the men's lives and the property, Mr. Cox's gun, being held in some awkward and careless position, went off, and both balls passed through the calf of Mr. Pullet's right leg, but fortunately without breaking the bone.

Proceeding onwards, we passed the long narrows and the Wyampam banditti, for the first time, without any trouble. It was, however, rumoured here that we were to be attacked in passing the forks; that the Indians had assembled there in hostile array. And here Mr. Clarke would fain have avoided the rencounter; he made several attempts, but in vain, to engage a guide to lead him through the interior by a back path. At the Umatallow, the small party bound for the Snake country left us, and departed in the direction of the Blue Mountains.

On reaching the Walla Walls, about six miles from the forks, Tummeatapam made signs for us to go on shore. Here the good old Sachem appeared much agitated, and sat for some time without uttering a single word. At last he broke silence, and exclaimed —"White men! white men!" then pointing to a dark cloud of dust rising near the forks, said, "There they are—there they are!" Then taking up a handful of sand and throwing it in the air, exclaimed again—"They are as numerous as the grains of sand; the Indians have bad hearts: I am hoarse with speaking to them; but they will not listen to me." He advised us earnestly to turn back; but seeing us determined to ascend the river, he asked Teave to embark and accompany us: but this we refused. We took him, however, to one of our boats, and showed him a brass four-pounder, some hand-grenades, and sky-rockets; then giving him some tobacco to smoke, we embarked, and crossing over to the right-hand side, pushed on along shore; the Indians being all on the left bank As we advanced, the Indians, mounted in numerous squadrons, kept flying backwards and forwards, seemingly bent on some great design. We paddled on, however, without a moment's delay, anxious to get to a certain point a little beyond the forks, but on the opposite side of the river, which is here nearly a mile broad. When we came just opposite to the Indians, they all formed into one mass, and could not have been less than two thousand, with a fleet of one hundred and seventy-four canoes along the beach. Their appearance was certainly very imposing and formidable; and the noise of the war-dance and war- song, mingled with whooping and yelling, was terrific. We in the mean time reached the wished-for point, landed, took our stand, fortified our camp, and awaited the threatened attack. This took place in the afternoon, about two hours before sunset. All at once the canoes were launched, and we beheld fifty-seven of them filled with people making for our camp. All was suspense. Every man squatted down with his gun in his hand, and his finger on the trigger. As the fleet approached our anxiety increased, till Mr Stuart, who kept eyeing them all the time with a spy-glass, called out—" There is nothing to fear; there are women and children in the canoes." This was glad news to some of our party, who were more intent on saying their prayers than on fighting. By this time they had got almost close to us, when they all disembarked at the distance of about two hundred yards. Mr. Stuart, advancing to meet them, drew a line on the sand, as much as to say, "Do not pass this": they obeyed—the pipe of peace was smoked, and laid aside. After a short pause, a few harangues were made. They smoked again; a trifling present followed; the business was ended, and at dusk the Indians returned quietly to their camp. We supposed that Tummeatapam's account of our big gun influenced their conduct not a little. Their peaceable behaviour, however, did not altogether quiet our apprehensions; a strong watch was set for the night, and before the morning dawn every man had his gun in his hand; but the Indians had disappeared. This demonstration of the Indians prevented Mr. Clarke from proceeding to his destination by the usual route. He had therefore to continue with us, and pass by Oakinacken for Spokane, making a circuitous route of more than three hundred miles.

From the forks, we proceeded without interruption till we reached Oakinacken on the 15th of August, where I was to winter; and here we shall leave the different parties to proceed to their respective quarters, while we, in the mean time, return back a little to see what is going on at Astoria.

