The Columbia River: Its History, Its Myths, Its Scenery, Its Commerce/Part 1/Chapter 4
The First Steps across the Wilderness in Search of the River
Jefferson and Ledyard—Verendrye—Montcachabe, the Indian—The Indians—The Canadians—Results of the Louisiana Purchase—Fitting out the Lewis and Clark Expedition—The Winter with the Mandans—Crossing of the Great Divide—Meeting of Sacajawea and Cameahwait—Descent from the Mountains to the Clearwater and Kimooenim—Canoe Journey Down the Snake and Columbia—First Sight of Mt. Hood—Clark in the Rôle of a Magician—The Timm or Great Falls—The Sunken Forests—First Appearances of the Tide—The Winter of 1805-06 at Fort Clatsop—The Beginning of the Return Trip—Faithfulness of the Indians—Reception of Lewis and Clark in the States—The Hunt Expedition—The Voyageurs and Trappers—Slow Progress to the Snake River—Disasters and Distress along the "Accursed Mad River"—Starvation—New Year's Day of 1812—A Respite from Suffering in the Umatilla—First Sight of the Columbia and the Mid-winter Descent to Astoria—Melancholy Lot of Crooks and Day—Results of the Hunt Expedition.
THE Pacific North-west was discovered both by land and by sea. To Thomas Jefferson, the great apostle of Democracy, is due the gathering of American interests in the far West, and the opening of the road by which American sovereignty was to reach the Pacific. His great mind outran that of the ordinary statesman of his time, and, with what seems at first sight the strangest inconsistency in our political history, he was the State-rights theorist and at the same time the creator of nationality beyond any other one of our early statesmen. Away back in 1786, Jefferson met John Ledyard, one of Cook's associates in his great voyage to the Pacific Ocean, and grasped from the eager and energetic Yankee sailor, the idea of American destiny on the Pacific Coast. The fertile mind of Jefferson may justly be considered as the fountain of American exploration up the Missouri, across the crest of the Shining Mountains, as they then called the Rockies, and down the Columbia to the Pacific. Although Jefferson never himself took any steps beyond the Alleghanies, he was the inspiration of all the Americans who did take those steps.
Since we are speaking of first steps across the wilderness we should not forget that those of other nationalities than ours first crossed the American continent. The honour of the pioneer expedition to the crest of the Rocky Mountains belongs to the Frenchman, Verendrye. In 1773 he set forth from Montreal for the Rocky Mountains, and made many important explorations. His party is said to have reached the vicinity of the site of Helena, but never saw the sunset side of the Great Divide.
We are told by the interesting French writer, La Page, that the first man to proceed across the continent to the shores of the Pacific was a Yazoo Indian, Montcachabe or Montcacht Ape by name. According to the story, his two-year journey across the great wilderness through every species of peril and hardship, savage beasts and forbidding mountains and deserts, hostile Indians often barring his progress for many days, was one of the most remarkable explorations ever made by man. This Yazoo Indian with the long name was a veritable Columbus in the nature of his achievements. But results for the world could hardly follow his enterprise.
The first traveller to lead a party of civilised men through the Shining, or the Stony Mountains, finally known as Rocky Mountains, to the Pacific Ocean, was Alexander Mackenzie, a canny Scotchman, leading a party of Scotch and French Canadian explorers. In 1793 he reached the Pacific Coast at the point of 52 degrees 24 minutes 48 seconds north latitude. His inscription upon a rock with letters of vermilion and grease, were read many years afterwards: "Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada by land, July 22, 1793."
But the explorations of Canadians were too far north to come within the scope of the Pacific North-west of our day. We must therefore take up the American expeditions which proceeded from the master mind of Jefferson. The first of these was the expedition of Lewis and Clark. This expedition did more to broaden the American mind and to fix our national destiny than any similar event in our whole history.
As soon as Jefferson was inaugurated president, he had urged upon Congress the fitting out of an expedition "to explore the Missouri River and such principal streams of it as, by its course of communication with the waters of the Pacific Ocean, whether the Columbia, Oregon, Colorado, or any other river, may offer the most direct and practical water communication across the continent, for the purposes of commerce."
But before anything had actually been accomplished in the way of exploration, that vast and important event, the Louisiana Purchase, had been effected. The significance of this event was but little understood at the time, even by statesmen, but Jefferson realised that a great thing had been accomplished towards the development of the nation. His enthusiasm and hopefulness spread to Congress and to the leaders of opinion throughout the land. A like enthusiasm soon possessed the mass of population, and emigration westward began. Already the older West was teeming with that race of pioneers which has made up the life and the grandeur of the nineteenth century. The American hive began to swarm. "Out West" began to mean something more than Ohio and Kentucky. The distant sources of the Missouri and the heights of the Shining Mountains, with all the fantastic tales that had been told of them, were drawing our grandfathers farther and farther from the old colonial America of the eastern coast, and were beginning to modify the whole course of American history. The atmosphere of boundless expectation gathered over farm and town in the older States and the proposed expedition of Lewis and Clark fascinated the people as much as the voyage of Columbus fascinated the Spain of his day.
