Agnes Christina Laut.

The conquest of the great Northwest: being the story of the ..., Volumes 1-2 online

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the brushwood, throwing beaver one way, traps
another. Jacques and John Grey were pursued on
the open plain. Seeing their horses could not save
them, our two heroes wheeled and rode pell mell into
the enemy. The Piegans asked them to exchange
guns. They refused. The chief seized Jacques'
rifle, but Jacques jerked it free, saying in Piegan:
'If you wish to kill us, kill us at once; but our guns
you shall never get while we are alive.' The Piegans
smiled, shook hands, asked where the camp was,
and ordered the men to lead the way to it. With
pulses beating, Jacques and John advanced with
the unwelcome guests to the camp, a distance of
eight miles. A little before arriving, Jacques broke
away at full speed from his captors whooping and
yelling — 'Blackf eet ! Blackf eet ! ' In an instant, camp
was in an uproar. Of the ten men in camp, eight
rushed to save the horses. Myself and the other in-
stantly pointed the big gun, lighted the match and
sent the women away. The party hove in sight.
Seeing John with them, restrained me from firing.
I signaled them to pause. Our horses were then
secured. I received the Indians coldly. All our
people had time to reach camp and take up a posi-
tion of defense. I invited the Indians to smoke.
After dark, they entertained us to music and dancing,

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which we would gladly have dispensed with. All
slept armed. In the morning I gave the Piegans
presents and told them to be off and play no tricks
as we would follow them and punish them. The
big gun did it. Sixty-five beaver to-day."

Moving down Snake River in October, Ross met
a party of Americans from the Big Horn from Major
Henry's brigade of St. Louis. They had nine hun-
dred beaver but would not sell to Ross. Ross
reached Spokane House with about $18,000 of fur
in November. Here he helped to fit out Peter Skene
Ogden for that first trip of his to the Snake Country,
of which there is no record except what Ross gives
here. He says Ogden set out with one hundred and
seventy-six men under him, and definitely counted
on collecting 14,500 beaver. No doubt the St. Louis
trappers that Ross left on the Snake were the men,
who "relieved" Peter Skene of his furs, and it is in-
teresting to note that at the price St. Louis traders
paid for furs, $5.50 a beaver, those 14,500 Hudson's
Bay beaver would make the exact amount with which
General Ashley retired from the Indian Country.

Notes to Chapter XXX. — The contents of this chapter are
drawn (i) as to reorganization from Colin Robertsons manu-
script journal and Nicholas Garry's Journal; (2) as to the Co-
lumbia, from Ross' manuscript journals sent to H. B. C. House,
London. Ross was the author of three well-known books on
western life, but this journey is taken entire from his official
report to H. B. C. — a daily record of some six hvmdred foolscap
folios.

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CHAPTER XXXI

1824-1838

journals of peter skene ogden, explorer and
fur trader, over the regions now known
as washington, oregon, california, idaho,
montana, nevada and utah — he relieves
Ashley's men of 10,000 beaver — ^he finds
nevada— he discovers mt. shasta — ^he tricks
the americans at salt lake.

GAY were the fur brigades that swept out
from old Fort Vancouver for the South.
With long white hair streaming to the
wind, Doctor McLoughlin usually stood on the
green slope outside the picketed walls, giving a per-
sonal hand-shake, a personal God-bless-you to every
packer, every horseman of the motley throng setting
out on the yearly campaign for beaver. There were
Iroquois from the St. Lawrence. There were Ojib-
ways from Lake Superior. There were Cree and
Assiniboine and Sioux of the prairie, these for the
most part to act as packers and hunters and trappers
in the horse brigades destined inland for the moun-
tains. Then, there were freemen, a distinct body of
trappers owning allegiance to no man, but joining the

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Company's brigades for safety's sake and selling the
beaver they trapped to the trader who paid the
highest price. Of coast Indians, there were very
few. The salmon runs of the river gave the coast
tribes too easy an existence. They were useless for
the hardships of inland service. A few Cayuses
and Flatheads, and Walla Wallas might join the
brigades for the adventure, but they did not belong
to the Company's regular retainers.

