WHILE ENGAGED in writing an account of the grand enterprise of Astoria, it was my practice to seek all kinds of oral information connected with the subject. Nowhere did I pick up more interesting particulars than at the table of Mr. John Jacob Astor; who, being the patriarch of the fur trade in the United States, was accustomed to have at his board various persons of adventurous turn, some of whom had been engaged in his own great undertaking; others, on their own account, had made expeditions to the Rocky Mountains and the waters of the Columbia.
Among these personages, one who peculiarly took my fancy was Captain Bonneville, of the United States army; who, in a rambling kind of enterprise, had strangely ingrafted the trapper and hunter upon the soldier. As his expeditions and adventures will form the leading theme of the following pages, a few biographical particulars concerning him may not be unacceptable.
Captain Bonneville is of French parentage. His father was a worthy old emigrant, who came to this country many years since, and took up his abode in New York. He is represented as a man not much calculated for the sordid struggle of a money-making world, but possessed of a happy temperament, a festivity of imagination, and a simplicity of heart, that made him proof against its rubs and trials. He was an excellent scholar; well acquainted with Latin and Greek, and fond of the modern classics. His book was his elysium; once immersed in the pages of Voltaire, Corneille, or Racine, or of his favorite English author, Shakespeare, he forgot the world and all its concerns. Often would he be seen in summer weather, seated under one of the trees on the Battery, or the portico of St. Paul`s church in Broadway, his bald head uncovered, his hat lying by his side, his eyes riveted to the page of his book, and his whole soul so engaged, as to lose all consciousness of the passing throng or the passing hour.
Captain Bonneville, it will be found, inherited something of his father`s bonhommie, and his excitable imagination; though the latter was somewhat disciplined in early years, by mathematical studies. He was educated at our national Military Academy at West Point, where he acquitted himself very creditably; thence, he entered the army, in which he has ever since continued.
The nature of our military service took him to the frontier, where, for a number of years, he was stationed at various posts in the Far West. Here he was brought into frequent intercourse with Indian traders, mountain trappers, and other pioneers of the wilderness; and became so excited by their tales of wild scenes and wild adventures, and their accounts of vast and magnificent regions as yet unexplored, that an expedition to the Rocky Mountains became the ardent desire of his heart, and an enterprise to explore untrodden tracts, the leading object of his ambition.
By degrees he shaped his vague day-dream into a practical reality. Having made himself acquainted with all the requisites for a trading enterprise beyond the mountains, he determined to undertake it. A leave of absence, and a sanction of his expedition, was obtained from the major general in chief, on his offering to combine public utility with his private projects, and to collect statistical information for the War Department concerning the wild countries and wild tribes he might visit in the course of his journeyings.
Nothing now was wanting to the darling project of the captain, but the ways and means. The expedition would require an outfit of many thousand dollars; a staggering obstacle to a soldier, whose capital is seldom any thing more than his sword. Full of that buoyant hope, however, which belongs to the sanguine temperament, he repaired to New-York, the great focus of American enterprise, where there are always funds ready for any scheme, however chimerical or romantic. Here he had the good fortune to meet with a gentleman of high respectability and influence, who had been his associate in boyhood, and who cherished a schoolfellow friendship for him. He took a general interest in the scheme of the captain; introduced him to commercial men of his acquaintance, and in a little while an association was formed, and the necessary funds were raised to carry the proposed measure into effect. One of the most efficient persons in this association was Mr. Alfred Seton, who, when quite a youth, had accompanied one of the expeditions sent out by Mr. Astor to his commercial establishments on the Columbia, and had distinguished himself by his activity and courage at one of the interior posts. Mr. Seton was one of the American youths who were at Astoria at the time of its surrender to the British, and who manifested such grief and indignation at seeing the flag of their country hauled down. The hope of seeing that flag once more planted on the shores of the Columbia, may have entered into his motives for engaging in the present enterprise.
Thus backed and provided, Captain Bonneville undertook his expedition into the Far West, and was soon beyond the Rocky Mountains. Year after year elapsed without his return. The term of his leave of absence expired, yet no report was made of him at head quarters at Washington. He was considered virtually dead or lost and his name was stricken from the army list.
