ON THE OLD FRONTIERS
CHARLES M. RUSSELL
GREAT FALLS, MONTANA
o Discovery of Rocky Mountains 1
The Story of Fort Benton 4
Adventures of Hugh Glass 8
Three Musketeers of the Missouri 12
Alexander Harvey, Bad Man 16
Kit Carson 20
XJ Yellowstone Kelly 24
The Pony Express 28
The Fetterman Disaster 32
The Wagon Box Fight 36
Chief Joseph 41
Tragedies of Gold Seekers 45
The Texas Trail 49
Battles of Crows .... 53
THE fourteen stories in this volume are taken from the series, Back-Trailing
on the Old Frontiers, illustrated by Charles M. Russell, which have ap-
peared during the past year in Sunday editions of daily newspapers in all
parts of the United States. There have been so many demands for the publica-
tion of these historical sketches of the old west in book form that it was decided
to put them forth in three volumes at a popular price. This is the first of the
three. It is planned to publish the other two volumes during the next year.
In the compilation of these stories, which narrate briefly some of the out-
standing incidents of dramatic interest in the pioneering days of the "Far West,"
we wish to acknowledge our indebtedness to such volumes as Pathfinders of the
West, by Agnes C. Laut; The History of the American Fur Trade of the Far
West, by Hiram M. Chittenden ; The Conquest of the Missouri, by Joseph Mills
Hanson ; Beyond the Old Frontiers, by George Bird Grinnell ; Indian Fights and
Fighters, by Cyrus Townsend Brady ; and the Overland Stage to California, by
Frank A. Root and William E. Connelley.
The illustrations by Mr. Russell, because of their accuracy of detail his-
torically, are well worth close study. He is generally recognized as the greatest
living portrayer of the frontier life of the West, and is probably the foremost
living authority on the Northwest Plains Indians, whom he has studied for more
than forty years.
These stories are of much interest t<3 children, and have been used freely in
history classes in the schools of Milwaukee, Minneapolis and the many other
cities where they have appeared in Sunday newspapers.
THE CHEELY-RABAN SYNDICATE.
Great Falls, Montana, December, 1922.
Discovery of Rocky Mountains
WHEN France was mistress of half of North America the dream of the
many bold spirits among her explorers and voyageurs was the finding
of a northwest passage to the Western sea, as they designated the
Pacific ocean, and to this end they devoted much valorous effort. It meant
fighting their way across trackless wilderness for thousands of miles and the
braving of countless dangers. These courageous men went forth into the haunts
of wild beasts and the Indian country for the glory of France and adventure.
The bones of many of them were left to bleach where they died, and all they left
behind them was the record of a vain effort, as far as the finding of an outlet to
the Pacific was concerned.
It was this quest that led to the discovery of the Rocky mountains. It seems
singular that the great backbone of the North American continent, with peaks
measuring three miles high from sea level silhouetting the sky for hundreds of
miles north and south, was first seen by a man of the white race only 179 years
Prominent among the gentleman adventurers and explorers of the New
France of that day was the Sieur de La Verendrye. All his life he had ridden
through the western wilds, going where no white man had gone before, seeking
for that which he and his fellows could not find, and finally, in his old age,
passing on the work of finding a passage to the west to his devoted sons, Pierre
and the Chevalier, who had accompanied him on many of his expeditions. And
although the La Verendryes failed to find a way to the sea of the west they
carried the tri-color of France far into unexplored territory and helped to make
possible the achievements and discoveries of those who followed them.
In one of his expeditions the elder La Verendrye went far into the west,
reaching what is now North Dakota. There, on the Missouri river, he found
the Mandan Indians and was the first white man to visit them. These Indians
lived in comfortable huts and tilled fields and were far in advance of their red
brothers of other tribes. La Verendrye established friendly relations with
them, and it was because of the good impression that he made that the tribe
afforded sustenance and shelter to many explorers who came after him, including
Lewis and Clark.
The Mandans told La Verendrye of many things which interested him.
They said that far to the west was a great body of salt water, a lake, the waters
of which rose and fell, and on the shores of which abode white men who wore
beards, and who worshipped the master of life in great houses which they had
built for this purpose, "holding books, the leaves of which were like Indian corn,,
and singing in their worship."