Three classes, the Company divided each of the
hunting brigades into — gentlemen, white men,
hunters. The gentlemen usually went out in twos —
a commander and his lieutenant, dressed in cocked
hat and buttons and ruffles and satin waistcoats,
with a pistol somewhere and very often a sword
stuck in the high boot-leg. These were given the
best places in the canoes, or mounted the finest
horses of the mountain brigades. The second class
were either servants to beat the furs and cook meals,
or young clerks sent out to be put in training for
some future chieftaincy. But by far the most pic-
turesque part of the brigades were the motley hunters
— ^Indians, Half-breeds, white men — in buckskin
suits with hawks' bills down the leggings, scarlet or
blue handkerchief binding back the lank hair, bright
sash about the waist and moccasins beaded like
works of art. Then somewhere in each brigade was

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a musician, a singer to lead in the voyageurs' songs,
perhaps a piper from the Highlands of Scotland to
set the bagpipes droning "The Campbells Are Com-
ing," between the rock walls of the Columbia. And,
most amazing thing of all, in these transmontane
brigades the men* were accompanied by wives and
families.

A last hand shake with Doctor McLoughlin; tears
mingled with fears over partings that were many of
them destined to be forever, and out they swept —
the Oregon brigades, with laughter and French voy-
ageurs' song and Highland bagpipes. A dip of the
steersman's lifted paddle, and the Northern brigades
of sixty men each were off for Athabasca and the
Saskatchewan and the St. Lawrence. A bugle call,
or the beat of an Indian tom-tom, and the long lines
of pack horses, two and three hundred in each bri-
gade, decked with ribbons as for a country fair,
wound into the mountain defiles like desert caravans
of wandering Arabs. Oregon meant more in those
days than a wedge stuck in between Washington
and California. It was everything west of the
Rockies that Spain did not claim. Then Chief
factor McLoughlin, whom popular imagination re-
garded as not having a soul above a beaver skin,
used to retire to his fort and offer up prayer for those
in peril by land and sea.

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The man chosen to lead the southern brigades to
the mountains and whose wanderings led to the
exploration of Oregon, northern California, Idaho,
Montana, Wyoming, Nevada and Utah— was a short
rotund, fun-loving, young barrister of Montreal, Peter
Skene Ogden. His ancestors had founded Ogdens-
burg of New York State and at an earlier day in the
history of Scotland had won the surname "Skene,"
through saving the life of King Malcolm by stabbing
a wolf with a dagger— "a skene." During the
American Revolution, his father left New York for
Montreal, and had risen to be chief justice of the
courts there, so that the young barrister could claim
as relatives the foremost families of New York State
and the Province of Quebec; but an evil star pre-
sided at the birth of Peter Skene.

He was finishing his law course when his boyhood
voice changed, and instead of the round orotund of
manhood came a little, high, falsetto squeak that
combined with Peter's little, fat figure and round
head proved so irresistibly comical, it blasted his
hopes as a pleader at the bar. John Jacob Astor
was in Montreal wrangling out his quarrel over
Mississippi territory with the Northwest Company.
Judge Ogden was a friend of Astor's. Peter applied
to go out to Astoria on the Pacific. Astor took him
as supercargo on The Lark; but in 1813, The Lark

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Journals of Peter Skene Ogden .

was wrecked in a squall two hundred miles off the
Sandwich Islands, and young .Ogden was of those
who, lashed to the spars of the drifting wreck, fell
to the mercies of the Hawaiians, and finally reached
Astoria only to find it captured by the Northwest
Company. That was his introduction to the fur
trade of Oregon, and it was typical. McLoughlin
had no sooner moved headquarters from Astoria
inland to Fort Vancouver, than Peter Skene was sent
to the Flatheads of the West. Here, one of his serv-
ants got into a scufile with the Indians over a horse,
and Ogden was carried to the Flathead chief to be
shot.

"What?" he demanded of the astonished chief.
"Do you think a white man is to be bullied over a
horse? Do you think a white man fears to be shot?
Shoot," and he bared his breast to the pistol point.

