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scarcely make his way. The captain also had a narrow escape
from being- dashed to pieces during- the excursion. He was
walking on a ridge which sloped from the top at an angle of
about forty degrees, and terminated at its lower part in a per-
pendicular precipice of a thousand or twelve hundred feet. He
was moving along in the snow cautiously, near the lower edge,
in order to attain a more level spot beyond, when his feet slipped
and he fell. Before he could attempt to fix himself firmly, he slid
down the declivity till within a few feet of the frightful precipice.
At the instant of his fall, he had the presence of mind to plant
the rifle which he held in one hand, and his knife which he drew
from the scabbard with the other, into the snow, and as he almost
tottered on the verge, he succeeded in checking himself, and
holding his body perfectly still. He then gradually moved, first
the rifle and then the knife, backward up the slanting hill behind
him, and fixing them firmly, drew up his body parallel to them.
In this way he moved slowly and surely until he had gained his
former position, when, without further difficulty, he succeeded in
reaching the more level land.

Disappointed in finding a pass through the mountains at this-
point, the party altered the bearing of their route, and at last
they came upon the remains of a recent encampment of Indians.
Following the trail of these Indians, they entered a valley similar-
to that which they had just explored, and terminating in a path
over the mountains. Mr Townsend thus describes their toilsome
march across these heights. " The commencement of the Alpine
path was, however, far better than we had expected, and we
entertained the hope that the passage could be made without
difficulty or much toil ; but the farther we progressed, the more
laborious the travelling became. Sometimes we mounted steep
banks of intermingled flinty rock and friable slate, where our
horses could scarcely obtain a footing, frequently sliding dowii

23



EXCURSION TO THE OREGON.

•several feet on the loose broken stones. Again we passed along
the extreme verge of tremendous precipices at a giddy height,
where at ahnost every step the stones and earth would roll from
under our horses' feet, and we could hear them strike with a dull
leaden sound on the craggy rocks below. The whole journey
to-day, from the time we arrived at the heights until we had
orossed the mountain, has been a most fearful one. For myself,
I might have diminished the danger very considerably by
adopting the plan pursued by the rest of the company, that of
■walking and leading my horse over the most dangerous places ;
but I have been suffering* for several days with a lame foot, and
am wholly incapable of such exertion. I soon discovered that an
attempt to guide my horse over the most rugged and steepest
Tanges was worse than useless, so I dropped the rein upon the
animal's neck, and allowed him to take his own course, closing
my eyes and keeping as quiet as possible in the saddle. But I
could not forbear starting occasionally when the feet of my
horse would slip on a stone and one side of him would slide
rapidly towards the edge of the precipice ; but I always recovered
myself by a desperate effort, and it was fortunate for me that I
■did so."

The party continued its march for several days through this
rugged and inhospitable region, coming into occasional contact
with parties of the Snake Indians, and subsisting on the kamas,
a kind of root resembling the potato, which is found in the
prairie ; on cherries, berries, and small fruit, which they found
gTOwing on bushes ; and also on an occasional chance prize of ani-
mal foo^. "At about daylight on the morning of the 20th," says
Mr Townsend, " having charge of the last guard of the night, I
observed a beautiful sleek little colt, of about four months old,
trot into the camp, winnying with great apparent pleasure, and
dancing and curvetting' gaily amongst our sober and sedate
band. I had no doubt that he had strayed from Indians, who
were probably in the neighbourhood ; but as here every animal
that comes near us is fair game, and as we were hungry, notj
having eaten anything of consequence since yesterday morning,
I thought the little stranger would make a good breakfast for us.
Concluding, however, that it would be best to act advisedly in the
matter, I put my head into Captain Wyeth's tent, and telling
him the news, made the proposition which had occurred to me.
The captain's reply was encouraging enough — ' Down with him,
if you please, Mr Townsend ; and let us have him for breakfast.'
Accordingly, in live minutes afterwards a bullet sealed the fate
of the unfortunate visitor, and my men were set to work, making
fires and rummaging out the long-neglected stew-pans, while I
engaged myself in flaying the little animal, and cutting up his
body in readiness for the pots.

