Bear River Expedition - Letter October 24, 1859
|The Late Massacre near Fort Hall
CAMP FLOYD, UTAH TERRITORY,
October 24, 1859.
SIR: Having performed the duties assigned to me by Special Orders No. 142, from the headquarters of this post, dated May 30, 1859, and instructions from the headquarters of this department, dated June 5, 1859; also Special Order No. 71, dated August 14, 1859, and instructions dated August 15, 1859, both from the headquarters of this department, I have the honor to submit the following report:
I left this camp on the 12th of June, 1859, with D company, seventh infantry, and B company, second dragoons, with rations for ninety days, for the purpose of protecting emigration on the northern route to California.
Eight wagons, with ox teams, left the vicinity of this camp under my protection, which caused my progress to be slow at first. These emigrants avowed themselves to be seceders from the Mormon faith, and stated that they had reason to fear molestation from the Mormons, and for that reason they sought the protection of the troops. I reached Brigham City, the extreme northern settlement on Great Salt Lake, on the 18th of June. The distance from Camp Floyd to this point is one hundred and thirteen miles. That part of the valley of Great Salt Lake, north of Great Salt Lake City, is much better than south of that city, the crops looking much better, and vegetation being at least three weeks earlier than in Cedar valley. Being informed at Brigham City that Bear river was so high that it could not be forded, I proceeded to the ferry on Bear river, which is about ten miles below the usual fording place. On reaching that point I found the river very high and difficult to cross, on account of the miry nature of the banks. I crossed my train by the ferry-boat, but, in doing so, had four mules drowned by the breaking of the ferry boat. To this point I found very little grass for the horses and mules, as nearly all the land producing grass is fenced in by the inhabit ants. From this point to the City of Rocks, a distance of about one hundred miles, the road passes over a hilly country, with plenty of grass and good water, with but little fuel except sage. Here the great emigrant roads passing north of Utah join the northern route from Great Salt Lake to California. We have met a few small parties traveling from California to the States east.
At about twelve miles from this point reached the foot of Goose Creek mountains. The ascent to the summit of the mountain on the east side is very gradual, but the descent on the western side is abrupt, and the hills very steep. At the foot of these mountains on the west side is Goose creek, a beautiful stream of clear, good water, with a valley about half a mile wide, covered with a fine growth of grass.
The road followed the creek for about eighteen miles, when it leaves that valley, and passing through Rock Spring valley and Thousand Spring valley, it crosses the headwaters of the Humboldt river, passing over an abrupt divide at the head of Thousand Spring valley. **From Goose creek to the headwaters of the Humboldt river, a distance of about eighty miles, the grass is scarce, yet, by driving stock from one to three miles from the road, a sufficient quantity can be obtained. Water tolerably good, and in sufficient quantities. On reaching the head of Humboldt river, I found the stream was so high that I could not travel by the usually traveled road, which passes down the north side of the stream and near its banks. I had to take the road on the south side, which runs along the base of a chain of mountains, which I found very rough and hilly ; but the road was tolerably good as far as the south fork of the Humboldt river, a distance of about seventy miles. The valley of the Humboldt river to this point is from twelve to fifteen miles wide, and much of it covered with excellent grass; and the sides of the mountains, for considerable distance from their bases, are covered with a fine growth of bunch grass. The road crosses a great number of small streams of the purest water, which come from the snow-capped mountains and which run into the Humboldt river. At this point the mountains close in upon the river, and the road passes over a mountainous country, and does not again touch the valley of the Humboldt for a distance of about fifty miles, near Gravelly Ford. This distance is over some of the worst hills and worst road I ever saw.
Reached Gravelly Ford on the 12th of July. At this point, the road by which the mail from Great Salt Lake City to California is carried, intersects the road that I have been traveling, and here I found a mail station. Here the musquitoes and flies became very trouble some to the men and animals, and the water very much impregnated with alkali.
Left Gravelly Ford on the 14th of July, and at 22 miles distance encamped at the second mail station on the river. At this point the medical officer of the expedition reported that a private of the second dragoons was so sick that it would endanger his life to move him, and that it was very uncertain how long it would be necessary for him to rest. I therefore took fifty men (twenty-five from each company) and three officers, leaving the remainder of the command under Captain L. McLaws, seventh infantry. I proceeded down the river a distance of ninety-six miles. The greater part of this distance, the valley, which does not average more than three-fourths of a mile in width, was covered with water, and deep sloughs, running parallel to the river, render it impossible to reach the main stream, except at long intervals. The water in these sloughs was so much impregnated with alkali as to render it dangerous for the animals to drink it, and the musquitoes and flies worse than I ever saw them before. The persons at the mail station reported that no Indians were in the valley, and I had seen none since leaving G-ravelly Ford, except a few individuals employed about the mail stations. Believing that it was useless for me to proceed further, I determined to return.
