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WYETH'S OREGON, OR A SHORT HISTORY OF A
LONG JOURNEY



Reprint of original edition: Cambridge, 1833



OREGON;

OR

A SHORT HISTORY OF A LONG JOURNEY

FROM THI

ATLANTIC OCEAN TO THE REGION OP THE PACIFIC.
BT LAND.

V

PRAWN Vf FROM THE NOTES AND ORAL INFORMATION
OF

JOHN B WYETH.

ONC OP THE FAttTV WHO LEfT Mil NVrilANItX I \VVETH,

.IIII.K 23, 1532, FOVR DAV& M. MIL ii uttoKD THI ninr.i; OP THE

ROCKY MOUNTAINS,

' AND THE ONLY ONE WHO DAS RtTfRNCO TO NEW ENGLAND.



CAMBRIDGE
FOR JOHN B. WYETH
1833.



A contented mind is a continual feast; but entire satis-
faction has never been procured by wealth however enor-
mous, or ambition however successful.

True happiness is to no place confin'd,

But still is found in a contented mind.



OREGON EXPEDITION

In order to understand this Oregon Expedition, it is
necessary to say, that thirty years ago (1803), PRESIDENT
JEFFERSON recommended to Congress to authorize com-
petent officers to explore the river Missouri from its mouth
to its source, and by crossing the mountains to seek the best
water communication thence to the Pacific Ocean. This
arduous task was undertaken by Captain M. Lewis and
Lieutenant W. Clarke of the first regiment of infantry. They
were accompanied by a select party of soldiers, and arrived
at the Missouri in May, 1804, and persisted in their novel
and difficult task into the year 1806, and with such success
as to draw from President Jefferson the following testi-
monial of their heroic services, viz. "The expedition of
Messrs. LEWIS & CLARKE, for exploring the river Mis-
souri, and the best communication from that to the Pacific
Ocean, has had all the success which could be expected;
and for which arduous service they deserve well of their
country." *

The object of this enterprise was to confer in a friendly
manner with the Indian Nations throughout their whole
journey, with a view to establish a friendly and equitable
commerce with them, on [2] principles emulating those that
marked and dignified the settlement of Pennsylvania by
William Penn. It was beyond doubt that the President
and Congress sincerely desired to treat the Indians with
kindness and justice, and to establish peace, order, and
good neighbourhood with all the savage tribes with whom

1 Quoted from Jefferson's annual message, December 2, 1806. See James D.
Richardson (ed.), Messages and Papers of the Presidents (Washington, 1896), i,
p. 408. ED.



22 Early Western Travels [Vol. 21

they came in contact, and not to carry war or violence
among any of them who appeared peaceably disposed.

A few years before the period of which we have spoken;
our government had acquired by purchase the vast and
valuable Territory of Louisiana from the renowned NA-
POLEON BONAPARTE, at that time the Chief of the
French Nation. Considering his previous intentions, and
actual preparations under his famous General Bernadotte*
nothing could be more fortunate for these United States
than this purchase. 53 ! Our possession of Louisiana was so
grievous a sore to the very jealous Spaniards, that they
have, till lately, done all in their power to debar and mislead
us from pursuing discoveries in that quarter, or in the Ar-
kansas, Missouri, or Oregon. Yet few or none of them
probably believed that we should, during the present gen-
eration, or the next, attempt the exploration of the distant
Oregon Territory, which extends from the Rocky Moun-
tains to the shores of the Pacific Ocean, or hi other words,
from the Missouri and Yellow Stone rivers to that of the
river Columbia or Oregon which pours into the Ocean by
a wide mouth at the immense distance from us of about
four thousand miles; yet one and twenty men, chiefly farm-
ers and a few mechanics, had the hardihood to undertake
it, and that too with deliberation and sober calculation.
But what will not a New-England [3] man undertake when
honor and interest are the objects before him? Have not
the people of that sand-bank, Nantucket, redeemed it from
the ocean, and sailed round Cape Horn in pursuit of whales



1 Referring probably to the fact that Bernadotte had in January, 1803, been
chosen minister to the United States, and tarried in France during the negotiations
for the purchase of Louisiana. After these were concluded, Bernadotte's services
being required in the impending war with England, his projected mission to America
was abandoned. Wyeth has probably confused Bernadotte's mission with the
preparation in Holland of the armament which.was, under command of General
Victor, intended to take possession of Louisiana. ED.