It was in the autumn of 1835 at the country seat of Mr. John Jacob Astor, at Hellgate, that I first met with Captain Bonneville He was then just returned from a residence of upwards of three years among the mountains, and was on his way to report himself at head quarters, in the hopes of being reinstated in the service. From all that I could learn, his wanderings in the wilderness though they had gratified his curiosity and his love of adventure had not much benefited his fortunes. Like Corporal Trim in his campaigns, he had "satisfied the sentiment," and that was all. In fact, he was too much of the frank, freehearted soldier, and had inherited too much of his father`s temperament, to make a scheming trapper, or a thrifty bargainer.
There was something in the whole appearance of the captain that prepossessed me in his favor. He was of the middle size, well made and well set; and a military frock of foreign cut, that had seen service, gave him a look of compactness. His countenance was frank, open, and engaging; well browned by the sun, and had something of a French expression. He had a pleasant black eye, a high forehead, and, while he kept his hat on, the look of a man in the jocund prime of his days; but the moment his head was uncovered, a bald crown gained him credit for a few more years than he was really entitled to.
Being extremely curious, at the time, about every thing connected with the Far West, I addressed numerous questions to him. They drew from him a number of extremely striking details, which were given with mingled modesty and frankness; and in a gentleness of manner, and a soft tone of voice, contrasting singularly with the wild and often startling nature of his themes. It was difficult to conceive the mild, quiet-looking personage before you, the actual hero of the stirring scenes related.
In the course of three or four months, happening to be at the city of Washington, I again came upon the captain, who was attending the slow adjustment of his affairs with the War Department. I found him quartered with a worthy brother in arms, a major in the army. Here he was writing at a table, covered with maps and papers, in the centre of a large barrack room, fancifully decorated with Indian arms, and trophies, and war dresses, and the skins of various wild animals, and hung round with pictures of Indian games and ceremonies, and scenes of war and hunting. In a word, the captain was beguiling the tediousness of attendance at court, by an attempt at authorship; and was rewriting and extending his travelling notes, and making maps of the regions he had explored. As he sat at the table, in this curious apartment, with his high bald head of somewhat foreign cast, he reminded me of some of those antique pictures of authors that I have seen in old Spanish volumes.
The result of his labors was a mass of manuscript, which he subsequently put at my disposal, to fit it for publication and bring it before the world. I found it full of interesting details of life among the mountains, and of the singular castes and races, both white men and red men, among whom he had sojourned. It bore, too, throughout, the impress of his character, his bonhommie, his kindliness of spirit, and his susceptibility to the grand and beautiful.
That manuscript has formed the staple of the following work. I have occasionally interwoven facts and details, gathered from various sources, especially from the conversations and journals of some of the captain`s contemporaries, who were actors in the scenes he describes. I have also given it a tone and coloring drawn from my own observation, during an excursion into the Indian country beyond the bounds of civilization; as I before observed, however, the work is substantially the narrative of the worthy captain, and many of its most graphic passages are but little varied from his own language.
I shall conclude this notice by a dedication which he had made of his manuscript to his hospitable brother in arms, in whose quarters I found him occupied in his literary labors; it is a dedication which, I believe, possesses the qualities, not always found in complimentary documents of the kind, of being sincere, and being merited.
To JAMES HARVEY HOOK, Major, U. S. A., whose jealousy of its honor, whose anxiety for its interests, and whose sensibility for its wants, have endeared him to the service as The Soldier`s Friend; and whose general amenity, constant cheerfulness. disinterested hospitality, and unwearied benevolence, entitle him to the still loftier title of The Friend of Man, this work is inscribed, etc.
