Washington Irving.

The adventures of Captain Bonneville online

. (page 15 of 52)
Online LibraryWashington IrvingThe adventures of Captain Bonneville → online text (page 15 of 52)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Captain Bonneville being now left to prosecute his trapping
campaign without rivalry, set out, on the 17th of August, for
the rendezvous at Medicine Lodge. He had but four men re-
maining with him, and forty-six horses to take care of; with
these he had to make his way over mountain and plain, through
a marauding, horse-stealing region, full of peril for a numerous
cavalcade so slightly manned. He addressed himself to his
difRcidt journey, however, with his usual alacrity of spirit.

In the afternoon of his first day's journey, on drawmg near
to the Bighorn Mountain, on the summit of which he intended
to encamp for the night, he observed, to his disquiet, a cloiid
of smoke rising from its base. He came to a halt, and watched
it anxiously. It was very irregular ; sometimes it would almost
die away ; and then would mount up in heavy volumes. There
was, apparently, a large party encamped there ; probably, some
ruffian horde of Blackfeet. At any rate, it would not do for so
small a number of men, with so numerous a cavalcade, to ven-
ture within sight of any wandering tribe. Captain Bonne-
ville and his companions, therefore, avoided this dangerous
neighborhood; and, proceeding with extreme caution, reached
the summit of the mountain, apparently without being discov-
ered. Here they found a deserted Blackfoot fort, in which
they ensconced themselves ; disposed of everything as securely
as possible, and passed the night without molestation. Early
the next morning they descended the south side of the moun-
tain into the great plain extending between it and the Little-
horn range. Here they soon came upon numerous footprints,
and the carcasses of buffaloes; by whi<;h they knew there
must be Indians not far off. Captain Bonneville novv- becran to
feel solicitude about the two small parties of trappers which he
had detached, lest the Indians should have come upon them
before they had united their forces. But he felt still more


solicitude about his own party ; for it was hardly to be expectec^
he could traverse these naked plains undiscovered, when In-
dians were abroad; and should he be discovered, his chance
would be a desperate one. Everytliing now depended upon
the greatest circumspection. It was dangerous to discharge a
gun or light a fire, or make the least noise, where such quick-
eared and quick-sighted enemies were at hand. In the course
of the day they saw indubitable signs that the buffalo had been
roaming there in gi-eat numbers, and had recently been fright-
ened away. That night they encamped with the greatest care;
and threw up a strong breastwork for their protection.

For the two succeeding days they pressed forward rapidly,
but cautiously, across the great plain; fording the tributary
streams of the Horn River; encamping one night among
thickets; the next, on an island; meeting, repeatedly, with
traces of Indians; and now and then, in passing through a
defile experiencing alarms that induced them to cock their

On the last day of their march hunger got the better of their
caution, and they shot a fine buffalo bull at the risk of being
betrayed by the report. They did not halt to make a meal,
but carried the meat on Avith them to the place of rendezvous,
the Medicine Lodge, whei'e they arrived safely, in the evening,
celebrated their arrival by a hearty supper.

The next morning they ei-eoted a strong pen for the horses,
and a fortress of logs for themselves; amd continued to observe
the greatest caution. Their cooking was all done at mid-day,
when the fire makes no glare, and a moderate smoke cannot
be perceived at any great distance. In the morning and the
evening when the wind is lulled, the smoke rises perpendicu-
larly in a blue column, or floats in light clouds above the tree-
tops, and can be discovered from afar.

In this way the little party remained for several days, cau-
tiously encamped, until, on the 29th of August, the two detach-
ments they had been expecting, arrived together at the ren-
dezvous. They, as usual, hod tlioir several tales of adventures
to relate to the captain, which we will furnish to the reader ui
the next chapter.