From this La Verendrye assumed two things. Indians who had visited the
Mandans had been on the shore of the sea for which he was looking, or had
come in contact with Spanish settlements to the west. He thought perhaps the
Spaniards were getting a foothold too far north and were putting French in-
terests in jeopardy. So he made the long trip back from the Upper Missouri
country to Montreal to acquaint his government with this important news and
to get authority and money to lead an expedition farther west to block the
Spaniard, and perhaps to find the Western sea. His tale was listened to by an
indifferent governor, and no cash was forthcoming.
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BACK-TRAILING ON THE OLD FRONTIERS 3
By this time La Verendrye was in the winter of life, old because of the life
of hardship he had led, and broken in health. He felt unequal to the task of
continuing his work, which he must do on his own resources, and reluctantly
passed his mission on to his sons, Pierre and the Chevalier, whom he had
schooled in woodcraft, and who shared his enthusiasm for his purpose. Without
means and with but two fellow countrymen, they went out into the west, their
destination being the land of the Mandan nation, where, after a trip of great
hardship, they arrived in the spring of 1742. Their purpose was to learn the
source of the stories which the Mandans had told their father, and to continue
the search for the passage into the west. The Mandans, their father's friends,
received them most hospitably.
At that time the Mandans were expecting a visit from a tribe known as the
Horse Indians, migratory redskins whom the Mandan chiefs believed could
guide the French explorers to salt water. The La Verendryes waited for a month
and then, with Mandan guides, started out in search of them. Instead, they
found the Crows, who could but repeat the tale that had come to the Mandans,
and sent them further west with Crow guides to the Bow Indians, of the Sioux
When the La Verendryes arrived at the Bow encampment they found these
Indians about to go to war with the Snake tribe, and were gathering their
warriors and those of their allies in great numbers. They knew nothing of the
way to the Western sea, but suggested that the Frenchmen accompany them on
their expedition against the Snakes, which meant traveling to the west and to-
wards the mountains, where, from Snake prisoners or other western Indians they
might be able to learn something of the much sought for passage. The French-
men gladly accepted the invitation, and the great force of warriors and their
families moved slowly towards the country of their enemies, gathering strength
as they traveled.
On January 1, 1743, a snow-capped mountain range loomed up before them,
the peaks, in the far distance, scintillating in the bright sunshine like diamonds.
The poetic Frenchmen named them the "Shining Mountains," as they are known
in poetry and Indian legend to this day. For the first time the white race,
through the eyes of the La Verendryes, was looking upon the great range of the
Rocky mountains. Historians are agreed that the mountains which met their
vision at this point was the Big Horn range., about 120 miles east of Yellowstone
National Park. At that time the explorers and their Indian friends must have
been near the northeastern boundary of what is now Wyoming.
In passing, it should be said that there was no battle fought between the
Bows and Snakes at that time, as the tribes missed each other. The La Veren-
dryes then parted company with the Bows and gave up their quest for a way to
the Western sea. On an eminence, now generally supposed to be in South Dakota,
on the banks of the Missouri river, they buried a leaden plate engraved with
the arms of the king of France and built over it a cairn of stones.
At the end of 1743 they were back at the Assinniboine river. For thirteen
years they had followed a hopeless quest. Instead of a Western sea they had
found a sea of prairie, the Rocky Mountains and two great rivers, the Saskatche-
wan and the Missouri. On their arrival at Montreal the elder La Verendrye was
decorated with the Cross of St. Louis and the two sons were given minor posts
in the army. The father died in 1750, and after the English had conquered
Canada, the eldest son sailed for France on a ship which was lost with all on
board. The younger son remained in Canada.
The Story of Fort Benton
ON the banks of the Missouri river, more than 3,500 miles from where the
waters of that stream flow with those of the Mississippi into the Gulf of
Mexico, stand a square bastion and fragments of the walls of old Fort
Benton. The ruins of this old trading post of the American Fur company forms
one of the points of greatest historic interest to be found between the Mississippi
river and the Pacific coast. Before the ruins of the old fort the turgid waters of
the Missouri flow calmly past a mile of embankment that is one of the most
historic water fronts in America and the most remote docking place from the
sea for steamboats on any waterway in the world.
