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


NOTWITHSTANDING the departure of the ship, and our reduced numbers, measures were taken for extending the trade; and the return of Mr. Thompson up the Columbia, on his way back to Canada, was considered as affording a favourable opportunity for us to fit out a small expedition, with the view of establishing a trading post in the interior: we were to proceed together, for the sake of mutual protection and safety, our party being too small to attempt anything of the kind by itself. Accordingly, Mr. David Stuart, myself, Messrs. Pillette and M'Lennan, three Canadian voyageurs, and two Sandwich Islanders, accompanied by Mr. Thompson's party and the two strangers, in all twenty-one persons, started from Astoria, at eleven o'clock on the 22nd. of July 1811.

In two clumsy Chinook canoes, laden each with fifteen or twenty packages of goods, of ninety dollars each, we embarked to ascend the strong and rapid Columbia; and, considering the unskilfulness of our party generally in the management of such fickle craft, the undertaking was extremely imprudent; but then, being all of us more or less ambitious, we overlooked, in the prospect of ultimate success, both difficulty and danger. After our canoes were laden, we moved down to the water's edge—one with a cloak on his arm, another with his umbrella, a third with pamphlets and newspapers for amusement, preparing, as we thought, for a trip of pleasure, or rather all anxious to be relieved from our present harassing and dangerous situation. The wind being fair and strong, we hoisted sail; but had not proceeded to Tongue Point, a small promontory in the river, not three miles distant from Astoria, when the unfriendly wind dashed our canoes, half-filled with water, on the shore; and, as we were not able to double the Point, we made a short passage across the isthmus, and then, being somewhat more sheltered from the wind, proceeded, but had not got many miles before our progress was again arrested by a still worse accident; for, while passing among the islands and shoals, before rounding Oathlamuck Point, at the bead of Gray's Bay, the wind and swell drove us on a sandbank, where we stuck fast— the waves dashing over us, and the tide ebbing rapidly. Down came the mast, sail, and rigging about our ears; and, in the hurry and confusion, the canoes got almost full of water, and we were well drenched: here we had to carry, the goods and drag the canoes till we reached deep water again, which was no easy task. This disaster occupied us about two hours, and gave us a foretaste of what we might expect during the remainder of the voyage. Cloaks and umbrellas, so gay in the morning, were now thrown aside for the more necessary paddle and carrying strap, and the pamphlets and newspapers went to the bottom. Having, however, got all put to rights again, we hoisted sail once more, passed Puget's Island, and then the great Whill Wetz village, situated on Oak Point, where the river makes a sudden bend to S.S.E.: here, on the south side, the rocks became high and the current strong, and night coming on us before we could reach low ground, we were compelled to encamp on the verge of a precipice, where we passed a gloomy night— drenched with wet, without fire, without supper, and without sleep. During this day's journey, both sides of the river presented a thick forest down to the water's edge—the timber being large, particularly the cedars. The sound, from Cape Disappointment to the head of Gray's Bay, which we passed to-day, is about twenty-five miles in length, and varies from four to seven in breadth.

On the 23rd, after a restless night, we started, stemming a strong and almost irresistible current by daylight. Crossing to the north side, not far from our encampment, we passed a small rocky height, called Coffin Rock, or Mount Coffin, a receptacle for the dead: all over this rock—top, sides, and bottom —were placed canoes of all sorts and sizes, containing relics of the dead, the congregated dust of many ages.

Not far from Mount Coffin, on the same side, was the mouth of a small river, called by the natives Cowlitz, near which was an isolated rock, covered also with canoes and dead bodies. This sepulchral rock has a ghastly appearance, in the middle of the stream, and we rowed by it in silence; then passing Deer's Island, we encamped at the mouth of the Wallamitte. The waters of the Columbia are exceedingly high this year—all the low banks and ordinary water-marks are overflowed, and the island inundated. At the mouth of the Wallainitte, commences the great Columbian valley of Lewis and Clarke; but in the present state of flood, surrounded on all sides by woods almost impervious, the prospect is not fascinating. The Indians appeared very numerous in several villages. General course the same as yesterday, S.E.

On the 24th, after a good night's rest, and having made some trifling presents to a principal chief; named Kiasno, we proceeded on our voyage; but had not gone far, when we passed another and larger branch of the Wnlkmitte—so that this river enters the Columbia by two channels, from the last of which the Columbia makes a gradual bend to the E.N.R.

