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


AFTER the late expedition to the cascades, in which our people had mixed themselves up with the North- West Company, and of course came in for a share of the general odium, they retired to pass the remainder of the winter in the Wallamitte—a place notorious for gormandizing; and here we shall leave them to enjoy, in peace and quietness, the fruits of the chace, while we turn again to take up and finish the wanderings of Mr. Hunt, who, it will be remembered, was left at the Sandwich Islands in quest of a vessel.

After Mr. Hunt had learned the fate of the unfortunate Lark, as already related, he had but one course left, namely, to purchase a ship and return to Columbia with all possible despatch. On meeting with Captain Northcop, he bargained for and purchased a snug little brig for ten thousand five hundred and fifty dollars, called the Pedlar, from Boston, and giving the command of her to the captain of the Lar1, they embarked, bade a farewell to the Sandwich Islands on the 22nd of January, and sailed direct for the Columbia River, where they arrived, after a rather tedious voyage, on the 28th of February.

When Mr. Hunt arrived, he expressed himself dissatisfied with some points of the negotiation that had taken place; but chiefly with that part of it which related to the sale of the furs. But it was now too late: the whole business was irrevocably settled. To repine or find fault was therefore useless; and, under all circumstances, Mr. M'Dougall had perhaps made the best bargain he could. Nor was it likely that two men placed in different positions, such as Mr. Hunt at the Sandwich Islands and M'Dougail at Columbia, could view the same object in the same light. The circumstance, however, of M'Dougail having joined the North-West Company, and having already become a partner in that concern, threw suspicion on his conduct, and this perhaps, weighed more heavily on Mr. Hunt's mind than anything else; and certainly, to say the least of it, M'Dougall's conduct, in this particular, was indiscreet, and might in some degree justify imputation—at least, his enemies made a handle of it; yet there is not the least proof that he had betrayed his trust. M'Dougall always bore the character of integrity; he was a man of principle, faithful to his word, and punctual to his engagements; but at times he was overbearing, peevish, haughty, and obstinate; and this unfortunate temper had well nigh proved fatal to the undertaking in the commencement of his career at Astoria. With these slight exceptions, however, M'Dougall's conduct was fair and unimpeachable. He was not a man of fortune; he had already sacrificed four years of his time on the Columbia; and, besides, it was not M'Dougall that proffered his services, nor was he more than half inclined to accede to the offers made to him—this we know; but it was the North-Westers themselves who wished to secure him, being aware that he was a man of ambition, and fond of enterprize. His experience also gave him a strong ascendant. M'Dougall had been with the nabobs of the North-West before, and did not leave them without tasting of the bitter cup of disappointment; he could, therefore, have had no predilection in their favour. Add to this, that previous to any arrangement with the North-West Company, he had finally closed Mr. Astor's affairs, and delivered up all the papers and documents of that concern into the hands of Mr. M'Kenzie. This delivery was confirmed by Mr. Hunt.

On the 27th of March, as soon as the people from all quarters were assembled together, and the papers and drafts belonging to Mr. Astor delivered over to Mr. M'Kenzie, Mr. Hunt called all the clerks before him, and, entering into a full detail of the unfortunate circumstances which brought about the failure of the enterprize, he expressed his deep and sincere regret that so much talent and zeal had been employed to no purpose, and thrown to the winds; that we had been the pioneers of a more successful and fortunate rival; that the North-Westers would now reap the fruits of our industry; and the only consolation left us was that every man had done his duty, and to circumstances over which we had no control might chiefly be attributed the failure of our undertaking. He then went on :-

"My friends, I am now about to leave you, and it may be that we part to meet no more. I am exceedingly sorry that it is not in my power to reward you according to your zeal and merit. There are two of you, however, to whom I am in honour bound to make some acknowledgment before leaving this place; they having come here not for salary, but for promotion. As a small testimony of my regard, I have placed at their disposal five hundred dollars each, and wish it were even more for their sakes. I am to leave this place by sea, and those of you who prefer that course may embark with me; while for those who feel disposed to remain in the country, I have made such arrangements with the North-West gentlemen as may turn to their advantage. For those that will accompany me I shall do my utmost to provide; the same I 'II do for those that remain, or go home by land, if in my power." These words were not the hollow efforts of cunning or deceit; they were the genuine expressions of the heart. For Mr. Hunt was a conscientious and upright man—a friend to all, and beloved as well as respected by all. I found five hundred dollars placed to my account, and Mr. Seaton the same; we being the pair alluded to by Mr. Hunt.

On the 3rd of April Mr. Hunt, accompanied by Mr. Halsey, Mr. Seaton, Mr. Clapp, and Mr. Farnham, embarked on board the Pedlar at three o'clock in the afternoon, and took their final departure from Fort George. Mr. M'Lennan, Ross Cox, and myself; entered the North-West service; and I proceeded to resume my former charge at Oakinacken.