The distance from Camp Floyd to this point is 584 miles. From this point to the sink of the Humboldt is about eighty miles, as near as I could judge from the best information I could obtain. I arrived at this point on the 19th of July, and commenced my return march the next day. The valley of the Humboldt, below Gravelly ford, is narrow, and all vegetation is confined to that immediate valley. The hills and mountains are perfectly barren. There is no timber in the whole valley, or on the mountains in sight of the valley of the Humboldt. Near the point where I crossed the south fork there is some cedar that would do for fuel, and in two or three other places there is a little dwarf cedar. The banks of the stream are fringed with willow nearly its whole length. I rejoined Captain McLaws nine miles east of Gravelly Ford, on the north side of the river, where he had moved for a better camp on the 26th of July, and on the 29th started from that point to return by the north side of the river, as the water had fallen sufficiently to enable me to travel on that side. Sixty-five miles above Gravelly Ford, at the north fork of Humboldt, I saw fifteen Shoshanee Indians, and talked with them. They professed to be friendly to the whites, and the emigrants on the road were not troubled by them. All the Indians in this part of the country are miserably poor, nearly naked, and subsisting on squirrels and rats that they dig from the ground, they beg from the emigrants the cattle that die of disease .and eat them. We are now meeting great numbers of emigrants going west, and many of them are very destitute. I relieved many of them by issuing provisions to them. I reached the head of the Hum boldt on the 3d of August, and found that the distance from Gravelly Ford to this point was much less by the north side than by the south side, and the road excellent all the -way,, with the finest grass and plenty of willow for fuel, and the water very good. In the Thousand Spring valley I met Mr. Shepherd's train of emigrants, who had been attacked by Indians, or men painted and dressed as Indians, on Hedspeth's cut-off, and three men killed, and one man, one woman, and one child wounded ; the wounded man afterwards died. Their wagons were burned, and their stock and other property carried off. These people state that they recognized at least three white men, painted and dressed as Indians, in the attacking party, and that those white men appeared to be the leading men of the party. During the season of emigration many persons located themselves along the different roads with a few goods for the avowed purpose of trading with the emigrants, but, in fact, I believe, for the purpose of inciting the Indians to plunder the trains, and assisting them in these outrages. They are then enabled to purchase for a trifle the Indian's share of the spoil. This practice, I think, should be stopped.
On the 19th of August I reached the ford of Bear river, where I found orders to establish a depot at or near that point, from which to operate against the Indians for the protection of emigration. Here I found Second Lieutenant E, Gay, second dragoons, in command of G company, second dragoons. On the same day, First Lieutenant G. A. Gordon, with company E, second dragoons, joined, at the ford of Bear river.
On the 20th of August I assumed command of the "Bear River expedition," and attached the "Humboldt expedition" to that expedition, and established the depot about one mile from the ford of Bear river.
On the 21st I detached two companies, (D, seventh infantry, and G, second dragoons,) under the command of Captain L. McLaws, seventh infantry, in the direction of Fort Hall, Oregon Territory, to patrol the different emigrant roads in that direction. After Captain McLaws left, a trader came to my camp with the information that another train had been attacked hy Indians, and one man filled and one man wounded. The wounded man was brought to my camp, with one leg and one arm broken by gun-shots.
On the 25th August, Captain T. H. Neill, fifth infantry, with com pany C, fifth infantry, and company B, tenth infantry, joined m$: command at the depot near Bear river. From this time scouts were kept constantly moving through Cache valley, in the canons in the vicinity, and on the different emigrant roads, and the country thor oughly examined as far as Bear River lake east, Fort Hall north, and Raft creek west, yet no traces of Indians could be discovered.
Another train was attacked on Lander's road, about eighteen miles west of Fort Hall, and four men, one woman, and three children killed, and this when two companies of troops were within twenty-five miles of them. These depredations were committed by a small band of Snake Indians, that are known as the Box Elder Indians, who frequent the northern Mormon settlements and usually winter there. The country which they inhabit is so broken up by mountains with narrow valleys between them,, with passes leading among them which no white man in the country knows anything of, that the Indians are enabled to evade the troops and to pounce upon any train on the road which is imprudent enough to travel without being prepared to defend themselves. Every train that has been attacked acknowledge that they were perfectly unprepared for defense. The Indians watch the trains from the hills, and if they see a train well armed and watchful, they do not molest them. I have seen many trains on the road during- the summer, who had plenty of arms ; but they carried them in their wagons, and in many cases without being loaded. They would laugh at me when I told them of the necessity of always having their arms ready for instant use. The emigration has been extremely numerous during the past summer. I have met as many as 300 wagons per day, which would average four persons to a wagon, and with at least 7,000 head of stock. I could form no accurate estimate of the whole number.
The only effectual means of protection for the emigration that I can suggest is, to establish two camps during the season of emigration and furnish escorts of one company or more, say twice a month. By establishing a camp of four companies at Goose creek, and one of four companies near Fort Hall, both of which points have the facilities of good fuel, water, and grass for such camps, an escort could be sent from the camp near Fort Hall, of one company, to leave the vicinity of the South Pass on the 1st and 15th of each month, to be met by a similar escort from the camp on Goose creek, near Raft creek, and to escort the trains to the Humboldt river. The Indians will not attack a train so escorted.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Major Seventh Infantry.
Major F. J. PORTER, Assistant Adjutant General,
Headquarters Department of Utah, Camp Floyd, U. T.
This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.