During this day, we passed the Namowit Village, Bellevue Point, Johnson's Island, and stayed for the night at Wasough-ally Camp, near Quicksand River, which enters the Columbia on the left.

Bellevue Point on the right-hand side of the river, although but low, presents a scene of great beauty, compared to what we had yet seen during the voyage: here the eye is occasionally relieved from the monotonous gloomy aspect of dense woods, by the sight of green spots, dumps of trees, small lakes, and meadows alternately.

On the 25th, early this morning, we arrived at and passed Point Vancouver, so named after the celebrated navigator, and the extreme point of Broughton's survey of the Columbia. From the lower branch of the Wallainitte to Point Vancouver, the banks of the river on both sides are low; but, as we proceeded further on, a chain of huge black rocks rose perpendicularly from the water's edge: over their tops fell many bold rills of clear water. Hemmed in by these rocky heights, the current assumed double force, so that our paddles proved almost ineffectual; and, to get on, we were obliged to drag ourselves along from point to point, by laying hold of bushes and the branches of overhanging trees, which, although they impeded our progress in one way, aided us in another. After a day of severe toil, we halted for the night. We saw but five Indians all this day; and, for the first time, now came to our camp at night. The ebb and flow of the tide is not felt here. The country, generally, has a wild and savage appearance: course, E.N.E.

On the 26th, it was late this morning before we could muster courage to embark The burning sun of yesterday, and the difficulty of stemming the rapid current, had so reduced our strength that we made but little headway to-day; and, after being for six hours rowing as many miles, we stopped, tired and rather discouraged: course, N.E.

On the 27th, we were again early at work, making the best of our way against a turbulent and still increasing current: as we advanced, the river became narrower, the hills and rocks approaching nearer and nearer to the river on either side. Here the view was very confined, and by no means cheering.

We, however, continued our toil till late in the evening, when, in place of a uniform smooth and strong current, as usual, the water became confused and ripply, with whirlpools and cross currents, indicating the proximity of some obstruction. At the foot of a rocky cliff, which we named Inshoach Castle, we put ashore for the night; nor did we see a single Indian all day. Mr. Thompson encamped on one side Of the river, and we on the other. General course, to-day, nearly east.

During last night the water rose ten inches. This was supposed to be occasioned by the tide, although, after passing Bellevue Point, the influence of tide was not perceptible on the current. From the mouth of the river to this place —a distance of a hundred and eighty miles—there is sufficient depth of water for almost any craft to pass; even ships of 400 tons might reach Inshoach Castle had they power to stem the current.

As regards agricultural purposes, Bellevue Point and the valley of the Wallazuitte were the most favourable spots we met with. Generally speaking, the whole country on either side of the river, as far as the eye could reach, presented a dense, gloomy forest. We found, however, a marked improvement in the climate. Here the air is dry and agreeable. Fogs, mists, damp and rainy weather, ceased after we had passed the Wallamitte.

On the 28th, early in the morning, Mr. Thompson crossed over to our camp, and informed us that we were within a short distance of the cascades. We then embarked, and proceeded together. After making some distance with the paddles, we had recourse to the poles, and then to the hauling line, till at length we reached the point of disembarkation.

We had no sooner landed, than a great concourse of Indians assembled at a short distance from us, and, after holding a consultation, came moving on in a body to meet us, or rather, as we thought, to welcome our arrival. The parley being ended, and the ceremony of smoking over, they pointed up the river, signifying that the road was open for us to pass. Embarking again, we pushed on, and passing the Strawberry Island of Lewis and Clarke, we continued for some distance further, and finally put on shore at the end of the portage, or carrying-place, situate on the right-hand side of the river, and at the foot of a rather steep bank. Here the Indians crowded about us in fearful numbers, and some of them became very troublesome. A small present being made to each of the chiefs, or great men, in order to smooth them down a little in our favour, they pointed across the portage, or carrying-place, as much as to say—All is clear; pass on.