The adventures of the detachment of ten are the first in
order. Tliese trappers, when they separated from Captain
Bonneville at the place where the furs were embarked, jDro
ceeded to the foot of the Bighorn Mountain, and having en-
camped, one of ttiem mounted his mule and Avent out to set Ms
trap in a neighboring stream. He had not proceeded far Avhen
his steed came to a full stop. The trapper kicked and cud-
gelled, but to every blow and tick the mule sno'/ted and kicked
up, but stm refused to budge an inch. The rider now cast his
eyes warily around in search oi some cause for this demur,
when, to his dismay, he discovered an Indian fort within gun-
shot distance, lowering through the twilight. In a twinklmg
he wheeled about ; his mule now seemed as eager to get on as
himself, and in a few moments brought him, clattering with
his traps, among his comrades. He was jeered at for his
alacrity in retreating; his report was treated as a false alarm;
his brother trappers contented themselves with reconnoitring
the fort at a distance, and pronounced that it was deserted.

As night set in, the usual precaution, enjoined by Captain
Bonneville on his men was observed. The horses were brought
in and tied, and a guard stationed over them. This done, the
men wrapped themselves in their blankets, stretched them-
selves before the fire, and being fatigued with a long day's
march, and gorged with a hearty supper, were soon in a pro-
found sleep.

The camp fires gradually died away ; all was dark and silent ;
the sentinel stationed to watch the horses had marched as far,
and supped as heartily as any of his companions, and while
they snored, he began to nod at his post. After a time, a low
trampling noise reached his ear. He half opened his closing


eyes, and beheld two or throe elks moving about the lodgers,
picking, and smelling, and gi-azing here and there. The sight
of elk within the purUeus of the camp caused some little sur-
prise ; but, iiaving had his supper, he cared not for elk meat,
and, suffering them to graze about umuolested, soon relapsed
into a doze.

Suddenly, before daybreak, a discharge of firearms, and a
struggle and tramp of hoi-ses, made every one start to his feet.
The fii"st move was to secure the horses. Some were gone;
others were struggling, and kicking, and trembhng, for there
■was a horrible uproar of whoops, and yells, and firearms.
Several trappers stole qmetly from the camp, and succeeded in
driving m the horses whick had broken away ; the rest were
tethered still more strongly. A breastwork was thrown up of
saddles, baggage, and camp furniture, and all hands waited
anxiously for daylight. The Indians, in the meantime, col-
lected on a neighboring height, kept up the most horrible cla-
mor, in hopes of striking a jmnic into the camp, or frightening
off the horses. When the day dawned, the trappers attacked
them briskly and drove them to some distance. A desultory
fire was kept up for an hour, when the Indians, seeing nothing
was to be gained, gave uj the contest and retired. They
proved to be a war party of Blackfeet, who, while in search of
the Crow tribe, had fallen upon the trail of Captain Bonne-
ville on the Popo Agie, and dogged him to the Bighorn ; but
had been completely baffled by his vigilance. They had then
waylaid the present detachment, and were actually housed in
perfect silence within their fort, when the mule of the trapper
made such a dead point.

The savages went off uttering the wildest denunciations of
hostOity, mingled Avith opprobrious terms in broken English,
and gesticulations of the most insiUting kind.

In this melee, one white man was wounded, and two horses
were killed. On preparing the morning's meal, however, a
number of cups, knives, and other articles were missing, which
had, doubtless, been carried off by the fictitious elk, diu-ing the
slumber of the very sagacious sentinel.

As the Indians had gone off in the direction which the trap-
pers had intended to travel, the latter changed their route, and
pushed forward rapidly through the "Bad Pass. "nor halted
until night; when, supp(,>sing themselves out of the reach of
the enemy, they contented themselves Avith tying up their
horees and posting a guard. They had scarce laid down to


sleep, when a dog strayed into the canap with a small pack of
moccasins tied upon his back ; for dogs are made to carry bur-
dons among the Indians. The sentinel, more knowing than he
oT the preceding night, awoke his companions and reported the
circumstance. It was evident that Indians were at hand. Ail
were instantly at work ; a strong pen was soon constructed for
the horses, after completing which, they resumed their slum
bers with the composure of men long inured to dangers.