But the Flathead chief did not shoot. "He brave
man," said the chief, and he forthwith invited Ogden
to remain in the tent as a friend, and proposed an-
other way out of the quarrel that would be of mutual
benefit to the Company and to the Flatheads. The
Company wanted furs; the Flatheads, arms. Let
Ogden marry the chiefs daughter — Julia Mary. It
was not such a union as his relatives of New York
would approve, or his father, the chief justice of
Montreal. She was not like the young ladies he

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had known in the seminaries of the East, but her
accomplishments were of more use to Peter Ogden.
When Peter Skene walked out of the Flatheads*
tent, he had paid fifty ponies for a wife and was fol-
lowed by the chief's daughter. To what period of
his life they belong, I do not know. His own jour-
nals tell nothing of them, but legends are still current
in the West about this Flathead princess of the wilds;
how when a spring torrent would have swept away
a raft-load of furs, Julia leaped into the flood tide,
roped the raft to her own waist, and towed the furs
ashore; how when the American traders, who re-
lieved Ogden of his furs, in 1825, stampeded the
Hudson's Bay horses and Julia's horse galloped off
with her first-bom dangling from the saddle straps
in a moss bag, she dashed into the American lines.
With a bound, she was in the saddle. She had
caught up the halter rope to round baby and horses
back to the Hudson's Bay camp, when a drunken

Yankee trader yelled, "Shoot that d squaw!"

But the squaw was already hidden in a whirl of dust
stampeding back to the British tents. This, then,
was the man (and this the wife, who accompanied
him) chosen to lead the mountain brigades through
the unexplored mountain fastnesses between the
prairie and the Pacific. Lewis and Clarke had
crossed to the Columbia, and the Spaniards to the

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Colorado, but between the Colorado and the Co-
lumbia was an absolutely unknown region.

With Ogden as first lieutenant went Tom McKay.
McKay was the best shot in the brigade, a fearless
fighter, a tireless pathfinder, and one old record
says "combined the affable manners of a French
seigneur with the wild-eyed alertness of a moun-
taineer." With hatred of the Indian bred in him
from the time of his father's murder, he could no
more see a savage hostile without cracking off his
rifle than a war horse could smell powder and not
prance. Among the trappers were rough, brave
fellows — freemen, French Canadians — whose names
became famous in Oregon history: La Framboise,
Astor's old interpreter, who became a pathfinder in
California; Gervais, who alternately served Ameri-
can and British fur traders, helped to find Mt. Shasta,
finally sold his trapping outfit and retired to the
French colony of the Willamette; Goddin and Pay-
ette and Pierre, the Iroquois, and Portneuf , who have
left their names to famous places of Idaho. The
brigade numbered a score of white men, some fifty or
sixty nondescript trappers, as many women, some
children and an average of three horses for each
rider in the party. These horses came from the
Cayuse Indians of the Walla Walla plain. This was
the rendezvous after leaving Fort Vancouver. Here

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was always good pasturage for the horses, and the
fur post had store of pemmican traded from the
buflfalo hunters of the Cayuse and Flathead nations.
Pouring into the south side of the Columbia be-
tween Walla Walla and Fort Vancouver, were the
Walla Walla, Umatilla, John Day's, the River of the
Falls. In the mountains southward, were the beaver
swamps. As the entire region was unknown, Ogden
determined to lead his brigade West close to the
Columbia, then strike up the fartherest west river —
double back eastward on his own tracks at the head-
waters, and so come down to the Columbia again
by the Snake. The circle would include all the
south of Oregon and Idaho. Rewrites: "Monday,
November 21st, 1825 — Having sent off all hands
yesterday from Walla Walla, I took my departure
and overtook my party awaiting my arrival. We are
following the banks of the Columbia southwest.
Our road is hilly, and we have great trouble with our
horses, for they are all wild. We are followed by a
large camp of Indians bent on stealing our horses.
Although we rise at day dawn, we are never ready to
start before ten o'clock, the horses are so difficult
to catch. Wednesday, 30th — ^We have reached John
Day's River. A great many Indians have coUectsed
about us. Each night the beaver traps are set ottt,
and in the morning some have been stolen by the