From this point we examined the road over which we had to transport the goods, and found it to be 1460 yards long, with a deep descent, near the Indian villages, at the far end, with up-hills, down-hills, and side-hills, most of the way, besides a confusion of rocks, gullies, and thick woods, from end to end. To say that there is not a worse path under the sun would perhaps be going a step too far, but to say that, for difficulty and danger, few could equal it would be saying but the truth. Certainly nothing could be more discouraging than our present situation —obstacles on every side; by land, by water, and from the Indians—all hostile alike. Having landed the goods, and secured the canoe, we commenced the laborious task of carrying, and by dividing ourselves in the best possible manner for safety, we managed to get all safe over by sunset. Not being accustomed myself to carry, I had of course, as well as some others, to stand sentinel; but seeing the rest almost wearied to death, I took hold of a roll, of tobacco, and after adjusting it on my shoulder, and holding it fast with one band, I moved on to ascend the first bank; at the top of which, however, I stood breathless, and could proceed no farther. In this awkward plight, I met an Indian, and made signs to him to convey the tobacco across, and that I would give him all the buttons on my coat; but he shook his head, and refused. Thinking the fellow did not understand me, threw the tobacco down, and pointing to the buttons one by one, at last he consented, and oil' he set at a full trot, and I after him; but just as we had reached his camp at the other end, he pitched it down a precipice of two hundred feet in height, and left me to recover it the best way I could. Off I started after my tobacco; and if was out of breath after getting up the first bank, I was ten times more so now. During my scrambling among the rocks to recover my tobacco, not only the wag that played me the trick, but fifty others, indulged in a hearty laugh at my expense; but the best of it was, the fellow came for his payment, and wished to get not only, the buttons but the coat along with them. I was forgiving him—what he richly deserved—buttons of another mould; but peace, in our present situation, was deemed the better policy: so the rogue got the buttons, and we saw - him no more.

Before leaving this noted place, the first barrier of the Columbia, we may remark that the whole length of the cascade, from one end to the other, is two miles and a half: We were now encamped at the head or upper end of them, where the whole river is obstructed to the breadth of one hundred or one hundred and twenty feet, and descends in high and swelling surges with great fury for about one hundred yards. Then the channel widens and the river expands, and is here and there afterwards obstructed with rocks, whirlpools, and eddies throughout, rendering the navigation more or less dangerous; but there are no falls in any part of it, either at high or low water, and with the exception of the first shoot, at the head of the cascade, where the water rushes with great impetuosity down its channel, they are, with care and good management, passable at all seasons for large craft, that is boats.

All the Indians we saw about this place were in three small camps or villages, and might number two hundred and fifty or three hundred at most. They call themselves Cath-le-yach--yachs, and we could scarcely purchase from the lazy rascals fish and roots enough for our supper. In dress, appearance, and habits they differed but little from those about Astoria; but they spoke a different language, although many of them understood and spoke Chinook also.

At first we formed a favourable opinion of them; but their conduct soon changed, for we had no sooner commenced transporting our goods than they tried to annoy us in every kind of way—to break our canoes, pilfer our property, and even to threaten ourselves, by throwing stones and pointing their arrows at us. We were not, however, in a situation to hazard a quarrel with them, unless in the utmost extremity; and it was certainly with great difficulty, and by forbearance on our part, that we got so well off as we did. After finishing the labour of the day, we arranged ourselves for the night. The Indians all assembled again about our little camp, and became very insolent and importunate; they looked at everything, and coveted all they saw. Indeed we were afraid at one time that we would have to appeal to arms; but fortunately, after distributing a few trifling presents among the principal men, they smoked and left us; but we kept a constant watch all night. The only domestic animal we saw among them was the dog.

On the 29th, early in the morning, we prepared to leave the cascades; but the bank being steep, and the current very strong where we had to embark, we did not venture of before broad daylight, and before that time the Indians had crowded about us as usual. Their pilfering propensities had no bounds. The more we gave them the more they expected, and of course the more trouble they gave us; and notwithstanding all our care and kindness to them, they stole our canoe axe and a whole suit of clothes, excepting the hat, belonging to Mr. M'Lennan, which we were unable to recover. We had no sooner embarked, however, than Mr. M'Lennan in his usual good-humour, standing up in the canoe, and throwing the hat amongst them, said, "Gentlemen, there's the hat, you have got the rest, the suit is now complete," and we pushed off and left them.