And what manner of men were in charge of this expedition, thus filled with both interest and peril? Meriwether Lewis was the leader of the party. He was a captain in the U. S. Army who was well known to Jefferson and who had been selected by him as possessed of the endurance, boldness, and energy which made him the fittest man within Jefferson's knowledge for the duties of commander. His whole life, from his boyhood days in Virginia, had been one of bold adventure. It is related that at the tender age of eight, he was already illustrious for successful midnight forays upon the coon and possum. He had not received a scientific education, but immediately upon receiving the appointment of commander of the expedition, he entered with great energy upon the acquisition of knowledge along geographical lines which would best fit him for preserving an accurate record of his journey. William Clark, the lieutenant of the expedition, was also a United States officer, a man of very good judgment, boldness, and skill in organising his work, and readiness in meeting every kind of emergency. The party was made up of fourteen United States regular soldiers, nine Kentucky volunteers, two French voyageurs, a hunter, an interpreter and a negro servant. The soldiers were offered the munificent bounty of retirement upon full pay, with a grant of land. By Jefferson's directions, the party were encouraged to keep complete records of all they saw and did. They carried out the instruction so fully that seven journals besides those of Lewis and Clark themselves, were carefully kept, and in them a record was made of every important, as well as unimportant, discovery, even down to the ingredients of their meals and their doses of medicine. It is safe to say that no expedition was ever more fully or accurately reported. Although not a single one of the party possessed literary attainments, there is nevertheless a singular charm about the combined record which has been recognised to this day by repeated editions of the work. It was well understood that the success of the expedition depended largely upon making friends with the Indians, and the explorers were therefore completely fitted out with beads, mirrors, knives, and all manner of trinkets.
The summer of 1804 was spent in an easy and uneventful journey of five months up the Missouri to the country of the Mandan Indians, in what is now Dakota. There they determined to winter. The winter was devoted to making the acquaintance of Indians and to collecting botanical and zoölogical specimens, of which they sent President Jefferson a large amount by a portion of the party which now left them and descended the River. And, while speaking of their relations to Indians, it is very interesting to note the attitude Jefferson instructed them to take in respect to the native tribes. He insisted upon a policy of peace and good-will toward all the tribes upon the route. It is observable that Jefferson refers in a most considerate and friendly manner to the Indians, and instructs the explorers to arrange, if possible, to have some of the more important chiefs induced to come back with the explorers to the city of Washington. He also points out the desirability of urging any bright young Indians to receive such arts as might be useful to them when in contact with the white men. Jefferson even goes so far as to advise the explorers to take along vaccine matter that the Indians might be instructed in the advantages of vaccination. A number of medallion medals were made that were intended to be given as presents to Indian chiefs, the inscription of which was "Peace and Friendship," with the design of clasped hands. These medals, it may be remarked, seem to have been prized by the Indians as among their greatest treasures. Several of them have been found in Indian graves; one even in a grave of the Nez Percé Indians in Idaho.While among the Mandans, the expedition was joined by the most attractive personage in it, that is to say, Sacajawea. This young Indian woman, the only woman in the expedition, seems to have furnished the picturesque element in the composition of the party, and she has in later days become the subject of great interest on the part of students of Pacific Coast history.
On April 7th, everything was in readiness for resuming their journey up the River. The explorers embarked again in a squadron of six canoes and two pirogues.
On the twelfth day of August, an advance party of the explorers crossed the Great Divide of the Rocky Mountains, the birthplace of mighty rivers. Descending the western slope, they found themselves in the country of the Shoshone Indians. Captain Lewis was leading this advance expedition, and, as he neared the highest point of the pass, he realised the significance of the transition from the waters of the Missouri to those of the Columbia. A quotation from his narrative at this most interesting point of the journey gives the reader a better conception than any description could, of the feelings of the explorers:
The road was still plain, and as it led directly toward the mountains, the stream gradually became smaller, till after their advancing two miles further, it had so greatly diminished in width that one of the men in a fit of enthusiasm, with one foot on each side of the rivulet, thanked God that he had lived to bestride the Missouri. As they proceeded, their hope of seeing the waters of the Columbia rose to almost painful anxiety; when at the distance of four miles from the last abrupt turn of the stream, they reached a small gap formed by the high mountains which recede on either side, leaving room for the Indian road. From the foot of one of the lowest of these mountains, which arises with a gentle ascent of about half a mile, issued the remotest water of the Missouri. They had now reached the hidden sources of that river, which had never before been seen by civilised man; and as they quenched their thirst at the chaste and icy fountain,—as they sat down by the brink of that little rivulet, which yielded its distant and modest tribute to the parent ocean,—they felt themselves rewarded for all their labours and difficulties. They left reluctantly this interesting spot, and pursuing the Indian road through the interval of the hills, arrived at the top of a ridge from which they saw high mountains, partially covered with snow, still to the west of them. The ridge on which they stood formed the dividing line between the waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. They found the descent much steeper than on the eastern side, and at the distance of three-quarters of a mile, reached a handsome, bold creek of cold, clear water running to the westward. They stopped to taste for the first time the waters of the Columbia.