It has already been stated that Mr. Hunt arrived at Astoria, in the ship Albatross, on the 20th of August. He was mortified to find, from the resolutions of the let of July, that the partners had made up their minds to abandon the country. M'Dougall and M'Kenzie now exerted their reasoning powers to convince Mr. Hunt of their desperate and hopeless situation. Nor could that gentleman, with all his zeal for the interest of Mr. Astor, and the success of his enterprize, shut his eyes or close his ears against facts so self-evident. After weighing, therefore, all the circumstances of our situation, Mr. Hunt acquiesced in the measures that had been taken, and likewise confirmed the powers given to Mr. M'Dougall to transfer the goods and furs to the North-West Company. These points being settled, Mr. Hunt, after remaining a week at Astoria, left the Columbia again in the Albatross. This vessel was bound for the Marquesas, and Mr. Hunt took a passage in her with the view of purchasing a ship to carry the furs at Astoria to market, in the event of no transfer being made to the North-West Company, as well as to convey thirty-two Sandwich Islanders, now in the service of the Company, back to their own country; and here I shall take my leave of Mr. Hunt for the present, and return to my post at Oakinacken.

Everything now assumed a calm and tranquil aspect; the dye was cast; we were now but sojourners for a day; the spring would remove us to other scenes, and till then we had to make the best we could of the passing hour. Under this impression, I soothed myself with the hope of passing a quiet winter, thinking at times on our disappointments. After all our labours, all our golden dreams, here is the result! Well might we say, with Solomon, that "all is vanity!" While musing one day on passing events, I was surprised all at once by the arrival of a strong party of North-Westers, seventy-five in number, in a squadron of ten canoes, and headed by Messrs. M'Tavish and Stuart, two North-West bourgeois, on their way to the mouth of the Columbia, in high glee, to meet their ship, the Isaac Todd, which was expected daily. Mr. Clarke also accompanied the North-West brigade, on his way to Astoria. With the craft peculiar to Indian traders, they had crammed down Mr. Clarke's throat that nothing could be done at Astoria without him, although his accompanying them was like the third wheel to a cart; but it answered their purpose: for his leaving Spokane threw at once all the trade of the district into their hands, and Mr. Clarke found out, when it was too late, that he had been duped. At Astoria, the party arrived safe on the 7th of October.

Here it was that the negotiation between the two great functionaries, M'Dougall and M'Tavisb, commenced. The terms were soon adjusted, and the prices fixed. The whole of the goods on hand, both at Astoria and throughout the interior, were delivered over to the North-West Company, at 10 per cent. on cost and charges. The furs were valued at so much per skin. The whole sales amounted to 80,500 dollars: M'Tavish giving bills of exchange on the agents for the amount, payable in Canada. This transaction took place on the 16th of October, and was considered fair and equitable on both sides.

But, after all, a good deal of petty manamvring took place, not very creditable to the representative of a great body. M.'Tavish expected the armed ship Isaac Todd, fitted out as a letter of marque, into the river daily, and in that case Astoria would have been captured as a prize, and become the property of the North-West Company without purchase; and besides, he had learned that the British Government had despatched a ship of war to cruise on the coast of the Pacific, and that she might be looked for hourly; and the moment she entered the river all the American property, as a matter of course, would have been seized as a prize. In either case, M'Tavish would have saved his bills of exchange. Under this impression he put off from time to time, under various pretences, the signing of the documents. M'Dougall and M'Kenzie, however, saw through this piece of artifice, and insisted that the business should be ratified at once. M'Tavish, however, full of commercial wiles, tried to evade and retard every step taken. M'Dougall, in the mean time, had a squadron of boats in readiness, should any suspicious vessel come in sight, to transport the furs and goods up to the Wal. lamitte out of her reach. While matters were in this unsettled state, Mr. M'Kenzie suggested a decisive measure, which brought the negotiation to a speedy close.

M'Tavish and his party were encamped at the time within a few yards of the fort, and sheltered, as it were, under the protection of our guns. They were also indebted to the generosity of the Astorians for their daily supplies; being themselves without goods, ammunition, or provisions.

One morning before daylight Messrs. M'Dougall and M'Kenzie summoned all hands together, seventy- two in number, and after a brief statement of the views of the North-West in reference to the negotiation, ordered the bastions to be manned, the guns to be loaded and pointed, and the matches lighted. In an instant every man was at his post, and the gates shut. At eight o'clock a message was sent to M'Tavish, giving him two hours, and no more, either to sign the bills or break off the negotiation altogether and remove to some other quarters. By eleven o'clock the bills were finally and formally signed, and Astoria was delivered up to the North-West Company on the 12th of November, after nearly a month of suspense between the drawing and the signing of the bills.


 


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