1832] Wyettts Oregon 23

for their oil, and seals for their skins? A score of our farm-
ers seeing that Nantucket and New Bedford had acquired
riches and independence by traversing the sea to the distant
shores of the Pacific, determined to do something like it by
land. Their ardor seemed to have hidden from their eyes
the mighty difference between the facility of passing in a
ship with the aid of sails, progressing day and night, by
skilfully managing the winds and the helm, and that of a
complicated wagon upon wheels, their journey to be over
mountains and rivers, and through hostile tribes of savages
who dreaded and hated the sight of a white man.

This novel expedition was not however the original or
spontaneous notion of Mr. Nathaniel J. Wyeth, 8 nor was
it entirely owing to the publications of Lewis & Clarke or
Mackenzie. 4 Nor was it entirely owing to the enterprise
of Messrs. Barrell, Hatch, and Bulfinch, who fitted out two
vessels that sailed from Boston in 1787, commanded by

8 Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth belonged to one of the oldest families of Cambridge,
Massachusetts, his ancestor settling there in 1645, on a place held by his descend-
ants for over two centuries. Nathaniel's grandfather, Ebenezer, in 1751, pur-
chased an estate embracing part of the present Mount Auburn, and extending to
Fresh Pond. There Nathaniel's father, Jacob (1764-1856), built a summer resort
known as Fresh Pond Hotel. Nathaniel, the fourth son, was born January 29,
1802, and was intended for Harvard College, of which his father and eldest brother
were graduates; his ambitious spirit, however, made him impatient to begin com-
mercial life, and to his subsequent regret the college course was abandoned. He
first aided his father in the management of the hotel, but soon entered the ice trade,
in which he remained until his expedition of 1832-36. In 1824 marrying his cousin
Elizabeth Jarvis Stone, he shortly before the first expedition moved into a new
house on the family estate, in which he resided until his death in 1856. For the
Oregon expeditions, see the preface of the present volume. Returning to Cam-
bridge in 1836, he re-entered the ice traffic, and after 1840 was the head of the
concern. His highly accentuated qualities of activity and enterprise, added to
his strong personality, caused him to be esteemed by his contemporaries. ED.

4 In the centennial years of the Lewis and Clark expedition, their original
journals were for the first time printed as written Thwaites (ed.), Original
Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (New York, 1904-05). For an ac-
count of the earlier edition of their journals, edited by Nicholas Biddle, see Intro-
duction to the work just cited. On Mackenzie, consult Franchere's Narrative in
our volume vi, p. 185, note 4. ED.



24 Early Western Travels [Vol. 21

Captains Kendrick and Gray, which vessels arrived at
Nootka in September, lySS. 5 They were roused to it by
the writings of Mr. Hall J. Kelly, who had read all the books
he could get on the voyages and travels in Asia, Africa,
Europe, and America, until he had heated his mind to a de-
gree little short of the valorous Knight of La Mancha, that
is to say, he believed all he read, and was firm in the opinion
that an Englishman and an American, or either, by himself,
could endure and achieve any thing [4] that any man could
do with the same help, and farther, that a New-England
man or "Yankee," could with less. 6 That vast region,
which stretches from between the east of the Mississippi, and
south of the Lakes Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie, and
Ontario, was too narrow a space for the enterprise of men
born and bred within a mile or two of the oldest University

* On the expedition of Captains Kendrick and Gray, consult Franchere's
Narrative, in our volume vi, p. 183, note i. ED.

* Hall J. Kelley may properly be called the father of the Oregon emigration
movement. Born in New Hampshire in 1790, he left home at the age of sixteen
and engaged in teaching at Hallowell, Maine. In 1814 he was graduated from
Middlebury College, and the following year removed to Boston, where he was
occupied as teacher and philanthropist, assisting in founding the Boston Young
Men's Education Society, the Penitent Female Refuge Society, and the first Sunday
School in New England. He was also a surveyor and engineer, and in 1828 in-
vested his entire patrimony in a canal project at Three Rivers (later, Palmer),
Massachusetts, whither he removed in 1829. This enterprise proved a failure,
and his investment a total loss. For many years he had been interested in the
Oregon country, and soon after the publication of Biddle's version of the journals
of the Lewis and Clark expedition (1814), Kelley began an agitation for the Ameri-
can occupation of the district. He tried to interest Congress, and the first Oregon
bills (1820) bear the impress of his thought see F. F. Victor, "Hall J. Kelley,"
in Oregon Historical Quarterly, ii, pp. 381-400. Finding his frequent petitions
of no avail, he formed a company in 1829 (incorporated in 1831) known as the
"American Society for encouraging the settlement of Oregon territory." The
winter of 1831-32 was spent in preparation for an emigration movement. Wyeth
was a member of this organization, and at first proposed to accompany Kelley;
but finding the latter*s plans impracticable, organized his own party. Kelley set
out in the spring of 1832 with a small company, who all abandoned him at New
Orleans. Proceeding alone to Vera Cruz, his goods were confiscated by the Mexi-
can government; but although now penniless, he worked his way through to Cali-
fornia. There, in the spring of 1834, he met Ewing Young (see our volume xx, p. 23,