The party was now upon the western slope of the Great Divide, in the vicinity of the present Fort Lemhi in Eastern Idaho. They supposed that they were almost to the Pacific, not realising that a thousand miles of difficult and dangerous travel and more than two months of time still separated them from their wished-for goal. The journey, in fact, from the springs of the Missouri to the navigable waters of the Columbia, proved to be the most critical of the whole series.
Soon after passing the crest of the mountains, the party encountered a band of sixty Indians of the Shoshone tribe, coming to meet them at full speed, upon fine horses, and armed for battle. Captain Lewis, who always showed great discretion with Indians, took the Stars and Stripes in his hand, and advanced alone to meet the party. As soon as the Indians perceived that he was a white man, they
showed signs of great rejoicing, and the three leaders of the war-party, dismounting, embraced the American captain with great exuberance, shouting words which he afterwards discovered meant, "We are rejoiced! We are rejoiced!" The valiant captain, however, was much more pleased with the hearty good-will of their intentions than in the manner of its expression, inasmuch as they had transferred a good portion of the war paint from their own faces to his. Lewis now brought up his companions and entered upon a long and friendly conference with the chief of the party, whose name was Cameahwait. Captain Lewis, as the representative of the great American nation, set forth to the eager listeners about him, a glowing report as to the benevolence of the Great Father at Washington, and his desire that his brothers of the West should come into friendly relations with him and trade their furs for the beads and blankets and knives which the Indians so highly prize. He also explained to them that they would receive from his government guns and ammunition which would enable them to cope with the dreaded Sioux or the pitiless Blackfeet. Captain Lewis also greatly aroused the curiosity of these Indians by indicating to them that he had with him a woman of their tribe, and also a man who was perfectly black and yet not painted. He now made a proposition to Cameahwait to go back with him and his companions to the forks of the Missouri where they had left the main party with their goods and boats. Cameahwait very gladly agreed to do this and also to provide them with horses for the journey westward to the navigable waters of the Columbia.
After a journey of several days upon the back trail, the party found themselves again at the forks of the Missouri, but, somewhat to their surprise and consternation, the main party was not there. The Indians at first were very much excited, and, believing that they had been deceived and that the white men were enticing them to destruction, they were at the point of wreaking vengeance upon them. But with great tact and boldness, Lewis gave the chief his gun and ammunition, telling him that if it proved that he had been a deceiver, they might instantly kill him. Reassured, the Indians proceeded onward and in a short time they could descry the boats, making their way slowly up the impetuous stream toward a bold promontory where the Indians were stationed. In the bow of the foremost boat was seated Sacajawea, clad in her bright red blanket, and gazing eagerly at the group of Indians, thinking it possible that they might be of her own tribe. As the boat approached the band, the keen-sighted little Indian woman soon perceived that these people were indeed of her own Shoshone tribe. Quickly disembarking, she made her way to them, when suddenly her eyes fell upon the chief, Cameahwait. Then to the astonishment of the white men who were with her, she broke forth suddenly into a torrent of tears which were soon changed into joyful smiles as the chief, with almost as much emotion as herself, rushed forward to embrace her. She then explained to Captain Lewis that Cameahwait was her own brother, whom she had not seen since, as a little girl, she had been seized by the Mandans and carried into captivity.
Of course there was now the kindliest feeling between the party of explorers and the Indians. They found everything that they needed, horses, provisions, and guides, placed at their disposal. They were at that time, as would be seen by an inspection of the map, at the head waters of Salmon River. They hoped that they might find a route down that powerful stream to navigable water. But the Indians assured them that the river was white with foam for many miles and disappeared in a chain of terrific snowy mountains. It became necessary, therefore, to find a more northerly route, and on the last day of August, with twenty-nine horses, having bidden a hearty good-bye to the hospitable Shoshones, they turned north-westward and soon became entangled in the savage ridges and defiles, already spotted with snow, of the Bitter Root Mountains.