Half a century ago the levee along the river bank here, which for 30 years
from 1859 to 1889 was the terminal port for steam craft plying between St. Louis
and Fort Benton, was the scene of the greatest activity, with steamboats arriving
and departing amid much bustle of loading and unloading cargoes. Today the
river bank is grass-grown, with not a trace of its old uses being evident, and it
forms a small riverside park for the sleepy little town that lives much in the past
and takes great pride in its traditions and history. During the three decades that
it formed an inland port of real importance, handsome river steamers from down
river unloaded during the summer months each season vast stores of merchan-
dise for the gold camps, army forts and trading posts of the Upper Missouri
country, while millions upon millions of dollars in gold dust were taken aboard
for transportation downstream to the" eastern mints. Along this strip of river
front stepped ashore many of the pioneers and soldiers who were to become out-
standing figures in the history of the west. It was here, too, that the ill-fated
General Thomas Francis Meagher, illustrious Civil war cavalry leader, was
drowned one night while serving as governor of Montana.
Before these days, however, the old trading post whose crumbling ruins now
attract the interest of the tourist had a history of thrilling interest, for in the '40s
and '50s Fort Benton was equaled only in importance among Indian trading
centers by Bent's Fort in Colorado and one or two other of the southwestern
posts. It was the greatest American rival of the Hudson's Bay Company's
trading outposts, and before the day of the steamboat on the upper river shipped
annually great quantities of furs down the Missouri to St. Louis in mackinaw
boats manned by French and American voyageurs of the earliest pioneer type.
Fur trading on the Upper Missouri, which had its beginnings as early as
1807 at Fort Manuel on the Yellowstone river, centered in 1831 at Fort Benton,
at the mouth of the Yellowstone, which became the headquarters of the great
American Fur Company. Various other trading posts were built on the river
above Fort Union in the Blackfeet country, and most of these had short-lived,
tragic histories. Then, in 1841, it was decided to build an important fortified
post as far up the river as practicable, and Fort Lewis was erected five miles
above the site chosen later for Fort Benton, and on the south side of the Mis-
souri. This proving an unfavorable point for trading, Major Alexander Cul-
bertson, then chief factor for the American Fur Company, began the construction
in 1846 of Fort Benton.
Major Culbertson, who for 30 years was a leading figure in Upper Missouri
history, entered the service of the American Fur Company in 1833, journeying
from St. Louis to Fort Union on the steamer Assinniboine in company with
BACK-TRAILING ON THE OLD FRONTIERS 5
Prince Maximilian of Wied, who was a guest at the post for some time. Develop-
ing great influence over the Blackfeet Indians in trade relations with this hostile
tribe, Culbertson soon succeeded the first factor of the company, Kenneth
McKenzie, in supreme command in the fur trade. Ten years later, because of
the growing importance of the Blackfeet trade, it became necessary to remove
headquarters higher up the river than Fort Union, and Fort Benton gradually
grew into chief importance.
This fort had an enclosing wall 250 feet square. It was built of adobe
blocks, or sun-dried bricks, for the manufacture of which Mexican labor was
imported from the southwest. The walls of the fort were 32 inches in thickness,
and at two corners of the enclosure diagonally opposite from each other, were
two bastions, in which were mounted cannon which commanded the walls outside
Between 1846 and 1860 Indian trade at Fort Benton was carried on profit-
ably to the American company, and until about this time the post continued to
grow in importance as a receiving point for furs and robes, but in 1856 there was
an incident outside of the usual routine of the garrison's experience that was
destined to mark the beginning of a new period in the development of the west.
This was the arrival of a mountaineer, one Silverthorne, at the post with a buck-
skin sack filled with gold dust, which he wished to exchange for goods. He said
he had been prospecting in the mountains to the southwest and had made a rich
strike. He demanded trade articles to the value of $1,000 for the gold dust, and
being finally given the goods, departed. The next spring the gold dust was sent
east to the mint and the return realized was $1,525. This was the earliest ex-
change of gold dust in the northwestern Rocky Mountain area, and no more was
received at Fort Benton until 1860.