1832] Wyeth' s Oregon 25

in the United States. 7 Whatever be the true character of
the natives of New England, one thing must be allowed
them, that of great and expansive ideas, beyond, far be-
yond the generality of the inhabitants of the small Island
of Britain. I say small, for if that Island should be placed
in the midst of these United States, it would hardly form
more than a single member of our extended republic. That
vast rivers, enormous mountains, tremendous cataracts,
with an extent corresponding to the hugeness of the features
of America, naturally inspire men with boundless ideas,
few will doubt. This adventurous disposition, at the same
time, will as naturally banish from the mind what the new-
light doctrine of Phrenology calls the disposition bump of
Inhabitiveness, or an inclination to stay at home, and in its
place give rise to a roaming, wandering inclination, which,
some how or other, may so affect the organs of vision, and
of hearing, as to debar a person from perceiving what others
may see, the innumerable difficulties in the way. Mr. Hall
J. Kelly's writings operated like a match applied to the com-
bustible matter accumulated in the mind of the energetic
Nathaniel J. Wyeth, which reflected and multiplied the
flattering glass held up to view by the ingenious and well-
disposed schoolmaster.

Mr. Nathaniel J. Wyeth had listened with peculiar [5]
delight to all the flattering accounts from the Western re-



note 2), whom he persuaded to accompany him overland to Oregon. Kelley was
ill, but was treated with slight respect by the British authorities at Fort Vancouver,
and lived without the fort during the winter, exploring the country in the intervals
of his fever. In the following spring (1835) he shipped for Hawaii, and returned
to Boston, determined, notwithstanding his misfortunes, to further Oregon emigra-
tion see report to Congress, House Reports, 26 Cong., 3 sess., i, 101. Kelley's
health became undermined by the hardships which he had endured, his eyesight
was impaired, and he passed his latter years in Palmer, Massachusetts, in poverty
and obscurity, dying there in 1874. ED.

7 Harvard College was established by act of the general court of Massachusetts
in 1636. ED.



26 Early Western Travels [Vol. 21

gions, and that at a time when he was surrounded with
apparent advantages, and even enviable circumstances.
He was born and bred near the borders of a beautiful small
Lake, as it would be called in Great Britain; but what we
in this country call a large Pond; because we generally give
the name of Lakes only to our vast inland seas, some of
which almost rival in size the Caspian and Euxine in the
old world. It seems that he gave entire credit to the stories
of the wonderful fertility of the soil on the borders of the
Ohio, Missouri, the river Platte, and the Oregon, with the
equally wonderful healthfulness of the climate. We need
not wonder that a mind naturally ardent and enterprising
should become too enthusiastic to pursue the laborious
routine of breaking up and harrowing the hard and stub-
born soil of Massachusetts within four miles of the sea,
where the shores are bounded and fortified by stones and
rocks, which extend inland, lying just below the surface of
the ground, while the regions of the West were represented
as standing in need of very little laborious culture, such was
the native vigor of its black soil. The spot where our ad-
venturer was born and grew up, had many peculiar and
desirable advantages over most others in the county of
Middlesex. Besides rich pasturage, numerous dairies, and
profitable orchards, and other fruit trees, it possessed the
luxuries of well cultivated gardens of all sorts of culinary
vegetables, and all within three miles of the Boston Market-
House, and two miles of the largest live-cattle market in
New England. All this, and more too, had not sufficient
attractions to retain Mr. Wyeth in his native town and
county.