They were at this time among some of the upper branches of the second largest tributary of the Columbia, named by them Clark's Fork, though at the present time more commonly known by the more rhythmic title of Pend Oreille. After several days of the most difficult, and indeed dangerous, journeying of their entire trip, they abandoned the northern route, turned southward, and soon reached the wild and beautiful stream which they called the Kooskooskie, commonly known to modern times as the Clearwater, one of the finest of all the fine rivers of Idaho, the “Gem of the Mountains.”
But they were not yet by any means clear of danger. The country still frowned on them with the same forbidding crags, and the same blinding snow storms as before. They were approaching the starvation point. The craggy precipices were marked with almost daily accidents to men and beasts. Their only food was the flesh of their precious horses. Under these harassing circumstances, it was decided that the wisest thing was for Captain Clark to take six of his best men and press rapidly forward in search of game and a more favourable country. After a hard journey of twenty miles, he found himself upon the crest of a towering cliff, from which stretched in front a vast open plain. This was the great plain, now covered with wheat-fields and orchards, lying east and north of the present city of Lewiston, Idaho. Having made their way down the declivities of the Bitter Root Mountains to the prairie, where they found a climate that seemed almost tropical after the bitter cold of the high mountains, the advance guard camped and waited for the main party to come up.
Rejoicing at their release from the distressing conditions of their passage of the Bitter Root Mountains, they passed onward to a beautiful mountain-enclosed valley, which must have been in the near vicinity of what is known as the Kamiah Valley of the present time. Here they found themselves with a large body of Indians who became known subsequently as the Nez Percés. These Indians appeared to be the most honest, intelligent, and attractive they had yet met,—eager to assist them, kind and helpful, although shrewd and business-like in their trading.
The Nez Percés imparted to them the joyful news that the Great River was not far distant. Seeing the Clearwater to be a fine, navigable stream, the explorers determined to abandon the weary land journey and once more commit their fortunes to the waters. They left their horses with the Nez Percés, asking that they should meet them at that point in the following spring when they expected to be on their return trip. The scrupulous fidelity with which the Nez Percés carried out their trust is some evidence of the oft-made assertion that the treachery characteristic of the Indians was learned afterwards from the whites.
With five large and well-filled canoes, and with a good supply of eatables and all the other necessaries of life, the explorers now cast themselves upon the clear, swift current of the Kooskooskie, and on the 10th of October reached that striking and interesting place where the beautiful modern town of Lewiston is located, at the junction of the Clearwater and the Snake. The turbid, angry, sullen Snake, so striking a contrast with the lesser stream, received from the explorers the name of Kimooenim, its Indian name. Subsequently they christened it Lewis's Fork, but the still less attractive name of Snake is the one by which it is universally known.
The journey of a hundred and twenty miles from the junction of the Clearwater and the Snake to the junction of the latter stream with the mighty Columbia, seems to have been a calm and uneventful journey, though the explorers record every manner of event, whether important or unimportant. Knowledge of their approach seems to have reached the Indian world, and when on October 16th they reached the point where the modern city of Pasco is located, they were met by a regular procession of two hundred Indians. The two great rivers were then at their lowest point in the year, and they found by measurement that the Columbia was 960 yards in width and the Snake, 575 yards. In the glimmering haze of the pleasant October day they noted how the vast, bare prairie stretched southward until it was broken by the rounded summits of the Blue Mountains. To their astonishment, they found that the Sohulks, who lived at the junction of the rivers, so differed from other Indians that the men were content with one wife and that they would actually assist her in the drudgery of the family life. After several days spent in rest and getting fish, which seemed to throng the river in almost countless numbers, they resumed their journey upon the magnificent flood of the Columbia. Soon after passing what we now call the Umatilla Highland, they caught their first glimpse, clear-cut against the horizon of the south-west, of the bold cone of Mt. Hood, glistening with its eternal snows. Landing upon the broad prairie near where Umatilla is now located, Captain Clark shot a crane and a duck. He then perceived a group of Indians who were almost paralysed with terror and yet able to make their way with considerable expedition to a little group of tepees. Having entered one of these, Captain Clark discovered thirty-two Indians, men, women, and children, all of whom seemed to be in the greatest terror, wailing and wringing their hands. Endeavouring by kind looks and gestures to soothe their perturbation, Captain Clark held up a burning glass to catch a stray sunbeam with which to light his pipe. Whereupon the consternation of the Indians was redoubled, to be soothed only by the arrival of the two Indian guides who were accompanying the party. The terrified Indians explained to the guides that they knew that Captain Clark must have some bad medicine about him,
for he had dropped out of the sky with a dead crane and a duck, accompanied by a terrible noise.
The Indians being now convinced that he was a mortal man, and, moreover, having heard the sound of the violin which the negro servant carried with him, became so enamoured with the strangers that they stayed up with them all night, and in the morning collected by hundreds to bid them good-bye.
