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

HAVING in the preceding chapters given a detailed account of our first expedition into the interior, we propose in the present briefly to notice the state of things at Astoria after our departure, and the fate of the Tonquin.

No sooner had we left the establishment in July last, than the natives became more and more hostile and annoying to the whites at Astoria, so that under the impression of danger, all other labour being suspended, the hands and minds of all were employed both day and night in the construction and pallisading of a stronghold for self-defence; but after various alarms the savage horde, without making any hostile demonstration more than usual, took their departure from the place, leaving the whites once more in the enjoyment of peace and tranquillity.

In the fall of the year, a schooner, of twenty-five tons, to be named the Dolly, the frame of which had come out in the Tonquin, was built at Astoria. This vessel was intended only for the coast trade; but in the present instance was placed as a guard-ship in front of the infant establishment. She was found, however, to be too small for the coast trade, and even unfit for tripping up and down the river; and from her unwieldiness, not so safe as either open boats or canoes. The people were also awkward and Unskilful, as might be expected, having never been accustomed to such duties. In the very first trip up the river, she had well nigh fallen into the hands of the Indians: getting becalmed one day a little above the mouth of the Wallamitte, with only fur men on board, curiosity drew a crowd of Indians about her, and once on board it was no easy matter to get them off again. Curiosity led to theft: every one began to help himself, and to take whatever he could lay his hands upon. The pillage was begun, when the interpreter boldly and opportunely called out that he was going instantly to set fire to a keg of powder, and would blow all up into the air, unless they left the ship that moment: the Indians got frightened; those who had canoes jumped into them, made for shore with the hurry of despair; others jumped overboard, and in an instant the vessel was cleared of her troublesome visitors, and let go before the current. It will be recollected that Mr. Aikins, the officer who had come out to take command of the Dolly, was, with several others, unfortunately drowned on the bar. Having made two or three trips up the river, she was condemned, and laid aside altogether as useless.

It is a true saying, that the wisest of us is not always wise. In appointing so small a vessel as the Dolly to a station so dangerous, was manifested a total ignorance of the character of the natives on the coast. Mr. Astor ought to have known that even well appointed large and armed ships often ran great hazards there, some of that class having been taken and pillaged by the hostile savages of that quarter.

The American traders, with their usual spirit of enterprize, had long carried on a lucrative business on the north-west coast; they knew well, and none knew better than Astor himself, what was necessary and suitable for that market; but we had got nothing of this kind. Instead of guns, we got old metal pots and gridirons; instead of beads and trinkets, we got white cotton; and instead of blankets, molasses. In short, all the useless trash and unsaleable trumpery which had been accumulating in his shops and stores for half a century past, were swept together to fill his Columbia ships. That these cargoes were insured need not be told; sink or swim, his profits were sure.

But these we might have overlooked, had we not felt aggrieved in other matters closely connected with the general interest. The articles of agreement entered into, and the promises of promotion held out, when the company was formed, were violated, and that without a blush, by the very man at the head of the concern,—that man who held its destinies in his hand. This perhaps may be rendered a little more intelligible, by stating, that according to the articles of co-partnership made at New York, two of the clerks were to be promoted to an interest in the concern, or, in other words, to become partners, after two years' service, and on that express condition they joined the enterprize; but what will the reader say, or the world think, when it is told that a young man who had never seen the country was, by a dash of the pen, put over their heads, and this young man was no other than Mr. Astor's nephew. Although a little out of place, we shall just mention another circumstance which may shew how deeply and how sincerely Mr. Astor was interested in the success and prosperity of his Columbia colony. When the war' broke out between Great Britain and the United States, the Boston merchants sent out, at a great expense, intelligence of the event to their shipping on the north-west coast, and applied to Astor for his quota of that expense, as he too had people and property there at stake. What was his reply? "Let the United States' flag protect them." Need it then be told that we were left to shift for ourselves. So much did Mr. Astor care about our safety.

But from this disagreeable subject we turn to another still more so, and that is the fate of the unfortunate Tonquin, which ship, it will be remembered, left Astoria in June last.