[6] Besides these blessings, I shall add another. The
Lake I spoke of, commonly called Fresh Pond, is a body
of delightful water, which seems to be the natural head or
source of all the numerous underground rivers running be-



1832] Wyettis Oregon 27

tween it and the National Navy Yard at Charlestown, which
is so near to the city of Boston as to be connected to it by a
bridge; for wherever you sink a well, between the body of
water just mentioned, you strike a pelucid vein of it at from
nineteen to twenty-two feet depth from the surface. With
the aforesaid Lake or Pond is connected another not quite
so large, but equally beautiful. Around these bodies of
inosculating waters, are well cultivated farms and a number
of gentlemen's country-seats, forming a picture of rural
beauty and plenty not easily surpassed in Spring, Summer,
and Autumn; and when winter has frozen the lakes and
all the rivers, this spot has another and singular advantage;
for our adventurer sold the water of this pond; which was
sent to the West-Indian Islands, Philadelphia, New Or-
leans, and other places south of this; which is so much of
a singularity as to require explanation.

In our very coldest weather, January and February, the
body of water we spoke of is almost every year frozen to the
thickness of from eighteen inches to two feet, sometimes
less, and very rarely more. It is then sawed into cubes of
the size just mentioned, and deposited in large store-houses,
and carted thence every month in the year, even through the
dog-days, in heavy teams drawn by oxen and horses to the
wharves in Boston, and put on board large and properly
constructed vessels, and carried into the hot climates already
[7] mentioned. The heavy teams five, or six, or more,
close following each other, day and night, and even through
the hottest months, would appear incredible to a stranger.
Here was a traffic without any drawback, attended with no
other charge than the labor of cutting and transporting the
article; for the pond belonged to no man, any more than the
air which hung above it. Both belonged to mankind. No
one claimed any personal property in it, or control over it
from border to border. A clearer profit can hardly be



28 Early Western Travels [Vol. 21

imagined. While the farmer was ploughing his ground,
manuring and planting it, securing his well-tended crop by
fencing, and yet after all his labor, the Hessian-fly, the
canker or slug worm, or some other destructive insect, or
some untimely frost, as was the case last winter, might lay
waste all his pains and cut off all his expectations. The
only risk to which the Ice-merchant was liable was a bless-
ing to most of the community; I mean the mildness of a
winter that should prevent his native lake from freezing a
foot or two thick. Our fishermen have a great advantage
over the farmer in being exempt from fencing, walling,
manuring, taxation, and dry seasons; and only need the
expence of a boat, line, and hook, and the risk of life and
health; but from all these the Ice-man is in a manner en-
tirely exempted; and yet the Captain of this Oregon Ex-
pedition seemed to say, All this availeth me nothing, so long
as I read books in which I find, that by only going about
four thousand miles, over land, from the shore of our At-
lantic to the shore of the Pacific, after we have there en-
trapped and killed the beavers and otters, we shall be able,
after building vessels for [8] the purpose, to carry our most
valuable peltry to China and Cochin China, our seal-skins
to Japan, and our superfluous grain to various Asiatic ports,
and lumber to the Spanish settlements on the Pacific; and to
become rich by underworking and underselling the people
of Hindostan; and, to crown all, to extend far and wide the
traffic in oil by killing tame whales on the spot, instead of
sailing round the stormy region of Cape Horn.

All these advantages and more too were suggested to
divers discontented and impatient young men. Talk to
them of the great labor, toil, and risk, and they would turn
a deaf ear to you: argue with them, and you might as well
reason with a snow-storm. Enterprising young men run
away with the idea that the farther they go from home, the



1832] WyetK s Oregon 29

surer they will be of making a fortune. The original projec-
tor of this golden vision first talked himself into the vision-
ary scheme, and then talked twenty others into the same
notion. 8 Some of their neighbours and well-wishers thought
differently from them; and some of the oldest, and most
thoughtful, and prudent endeavoured to dissuade them
from so very ardous and hazardous an expedition. But
young and single men are for tempting the untried scene;
and when either sex has got a notion of that sort, the more
you try to dissuade them, the more intent they are on their
object. Nor is this bent of mind always to be censured,
or wondered at. Were every man to be contented to remain
in the town in which he was born, and to follow the trade
of his father, there would be an end to improvement, and
a serious impediment to spreading population. It is diffi-
cult to draw the exact line between contentment, and that
inactivity [9] which approaches laziness. The disposition
either way seems stamped upon us by nature, and therefore
innate. This is certainly the case with birds and beasts;
the wild geese emigrate late in the Autumn to a southern
climate, and return again in the Spring to a northern one,
while the owl and several other birds remain all their lives
near where they were hatched ; whereas man is not so much
confined by a natural bias to his native home. He can live
in all climates from the equator to very near the dreary
poles, which is not the case with other animals; and it would
seem that nature intended he should live anywhere; for
whereas other animals are restricted in their articles of food,
some living wholly on flesh, and others wholly on vegetables,
man is capable of feeding upon every thing that is eatable
by any creature, and of mixing every article together, and
varying them by his knowledge and art of cookery, a