The Indians had now given them to understand that in a short time they would reach the place which they knew as "Timm." This seems to have been an Indian word for falls. It still appears in the name Tumwater Falls applied to the falls at Celilo on the Columbia. A weird, savage place this proved to be; crags of basalt, thrust through the soil, like clenched hands, seemed almost to grasp the rushing river. Making several portages, the voyagers reached that extraordinary place now called The Dalles, or the "big chute," where all the waters of the Columbia are squeezed into a crack only a hundred and fifty feet in width. The River, in fact, is "turned on edge." The explorers, finding the shore so rough that it was difficult to carry their boats over, steered boldly through that witch's caldron. Though they must have been carried with frightful rapidity through the boiling stream, they reached the end of the cataract without accident. At this point they began to be aware of the fact that they were reaching the sphere of the white traders from the ocean, for they began to see blankets, axes, brass kettles, and other articles of civilised manufacture. The Indians, too, were more saucy, suspicious, and treacherous than those of the upper country.
Being launched upon the calm, deep flood of the River below The Dalles, they observed the phenomenon of the submerged forest, which at a low state of water is still conspicuous. They correctly inferred that this indicated a damming up of the River at some recent time. They thought indeed that it could not have been more than twenty years previous. We know, however, that submerged trees or piles, as indicated by remains of old Roman wharves in Britain, may remain intact for hundreds of years. This place on the Columbia is, however, one of the most interesting of its many interesting phenomena. It is evident that within very recent times, geologically speaking, there was a prodigious rock-slide from the mountains which closed the River, producing the cataract of the Cascades and raising the River above, some forty feet.
Here the explorers had their last portage. On the second day of November they reached the foot of the Cascades and perceived the movement of the tide, which made it plain to them that the ocean was near at hand. Yet, in reality, it was much farther than they thought, for the majestic lower River extends one hundred and sixty miles from the foot of the last cataract to the Pacific. It is interesting to notice comments made by the explorers upon the green and fertile islands at the lower end of the Cascades, and that spired and turreted volcanic cliff which they called Beacon Rock, but which we know now as Castle Rock.The rest of the journey of Lewis and Clark was a calm floating down the tranquil flood of the lower Columbia in the midst of the fog and clouds which at that season of the year generally embrace all objects. On November 7th the mist suddenly broke away before them, the bold mountainous shores vanished in front, and, through the parted headlands, they looked forth into the expanse of the ocean.
Their journey was now ended. They had demonstrated the possibility of crossing the continent and of linking together the waters of the Missouri and the Columbia.
The winter of 1805-06 was spent in log buildings at a point named by the explorers, Fort Clatsop, situated on the Lewis and Clark River at the south side of the Columbia a few miles from the present site of Astoria. The location of this fort has been identified in modern times, as has also the location of the salt cairn, upon what is now known as the Seaside Beach, commemorated by an inscription.
One of the interesting little human touches in the narrative of Captain Lewis describes the casting of a whale upon Clatsop Beach and the journey of the party to see the great marine curiosity, as well as to secure some of its fat and blubber. The Indian woman, Sacajawea, was to be left behind to keep camp while they were all at the beach, but she put up the earnest plea that inasmuch as she had never seen any such curiosity as the "big fish," and as she had journeyed all those weary miles from the country of the Mandans, it seemed hard that she should be denied the privilege of satisfying her eyes with a view of the whale. Lewis remarks that the request of the poor woman seemed so reasonable that they at once fixed up camp in such manner that it could be left, and took her with them, to her intense satisfaction.
After four months spent in the fogs and mists of the coast, and without seeing any of the ships which the Indians said were accustomed to come in considerable numbers during the spring and summer, the party turned their faces homeward on the 23d of March, 1806. The commander posted upon the fort a notice which read as follows:
The object of this last is that through the medium of some civilised person who may see the same, it may be made known to the world that the party consisting of the persons whose names are hereunto annexed and who were sent out by the Government of the United States to explore the interior of the continent of North America, did penetrate the same by way of the Missouri and Columbia Rivers, to the discharge of the latter into the Pacific Ocean, at which they arrived on the 14th day of November, 1805, and departed on their return to the United States by the same route by which they had come.
They also gave to the chiefs of the Clatsops and Chinooks certificates, to which they attached great importance and which were afterwards exhibited to other explorers, setting forth the just and hospitable treatment which these Indians had accorded the party.