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Indians. Many horses missing, having been stolen.
This does not prevent raising camp, as by remaining
we should lose more horses than we could get* back.
Saturday, December 3rd — ^We bade farewell to the
Columbia River and struck south up the River of
the Falls. It is scarcely credible, though we are
such a short distance from the Columbia, what a
difference there is in the country. This soil is rich.
The oaks are large and abundant. The grass is
green, though at a distance on both sides all the hills
are powdered with snow. Sunday, December 4th —
It is now very cold, for we have begun ascending the
mountains and camp wherever we can find a brook.
The man I sent back for the lost horses, found them
on the north side of the Columbia. He was obliged
to give the Indians thirty balls of powder to, get them
back, no doubt a trick, and the thief, himself , restored
them, a common practice with all the Indians. We
are coming to the end of the Columbia hills. Mt.
Hood, a grand and noble sight, bears west; Mt.
Helen's north; and to the south are lofty mountains
the shape of sugar loaves. On all of these are pines,
that add to the grandeur. After descending the
divide we reached a plain and struck east, gathering
some curious petrifactions of fir trees. Our horses
are greatly fatigued, for the road is of cut rocks.
Deer are abundant. We saw upward of one hun-

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dred to-day, but too swift to be overtaken on this
dangerous ground. Many of the bare hills are of
blood-red color. In this quarter are three boiling
fountains of sulphur. I must find an Indian, who
will guide us. If not, we must attempt to cross east
without. Our horses are saddle deep in mire."

From the time Ogden crossed the sky line of the
Blue Mountains for the headwaters of the Snake,
his diflSculties began. Hunters to the fore for the
game that was to feed the camp, the cavalcade
began zigzagging up the steep mountain sides.
Here, windfall of pines and giant firs, interlocked
twice the height of a man, scattered the wild Cayuse
ponies in the forest. There, the cut rocks, steep as
a wall and sharp as knives, crowded the pack horses
to the edge of bottomless precipices where one mis-
step meant instant death for rider and horse. And
the mountain torrents tearing over the rocks swept
horses away at fording places, so that once Ogden
was compelled to follow the torrent down its canon to
calmer waters and there build a canoe. In this way
his hunters crossed over by threes and fours, but how
to get the fractious horses across? It was too swift
for men to swim, and the bronchos refused to
plunge in. Getting two or three of the wise old bell-
mares, that are in every string of packers, at the end
of a long rope, the canoemen shot across the whirl of

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mid-stream and got footing on the opposite shore.
Then by dint of pulling and yelling the frantic horses
were half frightened, half-tumbled into the river, and
came out right side up a hundred yards farther down.
At other places, the cut-rocks — a local term that ex-
plains itself — ^were so steep and sharp, Ogden ordered
all hands dismounted and half the packs carried up on
the men's backs. It was high up the mountain, and
the snow that falls almost continuously in winter
above tree line made the rocks slippery as ice. For
a few days, owing to the altitude and cold, no beaver
had been taken, no game seen. The men were toil-
ing on empty stomachs and short tempers. Night
fell with all hands still sweating up the slippery rocks.
A slave Indian lost his self control and struck Jo.
Despard, one of the freemen, on the back. Throw-
ing down his load, Despard beat the rascal soundly,
but when the battle was over and all the bad temper
expended, the slave Indian was dead. Poor Despard
was mad with grief, for no death was ever passed un-
punished by the Hudson's Bay. Sewing the mur-
dered man in rolls of buflfalo skin, they buried him
with service of prayers on the lonely heights of the
Blue Mountains. "It is not in my power," writes
Ogden, *'to send Despard to Vancouver. Until we
return to the headwaters, I will let the affair remain
quiet. The poor fellow is wretched over the murder."

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The Compiest of the Great Northwest

During the march eastward across the valleys,
between the Cascade range and the Rockies, one
hundred and sixty traps for beaver were set out each
night. In the mornings, when camp was broken,
from thirty to sixty beaver were considered a good
night's work. Snake Indians were met and a guide
engaged, but the Snakes were notorious horse thieves,
and a guard was kept round the horses each night.
Ogden makes a curious discovery about the beaver in
this r^on. ** Owing to the mildness of the climate,"
he writes, "beaver here do not lay up a stock of pro-
visions as in cold countries." As the cold of mid-
winter came, the beaver seemed simply to disappear
to other haunts. In vain, the men chiselled and
trenched the ice of the rivers above and below
the beaver dams. The beaver houses were found
empty. Tom McKay was scouring the cut-rocks
for game with his band of hunters; but it is the sea-
son when game leaves the cut-rocks, and night after
night the tired hunters came in hungry and empty
handed. The few beavers trapped were frequently
stolen at night, for there are no ten commandments
to hungry men, and in spite of cold and wet the
trappers began sleeping in the swamps near their
traps to keep guard. " If we do not soon find game,"
writes Ogden on December 22nd, "we shall surely
starve. My Indian guide threatens to leave us. If

