Atlantis Arisen/Chapter 2

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2523880Atlantis Arisen — Chapter 2Frances Fuller Victor



In the commencement of the present century, when we paid for our teas and silks with sealskins, cocoanut oil, and sandalwood, not to mention turtle and abalone shells, the United States were bounded by the British provinces on the north, by the Spanish possessions, called Florida, on the south, and by the French possessions, called Louisiana, on the west. Our seacoast extended only from the northern boundary of Maine to the southern boundary of Georgia; and the Mississippi River represented our western water-front, although the settlements in that part of our territory were chiefly French. Beyond the Mississippi was an expanse of country whose extent was undreamed of, as its geographical configuration was unknown. The explorations of the British fur companies in the north had revealed the existence of high mountains and great rivers in that direction; while the little knowledge obtained of the sources of the Missouri, the Columbia, and the Colorado, together with the immense volumes of these rivers, at so great an apparent distance from their springs, was sufficient to stimulate public inquiry and scientific research. How long such inquiry would have been deferred, but for a fortunate turn in the public affairs of the United States, can only be conjectured.

Our young republic had barely established her independence, and shaken off the lingering grasp of Great Britain from the forts and towns bordering on the Great Lakes,—had only just begun to feel the young giant's blood in her veins, and to trust her own strength when measured with that of an older and adroit foe,—when the nineteenth century dawned, in which so much has already been accomplished, though its ninth decade is but just completed.

The first event of importance marking this period, and bearing upon the history of Oregon, was the purchase from France of the Louisiana territory. This was a vast area of country, drained by the waters of the Mississippi, and originally settled by the French from Canada, especially in its more northern parts. Notwithstanding the Spaniards had discovered the Lower Mississippi, and claimed a great extent of country under the general name of Florida, King Louis XIV. of France, in consideration of the fact that the region of the Mississippi remained unoccupied by Spain, while it was gradually being settled by his own people, thought proper to grant to Antoine Crozat, in 1712, the exclusive trade of the whole of Southern Louisiana, the country included in this grant extending "from the seashore to the Illinois, together with the Rivers St. Philip (the Missouri) and the St. Jerome (the Ohio), with all the countries, territories, lakes in the land, and rivers emptying directly or indirectly into that part of the River St. Louis" (the Mississippi). Spain not being able to offer any successful opposition to this extensive land-grant of territories to which she laid claim by the right of discovery, Crozat remained in possession of Louisiana, under the general government of New France, until 1717, when, not finding the principality such a mine of wealth as he expected it to be, and having suffered a great private grief which took away the love of power, he relinquished his title, and Louisiana reverted to the crown. The Illinois country was afterward added to the original Louisiana territory, and the whole once more granted to Law's Mississippi Company, which company held it until 1732, when, the bubble of speculation being hopelessly flattened, Louisiana once more reverted to the French crown, and remained a French province until 1769.

In the mean time, however, certain negotiations were being carried forward which were to decide the future boundaries of the United States. In 1762, on the 3d of November, a convention was held at Paris, to settle the preliminaries of peace between France and Spain on the one part, and England and Portugal on the other, in which convention it was agreed that France should cede to Spain "all the country known under the name of Louisiana, as also New Orleans and the island on which that city is situated." On the 23d of the same month this cession was formally concluded, giving to Spain, with the consent of Great Britain and Portugal, all the country drained by the Mississippi and its tributaries, except a small portion north of the Illinois country, which was never mentioned in the boundaries of Louisiana.

In less than three months after the cession of Louisiana to Spain a treaty was concluded in Paris between the same high contracting parties, by which Great Britain obtained from France Canada, and from Spain Florida, and that portion of Louisiana east of a line drawn along the middle of the Mississippi, "from its source to the River Iberville, and thence along the middle of the Iberville, and the Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain, to the sea."