The return from Fort Clatsop to the Missouri was in the main a pleasant and successful journey without extraordinary event, except the fact that upon their return they discovered the Willamette River, which, strange to say, had eluded their observation on their journey down the River in November. The journal contains the somewhat quaint statement that the chief cultivable region which they discovered in Oregon was Wapatoo Island, now known as Sauvie's Island, at the mouth of the Willamette. They express the conviction that that fertile tract of country and the region adjoining might sometime support a population of fifty thousand people. They seem to regard this as an extraordinary prophecy of prosperity. Inasmuch as there are already over four times that number of people in the city of Portland, it would seem that Lewis and Clark were hardly "boomers" in the modern sense of the word.
One interesting thing in connection with the Lewis and Clark expedition receives special emphasis from them in the account of their return journey, and that is, the faithfulness, honesty, and devotion of the Indians when entrusted with any charge, as the care of horses or canoes. This character of the Indians was so marked that one can hardly avoid the conclusion that the subsequent troubles with the Indians were due very largely to abuse by the whites.
No better summary can be given of the scope of this historic journey than that by Captain Lewis himself in his journal. He says:
The road by which we went out by way of the Missouri to its head is three thousand ninety-six miles; thence by land by way of Lewis River over to Clark's River and down that to the entrance of Traveller's Rest Creek, where all the roads from different routes meet; thence across the rugged part of the Rocky Mountains to the navigable waters of the Columbia, three hundred and ninety-eight miles, thence down the river six hundred and forty miles to the Pacific Ocean, making a total distance of four thousand one hundred and thirty-four miles. On our return in 1806 we reduced the distance from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean to three thousand five hundred and fifty-five miles.
The safe return of the explorers to their homes created a sensation throughout the United States and the world. Leaders and men were suitably rewarded. Though the expedition was not marked by many remarkable adventures or dramatic events, and though the narration given by the explorers is of a plain and simple kind with no attempt at literary ornamentation, yet occurring, as the expedition did, at such a peculiar juncture in our history, and having such an effect to bridge the chasm between the old time and the new, this Lewis and Clark expedition has continued to receive, and justly, more attention than any other journey in our history. President Jefferson, paying a tribute to Captain Lewis in 1813, expressed himself thus:
Never did a similar event excite more joy throughout the United States; the humblest of its citizens have taken a lively interest in the issue of this journey and looked with impatience for the information it would furnish. Nothing short of the official journals of this extraordinary and interesting journey will exhibit the importance of the service, the courage, devotion, zeal, and perseverance, under circumstances calculated to discourage, which animated this little band of heroes, throughout the long dangerous, and tedious travel.
The expedition of Lewis and Clark may justly be considered as constituting the first steps across the wilderness. The breadth of the American continent was now known. The general relations of its rivers and mountain systems and prairies were understood. Something of its prodigality of resources became set forth to the world. A dim consciousness of the connection of this vast Pacific domain with the progress of American destiny appeared to our grandfathers. And although the wilderness traversed by this complete expedition did not come into possession of the United States for many years, yet it might well be said that our subsequent acquirement of it was due to the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Of the many remarkable explorations which followed, with all of their adventure and tragedy, we cannot here speak. For several years all the expeditions to the far West were the outgrowth of the fur-trade. Most remarkable of these early journeys was that of the Hunt party which was the land division of the great Astor movement to establish the Pacific Fur Company. That company was established by John Jacob Astor of New York for the purpose of making a bold and far-reaching attempt to control the fur-trade of the Pacific Coast in the interests of the United States. While the sea division was upon its journey around Cape Horn, the land division was in process of organisation at St. Louis. Wilson Price Hunt, the commander of this division, was the second partner in the Astor company. He had been merchandising for some years at St. Louis, and had become impressed with the financial profits of the fur-trade as well as with the vast possibilities of American development on the continent. Hunt was a fine type of the pioneer promoter of that age. Brave, humane, cheerful, and resolute, he appears to us as the very flower of the adventurous Argonauts who were searching for the seal and beaver fleeces of the far West.
With Hunt were associated four other partners of the expedition, Crooks, McKenzie, Miller, and McCellan. Accompanying the party were two English naturalists, Bradbury and Nuttall, who did the first scientific study of the Rocky Mountain region. There were forty Canadian voyageurs whose duties consisted of rowing, transporting, cooking, and general drudgery. The remaining twelve of the party consisted of a group of American hunters and trappers, the leader of whom was a Virginian named John Day. The company was in all respects fitted out most bountifully.
There were at that time two great classes of trappers. The first and most numerous were the Canadian voyageurs. These were mainly of French descent, many of them being half-breeds. Almost amphibious by nature and training, gay and amiable in disposition, with true French vivacity and ingenuity, gliding over every harsh experience with laugh and song, possessed of quick sympathies and humane instincts which enabled them to readily find the best side of the Indians,—these French voyageurs constituted a most interesting as well as indispensable class in the trapper's business.