On the 5th of August, Calpo, a friendly Chinook Indian, informed M'Dougall that it was current among the Indians that the Toiquin had been destroyed by the natives along the coast, and this was the first tidings the Astorians had of her fate: the report had spread quickly and widely, although we remained ignorant of the fact; for not many days after we had arrived at Oakinaeken, a party of Indians reached that place, on their return from the Great Salt Lake, as they called it, and gave us to understand by signs and gestures that a large ship, with white people in it, had been blown up on the water; and, in order the better to make us comprehend the subject, they threw up their arms in the air, blew with the mouth, and made the wild grimace of despair, to signify the explosion. On our part all was conjecture and suspense, unwilling as we were to believe what we did not wish to be true; but the more we reflected, the more we were disposed to believe the report, from the well-known fact that Mr. Astor's choice of a captain was most unfortunate: in this instance, he seemed to have wanted his usual sagacity; and this was the first rock on which his grand enterprize had split A man who could deliberately leave, as we have already seen, nine of his fellow-creatures to perish on the Falkland Islands; who could throw one of his sailors overboard, at the Island of Woahoo; who could offer the Indians at Owbyhee a reward for the head of one of his own officers; who could force from his ship four of his men in a storm, to perish at the mouth of the Columbia; who could witness unmoved, from his own deck, three of his men, left to perish on Columbia bar; and, to cap the climax of cruelty, we might, however disagreeable, mention another circumstance. On the 11th of February 1811, while sailing on the high seas, a man named Joe Lapierre fell from the minn5t-head overboard, the ship at the time going eight knots—a boat was instantly lowered: in the mean time a hen-coop, binnacle, and some boards were thrown into the water, but he failed to get hold of anything, and soon fell a good mile or more astern. When picked up he was in a state of insensibility, and the crew made all possible haste to reach the ship; but, as they were approaching, the captain, in a peremptory tone, ordered them back to pick up the hen-coop, binnacle, and boards, before they came alongside, or put the man on board. The boat obeyed orders, went back again, picked up all, and returned to the ship at the end of fifty-two minutes— yet life was not quite extinct, for, after applying the usual remedies of salt, warm blankets, and friction, Lapierre revived.

But to return to -the subject of Calpo's report— the conduct of Captain Thom throughout, coupled with the fact of his having left Astoria without a single officer on board his ship, led strongly to the conclusion that all was not right, and that the reports in circulation might ultimately prove true. The facts above stated I myself witnessed—fifty others witnessed them also: they cannot be denied nor gainsaid—yet such was the man who enjoyed Mr. Astor's unbounded confidence.

Various and conflicting were the reports that had from thne to time reached Astoria respecting the fate of the Tonqzun; yet all agreed in the main point—that is, in her destruction. She had also. passed, by some months, the time of her expected return, so that there remained but little doubt of her fate; yet, subsequently to Calpo's statement, nothing.. transpired to add to our fears for a month or two, although during that time various individuals and parties had been employed to trace out the true story of her fate.

On the 12th of October, however, three Chinooks were fitted out, and set off with' the determination not to return until they should reach the place where. it was reported she had been cut off, or obtain certain accounts respecting her. These men had not, however, proceeded far, before they were met by a. strange Indian, on his way to Astoria with the unwelcome news of the Tonquin's tragical end: so. the Chinooks turned about, and accompanied the stranger back to Astoria, where they arrived on the eighth day; and here the strange Indian made his report, which we shall give in his own words:-

"My name is Kasiascall, but the Chinooks and. other Indians hereabout call me Lamazu. I belong to the Wick-a-nook tribe of Indians near Nootka Sound. I have often been on board ships. The whites call me Jack. I understand most of the languages that are spoken along the coast. I can speak some Chinook, too. I have been twice at this place before; once by land and once by sea. I saw the ship Tonquin; Captain Thorn was her commander.. I went on board of her at Woody Point harbour in June lost. We remained there for two days. We then sailed for Vancouver's Island; and just as we had got to it, a gale of wind drove us to sea, and it was three days before we got back again. The fourth morning we cast anchor in Eyuck Whoola, Newcetu Bay. There we remained for some days; Indians going and coming, but not much trade. One day the Indians came on board in great numbers, but did not trade much, although they had plenty of skins.. The prices offered did not please the Indians; so they carried back their furs again. The day following the chiefs came on board, and as usual asked the captain to show them such and such things, and state the lowest price, which he accordingly did. They did not, however, trade, but pressed the captain for presents, which he refused. The chiefs left the ship displeased at what they called stingy conduct in the captain, as they were accustomed to receive trifling presents from the traders on the coast.

"In the evening of the same day, Mr. M'Kay and myself went on shore, and were well received by the chiefs, and saw a great many sea-otter skins with the Indians. We both returned to the ship the same evening. Next day the Indians came off to trade in great numbers. On their coming alongside, the captain ordered the boarding-netting to be put up round the ship, and would not allow more than ten on board at a time; but just as the trade had commenced, an Indian was detected cutting the boarding-netting with a knife in order to get on board. On being detected, he instantly jumped into one of the canoes which were alongside, and made his escape. The captain then, turning round, bade the chiefs to call him back. The chiefs smiled and said nothing, which irritated the captain, and he immediately laid hold of two of the chiefs, and threatened to hang them up unless they caused the delinquent to be brought back to be punished. The moment the chiefs were seized, all the Indians fled from the ship in consternation. The chiefs were kept on board all night with a guard over them. Food was offered them, but they would neither eat nor drink. Next day, however, the offender was brought to the ship and delivered up, when the captain ordered him to be stripped and tied up, but did not flog him. He was then dismissed. The chiefs were also liberated, and left the ship, refusing with disdain a present that was offered them, and vowing vengeance on the whites for the insult received.