This treaty defined the limits of the territories belonging to Great Britain, and set aside any former grants of English kings, made when the extent of the continent was not even surmised. Thus, at the close of the Revolutionary War, when the United States became heirs of all the British possessions south of Canada, their western boundary, as before mentioned, was the Mississippi, as far south as the River Iberville and Lake Pontchartrain,—New Orleans and the mouths of the Mississippi belonging to Spain.

Florida, during the time it was in the hands of Great Britain, had been divided into two provinces, separated by the Appalachicola River, and settled chiefly by emigrants from the south of Europe, to whose numbers, also, a few Carolinians were added. This colony of foreigners was used, in connection with the savage natives of Florida, with great effect against the southern colonies during the War of Independence. However, while they were directing their energies against Georgia, the Spaniards of Louisiana seized the opportunity for making incursions into these nondescript British provinces, and captured their chief towns, thereby rendering them worthless to Great Britain; and in 1783 Florida was retroceded to Spain, in whose hands it was in the beginning of the nineteenth century, then forming the southern boundary of the United States.

In all these transactions the limits of neither Florida nor Louisiana had ever been distinctly defined; the southern boundaries of the latter infringing upon the western boundaries of the former territory. In 1800, when Spain retroceded Louisiana to France, it was described in the treaty as being the "same in extent that it now is in the hands of Spain, and that it had been when France possessed it,"—that is, embracing the whole territory drained by the Mississippi and its tributaries, "directly or indirectly."

In 1803, April 30, this vast extent of country was ceded to the United States by France, "with all its rights and appurtenances, as fully, and in the same manner, as they had been acquired by the French republic," by the retrocession of Spain. By this transfer on the part of France the Spanish government seemed at first disposed to be offended, and to offer obstacles to the settlement of the Americans in their newly-acquired territory. Doubtless, this feeling arose from the unsettled condition of the boundary questions, and a fear that the United States would, as they did, demand the surrender of the whole of the original territory of Louisiana, called for by the treaty. Spain then undertook to prove that the pretensions of France to any territories west of the Mississippi could not be supported, and that the French settlements were only tolerated by Spain for the sake of peace. Such a discrepancy between the views of the two nations forbade negotiation at that time, and the matter rested, not to be revived until 1817. In the mean time, however, the United States, in 1811, feeling the necessity of holding the principal posts in the disputed territory against all other powers, took possession of the country west of the Perdido River, which was understood to be the western limit of Florida. But a British expedition having fitted out from Pensacola during the second war with Great Britain, the United States sent General Jackson to capture it, which he did in 1814, and again in 1818, as also the Fort of St. Mark. These repeated demonstrations of the spirit of the United States led to further and more successful negotiations with Spain, which power finally ceded to the American government the whole of the territory claimed to belong to Florida, February 22, 1819, the boundaries being settled as follows:

"Article 3. The boundary-line between the two countries west of the Mississippi shall begin on the Gulf of Mexico, at the mouth of the River Sabine, in the sea, continuing north, along the western bank of that river, to the 23d degree of latitude; thence, by a line due north, to the degree of latitude where it strikes the Rio Roxo of Natchitoches, or Red River; then, following the course of the Rio Roxo westward, to the degree of longitude 100 west from London and 23 from Washington; then, crossing said Red River, and running thence, by a line due north, to the River Arkansas; thence, following the course of the southern bank of the Arkansas, to its source in latitude 42 north; and thence, by that parallel of latitude, to the South Sea."

Other particulars are added in the article quoted, the meaning of which is the same as the foregoing: intended to fix the western boundary of the United States, as regarded the Spanish possessions, and the eastern and northern boundaries of the Spanish possessions, as regarded the United States.

Spain had never withdrawn her pretensions to the northwest coast; but, being unable to colonize this distant territory, and still less able to hold it by garrisons in forts, she tacitly relinquished her claim to the United States, by making the forty-second parallel the northern limit of her possessions on the Pacific. The United States were then at liberty to take possession of that which Spain relinquished in their favor; in fact, had the same right to this remote territory that they had to the Florida and Louisiana territories, which were obtained by treaty from nations claiming them by the right of discovery.