The free trappers were an entirely different class of men. They were usually American by birth, Virginia and Kentucky being the homes of most of them. Patient and indefatigable in their work of trapping, yet, when on their annual trip to the towns, given to wild dissipation and savage revellings, indifferent to sympathy or company, harsh and cruel to the Indians, bold and overbearing, with blood always in their eyes, thunder in their voices, and guns in their hands, yet underneath all of their harsh exterior having noble hearts, could they but be reached, these now vanished trappers have gone to a place in history alongside of the old Spartans and the followers of Pizarro and Cortez in Spanish conquest.
Of the many adventures of the Hunt party on the journey up the Missouri, we cannot speak. For some reason, although taking a more direct route than did Lewis and Clark, and having, to all appearance, a better equipped party, they did not make so good time. Guided by Indians, they crossed chain after chain of mountains, supposing each to be the summit, only to find another yet to succeed. At last on the 15th of September, they stood upon a lofty eminence over which they could gaze both eastward and westward. Scanning attentively the western horizon, the guide pointed out three shining peaks, whose bases, he told them, were touched by a tributary of the Columbia River. These peaks are now known as the Three Tetons.
And now the party set forth upon the long descent of the western slope, passing mountain after mountain and stream after stream, some of the way in boats which the voyageurs made from the green timber of the forests, and much of the way being obliged to carry their effects around cataracts and rapids, and thus losing much time. Nevertheless, they found one long stretch of over a hundred miles upon the upper Snake which they navigated with comparative ease. But having reached what is now known as the Seven Devils country in South-western Idaho, they found themselves in a chain of rapids and precipitous bluffs where neither boats nor horses, apparently nothing but wings, could be of service. This was in fact the beginning of over a hundred miles of the most ragged and inaccessible region upon the whole course of the Snake River, a region which even to this day contains neither road nor steamboat route, and by which the great State of Idaho is separated into two divisions, neither directly accessible to the other by any ordinary modes of travel.
After a forty-mile tramp up and down the river, Hunt decided that the only way to escape the difficulties with which they were surrounded, was to divide the party into four divisions, hoping that one of them might find game and a way out of the forbidding volcanic wastes in which they were beleaguered. Two of the parties soon returned. One, being in charge of McKenzie, continued upon its course northward and reached the mouth of the Columbia, without ever again seeing the main party.
During the weeks that followed, the main party, lost amid the great mountains which lie eastward from the present vicinity of Baker City and Wallowa Lake, suffered all the torments of famine and cold. In places the river ran through volcanic sluiceways, roaring and raging; in some cases, although within hearing, yet entirely inaccessible, so that although within sound of its angry raving, the travellers were often obliged to lie down with tongues parched and swollen for lack of water. The party applied to this long volcanic "chute" the name of the Devil's Scuttle-hole, and to the river they applied the name La Rivière Maudite Enragée, or "Accursed Mad River."
The lives of the party were evidently at stake. In the emergency Hunt determined to divide his force into two divisions, one on the north and one on the south side of the river. From the 9th of November until the first part of December they urged on this dismal and heart-sickening march. They passed a few wretched Indian camps where they managed to secure dogs for food, and once they got a few horses. The frightened and half-starved Indians could give them no clear information as to the location of the Great River, but they signified that they supposed it to be yet a long way off. The party was evidently approaching something, for gigantic snowy mountains now loomed dimly through the winter mists. Finding it impossible to make headway against blinding snowstorms and up the icy crags, they turned their course down to the river itself and made a cheerless camp. In the morning they were startled by seeing upon the opposite side of the river, a group of men more wretched and desolate than themselves. It soon appeared that this was the other party, which had entirely failed in finding either food or guidance from the Indians. Finding it necessary that some provision should be made for these dying men, Hunt constructed a rude canoe from the limbs of trees and the skin of one of the horses. In this crazy craft one of the daring Canadian voyageurs made his way with some of the horse meat, which, poor as it was, was sufficient to save life for the time.
With their little remaining strength, they pressed on down the river until they reached another small village of the wretched Snake Indians. Urging these Indians to provide for them a guide, and at last securing one by the most bounteous offers of rewards, Hunt succeeded in gathering all of his party together, with the exception of six sick men whom they were obliged to leave to the tender mercies of the Indians.
For another fortnight, the cold and hungry party floundered painfully through the snow across the rugged mountains which lie between what we now know as the Powder River Valley and the Grande Ronde. Reaching a lofty mountain height on the last day of December, they looked far down into a fair and snowless prairie, bathed in sunshine and appearing to the winter-worn travellers like a gleam of summer. Moreover, they soon discerned a group of Indian lodges which they judged were well supplied with dogs and horses. Thither hastening eagerly, they soon found themselves in a beautiful valley, which from their description must have been the Grande Ronde Valley. Beautiful at all times, it must have seemed trebly so to these ragged and famished wanderers.