"Next day not an Indian came to the ship; but in the afternoon an old chief sent for Mr. M'Kay and myself to go to his lodge. We did so, and were very kindly treated. Mr. M'Kay was a great favourite among the Indians; and I have no doubt that the plot for destroying the ship was at this time fully arranged, and that it was intended, if possible, to save M'Kay's life in the general massacre. But not finding this practicable without the risk of discovery, he, as we shall soon learn, fell with the rest. When we were on shore we saw the chiefs, and they seemed all in good humour, and asked me if the captain was still angry; and on being assured that they would be well treated and kindly received by him if they went on board, they appeared highly pleased, and promised to go and trade the following day. Mr. M'Kay returned to the ship that evening, but I remained on shore till the next morning. When I got on board, Mr. M'Kay was walking backwards and forwards on deck in rather a gloomy mood, and considerably excited; himself and the captain having, as he told me, had some angry words between them respecting the two chiefs who had been kept prisoners on board, which was sorely against M'Kay's will.

"As soon as I got on deck, he called me to him. 'Well,' said he, 'are the Indians coming to trade today?' I said, 'They are.' 'I wish they would not come,' said he again; adding, 'I am afraid there is an under-current at work. After the captain's late conduct to the chiefs, I do not like so sudden, so flattering a change. There is treachery in the case, or they differ from all other Indians I ever knew. I have told the captain so-1 have also suggested that all lands should be on the alert when the Indians are here; but he ridicules the suggestion as groundless. So let him have his own way.' M'Kay then asked me my opinion. I told him it would be well to have the netting up. He then bid me go to the captain, and I went; but before I could speak to him, he called out, 'Well, Kas, are the Indians coming today?' I said I thought so. He then asked—' Are the chiefs in good humour yet?' I said I never saw them in better humour. 'I humbled the fellows a little; they'll not be so saucy now; and we will get on much better,' said the captain. At this moment M'Kay joined us, and repeated to the captain what he had just stated to me. The captain laughed; observing to M'Kay, 'You pretend to know a great deal about the Indian character: you know nothing at alL' And so the conversation dropt.

"Mr. M'Kay's anxiety and perturbation of mind was increased by the manner in which the captain treated his advice; and having, to all appearance, a presentiment of what was brooding among the Indians, he refused going to breakfast that morning, put two pair of pistols in his pockets, and sat down on the larboard side of the quarter-deck in a pensive mood. In a short time afterwards, the Indians began to flock about the ship, both men and women, in great crowds, with their furs; and certainly I myself thought that there was not the least danger, particularly as the women accompanied the men to trade; but I was surprised that the captain did not put the netting up. It was the first time I ever saw a ship trade there without adopting that precaution. As soon as the Indians arrived, the captain, relying no doubt on the apparent reconciliation which had taken place between M'Kay and the chiefs on shore, and wishing perhaps to atone for the insult he had offered the latter, flew from one extreme to the other, receiving them with open arms, and admitting them on board without reserve, and without the usual precautions. The trade went on briskly, and at the captain's own prices. The Indians throwing the goods received into the canoes, which were alongside, with the women in them; but in doing so, they managed to conceal their knives about their persons, which circumstance was noticed by one of the men aloft, then by myself, and we warned the captain of it; but he treated the suggestions, as usual, with a smile of contempt, and no more was said about it; but in a moment or two afterwards, the captain began to suspect something himself, and was in the act of calling Mr. M'Kay to him, when the Indians in an instant raised the hideous yell of death, which echoed from stem to stern of the devoted ship, the women in the canoes immediately pushed off, and the massacre began. The .00nfiiet was bloody but short. The savages, with their naked knives and horrid yells, rushed on the unsuspecting and defencelees whites, who were dispersed all over the ship, and in five minutes' time the vessel was their own. M'Kay, was the first man who fell, he shot one Indian, but was instantly, killed and thrown overboard, and so sudden was the surprise that the captain had scarcely time to draw from his pocket a clasp-knife, with which he defended himself desperately, killed two, and wounded several more, till at last he fell dead in the crowd. The last man I saw alive was Stephen Weeks, the armourer. In the midst of the carnage, I leapt overboard, as did several other Indians, and we were taken up by the women in the canoes, who were yelling, whooping, and crying like so many fiends about the ship; but before I had got two gun-shots from the ship, and not ten minutes after I had left her, she blew up in the air with a fearful explosion, filling the whole place with broken fragments and mutilated bodies. The sight was terrific and overwhelming. Weeks must have been the man who blew up the ship, and by that awful act of revenge, one hundred and seventy-five Indians perished, and some of the canoes, although at a great distance off, had a narrow escape. The melancholy and fatal catastrophe spread desolation, lamentation, and terror throughout the whole tribe.

