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


THE fate of unfortunate Astoria being now sealed, and the place in the possession of the North-West Company, the Astorians looked on merely as indifferent spectators. Mr. Franchere was the only clerk in the American service who showed a wish to join the new comers. He was a Canadian from Montreal; and in those days the North-West stood high in Canada, and particularly in Montreal. There they were everything, and the Canadian voyageurs had a liberal share of their bounty. It was therefore natural for him to join that body which was the admiration of his countrymen.

On the 29th of November, Comecomly arrived in great haste at Astoria, with a report that a sail had been seen off the Cape, and expressed great alarm lest it might be a King George ship. He did not wish, he said, to see any more. Britons among them. He and his people were fond of the Americans, and would make war against any other people entering the river. The old chief uttered this threat in an angry determined tone. Then turning to M'Dougall, he said, "See those few King George people who come down the river: they were poor; they had no goods, and were almost starving; yet you were afraid of them, and delivered your fort and all your goods to them; and now King George's ships are coming to carry you all off as slaves. We are not afraid of King George's people. I have got eight hundred warriors, and we will not allow them to enslave you. The Americans are our friends and allies." M'Dougall tried to console him, and told him that the British would not hurt the Americans. He also rewarded the chief's devotedness to the American cause with a new suit of clothing; then told him to keep a sharp look-out to discover whether the ship was British or American; forbidding, at the same time, either himself or his people to go on board. This he promised faithfully to do, and went off highly pleased.

The moment Comecomly left Astoria, Laframboise the interpreter, was called in, decked and painted in the full Chinook costume, and despatched to Cape Disappointment to report whether a vessel was to be seen, and if so, whether British or American. In the mean time, M'Dougall prepared to start the instant a ship was seen. Laframboise had scarcely reached the Cape when the ship hove in sight, and soon afterwards came dashing over the bar in fine style, and anchored in Baker's Bay, within the Cape. Laframboise immediately returned, and on his way back met Mr. M'Dougall, in a boat well manned going to the ship, and told him that the new arrival was a British ship of war. M'Dougall proceeded, and after remaining for about an hour on board returned to Astoria and reported the vessel to be the Racoon British sloop of war, of twenty-six guns, Captain Black, commander.

As soon as M'Dougall had left the Racoon, his royal father-in-law, with a squad of followers, repaired to the ship to pay their homage to the British captain. Then the crafty old chief traduced the Americans and extolled the British; expressing his joy that he had lived long enough to see once more a great ship of his brother King George enter the river. Then, with a grin of contempt, he remarked, "The Americans have no ships to be compared to King George's ships." Saying this, be laid a fine sea-otter skin at Captain Black's feet, and prepared to leave the ship. The captain called him back, gave him a good bumper of wine, and in return for so much loyalty presented him with an old flag, a laced coat, cocked hat, and sword. His Chinook majesty then left the Racoon, and returned to shore as stanch a Briton as ever he had previously been an American partisan. But the best part of the farce was to see Comecomly sailing across, the very next day, to Astoria in full British uniform, with the Union Jack flying at the masthead.

On board of the Racoon was Mr. M'Donald, one of the senior partners of the North-West Company, generally known by the name of Brascroche. He assumed forthwith the direction of affairs at Astoria. Comecomly soon got into his sleeve; and before the former was twenty-four hours in office, the latter had a new chief's suit on.

On the second day after the Racoon came to anchor, Captain Black and his officers landed at Astoria, and found they had been baulked in their expectations; the place being already in the possession of the North-West Company by an amicable arrangement. They laughed heartily at their own disappointment, for they had made up their minds that the capture of Astoria would yield them a rich prize; but in place of a golden egg they found only an empty shell. After visiting the place, Captain Black, turning round to one of his officers, said, "The Yankees are always beforehand with us."

On the 12th day of December, the death-warrant of short-lived Astoria was signed. On that day, Captain Black went through the customary ceremony of taking possession, not only of Astoria, but of the whole country. What the vague term of "whole country" in the present case meant, I know not. Does it mean the Columbia? Does it mean all the country lying west of the Rocky Mountains? Or does it merely mean the coast of the Pacific? That part of the ceremony which referred to the "whole country" might have been dispensed with; for the country had already been taken possession of in the name of his Britannic Majesty, and that many years ago, by Drake, by Cooke, by Vancouver, and lastly by Black The name of Astoria was now changed to that of Fort George; and this done, the Racoon prepared to leave the Columbia. Captain Black was a gentleman of courteous and affable manners. He was never once heard to utter an oath or indecorous expression all the time he was in the river; and there was a general and sincere regret felt when he left Fort George.