The next morning the new year of 1812 shone in upon them bright and cheerful, as if to make amends for the stern severity of the outgoing year. And now the Canadians insisted upon having their New Year's holiday. Not even death and famine could rob the light-hearted voyageurs of their festivals. So with dance and song and with dog meat, roasted, boiled, fried, and fricasseed, they met the newly-crowned year with their Gallic happiness and abandon.
The Indians assured them that they could reach the Great River within three days. But they found it twice that, and their way led across another lofty chain of snowy mountains, before the canopy of clouds which hung above them parted. There, looking far down from their snowy eyre, they beheld the boundless and sunny plains of the Great River. Swiftly descending the slopes of the mountains, they emerged upon that finest land of all Eastern Oregon, the plains of the Umatilla. Here they found the tribe of the Tushepaw Indians with thirty-four lodges and two hundred horses. More significant than these to Hunt were axes, kettles, and other implements of white construction, indicating that these Indians had already come into communication with the traders upon the lower River. In answer to his eager questions, the Tushepaws informed him that the Great River was but two days distant and that a small party of white men had just descended it. Being now certain that this was the advance guard which had left him at the Devil's Scuttle-hole, Hunt felt sure that they were safe and was therefore relieved of one great anxiety.
After a few days' rest upon the pleasant prairies and in the comparatively genial climate of the Umatilla, the party set forth upon horses obtained from the Tushepaws, and after a pleasant ride of two days across the rolling prairie, they beheld flowing at their feet, a majestic stream, deep and blue, a mile in width, sweeping toward the sunset, evidently the Columbia. At the great falls of the River, known to the Indians as the Timm or the Tumwater, just above what we now call Dalles City, Hunt exchanged his horses for canoes. This last stage of two hundred and twenty miles by boat down the River, was calm and peaceful and a refreshing rest after the distress and disaster of their winter journey through the mountains. Not till the 15th of February, however, did they reach the newly christened town of Astoria. Rounding the bluffs of Tongue Point, they beheld with full hearts the Stars and Stripes floating over the only civilised abode west of St. Louis. Westward they saw the parted headlands between which the River pours its floods into the ocean. As the boats drew near the shore, the whole population, trappers, sailors, and Indians, came down to meet them. Foremost in the crowd they saw the members of the party which had gone on ahead through the Snake River Mountains. Having had no hope that Hunt and his men could survive the famine and the cold, these members of the advance guard were the more rejoiced to see them. The Canadians, with their French vivacity, rushed into each other's arms, sobbing and hugging like so many schoolgirls. Even the nonchalant Americans and the stiff-jawed Scotchmen smiled and gave themselves up to the gladness of the hour. The next two or three days were mainly devoted to eating and telling stories.
As we have seen, they had lost several of their number from starvation and drowning along the banks of the Snake River. They had also left six sick men with the Indians in the heart of the mountains. They had little hope of ever seeing these again, but the next summer the party on their way up the Columbia River, saw two wretched looking beings, naked and haggard, wandering on the river bank near the mouth of the Umatilla. Stopping to investigate, they discovered that these were Day and Crooks, the leaders of the party which they had left behind. Their forlorn plight was relieved with food and clothes, and, having been taken into the boat, they related their dismal tale. It appeared that they had been provided sufficiently by the Indians to sustain their lives through the winter. In the spring they had left the Canadians among the Indians, and had set forth in the hope of reaching the Great River. But having reached The Dalles, they had been robbed of rifles and ammunition, stripped of their clothing, and driven forth into the wilderness. They were almost at the point of a final surrender to ill-fortune when they beheld the rescuing boat. So, with joyful hearts, they turned their boat's prow to Astoria, which they reached in safety. But poor Day never regained his health. His mind was shattered by the hardships of his journey, and he soon pined away and died. The barren and rugged shores of the John Day River in Eastern Oregon take on an added interest in view of the sad story of the brave hunter who discovered them, and who wandered in destitution for so many days beside them. Strange to say, the four Canadians who remained among the Indians were afterwards found alive, though utterly destitute of all things. Hence it appears that the loss of life in this difficult journey was not great.
The journeys here narrated may be considered as covering what we have designated as the first steps across the wilderness. Within a few years, many parties of trappers, explorers, and adventurers, with some scientists, and a little later, parties of missionaries, made their way over the great plains, through the defiles of the mountains, and down the barren shores of the Snake River to the Columbia and the sea. Each party had its special experiences, and made its special contribution to geographical or commercial advancement. But to the parties led by Lewis and Clark and by Hunt, we must accord the greatest meed of praise for having broken the first pathways across the continent and for having linked the two oceans by the footsteps of civilised men.