1. - State of the fur trade of the Rocky Mountains American enterprises General Ashley and his associates Sublette, a famous leader Yearly rendezvous among the mountains Stratagems and dangers of the trade Bands of trappers Indian banditti Crows and Blackfeet Mountaineers Traders of the Far West Character and habits of the trapper
2. - Departure from Fort Osage Modes of transportation Pack- horses Wagons Walker and Cerre; their characters Buoyant feelings on launching upon the prairies Wild equipments of the trappers Their gambols and antics Difference of character between the American and French trappers Agency of the Kansas General Clarke White Plume, the Kansas chief Night scene in a trader`s camp Colloquy between White Plume and the captain Bee- hunters Their expeditions Their feuds with the Indians Bargaining talent of White Plume
3. - Wide prairies Vegetable productions Tabular hills Slabs of sandstone Nebraska or Platte River Scanty fare Buffalo skulls Wagons turned into boats Herds of buffalo Cliffs resembling castles The chimney Scott`s Bluffs Story connected with them The bighorn or ahsahta Its nature and habits Difference between that and the "woolly sheep," or goat of the mountains
4. - An alarm Crow Indians Their appearance Mode of approach Their vengeful errand Their curiosity Hostility between the Crows and Blackfeet Loving conduct of the Crows Laramie`s Fork First navigation of the Nebraska Great elevation of the country Rarity of the atmosphere Its effect on the wood-work of wagons Black Hills Their wild and broken scenery Indian dogs Crow trophies Sterile and dreary country Banks of the Sweet Water Buffalo hunting Adventure of Tom Cain the Irish cook
5. - Magnificent scenery Wind River Mountains Treasury of waters A stray horse An Indian trail Trout streams The Great Green River Valley An alarm A band of trappers Fontenelle, his information Sufferings of thirst Encampment on the Seeds-ke-dee Strategy of rival traders Fortification of the camp The Blackfeet Banditti of the mountains Their character and habits
6. - Sublette and his band Robert Campbell Mr. Wyeth and a band of "down-easters" Yankee enterprise Fitzpatrick His adventure with the Blackfeet A rendezvous of mountaineers The battle of Pierre`s Hole An Indian ambuscade Sublette`s return
7. - Retreat of the Blackfeet Fontenelle`s camp in danger Captain Bonneville and the Blackfeet Free trappers Their character, habits, dress, equipments, horses Game fellows of the mountains Their visit to the camp Good fellowship and good cheer A carouse A swagger, a brawl, and a reconciliation
8. - Plans for the winter Salmon River Abundance of salmon west of the mountains New arrangements Caches Cerre`s detachment Movements in Fontenelle`s camp Departure of the Blackfeet Their fortunes Wind Mountain streams Buckeye, the Delaware hunter, and the grizzly bear Bones of murdered travellers Visit to Pierre`s Hole Traces of the battle Nez Perce Indians Arrival at Salmon River
9. - Horses turned loose Preparations for winter quarters Hungry times Nez Perces, their honesty, piety, pacific habits, religious ceremonies Captain Bonneville`s conversations with them Their love of gambling
10. - Black feet in the Horse Prairie Search after the hunters Difficulties and dangers A card party in the wilderness The card party interrupted "Old Sledge" a losing game Visitors to the camp Iroquois hunters Hanging-eared Indians.
11. - Rival trapping parties Manoeuvring A desperate game Vanderburgh and the Blackfeet Deserted camp fire A dark defile An Indian ambush A fierce melee Fatal consequences Fitzpatrick and Bridger Trappers precautions Meeting with the Blackfeet More fighting Anecdote of a young Mexican and an Indian girl.
12. - A winter camp in the wilderness Medley of trappers, hunters, and Indians Scarcity of game New arrangements in the camp Detachments sent to a distance Carelessness of the Indians when encamped Sickness among the Indians Excellent character of the Nez Perces The Captain`s effort as a pacificator A Nez Perce`s argument in favor of war Robberies, by the Black feet Long suffering of the Nez Perces A hunter`s Elysium among the mountains More robberies The Captain preaches up a crusade The effect upon his hearers.
13. - Story of Kosato, the Renegade Blackfoot.
14. - The party enters the mountain gorge A wild fastness among hills Mountain mutton Peace and plenty The amorous trapper-A piebald wedding-A free trapper`s wife-Her gala equipments- Christmas in the wilderness.
15. - A hunt after hunters Hungry times A voracious repast Wintry weather Godin`s River Splendid winter scene on the great Lava Plain of Snake River Severe travelling and tramping in the snow Manoeuvres of a solitary Indian horseman Encampment on Snake River Banneck Indians The horse chief His charmed life.
16. - Misadventures of Matthieu and his party Return to the caches at Salmon River Battle between Nez Perces and Black feet Heroism of a Nez Perce woman Enrolled among the braves.
17. - Opening of the caches Detachments of Cerre and Hodgkiss Salmon River Mountains Superstition of an Indian trapper Godin`s River Preparations for trapping An alarm An interruption A rival band Phenomena of Snake River Plain Vast clefts and chasms Ingulfed streams Sublime scenery A grand buffalo hunt.
18. - Meeting with Hodgkiss Misfortunes of the Nez Perces Schemes of Kosato, the renegado His foray into the Horse Prairie- Invasion of Black feet Blue John and his forlorn hope Their generous enterprise-Their fate-Consternation and despair of the village- Solemn obsequies -Attempt at Indian trade -Hudson`s Bay Company`s monopoly-Arrangements for autumn- Breaking up of an encampment.