Immediately above the cascade the river resumes its usual breadth, with a smooth and strong current. The day being exceedingly warm, we made but little headway. In the evening we passed a small river on our left, near which we encamped for the night. Here we had promised ourselves a quiet night and sound sleep; but the Indians finding us oft partly deprived us of both, as we had to keep watch. They were but few, however, and therefore peaceable. Course this day, N.N.E.

On the 30th we set off early, leaving the five Indians, who slept in our camp last night, sitting by the fire, enjoying a pipe of tobacco. As we proceeded, the country became more bold, rough, and mountainous; but still covered with thick woods and heavy timber. The day being very hot, we encamped early on a very pleasant and thickly-wooded island—course, N.E.

On the 31st, after breakfast, Mr. Thompson and party left us to prosecute their journey, and Mr. Stuart, in one of our canoes, accompanied him as far as the long narrows, nor did he return till late in the afternoon, and then thinking it too late to start, we passed the remainder of the day in camp, enjoying the repose which we had so much need of. The two strangers remained with us.

On Mr. Thompson's departure, Mr. Stuart gave him one of our Sandwich Islanders, a bold and trustworthy fellow, named Cox, for one of his men, a Canadian, called Boulard. Boulard had the advantage of being long in the Indian country, and had picked up a few words of the language on his way down. Cox, again, was looked upon by Mr. Thompson as a prodigy of wit and humour, so that those respectively acceptable qualities led to the exchange.

On the 1st of August we left our encampment at daylight, but a strong head-wind impeded our progress, and not being able to get on, we put ashore, and encamped at a much earlier hour than we wished. Course, N.E.

On the 2d, at three o'clock in the afternoon, we reached Sandy Bay, at the foot of the narrows. The Indians, being apprised of our coming, had assembled, as might be expected, in great numbers, and presented to us quite a new sight, being all armed cap-a-pie, painted, and mounted on horseback. To us in our present situation they were rather objects of terror than of attraction, but we had to put the best face we could on things, so we landed our goods and invited them to smoke with us.

We had not hitherto settled upon any plan, whether to continue our route by water up the long narrows, or undertake the portage by land, both appearing equally difficult and equally dangerous: at last we adopted the latter plan, because it was recommended by the Indians, in whose power we were either way. The plan being now settled, we bargained with the chiefs for the carriage of the goods—ten metal buttons for each piece was the price stipulated, which reduced our stock by exactly two and a half gross: and in less than ten minutes after the whole cavalcade, goods and all, disappeared, leaving us standing in suspense and amazement. While we were in this painful state of anxiety, one man and an Indian were left to guard the canoes, whilst the rest of us, carrying what we could on our backs, followed the Indians on foot to the other end of the portage, where we arrived at sunset, and found, to our great satisfaction, all the property laid together in safety, and guarded by the chiefs. Having paid the Indians what we promised, and a small recompense to the different chiefs, we arranged our little camp for the night, the chiefs promising us their protection. All the Indians now flocked around us, men, women, and children, and spent the whole night in smoking, dancing, and singing, while we kept watch in the centre of the ominous circle. During the night, however, notwithstanding the chief's guarantee of protection, we perceived some suspicious movements, which gave us considerable alarm. We had recourse again and again to the chiefs, who at last admitted that there was some indication of danger; but added that they were still our friends, and would do their utmost to protect us. Just at this moment, as we were consulting with the chiefs, several harangues were made in the camp, the smoking ceased, and the women and children were beginning to move oft: It was a critical moment; we saw the cloud gathering, but could not dispel it; our fate seemed to bang upon a hair. At last we hit upon a stratagem; we persuaded the chiefs to tome and stop within our little circle for the night, which they did, and from that position they harangued in turn, which had a good effect, and in this manner we passed the night, not forgetting every now and then to give the chiefs some little toy or trifle, to stimulate their exertions in our favour.

Early in the morning of the 3rd, four of us returned to the other end of the portage, and by two o'clock got one of the canoes safe across. Returning again immediately, we arrived with the other a little after dark; one man still remaining across, taking care of the canoe-tackling and camp utensils. The Indians all the day kept dancing and smoking, and it was our interest to keep them so employed as much as possible; and no one knew better how to do so than Mr. Stuart, his eye saw everything at a glance, and his mild and insinuating manners won their affections.