On the 4th of April the North-West brigade left Fort George for the interior, and along with it Messrs. M'Kenzie, Stuart, and Clarke, with all those of the late concern intending to leave the country, set out on their journey across land for Montreal, Mr. Fran- there among the number. It will be recollected that he had entered the North-West service; but by mutual consent he became free, and preferred accompanying the party for Canada. We shall now leave the Montreal party on their journey, and turn to another subject.

It will be remembered, that one of the objects of the unfortunate expedition of Messrs. Keith and Stuart was to proceed to the Snake country in search of Mr. Reed and his party, who were sent thither last summer; but that expedition having failed, it was now proposed that Mr. Keith with a small party, should undertake the business, and proceed to Spokane Fort. From the mouth of the Umatallów, Mr. Keith was to have taken his departure, and a guide was there engaged for the purpose; but when everything was arranged, and the party ready to start, the guide expressed a wish to continue with the brigade as far as the Walla Walla, and from thence set out for the Snake country. Mr. Keith and his party accordingly reimbarked, and we reached the Walla Walla early the next day; here, again, we were on the eve of starting, when a few Indians arrived, and with them the wife of Pierre Dorion the interpreter. The timely arrival of this poor unfortunate woman put an end to the Snake expedition; and we shall relate her melancholy story in her own words

"About the middle of August we reached the Great Snake River, and soon afterwards, following up a branch to the right hand, where there were plenty of beaver, we encamped; and there Mr. Reed built a house to winter in. After the house was built, the people spent their time in trapping beaver. About the latter end of September, Hoback, Robinson, and Rezner came to us; but they, were very poor, the Indians having robbed them of everything they had about fifteen days before. Mr. Reed gave them some clothing and traps, and they went to hunt with my husband. Landrie got a fall from his horse, lingered a while, and died of it. Delaunay was killed, when trapping: my husband told me that he saw his scalp with the Indians, and knew it from the colour of the hair. The Indians about the place were very friendly to us; but when strange tribes visited us, they were troublesome, and always asked Mr. Reed for guns and ammunition: on one occasion, they drove an arrow into one of our horses, and took a capot from La Chapelle. Mr. Reed not liking the place where we first built, we left it, and built farther up the river, on the other side. After the second house was built, the people went to trap as usual, sometimes coming home every night, sometimes sleeping out for several nights together at a time. Mr. Reed and one man generally stayed at the house.

"Late one evening, about the 10th of January, a friendly Indian came running to our house, in a great fright, and told Mr. Reed that a band of the bad Snakes, called the Dog-rib tribe, had burnt the first house that we had built, and that they were coming on whooping and singing the war-song. After communicating this intelligence, the Indian went off immediately, and I took up my two children, got upon a horse, and set off to where my husband was trapping; but the night was dark, the road bad, and I lost my way. The next day being cold and stormy, I did not stir. On the second day, however, I set out again; but seeing a large smoke in the direction I had to go, and thinking it might proceed from Indians, I got into the bushes again and hid myself. On the third day, late in the evening, I got in sight of the hut, where my, husband and the other men were hunting; but just as I was approaching the place, I observed a man coming from the opposite side, and staggering as if unwell: I stopped where I was till he came to me. Le Clerc, wounded and faint from loss of blood, was the man. He told me that La Chapelle, Rezner, and my, husband had been robbed and murdered that morning. I did not go into the hut; but putting Le Clerc and one of my, children on the horse I had with me, I turned round immediately, took to the woods, and I retraced my, steps back again to Mr. Reed's: Le Clerc, however, could not bear the jolting of the horse, and he fell once or twice, so that we had to remain for nearly a day, in one place; but in the night he died, and I covered him over with brushwood and snow, put my children on the horse, I myself walking and leading the animal by the halter. The second day I got back again to the house. But sad was the sight! Mr. Reed and the men were all murdered, scalped, and cut to pieces. Desolation and horror stared me in the face. I turned from the shocking sight in agony and despair; took to the woods with my, children and horse, and passed the cold and lonely, night without food or fire. I was now at a loss what to do: the snow was deep, the weather cold, and we had nothing to eat. To undertake a long journey under such circumstances was inevitable death. Had I been alone I would have run all risks and proceeded; but the thought of my children perishing with hunger distracted me. At this moment a sad alternative crossed my mind: should I venture to the house among the dead to seek food for the living? I knew there was a good stock of fish there; but it might have been destroyed or carried off by the murderers; and besides, they might be still lurking about and see me: yet I thought of my children. Next morning, after a sleepless night, I wrapped my children in my robe, tied my horse in a thicket, and then went to a rising ground, that overlooked the house, to see if I could observe anything stirring about 'the place. I saw nothing; and, hard as the task was, I resolved to venture after dark: so I returned back to my children, and found them nearly frozen, and I was afraid to make a fire in the, day time lest the smoke might be seen; yet I had no other alternative, I must make a fire, or let my children perish. I made a fire and warmed them. I then rolled them up again in the robe, extinguished the fire, and set off after dark to the, house: went into the store and ransacked every hole and corner, and at last found plenty of fish scattered about. I gathered, hid, and slung upon my back as much as I could carry, and returned again before dawn of day to my children. They were nearly frozen, and weak with hunger. I made a fire and warmed them, and then we shared the first food we had tasted for the last three days. Next night I went back again, and carried off another load; but when these efforts were over, I sank under the sense of my afflictions, and was for three days unable to move, and without hope. On recovering a little, however, I packed all up, loaded my horse, and putting my children on the top of the load, set out again on foot, leading the horse by the halter as before. In this sad and hopeless condition I travelled through deep snow among the woods, rocks, and rugged paths for nine days, till I and the horse could travel no more. Here I selected a lonely spot at the foot of a rocky precipice in the Blue Mountains, in- tending there to pass the remainder of the winter. I killed my horse, and hung up the flesh on a tree for my winter food. I built a small hut with pine branches, long grass, and moss, and packed it all round with snow to keep us warm, and this was a difficult task, for I had no axe, but only a knife to cut wood. In this solitary dwelling, I passed fifty- three lonely days! I then left my hut and set out with my children to cross the mountains; but I became snow blind the second day, and had to remain for three days without advancing a step; and this was unfortunate, as our provisions were almost exhausted. Having recovered my sight a little, I set out again, and got clear off the mountains, and down to the plains on the fifteenth day after leaving my winter encampments; but for six days we had scarcely anything to eat, and for the last two days not a mouthful, Soon after we had reached the plains I perceived a smoke at a distance; but being unable to carry my children farther, I wrapped them up in my robe, left them concealed, and set out alone in hopes of reaching the Indian camp, where I had seen the smoke; but I was so weak that I could hardly crawl, and had to sleep on the way. Next day, at noon, I got to the camp. It proved to belong to the Walla Wallas, and I was kindly treated by them. Immediately on my arrival the Indians set off in search of my children, and brought them to the camp the same night. Here we staid for two days, and then moved on to the river, expecting to hear something of the white people on their way either up or down."