Having now detailed the principal occurrences at Astoria, we return to take up the subject of Mr. Hunt's voyage. The reader will bear in mind that Mr. Hunt sailed in the Albatross in August last, for the Marquesas, where he arrived safe. Nor had he been long there till he met with Commodore Porter, of the United States' frigate Essex, from whom he learned that a British frigate called the Phoebe, with two sloops of war, the Cherub and Racoon, were on their way to Columbia. Hearing this, Mr. Hunt tried his uttermost to get some assistance from Captain Porter in order to secure the American property now in jeopardy at Astoria, but to no purpose. The commodore would not budge, having no instructions from his government to that effect; and having besides learned, no doubt, that Mr. Astor refused to join the Boston merchants in their praiseworthy designs. Mr. Hunt, now finding all his efforts at the Marquesas fruitless, sailed for the Sandwich Islands, and landed at Woahoo on the 18th of December. While at that island, he received the disastrous intelligence that a vessel bound for Columbia had been wrecked some time previous, at the island of Tahvorowa. Thinking it possible that it might be a vessel from Astor bound for Astoria, he repaired thither with all possible despatch, and found, to his mortification, that his conjectures were but too true.

The vessel in question proved to be the Lark, Captain Northcop, bound for Astoria. The Lark, which ought to have sailed in September 1812, did not leave New York till the 6th of March 1813, the very time when she was expected to arrive at the place of her destination. And this unaccountable delay of six months accelerated the downfall of unfortunate Astoria; for had the Lark left New York at the usual time, and reached the Columbia, her seasonable arrival would have beyond a doubt changed the face of affairs.

But there was a fatality attending the ships bound for Columbia, and the loss of the Lark added another link to the chain of misfortune. This ill-fated vessel upset in a squall, about 250 miles from the Sandwich Islands, and so sudden and unexpected was the violent wind, that not a hatch was shut at the time, so she filled with the second wave and became completely water-logged. The sufferings of the crew were extreme: they remained lashed to the bowsprit for four days and four nights without drink, food, or sleep! the rest of the vessel being completely under water. On the eighth day after the accident, a jury-mast was rigged, and a small scaffolding erected, on which the men could sleep. Still their sufferings from thirst and hunger were intolerable, their only drink a little wine, and a very scanty supply of raw pork their food. On the twelfth day they came in sight of land, and six days after that they abandoned the ship and got to shore. Up to the time of their leaving the ship, six men, a boy, and one of the officers perished, and the rest of the crew were so reduced from various causes, that they were utterly incapable of helping themselves, much less the sinking ship. Soon after the vessel was abandoned, it neared the beach, stranded, and went to pieces. Nor could all the efforts of the captain prevent the savage horde from seizing and destroying everything that came in their way; and not only that, but they effectually prevented him or any of the crew from approaching the wreck, or touching anything the waves threw on shore. Nor did the tumultuous spirit of the rabble subside till they stripped the shipwrecked men of their clothes, as well as the vessel of her cargo; so that the condition of the sufferers was very little improved by their getting to land.

During these proceedings Mr. Ogden, the supercargo, set off for Woahoo, the residence of king Tammestameah, to claim protection and restitution of the property; but behold! his majesty told him in few words that the wreck belonged to the state,',' Who," said Tammeatameah, "brought the ship to shore?" "The waves," replied Mr. Ogden. "Then the waves are mine," rejoined the king. "Had you brought the vessel to land," said his majesty to Mr. Ogden, "the ship and cargo both would have belonged to you, and I should have granted you protection and restitution; but as you abandoned the wreck at sea, and fortune drove it on my territories, the wreck is no longer yours but mine. The clothing you and your people brought to shore, shall be restored; but whatever was in the ship, at the time of her stranding or grounding, belongs to me:" and here the conversation ended.

Such, then, was the fate of the unfortunate Lark, and such the statement of her commander to Mr. Hunt on his arrival at the Sandwich Islands; and here again we must leave Mr. Hunt in the happy Wes, while we go back to see what is passing in the Columbia interior, and after that we shall return again to the subject of Mr. Hunt's voyage: by sc doing, we shall conform better to the natural connection of the different subjects, without perplexing the reader's attention. In the mean time, it may be stated that Messrs. M'Kenzie and John Stuart proceeded to the interior, to see the property delivered over to the North-West Company, agreeably to the late contract. After these gentlemen had settled the business at Spokane, and assembled all the people of the late concern belonging to that district, they came to me at Oakinacken on the 15th of December: here also Mr. Stuart, from the She Whaps, had arrived with the men of that quarter. Finishing, then, the business at Oakinacken, we all prepared to embark, and left that place for Fort George on the 20th of December.

On our way down the Columbia, such was the mildness of the winter that not a speck of ice was to be seen. At the head of the cascades, a place always notorious for its bad population, we encamped, and were disturbed all night by the whooping and yelling of savages, who kept prowling in the woods round us. Notwithstanding the strictest watch, several arrows were shot into our camp, and a man named Plessis was wounded in the ear. We fired several shots into the woods, from a three-pounder, which kept the Indians at a distance. In the morning we passed the cascades peaceably, and arrived safe at Fort George on the 7th of January 1814. The people from the Wallamitte had just reached that place before us.