As night came on, the Indians were to be seen divided in groups, as if in consultation; but there appeared no sign of unanimity among them; each chief seemed occupied with his own little band, and we learned that they were not all one people, with one interest, or under one control,, and this divided state no doubt added greatly to our safety; for wherever we found one chief alone, he invariably pointed to the others as bad men, calling them shoeho-nez, or inlanders. Not knowing, however, who were our friends or who our foes, we had to keep a strict watch all night

At daybreak on the 4th, three of our men crossed the portage for the remainder of the goods, and arrived safely at an early hour, but had enough to do to save their kettles from some scamps they met with on the way.

The length of this dry and sandy portage is nine miles; and when it is taken into consideration that we had to go and come all that distance four times in one day, without a drop of water to refresh ourselves, loaded as we were, and under a burning sun, it will be admitted that it was no ordinary task. Under any other circumstances but a struggle between life and death, it could never be performed; but it was too much; the effort was almost beyond human strength, and I may venture to say, all circumstances considered, it will never be done again.

The main camp of the Indians is situated at the head of the narrows, and may contain, during the salmon season, 3,000 souls, or more; but the constant inhabitants of the place do not exceed 100 persons, and are called Wy-am-pains; the rest are all foreigners from different tribes throughout the country, who resort hither, not for the purpose of catching salmon, but chiefly for gambling and speculation; for trade and traffic, not in fish, but in other articles; for the Indians of the plains seldom eat fish, and those of the sea-coast sell, but never buy fish. Fish is their own staple commodity. The articles of traffic brought to this place by the Indians of the interior are generally horses, buffalo-robes, and native tobacco, which they exchange with the natives of the sea-coast and other tribes, for the higua beads and other trinkets. But the natives of the coast seldom come up thus far. Now all these articles generally change hands through gambling, which alone draws so many vagabonds together at this place; because they are always sure to live well here, whereas no other place on the Columbia could support so many people together. The long narrows, therefore, is the great emporium or mart of the Columbia, and the general theatre of gambling and roguery.

We saw great quantities of fish everywhere; but what were they among so many: we could scarcely get a score of salmon to buy. For every fisherman there are fifty idlers, and all the fish caught are generally devoured on the spot; so that the natives of the place can seldom lay up their winter stock until the gambling season is over, and their troublesome visitors gone. All the gamblers, horse-stealers, and other outcasts throughout the country, for hundreds of miles round, make this place their great rendezvous during summer.

The narrows by water are not a great deal longer than the portage by land. At the upper end, during low water, a broad and flat ledge of rocks bars the whole river across, leaving only a small opening or portal, not exceeding forty feet, on the left side, through which the whole body of water must pass. Through this gap it rushes with great impetuosity; the foaming surges dash through the rocks with terrific violence; no craft, either large or small, can venture there in safety. During floods, this obstruction, or ledge of rocks, is covered with water, yet the passage of the narrows is not thereby improved. Immediately above the rocks, the river resembles a small still lake, with scarcely any current.

The general aspect of the country around the long narrows cannot be called agreeable; the place is lone, gloomy, and the surface rugged, barren, and rocky; yet it is cheering in comparison with the dense forests which darken the banks of the river to this place. At the foot of the narrows the whole face of nature is changed, like night into day. There the woody country ceases on both sides of the river at once, and abruptly; the open and barren plains begin. The contrast is sudden, striking, and remarkable. Distance from the cascades to this place seventy miles.

The great bend or elbow of the Columbia is formed by the long narrows: here, on the west side, terminates that long, high, and irregular chain of mountains which lie parallel to the coast, dividing the waters which flow into the Pacific on the west, from those running into the Columbia on the east. This range abounds in beaver and elk, and is often frequented by the industrious hunter. At the Indian tents we saw several small packages of beaver, but we purchased none, our canoes being too small; and, besides, they will always find their way to Astoria. We have all along, however, impressed on the natives the object of our visit to their country, and the value of beaver.

The Indians have been more troublesome, more importunate and forward to-day than at any time since our arrival among them. They often expressed a wish to see what we had in our bales and boxes. The chiefs also gave us to understand that their good offices merited a reward, and they could not comprehend why people who had so much as we were not more liberal. We endeavoured to satisfy their demands, and towards evening the chiefs were invited to sleep in our camp; but for us there was no sleep: there is no rest for the wicked.


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