19. - Precautions in dangerous defiles Trappers` mode of defence on a prairie A mysterious visitor Arrival in Green River Valley Adventures of the detachments The forlorn partisan His tale of disasters.
20. - Gathering in Green River valley Visitings and feastings of leaders Rough wassailing among the trappers Wild blades of the mountains Indian belles Potency of bright beads and red blankets Arrival of supplies Revelry and extravagance Mad wolves The lost Indian
21. - Schemes of Captain Bonneville The Great Salt Lake Expedition to explore it Preparations for a journey to the Bighorn
22. - The Crow country A Crow paradise Habits of the Crows Anecdotes of Rose, the renegade white man His fights with the Blackfeet His elevation His death Arapooish, the Crow chief His eagle Adventure of Robert Campbell Honor among Crows
23. - Departure from Green River valley Popo Agie Its course The rivers into which it runs Scenery of the Bluffs the great Tar Spring Volcanic tracts in the Crow country Burning Mountain of Powder River Sulphur springs Hidden fires Colter`s Hell Wind River Campbell`s party Fitzpatrick and his trappers Captain Stewart, an amateur traveller Nathaniel Wyeth Anecdotes of his expedition to the Far West Disaster of Campbell`s party A union of bands The Bad Pass The rapids Departure of Fitzpatrick Embarkation of peltries Wyeth and his bull boat Adventures of Captain Bonneville in the Bighorn Mountains Adventures in the plain Traces of Indians Travelling precautions Dangers of making a smoke The rendezvous
24. - Adventures of the party of ten The Balaamite mule A dead point The mysterious elks A night attack A retreat Travelling under an alarm A joyful meeting Adventures of the other party A decoy elk Retreat to an island A savage dance of triumph Arrival at Wind River
25. - Captain Bonneville sets out for Green River valley Journey up the Popo Agie Buffaloes The staring white bears The smoke The warm springs Attempt to traverse the Wind River Mountains The Great Slope Mountain dells and chasms Crystal lakes Ascent of a snowy peak Sublime prospect A panorama "Les dignes de pitie," or wild men of the mountains
26. - A retrogade move Channel of a mountain torrent Alpine scenery Cascades Beaver valleys Beavers at work Their architecture Their modes of felling trees Mode of trapping beaver Contests of skill A beaver "up to trap" Arrival at the Green River caches
27. - Route toward Wind River Dangerous neighborhood Alarms and precautions A sham encampment Apparition of an Indian spy Midnight move A mountain defile The Wind River valley Tracking a party Deserted camps Symptoms of Crows Meeting of comrades A trapper entrapped Crow pleasantry Crow spies A decampment Return to Green River valley Meeting with Fitzpatrick`s party Their adventures among the Crows Orthodox Crows
28. - A region of natural curiosities The plain of white clay Hot springs The Beer Spring Departure to seek the free trappers Plain of Portneuf Lava Chasms and gullies Bannack Indians Their hunt of the buffalo Hunter`s feast Trencher heroes Bullying of an absent foe The damp comrade The Indian spy Meeting with Hodgkiss His adventures Poordevil Indians Triumph of the Bannacks Blackfeet policy in war
29. - Winter camp at the Portneuf Fine springs The Bannack Indians Their honesty Captain Bonneville prepares for an expedition Christmas The American Falls Wild scenery Fishing Falls Snake Indians Scenery on the Bruneau View of volcanic country from a mountain Powder River Shoshokoes, or Root Diggers Their character, habits, habitations, dogs Vanity at its last shift
30. - Temperature of the climate Root Diggers on horseback An Indian guide Mountain prospects The Grand Rond Difficulties on Snake River A scramble over the Blue Mountains Sufferings from hunger Prospect of the Immahah Valley The exhausted traveller
31. - Progress in the valley An Indian cavalier The captain falls into a lethargy A Nez Perce patriarch Hospitable treatment The bald head Bargaining Value of an old plaid cloak The family horse The cost of an Indian present
32. - Nez Perce camp A chief with a hard name The Big Hearts of the East Hospitable treatment The Indian guides Mysterious councils The loquacious chief Indian tomb Grand Indian reception An Indian feast Town-criers Honesty of the Nez Perces The captain`s attempt at healing.