In 1859 the first steamboat arrived at Fort Benton from St. Louis. This
was the Chippewa, and its coming signalized the coming of a new chapter in the
history of the post, and it also marked the high point of the fur trading period.
The late 50's and early 60's .were the palmy days of that era at the fort. The
Indians came from far and near. There were not only the Blackfeet, but also the
Crows, Kootenais, Flatheads and Pend d'Oreilles. In those days a "trade" was
the occasion of no little ceremony. A band of Indians, having been out on a hunt
for a sufficient period to have made a good catch of skins, would return to the
fort. The morning following their arrival the warriors, and even the women
and children, would paint their faces, dress in the best of their barbaric costumes
and move in a body to the gates. First came the chief, clad in buckskins and
beadwork or porcupine-quill ornamentation. Usually he wore as ornaments bear
claws, eagle feathers, weasel skins and elk teeth. He would be armed with bow
and arrows, with a large, round and highly-painted shield and a lengthy hunting
When close to the fort the Indians would begin to chant a song. Then from
the cannon of the fort there roared forth a salute, the flag was run aloft and the
portals were thrown open. The factor would emerge to greet the head chief, and
the latter usually presented the factor with a fine horse or with some other
valuable gift. The factor then served the chiefs with a meal and a dram of
whisky, and after a lengthy and dignified silence, during which the pipe was
passed, the trade would begin. In exchange for the furs, as they were counted,
the Indian would receive trade balls of lead, weighing one-half ounce each, and
these they presented at the store in exchange for goods, which usually were
blankets, cloth, beads, knives, flint steels, bracelets, rings, etc.
One of the curious happenings at Fort Benton in 1862 was a "tobacco
BACK-TRAILING ON THE OLD FRONTIERS 7
famine." The supply of tobacco gave out early in March, and there was no hope
of relief before the arrival of the first steamboat in May. At first little was
thought of the shortage of this article, but soon the effects became evident.
The garrison at this time consisted of the governor, or "bourgeois" ; a clerk,
an interpreter, several carpenters and blacksmiths, cooks and hunters ; and some
80 laborers. The fare was extremely plain, consisting usually of such game as
the hunters might procure, and hominy, although the governor, clerk and other
more important employes were also given rice, sugar, dried fruit and occasionally
biscuits. As the men were quite closely confined to the fort, the quality of food
served and lack of entertainment made, their lives seem most monotonous. They
were inclined to be discontented and quarrelsome, and when their tobacco gave
out, they began to grow sullen and morose,. Occasionally one of the garrison
would bring forth a small amount, which he sold readily for $10 per ounce in
gold. By this time considerable gold dust was being received from the new
diggings at Bannack. Old frontiersmen, who had often in emergencies in the
wilderness gone for days without food uncomplainingly and had suffered all
manner of hardships, seemed to forget their manhood under the insatiable crav-
ing for tobacco and surrendered themselves to spells of rage that resulted in
many fights and several killings. It was found that the man who was occasion-
ally producing and selling tobacco had procured his store by tearing up the floor
and gathering the crumbs of the weed that had sifted through the cracks.
The first steamboat was eagerly watched for because of the tobacco it would
bring, and the general misery was increased when word at length arrived that
the boat had been held up by low water some 20 miles below the. fort. Some of
the garrison started out on foot to meet the boat and bought all they could carry
at $1.50 per pound. Hurrying back to the fort with this they reaped a good
profit by selling it for from $6 to $10 per pound.
In 1864 the beginning of the end of the fur trade was foreseen by the
American Fur Company, which sold Fort Benton to a private firm. In that year
the building of the town outside of the fort also began. In 1870 Fort Benton
became a military post, and continued to house a garrison for several years, when
it was abandoned and its gradual decay started.