But the claims of the United States to the so-called Oregon territory had even better foundations than this, if it be considered that Spain had actually abandoned her possessions in the northwest; for, in that case, the Oregon territory was theirs by the right of discovery and actual occupation, as well as by contiguity, by treaty, etc. At the time that Gray discovered and named Columbia's River, important as the discovery was, it awakened but little thought in the American mind; because, as yet, we had not acquired Louisiana, stretching to the Rocky Mountains, nor even secured the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, which was much more of an object, at that time, than the coast of the Pacific. However, when Louisiana became ours, the national mind awoke to the splendid possibilities of the nation's future. It was not for naught that a company of Boston merchants had opened a trade between China and the northwest coast; albeit, their captains gathered up trinkets of all sorts to add to their stock in trade, should furs fall short of the market. Not in vain had the prying Boston traders peered into all inlets, bays, and rivers on the northwest coast. When it came to discovery-rights, they had more claims than any people, the original discoverers excepted; and when Captain Vancouver's journal was published, it only convinced them that they should be fools not to profit by what it was so evidently fair they should profit by, though they did not quite see the way clear to the occupancy of the country which Columbia's River was believed to drain, nor of the islands and bays which their trading ships had explored. If Spain chose to hold possession of these coasts, they would not interfere; but if Great Britain attempted to override both Spain and America, in laying claim to the Pacific side of the continent, something might be done by way of preventing this attempt.

Such must have been the thought, half indulged, half repressed, in the American mind previous to the acquisition of the great Louisiana territory. After that acquisition it became more decided. The fact that Gray had discovered the great river of the west, which for a century had been sought after, the increasing evidences of the incapacity of Spain to hold this far-off coast against intruders, the feeling that Great Britain had no right to the countries she had so pompously taken possession of in the face of their actual discoverers,—all these reasons, joined to the probable fact that the Louisiana territory bordered upon that drained by the great western river, which an American was first to enter and explore, at length shaped the policy of a few leading minds among American statesmen.

It was even contended by some that, as the western boundary of Louisiana had never been fixed, and, indeed, was entirely unknown,—since the Missouri and its tributaries had never been explored,—the limits of the newly-acquired territory might be considered as extending to the Pacific; and if one were to consult the old French maps for confirmation of such an opinion, he would find New France, to which Louisiana belonged, extending from ocean to ocean. Yet, a perfectly candid mind would ignore the authority of maps drawn from rumor and imagination, and wish to found an opinion upon facts. It was to secure such facts and to carry out, as far as possible, the lately-formed policy of leading statesmen, that President Jefferson, even before the transfer of Louisiana was completed, addressed a confidential message to Congress, urging that means should be immediately taken to explore the sources of the Missouri and the Platte, and to ascertain whether the Columbia, the Oregon, the Colorado, or any other river, offered a direct and practicable water-communication across the continent, for purposes of commerce. The suggestions of the President being approved, commissions were issued to Captains Merriwether Lewis and William Clarke to perform this service. Captain Lewis made immediate preparations, and, by the time that the news of the ratification of the treaty had been received, was ready to commence his journey to the unknown West.

It was already summer when this news was received, and, although the party were ready to advance into the Indian country, it was too late to accomplish much of their journey before winter; besides which, some delay occurring in the surrender of the country west of the Mississippi, the party were not able to cross that river until December, in consequence of which detention, the ascent of the Missouri could not be undertaken before the middle of May of the following year. The exploring party consisted of but forty-four men,—an insignificant force to send into an Indian country,—yet, perhaps, all the safer for its insignificance. They had to make the ascent against the current of the Mad River in boats, three of which sufficed to accommodate this adventurous expedition. By the end of October they had arrived in the Mandan country, near the forty-eighth degree of latitude, or sixteen hundred miles from the Mississippi, where they made their winter camp. As every school-library is furnished with the printed journal of Lewis and Clarke, it is unnecessary to dwell upon the incidents of their memorable journey across the continent. It is only with its results that we have to deal in this sketch.