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we could only find the headwaters of the Snake with-
out him, he might go to the devil. We do not see the
trace of an animal. I feel very uneasy about food.
Sunday, December 25th — This being Christmas, all
hands remained in camp and I held prayers. The
cold increases. Prospects, gloomy; not twenty
pounds of food in camp. If we escape starvation,
God preserve us, it will depend on Tom McKay's
hunters. On collecting our horses, we found one-
third limping. Many of them could not stand and
lay helpless on the plain. If this cold does not soon
pass, my situation with so many men will be terrible.
December 31st — One of the freemen, three days with-
out food, killed one of our horses. This example will
soon be followed by others. Only one beaver to-day.
Gave the men half rations for to-morrow, which will
be devoured to-night, as three-quarters in camp have
been two days without food. Sunday, New Year's,
1826 — Remained in camp. Gave all hands a dram.
We had more fasting than feasting. This is the first
New Year's day since I came to the fur country that
my men were without food. Only four beaver to-
day. Sent my men to the mountains for deer. Our
horses can scarcely crawl for want of grass; but
march they must, or we starve. In the evening,
Tom McKay and men arrived without seeing the
track of an animal, so this blasts my hope. What

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will become of us? So many are starving in camp
that they start before daylight to steal beaver out of
their neighbors' traps. Had the laconic pleasure of
seeing a raven watching us to-day! The wolves
follow our camp. Two horses killed for the kettle.
January nth — Reached the source of Day's River.
Our horses are too lame to move. A horrible road
we have had for ten days of rock and stone. We have
taken in all two hundred and sixty-five beaver and
nine otter here. Our course is due east over barren
hills, a lofty range of mountains on both sides covered
with Norway pines. Thank God if we can cross
these mountains I trust to reach Snake River.
There are six feet of snow on the mountain pass here.
We must try another. For ten days we have had
only one meal every two days. January 29th — ^A
horse this day killed — his hoof was found entirely
worn away, only the raw stump left."

February 2nd, they left the streams flowing west
and began following down a canon of burnt windfall
along the banks of a river that ran northeast. The
divide had been crossed, and the worn bronchos
were the first to realize that the trails of the mountains
were passed. Suddenly pricking forward, they gal-
loped full pace into the valley of Burnt River, a
tributary of the Snake. "A more gloomy looking
country," writes Ogden, "I never saw. We have

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been on short allowance too long and all resemble so
many skeletons. We are skin and bone. More
beggarly looking fellows the world could not produce.
All the gay trappings at the beginning of the march
have disappeared. Still I have no complaint of mj
men. Day after day, they labor in quest of food
and beaver without shoe or moccasin to their feet
The frozen ground is hardly comfortable for people
so scantily clothed. Ten days east is the buflfalo
country of the plains, but in our present weak state
we could not reach it in a month." Ogden was now
in the beaver country of the Snakes and to avoid star-
vation divided his brigade into small bands under
McKay and Gervais and Sylvaille. These, he scat-
tered along the tributaries of the Snake River north
and south, in what are now known as Oregon and
Idaho, some to the "Rivier Malheur (Unfortunate
River) so-called because this is the place where our
goods were discovered and stolen by the Americans
last year"; others to Sandwich Island River, and
Reed's River, and Payette's and the Malade,
given this name because beaver here lived on
some root which made the flesh poisonous to the
trapper.

Few Snakes were met, because this was the season
when the Snakes went buflfalo hunting, but "in our
travels this day (26 February) we saw a Snake In-

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dian's hut near the road. Curiosity induced me to
enter. I had often heard these wretches subsisted
on ants, locusts and small fish not larger than min-
nies (minnows) ; and I wanted to find out if it were
not an exaggeration, but to my surprise I found it
was true. One of the dishes was filled with ants
collected in the morning before the thaw commences.
The locusts are gathered in summer in store for the
winter. The Indians prefer the ants. On this food
the poor wretches drag out existence for four months
of the year and are happy. During February, we
took one hundred and seventy-four beaver. Had the
weather been mild, we should have had three thou-



Online LibraryAgnes Christina LautThe conquest of the great Northwest: being the story of the ..., Volumes 1-2 → online text (page 42 of 50)