When the camp was aroused about an hour after, the savoury
steam of the cookery was rising and saluting the nostrils of our

24



EXCURSION TO THE OREGON.

hungry people with its fragrance, who, rubbing their hands with
dehght, sat themselves down upon the ground, waiting with
what patience they mig-ht for the unexpected repast which was
preparing' for them. It was to me almost equal to a good break-
fast to witness the pleasure and satisfaction which I had been,
the means of diffusing through the camp. The repast was ready
at length, and we did full justice to it ; every man ate until he
was filled, and all pronounced it one of the most delicious meals
they had ever assisted in demolishing-. When our breakfast was
concluded, but little of the colt remained ; that little was, how-
ever, carefully packed up and deposited on one of the horses, to-
furnish at least a portion of another meal."

In the afternoon of the same day, after a long* march, they
procured three small salmon from some Indians who were fishing'
on the Mallade river ; and these, cooked along with a grouse, a.
beaver, and the remains of the pony, made a very savoury mess.
" While we were eating, we were visited by a Snake chief, a large
and powerful man, of a peculiarly dignified aspect and manner.
He was naked, with the exception of a small blanket which
covered his shoulders, and descended to the middle of the back,
being fastened around the neck with a silver skewer. As it was
pudding time with us, our visitor was of course invited to sit down
and eat ; and he, nothing loath, deposited himself at once upon the-
g-round, and made a remarkably vigorous assault upon the mixed
contents of the dish. He had not eaten long, however, before we
perceived a sudden and inexplicable change in his countenance,,
which was instantly followed by a violent ejectment of a huge
mouthful of our luxurious fare. The man rose slowly and with
great dignity to his feet, and pronouncing the single word
shekum (horse), in a tone of ming'led anger and disgust, stalked
rapidly out of the camp, not even wishing us a good evening*. It
struck me as a singular instance of accuracy and discrimination
in the organs of taste. We had been eating of the multifarious
compound without being able to recog'nise by the taste a single
ingredient which it contained ; a stranger came amongst us, who-
did not know, when he commenced eating, that the dish was
formed of more than one item, and yet in less than five minutes-
he discovered one of the very least of its component parts,"

The neighbourhood of these Snake Indians was not very agree-
able to our travellers for many reasons. Mr Townsend jjaid a
visit to their camp, and the description he gives of it does not
lead one to conceive a high idea of savage life. " Early in the
morning," he says, " I strolled into the Snake camp. It con-
sists of about thirty lodges or wig'wams, formed generally of
branches of trees tied together in a conic summit, and covered
with buffalo, deer, or elk skins. Men and little children were
lolling about the ground all around the wigwams, together with
a heterogeneous assemblage of dogs, cats, some tamed prairie
wolves, and other varmints. The dogs growled and snapped

2&



EXCURSION TO THE OREGON.

•when I approached, the wolves cowered and looked cross, and the
cats ran away and hid themselves in dark corners. They had
not been accustomed to the face of a white man, and all the
quadrupeds seemed to reg-ard me as some monstrous production,
more to be feared than loved or courted. This dislike, however,
did not appear to extend to the bipeds, for many of every ag-e
and sex gathered around me, and seemed to be examining' me
critically in all directions. The men looked complacently at me,
the women, the dear creatures, smiled upon me, and the little
naked pot-bellied children crawled around my feet, examining"
the fashion of my hard shoes, and playing with the long- fringes
of my leathern inexpressibles. But I scarcely know how to com-
mence a description of the camp, or to frame a sentence which
will give an adequate idea of the extreme filth and horrific nasti-
ness of the whole vicinity.