One of its results was developed at this early period, or during their stay at the Mandan village: which was, to alarm the Northwest Fur Company, and, through them, the English government, as to the designs of the Americans concerning the northern coast of the Pacific. It has been before stated that the Northwest Company had been compelled reluctantly to resign the posts along the Great Lakes, belonging to the United States, after the Revolutionary War. They still continued to hunt and trap, and had established their trading-posts in all that country lying about the head-waters of the Mississippi; and their employees were scattered throughout the region east of the Missouri, and west of the Lakes, even having penetrated, on one occasion, to the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

It happened that, while Lewis and Clarke were at the Mandan villages, the fact of their visit, and the object of it, which had been explained to the Indians, were communicated to some members of the Northwest Company, who had a post about three days' journey from there. So much alarmed was Mr. Chaboillez, who resided at this post, that he wrote immediately to another partner, Mr. D. W. Harmon, a native of New England, and, upon receiving a visit from him, urged Mr. Harmon to set out in the following spring upon the same route pursued by Lewis and Clarke, accompanied by Indian guides, doubtless with the intention of arriving at the head-waters of the Missouri, in advance of the American expedition; but in this praiseworthy strife for precedence they were in this instance defeated,—Mr. Harmon proceeding no further than the Mandan villages, while Lewis and Clarke prosecuted their undertaking with diligence, leaving the Mandan country on the 7th of April, 1805, and arriving at the Great Falls of the Missouri on the 13th of June. The reader need not be reminded of the difficulties attending such a journey as the one undertaken by our exploring party, when, the course of navigation being interrupted, boats had to be abandoned, toilsome portages made, new boats constructed, and all the novel hardships of the wilderness endured. Such tests of courage have been encountered by thousands since that time, in the settlement of the Pacific Coast; but that fact does not lessen the glory which attaches to the fame of the great pioneers commissioned to discover the hidden sources of America's greatest rivers. Those faithful services secured to us inestimable blessings, in extended territories, salubrious climates, and exhaustless wealth of natural resources.

Lewis and Clarke, having re-embarked in canoes hollowed out of logs, arrived at the Gate of the Mountains on the 19th of July, in the very neighborhood where thousands of men are today probing the earth for her concealed treasures of gold and silver. Proceeding on to the several forks of the Missouri—the Jefferson, the Madison, and the Gallatin—and finding themselves in the midst of the mountains, the two captains left a portion of their men to explore the largest of these, while they, with the remainder of the party, pushed on through the mountains until they came to streams flowing towards the west. At this intimation that their labors were about to be crowned with success, they rejoined their party at the head of the Jefferson Fork, and prepared for the rugged work of crossing that majestic range, now become so familiar. Concealing their goods and canoes in caches, after the fashion of all knowing mountaineers, and being furnished with horses and guides by the Shoshones, or Snake Indians, whose later hostility to the whites makes us wonder at their early friendship for Lewis and Clarke, the party commenced the passage of the Rocky Mountains on the 30th of August. Severe was their toil, and great were the sufferings they endured from hunger and cold; but, at length, their trials passed, they arrived at a stream on which their Indian guides allowed them to embark. This was the Clearwater River, the banks of which have since become historic ground.

The party were glad again to be able to resume water navigation, and hastened to build their canoes, and place their horses in charge of the Chopunish, or Nez Perce tribe of Indians, whose extraordinary fidelity to the treaty formed at that time with Lewis and Clarke is one of the wonders of history. On the 7th of October they began to descend the Clearwater, and three days later entered upon that great branch of the Columbia whose springs they had, indeed, tasted in the mountains, but upon whose bosom no party of civilized men had ever before embarked.