8 For partial lists of members of this party, consult H. S. Lyman, History of
Oregon (New York, 1903), iii, pp. 101, 108, 254; see also post. ED.



30 Early Western Travels [Vol. 21

knowledge and skill belonging to man alone. Hence it
appears that Providence, who directs everything for the
best, intended that man should wander over the globe,
inhabit every region, and dwell wherever the sun could
shine upon him, and where water could be obtained for
his use.

So far from deriding the disposition to explore unknown
regions, we should consider judicious travellers as so many
benefactors of mankind. It is most commonly a propensity
that marks a vigorous intellect, and a benevolent heart.
The conduct of the Spaniards, when they conquered Mexico
and Peru with the sole view of robbing them of their gold
and silver, and of forcing them to abandon their native
religion, has cast an odium on those first adventurers upon
this continent and their first [10] enterprises in India have
stigmatized the Dutch and the English; nor were our own
forefathers, who left England to enjoy religious freedom,
entirely free from the stain of injustice and cruelty towards
the native Indians. Let us therefore in charity, nay, in
justice, speak cautiously of what may seem to us censur-
able in the first explorers of uncivilized countries; and if
we should err in judgment, let it be on the side of commen-
dation.

Mr. Wyeth, or as we shall hereafter call him, Captain
Wyeth, as being leader of the Band of the Oregon adven-
turers, after having inspired twenty-one persons with his
own high hopes and expectations (among whom was his
own brother, Dr. Jacob Wyeth, 9 and a gun-smith, a black-
smith, two carpenters, and two fishermen, the rest being



' Dr. Jacob Wyeth, eldest brother of Nathaniel, was born February 10, 1779,
at Cambridge, Massachusetts. After being graduated from Harvard (1820),
he studied medicine both in Boston and Baltimore, and settled in New Jersey,
whence he set out to join his brother's expedition. After returning from Pierre's
Hole as narrated post Dr. Wyeth settled in the lead-mine region of northwest
Illinois, and married into a prominent family. He died in his adopted state. ED.



1832] Wyetti s Oregon 31

farmers and laborers, brought up to no particular trade)
was ready, with his companions, to start off to the Pacific
Ocean, the first of March, 1832, to go from Boston to the
mouth of Columbia river by land.

I was the youngest of the company, not having attained
my twentieth year; but, in the plentitude of health and
spirits, I hoped every thing, believed every thing my kins-
man, the Captain, believed and said, and all doubts and
fears were banished. The Captain used to convene us
every Saturday night at his house for many months previous
to our departure, to arrange and settle the plan of our fu-
ture movements, and to make every needful preparation;
and such were his thoughtfulness and vigilance, that it
seemed to us nothing was forgotten and every thing neces-
sary provided. Our three vehicles, or wagons, if we may
call by that name a unique contrivance, half boat, and
half carriage, may be mentioned as an instance of our Cap-
tain's [n] talents for snug contrivance. It was a boat of
about thirteen feet long, and four feet wide, of a shape partly
of a canoe, and partly of a gondola. It was not calked
with tarred oakum, and payed with pitch, lest the rays of
the sun should injure it while upon wheels; but it was nicely
jointed, and dovetailed. The boat part was firmly con-
nected with the lower, or axletree, or wheel part; the
whole was so constructed that the four wheels of it were
to be taken off when we came to a river, and placed in the
wagon, while the tongue or shaft was to be towed across
by a rope. Every thing was as light as could be consistent
with safety. Some of the Cambridge wags said it was a
boat begot upon a wagon, a sort of mule, neither horse
nor ass, a mongrel, or as one of the collegians said it was
a thing amphibious, anatomically constructed like some
equivocal animals, allowing it to crawl upon the land, or
to swim on the water; and he therefore thought it ought


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