Immediately as I entered the village, my olfactories were
assailed by the most vile and mephitic odours, which I found to
proceed chiefly from great piles of salmon entrails and garbage,
which were lying festering and rotting in the sun around the
very doors of the habitations. Fish, recent and half-dried, were
scattered all over the ground under the feet of the dogs, wolves,
and children ; and others which had been spht, were hanging*
on rude platforms erected within the precincts of the camp.
Some of the women were making their breakfast of the great
red salmon eggs as lai'ge as peas, and using a wooden spoon
to convey them to their mouths. Occasionally, also, by way of
varying the repast, they would take a huge pinch of a drying
fish which was lying on the ground near them. Many of the
children were similarly employed, and the little imps would also
have hard contests with the dogs for a favourite morsel, the for-
mer roaring and blubbering, the latter yelping" and snarling, and
both rolling over and over together upon the savoury soil. The
whole economy of the lodges, and the inside and outside aj)pear-
ance, was of a piece with everything else about them — filthy
beyond description ; the very skins which covered the wigwams
were black and stiff with rancid salmon fat, and the dresses (if
dresses they may be called) of the women were of the same
colour and consistence from the same cause. These dresses are
little square pieces of deer-skin, fastened with a thong around the
loins, and reaching about half way to the knees ; the rest of the
person is entirely naked. Some of the women had little children
cHnging like bullfrogs to their backs, without being fastened,
and in that situation extracting their lactiferous sustenance from
the breast, which was thrown over the shoulders. It is almost
needless to say that I did not remain long in the Snake camp ;
for although I had been a considerable time estranged from the
abodes of luxury, and had become somewhat accustomed to at
least a partial assimilation to a state of nature, yet I was not pre-
pared for what I saw here. I never had fancied anything so

26



EXCURSION TO THE OREGON.

utterly abominable, and was glad to escape to a purer and more
wholesome atmosphere."

The party again toiled on, every day's march bringing them
sensibly nearer the end of their journey. On the 2d of Septem-
ber they reached the Utalla river, and here Captain Wyeth and
two men left them to go on to the Walla Walla fort, a Httle way
distant. Now that our travellers were to enter once more into
civilised society, they began to feel a little anxiety about their
toilet ; and Mr Townsend's description of the preparations they
made on the occasion is rather amusing. "As we were ap-
proaching so near the abode of those in whose eyes we wished to
appear Hke fellow Christians, we concluded that there would be
a propriety in attempting to remove at least one of the heathenish
badges which we had worn throughout the journey ; so Mr
NuttalPs razor was fished out from its hiding"-place in the bottom
of his trunk, and in a few minutes our encumbered chins lost
their long-cherished ornaments ; we performed our ablutions in
the river, arrayed ourselves in clean linen, trimmed our long hair,
and then arranged our toilet before a mirror with great self-com-
placence and satisfaction. I admired my own appearance con-
siderably (and this is probably an acknowledgment that few
would make), but I could not refrain from laughing at the
strang-e party-coloured appearance of my physiognomy, the
lower portion being- fair like a woman's, and the upper brown
and swarthy as an Indian."

ARRIVAL AT THE COLUMBIA.

" About noon of the 3d of September," continues our traveller,
^•' we struck the Walla Walla river, a pretty stream of fifty or
sixty yards in width, fringed with tall willows, and containing a
number of salmon, which we can see frequently leaping from the
water. The pasture here being good, we allowed our horses an
hour's rest to feed, and then travelled over the plain until near
dark, when, on ascending a sandy hill, the noble Columbia burst
upon our view. I could scarcely repress a loud exclamation of
delight and pleasui'e as I gazed upon the magnificent river flow-
ing silently and majestically on, and reflected that I had actually
crossed the vast American continent, and now stood upon a stream
that poured its waters directly into the Pacific. This then was
the great Oregon, the first appearance of which gave Lewis and
Clark so many emotions of joy and jjleasure, and on this stream
our indefatigable countrymen wintered after the toils and priva-
tions of a long and protracted journey through the wilderness.
My reverie was suddenly interrupted by one of the men exclaim-
ing from his position in advance, ' There is the fort.' We had in
truth approached very near without being conscious of it. There
stood the fort on the bank of the river ; horses and horned cattle
were roaming about the vicinity, and on the borders of the little
Walla Walla we recognised the white tent of our long lost mis-

27



EXCURSION TO THE OREGON.

sionaries. These we soon joined, and were met and received
by them like brethren. Mr Nuttall and myself were invited to
sup with them upon a dish of stewed hares which they had just
prepared, and it is almost needless to say that we did full justice
to the good men's cookery. They told us that they had travelled
comfortably from Fort Hall without any unusual fatigue, and
like ourselves had no particularly stirring adventures. Their
route, although somewhat longer, was a much less toilsome and
difficult one, and they suffered but little for want of food, being
well provided with dried buffalo meat, which had been pre-
pared near Fort Hall."