In the nsxt night, the prowling of dogs about the camp and
various suspicious noises showed that Indians were still hover-
ing about them. Hurrying on by long marches, they at length
feu upon a trail, which, with the experienced eye of veteran
woodmen, they soon discovered to be that of the party of trap-
pers detached by Captain Bonneville when on his march, and
which they were sent to join. They likewise ascertained from
various signs that this party had suffered some maltreatment
from the Indians. They now pursued the trail with intense
anxiety; it carried them to the banks of the stream called
the Gray BuU, and down along its course, until they came to
where it empties into the Horn River. Here, to their great joy,
they discovered the comrades of whom they were in search, all
strongly fortified, and in a state of great watchfulness and

We now take up the adventures of this first detachment of
trappers. These men, after parting with the main body under
Captain BonneviUe, had proceeded slowly for several days up
the course of the river, trapping beaver as they went. One
morning, as they were about to visit their traps, one of the
camp keepers pointed to a fine elk, grazing at a distance, and
requested them to shoot it. Three of the trappers started off
for the purpose. In passing a thicket, they were fired upon by
some savages in ambush, and at the same time, the pretended
elk, throwing off his hide and his horn, started forth an Indian

One of the three trappers had been brought down by the
volley; the others fled to the camp, and all hands, seizing up
whatever they could carry off, retreated to a small island in
the river, and took refuge among the willows. Here they
were soon joined by their comrade who had fallen, but who
had merely been wounded in the neck.

In the meantime the Indians took possession of the deserted
camp, with all the traps, accoutrements, and horses. While
Ihey were busy among the spoils, a solitary trapper, who had


been absent at bis \v(^rk, came sauntering to the camp with his
traps on his back. He had approached near by when an In-
dian came forward and motioned him to keep away ; at the
same moment, he was perceived by his comrades on the island,
and warned of his danger with loud cries. The poor fellow
stood for a moment, bewildered and aghast, then dropping liis
traps, wheeled and made off at full speed, quickened by a
sportive voUey which the Indians rattled after him.

In high good hmnor with their easy triimiph the savages
now formed a circle round the fire and performed a war dance,
with the v.nlucky trappers for rueful spectators. This done,
emboldened by what they considered cowardice on the part of
the white men, they neglected then- usual mode of bush-fight-
ing, and advanced openly withm twenty paces of the widows.
A sharp volley from the trappers brought them to a sudden
halt, and laid three of them breathless. The chief, who had
stationed himself on an eminence to direct all the movements
of his people, seeing three of his warriors laid low, ordofcd the
rest to retire. They immediately did so, and the whole band
soon disappeared behind a point of woods, carrying off with
them the horees, traps, and the greater part of the baggage.

It was just after this misfortune that the party of ten men
discovered this forlorn band of trappers in a fortress which
they had thrown up after their disaster. They were so per-
fectly dismayed, that they could not be induced even to go in
quest of their traps, which they had set in a neighboring
stream. The two parties now joined their forces, and made
their way without further misfortune, to the rendezvous.

Captain Bonneville perceived from the reports of these par-
ties, as well as from what he had observed himself in his re-
cent march, that he was in a neighborhood teeming with
danger. Two wandering Snake Indians, also, who visited th3
camp, assured him that there were two large bands of Crows
marching rapidly upon him. He broke up his encampment,
therefore, on the first of September, made his way to the
south, across the Littlehorn Mountain, imtil he reached Wind
River, and then turning Avestward, moved slowly up the banks
of that otroam, giving time for his men to trap as he proceeded.
As it was not in the plan of the present himting campaign to
go near the caches on Green River, and as the trappers Avere
in want of traps to replace those they had lost, Captain Bonne-
ville undercook to visit the caches, and procm-e a supply. To
accompany him in tliis hazardous expedition, which would


take him through the defiles of the Wind River Mountains,
and up the Green River valley, he took but three men ; tho
main party were to continue on trapping up tov^-ard tlie head
of Yv7"ind River, near which he was to rejoin them, just about
tiie place where that stream issues from the mountains. We
shall accompany the captain on liis adventurous errand