Below the cascades, there is no impediment whatever to the navigation of the river, by night or by day. The brigade, therefore, went sweeping down the current in the dark. In passing the last of the bad Places, however, my boat happening to get broken, we had to put ashore to repair, and, by the time we got under weigh again, the brigade had left us far behind. Next morning at daybreak, I met, opposite to the Wallamitte, two North-West canoes and twenty men, under the direction of Messrs Keith and Alex. Stuart, two partners of the North-West Company, on their way to the interior. We breakfasted together, and I strongly advised them to turn back, since so small a party, and strangers too, could never hope to pass through the hostile tribes in safety. They, however, made light of the matter, giving me to understand that they were North-Westers! so we parted, and they proceeded. While talking on the subject of danger, one of those swelling fellows, such as may be ordinarily seen stuck up in the end of a north-west canoe, with a bonnet of feathers surpassing in size the head of a buffalo bull, turned round to my men and said,—"Do you think we are Americans? we will teach the Indians to respect us." In the darkness of the night, they had not seen our people on their way down. The moment Mr. M'Kenzie reached Fort George, he represented to M'Donald and M'Tavish the folly and danger of the attempt; consequently, a canoe with twelve men, .under the direction of Mr. Franchere, was immediately despatched to bring them back; but it was unfortunately too late.

On Messrs. Keith and Stuart's arrival at the portage of the cascades, the Indians collected, as usual, in great numbers; but did not attempt anything till the people had got involved and dispersed in the portage; they then seized the opportunity, and began to help themselves; they drew their bows, brandished their lances, and pounced upon the gun- cases, powder-kegs, and bales of goods, at the place where Mr. Stuart was stationed. He tried to defend his post, but owing to the wet weather his gun missed fire several times, and before any assistance could reach him he had received three arrows, and his gun had just fallen from his hand as a half-breed, named Finlay, came up and shot his assailant dead. By this time the people had concentrated, and the Indians fled to their strongholds behind the rocks and trees. To save the property in this moment of alarm and confusion was impossible; to save themselves, and carry off Mr. Stuart, was the first consideration. They, therefore, made for their canoes with all haste, and embarked. Here it was found that one man was missing, and Mr. Keith, who was still on shore, urged the party strongly to wait a little; but the people in the canoes called on Mr. Keith, in the tone of despair, to jump into the canoe or else they would push off and leave him also; but he, being a resolute man and not easily intimidated, immediately cocked his gun and threatened to shoot the first man that moved. Mr. Stuart, who was faint from loss of blood, seeing Mr. Keith determined, and the men frightened out of their wits, beckoned to Mr. Keith to embark. The moment he jumped into the canoe they pushed off and shot down the current; nor had they proceeded far before they met Mr. Franchere, who had been sent after them. Both canoes then hastening day and night, reached the fort the second day. During this time Mr. Stuart suffered much, and was very low, nor had his wounds been yet examined. The barbs of the arrows were of iron, and one of them had struck on a stone pipe which he carried in his waistcoat pocket, and to that fortunate circumstance he perhaps owed his life: one of these barbs it was found impossible to extract, and he suffered great pain, and was confined to bed for upwards of two months. He then began gradually to recover. On the ninth day the man who had been abandoned in the affray with the Indians reached the fort in a state of nudity, having torn his clothes wandering through the woods, suffering at the same time the miseries of cold and hunger; and thus terminated the first adventure of the North-West on the Columbia.

The object of this expedition was threefold—to forward despatches for the east side of the mountains, to convey supplies of ammunition to the interior, and thence to proceed to the Snake country for Mr. Reed and his party; but the unlucky affair at the cascades knocked the whole on the head, and taught the strutting and plumed bullies of the north that, although they were North-Westers, the lads of the cascades did not respect their feathers.

This disaster set the whole North-West machinery at Fort George in motion. Revenge for the insult, and a heavy retribution on the heads of the whole Cath-le-yach-é-yach nation, was decreed in a full council; and for a whole week nothing was to be heard about the place but the clang of arms and the sound of war. Every man worth naming was armed cap-i-pie, and besides the ordinary arms and accoutrements, two big guns, six swivels, cutlasses, hand- grenades, and handcuffs, with ten days' provisions, were embarked; in short, all the weapons and missiles that could be brought into action were collected and put in train for destroying the vile banditti of the cascades, root and branch.