At Walla Walla, the party broke up into sections, some intend-
ing to reach Fort Vancouver in one way, some in another. The
missionaries had engaged a large barge to convey them from
Walla Walla directly to Vancouver, down the Columbia river,
and Mr Townsend and Mr Nuttall were anxious to go along with
them ; but as the barg'e could not contain so many, they were
obliged to travel on horseback to a point about eighty miles
farther down the river, where Captain Wyeth engaged to wait
for them and procure canoes to convey them to Vancouver. In
the course of their land journey down the banks of the river,
they passed a village of the Walla Walla Indians, a tribe so
remarkable for their honesty and moral deportment, that their
conduct and habits amidst great privations shine in comparison
w^ith those of Christian communities. The river in this part is
described as about three quarters of a mile wide — a clear, deej),
and rapid stream.

Having reached the appointed spot on the 10th of September,
the travellers found the captain waiting with three canoes, each
provided with an Indian helmsman, and on the 1 1 th they embarked
and commenced their voyage down stream. They had hardly set
sail, however, when the wind " rose to a heavy gale, and the waves
ran to a prodigious height. At one moment our frail bark danced
upon the crest of a wave, and at the next fell with a surge into
the trough of the sea ; and as we looked at the swell before us, it
seemed that in an instant we must inevitably be engulfed. At
such times the canoe ahead of us was entirely hidden from view,
but she was observed to rise again like the seagull, and hurry on
into the same dang'er. The Indian in my canoe soon became
completely frightened : he frequently hid his face with his hands,
and sang in a low melancholy voice a prayer which we had
often heard from his jDeople while at their evening devotions.
As our dangers were every moment increasing, the man became
at length absolutely childish, and with all our persuasion and
threats we could not induce him to lay his paddle into the
water. We were all soon compelled to put in shore, which we
did without sustaining any damage ; the boats were hauled up
high and dry, and we concluded to remain in our quarters until
to-morrow, or until there was a cessation of the wind. In about an



EXCURSION TO THE OREGON.

iiour it lulled a little, and Captain Wyeth ordered the boats to
be again launched, in the hope of being- able to weather a point
about five miles below before the gale again commenced, where
we could lie by until it should be safe to proceed. The calm
proved, as some of us had suspected, a treacherous one : in a very
few minutes after we got under way, we were contending with
the same difficulties as before, and ag'ain our cowardly helms-
man laid b}'- his paddle and began mumbling his prayer. It was
too irritating to be borne. Our canoe had swung round broad-
side to the surg-e, and was shipping gallons of water at every
dash.

At this time it was absolutely necessary that every man on
board should exert himself to the utmost to head up the canoe
and make the shore as soon as possible. Our Indian, however,
still sat with his eyes covered, the most abject and contemptible
looking* thing I ever saw. We took him by the shoulders and
threatened to throw him overboard if he did not immediately
lend his assistance : we might as well have spoken to a stone.
He was finally aroused, however, by our presenting a loaded
gun at his breast. He dashed the muzzle away, seized his
paddle ag'ain, and worked with a kind of desperate and wild
energy until he sank back in the canoe completely exhausted.
In the meantime the boat had become half-full of water, ship-
ping a part of every surf that struck her ; and as we gained the
shallows, every man sprang overboard, breast deep, and began
hauling' the canoe to shore. This was even a more difficult task
than that of propelling her with the oars ; the water still broke
over her, and the bottom was a deep kind of quicksand, in which
we sank almost to the knees at every step, the surf at the same
time dashing against us with such violence as to throw us re-
peatedly upon our faces. We at length reached the shore, and
hauled the canoe up out of reach of the breakers. She was then
unloaded as soon as possible, and turned bottom upwards. The
goods had suffered considerably by the wetting- ; they were all
unbaled, and dried by a large fire which we built on the shore."