"Scarcely anything belonging to the ship was saved by the Indians, and so terrifying was the effect, so awful the scene, when two other ships passed there soon afterwards, not an Indian would venture to go near them. I knew that the Tonquin belonged to the whites at Columbia, I was eighteen days on board of her, and had started long ago with the tidings of her tragical end; but falling sick, I was prevented from coming sooner. There might have been twenty-four days between the time the Tonquin left the Columbia and her destruction by the Indians."

Thus ended the sad story of Kasiaseall, a story which we at the time believed to be perfectly true; but not many days after, some Indians belonging to the same quarter reached Astoria also, and gave a somewhat different version of the affair, particularly as regarded Kasiascall himself, and what convinced us that he had acted a treacherous part, was the fact, that on hearing that the other Indians were coming, he immediately absconded, and we saw him no more. These Indians confirmed Kasiascall's story in every respect as regarded the destruction of the ill-fated Tonquin; but persisted in assuring us that he was not on board at the time, and that he was privy to the whole plot. They said, that before that affair he had caused the death of four white men, and that, early in the morning of the Tonquin's fatal day, he had induced the captain, through some plausible artifice, to send a boat with six men to shore, and that neither he nor the six men were on board at the time of her destruction. That in the evening of the same day, Kasiascall himself headed the party who went, and brought the six unfortunate men, after the ship was blown up, to the Indian camp, where they were first tortured with savage cruelty, and then all massacred in the most inhuman manner.

We have now brought the tragical story of the fated Tonquin nearly to a dose. Wise men profit by experience, listen to counsel, and yield to circumstances. Captain Thorn, on the contrary, looked upon every suggestion as an attempt to dictate to him, despised counsel, and treated advice with contempt Had he profited either by the errors or misfortunes of others, or had he listened to the dictates of common prudence, and used the means he had at command, the savages along the coast, numerous and hostile as they are, would never have obtained the mastery, nor taken the Ton gum. We lament the fate of her unfortunate crew and commander. Captain Thorn had many good qualities— was brave, had the manners of a gentleman, and was an able and experienced seaman; but his temper was cruel and overbearing,—and his fate verifies the sacred decree, that "he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy."

The destruction of the Ton gum left Astoria defenceless and almost hopeless, and might have proved fatal to the enterprise; but, whilst these scenes were yet fresh in the minds of the Astorians, and augmented the gloom occasioned by their harassing and perilous situation, the timely arrival of M'Kenzie, with the first division of Mr. Hunt's party, overland, made them for a moment forget that their friends of the Tonquin were no more. This seasonable addition to their numbers, with the daily expectation of others—for the main party had not yet arrived - hushed, for a time, the threatening tone of the Indians, and relieved the whites from that incessant watching which prudence at1 a regard to safety obliged them to adopt, ever since the first rumour of the Tonqztin's fate had reached their ears. The subject of the land expedition we shall reserve for the next chapter, concluding the present with a few cursory observations on the conduct of that perfidious wretch, Kasiascall.

After absconding from Astoria, as already stated, he lurked for some time among the neighbouring tribes, trying to stir them up to betray the whites, and take Astoria. He had laid several plans for the purpose; and, being desperate and daring himself, he had, on the 5th of December, with twenty or thirty others of like character, approached the establishment on the south side, through the woods, till within sight of the back gate, with the intention of examining the place, in order to make the attack sure the following morning; but, providentially, his treason was baulked by one of those fortunate incidents which sometimes intervene to save the innocent; for, that very evening, the Astorians, as good luck would have it, had collected some Indians, who, with the whites, made a display at the back gate, with the intention of proceeding next morning to the chase, to hunt up some wild hogs which were roaming at large in the woods; and were, as we were well informed afterwards, seen by Kasiascall and his party as they were making their approaches to the fort. They, supposing from the armed array that their own atrocious designs had been discovered, immediately took to flight, leaving, in the hurry, a gun, a quiver full of arrows, and some other things behind; so that, in all probability, to this circumstance alone the place owed its preservation, and the whites their lives. How precarious is the life of an Indian trader, if we take into consideration the habits of the country and the spirit of the people he has to live among—a people who feel no remorse in using the instruments of death—a people who delight in perfidy! Perfidy is the system of savages, treachery and cunning the instruments of their power, and cruelty and bloodshed the policy of their country.


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