Having forded Wind River a little above its mouth, Captain
Bonneville and his three companions proceeded across a grav-
elly plain, untU they fell upon the Popo Agie, up the left bank
of which they held their course, nearly in a southerly direc-
lion. Here they came upon numerous droves of buffalo, and
halted for the purpose of procuring a supply of beef. As the
hunters were stealing cautiously to get within shot of the
game, two small white bears suddenly presented themselves
in their path, and, rising upon their hind legs, contemplated
them for some time with a whimsically solemn gaze. The
hunters remained motionless; whereupon the bears, having
apparently satisfied their curiosity, lowered themselves upoa
all fours, and began to Avithdraw. The hunters new advanced,
upon which the bears turned, rose again upon their haunches,
and repeated their serio-comic examination. This was re-
peated several times, until the hunters, piqued at their un-
mannerly staring, rebuked it with a discharge of their rifles.
The bears made an awkward bound or two, as if wounded, and
then walked off with great gravity, seeming to commune to-
gether, and every now and then turning to take another look
at the hunters. It was well for the latter that the bears were
but half grown, and had not yet acquired the ferocity of their


The buffalo were some-what startled at the report of the fire-
arms; but the hunters suceeeded in killing a couple of fine
cows, and, having secured the best of the moat, continued for-
ward until some time after dark, when, encamping in a large
thicket of willows, they made a great fire, roasted buffalo beef
enough for half a score, disposed of the whole of it with keen
relish and high glee, and then " turned in" for the night and
slept soimdly, like weary and well-fed hunters.

At daylight they wore in the saddle again, and skirted along
the river, passing through fresh grassy meadows, and a succes-
sion of beautiful groves of willows and cotton-wood. Toward
evening, Captain Bonneville observed smoke at a distance ris-
ing from among hills, directly in the route he was pursuing.
Apprehensive of some hostile band, he cmicealed the horses in
a thicket, and, accompanied by one of his men, crawled cau-
tiously up a height, from which he could overlook the scene
of danger. Here, with a spy-glass, he reconnoitred the sur-
rounding countrj^ but not a. lodge nor fire, not a man, horse,
nor dog, was to be discovered ; in short, the smoke which had
caused such alarm proved to be the vapor from several warm,
or rather hot springs of considerable magnitude, pouring forth
streams in eveiy direction over a bottom of white clay. One
of the springs was about twenty-five yards in diameter, and so
deep that the water was of a bright green color.

They were now advancing diagonally upon the chain of Wind
River Mountains, which lay between them and Green River
valley. To coast round their southern points would be a wide
circuit; whereas, could they force their way through them,
they might proceed in a straight line. The mountains were
lofty, with snowy peaks and cragged sides ; it was hoped, how-
ever, that some practicable defile might be found. They at-
tempted, accordingly, to penetrate the moiuatains by following
up one of the branches of the Popo Agie, but soon found them-
selves in the midst of stupendous crags and precipices, that
barred all progress. Retracing their steps, and falling back
upon the river, they consulted where to make another attempt.
They were too close beneath the mountains to scan them gener-
ally, but they now recollected having noticed, from the plain,
a beautiful slope, rising at an angle of about thirty degi-ees,
and apparently without any break, until it reached the snowy
region. Seeking this gentle accli\ity, they began to ascend it
-with alacrity, trusting to find at the top one of those elevated
plains which prevail among the Rocky Mountains. The slope


was covered with coarse gravel, interspersed with plates of
freestone. The^ attained the summit with some toil, but
found, instead of a level, or rather undulating plain, that they
were on the brink of a deep and precipitous ravine, from the
bottom of which rose a se«ond slope, similar to the one they
had just ascended. Down into this profound ravine they made
their way by a rugged path, or rather fissure of the rocks, and
then labored up the second slope. They gained the summit
only to find themselves on another ravine, and now perceived
that this vast mountain, which had presented such a sloping
and even side to the distant beholder on the plain, was shagged
by fi'ightful precipices, and seamed with longitudinal chasms,
deep and dangerous.