This ended the woman's story of hardships and woe. That it was the Snakes who killed the party there is not the least doubt. The Dog-ribbed tribe have always passed for bad Indians; and besides, in the dead of winter, neither the Blackfeet on the east, nor the Nez Percés on the north, can wage war with the Snakes at that season of the year.

In recapitulating the number of casualties or disasters which befell the Pacific Fur Company during its short existence, we cannot help lamenting so great a sacrifice of human life in so limited a period. The tragical list stands thus:-

Well might we, with Virgil, say, "Who can re-. late such woes without a tear!"

We have now brought together, and within a small compass, the accounts of all the different and widely extended branches of the concern. That concern which proposed to extend its grasping influence from* ocean to ocean, and which, to use the projector's own words, "was to have annihilated the South Company; rivalled the North-West Company; extinguished the Hudson's Bay Company; driven the Russians into the Frozen Ocean; and with the resources of China to have enriched America." But how vain are the designs of man! That undertaking which but yesterday promised such mighty things, is to-day no more.

Various in those days were the opinions entertained as to the merits of the undertaking in a speculative light; but few there were who saw clearly through the mist inseparable from a novel and remote design. The means were ample, the field unbounded, and the River Columbia was the contmplated centre of a trade conducted by talent, and in the hands of a nation which, in the natural course of events, must soon encircle the remotest parts of the earth, and draw within its sphere of action the fairest portion of the fur trade.

It is therefore not surprising that the jealousy of the Canada traders should have eagerly seized on the first opportunity to check the encroachments, or extinguish the rising fame of this infant but gigantic rival. The course of events was favourable to their ambition, and the end justified the means conducive to their future aggrandizement.

The multifarious avocations of Mr. Astor must inevitably have prevented his bestowing the requisite degree of attention on each particular subject which came under his consideration. Hence, matters within his immediate reach, or which appealed to his own experience, engrossed his special care as objects of primary importance; while, on the other hand, those referring to a distance, or which he had not habitually at heart, were neglected by him as comparatively trivial.

During the slow progress of a distant and struggling establishment, exposed to the cruelty and rapacity of savages, or the perils of uncertain navigation, it may be naturally expected that the owner should lean to such other parts of the undertaking as may hold out a fair promise of recompensing for the hazard of the adventure. Hence it was that his ships were the chief objects of his solicitude; that the captains retained his special trust; that the settlement was ill supplied; and hence the ungenerous dispensation of his confidence among its venturesome though too credulous leaders.

Had he, however, acquired such insight into the practice of the Indian as he so eminently attained in all other branches of trade; had his mind been as liberal as it was acute, or as ready to reward merit as to find fault; or were he as conversant with human nature as he was expert in a bargain; and had he also begun his undertaking not at the commencement of a war, but at its close, then competency and ease might have been the lot of his servants, instead of misery and want - success might have crowned his ambition, glory finished his career, and the name of Astor might have been handed down with admiration, as having borne away the palm of enterprize.


 


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