Eighty-five picked men and two Chinook interpreters, under six chosen leaders, were enrolled in the expedition, and the command of it tendered to Mr. M'Kenzie, who, however, very prudently declined the honour, merely observing that as he was on the eve of leaving the country, he did not wish to mix himself up with North-West affairs; but that he would cheerfully go as a volunteer. The command then devolved on Mr. M'Tavish; and on the 20th of January, with buoyant hearts and flags flying, a fleet of ten sail conveyed the invincibles to the field of action, where they all arrived safe on the third day, and cast anchor at Strawberry Island, near the foot of the rapids. On their way up, the name of this formidable armament struck such terror into the marauders along the river, that they fled to the fastnesses and hiding-places of the wilderness; even the two Chinook interpreters could neither sleep nor eat, so grieved were they at the thoughts of the bloody scenes that were soon to follow.

On the next morning after the squadron came to anchor, the Indians were summoned to appear and give an account of their late conduct, and they, were desired, if they, wished mercy to be extended towards them, to deliver up at once all the property plundered from the expedition of Messrs. Keith and Stuart. The Cath-le-yach-é-yach chiefs, not the least intimidated by the hostile array, before them, sent back this answer, "The whites have killed two of our people, let them deliver up the murderers to us, and we will deliver to them all the property in our possession."

'After returning this answer, the Indians sent off all their wives and children into the thick woods; then arming themselves, they took their stand behind the trees and rocks. M'Tavish then sent the interpreters to invite them to a parley, and to smoke the pipe of peace. The Indians returned for answer, that "When the whites had paid according to Indian law for the two men they, had killed, they, would smoke the pipe of peace, but not till then. Their wives and children were safe, and as for themselves they were prepared for the worst." And this was all the progress that was made during the first day.

The next day the interpreters were sent to sound them again. Towards noon a few stragglers and slaves approached the camp and delivered up a small parcel of cloth and cotton, torn up into pieces, and scarcely worth picking up, with this message from the chiefs:-16 We have sent you some of the property; deliver us up the murderers, and we will send you the rest." Some were for hanging the Indians up at once; others for detaining them: at last, however, it was resolved to let them go, and they departed. In the evening two of the principal Indians surrendered themselves to M'Tavish, bringing also a small parcel of odds-and-ends, little better than the last Being interrogated on the subject of the stolen property, they denied being present at the time, and had cunning enough to make their innocence appear, and also to convince M'Tavish that they were using their utmost influence to bring the Indians to terms, and deliver up the property. A council was then held to decide on the fate of the prisoners. Some were, as in the former case, for hanging them up without judge or jury; some for taking them down to Fort George in irons. The council was divided, and at last it was resolved to treat the prisoners liberally and let them go; and, to the disgrace of the expedition, they were set at liberty—nor did they ever return again; and thus ended the negotiations of the second day.

The third day the interpreters were at work again; but in place of making any favourable impression on the Indians, they were told that if they returned again without delivering up the murderers, they would be fired upon. During this day, the Indians came once or twice out to the verge of the woods. Some were for firing the big guns where they were seen thickest; others, more ardent, but less calculating, were for storming their haunts, and bringing the matter to a speedy issue. Every movement of the whites was seen by the Indians, but not a movement of the Indians could be discerned by the whites; and the day passed away without any result. Next morning it was discovered that some of the Indians lurking about had entered the camp and carried off two guns, a kettle, and one of the men's bonnets, and the Indians were seen occasionally flying from place to place, and now and then whooping and yelling, as if some plan of attack were in contemplation. This was a new symptom, and convinced the whites that they were getting more bold and daring in proportion as their opponents were passive and undecided. These circumstances made the whites reflect on their own situation. The savages, sheltered behind the trees and rocks, might cut them all off without being seen; besides, it was intimated by the interpreters that the Indians might all this time be increasing their numbers by foreign auxiliaries; and whether true or false, the suggestion had its effect in determining the whites that they stood upon dangerous ground, and that the sooner they left it the better. They, therefore, without recovering the property, firing a gun, or securing a single prisoner, sounded the retreat, and returned home on the ninth day—making the matter ten times worse than it was before. This warlike expedition was turned into ridicule by the Cath-le-yach-é-yachs, and had a very bad effect on the Indians generally; but the best of it was, on their way back, some turned off towards the Wallamitte to hide their disgrace, others remained for some days at the Cowlitz, and M'Tavish himself reached Fort George in the night; and so ended this inglorious expedition, which promised so much and did so little.

Here it may be observed that the nature of the ground along the cascades, on both sides of the river, is such as to afford no position secure from attack or surprise; and it showed a manifest want of judgment, not only in a military commander, but in an Indian trader, to expose his people in such a dangerous situation, where the Indians might have waylaid and cut them off to a man, and that without quitting their fastnesses; whereas the whole difficulty might have been easily obviated—for a very simple stratagem on the part of the whites might have quietly secured, as hostages, three or four of the principal men, and that would have soon settled effectually the whole affair, without noise or any such warlike demonstration.


 


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