Men are apt to dwell with enthusiasm, upon the pride of a conqueror; but, certainly, there must be that in the exultation of a discoverer, which is far more pure, elevated, and happifying. To have succeeded, by patient research and energetic toil, in securing that which others secure by blood and devastation only, is justly a subject of self-congratulation, as it is also deserving of praise. The choicest wine, from the costliest chalice, could hardly have been so sweet to the taste of our hardy exploring party as the ice-cold draught of living water dipped from the mountain reservoirs whose streams "flowed towards the west." With equal pride must they have launched their frail canoes on that river which now bears the name of the chief of the expedition. As they descended to the junction with the northern branch, and found themselves at last fairly embarked on the main Columbia, when they beheld the beauty and magnitude of this King of Rivers, and remembered that their errand, so successfully carried out, was to find a "highway for commerce," their toils and privations must have appeared to them rather in the light of pleasures than of griefs. As the first party of white men to pass through the magnificent mountain-gap where the great river breaks through the Cascade Range, and to meet the tides of the Pacific just on the westward side, the party of Lewis and Clarke have won, and ever must retain, an honorable renown.

The voyage from this point to the mouth of the Columbia was soon accomplished. On the 15th of November the expedition landed at Cape Hancock, commonly called "Disappointment," on the north side of the river, having travelled a distance of more than four thousand miles from the Mississippi River. The rainy season, which usually sets in about the 18th of November, had already commenced, so that our explorers had some difficulty in finding a suitable winter camping-ground. At first they tried the peninsula north of Cape Hancock, but were driven from their ground by the floods. Then they resorted to the south side of the river, somewhat farther back from the ocean, building a log fort on a small stream which is still called "Lewis and Clarke River." There they contrived to pass the winter without actual starvation, though they were often threatened with it, from the difficulty of obtaining food at this season of the year. Game was scarce, except in the coast mountains, which are very rugged and thickly wooded; while fishing could not be carried on successfully except with other boats than their slight canoes, which were entirely unfit for the winter winds and waves of the lower Columbia. The Indians among whom they wintered called themselves "Clatsops," and were sufficiently friendly, but had no food to spare, save at the very highest prices. The Chinooks, on the north side of the Columbia, the same people Captain Gray had traded with thirteen years before, were equally exorbitant in their prices, and exercised a monopoly of the necessaries of life quite equal to that of the most practised extortionists.

Nothing could be effected in the way of explorations of the country during the winter of 1805-6, on account of the rains, which were constant and excessive; and the party, however unwillingly, remained at Fort Clatsop until the middle of March, going no farther away than to Cape Lookout, about fifty miles down the coast. As soon as the rainy season had closed, Lewis and Clarke re-embarked their men, and returned up the river, surveying the shores on their voyage. On this passage they discovered the Cowlitz River, the principal tributary emptying into the Columbia from the north side anywhere west of the Cascades. The Wallamet River was also discovered, but remained unexplored, from the anxiety of the expedition to return to the United States.

By the middle of April the party had abandoned their canoes at the gap in the Cascade Mountains, where the river forms dangerous rapids; and, purchasing Indian horses, continued the journey on horseback to the Nez Perces country, where these faithful allies met them on their return, not with friendship only, but with the animals confided to their care the preceding autumn,—an example of Indian integrity worthy of mention, and, as it proved, indicative of a character shown in the events of succeeding years.

After crossing the Rocky Mountains to Clarke's River, the two leaders of the expedition separated,—Captain Lewis going northward, down the Clarke River, and Captain Clarke proceeding towards its source. On the 12th of August the two captains met at the mouth of the Yellowstone, having explored that river, as well as the Clarke, and traversed a great extent of country then unknown to white men, but where white men to-day are suffering the flushes and the rigors of that most infectious and fatal complaint—the gold-fever—in the territory of Montana.

At about the mouth of the Maria River, Captain Lewis had an encounter with the Blackfeet, the most savage and dreaded of the mountain tribes. In this conflict one of the Indians was killed, which caused the others to desist at that time; yet, no doubt, many a white man's scalp has been taken in revenge, according to savage custom, and the wonder still remains that the party escaped alive out of the country.

After re-uniting their forces—their mission being accomplished—the expedition once more embarked on the Missouri River, and arrived at St. Louis September 23d, having travelled in less than three years, by canoe and saddle, carrying their own supplies, more than nine thousand miles.