For two or three days they were tossed about on the river,
now attempting to make way, now forced to land again, and
always drenched to the skin. The missionaries and their party,
too, who had set out in the barge from Walla Walla, were in no
better plight. On the 14th the three canoes were again loaded,
and again made the attempt to proceed ; but in a short while one
of them was stove, and another greatly damag'ed, so that they
had to be unloaded and di'awn out of the water. An effort was
now made to procure one or two canoes with a pilot from an
Indian village five miles below. This proved a hazardous and
fatiguing' journey; but was rewarded by getting one canoe and
several Indians to assist in the navigation. With this reinforce-
ment, and with the boats mended, the party again attempted the
descent of the river. The voyage this time was more fortunate,



EXCURSION TO THE OREGON.

and next day they all arrived at the fort, which was the end of
their journey across the wilderness. The time occupied in this
dano-erous expedition had been six months and three days.
TJnharmed by fatigue or accident, with a constitution strength-
ened by healthful exercise, and a mind buoyant with the novelty
of the scenes they had passed through, the travellers felt sin-
cerely thankful to that kind and overruling Providence which
had watched over and protected them.

At Fort Vancouver, 'Mr Townsend left the trading part of the
expedition, and procured a passage on board an American vessel,
which carried him to the Sandwich Islands, and there he passed
the winter months. He afterwards returned to the Columbia
and its environs among the Rocky Mountains, to pursue his
scientific researches ; and his purpose being at length fulfilled,
he returned by sea, touching at Valparaiso on the South Ame-
rican coast, and reached home after an absence of three years.

It is gratifying to learn, that the researches of the two natu-
ralists were eminently successful. Besides procuring specimens
of many rare animals, Mr Townsend discovered in the course of
his expedition about fifty-four new species, sixteen of which were
quadrupeds, and twenty -eight birds. Mr Nuttall also made
many important additions to botanical science.

THE OREGON TERRITORY.

The large district of country on the Pacific, receiving the
name of Oregon, which can only be reached from the eastern
settlements, as we have seen, by an incalculable degree of labour,
is of uncertain dimensions, but is generally considered to extend
from the 42d to the 54th degree of north latitude, and from the
Rocky Mountains westward to the Pacific. From the moun-
tains, the country presents a comparatively abrupt slope, con-
sisting of immense belts or terraces, disposed one below the other
to the sea, but here and there interrupted by hilly ridges.
The higher regions are rocky, wild, and covered with forests of
huge pines and other trees; in the lower grounds, the land is
open and fertile, furnishing grasses and edible roots in great pro-
fusion.

Towards the south, where the country borders on Mexico, the
climate is mild, but afflicted with a rainy season, which, com-
mencing in October, does not end till April. The tempests of
wind and rain which occasionally occur are terrible. Near the
northern limit, the extremes of heat and cold are greater, the
winters being intensely severe. The principal animals found in
the territory are bears, wild horses, small deer, wolves, and
foxes ; otters and beavers are plentiful on the banks of the rivers,
whose waters abound with the finest salmon and seals. The
Indian races are thinly scattered over this extensive region,
and are not supposed to number more than 170,000 individuals.

Little, however, is distinctly known of the Oregon. Few have

30



EXCURSION TO THE OREGON.

explored it except hunters. The attention of travellers has heeu
chiefly confined to the river Columbia or Oreg-on, the latter name
having been communicated to the country. This river, politically
and commercially, is the great point of attraction ; for from it is
expected a means of descending- to the Pacific from the interior.
The upper part of the river is formed by two main branches^
winding their way amidst the valleys of the Rocky Mountains ;
and the more southerly of these tributaries is said to reach to with-
in 200 miles of the head waters of the Missouri. Formed by these
and many smaller streams, the Oregon flows in a westerly direc-
tion to the Pacific, pretty nearly dividing the country into two
equal parts. In a direct line, the space over which it runs is 650
miles in breadth ; but as it winds considerably, the entire length
of the river is probably as much as 1000 miles.

According to the accounts of Townsend, Lewis and Clark^
Washington Irving in his "Astoria," and others, the Oregon,
though a large river, is exceedingly difficult of navigation, beings
very various in breadth and force of current, impeded by rocks,
islands, cascades, and rapids, and exposed to furious gusts of
wind, against which no skill can aff'ord protection. In some
places the banks are flat and marshy, covered with trees and
bushes which flourish only in swamps, and in others they are
high and precipitous, hemming in the waters which dash tO'



Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) → online text (page 19 of 59)