As Fort Benton's river traffic grew, its importance as a distributing center
for an enormous area in the northwest increased. During the 70s the Diamond R
and other freighting companies with headquarters there had hundreds of wagon
trains, pulled by oxen, and mules hauling freight as far north as the Hudson Bay
posts in Canada and as far south as Utah. Contracts for hauling all freight to
Indian agencies and army posts in the northern Rocky Mountain region were let
at Fort Benton. One firm of traders there supplied the Royal Northwest Mounted
Police of Canada with equipment and provisions and even acted as paymaster
to the force.
In those days Fort Benton was a booming and colorful frontier town. Its
population included Mexicans and Spaniards from the south, French voyageurs
from Canada, Indians and halfbreeds of every western tribe, Yankees from the
Atlantic seaboard, Missourians, and gold miners from California. Fortunes were
made there by merchant princes. It earned the reputation of being the richest
town per capita in the world.
Then came the railroads and the end of river traffic. During the '80s the
town began to lose ground. Gradually its population has diminished. But today,
three-quarters of a century after the fort was built there, it remains the most
interesting spot from a historic standpoint in the northwest, with a wealth of
romance and tradition behind it that is equaled by few towns in America.
Adventures of Hugh Glass
THE king of wild beasts of the Rocky Mountains is the grizzly bear. While
seldom encountered today excepting in the remotest and most inaccessible
fastnesses of the Rockies, this monarch of the wilderness a century ago was
the one animal which hunters and trappers considered really dangerous. Griz-
zlies were called by the earlier explorers "white bear," and many were the narrow
escapes related by members of the Lewis and Clark party and other frontiersmen
who were attacked by monsters of this species and threatened with death in a
terrible form. There were few among the mountain men who had not had disas-
trous experiences with them at one time or another.
The grizzly bear is distinguished from other species of bear by a number of
marked characteristics, such as facial profile, shape of anterior claws, color of
hair and its lack of ability to climb trees. The color varies greatly, but there is
usually enough white hair in its fur to give it a grayish color. In size the grizzly
averages about six feet in length from nose to tail tip, although they have often
been found nine feet, and some have measured as much as fourteen feet in length.
A grizzly usually weights about five hundred pounds, but of course the larger
specimens weigh much more. It is not only a most powerful brute, but is ex-
tremely tenacious of life. The male has the reputation of not being pugnacious,
rarely attacking a man without provocation, and even when wounded often
attempting to escape until brought to bay. The female, when her cubs are small,
is savage and dangerous always. Either sex of the grizzly, when thoroughly
roused, shows terrible rage and strength. Hunters have often noticed that when
struck by a bullet, a grizzly will start instantly in the direction from which it
comes without waiting to see its enemy.
The most notable story of an encounter between a white man and a grizzly
was that of Hugh Glass. Possibly this true tale, which was one of the most
sensational happenings of the frontier a hundred years ago, has survived in the
annals of the fur days because of the amazing facts involved in it that have to do
with treachery and a man's grim fight to live to be revenged.
Glass was born in Pennsylvania, but nothing is known of his life before he
enlisted with the second Ashley-Henry expedition to the Rocky Mountains in
1823 and was wounded in a fight with trie Aricaras on the Missouri river. He
was then called an "old man," and was one of the best marksmen and hunters in
the party. Under Major Andrew Henry a party set out to trap beaver and
explore the Yellowstone river, and Glass was detailed as hunter, an extremely
important duty. One morning he was in advance of the party, forcing his way
through a thicket, when he suddenly came upon a monster female grizzly bear
that rose and attacked him before he had time to "set his trigger" or even turn
to fly. The bear seized him by the throat and lifted him from the ground. Then
hurling him down, the ferocious beast tore off a mouthful of his flesh and lum-
bered to her cubs, which were close by. Glass now tried to escape, but the bear,
followed by her cubs, attacked him again. Seizing him by the shoulder she
crunched his hands and arms between her teeth.
Glass was in a terrible condition and had given himself up for dead when
a companion, detailed also as a hunter, appeared and shot at one of the cubs. The
other, a half-grown bear, drove him into the water, where he stood waist deep
and killed his pursuer with a shot. Just then the main body of trappers arrived,
BACK-TRAILING ON THE OLD FRONTIERS 9
having heard cries for help. A dozen guns cracked .and the mother bear fell