Of the results of the expedition of Lewis and Clarke, it may be said that it was the first great act, wisely conceived and well executed, which secured the Oregon territory to the United States. It was the beginning, too, of a struggle for possession between this country and Great Britain, dating from the meeting of the Northwest Company's men with the men of the American expedition at the Mandan villages. Happily all these struggles for precedence are matters of past history now; and to-day both English and American citizens seek and find homes on Oregon soil, where, according to a wise act of Congress, one may be had for the taking.

The first attempt that was made to form a settlement on the Columbia River was by the Winship brothers, in 1810. On the 7th of July, 1809, there sailed from Boston two ships,—the "O'Cain," Captain Jonathan Winship, and the "Albatross," Captain Nathan Winship. The "O'Cain" proceeded direct to California, to trade out a cargo of goods with the padres of the Missions and their converts; and the "Albatross" sailed for the Sandwich Islands, with twenty-five persons on board. At the Islands she provisioned, and took on board twenty-five more men. leaving port for the Columbia March 25, 1810.

Arriving in the river early in the spring. Captain Winship cruised along up, for ten days, finally selecting a site on the south side, about forty miles from its mouth and opposite the place now known as "Oak Point," though its name is borrowed from Captain Winship's place. Here he commenced founding an establishment, and for a time everything progressed satisfactorily. A tract of ground, being cleared, was planted with vegetables; a building was erected; and, while the river banks were gay with the blossoming shrubbery of early summer, our captain and his fifty workmen rejoiced in the promise of a speedy consummation of their plans of colonization. Their hopes, however, were soon overthrown by an unlooked-for occurrence; and the daring pioneers, who feared the face of neither man nor beast in all that wilderness, found themselves confronted with an adversary against which it was useless to contend. The snows had melted in the mountains a thousand miles eastward, and the summer flood came down upon their new plantation, washing the seeds out of the earth and covering the floors of their houses two feet deep with water, demonstrating conclusively the unfitness of the site selected for their settlement.

Without doubt, this company of adventurers were by turns wroth and sorrowful. Their seeds were lost; their residences made uninhabitable, even had they desired to remain, which they did not. Captain Winship at once re-embarked his men, and sailed for California to consult with his brother. Here he was met by the intelligence of the formation of the Pacific Fur Company, with John Jacob Astor at its head, and the intention of this company to occupy the Columbia River. Competition with so powerful an association was not to be thought of, and the brothers Winship abandoned their enterprise. As men of large ideas and fearless action, they should be remembered in connection with the history of the Columbia River.

In March of the following year, that portion of Mr. Astor's expedition which was to come by sea did arrive on the Columbia—not, however, without the loss of eight men on the bar, through the impatience and overbearing temper of the commander of the "Tonquin," Captain Thorne. Subsequently, the Indians of the Straits of Fuca destroyed the "Tonquin," massacring all her officers and crew, twenty-three in number. The land expedition suffered incredible hardships: supply vessels failed to arrive; war with Great Britain broke out, preventing Mr. Astor from carrying out his plans; the Canadian partners took advantage of the situation to betray Mr. Astor's interests; and, after two years of hope deferred, the establishment at Astoria was sold out to a British company, and the enterprise abandoned, the place having been "captured" by the British.

After the close of the war of 1812, Astoria was restored to the United States, and Mr. Astor would have renewed his enterprise, notwithstanding his heavy losses, had Congress guaranteed him protection and lent its aid; but the government pursued a cautious policy at this time, and the Oregon territory remained in the hands of the British fur-traders exclusively for the twenty years following, notwithstanding a treaty of joint occupation.

To follow the chain of events, and record the incidents, of a long struggle between Great Britain and the United States to substantiate a claim to Oregon, is the work of the historian. Enough for us that we know which claim prevailed; and let us proceed to the more congenial contemplation of the physical features which the country presents, touching lightly now and then upon its history, as tourists may.