33. - Scenery of the Way-lee-way A substitute for tobacco Sublime scenery of Snake River The garrulous old chief and his cousin A Nez Perce meeting A stolen skin The scapegoat dog Mysterious conferences The little chief His hospitality The captain`s account of the United States His healing skill
34. - Fort Wallah-Wallah Its commander Indians in its neighborhood Exertions of Mr. Pambrune for their improvement Religion Code of laws Range of the Lower Nez Perces Camash, and other roots Nez Perce horses Preparations for departure Refusal of supplies Departure A laggard and glutton
35. - The uninvited guest Free and easy manners Salutary jokes A prodigal son Exit of the glutton A sudden change in fortune Danger of a visit to poor relations Plucking of a prosperous man A vagabond toilet A substitute for the very fine horse Hard travelling The uninvited guest and the patriarchal colt A beggar on horseback A catastrophe Exit of the merry vagabond
36. - The difficult mountain A smoke and consultation The captain`s speech An icy turnpike Danger of a false step Arrival on Snake River Return to Portneuf Meeting of comrades
37. - Departure for the rendezvous A war party of Blackfeet A mock bustle Sham fires at night Warlike precautions Dangers of a night attack A panic among horses Cautious march The Beer Springs A mock carousel Skirmishing with buffaloes A buffalo bait Arrival at the rendezvous Meeting of various bands
38. - Plan of the Salt Lake expedition Great sandy deserts Sufferings from thirst Ogden`s River Trails and smoke of lurking savages Thefts at night A trapper`s revenge Alarms of a guilty conscience A murderous victory Californian mountains Plains along the Pacific Arrival at Monterey Account of the place and neighborhood Lower California Its extent The Peninsula Soil Climate Production Its settlements by the Jesuits Their sway over the Indians Their expulsion Ruins of a missionary establishment Sublime scenery Upper California Missions Their power and policy Resources of the country Designs of foreign nations
39. - Gay life at Monterey Mexican horsemen A bold dragoon Use of the lasso Vaqueros Noosing a bear Fight between a bull and a bear Departure from Monterey Indian horse stealers Outrages committed by the travellers Indignation of Captain Bonneville
40. - Traveller`s tales Indian lurkers Prognostics of Buckeye Signs and portents The medicine wolf An alarm An ambush The captured provant Triumph of Buckeye Arrival of supplies Grand carouse Arrangements for the year Mr. Wyeth and his new-levied band. 40
41. - A voyage in a bull boat.
42. - Departure of Captain Bonneville for the Columbia Advance of Wyeth Efforts to keep the lead Hudson`s Bay party A junketing A delectable beverage Honey and alcohol High carousing The Canadian "bon vivant" A cache A rapid move Wyeth and his plans His travelling companions Buffalo hunting More conviviality An interruption.
43. - A rapid march A cloud of dust Wild horsemen "High Jinks" Horseracing and rifle-shooting The game of hand The fishing season Mode of fishing Table lands Salmon fishers The captain`s visit to an Indian lodge The Indian girl The pocket mirror Supper Troubles of an evil conscience.
44. - Outfit of a trapper Risks to which he is subjected Partnership of trappers Enmity of Indians Distant smoke A country on fire Gun Greek Grand Rond Fine pastures Perplexities in a smoky country Conflagration of forests.
45. - The Skynses Their traffic Hunting Food Horses A horse race Devotional feeling of the Skynses, Nez Perces and FlatheadsPrayers Exhortations A preacher on horseback Effect of religion on the manners of the tribes A new light.
46. - Scarcity in the camp Refusal of supplies by the Hudson`s Bay Company Conduct of the Indians A hungry retreat John Day`s River The Blue Mountains Salmon fishing on Snake River Messengers from the Crow country Bear River Valley immense migration of buffalo Danger of buffalo hunting A wounded Indian Eutaw Indians A "surround" of antelopes.
47. - A festive winter Conversion of the Shoshonies Visit of two free trappers Gayety in the camp A touch of the tender passion The reclaimed squaw An Indian fine lady An elopement A pursuit Market value of a bad wife.
48. - Breaking up of winter quarters Move to Green River A trapper and his rifle An arrival in camp A free trapper and his squaw in distress Story of a Blackfoot belle.
49. - Rendezvous at Wind River Campaign of Montero and his brigade in the Crow country Wars between the Crows and Blackfeet Death of Arapooish Blackfeet lurkers Sagacity of the horse Dependence of the hunter on his horse Return to the settlements.
Appendix - Nathaniel J. Wyeth, and the Trade of the Far West