In one of these wild dells they passed the night, and slept
soundly and sweetly after their fatigues. Two days more of
arduous climbing and scrambling only served to admit them
into the heart of this mountainous and a^vf ul solitude ; where
difficulties increased as they proceeded. Sometimes they
scrambled from rock to rock, up the bed of some mountain
stream, dashing its bright way down to the plains ; sometimes
they availed themselves of the paths made by the deer and the
mountain sheep, which, however, often took them to the brink
of fearful precipices, or led to rugged defiles, impassable for
their horses. At one place they were obliged to slide their
horses down the face of a rock, in which attempt some of the
poor animals lost their footing, rolled to the bottom, and came
near being dashed to pieces.

In the afternoon of the second day, the travellers attained
one of the elevated valleys locked up in this singular bed of
mountains. Here were two bright and beautiful little lakes,
set like mirrors in the midst of stern and rocky heights, and
surrounded by grassy meadows, inexpressibly refreshing to
the eye. These probably were among the sources of those
mighty streams which take their rise among these moun-
tains, and wander hundreds of miles through the plains.

In the green pastures bordering upon these lakes, the trav-
ellers halted to repose, and to give their weary horses time
to crop the sweet and tender herbage. They had now as-
scended to a great height above the level of the plains, yet
they beheld huge crags of granite piled one upon another,
and beetling like battlements far above them. While two of
the men remained in the camp with the horses. Captain
Bonneville, accompanied by the other men, set out to climb


a neighboring height, hoping to gain a commanding pros-
pect, and discern some practicable route through this stu-
pendons labyrinth. After much toil, he reached the summit
of a lofty clilf, but it was only to behold gigantic peaks ris-
ing all around, and towering far into the snowy regions of
the atmosphere. Selecting one which appeared to l)e the
liighest, he crossed a narrow intervening vtdley, and began
to scale it. He soon found that he had undertaken a tre-
mendous task ; but the pride of man is never more obstinate
than when climbing mountr:itis. The ascent was so steep
and rugged that he and his companions were fi*equently
obliged to clamber on hands and knees, with their guns slung
upon their backs. Frecjuently, exhausted with fatigue, and
dripping with perspiration, they threw themselves upon the
snow, and took handfuls of it to allay their parching thirst.
At one place they even stripped off their coats and hung
them upon the bushes, and thus lightly clad, proceeded to
scramble over these eternal snows. As they ascended still
higher, there were cool breezes that refreshed and braced
them, and springing with new ardor to their task, they at
length attained the summit.

" Here a scene burst upon the view of Captain Bonneville, that
for a time astonished and overwhelmed him with its immensi-
ty. He stood, in fact, upon that dividing ridge which Indians
regard as the crest of the world; and on each side of which
the landscape may be said to decline to the two cardinal oceans
of the globe. Whichever way he turned his eye, it was con-
founded by the vastness and variety of objects. Beneath him,
the Rocky Mountains seemed to open all their secret recesses;
deep, solemn valleys; treasured lakes; dreary passes; rugged
defiles and foaming torrents; while beyond their savage pre-
cincts, the eye was lost in an almost immeasurable landscape,
stretching on every side into dim and hazy distance, like the
expanse of a summer's sea. Whichever way he looked, he be-
held vast plains glimmering with reflected sunshine; mighty
streams wandering on their shining course toward either ocean,
and snowy mountains, chain beyond chain, and peak beyond
peak, till thev melted hke clouds into the horizon. For a time,
the Indian fable seemed realized ; he had attained that height
from which the Blackfoot warrior, after death, first catches a
view of the land of souls, and beholds the happy huntmg
gi'ounds spread out below him, brightening with the abodes of
the free and generous spirits. The captain stood for a long


while gazing upon this scene, lost in a crowd of vague and in-
definite ideas and sensations. A long-drawn inspiration at
length reheved him from this enthralment of the mind, and he
began to analyze the parts of this vast panorama. A simple
enumeration of a few of its features may give some idea of its
collective grandeur and magnificence.

The peak on which the captain had taken his stand com-
manded the whole Wind Eiver chain; which, in fact, may
rather be considered one immense mountaiu, broken into
snowy peaks and lateral spurs, and seamed with naiTow val-
leys. Some of these valleys glittered with sUver lakes and

Online LibraryWashington IrvingThe adventures of Captain Bonneville → online text (page 15 of 52)